Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disingenuous Disgust

SAN DIEGO – This column is disingenuous, putting me alongside those I criticize.

I had three columns in my head and one about half written when the sports media disgusted me last week.

My disgust has been growing in the Southwest corner. Having some limited knowledge of human nature, I suspect the subject of my disgust is the same back home. It certainly is rampant at the national level.

No, this is not my first foray into politics. My vow not to dip my ink into that mess remains intact. But my old business of sports journalism has reached a murky depth in my opinion, and I am compelled to comment.

Bias West Coast

The seed of my disgust began as a sports fan from Tennessee in the Southwest corner. For twenty-five years, I’ve lived in a world biased to West coast sports. This blatant “homer” attitude resurrected my rooting for the Big Orange. Growing up, I was a fervent fan of Bowden Wyatt, Johnny Majors, Tommy Bronson, the Canale brothers, the single wing, quick kicks, high top shoes, orange jerseys only, and an open end Shields-Watkins Field.

I became a dedicated Commodore fan during my short lived stay at Vanderbilt and while sports reporting for Fred Russell at “The Nashville Banner.” But I rooted for the Vols and the Commodores until Doug Dickey put UT in white jerseys, low-cut cleats, and abandoned the single wing.

Vandy basketball’s John Ed Miller’s telling me about hairs on the back of his leg being pulled when he was in-bounding a ball in Knoxville drove me further away. Then at the 1969 Vanderbilt loss in Knoxville, I sat in the end zone in my Navy uniform and had Vol fans continually curse me and throw their drinks on me.

But Henry Harding sent me audio cassettes of the UT games during my Vietnam tour, and I rooted for my state’s other team as well as the Commodores.
When I came back to the Southwest corner, the Vols frequently played West Coast teams. I rooted for UT to win partially in protest of local whining about the “biased East sports media.”

A Tennessee Anomaly

I became an anomaly for a Tennessean, rooting for Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and the Southeast Conference. I railed against biased reporting and uninformed observations.

My dissatisfaction with West Coast sports reporting – Jim Murray of “The Los Angeles Times” being an exception, reminiscent of Russell at “The Banner” – burgeoned with the growth of sports talking heads who mangled facts with brutish manners.

About the same time, ESPN became a phenomenon. At the outset, they televised many sports, including Australian football, which I loved to watch.
ESPN went big time. Talking heads dominate sports television and radio, not sports events. Sports show hosts resemble playground pre-teens with gossip, opinion, and useless statistics.

I don’t know about you, but I am not really interested in who just made the first triple double somersault dunk around the left cornerback in the Rose Bowl, and I’m pretty sure it really doesn’t show some trend in the won-lost records.

I can’t complain too much because ESPN has allowed me to watch almost every Vanderbilt basketball game this season in the Southwest corner.

Over the Top

But this Tiger Woods thing is over the top. The entire nation has been bombarded not only with incessant sound bites from last week’s 15-minute speech, but also by the most hypocritical, senseless, and pointless folderol presented with sham voices of authority by golf experts, public relations consultants, and marriage counselors, not to mention any one who happens to be walking by a microphone.

I cannot presume to know enough about Tiger and Elin Woods, his finances, or his golf to twist myself into a pretzel over what happens next. For someone with his stature or notoriety, Tiger’s statement was news.

A two-paragraph story buried on the fourth sports page would have covered it adequately, but we have blown it into a tabloid nuclear blast. And I have joined the hue and cry, disingenuous at best.

My conclusion is only that every aspect of the situation with Tiger is sad.
Golf is a wonderful game but over-hyped by the golf channel and the mega-million show time of the PGA.

I remember Jimmy Smith of Pennsylvania Avenue golfing for Castle Heights on the dirt greens of the nine-hole campus course and thinking, “He’s cool and so is golf.”

I wish it were that way again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Poems

These two poems were written close to each other in 1996. They have some connections for me. "Tennessee Steam Engine" followed "frustration" as it does here.

frustration: the root of all my problems:

oh damn you, mister cummings and mister warren, too
i've wanted to write poetry but unfortunately i've read you.
most of the stuff i want to write
you and others have already written;
though it wouldn't bother most nowadays,
i find myself still smitten
with the idea of originality
which probably does not exist
so i struggle to find my own voice
in the void you two jokers insisted
in making real.

so i think i'll go buy a farm.

- Bonita, California
- February 8, 1996

Tennessee Steam Engine (more factual than before)

Grandpa Cullen and son Jesse
back in thirteen,
when my pap was a year away from born,
rode the train to Nashville
– a half day's journey then,
fetching a steam engine,
the first portable saw mill in those parts.

Jesse was a strapping big man then,
a youth, not yet rounded with gut and jowls,
like when i knew him as Uncle;
when he told this story to me in eighty-four:
he wasn't so strapping at 93,
shriveled into the baggy old man shapelessness,
pale cream complexion with wispy thin, pure white hair,
in the lazy boy rocker chair in his youngest daughter’s den
that November with the trees bare and grass
straw colored in the brisk sharp sunshine
of middle tennessee.

The trip was before Grandpa Cullen
lost most of the fingers on his right hand
in that very same steam-driven saw mill on someone’s farm.
his hair had not turned white as it is
in the lone picture i have in the family book.

Uncle Jesse said Grandpa was wiry thin strong like my father
who sat at the other side of the den paying respect to the family,
while i listened to the tale.
Uncle Jesse said Grandpa Cullen was more than
pulling his weight rousting the steam engine.

On the way back, driving that steam engine,
they couldn't make it in one day:
Stopped the night
on a farm in Donelson Uncle Jesse related.
Pretty nice folks to put 'em up
without any idea who they might be.
had a good supper and pleasant conversation.
by my calculation the farm was
pretty close to where they built Opryland,
but the land was still country with
folks a lot more trusting than they are nowadays.

When there's static in the air and you can hardly hear
better turn on the radio of the Lord,
A.P. and Mama Maybelle would intone.
Lonzo and Oscar, Lester and Earl, Foggy Mountain Boys,
even Minnie from Grinders Switch were real;
even Roy Acuff with his cave in Kentucky
would have made the show and held on till
the deep dark of three in the Nashville night
eating long after the opry closed for the night:
with coffee in thick mugs at Linebaugh's
on Church Street downtown,
just down the hill from the Ryman.

Long after that shiny new steam engine belched toward
Lebanon from the Donelson farm front yard
by Grandpa Cullen and Uncle Jesse
did they start the Opry at the Ryman
and much longer before Opryland
sprouted in its full festival of plastic country glory
in that self-same place
where the farm once was which was,
just before the pale, grown soft baby skinned old man
with sagging jowls and kind countenance
would tell me this tale
the last time i saw him.

- Bonita, California
- November 7, 1996

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Flight from Fancy

The flying experience takes many twists and turns. If one can keep his wits and not dwell on the inconvenience and lack of customer service, it can be an entertainment medium through watching the characters. It can be a lengthy version of going down to Home Depot.

In the long lines and mostly ineffective security measures employed in San Diego, i embarked on this business trip today. Even before i got on the flight, i witnessed a montage of characters that would have fit well into a novel of international intrigue.

Amidst the seasoned travelers, trying to act like they were seasoned while still perplexed at the continuing change in rules, regulations and procedures, and the wide-eyed questioning new air travelers, i found my way to the Delta counter.

A tall slender Muslim woman was at the next counter to the automatic ticket processing, which i have come to use rather than the redcaps. She wore a head-to-toe black veil that was attached across her face at the left ear. While checking in, she unattached the veil in order for the counter personnel and, later the TSA security guards to match her identification with her features. “Ahh, i wondered with no malice, “i wonder what Allah thinks about this particular waiver for progress?”

While going through these checks, she would demurely hold the garment across her nose with her graceful slender fingers of her right and touching the lobe of her left ear. When requested, she would open out the veil just enough for the evaluator to see that the face did indeed match the holygraphed photo on the plastic card.

After each check to see if she was really who she really was, she would reattach the veil so it would drape across her face of its own accord. From my vantage points, this semi-permanent visage reminded me of the “Black Bart” characters in the black and white western movies of my youth – Oh Hoppy, where have you gone?

For her, the veil enhanced her allure. The floor length garment was of fine material and it flowed elegantly around her slender frame. The garment would occasionally flitter open, revealing a blue and white sheer taffeta gown underneath. The chic, square-toed, black leather and low-heeled shoes slipped out from underneath the black folds when she walked. They strangely fit the image of this mysterious lady.

Her eyes were deep, dark and fetching. But in one of those vulnerable moments of identification verification, i caught a brief glimpse of her face. The skin was flawless and matched the beautiful eyes. The nose, however, was long and hooked, ill fitting, and it shattered my illusion of her allure.

Later while waiting for our aisle numbers to be including in the boarding process, a well-dressed lady with a sharply pulled back pony tail, short sleeve sweater and slacks passed the Muslim lady while moving toward the boarding pass screening. She looked directly at the lady of the veil. Her look was a combination of loathing and fear. Inexplicably, she made the traditional Catholic sign of the cross gesture and moved quickly away.

I felt sad and powerless.

* * *

In between the introduction to the Lady of the Veil and my final sadness from her repudiation, i crawled with the masses through the black ribbon maze toward the security check. i noticed a couple with two young children, a boy and a girl. From the young father’s haircut and mannerisms, i surmised that it was an enlisted marine family, likely heading for Quantico or Camp Lejune in a change of duty.

While i was looking at other interesting characters navigating the maze, the young marine slipped below the ribbons and took his position as close as he could get to the last turn. He was preparing for his farewell from close, but not intimate range before his wife and children would pass through the electronic screening and fade into the cavernous lobby and down a concourse to their gate.

I noticed his absence only when the line moved through yet another u-turn. The younger child, the daughter of about three was crying because she too had missed her father. The mother was attempting to console her.

As we snarled toward the last point, tears streamed down the distraught child’s face while the boy of six marched stoically at his mother’s side. The father, yet another turn from the point of no return, was attempting his own version of stoicism by feebly waving with his right hand and bearing a weak smile. He stood silently, unable to communicate verbally due to the din in the terminal. His chiseled, dark tan features did not fit well with his futility.

His wave died and he clutched a waist-high post of the maze. While i watched him, i found myself identifying with him. His jaw was clinched. The muscles tightened and rolled up his face from the lower jaw to his temple. I knew from experience more than i cared to remember that he was fighting back tears.

I saw his eyes and knew the tears were welling up in the lower lids like mine had done those many years ago. I knew the young marine’s feelings. I did not ponder the reason for the family schism. Later, i surmised the departure was most likely produced by an imminent deployment of his unit and that wife and children were headed back to their home of record to stay with the folks while he was gone.
The moment was over and the reunion, when it followed, would be just as joyous as the departure was sad.

At least, i hoped so.

I have my feelings about these two juxtaposed moments of observations. I recalled bus terminals and how they were lonelier but more hopeful than today’s airline terminals and how the business of our world overwhelmed moments of reflection. I have drawn my conclusions and i was tempted to pass them along.

But I trust you can do just as good of job of that as i can.

-- Bonita, California
-- August 19, 2003

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Memories of a Different World

SAN DIEGO – I sometimes marvel at how I ended up in the Southwest corner.

Then I wonder at how different the world was for me back home a long, long time ago.

My marveling usually starts during strikingly different weather out here and back home. My inclination to recall my youth in Lebanon was recently enhanced by JB Leftwich’s recent columns here.

Then, my daughter Blythe posted some photos of Sam, my grandson, on the internet’s Facebook. You see, when Sam was born, Blythe asked me what I would like Sam to call me. Almost instantaneously, I responded, “PaPa.”

The Original PaPa

Almost two years ago, I wrote here of Wynne Prichard, the old foxhunter who was also my surrogate grandfather as both of my parent’s fathers passed away before I was born. Every child in our extended family called him PaPa. My grandson Sam now calls me PaPa.

Finally, I was struggling to come up with a topic for this column when I went up my hill to raise my flag on Saturday morning. I scanned the vista of Mount Miguel to the east, Tijuana to the south, the San Diego skyline to the northwest, the grey ships of the fleet to the west, and the Pacific dominating the western horizon. As I began my descent, I was thinking of the East being blanketed with snow while I was walking in the winter film of green over the summer brown of the rest of the year.

After the rains here, it felt like spring sending an early calling card while back at home, snow was showing its white teeth again.

It was then I was carried away, back to that other world of my youth, which even Lebanon will never be able to capture except in memories.

Screen Doors

I was carried back to the summers of the late 40s and early 50s on Castle Heights Avenue. Once May got a good grip, my brother Joe and I rarely wore anything but shorts. Our sister Martha was clad in either shorts and a top or a pinafore dress.

The front door was open for the breeze with a screen door to keep the flies outside. I laughed thinking how “screen” doors are now made out of glass to keep the heat and cool inside. And it seemed we had a steady stream of visitors.

Every Wednesday, PaPa would chug up in his 1929 Model “A” Ford, returning from the farmer’s market. He parked on the street in front of the sidewalk, straight-lined to the front door.

An aside: That would be a dangerous move today considering the traffic, but then Castle Heights was not a thoroughfare and the road to Nashville was U.S. 70, nee Nashville Pike, nee West Main. There was no I-40 and therefore no need for most folks to head south on Castle Heights Avenue. Even the Immanuel Baptist Church, which now dominates a huge chunk of the Castle Heights and Wildwood intersection, bought their first land in 1948.

Three Musketeers Bar

When PaPa walked down that walk, Martha and I would run to him and maneuver to be the first to leap into his arms. He would reach in his pocket and pull out a Three Musketeers candy bar for me and a Milky Way for Martha. Joe was included in this process, but I don’t recall his candy bar as I considered myself grown up around nine years old when Joe really got into the act.

My recollections were interrupted when I started packing for a two-day trip to Palm Desert with our friends. We drove the back roads through the rough mountain terrain of Aguanga and Anza, descending into the valley through the incredible scenery and switchbacks of CA-74.

We had planned to visit with our friends during the short trip, but one was going to Utah to ski and the other was going to Colorado to watch professional and college hockey. The desert was awash with a conglomeration of snowbirds of winter residents and tourists enjoying the 80s sunshine, golf, tennis and swimming.

It occurred to me different worlds nearly always seem more attractive than the one where we currently reside.

I will let it suffice to enjoy my grandson calling me PaPa, and the next time I see him I will give him a Three Musketeers bar.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Quietly opening the door,
i see weeping beauty and a goofy dog
lying on the dark covers of the bed.
i lean over and kiss the beauty’s
the fresh smell of her long dark hair
sweeps over me:
she is a womanchild of mine
i want to lie beside,
hum my soft songs in her ear like
when she was young
drifting off to sleep
i left her with the sandman
before the goofy dog.
i rise,
pat the goofy dog on the head
who watches me carefully as i
quietly, softly cross the room and
close the door.

- Bonita, California
- February 27, 2004

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Southwest Corner Waterfront and the Old Navy

SAN DIEGO – A Southwest corner vestige of the past is going to eventually succumb to the beat of progress.

Pacific Tugboat Service leases its pier from San Diego city. The contract with the city stipulates Pacific Tug replace the current pier with a state of the art concrete pier.

This makes good sense for the city and Pacific Tug.

However, the current economic situation, including a 40 percent drop in revenue for United States tugboat companies last year, requires delaying the pier renovation for some time.

When I first walked down Pacific Tug’s current pier, memories were evoked.

The pier is one of the last creosote wood piers on the San Diego waterfront. Shipyards, marinas, cruise lines, the Navy, and even the San Diego Maritime Museum which boasts of a World War II submarine; and two tall ships, Star of India, and the replica H.M.S. Rose have replaced the wood with modern concrete piers and quays.

When I walk down that old pier, I can feel the soft, aged timbers beneath my feet. I experienced the same feeling on many piers in many places for a significant portion of my life.

The brackish bay water laps against the seawall, flotsam floats or wafts below the surface. Seagulls ply overhead in search of meals within the sea trash.

Two landing craft, LCM8s bought from the Navy, await conversion to cargo vessels while nested off one side, more nostalgia for this old amphibious sailor.

My first years in the Navy with settings such as these did not occur in the Southwest corner but in Newport, RI, caddy cornered from here. In the summer of 1963, the destroyer U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) was my midshipman home for eight weeks at sea.

Back then, sailors were a different cut of cloth. They lived a rough life. They were rough themselves. The Thomas had numerous sailors who would have never been accepted into today’s Navy. Some were there because a judge gave them the choice of joining the Navy or going to jail.

Being a sailor was a way of life. A frequently heard admonition was “If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, you would have been issued one with your seabag.” Most sailors lived on board, primarily because their pay wouldn’t cover rent.

Many had been up and down the promotion ladder several times. A second class petty officer retiring after 20 years was common.

A sailor’s clothes, personal items, and toiletries were stuffed into a three by four foot locker below their racks, i.e. beds with aluminum frames with canvas stretched across. The racks were usually three high. Pea coats were stored in communal standing lockers.

Whatever else they owned, usually a few “civvies,” were in a locker club just outside the nearest gate exiting the base. They always left and returned to the ship in their service dress blues or whites.

They worked hard and they played hard. The Uniformed Code of Military Justice was in existence, but life on board was also protected by the sailors own code. It was considered bad form to have anyone in your division to face the commanding officer in Captain’s Mast.

Punishment for offenses, real or imagined, could result in the leading petty officer “losing” one’s liberty card for as much as two weeks. Severe violations could result in a trip to an isolated part of the ship, such as the boatswain’s locker, for a beating.

They stood 24-hour duty every third day in their home port and every other day (port and starboard) in other ports. When extra labor was required, division officers and chief petty officers set about to find “warm bodies” to take on the task, duty or not.

Polite folks, except for the wardroom – officers were dubbed gentlemen when commissioned, thusly falling into the category of “nice folks” – would have been taken aback by a sailor’s life. My early Navy days were closer to Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad’s life at sea than today’s Navy. Sailors now own cars, homes, go to and fro in working uniforms, and have duty once every six to ten days.

It is good the Navy has changed in many ways. But walking down that creosote pier under the Coronado Bay Bridge allows me to fondly recall an earlier Navy I loved.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Whispers from the Dead

i did not know the young man Josh.
i will not know him:
he died yesterday morning walking to high school.
a car took him down.

i did hear Josh whisper since.
Josh’s school locker was next to my daughter’s,
a friend since elementary school.
death and grieving abound here.
Tough for a parent to determine
when to cut it off,
get back to business.

Again Josh’s whisper comes.
i try to remember being a junior in high school,
hoping to communicate better, do the right thing;
you know.
ruminating through my seemingly endless years;
jobs and war and loves,
touching other lives, good and bad.
It is hard to remember.

Josh’s whisper helps;
Not just whispers from the recently dead young man,
but also whispers of friends and kin who died young and old.
Through the whispers and my faulty recollection
i search for the right things to
say and do with my daughter.

Josh whispers again.
Is it me?
i told my daughter she should carry on
as she felt the young man
Josh would want –
it worked for me when my father-in-law,
a close friend as well,
passed (as they say) several years ago.
He whispered to me more than a decade ago.
i have been around when others passed (so the saying goes);
felt so empty, dead myself, until i heard the whispers.
They are mostly comforting to me, these whispers.
i pray to god that such whispers,
when my daughter hears them,
will comfort her.

- Bonita, California
- October 25, 2005

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow and Recalling Letting Go

SAN DIEGO – Early last week, my youngest daughter and I walked out to her car as she departed for class at San Diego State.

It was one of those intriguing Southwest corner mornings, sunny and crisp in the mid-50s before warming to the winter weather one finds in the San Diego tourism ads.

I confess as wonderful as our winter days are (when there are no Pacific storms passing through) I felt a little chagrin when my parents told me of last week’s snow storm in Lebanon. I remember snow in Lebanon as true winter wonderlands for me.

As our morning hit us with its glory, I’m sure Sarah wasn’t thinking of the weather.
After all, she is 20 and there were way too many other things on her mind. As usual, she was a bit late to pick up a friend, and had auditions and stage manager tasks in addition to her classes and work at a dance studio.

Snow, Zoo, Responsibilities

On the other hand, I wished to be going to the zoo with her rather than chasing our responsibilities.

She backed out of the driveway and waved as she headed down the cul de sac. I was struck with the parallel of past moments.

You may recall from earlier columns, I am one of those lucky men of my generation who became a mister mom. Sarah’s delivery coincided with my navy retirement date, and I went from a military ceremony to the delivery room and then to caring for one of the two most precious results of me being around..

My daily responsibilities waned as she grew and a significant part of our day eventually became getting her to elementary school. Each weekday – except for an absurd number of days off for holidays and teacher conferences – we would walk from the bitter end of the cul de sac down to the first through street. The school bus would stop at the corner and about a dozen children would board.

The first day we took that walk, I recall having mixed emotions. Not only was I giving up a significant chunk of daily time with her, I was the only male at the bus stop and significantly older than most of the mothers there with their students. I thought I heard several whisper and snicker as Sarah and I walked by. Perhaps it was just my imagination.

Parents Letting Go

Regardless, that first day when she boarded, sat next to a window and waved back to me was one of those lonely moments we have as parents letting go.

Standing in front of the garage last week, I recalled that first day and then remembered, or thought I remembered my first day at McClain Elementary in 1950.

We only had one car at that time in our lives, and my father drove it to work at Hankins and Smith. My mother put my brother in the stroller (Joe was one), held my sister’s hand (Martha was almost 4) and we walked to Little Eskew’s on the corner of Tarver and West Main, the last intersection before the school.

My mother tells me I stopped and told her, “You don’t have to go any further. I can go my by myself.” I often wonder when I walked the last half block on my own if she felt as I did when I waved goodbye to Sarah 52 years later, but suspect she had enough on her hands with two others not to reflect for very long.

No Snow Regrets

I no longer know all of the elementary schools in Lebanon. Of course, I can locate Byars-Dowdy, named after close friends of our family, H.M. Byars, and Roy Dowdy. I also know from my occasional roaming while home, Castle Heights Elementary is on the new extension to our old homestead street. Internet services list ten elementary schools in Lebanon and 19 in Wilson County.

Obviously, there are a lot more mothers and mister moms waving goodbye each day in Lebanon nowadays compared to my first grade days. This means there were a lot more scrambling to deal with the young ones staying home due last week’s snow storm than when McClain closed due to inclement weather.

You see, I also regret Sarah never got a day off from Tiffany Elementary to play in the snow.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

wicked web

ah, the wicked web:
the old man still tried
to make sense of it:
it would not come to sense;
connections did not;
assumptions weren't;
desire was couched in innuendo;
listen did not hear;
perhaps saddest of all,
passion was subjugated
to illusions.

the old man leaned on the cane
rising from the rocking chair,
prodding the old dog with his foot.

love may not be enough,
but it wins
even though
the lover may lose.

– Bonita, California
- November 19, 2002