Category Archives: Friends

I’ve Been Busy—Not Ignoring You

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing the materials for an emergency communications course. It’s amazing that when someone else has prepared over 600 PowerPoint slides (with notes) that it would take so much time to update. Why? Because what we know today about dealing with disasters is more than what we knew before Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Personally, I believe that being better prepared for the future is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m working on my short story—which has become at least a novelette (a short version of a short book? Huh?)—continues to develop. The more I learn about the characters (and more characters keep popping up), the more complex—but interesting—the story becomes. However, if a new character appears, a whole lot of the backstory changes. As a writer, I have a certain duty to the characters. Without me, they are doomed to shrivel away to nothingness, through no fault of their own. They deserve better, so I try to tell their stories. So far, the characters include a not-quite-dead aged business multi-multi-billionaire, several lawyers, most of whom are self-serving, but one of whom has a national security background, a distant relative who can see how the pieces fit, and someone (thing?) who seems to have many of the answers, but who is known as Zaznoz (sounds like a new drug or a new exercise routine to me).

Then I do need to devote time to the day job.

Not to mention that we celebrated Christmas with close friends, followed by my daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, who drove ten hours (I think she was being nice and understated the journey length) to visit us and to make for a wonderful time.

Oh, and my older son used his 3D printer to make my Christmas gift—a full size, accurate replica of Han Solo’s blaster. (Is that cool or what?)

Han Solo’s Blaster (Let’s me shoot first).

 

So, as you see, it’s not lack of interest in blogging, just lack of time.

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

XMAS, Improved

My friend, Rick Martinez, with whom I’ve shared wonderful intellectual and philosophical conversations—as well as my writing efforts throughout the years—comments on some of my blogs. This is in response to my last blog, and is a beautiful thought for the season. I formatted it as a blog, but the thoughts and words are Rick’s, unchanged.

Thank you, Steve, for writing about Christmas—the Birth of Christ. No matter of all the “scientific” facts surrounding when Jesus was born and who believes what–there’s at least two general things we all acknowledge and accept as true. At the time and in the area of Christ’s birth, what was true 2000 years ago continues to be true today–some 2000 years later: There were believers and non-believers and warring factions back then as there are now. And–for Christians all over the world, the most tragic words ever written of our Lord are those set down by the Apostle John in the beginning of his Gospel:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born;

Nazareth, no room for Him when He lived; and

Jerusalem, no room for Him when He died.

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .

eBay!

Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

1,000

I had to give some extra thought to this blog, if my count is right, this will be my 1,000th post, so it’s kind of special.

I thought it might be interesting if I presumed that such productivity, tenacity, or whatever actually makes me wise, and offer some advice and suggestions for all of us. Feel free to join in, or not.

  • Sit down with a copy of the United States’ Constitution and seriously read it. As written, it was not perfect (slavery, being the most flagrant example), but most of the amendments have improved it over the years. It’s really an amazing set of ideas.
  • Put down the smartphone, tablet, PlayStation, or whatever and look at the real world; talk with real people—don’t text them, actually have a friendly interactive conversation. Engage in a real game or undertake a real adventure.
  • Listen to a viewpoint that is different from your own on a subject that you feel deeply about. Really listen—with an open mind. It may not change your belief, but don’t you wonder why some people have such different ideas?
  • Take some quiet time to examine yourself with regard to Faith. What do you believe? How important is it to you? How much does it impact your actions? Why?
  • Finally, go help someone, just a little. Volunteer an hour a month with the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the local food pantry or soup kitchen. The list of organizations that depend on volunteers is long, and your participation can make a difference.

Thanks, Bob, for Everything

When I was in high school, Robert Alan Gable, our assistant band director was fresh out of college and ready to rock and roll. After he finished teaching during the day, he played jazz at a night club until the wee hours. He taught saxophone, bassoon, oboe, flute, and percussion, but at the club it was sax and flute. The year I graduated, he joined Wayne Cochran and the CC Riders and we lost touch.

High school was not a particularly happy time for me, which is probably true for more teenagers than not. How did Alice Cooper put it in the song I’m Eighteen?

Don’t always know what I’m talkin’ about.
Feels like I’m livin’ in the middle of doubt.”

Bob taught me how to play tenor saxophone and bassoon, but more importantly, how to truly love music. He was a teacher and a mentor who provided encouragement that eventually grew into confidence.

Last year he was inducted into my high school’s Music Hall of Fame, and I had a chance to see him for the first time since high school; we picked up as though the hiatus had been days instead of decades. Bob’s health had failed him, which tied him to an oxygen tank and a wheelchair, and he had retired. Tom Batiuk the cartoonist graciously did a drawing of Harry Dinkle (the World’s Greatest Band Director) for the occasion. (If you don’t follow his comic strip “Funky Winkerbean,” you should.) After that Bob and I chatted on the phone every so often. We never had anything significant to talk about, but it was time shared.

The last time I called I got a recording that his number was no longer accepting calls. I expected the worst. Today I received an email with his obituary.

The journey through life is short, but we all leave footprints that mark our journey. Many of us who walked with him for part of his journey are better for it. Thanks, Bob.

The Virtual World

In real life, I’ve met and worked with people who have headed off in different directions. They were so close, but now are gone.

In the virtual world, I’ve been taking a series of on-line courses with people I never expect to meet face-to-face. Nevertheless, I feel I’ve gotten to know them fairly well.

In the giant scheme of things, maybe this is a foreshadowing. Soon, in the next life we may know people on a similar basis—”I never actually met you before, but I know you and will spend eternity with you.”

Kind of hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it?