Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Colonel's Legs Ain't For Show

I'm no clothes horse. Nor am I, in my estimation, an uptight prude. But, I have to say that one of my greatest critiques of current American society is the incredible depth to which the standard for acceptable public dress has fallen. I think the point at which my disdain for society's sartorial slouch crossed the line into disgust was the occasion of President Reagan's death. As I watched coverage of the crowds filing past his flag-draped coffin in the capitol rotunda, I was, frankly, angered by the shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops worn by the majority of those who believed they were "paying their respects" to Reagan. There was no difference between that crummily clad crowd and the one waiting in the line for Space Mountain at Disney Whirled. It was as if Passing of a President was on par with Pirates of the Caribbean.

Contrast the dress of those filing past Reagan's coffin with pictures of those who filed past Kennedy's in November of '63--all of the men were in suits and ladies wore dresses. I don't think a coat and tie should have been required for entrance to Reagan's repose, but had I been in charge of the capitol police that day, I would have at least refused entry to the man wearing the t-shirt with a picture of a rhinoceros and the caption "I'm Horny!" underneath. That was just plain disrespectful.

As I travel through airports each week, or shop at a mall, or go out to dinner, I am amazed at the number of adult men in shorts and t-shirts. I admit I wore shorts and t-shirts in such public places--until I was TWELVE!!

For crying out loud, people, have a little self-respect.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gains and Losses

The flight from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte Wednesday evening was a rough one in more ways than one. The lady sitting next to me sat quietly until we were diverted to another airport because of weather and low fuel, and then she began to cry. As we sat on the tarmac at Raleigh-Durham waiting for thunderstorms to clear she began to talk.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that there is not an empathetic bone in my body. Even some of my closest friends (two out of the three) have told me that I can be a cold-hearted sonuvagun. I used to think it was a character flaw. Then, I was tested on the Myers-Briggs personality battery and pegged as an INTJ--evidently INTJs have no feelings for the plights of others. Famous historical INTJs include some rather notorious emperors, dictators, and autocrats. Not a very esteemed group with which to be associated--but at least I have an excuse for being so indifferent to my fellow man. Lucky for the world this personality group is the smallest of the sixteen identified.

So, there I was, stuck on a grounded flight next to a teary-eyed woman who felt the need to share her misery. Turns out, she had a right to cry and I subsequently told her so. She was returning to her present home in Florida after burying her mother in her family's hometown in Ohio. Her father had died two years ago, all the rest of her family had left Ohio years ago, and the site of so many of her happy childhood memories was no longer reachable as a touchstone. As we talked (I drew on some counseling lessons from the Marine Corps leadership manual) she related that her husband had survived a bout with cancer and her daughter's fiance had recently been killed in Iraq. I got the feeling she didn't normally share her grief with strangers and I was suddenly overcome with the strangest sensation--like someone was squeezing my blood pumper and my eye wash reservoir at the same time.

I'm beginning to realize that, despite my numbness, this life is hard for most folks. Losing friends and loved ones is painful stuff.

I lost a fellow Marine, with whom I had served on a number of occasions, in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. Lieutenant Colonel Max Galeai was commanding the 2d Battalion, 3rd Marines and was deployed to the area near Mosul, north of Baghdad. While Max was attending a meeting with several tribal leaders, a terrorist entered and blew up the bomb he carried. Max and the two Marines with him, along with a dozen Iraqis, were killed.

I first served with Max when I was the operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines and he was a platoon commander in one of the rifle companies. He wasn't flashy, but he was very effective--a leader who put his men first and got the most out of them. Max rose through the commissioned officer ranks, commanding at greater and greater levels of responsibility and was destined, I am sure, for further advancement.

Sad thing is, I don't think, in all of the times we served together, I ever told him I thought he was doing a great job. Shame on me.

Semper Fidelis, Max.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Swallow Start

This spring, under the eaves at the corner of our front porch, a pair of barn swallows occupied a long-dormant mud nest, refurbished it a bit, and raised a brood of five young'uns. A barn swallow's nest is an engineering marvel, if not atheistically pleasing. And, while it doesn't necessarily complement Miss Brenda's garden-ringed porch, there was never a consideration of removing it--birds are passion of mine.

A month ago, when Caleb and little brother Taylor were visiting Eegeebeegee, I positioned a step ladder where I could haul them up to peek at the young birds in the nest. They didn't seem all that fascinated with them--at least not as much as I was--but when his mother (she of the high and exalted position of "Bearer of Grandchildren") arrived to regain charge of her brood, Caleb drug her over to the ladder and implored her to climb up and take a look, "I put ladder for you, Mommy."

Yesterday evening, as a summer thunderstorm, bringing blessed rainy relief to our parched parcel, wound down to a drizzle, I stepped out on the front porch to enjoy the cool. As I always do, I glanced up at the swallow nest to see if I could see the chicks' heads poking up. What I saw was five fully fledged birds crowded onto their now too small adobe abode. Must have been more than a week since I last checked on them--they had grown up fast. I eased over to the corner of the porch to get a closer look, and as I got nearly directly underneath them, they exploded from the nest like a feathered frag grenade and spilled into the dusky sky over our front yard.

I sat in a rocker until dark, watching them chase chatteringly through the evening air and bid them good luck and happy hunting.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Blackberry Picking 101

It's berry picking time again and Miss Brenda and I have the purple hands and scratched forearms to prove it. But the stain and pain is worth the taste of a spoonful of Miss Brenda's blackberry jam on a hot buttered biscuit. I'm quite sure that in a simpler, less civilized time wars were fought over this particular resource. I know my dander gets up at the sight of Miss Brenda giving away a jar from her larder.

It occurs to me that not all of you, who waste precious rod and cone time perusing my rambles, may have an appreciation for the fine art and hard science of blackberry picking. Therefore, in my never-ending quest to educate my dear readers, I provide below a primer on the subject:

1. Find a blackberry bramble. These nearly impenetrable labyrinths of thorny canes harbor the mature plants upon which fruit is found. Blackberry brambles exist in those places that most sane and snake-fearing people dare not tread...until they have sampled a spoonful of Miss Brenda's jam. Blackberry brambles are renown in deer hunting circles, where they are commonly referred to as "them #$%&! sticker bushes." As in "I trailed that deer through a couple hunert yards of them #$%&! sticker bushes and came out lookin' like I went three rounds with a bobcat."

2. Approach the bramble with the sun to your back. This allows for the accomplishment of three important tactical objectives. First, a ripe blackberry glistens in the sun like a flake of gold in a prospectors pan. Second, the sun on the back of your neck allows for enhancement of your redneck image. Third, attacking from the sun allows you to sneak up on the berries.

3. Move slowly and purposefully. This allows for the accomplishment of three more important tactical objectives. First, charging headlong into a blackberry bramble will result in inextricable ensnarement--reach slowly to pluck the berry in your sights and retract your hand and arm in the same plane and trajectory. Second, charging headlong into a blackberry bramble does not give the folks with no shoulders time enough to slither out of your way. Third, charging headlong into a blackberry bramble causes ripe berries to fall from the canes. A berry that falls is lost to the picker--blackberry bramble labyrinth density increases exponentially with proximity to the ground.

4. Always carry a smaller bucket than everyone else. This allows you to fill your bucket faster and allows you to disdainfully empty your full bucket into your partner's half-full bucket to lighten your load.

Next post: Home remedies for chigger bites.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

On Patriotism

It is telling when a major party nominee for President of these re-United States believes it necessary to give a major speech devoted to allaying the fears of his fellow citizens regarding his patriotism. That any party, other than the American Nazi or American Communist (yes, they exist), would nominate a candidate about whom love of country is an open question is in itself a damning indictment of a significant portion of our citizenry's judgment. No one who would vote for or support someone purely on his passionate eloquence should ever cast aspersions on the good people of Germany circa 1934--1945.

The word patriotic has been bandied about a lot lately by the clamoring class (more like classless clamorers--but I digress). In the process, wholly new definitions of what it means to be a patriot have sprung up like noxious weeds in the garden of accuracy. Let's take a look at Webster's definition:

patriotic: pa·tri·ot·ic \pā-trē-ˈä-tik\ adjective
1 : inspired by
patriotism 2 : befitting or characteristic of a patriot
— pa·tri·ot·i·cal·ly
\-ti-k(ə-)\ adverb

Not much help there, Mr. Webster. Kind of like telling me that the definition of liberal is "one who is inspired by liberalism, or having the characteristics of a liberal." Let's see how Webster defines "patriot":

patriot: pa·tri·ot \ˈpā-trē-ət, -ˌät\ noun
1: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests

Now, there's a definition to sink our teeth into! Love of country. Support of its authority and interests. That's not what I hear when someone says they can vehemently disagree with our country's statutory authority and stated interest, and still be a patriot. What I hear them saying is "I'm a revolutionary." And, I make no judgment here--if you want to be a revolutionary, say so. Now, here's where I'll lose many of you--those who fought against the British crown 1775--1783 were revolutionaries (rebels), not patriots, despite our version of history. The true "patriots" were those (nearly half the population of the colonies) who remained loyal to Great Britain. Before you start screaming at the screen, let me add that I would have probably fought the British had I been an American colonist--I am a Rebel, after all.

My point in this meander is that if you want to wear the patriot's cloak, you need to put your money where your mouth is. I will go a step further out on this rhetorical limb--unless you have served your nation, or willingly sacrificed for it, you have no room, right, or reason to claim personal patriotism. My apologies to all of you for whom someone else served so that you didn't have to.

If you have to wear a flag pin to prove you are a patriot, you ain't one. You're just a citizen.