Shut Up and Rake

And there you have it California.  President Johnny Pontiac blew in like a reverse Santa Ana wind from the east and pronounced the solution to your problem.  Rake the forest. Works for Finland, right?

Well not exactly.  It seems as though there are some differences between Johnny Pontiac’s advice and facts, once again.  It seems that the year round climate in Finland is about 60 percent wetter than that of California. Not to mention a large portion is covered in snow 4 or 5 months of the year, has more rain than California and many other factors which have nothing to do with raking.

But facts, truth and other sticking points that many of us contend with while raising children, conducting business with integrity and going about our daily  lives are of no concern for President Johnny Pontiac.

The main concern for President Pontiac is optics. How does it look?  Will the thing that I did or say cause me to become the story and obscure the suffering of others?  It always the same script and the only thing that varies are who is getting attacked by President Pontiac.  And what ever their suffering, it’s nothing in comparison to President Johnny and the wrong done to him or his family.

A caravan of folks walking up from Guatemala, walking a couple of thousand miles has no suffering in comparison to the persecution felt by Ivanka for ignoring government e-mail guidelines.  The thousands of deaths attributable to the hurricane in Puerto Rico are nothing compared to the insults hurled at the paper towel point guard that flew into San Juan for a couple of hours never to be seen again.

And so it goes.  President Pontiac thrives off of the challenge issued by Irving Berlin for the 1946 Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.  The line repeated over and over in that song “I can do anything you can do better” is the mantra for President Johnny.

President Johnny can do it better than you, he can insult louder, harder and more hateful than you, and he can be injured more grieveously than people with no electricity, food, water, homes or who have died due to inflated or made up death tolls.

He was doing it long before he got off that escalator and came into our lives on a non-stop basis.  It’s as if President Johnny is like some sort of televangelist that has control of our TV’s, our phones, laptops and computers.  He pops up at will with a new crisis justifying his need for a new private jet.

We can be hopeful that some combination of scandal, indictments or charismic opposition candidate takes Ole Johnny down in 2020.  In the mean time we should all follow his advice and just shut up and rake.

Adapting to the fact that I’m no longer Superman, hell I really ain’t Clark Kent either.

Well here I am, the day after my 64th birthday just feeling all mere mortal wondering what happened to my invincibility?  I no longer have the ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound and I sure as hell can’t out run a speeding bullet.  But I am able to sit here and type and my brain works pretty well, still.

My typing skills seem to have deteriorated and the backspace key more frequently serves as my early warning spell check than in the past.  At first I though it was this laptop but then I have a new company computer at work with a “Chiclet” keyboard.  They both have the same defective keys on the left side of the keyboard.

While my typing skills have fallen off, my eyesight has improved greatly.  I accomplished my main health goal coming in to 2018 a month early.  Yep. I spent about $500 on new progressive lens eye wear and then experienced nausea every time I walked with my eyes open for about two weeks. 

I don’t know about anywhere else, but in South Carolina you can get a driver’s license that serves as an ID when going through TSA to board a plane.  So I got a copy of my birth certificate from the health department and then carried a bank statement, a utility bill, proof of insurance, the renewal form, my old drivers license, my favorite recipe book – just kidding – to the DMV and I now am the holder of a REAL ID and can board a plane with it.

Problem is I haven’t flown since early 1988 and I sell cars for a living.  The only time I go near the airport anymore is on a test drive.  However, my youngest daughter has moved just beyond comfortable driving distance.  She left South Carolina for Salt Lake City and who knows, I may go for a visit.  If I do, I am prepared.

Back to my mortality.  I am enjoying my first weekend off since I returned to work after my recent unpleasantness.  That’s a saying we have been using in the South for the last 150 years or so.  We use it when we refer to something that happened in the past and when we want to claim no responsibility we call it “recent unpleasantness”

Frequent examples here in the South include: “the war of Northern Aggression”, “what happened in November of 2016” and in my case “the events of Groundhog Day 2018”.  Now I don’t totally deny that there is a causal effect between smoking for 45 years and congestive heart failure, it’s just the after effects that I’m not too happy about.

So for the last eight months I have been smoke and alcohol free and I feel better.  Despite my misgivings neither Reynolds Tobacco nor Anheiser-Busch have filed for bankruptcy protection thus far.  There really haven’t been any withdrawal symptoms or mental side effects from giving up that deadly pair.  If there have been any, they are greatly overshadowed by my newfound fear of riding in the back of ambulances.

My breathing is much better and I eat healthy, monitor my sodium intake, take my blood pressure and weigh twice daily and try to make sure that I average least seven to eight thousand steps every day.  I have realized that running is not an option and often joke that I can’t run across the street but at my age I already know whats on the other side anyway.

A couple of months ago I saw where there was going to be a “MAJOR” Cornhole tournament here in Greenville the same weekend as my birthday.  Now I don’t think I’ve ever written about this but a decade ago I played competitive cornhole and traveled around the south in pursuit of my youth while in my 50’s.  I probably won about 40 percent of my matches and a lesser number of tournaments but I had a good time, made a lot of friends and was in pretty good shape for a guy my age.

In reality, I was an average cornhole player about the age of most of the other players parents.  However, I was married to Karen and she was a fantastic photographer with a great eye.  Karen made me and a lot of other guys famous with her wall of Facebook pictures from all the tournaments that we traveled to.  As time went by, we stopped going to tournaments.  We also stopped being married but remain very good friends.

So, back to this weekend I decided to play in this tournament knowing full well that my somewhat lacking skill set from a decade ago would be seriously lacking. A few weeks ago I entered a very competitive social tournament and promptly had my ass handed to me in short order.  I found out that the bags I had played with a decade ago were now outlawed and purchased a set of bags that “everybody likes and uses”.  I attributed my early exit from that tournament in part to these new bags.

In the interim I practiced when I had time with these new bags “that everybody likes and uses” but I just wasn’t comfortable with them.  I did however, find the many things wrong with my delivery, release, arc, foot position and my music list playing in my ears.  But there was still something about those bags.

Well yesterday dawned and it was my 64th birthday and the first day of the two-day tournament.  I ate breakfast, took my morning meds and packed my book bag with a towel, a couple of bananas and “the bags that every body likes” and set off to recapture former glory, yeah right.  I was hoping just not to embarrass myself.

I was virtually one of the first arrivals and my old buddy Ryan, the tournament director, informed me that bags were furnished and that there were four styles available and approved for use.  Well I found a set that closely resembled my old “back in the day” bags.  After a few throws my spirits were buoyed as reality began to resemble my memories.

If you’ve never been to one of these tournaments, you try to get there early and throw for at least a half hour or longer to get loosened up and to find out if the humidity will affect the bags, are your shoes too tight and in general to gauge the competition.  I threw for about an hour stopping only to drink plenty of water.  Remember my recent unpleasantness?

The first event was a blind draw doubles event and I was paired with guy about my age.  I had watched him warm up and figured that we were about the same.  I didn’t think he had a chance to win outright but surely we would win a game or two. 

Then we started throwing.  It was over in six frames and we didn’t score a single point, we got waxed.  My partner and I each gave up about the same number of points but I thought I threw like crap but not really any worse than my partner.

After about a ten minute break we were called back to our losers bracket game.  As I walked over I noticed I was a little wobbly and light-headed but didn’t think too much about it. Once the game started I couldn’t seem to get my feet under me and well you can guess how this game turned out.  We did manage to score about 8 points and prolonged the inevitable until 9 frames.

As I walked away I was extremely dizzy and found my chair and water bottle thinking I just needed a break.  I ate a banana and propped up for a while.  When I got up to refill my water bottle my gait remained unsteady.  So I approached Ryan, told him I didn’t fill like I needed to be there and I would see him the next day.  I got home and ate a lite supper and proceeded to go to sleep for the night at 5:30 in the afternoon. I didn’t get back up until  seven this morning.

When I did get up I felt like I could lay back down and sleep another 14 hours.  The morning proceeded at the pace of a good college hangover morning.  In just 24 hours yesterday’s 64-year-old Superman had become this morning’s ClarkKent that felt like he was 84.  But then again Clark always seemed to be ready to go in his suit, eyeglasses and fedora. Not me.

Today I realize that a couple of hours of leaning over, bending over, walking back and forth playing a simple game like cornhole is now something that I should no longer attempt.  That’s pretty disappointing but I guess this is my new reality.  I really can’t run across the street and now I really do know whats on the other side.

Greeting Mortality

Thirty days ago, I came face to face with my mortality.  It probably wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I realized what was happening.  I wasn’t afraid, but I certainly was paying attention.

I was having a heart attack and spent the day telling myself that my symptoms were something else and if I just sat still a while longer, I would get better.  It was a Friday and finally around 10:00 pm I accepted the truth and dialed the dreaded three numbers – 911.

Within moments I was under the care of a voice on the phone and soon the flashing lights were outside and my living room was home to three paramedics.  Endless questions, sensors and wires and I was getting an EKG in front of my flat screen TV sitting in my old comfortable chair.

Minutes later I’m in the back of the ambulance looking out the back window at the streets that I travel every day. I was grateful for the oxygen lines that made my breathing easier although I had them in my mouth.

I told the paramedics I was a mouth breather and laughed.  After thirty days I understand that being a mouth breather is a result of being a pack a day smoker for forty-five years.  I haven’t smoked in these thirty days and pretty much I breathe through my nose again, amazing.

I was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Friday night, spending several days in ICU and then discharged on Wednesday afternoon. I was given an external defibrillator to wear at all times.  I’ve nicknamed it “Sparky” and it’s either around my waist or slung over my shoulder.

“Sparky” is by my bedside overnight and is only away when I’m in the shower. “Sparky is plugged into my “mansierre” which contains sensors and three paddles that will restart my heart if needed.  Yes the “mansierre”.  That’s from Seinfeld if you’re struggling with the term.

The “mansierre” has about all the sex appeal as my mother’s Playtex bras that she would hand wash and line dry on the shower rod.  And yes, that’s exactly where my spare hangs.  There is limited sex appeal since it is a front closure garment as two of the paddles are between my shoulder blades.

Back to the serious stuff.  Congestive Heart Failure (CFH) is my diagnosis.  I actually had a heart attack back around Thanksgiving but didn’t realize it. But the amount of damage showing in my heart indicated that to be the case.  Currently I have what I think they call about a 15% “pump out rate”.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a cardiologist to figure out what that means.  Eighty five percent of my heart is currently not working. I was not a candidate for stents, bypasses or any type of surgery during my stay.  I am currently taking about every kind of heart medicine, blood thinner and what ever else that you see on TV every day all day long.

My cardiologist referred me to a “specializing cardiologist” in another city and that was somewhat unsettling, initially.  You see this guy works in a clinic that has a part of its title “Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic”.   Now those are words that get your attention, right?

Of course, I only had a couple of weeks to dread the drive to find out what other life changes I would be confronted with.    To say that I was filled with apprehension and dread would be an understatement.

But things turned out better than I thought.  My new friend, Dr. Gulatti, and I got along fabulously.  He was full of knowledge, confidence and clarity.  Those are the kind of characteristics that you would want in a heart failure cardiologist, right?

He was one of these guys that you see take charge. You know the one, the guy that steps forward and tells the less bold  “Here, hold my beer, I’ve got this!”.  Within minutes he explained to me his version of the next 30, 60 and 90 days and where we may or may not windup.

I don’t know exactly how this is all going to wind up, but I do know what the options are and how we are going to progress.  One of medicines was doubled at that visit and will be doubled again in another couple of weeks.  Four days later, I can tell a difference and yep, I’m feeling better.

I’m not out of the woods yet and I can’t even see where the woods stop and the clearing begins, but I do know a couple of things.  After forty five years I’m done with tobacco and most likely alcohol as well.  I have no intention of becoming a crusader trying to reform all remaining smokers.  I made my decisions, including the one to stop and that’s the end of my responsibility, as I see it.

If someone seeks my help, I’ll be happy to help.  That is what I hope to do as I write about my journey.  I tried to write about this when I first got out the hospital but I just didn’t understand my feelings.  After 30 days, my sense of humor has returned.  I’ve greeted mortality and I hope to be able to write about my journey for some time to come.

 

 

Screams, Numbers and My Anger

Screams

Here we are, again.  Dealing with screams.  Personally, I’m fed up with the screams.  Not just the screams, but the apologies.  The screams I’m talking about are those of the dying.  People dying of cancer don’t scream.  People hit by gunshots, whether they are seriously injured or they die, they scream.

Soldiers at Fort Hood, civil service workers in San Bernadino, congressmen practicing baseball in Alexandria, night club patrons in Orlando, worshipers at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, college students in Blacksburg, high school students in Columbine, and elementary school children in Newtown.  They all screamed.  About 3:00 this morning, my time, more that twenty two thousand people of all ages screamed at a concert in Las Vegas.

I woke up just after 5:00 AM Eastern time to news reports of the screaming in Las Vegas, this time documented with smart phone video.  Now, about 15 hours later, nearly 60 souls are lost and over 500 lay injured by a sniper attack.  One that could have been prevented.  How do we stop the screaming?  Thus far, the answer has eluded our collective efforts as a country.

The screaming defies race, gender, age, sexual orientation, occupation or religious preference.  Notice those are all things that are supposed to be protected by constitutional guarantees, except the 2nd Amendment.   All of those things listed above are basically rights covered in the 1st Amendment, but they seem to be consistently trampled by the rights of the 2nd Amendment.

Numbers

I want to do justice to the screams by accounting for each and everyone.  But, I didn’t list every gun tragedy that has occurred in my lifetime, so no grisly body counts.  The last time I got this worked up about senseless gun violence was Newtown.  My girls were in graduate school and high school at the time and I don’t think I had ever been so angry.

I foamed at the mouth, paced the floor and sat down and wrote and re-wrote a 644 word op-ed and submitted it to my local newspaper with my name and picture.  I was still living in my hometown and was in sales and cared not one bit, what was going to happen to me as a result.  Four months later, my anger boiled over, I quit my job and started a one-year hiatus that cost me financially.

Those are my numbers.  There is no real need in tallying up the body counts.  Those are numbers that disrespect those who screamed.  The argument changes from the subject to the numbers if you do.  Mark Twain is attributed to have said “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”.  Those who screamed, deserve better than being designated as simply, statistics.

My Anger

There is one number, however, that I do want to share.  That number is $85 million.  That is the reported net worth of former FOX personality Bill O’Reilly.  Mr. O’Reilly chimed in on the events of the last day and on his blog post said “This is the price of freedom,” he continued. “Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.”

Well Mr. O’Reilly, you’re dead wrong.  What you are describing is not the price of freedom.  While it may be to someone with a reported net worth of $85 million.  to the rest of us, we consider it to be the Cost of Freedom.  See there is a difference between you and the rest of us.

When you have money like yourself sir, things have a price.  You have the money, you just have to figure out the price.  You can afford most things that most of us can’t.  We look at things a little different than you.  We look at a lot of life from the cost side of the ledger.  As we do this, we ask ourselves “what will we have to give up in order to acquire this next new thing?”

That’s the math that we live with.  My decision to deal with my anger in 2013 cost my youngest daughter her 1st year of college.  Oh, she got there and is doing just fine thank you.  But because of my anger, she waited a year after high school, but she waited.

I would guess that it’s been awhile since Mr. O’Reilly waited for anything other than his pink slip from FOX.  You see, there is a difference between the price of an item and the cost of that item.  If you think the lives lost and permanently altered in Las Vegas are simply about price, well, you’re wrong.  Ask the families of the 18 students that Charles Whitman killed in 1966 and the 31 that he injured that day in Austin.

That was a cost you arrogant self absorbed predator, not a price.  What we are talking about tonight is the same thing we have been talking about for over fifty years.  Why?  Because arrogant elites like yourself Mr. O’Reilly, look at things from the price standpoint.  You can afford for us to die, it costs you nothing, but it costs us everything.

It cost us JFK, RFK and MLK in less than five years.  You do remember the five years after that?  So here we are again.  In 1970, there were four dead in Ohio.  Kent State.  Just one of the many tragic events of the Viet Nam era.  There was a song written about that shooting.

It was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and  was on the “A” side of the single.  “Four Dead in Ohio”.  It  became one of the many anthems of the early 1970’s that led to the end of the Viet Nam War.  After watching Ken Burns’ film last week, we now know President Nixon’s duplicity in how that war ended.  That duplicity led to Watergate and his ultimate downfall.

The “B” side of the single by CSNY contained another song that attempted to call out the similarities between Viet Nam and our own Civil War fought barely 100 years before.  The name of that “B” side single?  “Find the Cost of Freedom”.  The lyrical references are to the Civil War, but the inference is clear.

You’re a smart guy Mr. O’Reilly, or at least you say you are.  For years you declared 9:00 pm EST to be the “No-Spin Zone”.  I hope that you and your millions can recognize that what you see as price, we see as cost.  If you do see that, then apologize to the hundreds of families with loved ones simply attending a music concert less than twenty four hours ago.  It’s not the Price of Freedom, it’s the Cost of Freedom.  Don’t make me have to take this much time out of my day to remind you of the difference.

My net worth is somewhat less than $85 million and I have a daughter with less than two semesters to graduation.  She has a GPA above 3.8 and deserves to go to graduate school.  I need to work for a few more years, so I would appreciate it if you could learn the difference between price and cost.

The following video haunts me almost as much as the screams that I started talking about in the begining.

Super Wal-Mart Sunday, again.

I’m getting better at this, still undisciplined, but writing more frequently.  My first attempt at discipline started this morning as I was paying bills.  I pay everything online, I rarely buy anything online, but I do pay what I owe from this very keyboard.

I go through my e-mail folders one by one and write on a blank sheet of paper the amount, date due.  I start with my bank balances, then put in my anticipated deposits for the next thirty days.  If car sales are good, everybody gets paid at the first of the month, if they aren’t, well they get paid when they are due.

My home work station is on my Mom’s solid cherry dining room table and it’s in remarkably good shape, maybe not by her standards.  She talked my Dad into buying it for her in 1964 a few months after buying their last home across the street from the church we attended.  The table is squeezed into my apartment and even without the two extensions, it still accommodates the six original solid cherry chairs.

The table is where I pay bills, write this non-sense and serve very simple meals for my daughters on holidays.  I have a set menu for the most part and its neither healthy or cheap.  But it is based on favorites that my daughters remember from earlier times in their lives.  Comfort food for cold weather, sausage balls, oven baked macaroni and cheese,  low country boil and banana pudding to name a few.

But this table has a history.  It was only used on special occasions and was always covered by a table cloth with a pad underneath it and plates were set on place mats.  None of that now, although when I dust, the table gets treated to a massage of either Lemon Pledge or Orange scented Murphy’s oil soap.

My Dad paid bills as he sat at his desk which pre-dated the dining room table.  That desk which I sold years ago was originally mahogany finish until my Mom painted it sometime in the late 60’s and then wiped stain on it during a period of time in our family’s life that was known as “Mom’s antiquing phase”.  Nothing was safe.

Accent tables, their old bedroom set including the dresser and chest of drawers, her Lane cedar chest from the late 1940’s and the aforementioned desk and it’s Windsor backed chair, which I still have.  They were either painted off white or green and then wiped with stain and in those days that was called antiquing.  I’m not sure what my Dad thought about it at the time, but he never said a word.

Back to my present day use of the solid cherry dining table.  While I was paying bills this morning, I started writing down ideas on topics that I might want to explore.  By the time I finished and was ready to embark on my voyage to Wal-Mart, I had a modest list of two topics.  I was impressed with my efforts.

I usually make a list on the back of a business card before I go to the store.  There’s not much room, it keeps me on budget and gives me time to wander around observing life at Wal-Mart.  It’s been three weeks since my last visit to the Super Wal-Mart about six miles up the road.  I wrote about that trip when I came home as Irma approached, the topic was hoarding among other things.

Today I had a short list.  When I pulled into my personal parking space, yes, I have one.  It’s on the next to the last row away from the main door, but across from the cart corral.  It’s the third one from the end and it’s always there waiting for me.  As I walked to the entrance I noticed that it is a clear day with very few clouds and I could see the mountains in the distance and the wind was blowing in my ears with a slight roar.

Inside, it looked like a normal Sunday afternoon.  The last time I visited this Wal-Mart Supercenter, Irmageddon was bearing down and folks were buying like The Rapture was headed their way.  Not today.  Couples with children that had obviously been to church this morning, college students clogging the Ramen noodle aisle, and single women.  Not necessarily single, but alone and without their spouses.

No, this isn’t why I go, but hey, its an added benefit.  These women obviously work and have enormous responsibility at home, but on Sunday afternoon, they are out searching the aisles for family meals to be prepared in the coming week.  My guess is that their husbands are home watching NASCAR or the NFL and complaining about who is and who is not standing for the national anthem.

Since I had a short list, and today I had discipline and bought only what was on the back of a business card from a job I no longer have. My trip around the store lasted less than 30 minutes.  Back to the front of the store I began my search, as we all do, for the perfect check out line.  Wal-Mart has changed it’s stripes again and I was forced to accommodate a new option for checking out.

Apparently, the 20 items or less lanes are history.  They have been replaced by something called “Express Check” or whatever the signs said.  The “Self Check Out” lines are still there but are supplemented by the next great thing.  There is a new supervisor lurking in the checkout area.  The sign says “Lay-Aways accepted for all departments here.”  No need to walk to the back of the store just to pay on your kids Christmas list.

I selected basically the first attended line that I saw because I like to talk to the cashiers.  In my opinion, there is no more mundane job in America than running a scanner in a retail environment.  If I had to do that, I just think I would as soon lay in the middle of the interstate wearing a T shirt that says “DO NOT RESUSCITATE”.  My mission is to organize my shopping cart contents they way I want to carry them into my apartment, half-way keep an eye on the video read out as my items are scanned and to try and bring a smile to the face of the person whose job I wouldn’t take on a dare.

The line I selected today wasn’t the shortest one but I like to read the covers of The National Enquirer and the rest to find out if Princess Diana has been found alive in Myanmar or if Robert Wagner has finally confessed to murdering Natalie Wood.  I didn’t pay attention to the person and the cart in front of me when I selected that line, but I thought the lady running the scanner would appreciate my humor, small talk and buggy with only a few items.

After I had read the magazine covers and decided that UFO’s had not really occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue I turned around to observe those behind me.  I encountered a brief smile from a young lady in her late 20’s,  about the age of my oldest daughter, whose shopping cart was full of healthy looking foods.  She immediately pulled her phone from her back pocket and disappeared into Facebook, her shopping list or somewhere.

I turned around and began to focus on the progress of the line and it seemed that while the line was shorter, my position had not advanced.  It was then that I noticed the lady in front of me was leaning over her cart and was also glued to the screen of her phone oblivious to the gap between her cart and the gentleman now being checked out.

As a courtesy, I sort of loudly cleared my throat in attempt to alert this lady the changing environment, but she didn’t look up.  Upon observation, it appeared that this lady was not a millennial based on her shape.  A few extra pounds but not many, but the jeans she was wearing dated her as someone of my generation.  She obviously was near my age based solely on hair color, and no, it wasn’t grey or white, but not a natural color.

Soon, she looked up and realized that she would soon be next to be scanned and escape the boredom of the check out line and moved to the front of her cart to unload.  As she turned to face me, my guesses were confirmed.  She was near my age, her hair was colored and to my surprise, she had been a candidate for elective surgery.

This was evidenced by the low neck top which gave way every time she leaned over the front of her shopping cart.  It wasn’t just that she was leaning over to remove items from her cart, she was getting the items from the cart that were near the back of the cart, you know the side we push from.

I wasn’t purposely trying to look, but she seemed intent on displaying her saline enhancements.  Now, this isn’t why I go to Wal-Mart specifically, but it is part of the overall experience.  The lady, as I said, was about my age and obviously has not read about the damage that tanning beds do to human skin.  But those are her choices and I’m sure that the gentleman that put that ring on her left hand agrees with her choices.

So, this week, there was no sense of panic or urgency brought on by the impending arrival of Irmageddon.  It was just another day at my local Super Wal Mart.  This trip was slightly more memorable than the last one, for a couple of reasons, but not that much.

Oh, and by the way, my list of topics I’d like to write about has grown to six.  Three of them were from my trip to the Super Wal-Mart, just slightly less memorable.  So much for discipline.

FOOTNOTE:  When I started writing this, I wasn’t sure how it would conclude.  Many other things came to mind on the drive home namely the three things I put on my list as soon as I got home.  If I’ve offended anyone, I hope you can accept my apologies.  As I say in my header, these are my observations about life.

Bits, bytes, baud rates, Viet Nam and Twitter

So today, Twitter doubled our President’s ability to outrage his followers and detractors and our ability to affirm his outrage or respond with twice the invective that we woke up with this morning.  Thanks, Twitter.

I’m typing as I watch Viet Nam on PBS tonight.  I was a teenager when that was going on and tonight, well I guess I’m a sextugenerian.  Sex is has little to do with me now, but here I am again in a radically divided country.  There are so many to thank for this sorry state of affairs that we find ourselves in today.

As the involvement of the United States in Viet Nam unfolded, mainframe computers were doing great things in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Large corporations were automating payroll, inventory accounting and other mundane tasks into data bits in combinations of 0’s and 1’s.

NASA was racing to meet President Kennedy’s call to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade and computers on the ground performed the endless number of calculations needed to put man into orbit and bring him back home safely.

Somewhere, (notice I’m not an expert in this field), it was recognized that data needed to be organized so bytes were broken down into 8 character representations of 0’s and 1’s.  I’m not sure how things progressed from there, but doing (very) simple math I came up with 8×8 = 64, which by my total lack of math education corresponds magically to today’s  64 KB easily recognized standards.

So now there was a standard of recording and saving data to be processed electronically at a central location.  But what about remote locations dozens and even hundreds of miles from home office.  Record the data on some type of media and transport it to home office.

The preferred method had been to have couriers driving nightly runs to deliver “IBM Punch Cards” and magnetic tape from remote locations to CPU’s, Central Processing Units.  Upon receipt of this precious cargo, headquarters locations had up to date information from remote locations.

Somebody, and I have no idea who, came up with the idea of electronically transmitting all of this information over dedicated telephone lines, in the form of the aforementioned 0’s and 1’s.  Thus the term Baud rates.  They started at 110, 300, 600(this one is critical), 1200, 2400 and so on.  These were lightening quick speeds for the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. but hold on.

Imagine the future.  2,400 Baud rate doubled to 4,800 and then 9,600 and so on until it reached a blistering 256,00 bytes per second.  Remember 64?  Four times 64KB, well that’s 256 KB. And twice that, well 128 KB, then 256 KB, then 512 KB and so on and so on.

Fast forward to 2017, if you will.  Oh and move up thru the alphabet.  KB’s are passe, GB, well that’s the determining factor today.  My home speeds are somewhere around 60 GB and Charter promises that 100 GB are on the way.  Blistering speeds to watch movies, sports and yes, traditional television programming like sit-coms, news and documentaries like Viet Nam all on my iPhone.

My iPhone has more computing power than Apollo 11 in one hand held device that I look at more times a day than I care to count.  Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins traveled 238,000 miles to the moon and back with less computing power than most of us check numerous times daily, upon arising or the last thing some of see before we lay down at night.  Think about that.

What do we do with this awesome computing power?  We check e-mail, we research the countless questions of life, post thoughts, recipes, pictures and videos on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and countless other sites.  And then, there’s Twitter.

Twitter, transformed America and the world in 2006, with one constraint, what ever we had to say, well we had to get it done in 140 characters.  Not many of us were on Twitter initially, we were on Facebook for the most part, happy, ecstatic in the fact that we were connecting with relatives, long lost high school and college classmates and people with similar interests.

Twitter was a strange world to most of us.  Barack Obama was the Facebook president and we were amazed that he was speaking to us individually each and every day, whether we had time for him or not, he was there.  But after his election, a new phenomena appeared.  The Tea Party.

The Tea Party exploded onto the scene in America with a vengeance and soon eclipsed the “Silent Majority” of the Nixon years.  Otherwise normal looking  people, showed up on the news wearing tinfoil hats and waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and they caught on.  Initially, I thought they were strange, but soon realized they were organized.

They reminded me of my years in high school when we were the guinea pigs for desegregation.  What were supposed to be the best years of my young life, became, and remain some of the worst of my 62 years.  But I wasn’t in college at the time, I was just behind the curve.  Those in the curve, well they were protesting the war and being shot as college students or dying in the jungles of Viet Nam.

But the Tea Party, they were different.  to them it seemed to be all black and white.  Their way or the highway.  But as time passed, the black and white side of it seemed to emerge as the defining issue.  Don’t Tread on Me flags in the back of pickup trucks were soon accompanied by Confederate flags.  Not exactly by coincidence, in 2009, America had elected it’s first African-American president.

Demographics indicated that America was trending away from it’s predominantly white European American heritage.  We were becoming a country of color, fueled by immigrants from all over the globe.  Soon, there came a new phenomena, The Tweet.

140 characters of whatever you could fit into a post with whatever you wanted to share with anyone.  This gave rise to a new platform to the early adapters with any theory they wished to put forth.  One early adapter was Donald Trump.  And he had a Tweet that he espoused over and over.

The first African American President wasn’t actually an American after all.  He was born elsewhere and Donald Trump had supposedly dispatched investigators to all corners of the globe in search of proof to back up this outlandish claim.  Constant tweets proclaimed that his people were finding “interesting things” everywhere they looked.

Well, you know what happened, Obama served two full terms and Donald Trump festered each and every one of those 2,924 days of his Presidency.  And now we have a 71 year old head of state that has simply been the owner of a small business that happens to have almost universal name recognition due to his suspect business practices.

Back to today and Twitter.  Donald Trump is the most successful exploiter of Twitter alive today.  Perhaps ever, but that remains to be seen.  Trump’s birthday is June 14, but today’s announcement by Twitter that is experimenting with a doubling of it’s 140 character restriction to 280 characters has to seem like an unexpected birthday present for Donald Trump.

The guy doesn’t have to go through editors,  talent bookers or television show producers, he just picks up his phone and, like all of us communicates with his desired audience. Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon.  Donald Trump, with more computing capacity than NASA in 1969 can put the moon in his hand and declare it fake news, the gospel truth or even something he created, in an instant.

So I guess my question in this.  Why 280 characters as the new limit, why not limit it to 256 or more than generously expand it to 512?  Most newspaper guest columns are limited to 650 words, so why only 280 characters?  It’s all in the cloud, right?  there is unlimited storage in the cloud, or so they say.

Anyway.  Thanks, Twitter.  You’ve given the most disruptive individual on the planet twice the space to post his early morning rants, raves and re-tweets of what he saw on FOX & FRIENDS, and we all know the Trump theory of doubling down, right?

There’s nothing at risk here.  It’s not like we’re on the verge of war with an emerging nuclear power, threatening to abrogate major treaties covering climate change, nuclear weapons inspection or free trade between sovereign nations.  No sir, this is a stable world we live in.

Giving Donald Trump twice the space to piss off a dictator with nuclear weapons, in turn dictating patterns of free speech for American citizens , disregarding anyone that doesn’t look like him in the mirror, well all I can think of is this:  Thanks Twitter, you really shit in your loafers this time.

That, in and of itself, is a big accomplishment coming on the heels of Facebook selling targeted ads to Russians.  The summer of 2018 is headed our way.  It’ll be an election year, one of those off years, with only the House and one third of the Senate up for re-election or replacement.

The 50th anniversary of the summer of love.  I can’t wait.  If you think there have been people in the streets in the streets in 2017, hold on, it’s coming.  There will be many questions to be asked.  How did we get here?  How do we get back from the edge?

Most of the questions won’t be asked politely is my guess?  They won’t all be about the difference between 140 characters and 280 characters.  Nope. but they will be serious questions asked by new faces we don’t know just yet.  And after the questions have been asked, there will be answers.  I hope they are as melodic as they were in the past.

Family Feud.

To say that this has been an interesting week, well in 2017, that’s really something.  How does a topic rise to “Top of Mind Awareness” or TOMA when everything this year has been absolutely surreal?  Well, that takes some work.

We started the year off in January with the inauguration.  You remember that, the third Friday of this glorious year in Washington, DC.  A dark inauguration speech, that apparently was a clip left on the cutting room floor of one of the Mad Max movies.  You remember those, right?

They started coming out in the late 70’s and lasted a few years and resulted in a few sequels.  Mel Gibson hadn’t really become controversial and Tina Turner became a movie star.  If you look it up on Google. you’ll no doubt encounter the term “dystopian future” somewhere in the  millions of Google search results.

Well, dystopian future and dystopian reality have become commonly used phrases in 2017.  Think back to the inauguration of our most curious occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.

I watched the speech that day at work, and thought to myself “that wasn’t very uplifting or inspiring, but at least its over.”  I didn’t vote for him, but like my Dad when refusing to renew his Time Magazine subscription in 1974 while Nixon was under assault from all corners, when he wrote “I support the President” on his renewal and declined another year and mailed it back in.

I thought, based on informed commentary by Mark McKinnon, whom I respect very much, “it isn’t going to be as bad as everyone fears or as great as everyone hopes”, so give the guy a chance and see what happens.  Well it turns out, at least from my perspective, the dystopian future is here.

In comments that surfaced several months later, George W Bush, the 43rd and perhaps its most in eloquent President of the United States, was reported to have said upon leaving the inaugural dais, “that was some weird shit”!  At this point in time, I can only say that I wholeheartedly agree.

Having said all of that, I guess I need to get to tonight’s topic.  Family Feud, we all have them with somebody that we have supposed blood or marital connections to.  It’s inevitable, unavoidable and just plain reality.  Without going into detail of my entire existence on this planet for the last 62 years, lets just enter into evidence the fact that I have more than one ex.  Wife that is.

One is my children’s mother and the other remains my best friend.  I know that seems odd when you look at it, but its the truth.  We all have best friends, we don’t always agree on everything, but when we talk, it seems as though the last time, well it was yesterday, right?

A lot of us have ex-spouses that we  have share responsibilities of children with and that is the “Supreme Test” in life.  How do you constantly put the well being of your children ahead of self interest?  Sometimes it easy, sometimes, it just plain hell.  Hell would best describe the path that I have walked for nearly 20 years, but it is a path I chose, and one that I walk daily.

When my oldest left for college in the fall of 2006, I was a custodial parent with full financial responsibility for all that lay ahead.  I thought I was up to date because I texted, took calls more than 3 or 4 times a day from my freshman daughter and sent in-depth e-mails to add my insight to what ever were her current problems.

Somewhere along the line, I joined Facebook.  Mostly to find out what was going on in the distant city 200 miles away where my oldest was attending college and then later to connect with family and long lost friends.  Facebook became a way of daily communicating and pictures and soon video of getting your message out to those you thought gave a damn, one way or the other.

By the time I joined Facebook, I had re-married and now had a hybrid family and suddenly more friends and family than I could possible imagine.  Initially, the hybrid family seemed to function, four children ages from 8 to 21, not quite the same, but trying to make a go of it.  My best friend and I found ourselves involved in a social activity that exponentially expanded our social network beyond our wildest dreams.

I began to write, as so many others did on Facebook about anniversaries, birthdays, other special events as so many do.  I would post pictures from the past to tie in with memories and my circle of friends kept expanding as did the positive comments and likes.

I’m in the car business and soon I started posted a series of comments under the heading of “If I’m lying, I’m dying”.  These were short stories about some of the more special people you run into when dealing with the public,  Well, lately, I’ve pulled back from some of the postings, because, well, people come in and talk to you, then go home and check you out online and in social media to see what’s been said about you.  Don’t believe me, Google yourself and decide if you’d want to do business with you.

Back to my children’s mother.  As part of the dystopian future, guess who joined Facebook recently?   Well apparently, my children’s mother went through my entire Facebook timeline, and like the nurse that she was, she took notes on everything of interest.  Should have seen this coming, but nope, missed it.

A few days ago, I received a text message covering many screens on my phone, attempting to litigate a failed marriage that lasted 15 years, but somehow covered the last 30 years.  It was rambling, not very flattering to say the least, and foretold a series of storms to come.

After consultation with my daughters, I decided to bring to an end my Facebook adventure.  I logged in and deactivated my account and then blocked the offending ex and her phone number.  I’m not sure, but I think I’ve broken my Facebook addiction, at least for now.  For now, I have this blog and it’s anonymous, at least as far as my children’s mother knows.

So Family Feud showed up in my life on Monday and I think I have dealt with it.  No need in arguing over the past, not sure I even care.  No, I don’t.  I miss Facebook, not checking my phone 20 times a day to see what has been posted, I just miss the pictures and comments.  Not all of them, but I will move on.  And based on recent reporting of the ads that  Facebook has been selling. it’s probably not a bad idea.

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If I only had wind chimes, I’d know

As an upstate South Carolina resident, I don’t have first hand knowledge of the force and destruction of a hurricane making landfall.  I’m about 4 hours from the coast, figuring in bathroom breaks, and this is the second time in my adult life that such a storm has gotten my attention.

Today and tonight, we are dealing with Irma, certainly on a lesser scale than the folks in Florida and the Caribbean.  The wind has been up most of the day and light rain has been falling since early morning.  During the morning, it was unusual, after lunch it was more than noticeable.

At this moment, Irma is bearing down on the state of Georgia as a tropical storm.  That’s timid by comparison to the havoc wreaked on Barbuda, Cuba and Key West.  As darkness has settled in, the winds in upstate South Carolina have intensified and the rainfall continues to pelt the ground in a horizontal motion that I haven’t seen for awhile.

The thought that strikes me tonight, is Irma for real or is she just a reincarnation of Hurricane Hugo in drag?  We’re about 10 days short of the 28th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo making landfall directly on South Carolina and I remember that like it was yesterday.  Hugo landed with a fierceness not seen in South Carolina in a generation.

Hugo was a monstrosity that made land fall somewhere around Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and McClellanville, home to South Carolina’s shrimping industry.  Hugo came ashore, went far inland and made a turn towards Charlotte.  The devastation was remarkable at the time.

Hardwood and softwood forest were leveled by the force and fury of Hugo’s winds similar to what was seen after the eruption of Mt St. Helens in 1980.  The devastation and economic impact on the coast and the state in general were valued at $10 Billion, an enormous sum in 1989 dollars, but paling in comparison to Irma and Harvey in today’s dollars.

My earlier reference to Irma being Hugo in drag is because the conditions four hours from the coast are similar to that night 28 years ago.  In 1989, the Weather Channel was in its infancy, supported only by local news stations with in-studio weather folks repeating the facts that appeared on the AP/UPI wires.  Cable TV had a few basic channels and in larger communities, included The Weather Channel, CNN and WGN out of Chicago.

There was no internet yet, unless you wanted to log in to The Library of Congress to read the Declaration of Independence.  So, in 1989, without Facebook and Twitter, smartphones and an endless supply of “APPS”, there was basic cable, your local TV stations, community newspapers dependent upon the Associated Press or United Press International news stories.

Some of us had IBM or Compaq computers on our desk at work, most of us had dual 5 & 1/4 inch floppy disks and the higher ups had only one disk drive with an accompanying 5 MG hard rive.  Main frame computers communicated over phone lines at the blistering speed of 9,600 MB over dial up modems.  If you never used a dial up modem, stop by a pay phone on the sidewalk and it’ll give you and idea of what that was like.

Anyway, back to Hugo and Irma.  In October of 1989, my oldest daughter was a few months away from her 2nd birthday and my second daughter was a little over 5 years away from making her initial appearance.  At the time, we lived in a Victorian Cottage approaching 100 years of age, with soaring 11 foot ceilings, seven foot long windows and heart pine floors.

Needless to say, when you live in house like that you are appreciative of the woodwork, craftsmanship and ridiculous heating bills in the winter that come with owning a home with basically no insulation.  The winter heating bills coming on the heels of Christmas are something that they don’t talk about on “This Old House”.  Remember, there was no HGTV, Flip This House, or Property Brothers in 1989.  This Old House was available two ways:  SCETV or by magazine subscription.

OK., Hugo, right?  The night that Hugo came ashore everyone was tucked in tight and yours truly was watching out by watching The Weather Channel in a 100 year old house with no insulation and windows that rattled when the train went by a block away.  The thing I remember most that night were the wind chimes.  There was a set hanging on our front porch and another set on the neighbors side porch less than a few yards away from my rattling windows.

That night, I could measure the intensity of Hugo from 4 hours away from the coast by the music from the wind chimes.  The more melodious the sounds were, the calmer the storm seemed to be.  When the music became frantic, Hugo’s winds were roaring through a town 4 hours from the coast.

Tonight, in my apartment, I don’t hear the sound of wind chimes.  I’ve looked at several on my visits to Wal-Mart, Costco, Lowe’s and Home Depot over the 1st three years since I moved further inland.  I’ve always come up with a rationalization for not buying them and walked away.

As I sit here tonight, I wish I had bought a set at the very least, if not two, one for each end of the apartment, since I have two porches.  If I had bought wind chimes, then I would be able to compare Hugo to Irma.

The sounds from that night twenty eight years ago still ring in my head like it was last night.  If I had wind chimes tonight, I’d be able to compare the two sounds.  Was one louder than the other?  Almost four hours from the coastline, I’d know for sure what the people of the Caribbean, Cuba and Florida already know.  Is Irma really that much bigger, or is she just simply Hugo in drag twenty eight years later?  I’m buying a set of wind chimes tomorrow, the answer to that question is just too important to relegate to The Weather Channel.