Ode to Dad

My Dad passed away in 2018 due to surgery complications.  He was 82.  He graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1960 and retired as a Colonel.  I miss him.

Dad would not come out and admit it but he was a learner, and he wanted his kids to be learners.  Not intellectuals, but to have the desire to read, learn and seek out knowledge. He was the dad that would purchase encyclopedias (Encyclopedia Britannica, and Pictorial Encyclopedia of American History) for his children, so they had the resources to complete their schoolwork.  We still have both Britannica and the Pictorial American History volumes.  I call dibs on them.

Dad would buy me science books with subjects like “igneous rocks”, “volcanoes”, and “dinosaurs”.  He fostered a lifelong desire to learn in me (not so much my brothers) and it has not stopped. I am constantly watching History Channel’s YouTube videos and reading books or watching YouTube on various hobbies I want to accomplish – write a memoir, record a song, write a comic book, draw a comic book.  My shelves are filled with books covering all these and more subjects.

One of my favorite childhood memories came during our time in St. Louis.  As a family, we would take periodic trips to the St. Louis Science Center.  We would walk through the exhibits reading the information and learning as we went.  At the end of each visit, we were allowed to pick out one thing from the gift shop.  As I wandered around the shop taking in all the science toys and experiments, I found it difficult to choose just one thing.  I wanted them all.  I wanted a book on space, a book on rocks, a book on dinosaurs. I wanted to learn all about the things I was seeing.  I distinctly remember picking out a box with different types of rocks glued to the inside bottom.  They were each labeled – quartz, granite, marble, slate, etc.  I cherished that box and it paired wonderfully with the book on Igneous rocks.

When the space program started, and all the astronauts were big news, my father did not hesitate to buy me a 1967 Revell Gemini Astronaut model of the first spacewalk (one of many things I still wish I had).  I had models or toys of the lunar module and the command module from the Apollo moon mission moon.

Dad went so far as to buy me a real microscope in a nice brown case for Christmas one year.  I learned how to use it and how to mount things onto the glass slides.  I became engrossed with looking at bug wings, leaves, salt water, pond water and any other thing I could find in our backyard or around the kitchen.  I wish I still had that. 

Dad was always buying me gifts to increase my curiosity and knowledge.  I can’t tell you how many chemistry sets I have owned through my childhood years.  Sets that would not be considered safe in today’s overprotective, snowflake society.  Hell, we used to build model tanks and take them underneath the house and light them on fire along with a few plastic army men.  It was a different time.

Thank you, Dad, for instilling a lifelong desire to learn different things and improve on the things I know.  I only hope I can pass this on to my Grandson.  I don’t think my own three boys are much into seeking out new knowledge or learning new skills and certainly not reading a book of any length.  *sigh*

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Well, How Did I Get Here?

When I graduated from High School in 1979, I was expected to go to college.  There was no questioning that, and I thank my parents for standing firm on that rule.  However, I had no career plan.  I had not considered seriously what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  My friends and I had never really discussed the future beyond the upcoming weekend party.  I do remember a career fare in 9th grade with an airline booth and I decided wanted to be an airline pilot, but that idea faded. So, when it came time to choose a degree plan for college, I chose teaching instead of Undecided.  I had a couple of teachers during my Senior year of high school that really impressed upon me how cool teachers could be and still be a teacher.  Coach Farley, who taught Pre-Calculus and Mrs. Wheeler who taught English were two of my favorite teachers who made their class, and learning, fun.  Yes, even Pre-Calculus can be fun when taught by the right person.  They treated their students as adult human beings and really cared about you and your success.  They could take a joke and dish it out as well.  I wanted to be like them.

In the fall of 1979, as a Freshman, I attended the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree plan of Athletic Administration.  Yes, Athletic Administration is (or was) a degree plan back then.  It was a teaching degree but with a focus on being a coach and maybe later an Athletic Director.  At least that’s what I thought it was.  In today’s vernacular it is more likely called Sports Management and has nothing to do with teaching.  I had not chosen my minor which would’ve been what I would teach when I wasn’t coaching.  Most coaches I knew taught health or physical education as their “other” gig.  Coach Farley was that one very rare exception who apparently minored in mathematics and enjoyed teaching Pre-Calculus.  That degree plan lasted one Freshman semester and I changed to Computer Science.

What changed?  My brother John introduced me to a whole other world I had no idea existed.  John, or Johnny when we were younger, is one and a half years younger than me and was still in high school when I came home to Texas for the Thanksgiving break that Freshman semester.  He was always enrolled in classes at school that were fun and introduced basic skills that could be used upon graduation.  He was in a photography class and club that taught him how to use a 35mm film camera. With his knowledge and camera, he documented my life in my post-high school band Second Chance (that is another story).  Years later when his interest in photography waned, I stole his 35mm film camera.  I wish I still had that camera, a Yashica MG-1, it was sold in a garage sale.

Brother John was taking a “computer” course in school that semester.  I put that in quotes because what we think of as a computer today is far from what this was. He brought home a portable teletype machine that hooked up to the house phone via a Modem.  A modem is a MOdulator DEModulator device that looked like a cradle for your house phone.  You would call the number to a local computer science “lab”, in this case the local junior college (the high school was allowed to access), and when you heard the other end answer with a tone, you slotted the house phone receiver into the Modem.  The modem would then issue weird tones and beeps that the remote computer would respond to with its tones and beeps until the teletype machine and the remote computer completed a “handshake” connection and you were “online”. If you’ve ever heard a fax machine its the same principle only a fax machine has the modem built into it.  Once online, you could ask the computer to do simple things like add two numbers, or any complex math equation for that matter, and it would respond with the answer.  You typed your request and waited for the teletype to type out the answer.  My brother brought the “computer” home that week to play a “game” that was on the college computer. 

The teletype machine was nothing more than a smart typewriter.  There was no Graphical User Interface (GUI) and monitor, there was no “mouse”.  A game on this machine was played with words and it was usually a treasure hunt type game similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  Games were usually called Quest or Adventure.  This was the pre-cursor to graphical games like The Legend of Zelda.  In the game you would tell your character to walk, open doors, pick up objects and fight monsters and dragons via the words you would type.  I can remember typing “pick up potion” and the teletype responding with “you add potion to your pack”.  I learned that the game was a “program” that had been created by a college student. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I wanted in on this.    

So, I told my parents I wanted to come home from Mississippi and attend the local junior college.  They agreed and I came home to Texas and enrolled in the Central Texas College and changed my major to Computer Science.  There were other reasons for wanting to come home, but computer science was in the top four.  Top four reasons to return to Texas –

1. I was extremely homesick
2. During the Thanksgiving break I hooked up with the red headed girl that lived across the cul-de-sac from us on Fort Hood.  She is now my wife.
3. My friends from high school had not gone off to college and were starting a band (Second Chance) and they wanted me to play in it.
4. I wanted to get into computer science

I received an associate degree in computer science and eventually made it back to the University of Southern Mississippi and completed a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a minor in Electrical Engineering. 

And the rest is a whole other phase of life.

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2023 Resolution Review – is there a prize for completion?

We are 4 months into the year, 1/3 of the way on this 2023 journey, and it’s time for a 2023 Resolution Review. It’s that time of the year where I review what nonsense I came up with in January to try and fulfill, improve and better my life.  Vegas odds are usually 100 to 1 that I complete one of my resolutions, and the odds just get higher with the number of resolutions expected to complete.  Odds are better I’d get hit by a meteor before I complete all five New Year’s Resolutions.  If I ever do complete 5 out of 5, beware, the Apocalypse is upon us.  The Anti-Christ is born, an alien invasion is imminent.

So here we go.

Resolution #1 – I’m going to journal this year

Yes, I am journaling, if not every day, at least every other day. I have not gone more than 2 days without journaling.  So, there you go.  One out of five in progress.  Can I keep it up?  I think so.  It’s been somewhat therapeutic to journal activities, thoughts, and bitches.  I am conscious that one day someone will read my journal when I’m gone, but I don’t care.  I’m laying it all out there.

Resolution #2 – I need to slow down and don’t give a fuck

This one is hard.  My personality is all about worry and anxiety, whether it’s work or personal.  I worry I’m not doing a good enough job and they could walk me out, which then triggers worries about money because I still have adult children that rely on some amount of monetary support from me, including health benefits for my youngest son.  I still am impatient when I drive to and from work.  Too many slow fuckers in the fast lane!  So, not succeeding at this resolution.

Resolution #3 – I gotta lose weight

This one… this one was not happening until I met with an orthopedic surgeon for my messed up, no cartilage hip, and he said I needed to lose weight so we can have a successful operation.  So here we are 3 weeks later and I’m still on a low carb, low sugar diet and I am seeing weight loss results, slowly.  At my current rate, the surgery will be in September.

Resolution #4 – I need to write (complete) a book or comic book

This one is in progress but suffers from laziness.  I’ll have spurts of creativity where I’m outlining scenes, I’m writing descriptive paragraphs, I’m fleshing out characters, I’m using Scrivener and collecting my data. But spurts don’t write books.   I’ve got two book ideas I’m working on.  One is an action/Sci Fi idea and the other is a Memoir from a two-year period in my life when I was running my own business.  So, I’m going to set the status of this resolution as In Progress with a goal to have a draft of one of those ideas by the end of the year.  Perhaps NaNoWriMo will be the launching pad for getting a draft written.

Resolution #5 – I need to create, record, and release a song into the world

You’d think this one would be easy.  I have the equipment, I have tons of ideas, I can even play pretty much all the instruments or at the very least use drum loops for more complicated stuff.  And I have a composition notebook filled with song lyrics and a number of voice memo files of guitar riffs and melodies.  And I’ve done this before. Whenever I am noodling on my acoustic guitar, and I come up with a nice riff or chord melody I’ll open the Voice Memo app and record it.  So, I have a good number of those I periodically scroll through and keep/delete.  So, I am set up for complete success with this resolution.  I could probably come up with a 4 song EP if I put my energies into it.  This one has a good chance of getting done.

I’m going to go out on a limb and add a 6th resolution.  I’m going to Blog once per week.  Hopefully every Monday I’ll be posting some semblance of entertaining musings about my life or thoughts on life in general.  I posted my first Monday blog on May 1, that just so happened to be my Vinyl of the Month post.  So check back every Monday for something new.

In summary, except for resolution #2, I am progressing in my other resolutions.  Buddha, forbid I start slowing down and not giving a fuck.  It will be the end of civilization as we know it or I will ascend to some sort of Godlike entity.  Is there a prize for completing all your new year’s resolutions?

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Vinyl of the Month – Wired by Jeff Beck

It was a sad day when I heard that Jeff Beck had passed away.  Literally a guitar Superstar.  Was I a fan?  I would have to say not really.  I did not go out and buy his latest albums or mark his website in my browser.  I did buy Wired and Blow by Blow though many years ago.  Wired was Jeff Beck‘s 3rd solo album and was released in 1976. So why am I picking Wired as this month’s Vinyl of the Month?  Sit back my little padawan and let me regale you with my story.

In the summer of 1979, I found myself working at Mo Ranch (a resort for the Presbyterian church in the Texas Hill Country near Kerrville) again with my high school best friend, Bill.  We had just graduated from High School, and it was our last job and last time we would hang out with each other for quite a while.  We were both going off to different Universities, me heading eastward to the University of Southern Mississippi and he headed west to Texas Tech.  During our senior year, Bill had gotten heavily involved in the drug scene and was buddies with a drug dealer.  He was getting free cocaine and had become an addict.  I did not do serious drugs, only weed for me, and this caused a rift between us and we grew apart, only occasionally hanging out during our last couple of months before graduation.

When we headed to Mo Ranch for a second summer of work, I was hoping we could reconnect.  It took a couple of weeks for Bill to completely detox from his addiction.  He suffered through withdrawals every night trying to get to sleep. Eventually he beat the addiction because he could not get his hands on any drugs sequestered in the Hill Country.  We did drink a lot, so that probably helped but it also turned him into an alcoholic.  We became close friends again.  I was Moose and he was Allah (our summer nicknames and a story for another time).

TNT 8-track player

So, what’s all this have to do with Jeff Beck and Wired?  That summer, instead of working as a housekeeper like I had the first summer at Mo, I spent my initial weeks in the laundry room by myself washing towels and sheets with an old-fashioned washer.  I can only guess that the previous washing person had quit, possibly because the washer was the kind where you fed the towels through two roller pins to squeeze the water out before putting in a dryer or hanging on a clothesline.  Really old stuff for even 1979.  During my exile to laundry land, a fellow staff member loaned me his 8-track player and Jeff Beck’s Wired 8-track tape.  I played that 8-track tape constantly, over, and over to the point I knew every song and every solo.  Whenever I hear the album now, I think back to Bill’s addiction and that laundry room washing, drying, and folding towels.  I eventually got back to my normal job of housekeeping which entailed cleaning guest’s rooms, changing out towels and linens and generally sweeping and vacuuming like any hotel maid would do.

Left – Me, Right – Bill

After a rocky start, that summer became a memorable one reconnecting with Bill.  I didn’t see Bill until six years later when we both ended up in Dallas Texas with jobs.  He an accountant, me a computer science software developer.  He was still smoking weed and I declined his offer to partake.  I had quit that stuff after we graduated high school.  After that initial meeting I lost track of Bill for many years.  Apparently, his drinking problem got worse and after his third Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offense, he was thrown into the Texas State Penitentiary.  In Texas, on your third DWI, you get a minimum of two years in prison.  Not country jail or city jail, the big boy jail.  Bill disappeared off the radar and I had no idea where he went until he showed up at one of my band’s gigs an ex-con.  I didn’t keep in contact with him after that.  I learned a couple of years later that he has been found dead in his apartment.  I never found out from what and I never got a chance to apologize to him for treating him badly when he showed up at the band gig.  A sad ending for an extremely smart guy who had perfect grades all though high school and college.

So, Jeff Beck’s Wired album stirs both good and bad memories but memories just the same.  For that I chose it as this month’s Vinyl of the Month.

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Work-Life Balancing Act

I guess it was the pandemic that triggered a change in my perspective on work-life balance. I, thankfully, did not lose anyone close to me during that time but my middle son ended up in ICU with Covid in June 2020 and we were scared.

He had not been feeling good for a couple of days and even had an EMT unit come to his apartment that didn’t do anything for him. Two days later he was lethargic and requesting to be taken to the emergency room. My wife drove him on a Saturday morning. They took him back to examine him (wife not allowed) and he was diagnosed with Covid. We couldn’t see him. He spent 3 days in ICU, then another 3 days in a regular room, but still we couldn’t see him. We could call him and hope he would answer.

He was released the following Friday, spending 7 days in the hospital. He came out of the hospital a diabetic. A rare occurrence with Covid, we found out, but it can happen. He was devastated. 25 years old and Type II diabetes. How could this happen, he asked. He was tall and skinny, in pretty good shape physically. He had a hard time grasping the reasoning and so did we. He had to completely change his lifestyle. Thank Buddha he had a girlfriend (now his wife) who stayed with him through thick and thin. Over the past 3 years he has completely adjusted to being a diabetic and maintains his levels through good dieting and constant exercise. He rarely has to give himself an insulin shot.

All this came to mind recently because he turned 28 two weeks ago. I am so thankful he made it through that scary time and has fully come to terms with his disease. He continues to be a contributing member of society. He works a day job and runs an online vintage clothing business in his spare time. And he got married last Halloween. I think he’s going to be OK.

I have to chuckle because for his birthday at work they bought him a cake and had these special cookies delivered (Tiff Treats if you are in the Dallas area) not knowing that he was diabetic. They know now. His mother-in-law also made a tres leches cake that he couldn’t really dive into. His willpower is unmeasurable.

The episode with my son along with the death of a longtime friend from work late last year (Colon cancer, one day he went to the Doctor and never came back to work. He died 2 months later at the age of 59) caused me to rethink what is important in my life. Money? Job? Success? None of those things were a priority anymore. They slipped way down my list of priorities. I still needed a job (for now) to pay the mortgage, food, health benefits, toys, comics, etc. but I was no longer going to stress about work and deadlines. Just wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, you know? No longer going to stress about losing my job. Going to do my job and do what I need to do, but I’m done with the whole giving 110% bullshit that only breaks you down and makes other people richer (Quietly Quit?). My focus is my wife and three sons, my mother, my grandson, my in-laws and friends. Life is getting to be too short. I plan to retire at the end of 2024, but lately I’ve been rethinking that plan. December 31, 2023 is looking more and more desirable. Stay tuned.

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Free Comic Book Day

2 weeks from today people, Free Comic Book Day, May 6, 2023. Comics have gotten expensive so any time they’re free is a good thing.

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Hello Friend, it’s me. I’m sorry

I really do neglect this blog. I am keeping my journal up but this blog… Currently listening to The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks album as I typed this.

Maybe I should start reviewing comic books I get every month?

Perhaps I comment on the state of society here in the United States? That’s always a fun one. I could comment for days on our current President and his lack of mental faculties. Some of the things that come out of his mouth… Sadly, my father-in-law has been recently diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer and I think he is more cognizant of his reality than Biden is. Oops, see what I did there? I made a sneaky political comment.

I know, I can post my progress on my current weight loss plan. At one point years ago I was doing this program called Omada or something like that. Not this time. Met with an orthopedic surgeon and he said I need to have hip surgery (it sucks getting old folks) and before that can happen I need to lose some weight. I literally have NO cartilage in both my hips. It’s bone on bone. Been that way for awhile. One hip hurts when I over exert myself, like walking more that 50 yards. The other hip is fine. Anyway, back to the diet. I’m on a low carbs, low sugar diet now. I’m 1 1/2 weeks into it and I have lost 4 maybe 5 lbs. The true sign will be next Monday’s weigh in. It’s essentially an Atkins diet, although I have found low carb bread so that helps. I guess I could post that progress.

I have two “books” in the works. My fiction book, that is outlined up to the Midpoint with some scenes in Act III as well, has taken a backseat to a memoir. I’ve been boning up on memoir writing and I have two times in my life that I think would make good memoirs. So I have been focused on gathering data like old papers, files and pictures from one of those times of my life. I think I have a good premise. Perhaps I will share when I get it more organized. I need to quit watching YouTube and sit my ass down and write.

Work sucks my soul out so when I get home I just have no motivation. HOWEVER, 20 more months until retirement. Maybe only 8 if I get fed up with this job.

Peace out.

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Vinyl of the Month – Rock City by Riot

Riot, not to be confused with Quiet Riot, was a band from New York that formed in 1975. They put out their first album Rock City in late 1977.

I saw Riot in a skating rink in Copperas Cove Texas in ’78 or ’79 (those years are a blur). The opening band was The Rocking Red Devils, a local band think. I was standing at the front of the stage to the left. I was in awe, I was 16 or 17 at the time learning guitar. Both bands kicked ass.

I went out and bought Rock City the following week. I had seen a pic and small blurb about Riot in Circus magazine so I knew they were from NY. I then bought their second album Narita, and later their third album Fire Down Under.

My post high school band played Do It Up for awhile. Good times and a great band. I still pull out Rock City vinyl or listen to the CD in my truck.

Stirring up memories of life as a teen in central Texas. not a care in the world except getting through school and staying out of trouble. This is why I chose Rock City by Riot for Vinyl of the Month.

Check them out playing my favorite song Overdrive.

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More Flash Fiction

About 13 or 14 years ago I learned of the Elmira web site and my Great-Great Grandfather Hiram’s grave. I had known my Great-Great Grandfather was a Confederate soldier and he had died in a prison up North. That was all I knew until my cousin filled in the details by pointing me to the Elmira web site that listed all the prisoners that were held there and their fate. I was moved by my Great-Great Grandfather’s story to write this Flash Fiction story that follows. If you want to know more about the Elmira prison, there are links at the end.

Grave 2558

The sweat stung the cut above his eye, mixed with his blood and dripped off his brow, staining his soiled cotton shirt. He sat, legs extended straight out, on the cold brick floor, his back stiffening against the stone wall. How long had he been unconscious? It didn’t matter. He hadn’t broken. He told them nothing. They weren’t going to break him. He was a proud Confederate soldier from the great state of Mississippi. The secrets of the Confederacy, at least those a Private of Company E, Powers’ Regiment of the Mississippi Calvary were privy to, were still secrets. Col. Powers would be proud of him. Damn Yankees.

He recollected it had been ’bout six months since his capture at Ft. Adams on the banks of the Mississippi River. What a stupid bet to make, riding his horse, the fastest in Adams County, into the midst of Yankee looters in an attempt to take back tobacco that rightfully belonged to the good folks of that town. Where were his buddies when that troop of Yankees surrounded him? Snickering in the woods he imagined. Damn Yankees.

Since then, he’d been removed from Mississippi via boat to a federal prison in New York. A prison the Yankees called Elmira. He thought Elmira sounded like a nice enough name for a girl but not a prison. This wasn’t a nice prison. The guards showed contempt for all things Confederate. Periodic beatings continued until the prisoner either died or sickness took him. There were no doctors for Confederate prisoners. This was war. Damn Yankees.

The New York winter had been severe. Being from Mississippi, he’d never experienced cold like that. Barefoot and clothed only in the ragged pants and shirt he’d been wearing since the start of the war, he had lost a few toes off his feet and damn near lost a hand. He had made it through the winter by the grace of God and he welcomed the warmth of Spring. He was hot now, with fever, and a constant cough of mucus. His chest felt like the Devil was squeezing his lungs every time he drew breath. Damn Yankees.

He closed his eyes and dreamed of a warm Mississippi breeze coming off the river. He smelled the magnolia blossoms on Pleasant Hill Plantation. He felt the gentle sway of a boat while fishing on Lake Mary. He was back in Buffalo Mississippi, north of Woodville, on his land with Martha and their two sons. They weren’t her boys, but she loved them just the same. She was sewing in her rocker, and he could hear the boys playing in the holler.

Sweat stung the cut above his eye again, returning him to Elmira. He drew a deep breath and his chest ignited like a powder keg. He grunted in pain and coughed violently. He gasped; his lungs would not draw air. He had no strength left to rise from the floor and seek help. No energy to yell for a guard. He leaned his head back against the wall and looked up through the barred window at a sliver of morning sunlight shining its way through the darkness. He had one last thought… Damn Yankees.

“What ye got there Private?” asked the captain of the guard.

“Prisoner number 2558 succumbed to pneumonia this morning sir. Takin’ him down to the graveyard.”

“Another Johnny Reb gone to his maker, eh? Mark the date April 5, 1865. Damn shame too.”

“How’s a dead Rebel a damn shame sir?”

“They say General Grant’s got Lee in a bind down in Virginny. ‘Spect him to surrender in the next day or two. War’ll be over then. He’d be let go then. Damn shame.”

The Capture of Hiram Sturgeon

Elmira Prison Camp 1864-1865

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