Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A New Voice in State Politics


I attended the Lincoln Day Dinner at the Main Place in Hornell Friday evening. Ordinarily I don’t show up at such goings-on but found spending an evening with people of my own ilk was a pleasure. The Lincoln Day Dinner is an annual event sponsored by the Hornell Republican Committee. The reason the dinner is named for Abraham Lincoln is that he was the first real Republican.

The food was good, the drinks were good, the company was good, and if you don’t mind a half dozen or so politicians’ speeches during which they spend several minutes patting each other on the back for the swell job they are doing for us, then you might say the speeches were good. Actually, we do have a swell bunch of local politicians that do a fine job for us, no fooling. In case you don’t know who they are, here are their names: U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, State Senator Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Assemblyman Bill Nojay. No. there are no Democrats in the ranks of Republican pols. Although they are welcome at any time.

The keynote speaker was of special interest.  Chris Gibson, a U.S. congressman from Columbia County delivered an inspired address to the audience of 112 guests, during which he enumerated many of the problems with the Cuomo Administration. (In that regard he could have spoken for hours but held his remarks to about fifteen to twenty minutes, a span of time  no speech should exceed.)  Gibson informed his audience of his plans to run for governor.  Can you even imagine a truly conservative Republican holding sway in Albany? Personally, I cannot ever remember such being the case. Pataki? You gotta be kidding!

Gibson described four issues he said needed immediate address.  The economy, of course, saying the ads the current administration is running on television about how well NYS is doing businesswise, simply are not true. But, then, anybody paying attention to the job market already knew that. The second issue is education, particularly the eradication of Common Core. I must admit ignorance as to the particulars of Common Core, but if it’s no better (or is worse than) the other math procedures concocted by asinine liberal “educators,” (remember “new” math?) then it’s simple “math” to say it’s no good. What was wrong with the old “rote” method, in which students simply did something until they got it right then moved on? Slower students went at their own pace, the gifted went according to theirs. Of course, it may help to arrange a method of ridding the school districts of bad teachers. The tenure system has to go for the betterment of education.

Chris Gibson’s third issue he would work to see changed if elected to the governor’s office is the corruption in Albany. I guess we all know how bad that is. NYS and Illinois (Chicago) are reputed to be the most crooked state governments in the US. Probably so, but I would not think others were better to any degree. And, as much as we’d all like to see Albany swathed with a brush of honest dealings, I’d bet there are few who would offer hold their breath.

The final issue Gibson spoke of was repeal of the SAFE Act. It should not have been brought into law in the first place – passed in the middle of the night after refusing lawmakers the opportunity to review it. Liberals do not care that disarming law abiding citizens, even making guns and ammunition more difficult to come by, puts those citizens in more danger. Areas of the country that legalized armed carry have less crime (talk about simple math). Crooks don’t want to be shot.

Chris Gibson is quite an accomplished individual. A 29-year veteran of the US Army, he retired as a full colonel. He spent four tours in Iraq, where he earned four bronze stars and a purple heart. Gibson led combat troops for the fabled 82nd Airborne and the Tenth Mountain Division.

Gibson did not make an official announcement about his political future but did say that “very soon” he would announce his intentions to form an exploratory committee in preparation for a 2018 run to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

To bring meaningful change to NYS we must work to put conservative Republicans in positions of prominence, as we have done in our area of the state. To date, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, the results of which are evident throughout the state – corruption, no jobs, failing schools, on and on.

“This must be our work,” said Gibson, “registering new voters.”

Gibson urged the party to focus on a positive message that will unite people around common problems and will celebrate diverse viewpoints. “Ours is a positive-issues centered message that ought to have mass appeal.”

Bringing Republicans together will be a great first step.

One last note on the Lincoln Day Dinner. Every year a Republican of the Year is selected and awarded a trophy. This year the honor went to Kevin Doran – posthumously! Mr. Doran’s contribution to the conservative cause was long running and on the money. He owned the WLEA radio station and often used his mic to espouse those conservative precepts we hold so dear. Most enjoyable were his Friday morning Newsmaker shows with Alfred University political science professor Dr. Robert Heinemann, in which they discussed, pro and con, many issues of the day. Mr. Doran also gave a radio voice to committee chairman John Buckley and assemblyman Nojay, who called the radio man “a lifelong defender of the truth .”

Mr. Doran was a good friend and he will be missed. He passed away last fall. I was wondering if he might have enjoyed receiving the honor of Republican of the Year, an award commemorating his longstanding work on behalf of conservatism, while he was alive.

 I think he would have.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Who's the Boss?

     The other day I was introduced to a couple of nice women at Wegmans and the first thing they asked was how was Cosmo doing.
     For those of you new to the Newshawk Report, Cosmo is our, now, four-and-a-half year old black Lab. And he’s a character.
    Since I first started telling stories about him, several people have offered some of their own stories about their dogs, black Labs specifically. Seems they are a personable breed. One of the women told of having two. They were always confined in a fenced in backyard. When a cat or whatever passed by, they, being dogs, wanted to chase it. Get this: One would stand sideways close to the fence, the other run and used the other dog to catapult itself over the fence. She didn’t mention how the arrant chaser of things got back in the yard. Probably rang the front door bell and was let in. Sounds like a Lab.
    Let’s face it, there’s no doubt about who’s the boss in our house – my wife just thinks she is. When Coz wants something, he doesn’t ask, he demands, and he expects you to obey. When he wants to go out, his bark isn’t simply announcing the fact, He’s saying, “Get your ass over there and open the door! NOW!”
    I guess what first endeared him to the readers of this space was the deal with the cat’s dish. Goes like this: When the cat is done eating, you can bet Coz will be lurking somewhere nearby, ready to finish it off. He, because he only thinks he’s smart, doesn’t realize that a 110 lb. dog cannot hide easily, no matter how big the house is. In the beginning, when the bowl was metal (still is) and the floor hardwood (we recently laid a carpet in the kitchen because he had such a hard time moving on the hardwood, because of his hip dysplasia) we could heard the bowl rattle while he was finishing it off. My wife yelled (I didn’t care), but Coz would hang in until the bowl was empty then hightail it. My wife would pick up the bowl and shake it at him, tell him what a bad dog he was.
    He may not be as smart as he thinks he is but he’s no dummy. He came to realize it was the rattling bowl that was ratting him off, so he started carrying it into the living room, where there is carpeting on the floor, and enjoying his snack there. No noise. But when the dish disappeared from its place in the kitchen and my wife found it in the living room, Coz, of course, got yelled at again. Truth be known, he really didn’t give a damn. Savoring those morsels of Nine Lives was well worth the scolding. He’d patiently put up with the tirade and be well on his way to the arms of the shaggy Morpheous almost before my wife left the room.
    And Cosmo loves to sing. Oh, my, yes.He’ll lay, mostly in the evening, at our feet while we watch TV or in under the kitchen table and sing his heart out. We haven’t yet figured out what’s going on, unless it’s his way of saying it’s bed time. He usually stops once everyone is tucked in.
    He seems to deal well with his bilateral hip dysplasia and the dysplasia in his knees. He got quite a sway in his hips, which apparently helps him deal with this birthright. He used to jump around and play endlessly with our other dog, Dani, but not so much as they have aged. We thought perhaps it was due to the dysplasias causing problems, but then he’ll take off like crazy after a squirrel or a cat … It’s true that sometimes he’ll hobble home, having pulled or yanked something in his hips or legs, or both. I tell him he’s not too bright chasing after creatures so much faster than he – pointing out he’d never come close to catching anything – but he pays me no mind. Fun, after all, is fun!
    Because he’s getting older and because he chases things faster than he is and because of the (sometimes) constant singing, we wonder if he’s not in pain, at least some of the time. Our veterinarian thought it possible and prescribed a painkiller for him. We learned way back that Coz does not like to take pills any more than his humans do. And we learned that he sure did not like painkillers in his food. How we found this out was interesting. We put the pill in with his food, usually bits from a bag, and wet it down, drop the pill in, mix the stuff all around, and somehow after he eats all those bits, he leaves that pill in the bottom of the bowl! How does he do that? The other day I cut the pill in half and dropped in both halves  –  after eating all those bits, he left a half a pill in the bowl! I stood and watched him eat around it! Each time he came to it, he pushed it aside, and when all was gone, there sat the medicine!
    His way of deciding what goes into his food?
    In a way, doesn’t that tell you just who’s the boss around here?

    Amazing. I need to learn to do that with Brussel sprouts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reparations Due to Some

It seems that every time I look into the racial history of the US, I learn something that is disturbing. From the horrible treatment that befell the black population following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, through the treachery of the courts, Jim Crow laws, and the evil and often illegal swindle that big city realtors perpetrated against unknowing migrants from the south, during the 1920s and 1940s. These people have been treated shabbily by the very elements of American society that should have stood shoulder to shoulder with them.
The fate of black men convicted in white courts has been particularly foul. In many cases black prisoners were given much longer sentences for essentially the same crimes as white prisoners. In the South, for example, a black man might be sentenced to twenty or thirty years for a crime that a white guy would get probation for. When I was a boy I lived in a small town in northern California. A highway ran in front the farmhouse and on the other side of the highway was a railroad track. Across the highway from the house there was a trestle that allowed a stream to pass by. The RR carried many migrants from SoCal to farming locations in the northern parts of the state, as well as Oregon and Washington, then back again when the picking season was over.
I met a lot of migrants – white, black, mostly Mexicans. And mostly they were nice people; people just trying to get by, but they seemed okay with the lives they had chosen for themselves. On many occasions I heard adults complain of the “nine-to-five” routine, having to put up with a nasty boss – you know the routine. And there were those who knew no other life. I even met a number of hobos – one became a good friend of my dad – who talked about giving up a life of wealth and privilege, in order to be free of responsibilities and, most especially, groveling family members. (True, I’m not sure I believed them all, but there were a couple whose stories rang true.)
But I digress.  One evening on my way back from fishing over at the creek I came upon a black family making camp under the trestle. I greeted them as I always greeted visitors. They were friendly and we started talking about this and that. There were three of them, one an elderly man; there was a young woman in her twenties, and a boy about my age – about 10. The old man had trouble moving, shuffling when he walked, and he looked, oh, so dreadfully old, though I was told he was only in his fifties. He had no teeth, his eyes were blank, showing no emotion at all, and there were many scars on his face and hands. But the clothes he wore were brand new – an incongruous combination, if I ever saw one. His shoes were also new but he didn’t like wearing them and had taken them off, in favor of going barefoot. I don’t think there was a straight toe on either foot; they were horribly bent and gnarled, some were missing.
The woman, who I learned was his daughter, and whose name, if I remember rightly, was Daphne, noticed me looking at them. She said her dad, whom she introduced as (again if I remember true) was Samuel Williamson, had been in San Quentin State Prison for 22 years. His crime? He walked to a store to buy some milk for Daphne (who was two at the time. This was in the middle of the Depression). On the way he was beaten up and robbed of the nickel that he would use to buy a quart of milk. He managed to make his way to the store and sat for a while on a chair outside. When he felt better, he went in the store and, when the storekeeper turned his back, Sam stuffed a loaf of bread under his coat and made his way to the door. I storekeeper saw him steal the bread and immediately called the cops. Sam was arrested and thrown, roughly, into jail. He was charged with robbery (the proper charge – if Sam was white – was petit theft). Where he should have been sent to jail for a few days or a week, Samuel Williamson was sent to state prison for 25 years! (There are many instances of this kind of injustice, mostly brought to bear on black defendants. But, in those days, long sentences were typical for even non-violent crimes. There were few liberal judges in the first half of the century.)
Prisons, when Sam Williamson became an inmate, were not known as country clubs. Guards and even other inmates could be tough, even brutal. From what Daphne said, her father was a rough and tumble guy, not one to take a lot of crap off anyone, and, as such, suffered serious abuse from guards and prisoners, who would gang up on him. Also, he was seriously pissed off over being sent to prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Sam had plenty to be mad about and he found his circumstances difficult to live with: he raged against it – who can blame him? When the time came for Sam to be set free, he was a mere shell of his former self. The poor man could barely walk. (Daphne said several guards shackled her father and beat his feet with nightsticks – the reason his toes were so deformed.) The three were homeless and going to look for work picking tomatoes in Oregon.
I have never been in favor of reparations for blacks or anybody else, for that matter. I’d always envisioned the prospect of people uninvolved with the “crime” paying people who suffered not at all (such as the reparations Germany paid Israel after WWII and the Holocaust). But over the years, learning more about the ways blacks were brutalized at the hands of racist and unscrupulous whites, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that there are some instances in which reparations are called for. Those would be to those who were slaves (of which there are none) and those who were systematically robbed by the criminal activities of whites. This would include, but is not limited to, the real estate swindles occurring in the big cities during the forties, fifties and sixties. Black people were lied to, stolen from and outright defrauded while believing they were participating in the American Dream – owning their own home. (You can read about this at The Atlantic website: theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631.
These people should be reimbursed for the fraud they endured, but the money should come from those who stole it in the first place. I would think that the serial payment of reparations (i.e. monthly installments) could easily become yet another system of social welfare. Unfortunately, a group of real estate fraud victims was defeated in a jury trial. Apparently, there will be no justice for those who suffered at the hands of crooked whites. Maybe things haven’t changed much after all.
It is ironic that the black population has for years and years stood behind the Democrat Party and its promises of reform for the plight they suffer. And for years and years the Democrats have done nothing. The plight of the black population may be somewhat better for some – I see more and more blacks in TV commercials and TV shows. The affirmative action rampant in professional sports is certainly an attraction for the athletically inclined. I’ve never believed there are so few white athletes capable of playing at the professional level as we see in pro football and pro basketball. Years ago in an interview Michael Jordan made a passing reference – though I doubt he’d own up to it now – to the penchant of college and professional coaches and scouts to almost always choose a black athlete over a white one. He said he didn’t think it was right. And he’s right. It isn’t. Isn’t this a form of reparations? Just last year it was pointed out to a group of black businessmen that three of the five starters on the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team were white. It became an issue of great concern to them. They vowed to look into it – because it didn’t sound right. I don’t not know how it turned out. Sorry.

The sad part in all of this is that the Democrat Party has failed to lift the black population from poverty, as promised over many years. (Democrats would rather have the issue to pound down the collective public throat every four years than do anything to remedy the problem). Now we have a Democrat president who is not the least bit interested in lifting anything. He wants to kick the legs out from under the white population and level the playing field that way. Rather than lift everybody up, he wants to let everybody down. Well, he’s doing a good job of it. And remember, he still has a year in office. Good luck.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Dog's Sixth Sense


      In the same Psychology Today article that talked about animals love for one another, there was a reference to their unusual ability to sense the death of their masters. The article even spoke to the fact that dogs (but never cats) often stayed by the graves of their deceased human companions, often until they, themselves, died.
      One of the stories in my book is about such a instance. The story is true, and, yes, I was an early advocate of placing signs that announced the presence of steel traps. I hope you enjoy reading, "A Dog's Sixth Sense."
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I had no idea where Tom came from. He showed up in the backyard one morning looking intently at the back door, as though he would know whomever it was that emerged. When I emerged, I didn’t see him at first sitting by the pump house. I came to know of the gray and brown pointer when he walked toward me a few feet then sat and stared at me, tongue lolling as nerves came into play.  The movement caught my eye. I knew from experience stray dogs did not show up at the back door after enjoying a wholesome breakfast of steak and eggs. They were all hungry and all were looking for companionship. I offered both, but first there was the issue of breakfast.

      Tom came along a couple of months after Rufus disappeared. The only dog we had at the time was Daisy, who had nearly collapsed across the highway, after a long run failed to chase down those who had abandoned her, a mile or so south of Los Molinos. She was pregnant with four puppies, one of which I sold in order to buy a baseball almanac. The others were given away. Daisy had been taken in as the house dog by Mrs. H, and was no outside companion. Daisy was a lovable little creature, her main requirement a lap or a pillow on which to sleep. She had no interest in hunting and fishing and protecting Tehama County from rampaging Injuns or fearsome wooly mammoths.

I wondered if the highway had reclaimed Roof. I had walked both sides of the road for a couple of miles on either side of the house, but no Roof. There were other possibilities. Duryl Campbell, two farms north, carried a .22 rifle with him in his pickup, to keep dogs and coyotes away from his chickens. But Duryl knew Roof, and I doubted he’d shoot-to-kill him. Scare him, maybe. Other farmers may not be so kind.

      A coyote may have got him, but it would have to have been one good-fighting coyote. I’d watched as Roof got into a scrap with one of the wild creatures and took it to the woodshed, so to speak. Thing is, Roof was not afraid of them as were many other dogs. The lack of fear may have gotten him killed. My worse fear was that Roof walked into a steel trap, set in many areas of the foothills to reduce the number of coyotes. Not only chickens appeared on the predator’s menu but young animals such as spring lambs, newly born calves, and succulent piglets when they could be obtained. Poultry was a huge favorite with coyotes; there was no henhouse around that had not been paid a midnight visit. Squawking chickens were the farmers’ alarm systems, and most of them kept a rifle by the backdoor. Farmers shot coyotes on sight and laid traps for them. They were such a menace, the county had a one dollar bounty on coyote pelts. Not bad money if I guy wanted to do the work of skinning them out, drying the pelts and hauling them to Red Bluff, the county seat, for payment.

      I was leery of traps. A few times, while hiking through the foothills, I encountered them, lying partially hidden beneath limbs and leaves. People could also be victims of the steel jaws. I had suggested to one of the trappers that he set out signs to warn humans of the presence of traps. We were in the barbershop at the time, he in the barber’s chair, while I sat in one of the chairs along the wall awaiting my turn. He glowered something awful. A fearsome look that frightened me. Chuck Ramsey was a big man. In an attempt at humor, of which he possessed none, he let out a guffaw, and denounced the idea of doing such a stupid thing, his objective to make me seem stupid. He spoke with a crooked, evil smile curling his lips. One of his eyes became big and round in his anger, and struck me as if with a bludgeon. There were sagging sacks beneath his eyes that resembled Mrs. H’s used tea bags. Mr. Ramsey’s face reddened when Ed Briscoe said he didn’t think it was a bad idea and the other men agreed. Several had lost a dog to traps and none were particularly fond of the idea of having them around because of the lack of knowing what got trapped. The trapper left in a huff.

       “Whew-ee, Freddie, you sure know how to make a trapper mad,” opined Ed Briscoe, the barber. “I’ve never seen a man’s face become so, so . . . distorted, is the only word I can think of. I was you, I’d stay clear of that hombre.”

      “Yessir,” I replied, “that’s good advice, all right, and I plan to use it.” Like I said, that man Ramsey scared the bejesus out of me.

      Most of his traps were set south of the village, and from that day on, I made it a point to spring the traps I encountered. I was, of course, suspected of this treachery and warned against it. I thought about stopping the practice, only briefly. Realizing that if the traps remained unsprung after my warning not to meddle in things that didn’t concern me, it would be the same as admitting to my own guilt. I couldn’t stand for that, so the traps continued to get sprung on sight. Trappers were still not convinced that I was an innocent party, no matter how many times I denied the practice.

      My new friend was sitting patiently in front of me. He had no name yet that I knew about, so I called him Tom. He seemed to think that was okay. After I poured a bowl full of chow, I could have called him anything. He dove right into the chow, and I went back into the house to get my own breakfast. When I returned, he was gone.

       Tom showed up every morning for breakfast, but he didn’t hang around. Any hopes of acquiring a new friend to do stuff with were dashed when he cut out, back toward the foothills after partaking of my victuals. This went on for a couple of weeks. One morning I walked out the backdoor and saw him in the distance trotting along on the lane by the slough. I decided to follow. I got in behind him but lost sight around a bend in the tree row. I was moving along briskly in an attempt to keep him in sight.  I nearly ran up on him as I came chugging around a stand of cattails near the end of the slough. I immediately dropped to the ground, and he didn’t see me. I was sure that if he saw me, he would come over and want to play, but I wanted to know where he went every day.  He lit out in an easy lope I could not hope to match. Tom reached the end of the slough, turned north and began a trot along the foothills road. Just before I came to the road I saw him turn into the hills at a point where a gully that wandered down through the hills ended. The gully was dry at this time of year. The sides and bottom were rocky from the torrents that poured through it during rainstorms. Tom’s path was over these rocks.

      I began my climb across from the end of the slough and angled toward the general direction of Tom’s ascent. There was a copse of scattered oak trees ahead. It was a typically hot day, so I stopped for a moment in the shade. My Ked bumped into something under a pile of leaves. Sensing danger, I pushed the leaves away with a stick to reveal a trap, one much bigger than the ones used to catch coyotes. This was a bear trap. These traps are huge and immensely powerful. I’d heard it said one of these monsters could take off the foot of a person who stepped into one. It certainly looked like it could.

      Mr. H’s new hired man, Wes, mentioned a few days ago that a huge brown bear, it might be a grizzly, had been spotted in these hills. Farmers raising small animals were on guard and had taken to carrying hunting rifles in their pickup trucks. I had forgotten Wes’s warning, until I uncovered the huge trap. Suddenly, the two pieces of information came together and, as a flush of fear ran over me, I looked around for the bear. The chilblain zipping along my spine suggesting I might be surrounded by huge, hairy, snarling grizzlies. But as the adrenaline rush subsided and sanity returned, I saw nothing remotely resembling a huge, hairy, snarling grizzly. . I became absorbed with wondering what I would do should I see a grizzily and what to do if it came after me. Bears were capable of amazing foot speed for their size. I am very fast afoot, but could I outrun a grizzly? I thought not. What if I tripped and fell? Dan’l Boone had a big knife. I had a little pocket knife. Dan’l Boone climbed a tree. There were trees in the foothills, but there were large tracts where there were none. Could a grizzly climb a barbed wire fence? What a silly thought, I thought, it would be bothered not a whit but run straight through it, dragging the fence with it.

      So what do I do now? I am pledged to spring every trap encountered, but there is a dangerous creature in the vicinity, and what of this were the trap that stopped it from attacking a herd of cows, or a flock of sheep, or, heaven forbid, attacked one of the  farm children—or a farmer? Wes said grizzlies attacked without provocation, and were one of the most vicious animals on the North American continent. The very top of the food chain, he said. Apparently Wes knew a lot about bears, and he said nobody eats grizzlies; grizzlies eat everything else. That alpha bear is out there became stuck in my head.

      I looked out through the trees and saw Tom in the distance, still following the gully. I had decided I would not be responsible for the demise of any North American mammals residing in Tehama County, but this was different. So that the trap could be seen, I swept the remainder of the leaves away from the trap, all the while wondering of bears knew what a bear trap looked like and wouldn’t just go ahead and step in one left out in the open. At least the darned thing would be out where people could see it. I passed by one more before I walked out of the copse of trees. I brushed the leaves off of it.

      I had lost sight of Tom. I walked uphill, generally to the north, to intersect the gully. This area of hills was steeper than further along, and after a brisk walk, my breath become short and my legs burned. I stopped to rest for a moment, hands on knees, when I saw Tom headed along a crest, going south! I moved behind a bush and watched as he trotted past my position, soon veering into the higher hills, and disappearing.

      I managed to get my tired legs beneath me and attempted a sprint up the remainder of the hill. Higher up, there was any number of gullies Tom could turn into to get to a higher level. By the time I reached the first crest he was well ahead. I thought it must be nice to have four legs to elevate one’s body ever upward. Where on earth could Tom be heading?

      I looked around at unfamiliar territory. My past incursions into the forbidden lower range of the Sierra Nevadas ended at the first rise. I had been told, rather firmly, not to venture across the foothills road because of the coyotes and whatever else out there that might grab a young boy to use as a chew toy. It was surely good advice, but where else is one to go after he’s been told not to go there? Don’t go here, don’t go there places are places that become evermore interesting than places it’s okay to go. Places to which it’s okay to go are . . . well, safe! And certainly not as interesting as forbidden ones.

     A half hour later, I came to a level place with a cabin sitting on the edge of a small forest of evergreen trees. The place showed all of the signs of prior life. The door was open. There was a small corral attached to the residence. A crossbuck rested on its side near the door. There were curtains in the windows. Weeds covered the garden spot. It had all the trappings of having been lived in, but not for a while. The aura of abandonment haunted the scene. But there was something else.

      To the right of the cabin stood a lopsided grave marker. The cross, formed from two pieces of old barn wood, stood at the end of a mound of earth. Nothing was there with a name on it. Beside the grave lay Tom, asleep; my arrival provoked his awakening. I expected a friendly tail-wagging greeting but did not get one. A deep, threatening warning to stay away rumbled from his throat. The old pointer rose to his feet, head down, hackles up, There was nothing of the friendly face looking for breakfast about Tom now. I took a step toward him and he snarled, baring his teeth. I decided this was not the time to continue our fledgling friendship.

      In the past I had been able to get on the good side of cranky dogs by waiting them out. I took a seat on a nearby rock and looked out across the valley. I could see the house below, the farm spread toward the west and northwest. The tree line indicating the banks of the Sacramento River was in the distance. Another place I was told not to go. Champlain Creek started somewhere in the hills outside Los Molinos, meandered across the several farms south of the village, bending around to flow southwest across Mr. H’s property and emptying into the river. I knew mostly every nook and cranny along the creek south of the village and the slough that ended at the bottom of these hills as well. I found all kinds of places to occupy as long as it wasn’t the house. That house was not a home.

      I ignored Tom, who continued to growl and was walking toward me, actually walking at me. Dogs don’t ordinarily like to be ignored. They’re people creatures and need to be involved with humans. It wasn’t that way with Tom now. He didn’t want me around. I turned to make my way down the hill. I got no more visits from Tom after that.

 

     A few days later, I rode into town on Jenny to visit with whoever was available. I reined the mule around the corner off Main Street onto Mill St. and down half a block to the alley that divided the block in half. The Downey’s yard was the first on the right. I’d heard the three kids playing as I passed the house. From the alley I saw the two boys playing house with their sister. I kept going. Jimmy’s house was next. His mom was hanging wash and said he wasn’t home. On I went along the alley. I came to the corner of Center Street and reined right. Through the window of Ed Briscoe’s barbershop across the street, I saw several older men sitting around jawing; I pulled over, dismounted, went in and took a seat against the wall. It became apparent that the biggest news of the day had to do with some guy I didn’t know from Gerber landing a sixty-pound catfish. I had caught fifteen eight and nine pounders one day down at the cove and remembered what great battles catching them had provided. And there was the eighteen pounder I’d pulled from Champlain Creek. I couldn’t imagine hooking a sixty-pounder. It was the stuff of legends . . . and lies.

     Talk of the huge fish wound down, until the men were sitting staring at their boots with nothing to say. Ed Briscoe broke the ice, asking, “What’s going on with you, Freddie?”

     I related the story of Tom, and when I finished, all the men sat transfixed. Because of my penchant for coming up with some decent barbershop stories, Carl Ranchek leans toward me and asks, “You just making this up are ye, Freddie?” sounding serious.

      “No, sir, that old dog is likely sitting up there next to the grave right now. Leastwise, he was day before yesterday.”

      “That’s the most amazing story I’ve heard,” said the barber. “How could it be?”

      “What do you mean?” I asked. “It’s just an old dog sitting beside a grave. The buried person was probably his owner.”

      “You’re right, Freddie, he belonged to my brother Malcolm,” Mr. Ranchek said. “He died about a month ago, had a heart attack up to the auction barn in Red Bluff. He told me he wanted to be buried on his new property—he’d lived there only a few days. I bought a coffin and hired some men to help carry Malcolm to the cabin—it’s a bit of a hike from the mining road above the place. We buried him two days after he died. What makes this a fascinating story is Sam—that’s the dog’s real name—was at my place over in Corning when Malcolm moved into the cabin. He and I had been hunting pheasant like we did every year. He had no way of knowing that Malcolm was dead, once more where he was buried. He had never been to the cabin.”

      “What?” I asked jumping up from my chair, wide-eyed with surprise. “How can that be?”

      “He couldn’t have known,” said Carl Ranchek, “but, thinking back, I think he may have sensed something was wrong. He moped around and kept looking in the direction of Malcolm’s cabin, although naturally he couldn’t see the place. It’s ten, twelve miles, easy.”

      “I’ve heard where animals have the ability to sense things we don’t,” opined Ed Briscoe.

      “What say we head up there and have a look,” suggested Mr. Ranchek, who had the fire in his eyes of someone who had to know something. Ed Briscoe closed the shop; all the men found a ride and a cavalcade of two cars and a pickup truck headed for the hills.

      The mining road was seldom used and had not been graded in many years. Ed Briscoe’s pickup bounced over the potholes like a stone skipping across a pond. Riley Welch’s Ford sedan hit so violently after a bounce, it slid off the road and tipped over. We all helped to lift it back on its wheels, laughing and joking about the driver’s keen ability to keep his wheels on the road. We headed off again and bounced another half mile or so before we saw Malcolm Ranchek’s cabin sitting below, at the edge of a stand of trees..

      The footpath from the road down to the cabin was not well-traveled. It was steep in places and overrun with brush the whole distance. It was hot and bugs flew everywhere around our heads and in exposed body openings. After an adventure of stumbling down the rutted and rocky hill, we arrived on the small plateau upon which the cabin had been built.

      Thirty yards away the mound where the body of Malcolm Ranchek was buried could be seen. I expected Tom—or Sam—to pop up from behind the grave and challenge the intruders. But there was no dog. Mr. Ranchek asked me if this was the place I had talked about, and I assured him it was.

      We began to look around for the dog. A few minutes later, a voice called out, “Got ’im.”

      We all crowded around the man who had found Sam, on the other side of the grave mound. The animal was dead; the old hunter’s neck and head had been viciously torn into as if he had been in a fight with a large creature. Etched into the earth around the grave was evidence of a struggle. One man said it could have been a bear. Then Carl Ranchek hollered, “Holy cow, look at this, fellas”

      We all gathered around where Carl pointed at a huge bear paw print. The paw was immense with huge claw marks dug into the ground. “Grizzly,” said Ed Briscoe, “I heard one had been seen up this way.”

      I walked over to look at Sam, lying dead, his body torn by a huge bear while he tried to protect his dead master, whose grave he couldn’t possibly have known the location of. In fact, he couldn’t have known the man was dead. Yet he died protecting his grave. Go figure.

      I hung around Carl Ranchek, expected a pat on the back or told, “Good job, Kid.” In light of all that happened that day, not the least of which was my information that had brought us all here, I felt praise was due. I guess I was a bit needy that way. But there was none coming. In the world of men, sometimes the niceties got kicked into a corner.

 

      Seeing the old hunting dog dead and the huge paw print of the creature that had killed him brought a chill to my spine. Here lay silent evidence of the real link between hearing about something scary and actually seeing that it existed. The false sense of security we all hear about tells us there is nothing to worry about—it won’t happen to me. Then one sees the substance of the scary story and the picture becomes life.
      The incident with Tom and the bear caused me to rethink the issue of laying traps. It was evident now why the traps were used. I thought it would have been a good thing if the bear had stepped in one of the traps that lay in the trees downhill from us, and old Sam would still be around to protect his master’s grave. But I still think they should post signs letting people know they are there.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Matches Made in Heaven

I was surfing the web the other day and ran across the Psychology Today website. There was an interesting piece on whether animals had the ability to express love for one another. There were some pretty convincing examples stating that they can. This conclusion was, of course, offered after years of research. If I had been asked I could verified the fact that, yes, animals are very capable of love for one another.
I have completed a memoir which consists of a collection of true short stories. Each story relates some aspect of a my youth as I worked my way through some trying circumstances. I write about people, situations and, yes, some of the dogs (there were many, most of which come to our house from the highway, abandoned by people who no longer wanted them. I took them all in, fed them, loved them, they became my friends. Unfortunately, most were lost to the same highway that brought them my way in the first place). The following is one of those stories. I hope you will enjoy reading Matches Made in Heaven.
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     Violet Downey handed me the pipsqueak of a dog with a smile that said, “Here, take this, we don’t want it.”
I grasped the critter around the body and held it up eye-level for inspection. I could not guess at the little dog’s lineage. He was mostly white with a dark streak on each flank; his hair was short but curly; his head seemed to protrude from the mass of locks with a fair amount of hair sticking to his ears and spiking from his nose. He peered at me nervously with big brown eyes. I received a welcoming “kiss” as I brought him to my shoulder for a hug.
“Where’d you git ’im?” I asked.
“He’s been hanging around town for a week or so. Mommy thinks someone dumped him off, and he found his way to town. The gas station man said some travelers lost their dog when he jumped out of their car, a week or so ago. They looked but didn’t find it. He thinks maybe this is that dog.”
“Gee, thanks. I take him home.”
I named the antsy little creature Jack and he rode around on the mule with me for the rest of the afternoon. When I should have called it a day and ridden home, I stopped in the barbershop on the way by. The shop was filled with the usual crowd, sitting around shooting the breeze and sipping moonshine. When I walked in, the men, mostly elderly friends concerned for my moral upbringing, hid the quart jars from sight. They’d take a cautious sip now and then but none of them thought it right to slug down moonshine in my presence. They all had the usual questions about where Jack came from and what kind of dog was that, anyway?
“I wonder,” opined Reg Keetering, “if that thur ain’t the same St. Bernard dog that got lost from the Swissarian Alps and wandered down this way, years ago.”
“St. Bernard’s are huge; this’un here’s a peanut,” said one of the men.
“Yessir, that’s true. As most of y’all know St. Bernard’s are big hairy dogs that patrol the Swissarian Alps with a small keg of brandy strapped to their necks, the idee being to rescue folks trapped in the snow and ice. The St. Bernard shows up, the trapped folks drink the brandy then foller the dog home, if they can,” Mr. Keetering explained, “a tried and true system, it is said.”
“Yeah, okay, so what’s that got to do with Jack? He’s too short in the legs to carry around a keg of brandy,” Ed Briscoe asked.
“Years ago,” began Mr. Keetering, at which time all the men settled into their seats to hear the old yarn spinner relate another whopper. “Thur was a miner up in the hills, named Casper Crooks. Winters up that high, and Casper lived way up yonder near the snowcapped peaks, were harsh and nary a cold season passed that at least one claim holder didn’t get buried in a hidden snow-filled ravine or caught in an avylanche. Casper hisself lost a couple of his friends that way, so he kept an eye out fer some way to rescue such unfortunates.
“Casper heard of them St. Bernard dogs, word was he seen ’em in a Sears and Roebuck catylog, and figured if he ever got snowed in anywhurs, and if he had a druther, he’d druther be rescued by a dog carrying a load of brandy than just about anything else he could think of. Try as he might he couldn’t breed any such canine from the local stock, so he sent off mail order to Switzerland and had ’em send over a dozen o’ the big, hairy critters, kegs attached, acourse.
“Well fate stepped in and ole Casper never got to see if the St. Bernard dogs ever rescued anybody. He died in an avylanche afore they arrived, or so it was said. Another rumor had that he got all-fired mad ’cuz the Swiss fellers that sent the dogs didn’t put any brandy in the kegs, and he raged right into a heart attack. Either way, there was now a dozen big dogs roamin’ the hills with no brandy to offer folks stuck in the snow.
“The dogs didn’t understand what hand fate had dealt them. They was lost in a strange and foreign land. They wandered off in all directions, looking for something to do and something to eat. Many of them wandered into the lower hills. The warmer weather caused them to shed hair and, since it wasn’t necessary to lug around a keg of brandy, they became smaller and smaller as the years went by. Along the way, nature kicked in with a few mewtations which caused the once big, hairy dogs to morph into other, different looking critters that were good at different kinds of jobs, Mother Nature’s way of saying dogs need to be good at sumpthin’. Some began to look like coyotes, some became sheep dogs, even beagle dogs and Irish setters and collies all have been showed as descendents of the St. Bernard. Yessir, and that’s the truth,” said Reg Keetering, leaning forward to remove his handkerchief from a back pocket. Removing his straw hat, he wiped the sweat from his head, replaced the hat, blew his nose and replaced the handkerchief. We all recognized this as a signal that Mr. Keetering had more story to tell. He just didn’t know what it was he wanted to say yet.
“Now, wait a minute,” I said, “You’re saying that dogs as small as Jack came from great big ole St. Bernards? Those must’ve been humdingers of mewtations.”
“Indeed they were,” said Reg Keetering, the spark returning to eyes, for there was now more story to tell. “Y’all probably know them new folks over on Cone Street have one of them Mexican Chihuahua dogs. Nobody around here ever saw one afore, so I looked into the sityation, and what I found was unbelievable.
“Apparently, from what I was able to determine, there was a number of them St. Bernard dogs, once they left the mountains, that wandered down into Mexico. The heat down thur was fierce and the big, shaggy anymals mewtated right down to the size of that thur critter over on Cone Street. I understand the Mexicans were hoping the mewtations would stop afore they went too far. They was wishin’ fer sumpthin’ big enough so’s they could tuck a tequila bottle under thur chins. That thur’s why them Mexican fellers taken up raisin’ burros. Y’all can git a nice size keg o’ tequila under a burro’s chin. And that’s the truth. Yessir, and you can sure ‘nuf look that up in the lib’ary.”
     The men in the barbershop laughed,  all offering congratulatory remarks to Mr. Keetering and his ability to concoct a whopper on short notice. Mr. Keetering, for his part, picked up his newspaper and resumed reading as though his accomplishment was nothing of note.
It was time I got home, so I picked up Jack and went out to mount my mule. She was, as usual, eager to return to her mate Pete and she trotted full steam ahead down the foothills road. There was little for me to do but ride and it gave me time to get to know my new friend a little better. He was quite active but seemed taken aback by being carried by this huge creature with the big ears and huddled into my armpit for the ride to the house.
I had, a few days before, acquired another dog, an elderly golden retriever I called  Charlie. He was walking along the highway, tongue lolling, head hanging when I debarked the school bus and escaped the continual badgering of Curtis the Prick. Charlie walked slowly and as I watched I picked up a discernible limp; Charlie was not walking well, nor did he walk very far before more-or-less falling to the side of the road. It seemed as though his back legs gave way. As I approached I noted the clouded eyes and the graying of the whiskers and the hair around his mouth and nose. The old dog greeted me in a manner customary for the breed: a friendly look from kindly eyes and a face open in a gentle way, tail beating a rhythmic pattern on the grass; he welcomed the petting I gave him as though used to the attention. For the umpteenth time I asked myself what kind of human would dump such a nice animal alongside a strange road, knowing he was not well, hardly able to defend himself, if need be. There was no doubt Charlie came from a family of humans, and I'd bet he'd been a great pet, as the retrievers always were.
Charlie’s friendly, eager look plainly asked that I not leave him there. I coaxed him to stand, which was difficult and appeared painful. I lulled him into lying down again, done with the reluctance of an animal just abandoned. He whined when I left to retrieve by wagon and was overly gleeful for my return. Charlie endured the loading process without protest; I hoped I wasn’t hurting him but there were no complaints. The ride over the rough stones of the driveway brought a worried rumple across his brow but no verbal dissatisfaction. I pulled him around to the backyard and helped him from the wagon. He lay in the weeds beneath the maple tree and for all the world seemed to be waiting to be waited on. I complied with a bowl of bits carried from the mud room.
As might be expected, Charlie was not an active creature. I had read where a condition called hip displasia was common in some breeds of dogs, retrievers among them, and wondered if this might be the problem with Charlie. He would get up every once in a while for a short walk but soon returned to his spot under the tree, located outside my bedroom window.
I called Dr, Gray, the veterinarian, to ask about my new friend. He stopped by a day or so later and verified my diagnosis, at the same time saying there was little that could be done, other than do our best to relieve Charlie’s pain. He gave me a handful of white pills, instructing that Charlie be given two a day. I could increase the dose when he seemed unable to get comfortable.
Now, as I rode along the foothills holding Jack, I wondered how Charlie would react to sharing his space with another dog. As it turned out I doubt Charlie had time to think about it.
As soon as I introduced the two and preliminary sniffing was out of the way, Jack jumped on Charlie. No malice was intended; Jack wanted to wrestle. Charlie wasn’t into this nuisance whose joy it was to bound upon him unmercifully and chew his ears, Jack seldom giving the kindly Charlie a moment’s respite. There were times when it seemed to me, when Charlie looked my way, I could see a pleading in his eyes that said to “please get this pest out of here.” No doubt he was much relieved when Jack and I went fishing on the weekends or rode Jenny into town.
It came as something of a surprise when Mrs. H took a liking to Charlie. She seldom paid attention to any of the animals that came our way except to voice an occasional complaint about having to buy large bags of dog food. My surprise doubled when I came home from school one cold rainy day to find Charlie lounging on a blanket in front of the fireplace. Seldom were dogs allowed in the house, and to see him there was indeed a surprise. However, if he thought his admittance into the house was cause to celebrate a separation from the eternal nuisance named Jack, he was sadly mistaken. Jack was, at this time, draped across Charlie’s neck taking a nap.
I smiled at Mrs. H when she entered the living room from the kitchen, by way of saying thank you.
“I couldn’t bear to leave him out in the cold rain,” she said of Charlie, “and after I managed to walk him into the house, the little one sat outside the door and whined, until I let him in, too.”
“Yeah, they are inseparable, all right. Sometimes when Jack and I are fishing or just walking around, he’ll suddenly run off toward the house. I find him with Charlie when I get back.”
Charlie became more and more uncomfortable as time passed. He was housebroken, but on a couple of occasions he let go on the blanket. Mrs. H asked Dr. Gray to come see him one day when I was at school. The news wasn’t good. In addition to the displasia Charlie had a cancer inside, and Dr, Gray said he was dying, to not expect him to live much longer. I was upset by the news. Jack, however, was undeterred from his constant assaults on poor Charlie paws and ears. Neither of them would tolerate separation—Jack would whine all day if put outside and Charlie constantly tried to stand as if going to open the door for him. So we let them go at it. Although, as the days passed, it was obvious Charlie might prefer a more restful place to spend his last days. There came a time when Jack became content to curl up beside the older dog and simply sleep; the little dynamo may have sensed that his good friend’s tendency to sleep most of the day wasn’t a good sign.
I came home from school one day around Christmas time to find that Charlie had died sometime during the day. I sat with Jack in my lap and had a cry—I loved that old dog. After a while, Mrs. H asked that I remove him from her living room. I carried him into the mud room outside the kitchen door then went to dig a grave out by the back fence, the usual burial ground for dogs. Not many were buried there, because some were killed on the highway some distance from the house and were buried elsewhere, others simply disappeared to never be seen again.
After Charlie’s death Jack was devastated. The little dog lay around as if in a stupor. He wouldn’t eat, only occasionally sniffing his chow bowl but taking no other interest. He would not permit his removal from the spot where Charlie spent his days in front of the fireplace. Jack lay with his eyes open and recalled better days.
Time passed and there was no change in Jack. He continued his refusal to eat and ignored requests to go for a ride or a walk. He began to lose weight and before a month passed became little more than a skeleton in loose wrapping. The little creature slowly lost strength and before long found difficulty getting his feet under him.
A call to Dr. Gray revealed Jack’s lethargy very likely resulted from depression due to the loss of his companion. In most cases, he said, the suffering dogs recover and get on with their lives. Jack showed no indication of recovering.
Dr. Gray called one afternoon to ask if I would mind caring for another dog. He found a female bulldog on the highway north of the village, hobbling along with a broken leg. He’d set the leg and housed the dog overnight in his small kennel. He said she was an amiable creature and might make a therapeutic pal for the ailing Jack. I said “Sure, bring her out.” An hour later the vet delivered another friend.
She was such a sweet dog, so easy to approach, as she watched me walk toward her, as she stood in the driveway. She was thick and broad across the body and the whole works shook with apprehension at meeting an unknown human creature. I had always thought of bulldogs as ill-tempered and surly, but there was none of that in Isabelle. She allowed a petting and a scratch behind the ears will due grace; seeming to understand that this was her new home, she gimped toward the front of the house. Dr. Gray said he would return after six weeks to remove the cast but to call if any symptoms of pain developed.
Izzy spotted Jack upon first entering the living room. Jack paid her no mind; as far as he was concerned the big, bulky white animal that walked over and gave him a thorough sniffing did not exist. He continued to recline, and pine for Charlie.
Nor did the situation change for several days. During the winter I did my reading at the far end of the living room, in a huge overstuffed chair near a window. Izzy curled up beside the chair and napped, no longer interested in the dejected Jack.
A week passed before I noticed Jack watching Izzy. There had evolved an interest in her, nothing excessive or gushing, but she had become interesting to him. One evening the little fellow rose on shaking, spindly legs and tottered to his food dish and, after nosing the contents carefully, ate some of the bits, following his repast with a drink of water. Jack returned to his original position and stared at Izzy.
Similar behavior continued for a few days, then one evening Jack arose and walked toward Izzy dozing at my feet. The progress was slow, his legs still weak and shaky, but he seemed determined to visit Izzy, who, for her part, lay and watched. Jack stopped a few feet from Izzy’s nose and sniffed from afar. Receiving mute acceptance from the larger animal, Jack walked over and collapsed next to Izzy’s head. Next day the fun began—fun for Jack anyway. He began by pawing at her, then a few feeble jumps. Izzy tolerated the mild abuse with easy good humor. Her good nature became the elixir of Jack’s recovery and, before long, he was back to being Jack: a cute little pain in the butt.
 The two of them, the miniature tease with the wild, crazy hair shooting from ears and nose and the massively muscled bulldog with the gentle eyes and loving nature, became inseparable friends. One never saw one without the other and, after several months, I would come to wonder why it was they left us in such different ways.
Jack disappeared for a few days; I looked in all the usual places—mostly along the highway—and couldn’t find him anywhere. One Saturday afternoon Izzy and I were walking along the lane the followed the slough, when she suddenly darted into the weeds. A moment passed before I heard a soulful moan come from her; she reappeared, looking at me with come-hither eyes. She had found Jack; the little dog was dead, likely killed by a coyote, and partially eaten. I buried his remains.
I called Izzy to leave and return to the house, but she refused to budge. Deeply saddened by the death of her pal, she took up a station next to the grave and stared into the nearby hills. I sat and talked to her, but she was immersed in grief. I sat until it became very cold before walking to the house. Izzy did not follow. She appeared in the mud room the next morning. I let her in and she immediately walked to the place in front of the fireplace where Jack used to lie, and dropped down. It would be her new bed.
Two weeks passed. Izzy moped around, always seeming to be on the prowl looking for him. She was restless and seemed possessed by the thought that if she looked hard enough and long enough, she would find him hiding somewhere. It would be just like Jack to do such a thing, the little pest that he was.
Izzy began to spend more time outside. In time, she preferred to sleep out front under the umbrella tree. She could be seen, at any time, sniffing around the alfalfa patch that was the lawn. She often refused to come when called. Was this the bulldog version of depression, I wondered?

The school bus passed the house on its way to the McGregor’s farm, next door, and turned around. My stop was first on the return trip. . Curtis the Prick, mindful of my departure, was yammering, trying to irk me and became evermore aggravated at my ignoring him. A kid sitting by the window on the passenger side of the bus, said, “Uh-oh, Freddie, come look.”
Izzy was lying motionless by the side of the road. She was the second of my dogs to die on the highway in front of the house. I bounded down the steps to the ground and ran to her, but she was dead. She lay limp and peaceful. Indeed, she seemed almost happy, a trace of what might have been a smile on her lips. I felt silly thinking Jack may have come back to greet her as life slipped away and she was happy to see him. A true match, made on Earth and continued in heaven.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Requiem for What Might Have Been


      Something grabbed my foot and snatched me, literally, from the nice warm place onto freezing flat surface with a really bright light overhead. I struggled to turn away from the brightness, but the goon with the grabbers reached over to pin me down. His face was mostly covered with hair and there was a white thing hanging from the corner of his mouth with smoke curling from it. Some of the hair around his mouth was yellow and when he smiled it wasn’t a warm smile, I’ll tell you that, it scared the devil out of me. I yearned to return to the warm place, but a look told me it was gone, disappeared; I thought that strange; an eerie chill ran down my spine, making me shiver. I wanted to yell for somebody to TURN UP THE DAMNED HEAT! But when I tried no words came forth.
      The goon with the hair was soon joined by a smaller goon, a goonette?. This one had little bumps on its chest and stringy hair. The face was not a pleasant thing to behold; its lips were curved into a kind of snarl and it kept chanting , like a mantra I think, “Lamborghini, Lamborghini, I want a Lamborghini.”
      “This is a fine specimen, Doctor …”
      Doctor? This freaking scary assed goonette was a doctor? Holy crap! How’d this happen? Then the goonette produces a shiny thing that looked like it really meant business, and she calmly, her smile even larger, still chanting, “Lamborghini. Lamborghini, I want a Lamborghini,” stuck the sharp-looking thing straight into my chest.”
      What the fuck was going on here? I wanted to yell but could produce no vocal protest. Things changed dramatically from then on: My point of observation became the ceiling of the room. I could only look down on how my tiny body was entirely ravaged. When they were done picking me over for any parts they could sell, the goonette grabbed me up by the leg and tossed me, quite literally, into a large white can with a plastic liner showing over the edge.
      I tried to yell, Hey! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?
      The only response was the chant about the Lamborghini.
      Somehow I didn’t think it was a fair trade.
      The next I knew I was sitting on the lap of a really great looking blonde-haired woman. She smiled warmly as she picked me up and gave me a kiss. Wow! I could get used to this. Then she hugged me long and hard and kissed me again. I thought this a wonderful thing and asked, “Are you my mom?” She shook her head, no, I thought a little too sadly. My fate had not sunk in yet.
      The nice lady, who I discovered had a set of real wings attached, an item that worried me even more, talked to me as she carried into a building that had The Ifonly Building inscribed above the door. The doorway of The Ifonly Building was shrouded with a huge black sheet. I looked to the pretty angel for an answer to the question that arose in my mind, but she had no answer for me.
      Inside were several lines of booths, each with a box atop a desk. She sat with me on her lap and pushed a button on a flat piece sitting in front of the box. Instantly, an image appeared on a screen built into the box. I thought how utterly cool it would be to learn the use one of these. Somehow I didn’t think it would ever happen.
      The first image on the screen was of a small boy standing, tottering (tottering? where did I learn such a word?). A pair of large hands held the boy’s hands, to help with balance. I sat in the lap of my lady angel, watching while the boy bravely took his first steps. He’d let go of the supporting fingers and was walking on his own. I tried to applaud his effort but was unable to co-ordinate my hands (Geez, I’m getting good at this word play, aren’t I?) and they kept missing each other. I managed a congratulatory (oh, my) “goo-goo,” but I don’t think he heard me. The boy made his premier journey across the room, into the arms of his mother, who grabbed him up and kissed and hugged him mightily. Man, I wished that was me. I said as much to my angel; she smiled, but sadly, I thought.
      She hugged me close and poked another button on the gizmo (I’m proud of that one!) on the desk. Another image promptly appeared on the screen. It looked like the same boy, a bit bigger, but it was him all right. He was being presented with a contraption (you’ve got admit to a bit of genius here) with three wheels. It had a big red bow tied to the seat and a sign that read, “Happy Second Birthday, Son!”. He quickly dispensed with these impediments (?) to his pleasure and mounted his patiently awaiting steed. He began moved the pedals, slowly at first but he gained speed and was soon tearing about the room as if chased by demons (or, perhaps, goons in white gowns). Off  he tore, fairly flying, pedaling madly, handle bars not too steady under his hands, around the dining room table, around coffee table, and still pedaling madly slammed into the table in the foyer. The table with the very expensive lamp on it. The lamp fell to the tile floor and broke into a dozen smithereens. (Sometimes I’m off a bit with my word usage, but what the hell, I’m not even a day old yet!.)
      Upon hearing the crash of the very expensive lamp, a dark haired woman raced into the room, from where the kitchen must be, and yelled at the boy for being so careless, and how she would never be able to replace the lamp, and how could he. She forbade him use of the three-wheeled contraption until further notice and, pointing dramatically toward the stairs, sent him crying to his room until dinner. The boy sped as best he could up the stairs to his room and disappeared from our sight.
      My beautiful lady angel, under whose arm I was sure I could comfortably spend eternity, pressed another button and the boy popped up again. Now, he was much bigger, a husky fellow, quite handsome. Someone, probably his mom, had combed his hair with a straight part on the left and a big wave in the front. He dropped down from the seat of a late model car. His clothes looked new, as were his sneaks, there was a new book bag on his back and a bill cap with “NY Yankees” sewn on it, on his head. I must say he really looked spiffy (Yes, we child prodigies are so gifted as to utter colloquialisms – with correct spellings, of course – as the occasion arises) His mom walked around the car, obviously wishing to hold his hand while walking beside him to the door of the school, on his first day, but he saw a couple of his friends from up the block, and ran off, leaving his mom standing alone, feeling abandoned, arms akimbo, yelling to behave himself and have a nice day!
      “What’s going on?” I asked.
      “Your first day of school,” she said.
      “Mine? But how …” (You may not be able to understand me but angels do. They are the only ones who can understand the language of the unbirthed.)
      “That little boy is you.”
      “I don’t understand … completely,” but I was getting some ugly thoughts.
      “Do you remember the name of the building we’re in?”
      “The Ifonly Building? As in Ifonly I was allowed to be birthed?”
      “It’s a magical place. In here you can see some of your life, if only you were not killed at the time of your birth.”
       Oh, my God, I thought. My life, my existence. Stolen from me – those two goons in the cold room, one with the shiny sharp thing it used to tear into my chest. It tore into me, mumbling Lamborghini. Lamborghini. I want a Lamborghini. But what do I get out of it? Torn apart and tossed into a trash can. Man, that’s a hard apple to swallow, let me tell you.”
       Ifonly. What if, I sighed. Damn it anyway! I was pissed.
      “You mean it was me taking my first steps, it was me who knocked the lamp off the table, and it was me who ran off and left my mom on the first day of school? Really?”
      “All those things, little one, they will never be. Those times were stolen from you.”
      “Are there very many babies done in in the same way? Like me?” There was a tear forming in the corners of my angel’s eyes and I could feel one welling up in my own.
      “Yes, so very many were found to be an inconvenience to their mothers and they asked to have them removed. Sent back to Heaven to be with God.”
      “I’ll bet there were a lot of wonderful children that went unbirthed.”
      “Lord, yes, so many talented ones, whose great accomplishments will never become known. Doctors, physicists, engineers, astronauts, astrophysicists, great writers. You, little one, were destined to be a writer and an editor, to take advantage of your wonderful facility with words, in case you were wondering.”
      “Yeah, I was wondering about that, where those big words were coming from.”
      “I’m very sorry about this, Freddie, I really am.” We were crying pretty heavy now.
      “Well, I really would have liked to have had my life, being a little boy learning to walk, knocking lamps off of tables, going off to school for the first time with my friends. To have been a writer of books and a user of big words. Wow. What a life it would have been, but it’s all gone. It will never happen. My chance of having a life is gone. What a selfish thing for a mom to do – I’m dead and she’s out having a good time.
      “I am dead, right?”
      She nodded and said I was. Damn, that pissed me off.
      “Look, lovely lady, I don’t know where we go from here, but it was real nice of you to come by. You’re the only decent thing that’s happened to me. Who are you, lady angel?”
      “Just an angel. The bad news is I’m an angel of death and was sent by God to guide you into Heaven.”
      “Will there be  another chance at a life?” I asked hopefully.
      “Good grief, little one, why would you want to go back there?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Prez Addresses the Continental Army


Over the Christmas holidays I watched a mini-series on the Revolutionary War and was (again) amazed at the commitment and bravery of the people who fought to win our independence. (I understand these series are re-enactments, but the people who put on re-enactments strive for authenticity.  In fact, in this particular series (on AHC), there were timeouts taken to show the audience that even the holes in soldiers’ uniforms were left ragged, as there were no needles to fix them anyway.)
It must have been a terrible war in which to have fought as a soldier. The conditions were wretched – little adequate clothing, few boots or shoes even in the winter, little or no food, lack of shelter, marching long distances in freezing weather. Yet they fought on.

The Continental Army, led by George Washington, was not an army of trained soldiers (until Baron von Steuben arrived after Valley Forge and “drilled” them into fighting shape). They were shopkeepers, craftsmen (Paul Revere was a silversmith), farmers, log splitters, carpenters, brick layers, printers, who believed their freedom was worth fighting for. There were some heroes (one could make a case for them all being heroes), but for the most part, they were everyday folks who were tired of being pushed around. These were people with stones.
Could you imagine the fighting force that would assemble in defense of America today, should one become necessary?  Sure, there would be the Armed Forces. As depleted as they are, there are still many patriots in the ranks. Retired military would show up. And some older guys who love their country. But how about the GenXers? The metasex crowd? The politically correct hordes?  And the out-and-out assholes who don’t believe in any? How about the shitheads populating the college campuses looking to find a racist under every rock? How about the welfare set; think they’d show up or let the rest of us fight their battle for them? My guess is as long as there is an episode of Jerry Springer on the tube, they’d stay home.

How about if modern-day politicians had run the war?

Imagine if you will, Revolutionary War General PBO (P is for putz) has a contingent of the Continental Army at attention. One of the Americans has just had his thumb shot off in a battle against the British Army and is roundly cussing “the lobsterback son-of-a-bitch who shot me.”

Commander-in-Chief General PBO strolls over to address the fellow: “I can understand your discomfort, young man, but is it really necessary to use such language in referring to a soldier of our friend the King? We must consider how badly the man who shot you must feel and take steps not to demonize the poor man.”

“Ar-r-rg, ar-r-rg,” screams the young man in pain.

“I must say it doesn’t sound as though you are trying very hard to understand the other guy’s point of view. You must take into consideration that this country you are fighting so desperately to create is a foul thing. Founded on avarice and greed, love of property, the pursuit of freedom, all based in laws written to hold you in check – to actually rob you of the freedom to do as you want. Shameful. Absolutely shameful.  Do you see what I mean?” PBO asks the Continental soldier.

“Ar-r-rg, ar-r-rg,” screamed the soldier, squeezing the wounded hand to stop the loss of blood. “I’ll kill the son-of-a-bitch,” he yelled for all to hear.

“Well,” says PBO, “I can see you are intent on offending this person. I tried to tell the powers-that-be here in the colonies that giving you people guns was a mistake. All it does is make you want to use them, when as we all know, the best solution to this whole messy business is for everyone involved to sit down and have a nice chat. I’m going to order a PCC to take you away, young man. It’s for your own good.”

“A …a PCC? What’s a PCC?” asks the wounded soldier.

“A Politically Correctness Cop.” Turning to the approaching officer, PBO says, “Confiscate this man’s gun and his offensive uniform, such as it is, remove him from the proximity of the others here, lest he taint their thinking. Prevent him from talking to others. Make absolutely certain he cannot attend religious services this Sunday …”

“Hey, wait just a minute, mister,” says the soldier, waving a bloody stump in PBO’s face. “I have rights. I fought for them and I earned them. And it just boils my blood that some pansy-assed suit can come along and take them away. Are you sure you’re on our side?”

“Whatever made you think I was?”

“Nothin’ in particular.”

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For those of you considering an after Christmas gift for a friend or loved one, I hope you consider my book, "The Newshawk Reports: The Writing of a Politically Incorrect Newsbird," available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can pick up a Kindle edition for a couple of dollars. At last count there were nearly a hundred tongue-in-cheek jabs at BO and that sort, sure to warm the cold days ahead and put a smile on your face.
 




 

The Flip Side