COO COO CA CHOO, JACKIE ROBINSON martin luther king day, 2018

This morning, I got up, made some tea, heated a Greek sort of spinach thing, and turned on the TV for some news.  But, instead of the news, I got The Jackie Robinson Story.  I had never seen the film, and caught it about half-way through.  It was made in 1950, when I was ten, and it was in black and white.  There was some short guy at the plate who was outfitted with special riser soles, to give him some height.  The dugout was laughing, but he got a hit.  Dick Lane, who used to call roller derby and wrestling on KTLA, Los Angeles, played the manager, and the talented, beautiful Ruby Dee was Jackie’s wife.

The movie was low budget, and mediocre in many ways, and I was about to change the station when Jackie Robinson, playing Jackie Robinson, showed up.  I half-way decided to hang around and watch a little of the film, and then stuck with to the end.

Robinson was 28 years old when he began playing big league ball in 1947.  He was at the height of his skills when the movie came out, and he quit the game in 1957 to become a corporate executive.

Most of the action scenes appear to have been made in Southern California, with its ever- present eucalyptus trees, and a lot of the crowd scenes show the same fans in multiple scenes.  Jackie did a decent acting job, and was even-tempered with the rednecks in the stands. It was hoped that he would be even-tempered with the real-life racist knuckleheads on the field, but management did not always get its wishes.  There were plenty of insults and plenty of threats, including such niceties as threats of torture and death to his family.  Robinson had to role-play the humble, grateful black man more than once, such as when the studio insisted that he receive some very basic, on-film schoolground coaching from two different white teammates.  As for the threats, they never completely stopped.

Did I much give a damn about Jackie Robinson when I was 10, or 15, or 17, as a junior in high school?  No.  Did race have any meaning for me?  No.  I knew of Jackie Robinson, who was from Pasadena, and Larry Doby, the man who broke the American League color line.  But I was not a Dodgers or White Sox fan.  Plus, Hemet, California, was neither integrated nor segregated.  It was simply without a “Negro” family.  No family, no kids, no problems.  Blacks strung up on Southern streets, with gleeful white adults and children gathered ’round?  Fascinating.  Horrible.  Unforgettable.  And pretty much meaningless.  Those events might as well have happened on the moon.  I had no measuring stick, and what good is your uneducated, callow boy-child without real comparisons?  This girl, that girl, this team, that team, this car, that car?  Now, you’re talking.  Who was fighting in the park after school?  That had meaning.

If Negros were denied services and voting rights, then that was America for Negros, alright, but that was all far away from my life, our lives.  There were no school essays of outrage written about those things in my hometown.  A little white girl falling into an abandoned well pipe?  Radio, TV and newspaper reporters cut their teeth on this stuff, and became famous.  This was especially gripping television at its young, local, black and white best.  Many people did not leave their sets until the dead child was eventually pulled up from the well.  Countless thousands of parishioners delivered countless tens of thousands of prayers for the deliverance of her soul.  The people who failed to seal the well were vilified, if not driven out.  People talked and telephoned day and night.  People cared.  But black people with often life and death black problems?  Not so much care, and very little interest.  Outrageous racial slurs and often deadly actions can still, to this day, be unheard and ignored.  Pleas of, “Hey, I’m not the only one!  It’s not my fault!” remain classic responses from children of all ages, in all times and all places, from Washington to Podunk.

Assuming you are white, and reasonably curious (the incurious will neither get the question, nor will they be interested), have you ever thought what life in America would be like for you if you were born black?  Go ahead.  Be black, if only for a moment or even the lifetime of a day.  Use your imagination.  Attempt to know black America as you go about your daily business wherever you are.  Maybe you are looking for a job.  Or, maybe you fall in love with a white girl or boy.  Now that is a real “uh oh,” demanding attention to some hard realities, right? Or, you have joined the Army and have just walked into your barracks for the first time.  Or, you shop for a mortgage loan, or try to gain admission to a fine college, or seek a promotion or a pay raise, and on and on.  Are you thinking?  Are you getting feelings about yourself in different situations?

How about attempting to be an athlete like Jackie Robinson, playing America’s once-national pastime?  Jackie Robinson, UCLA All-American, the first-ever black man to play big-league baseball? He hits over .300 year after year, playing for 10 years in a state of anxiety about the well-being of his family as he wipes the spit from his face and his uniform.  Wear those cleats for just a few seconds.  Go home and tell the kids about your day at the office.  If you have a tough job, your boss is a prick, you never get the vacation period you want, and you are underpaid, add black to the color of the face you see in the mirror.

No way in hell a white person can walk in the shoes of a black person, but, from time to time, it is worth considering, particularly when America forced Jackie Robinson, and millions of others, to spend all those decades of poverty, degradation and death when attempting to walk in those cruel white shoes.

 

 

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CATCH 23 Storybook Time

Morning.  Today, as I sat before the great coffee god, at a table in front of the Coffee Bean, I watched two different attempts to parallel-park cars.  The drivers were older, white gentlemen of the “I support the president so blow it out your ass” persuasion.  “Come on, people, you can do this,” I almost said out loud.  But, time after time they could not do it.  There was a woman in the front seat of the Jeep Cherokee, and when her gentleman friend had undergone 5 or 6 failed attempts, she told him to get out of the car.  As he stood on the sidewalk, mumbling, she got in the car, pulled away from the curb, drove quickly forward, stopped, and then reversed perfectly into the parking spot.  Locking the car, she strode past the hapless guy, and told him to get her a cup of coffee, as she would be right back.  I am putting this politely.

He walked with difficulty, and sat at the table next to me.  After serving in Vietnam with the Marines, he had worked in the Los Angeles railroad yards, and showed me the scars on his hands and knuckles from tangling with union strikers and trespassers over the years.  He took pride in the “brutality of the trade,” and derided the “pusseys” and parttimers the railroads now hired.  He hated that the United States was being “turned over to the Mexicans and the blacks.”  He said that he used to call black people “spades,” but that his wife no longer liked for him to use that word.  He and his drinking buddies had to be on their own to use that word and to be themselves.

After about 30 minutes I got up and left.  The man’s wife, his third, failed to “be right back,” but he was thankful for “a little peace and quiet” before the coffee shop closed.

Afternoon.  I walked to a Vietnamese restaurant to buy some spring rolls to go.  I left the place, thinking about how great it would be to have a quart of peanut sauce, and about 30 spring rolls, guaranteed to remain fresh until the last roll was dipped into the last of the sauce in the jar.  It was a beautiful, crisp day, and Christmas was in the air.  Charlie Brown Christmas music, in all of its depressing beauty, was coming out of a speaker at the entrance of a semi-funky CVS pharmacy.  I began daydreaming about whether it would be better to have a quart of peanut sauce in a quart jar, or in those tiny individual styrofoam containers with the plastic lids.  It was a hell of a reverie, but then reality struck.

Leaving the restaurant, I was surprised to see an empty Pepsi can come flying out in my direction from behind an overflowing trash can.  I’m smart enough to know that most of the time, waste goes flying towards a trash can, and not away from it.  As I instinctively ducked, I quick-saw the guy who threw the can.  He was a young white kid in black jeans and a white tee-shirt, who was housed on a blanket under a concrete bench, a backpack open next to him.  A lot of homeless people collect cans for the pennies they bring, so I gave it back to him, and asked him if he could use a buck.  He said nothing when I gave it to him, but he did not turn it down.

I have never seen a homeless person dumpster-dive for food, but I have never seen one turn down money.  Money really is the root of all warmth, and the temperature would be in the 30’s that night.  If the kid shot up or bought a pint with the little money I shared, what the hell, he’d still be a little more comfortable.

I didn’t walk more than 50 feet when I saw an old Asian lady coming towards me.  She was slowly pushing the officially authorized American Homelessman’s Association (AHA) grocery cart, loaded with full, black plastic sacks.  Although she wore very ragged coveralls, and a couple of worn out flannel shirts, her clothes were clean and her eyes were clear.  When she looked at me, we said hello, and I kept walking.  Then it struck me.  I had never seen a homeless Asian before.  Before I could begin to rationalize the move, I found myself walking back to her.  I gave her a dollar, she said thank you, and I wished her a merry Christmas.

I was almost at my car, agreeing with myself that, yes, a quart jar of peanut sauce was the only way to go into a healthy Christmas-season Vietnamese spring-roll pig-out.  I looked back and saw the homeless guy, now sitting on the bench, laughing with the Asian lady.

Then, some guy with a backpack, came up to me and asked if I could spare some change.  He pointed to a Burger King and said he was just a little short of having enough money to get a cheeseburger and fries for himself and his girl, who was in a beat-up old Ford van, parked nearby.  I gave him a couple of dollars, and wished him luck.

Out of curiosity, and being in no particular hurry, I drove out of the immediate area, and waited.  Sure enough, the backpacker went into the Burger King, and came out a few minutes later.  Then, he got into the van, where I could him eating with someone else.  The van was parked among several large campers, all of them looking like dirty Spaceballs war relics.  Security organizations consider this sort of gathering to be bad for business, and typically run them off.  But it looked like this time they were getting a holiday break.

So, that’s it.  Just a story.  No big deal.  It’s the same play seen countless times every day.  But, this is not a morality play…not a Christian epic, with Robert Wagner as the usual blue-eyed Jesus.  It could be called an “immorality” play.

Stray animals lucky enough to get caught and placed in pounds are at least out of the elements and away from the threats of violent creatures who inhabit the nighttime hells found in much of America.  And if many are put down by agencies who cannot place the older and less cuddly animals, then at least they are put out of harm’s way.  But the human strays?  Screw ’em.  Many a good, Christian Republican, and more than a few of the other brands, yak endlessly about how people have to take care of themselves, and blah blah blah….  But here is a truth you can bank on:  If the government (ie., we the people) does not give a shit about the homeless, then no one can, regardless of means or desire.  Charities?  Church agencies?  The big NGOs?  Santa Claus stuck in the slums for a day?  A little here, a little there….  All to the good, I suppose.  But it is the government, in all its functions and layers, representing all the people as a goal, that can impact meaningful numbers of lives.

This government?  The fools and the liars, bent on self-destruction?  It’s the very worst representation of our fear and our greed…our desire to keep and hold.  And balls on the rest.

My few dollars was throwing pieces of thread to the drowning.  Deep state, my ass.  I have never seen this state so ignorant, so unworthy, so bone-headed shallow.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY

Merry Christmas, baby, we’re apart that’s true….  Whoops.  Daydreaming about holiday songs with lyrics like “Decorations of green on a red Christmas tree,” “Here comes Santa Claus, Here comes Santa Claus, staggering down Santa Claus Lane,” “I left my love in Tijuana, she knew how, but she didn’t wanna,” and other schoolboy hits….

Beautiful day out there.  I am just now considering brushing my teeth, after a fine lunch of cranberries and Stove Top dressing.  But why rush one of the most fun tasks of growing up?  Mom is no longer rushing me to get going; and Dr. Lipkin, and his incredibly slow dental drill, no longer wait for me to open my mouth.  No sir.  Though I do miss watching the line connecting the drill to the motor go around and around before the business-end ground into one of my molars, like hard-rock mining machinery, where it often slowed to a frikking stop.  But, like the drill, I am shifting gears and trying to move on.

I am now listening to Christmas music and drifting from dental matters to the years I spent at St. Hyacinth Academy, where I was one of two or three non-Catholics.  I was thinking of my very first deeply-felt and unrequited not-quite love affair with Joan.  I was in first grade, and Joan was in second.  We never spoke.  All the first grade boys were in love with Joan, and they didn’t speak with her either.  There was more than just a little fear in these relationships, since Joan made Shirley Temple look plain, she was an older woman, and we were just guys.

I had hoped that when I got to second grade, Joan would still be in school.  I would be a more mature 7 years old, and not just a kid anymore.  Plus, I had resources.  I had a couple of steely marbles in my pocket, and could almost always beat Charlie with my pocketknife when playing “cut the pie.”  However, Joan had other plans, and decided to move to Los Angeles with her parents.  If I had known the appropriate terminology at the time, I might have said, “too damn bad,” and moved on.  It has been tough, but what the hell.  With the passage of time and pumpkin pie on the horizon, I’m moving on, anyway.

Speaking of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times recently ran a story that again took me back to my missing guardian angel school days, and the time I accidently knocked the statue of the Virgin Mary off of her schoolroom stand, where she broke into pieces.  And if that were not enough, I picked up a broken piece of Mary’s head, and wrote on the blackboard with it.  And then, not knowing when to quit, I had to tell the class that, hey, Mary is made of chalk!  (Big laugh).  Sister Whatever was not pleased!

Where was I?  Right.  The Church….  Broken pieces.  The article was all about newer rules regarding pieces of dead people, and not statues.  Not everything regarding death in the Catholic Church is about the spirit moving “up” to heaven or “down” to hell, as we kids were always trying to picture.  The Church regards body parts as possible “relics,” to be venerated by believers when and if a person, long since buried or otherwise disappeared, achieves sainthood.  Becoming a saint can be a very slow, long , and difficult process, and often there are people against a departed person becoming a saint, which is where an archbishop can be useful.  But, times change, and so do the criteria for almost everything, including veneration.  I, myself, went from being thought of as an OK kid, to becoming what I overheard as my being a little devil, all before age 10.  I mean, this can be a very picky crowd.

I had to read the article a couple of times before I could relate to the information.  It stated that the instructions explicitly rule out selling the hair strands, hands, teeth and other body parts of saints that often fetch high prices in online auctions.  Nothing is specifically mentioned about grave-robbing.  Still, a buck is buck, and I can think of several long-gone bodies worth more dead than they ever were when the persons inside those bodies were alive.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  Bones, bodies and and praise for a tooth or a strand of hair, outside of any context, do not interest me.  And graveyards at night?  Are you serious?  Besides, many of the relics I have known are still moving.

Hey, what happened to the spirit of Christmas?  It was here just a minute ago….

CHRISTMAS ON A LANDLOCKED ISLAND

I grew up in Southern California, which was named after a great university of the same name.  After two previous jobs at working on ranches for room and board, when the depression really got rolling, my folks moved to Hemet, in Riverside County, and they bought a ranch, which they stocked with chickens and turkeys.  Eventually they became landscapers and florists.  Every year that I lived in Hemet, I thought my life was a lot better than heaven, which sounded like a drag even when I was in kindergarten.  I can see heaven appealing to the dead, but it still feels like a crummy choice for those who choose to live.

I have been dicking around.  Goofing off in Thought Land.  Luxuriating in The Carpenters Christmas music, and photographs of dead Syrian children.  I want to write something.  I could write about the dead Syrian girl with the missing arm, and the fact that she was out of blood, but that is too goddamn depressing.  The rockets and bombs ain’t going anywhere.  They will still be there after Christmas, and they will be around for Christmases to come.  I’ll leave the bombs and the bodies alone for now.

Old friends and family who have died?  Heavy.  Very heavy.  Memories of fulfilled and unfulfilled Christmas  dreams?  Too much melancholia, like finding Flappo, the Elephant, under the tree, and going to sleep with it, night after night, while moving my head from side to side, with my nose touching his little, curved trunk.  Flappo didn’t stand a chance, and was found one day by the back door.  His belly had been scissored, and his stuffing tossed on the ground.  I loved Flappo.  I needed Flappo.  Mom tried another stuffed elephant, a fluffy white one, but it was no Flappo.

I had to step on a nail, sticking out of a 2X4, before I began to stop missing that crazy little green elephant.  Don’t ask me why.

OK, Flappo is something of a non-story.  Still, there is a job of words to do.  A thought has passed between my ears.  How about I do a couple of insubstantial Christmas things to see if I can get the metal in my brain to go “clang,” with the possibility this will set off the slot machine, and the thoughts will flow onto the floor, where I can gather them up and cash them in?

Something comes to mind.  Yes, a Stirling Silliphant special.

Let’s begin with Who the hell is Stirling Silliphant?

It’s a Christmas holiday flower-delivery special.  It was Christmas Eve at Lorena Florist in the 1960’s.  The white Ford van was loaded with beautifully-wrapped poinsettias, and the load was headed west, out of Hemet, over Coyote Pass, and through the settlements of Romoland and Homeland, across Hwy. 395, and into the vastness of our region’s version of Beverly Hills.  Sun City was Del Webb’s wet dream, scrapped up with a backhoe.

It was already dark in the Deep Boondocks when we began the route, and it was almost midnight when we headed home again.  In between, we dropped off poinsettia after poinsettia.  We interrupted parties, dinners, people watching I Love Lucy, offers of cocktails, and even half a ham at a house with a death in the family.  Everyone was nice.  They were joyful.  But we never hesitated because it was, as usual, necessary to deliver on Christmas Eve.

Finally, we located the last delivery in a dark development where every goddamn house looked like every other house.  There it is, there it is.  748.  That’s it.  It was about 11:00.  The porch light was on, and I was all ready with my cheery Merry Christmas!

An angry old lady opened the door, ignored the Merry Christmas! and proceeded to read the riot act about the late hour, the condition of the plant I was “dumping” on her, the late hour, my attitude, and the late hour.  I reminded her that the order had come in late, and we barely got it loaded before we left the flower shop.  She was not listening.

And then this.  Do you know who my son is? He’s Stirling Silliphant!  You know him, of course.  I said hang on.  Hey, Jack, have you ever heard of…what did you say his name was?  Jack, do you know of a Stirling Silliphant?  Stirling Silliphant is this lady’s son, and she just told me that she is going to tell her son about the late delivery, the crummy plant we gave her, and my attitude, which she says is disrespectful in light of the fact that she is Stirling Silliphant’s mother!

Jack yelled from the truck, WHO THE HELL IS STIRLING SILLIPHANT?

The next morning, at the Anchor Cafe, we all had lots of laughs about the crazy days of Christmas, and the jolly old lady who was Stirling Silliphant’s mom.

And if you readers don’t know who he is, then you had better find out before Christmas, or Stirling Silliphant’s mother will rise up from the grave like Meat Loaf on his bike in Bat Out of Hell, and you will be so sorry,

(No kidding.  So this is who the hell Sterling Silliphant was….)

And one more.  A Marjorie Main non-story.

If you were around in the fifties, you probably remember Marjorie Main.  She played, among other roles, “Ma Kettle” in the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series.  Marjorie Main had a face and a voice that, when combined, was….  What the hell.  I will find a film clip and you can hear and see for yourself.  As to why she became one of the most successful movie and television stars of the 1940-1960 period, I don’t know why to this day, but there were millions of Americans who did know.

One day, dad and I drove up to the San Jacinto Mountain town of Idyllwild, about 20 miles from Hemet, with a truckload of plants.  Marjorie had come into the nursery one day, bought a bunch of shrubs and ornamental trees, and told us to bring them up to her cabin in Idyllwild, and she would show us where to plant them.

What are you doing with those plants? she demanded, as we began to unload them, I wanna choose ’em right off the truck.  Now, take that tree and put it over there by the steps.  I want the white oleander over there and the red one below the window.  After we had off-loaded several more, the real problems began.  Dad was not a patient man, we had other work to do, and it was soon apparent that Marjorie Main hadn’t a clue where she wanted anything.

Dad said to offload the rest of the stock, which I did, and we got into the pickup.  Hey, yelled Ma Kettle, what do ya think you’re doin’?  I don’t want any of those damn things now!  Get em outta here.  I want my money back!

Sorry, said dad, no returns.  But I won’t bill you for the delivery.

I’m turning you into the nurseryman’s association, she yelled.  Dad told me to stop the truck.  He got out, walked over to her, gave her his business card, and said,  The number you want is on the back of the card.  And we were out of there.

The Christmas connection?  That Christmas, I had to deliver a load of poinsettias to Idyllwild, including one to Marjorie Main.  It was a real beauty, given her by her studio.

Marjorie was in good form.  Is that thing the best you people can do?  It wouldn’t be allowed in the City of Los Los Angeles!  Take it back and give it to a church.  I gave it to one of the guys who worked in the nursery.  Gilbert and his family all came to the door when I knocked.  They wanted to know who it was from.  I said I wasn’t sure, but he had a white beard, a red hat and drove a car that looked like yours.

Guess which one is Marjorie Main….

OXYTOCIN, YOU RASCAL, YOU!

This morning, while checking on the health of that dirty old man, Judge Roy Moore, I channel-hopped into a TV studio living room, where an excited older woman made a startling proclamation.  She hollered, to an equally excited host, that on Thanksgiving, one should just let go.  Let it all hang out.  Scarf away.  Leave the diet and the medical concerns for another day.  Baklava as primer for the afternoon’s big guns to come?  Sure.  It isn’t dessert, so eat up.  And when you get dessert, eat that, too.  If you don’t like to slice pies, then don’t slice it.  Stick your gob right smack into the middle of that whipped creamy thing and blow bubbles.

Can Uncle Pud and his new paramour finish eating their Butterfinger before ringing the doorbell?  Yes, they must!  Tell ’em over the intercom that it’s OK.  And when the prelims are over, dive into the turkey and all the fixings.  Need to loosen up the wardrobe a little to accommodate the meal?  Of course, because the more joy and satisfaction you provide yourself, the more of your oxytocin you incite to action, which will entice you to keep doing what gives you pleasure, thus causing even more near-weightless oxytocin to flow into your body from wherever the pituitary gland is located.  And so it goes, the pleasure and the pain of an endless circle binding us to the pursuit of pleasure.  The double-whammy accompanying all satisfaction!  And isn’t eating recognized as one of life’s great pleasures?  And I’m going, well, yeeeeeeese, while waiting for the calorie, stroke or heart attack shoe to fall.  Which it has not done.  So there.  At least not on a television food show in the Thanksgiving season, and two television personalities actually ecstatic over the very thought of the pigout to come.  No shit, me too.

But, they had me at the word “oxytocin.”  I never heard of it, so I googled it.  Wikipedia was all over the map on the subject.  For example, “In the pituitary gland, oxytocin is packaged in large, dense-core vesicles, where it is bound to neurophysin.  Neurophysin is a large peptide fragment of the larger precursor protein molecule from which oxytocin is derived by enzymatic cleavage?”  I did not know that.  I didn’t even know what a peptide fragment was.  I kept wanting to write, “riptide.”  And am I going to look up “peptide?”  No way.  I’ll never make it through “oxytocin” as it is….

In any case, this information gave me little to go on regarding the excitement of the two Thanksgiving planners, so I moved further into the Wikipedia article on a journey to what I hoped was something less alien.  Something more familiar, like one would find in a child’s story about bumble bees.

Hey, this may work.  Give me a couple of minutes to absorb this, will you?  OK.  Got it.   I took chemistry in high school, so I was attracted to a subtitle named, “Chemistry.”  I was confident as a mofo.  Here was the first paragraph, which I man-handled like a beast in about an hour.  “Oxytocin is a riptide (uh, peptide) of nine amino acids (a nonapeptide, which is Italian for “I lost my appetite”) in the sequence cysteine-tyrosine-isoleucine-glutamine-asparagine-cysteine-proline-leucine-glycine-amide (CYS -Tyr – Ile – Gln – Asn – Cys – Pro – Leu – Gly – NH2, or OR, fercrissakes, CYIQNCPLG-NH2; (It would have been a lot easier if they had just said CYIQNCPLG-NH2 in the first place!) 

Anyway, its C-Terminus has been converted to a primary amide and a disulfide bridge joins the cysteine moieties, known as the Cysteine Chapels, in basketball circles.  Oxytocin has a molecular mass of 1007 Da, and one international unit (IU) of oxytocin is the equivalent of about 2 ug of pure peptide.

Of course.

So, OK, now I have 2 ugs of pure peptide.  What now?  Do I inject it?  Smoke it?  What?  When I snapped out of it, I was still stuck.  I was pretty sure that this nearly top-secret information was still not what I was looking for, unless those two television personalities were only geeks in search of formula-laden thrills.  I kept looking for something that might explain why I was wasting so much time looking for something I found while wasting so much time.

And then, there it was.  The golden tablet in the grass I had been searching for.  In addition to increasing levels of empathy and trust, the oxytocin capable of being produced in everyone’s lil ole bodies by simply enjoying a hot dog or a spring roll, or playing with oneself or someone else’s self….  Hang on.  This calls for a new sentence….  “At least two uncontrolled studies have found increases in plasma oxytocin at orgasm in both men and women.”  And “an author suggests it serves an important role in sexual arousal.”  Studies also suggest that “high levels of plasma oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment….” 

On the negative side, “In a carefully controlled study exploring the biological roots of immoral behavior, oxytocin was shown to promote dishonesty when the outcome favored the group to which an individual belonged instead of just the individual.”  Too damn bad, but maybe the White House might constitute a group.

This would, of course, include those cockhounds out there, some exposed, some to become exposed, and many others who now jump behind a tree to do more than take a whiz when they see certain faces coming down the street.

As for me, it’s spring rolls, rice and nuoc mam for Thanksgiving.  Plus, I need to contact the VA to see if they provide “medicinal oxytocin” for vets.

  • This brilliant little video will now be shown to all senators and congressmen who have let their sexual pleasures become as easily overwhelmed as their eating pleasures.  And will you just look at all those insects coming out of the fancy woodwork all over this country!

 

FATS DOMINO, HEMET UNION HIGH SCHOOL, CLASS OF ’58

Yes, it’s true.  Antoine “Fats” Domino bit the big one a couple of days ago, and there will be no more of that melodic New Orleans style of rock and roll.  At least none from Fats Domino, who may well have cut the first rock and roll song, The Fat Man, back in what, 1949?  We all loved Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Tommy Edwards and endless others, but how many of these artists were our classmates at Hemet High in the late 1950s?  OK, Tommy was with us for awhile, with All In The Game, Elvis doing that move, stuff like that….  But Fats?  The fat man was with us every day, and if you missed him, maybe you weren’t looking hard enough.  Swear to God, he even graduated with us, and I can prove it to all but the disappointingly rational.

And, yes, I must bring it up now, if not the near future, because many of Hemet’s Greatest Goddamn Graduating Class, the Hemet Union High School Class of 1958, are dropping like flies (as I may have mentioned before), and it is not a simple matter of better late than never.  If I miss this one, if I don’t send Fats on his merry way, with heartfelt thanks, then “never” will become the ultimate “late,” with no chance for a makeup exam.

Some of you will remember the day Fats was with us in our cars, singing Honey Chile, when Hamburger’s girl friend ran screaming in tears from his car during lunch hour.  Hamburger, that weird son of a bitch, was right behind her, and she just made it to Mr. Halle’s office.  He was in school for a few months, played a little football, chased his girlfriend, and was soon exiled back to down below, to the lower reaches of Los Angeles, never to be seen again.  The girl and the car also disappeared, but none of this stuff interested Fats.  He was something of an indifferent onlooker, and bored by gossip.

Fats was the essence of dress casual.  All the guys wore Levis and white T shirts, and Fats was typically in uniform, consisting of a fine, lightweight sport coat, with a white dress shirt, diamond cufflinks, and a huge diamond ring with a piano design.  The reflection of the sun off this ring made him difficult to see despite the fact that he was often the only black guy in sight.  Little Richie, Chuck Berry, the Coasters…guys like that, would drop in once in awhile.  And I can remember Jana walking across the campus when Johnny Mathis was doing, Wonderful, Wonderful, one lunch hour….  Which it was.  Nobody said a word.  Bobby got all our tongues hanging out when he reminded us that the school required all girls to wear pink cashmere sweaters, long, tight skirts, and saddle shoes or penny loafers when on campus.

Something less well known was that at sock hops, girls were required to dance with any boy who asked, whenever the DJ played, Earth Angel.  This included bad dancers, shy guys, ugly guys, fat guys, guys with bad teeth, and farmboys wearing old shitkickers, if a farmboy had a mind to ask for a dance with cute little what’s-her-face, clean to the core, church choirgirl and college bound.

Fats had encouraged the guys to ask the school administration to require a girl to snuggle up close, with her head on a boy’s chest, when Earth Angel was played, but the school board refused, reluctantly, to go along with this request.    Fats told us not to worry about it…that sooner or later, we would succeed in our endeavors to discover all those wonderful charms if we would dance to Valley of Tears.

Fats Domino often left Hemet and returned to New Orleans, where he spent his life and did most of his recording when not on the road.  When he travelled or went home, we found ourselves with Fats on the radio or on a record player.  Which was fine, because it meant that we could take the time to learn Fats’ songs and lyrics.  And I can still recall every lyric and melody.  I did not play the piano and I did not have fat fingers, but when I sang Fats, I sometimes became a white, but very soulful son of a bitch.  Even growing up Republican, I had the moves, often hidden on the inside.  But, please, do not test me.  I hate tests.

Let’s see.  It has been a long time.  Fats Domino.  Got him.  He drank a lot of Teacher’s Scotch and loved pig’s feet, which probably killed him, poor bastard.  He was only 89 when he died.  He missed a lot of exams at Hemet High, and he showed up late for rehearsals and recording dates.  At least four major race riots happened at his concerts, and, when a show was over, there was no hanging around and schmoozing.  He was in his pink Cadillac, and heading for the next gig.  He could be a pain in the ass, but he sold huge numbers of records to both black and white audiences, so company squares put up with him.

I once asked him, “Hey Fats, a couple of the guys want to know how much you make and if you have any girlfriends?”

Fats had a terse reply.  “You tell those jerkoffs that it ain’t none of their goddamn business.  No, hang on.  That’s too mean.  And those guys probably buy my records and go to concerts.  Just tell ’em that you forgot to ask, OK?”

The last time I saw him was at our graduation, when I began to sing “Blueberry Hill,” in a low, pomp and circumstance voice.  No shit, there he was.  White outfit under his cap and gown.  He was flirting with a couple of the girls holding the Daisy Chain, which lined the path to the stage.  He never made it to the all-night party.

Blueberry Hill.  Jack and I were driving around the Valley one warm night in 1956, checking out an address in San Jacinto for Jack, and one for me out in Fruitvale.  Goofing off with purpose.  Probably bitching about something or other, or someone or other.  But, pulling into the Midway Drive In, across from the cemetery, we heard Blueberry Hill for the first time on the loudspeaker.  It was stunning.  Even some of the dust-to-dust folks across the street were singing along.  Kids kept putting money into the machine, and the song did not go away…even to this day.

A GATHERING OF BODIES (4): WHERE DID ALL THE BODIES GO?

Bill London, Jr, from the University of Missouri, was my best pal at Air Force ROTC summer camp, the summer of 1961.  He was a Beta.  At Ohio Wesleyan, the Betas were one of the el supremo animal houses, which is why one dark night, our pledges skulked the three or four blocks to Beta Theta Pi and stole the huge, ornate, and heavy walnut doors from the front of the old Victorian that housed the possibly drunk, and definitely snoring animals living there.  The TKE bad boys skulked home, and buried the doors in the Teke house basement.  It must have been a hell of a struggle.  The doors may still be there, resting peacefully and becoming more antiqued with every passing decade.

You see, the Tekes were not animals.  We were refined gentlemen.  Singers, and the like.  Cocktails and boilermakers.  Lovers, not fighters.  Robbing from the animals to give to the gentlemen.  And we were smart enough to count the steps from the back door of the Little Brown Jug into the side door of our house, (somewhere between 42 and 60, depending), to avoid wandering into the wrong place.

Cecil’s Beer Depot.

Meanwhile, back at the base, Bill had driven his car down from Kansas City to Lubbock, which meant that the weekends were not only ours, they were ours with wheels.  But it did not take long to learn that Lubbock was not only among the most nerdy and conservative towns in all of America, but it was dry.  To buy beer, we had to drive south, past the city limits, to one of the finest institutions of its kind I have ever seen.  As I recall, Cecil’s Beer Depot was like a barn, open at both ends, with cases of beer stacked high between big refrigerated units full of six and twelve-paks.  There may have been some hard stuff, but we were looking for softer landings, out along the old Texas Beer Can Trail.

You could park outside of Cecil’s, but most buyers got into the line of cars moving steadily through the middle of the store, filling orders for such fine products as Pearl, Shiner Bock, or Lone Star, the national beer of Texas.  They all tasted like panther piss, so we usually chose our beer because of impulse and price.

After buying beer and Beer Nuts, we would drive to a downtown park, where we joined the fun-loving and the inebriated in hot weekend afternoon laughter, shouting about the weenies at SMU or A@M, and news about the weather tomorrow or next week.  “Say what?  95 again?”  We also talked, and I learned that Bill wanted to fly.  “But you’re 6’4″.  They won’t allow it.”  What did I know?  His request to fly multi-engine aircraft was already in the works.  He would graduate college, go to flight school, and become “rated.”  Rated meant one was a pilot.  He could fly a B-52 or a huge transport plane.  He could wear wings above the salad of campaign recognition he would have over his left pocket.  He could get recognition, go to special leadership programs, and slip into promotion cracks in the Pentagon or angle for an overseas assignment.  In the Air Force, rated is good.

Wearing glasses, I was destined for “Category C,” meaning non-rated, non-career.  This was fine by me.  I knew my films.  I saw what happened to heavier-than-air military machinery and the people stuck in them.  Later,  in an assignment at the Air Force Academy, I became part of a small group of professors known as the “Cat C Bastards.”  Go on active duty, do a turn, and split.  The Air Force was actually a fascinating trip.  I met some great guys.  I also met a few bastards, most of them rated.  I delayed active duty a couple of times while I took some road trips, which was very nice of Uncle Sam.

Bill and Jon go to the movies.

One Saturday, Bill called the daughter of one of his dad’s friends at AT&T.  She was at Texas Tech, had a girlfriend, and we double-dated to a drive-in movie.  I have no memory of those girls or the movie.  What I do remember is that it was hot and humid, and that we kept an ice chest of beer in the car.  It was a classic Hollywood black and white double-date disaster.

I don’t think the girls were thrilled to be stuck in the same car with us.  They sipped a little beer from the same can, and had not spent much time out on the range.  Meanwhile, Bill and I were chugging pretty good, and started getting the giggles, which turned to laughter.  I think one of us began to howl, and someone tried to imitate Cesar Romero.  “Ah, Cherie, where have you been, and why do you drive me crazy?  Why?  Is it the moustache?”   The height of the evening was when Bill turned in his seat, and faced his date, who was plainly bored.

“Sue,” he said, “Will you do me a favor?”

Sue looked a little worried, at this point, but said, “Maybe.  What is it?”

“Would you take the beer chest outside the car, and sit on it to keep it cold?  Let me help you with it.”

I guess that was the end of the evening.

(Scratch out the part, above, regarding Tekes as lovers, not fighters).

Lieutenant Bookends.

Enter First Lieutenant Bookends, a pilot trainer at Reese AFB, and one of the first of several significant bastards I met in the service.  One of the promises by the base commander to all the cadets at Reese was that we would get some time in a T-33 as part of the training.  On the last day of this activity, I was still hanging around the ready room, waiting to take my flight.  In the middle of a reverie about the flight being cancelled, the base commander walked in, looked at me, and said, “Who are you?”

Before I could answer, a sergeant said, “Sir, this is the last of the cadets taking a trainer flight, and all the pilots have gone home.”  The Colonel got red-faced.  “Has this cadet gone through all the prep?”  The sergeant said that yes, he has been prepped.  “Well, who is the next pilot up?”  “Sir, that would have been Lt. Bookends, but he went home.”  The boss man said,  “Well, get him down here double-time….”  By this time, it was about 6:00, and I had a bad feeling about the scene that was going to unravel.

Bookends was young, on the small side, and plainly unhappy that he was pulled away from his dinner table.  He did not say a word.  I got in the old fighter, up front, and was soon strapped in.  My helmet hit the top of the canopy, but I kept my mouth shut.  In minutes we were in the air, and flying over a lot of Texas wasteland, with Reese AFB below us.  I then made one of those faux pas that sit forever in a select box at the back of our brains.

“Sir, that is a great view of the airport.”  Airport.  I said airport.  So much for small talk. Bookends became the asshole I suspected he was.  “That is not an airport down there.  It is called a base in the Air Force, cadet.  You understand that?  A base.”

“Yessir, I do understand.”  Later, I was glad I did not give in to my impulse to say, “Of course I understand, you dumb fuck asshole fucknose son of a bitch prick with ears.”  And this was the good language.

In any case, Bookends flipped the plane over on its back, and we were flying upside down and twisting  from side to side  for a minute, which seemed like an hour.  After landing, I got out of the aircraft with a little help from the sergeant, but Bookends had already gone.  I walked back to the cadet area, getting there in time for dessert, which I threw up under a tree on a nice, balmy evening.  Bill thought this was funny.

Bill and I stayed in touch for awhile after summer camp, but then lost contact. Years later, a mutual friend from San Diego thought that Bill got his wings and became a B-52 pilot, but that his plane went down over Hanoi, late in the war, and he was killed.  I never followed up on this story.