Greek life ain’t what it used to be

There isn’t anything in life that lasts forever, especially the past.  Someone is always coming along re-writing it, re-inventing it or re-shaping it.  It’s like that with everything I guess.  Religion and the church, athletics, the military, family life.  It’s all changing and I doubt its ever going to stop.

One thing that caught my attention almost three years ago was the changes in Greek life on campuses.  I was fortunate to be involved in a fraternity during my extended tour of a liberal arts college in my hometown.  I knew a lot of the guys in my fraternity when I entered college and soon I was a pledge traveling the path to brotherhood.

I did so well my first semester that I made dean’s list.  Not the one that is published in your hometown paper, but the one that says “your son or daughter is performing at a prekindergarten level and we will only accept your tuition payments one more semester.  The fraternity still loved me, but as a commuting student living at home, my Dad held veto power over my fraternity life.

Interim spring grades came out and the college confirmed that would still accept tuition payments to be applied towards a degree which was now likely a five year endeavor.  Shortly after mid terms and spring grades, fraternities always conveniently schedule spring initiations.  On April 27, 1973, I became the 63rd initiate of my local chapter of a national fraternity founded right here in South Carolina.

Pi Kappa Phi fraternity bestowed chapter rights on a group founded by local guys that became Gamma Rho Chapter at Lander College in 1970.  There were seven founding members and twenty eight charter members.  In the fall of 1973 our fraternity was in need of new members and two of my closest friends from high school came aboard with a number of other local guys.

Over the next year we assembled a team that would work together for almost three years.  We experienced growth in numbers and our accomplishments were many but we had stumbles along the way.  One fall when we had plenty of money, we spent big on “rush season” and got only one pledge that turned out to be a keeper.

His name was Ralph and he was about 6’7″ tall and he was more than welcome on our intramural teams.  We called him the “Six Million Dollar Man” reflective of the amount we had spent that fall.  As it turned out, Ralph knew other people and that thought our fraternity house was a good place to hang out,  growth continued as it was supposed to.

Somewhere along the line, I had dropped out of school and was working.  I was still involved, not that I was an alumni, but somehow I was on the board of the Housing Corporation.  Now that’s a job that no one wants and everyone should have for at least 10 minutes.  You’re responsible for everything these guys do and don’t do.

You pay the rent on the house and every bit of expense associated with it, just like your own home.  We had a small problem that reared its ugly head every now and then, the oil fired furnace.  In all honesty, this was a problem of our making that took a few years to come back and bite us.

In a nutshell, when we leased that old two story Victorian, we had a budget of a few thousand dollars.  The house had no heat, no paint – inside or outside and was missing many other things.  We opted for the oil furnace installed on the ground floor level and vents upstairs in the floor directly above the blower.  It was a good theory, but it never worked.

Early on, we were a small group and everyone agreed that clothes needed to be worn until bedtime in the winter months.  As the years went by and new guys came in, their definition of clothes was different.  Winter clothes became shorts, t-shirts and flip flops.  The thermostat became the insulating factor for these guys and the oil burned and burned.

What initially was a three tank plan for the cold months became a five tank plan and at more than $300 per tank, you can imagine what that does to your budget.  Like I said, everyone ought to be in charge of a fraternity house for about 10 minutes.

As time passed, others took over and I re-enrolled in school, at night.  I was married and had a career plan and my employer told me that if I finished my degree in accounting there was a future for me.  I was working in the corporate office of a local large privately owned textile company.

The same textile company that held the lease on the fraternity house was my employer.  The lease was held by one of their affiliate companies and of course I knew everyone that worked there.  From time to time, I would get word that my labor of love, my fraternity was seriously behind on the rent payments.  Embarrassed, I would venture forth and find who ever holding the 10 minute job, find out exactly how much cash they had on hand and return with a check that I was sure wouldn’t bounce.

This pattern continued until, I was informed by my employer that the lease was going to be terminated for cause and all back rent would be waived, but eviction would be imminent.  There were howls of protest from these people that I barely knew, but they agreed and soon found more modest quarters in not nearly as good of a location.

The sweetener for them was that my employer had signed a contract for the demolition of the old house to begin on the first day of the following month.  The contractor began staging equipment on adjacent property for the fraternity to see.  Things appeared to be going smoothly and I was relieved.

What I didn’t know was that in true Animal House tradition, they had scheduled one last keg party in the old house on the last night of the month.  Everything had been moved out,  It was an empty house with electricity and running water that would be disconnected the next morning.

When I was in school and active, we had some parties in that house, but these guys broke all known records for parties that night.  Supposedly there were record crowds and the city police paid more than one visit, but apparently no one was arrested.

The house was about three blocks from campus and was situated in a transition area between residential and commercial properties.  The visits by the police were not the first and this was about 1980 and we had held the house for seven years.  The day after the party was one I wasn’t prepared for at all.

Even though I was no longer actively involved, I was summoned by the property manager who always called about the derelict rent payments.  He called my desk phone and said abruptly ” I’m headed to Stanley Avenue and you need to meet there ASAP and he hung up.  506 Stanley Avenue was the address of the fraternity house needless to say.

When I arrived, the property manager was pacing back and forth across the front yard and said let’s go.  Up the steps we went and through the wood and beveled glass door we went.  As you can imagine, it looked like a keg party had been held there the night before.  The carpets were soaked, the place reeked of beer, smoke and whatever else.

The sight I wasn’t prepared for jumped out at me just as I was getting used to the smell.  Every window in the house was broken out.  I’m talking about 100 year old rolled glass two sash windows that were on average six feet in length.  One window at the bottom of the staircase was nearly ten feet in length, it was also broken.  Not just cracked, but knocked completely out.

Rolled glass isn’t safety glass.  It doesn’t shatter or spider, it pretty much breaks out just like in the movies when a bad guy gets thrown through one.  Needless to day in 1980, rolled glass was already rare and valuable.  Back to the contract to demolish the house.

An integral part of the contract for demolition was the value of the rolled glass windows, the heart pine floors, the stair case and all of the other beautiful mill work found inside.  When the contractor came that morning to verify that he could start work, he called and notified the owner, that the contract wold have to be adjusted to compensate for the damage done to the windows.  There was other damage to doors and the staircase, etc.

The reason I was summoned as a witness.  My counterpart, the property manager had just taken a serious butt chewing and was told that the owner, my employer fully intended to sue the local fraternity, the housing corporation and perhaps the national fraternity.

Having relayed this message to me with similar force as it had been passed on to him, he patted me on the back and said “we know they don’t have any money or anything of value, but you go tell them what we said.”  So I did.  I finally located someone responsible for the housing situation and arranged a meeting with a couple of guys that had been at the party the night before.

I forcefully, but calmly delivered the message that legal action against my brothers was looming on the horizon.  They were serious looking as I talked.  Finally, I asked them:  “What exactly happened over there last night?”.  The explanation was jaw dropping.  It had been a “pony keg” party.  Pony kegs are smaller than full sized kegs.

Every time a keg ran out, they simply tossed it out the window it was sitting in from of.  Then somebody got the bright idea to go outside and throw it back through the next window and so on and so on.  The party was over either when the beer ran out or all of the windows had been broken.  I was astounded.

That day was the beginning of the end for my fraternity chapter.  Oh they hung in there another thirty years until the fall of 2014.  But it was the beginning of the end.  They went through periods of time when they had no physical presence in the community.

Then all of a sudden it was on the front page of the local daily newspaper, above the fold.  In bold font:  LANDER FRATERNITY CHAPTER CLOSED, COLONY SUSPENDED.  The article said the chapter was closed by the college, the list of reasons were numerous and the door was closed as long as any current members were still undergraduates.

Ouch!  That’s kind of like the “death penalty” in college football.  I wasn’t exactly surprised but somewhere down inside of me I was pissed that the one thing I had worked so hard on for so many years was gone.  I started making calls to the brothers of my era and was met by a mixture of anger and indifference.

A group Facebook page was soon filled with messages from those wanting to take action and demand that this decision be reversed.  A few of us got together for lunch a couple of times and soon wound up dong nothing more than talking about the old times.  We were getting nowhere fast.

The Dean of Students was a friend of mine and had been there serving on the college staff from my student days.  I sent him an e-mail and soon we were on the phone having a very frank discussion about the events of the last year that had led up to this decision.  To put it frank terms, the patient had been on life support for a year and refused to sign a DO NOT RESUSCITATE ORDER.

The chapter had been out begging for money from alumni, calling in favors where they could find them but continued to act as if they were invincible.  When the end came, there were no more favors and the money and patience had run out.  So that was it.  After 44 years, it was over, done and finished.  It was hard to accept but time faded.

The results have been played out over and over again across the country on campuses large and small.  My national fraternity hired a polling company to e-mail alumni and find out what we thought could be done.  I answered honestly and thoughtfully on more than one occasion.  What happened to the data they collected, I never heard back.

A couple of months ago I read an article in the Charleston Post and Courier about how the College of Charleston had closed Alpha Chapter, the birthplace of my fraternity.  The current President of the college is a gentleman that was a member of Alpha.

He had a long history of of involvement over the years with the fraternity both locally and nationally.  He had been a member of the state legislature and had risen to Lt. Governor.  But the repeated violations of school policy with no signs of reform or remorse were too much.

When I was in school we partied.  But we were always a visible part of the college and tried to give back to our campus and the community.  I guess that just doesn’t fit in with the lifestyle anymore.

Sometimes it’s harder to write than others.

Today is my day off and like most of my days off, I go into work just to be sure there isn’t something that needs a minute or two of attention.  I usually go in late and leave early and that is, or rather was my plan for today.  At precisely 9:30 the power went off followed 15 minutes later by a confirmation text from Duke Energy, that, yes, they are experiencing power outages.

For confirmation, I walk outside and survey the surroundings.  I live next to a busy highway and there is a traffic signal on the corner.  It’s down and for the last 25 minutes, north-south traffic has continued without incident, although the people leaving Lowe’s across the street are experiencing long wait times to gain access to the world.

Duke Energy actually sent two texts, the second one tells me power should be restored in three hours.  I’m not thrilled about that, but hey, people in Puerto Rico have been without power for almost three weeks.  Hopefully in three hours, I can get rolling and more to the point, the hot water will still be a least luke warm then.

The people of Puerto Rico are in for a treat today.  Donald Trump is coming to visit, lucky them.   As I type, Air Force One is making its way southward from Washington, DC bearing the 45th President of the United States.  This is the same man that just days ago was feuding with the Mayor of San Juan.  Class Act, he is.

Last night I exhausted myself sitting here venting my anger about what happened in Las Vegas.  When I got up this morning, I re-read what I wrote and was sort of disappointed.  I wanted to write about anger, but I let it get out of hand.  Upon reflection, I think I’ll just let those words stand.  But I was worn out and didn’t think I could write again for a few days.

Now, three hours later I’m celebrating unity with my fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.  I’m not without food or  water, my home is still standing, I just don’t have electricity or internet for that matter.  Well I do have a fully charged iPhone next to me, but I’m not going to check the news or Twitter until the power comes back on.

Like most of my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, I have no idea where Donald Trump is right now and I don’t care.  At The White House this morning, Donald Trump made some impromptu remarks before heading to Marine One.  You know those god awful things he says every time he tries to get on a helicopter.  Today was no different.  He talked about the “Miracle in Las Vegas”.

He was referring to the first responders, the police, the fire and the paramedics and how efficiently and bravely they responded.  Unfortunately 574 people were shot by a sniper and 59 of them are dead and President Tone Deaf used the word Miracle several times.  He does this quite often when talking off the cuff.  As in Puerto Rico…big ocean, lots of water, big ocean.

I was watching Morning Joe during the departure.  Mike Barnicle commandeered the conversation and looked straight into the camera and said “I’m just tired of seeing this man and hearing him talk.  I’ve had enough.”  Now, I may have paraphrased some of that, but that is pretty close to his words, but exactly his intent.  Frankly, I feel the same way and I know a lot of you do as well.

Just stop talking Mr. President.  If you can’t mention the folks who were shot Monday morning while you’re on your way to visit the people you said just wanted everything done for them two days before that, then please just shut up.  If you will, I’ll feel better.  One of my non-political co-workers told me yesterday, “I’m fed up with this crap and want everything to calm down, NOW!”

I started this blog a few weeks ago to find out if I really wanted to be a writer or if it was just a fantasy.  I have a list of topics sitting here to the left of my keyboard, but current events are making it hard for me to write what I want.  I think of myself as Southern and would like to write like that.  But, I am afraid my South is gone.

Not the South of the Civil War, not the racist South of the 20th century, but the South of my youth.  Riding bicycles with baseball cards clipped to the spokes, Sunday dinners of fried chicken and macaroni pie, the 14 year old guy in my sixth grade class that drove his Pontiac to school.  Those are the kinds things that influenced me growing up in the South.

I don’t know for sure that I’ll write about all of those or any of those.  But like Mike Barnicle, I do know what I am tired of seeing and hearing.  Mr. President, please listen once in a while and please stop talking so much.  You’re making it harder and harder to write.

FOOTNOTE:  The power just came back on and I rinsed out my coffee cup, and YES, I still have hot water!  My Dad had a saying: “You can do anything for 30 minutes, including standing on your head.”  To my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico I say this:  “La agonía es larga pero la muerte es segura”

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.

Priceline.com

Several years ago, I don’t remember how many, the internet transitioned from strictly research, e-mail, chat rooms to commerce.  Soon thereafter, in those dark days of digital commerce came the marketers.  You know those three martini lunch, Madison Avenue Guys that understood cross-channel marketing.

Yeah, the internet was this great place and the next greatest thing but not everyone was using it.  The early adapters in those days “surfed the net” with mostly unfettered freedom using their desktop while at work.

I remember co-workers talking about doing Christmas shopping on-line and having UPS roll up to the mail room and drop off everything from baseball bats to Barbie Jeeps which were stored in empty offices and closets.  This was about twenty years ago and seemed so impersonal to me at the time.

I worked in retail as kid in high school and loved helping early and last minute shoppers make their decisions for all of the names on the lists that they carried in their coat pockets.  Face to face interaction was exciting, just the same as my first job, running a neighborhood paper route for the local afternoon daily.  Another story for another time, maybe.

Ordering things with the click of a mouse, which was just gaining acceptance in 1995, and entering a credit card number into a block on your monitor screen, well that just scared the crap out of me.  I trusted UPS and the emergent FEDEX but not a green or amber blinking screen.

UPS had been around for years and specialized in small package delivery.  Even in the small town I grew up in, brown trucks were a familiar sight.  But putting your credit information into a computer and sending it off to GOD knows where, that was a leap of faith.

See, I’m a procrastinator, especially when it comes to Christmas shopping.  I love going out the last day or two, when the deals are exactly the same as they are on Black Friday.  On Black Friday, people are determined, unyielding in their pursuit,  sleep deprived and generally lacking the holiday spirit.

But the day before Christmas is different.  Same mission, same unfilled list of gifts, same sense of urgency, but different.  The air is different, cooler, brisker and the sky isn’t quite as bright a shade of blue.  Black Friday, everyone goes out at night and gets a place in line and camps out on the sidewalks they would never sit on, much less sleep on.

The mood on Black Friday is like a bunch of homeless people descending on the line outside a soup kitchen knowing that they’re going to be greeted and served by people who won’t be there until this time next year.  It ain’t pretty.

Along comes the internet.  No waiting in line, your size, your color preference and slowly it begins to catch on.  After a few years, the internet begins to turn shopping into a bargain hunting experience, thanks to Google search results and paid ads.  Simple right?

Go to Google, type in what you’re looking for and the best bargains come up on the first page.  What a deal!  Then we learn about Google Ads and how companies pay to have their deals come up first.  The secret is algorithms.  Kinda makes you wish you had paid more attention in math class.

Anyway, this isn’t an attack on Google.  My point is there were always companies vying for your shopping dollar on line and there always will be.  One of the first that I remember was priceline.com.  Want a cheap hotel, flight or rental car?  It was all there in one site.

Remember Madison Avenue?  Priceline.com suddenly appeared on television with an instantly recognized spokesperson.  William Shatner, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, was suddenly the face of one stop travel shopping.  I know, the commercials were shtick, corny but they stuck in your mind.

The tie-in.  Today, we had a cabinet secretary resign over a growing scandal about abuse of travel on private planes under the guise of “it was the most convenient way to carry out the President’s aggressive agenda”.  Well that excuse lasted about as long geraniums without water for two weeks in the heat of summer.

Had Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, fresh off of another defeat of Repeal and Replace only consulted William Shatner about his travel arrangements, he might not be headed back to Atlanta tonight, probably in economy class.  Can you imagine a flight from DC to Atlanta on a Friday night?  Not a pretty picture.

Instead, Dr. Price joins Sean Spicer, Mike Flynn and others getting the weekend pass to private life.  Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz who clicked her heels and wished to be back in Kansas.  Dr. Price could, with a little more forethought, tapped his chest and said “Beam me up Scotty”!

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.

Too old and undisciplined to be a writer

Well here I sit on another Sunday afternoon with about 90% of my agenda for today accomplished.  The unfinished 10% gnaws at me with a hunger that’s not gonna let up until Monday comes and I go back to work tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up, make my coffee, lay out my clothes and watch Morning Joe and the local news for traffic and weather.  Of course, there is the period of reflection as I shower and shave. What happened to that youthful body and face that I’ve seen most every morning of my life?

You know what I’m talking about.  Your skin isn’t as taught as it once was, there seems to be a new wrinkle in your face every morning and of course, there’s less hair to comb each day.  Of course there is more hair growing out of my ears, my eyebrows grow almost as fast and, my god  is my nose really getting bigger?  I won’t go into the many other problems associated with settling into your early 60’s, but the list is long.

Out the door I’ll go and soon I’ll be at work and back among people.  I live alone and the period of time from Saturday night until Monday morning is almost like plugging an electric vehicle into a charging station for me.  I’m a car salesman in my 19th year of this my chosen profession.  Weekends are my time of reconnecting with me, a southern guy that grew up in the 60’s, desegregation, the Viet Nam war and some damn good rock and roll.

When you get to work and step out of your own car onto the asphalt, that is your field of play  and you assume the identity.  A problem is no more than the next opportunity, the goal is always to gather as much information as quickly as possible.  Most people shopping for a car will tell you everything you need to sell them a car in the first 5 minutes, except the final price they’re willing to pay.  The key is you have to train yourself to listen.

For me, that was hard and took a couple of years to master.  I was an only child and was raised to “be seen and not heard” but in school I was often “the class clown” which was the opposite.  It seemed that at the most inopportune time I could seize the moment and make my classmates laugh, without regard or forethought of the consequences soon headed my way.

Somehow, at age 62,  I have manged to harness this lack of discipline and have become a good listener.  I pay close attention to my customers or “ups” as we call them in the car business and respond to their stated needs and expectations and I “close” at a pretty high rate for my chosen profession.

Car buying, for most people is like going to the orthodontist for a root canal.  They know its going to be a good decision but they just hate it and that often results in a bad post purchase survey.  Despite my best efforts to address their needs and make it an enjoyable experience, occasionally, I get a bad survey and it costs me money.

But tomorrow morning, I’ll again don my Monday navy blue golf shirt and khakis and strike out in search of success.  Tuesday will be a different color golf shirt and so will Wednesday and so on until Saturday and I’ll be back right here again.

Today, I gained one new follower on Twitter.  The odd thing was, this person is a budding, but published writer about my age, but if you believe the bio, serious and with a plan for a writing career.  I was intrigued as I read that after a career in something else, this person had pursued a lifelong interest in writing, gone back to school to study writing and has a plan.

My plan, well, I don’t have one, at least as far as writing goes.  If I approached selling cars with the same lack of conviction that I have towards writing, well I’d be turning burgers at McDonald’s or hash browns at Waffle House.  My initial plan was to write once a week, every week.

My new follower on Twitter has a plan, but she is retired and apparently, financially secure.  Her plan is to write five hours a day for five days each week.  Well that is unattainable for me.  I leave for work around 7:30 in the morning and get home anywhere between 7:30 and  8:30 in the evening.  I’m not complaining, but my brain and my body are usually done for the day when I get home.

I’m not being critical of my new Twitter follower, not even jealous, but maybe a little envious.  Mind you, I wouldn’t trade my life, past or present, for anyone’s.  My journey through life has taken me to unexpected places, but nothing rivals being a parent.

But my new Twitter follower talks about the things that I know are holding me back from be a good writer.  The main one is discipline.  I don’t keep notebooks of ideas and thoughts like she does.  But then again, my compulsion to write is based on daily observations and I could probably use a notebook to help me keep track of story ideas.

Maybe one day, and maybe I might pick up a notebook in CVS tomorrow morning.  I have a 20% off coupon on my key ring and their store is across the street from my dealership.  In the meantime, I’m going to just continue along my undisciplined path, pretending I’m some sort of southern  sage of the keyboard,

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.

.

 

 

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.

 

Irmageddon, Wal-Mart and Hoarding

This is my second attempt to put words to paper, as it were.  This idea began to gel as I was driving home from Wal-Mart earlier.  I have friends that thoroughly detest Wal-Mart, not just the store itself, but the injustice they perceive that Sam Walton and his heirs has visited on America.

But for me, Wal-Mart is an adventure every time I go for a visit.  I don’t look at it as going shopping, nope, its a visit with a few hundred strangers all doing the same thing, preparing for the next few days.  I use the term strangers because I moved three years ago and outside of work, my family and my customers, I don’t really know anyone.  My neighbor is simply “Porkchop” and I usually see him to talk about every other week.

But the people I see at Wal-Mart, well, they are special and today was no different, it was a treat that I really hadn’t expected.  As I sit here sharing with you, Irma has been wreaking havoc on Florida for several hours now and totally dominating the news cycle.  Like everyone else, I think I have seen my lifetime quotient of rain gear clad reporters standing in running water, commenting on fallen palm fronds and pounding surf all the while pointing out the painfully obvious, its not safe to be were they are reporting from.

There is no relief from these weather warriors on social media either.  Every local TV meteorologist is busy tweeting and posting on Facebook your local likelihood of wind and rain, even though you may be 600 miles from Irma’s eye.  Well that’s me today, about 600 miles away but not entirely safe from 40 MPH winds and 3 to 6 inches of rain

One of the things that I can’t seem to escape on social media is the video of how to charge your phone when the power goes out.  We’ve all seen it.  You know, the 9 volt battery, your car charger and the spring out of an ink pen.  Followed by the comments & testimonials from your friends and followers who all swear that it works.

Since today is my day off and Irmageddon is now just under 24 hours away for the Upstate of my beloved state, I decided to make an appropriate shopping list and venture out to my nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter.  I must mention that since Harvey dropped a few feet of water on Houston and the Texas gulf coast in general, I’ve been visiting the grocery store every couple of days.

I’ve done this to protect myself from shortages and price gouging.  During Harvey it was everywhere I looked that pipelines carrying gasoline from Houston to the east coast were being shut down and there would be no gas.  In just a few days the price of gasoline went from under $2.00 a gallon to $2.49 a gallon and I responded accordingly by topping off my gas tank every three or four days.

Normally, I can drive for nearly two weeks on a tank since I only drive about 15 miles a day.  This brings me to hoarding, which was genetically passed on to me by my Mom.  My Mom, like my Dad, was born during the depression and lived an early life of doing without or having basic necessities rationed during World War II.  My Dad was the oldest of five, my Mom was the youngest of four and like my Dad, both of her parents were employed in the textile mills.

Being an only child, in the post World War II baby boomer era, things were better for me growing up.  My Dad worked for the textile company, but he had a good job, managed his money well and that allowed my Mom to stop working when I was young.  We didn’t live an extravagant life, Mom and Dad managed their money well, but we ate well, lived in a comfortable home and enjoyed a yearly vacation to the beach in late spring .

However, my Mom, did have a tendency to accumulate things.  Not everything, but things like towels.  If they were on sale, Mom bought towels.  I mean you take bath everyday, right?  So what if there are only three people in the house and one washing machine always present?  Something could happen to the washing machine, so why not have 24 sets of towels and washcloths?  Eight days is an eternity, if the washing machine goes out.

Mom’s tendency accelerated when my first daughter was born.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was showing tendencies of early onset of Alzheimer’s.  The purchases were now for the benefit of her granddaughter, not herself or my Dad.  If Crayola sidewalk chalk was on sale, you can’t have too many packs in the closet where the towels were stored, right?

If Kraft macaroni and cheese box dinners were buy one get one free, why buy four when eight will just fit into the kitchen cabinet if you work at it.  Which brings me to my trip to Wal-Mart today.  I had a short list, beer, 9 volt batteries to recharge my phone when the power went out and light bulbs.  If the power goes out, you don’t need light bulbs, and I had no pressing need for light bulbs, but they were part of my justification to go to Wal-Mart.

Now, as I said earlier, a trip to Wal-Mart is a visit with America.  At work, I’m somewhat insulated as I sell Subarus.  Not every walk of America wants or needs a Subaru, and those that do, can easily afford them and thus they are actually an easy sell.  When I have sold more mainstream cars, I’ve been in contact with folks that either direly needed a new car, could barely afford a car, or came out to shop for cars when their power had been disconnected for non-payment, and decided to get out of the house because the air conditioning wasn’t working.

Those are the people of Wal-Mart.  Not all of them, but the folks I don’t see every day.  But today was special.  The place was packed for an early Sunday afternoon, remember Irma?  As I walked in the door, I checked for a buggy with four wheels that tracked straight and didn’t make an embarrassing noise and wobble and off I went.

My first stop was the battery carousel behind the express checkout stations.  There they were 9-volt batteries and since I was there, why not an 8 pack of Double A batteries?  They fit my TV remote, the mouse for my computer and all the clocks in my house, never mind that the TV and my computer will probably not work if Irma denies me power for a few days.

Down to the household aisle and I found a 4 pack of LED light bulbs for only $22.22, what a bargain!  Then for only another $3.96 I scored an LED tap on light(that only needs 3 AA batteries, well I’m set.  And I’m only down about $39 at this point and have found an immediate use for 3 of my 8 new AA batteries.

By the time I get to the grocery section, I’m confronted with a new type of customer that I’m not used to seeing in Wal-Mart.  It’s the husband doing reconnaissance by smart phone with his wife.  You see it occasionally, the guy on the phone talking to his superior, describing in detail the product he was sent in search of, only to be told, that its the wrong brand, size or doesn’t have the proper seasoning.  It’s somehow emasculating to watch.

I was in search of a simple 18 pack of beer, but no, the only option was 12 packs.  OK, what to do, buy the 12 pack and get back out in the remnants of Irma in a few days and purchase more mid-week, or get two 12 packs now.  Obvious answer.

Well the rest of my trip was shot, except for the lady in her mid 40’s in the spandex pants and heavy eye liner that met me head on about every aisle, no I didn’t do it on purpose, but we did wind up in the check out line together.  So after setting out for a visit with America at Wal-Mart this afternoon and donating an extra $5 to the Red Cross, my total was $116.13.

The basic list was beer, batteries and light bulbs and I spent $116, WTF?  I didn’t mention the two pork loins now simmering in the crockpot.  And the best part of the visit was the pass I made through the meat department.  There was an older gentleman on his knees busily restocking the prepackaged meat section which looked as though everything had been “buy one get one free all weekend”.

I said hello and engaged him in a short conversation about his labor.  He told me, “honestly, you’d think the forecast was for 15 inches of snow and it’s been like that since Thursday”.  I smiled as I added a 2 lb pack of sliced turkey, which should last me to Thanksgiving, to my shopping cart along with 2 lbs of sliced cheese.

As I was driving home, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to buy ink pens, you know the click type with the spring I could remove to charge my cell phone.  I use a pen that has a removable top and have for the last 40 years.  Incidentally, I have an unopened three pack of those in my computer bag.  Thanks Mom.

When I get home and am getting my $116.13 of purchases out of the plastic bags, I take the unneeded light bulbs to the closet where they shall reside until the next one burns out, I found my jump box for my car.  I bought it about two years ago specifically because it has a USB port to charge a phone or a laptop in the event of power loss.

So here I sit, with the smell of two pork loins simmering in the crock pot filling my apartment.  My jump box is on the floor charging, my Mophie is plugged into my laptop, I have charged my old cell phone and turned it off knowing that if worse comes to worse, I can switch my SIM card back to my old phone and still communicate with my daughters and the outside world while I am 600 miles away from Irmageddon, 5 miles away from Wal-Mart and never more than a smile away from my Mom.

Thanks Mom.  You’ve been gone for a little more than 10 years and I just want you to know, I miss you, but especially want you to know that you live on through your son.