Summing Up 2010

The year 2010 was all about the ground under our feet: from the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and China to the Deepwater Horizon explosion that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and the dramatic rescue of 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days.

Then there was the political groundswell that forced incumbents out of office and gave rise to the Tea Party. There was also a lack of high ground in Pakistan where more than 15-hundred people died and a million were left homeless due to unprecedented flooding.

January’s quake in Haiti was centered in the capital of Port-au-Prince where 230-thousand people in the poverty-stricken nation were killed. The rebuilding effort has been slow and communicable diseases like cholera now threaten to claim even more lives. Celebrities rallied to help earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

A George Clooney-led telethon helped Wyclef Jean’s charity. “Hope For Haiti Now” posted a multi-million-dollar intake. Participants included Bono and Justin Timberlake.

Speaking of Jean, Haiti’s search for a new president inspired him to make a bid for the top post. Even though the rap star announced his campaign plan in his homeland, he soon found out he was not eligible.

An explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was instantly seen as a tragedy when eleven workers lost their lives.  However, it would take weeks and even months before the full scope of the disaster was realized.  The Deepwater Horizon oil spill tested the limits of American technology and exposed the dangers of deepwater drilling as crews rushed to cap a leaking well that spewed oil into the Gulf for 86 days.

Live images of BP’s broken pipeline were shown on cable news as the seafood and tourism industries watched their businesses collapse.  An estimated five-million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf and the government says most of it evaporated while controversial chemical dispersants helped limit the devastation.  Environmental experts say the true impact of the disaster could take years to evaluate.

Continued high unemployment also headlined business news this year, hovering in the nine to ten percent range.  Jobless benefits were extended by Congress as the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve kept trying to jump-start the economy by pumping money into the public and private sectors.

A lingering effect of the high jobless rate is the continued crisis in housing, with foreclosures still dogging the market.  Three-million foreclosures during 2009 paled in comparison to the more than four-million this year.  A government program aimed at helping those millions stay in their homes became an admitted failure, with only about 170-thousand people helped with mortgage modifications.

While Main Street didn’t bounce back this year, Wall Street did.  The Dow Jones Industrials climbed from a low 96-hundred in July to above eleven-thousand this month. Early in December, both the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 Index hit two-year highs.

The backbone of American manufacturing, the auto industry, also staged a slow recovery this year.  While Chrysler’s sales figures remained depressed, vehicle sales by Ford and General Motors registered well above those of 2009 as consumers returned to showrooms.

In West Virginia, 29 men were killed in a coal mine explosion, making it the worst disaster in decades.  Other deadly accidents were reported in New Zealand and China but the most inspirational story came out of Chile where 33 men survived underground for 69 days.

President Obama’s agenda got off to a rough start early in 2010 when Republican Scott Brown was elected to succeed the late Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.  Obama’s administration would take more political punches as the president made health care reform a top priority.

Opponents labeled it a “government takeover,” giving rise to the Tea Party movement.  Health care reform legislation was signed but later the GOP would win back 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives and take six seats in the Senate.

The president was able to reach a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia and he declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, however thousands of troops still remain there while the war in Afghanistan has gotten even more dangerous.  In fact, 2010 was the deadliest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan with more than 475 confirmed fatalities.

And last spring, Stanley McChrystal, the Commander in Afghanistan, was fired after giving an interview to “Rolling Stone” critical of how the war was handled. He was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command and architect of the Iraq surge.

The year was also marked by government efforts to halt future financial disasters.  President Obama signed into law the Financial Reform Act on July 22nd.  The legislation was aimed at more transparent regulation of banks and brokerages as well as the products they sell, such as derivatives.  The law also set up a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose funding  was still a political football in Washington at year’s end.

Around the world law enforcement agencies worked closer than ever to try and stop terrorism.  A plot using toner cartridges to hide bombs in cargo planes bound for the U.S. was foiled with hours to spare and a street vendor was credited for alerting police to a poorly-designed car bomb that nearly detonated in New York’s Times Square.

Sometimes, however, terrorists hit their mark.  Like the suicide bombers in Russia who targeted subways or in Iraq where an Army recruiting office was destroyed.  Dozens of people died in each attack.

Even the man who flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas was accused of committing an act of terror.  Fear of terrorism sparked a protest by a Florida preacher who threatened to burn copies of the Koran on 9/11 until he was convinced it would put American troops at risk.

Late this year, the founder of WikiLeaks was called a terrorist by some for releasing classified military and state department communications. So far all Julian Assange has been arrested for is suspicion of rape.

Other events making 2010 memorable include the volcanoes in Iceland that disrupted European air travel, the controversial immigration bill singed by Arizona’s governor, and a decision overturning California’s ban on gay marriage.  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted on one of the 24 corruption charges he faced and a SeaWorld trainer was killed by a killer whale.

Then there were the passings, including soul singer Teddy Pendergrass as well as J.D. Salinger, author of “Catcher In the Rye.”   And it was farewell for “Easy Rider” Dennis Hopper as the cancer-stricken actor wore a brave face at his Hollywood Walk of Fame honor.

Rocker Ronnie James Dio and Slipknot’s Paul Gray were among those we lost.  There was also Lynn Redgrave, Art Linkletter and former child star Gary Coleman, who passed away at 42.

A third “Golden Girl,” passed away withthe death of Rue McClanahan. The world also lost county music star and sausage king, Jimmy Dean. This was followed by the passing of two former teen-idols: Eddie Fisher at  82; Tony Curtis, who was 85.

The Beaver’s mom, Barbara Billingsley died, as did the Tom Bosley, the father in “Happy Days.” Also pass was Bob Guccione, the founder of “Penthouse” magazine.

Finally, there was the death of actor and funny-man Leslie Neilson. Surely he’ll be remebered for such spoofs as “Airplane,” but don’t call him Shirley.

Lately though, tensions have been mounting between North and South Korea and in Europe austerity measures have triggered demonstrations in France and England while the E-U has put together bailouts for several member nations. Unemployment, however, remains the biggest obstacle her and abroad, to achieving growth for 2011.

Between the Posts

A winter storm had blown in and Dave Barber and I were on our way back to the base after being downtown. Somehow I managed to miss the turn for the main gate and we ended up on I-80, which runs in front of the base.

There is an overpass that is situated in front of the main gate and I knew that there was also an exit jus’ beyond the overpass. The exit circles back to the main gate and we’d be on base in no time.

The vehicle I was driving was a ratty old 1971 Datsun B-210. I had purchased it a few months before as way of getting around Cheyenne and not having to depend on others for transportation.

As I drove up onto the overpass, I could see the snow blowing sideways partially blocking my view of the road. However, what roadway I could see had started to freeze over with a thick layer of ice.

The wind slammed into the car and due to the icy conditions, we found ourselves sliding out of control. In an instant we were heading backwards and to the right as we slid along the overpass.

Since I had no control and couldn’t see where we were going, I released the steering-wheel and let gravity do its thing. In seconds our wild ride was over with and we found ourselves stuck in a snow drift off the side of the road.

It was struggle to get out of the car, since the doors were jammed by the snow. But we had help as a Wyoming State Trooper had been right behind us when we started to slide out of control.

But before he started digging Dave and me out, he was standing in front of my Datsun, arms raised over his head like a referee during football game. That’s when I realized my car had passed between the upright posts of the city limit sign without touching them.

Portrait of Barry

It was my first day off in nearly two-weeks.  I was going to Lander’s down the street and have a big bowl of chili and scrambled eggs.

“Finally I can do something fun”, I said as I got out of my truck.

But in order to get there, I had to walk past the Antique Mall and this was hazardous for me.  I have an eye like a raven, meaning shiny things catch my attention.

I walked past the window looking at the antiques in it.

“I’ll jus’ go in and have a quick look,” I said, “Then I’ll go get something to eat.”

Slowly, I wandered up and down the isles.  There was this thing to pick up and that one to touch.

An old rocking chair in the corner looked inviting so I sat in it. And as I did, I wondered, “How many babies have been rocked asleep in this chair?”

As I rocked back and forth, I scanned the room. Across from me was an aging portrait of a Calvary officer with a sign reading, “Portrait of Barry.”

I got up and walked over to the portrait.

The uniform was that of an officer — a Lieutenant Colonel in the light Calvary.  It was also a post Civil War uniform.

The man’s face was familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall where I had seen him before. So I walked away to continue my browsing, hoping to allow my brain to relax enough to remember who the man in the picture was.

It suddenly dawned on me and quickly walking back to the portrait, I removed it from the wall.

“How much is this?” I asked of the woman behind the counter.

“A hundred and fifty bucks,” she answered.  Then she added, “But I’ll knock ten percent off it if you buy it right now.”

I nodded my head and reached for my back pocket.

The cash register was an antique as well, and it rang loud and hard as she pulled the lever back.  The gears ground against one another and banged as they came to a stop.

“You do know who this is, don’t you?” I asked the lady at the register.

She squinted through her bifocals, “It says ‘Portrait of Barry,’ whoever Barry is.”

Chuckling, I replied, “No, Barry’s the photographer.”

The lady looked at me skeptically.

“I knew I had seen the face before,” I stated, “In real life this man had deep blue eyes.”

The lady walked over to where I was standing.  She looked at the picture, then up at me.

“How can you tell that from an old sepia tone?” she asked.

“Because I know my history — and I seldom forget a face,” I answered, “This man died in 1876 at the Battle of Greasy Grass.”

“What?”  The antique lady countered.

“Greasy Grass,” I answered, “But we know it better as the Battle of the Little Big Horn.”

“I’m not following,” she replied, sounding a bit frustrated with me.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, Regiment Commander, C Company, 7th Calvary, United States Army,” I stated.

The lady stood there with her mouth agape unable to say anything. She knew she had jus’ unwittingly sold a little piece of history.

The Body of Salmon Brown

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an interest in my family’s history. While researching Mom’s branch of the family tree, I tripped over a bit of history I had no idea existed.

My mother’s family is directly linked to the most famous abolitionist in U.S. history. It came in the form of a marriage between Thomas M. Burns and Minnie E. Brown, granddaughter of John Brown, January 14, 1883.

One of their two sons, Edwin M. Burns married Mary Elizabeth Hufford, my Grandma Leola’s sister.  Edwin’s uncle, Salmon Brown was the last of John Brown’s sons to die.

The widow of John Brown, Mary, brought her three daughters and son Salmon to Rohnerville in 1870. Salmon went into the sheep business with a 128-acre ranch at Bridgeville and by 1890 he had 3,000-acres and 14,000 sheep.

Salmon left Humboldt County around 1895 after he lost 8,000 sheep during the winter of 1890-91. He committed suicide May 10, 1919, in Portland, Oregon after being an invalid for five years following a fall from a horse.

The Portland Journal reports: “The last chapter of the old border days, when strife was stirring for the break of the Civil War, came to a close yesterday with the funeral service for Salmon Brown of 2024 East Couch Street, son of John Brown of Harper’s Ferry, crusading abolitionist and sworn foe of slavery.”

A Close One

One early morning as I was enjoying breakfast with my sister Deirdre’s family, when I received a phone call from my bride. She was literally crying into the phone saying something about an accident.

It took her a couple of tries to finally explain what was happening. She had slammed her brand new vehicle into another car at nearly 70 miles an hour while heading to Susanville from Reno on U.S. 395.

She told me that the car had simply pulled out in front of her and though she tried to stop, she struck the car broadside. Furthermore she had broken her glasses (which for all intent and purpose left her unable to see very well,) bloodied her nose, received burns from the airbag during deployment and had strap bruises across her chest from the seatbelt.

Fortunately she didn’t suffer any broken bones or other major injuries despite the engine being shoved up under the fire-wall and into the passenger compartment. Furthermore, the two people in the car that pulled across the highway in front of her, walked away without a scratch.

Since the bride wasn’t at fault, the California Highway Patrol didn’t cite her. Plus our insurance covered the loss of the car and her examination at the hospital after the accident.

Good thing she wasn’t driving any faster than her guardian angel could fly.

To Watch and Wait

“Turn off the light,” I demanded as I covered my face.

We had been asleep, or at least I had been, but now my brother Adam had turned on the overhead light. I demanded he turn the light off again.

When he didn’t, I removed the pillow from my face. I was frightened by what I saw — it wasn’t Adam playing with the lights — it was a tall man dressed in a skin-tight, shiny body suit.

I quickly looked over the edge my bed to Adam in the bunk below — he was still sound asleep.

“Don’t be afraid,” the man spoke.

I was too frightened to say anything so I jus’ laid there with my covers bunched up under my chin for protection.

“I’ve come to tell you that you are being misled by science and popular culture,” the man said, “And in years to come, the information you hear will be even more misleading than now.”

Slowly, I lowered the covers and raised up on my elbow to look at the man more directly. Somehow I had the feeling I need not be afraid of him because as I reasoned, had he wanted to hurt me or my brother, it would have already happened.

“What?” I asked as I tried to shake the sleep from my brain.

“You are being misled,” he repeated.

I wrinkled my forehead as I asked, “About what?”

“There is a battle occurring in the heavens and you among thousands have been witness to this battle,” he continued.

“I’ve seen this battle?” I asked.

He smiled kindly and answered, “Yes, as you’ve laid in the field and looked into the night sky.”

“Huh,” I questioned, “Are you talking about us watching the UFO’s the other night?

“Yes, Tommy,” he said, “I am.”

I was startled by the fact that he knew my name and I sat up fully in bed.

“How do you know my name?” I asked in a panicked voice.

“I know much about you and your brother,” he responded.

Fully awake now and feeling the rush of adrenaline, I asked in a demanding tone, “How’d you get the house?”

“I appeared,” he answered, then added, “I am an Angel of the Lord.”

“That’s it,” I said, “I’m getting Dad!”

As I made my threat, there was sudden burst of light. I jumped back from it and covered my eyes.

When I finally looked at the man, he had grown taller than I remembered and behind him were wings, finer than an eagles, that spread from one side of the room to the other. I laid still against the wall, next to my mattress, transfixed by the sight of this human-looking creature and his shimmering wing span.

“What’s your name?” I asked in a half-whisper.

“It is a name you cannot pronounce,” he answered.

I felt my head nod up and down, accepting on face value what he told me.

“I’m here to tell you that the lights you’ve been watching are not UFO’s or alien spacecraft,” he started, “They are Heavenly host and fallen ones doing battle as we have been doing since the start of what you know as time.”

“Are you saying angels and devils?” I asked.

“Yes, to put it simply,” he answered, “I have been instructed to tell you that in times to come, you’ll see the coming of UFOs and aliens. They’ll bring with them what they call technology and science. It will offer amazing opportunities for the human race.”

“Technology and science,” I repeated.

“Yes,” he said, “For instance Tommy, in the bible’s book of Revelations it reads: “Man will seek death and not find it.”

“I don’t get it,” I responded.

“One day, aliens will offer longevity among other things,” he explained, “That longevity will come with a terrible price, costing the man who accepts it his soul.”

“How?” I asked.

“You have heard of the mark of the Beast, no doubt,” he responded.

“666,” I said.

“Yes,” he nodded, “One day aliens will offer a piece of technology that will give the man who accepts it a life span as long as Noah’s life.”

“This’ll come from the Beast?” I asked

“It will,” he said, “Think about the story of Adam and Eve and how Eve was tempted by a serpent. That serpent is still here and I am part of an army sent to do battle with him.”

Puzzled by this I asked, “You mean to tell me, humans are going to become advanced after being visited by snakes?”

“No,” the visitor answered calmly, “You will be tricked into believing they are here to help, to bring peace, but in the end they’ll bring misery and destruction.”

“How will I know this is happening, when it does?” I continued to ask.

“Soon, you’ll be able to watch television shows and hear radio programs telling how man came from an ancient race of aliens, who travelled the heavens creating beings much like themselves,” he added.

“We already have stuff like that,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” he countered, “However what I speak of is far more than the science-fiction shows you’ve seen. The information you’ll be given will be presented as the truth and many will believe, which will lead to the loss of their soul.”

“What do you want me to do?” I finally asked, adding, “I mean I’m jus’ a 12-year-old kid.”

“Use you’re God-given talents — write about our meeting one another and share it,” he instructed.

“Yeah, you’re kidding me, right?” I shot back, “Everyone thinks I’m a weirdo already and if anyone were to learn I had this conversation with you, they’d confine me to a nut-house.”

“Tommy,” he started, “What is worse? The loss of your and other people’s soul, or confinement and hardship?”

I knew the answer, but said nothing.

“Please, heed my words, they come directly from God!” he said.

As he spoke, the light surrounding his body and wings grew into a brightness, until I could no longer bear to look at him and had to hold my pillow tight over my face. Suddenly the brightness was gone and I dropped my pillow down to find myself engulf in the darkness of my room.

Rolling over, I looked at where Adam lay, still sound asleep, and concluded I had been dreaming. However as I rolled back, I thought how real it all seemed and wondered why I was wide awake.

Unable to return to sleep, I slid out of bed and found my Red Chief tablet, a pencil and a flashlight, and returned to bed. I decided to write down what had happened and the conversation with the winged-man as he had instructed.

Once finished, I tucked the tablet, pen and light under my pillow and slipped off into a dreamless sleep. I’m glad I did write it down, because by the time the sun rose, I had forgotten most of what I had dreamed.

Adam and I were sitting at the breakfast table, eating, when he asked, “Why did you have the bedroom light on, last night?”

I nearly choked on my Cheerios.

“I didn’t have the lights on –in fact,” I replied, “I thought it was you.

“Nope,” he comment, shaking his head sideways, “Wasn’t me.”

That’s when I recalled the tablet under my pillow. I quickly retrieved it after breakfast and retreated to the bathroom, where I could lock the door and read what I had written.

My body shuttered and my skin developed goose-bumps as I poured over the words. I immediately took the pages and hid them inside the foot-locker Dad had given a year before.

From that point on, every time I look into the nighttime heavens I remember what I have concluded was a very detailed dream. In the meantime, I continue to watch and to wait.

A Christmas Passing

Christmas morning went fine for the family. However the telephone rang jus’ a few minutes after noon causing Dad and I to race out the door, towards the Yurok Volunteer Fire Department.

We were soon en route to an emergency in the Klamath Glen. Once Dad told me what sort of emergency we had, I quickly moved my stethoscope and blood pressure cuff from a side pocket on my first-out bag to the top of the bag.

Inside the home, I quickly located the victim. I could tell right away that there was very little anyone could do for the man, but I proceeded to make a cursory check anyway.

The man, in his late-70s or perhaps early-80s, had passed away quietly in his sleep. I gently pulled the blankets up around him, without covering his face and went outside to await the arrival of the county coroner, while Dad remained inside with the man’s wife and a neighbor couple.

Needless to say, the remainder of that Christmas day was rather subdued for me and Dad.

A Bad Hiding Spot

It was a practical joke that went very wrong. I was dared into “streaking” through the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office by certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

Never in my life did I think I’d nearly get caught as I pulled on the ski mask, dropped my britches, removed my shirt, jumped from the bed of the truck and ran through the front door. I sprinted by the front desk heading to my left, only to discover it was a dead-end and not the hallway I was told it was.

Before I knew it, five or six deputies — including family friend Joel Barneburg — were hopping the counter and chasing me. Somehow I managed to break free of “the long arm of the law” and make it outside.

By this time I was feeling a little more than panicked as I raced along 5th Street, towards Taylor Street and Pebble Beach Drive. All the while I had all those deputies chasing after me.

It was either B Street or A Street, I cannot recall which, that I turned southbound. I finally ran behind a home and dove into a thicket.

Since it was dark, I was certain the deputies hadn’t seen me duck behind the building. I was right, although I could hear them as they talked between one another while searching for me.

For jus’ over an hour, I laid in that thicket, half afraid to move. My fear wasn’t over getting busted by the cops though, rather it was due to the fact that I was hiding in bunch of blackberry bushes.

They’re Called One-Armed Bandits for a Reason

After spending a couple of months living in Las Vegas, I decided to head north. I pulled my VW Bug into the parking lot of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino and went inside.

In my pocket was around $800 and it was burning a hole. I decided to sit down and play a few dollars in a slot machine.

At first it paid out, adding $250 to my wad of cash. But like so many others who come to the gaming mecca’s of Nevada, my luck quickly stalled and I started losing.

However, I reasoned that my luck could return jus’ as quickly as it had left. This is where the casinos have it over their guests.

Within an hour I was down to a few bucks in my wallet. I realized that then I had jus’ blown all the money I’d saved to rent a place, buy gas and food and search for a job.

Disappointed in myself, I got up and walked across the casino to the restrooms where I washed my face with cold water and tried to rethink my situation. I knew standing there, staring at myself in the mirror, wasn’t going to make the situation better.

As I started towards the doors, I had to pass by the slot machine that turned into a one-armed bandit. There was an elderly woman sitting in the spot I had most recently occupied.

Without warning, I heard a scream, followed by flashing lights, bells and alarms. I turned back to see what was going on.

The elderly woman had jus’ hit the jackpot. It wasn’t jus’ “a jackpot,” it was “the jackpot.”

Not only did she win $86,000 in cash, she won the brand-new and very shiny Porsche Targa 911-Turbo on display in the center of the slot machine bank.

That night, I walked out of the MGM Grand having learned two things: God never meant for me to gamble and there is no such thing as luck. I lived for two-weeks in my VW Bug as a result of this lesson.

A Matter of Faith

Legend has it Ernest Hemingway was asked to write his autobiography in six words. Ever the king of brevity, he penned, “For Sale: baby shoes, never used”.

On the surface, these six words make for a catchy tale, beneath the surface though, they display a sadness that Hemingway was unable to fully express.

Being bi-polar or manic-depressive as it was once known, gives me a slight insight to Hemingway. It also helps me understand to a small extent his final resolution in dealing with his personal demon.

This is the third and final installment of my failed attempt to enter a Hemingway writing contest, sponsored by Harry’s Bar and American Grill, in Century City. While I like this story the most, I had to really stretch things in order to get Harry’s name written into it as the rules required.

The explosion shook the entire ship and all aboard it. Immediately following the ear deafening bang, flames shot into the nighttime darkness.

The blaze roared through the ship engulfing everything in its way. Passengers, who were sleeping, now ran about the decks in a mass panic, each concerned with nothing more than their lives or the life of a loved one.

The bow was slowly slipping into the black ocean water, with the aft of the vessel soon to follow. Those who hadn’t got into a life raft, didn’t stand on the disappearing decks, feeling sorry. They had decided to take their chances with the unknown sea and like lemurs, tumbled into the water.

As for Gerald Rabner, the same was true. His cabin was near the back of the ship and he hadn’t felt the rumble until seconds after it occurred. By the time he shook the sleepy cobwebs from his head, the decks were crowded with people fleeing the quickly dying ship.

He turned back and grabbed his trousers off the floor where they lay. Back to the hallway and towards the deck he ran as fast as he could.

 He stopped and looked over the railing as he pulled his trousers over his legs.

In the water he could see dozens of horrible stories drawing to a conclusion.

 He looked over his shoulder, thinking he’d rather take his chances with the flames. One deep breath of smoke would send him into unconsciousness and he’d never know what happened after that.

Then the flames licked at his face. The full beard he once sported was now gone, having been singed.

Over the side of the vessel and into the water he flung himself.

For only a moment, which seemed like hours, he struggled to get back to air. And as his head broke the water’s surface, the ship was gone as were the voices of the many that had been splashing about him.

Only a single crate was visible in the immense darkness, and Rabner swam to it as fast as he could. As he clung to the crate, he could see more debris floating beyond it.

Among that debris was the outline of a lifeboat. Now Rabner found himself swimming for that.

When he reached it, he pulled himself aboard the wooden craft. Once safely inside he found he wasn’t alone.

Lying in the bottom of the boat was Jack Russell terrier. And like Rabner, it too was cold, wet and scared. The dog quickly greeted him with a wagging tail and barking.

Yet the crate was on Rabner’s mind at the moment and with great speed he moved to recover it. And as he did so, he saw the word, “supply,” stenciled to the box, causing his heart to race with anticipation.

Once the box was in the lifeboat, he wasted no time in opening it. Once opened, Rabner laughed out loud.

He looked at the dog sitting next to him and said, “You’ll eat well, my little one.”

For days the tiny boat drifted about the ocean. And Gerald Rabner slowly faded with each passing day, often dreaming about evenings spent at Harry’s Bar and American Grill.

On the twelfth day a passing cargo ship spotted the little craft. And the captain ordered it brought along side the ship.

As the captain looked down from the high deck into the little boat, he could see Gerald Rabner was dead. However the Jack Russell terrier was still alive and was greeting the sailor’s recovering the lifeboat with a wagging tail and more barking.

They hauled the expired man’s boat onto the ship’s deck as the captain ordered. It was met by both the ship’s doctor and chaplain.

“The man died of starvation,” the doctor reported to the captain.

 The captain looked puzzled, “He had food, didn’t he?”

“Yes, sir,” the doctor answered.

“Then why did he starve to death?” the captain queried.

The chaplain interrupted, “He was a Jew, Captain.”

“So?” the captain countered.

“All he had aboard were tins of pork,” the chaplain answered, “And most Jews don’t eat pig as a matter of faith.”

The Advice of My Bartender

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Ernest Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Good advice for anyone – even those not given to writing.

This is part two of three submissions I wrote for a Hemingway contest, sponsored by Harry’s Bar and American Grill in Century City, California. I didn’t send them in as I felt they were less than what was called for using Hemingway’s standard.

It was slow at Harry’s Bar and American Grill as usual on a Tuesday night. The bar was especially slow as the two bartenders watched television and re-wiped the clean glasses.

The older of the two saw me as I entered the bar and immediately asked, “What’ll it be?”

 “Jus’ a draft, thanks,” I answered.

As he went about getting my beer, I sat down on the stool nearest the T.V. He returned with a mug and exchanged it for the money in my hand.

I had been sitting there for a while when he spoke to me.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked in a gruff voice.

“Nothing,” I replied.

He shrugged and walked away.  As he did I looked at him for the first time.

His ruddy complected face sported a crooked nose and jutting jaw. For his years, he was large with huge hands and broad shoulders.

 When he walked away I asked him, “Why’d you become a bartender?”

 He looked at me startled, “I could still be a cop – I was sergeant once, but I wasn’t happy.”

 He poured himself a shot something from behind the bar and quickly downed it.

“Why weren’t you happy?” I asked.

“I wasn’t living,” he answered.

I stared at him with a puzzled look.

“In anything you do, son,” he started, “You gotta live life.”

“And being a bartender is life?” I asked.

“No,” he returned, as he poured himself another drink, “this is life.”

 He gazed thoughtfully at the glass for a moment, and then looked back at me, smiling as he said, “Being a bartender is a living.”

I smiled back and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

The One-millionth Customer

This very short story is one of three written as an attempt to win an Ernest Hemingway contest put on by Harry’s Bar and American Grill, in Century City, California. Part of the rules included using the restaurants name in the story somehow.  I never submitted any of the stories as I believe them to be more in the genre of O. Henry than E. Hemingway.

“Stand back folks,” the man in the tuxedo with the microphone said, “Here’s our one-millionth customer!”

As he said that, a man walked through the automatic doors, carrying a small box. At the same time the camera in the background came on as did the lights.

The tuxedoed man with the microphone moved forward with an extended hand and said, “Congratulations, sir! You’re our one-millionth customer!”

“I am?” the man asked in astonishment.

“Yes, sir, you’re our one millionth customer,” the tuxedoed man started, “And we have a wonderful prize for you!”

Still in shock, the one-millionth customer replied questioningly, “You do?”

“Yes, sir,” the man win the tuxedo with the microphone answered, “You’ve won dinner for two to Harry’s Bar and American Grill!”

As he finished, he handed the one-millionth customer an envelope.

“I’m…” the one-millionth customer started, “I don’t know what to say.”

“That’s okay,” the man with the microphone and tuxedo said, adding, “What brings you to our store today?

“Well,” the one-millionth customer answered, “I was jus’ planning on returning this.”

As he said it, he lifted the small box slightly.

“You’re what?!” the tuxedoed man with the microphone exclaimed.

He quickly grabbed the envelope back from the man and pushed him aside, announcing, “Stand back folks, here comes our one-millionth customer!”

The Value of a Churchkey

Mom had jus’ passed away and there was a lot to do in the way of taking care of her remains and her personal effects, including her entire household. I was already exhausted and I found the ordeal of dealing with my siblings emotional dysfunction even more taxing.

So after all was done, I retreated to Mom’s home and laid on her bed and cried myself to sleep. After an hour-long nap I got up and started poking around her home.

There were a number of items I recalled as a kid and some of them I had often coveted as an adult. But somehow they no longer held the importance they once had since Mom’s death the night before.

So I left them to be parsed out between my brother and two sisters as I didn’t want to bother with the fight. Besides I already knew Mom had left me four things: a panoramic plate she and Dad purchased in Switzerland before I was born, a porcelain holy water fount, the families’ Catholic bible and a Lucky Lager churchkey.

For the uninitiated, a churchkey is a manual bottle or can opener. Sardine tins and condensed milk cans are about the only thing a manual can opener is used for nowadays, while there is still a need for the bottle opener as many imported beers require one.

In 1935, beer cans with flat tops were marketed, and a device to puncture the lids was needed. This new invention gave birth to another invention: the manual can opener or churchkey.

It was created by D.F. Sampson for the American Can Company. The company issued operating instructions on the cans themselves and even gave away free openers with their cans.

As for the term “church key,” sources vary on its origin, but it’s obvious there’s a bit of irony in the naming of the device.  Some have claimed the “churchkey” was so named as a way to rub the repealing of the Eighteenth Amendment in the noses of the various religious organizations who had helped bring Prohibition to the U.S. in the first place.

Whatever the case, this particular churchkey had been around for as long as I could remember and something I often got in trouble for playing with as child. In recent years I had come to wonder why she kept it as she had stopped drinking years before her death.

I have since realized her saving it and willing it to me, was all part of Mom’s quirky sense of humor — and it’s about all I have left of her now.

Jus’ Glovely!

As a Route Operator for CitiLift, the Regional Transportation Commission’s para-transit system, I spent six to eight hours on the area roadways. This length of time caused me, like many who drove for CitiLift, to find restrooms where ever they were available.

For me, one of those places was at the American Red Cross building on Corporate Blvd. I had the advantage of being a CPR and first aid instructor for the Red Cross and knew all the people who worked in the building.

As a rule I wore heavy, leather gloves on a daily basis, to protect my fingers from the crimps we used to secure wheelchair passengers inside the vehicle. One day I pulled in and parked, leaving my gloves wrapped on the steering wheel as if I were still holding onto it.

They reminded me a photograph I had seen of a jack hammer left upright with a pair of work gloves still gripping the handle. I left them like that and went inside to take care of business.

When I came out of the restroom, I was stopped by my supervisor, Health and Safety Director Christine Price. She had a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked.

She smiled and answered, “We jus’ had a person come in and say they thought something was wrong because your gloves were still gripping your van’s steering wheel.”

I chuckled as she added, “So I had to go out and look.”

Needless to say, I never left my gloves like that again.

Remembering an Honorary Nevadan

One of the most difficult assignments is the writing of a “Notice of Death.” And what makes this one even harder is it’s being written nearly a decade to late.

Five years ago, while working for the Sparks Tribune, I started to write this article, but it was tabled for a current and active news story. Now, after such a long delay I could simply run down a list of achievements and career highlights, but that wouldn’t enough as there are often deeper strands that need securing when it comes to death.

It’s a delicate balancing act — to touch the memory of a person without making them sound like a footnote at the end of a chapter. But the brief life of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Karen Wagner needs to be told in respect to the history of Nevada.

Lt. Col. Wagner was killed when American Flight 77 became a jet-fuel laden missile that slammed into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001. While she was raised in San Antonio, Texas, she was a 1984 graduate of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas where she excelled on the basketball court and in the university’s ROTC program.

It was as a student-athlete at UNLV that she decided on a career path in the military and in medicine. She had been in the U.S. Army for 21 years before her death at the age of 40.

And it’s because of this seemingly tenuous connection, Lt. Col. Karen Wagner will always be Nevadan, one of the first lost in the Global War on Terror. It is after all, no coincidence that Nevada’s state flag bears the phrase “Battleborn.”

He Did What?!

It was towards the middle of my 7th grade year when I was asked to leave Margaret Keating School because of my bad behavior. So my folks enrolled me in classes at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.

I knew I was in trouble the moment Dad greeted Sister Angela, the school’s Mother Superior, as they hugged each other,  laughed and recalled their time in school together in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Then much to my astonishment, they talked about their last date before Dad left for the Korean War and how Sister Angela came to decide on a life within the Catholic Church. And though I had heard it with my own juvenile delinquent ears I couldn’t believe it – Dad had dated a Nun!

In the Gray Area

After leaving radio broadcasting for what I thought was for good, I accepted a job as a Security Officer with the Reno Hilton. It turned out to be a job fraught with both personal and professional pitfalls.

One personal pitfall I encountered was the verbal abuse of co-workers, whose self-confidence appeared to be lacking in many ways. Looking back I realize I let their lack of confidence affect my confidence in completing my duties.

Along with the job came a couple of other duties. Since I was still a state registered EMT at the time, I was given the position of medical officer when on duty. I also applied and was hired as a relief-dispatcher.

After having relieved a fellow officer in dispatch, I was walking back to my regularly assigned post at the employees entrance, through what was called the gray area, when I walked past another security officer. Without warning she verbally lashed out at me.

“You better stay the hell away from me!” she shouted.

My response was less than pleasant and less than professional. I told her to “eff-off,” and not necessarily in those words.

It was the first time all shift that I had personal contact with this officer. Earlier as I was dispatching I asked for a follow-up from her as she had been sent to meet another employee for a “key service,” which is to say she had to unlock a door to a restricted area and observe that employees activities.

She had been sent to on the “key service,” by the other officer I had jus’ relieved in the dispatch office. It was protocol to follow-up on officers when they had been out of radio contact for any length of time.

And after half-an-hour, I radioed her to check up on her and to remind her she needed to collect the employees badge number for her report. It was common for officers to forget to gather this information and they constantly had to call the employee-in-question to get their number.

I thought I was doing a nice thing by reminding her as she ended up having two numbers to gather.

Unfortunately, my supervisor, a sergeant, didn’t see it that way. I was written-up for being verbally abusive to my co-worker and this would be another nail in my coffin towards being fired from the job.

From Box Office to Boxing Ring

Upon learning that actor Sylvester Stallone had been inducted into the boxing hall of fame, I had to laugh. Doesn’t the sporting world understand that “Rocky Balboa,” is simply a character in a series of films?

Yes, I’ve heard all the rhetoric that Stallone has done much for the sport of boxing, but that’s like saying Stallone has done much for the Vietnam vet because he portrayed “John Rambo,” in “First Blood.” I hope that doesn’t mean he’ll get his name carved into the Vietnam Memorial Wall when he dies.

Stallone is a nice guy, the one time I met him.  He was filming an arm-wrestling movie called, “Over the Top,” at the Sparks Nugget, while I was working in the casino as a keno writer.

In “Over the Top,” Stallone portrays Lincoln Hawk, a widowed trucker trying to make amends with his son. As I recall, the son doesn’t think too much of him until he enters a wrestling competition in Las Vegas.

Yeah, Vegas — it’s not the first time Reno has doubled for Sin City, nor has it been the last. I must admit though, Stallone is shorter than I had expected, but I think that’s because of his on-screen persona and my own lack of height.

Now that the door has been opened to include actors in the boxing hall of fame, I’d like to nominate some of my own. The first would have to be Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull,” a film about an emotionally self-destructive boxer, whose temper takes him to the top in the ring, but destroys his life outside it.

Another film worthy of nomination would be, “The Hurricane.” This movie stars Denzel Washington portraying fighter Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and imprisoned for several years until he was cleared of the crime.

Then there is the performance of Will Smith as Muhammad Ali in the film, “Ali.” So far Smith is the only actor who has been able to capture the essence of arguably the greatest boxer in the late 20th century.

Lastly, I toss the movie, “Million Dollar Baby,” into the ring. Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank should both get a nomination nod for his portrayal of hardened trainer working a determined woman in her attempt to establish herself as a boxer, even though the movies ending is a bit hard to believe.

Maybe the whole idea should be TKO’d.

Puzzled

It was long weekend, meaning three days off from the rigors of continuous study. Michael Gorsline and I were invited to go spend some time at the Kelly Recreation Area north of San Antonio.

It was Tech-Sergeant Frank Joseph who had offered to take us out to the lake and he was also bringing a married couple along. Frank was the supervisor of Environmental Health Education at the School of Aerospace Medicine. 

We piled into his van and arrived at the lake’s edge around mid-morning. It was a typical central Texas summer day, hot and humid and we were all looking forward to getting into the water. 

After a day spent swimming and lounging in the sun, we had hamburgers and hotdogs, cooked over the campfire. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. 

While everyone slept in the van, I decided to take advantage of being outdoors and sleep under the stars. I chose a picnic table located near the van as my rack. 

The next day, Mike and I took a couple inner tubes we’d brought along for the occasion and made our way our way to the middle of the lake. There we got to talking about the regular stuff guy’s talk about. 

“I really think Becky’s cute,” I told Mike about the wife of the guy Frank had also invited. 

“Keep it down,” he scolded me, “Sound travels really well over water, you know.”

I poo-poo’d his notion as I believed we were too far out to be heard in camp.

It turns out Mike was right, and I’d find this out that night as I fell asleep on the table once again. Becky woke me up wanting to know if I really believed she was cute.

I told her that I did and I wouldn’t have said so, had I not meant it.

She then kissed me very gently on the lips, said goodnight and returned to the van. Neither of us spoke of it again for the remainder of the weekend.

I never saw Becky or her husband again after that weekend.

Both her question and her kiss left me puzzled for years after. I have since come to understand that there are something’s better not understood.

Bombs Over Brookings

While searching through a stack of old pictures of an antique store in the coastal Oregon town of Brookings, I found a photo I thought was rather curious.  I asked the owner of the store if she knew where the small, creased and aging black and white picture came from.

She told me that it was of a Japanese airplane and that it had played a historical role by being the only foreign aircraft to ever bomb the U.S. mainland.  She also told me, being a life-long Brookings native, that the bomb-site still existed and she gave me directions to the spot.

Furthermore, she told me her brother had taken the picture and that he still had the negative stored away in his home. I bought the picture, plus another of her brother leaning on a Duece-and-a-half, for a dollar each.

The 1942 Lookout Air Raids, as it was later dubbed by U.S. Intelligence, was not the last attack on the civilian population of the U.S. Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese Navy launched over 9,000 fire balloons toward North America.

Five children and a woman became the only deaths due to enemy action to occur in mainland America during World War II when one of the children touched a bomb from a balloon near Bly, Oregon and it exploded. The site is marked by a stone monument at the Mitchell Recreation Area in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Perhaps as retribution for the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, on September 9, 1942, a Japanese plane, a Yokosuka Glen, dropped a bomb just north of the Brookings Harbor area. The crew included Chief Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita and Petty Officer Shoji Okuda and their plane was launched from an offshore submarine.

Okuda would die in action later in the war while Fujita would return to civilian life. The bombing was commemorated in 1994 with an on-site historical marker, three years before Fujita passed away in his native Japan.

Imagine my disappointment to learn that the aircraft that attacked the town returned to the submarine, not once, but twice and didn’t crash somewhere north of Brookings, as the photo suggests.  Still, it wasn’t a bad sales pitch or a bad story for a couple of bucks.

Nevada’s Super Station

It had been a long and miserable day as I drove from Las Vegas to Reno. I had heard that there were to be snow flurries along U.S. 95, but I had no idea how bad those flurries would be after night fell.

Then my VW’s heater died. This was followed quickly by my windshield wipers.

I was about ready to give up, when I decided to turn on my radio and see what sort of country music stations I could find. It gave me something to do beyond worrying whether I’d be able to see the road ahead of me in the next couple of minutes.

Much to my surprise I heard a radio station that I had become familiar with over the number of times I traveled through and or had stayed in Nevada. At the time I was focusing my interests on returning to radio full-time and working at a country music station in particular.

I used that radio station’s signal to help bolster my flagging courage and survive my trek through the Silver State.

The following year I would get an opportunity — albeit short-lived — to work for that same station, known as KNSS or Nevada’s Super Station. I say short-lived because I was one of the airstaff members fired to make way for the new staff of KBUL.

Eventually, I’d get to work on air at KBUL as well. Such is the life of a radio broadcaster.

Painting Party

Periodically, I would hear Dad and my Uncle Ron Benedict laughing about how the cement bears that graced the new Klamath Bridge were painted gold and how the state would soon have to strip them of their unnatural color. I always had a suspicion that those two men were the one’s who were doing the deed so to speak.

However, I was trolling the Internet and found an article, written by an unnamed author that has cleared up much of what I believed of Uncle Ron and Dad. The tale told, lets them off the hook in this case.

It reads in part:  “…one evening in old Klamath, the town was starting to look awful tired.  A group of local businessmen (Herb Fehley, John Menary, Ray Thompson, Pat Murphy, Ward Berg, Johnny Rycraft and Bud Harper to name a few) were having a cocktail at one of the local pubs discussing things, when someone announced it was time for Klamath’s main street to have a face lift. 

So with brooms, mops, trash containers and general cleaning apparatus the group set out that night to rejuvenate the downtown area. The streets were swept, the litter removed, the windows washed and all the dust and cob webs were swept away.

One voice in the group muttered there needs to be one final touch. 

One voice said, “I’ve got some gold paint in the shed at home.” 

And another said, “I’ve got some brushes. Let’s paint those Bears Gold.” 

And so they did.”

It’s hard to believe isn’t it?  After all what man in his right mind voluntarily picks up a broom and starts sweeping.

The Figure on the Floor

Every athlete from Margaret Keating School was given an invitation to dinner at 7th Grade Teacher and Coach Jeff Neyenhouse’s home. The house used to belong to a fellow named Jack, who owned a fishing camp on the south side of the Klamath River.

The home, now owned by the Neyenhouse’s, was located north of DeMartins Beach and jus’ below Robin Kohse’s parents home along Highway 101. The house had a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean.

Shortly before we were to sitdown to dinner, we kid’s got to playing around with a few of the Neyenhouse’s decorative objects. One in particular held a fascination for many of us: a dark, wooden figure of a half-naked woman.

I was looking at it when Pat Patapoff took it away from me

He tucked the figure between his legs and was pumping his hips into the girls as if  he were having sexual intercourse with them. Everyone was laughing at his antics.

Seeing what Pat was doing, Mr. Neyenhouse told him that the figure he was playing with was a “fertility goddess.” Pat had no idea what the teacher was talking about, so Mr. Neyenhouse continued, “It’s supposed to help couples get pregnant.”

The look on Pat’s face said everything as the figure dropped from between his legs and to the carpet. He then walked into the kitchen and Mr. Neyenhouse picked the figure up and placed back on the shelf where it had been.