The headlines last night and this morning talk of a devastating tornado striking Moore and Oklahoma City, approximately 75 miles north of our community in southeastern Oklahoma. Thanks to everyone who texted and emailed expressing concern for us.
Just after the storm stuck the metro area, another storm, bearing eyewitness reports of a tornado on the ground west of Pauls Valley, was moving in our direction. The vo-tech texted that I wasn’t teaching because classes were canceled, and just a few minuted later, Abby called to say her office sent everyone home early. The storm bearing down on us looked pretty impressive on radar, but as it approached, its energy was spent, and we barely even got rain.
As the reports of the devastation in Moore started rolling in at about 5:30pm, our power went out and, as of this morning, had not returned. OG&E’s System Watch says there are 536 households in Byng without power this morning.
With the power out and Abby napping, I walked around the patch for over an hour, watching the sky and occasionally photographing it.
“A storm is coming
And thunder sends me running
All in a hurry
My heart is wrought with worry
And I know if I’m caught in the fury
Nothing will remain…“
~Oklahoma Town by Josh Gabriel and Winter Kills
In 2000, I joined a Yahoo! group associated with my high school’s Class of 1981 20th reunion. I got really interested in it for a while. It was like a forum or chat room, only with people who, mostly, attended Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma with me. Like most Yahoo! groups, or anything else from the internet in 2000, it has long since died. It was unsuccessfully replaced for the 30th reunion by a Facebook page. (Note to self: blog later about the failure of social media to actually be social.)
In early July 2001, I attended that reunion. I admit that I really just wanted to see a few people, all women, and that the event was awkward and disappointing.
The only real thing I had in common with most of these people is that I lived within the same boundaries on a map as they did. We owed any “friendship” we had to school board members and the economics of home ownership.
Most of the people at my high school, and by extension my high school reunion, were complete strangers, and even the people I sort of knew back then turned out to be as boring and ordinary as I though they would. Some were, just as they had been in high school, complete assholes.
The reunion was a two-day affair. On that Friday, I attended the Blue Ice Cream Social. It was named after a non-sanctioned event on football Friday nights, held at a different rich kid’s house each week, called Blue Ice Cream. It sometimes involved drinking, but always involved a pool party. Except for one time I was assigned to shoot it for the Talon yearbook, I never went to Blue Ice Cream, for both the fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and that I was never invited.
With me on that Friday night in 2001 was Ann Kelley, who seemed to have a lot of fun making video from the affair. On the drive home to Ada, after an odd silence, she said, “Richard, I can’t believe someone as interesting as you went to school with those people.”
In all fairness, I am pretty sure none of them really care about me, either, and if they thought I was an ass in high school, they still thought of me as an ass. Except for their efforts to populate the 30th reunion, almost no one from the class has made any effort to maintain any kind of friendship with me. In fact, looking through my contacts list, I only find Anna and Michael, who were two of my closest friends in high school, and the only genuinely loyal ones.
As I waited to shoot a photo at a local grade school, I talked with a few teachers and kids. One of the teachers had a small container on her necklace, so I asked her what was in it.
“My grandson,” she answered.
I felt immediate and powerful sympathy for her, since I have a grandson. She told me his name was Jack, he was 6, and was killed by a drunk driver earlier this year. The urn around her neck contained some of his ashes.
I explained that I wasn’t the kind of journalist who liked to pry into those dark places, but that when she was ready, my newspaper could tell her story fairly and kindly. She let me photograph her holding the urn on her necklace with a photograph of Jack, who is, of course, beautiful and completely innocent, just like our grandson.
I can’t image what it must be like.
“Everybody’s been fired. Hell, even I’ve been fired.” ~Gene Hackman as Pete Van Wherry, Reds.
I’ve been fired too, though not recently.
In 1981, when I was a senior in high school, I had a part-tme job at a bowling alley near our house in Lawton, Oklahoma. I worked Friday and Saturday nights from midnight to 8 am. It was my job to clean up the filth left by drunk late-night weekend bowlers. I also did some work as a pin monkey, which only involved fixing malfunctioning machines, since it was mostly automated. From that job I also learned how to oil bowling lanes.
One Friday, “Skip” and I spent the entire day at Oklahoma University, touring campus, signing up for meal plans, buying textbooks, scoping out local eateries, and so on. We got back to Lawton at about 8pm, and I didn’t get a chance to sleep. By the middle of my midnight to 8am shift at the bowling alley, I was exhausted, and fell asleep. Boss called the next day and fired me over the phone. I was pretty unhappy with his lack of sympathy, but I probably would have fired me, too.
In the summer of 1983, I repeated my 1982 photojournalism internship at the Lawton Constitution. I was really starting to get the hang of shooting for newspaper, but I became entangled in a relationship with a receptionist. I was somewhat naîve about workplace romances, including love triangles. That receptionist reads this blog all the time, so I won’t post too many details, except to say that my internship was terminated early because of the situation.
In 1988, I was laid off from the Shawnee News-Star, along with about four other staff members. I have no problem addressing it directly: Managing Editor Jim Bradshaw was a cranky, old-school editor with little talent and even less ability to recognize talent. His main criteria for valuing his staff was political agreement and the classic “good old boy” paradigm. The five of us “laid off” that spring day in 1988 were among the most talented young people in the area at the time, but were almost universally liberals and social misfits.
In my defense, I haven’t been fired for any legitimate reason, like stealing or goldbricking, and I haven’t been fired since 1988.
I thought about all this as I listened to music and worked on my antenna farm. Two of my antennas were crooked, one needed to have its base shored, and I re-installed a magnetic mount 2-meter that spent the last six months stuck on a dead microwave oven in the garage. Growing on Richard’s home antenna farm presently are: a 1/2-wave for 2-meter, two Radio Shack 1/4-wave scanner antennas, a dual-bander for 2-meter/70-cm, a mobile dual-bander on a mount I found at Radio Shack, a 1/2-wave 6-meter, and the mobile from the garage, which I stuck on a large inverted coffee can.
This is a rewrite of the original draft, which remains private. This post has been redacted to protect the innocent. I wish I could give you more. Maybe someday.
“I just had a vision of myself without creativity, and I am nothing.” ~Journal, 1985
- No Inbetween, Supertramp
- Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You, Stevie Nicks
- Talk to Me, Stevie Nicks
- Life in a Northern Town, Dream Academy
- Silent Running, Mike and the Mechanics
- The Confessor, Joe Walsh
- Broken Wings, Mr. Mister
- Know Who You Are, Supertramp
- Fool’s Overture, Supertramp
“You know I’d rather be alone than be without you…” ~Stevie Nicks
It was a hard year. I was lost and alone.
“And the rain comes down; there’s no pain and there’s no doubt…”
When someone says, “I will always love you,” take note: I later sifted that clue and found nothing.
All I wanted was to feel the softness of her hair. Now, in the latter day, I feel my wife’s soft hair every night, and it is everything I imagined and wanted it to be, and more.
Sometimes I look back at it and wonder how I survived. I remember that time, but in a way that I am almost viewing it as a stranger inside myself.
I won’t say it was the loneliest time, but I will say it was my most lost time.
A lot happened to me in 1985, and almost no one except myself witnessed it or knew it happened. I took a trip to New York City, I worked at the daily newspaper at the college, I got kicked out of my rooming house, I worked as a stringer for the Associated Press. In the late fall I got a job at the newspaper in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
That was the Autumn of Ice. I’ll come back to that.
That summer, though, was … well, it was named “The Summer of Private Drama.” It started out like just another summer. School was out and I worked a summer job at the daily newspaper at the college. I wore cut-offs that weren’t very well cut off.
In July, I drove to Missouri to see an ex-girlfriend, and when I left for home after that visit, about as awkwardly and uncomfortably unwelcome as I even felt, I stopped shaving, and have worn a beard from that day to this one.
By November I had my first full-time newspaper job, in Shawnee, Oklahoma. I still lived in Norman, about 50 minutes drive from Shawnee, and commuted for a while in my 1973 VW Beetle. The heat in that car didn’t really work, and it was cold every day. Several ice and snow events struck during that time, and I remember driving that tiny car all those miles with my only coat zipped all the way up, listening to Dream Academy and Mr. Mister and Tears for Fears … whatever was on the radio.
The song that takes me right back to that cold, lonely November is Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You by Stevie Nicks. That album, Rock a Little, was one of the last vinyl record albums I bought.
Listening to that song brings me all the way back, crashing back, to those lost days all those years ago.
“… it was easy to say
I believed in you every day…”
Yes, The Autumn of Ice. I said I’d come back to that.
Sometimes it all comes down to the weather. In just my second week at The Shawnee News-Star, I was assigned to shoot the Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State football game in Stillwater, a contest that turned out to be one of the most memorable in college football history, the “Ice Bowl.” I wore a yellow rain suit I borrowed from Michael, and used a 600mm borrowed from the Associated Press. The rain came down, turning to ice as it landed on the field, on my equipment, on me. Between quarters, we walked up to the Lewis Field press box and thawed our cameras with blow dryers.
She was there that night, and I tried to talk to her, but she was eager to sit with her friends, and didn’t really want anything to do with me…
I try to look at it from different angles, but it still looks the same. I wrote and rewrote this entry dozens of times, and it still isn’t coming out right. When I read it and listen to the music, it all comes back to me as clearly as if I were there. I know when you read it, it doesn’t. Maybe someday.
That’s not what was on Nick at Night. The word “retarded” was blanked out. “Are you one of the ___ cousins?” The laughter from the studio audience wasn’t blanked out, so unless you have a nearly-eidetic memory like mine, the exchange didn’t even really make sense.
I’m sure the censorship was voluntary, at least technically. But it disturbs me that a simple joke in 1996 becomes a toxic insult in 2013. We certainly have lost our sense of humor, even if some of our sense of humor was a bit cruel.
Okay, now on to Boston. I write this after a series of tragic events unfolded in Robert Stinson’s former neighborhood in Boston that started with the two “terrorist” bombs exploding at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, and culminated with an unprecedented manhunt involving the might of entire metropolitan police departments in addition to as many as 9000 additional police from agencies like the FBI, ATF, state police, and more.
On the phone the other day, Robert talked about how disturbing and oddly empowering it was to describe the criminals involved as “terrorists.” While I agree with that as a valid analysis of the mind state of Americans when it comes to tragic crimes, particularly as portrayed by the media, in my mind there is a bigger issue: big government. Doesn’t it trouble anyone else that the very opponents of “big government” are often the first ones to call upon it for help, either in the form of invasions of nations like Afghanistan or Iraq, or when the people (certain bloggers and vloggers like to call them “sheeple”) are a bunch of frightened rabbits?
Americans are falling in love with the feeling of safety, and that is always at the cost of freedom. Ironically, they are in love with their fear as well. The entirety of metropolitan Boston was locked down for nearly a day, which to any open mind could only be described as a police state. When the perpetrator was finally apprehended (one 19-year-old man), crowds cheered police with cries of “USA! USA! USA!”, not realizing or caring that the “terrorists” were both United States citizens.
The average citizen is neither courageous nor perceptive. He needs a higher power to care for him, both in the form of a “mother,” government, and a “father,” god. People seem more like children to me with each passing day.
I grabbed a few items at Wal Mart today. The process was particularly hellish because I went during the day, which is when Wal Mart’s aisles are the Pageant of the Trans-Mundane (the freak show), mostly people who are so fat they and their scooters are too wide to navigate the store when it’s full of other people, but also angry loners, the unemployable, alcoholics during their few sober hours of the day, and so on.
I started unloading my cart on the conveyor belt when I saw my cashier’s name tag: Tarna.
I asked her, “Were you named after the heroine at the end of Heavy Metal?”
She smiled a bit and said, “My mom loved that movie. You’re the first person who ever asked me about it.”
Most of my readers are old enough and nurdish enough to know this movie, but for the few who don’t know it, Heavy Metal is a feature-length cartoon in episodes that are tied loosely together by a central theme. It was created for, and probably by, horny teenagers who like dick jokes, loud rock anthems, and super-hot heroic chicks in red and black leather outfits who save the Universe.
The super-hot chick in Heavy Metal is Taarna, the last of her race, who is summoned by elders of a land under siege by marauders under the power of an evil force, a green orb called the Loc Nar. Taarna is the kind of woman one expects to see on the cover of teen comic and graphic novels. Taarna arrives in the oppressed land riding a bird/dinosaur who ends up being a hero as well.
I saw Heavy Metal in the theater in 1981. I was 18, which I am guessing Tarna from Wal Mart is today.
Last night was our third freeze warning in as many weeks. This does not bode well for my peaches and plums, but, as previously, I covered my tomato and pepper plants with coffee cans and buckets. When I left for work this morning, Jean Claude Grand Am had a substantial coat of frost on the windshield, so the forecast was right. A late frost or freeze is common around Oklahoma, but I can’t remember ever having to deal with three of them.
I worked two baseball games yesterday. Normally I complain about February baseball, which the college plays since they need to finish their season by the first of May, but yesterday I wore my cold weather bundle of a fleece jacket under my squall jacket, with my hood on the entire time.
Two years ago I saw a television ad for what I thought might be the answer to the decline of the newspaper industry, The Daily.com. The Daily was the first all-electronic “newspaper,” a product produced and delivered entirely for tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire, and by extension, smart phones.
I thought this was a brilliant idea. I thought surely the problems of printing on paper – the cost, the lack of interest from younger people, the growing irrelevance of a product updated once a day or less – would all be addressed in this sleek new concept.
I believe, as do most journalists, that without real, dedicated, professional journalists and a vehicle for disseminating their product, freedom and democracy itself is in danger. After all, when an oppressive regime takes over a region or nation, what do they do first? Take over the news media.
I write this as yet another national breaking news story is unfolding, and I can tell you exactly where I got this news first: my phone. And I didn’t pay for that piece of news. I surfed around and found it on a free site (in this case NBCnews.com, but if it wasn’t there, I would have gotten it from CNN or CBS or some other outlet.) I don’t, however, regard television with much higher regard than I do non-media like Twitter and Facebook. And as much as I liked The Daily.com and supported its ideals, I did not subscribe. I guess my own idealism is just that, idealism. Am I fundamentally hypocritical about how I get my own news?
Where does this leave newspapers? If not from the so-called Fourth Estate, where can we get accountable, reliable, in-depth news reporting? I will ponder this as I examine where my own life and career lead in the coming months and years.
…or, a Shout Out to Adventure.
As you might have gathered from my excitement over my most recent trip report, I am more excited than ever about exploring the majesty of the American west. As soon as I get home from one trip, I begin planning the next one. I’ve already got an idea what I want to do with my wife Abby for our anniversary trip in October, so I am now cogitating the possibilities for an early November jaunt. Here are my early thoughts…
- Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. I would like to camp there two or three nights, particularly since it is so isolated, making camping the only way to take advantage of earliest morning and last evening light. I might even consider backpacking there with the goal of shooting some star trace and/or light painting on the formations. I drove some of the way there in November 2012, but turned around and came home due to a death in the family.
- Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah. Dennis Udink has already expressed an interest in joining me for this, and he has recent experience in the area. I am particularly interested in seeing and photographing Zebra Slot, Stevens Arch, and Metate Arch, among others.
- Big Bend National Park, maybe early in spring 2014. I only visited this amazing place once, in 2007, and I believe there is much more to explore in this park, which is geographically huge.
- New Mexico in general. I keep going through New Mexico to get to Utah, and I see its desolate, delicate beauty and want to explore it more, which in some ways is getting back to my desert exploration roots.
I have just published the trip report for my recent desert hiking excursion with photographer Jim Beckel. Follow this link to view it.
Concurrently, I have published a short review of the Fujifilm HS30EXR, the camera I bought in January expressly for hiking and travel, since this hiking trip was its trial by fire. Follow this link to see my review.
The trip was an unqualified success, and I feel I made some outstanding images. Please check it out, and leave comments.
I have just returned from another amazing Colorado Plateau adventure, this time with Daily Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel.
In addition to a constant stream of amazing conversation, Jim and I hiked some of southeastern Utah’s best trails, and shot tons of images and video. Early in the hiking, he kept telling me I was trying to kill him by making him hike some difficult trails, but as the week went by, he got his legs under him, and by the end he was charging up trails like a pro.
I feel like I am now better friends with Jim than ever, and I can’t wait to get my images edited and post a trip report. I’ll post a link here to the report on The Traveller in a couple of weeks.
Now I am happy to be home again with my lovely wife and the dogs.
Journal entry, Sunday, June 5, 1994:
I departed Ada in a rented Piper Cherokee 160, N5422W, intending to fly to Tulsa International Airport (my friend Robert lived near there at the time) at about 3 p.m., climbing to 3500 feet. It was choppy at that altitude, but I couldn’t get higher for a scattered to broken layer of mixed towering cumulonimbus. Visibility was good and because of the weather, I kept my eyes open for alternate airports. About halfway along, I had to go between two large thunderstorms, but it got clearer as I approached Tulsa.
I navigated mostly by VOR; there are surprisingly few landmarks between Ada and Tulsa.
I could see huge towers of a thunderstorm over Tulsa and began planning my return to Ada or, if necessary, Okmulgee (which was close). I tried to tune in the Tulsa International ATIS, but at first I wasn’t receiving it, then suddenly it came on the air and simply reported, “contact approach for rapidly changing conditions.”
I listened to approach for a few minutes, and heard them vector an American Airlines MD-80 back to Oklahoma City. I decided to go to Tulsa Riverside, which is on the other side of Tulsa. I called approach and they gave me two VFR vectors for spacing, then handed me off to the RVS tower. They had me fly three miles downwind, which almost put me into the growing thunderstorm to the north. I slowed the aircraft. Finally he called my turn to base and cleared me to land. In a light rain I touched down, perfectly smoothly.
I had dinner with Robert and his (then) girlfriend Karen. During dinner we nicknamed her Snow Pea (which stuck with her). We went back to Robert’s apartment and photographed Karen, who looked very beautiful.
The flight back to Ada was very different from the trip from Ada. From the very moment I took off, it was as smooth as I’ve ever flown. In the safe, warm glow of the red lights of the instrument panel, I climbed to 6500 feet in perfect visibility and started receiving the Ada VOR. I called Fort Worth Center to request flight following, and apparently I was their only low-altitude business for the night, because they never gave me an advisory.
On eight-mile final I canceled radar service and arrived with an even smoother landing.
Life is spectacular.
Last fall Abby and I received a big box from my sister Nicole and her husband Tracey. We opened it to find nine FEMA-issued vegetarian MREs, or “Meal Ready to Eat.” When hurricane Isaac roared through New Orleans last August, they were without power for five days, and one government response was to dispatch FEMA teams with MREs. Nicole and Tracey either ate or stored their meals with meat, and sent us the vegetarian ones.
With a camping trip coming up, I decided to give the legendary MRE its day in court.
According to WikiPedia, here are some nicknames for the MRE: “Mr. E” (mystery), “Meals Rejected by Everyone”, ”Meals, Rarely Edible”, “Meals Rejected by the Enemy”, “Morsels, Regurgitated, Eviscerated”, “Mentally Retarded Edibles”, “Meal Ready to Expel”, “Meal, Ready to Excrete”, “Materials Resembling Edibles”, “Morale Reducing Elements”, “Meals Rejected by Ethiopians”, “Meals Requiring Enemas”, “Meals Refusing to Exit”, “Meals Refusing to Excrete”, and “Massive Rectal Expulsions”.
Despite these colorful appellations, I found my “pasta with garden vegetables in tomato sauce” MRE to be decently tasty and apparently nutritious. Preparation is easier than the obtusely-written government instructions indicate, and the product is nice and hot when it comes out of the pouch.
Dream: My sister and I are visiting Mom and Dad in Florida (Mom and Dad are dead, for those who didn’t know). They have added a second story onto the house. During the night, a thunderstorm passes through. We are surprised about the level of damage we see in the morning, especially a red garden shed that was picked up from a neighbor’s house and deposited in the front yard. Nicole and Dad leave for work, but when Mom says she is staying home to clean up the mess, I agree to help, saying, “Today, I’ll be retired with you.”
Dream: At a traffic light I look over to see Ann Kelley (who is also dead) in her car. Her hair is much darker than she ever kept it. Our eyes meet and we don’t initially speak. Instead, tears fill her eyes.
“You can’t be here,” I say.
“I know,” she replies.
We then agree to pull over in a parking lot so we can visit, but when we do so, her driving is evasive, and I am concerned I won’t get to talk to her. Finally we find a spot to park. I get out and stop about eight feet away from her. We don’t speak. There is a sad look on her face. When I move forward to put my arms around her, she pulls away.
Dream: I drive a scooter across Oklahoma City to apply for a photography job at Bedford Cameras. I am 45 minutes early, so the manager tried to send me away, but the photographer who wants to hire me interrupts and takes me to back of the store. He has a huge cold sore in the corner of his mouth. He shows me a large storage room, paneled and full of houseplants. “So, do you want the job?” I ask him what kind of photography I will be doing, but he doesn’t answer and leaves me alone to decide.
Thinking about possible places to shoot on an upcoming trip to the desert, I noted that I have only been to Dead Horse Point a couple of times, usually in the middle of the day when the light was mediocre. Maybe, I thought, I could try to be there in the morning or evening. I decided to use Google to search for images of the place. I have a Google account, to which I was logged in, and when the results came back, it put my richardbarron.net images at the top of the list with a grey banner at the bottom of each with the word “you” in it.
It was cool and dry out today, and I am over my flu-like illness from last week, so I decided to work outside. My work included…
- Mowing the front yard; the henbit and early grass was higher in patches than the Chihuahuas
- Digging out the garden in the south pasture, which led to…
- Firing up the old tiller so I wouldn’t have to dig it all by hand, which led to…
- Driving to town to buy a new tiller, since the old one’s primer bulb was broken, and I never liked that tiller anyway.
- I got the new one assembled and fired up, then tilled the garden for over an hour. The tines kept getting choked with grass.
- Put the tiller away and hauled all the trash down our 100-yard-long driveway to the curb. It was two weeks worth of trash since I was sick last weekend.
- Grabbed a camera and photographed some of the young growth on some of our trees, which, despite the subdued light, were very beautiful to me.
All this activity woke up some of my muscles, ones I haven’t used since at least October. I’m a pretty active person, but my mowing muscles, my tilling muscles, and especially my pulling-the-starter-cord muscles, which got extra work trying to revive the dead tiller, become dormant in the winter. It felt really good.
Of course, I need to till again tomorrow, then rake and sift the soil to remove all that grass, but I got an excellent start today.
May 1, 1993: I climbed into a spritely Cessna 150 named “Old Gomer” with a flight examiner. We flew for an hour, testing my skills and knowledge. When we were done, we parked the airplane, then went into the airport so he could issue me a temporary airman certificate. I was a pilot, the first of my flight instructor’s first class to become a pilot.
Next up for his check ride was Dub Tolliver. He bought a Cessna 172 near the end of his training, so he tested in it, and he too got his airman certificate that day, but he and I both got most of our training in Old Gomer. I hung around, and after we both had our “license to learn” in hand, we sat and talked about flying with our examiner.
A couple of days later I flew my first passenger, the late Kathy Godfrey. We had fun.
That weekend, Dub called me to say that a pilot from our airport had put his airplane into a field near the Canadian River 10 miles northeast due to an engine failure, and would I like to fly over there and see it. Of course, I did, and Dub let me fly his 172, which was new to me.
As the months went by, Dub and I did a lot of flying together. One time we flew two 172s to a spot south of town and flew in formation for a while, which was even more fun than it sounds.
On another occasion, he and I formed up and stayed in formation all the way down to Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas, where a group of Ada pilots got a tour of Fort Worth Air Traffic Control Center and the tower and Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport, an experience much harder to come by in the the post-9/11 world.
Dub bought two more airplanes as more time went by, a twin-engine Piper, and a Bellanca. I got to fly both of them once or twice, and the time I flew his Bellanca, it was from the left seat, which for some reason (hopefully not my flying skills) made him very nervous.
On another occasion, we flew together to Tulsa where his Piper was being repaired. I left him to fly it home and took his 172 home for him.
Dub had the odd habit of wearing an orange hoodie when he flew. I guess he thought he’d be easier to spot if he had to put down in the middle of nowhere. Dub also loved flying really low, and his favorite thing to do in his airplanes was buzz the Canadian River with the wheels about six feet above the water.
Dub never really got comfortable with the Piper twin – the axiom in aviation is that if you don’t train in your twin constantly, it’s twice as likely to kill you as your single. He eventually sold it.
Dub died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 68.
I made this short segment of video in August of 2009 as I flew home from Florida. The music is the last few seconds of Long Life to You My Friend by Bliss. It reminds me of my love of flight, which was shared by Dub.
The first time 2001: a Space Odyssey aired on television, I was about 12. Although I was a Star Trek fan, the movie I would come to admire as one of Kubrick’s best seemed, at the time, cerebral, confusing and even pointless. There was no punch line, which I needed as 12-year-old.
As the star child emerged in its bubble looking down on Earth, with the swelling strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was already one of my favorite works for orchestra, our mom said, “Did you understand what the monolith represents?” (The monolith is a central, enigmatic object in the film, for anyone who hasn’t seen it.)
We assumed from her tone that she thought she did, and from Dad’s derisive look that he was certain she did not.
My sister and I shrugged. We were kids, and had just been exposed to what might have been one of the least conclusive, most ambiguous movies in motion picture history. We had no idea what the monolith represented.
Mom got one of those slightly patronizing, slightly sympathetic looks on her face and said, “It’s God.”
Since no analysis of the movie points to the monolith as God, I can only assume she was trying to influence her children into believing in God.
A note about Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra: if you only know the bombastic opening strains of this piece (from the movie), I encourage you to check out the rest of it, which is far more complex than the simple three-note theme of the introduction.
Since I am sick, I decided to dust off my only sickness joke:
A man and a woman who don’t know each other very well are about to make love for the first time. As they begin to undress, the man remembers that his toes are hideously mangled. As he removes his shoes, he explains, “when I was young, I had a terrible case of tolio.”
Things progress, and as the man removes his trousers, the woman sees that he has extremely scarred, damaged knees. “Oh, I should have told you about this, too. As a teenager, I had a really bad case of kneesles”
Finally, as they are about to do the deed, he takes off this shorts.
“Wait,” the woman says. “Let me guess. Smallcox?”
• • •
In spite of what feels like it might be a textbook headcold, I was able to take Abby to a doctor’s appointment in Norman today. Prior to the appointment, we had lunch at IHOP, where I got their new Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper & Cheese Griddle Melt which their web site accurately describes as, “a hand-crafted breakfast griddle melt with sautéed spinach and onion in a fluffy omelette, layered with roasted red peppers and melted provolone, parmesan and pepper jack cheeses on grilled, sourdough artisan bread. Served with your choice of hash browns, seasoned fries or seasonal fruit.”
I have to admit that the first time I saw the advertising for this item on television, I was amazed that no one had thought sooner to put an omelette in the center of a sandwich. I decided to try it, and it ended up being really good. Abby and I also decided my mom would have liked it, since she liked sourdough so much.
• • •
Talking with photographer Jim Beckel the other day about covering the scene of a fatality accident, I showed him some video I made of it. He mentioned that in his coverage area, photographers couldn’t get anywhere near such tragedies, yet I am routinely granted unlimited access. To that I respond that all three of the most recent Pontotoc County Sheriffs have been my neighbors here in Byng, and one of them played on our newspaper’s softball team. I’ll also add that today I heard a deputy dispatched to “a mile west of the green frog,” and that we all know where to find the green frog, also known as Frog Rock.
Abby and I visited her hometown, Ryan, Oklahoma, yesterday. As is our happy habit, we brought Chinese food to her father’s widow Ethel.
At one point, Ethel asked me to climb into the loft of the old barn to look for kittens she thought might be up there, since her cat was pregnant and now isn’t. We didn’t find any, but the process led us to yet another piece of nostalgia for Abby, a bench/desk that was probably in her family for four generations. We cleaned it up a bit and brought it home.
As we poked around looking at other stuff that Abby’s father had collected, we came across interesting archaica, everything from industrial drill bits to copped jackets for .38 Special bullets.
As afternoon wore on, Abby’s sister Gail arrived, and while the ladies chatted about family affairs, I snuck off and napped in the living room recliner.
Ethel seems more glad and more moved to see us every time we come.
My readers know that Abby and I recently completed our required testing for our Oklahoma Self Defense Act permit to carry a concealed weapon. Today we went together to the Pontotoc County Justice Center to be fingerprinted. As we expected, my fingerprints were easy to scan, but Abby’s, which have always had smooth ridges, were difficult, and the person taking them felt we might eventually end up needing to go to Oklahoma City, which Abby’s father did, to get a clean scan of them.
Assuming our background checks are okay, we should receive our permits in about four months, since presently there are a record number of concealed carry applicants awaiting approval.
Once we get our permits, we need to decide how and when we want to carry.
Our workplaces are out of consideration, since our employers specifically prohibit it on their properties, most likely as an effort to limit liability if a firearms-related incident occurs. Outside of the workplace there is carrying a weapon on our person, and carrying in our vehicles. Neither of these options lends itself to concealing a full-sized sidearm, leaving smaller weapons as a solution.
Due to the considerations of basic physics, small weapons can only be chambered in smaller cartridges. In recent years, firearms manufacturers have offered more and more of these smaller guns, frequently chambered for the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. Introduced 105 years ago, it also goes by the names .380 Auto, 9mm Browning, 9mm Corto, 9mm Kurz, 9mm Short, and 9×17mm.
This new breed of pistols designed for deep carry are often called by diminutive nicknames such as “mousegun,” and gun nuts will say things about them like, “it’s better than throwing rocks.” It’s an interestingly narrow view of ammunition that has a history of successful use by militaries and law enforcement agencies worldwide. I think much of this attitude comes from a uniquely American notion that bigger is better, combined with a uniquely male view that a big gun equals a big penis, combined with an odd thirst for killing that divorces firearms from self-defense and marries them with vigilanteism.
The more I shoot the .380 ACP, however, the more I appreciate its strengths. I find it an efficient, elegant round with manageable recoil and sufficient energy for self defense, and it is emerging as one of my favorite pistol rounds.
This is where the gun nuts and I part company. Many of them talk about 9mm, the next larger round, as being the “minimum” caliber for self defense. They talk about “knockdown ability” and “stopping power,” when the rest of us know that what they really want – what they really lust for in their hearts – is to kill someone. The fact that they are killing an assailant is, in my opinion, secondary, at least based on the reading I’ve done in firearms forums and YouTube comment sections. It’s obvious from the tone of these writings that gun nuts are all about bringing vigilante death to someone they perceive as evil. Self defense should never be about acting as judge, jury and executioner, which is what these people hope to one day become when they holster a Glock loaded with the hottest 10mm +P ammo.
“You cannot kill someone without killing a part of yourself.” ~Soldier in Iraq, 2003
I think most civilians who carry guns have no real idea what their guns imply, and what potential they represent. As the time approaches for Abby and me to carry, we will endeavor to remember and respect the power in our pockets.
Another pile of dreck from the blue filigree notebook, marked for my reference in fuchsia and powder-blue Post-It notes. Sigh…
I want someone to tell it’s alright, even when it’s not.
“At least it’s intense.” -Kathy, 1986
“At least you know you’re alive.” -Ann (who is no longer alive), 2002
I look at pictures of us together and think, “did it really happen?” (Applies to everyone)
In his last dying days and suffering a brain tumor, V was asked if he saw people where he was going. He counted eight.
There’s no going back now. There’s nothing back there, anyway.
Then I find that even looking in the mirror is too much to bear.
I lent him a cent for lent
but now I relent
for the scent
is that the cent
I lent him for lent
has been spent
for lent ~Dream fragment, 1993
As if any of you care, that’s it for the blue notebook.
I’m not normally a product reviewer. Besides thinking that most product reviews are one-sided and ill-researched, and I usually end up disagreeing with them, I believe that for the most part we like the products we like out of a sense of style, and no writer can tell us what style we will like. A good example would be how car reviewers are hard on the “outdated” design of the dashboard on Abby’s Nissan Frontier, which Abby and I think is excellent, and which I believe reviewers criticize simply because it hasn’t changed in a few years. That’s not reviewing. That’s complaining about boredom.
With this in mind, I am writing a review.
Abby and I had dinner with Daily Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel Sunday to discuss my upcoming hiking trip with Jim. He doesn’t hike or camp in the outdoors as much as I do, particularly in the desert, and he wanted some tips. One thing we discussed was hiking shoes.
“When you say shoes, do you mean boots?” he asked. Good question. And no, I don’t hike in boots, nor does Abby. We both prefer much lighter low-top hiking shoes. Abby has very narrow feet, so she ended up with a pair of New Balance hiking shoes as her favorites. Not only do they fit well, their tread grips like gunmetal magnets. I, on the other hand, have several brands of hiking shoes, since I wear hiking shoes at work nearly every day. I have good ones from L. L. Bean, Lands End, Hi-Tec, Columbia, and so on. I even have some sport sandals from Keen that are excellent for wet crossings.
But over the years I’ve found a favorite brand, and within that brand, a favorite shoe. They are Merrell’s Moab Ventilators. I have two pairs (which I always recommend for hiking in case one pair gets wet), one tan and one chocolate. Last year I had a good chuckle when, while hiking with Dennis Udink, we discovered that he, too, had the tan and the chocolate Ventilators.
I don’t just like these shoes because they bear the name of the city where I got married and love to vacation (Moab, Utah); they are actually really great shoes. They are light and comfortable, and provide good traction on slickrock. They never hurt my feet, and my feet don’t feel tired after hiking all day in them, winter or summer. They look great, too. (For a hiking shoe to look great in the 21st century, it essentially has to avoid looking stupid, which a lot of them do.) If I had a criticism of the shoe, it would be that they tend to run a little snug for their size, so I would recommend a long try-on session before buying.
Looking at this shoe on Zappos.com as I write this, I find that it costs $90, making it a fairly affordable hiking shoe. I also see that the colors now available are granite, earth, beluga, walnut, and black.
“In the high school halls
in the shopping malls
conform or be cast out…” ~Rush, Subdivisions
In April 1999, my sister came home from work early and turned on the television just in time to see the very earliest moments of the news coverage of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. She says that one of the first interviews with a student who escaped the carnage said of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, “Those were the kids we cast out.” She says she has never seen the interview again.
Fast forward to last summer: James Eagan Holmes, an orange-haired loner in tactical gear, uses assault rifles and tear gas to commit a mass murder. Fast forward again to December: a skinny kid named Adam Lanza uses a Bushmaster assault rifle to murder 26 people at a grade school, including 20 children.
It is so easy to say that these people were broken machines. No one wants to imagine that another human being has enough darkness inside himself that he or she could do such a thing, so we use vastly oversimplified labels to dehumanize them: monster, pure evil, alien.
If I had a time machine and could check, I’ll bet none of these perpetrators were diagnosably mentally ill at all. I’ll bet that they were just so bitter and angry and dark from an entire life of being bullied and badgered, isolated and spit on, that they just finally decided to do the awfullest, blackest, most vindictive thing a human could imagine: kill the most innocent.
Did the victims deserve it? Of course not. But deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
I’m still waiting for this headline: Former Tiny Infant Kills 33 in Shooting Rampage.
Another thing that negates the whole “monster, pure evil” paradigm is that Holmes and Lanza and Lee Harvey Oswald were all once tiny children themselves. What changed them from innocent children into soulless monsters?
One report about the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, said, ”…he was ostracized and mercilessly bullied.”
Or this: if these exact same people had first turned their guns on themselves, they would be regarded with nothing but pity and sympathy. These monsters.
As I thought about this and discussed it, a coworker drew a diagram. It showed that you can blame guns, the NRA, mental health care, school security, etc. “But the elephant in the room,” the coworker explained, “is bullied kids.”
Like he was reading my mind.
There is a noisy, shallow campaign across American schools right now to stop bullying, propagated by people who have no idea what it’s like to bullied. It’s the popular kids, and they pay lip service to anti-bullying campaigns while never really understanding the nature of the very bullying they continue to do.
We have to look at ourselves and the society we have constructed. And I don’t mean that we need to look at the government or the medical system or the gun lobby. I mean that we need to look into the mirror. Who did this? Who made these lovely children into people so dark and awful, so burdened with suffering that they collapsed under its weight?
You did this. You. You murdered 20 children in Connecticut the minute you bought your ticket to see Die Hard with a Vengeance. You murdered those children the minute you clicked on an internet story about Lindsay Lohan. You murdered those children when you yelled “kill him” at the television during the Super Bowl. You murdered those children starting 30 years ago, when you called the class weakling a “fag.” You murdered those children with you selfishness, your shallowness, your petty indifference. And you blame some kid with a gun because you don’t have the courage or the intelligence to look in the mirror and take the blame for the world you have helped construct.
Look in the mirror now, and say it: I did this with my suburban home upgrades. I did this with my reality television. I did this with my monster truck rallies. I did this with my emptiness.
There’s a scene near the beginning of The Paper Chase in which the protagonist, Timothy Bottoms, sneaks into a closed area of a library at Harvard Law School. He climbs through a window and down onto a type of configurable floor called a deck, where he intends to read law books that are not available to regular law students.
The scene is eerily similar to one in my own college life when I snuck into a closed section of my college library by squeezing from one floor of deck to the next where the flooring didn’t quite meet the wall. The decks there were made of thick, translucent glass, so you could see anyone walking on the deck above you, so I had to sneak extra cautiously.
I wasn’t there because there were forbidden law books to be read. I was there because it was forbidden at all. Like my infiltration of the subterranean maintenance tunnel system, my exploration of the forbidden decks was one only of curiosity. Here are a few things my friends and I found strewn about the library attic:
- Survival biscuits and canned water.
- Handwritten bank checks and statements from the 1890s.
- Rusty file cabinets that seemed to contain banking or financial data.
- Various rat trash scattered all around.
I didn’t take anything, and wouldn’t have even if I wanted any of it. I wasn’t there to steal.
I think my desire to explore places like maintenance tunnels and locked attics in my youth morphed into exploring ski trails and hiking trails as an adult. I’m sure it all harkens back to the notion of having a childlike curiosity that can never be quenched. At least I hope I never quench it.