Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Sunset Vigil"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Sergeant First Class Kristoffer B. Domeij, an Army Ranger, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan last Saturday.  Two other soldiers were also killed in the incident.

SFC Domeij, a veteran of ten years in the military (joining just two months before the attacks of September 11th, 2001), was a husband and father of two young daughters.  The family lived in San Diego, California.

Domeij was part of the team that freed PFC Jessica Lynch after she was captured by Iraqi forces in 2003.

During the ten years that SFC Domeij spent in the Army, he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan fourteen times, making him the most deployed individual to be killed in the wars in the Middle East up to this point.  Most of his deployments were relatively short, usually 105 days, but those short tours were deployments of high intensity with the Rangers participating in operations almost on a daily basis.   SFC Domeij spent a combined total of 48 months in combat – or forty percent of his entire time in the military.

A couple of years ago when British Staff Sergeant Andrew McFarlane, who was also serving in Afghanistan (his second tour), learned that eight of his comrades had suffered battlefield deaths in a twenty-four hour period, he sat down and penned the following poem.  It is a somber message that speaks to the awful nature of war and death.  It is also a fitting tribute to all who have sacrificed their lives in the futile endeavors that are Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunset Vigil
By Andrew McFarlane

The news is spread far and wide
Another comrade has sadly died
A sunset vigil upon the sand
As a soldier leaves this foreign land

We stand alone, and yet as one
In the fading light of a setting sun
We've all gathered to say goodbye
To our fallen comrade who's set to fly

The eulogy's read about their life
Sometimes with words from pals or wife
We all know when the CO's done
What kind of soldier they'd become

The padre then calls us all to pray
The bugler has Last Post to play
The cannon roars and belches flame
We will recall, with pride, their name

A minute's silence stood in place
As tears roll down the hardest face
Deafening silence fills the air
With each of us in personal prayer

Reveille sounds and the parade is done
The hero remembered, forgotten by none
They leave to start the journey back
In a coffin draped in the Union Jack

Sunday, October 30, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

For those few among us who feel they have too much free time on their hands, or that life has grown a bit mundane and predictable, here is a challenge that might just serve to liven things up a bit.  November is apparently National Novel Writing Month, and a non-profit group calling itself Nanowrimo is encouraging all would-be novelists to strut their stuff during the month.  The group, located on the web at is sponsoring a "competition" that challenges writers, professional and amateur, to create a work of at least 50,000 words during the thirty days of November.  Winners will be all of those who complete the project during the thirty-day span.

Not only will each writer who successfully finishes the task get a nifty certificate, he or she will also have a couple of pounds of completed manuscript and a fair amount of raging self-esteem.

All writing must be original, composed entirely during the month of November, and the sole work of the entrant.

Nanowrimo has established benchmarks to keep its writer's pounding their keyboards at a steady pace.  Further information and lots of raw encouragement can be found on the group's website.

So if my blogposts begin to shrink noticeably over the next few weeks, be patient.  December is coming!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

OccupyMarines and OccupyPolice

by Pa Rock
Member of the 99%

Mayor Jean Quan, realizing just how badly her city of Oakland, California, looked after the brutal police attacks on the Occupy protesters, is now apologizing and lowering the police presence at the protests.

Former Marine and Iraq War vet, Scott Olsen, who was seriously injured at Occupy Oakland when police fired a projectile that struck him in the head, is reportedly better - though it is still unknown whether he will have to endure brain surgery or not.

And the beat goes on, not just in one American city - but in dozens.

Today I have been reading about a new group that has begun forming in the past few days to move in and support the protesters when the police and political authorities begin overreaching.  This group, OccupyMarines, is composed for former members of the Marine Corps (current members can't be involved in civil protests - nor should they be - on either side).  And while the ex-marines can't turn out in their military uniforms, they are attempting to show up in quasi-military gear that identifies them as former members of the Corps and makes for quick recognition by others in the crowds as well as by police.  It might be important to know that there is a professional cadre on the ground who have been trained to perform in situations of civil unrest.

Interestingly, there is also a movement afoot to bring in off-duty and former police personnel to aid and assist members of the 99%.  This effort can be found on the web in various places as OccupyPolice.

The last I heard it was snowing in Zucotti Park.  The rabble was supposed to disperse and go back to their soft lives when the weather began to turn cold.  That hasn't happened.  That insignificant and almost laughable anti-Wall Street protest that began September 17th has survived - and it has thrived.  Politicians who felt that they could wait out this storm of public anger may need to rethink that strategy.

Jean Quan was smart to apologize and to pull the police back.  Hopefully other political leaders will learn from her flexibility and not be so quick to attack their own citizens.

Be well, Scott Olsen.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Scott Olsen, American Hero

by Pa Rock
Member of the 99%

The "Occupy" movement that is sweeping across America appears to be rattling the establishment good and hard.  While many mayors and police departments initially let the peaceful protesters wave their signs and sing their songs, assuming that they would soon tire of the hardships of standing in the streets and sleeping in public parks, some have started to overreact now that it has become apparent that the protesters are staying.

The police in Oakland, California, have been overreacting for several days, and their actions have placed thousands of good people in danger.  Yesterday Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was struck in the head with a projectile (probably a tear gas canister) fired at close range by members of the Oakland Police Department.  Olsen suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized in critical condition.

The Oakland Chief of Police said that there will be an investigation of this incident, and Mayor Jean Quan said that she will personally supervise the investigation.   Meanwhile, Scott Olsen lies in a hospital bed with his brain swelling.

Citizens in America have a right to protest.  That right in guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America - the same Constitution and the same Constitutional right that Scott Olsen was defending in Iraq.   The shooting of this young man was a disgraceful act that merits far more than an investigation.  Heads need to roll!

Scott Olsen, an American patriot who served two combat tours in Iraq as a member of the United States Marine Corps, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Donations for his care and support may be made at their website:

Somewhere on the web the other day I saw an interesting comparison between the Tea Party and the Occupiers.  The writer noted that members of the Tea Party carry guns to their events and the police just stand back and let it happen.   But when the Occupiers begin showing up with sleeping bags, the police become unhinged.

Guns don't provoke - sleeping bags do!  Welcome to America in the twenty-first century.

Stay strong, Scott Olsen!  Once again, you are a hero!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Politicians Feel the Squeeze of BOA

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Bank of America has an image problem.  J.D. Power and Associates did a 24-bank survey of small business customer satisfaction that rated BOA at the bottom of the pile., a web site owned by Consumers Union, did an on-line survey of its subscribers which found BOA to be the second worst company in America, barely (just barely) losing out to the odious BP of the Caribbean oil slick fame.  Bank of America definitely has an image problem!

In a effort to increase revenue and bring it's stock prices back up (BOA was selling for $6.59 a share today), the corporation recently laid off 30,000 employees (Merry Christmas, y'all), and decided to stick a $5.00 monthly fee on the use of its debit cards.  The out-of-work employees obviously aren't overjoyed, and the debit card fee has managed to enrage much of the rest of the country.  There have been demonstrations against BOA in some American cities, and politicians, including President Obama, have voiced complaints about it.  Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois has gone so far as to suggest that depositors move their money out of Bank of America.

The new CEO of Bank of America, Brian T. Moynihan, is not taking all of this criticism gracefully.  He is encouraging his employees to write to state and municipal leaders and remind them of all of the good that BOA does for them and their constituencies.  (And the ones fortunate enough to still be employed are undoubtedly taking pen-in-hand, out of fear of losing their jobs if for no other reason.).  Implicit in the pressure being put on politicians by the giant bank is also the reminder of campaign cash that BOA generously slathers on the office holders.

The ridiculous pissy attitude of Moynihan is a perfect example of why angry protesters are occupying Wall Street, Oakland, Denver, Portland, Boston, and dozens of other American cities.  Bank of America has been bailed out twice with taxpayer money - and yet the CEO has the audacity to collect almost $2 million a year in salary - while 30,000 lose their jobs and millions of others get stuck with the unfair debit card fee.

I bank with Bank of America and own stock in the corporation.  I am dissatisfied with its operation and performance.  Better treatment of employees and better customer relations would do far more to strengthen its position in the business world than a CEO snit-fit and a silly letter-writing campaign.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Upcoming Travels

by Pa Rock
Frequent Flyer

My friend, Valerie, and I spent a good part of this evening hovered over her computer trying to come up with the best deal on tickets for a flight to Guam.  We have a mutual friend, Lennie, who lived on Guam for many years, and she is going back there at the start of Thanksgiving week to visit friends.  Valerie and I will be tagging along - and hanging around a few days after Lennie leaves.

My time in the Far East is quickly slipping away, and by this July I will be back to living in the States.  Since coming here I have been to Korea twice and spent holiday weekends on two of the little islands close to Okinawa.  I would like to spend a relaxing few days on Guam and then maybe do something a bit more extravagant over Christmas or early in the new year.

One possibility for the big trip will be Australia.  The marines are offering a tour package to Sydney over Christmas that would last for a week with quite a bit of free time built into the tour.  I am seriously considering that one, but the marine travel agent told me that there may not be enough interest for the trip to make.  My second choice is Vietnam, but I would have to piece that one together on my own.

I'm having a good time living abroad.  It is sort of like going through adolescence again, but without the acne.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Johnny Depp's "Stupid Money"

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an article in this week entitled "It's Time to Occupy Hollywood!"  The writer of that piece, Mary Elizabeth Williams, argued that it's not just "evil bankers" who are pulling in obscene salaries in this economic downturn when many Americans have actually seen their benefits and salaries decrease - top entertainers and athletes are also hogs at the trough.

She used Johnny Depp as her primary example of a star who is drawing in staggering amounts of cash.  Depp made $50 million last year alone and commented on that take:  "If they're going to pay me stupid money right now, I'm going to take it."  And I would too.

The author noted that Tiger Woods will rake in around $62 million this year, down from a high of $90 million prior to the unraveling of his marriage and reputation.  Lady Gaga, it seems, will have to get by on $90 million this year.

But those are entertainers.   (I contend that even athletes are entertainers.)  They are not out trying to sucker people into risky mortgages or jacking up rates on credit cards.  They don't cause air pollution or turn the Caribbean Sea into an oil slick.  What's the harm if they can take home as much salary as a titan of Wall Street?  Who are they harming?

Unfortunately, bloated salaries hurt us all.  The size of each pie is finite, and if one person gets a bigger slice, it results in everyone else getting less.

Ms. Williams used the new movie, The Lone Ranger, as an example.  That film, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, is being shot for $215 million, but in order to pay the talent their bloated salaries, the producers had to lay off extras, special effects people, and make-up people.  The quality of the movie will suffer, and, more importantly, many people who should have been employed will now have to come up with other ways to pay their bills.  And the chumps who go to the theatres to see the movie will still be marching on the escalator of rising ticket prices.

It's the same with the athletes.  How many "average" people can afford to buy season tickets to watch a major league sports team?   (For those who would like to know more about the impact of the out-of-control salaries of athletes on their teams and their sports, check out the movie Moneyball.   Generally speaking, the teams with the most money buy the best athletes, win the most games, and make the most money.   It's a very vicious cycle - and there is no telling how much money Brad Pitt got for producing and starring in that dramatic expose of the business of baseball!)

We are all the victims of greed, but some of it seems less evil and ugly.  People should be paid for their talent, and if their talent is running banks or corporations, they should be paid for that too.  But somewhere on that salary schedule should be a line that decent people would know not to cross - and we should all be aware of those who cross that line and be prepared to inflict the collective power of the marketplace on the greedy bastards.  They will have "earned" that comeuppance!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Robin Hood"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

There are two major rogue political forces at work today in America.  One, the Teabaggers (aka the bad guys), is all about lowering taxes, especially on the rich, shaming the poor and oppressed, and trying to whiten society.  The other, the Occupiers, are hell bent on eating the rich or at least taxing them more, curbing the powers of big banks and corporations, and ensuring that everyone has the basic necessities that make life tolerable - such as safe food and water, adequate shelter, and access to education and health care.

Obviously my biases regarding these two groups are showing, but I don't really give a damn.

Today's poem, "Robin Hood," by John Keats, pays homage to the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest and his merry band who became legendary for looking out for the little guy.  It is respectfully dedicated, by me, to the brave souls across America and the world who are camping out in parks, carrying placards, and refusing to be silent in the face of authoritarian repression.

You guys are Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlett, and Much the Miller's son - and you guys rock!  Stay strong, Occupiers!

Robin Hood
by John Keats

NO! those days are gone away,
And their hours are old and gray,
And their minutes buried all
Under the down-trodden pall
Of the leaves of many years:
Many times have winter's shears,
Frozen North, and chilling East,
Sounded tempests to the feast
Of the forest's whispering fleeces,
Since men knew nor rent nor leases.

No, the bugle sounds no more,
And the twanging bow no more;
Silent is the ivory shrill
Past the heath and up the hill;
There is no mid-forest laugh,
Where lone Echo gives the half
To some wight, amaz'd to hear
Jesting, deep in forest drear.

On the fairest time of June
You may go, with sun or moon,
Or the seven stars to light you,
Or the polar ray to right you;
But you never may behold
Little John, or Robin bold;
Never one, of all the clan,
Thrumming on an empty can
Some old hunting ditty, while
He doth his green way beguile
To fair hostess Merriment,
Down beside the pasture Trent;
For he left the merry tale,
Messenger for spicy ale.

Gone, the merry morris din;
Gone, the song of Gamelyn;
Gone, the tough-belted outlaw
Idling in the "grene shawe";
All are gone away and past!
And if Robin should be cast
Sudden from his turfed grave,
And if Marian should have
Once again her forest days,
She would weep, and he would craze:
He would swear, for all his oaks,
Fall'n beneath the dockyard strokes,
Have rotted on the briny seas;
She would weep that her wild bees
Sang not to her---strange! that honey
Can't be got without hard money!

So it is; yet let us sing
Honour to the old bow-string!
Honour to the bugle-horn!
Honour to the woods unshorn!
Honour to the Lincoln green!
Honour to the archer keen!
Honour to tight little John,
And the horse he rode upon!
Honour to bold Robin Hood,
Sleeping in the underwood!
Honour to maid Marian,
And to all the Sherwood clan!
Though their days have hurried by
Let us two a burden try. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crime and Punishment, Alabama Style

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The citizens of Bay Minette, Alabama (population 7,700), believe they may have come up with a way to save money and maybe mend the wicked ways of some of their local yokels in the process.  The town has developed an action plan to divert small-time criminals away from the penal system and toward a life of holy happiness.

The plan is called "Restore Our Community," and it's primary innovation in the criminal justice system is to offer misdemeanor offenders a choice of punishments.  Those who are found to be eligible for the program can select an alternative to going to jail and/or paying a fine.  The choice:  attending church on a weekly basis for one year.

In justifying this unique program, Mike Rowland, the local chief of police, said that one day in the jail costs local government seventy-five dollars.  (Chief Rowland needs to get in contact with Sheriff Joe Arpaio out in Arizona. Old Joe has cut his costs down to just pennies a day per inmate!  Obviously Bay Minette lavishes too many luxuries on their incarcerated criminals!)

Fifty-six area churches have signed up to be part of the new alternative-sentencing program in Bay Minette.   People who select church as their punishment may choose from the list of participating churches.  Those churches will keep and verify attendance for the court.  No word yet on whether there are any mosques or Jewish temples participating in the program - or if will it be a "Jesus-only" option.

Back in the day when I was a young man oozing spit and vinegar, some judges would give offenders the choice of going to jail or to the military.  That might have actually been more humane than forcing a young person who made a mistake to spend a whole year listening to some Bible-thumping cracker belch fire and brimstone while begging for money.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama is in court trying to block this egregious mixing of church and state.  The town of Bay Minette is arguing that they are not entwining church and state, but just offering a choice.   It will soon be up to the courts and God to sort it all out.

One is left to wonder just how a small town with fifty-six churches could have any crime at all?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pete Seeger Marches On!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement is now over a month old, and it has spread to dozens of other American cities as well as to some international locations.  And while the Teabaggers like to thumb their noses at an honest people's protest movement and refer to them as just so much rabble, polls are showing that over one in three Americans support the "Occupiers," a number that far exceeds the national support of the Baggers - even on their very best day.

The movement to "occupy" the financial district of New York City and other American metropolitan areas is amazing, and it has grown and spread so fast that even the most astute of politicians don't know what to make of it or how to handle it.  On the one hand, they want to maintain the status quo and keep milking the system, while, on the other hand, if things do happen to change they want to squarely lined up with the winners.

And things may change.

The "Arab Spring" continues uprooting the established political order of the Middle East.  Mubarak is gone, Qaddafi is gone, and this weekend Tunisia is holding free elections to form a democratic government.  The fires of freedom are raging across North Africa and the Middle East - and change is happening.

Who is to say that it can't happen in America?  One important change has already occurred, and that is people are finally talking about the great disparity of wealth in America.  Hell, even the media is talking about it.

But the thing that I like best about the "Occupy" movement is that the people who are participating seem to be having so much fun.  It would be really hard for some right-wing mayor to turn the fire hoses and dogs on a group of people who are oozing with so much joyousness.  Peace and harmony rocks!

I just saw a report about yesterday's march across thirty blocks of downtown Manhattan.  The man leading the peaceful demonstration was a very old hand at protests.  Ninety-two-year-old folksinger Pete Seeger along with his guitar-playing grandson, Tao Rodriguez Seeger, led the crowd in song as they traipsed through some of the tonier sections of Gotham.  They were accompanied by Woody Guthrie's little boy, Arlo, and filmmaker Michael Moore.  Moore reported that even some New York City policemen joined in the protest march.

The elder Seeger walked those thirty blocks with the assistance of two canes.

Arlo's daddy said it best:  "This land is your land, this land is my land."  It does not all belong to the Koch brothers!

Stay strong, Occupiers!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Rule of an Iron Fist

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Muammar Qaddafi, a dictator who ruled the North African country of Libya for over four decades, departed this life yesterday just outside of a large drainage pipe near his hometown of Sirte.  Libya's supreme leader was apparently in some disarray after being pulled from the drainage pipe - his hairpiece had fallen off revealing a bald spot on the dictator's head.   He begged his captors not to harm him, but some in the jubilant crowd could not contain their joy, and shots were fired.   One report that I read said that Colonel Qaddafi was shot in each leg and in the back of the head.

Qaddafi's demise is a very small payment for the suffering that he brought upon the world (such as the Lockerbie bombing and the massacres of his own people), but it does signal an approaching end to the age of authoritarian repression.

In response to Qadaffi's death, President Obama said, "The rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end."

The Arab Spring marches on - and that is a very good thing!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bill O'Reilly Meets Fahrenheit 451

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is a story popping up all over the Internet today that is giving me some personal consternation.  It seems that some undoubtedly well-intentioned individual sent 20 copies of one of Bill O'Reilly's bound collections of tripe (Pinheads and Patriots) to a unit of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.  The young soldier who released the information on the Net, said that the books were then dumped in the burn barrel on the orders of his commander, and set ablaze.  The amateur reporter even included a photograph of the books as they were being consumed by the fire.

The reported justification for this troubling act was that individual living space is severely limited for servicemen in the war zone, and they primarily live out of their duffel bags.  There was no place to store these non-essential items and no local post office through which to send them back, so the commander took the expedient action of ordering the books burned.

While the young man who released this information over the Internet made it clear that he had no love for Mr. O'Reilly or his radical views and conservative philosophy, he did declare unequivocally that the book-burning was not a political act.  He suggested that if people wanted to send gifts to the troops, they should consider items with a more utilitarian value - such as soap or food.

Okay, book-burning is wrong - it is an offense against civilization.  But it is hard not to smile, just a little, when the tables get turned and it is the books of the censors and those who spend vast amounts of time telling the rest of us how to behave that are cast into the flames.  If this story is true, and it was on the Internet so it must be, the commander is sure to face the wrath of every wingnut macaroon from James O'Keefe to Ann Coulter - and all of the maggots in-between - and will likely lose his job.  But he probably felt like what he did was both correct and necessary.

And as far as war atrocities go, this one was relatively small potatoes.

(For an accurate and very disturbing look at how our troops stationed in remote outposts in Afghanistan actually live, check out the documentary, Restrepo, by Sebastian Junger.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cultural Exchanges

by Pa Rock
American Abroad

As an American living in the Far East, I have opportunities almost daily to exchange bits of culture and kindness with the good people of Okinawa - and they are very good people!  I feel like the experience of living abroad has made me much more open to allowing myself to learn from others.

Earlier this week as I was in the process of getting back to Okinawa from the States, I had a couple of interesting exchanges with strangers of foreign extraction, and in both instances, I was made better by the experience.

The first occurred at O'Hare Airport in Chicago while I was waiting to board the gigantic Boeing 777 that would stay aloft for over thirteen hours without refueling as it ferried an international conglomeration of individuals from Chicago to Tokyo.

An oriental man who was sitting next to me at the gate leaned over and asked me where I was from.  After explaining that I was from the United States but lived in Okinawa, I returned the query by asking where he was from.  He told me that he was from North Vietnam, a fact that I thought was highly interesting because (a) there is no longer a "North" or "South" Vietnam, but only the singular country of "Vietnam," and (b) North Vietnamese were the mysterious and shadowy enemy of the United States during my formative years, and indeed, some of my high school classmates had gone to war and fought the sinister North Vietnamese.

But this stranger stressed the "North" part of his heritage.  Did he want to shock me or make a political point, or was he just being specific as if I had told him that I was from the Ozarks instead of from the United States?  This man and I talked for awhile, and I found him to be quite pleasant.  I told him that friends and I had talked about traveling to his country, and asked if many Americans visit Vietnam.  He said that they did.  When I asked about the best time of year to visit, he recommended the summer.  Considering that Vietnam is quite a bit south of where I currently reside, and our summers are muggy on Okinawa, I found that answer to be puzzling.  Obviously, more research is needed before we pack our bags and head off to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

The last I saw of the man from North Vietnam was when I helped him find his seat on the plane.

The second bit of cultural exchange that I engaged in was at the other end of the same flight.  I was in the Narita Airport near Tokyo trying to connect my netbook to the airport's free Wi-Fi.  I found the tab to click on, but when the instructions popped up, they were completely in Japanese script.  After several unsuccessful tries at converting the page to English, I approached two young Japanese women (who were probably in their twenties) and asked for help.  The three of us sat on the floor at the airport as the women worked with my little computer and helped  me fill-in the blanks on the screen.  Eventually I got connected to the rest of the world!

There are nice people everywhere, but my travels have convinced me that when it comes to courtesy and good manners, few can compare to the Japanese.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hey Ma, What's for Supper?

by Pa Rock
Food Critic

So what do you do when you're rushing to get the kids to school and accidentally back over the family cat?  Well, if it's dead, bag that sucker and then check out some of Jonathan McGowan's roadkill recipes - many of which are scattered around the World Wide Web.

McGowan, a 44-year-old taxidermist from the United Kingdom who looks amazingly like a mountain man cousin of mine back in the Ozarks, has been living off of roadkill for the past thirty years.

Mr. McGowan, an inquisitive soul, came upon a dead adder when he (Mr. McGowan) was a mere lad of fourteen, and being a normal, inquisitive youth, he wondered what the creature would taste like.  It turned out that the adder wasn't all that tasty, but that didn't stop the boy from sampling other roadkill that he would come across.  Over the years he has sampled and lived off of a wide variety of critters who battled cars and lost.

Obviously, some of the highway fatalities taste better than others.  Mr. McGowan offered this appraisal:

"Rabbits, badgers and pheasants are my most common finds.  Rabbit is actually quite bland.  Fox is far tastier;  there's never any fat on it, and it's subtle, with a lovely texture, firm but soft.  It's much more versatile than beef, and has a salty, mineral taste rather like gammon.  Frogs and toads taste like chicken and are great in stir-fries.  Rat, which is nice and salty like pork, is good in a stir-fry, too - I'll throw in celery, onion, peppers and, in autumn, wild mushrooms I've collected.  Badger is not nice and hedgehog is hideous."
Jonathan McGowan claims to have not experienced any health problems relative to his unique diet, and he posits that the meat from carcasses found along England's roadways is actually much healthier than that of animals which have been raised on processed foods and antibiotics specifically so that they could be slaughtered for food.

So, if you're having trouble making it from paycheck to paycheck, or if the neighbor's damned dog just won't quit barking, try thinking stew.  It's what's for supper!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Personal"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

The following poem, "Personal" by Tony Hoagland, is something that I just happened to run across on the web today.  I liked what the poet had to say, and, more particularly, the way in which he said it.  I was especially drawn to the image of the barking dog - because many days I am that dog!

by Tony Hoagland

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—

the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,

the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me

and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.

The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,

and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.

Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk

Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts

but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;

I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,

I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back

and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries

like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.

Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?

You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.

I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:

trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home at Last!

by Pa Rock
Super Weary Traveler

Home at last!  It is midnight local time, and I am mostly unpacked.  Everything in the apartment looks fine.  I left two fans running, and they were still puttering along when I got back.  (We struggle against humidity and mold here.)

The alarm rings at 0445 hours, and right now I am anticipating getting up and going to work - but we'll see!

Thanks to all who helped to make my trip to the States so memorable!  I had a great time!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Another Day, Another Attempt to Get Airborne!

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

It is Saturday morning and I have made it back to O'Hare, gone through the boarding process, dealt with the TSA screening hazing, and found my gate.  In a little over two hours I should be airborne and heading toward Japan - in an aisle seat!  It looks as though I have even managed to secure seating on the aisle for the ride on the puddle jumper that goes from Tokyo-Narita to Okinawa.

The worst consequence of missing yesterday's plane is that I will now get home very late Sunday night and have to be at work at 0700 hours on Monday morning.  There will be no time to deal with jet lag or to re-accustom myself to driving on the left-hand side of the road.  I will just have to focus extra hard on my clients and deal with the jet lag next weekend!

The room that United put me up in was very nice, actually a corner room with windows facing two directions.  It was also my birthday suite - room 323!  The meal(s) voucher was inadequate - $15.95 - which was not enough to cover my sandwich and iced tea yesterday - or the breakfast buffet this morning.  But, it did help. The hotel,  the Crowne Plaza, gave me complimentary toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving cream, and a razor - which  was a blessing for someone whose luggage is on a plane (probably) and headed for Allah-knows where!

The next time I leave Okinawa it will be by train - or on foot!

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Evening with the Pfetcher's

by Pa Rock
Weary Road Warrior

If things had gone according to Hoyle, I would be far out over the Pacific at this hour nearing Japan.  Instead, I am spending the evening at hotel near O'Hare Airport in Chicago.

My flight out of Kansas City left late this morning, and by the time I ran a couple of laps around O'Hare, the flight to Japan had left without me.   Fortunately, United Airlines was in a humane mode and gave me accommodations for the evening.

The bright side about being stranded in Chicago is that my sister's oldest daughter, Heidi Pfetcher, lives here with her husband, Jason, and their two daughters - Lauren and Ruby.  I called Heidi from the hotel to see if she had plans for tonight, and she was able come pick me up so I could spend the evening with her and Jason and the girls.  We went to a nice restaurant, had a good meal, and did a lot of catching up.  It was really a good evening!

Both of the little Pfetcher girls are charmers!  Lauren is six and Ruby is two.  Lauren attended her first anti-war rally yesterday and carried a sign about the need to get out of Afghanistan.  (When Jane Fonda was her age, she was probably still playing with dolls!)  She and Ruby are both very bright and personable - just like their parents!

Although I hadn't planned on spending an evening in the City of Rahm, it was very nice getting to see the Pfetcher's.  This surprise opportunity was a nice way to culminate my visit to the States!

Tomorrow I fly, fly again!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Olive Noel Macy

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandfather

Our little princess has been named and shall be known from this day forward as Olive Noel Macy.  The middle name is pronounced like the two-syllable French word for Christmas and not like the one-syllable pronunciation of the small town in southwest Missouri that the Macy's have called home for more than half a century.  It is a very pretty name, and she is a very pretty baby.

I have held little Olive a couple of times today, but she has trouble getting comfortable with me and starts to cry. She seems to be the most content when she is lying on the bed next to her mother.

Olive has reddish hair that is the exact same color as her father's.  It is long enough that her grandmother joked that she could put it into a little ponytail!  Erin's  mother and sister are already talking about dressing her up for Halloween.  Little Olive is not going to lack for attention!

Soon it will be time for me to tell my granddaughter good-bye, and then I will head into Kansas City and pack and prepare for tomorrow's trip back to my other life in Okinawa.  I have enjoyed seeing and hearing from so many family members and friends, but, regrettably, it is time to return to work!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dear Little Miss Macy

Dear Little Miss Macy,

You arrived in this world at 8:31 this morning (October 12, 2011) and have already made so many people so very happy!  You weighed eight-and-a-half pounds and were nineteen inches long.  You were born with a good set of lungs, but did not cry much except during your first bath.  (And I would have cried too if some mean old nurse had scrubbed me down in front of a room full of strangers!)

Your daddy was in the room when the doctor helped your mommy to bring you into the world, and a posse of happy relatives rushed into the room soon after you were born.  I was one of them, and I felt so fortunate to have been able to be there on your first day because I live far, far away.

All I could think of when I first saw you swaddled in blankets in your tiny hospital bassinet was how much you reminded me of your daddy on the day he was born.  It seems like such a short time ago, but he is a grown man now and the father of his own baby.

Time moves far too quickly.  Don't ever forget that, and always take time to enjoy yourself.  You  may have to remind your parents every now and then that you are a kid and you are supposed to have fun!

You are my first granddaughter.  You have three boy cousins on your daddy's side of the family - and will have a new girl cousin in December - and you have three girl cousins on your mommy's side of the family.  Your oldest girl cousin, Mia, came to the hospital to see you today.  She looked so happy as she held you and rocked you.

I held you a couple of times myself while you slept, and I thought could anything be more wonderful than a new little life getting ready to experience and impact the world?

Tonight you and your mommy and daddy are all staying at the hospital, and I am staying at your house taking care of your cat, Mr. Furley.  He is not sure what is happening, but he knows that something big is in the works.  When you get home you can sit by the window and help him watch the possums!

Little Miss Macy, I will be leaving on Friday and going back to Okinawa, but you and your parents will be coming to see me there in a few months.  I am so anxious to show you off to all of my friends!  I will be moving back to the United States in less than a year, and then we will see other much more often.

I will miss you - and all of my grandchildren - when I leave this weekend, but I won't worry about any of you because you have wonderful parents who will love and protect you.   As you go through life make them proud and make me proud - and make yourself proud, too.  You will make a few mistakes, we all do, but never let them defeat you - and know that lots and lots of people love you and will always be there for you.

I love you very much!

Pa Rock

P.S.  If your parents haven't figured out your name by the time I leave on Friday morning, I will be calling you by the lovely six-digit security code that the hospital gave you this morning!  (Just kidding - maybe!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Fortune Cookie

by Pa Rock

Nick, Boone, and I had dinner Sunday night at one of West Plains three Chinese restaurants, and, as we were preparing to leave, the waitress brought the complimentary fortune cookies.   The little slip of paper that came with mine read:  "You will be traveling and coming into a fortune."  Nick, an lottery enthusiast, immediately decided that it was an assurance that I would be winning Powerball on Wednesday evening ($86 million) - the same day that my new granddaughter is scheduled to be born.

I have been traveling for a couple of weeks now, so that part of the fortune is easy to understand - especially since this coming Friday I will board a plane and fly back to Okinawa.  But I suspect that the fortune has more to do with the wonderful time that I have had reconnecting with family and friends than it does with money.  This year my herd of grandchildren will increase from three grandsons to three grandsons and two granddaughters.   Fortunes as great as that are never reflected on the financial pages of the Wall Street Journal or Business Week.

Tonight we are going to one of the Kansas City "riverboat" casinos.  (They are on the river, as was promised to voters many years ago - but they remain stationary, so the "riverboats" might as well be sitting out along an interstate somewhere.)  Erin's family has a tradition of hitting the casino the night before a baby is born.  (That could be where the "fortune" comes from as well.)

Erin and Tim are heading to the hospital in Overland Park before daylight tomorrow where Baby Girl Macy will be delivered.  I plan to follow them over and be there to greet the newest family member.  It will be a very big day for the Macy's!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Okie From Muskogee"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I hit the scan button on my rental car's radio numerous times today on the long drive from West Plains to Kansas City and got to hear a very interesting variety of music.  As the dial stopped on a country station near Springfield, Merle Haggard's signature song, "Okie from Muskogee" began playing - a live, shit-kicking version of the redneck anthem!

"Okie from Muskogee" came out in 1969 while I was still an undergraduate in college.  It was Haggard's sarcastic response to the 1967's Summer of Love in San Francisco, 1969's Woodstock, hippies, draft-dodgers, sit-ins, love-ins, and a hundred other things that the hillbilly singer couldn't understand.  And even though the song is wrong on so many levels, it was and still is easy to sing and drink to.

I currently don't have "Okie from Muskogee" on my little iPod, but I would like to have the live version that I heard today  I do have Kinky Friedman's version of "Asshole from El Paso," and have posted those lyrics below today's selection.  Please enjoy both - taken together they contain something to offend almost everyone!

Okie from Muskogee
by Merle Haggard and R. Burns

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.

I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all

We don't make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo;
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all.

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.

Asshole from El Paso
by Chinga Chavin and Kenny "Snakebite" Jacobs

We don`t have no lovin`s in El Paso 
We don`t go to porno picture shows 
We don`t swap our wives with our neighbors 
And we keep our kids away from Mexico. 

And I`m proud to be an asshole from El Paso 
A place where sweet young virgins are deflowered. 
You walk down the street knee-deep in tacos 
And the wetbacks still get twenty cents an hour. 

We don`t wipe our asses on Old Glory, 
God and Lone Star beer are things we trust. 
We keep our women virgins till they`re married 
So hosin` sheep is good enough for us. 

And I`m proud to be an asshole from El Paso 
A place where sweet young virgins are deflowered. 
You walk down the street knee-deep in tacos 
And the wetbacks still get twenty cents an hour. 

I`m proud to be an asshole from El Paso 
A place where sweet young virgins are deflowered. 
You walk down that street knee-deep in tacos 
And the wetbacks still get twenty cents an hour

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Those Amazing Castro Brothers

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Julian and Joaquin Castro are poised to become significant political leaders in the United States for the next several decades.  The young men (age 37) are twin brothers who grew up in modest circumstances in San Antonio, Texas, where they attended public schools.   The brothers received their under-graduate degrees from Stanford University, and then headed off to Harvard where each earned a Juris Doctorate degree.  Today they are law partners in San Antonio.

But the Castro brothers, the sons of social activists, were not content with just practicing law.  Julian ran for and was elected to the San Antonio City Council.  He was elected mayor of San Antonio in 2009 and is still serving in that capacity.  Brother Joaquin set his sites on state government.  He was elected to the state legislature in 2002 and is currently serving his fifth consecutive term as a state representative.

Julian and Joaquin are both Democrats, and they each have a strong social conscience.

Joaquin Castro has now set his sites on Congress, but in order to make that bold political move he will have to defeat a revered political giant - 9-term Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett of Austin.  The Texas Legislature has recently redrawn its congressional map and the net effect for both men is a new district that connects Austin and San Antonio.  Joaquin Castro has a huge advantage in Hispanic voters in the new district, and Lloyd Doggett has a huge advantage in cash-on-had - $2.8 million.   (Doggett has opined that the new district is "uncoonstitutional," and is headed to court to wage that argument.)

But if the new district remains intact, as is likely, the Democratic primary next March will be a real barn-burner.  My sense is that younger-and-more-dynamic will prevail over older-and-better-financed.  Regardless of the outcome, both Castro brothers have very promising futures and are certain to be players on the national political stage.  Either one (or both) could conceivably make it onto the U.S. Supreme Court or wind up in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Remember, you heard it here first!

Dwarf-Tossing: Key Component of GOP Jobs' Plan

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Wikipedia defines dwarf-tossing as a bar attraction in which dwarfs wearing special padded clothing or Velcro costumes are thrown onto mattresses or at Velcro-coated walls.  Participants compete to see who can throw the dwarf the farthest.

Dwarf-tossing was a popular "sport" in some Florida bars in the 1980's, an activity that could reach across socio-economic lines and warm the cockles of everyone from spoiled frat boys to oafish alligator-poachers.  What could be more macho and fun that throwing some little human being, who needed the money, against a wall for laughs.Why the only thing manlier would be banging some poor kid who had been forced into prostitution by the state's dismal economy.

American enterprise - God love it!  Government should just stay the hell out of the way and let the markets work!

Then in 1989 one of those pesky liberal activist groups, the Little People of America, got so significantly appalled by this dehumanizing activity that its members convinced the Florida Legislature to outlaw dwarf-tossing.  Any bar that kept up the practice would lose its liquor license.  Suddenly tens or even dozens of Florida's little people had to figure out another way make a living without being a barroom joke.

Now, however, the teabaggers are riding to the rescue!

State Representative Ritch Workman, a Republican from Melbourne, has introduced House Bill 4063 which would repeal the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco ban that restricts bars and clubs from "allowing exploitation of persons with dwarfism."

Actually Representative Workman is combing through the Florida statutes in an effort to eliminate all of the laws which he thinks should never have been passed.   (The state's court system must not be up to the task!)  He is particularly incensed by the law that prohibits dwarf-tossing, stating that the law cost a class of individuals their livelihood.  "Why would you take away jobs from somebody who wanted them?" the legislator whined.

It's good to know that politicians like Mr. Workman are focused on job creation - and on taking care of the little guy!

October is Dwarfism Awaremess Month.  Thanks for your support, Representative Workman!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Touring Howell and Shannon Counties

by Pa Rock

Today is Saturday  (regardless of the date at the top of this blog post), and Boone is out of school for the weekend.  He and his dad and I went on a long drive through northern Howell County and over into Shannon County.

Our first stop was Mountain View, the community where our family lived in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  We went by our old family home, which is now overgrown and looking really shabby.  There was even a toilet sitting on the front porch!

Heading east out of town we ventured by St. Francis Hospital where Tim was born in 1979.   As we neared Liberty High School, we took a detour down a long country lane to visit Blue Spring, a beautiful secluded spot on the river where we would often go to swim and play in years past.  Today was beautiful, only a few other people were out enjoying the river - the leaves were just beginning to turn and the water was crystal clear.

Liberty High School has changed quite a bit and looks good.  It has nice landscaping and the main building has been added on to a couple of times since I was the principal there.  Across the street on the old vocational agricultural grounds sits a very nice middle school.  Obviously many more students are enrolled there now than there were in my day.

Our next stop was a convenience store just off of the highway in Birch Tree, Missouri (Shannon County).  Birch Tree in the birthplace of former Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan and the boyhood home of former Missouri Governor Bob Holden - both of whom were friends of mine.  (Bob still is, though I haven't seen him in years.  Carnahan died several years ago in an airplane crash just weeks before he defeated sanctimonious John Ashcroft in an election for Ashcroft's Senate seat - making Mel Carnahan the only candidate to win an election to the U.S. Senate while dead!)

I was going to ask the people working at the Conoco Quick Stop if Birch Tree would be a good  place to launch a campaign for governor - but they appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent with very limited English ability - so I decided that they wouldn't pick up on the humor.   (Ironically, most of thee bumper stickers and other doo-dads for sale in the convenience store were xenophobic slurs directed toward Muslims.  The paraphernalia was long on patriotism and hatriotism - and short on common decency.)

From Birch Tree we drove toward Eminence, the Shannon County seat of government.  It is located on the beautiful Jacks Fork River.  Our first stop was the Alley Spring Mill.  There was a festival going on at the mill, an annual event called "The Haunting of the Mill."   Lots of artisans were there making things like apple butter, baskets, brooms, soap, stilts - you name it!  Alley Sprig Mill is a beautiful structure that sits next to a magnificent spring and clear watershed.   It is often  pictured on commercial jigsaw puzzles that can be found in stores nationwide.   The skies were absolutely clear blue, making the day even more special.

We next drove to another arts and crafts festival located on the other side of Eminence.  Again, we  found many unique and special ways to become parted from our money!

Tonight Nick is grilling burgers and we are going to watch a movie.  The vacation just gets better and better!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Buck Nelson's Amazing Journey to Mars, the Moon and Venus!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Historian

Buck Nelson (1894-1982) had an eighty-acre hard-scrabble farm in northern Howell County, Missouri, in the 1950's.  As he later told it, he was sitting at home one evening in 1954 listening to radio when it (the radio) suddenly went "wild crazy" -  and his dog, which was outside, started barking excitedly.   The old farmer ran out the door to see what was going on, and to his astonishment he saw three large disc-shaped objects floating above his property.

Buck ran into his house and grabbed his camera and a flashlight.  When he came back out, the discs were still there and he took three pictures. Of the three photographs that he attempted, only one came out, and it captured the image of just two of the flying discs.  (More on that photo later.)  He described the discs as being about fifty feet across and eight feet high.

The excited farmer then used his flashlight to signal the three spacecraft.  The extra-terrestrials reacted in a surprising manner.  They shot poor Buck with a ray that was brighter and hotter than the sun - knocking him down behind a barrel.  When he finally came to and got to his feet, the discs were gone.  Over the next few days Buck was pleased to discover that he no longer needed to wear glasses to read, and his lumbago was gone!

It was midnight nearly a year later before the aliens paid a return visit to the Nelson farm.  This time they landed their craft and came to the house for a visit.   The group included three men and a 365-pound dog called "Bo."  Of the men, one was from Earth - a 19-year-old American named Bucky who spoke with a Scandinavian accent.  Bucky was a distant relative of Mr. Nelson.  The other two were genuine extra-terrestrials:  a 200-year-old individual named Bob Solomon who appeared to be no older than Bucky, and a wrinkled ET with no name.

The three  space voyagers and their dog invited Buck Nelson to join them on a cruise into outer space!

The trip, as chronicled by Buck Nelson, took him to Mars, Venus, and the moon.  While the group was planet-hopping, their craft passed through some cosmic rays, causing poor Bo to lose all of his hair.  When Buck was finally returned to his farm in the Ozarks, the spacemen gave him the bald dog as a gift.  Unfortunately, Bo was very shy and would never come out in public or pose for pictures.

Buck Nelson related that Mars was a very colorful planet with a canal system.  He said that  people of several different colors lived there.   The moon used to have buildings in its craters, and there was a bridge between two of the craters on the side of the moon that faces Earth.   Buck said that the side of the moon facing away from Earth, the dark side of the moon, had snow-capped  mountains and lots of lakes and rivers when he was there.

Venus, according to the space tourist from Howell County, had three moons, and the people who lived there drove cars without wheels - cars that levitated three-to-five feet off of the ground.  He said those cars used the same power as spaceships - solar power and lines of energy (similar to magnetism) between the sun and the planets.  Nelson described a "book machine" from Venus that was the size of a television set.  It could read text, play any music, and show any photograph that was in the book.  (So now we know where Steve Jobs was from!)  Buck Nelson offered definitive proof of his trip to Venus by putting a hand-drawn picture of a Venusian seventeen-hour clock in his book, My Trip to Mars, the Moon, and Venus.

The space people were described by Mr. Nelson as eating mainly fruits and vegetables.  He said that they were very healthy and had nice teeth.   He also said that their doctors used only natural medicines.  The people from outer space worked only three hours a day, and one of the things they did in their spare time was to attend classes so that they could learn the languages of people they would be contacting.

The aliens also informed Mr. Nelson that 1,500 space people were currently living incognito in America.

Bucky, the young American who flew with the extra-terrestrials, issued a warning to the people of Earth through Buck Nelson.  He said that many civilizations on other planets have been destroyed by atomic weapons, and he called on the world to give up atomic weapons and warfare.  Bucky warned that if another war was fought, it would be on American soil and America would be destroyed.

Buck Nelson began turning a profit from his adventures in 1956 when he opened his farm on NN Highway between Willow Springs and Mountain View to Spacecraft Conventions.    People would come from all over in their cars and RV's to camp and listen to Buck Nelson and other contactees tell of their travels and adventures in outer space.  While camping and enjoying the beautiful Ozarks, they could also purchase food prepared by the host as well as copies of his book, My Trip to Mars, the Moon, and Venus, and packets of Bo's hair.  Many of the locals would also drive out to Buck's spacecraft conventions to join in the fun or just to satisfy their curiosity.  These conventions were annual events that lasted until 1965.

I first became acquainted with the story of Buck Nelson while teaching at the Mountain View-Birch Tree high school in the late 1970's.  Somewhere I even acquired a copy of his" book" - a poorly xeroxed tome of about 20 stapled  pages.  Ten years or so later when I was making a few dollars freelancing for a couple of national historical and genealogical magazines, I thought that it might be fun to produce an article on the early astronaut.  I wanted to write a piece that would entertain, elucidate, and yet not destroy the local legend.

A former co-worker in Mountain View gave me the name of a retired pharmacist who was close with Buck Nelson.  I called the pharmacist hoping to gain some heretofore unknown insights on the notable character and clever entrepreneur.  He was very friendly and began telling me a story about the photograph of the flying saucers, a photograph that was developed through the services of his drugstore.  The man said the photo was a complete fake.  He said that he helped Buck attach some tin pie plates to a stick with some thread, and they then took pictures of the pie plates as they seemingly "floated"  in the air.  I pretended to have not heard all of that and asked a question about something else.

"Rocky, did you hear me?"  The pharmacist said.  "The photo was a fake!"

I was stunned - and I never wrote the article - until now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Road to West Plains

by Pa Rock
Road Warrior

I drove from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to West Plains, Missouri, over a route that was new to me - across northern Arkansas.  It was much shorter, quicker, and more scenic than the route I usually take across southern Missouri.    Highway 412 took me  just north of Huntsville, the community that my grandfather and his parents and siblings left from in a pair of covered wagon one hundred and thirteen years ago.  It was also the hometown for former Arkansas cracker and racist governor, Orville Faubus, and one of the road signs that I saw this morning told me that it was just three miles to the Faubus Motel.

It was tempting, but I drove on!  (Dollars to doughnuts says Bill Clinton has slept there!)

My drive took me through Alpena, Harrison, Yellville, and Mountain Home, Arkansas - all towns where Bill Clinton has undoubtedly dined on chicken and beans, and shook hands and slapped backs with gusto.  I couldn't help thinking as I drove along that Bill would probably trade his office in New York City for a few acres along a quiet riverbank in Arkansas - that, and a half dozen trailer park hookers!

Simple pleasures are the best!

West Plains is really growing.  I hadn't been here in several years, and it was both surprising and good to see so many new businesses.  Three of the main streets are named after locals who made  good:  Porter Wagoner, Jan Howard (also a country singer), and Preacher Roe  (a baseball player whose son, Elwin, was Nick's drama teacher at McDonald County High School).    Still awaiting his own street is West Plains other famous celebrity, comedian and actor Dick Van Dyke.  (Van Dyke was born in West Plains after his unmarried mother moved into the Ozark community to temporarily stay with  relatives during her pregnancy.)

Nick and Boone have recently purchased a home - and it is beautiful!  The four-bedroom, two-bath residence is situated in the country (on a paved road) just a few miles out of town.  It is so quiet and peaceful.
I am very envious - and very happy for them!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Preparing to Head East

by Pr Rock
Traveling Dillberry

I am back at Gail's apartment in Fayetteville doing laundry and packing after what will probably be my last day in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas for nearly a year.  Tomorrow I am headed to West Plains, Missouri, to spend the weekend with my oldest son, Nick, and oldest grandson, Boone.  Sunday  or Monday I will aim my rental car back toward Kansas City where I will spend a few more days with Tim and Erin.  Hopefully I will be there when their daughter is born.  The flight back to Okinawa will begin out of Kansas City on Friday, October 14th.

Today I focused on reconnecting with some old friends.  I stopped by McDonald County Children's Services and talked to Diane Cooper for a little while.  Diane was working for the agency when I first started there in 1994.  She is alarmingly like our old supervisor, Mary Poland, able to remember everything about everyone.  When I talk to Diane the years just seem to roll away.

Next I headed to Pineville, Missouri, the county seat, for a scheduled appointment with my favorite physician, Dr. R. David Hill.  I have been a patient of Dr. Hill's, off and on, since the 1970's.  In fact when I first started seeing him, his office visit charge was eight dollars!

But as I circled the courthouse square in Pineville, I discovered that Dr. Hill had moved.  I had parked in front of Abe Paul's law office, an old classmate going back to fifth grade (1958) at the Noel Elementary School.  As I was way too early for my appointment with Dr. Hill, I went in and talked to Abe for awhile, catching up on each other's lives and families.  Abe had lost track of me when I was living in Arizona and seemed surprised to learn that I am now residing overseas.

Dr, Hill was my last stop of the day.   His bookkeeper, Becky, came out and hugged me and reminded me that I took her to prom when we were in high school.  Dr. Hill asked me if I was still living in Kansas - no, not since 2005!  Many years ago when I was a stringer for the Neosho Daily News (they called me their McDonald County correspondent), I was given an assignment to write about a local dentist - because he was Jewish.  I declined that assignment, but told them that I knew a physician in McDonald County who got his undergrad degree from Harvard.  I did that interview, took several pictures, and turned it in expecting my masterpiece to be chopped into a filler article that would eat up a couple of columns in the middle of the paper.  When the next issue came out, my piece on Dr. Hill took up the entire front page!

On the way back to Gail's apartment I stopped in Bentonville and tried a couple of calls to Mary Poland.  Unfortunately, she wasn't home.  I guess we'll have to save our catching up until I come home next July.

The best part about being home is getting to see my kids and grandkids - and my sister and her kids and grandkids, but it has also been a real treat being able to reconnect to so many old friends.  That insufferable trip across the ocean was worth it when measured by those standards!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where's Betty

by Pa Rock
Disoriented Traveler

Gail and I left Fayetteville this morning with our day carefully planned.  After a quick breakfast at McDonald's we headed off to Seneca, Missouri, a small border town on the Missouri-Oklahoma line, to check on our dad's widowed and elderly sister, Betty Lankford.  Neither of us had heard from her since Dad's funeral - which was nearly two years ago.

Betty's husband, Cecil, died several years ago and her kids are grown and gone with kids and grandkids of their own.  She has lived alone since Cecil died.   Betty is very timid and imagines all sorts of dangers lurking just outside of her door, and regularly has her phone number changed.  We planned to give her a treat by taking her to lunch in Neosho, thinking that she is cooped up, alone, and scared to get out.

Betty lives in a small frame house that had been hauled to Seneca from Camp Crowder when that military facility closed after World War II.   Gail and I had both been to her house before, and I thought that I would easily recognize it.    I remembered the house as being within spitting distance of the Seneca Elementary School and next to a church.

Unfortunately most of the homes in that area were originally structures on Camp Crowder and they looked alarmingly similar to one another.  After cruising most of the streets and finding one church - the wrong one - we gave up and went to a quick stop to see if anyone there knew Betty and where she lived.  The lady at the register couldn't help, but she sent us to a neighboring Gas-and-Git that happened to be owned by a lady who used to teach for me at Noel.  The lady manning the register there didn't know Betty either, but she called my friend, who was busy teaching at the Seneca Intermediate.   My friend and I had a nice visit, after which she gave me step-by-step directions to Betty's house.

When we eventually pulled into Betty's driveway, our first observation was that her car was gone - not a good sign because she has no garage and parks outside.  After banging on the door for awhile, we gave up and went to town to look for her.  There is one grocery store in Seneca, so we pulled in there and walked the aisles looking for out wayward aunt.  But she wasn't there.

By the time we got back to her place to leave a note, Betty's car was in the driveway and she was unloading her shopping bags.  She had been out, on her own, shopping in Neosho - and had even taken herself out to lunch!  And the days of never opening her door to anyone seemed to be over as well, because some of her shopping bags contained Halloween candy.  "You wouldn't believe how many trick-or-treaters I get."  She chirped happily.

We had a nice visit and talked about several things.  One of her more interesting stories was about a drive she took through the most damaged part of Joplin just after last May's massive tornado.

I'm not sure what our sweet old aunt has been pouring on her Post Toasties, but she certainly seems to have become more adventuresome in the past two years!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trimming Trees

by Pa Rock
Frazzled Landlord

One of the big projects on my to-do list while I am in the states was to get the trees trimmed at a rental house that I own in Noel.  Today I was able to check that one off the list.  

The hardest part of getting anything done in the Ozarks is finding someone who will actually show up.  Many people are quick to contract for a job and then say "I'll be back Tuesday and get started," leaving the poor homeowner stuck in limbo for months-on-end waiting on the special Tuesday when the worker finally decides to show up.

But there is nothing Ozark about Landry Corter.   When I called him last week, he said that he would be at the rental house the next morning at nine to provide an estimate.  I got there at nine on the following day, and he was waiting.  The young man said that he always arrives early.  After I accepted the estimate, which was very reasonable, he said that he would do the work on Monday morning - and when I wheeled in this morning (Monday), Landry and his crew were already hard at work.  They did a great job and left the site looking great.

If you are in the McDonald County area and need your trees trimmed, I highly recommend Corter's Tree Care out of Goodman.  The are safe and reliable, and they get the job done right!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Back in Arkansas

by Pa Rock
Weary Traveler

I got to the Portland Airport very early this morning expecting to have to fight my way onto the plane, but that wasn't necessary.  They had a crappy window seat saved for me.  It had a wonderful view of the side of the jet engine - and that was the entire view!  And, the magazine pocket on the seat in front of me ha a busted hinge that poked me in the knee for over three hours.  The flight was so sucky that even DFW looked good as I was getting off of the plane in Dallas!

I love the airport in Portland, particularly the Powell's Bookstore kiosks.  They have the greatest titles, stuff that you won't find in other airport bookstores, and many good used books as well.  I bought Molly and Scott's boys a set of blocks at Powell's when I arrived in Portland, and today, on the way out, I found three different sets of Beatles' playing cards for Boone. 

I am back at Gail's in Fayetteville tonight.  She made a Chef Boyardee Pizza for supper - and mama mia was it ever good!  (Our mother used to make those when we were young - and Gail's was every bit as good as Mom's!)   Tomorrow I am heading back to Noel to watch a tree trimmer clean up the trees and yard at my little rent house in Sucker's Flats.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Day at the Zoo

by Pa Rock
Busy Grandfather

We took Sebastian and Judah to the Portland Zoo today where we saw lions, and tigers, and bears - and all kinds of groovy animals.  My favorite exhibit was a glassed-in bat cave where we watched hundreds of bats flying around, climbing on vines and branches, eating fruit, and hanging upside-down sleeping.  Sebastian's pre-school class is studying bats.

The Portland Zoo is not fundamentalist friendly.  One exhibit showed the age of the earth and had a timeline showing when each of the species first appeared, including homo sapiens (who were far from first) - all of which came along well before six thousand years ago.  Another exhibit showed how quickly and drastically the polar ice caps are shrinking.  President Bachmann will undoubtedly withhold federal funding to the zoo until those heresies are struck down and replaced with Biblical facts.

Tomorrow I will be flying back to Dallas and then on to Northwest Arkansas - maybe.  American Airlines isn't letting me choose a seat for the flight from Portland to Dallas, making it look as though there are none available except one middle seat for which they want an extra $29.  It may be a very interesting morning at the Portland Airport!

Supper tonight was at a pizza place.  It was chilly and rainy so we just ate and came back to the hotel.  I told the kids and grandkids "goodbye" a few minutes ago - I will be at the airport before they roll out of bed in the morning.   Saying my goodbyes will be the hardest part of this journey.