Tuesday, May 20, 2014

All I'm Saying Is I'm Not Ready

I have spent over four weeks working on this entry. My last iteration was almost 3000 words; overall I think that I have written 7000+ words trying to create the entry with no success.  This started out as a very simple piece in which I was trying to express gratitude and deep feeling for someone whose talents effected a seriously confused period in my life. However, as I was conducting active research, which I often do while writing, I started to uncover facts that I was unaware of and as I did the entry started to fall apart while I was writing.  This was not because my opinions or facts were wrong but I simply knew only one side of the person I was writing about. The discovery of additional information so drastically changed my opinion about the person that I found myself questioning the rationale and purpose for what I was writing.  In the end, I was so conflicted that I just kept writing but could never draw any conclusion that stood up against the information that I was finding.  I will also say that I have serious qualms about taking some of what I found to be truly attributable to the subject matter because in many respects there is a deep dichotomy between what was being reported and a lifetime of actions that simply did not mesh.  

After reading my last attempt at writing this, I know exactly what the kid felt like who looked up at Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox scandal broke and told him “Say it ain’t so Joe.”  So with that thought in mind, I am making a final attempt at this and instead of trying to figure out my feelings about the person and surrounding events, I will just stick to the facts I know and leave out what will never be clarified anyway.

The first song of Linda Ronstadt’s that I can remember hearing was Different Drum; the record was released by the Stone Poneys with her singing lead vocals. Here is a bit of musical trivia for you: Michael Nesmith of the Monkees wrote the song with the intention that it be performed as an acoustic ballad. Linda’s version flips the gender and instead of an acoustic ballad it was turned into something more complex by the producer.  To me it is a perfect showcase for the emotion filled voice and the passionate singing style of Ronstadt -- Nesmith acknowledged that her version "infused it with a new level of passion and sensuality".  But I digress.  

Even though the song was originally released in 1967 it did not touch my life until 1974; proof that a good ballad can always stir the heart.  It was one of the first times that the lyrics of a song collided with my own life and even though the song is written for a much older couple, it seemed to perfectly describe a situation between myself and a 9th grade girlfriend – I wonder where Renee is now.  Looking back, it is hard for me to fathom how I made those parallels in my preadolescent mind but somehow they were drawn.

A few years later, when I was taking a guitar class in high school I was greeted by Linda as she peered down at me from a poster on the wall. Even though I am no fan of shorthair, the image of her on roller-skates stirred my heart every week day in third period.  By then it was the 70s, and she had moved far beyond the Stone Poneys and was lending her voice to many groups singing distinctive harmonies, and coming into her own right as a songwriter and solo performer. At the time, Heart Like A Wheel was still getting airplay on the radio, even though it had been released a year or so earlier, and songs like When Will I Be Loved and others became part of my first attempts at constructing cassette tape playlists.  

It was somewhere around this point in my life that music changed for me. It was no longer something that I listened to with friends just for the fun of it or something to dance to.  Lyrics changed from words that might contain pre-adolescent dirty words (think My Ding A Ling) or situations that were not to be spoken about (think Timothy or D.O.A.) -- there was a distinct transition into something new. Music came to be (and remains) something that I could use to express feelings I had but lacked appropriate words to adequately describe.  From my first recollection of hearing Different Drum through my High School years and on into college Ronstadt was my heart’s spokesperson and her voice was what soothed those early life heartbreaks and times of loneliness.

As the albums kept coming, my admiration and appreciation for Linda grew.  She was a beautiful woman, with a wonderfully expressive and passionate voice, who wrote heart touching lyrics, and stared at me my Junior and Senior years in high school from a poster across the room.  Unlike many songs, I still feel the same about every note of music I heard that Ronstadt wrote and sang, she is still the basis for many of the attractions that I have in life, and I will always admire the creative talent she possesses. She will always be special to me.

Now that I have listened to everything she ever recorded (at least what is still publically available) I can say that I have no single favorite song – I have 18 – and I enjoy a majority of the songs on every album except Dedicated to the One I Love, which are all lullabies.

The Aladdin incident:  I have no problem being friends or having discussions with people of differing opinions. It leads to healthy debate and helps a person to have well rounded opinions.  However, it is hypocritical for an individual to whine about suppression of their own Free Speech while demanding that anyone else who feels differently be stifled because the other person could not possibly be correct.  Celebrities who read one book or watch one movie and assume they are an expert and that the source they chose is the only viewpoint that should be considered are being narrow-minded.  Being an actor or a singer does not make anyone an expert or someone who should be a quotable authority on anything except maybe acting or singing.  Just because Linda may choose to dedicate a performance of Desperado to propagandist Michael Moore, does not mean that it has to be accepted or thought of that way – besides she and I both know that song was about me and Linda sang it to make me feel better during that turbulent phase of my Senior year. 

During the Spring Concert of my Senior year, I accompanied a vocalist on guitar as she sang Long, Long Time.  Beth had a great voice, but she was not Linda.  Later that night, I dreamed I played the song again – on a moonlit beach with Linda Ronstadt supplying vocals.  She was in denim cutoffs with her long hair pulled back on one side, held in place by a red flower.  I reminisce on that dream from time to time.  There was no conversation – no difficult discussions, we both knew our relationship was deserving of a more worthwhile soundtrack.

Different Drum
Michael Nesmith

You and I travel to the beat of a different drum
Oh can't you tell by the way I run
Every time you make eyes at me

You cry and moan and say it will work out
But honey child I've got my doubts
You can't see the forest for the trees

Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a girl who wants to love only me

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me

So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me

Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a girl who wants to love only me

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me

So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tut Tut Looks Like Rain...and Then The Wind Changed Directions

The theatre in Monterey, now used for concerts and such.
It was long, long ago -- sometime in the 1960s – when I went to my very first movie in a real movie theatre.  My Dad was in Korea at the time and I seem to recall going with some family friends who had kids my age.   The theatre was located in downtown Monterey, California.  Looking back I remember downtown as being large, but at the time I was small so it may have been relative.  We stood in line at least two days -- well I had the time perception of a 6 year old – waiting to get a ticket.  The line of mostly kids and some adults wrapped around the block.  Someone had told me the name of the movie, but I had no idea what the name meant – Merry Popping?  What the heck did that mean?

All theatres of that time looked like this.  Classy, huh?
A few realities that may need to be explained:  TV was still black and white so if you wanted to see something in color you had to go to a large dark room and watch it displayed on a screen.  Also, if you really liked the movie, there was no rewind and start again – or restart button.  You either had to pay to see it again or wait a few years for it to come to TV – AND – if you missed it showing on TV you were out of luck there were no recording devices that allowed time shifting.  So, going to a theatre for a movie was a big deal.

After the time in the outside line, and with tickets bought we stood in line again for popcorn.  Up to this point in my life popcorn was either Jiffy Pop or the stuff my Dad made in a little aluminum corn popper on the counter.  The corn popper, when taken apart for cleaning, revealed metal springs on the bottom which somehow magically turned the kernels into puffs.  But today was the day when I found out what popcorn was truly meant to taste like  -- movie popcorn – made with hydrogenated coconut oil and salted with special salt (never been a big fan of buttered corn).  It was and is as unhealthy as you can possibly make corn (unless you also deep fried it) – but it is also the best tasting snack in the world.

Each of us had a small bag of popcorn in hand as we proceeded into the auditorium and found seats together near the front.  Every seat was taken – the only other movie I experienced that with was a 1 AM showing of Jaws at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.   We sat there for a bit and then the lights went down. 

I always say the first movie I ever saw in a theatre was Mary Poppins, but that is not exactly correct. The first feature I saw was actually Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.  Sterling Holloway’s unique voice was familiar, as he was in a lot of movies I had seen on TV, but this was a very different experience.  The images were huge on the full sized movie screen that was only 20 feet or so from my seat.  The sound was full and clear -- the colors bright and vivid.  It was my first experience with that thing called Movie Magic and I jumped in with both feet and swam around in for the 20 or so minutes of the feature.  So memorable that to this day I still recall that you have to be careful because “You never can tell with bees”.

Then came 140 minutes of magic that was more real than animated.  It all came at me in a rush that I devoured and immersed myself in greedily….dancing chimney sweeps, penguins, a wooden leg named Smith, kids with kites, a canon on a rooftop, flying nannies, evil bankers, a talking dog, and my favorite side character Uncle Albert. The story told with dancing and humor and catchy Sherman brother’s songs – the way I play with words when writing is still influenced by their way of twisting words for lyrics.  I was stunned and amazed.

The movie is known the world over as a classic and it made Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke stars. Even today, I would argue that Dick Van Dyke ruled that movie.  He bound it all together and gave it a connected flow that it would have lacked otherwise.

Decades passed and when I had kids Mary again invaded my life.  This time on a small screen via VHS tape.  Technology had changed so when my daughter wanted to “watch it again” all I needed to do was to rewind the tape and hit Play.   Even though years had passed the movie still contained strong magic.  The things I noticed had changed somewhat – anyone not understand what Bert was really talking about when he was on his Jolly Holiday with Mary?   Then consider how much of a dog Bert was to mention all those other women.  Because of repeated viewings, the hidden meanings in the dialog and the lyrics are hard to ignore. 

More years pass and we arrive at today and someone had decided to take on telling the tale of the complicated relationship between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and how it played into getting the movie made. I wanted to see it after viewing the first trailer for Saving Mr. Banks, but then I like it when the behind the scenes drama is exposed and all of the trivia that plays into getting something massive off the ground is revealed.  Tom Hanks – great as Walt Disney,  I feel he captured the Walt I knew and grew up with.  Emma Thomson – also great but I had no idea who P.L. Travers was prior to the movie.  I loved the snippets of the Sherman brothers working on songs and dialog for Mary Poppins, I can imagine it being just that way.  The movie is well worth seeing if you have not.
After watching that movie, I watched Mary Poppins again for the first time in years.  Considering the fact that the movie is almost 50 years old, it is amazing how well it holds up and is still relevant with family complexities and issues that have changed little in the intervening years. 

As for any haters who can’t find or understand the magic of Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks or even Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, I can only say supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus.  But then they wouldn’t understand that either.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Epilogue & Reflection

When you complete any task in life, it is impossible for any contemplative person not to look back and see what was really accomplished and what difference the task ultimately means in the bigger scheme of things.  So, having finished my time in Kuwait, I paused for a moment to figure out what it really means if anything.

It would be easy to trivialize my time there by saying anyone of similar skills could do the same, but I find a small bit of ego comfort in the fact that “anyone” did not volunteer to travel to and live in that part of the world to take on the challenge – I did.  Even though I know I was replaceable, no replacement had volunteered to take it on. 

Ultimately, the people I did my job for were those I never met or saw -- that soldier at the far end of the supply line who was waiting or needing something that my organization was transporting to them.  What I did made the cogs of bigger machine run smooth so that the huge logistics operation that was designed to support those guys at the front could get what they needed in time.  I find a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that I kept the cogs working flawlessly.  Various projects I created will exist long after my departure and I did my best to insure they made sense and were sustainable.  Some of the work I accomplished while there will have an impact for years into the future.  

There is also the personal impact that I will carry with me.  I lived and worked in a different culture and learned to appreciate the people there as well as their lifestyle.  It was not always smooth, easy or understandable – but I survived it and learned from it.  I guess my ability to learn lessons like that makes it possible for me to live the nomadic life I have lived – or maybe my own wanderlust makes me adaptable.   Either way it works.

Finally, I had may have had direct impact to the folks who I worked with who may have learned something from me (good or bad) as well as the local folks I came into contact with who, I hope, had a more positive impression of Americans in my wake. Then there was the life altering impact I had on a small dog who found himself trying to survive on the streets of Kuwait City.  He now has a forever home and does not have to worry about how he will survive each day while he brings joy to those he lives with.

All in all, I feel good about my time in the desert and it is something I will never forget.  Now, on to what comes next.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

That Dog Is Not Getting On This Airplane

Iraqi Tank?  No problem
The US military builds an enormous amount of flex time into any travel. Therefore, it was not a big surprise when I found out that I was going to be required to report in at 0945 for a flight that did not leave until the following day at 0230. While there was a great deal of effort made to keep us comfortable and occupied during this lockdown period, it was not the easy on anyone I was anxious to get going. When I reported in, I turned over Falkor's crate and my one suitcase so that I would not have to carry it around all day. For the duration of lockdown I only had Falkor on a leash and my backpack to worry about. 

Falkor passed a lot of time snoozing
 Many of the troops that I was in lockdown with had been deployed to Afghanistan. Most, if not all, had not had contact with a domestic animal during their entire tour so those who were "dog people" kept coming over to pet Falkor.  I did not mind it because the puppy occupied and it also seemed to calm him. At one point a huge Army Sergeant (the kind of guy who blocks out all light when he walks through a doorway) was looking around the room when Falkor caught his eye, at this point his tough Army soldier façade broke down as he walked towards the dog asking in a childlike voice  "Who's a good boy?".  Good to know our Army is full of decent human beings who are not above letting their inner tenderness show. 

At about midnight we boarded buses and headed for the airfield. We were going to be traveling on board a chartered commercial Boeing 747.  The ride to the plane was uneventful, but there were several times when we were stopped at various checkpoints and required to wait as headcounts were accomplished, then re-accomplished, then re-accomplished one last time before we were allowed to proceed to the terminal. We exited the bus, and walked into military or terminal. At this point I put Falkor down and let him walk alongside me. As we entered the building one of the clerks working there pointed at Falkor and then looked up at me and said "That dog is not getting on this airplane".

Falkor & I after getting our paperwork from Karen
To back up a bit, 45 days prior to this I had started making arrangements for Falkor to leave with me.  I had clearance paperwork from the Kuwaiti government (which had really cool hologram stickers on it – many thanks to Karen Orobey of Pets Passage who took care of that), health certificates, and his arrangements to get on this plane were also approved by several people in the command hierarchy. There was no way in hell this dog was not getting on the airplane. 

I really don't recall how colorful my language got at that point, but I made my point about how serious this was, the work that had been done on this ahead of time.  When I realized this was going nowhere, I requested he call his Commander so that I could discuss the situation with him. At that point, the clerk backed off a bit but said I needed to stand aside while he checked on things.  By the way, it is completely within all the rules for a pet to fly on a military chartered aircraft,  it just has to be paid for by the owner and I was prepared to do so having been given the price 45 days prior.

Dog Rule: When in doubt nap
At this point, several discussions took place between this particular clerk and several people behind the counters. I basically stood by silently because if I had said anything at this point, I might have given them other reasons not to put me on the airplane because my language would've become more and more colorful as the situation proceeded. Falkor maintained his cool.  

Eventually, the airline liaison came over to see what was going on. The clerk explained situation, the liaison 
took out his radio and made a quick call and then came back to say that the crew had no problem taking the dog on the plane. The clerk then raised an issue with the fact that I did not have a crate for the dog. I explained that I did have the crate, and that it was being loaded right now into the plane’s baggage compartment.  If they would escort me out there I would gladly get the crate. Of course, there was no way the clerk would allow that because it might delay the aircraft’s takeoff – – at which point the airline representative said not to worry about it, that I could take the dog in the cabin. The clerk was visibly pissed and stormed off. 

A few minutes later the clerk reappeared to tell me the price for getting the dog on the plane and demanding immediate payment in cash. I think it was the final straw when I handed him exact change. With that part done, Falkor and I headed to the plane with the contract liaison as an escort. He explained on the way that he was a fellow traveler from the East.  We got to the plane and walked up the steps, me with my dog on a leash and not in any kind of carrier. 

When we got to the top of the stairs we were met by a flight crew that was completely staffed with "dog people".  Upon seeing the dog they all cooed and gushed over him and then offered us a seat upstairs, in what was normally business-class, as it would be easier to handle the dog in that area. I had no problem with that and we quickly went upstairs, found a seat, and buckled in for takeoff.

I am not an evil person by nature, but as I gazed out the window back towards the terminal I let look out the window so Falkor could wave goodbye to the clerk who said that there was no way he was getting on this plane.

The flight from Kuwait to Germany was very smooth and uneventful. Falkor sat in the empty seat next to me, he enjoyed that because every time a flight attendant walked by they had to stop and pet him.  I smiled when occurred to me how far he had come from being a cast-off dog that was dehydrated and starving on the streets of Kuwait City in July 2012 to where he was now.

When we got to Ramstein AB, Germany we said goodbye to a really great crew and I immediately took Falkor outside so he could do his business. Then, when I tried to get back in the building I was told Falkor could not come in because he was not in a crate.  I explained that the crate was on the plane and I needed to get in to get the crate.  Not good enough no crate – no admission.  I asked to speak to the NCOIC.

After a few minutes an Air Force Tech Sergeant came up and I explained the situation.  She said they would loan me a crate and make the necessary arrangements for me to get Falkor on the plane.  She returned with a crate and put Falkor in it and then went back through security.  

Making puppy eyes at a flight attendant
The lay over lasted another hour before we were re-boarded.  About this time I was told Falkor would again be going on the plane versus under it.  Good for him, but he was now in a hard sided crate that needed its own seat.  I went to my assigned seat and one of the flight attendants noticed him and asked if he was the dog that had come out of Kuwait. I told her yes and she said she had heard how well behaved he was.  Then, noticing the seating issue, she got on the intercom and after a brief conversation I was told we had been reassigned to the seats upstairs that we had been in for our last flight.  Worked for me and once we took off the flight attendants let me take Falkor out of the crate so he could snooze on my lap.

Leaving Ramstein AB, Germany
The flight was quiet and 8 hours or so later we arrived in Baltimore, our first stateside stop.

Clearing Falkor into the US was probably one of the fastest most efficient processes I hit during the entire trip home.  Gave them the paperwork and 2 minutes later Falkor was a legal immigrant.

Baltimore Airport has a nice pet break area, but the USO in the airport would not allow him to enter, even in a crate, so we spent 8 hours waiting in the open terminal area.  At least they had free internet access.  I was kind of surprised at the USO considering the number of military families who travel through there going to/from Europe.

We finally boarded our last flight and found we were in the last section of a packed plane; at least I had an aisle seat.  I sat Falkor, in his carrier, on my seat and stepped to the back to make boarding easier for others.  A passenger stopped at my row and after much grumbling and complaining to the flight attendant about needing a seat change, took his place in the middle seat.  He sat there for a few minutes, and then pushed the call button.

When the flight attendant showed up, he proceeded into a long diatribe about his severe allergy to dogs and demanded he be moved to a different seat at the front of the plane.  The flight attendant said she would call and check but it might be impossible since the flight was full.  I was okay with this, the empty seat in the middle would give me a little more room and I really didn’t want anyone with an attitude sitting next to me for 3 hours.

The flight attendant returned and told him she had as solution as there was an open seat in the Elite Class section at the front of the plane.  She waited a moment which gave him time to grin ear to ear and begin to gather his stuff; then she explained that Falkor and I would be moving to that seat so we would not be close to him and cause him allergic distress.  

As I gathered my bags and began to move to the front of the plane, I could hear him arguing with her that his allergies would still be a problem because the dog had been in this vicinity and that he needed to be the one to go to the Elite seat.   The last I heard was her telling him that during the inbound flight a dog had been in the seat I was going to and that would present the same problem.  She did offer him the option of deplaning and waiting for the next flight.  

Once again, Falkor had gotten us a nice upgrade and we were able to catch a quick nap on the way to Detroit and home.  The lesson: Travel with a small, cute dog.

Postscript:  Falkor had one final move before getting to his forever home in the US.  Due to the passing of her in-house dog prior to my return, my daughter took Falkor to live with her family in Kansas.  She says he quickly made himself a part of the family. The pup has 3 young boys to chase, two bigger dogs and a cat to play with and a guinea pig to growl at through the cage bars.  Falkor also has lots of these funny looking things he had never seen before to chase all over the yard – squirrels.  

That to me is a Happy Ending.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Next? Things Get Biblical

Last night I am busy starting my packing,  when the whole building began to shake.  A lamp fell off the table and some other things on the table fell over.  Earthquake. 

Checked out the news and found it was a 4.3,  big for Kuwait.

First floods and now an earthquake, I half expect a messenger to show up at the door and tell me that the Pharaoh says it is OK for me to leave. 

I am trying,  just 1 day left – hopefully I will be out of here before the frogs or locusts show up.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down

Kuwait, in an average November, gets ½ inch of rain.  My best guess was that on the 18th we got 3”-5” of rain.  The desert is just not built to absorb it,  the infrastructure is not built to handle it and it sends people into a semi-appropriate panic.   Imagine 6” of snow and ice falling on Miami.

Here are few pictures I took and some from tertiary sources on the internet (who did not credit them).  It was something to see – best from a distance.

There is a road there.  Really.

This lake is the section of desert where I run Falkor.  

Humor in Chaos

Rain is in the forecast for the next 3 days, I leave in 5.