Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Place Called Serenity: Dinning With Doc and Chuck

Doc and Chuck liked their hamburger.

Continued from last week.

These are the stories of days of tall trees, Summer breezes, bright sunny days, running barefoot on stones, and swimming in mud bottom creeks. They were days of frosty mornings, bright-colored leaves, burning leaves, cold nights around a bonfire toasting marshmallows, and watching stars shoot across the sky. They were days of knee-high snow, frosty windows, cold mornings, runny noses, mittens, and warming hands over a gas kitchen stove. They were days of soggy ground, croaking frogs, muddy shoes, tadpoles, pussy willows, hoot owls, and jumping puddles. It was a place of security, solemnity, a benign sort of secrecy, and serenity. For that reason it is called “Serenity.”

A cool autumn breeze passed through the barren limbs of Serenity. It whistled through the overpass and down the gravel lanes that made-up the streets of Serenity.

Dickie shivered and peered though the screen door. “Can I come in, Doc. I’m getting cold.”

“Sure, boy,” Doc said. “And shut the door behind ya.”

Dickie came in and shut the door.

“I got a small fire,” Doc said. “Go git yerself warmed up.”

Next to the door was a small potbelly stove fueled by coal. Dickie stood near and rubbed his hands together briskly.

“I’d give ya shot of whisky if’n you was old or we’s back in Kentuck,” Doc said.

Dickie smiled. “Can I try some?”

“No,” Doc said. “Yer Daddy’ll skin me alive. Ya can have a seat if ya want ta.”

Dickie sat in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the room from the kitchn. “Can I turn on the radio?”

“Sure,” Doc said. “You can play with it a bit, but don’t play it too loud.”

Doc pulled a package of hamburger from the refrigerator wrapped in brown paper. He made three patties and pressed them hard into a cast-iron skillet, the same one he used for the minnows. They sizzled and soon the whole cabin was filled with smoke and the odor of the seared ground beef.

“Ya look out the window for Chuck,” Doc said. “When ya see him coming over the tracks let me know. I’m gonna let ya surprise him. You can sit the table. That’s his job. That way it will all be set when he comes home.” Doc quickly peeled potatoes and sliced them thin. When the hamburgers were done they were removed from the skillet and on to a plate. Doc tossed the potatoes into the skillet along with a slab of butter. He turned them in the pan to make sure they were all cooked. “Is he comin’ yet?” Doc said looking at the clock over the refrigerator.

“I think I see him!” Dickie said.

“Quick! Sit the table,” Doc said.

Dickie scurried to set the table before Chuck came through the front door. Chuck walked in the cabin and removed a red flannel jacket and hung it on a nail behind the door. He turned and smiled as he saw the table already set.

“Did Dickie do that?” Chuck smiled.

“Yep!” Dickie smailed.

“Well let’s sit down and eat,” Doc said.

Doc shoveled the potatoes into a bowl and put the hamburgers back on the skillet. He smashed them hard against the skillet with a spatula. The juice and grease oozed. Doc placed the potatoes on the table and then the skillet with the hamburgers still gurgling.

“Dig in,” Doc said. “Give Dickie a hand, Chuck.”

Doc and Chuck folded a slice of bread. Dickie watched and did the same. Doc and Chuck dipped the bread in the grease in the skillet and swirled it around to soak as much grease as possible.

“Go ahead, boy,” Doc said. “It’s called sop and its good fer ya.”

Dickie swiped his bread in the sop and ate it. “That’s really good!”

“Sure is,” Chuck mumbled.

“That’s how we eat back in Kentuck,” Doc said.

They continued until all the sop was gone.

There was a certain pleasure to the meal; an old man looking after a dim-witted son, making certain he eats well, is looked after, and has companionship. Family, no matter how small – precious.

A few days earlier Dickie overheard Doc speaking with a neighbor, concerned that after his passing there would be no one to look after Chuck.

During the meal Dickie looked up from time to time to see the worry in Doc’s eyes. Even at Dickie’s young age he was aware that perhaps Doc was thinking this may be the last meal prepared by him for Chuck.

It was a warm and cozy cabin. It was a good meal. There was a certain reverence and importance with each bite. A meal that Dickie recalls to this day, but has come to realize there was nothing healthy about the meal, but at the same time there was something wonderful.

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The Original Dream Team

Dreams don’t cost a penny. The original dream team was amateur. They didn’t cost a penny nor did they ever get paid a penny. It was the 1960 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team. They averaged 101 points a game while holding their opponents to 59 points a game. Although the ‘92 team dominated slightly more one thing must be factored; the ‘60 team was made up of amateurs.

When in Rome you do as the Romans do. The ‘60 team slept in dorms with no air-conditioning. The weren’t pampered or treated special.

The oldest players were in their mid twenties, amateurs from AAU basketball. The rest of was college students whose ages spanned from Terry Dishinger, age 19, to Adrian Smith, 23. Now when I say college students I mean real honest to goodness, going to class, and getting good grades college students.

This team is often forgotten when it comes to basketball laurels and legendary tales, but they stand as the best. Certainly the teams of today could beat them handily because the level of skills are much better, but factoring the level of competition, the age, and level of exposure this was the greatest team ever.

Many of the players on this team returned to college to complete their degrees. Some went on to pro careers while others entered the private sector of business, education, and community service. None achieved the accolades, endorsements, fame, and money that Olympians receive today.

I’ve listened to several interviews of players from that team, they recall the team as the greatest team they ever played for and gained a richness of experience and life long friendships that money can’t buy or replace.

Dream Team #1; The 1960 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team

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The Flame Ain’t the Only Thing Missing at the London Olympics, So is Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph at the ’60 Rome Olympics.

Women sports bore me. I hope that doesn’t make me a misogynist. I’m being honest.

That said there is no athlete who I admire more than Wilma Rudolph. Whenever I had a chance to watch her run I did. She was a sterling example of what it meant to be a world class athlete and person.

She first appeared on the world scene at the age of 16 in the ‘56 Melbourne Olympics. She won a bronze. At the age of 20 she won two golds at the ’60 Rome Olympics.

During here time as the word’s best female sprinter she only received an education from college as her reward. There were no athletic shoe, underarm deodorant, or McDonalds’ endorsements. When she finished her competitive career at the age of twenty-two she finished her degree, went to work as a school teacher, married, and raised a family. She died in 1994 of brain cancer at the age of fifty-four.

Wilma Rudolph could have used her smile and charisma to sell tooth paste or something, but instead took the high road and became an elementary school teacher. Imagine the lives she touched, not to become famous, but just to be good.

That in itself is a story. There is more. She was the twentieth of twenty-two children. She had polio and by the time she was in the ’56 Melbourne games had spent more than half her walking life wearing leg braces. In addition, her childhood was spent fighting a whole host of other diseases.

What she accomplished was beyond measure. She stands in my mind as one of the greatest Olympians ever.

Instead of using her fame and talent to ingratiate herself she used it to inspire others as a teacher.

Today’s athletes delude themselves or are deluded by others that the best way to touch lives and have a positive effect on others is to achieve rock star status and sell products. Nothing could be further from the facts. Lives are best effected for the good by prolonged personal contact. Viewing a person a world away does not offer any inspiration other than to be a winner and nothing to do with being a good person. Wilma Rudolph has probably touched more lives in positive way in the classroom than any over-paid, arrogant, and pampered athlete in our days’ current Olympics.

To me she exemplified womanhood like many female athletes from that era. They could take the track without appearing vulgar in tight form-fitting attire.

Women’s athletics today are little more than a show of flesh. In some sports men wear comfortable clothing while in the female version of the same sport the woman athlete wears revealing attire. I have a suspicion it has mostly to do with more male viewer ship.

Londoners are complaining today that the Olympic flame cannot be seen from beyond the stadium. That isn’t the only flame that is missing. There is also the spark of the amateur athlete who competes for the love of sport and not money or fame.

The following video is Wilma Rudolph’s gold metal victory in the 200 meters at the ‘60 Rome Olympics. I tried to find her famous come-from-behind win at the U.S./Soviet Track and Field Meet in ‘62; one on the most inspiring runs I’ve ever seen. She took the baton nearly 10 meters behind and finished nearly 10 meters ahead in the women 800 relay.

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The Olympics; Bah, Humbug!

The first U.S. Olympic team in 1896. They dominated the first modern Olympics and they were all amateurs.

The Olympics used to be enjoyable. There was an innocents about it; a purity of purpose, to compete for the sake of competition. It used to be amateur athletes now nearly everybody is a pro. I know, I know the Russians and the rest of the communists nations cheated a bit, because they didn’t have professional athletes so they had an advantage. On the other hand western athletes were rewarded in far more materialistic ways. They ended up being actors, spokesmen, advertising figures, and given good paying jobs for which they were not trained or qualified or expected to perform.

Perhaps the early organizers of the modern Olympics envisioned the games being taken over by money and that’s why they insisted on amateur athletes only.

The incentive is no longer love of the sport and competition; it is money. With money comes corruption and cheating. The big money involved makes it worth taking the chance and cheat. If one is caught they have an opportunity to tearfully apologize and have a slightly less lucrative career, but nonetheless lucrative. Sure, it has always been there, but nearly every event has been tainted by scandal in some way.

It was always inspiring to see an unheard of young man from a small village in Africa compete with the best names in a sport and win. There were stories of perseverance and sacrifice about athletes who worked full-time jobs and trained after work and on weekends at their own expense. For one brief moment the world recognized their courage, ability, and love for their sport. That was all they asked for.

It has turned into a physiological, mechanical, medical, chemical, science, and technical competition. Behind the scenes the real competitors are the ones developing those things. Lurking over the shoulders of everyone are patriotism, nationalism, and  political and economic ideologies all saying they are best.

Since money has taken over it has not been the same. The Olympics are no longer an athletic event, but more of a theatric production.

Athletes live a charmed life in a fishbowl Utopian existence. They are pampered, privileged, and pompous.

The Olympics today has plenty of glitter, but all that glitters is not gold. It has become a little more than a traveling carnival show on the world stage. At one time even the gold metal was meaningless when compared to proclaiming ‘on that day I was the best.’

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A Musical Memory from The Avenue Cafe in Lima, Ohio

My childhood was unusual; one might even say corrupted. My Dad drank heavily and often visited bars. He took me with him much of the time. From an early age I got to see what many might call the dregs of society.

When we lived on Lima’s eastside we walked through Lincoln Park and to a bar on Bellefontaine Avenue called The Avenue Café. It wasn’t a very respectable place; it was a place where men went to get drunk, talk loud, laugh loud, and listen to loud music. Dad knew everyone there and they knew him. I remember mindlessly sitting at the bar with him listening to music from the juke box.

I played a game; I’d look around the bar and try to figure-out who played the song. I wondered what it was about the song they liked or of what or whom it was a reminder. There was always someone who didn’t fit in; that was the guy. Some times that guy was my Dad.

Of all the songs heard this was the one I remember the most.

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The 1962 New York Sewer Rats; Baseball‘s Greatest Story! The Story of Captain Kidd Carlyle

In my fictionalized treatment of the New York Mets Casey Stengel is not the manager, it is Captain Kidd Carlyle.

The New York Sewer Rats had to be an unconventional team. What escaped them in real life was going to be given them in the fictional world.

When this book was first conceived my friend, Jim Becker, and I concluded much of what the Mets did their first year in the majors was meant to attract fans and not win games.

Casey Stengel was unceremoniously fired by the New York Yankees at the end of the 1960 season. They won the American League pennant that year, but lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh game on Bill Mazaroski’s famous home run.

Stengel was out of baseball for a year before being hired by the Mets. Perhaps it was the feeling of the Yankees that he was getting beyond his years. Nevertheless history did prove them right. He managed the Mets for three years and finished last each time. The first year, 1962, they compiled the worst record in baseball.

It was reported that the bench and club house was in disarray under the leadership of Stengel. He slept between innings and wasn’t sure who was in the line-up or who was on the bench. He was loveable and the fans adored him, but he couldn’t win games.

Thus when writing the novel I created a new manager, Captain Kidd Carlyle. He was an academic who coached and taught in college, but his roots were from the coal mines of West Virginia.

Here is an excerpt. By this time Cap (Captain Kidd Carlyle) is a well know among the coal mining towns of West Virginia as a great player and manger. He is nearing his mid twenties. His brother convinces him to be tested by the university and interviewed by the Dean to see he can enter college without a high school diploma. Cap is well read and self-educated.

“Yes sir, and thank you for yer time.” Cap walked into a waiting room.

Mark sat in a chair, looked up, and smiled proudly. “How’d it go Cap?”

“It went okay,” Cap said. “They wanted me to step out so they could have a pow wow, excuse me tete a tete.” Cap walked to a window. “Yes sir, Mark, there’s a big world out there for you. You study hard and stay out of trouble and make something of your life.”

“What about you?” Mark said. “What do you want? What did Daddy want for you?”

“That’s academic,” Cap said. “Now looky there, one morning in college and I’m startin’ ta talk like ’em.”

Mark laughed. “You ain’t ever gonna sound like an academic.”

“Ya got ta admit that Anthony’s speech ta Rome sounds better with a hillbilly twang.”

“I do like your version better,” Mark said. “All kiddin’ aside, what would you want to do if Daddy wasn’t killed.”

“It’s academic,” Cap said staring at the academic world out the window.

“No it’s not,” Mark said. “I want to know what you sacrificed for me and your sisters and Mamma.”

Cap scanned what could be seen of the campus from the window. He looked at the rolling green hills beyond. He sniffed and wiped a tear that had rolled down the side of his nose. “I wanted to be right here. Do you know how hard it is for me to stand here, knowing this is it? This is as close to my dream I will ever come. I wanted to be called Professor Carlyle. I wanted to teach great things. I wanted to show young minds the richness of literature and how it inspires. Daddy took books and made them come alive. Imagine that, Mark, a simple uneducated miner taking me from the hollars of the Blue Ridge to the South Pacific in a single sentence. It is magic. I wanted to share the magic. I wanted to teach it. I wanted to see the look in the eyes of students when they grasped it for the first time. I want to be there when the flower opens.”

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How Do Things Like Aurora, Colorado Happen?

How Many Ways Can You Tell the Same Truth?

Loneliness is a breeding ground for unhealthy thoughts.

Sometimes I just think and write. That terrible event in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado is on my mind. I’ve stopped watching all the accounts on TV. Everything the news outlets can offer can be reported adequately in five or ten minutes. The rest of it is just people putting their face in the camera and restating the obvious or what has been said and already known.

Guns, Guns, Guns

I’ve read several accounts on the internet. What fascinates me is how people react to those tragedies.

I read the comments. Some are quite serious and thoughtful, even more so than the articles. Others use it as a platform to introduce their agenda.

I’ve never owned a gun and likely never will. The only time I’ve had a gun is when the government gave me one. I practiced not on silhouettes of Bambi or Thumper, but on men. A governments only use of a gun is to wield authority, kill people, or to offer a military burial.

I would like to see the day when there are no guns, but I see nothing wrong with a person possessing one. Accidents happen and they would not have happened if a gun was not present. Cars slip out of gear and role over children and children drown in backyard pools. I could be wrong, but their seems to be far less tragedies with a gun, but when something happens with a gun it seems to be exploited.

This begs the question who is the one who is eager to exploit gun ownership?

Come along with me a mental exercise. Let’s say a poll is taken. Question: Are you for or against gun ownership? That implies an answer one way or another, but what if you have the choice, ‘I don’t care.’ Most people fall into that category. Who are the others?

If I’m a crook and own a gun I don’t want other people to have one. If they have one we are than on equal footing. I’m a crook and I want the advantage. So do you think crooks are for or against gun control?

On the other hand if neither of us have a gun is it still as likely a crook will rob me? I think so, most robberies are committed without a weapon.

Anyway I think this whole gun control thing is just a ruse for something else. Essentially people seem to be in this constant struggle to make people think and feel the way you do. That is never going to happen. Take two men at a bar; I don’t care what the subject is, but each is trying to convince the other to come around to the other’s point of view. They could be talking about the beer and arguing with the intent of convincing the other to change.

Guns and Movies?

When tragedies occur there is a flood of individuals and groups who rush in with the answer; the reason it happened. Ever since first grade it has been observed that the first one to cast blame is usually the one that has something to hide.

As an example the movie industry is generally not in favor of private ownership of weapons. They are often the first to step forward and demand a ban on various sorts of weapons.

Those who favor the private ownership of weapons rush in and draw attention to the unrelenting violence on the screen.

Both are factors; very, very small factors in why there is a spike in violence.

No Human Contact

One thing overlooked; human contact. Nearly all the mass murder situations are committed by loners or those on the fringe of human contact.

We live in a world where everything can be done online with little or no human contact. Once one becomes computer savvy, the keyboard, screen, CPU, mouse, and an internet connection is all that is needed to conduct affairs of living. There was a time a person went to the gas company, the electric company, and telephone company to pay utility bills. You were forced to interact with a clerk or teller.

A visit to the bank was small talk with a teller and a smile and handshake from the president. While waiting in line in the lobby or on the way out it was possible to run into and acquaintance, neighbor, old schoolmate, or your insurance agent. Often there was a small conversation not interrupted by a cell phone. Now you wait in line at ATM and make certain the other person can’t see your PIN when it is your turn.

At the grocery the self-scanning lane can be used. Back in the day you waited in line and had pleasant conversations with those you waited with. The bag boy took your groceries to the car and you chatted a bit with him.

The gas station was a friendly place. Along with a fill-up the inflation of the tires was checked, the fluids checked, and the windshield cleaned. Sometimes nothing more than change was given and a ‘thank you,’ at times a longer conversation could be perused. Now you swipe your card and pump.

Life has changed. We see more people now than people did a hundred years ago, but interact with them less.

There will be a robotic barbershop someday soon. People ride around with their radios jacked up or talking on the cell phone. Either living in their own world or doing anything to avoid personal contact with the person on the other end of the phone.

Lessons are Never Learned – Presidents and Celebrities Can Not Heal

There is a simple Bible proverb that comes to mind, “One isolating himself will seek [his own] selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) One isolating himself becomes less and less feeling toward others. He misses out on the advice, wit, wisdom, charm, and commonality of others. He turns inward because there is no place else to turn. Thoughts and imagination can run wild and unchecked by practical principles for the common good.

Violent movies may stimulate a pattern of thinking. Guns may be a way of fulfilling some notion or fantasy, but it is the lack of human empathy that can only be stimulated through human contact that can short circuit an impulse to do evil.

A profound reverence for life has to be a part of a person’s emotional portfolio.

Someone is always saying there are lessons learned. Is that really so. Lessons are never learned, otherwise things like what happened in Aurora would be on the decline. Such thinking makes us think that the solution is in more government control, more social programs, or better education. All these have thus been miserable failures. To think they have merit is naive at best.

What is missing in the lives of people alienated from the world they live in and have little contact is a sense of connection with something grater than themselves. We live in a world that teaches and promotes self and self-gratification. People need spirituality and purpose to their lives.

The word ‘healing’ or ‘heal’ is often applied to tragic situations. Once again it is believed that some sort of program or national attention is needed, such as the visit of a the President, movie star, sports star, or celebrity. They can do no more good than waving their hands over a broken arm and expect it to repair itself immediately. The only healing that is what occurs naturally.

For the most part it is a photo-op for the politician or celebrity. If not, come in quiet; don’t announce you are coming and leave your press people behind. Don’t make a speech. Quietly offer a prayer and condolences.

Christian and German

Crazy people do crazy things. Loneliness and isolation can drive a person crazy or keep them there.

There is a grim reminder in the Bible at 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 according to the New International Version (NIV) “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

On the other hand the Bible encourages a proper outlet and interaction to stimulate what is good in us. 2 Timothy 2:22 states, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The Bible’s clear admonition; we need people and upbuilding human contact.

We live in world that cast doubts on the Bible, God, and morality. Doubters point to the atrocities committed in the name of the Bible, God and morality. People who argue that are disingenuous. It’s like saying the Germans started two world wars, therefore all Germans are evil. In fact everything that has come our way by means of the Germans must be destroyed or thought of as wrong; goodbye Einstein, Nietzsche, Von Braun, Porsche, Luther, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Schweitzer, and Marx.

In spite of how one feels about religion or the Bible, we need people.

All the Lonely People, Where Do They All Come From?

The world is made of and promotes divisions, differences, and conflicts. One race or another, one country or another, one religion or another, one political ideology or another, one party or another, and so on until we get down to the individual and then it becomes us against the world.

That’s how Columbine, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City, Oslo Norway, and Aurora, Colorado happened. That’s how Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik, and James Holmes happened. They cut themselves from the herd.

The answers are simple the implementation is humanly impossible, but one thing is certain, we don’t need another ATM or quick-scan check out.

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