Do not take this blog seriously, and don't drive and read!

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Dog Named Dean in the Eye of the Storm

           It’s the last day of January 2011 and the news media/ weather service is expecting an exceedingly large snow & ice storm to pummel the Midwest. According to reports about 100 million people could be affected in the next couple of days. I truly hope people are prepared. SO, here’s some advice: check the mood of your pet to see if your area will be affected- seriously! This is a true story about an unexpected storm where people had no preparation time, but one dog took action.
            The worst of the storm hit the small town of Jarrell, Texas in the spring of 1997. I was working in south Austin as a glorified secretary. I mean no disrespect to secretaries or their profession.  I was literally a “GLORIFIED” secretary. My boss, Kathy, loved me! The owner was also genuinely fond of me as he would ask, “You holding down the front desk area?”  In fact, he always asked if I wanted to go golfing with him and his friends after lunch. 
            The only problem with going golfing in the middle of the week is the fact that a big part of my job; I’m sorry, the main part of my job was answering the phone. That’s hard to do from a golf cart. It’s even more difficult to transfer calls. So it became a “running gag” every morning for the owner, John, to ask me if I wanted to get in a round of golf after lunch.  For some reason I would always chuckle to myself every afternoon about 2pm (during the slowest part of the day).
            John was one of the greatest bosses I’ve ever had and his daughter, Kathy, was also a delight. Even though it was a family run business, they were bringing in some BIG cash!  It’s a rule that everything has to be bigger in Texas, and even though it was considered a small business, the full name of my workplace was six words. I’ll not go into any further detail.
            But as I was saying, since things have to be bigger in Texas, that also includes “dangerous weather patterns.” I say “weather patterns” in case any meteorologists read this.  To the average person that’s just the fancy way of saying “a big ol’ storm” is probably going to be blowing through here so you better take cover. 
            When we heard the radio reports that day, we all stepped outside to take a gander. I worked in south Austin and it was shocking to look up to the north.  We were introduced to 30 mile an hour winds and an ominous black sky that gurgled with what sounded like a well orchestrated disdain for all human life. “Mother Nature” was north of our building, and she sounded frustrated while spewing advice that shook the asphalt under my feet. In a low voice I think she asked us to “move.”  I understood that I had no leverage over her intentions.
            To me, taking cover meant getting in my car and driving east toward Houston.  But my boss, John, in a smooth Texas drawl laughed at my intentions. He said he had lived in Austin all his life and had never even seen a tornado.  I’m not sure if he was just trying to settle my nerves or if he was telling the truth, but I had a tough decision to make. I trusted John, but should I ride out the storm in that big metal building, or should I get in my car and head east out of the darkness.
            That’s the preface to the story, but here’s the meat! The fact is I was “house sitting” for my brother that week.  He lived in north Austin where wind damage and power outages had been reported.  In no way was I worried about my brother’s house.  I was, however, worried about his dog.
            So, what do I do? Do I take a chance with my life and try to save this beautiful white dog or do I just leave him in the back yard and hope for the best.  Pets and especially dogs will make a person do stupid things. But the few dogs I had growing up did, literally, save my life on more than one occasion.
            There was a German Sheppard named Angel who almost overdosed on snake venom after a powerful strike to the front of her neck.  My ankle might have been the intended target of the copperhead’s assault. I was inches away from taking the hit myself when Angel pushed me aside to grab the snake.  She killed the venomous creature but suffered a seriously infected wound.  Angel was overwhelmed for days, but she finally pulled through. I was a careless kid who didn’t notice the camouflaged reptile meandering beneath the fall leaves.
            And, there was the time I was three years old and Angel’s pal Solomon, saved the day. Solomon was a big white extremely protective German Sheppard.  I don’t remember the experience but according to all accounts, as the story goes, Solomon pulled me from the road to the ditch just seconds before a car went flying past our house.
            For some reason, I’ve always been fond of large dogs.
            So that brings me back to my dilemma in Austin. Should I face my fear of tornados and make that drive north to check on the dog?  Should I listen to my boss who tells me not to take a chance just to save a dog?
            The weather reports are dismal and disturbing. The traffic reports are horrendous. Emergency management is warning drivers to stay off the road.  There is flooding, power lines down, and of course smaller tornados spawned by the F-5 twister that has leveled Jarrell, Texas.  The television stations are off the air and the few radio stations broadcasting these horrific events are mentioning roads and landmarks near my brother’s house. 
            I have no choice but to drive up there and check on the dog. I’m not going to let him get hurt or killed because he is trapped in the back yard where ten foot wooden fences have him hemmed in; he’s basically caged with no protection from flying debris.
            I don’t get six miles up the highway before spotting fire trucks and downed power lines. The electric lines adorn the road lighting the way for emergency personnel as they yell and point at me to drive toward some mall parking lot.  I give them a “thumbs up” and proceed to go behind the parking lot to hit the side roads I know so well.  The road has large tree branches and various bits of debris flying about.  I have the only car on the road, but I spot one that apparently tried to park upside down on a tree.
            Somehow I’m able to make it up to the west end of  “Aloe Vera Lane”- NOT KIDDING…  That was the name of the road.  For some reason the jittery street sign made me laugh. I began thinking to myself; ‘if a big old branch comes flying through the window, I’m going to need a lot more than Aloe Vera.’
            I come in the back way to bro’s house when I hear what sounds like an explosion. I can see items flying through the air and then I see where the explosion has occurred. A transformer right up the street is smoking and my guess is, “fried.”
            I whip the car in the driveway crashing over branches and limbs on the concrete. I jump out and into the wind and head straight to the front door.  There is a large tree branch on top of my brother’s house, but inside things seem fine. I run to the back door and slide it open to find chairs and kids’ toys scattered about around the back yard. But there is no dog.
            I run back out the front door to the neighbor’s house on the left but they’re gone. Then I run over to the house to the right.  After banging on the door, the owner lets me in and says, “Are you looking for your dog?”
            My heart sinks because I feel he’s going to be the bearer of bad news.
            I sigh and say, “Yeah, I don’t suppose you’ve seen him, have you?”
            Then he laughs and says, “You’re not going to believe this.”
            He proceeds to tell me that as the storms begin, he hears the dog barking and he tries to open the gate to the fence. It is either locked or jammed.  The wind picks up, and he has no choice but to skirt back to his house.  The next thing is barking at his back door. And there he is… a big white dog scratching away.  He lets the drenched creature in and the dog runs directly to the bathroom.  The dog jumps in the tub and stays put just like one is supposed to during a tornado warning.
            We both inspected the fence once the weather cleared a bit, and there were no holes and no apparent way for the dog to climb the ten foot fence.  Just like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” Dean made it to a magical place where he was safe from the winds. Oh Yeah, “Dean” was the name of the dog and he went on to live long; finishing his life in Alaska. Dean was named after Coach Dean Smith, best known for his successful 36-year coaching tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  For a time, Coach Smith was the NCAA Division I men's basketball record-holder with 879 wins. I still wonder how Dean (the dog) left his court in the back yard to jump a ten foot fence to safety. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1920’s E-Z Speak (History Revelation: Before the Crash)

           It was late 1923 and “radio” didn’t seem but just a few months old, but for those who owned a radio, that box was quite a delight.  Just about every time you turned it on you’d hear the song, “Barney Google;” with the “goo goo googly eyes” bam, bam, bam. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith inspired the hit written by Billy Rose, and I’m of the notion that radio was the greatest invention ever.  I mean it was a total shockwave listening to music through a wireless setup!  I remember me and my best girl, Mary (I called her Mouse), singing along at the top of our lungs at a little “knock, knock” up in Chicago.
            I called ‘em “knock knocks,” but I guess if you were not a frequent guest like my fortunate self, you might call it a “speakeasy.”  I didn’t worry too much about a RAID; after all if your “owner-pal” had the right setup, those joints were all connected. My friend, Nic, in Chicago didn’t understand why I called them “knock knocks.” At social gatherings, he kicked into blogging mode and would even offer money for me to speak in my native tongue filled with fast talking “jargon.” And I would naturally oblige laying my accent on thick by using my best tools, resources and wit to claim my domain; via my best southern vernacular. During that era of time anybody from the Appalachian Mountains was a novelty. However, that little café was a publicly criticized operation that anybody could take a DIG at! And my hillbilly charm would have been for naught had it not been for the product I personally delivered to the “tuxedo gambinos” in the big town. 
            I didn’t much like “moon-running” all the way to Chicago but every once in a while I’d do the whole trip. I preferred taking my homemade vice on a shorter drive from the hills of Tennessee and to a flexible storage drop off unit at my cousin’s silo in Ohio.    He had an “arrangement” with only one “organization” in Cleveland. That was the smartest way to keep your teeth and nose straight (no pun intended). But I had been in the “Great War,” and I didn’t mind taking chances now and then on a bruised ego or worse… bruised, battered and broken bones.
            SO, to make a little extra cash, my “pay-pal” Nic who owned the little spindle in Chicago got a great deal on my white lightning while his lady friends would flip and/or, should I dare say, flap over me. That’s why I didn’t mind running shine way up there. I referred to that long, hard drive as my secondary storage vice and I didn’t want to lose my connection to that “Inside Intel,” if you know what I mean. Plus Nic had a cannon massive protection device that he wasn’t afraid to use. He called it his MP-360 because the thing would turn on a dime if the cops showed up and it would scatter whatever you threw in there into what northerners might call, a powerful "third party" that equals the playing field.
            Let me briefly explain why I took up moon running so you don’t think I’m a complete scoundrel. Even though the “Great War” supposedly ended in 1918, I didn’t get back from Germany until well into 1919. Upon my return from the service, I found that eking out a living in the Tennessee hill country was getting’ harder and harder.  However, by 1923, I was really “twittering” along.  I’m just poking fun with you. My friend Nic is the one who introduced me to that word (twittering) and I’ve laughed about it ever since.  He was upset one day about an article from the New York Times claiming the investigation into President Harding’s administration was “poison-tongued partisanship, pure malice, and twittering hysteria!” I’ve loved that line ever since he read it out loud. I’ve used the phrase several times in conversation just to keep things rolling and to lighten up the mood. It usually gets me a laugh out loud. Of course, I proudly extort my entire southern drawl to adjudicate “twittering hysteria” from my mischievous lips.
            It had been a couple of years since the Eighteenth Amendment and when the government prohibited someone from doing something, the first thing they wanted to do was enlighten themselves with intoxicating beverages to further understand the law!
            I actually delivered a special brew that my uncle Mac taught me how to make. Mac’s real name was Cameron McIntarsh (from the old country) but we just called him Mac. Cameron was a desk builder, but he was known in the “Good Lord’s Country” of Tennessee as one heck of a drink maker. He was an inventor and he would use a “special ether-net” allowing him to make whiskey that tasted like it had been blended for years. He called the bottle his “motherboard” and always said, “there in lies the secret” to making a great product.  We never really understood what he was saying because he was always drunk, but we respected him for his… “Him-Selflessness.”  He called it the Dublin concoction and claimed the water was actually fresh from a colorful place called E-Bay, Ireland.  Of course, we all knew where the spring water came from, but we jokingly referred to it as the I-Pond Bay of the Great Smokey Mountains.  It’s rumored he had the secret recipe written down in what we also lightheartedly called his I-Pad or “Irish Pad.”  In other words, it was somewhere in his house or the crevasses of his mind and no one would ever find it!
            The beer recipe, however, is a different story. My Pappy once told me that our beer recipe had been in the family since 486 A.D.! He said that we were distant relatives of Clovis, the King of the Franks.  After the Franks sacked Rome, they made Clovis their King in 481. According to my Pappy, Clovis had a taste for brew, but at that time in Europe, beer was despised and considered bad for you. But in 486, Clovis used Roman technology (some say it actually came from the ancient Sumerians) to cross breed a delicious wine/beer mixture. It’s a 32 bit branch process where he used a broadband so the liquid combination would flow faster through an integral pipeline fermenting the yeast fusion process at a floating point that he called a branch prediction.  This was the Pentium of the brewing progression.
            I don’t have a window into Clovis’ mind, but the procedure somehow works, and the product sold great in 1923. We enjoyed a prosperous, healthy living throughout the roaring 20’s and “The Age of Prohibition.”  Known from Cleveland to Chicago, we were “Processing Coherent Indiscretion” and so dubbed ourselves the “PCI Express.”
            Running at night by the light of the moon, I bet the law thought we had artificial intelligence.  I wish I would have been on line with something like that, but all I had was a police radio.  I was the “Irresponsible Service Provider” (or ISP) of all the whiskey the big city folks could share or ware for that matter.  Sometimes it felt like I was in a world wide web of deceit, but a man’s got to make a living.
            On one extended trip to the coast, I had to modify the trunk for extra storage space. You can’t take a chance on a surprise search be it a trunk or an engine search. When you go to the U.S.B. P. (United State’s Busiest “rum running” Port), you can’t be too careful. They definitely had some spy ware there!
            I got nervous about halfway to the port. I even thought I might have to send a cable back home to Pappy.  My machine (I call her that) started acting funny and slowing down a bit. I had sporadic popping activity in the motor (SPAM). I whipped out the toolbar and could tell it had something to do with the coasting diode random oscillating machinery (CD-ROM). After checking the random action mechanism (RAM), I found the default off switch (DOS) located under the console to be interfering with the Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor or “codec.”
            I stood there for a few minutes. I had a cookie and a pop; up by the edge of the highway.  I felt like just crashing the whole load.  But I brought myself back from the depths of my deepest fears and into a new dimension of thought. I had to figure out if my hunch would work. SO, I very softly took out a micro bit part from the processor and replaced one of the diodes to camouflage the micro function device into a Single In-line Memory Module (SIMM).  By then, I was stirring for a nap; yes sir!  But first I took a shortcut to my destination.  And I must say; I don’t ever want to go that slow down that super highway again!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blissful Times of Fake Peace Corps Memories

           I graduated high school when I was seventeen. It’s not because I was any smarter than anyone else. It’s because I was born under the wrong sign of the Zodiac.  Had I been born a month earlier, I would have been “big man on campus.” After all, I would have been driving to school as a sophomore like most others in my class. But so go the cosmos and the stars that align and the uncontrollable universe that makes up who you are and who you will become as you go prodding along proudly gaining the knowledge of a steadfast student of life. It’s an imagination beyond the truth that lies hidden beneath your fake journal to guide you through your intrepid encounters with the oddballs (famous and infamous) in life you will meet who will shape your character or lack there of and all that is to become steadfastly replacing the innocence of youthful exuberance. I say all that to say this; I was never fooled by curveballs in baseball and life has certainly thrown some sliders at me, but I’ve taken it all in stride and lived one heck of a journey.
            Let’s talk about it. I feel so dirty… like you are reading my personal journal and yet I shouldn’t worry… for I have led an average life just like anyone else who is 40 years old.
            It may seem I was an oddball of my generation when as a Gen-X’er I joined the Peace Corps in 1988.  While the other “dudes" were on their way to college and enjoying the scenery of “bleach blond” “big” hair down at the mall, I was off to a place called Esquipulas, Guatemala.  There’s some good fishing down there in between the bouts with malaria.
            The town sits right on the border of Honduras and El Salvador.  Doesn’t it sound like an ideal vacation spot for a 17 year old Tennessee kid who has never seen cocaine nor does he realize where it comes from?  Yep… now you, the reader, are nervous for my safety and I thank you. But Esquipulas, Guatemala in 1988, was a perfectly safe place to live. It was rich in religious heritage kind of like the Rome of the Western Hemisphere.  You know why? We had the “Black Jesus.”  Seriously, that’s why the town is famous the world over!
            Basilica of Esquipulas  houses the Shrine of the Cristo Negro (“Black Christ”). Founded by the Spaniards in the 1560’s, the image of the Black Christ dates back to March of 1595, when the Portuguese sculptor Quirio Cataño presented it to the city.  The mayor probably said, “neato”- in Portuguese, or Spanish or some language that was there long before the Spaniards. It’s basically a dark wooden image of the crucified Christ, AND it’s the most revered Catholic shrine in the region. There’s a pilgrimage site in El Salvador with another carving of the Black Christ, but my roots lie with the Shrine of the Cristo Negro at Esquipulas!
            You know why my skinny 6’6’’ frame felt comfortable in my new “two year” Peace Corps home of Esquipulas?  There was a treaty signed in Guatemala City in1987 that was called the Esquipulas Peace Agreement; thus bringing peace to that part of Central America. And if you lived back then you know that those were only peaceful gun battles between various drug cartels and the “covert ops” of the United States Government.
            We also had magic dirt to keep us safe. People even bathed in it. If you bath in Holy dirt, then you’re “invisible” like the Sioux at the battle of Little Big Horn. Everyone knows the town is famous for its Tierra Santa (Holy Earth) clay tablets. Everyone knows that!
            AND, that soil must be Holy because it is excellent for the economy. The local clay (dirt) is pressed into tablets (or clay cake) and sold to pilgrims; thousands who come from the U.S., Mexico, Europe, etc... every year. The clay is believed to be medicinal and the pilgrims will sometimes eat the clay and then rub it all over them. Pretty neat huh?
            So here’s the history. As far as Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites go in the Western Hemisphere, Esquipulas is closely tied to Chimayo, New Mexico in the good ‘ol US-of-A. The cathedral at Esquipulas was proclaimed a Basilica in 1961 by Pope John XXIII. That means its mucho importante’ especially when it’s deemed a “shrine” like the one at Esquipulas. There are basilicas that are built over Saints like St. Paul and St. Peter.             
            I too am the proud builder of a small, unfinished and as of yet, undesignated basilica near Nameless, Tennessee. I placed a stand of large limestone rocks over the grave of my beloved Saint Bernard. He too was a martyr when he chased a large yellow cat out of the path of an oncoming larger yellow bus.  Blacky, my loving white and tan Saint Bernard, was always thinking of God’s other creatures. In honor of Blacky’s heroics the yellow cat sat on the other side of the road kneeling as if to purr over the tragedy. The cat even cleaned itself bathing in a baptismal of saliva in remembrance of my Saint Bernard. 
            But I digress.  The largest basilica/church in Rome, Italy is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So even though the Saints, Apostles and even Jesus himself never took a cruise over to modern day Guatemala, a Pope in 1961 recognized the value of sacred dirt transformed into an eatable clay (tablet cake) commodity. Pilgrims eat that stuff up!  It’s the same principle as a Hindu who recognizes the value of the vernacular “Holy cow!” 
            The reason I say all this is simply to inform you that I felt safe while serving in the Peace Corps. And I met some interesting folks down there near the equator… which, by the way, splits Ecuador into two parts- the equator that is, which is an imaginary line that runs through the country of Ecuador. We can’t see imaginary line but we know it's real because toilets flush backwards in Brazil and Australia (both below the imaginary line).  
            If the equator were a real boundary with signs there would be a north and south Ecuador.  Lord knows if that were the case, the United States would have to have some “kind of beef” with the poor Ecuadorian inhabitants.
            Logic and history tells us that there is always conflict between America and north and south whatever; be it Korea, Viet Nam, West Virginia- which happens to be NORTH-west of Virginia. We probably have some kind of treaty with Russia that the general public knows nothing about. There’s the northern moon and southern moon each with either a capitalist or communist economy planned for when settlement begins there. The realm of possibilities is unlimited when it comes to conflict. We humans have almost mastered engaging in unlimited conflict between nations. If not for the nation of Switzerland, we could all fight against one another in perfect harmony with unlimited destruction for all nations… bunch of Swiss marshmallows!
            My point is simple. The Peace Corps was a good time had by all. After meeting and falling in love with a Guatemalan drug lord’s daughter, her kind and gentle father informed me it was time to relieve myself of my duties with the Peace Corps. So I definitely relieved myself- on more than one occasion I might add.  I left a little piece of my heart in that foreign land and I almost left a little piece of my finger. There is no logic to this sorted story because common sense and good judgment played a larger role in my return to the states. The abrupt end!  - For now...