CHIEF HOPPERS SUNDAY SERMON

CHIEF HOPPERS SUNDAY SERMON

It was the Sunday morning after our first Navy Liberty. Just a few mere hours ago, Saturday night belonged to us and us alone along with four thousand other sailors. When we woke up, or should I say, came to, many of us had awful headaches. Some of us were in the head throwing up. There were a few black eyes in the crowd and, two or three of our guys smelled like very cheap perfume. In short the night was a big success. We all agreed that after six or seven weeks of boot camp it sure was great to get out and howl a bit.
Only one scandal besmirched the night of a thousand dreams. It seems that one of our guys got nailed by the Shore Patrol. What was rough, was that this guy, let’s call him Gronsky, was our flag bearer. Most of our drilling and marching routines centered round him. We were worried that without his expertise, we might not do to well in formation drill competitions. This could cost us valuable competition points.
Evidently, Gronsky had gotten, like most of us, way more than half tight while on liberty. He was evidently singing and, barfing in the train station when the shore patrol spotted him. We heard that he spent the night in the brig. That could mean that he’d maybe get sent back a whole week in training. We wouldn’t even see him again except maybe in passing on the parade grounds. We felt bad for the guy but, what could we do?
Our compartment needed a bit of a cleanup and our recruit master at arms hollered for us to get busy and police the place before our chief came by. One of us asked if we could see the tassels again that the girl at the theater threw his way. He said that the girl threw them his way because she liked him so much. We all thought that as fat as he was, she just wanted to see if he could swing them in different directions just like she could. A bit of a howling match ensued. We almost had our master at arms ready to stick the darn things on and spin them when our door sentry hollered, “ATTENTION ON DECK!!!!!”
Chief Hopper, our CO, entered our compartment shouting at the top of his lungs for all of us to get our pieces on the double. Man, he was mad. We climbed over top of each other in a crazed and panic filled dash for the rifle rack. By the way, in the Navy, a rifle is called a piece. Ours were impossible to shoot. I don’t think that they had firing pins. Even if they did, I don’t think they had triggers either. Mostly, they were used for drilling or exercising. There was this routine called the manual of arms where you stood in one place and moved the piece from one official looking position to another. Do this for an hour or more, and you could get very tired.
Chief called us to attention. We snapped to. Then, he told us to hold our piece out at arms length and, keep it there. The way he said it meant that even blinking was out until he said it was ok. If anyone let the piece drop even an eighth of an inch, he’d have killed us all. This was not a time to get away with anything. Not right now. Something very serious was on Chief Hoppers mind and he was about to tell us what it was. As we stood there in our underwear, reeking of booze and French fries, Chief Hopper started one of the worlds great speeches.
“Men!!! In this Navy, you will get to go on many, many, liberties. It’s one of the benefits of being a sailor. There are some basic rules of common decency that I assume your parents taught you when you were young. I know some of those rules you will promptly ignore the second your foot steps off the gangplank. You can always square that with your folks at a later date. If your dad was in the service, I’m sure he will understand. Hell, if your mother isn’t around, he might even smile and tell you about a few of the liberties he was on. Maybe he and your mom met when he was on liberty. It happens quite a bit.
Men! Some rules are meant to be broken. But then, there’s also rules that must never be broken. I’m going to give you that rule right now. Keep those pieces up!!!!
Whether you are land based or whether you are in a far off port of call. When you are on liberty, you never abandon your drunken shipmate to the shore patrol. NEVER!!!! You must do all in your power short of murder to get him back to his ship or the main gate. Last night Gronsky was with four of you and, when he was crawling on his hands and knees on the train platform, in his underwear singing Anchors Away as he barfed his guts up, he caught the attention of the shore patrol. He was then whisked away and brought back to base by them. I know that this kind of scene is nothing new to the shore patrol. They deal with it every night that sailors hit the streets. They certainly weren’t going to hurt Gronsky. He was safe in their hands.
BUT, HE WAS SAFER IN YOUR HANDS!!!! What if you were at a foreign port and you let him wander off drunk into an alley while you headed back to your ship? That might have been the last you ever saw of your shipmate. In this Navy, it’s all for one and one for all. If you don’t look out for each other, you won’t make it out of the service alive. We do not believe in every man for himself here. Do you understand???!!!”
A screaming, “YES SIR!!!!” Echoed through the building. It sure made sense to me. Boy did my arms ever hurt. Still couldn’t let that darn piece drop. Chief Hopper continued.
“It would have been better if all four of you with Gronsky at your side, pretended to be just as drunk as he was. At least then you could keep an eye on him and then if you all got thrown in a cell you could take turns making sure he didn’t fall asleep on his back and choke. I’d have been proud of you if you had done that. It would have shown that you knew the meaning of being shipmates. Of course, I’d have been even prouder of you if you had happened to outrun the shore patrol. That, would have been outstanding!
Chief Hopper told us to put our pieces down. That was a relief. As we groaned and rubbed our arms, he had one more thing to tell us.
“Men, we are in this together. We must look out for each other or we’ll sink! Do you understand?”
We gave out with a massive, “Yes Sir!!!”
Chief Hopper smiled and looked around the compartment. We got his message and were, for a brief while, forgiven. His gaze fell upon our Master At Arms. Chief just looked him over and shook his head and grinned. He had to ask a question. “Master at arms, why are you wearing tassels?”
Gronsky, our flag bearer, came back later that Sunday. He was a bit green still and didn’t eat much at mess call that night. Funny, but he had some tassels too. He didn’t remember getting them.
Sad to say that I didn’t have much of a future with the Navy. I was only in for a little over four months. I am technically a veteran but, not really. It’s always been a source of real shame for me. But Chief Hoppers message to us that Sunday morning when our head and arms hurt so bad, made a very big impression on me.
The idea that you should stick up for your shipmates is not a bad idea at all. This is especially true for any branch of the service. But, it’s also true for any police, fire, or rescue company as well. In fact, I don’t think that any of these groups could function long without that attitude. Chief Hopper knew his stuff and lived it too.
Eventually, I did find a way to serve my country as a volunteer member of a very busy rescue squad in the City of Wilson, North Carolina. We had some mighty wild calls in that city. We got through them nicely because each one of us was ready to do the job knowing that everyone else in our company was ready to help too if need be. The plan works. It permeates the very being of almost everyone who lives a life of service.
Even when you’re retired from a particular service group, the attitude sticks. Look at the good people of Operation Chillout for instance. Most everyone in that group is retired or discharged military. They could be out fishing all day I guess. I’m sure they get in their share of the fun things retired people do. But, they also remember that lesson my boot camp company got from Chief Hopper. Oh, their lesson may have come in some other manner. Great ideas can hit you from almost anywhere and in almost anyway. The source is a kind of well spring fountain. It just pops up and squirts you right between the eyes. Good life ideas are like that.
You know how Operation Chillout seeks out, finds, and helps homeless veterans. In essence, it’s no different than the basic idea of helping your drunken shipmate get back to the ship. It’s the very good idea of being your brothers keeper when need be.
Drunken sailors have shipmates. A lone police officer walking the beat once had his whistle. He now has a radio and get back up before you know it. There’s always a second ambulance ready to roll in a heartbeat. There’s always a group like Operation Chillout walking into an old abandoned railroad tunnel to see if a homeless veteran wants to get straightened out or at least needs some fresh water or a new pair of shoes.
Watching tassels is great fun. Still, be glad that there’s a lot of wonderful people out there who are watching your back when you’re watching someone elses back, who has his or her eyes on someone elses back, who has their eyes on someone elses…..well, you guessed it.

GOD BARKS AGAIN

GOD BARKS AGAIN
On many a dark night with the Sun on the opposite side of the planet and far from rising, I’ll just lay awake in the blackness and simply let thoughts run through my mind. I try to put the insomnia go to good use. I might lay there with my head on the pillow and figure out the next blurp I’ll be writing. Maybe my head will fester with one worry or another. A better night might be one where I’m all excited about the day ahead of me and I’ll be making plans for maximum enjoyment. Did you know it’s absolutely impossible to balance your check book in the dark? I’ve tried countless times. It’s impossible. There’s nights when I contemplate the day before and try to determine just what it was I ate earlier in the day that’s made me so horribly gassy. I get those nights quite a bit. Some nights I’ll ask God questions.
Take last night for instance. The awful heat wave we’ve been going through woke me up. The fan was trying to blow in some cool night air from outdoors but, its best efforts just weren’t good enough. It was so hot. All I could do was to lay there in my underwear. Forget the blankets. It was a night to get all sticky and clammy. With all that salt on me, the mosquitoes must have thought I was some kind of soggy potato chip. They did their worse. You should see the welts. The lumps were so big that I’m naming them after presidents.
I finally got the idea to forget these Earthly bonds and do something to increase my knowledge of the goodness of this planet and God’s good universe and realm. I figured, that if I laid real still and asked for divine guidance maybe God or one of His Angels would give me yet another clue as to what this existence is really all about. Every now and then, I think God likes to send a juicy clue to anyone who asks for His guidance. You just have to ask nicely and sincerely. If you don’t, God will mess with your head. Next thing you know you’ll be constructing temples to worship pigeons or worse, you’ll go into politics. Take my advice, and when you have a question for the Big Guy, always ask nicely. There’s nowhere to run when God has a bug up His tail.
I don’t know why but sometimes, when I get to talking to God, I get way too noble and use way too many Latin derived words. I also ask for way more information than I can really take in. I don’t really need to know the true nature of the universe. That’s for guys like Socrates. The big university doctorate papers just make me sleepy. God can just point out the simple things to me. Mostly, I’m just looking to hear that in this universe, what you see is what you get and, like it or not, I’m part of it.
For instance, I’d be fine, if He would just say to me, “Doc, that’s a tree. I invented it. Don’t climb it during a storm. If I make it real windy outside, maybe you shouldn’t stand under it either. Rake its leaves in the fall.” That’s all I really need to know.
So, last night, I was being way too high toned. If I knew Latin, I would have been chanting it. I got into a roll of asking what I could do to further world peace. I was practically willing to sacrifice myself to control every ailment known to man if only I knew how. If our Heavenly Father would only give me the insight to understand the universe and beyond, I’d would gladly wear rags and walk barefoot to the far corners of this cruel world risking great personal danger and undergoing extreme peril if it were to just please thee the creator of the universe and all its beings. You can imagine the conversation I was having in my darkened room laying there in my underwear. The angels must have been turning purple from laughing. I just hope they didn’t take a video and stick it on facebook. I find that I get this way when my money gets low.
I finally decided to ask God to give me a sign or maybe a signal to assign a chore for me to do. I said that I would act on that task without fail even if it meant my life. To tell the truth, I was kind of hoping that getting killed wouldn’t have to be part of the task. I then said that I would now lay back in silence and wait for Gods wish to be my command.
While waiting for my answer, I pictured myself speaking to Congress. I could see me driving through a torrential rain storm to warn Hackettstown that the Lake Hopatcong Dam had just given way. I pictured myself driving my van down Waterloo Road with my car horn going at full blast. Then, I decided that maybe God would want me to knock out the next great American novel but, what would my story line be?
Then it hit me that I was supposed to be laying there in silence waiting for God to speak. It hit me that maybe I should just shut up and listen. So, that’s what I did.
I laid there in the dark and kept real still and very quiet. Hot as it was, I was getting chills. The moment was near. My task was almost upon me. The darkness got darker. I wasn’t afraid but, I was shaking. My bedroom door rattled a bit. A flicker of light shone through from the other room. Something was on the other side of the door. Suddenly, the door flew open. I sensed that a strange being had entered my room in the dark. It approached my bedside.
I was correct. A very strange being was at my bedside. It was Millie our Bassett Hound. No one is stranger than her. She had to go out and pee. I told her to shoosh because I was busy talking to God. Millie didn’t care, she really had to pee. She wouldn’t shoosh! She even started to butt slide on the bedroom rug. That meant she was serious. God would have to wait. I’m sure He’d understand. He probably has a Bassett Hound too.
All of a sudden it hit me. Like it or not, God had sent me my orders. For that evening, it was my task to walk the hound. It was a simple task, yes. But, it was also a kindness to someone in a jam. I asked God just to be sure. Millie whined one more time. That was an affirmative from the big guy. World peace would have to wait.
Outside in the dark, standing there in my underwear while Millie sniffed out just the right spot, I looked up at the sky. A storm had just passed by and only a few stars were out. I got to thinking that anyone with half a brain could see that it’s a very big universe that we live in. It’s a big universe made up of lots of little tiny parts. You know atoms, protons, and stuff. Without those little particles, there’s no universe. Millie sniffed around for yet another target zone as I thanked God for His simple little lesson that somehow registered in my tiny simple little brain.
Our lives are a sort of universe too. Kindness is one key ingredient. Those simple kind acts have a real way of adding up. Next thing you know you’ve gone from walking your dog in the dark as mosquitos rip you to shreds, to world peace.
Did you ever notice that dog is God spelled backwards?

MY MOST RECENT FORTUNE COOKIE

MY MOST RECENT FORTUNE COOKIE

The Chinese restaurant in my town has the best all white meat chicken chow mein on earth and beyond. Even God gets his chow mein there just like us mortals. I think God and a few of his angels get a booth in the corner when he drops by for the afternoon. He kind of slumps out of view in the back there. Thanks to the high booth walls in the place, about all you see is a bit of His halo. Most folks just mistake the halo to be an off center table lamp. You can just imagine the fuss it would create if word got out He was there eating so, the staff does what they can to keep this quiet. I did hear that God is a great tipper. I guess it goes with the territory. They sure is a lot of laughing at that table.
Being a mere mortal, I get my chicken chow mein to go. I often call in my order. Sometimes, on a whim, I just drop by and sit on one of the benches near the front window and read the paper while they’re cooking my stuff. One thing I like is that if you come in near quitting time, the owner of the place lets you take the newspaper home with you. This works for me. My wife Sandy is always looking for wrapping paper for her flea market stuff. If I time things right, I can get her enough newsprint to take care of about three milk crates worth of stuff. There’s nothing like a win win situation at the end of a busy day.
Before I can get even one article read in the paper, the owner comes over to me with this giant brown bag of food. I’m always surprised by just how much I get for the measly six bucks or so it all cost me. There’s usually someone on the bench who ordered takeout for a family get together. They get so much that they have to go out back to the loading dock and wait for the fork lift to put it into their station wagon. To deliver for this place, you need to have a Commercial Drivers License and be qualified on eighteen wheelers. By the way, if you go there with a large family or group, you have to sit at the table with the reinforced steel beams for legs. A regular dining table just can’t take the stress load. Bring your wallet too. A normal meal for ten starving people might just set you back maybe a whopping fifty bucks. Now you see why God eats there. He knows a great place when he sees one and, he’s seen them all.
So, finally I get home and start to unpack the bag. Remember, I only ordered Chicken Chow Mien and, I took a few newspapers. Have you ever seen a great magician pull all this stuff out of a top hat sitting on a table? That’s sort of what it’s like to get to your food when you’re dealing with Chinese takeout. Houdini probably got the idea from ordering lo mein when he was touring the orient.
The food’s on the bottom so, you have to start excavating. There’s the menu you filled out for your order. There’s a receipt. There’s a fresh menu for your next order. Then there’s a bag of plastic forks and spoons. It’s a nice grouping of implements. Deeper down, there’s a clear bag full of duck sauce and hot mustard in little tubs. Just under them, you’ll find a bag full of little sealed tubes of soy sauce and more mustard and duck sauce. If you go down deeper into the bag, you may need to get a flashlight to find the bag full of fortune cookies. Next to them is a small container of steamed rice. It’s small but don’t let that fool you. I don’t know how they pack it in there but, that little container about the size of your fist has enough rice in it to feed the entire sixth fleet for a month.
Finally you get down to the mother lode. You’ve hit food, glorious food. You go to pull it out but, the containers are somehow stuck to the inner walls of the bag. The containers won’t come out. You can’t even get your pinky between the edge of the container and the inner bag wall. By this time, most folks are getting weak. Most have to summon what remaining strength they have left and tear at the bag in one last burst of desperation. That often does the trick. Me, I keep a box slitter handy. I’m usually forced to use it.
Soon, the food is in my bowl steaming away. Funny, but in winter and after a long multi stop drive home to do extra chores, with the bag of food waiting on a cold car seat near a passenger window that’s frozen open, and even after dropping the bag in snow, the first bite of chow mein always burns my tongue. I’ll bet the words, “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” is an ancient Chinese proverb.
Much like Eskimos use every last part of a seal they’ve hunted, nothing I take home from the Chinese Restaurant will go to waste. I find a use for each and every item. Even the bag will at least be used for loose garbage. If I had to tear the bag apart as I’m often forced to do, I’ll at least flatten it out and use it as a vapor or fume barrier in our kitchen garbage can. There’s a special drawer in the cabinets just for bags of Chinese mustard, soy sauce, and tea bags. I have hundreds of those little tubes and tea bags. If you ever need some, just holler. Leftovers go back into the containers they were packed in. Have you ever eaten your fill from a particular container, only to find that the leftovers won’t fit back into the box? They really know how to pack their stuff tight in China.
About the only thing I’ve generally thrown out after a meal was the fortune cookie. I really don’t know why I would do that. Fortune cookies really aren’t that bad. I guess I felt like my stomach would explode if I took one more bite so, I just threw them out. I was actually being stupid really. You can do a lot with the average fortune cookie. There’s quite a few things you could stuff them with once you have a bunch of them on hand. You could use ice cream, mashed potatoes, cannoli filling, corned beef hash, chocolate, turkey stuffing, or just let your imagination run wild. The possibilities are infinite.
Of course there’s the fortune that’s waiting inside for you as well. In the true spirit of waste nothing, the little printed fortune has something for you on both sides of the paper waiting for you inside the cookie. One side has a nice little fortune or maybe a word of advice for you to heed. The opposite side has a kind of extra bonus. They give you your own personal lucky number to use for your next lottery pick.
So, the other day, one of the lottery payouts was through the roof. I was working at touching up the dairy case at the supermarket I work at and wondering just how I would pick a number for the drawing for next evening. It’s hard enough to hit something as simple as a pick three lottery. Those mega millions games are almost impossible. Good luck has to play a part. I had to think of something to increase my luck.
I thought about praying but, I figured that God or the Angels would probably turn deaf ears to that kind of thing. Even if they didn’t, it would still be a matter of get in line and wait your turn. Someday, I’d like to see Heavens’ tally on just how many lottery prayers come in on game night. There’s got to be billions of calls. Even if they wanted to help just you over everyone else, how could they? I mean lottery winning just comes from luck and that’s it. Oh, I’m sure God could make the numbered balls come up exactly in your favor but then, what happens to luck? Luck would be short circuited and luck, especially good luck would be the worst for it. I would imagine that God would put the Kabosh on messing with luck. It would take a lot of the fun out of day to day life. No, I figured praying was out. Luck would have to do.
Luck, good and bad, thrives on hot tips and intuition. I was in the middle of neatening up the cheddar cheese display when an idea hit me. You might want to call it an urgent kind of intuition. Somehow something just came out of the blue and told me to go to my kitchen cabinet and look at the shelf where I keep all my Chinese food take out leftovers. Something in my mind then said that I would find an old forgotten fortune cookie behind the teabags. I was instructed to find the cookie unseal it and find an important message inside that was waiting for me.
At quitting time, I flew out the door and ran like a mad man to my van. I had to hurry and get to that lone fortune cookie. What if my wife Sandy had finally had enough and decided to clean out my Chinese food shelf once and for all? She’d been threatening action. Back home, I ran through the front door and vaulted over Millie our Bassett Hound on my rush to the kitchen. I tore open the cabinet door and sighed with relief. The shelf was just as I left it a couple of weeks ago. But, was the premonition right? Was there a fortune cookie hidden behind the pile of tea bags? I brushed a few tea bags to one side and then a few more. Pop! There it was. Sealed in plastic was an old fortune cookie from a year or two ago. It may have been there even longer. No matter, there it was. The hunch was right. Pay dirt. I could almost smell the hundred dollar bills floating through my fingers.
I released the cookie from its bag and held it in my left hand as I stroked it with the fingers of my right hand. A tiny tip of the fortune peeked out from behind the crisp cookie shell. I gently removed it taking care to not hurt the cookie itself. Once the strip of paper was safely in my hand, without thinking, I popped the cookie into my mouth. For a four year old cookie, it wasn’t too bad. Maybe it was a little soggy but, really, I didn’t care. I was too busy reading.
I was looking for the lucky numbers. They were kind of tiny. The ink was faded after all these years but the numbers showed up clear enough. They were, in exact order….17-46 -1 – 5 -40 -13 !!!! My hands shook as I wrote the numbers down on an index card. I put the card in my pocket and figured I’d have time enough to get my winning ticket in the morning for the lottery drawing tomorrow night. I ate supper and went to bed and slept like a Bassett Hound.
Morning came soon enough. I found myself daydreaming as I dressed for the day. I’d get the ticket at the courtesy counter in the super market where I work. I got to the store early and was the first person in the lottery ticket line. I figured that was a good omen. The girl selling tickets was a friend of mine so, I shared my story with her. I even showed her the fortune itself. I told her how it was from a four year old fortune cookie. She was impressed. She also was a bit grossed out that I ate that four year old cookie. She wondered if fortune cookies got soggy after all that time. I told her they did. She kind of made a face similar to the one my wife Sandy made the night before. I guess it’s a girl thing. I felt it would be a great idea to fold the lottery ticket up neat with the fortune inside the folds. I did that and put the whole mess into my wallet and hit the dairy case. The rest of the day was spent in daydreams of what I’d do with all that money. I sure felt lucky to have a lucky ticket in my ratty old lucky wallet. For the moment, life was good. No, make that Life was Great!!
The next morning after a night of wonderful dreaming, I went to the lottery web site to check my number and see just how much I won after taxes. You can imagine my shock when I found that my ticket was worthless. Not even one number came up last night. Not even one. i just stared at the ticket as trips to Disney World faded from view. My own private family Amtrak Parlor Car went right off the rails and into a ravine and took my dreams with it. Fickle dreams of fortune drifted away and slipped under the bed with the dust bunnies.
I tore up the ticket. It’s in my overflowing trash box now, right near my feet. Remind me to empty that box soon. It’s getting kind of full. I was ready to throw the fortune into the trash box too. I had it in my hand ready to flick. But, before I could do that, I remembered that the paper had some writing on the other side. Writing that I had missed. Writing that might just set the matter straight. Maybe the writing contained instructions that I failed to carry out. Writing and information that might just give me a second chance. A second chance at the good life. I flipped the paper over and started to read.
The print was really tiny but, I smiled at what I read. “Smile, it makes your day brighter as well as the days of those around you.” Once again the light bulb over my head ignited.
If I had to pick the side of the fortune cookie slip that could create the most riches I think I’d have to say that it wasn’t the list of lucky numbers. I’ve seen some happy millionaires in my day. There’s some out there of course. But so many folks with gobs of loot find that a worry comes with every penny they own. It’s great to have enough money for sure but, more than enough can be a problem. The money well can dry up.
And yet a person who can generate a grin finds that the smiles are bountiful and unlimited. They seem to come from this big bottomless wallet or well spring of toothy grins and laughter. One smile makes two. Two makes ten. Ten makes a hundred. You get the idea. There’s only so much money but, smiles have eternity on their side.
Remember how I said in jest how God eats at that Chinese Restaurant I like so much. Maybe it wasn’t a jest after all. I didn’t see it happen but, I wonder if when the host was coming out with my bag of Chow Mein, if God didn’t call him over just for a second. Could He have slipped that wise fortune cookie into my bag of food? The cookie that showed me that numbers don’t always add up but, smiles do. I wonder? There sure was a lot of laughing at that table.

TWO NICE RIDES

TWO NICE RIDES

It was time to shut down the tunes and start cleaning up the mess I made at the Goodfellows Cruise night. I’m not the neatest dee jay there ever was. I play neat songs. But, I don’t play neat. Coffee cups, loose wires, record jackets, candy bar wrappers, cd cases and just general debris always surround me by the end of a gig. I played the last song and thanked everyone for coming out. Some folks had already left but, a few nice cars were still in the lot. When I’m packing up, I like to look them over.
There’s a busy supermarket about a hundred yards away in this shopping center. It gets a lot of shoppers who come and go during the three or four hours that the cruise night is running. Some of these customers will ride by the cruise night and give us the thumbs up as they head for the store’s neighboring parking lot. Every now and then, before they go in to shop, they’ll stroll among the hot rods and drool. I always like seeing their expressions and smiles. I love the cars too but, I see them all at least a few times each week. Seeing the spectators from the supermarket going all gaga for these beauties reminds me just how special these cars really are.
I went back to my packing up. I was just getting one of my heavy speakers off the tripods and secured into the back of my van when I heard a far off rattle, bang, and squeak kind of sound. From being a supermarket worker myself, I knew right away that a beat up shopping cart was heading my way and was about seventy feet off to my left. I turned in the direction of the sound. Sure enough, I was right. Gosh, but it was squeaky.
To add to the racket, there were two young boys in the carts basket. Their Mom was pushing as they hollered for her to go faster. There weren’t too many food items in the cart so, Mom turned on the steam and let out with a loud “rummm! rummmm! RUMMMMM!!!”
She even lifted the front of the cart to make it do a wheelie. Her two boys went nuts and grabbed the front of the cart basket so they wouldn’t fall back. The two brothers, who I guess were about three and maybe five years old, had to be the two happiest kids on Earth just then. They hung on for dear life with one hand and waved the free hand like they were bronco riders. Their smiles could not have gotten any bigger. They were heading to the cruise night like drunken cow hands heading into Dodge City on Saturday night. Good thing they didn’t have shooting irons.
Mom slowed down when they got near the hot rods. She had to be pooped. That was all right with her boys. The two of them were busy looking at what few cars remained. One guy who was leaving in a muscle car from the seventies revved his engine and laid a long patch of tire track rubber on the pavement. There was lots of smoke and noise. The two boys were in heaven.
One of the old timers walked over to the family and asked if the boys would like to sit in his street rod for a minute. Mom said yes. You’d have thought that the cart was a sinking ship. They were pretty little guys, but, that didn’t stop them from going over the side as fast as possible and running over to the hot rod. They had to give Mom their candy bars first and then, up they climbed into the cockpit of the coupe. They just stood on the seat and spun their little heads. They even got to touch the steering wheel. I don’t know who was happier, the young boys standing on the seat or the old man, standing next to his hot rod. Looking at the situation, I think they were all equally happy.
Me, I was watching memories forming and, memories floating back. Someday, those boys will have a car too and, they’ll let a kid or two stand on the seat as they remember the old guy who let them stand in his car as he remembered back when he was young and how some old guy let him stand in his old bomb. The road just gets longer.
Mom hollered that the hamburger in the cart was getting too warm. It was time to thank the nice man and get home. The two boys climbed out of the car and headed for the ground. They jumped off the running board and went over to their Mom. They didn’t need any help to climb into their present ride, the shopping cart. When they were finally holding the front of the basket, Mom pushed slowly until they were not so close to the remaining hot rods. The boys looked back at the old timer and said thank you.
With that, Mom raised the front end of the basket and the boys peeled out with a squeal. They held on tight and looked back as they hollered, “We’ll be back!!!”
You know? I think they will be back.

LIFE AND THE 57 CHEVY

LIFE AND THE 57 CHEVY
It might have been a couple weeks ago at a Cruise Night in a nearby parking lot when I noticed two very cool 57 Chevys come rumbling through the gate. I paused from wiring my mixing board and just stared as they growled past me. I thought how after so many decades, there they were still turning heads and burning tires out on the road. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy seeing all the wild vehicles that come to any and all of the car events I do. From T Buckets, to Limos from the 1930’s, 70’s Muscle Cars, and everything in between, they’re all jaw droppers. They’re all my favorites. Still, a 57 Chevy just somehow has my number. I went back to wiring my board and soon lost myself in thought and started to drift back into the fall of 1956.
Before I knew it, I drifted back to our little house on Cherry Street in Iselin, NJ right next to the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline. The southbound Capital Limited had just roared by at ninety miles an hour leaning into a turn as the engineer sounded the horn. My family and I were waiting for the house to stop shaking. As the trains horn faded off into the South, we could finally hear the television again. The Dinah Shore Chevy Show was just beginning. I was ten years old and my kid brother Ed and I were eating popcorn like there was no tomorrow.
Dinah Shore was at full screen and singing her heart out about how we should see the USA in our Chevrolet. This was one of her mid September Wednesday night shows. She was dancing in front of what looked to be a car with a tarp covering it. I may be wrong but, I think an armed Brinks Guard stood watch over the car. He stood between Dinah and what was reported to be the only 1957 Chevrolet on Earth. He didn’t smile. Dinah’s talent, beauty, and flirtations had no effect on the man. His mission was clear. Keep the tarp covering that ‘57 Chevy in position until a predetermined Friday in October when Dinah would host a special Friday night edition of her Chevy Show. This would be the night the entire world would cheer as the tarp was pulled away and all America got to cast its eyes upon the all new Chevrolet for 1957. Till that night the uniformed guard was to shoot on sight anyone who was so foolish as to take even one little peek under that cover.
My brother Ed and I wondered out loud if that guard would shoot Dinah Shore dead right there on national TV if she rushed the tarp and tried to yank it off the car before the big day. Our father said for us both to quit being so foolish. I can still hear my father’s exact words. “Of course he’d shoot her. No one gets near that car until Chevy Night. It’s his sworn duty.”
My mother, bless her gentle soul, thought out loud that the guard would probably just teach her a lesson and wing her in the foot. Our Dad wasn’t that sure. He felt that it would really hurt GM if the Chevy design features got out early. Jobs would be lost if the cat got out of the bag.
Mom thought she saw the guard the other night as an extra playing one of the privates in Sargent Bilko’s motor pool. I kind of agreed with Mom. My kid brother Ed started whining that he wanted to be able to stay up late and watch Sargent Bilko too. There was an awful lot of shouting back and forth in the living room until Dinah started singing Dear Hearts and Gentle People.
The rule was that everyone had to shut up when Dinah was singing. This was mom’s rule. To break it meant no TV Time popcorn for a week. Heaven knows what my father might have had to be forced to do without for a week if he broke the rule too. That was between him and Mom. All, I know is that it was Moms hard and fast rule that when Dinah Shore started to sing there was to be silence in the Peanut Gallery.
Hype was a kind of new thing back in those days. Advertising agencies worked overtime whipping the American family into a frenzy of desire for everything from sneakers to cereal. There was this nationwide desire afoot to be the first kid on the block to own the next latest and greatest trinket large or small. The Chevy for 1957 was no exception to the rule. I think that very few people outside of the Chevy work force knew what the car would even look like. No matter, we still wanted one in the worst way and would have bought one sight unseen and gladly paid double for it. You could cut the lust with a knife.
It seemed to take forever but eventually, the big night finally came. If you somehow had been stuck in a fallout shelter for the past two months and, were climbing out of its double sealed hatch on Chevy Night, it would have looked like you had actually averted death by radiation sickness. It would have seemed that you were the last person left on Earth as you walked through your vacant town.
There would have been no sign of your neighbors walking in the park across the way. Stores would have been closed and boarded up. Maybe a lone traffic light might still be changing colors but to no avail. There would have been no traffic on the street to control. With tear filled eyes, you would have finally spoke under your breath that we had finally done it to ourselves as you read the sign on the Chevy dealers front window. I can see the sign in the window now. GET YOUR 57 CHEVY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. ATOMIC SALE STARTS AT SUNRISE. DON’T BE LEFT BEHIND. I could see how it might seem like the Commies saw that sign and launched before we did. You’d look through the big window into the Chevy Dealers showroom. All you’d see is cars covered with tarps. Panic would set in as you ran to the food market hoping there might still be maybe a can of beans left on the shelf that wasn’t glowing in the dark. As you ran, no one heard your screams.
Actually, no one could possibly hear your screams. Everyone on the planet was in their living rooms watching the Dinah Shore Chevy Spectacular. For crying out loud, the big night was finally here and, this show was not to be missed.
And oh, what a show it was! Present day Super Bowl halftime shows have nothing on what Dinah had in store for her fans. Chevy dealers probably had to mortgage their souls for the tab this talent filled mob scene had to cost. Jimmy Durante and Mitch Miller leading the parade walking arm in arm with a live Statue of Liberty wearing red white and blue tights over these beautiful legs. She had sparklers coming out of her crown. Wait! No look. The Statue of Liberty is really Dinah Shore. Look at her kick! Behind them, it’s Mitch Millers Chorus marching in step with the June Taylor dancers. Jackie Gleason drove a bus onto the stage with Norton, Alice, and Trixie waving out the window. Phil Silvers as Sargent Bilko with all of his motor pool wearing ballet slippers instead of combat boots and pulling a howitzer on stage from the wings. They fired it 57 times over the heads of every active member of congress who were dressed in grass skirts and coconut bras and dancing some kind of South Seas saber dance. By the way, the only song sung as this twenty minute cavalcade of stars and celebrities passed by was See the USA in You’re Chevrolet. The point was well made.
I could go on but, I’d be here forever. The stage parade just took an eternity but, who cared. All this led to the big moment when Dinah Shore twirled up to the armed guard and gave him a great big kiss. He handed her the keys to the Chevy and reached down to grab a section of the tarp. He put the edge of the tarp in her hand as stage hands in tuxedos came out to help Dinah with the heavy pulling. At least a thousand drums roared as Dinah lifted the edge of the tarp higher. There was a pause and silence and then as trumpets blared, Dinah swirled back taking the tarp with her. The Chevy for 1957 glistened under spotlights and huge sparklers. There was a hush. Actually, it was a long hush. Then, a rumble grew nationwide and engulfed the world as a roar. It was a roar of adoration. All over the world, people went nuts. The Chevy for ’57 met all expectations. It lived up to the hype. That night we witnessed a miracle in chrome. It was a vision with tailfins. Oh God but it was beautiful.
It was announced that Chevy Dealers would be open early on Saturday morning at eight o’clock sharp. My father said that we’d be there at seven. It was time for bed. We were going to need all our strength when the sun came up.
Even at seven in the morning there was a line out the door at our Chevy Dealer. It was only a few hundred yards long. We guessed it wasn’t too bad considering. By lunch time we were almost to the door. Extra salesmen were on hand and were working the line. Each guy in the sales force wore these dark blue suits that were too small for them. Their guts hung over their belts and they wore loafer with pennies in the tongues for good luck. All the guys smoked and they sure could talk fast. They were also expert hand shakers. It was almost like they were the sales equivalent to an out of shape football team. My brother and I saw one guy who had a salami sandwich in his suit pocket. Mustard was dripping down his jacket. He was the guy who spotted our father first.
Did I mention that our father was a salesman too? Well, he was and, he was darn good at it too. He knew all the tricks. My brother Ed and I stood back and watched. This was going to be a clash of the titans. After the handshake the gloves came off. It was thrust and parry, deal and counter deal. Sometimes, our father would head for the door. Just as he almost got us out of the smoke filled showroom and into the fresh air, we’d hear our salesman holler out a number. We’d stop for a second and look at the old man, at just the right length of pause and with the timing of a Newt Rockney he’d shake his head no and tell us to keep going and head for the door. Our salesman ran over and blocked the door with his clip board pointing out a bunch of numbers at the bottom of a page. Over the rumble and roar of the crowd, my brother Ed and I heard the old man say, “That’s more like it! You got a deal.” The two worthy opponents shook hands and had a drink of something from a bottle that was in the salesmans coat pocket.
We walked out into the open air. It smelled kind of odd to be out of all that cigarette smoke. Ed and I were going crazy. The old man just bought a ’57 Chevy. Wow!!! We just knew that we were going to be the first kids on the block to have one. Gosh but, life was good. The display lot was just across the street. Our Dad asked if we wanted to go see our new car. He didn’t have to ask. We ran across the highway all three of us together. Angry horns honked at us but, we didn’t care.
We got into the lot and as we were brushing ourselves off I looked at a sign that hung over the lot we were in. Ed saw it too but, he was too young to read. Still, he didn’t like the look that was coming over my face as I read the sign. He watched me as I mouthed the words, “used car lot.” We looked around the lot. It was full of all kinds of old cars. No 57’s here. Things weren’t looking up but, the old man was in heaven. He pointed to a car a few rows in and off to the right. We headed that way and stopped at a battleship grey ’56 Buick Special.
“There it is boys. That’s our new car. I’ve been watching it for weeks and waiting for my chance. Today was the exact right day to hit ’em. Oh man did I get us a deal. What do you think guys?”
We almost started crying right in the lot. It certainly wasn’t a Chevy. It was just a grey old Buick. Gosh a whole year old too. Ed’s nose started to run. My father noticed and got out his handkerchief. He squatted down next to us and started wiping Ed’s nose.
“You guys don’t like it huh?” My nose started to run. He wiped my nose too and spoke. ” Don’t you guys see? This was the perfect time to get this car. Just like you two, everyone wants one of those ’57 Chevys and, when they go to buy one, they don’t care how much it costs. They’re being suckers. Right, now no one wants this year old Buick. In fact it’s taking up a lot of room on this dealerships lot. The dealer needs room for the Chevys and he practically paid me to get it off his lot and out of his way. I only had to pay two hundred bucks for this car and it’s in great shape. It gets good mileage too. I think something like five miles to the gallon. Think of all the money we’re going to save. We’ll be able to go to Lavalette at the shore for maybe two weeks with all I saved. What do you think of that?” He waited for an answer.
I thought fast. “Would there be any money left over for a trip to Bertrands Island too?” Hey, I could cut a deal too.
My nose snorted a little as our father shook his head yes. “I bet I even have a bit left over for hot dogs on the way home. You guys ready for lunch?”
Well, we certainly were ready for hot dogs. We were always ready for hot dogs. As we ate in the hot dog joints parking lot we watched cars going buy. Some 57 Chevys drove past and we cheered. Funny though, not too many of them stopped in for a hot dog.

LESSONS FROM COLONEL HOUSEL

LESSONS FROM COLONEL HOUSEL
Hod Housel spent a long and interesting time on this planet. I doubt that life ever bored him.
After ninety five plus years of life with us, Hod recently passed away. It just happened the other day.
I didn’t really get to know him that well. However, I was lucky to get the chance to interview him once on the radio and once for my web station.
His stories were some of the best I’ve ever been told. He joined the United States Army back when there was Horse Artillery. During World War Two, he served as a tank commander in Patton’s Third Army. During the Battle of the Bulge, he and his squad found themselves in a burned out tavern in highly contested territory. It was Christmas Eve and there were Germans all around. His squad had a fiddle player in it. There was a fiddle handy and they started playing and singing Christmas Songs. They even played German Christmas carols. The Germans within ear shot encouraged them to keep playing. An unofficial truce was called. The Germans left in the night. I guess it might have been the only truce called during the Battle of the Bulge.
When I heard that Hod had passed away, I felt compelled to write something nice about him to honor his life. The only thing I had to work with was the interview we did together. I went over the one hour show in my mind and came up with these few words of wisdom from Hod. I’m sure his long and fruitful life produced many more words of inspiration. At least this is a small step in the right direction. What follows is not Hod’s words exactly. These words come from my listening to Hod’s stories and then, trying to get a feel for what those stories told me about his view of life. I greatly admire how he spent his days here and hope that I do him justice.
HOD ON LIFE
1. When a problem rears its ugly head, there’s no sense worrying about it. Whatever you’re up against, it will either lick you or, it won’t. If it licks you, it licks you. No big deal. If it doesn’t lick you, it doesn’t lick you. No big deal. The big deal is that you tried your best.
2. If God tells you to head north, head north but, take your time. If General Patton tells you to head north, head north as fast as you can.
3. Christmas Eve in a bombed out icy building surrounded by the enemy can be fun if there’s a fiddle handy.
4. Trust in first impressions. Trust in reflexes. Trust that others far away will do things right. In fact, trust lots of things. Trust that God can see in the dark, even when you can’t.
5. Accept gratitude with gratitude.
6. Find some way to get music into your life.
7. Understand that God, or one of his angels, will now and then get you out of a jam.
8. It’s OK to be afraid. Just keep your eyes open.
9. It’s Ok to not be afraid. Just keep your eyes open.
10. Love your family, and your friends, like God loves you.
11. Remember that no human gets off this planet alive but, angels and spirits do.
12. Write this down. Remember to remember as much as you can. Don’t forget this.
13. Tell stories every chance you get.
14. Listen to stories every chance you get.
15. People need machinery. Machinery needs people.
16. It’s ok to start. It’s ok to be in the middle. It’s ok to stop.
17. Old people know what they’re talking about. Listen carefully.
I’m fairly certain that Hod would agree with my assessment of these views of his. If nothing else, he’d find them interesting and then he’d just start laughing at my foolishness. Worse, he might sit down and listen to an hour’s worth of my jabber jawing, and try to analyze me. God Bless him though. He was such a good person.

JUST PLAYING SONGS ON A GREAT DAY

JUST PLAYING SONGS ON A GREAT DAY.

It was evening on the Fourth of July, and rain had been falling on and off for an hour or so. It was just a light rain and, as hot as the day was, it kind of felt good. Well, it felt good to anyone who wasn’t involved with putting on the fireworks show. To us, the rain was a definite thorn in the rump. That’s putting it mildly.
As you might easily guess, I was playing songs for the crowd. I had also been trying to webcast the event as well. The first few raindrops ended my webcast on the spot. I had to hurry to cover the computer with my emergency drizzle towel. The rain got just a bit stronger so, I had to reach under the towel and work the buttons and dials into a shutoff. Luckily, the computer stayed dry and I was able to get it into its carrying case. The computer, now safe in its bag went under the passenger side dashboard on the dry side of the closed passenger window.
Now, I had to deal with the dee jay equipment. That stuff can’t get wet either. It’s never happened to me but, I think you can get your hair curled nicely if you grab a microphone the wrong way with wet hands. Rainwater gushing into my mixing board while it’s on could only end in tears. Add to that, the fact that my records and cd’s were getting a nice shower too. The only solution was to stuff it all.
Oh, I don’t mean to imply that it was time to “stuff it all” and quit. I was definitely not about to quit. Heck, the firework guys said that the rockets and bombs were all in their launching tubes. Once the pyrotechnics are in “the hole” it’s a very bad idea to try to take them out by hand unless you like the nickname Crusty. You might get some of them out but, sooner or later something’s going to go horribly wrong. Sure, it might be a spectacular blast but, not if you’re in the middle of it. In other words, the show had to go on and that’s that. The soundman, Bill and I thought that, raining or not, it would really draw a crowd if the fireworks guys just let it be known that they were going to push the master button and let it all go at once. Rain or not, that would really draw a crowd. I would think half the state would come out for that one. Luckily, we were overruled. Cooler heads prevailed and a nuclear disaster was diverted.
No, by “stuff it all,” I simply meant that the sound man and I would have to get busy and stuff everything into our respective vehicles while continuing to play the songs uninterrupted. It ain’t an easy thing to do. We went to work. The turntable, mixing board and cd players were already in the back of my van with the hatch open. I just pushed them back farther away from the roof drips and, put a light towel over the mixing board and microphone. I had the hatch ready to close if the rain got any harder. In that event, I could just start playing an album side for the crowd and put the hatch down.
Earlier that week, I decided that I only needed maybe just a case of albums and maybe a small box or two of cd’s for the entire show. By show day, that theory was totally out the window. I kept deciding how I wanted to play this song or that. One thing led to another.
By the time I left the driveway on the fourth, I think I had five milk crates full of LP’s, nine boxes of cd’s, and four shoeboxes of 45’s. All in all, that would mean that I was bringing something like forty days worth of music to play at best, for a four hour gig. I hate when I do that kind of thing but, I’ll never learn. So, now, records and cd’s totally took up the driver and passenger section of my van with another layer piled up behind the front seats. Each and every one safe and sound behind closed doors and sealed windows. This left no room for my safe haven. About all I could do was make plans to slip under the van if a downpour came. I know that would have been a bad idea. But, by then I wasn’t thinking straight.
The soundman, needed help with his control panel, amps and speakers. We started lugging them into the back of his truck. It took a while but in due time, his speakers were playing and the amps and generators were chugging along safe and dry. During this whole time, the tunes never stopped. The music played on and, not one piece of equipment shorted out. We were both soaked of course and getting wetter. But all was well.
In a way, we both felt kind of proud of our selves. I remember we both slapped five and smiled. About a hundred yards off, the fireworks guys launched a big one. We could hear it hiss as it ascended. We were getting near sundown so a flash of light burst upon us followed by a huge blast. It was one of those blasts that you can feel in your belly. The crowd went nuts and started cheering.
The rain slowed down a bit. This allowed me to open the hatch and front doors to my van. I found a copy of a very early recording of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. There’s a drum solo in the song that puts artillery barrages to shame. I’m not sure who the drummer was but, oh boy. Bill the sound guy, cranked the volume on my suggestion. We stood back and took it in. When the drum solo came, people stopped what they were doing and listened. Some folks cheered. Satchmo would have been proud and smiling that smile of his. It was like machine guns and bombs going off but a whole lot friendlier.
I saw one of the fireworks committee members heading our way. This fellow is a great guy. I think he’s retired from a carrier in the Marines. I think he had some rank there too. He was walking straight for us and smiling.
The way he walked made me think that he had a message from HQ. I could tell he had our orders. Bill and I stood as straight as waterlogged sound people can. We forgot to salute. But, we did smile. The Marine told us that we had fifteen more minutes to play. Then, at exactly, 21 hundred hours, the field lights would go out. That would be our signal for me to play the National Anthem. He paused a minute and looked at me. He asked what version of the Anthem I was planning to play. He looked pretty serious as I told him that I had Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl Performance ready to go. He smiled and said how that was a good one. I told him how the announcer is also on the recording introducing Whitney and saying how after she sings a flyover of F-14 fighter jets will buzz the field. Bless his heart but he really smiled at that news. In fact he laughed out loud grinning from ear to ear. He hollered, “That’s perfect! Good going you two.” I think he was going to put us in for a commendation back at HQ! He said he just couldn’t wait for the show to start. We synchronized our watches and, he went back to headquarters.
There was a bit of time left yet and, I looked out over the fields at all the folks who came to see the fireworks. I saw people young and old, this or that color, rich and poor. All of them sharing their proud heritage of being Americans. They were eating hot dogs and fat pretzels. Some dads were playing catch with their kids. Some young couples were sitting on soaked beach blankets smooching. A few Boy Scouts brought us each a free pretzel and a bottle of water just to say thanks. For that moment as I looked over the crowd I thought how honored I was and lucky to be even just a little part of this wonderful nation and way of life. I felt like I was the luckiest guy on earth and I felt very proud too. I almost started bawling. Now, that I’m older, I do that a lot
Then, suddenly, it hit me that I didn’t have Whitney Houston’s song cued up and ready to go. A wave of panic hit me at the thought of what if I can’t find it in all that mess in the van. I ran to the van and threw up the hatch. Oh God. Where’s that song?
Luckily, it was right where it should be in my special song carrying case. With great care and, before the lights went out, I set the song into my best cd player and double checked all the buttons and dials. It was all ready to go. In a minute or two the lights in the field went out and I was on. Bingo, just like that.
There in the dark, I grabbed the microphone and told everyone that the show was starting. I asked that they all rise for the National Anthem! I didn’t have to ask twice. You could hear people standing in the dark. I hit the button and Whitney’s song rang through the field.
When she got to the part where she sings about the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air, the fireworks guys let go with a massive salvo of firepower. The bursts fairly well matched the cadence of the song. The crowd went nuts. Lucky for me it was quite dark now because I finally was crying like a baby. Actually, I think most everyone was but, it was good tears. God Bless America! God Bless us all. It was a great show.

A REFRESHING DRINK

A REFRESHING DRINK
It was the Forth of July and, I was walking down the sidewalk in small town America browbeating myself up one end and down the other. I don’t know if the right side of my brain was mad at the left or vice versa. There were plenty of people around sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk watching me. They must have thought I was nuts. I just stood in the shade of a big old tree grumbling. After a minute or two I called a truce with myself and took the time to go over what I had just done.
Let me explain. I was in the town of Washington, NJ to play records for their annual Independence Day Fireworks celebration. That wouldn’t be until sundown. In the meantime, they were having a parade. It had just started about a mile away and was heading to an eventual finish line about where I was standing. Many spectators were choosing just the right spot to see this big parade when it finally came to this neighborhood. There were folks in lawn chairs, kitchen chairs, sitting on beach blankets, kids were up in trees. I even saw two girls in bathing suits up on a roof with their legs dangling off the side of a low building. Further downstream, on the other end of town, the parade was already in full operating mode.
As always, right up front, the parade features a color guard of soldiers proudly presenting Old Glory to the crowd. Usually, a good sized band is right behind them marching tight. You can bet your bottom dollar and then some, that they’ll be playing a nice assortment of very patriotic songs as the flag passes by for all to honor. When the colors approach and pass, everybody and, I do mean everybody stands and cheers till they can cheer no more. Maybe if you had just fallen critically ill on the sidewalk you could get away with not standing. Maybe. That would depend on just how really sick you were. Being drunk is no excuse. I’ve seen some very wobbly winos sober up, come to a sharp salute and stand so straight that you’d think they were General Patton ready to review his troops. It’s amazing what the flag can do.
That great parade moment was coming soon for these good folks. But, right now, they were all busy talking to one another and slathering sunscreen onto their kids. Not many, if any, were watching me as I scratched my head and pondered my next move. I had just allowed finances to get in the way of doing the right thing and, I was pretty mad about it. True, I couldn’t be more broke when you get right down to it than I was that day. Still, fifty lousy cents to do a really good turn is a pretty hot bargain. I consider myself sworn to doing at least one preferably three good deeds each and every day. So, I was embroiled in thought about how to retrace my stupid footsteps and set things right.
You see, just a block and a half away was this little fellow selling lemonade on the sidewalk in front of his house. He couldn’t have been more than four years old. I thought he had a pretty good stand all set up too. There was a neat and clean milk crate on its side. It looked like he took the time to clean it pretty darn good. Trust me, from working in a dairy aisle at a local supermarket, I know when a milk crate is dirty. This one sparkled. On the front of the crate was a kid drawn sign that said, “Ice Cold Lemonade for Sale!!!” I think he also had drawn a crayon picture of a pitcher just under the letters. I think his parents spelled out Lemonade for him. He did the other words, sort of. On top of the crate, were four plastic punch glasses filled to the brim with lemonade. I think I saw a container of one of the popular lemonade mixes lurking in the shadows of his homes front doorway. A pitcher of ice water stood nearby too.
The kid walked up to me as I walked along the curb in front of his home. I thought he looked pretty sharp for a kid his age. Actually, he looked a whole lot sharper than I ever would have at four years old. The little guy’s shorts weren’t all tattered. His tee shirt was all nice and clean and had a business like solid color to it. It might have been a golf shirt. I forget what color but, it was something pastel. There wasn’t any wacko wording on it to alienate a prospective client. His crew cut was recently brushed. I thought I smelled Brylcream. He even went so far as to follow the cardinal rule of salesmanship. Yes friends, he out and out asked me if I wanted a nice glass of lemonade. That’s right, he asked for the sale. He said it well. “Hi Mister! Would you like a nice cold lemonade? Only fifty cents for a full glass.” Darn that kid was good. I should get him to sell my book for me.
Like a rat, I turned him down. Oh, I was nice enough about it. I probably said some dumb lame thing like I was in a hurry or I wasn’t thirsty. All of this was lies. Rotten lies. I had at least four hours until I had to start playing so, I wasn’t in a hurry. To tell the truth, it was hot out and, I was thirsty as could be. Darn but that lemonade looked pretty good but, I was too stupid and cheap to get one. I kept on walking as the kid closed on a good note saying something like, “Well, I’ll be here for the whole parade Mister. Come back if you want one.”
I was so ashamed. As soon as I got far enough away, I started kicking myself. I got to thinking how that little guy probably launched his money making plan days ago. He most likely went to the supermarket to price out the best deal on a good lemonade mix. I can see him checking the total cost per glass figures and running them by his Dad or Mom. They probably worked the calculator for him so that he’d know which mix would be the most cost effective. He probably noted which mix sold the best in the store. He figured, I’ll bet, that a cheap lemonade would do him no good on parade day if the customers hated the taste of it. I can just see him questioning housewives and mothers in the aisle for their opinion. I could see him heading off to bed and saying his prayers for good weather for the forth. He probably wondered if he should put a sign up on his lawn touting the fact that Lemonade, no, make that great and refreshing lemonade would be on sale before, during, and after the parade. He was pretty good at selling so, he figured, I’m sure that a sales force in place might not float the boat unless some other kid put up a stand across the way. He probably considered the concept of Lemonade sold in “pouches to go,” for thirsty tuba players. I could almost see him hugging his piggy bank as his folks tucked him into bed. This kid was good and, I had to help. I just couldn’t let him work so hard and only make just a measly sale or two. I had to do my part.
I bit my lip, said a prayer and turned myself around heading back to his stand. I was about forty feet away when he spotted me and smiled. He could tell he had a sale and, he was gracious about my coming back. He didn’t say a thing like how I didn’t find any cheaper lemonade down the block so I came crawling back because I was dying of thirst. No, this kid had class. All he did was smile and pick up a glass of lemonade and hand it to me saying, “Here you are mister. That’ll be fifty cents please.”
I handed the kid a buck and sipped the lemonade as he figured out my change. His dad helped him by saying that he should give me two quarters. As the kid was working on the change, I asked him what he was going to do with all the money he made today. He told me how he was going to pay back his Mom and Dad for whatever it cost them to provide the stand. Then, he said how he was going to give the rest of the money to the poor.
I don’t know but, that was one great kid. Not a mean bone in his body. I told him to keep the two quarters. He insisted on me having a second glass. I said that I was fine with one glass. But, I did make a point of telling him that he was a good kid. I promised that I’d write a story about him. He smiled about that. Gosh, but that was great lemonade. I don’t think my story can top it.

THE CARSON AVENUE GANG (Thank you Jai and Renee)

THE CARSON AVENUE GANG
Carson Avenue was really a short street that turned off of a main road in a Northwestern Pennsylvania city. The street was not much more than a hundred yards long. It dead ended at an old iron cemetery gate. Tombstones marched down the hillside and depending on if the leaves were on the trees or not, you got a good view of the city stretching out below. It’s been a while since I’ve been there but, I’m guessing there were no more than twenty houses on the street. The houses were from the thirties I’d say. Maybe they were older. They weren’t anything fancy but, over the years those houses held more than their share of families. My Aunt Barb and Uncle Bill lived in the last house on the left and raised five kids there.
I think it was the mid to late sixties or, maybe it was the early seventies when black families started moving on to Carson Avenue. Prior to that, the people living on the street were mostly if not entirely white folks like Uncle Bill, Aunt Barb, and the kids. This was happening all over the country back in those days. A black family would buy a home somewhere and the white neighbors would scatter. As usual, racial tension would escalate and there’d be trouble of one kind of another. Glaring headlines could almost be typeset blindfolded. You just needed words like RIOT or PROPERTY VALUES PLUMMET or DECLINE or CRIME ON THE RISE. The typesetters only had to add a few exclamation points and they could then go on break. The editorial pages or television news specials would scan the country and there’d be a whole lot of wither are we drifting commentaries pro and con.
There’s still trouble even, now. In fact nowadays, things seem to be getting even worse. People, white and black, just can’t seem to figure it out. Folks are dying. The rotten thing is that most of this stuff is nothing new. But, it does seem to be more prevalent than in the old days. Even worse, it’s reported on way more than it used to be. People are getting crazy on the streets and in the legislatures. It’s just not right. To help, I thought you’d like to hear what happened to one family who faced this problem face to face back in the day.
WARNING….WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS NOT AT ALL CONTROVERSIAL. YOU MAY FIND THIS BORING COMPARED TO AN ACTUAL NEWPAPER ARTICLE. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I only wish that I could have Aunt Barb and Uncle Bill chime in on this story. But, they have both passed away. Aunt Barb’s special secret hamburger sauce was needed in Heaven. Uncle Bill was called because Jesus needed someone to go deer hunting with Him. I have two stories from their family and may get more. Cousin Jai is first followed by her older sister Renee.

JAI’s Story.
I don’t know that there was anything special about how my parents treated our neighbors. They were just that, our neighbors. We looked out for each other and each other’s property. We treated each other no differently. All the neighbor kids black or white were at our house on Wednesday night to watch Lost in Space and to eat bowls of moms chocolate popcorn. Dad would help when needed and the neighbors did likewise. We had a lady next door Mrs Jackson who made the BEST fried chicken. When she made it, she always made extra because dad would show up on her back porch for a leg or two. She finally relinquished her recipe to mom. I think she was tired of feeding the stray neighbor. There was no black and white in our neighborhood when I was young. There was just us…. Neighbors who would hug you and then, just as quickly, report to our parents if we were doing something wrong. Back then, it was the village that raised us.
RENEE’s Story

I can say that, no there was no black or white, just friends. We all played together as friends. Male or female, no matter. One of my best friends back then was a black male who taught me to ride my bike. He was also the one whom I crashed into and flew over my handle bars. I don’t know if he laughed or not. We had some kids black and white in the neighborhood who were “bad” you know smoking, swearing, and such. We all played in the cemetery together. Easy hide and seek there.
Jai is right about the Jackson family. Mrs. J did make the best fried chicken. Mr. J had a garden in the back yard that I helped him plant. And he probably didn’t want my help but he never told me to stop. Mrs. J would yell out the back door “Jackson, dinner”. They were very special neighbors. After they both passed, their daughter Audrey moved into the house. She was such a sweet person. Never a mean word to us. But if you were doing something wrong she would not hesitate to tell you about it. She’d tell mom too.

THE GANG IN ACTION (Jai’s Story)

We did take a few flowers now and then but, only from the graves with lots of flowers!! One day as Smitty the caretaker was digging a new grave, he hit an unmarked grave that had held an old wooden coffin. The side tore away and the bones spilled out. He had to go back to the office to figure out what to do I guess, so we kids were left to guard the scene. My grandmother was needing a hip replacement soon, so my kid brother Bill climbed down into the hole and got the femur for her. Off he went proudly carrying grandmas salvation. Now mind you, not only was it the right leg when she needed the left, but it was obviously from a very tall man and Gram wasn’t close to five foot. But none the less, off he went with the bone on his shoulder to be Grams savior.
He got to the house, so proud of himself only to hear my dad say, ” I never thought I would ever need to say these words, but take that mans leg bone back son and put it where you found it!”
We had such fun times in that cemetery. Dodging tomb stones on our sleds, playing witch on the grave yard which could only be played prior to a funeral. If the witch caught you, you were tossed into the freshly dug grave.
One night there were teenagers parking down by the mausoleum. Mom thought that was disrespectful so she threw a sheet over her head and down the hill she went. I don’t think the Parkers ever returned!!
I’m sure this is just the beginning of the saga of the Carson Avenue Gang.

There you have it friends. I may get more stories of the Carson Avenue Gang back in those troubled times. I’ll add them to this Blurp if I dare. I’m sure folks could send negative stories but, I’m certain that they would be soon outnumbered by the positive stories of real life. Probably, you should send the negative tales straight to the papers. They can use that kind of thing. I can’t.

Isn’t it odd but, enjoying the simple day to day things like good fried chicken, learning to ride a bike, eating chocolate popcorn while watching Lost in Space, or playing hide and seek in a big graveyard, far out does all the laws and riots when it comes to pointing out that folks aren’t so different after all and that they can have a great time living in peace together.

There must be millions of Carson Avenues all over the world. Maybe there’s one near you. I hope there is. Forget about being a big shot, put down the paper and the law book and get out of your recliner. Find the remote and turn off the TV news. Go outside to play.

MATILDA

MATILDA
Boy, I almost goofed. No, really! Thank Heaven that I didn’t act rashly. I would have been really ashamed of myself. It all began a morning or two ago near my potted eggplants out on the back deck.
I may not have mentioned how most Saturdays, on my way to the Chatterbox, I pass this one house where the residents have this wonderful garden in their back yard. This year was no exception, and they look to be well on their way to an abundant crop. The garden itself must measure oh say, thirty feet by maybe forty feet or so. The cool thing is that they don’t need a rake, a hoe, or even a rototiller. The whole garden is above ground. That’s right, above ground. Every plant sits in a flower pot. These folks must have five hundred or more flower pots that make up the entire garden. I love it.
So, I figured that I’d start the same thing on our back deck. I’m new at this kind of thing so, I don’t have that many clay pots. Well, I got nine pots. It’s a start. The nice thing is that if a plant looks like it needs more sun, I move the pot to the sunny side of the deck. A two gallon watering can is really all I need to tend to my crops. With that much water I can soak the potted plants just fine and have water left over for the giant pumpkin out in the front yard. It’s like I’m a gentleman farmer. The plants weren’t much money either. I used a rotten potato to seed the potato pots. That’s all become a regular rain forest of spuds. The tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings were bought for a grand total of two bucks for everything. The Acme had a remnant sale. The plants were looking a little yellow so, I put them in Miracle Grow and now, look out mama.
I did have a bit of a problem tying up the potato vines after they started to spread. You know, I’m not sure if that’s what you call a potato plant branch. All I know is that the plants were growing way too wild. They were beginning to look like hippies. The branches were crawling all over the deck. I got some string and tied the branches in a way that sort of makes them look like Bart Simpsons hair. Now, instead of it being yellow it’s green. That made the leaves wilt for a day or two but, now all is forgiven. The potatoes are doing better than ever. All this from a rotten potato I found in the potato bin back in spring.
Today, when the sun came up I went out to the deck with my big green water bucket to survey my vast land holdings. The sun was quite low on the horizon and very bright. I looked for Matilda the spider that’s been guarding the crops. Usually, in the low angle morning light I can see her web clear as day. She makes a circular web that’s about ten to twelve inches across. It sags in the middle kind of like a radar antenna. Matilda likes to hang upside down right in the webs center. That brings it down about an inch. She’s a big girl. Parking herself there gives her a good shot at the suns warmth in the morning. With a little heat, she’s on to her chores. Her web sits about five inches above the very tops of the eggplants. I’m always careful to not soak her when I put water into the first eggplant pot. She just watches me go about my work. I doubt she’s very harmful. Of course, I’m not a fly and, she’s not crawling up my pant leg.
Most days her web is in a different location when the sun comes up. I guess things happen and, new webs are constructed overnight. This morning though, I was having trouble spotting the new location. So, I moved the water bucket slower than normal and kept my eyes open. Nothing in the potatoes. She must be around somewhere. The tomatoes are clear. Eggplants are……wait a minute, wait a minute! There was some kind of growth on my eggplant leaves. At first glance, it looked like the leaves had hives or, little tiny warts. My eggplants had measles!! Now, I was ticked. They were doing so well too. Darn. Eggplant Measles. Oh man! What a drag. Then I saw one of the measles move just a tiny bit. Crud, those spots aren’t eggplant measles. I got aphids. Eggplant Aphids at that. They’re the worst. My plants are doomed. Soon, the leaves will look like Alpine Lace Swiss Cheese. I could feel that Eggplant Parmesan Sandy was going to make me, once the crops were in, slide right through my fingers and on to my lap.
I went and got a magnifying glass and took a look at my new enemy. I don’t have a clue what aphids look like but these little stinkers sure looked like they were aphids all right. I went and got a fine haired whisk broom and tried to brush them off the leaves. Not many fell off the leaf. In fact none of them fell off the leaf. Just a few used my brush strokes to sail through the air onto my tomato plants. That made me even madder because that meant I had tomato aphids now too. Just one word came to mind….Epidemic. Tomato sandwiches stuffed with red ripe tomatoes and mayonnaise just dissolved right in front of my eyes.
I finally, saw Matilda. She was down in the middle of a curled up eggplant leaf. I don’t know, she just looked at me. She had nothing to say. There were a few aphid pieces around her but, not that many. She’d never get to eat all those critters. Heck, they might eat her first. There was enough of them that’s for sure. For crying out loud.
I realized that I was late for work. So, I left the deck and got into the van. At least maybe I could find some Aphid spray at the Acme. During my whole shift at the dairy aisle, I could just imagine what was happening to my poor eggplants. I pictured armies of Aphids invading my deck then kidnapping my poor eggplants and taking them down to the river for some kind of cruel sadistic ceremony. Then, with one blood curdling squeak, they’d pounce on my eggplants and well, soon the screams of agony would just be a gurgle, then, silence. There’d just be a crowd of overstuffed aphids lounging on the shore line picking their snarly teeth.
On my way home, I decided to take a bath the minute I got in. I do my best thinking in the tub and, I needed a brainstorm. In the tub, I realized that I should get to know my enemy. I needed to know how aphids operate. You know, what makes them tick. So, I hopped out of my tub and ran to the computer. I lit up the screen and searched for images of tiny bugs. You’d be surprised how many tiny bugs there are. I’m not very good with computers but, I searched as best as I could.
Mug files appeared. I scrolled through a mess of data. Suddenly, I saw the stinkers that were on my eggplants. Bulbous butts, little short legs. Two legs in front. Kind of whitish beige. That’s them. That’s them. So what are they, and how do I kill them? I hit identify and my jaw dropped. Then, I smiled.
It turns out that the curled up eggplant leaves weren’t a killing field at all. No, quite the contrary, they were instead, a nursery. It seems that last night Matilda, had babies, about a thousand of them. Gosh, and I thought they were aphids. Her kids actually are kind of cute under the magnifying glass. I don’t know how I’ll come up with a name for every one of them but, I guess I can try. I looked on the web for good spider names.
Then, I read something that suggests that I may only have to come up with just maybe one name or perhaps two. Remember all those crusty bug pieces under Matilda? I think I mentioned them. Well, it turns out that spiders like to eat most of their kids. Evidently, when you pop out of your egg shell as a spider, it’s a great idea to beat feet. All that crusty stuff under Matilda was all that was left of about two hundred of her kids.
Bigger spiders like Tarantulas will care for their young till they get to be the spider equivalent of teenagers. Then, even for Tarantulas, all bets are off. Now that I think about it, when I was a kid, especially a teenager, my parents had moments when my head on a platter probably crossed their minds and seemed like a good idea.
Anyway the eggplants are looking pretty good I guess. So, out on my back deck, it’s dog eat dog. Speaking of dogs, out in the front yard, Millie the Hound has taken a liking for all our blackberries. Now I’ve got to go have a talk with her.