A Night Full of Words

It was my privilege to participate in an open mic night this weekend.

Those like me who love the written word listen attentively as authors read their poems, stories and essays at an open mic night.
Those like me who love the written word listen attentively as authors read their poems, stories and essays at an open mic night.

Longtime readers might recall that from 2017 through 2019, I participated in an open mic night on the first Monday of every month. I made some new friends, and saw many old friends, and got very comfortable reading my creative writing and showing my photos.

Event organizer Cody Baggerly got the night started by reading one of his poems.
Event organizer Cody Baggerly got the night started by reading one of his poems.

I was sad when that ended, and although I got a chance or two to participate occasionally in the years that followed, I really missed it.

Ken Hada, who spoke to my Rotary Club just a day before, read one of the poems from his most recent book "Come Before Winter."
Ken Hada, who spoke to my Rotary Club just a day before, read one of the poems from his most recent book “Come Before Winter.”

So I was very enthusiastic when I heard of another open mic event in my area, hosted by Kind Origins Cannabis.

Cody Baggerly reads one of his wife Bethany's poems.
Cody Baggerly reads one of his wife Bethany’s poems.
Bethany Baggerly reacts as her husband Cody reads one of her poems to the group.
Bethany Baggerly reacts as her husband Cody reads one of her poems to the group.

One reason I was sorry to see it go was that I used reading to my audience as motivation to polish my work.

Nikki Herrin reads a poem. At the end of the night, I bought her book of poems, "The Progression."
Nikki Herrin reads a poem. At the end of the night, I bought her book of poems, “The Progression.”
Mark Walling reacts to a reading. Like Ken Hada, I've known Mark for a couple of decades, and very much admire his work. His most recent book is called "I Can Hear Everything from Here."
Mark Walling reacts to a reading. Like Ken Hada, I’ve known Mark for a couple of decades, and very much admire his work. His most recent book is called “I Can Hear Everything from Here.”

As usual, and since it is my nature, I ended up making most of the photographs of the night. I made a point to shoot them in an entirely different style than my newspaper work, using my Lumix 4/3 mirrorless and a 1960s-era Minolta 58mm f/1.4 in black-and-white.

Everything about this Lumix GH2 and this 58mm f/1.4 lens says "fine art," and that was the photographer I was trying to be.
Everything about this Lumix GH2 and this 58mm f/1.4 lens says “fine art,” and that was the photographer I was trying to be.

I was also very much reminded of a one-time open mic I joined in October 2020, The Esoteric Verse (link). I wish we had more of these kinds of events.

I'd never been to Kind Origins. There is a nice, big space with good seating, and I was very pleased we filled the place.
I’d never been to Kind Origins. There is a nice, big space with good seating, and I was very pleased we filled the place.

Ellen in Grey at The Red Cup

The Red Cup is a coffee house and vegetarian restaurant in Oklahoma City.
The Red Cup is a coffee house and vegetarian restaurant in Oklahoma City.

Mackenzee Crosby invited me to have lunch with her at The Red Cup, a vegan coffee house and restaurant in Oklahoma City. She is hoping to move to New York soon, and despite her repeated invitations, I’d never managed to make it up there, so this was her last chance to share the experience with me.

According to some sources, looking up and to the right can mean a person is constructing a picture. This can indicate that someone is imagining something or visualizing a constructed event.
According to some sources, looking up and to the right can mean a person is constructing a picture. This can indicate that someone is imagining something or visualizing a constructed event.

Mackenzee and I have been friends since for more than a decade, since she was in junior high. She took my class in 2014. Right before the pandemic in 2020, she photographed Abby and me at home for a college project. In 2021, she spent her newspaper internship at my newspaper (you can read more about her internship here [link], and here [link]). During her internship, I wanted her to write a column. My column is called Picture This, so I wanted hers to have an appealing name. After bantering twenty or so names, she loved the sound of Ellen in Grey. Her middle name is Ellen.

Mackenzee really liked the look of these bar stools, and wanted me to photographer her with them.
Mackenzee really liked the look of these bar stools, and wanted me to photographer her with them.

One running photographic laugh between us is that she is very nearsighted, and as I get older, I need readers to see up close. As a result, when she puts my camera to her eye, everything is blurry, and when I put her camera to my eye, everything is blurry.

Mackenzee is known for "acting with her eyes."
Mackenzee is known for “acting with her eyes.”

Mackenzee is also an aspiring poet and author, and I’m always glad when I get to read something of hers. She and I were part of the open mic scene in Ada, and during the pandemic, we both took part in an amazing one-night reading called Esoteric Verse (here, link.)

We found this dilapidated store on Western, and took turns posing with it.
We found this dilapidated store on Western, and took turns posing with it.

After lunch, we walked east toward a cathedral she admires, then over to a spot on Western with a couple of graphic features she knew would make pictures.

Early on her internship, Mackenzee invested in a Fujifilm X100V with its fixed 23mm f/2, a camera that has gotten rare and coveted since being introduced. I have a Fuji X-T10, which I brought with my 18mm f/2 attached, so we were both shooting in a similar set.

Your host shoots with his Fujifilm X-T10.
Your host shoots with his Fujifilm X-T10.
Shot just a second or two after the last image, I love this image because she is laughing.
Shot just a second or two after the last image, I love this image because she is laughing.
It had been cold and foggy for ten days, but the weather turned beautiful, perfect, for our photowalk.
It had been cold and foggy for ten days, but the weather turned beautiful, perfect, for our photowalk.
Mackenzee didn't deny she looked like she had just come from The Matrix.
Mackenzee didn’t deny she looked like she had just come from The Matrix.
I love the way my Fuji makes black-and-white images. This was made using the green filter film simulation mode.
I love the way my Fuji makes black-and-white images. This was made using the green filter film simulation mode.

I am excited for her that she’s moving to New York, but I also know I’ll miss her being close by.

Mackenzee is among the most artistic personalities in my life, and that comes very naturally to her.
Mackenzee is among the most artistic personalities in my life, and that comes very naturally to her.

That Little Souvenir

Pamela Michelle Young Hudspeth has died. She was 58.

I was unmarried and lonely in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In May 1992, I started dating Pam, and, quite honestly, she was incredibly beautiful. She was so beautiful, in fact, that it blinded me to more realistic considerations, such as the fact that she believed in things that I didn’t: spirit photography, the “inner child,” Satanism, astrology and much more.

This is Pam in 1991. She was waifish and delicate, both physically and emotionally.
This is Pam in 1991. She was waifish and delicate, both physically and emotionally.

Still, I was so taken with her, I probably would have married her if she hadn’t moved away. Despite her odd canon of beliefs, she was always interesting.

The Writing Group

Over the years I have organized several groups that got together on a weekly basis to share our writing and challenge each other to write. Among other things, the endeavor was intended to get me closer to attractive women, and in particular, attractive creative women.

I shot this Polaroid of Pam at her desk in the newsroom. Later, she hand tinted it.
I shot this Polaroid of Pam at her desk in the newsroom. Later, she hand tinted it.

I found it very attractive that Pam wrote. She penned a column at our newspaper, often politically unpopular and inflammatory, and claimed she wanted to write books, stories, and an autobiography. Along with Frank Rodrigues and Melissa Price, Pam joined my writing club in 1991. Oddly, it was hard to get her to write much, and now, decades later, her claims of wanting to continue to write had never come to fruition.

At one point in that group, Pam and I sat across a kitchen table. She looked at me and asked, “Richard, are in a lot of pain all the time?” Now, knowing her intense spiritual pain, I realize she wasn’t asking me, she was inviting me.

Music Guides My Heart

As I write this, I listen to music that brings back those days.

My Pam playlist includes…

Here’s Where the Story Ends, Goodbye, and Wild Horses by The Sundays

I Must Have Been Blind by This Mortal Coil

Ghost and The Girl with the weight of the World in her Hands by The Indigo Girls

All I Want is You and Love is Blindness by U2

Friday I’m in Love, High, and To Wish Impossible Things by The Cure

Season of Hollow Soul by k.d. lang

Torn, High on a Riverbed, and Don’t Go Away by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Three Wishes by Roger Waters

The One by Elton John (after she heard the lyrics “a spirit born of earth and water” and said she looked up our elemental signs to find she was water and I was earth.) At one point I had the cassette single of The One, which we listened to in her car.

While we were dating, I brought her cassette mix tapes. She fell in love with the music of Phil Keaggy, so In the Light of the Common Day puts me right there on her couch with her.

Despite her emotional shortcomings, Pam was petite and beautiful, and my feelings for her were honest and genuine.
Despite her emotional shortcomings, Pam was petite and beautiful, and my feelings for her were honest and genuine.

A Brief and Difficult Romance

Pam and I attempted to get romantically involved starting in the late spring of 1992. At first it was just an invitation to dinner at her apartment or mine, but our relationship quickly grew into romance.

She was never comfortable with that. On some of the evenings that I had hoped and planned to spend with her disappeared because she was so threatened by genuine intimacy.

We talked about getting married. We talked about ideas. Of course, we were both working journalists at the time, so we talked about that.

Despite her efforts to do interesting things and have fun times, Pam's very posture was guarded and defensive, and her eyes seemed to have the "1000-yard stare."
Despite her efforts to do interesting things and have fun times, Pam’s very posture was guarded and defensive, and her eyes seemed to have the “1000-yard stare.”

Her perfume was Tribute. She smoked Virginia Slims. Her smell on me at the end of the night was oddly intoxicating.

Evenings with her were always charged with emotional energy, a promise of drama in the midst of her smoke and perfume that would light my night afire. She would always “need to talk about it.”

I knew that our night was going to be full of closeness when she would invite me to sit close to her on the couch with her legs across my lap.

At the end of all our evenings, we’d walk out to my car parked at her apartment, where I would gather her waifish body, and we would hold each other close, so close.

At one point when I could feel her withdrawing emotionally, I asked, “Do you feel it when I hold you?”

“Sometimes,” she answered.

She decided that her problems were getting in the way of our romance, and her well being, so she decided to go to a 28-day treatment facility in central New Mexico, the details of which she would not want me to share. I wrote her almost every day. She wrote back five times.

As part of the program, I joined her for the third week, and there, in the midst of a thousand tears, in the perfect New Mexico sunshine, we broke up.

We’ve been sharing so many words and feelingsAge is heavier, it seems, than years aloneBut, I told you things I wouldn’t dream of telling anyoneAre we drying out, like flowers from a forgotten someone
Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you
Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you
~Toad the Wet Sprocket

 

I Flew Away

My saving grace was that I was, at the time, learning to fly, and the exceptionally positive learning experience of aviation couldn’t have come at a more perfect point in my life. She moved away, and I devoted much of my time to flight training, so it was easier to let her go.

This key fob was "that little souvenir." Family members of the clients all got one. For this photo, it is sitting on a "God bag," which bore the "serenity prayer." The idea is to write down your problems, thus "giving them to God."
This key fob was “that little souvenir.” Family members of the clients all got one. For this photo, it is sitting on a “God bag,” which bore the “serenity prayer.” The idea is to write down your problems, thus “giving them to God.”

That Little Souvenir

It’s that little souvenir, of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
It’s that little souvenir, of a colorful year
Which makes me smile inside… ~The Sundays


In the decades that followed my short time with Pam, I have thought about her often, and stayed in touch, more so in the last couple of years of her life. In those conversations, she expressed endless regret at letting me go. “Now,” she said in an email, “I know with all my heart, you were who I should have been with. You were the best man I ever dated, period.”

Pam came to Ada for the first time in many years for her grandmother's funeral March 2, 2022. I only saw her for a short time, but we had a good talk, and she held me tight when it was time for me to leave.
Pam came to Ada for the first time in many years for her grandmother’s funeral March 2, 2022. I only saw her for a short time, but we had a good talk, and she held me tight when it was time for me to leave.

In one written correspondence not that long ago, I asked her what she wanted. “Out,” was her answer.

In August of this year, she and I hatched a plan to have lunch in Henrietta, Oklahoma, halfway between her home and mine. We both got pretty excited, dreaming about the buffet at Mazzio’s Pizza and spending the afternoon together. But as the day grew near, she called it off, saying she was sick again.

In tremendous physical and emotional pain for years, and no longer wanting to live, she died at home this week in hospice care.

This is from the evening Pam and I went to Robert Erwin's Cole Porter Party. It was a great time.
This is from the evening Pam and I went to Robert Erwin’s Cole Porter Party. It was a great time.

Goodbye, Pam.

The Abyss Gazes Also into You

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

How am I happy? It’s an interesting puzzle, isn’t it? I am a happy person, and I expect I will be happy for the rest of my life. But how, especially after witnessing the illness and death of the love of my life 19 months ago, can this be?

I thought about that after a search of a cloud storage folder yielded, accidentally, the transcribed journal of someone I knew and dated in the early 1990s, who took her own life in early 1994.

In that journal, which I discovered only after she died, I found a potent sense of depression, despair, resentment, self-contempt, and misanthropy. Why? What drove her to such bone-crushing lows?

There were certainly the unambiguous signs of anxiety and clinical depression, and certainly some very serious post-traumatic stress disorder. She couldn’t sleep or eat well. She was disinclined to reach out (at least to me.)

In her journal (which she wrote as letters to me, which all started, “Dear Richard”), she wrote again and again about wanting to die. “I’m afraid no one will ever love me again, and I will be alone all my life,” she wrote. “If I live to be forty and am still alone, I think I will interfere with my destiny,” she later wrote, though at that time, she was 43.

One of the least-accurate things she wrote was that she was, “easy to get along with.” She was about as “easy” as a nuclear war. The reason that I stopped courting her was that she was so hard to get along with.

But okay. Doesn’t all that describe me to some degree during various periods in my life? Sure. But now am I alone, living with the echoes and memories of the most amazing love I have ever witnessed, let alone experienced, yet still smile and eat and work and love my life.

It’s too easy to write her off with “she was crazy.” Is the real truth that we are just blobs of delicately-balanced biomass? Are we all just “one trade away from humility,” to cite the movie Wall Street?

Three months before she killed herself, she wrote, “You know NOT ONE IOTA of the pain I live with daily. You are NOT forced to live my life. So LAY OFF.”

I knew fragments of that kind of pain when I was younger, but I dealt with it. She was consumed and destroyed by it.

What, then, do we think and do about this? I will ponder further.

"Every action is filled with light and with darkness." ~Black Filigree Notebook
“Every action is filled with light and with darkness.” ~Black Filigree Notebook

The Journal Turns 45!

For the first 20 years of my journal, I wrote in Mead college-ruled notebooks because it was the first format assigned by a tenth grade English II teacher.
For the first 20 years of my journal, I wrote in Mead college-ruled notebooks because it was the first format assigned by a tenth grade English II teacher.

Many of my readers will recall that I have been writing in a journal for most of my life. September 5, 2023 marks the 45-year mark. As I thought about this anniversary, I began to think about breaking it up into various periods, a kind of lifelong chronology of my writing.

1978 really was a different time. No internet. No cell phones. No air conditioning in schools (at least not in mine.) The top five television shows were Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, and Angie. I watched the first four, but I have no idea what Angie was. We must have liked another show on another network, because I even watched the intro on YouTube, and I’d never seen even a single second of that show.

Anyway, the journal got started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade. The first thing I wrote was the date on the second line of the first page, “Tuesday, September 5, 1978,” in a handwriting that might best be described as resembling Comic Sans.

So, what might the epochs of Richard’s journal be called? I’ll take a stab at it.

1978-1980: The Innocent Age. This was a time in my life magnified by the drama and innocence of being a mid-teenager, unspoiled by the crush of adulthood, yet with a  decidedly distorted perspective about life. I felt emotionally isolated, but also thought it all revolved around me and my feelings.

1980: The First Writing Group. I took a creative writing class in eleventh grade, and decided I was going to be a brilliant novelist before I turned 18. I wrote a lot, but it wasn’t very good. I got my girlfriend and my best friend interested in writing, and they joined in, sometimes giving each other writing assignments or challenges.

1981: The Chatter Box. By this point in my writing, I was doing a daily writing dump. Anything I could think of went on the page, and while it kept me disciplined and literate, it was emotionally empty, often falling back on a sense of humor I culled from M*A*S*H reruns and Peanuts comic strips.

1982-1983: The Dark Age. By the time I was a freshman in college, I thought of myself as a deep thinker, and honestly, I kind of was. I listened to a lot of music with deep lyrics, and cobbled together an elementary philosophy. As a result, there were many nights I didn’t write anything at all in my journal. Two important deaths, both college friends, happened during this period, but I breezed over them in my journal with a kind of arrogant nonchalance.

1984-1985: The Days and Nights of Private Drama. By the time I was 21, in the summer of 1984, I was starting to express real feelings about my life in my journal, including a very powerful sense of loneliness. It was a valid expression, since I was alone in a lot of ways during that period.

1986-1988: The Bridge. I started dating a fellow journalist in the summer of 1986. It started with late night breakfasts and sitting out under the stars on a bridge over an interstate.  She and I were both young and not very good at being in relationships, and if I had listened to her, I would have heard she wanted out, and if I listened to myself, I would have heard that I was into someone else more than her. It was a hard breakup, but it needed to happen.

1988-1989: My Time in Exile. I tried to move to another state to be with that girlfriend, but when it didn’t work out,  I moved back to Oklahoma. It felt both like I had been exiled, and that I was living in a self-imposed exile.

1990-1991: The Second Writing Group. Three other journalists and I got together every other Friday night to trade short stories and novel chapters. We were all writing well during that period.

1991-1992: The Season of Hollow Soul. I dated a beautiful, young, creative, and at least somewhat troubled fellow journalist during this time. We were only together a few months, but I was really in love. The k. d. lang song Season of Hollow Soul came along just then and became an anthem for our break-up.

1993-1998: I Flew Away. During this period I was flying all the time. Airplanes were cheap to rent, and I had disposable income and spare time. My journal is full of fun entries about flying.

1999-2000: The Third Writing Group, Robert’s Frost. I briefly, and with difficulty, dated an endocrinologist who told me she wrote poems and stories, so we formed a writing club called Robert’s Frost. It was her, me, and four other writers I knew. We all wrote some pretty great stuff for the short time we kept it going.

2003-2004: The High Road. Abby and I met and fell in love, and my journal is all over it. She even wrote a journal for a while. Our first vacation was called The High Road, but that very phrase ended up describing our whole relationship. We got married in October 2004.

2005-2015: Diamond Days. For a while, one of our web pages was called Diamond Days, and was an expression of how happy our lives together were. We loved being married, we loved traveling together, and we loved each other. The journal, and, by then, this blog expressed that without doubt.

2016-2019: The Fourth Writing Group, Open Mic Nyte. I started attending an interesting group in 2016, and open mic venue at a local coffee house. We all read, sang, performed, or showed our art, and it was amazing. I wrote all kinds of great stuff during that great period, and often read passages from the journal itself, and I wrote about the sessions in my journal.

2020-2021: The Isolation Journals. My friend Mackenzee crafted some poems during the early pandemic under the heading of The Isolations Journals, but I like that title enough to steal it. During this period, we all faced the difficulties and missteps of the pandemic, and this period marked a sharp decline in my wife’s health.

September 5, 2023: Abby died in March 2022. The journal has it all there in black and white, but it’s not easy to look at those pages. But I am still writing.

Here is a strange truism about journal writing that has not served us well: I wrote things in my journal in tenth grade that would have gotten me arrested and/or medicated 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or today. If anyone in today’s social network scene posted some of the stuff I wrote back then, the schools would go on instant lockdown.

That seems like a reasonable course of action, but the truth is that has the effect of driving self-expression underground, where it festers and builds instead of being expressed and dealt with, and I wonder if that is a contributor to more violent trends now than in 1978.

And it’s not that I was broken and violent. We all have broken and unsettling thoughts and feelings when we are inundated by the cruelties, and hormones, of teen life, and we can deal with them, or we can bury them.

Finally, today I finished my current journal volume, number 56, and tomorrow will start the next one. Question: what can I do to amp the creativity in the next one?

Starting 1998, I wrote in 4-inch by 8-inch hardback volumes, and made a point to let myself be messier and have more fun.
Starting 1998, I wrote in 4-inch by 8-inch hardback volumes, and made a point to let myself be messier and have more fun.

The Second Year of Grieving

My wife Abby sometimes looked like sunshine itself to me.
My wife Abby sometimes looked like sunshine itself to me.

I recognize that I have never experienced grieving the death of a spouse before. My wife Abby died 18 months ago, and I am finding my second year of grieving her death  to be harder than the first.

I miss her more than ever.

Losing her wasn’t as hard as watching her lose the fight. I was there for her every day, but aside from loving her and advocating for her care, there wasn’t really anything I could do to make her well.

One of the best things I have going now is my relationship with the community. It has purpose and remains positive. This image is from a recent Friday night. I was working a football game and over my left shoulder I hear, "Richard!" I turn to see these three kids, who wanted me to take their picture. It's such a great feeling to be a part of that scene.
One of the best things I have going now is my relationship with the community. It has purpose and remains positive. This image is from a recent Friday night. I was working a football game and over my left shoulder I hear, “Richard!” I turn to see these three kids, who wanted me to take their picture. It’s such a great feeling to be a part of that scene.

When I was 14, I read in The Book of Lists that the top two most stressful events in a human life were divorce, and the death of a spouse, but I had always questioned the validity of that assertion since I imagined the death of a child, especially a young child, would be the worst.

On the other hand, paindoctor.com gives an updated list, with a stress index number assigned to it…

  1. Death of a spouse or child: 100
  2. Divorce: 73
  3. Marital separation: 65
  4. Imprisonment: 63
  5. Death of a close family member: 63
  6. Personal injury or illness: 53
  7. Marriage: 50
  8. Dismissal from work: 47
  9. Marital reconciliation: 45
  10. Retirement: 45

I know other people who are currently grieving things like divorce or the death of a parent, but they haven’t expressed it to me in obvious terms. I can understand this. It can be hard to admit that something outside ourselves has taken something valuable from us – that feels weak and vulnerable.

And of course theres always room for self doubt.

Sad songs make me sad, but happy songs make me sad too, since so many of them were about us.

I talk to Abby sometimes. Usually it is just to say that I miss her.

What do I miss? I miss our debriefs at the end of every day. I miss her hand in mine as we slept. I miss the hope of another adventure down the road with her. I miss her laughter as we watched movies. I miss bringing her Braum’s vanilla milkshakes and Sonic burgers. I miss her “I love you” every day and every night. I miss saying “I love you” to her every day and every night. I miss the smell of her hair. I miss that she was proud of me and the things I accomplished. I miss her telling me every day that I looked great.

I miss you, Abby.

Someone told me once that if I never took another picture in my life, this was enough. I have to say I love this image every time I see it: my wife Abby walking through the trees at sunset on a late-spring evening, her Chihuahua in her arms and another curious dog at her heels.
Someone told me once that if I never took another picture in my life, this was enough. I have to say I love this image every time I see it: my wife Abby walking through the trees at sunset on a late-spring evening, her Chihuahua in her arms and another curious dog at her heels.

These Aren’t My Memories

In 1998, just before switching to smaller notebooks, I wrote in my margins all the time. I love this style.
In 1998, just before switching to smaller notebooks, I wrote in my margins all the time. I love this style.

I was digging through a journal recently, and if I am completely honest, it was to find out when I had sex with someone that year. I didn’t find that, but I came across some extraordinary notes.

May 11, 1998…

“I’m tied of ice chest boyfriends.” ~Lisa, who was hitting on me at the time.

The most suffocating fantasy of all: the white picket fence.

The biggest imagination gap: self image. Look at yourself!

May 12, 1998…

What makes greatness? Only the struggle of the human spirit against nature, against each other, against ourselves, can make us great. Let greatness come about on its own. Yet I yearn to capture it!

May 18, 1998…

I must remember to keep expanding. My diet can always be better. I can always take better pictures. My words can always say more. I can always fly better. I can make more friends. I can forgive you.

Where are you tonight? … not in my arms.

May 19, 1998…

(In the margin) All this waits inside me. Some day we will take hold of each other and this will all come pouring out.

Does she have any idea of the depth and complexity that resides behind these oddly innocent blue eyes?

I am emptied by my honesty.

Decoy wine and decoy not wine? I see what you did there.
Decoy wine and decoy not wine? I see what you did there.

Alarming similarities between Anaîs Nin and me:

“I am unable to move from journal to fiction,” and, “I copy the pithiest aphorisms into the diary.”

June 5, 1998…

Her shallow indifference to my life was never enough to separate my quixotic fantasies from her real self.

Last night was a parade of stereotyping and sexism. Donna was our master of ceremonies.

I don’t despise who you are. I despise who you think you are.

“That was very sexy.” ~woman who watched me lick the salt off a margarita glass.

Your lies are of no interest to me, even if they are just lies to yourself.

June 10, 1998…

Mary drew the dull-orange rag from the pocket of her filthy blue overalls to wipe the mist of sweat from her forehead. The rag was dirty from engine grease, and made a black steak across her brow. Her face had been pale years ago, framed by almost-black shoulder-length hair, but the sun and age and violent unhappiness had all taken their toll, mixing her coloring to a greyish tan, peppered by by grey hair pulled back onto a pony tail.

Who is she? What does she fear?

Last night I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, so I sat in my camp chair on the deck for a while. It was cool and breezy and amazing.
Last night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I sat in my camp chair on the deck for a while. It was cool and breezy and amazing.

My Life in Two-Way Radio

Updated July 2023

As some of you might know, I am a licensed amateur radio operator. My FCC-assigned call sign is kc5tfz, which is also the custom license tag on my Nissan Juke. I have several friends who are licensed “ham” radio operators. Almost universally, we use our amateur radio privileges less and less. I got my license originally to aid in storm spotting, but like most communications in the 21st century, amateur radio has been, or is in the process of being, replaced by the Internet, or more fundamentally by the “datastream.” Even our personal two-way radio needs are better met by Family Radio Service handheld radios available everywhere. Abby and I each carry one when we hike.

Uniden, Radio Shack, Kenwood, Icom and more; I don't have a favorite brand, but certain radios have stood out as the best over the years.
Uniden, Radio Shack, Kenwood, Icom and more; I don’t have a favorite brand, but certain radios have stood out as the best over the years.

I have made a few antennas in my day, like the occasional j-pole or quarter wave, but I was never all that into it. I am actually pretty good at identifying antennas on towers and vehicles.

As I was driving to Utah a few years ago, I had lots of time on my hands, so I decided to make a list of all the police scanners I have owned. It was no small number, due in some part to improvements in technology and changes in the scanning environment, but also due to scanners wearing out and dying. Sometimes even boredom takes a role, and I’ll pick up a scanner as a bargain from a pawn shop or a garage sale just to play with it.

I have a vague recollection of picking up some scanner traffic on an analog multi-band radio I got as a birthday gift when I was a young teenager. I was 15, because I noted it in my journal. “Does this subject want to breath or bleed?” I quoted in my writings. The question was asked to determine if a DUI suspect wanted to take a breathalyzer test or a blood test. I suspect this was on an unpublished frequency, since my radio didn’t pick up the UHF band used at the time by Lawton police.  That was my first experience with listening to public safety communications.

This was my communications stack in the mid 1990s. Most of the scanners in this image have died and been replaced.
This was my communications stack in the mid 1990s. Most of the scanners in this image have died and been replaced.

In 1982, I got an internship in a newspaper in Lawton, and there was a scanner in the newsroom, and one in each of the cars the paper owned that we photographers used. I recall that one of the scanners was the venerable Bearcat III 8-channel crystal-controlled units, and the other a 16-channel programmable. They were getting long in the tooth even then, with the emergence of better microprocessor-controlled scanners, but they got the job done, since Lawton only used about four frequencies on a regular basis.

The Bearcat BC-100 was among the first programmable scanners. Although it wasn't a great radio, it worked, and I used it for a few years in the 1980s.
The Bearcat BC-100 was among the first programmable scanners. Although it wasn’t a great radio, it worked, and I used it for a few years in the 1980s.

I was so enamored of the notion of “spying” on the police and fire departments (which prior to that I thought was illegal) that for my July birthday I asked for a scanner, and my parents obliged. Thus began a hobby that has lasted to this day. The list of scanners I owned throughout the years goes something like this (red ones are dead):

  • Bearcat BC-150, 10 channel (birthday gift 1982.)
  • Realistic Pro-21 4 channel crystal scanner (scanned VHF great, but very poor for UHF, which it was supposed to do. I had the front end readjusted a couple of times, which didn’t really help.)
  • Bearcat III, 8 channel crystal (garage sale, installed in my first car, a 1973 VW.)
  • Bearcat BC-100, 16 channel, the first ever programmable handheld scanner (bad battery setup, bad antenna design. I later got one from Ebay just for kicks.)
  • Fox BMP 10/60 10 channel, died decades ago, replaced with a half-working copy from Ebay for$20 in 2023; red LED display plus red LEDs for each channel, with Service Search (installed in VW and later Renault Alliance.)
  • Radio Shack Realistic Pro-2001, 16-channel, acquired in 2023 for $30 from a guy who called it “untested,” but it works fine. Interesting hybrid of crystal-controlled-style LEDs for each channel plus red LED display on the face.
The Fox BMP 10/60 sits atop the Realistic Pro-2001.
The Fox BMP 10/60 sits atop the Realistic Pro-2001.
  • Radio Shack Realistic Pro-31, 10 channel handheld (big radio that uses six AA batteries, hard to carry, but nice and loud.)
  • Realistic Pro-37, 200-channel handheld. Regarded as one of the best handheld scanners in 1987, I got one from Ebay in 2022. Uses six AA batteries.
  • Realistic Pro-2006, 400 channel base station. Regarded as one of the best base station scanners in late 1980s, I got one from Ebay in 2022. Sticky keys meant I had to open it up several times to spray with tuner cleaner, but it mostly works. Electroluminescent display is sketchy.
  • Realistic Pro-2004, 300 channel base station. This was regarded as the base station scanner to own in 1986, so I got one from Ebay in 2022. It turned out that bad soldering during production meant none of these work any more. It looks good in my stack, however.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2021 200 channel. I bough this radio new in 1986 when it got marked down and discontinued, but despite the fact that it scans too slowly, it received well and is loud and clear. I had it my car for a short time in the early 1990s, and it currently resides in the garage. In early 2024, I saw one in mint condition on Ebay for $25 and bought it, so I have two of these.
  • Cobra SR-15 100 channel handheld (with leather case, one of the best handhelds I ever owned.) Update: in 2020, I found one of these for $10 on eBay and bought it for its nostalgia value. It looks great but doesn’t run well.
  • Regency MX-3000 80 channel (slanted front, blue display, worst receiver circuit of any I owned.)
  • Uniden BC760XLT 100 channel mobile. Good audio, good form for car mounting. But mine forgets all it’s frequency when power is interrupted, so I have relegated it to single-channel listening and band searches.
  • Uniden Bearcat BC560XLT 16-channel with 2-digit display x2 (very cheap, good speaker – one was destroyed in a crash in 1990.)
  • Sporty’s Pilot Shop A300 aviation band transceiver.
  • Uniden 500 UBC9000XLT 500-channel (most expensive scanner I even bought, died within three years.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2026 200 channel
  • Bearcat BD144XL 16 channel (pawn shop, gave to a friend.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-23 50 channel handheld (bought for next to nothing from a coworker.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-94 1000 channel handheld (confusing “trunk” radio programming, terrible battery performance, tinny audio)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2035 1000 channel
  • Radio Shack Pro-2039 200 channel
  • Alinco DR M06TH 6-meter amateur (not really a scanner, but will scan 30-50 Mhz in addition to 6m; at home, fed by Cushcraft AR-6)
  • Cherokee AH-50 6-meter amateur handheld (not really a scanner; 6m; not in use.)
  • Radio Shack HTX-202 and HTX-404 handheld 2m and 70cm transceivers (not scanners)
  • Icom IC-2820H, great, very capable dual band amateur radio with full scanning ability, including tone squelch; my primary news-gathering radio in my Nissan Juke
  • Icom IC-2350H amateur dual-band + public safety, installed as a second radio in the Nissan Juke
  • Icom IC-207H amateur dual-band + public safety, currently in my stack in the house
  • Icom IC-V8000, a high-wattage 2-meter radio mounted in the Nissan Frontier
  • Kenwood TH-79A amateur handheld + public safety
  • Kenwood TH-22A amateur handheld + public safety
  • Uniden BD175XL 16 channel (given to me by Abby’s late father)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2030 80 channel
  • Radio Shack Pro-2028 50 channel
  • Uniden BC72XLT “Nascar” handheld 100 channel (one of the best handheld scanners I own because of its small size and good audio.)
  • Uniden BCT75XLT 300-channel handheld scanner, given to me by Robert Stinson, who bought it and two others at a thrift store, giving one to Scott and one for himself as well.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2055. After installing an additional quarter-wave on the roof, I poked around a couple of pawn shops and found this radio for next to nothing.
  • Radio Shack Pro-163. This radio is very similar to the Pro-2055.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2020 20-channel scanner of 1978 vintage, bought from Ebay for its nostalgia. I took it apart and cleaned it out with contact cleaner, which was a chore, but which worked. I paid about $10 for it. It is the heaviest and largest scanner I own, maybe 10 pounds and the size of a cassette deck.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2002, a 50-channel radio, also as a bargain from Ebay.
  • Icom IC-2200H. I got this from a pawn shop for $80.
  • Baofeng UV-5R multi-role transceiver. This tiny radio is all the rage, so I bought one in June 2019 for next to nothing to see what the fuss was all about. Read it’s review here (link).  I had three of them, but the red one seems to have disappeared.
  • Uniden Pro501HH Citizens Band radio. I got this recently after patiently scouring garage sales, estate sales, and used equipment websites like Ebay, with no luck at all finding anything CB at all. I don’t expect to use it a lot, but the tipping point for me was learning that Jeep events still use Citizen’s Band.
  • Radio Shack DX-394 all-mode communications receiver, bought on eBay in 2023 as a replacement for my long-dead DX-400, which got done-in by corroded batteries.
Radio Shack DX-394
Radio Shack DX-394

I had a few Citizen’s Band (CB) radios over the years, and found them to be just as useless as most of the internet is today, littered with vulgar, ignorant, undisciplined chatter.

The Radio Shack Pro-2055 was added to my home stack July 2012. Although it is not able to be rebanded, its low pawn shop price makes it a good choice for local listening in my area.
The Radio Shack Pro-2055 was added to my home stack July 2012. Although it is not able to be rebanded, its low pawn shop price makes it a good choice for local listening in my area.

My wife was annoyed by the daily chatter of the scanner, but I am able to filter it very effectively, and my ears perk up every time I heard a code that corresponds to something that might be newsworthy, like an injury accident, house fire, missing person, high-speed chase, severe weather, and more. The best example of my brain filtering scanner traffic was one night in March 2000. I kept the scanner on at a very low volume level, so that I could barely hear the routine comms, but sirens or urgent voices would wake me, as did, that night, the very urgent words, “The roof of the Ada Evening News is on fire!” After hearing that, I was downtown covering one of Ada’s biggest fires, of the Evergreen Feed Mill, in about three minutes.

So as long as I am able, I’ll be listening.

My main source for scanner frequencies is http://www.radioreference.com/

Nothing says "Get out of bed!" at three in the morning like an urgent voice yelling that downtown is on fire.
Nothing says “Get out of bed!” at three in the morning like an urgent voice yelling that downtown is on fire.

How Many Life Lessons by 60?

Eye-catching wisdom?
Eye-catching wisdom?

I’ve been cooking on this item for six months, hoping to get “60 life lessons I learned by the age of 60,” but I guess I haven’t learned that much, because I topped out at 50.

  • Every day is the best, because it contains all your great days within it.
  • Every day is the right day.
  • Looking bad in the eyes of strangers doesn’t matter, and I don’t really look bad in the eyes of my friends.
  • Healthy anger is constructive, but it can turn on you.
  • Resentment only hurts you.
  • If you have nothing to say, don’t say anything.
  • Beans are the best. They are good at every point in their chain of existence; they are good for the environment, they are good for your body, and they are good for the soul.
  • No one is inherently evil, no matter how awful they seem. No one is irredeemable.
  • “Evil” isn’t a thing, it’s a perception. It is WAY too easy to call something evil, like cancer or Nazis, but those examples and a million more are just a point in the evolution of the universe.
  • It’s too easy to misunderstand the world because we mess up the words that go with it. “Mexican” isn’t racist, for example, because Mexico isn’t a race, it’s a nation, and “Mexican” is a nationality.
Is it art just because it's not very clear?
Is it art just because it’s not very clear?
  • You can’t defeat something by hating it. It will just hate you back. Try understanding it.
  • If your friends tell you during your crisis that, “If you need anything, anything at all, just let me know,” it means that they don’t understand what they are promising.
  • Saying “you are in my thoughts and prayers” is seldom even the case. Saying that is a fashion statement, not a real expression of empathy.
  • “True friends hold you accountable for your actions.” I held someone accountable once, and at first it seemed like the destruction of the friendship, but not long after that, she told me I was right, and thanked me for calling her out.
  • Silence does not imply or infer guilt or siding with oppression, because most conversations deserve thought and reason, not impulsiveness. I do NOT make exceptions to this idea because of the urgency of current issues.
  • Did I block you? Boo hoo. I blocked you because you suck.
  • Entertainment is pleasure, not art.
  • War will always be with us, and “We’re not here to do the right thing. We’re here to follow f*cking orders!”
Know who and what to love.
Know who and what to love.
  • Violence sometimes seems like a very clear answer until you imagine that violence wielded against your loved ones or children.
  • There have been many instances in which a group will be accused, and held liable, for how they are perceived, not how they are. In that moment, it is your responsibility to stand against that.
  • Your responsibility to be ready for the fight never ends.
  • Marriage is as good as you make it. We made ours, and rebuilt it every day, and it was great.
  • The absolute best move when someone does something dangerous, stupid, or annoying is to be nice to them.
  • Hold the door for people. Thank people when they hold the door for you.
  • Expressing anger and hopelessness about humanity does nothing to improve it. Express hope, and ideas to make it better.
  • Tracers point both ways.
  • “IF” is the word in the middle of life.
  • Our possessions own us, not the other way around.
  • If what you are doing isn’t fun, you should be doing something else.
  • Procrastination, no matter how much you claim you enjoy it, makes the task more difficult in the end. Thus…
  • Just do it.
  • Make that dream into a reality. Whether it is “Doctor” in front of your name or bicycling across Europe, no one is going to hand you these things.
  • Your insecurities are lying to you about vulnerability. Being vulnerable can bring your heart and mind to new levels.
  • Get up and move. Walking anywhere, anytime, is better for you than sitting.
  • Listen to your wanderlust.
  • He/she is just one person. There are 8 billion more.
  • You decide what is true and meaningful. Don’t bet bullied into someone else’s ideas about the true nature of it all.
  • Touch heals, which is why broken people don’t touch you.
  • Hard work at every level is honorable.

It will take you where you're going, whether you're going there or not.

    It will take you where you’re going, whether you’re going there or not.
  • If you did everything you dream about doing and wish you would do, you’d never be bored again.
  • Creativity in any form is the high point of human behavior.
  • Words and how you use them make a difference. Well-crafted words and sentences command respect, and poor language damages your image and credibility.
  • Manners matter, especially in the 21st century full of incivility.
  • Standing up for what you think is right can be an asset, but be sure your really are right.
  • It’s so hard to be honest, especially when many around you are in love with your own dishonesty.
  • Try actually listening, instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.
  • No one ever said, “That $29,000 helicopter ride was totally worth eating all those stale Burger King french fries.”
  • Nobody ever said (or will say), “I sure am glad we put all those oil wells in the Grand Canyon.”
  • Make your bed, hang up your coat, contain and eliminate the clutter.
  • Know what among your possessions is really valuable, and what is really just garbage, and act accordingly.
  • Dress up; I mean professional attire. If I were a boss and you came to me for an interview in shorts and a t-shirt, I won’t look twice at your resumé.
Washing your hands is pretty basic, but many people don't.
Washing your hands is pretty basic, but many people don’t.

All About Rotary

Today was the swearing-in of officers and directors, so we all posed at the front of the room. That's me in the back on the left, wearing the Rotary necktie Christine Pappas and Shirley Mixon brought back for me from their recent visit to Australia.
Today was the swearing-in of officers and directors, so we all posed at the front of the room. That’s me in the back on the left, wearing the Rotary necktie Christine Pappas and Shirley Mixon brought back for me from their recent visit to Australia.

As of today, I am your 2023-2024 Ada Sunrise Rotary President.

It honors and amazes me that I was elected to do this, since in some ways, I don’t really see myself as an adult, and never have. I know I do an adult job, was a good adult husband, and I behave as an adult in the community. But me as a civic leader? Wow.

Robert Greenstreet reads from the Constitution of Rotary International during an Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. Robert was the Rotarian who first invited me to join three years ago.
Robert Greenstreet reads from the Constitution of Rotary International during an Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. Robert was the Rotarian who first invited me to join three years ago.

Rotary International is what’s known as a “service organization,” meaning we exist to provide enrichment to our community. The motto of Rotary is “Service Above Self.”

My fellow Rotarians and I usually meet at the Aldridge Hotel in downtown Ada, but Friday we were at Pontotoc Technology Center due to the Aldridge being closed this week.

Dr. Leah Dudley discusses the upcoming Fireball Classic event during our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center.
Dr. Leah Dudley discusses the upcoming Fireball Classic event during our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center.

Ada has two Rotary Clubs, Ada Sunrise, and Ada Rotary, and either of them merit a look if you are interested in joining. I have friends in both clubs, and they are both full of good people who welcome me.

Suzanne McFarlane is a fixture in Ada, pictured Friday at our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting at Pontotoc Technology Center. For decades Suzanne has been at the center of the Back to School Basics program.
Suzanne McFarlane is a fixture in Ada, pictured Friday at our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting at Pontotoc Technology Center. For decades Suzanne has been at the center of the Back to School Basics program.

So what do I want to do as Rotary President, and how would I like to lead? I would like to have more guest speakers on topics like health, fitness, the environment, diet and exercise. I would also love to bring in more guest speakers in the creative realms like artists, poets, authors and musicians.

Dr. Christine Pappas flashes her inextinguishable smile during a conversation at our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. Christine and I have been friends for a long time, but being in Rotary together has made us even better friends. I'm always glad when she's around.
Dr. Christine Pappas flashes her inextinguishable smile during a conversation at our Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. Christine and I have been friends for a long time, but being in Rotary together has made us even better friends. I’m always glad when she’s around.

I am a champion for issues like donating blood, and even at today’s meeting, I encouraged us all to donate.

Of course, the bottom line of leadership is to lead through example, so I hope to work as hard as anyone in our Rotary Club, and, by extension, have as much fun doing it as anyone in the club.

Outgoing President Dr. Ashley Durham presents Dwight O'Dell with the Ada Sunrise Rotary's Rotarian of the Year Award at our meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. We chose Dwight unanimously; he is the guy we lean on when we want to get something done, and he always comes through.
Outgoing President Dr. Ashley Durham presents Dwight O’Dell with the Ada Sunrise Rotary’s Rotarian of the Year Award at our meeting Friday at Pontotoc Technology Center. We chose Dwight unanimously; he is the guy we lean on when we want to get something done, and he always comes through.

So if you have ever been interested in joining a civic club and Rotary looks like a good fit to you, email me, or just come by one of our meetings on a Friday at 6:45 a.m. at the Aldridge and find me, and I’ll introduce you. We would love to see you!

This year's Fireball Classic medallion is impressive. The event is slated for July 4 in Wintersmith Park in Ada.
This year’s Fireball Classic medallion is impressive. The event is slated for July 4 in Wintersmith Park in Ada.

Our DNA in the Dust

It is with a sense of amazement that I admit I am about to turn 60. That means that I moved into the Adams Center Dormitory on the campus of the University of Oklahoma 42 years ago.

Adams Center, the dormitory where I lived from the fall of 1981 to the fall of 1983, sits as a pile of rubble. Photo Courtesy of Carey Johnson.
Adams Center, the dormitory where I lived from the fall of 1981 to the fall of 1983, sits as a pile of rubble. Photo Courtesy of Carey Johnson.

42 years is something to ponder. The world has changed so much in that time, as have I. That’s the reason I think it’s a mistake to do anything permanent, like get a tattoo or have a baby, when you’re 18. What on earth was I into when I was 18? Hi-fi stereo? Camaro vs Trans-Am vs Z280? Melissa?

Wait, wait, wait. Before you go off on me for advising you when to have children, yes, I know tons of happy people who had children at a young age, including my late wife Abby, whose daughter was born when Abby was just 19.

But with health care improvements and increasing lifespans, I happen to think it’s a smart move to wait until you settle into adulthood before you take on parenthood. According to healthline.com, for example, “Experts say the best time to get pregnant is between your late 20s and early 30s. This age range is associated with the best outcomes for both you and your baby. One study pinpointed the ideal age to give birth to a first child as 30.5.”

But back to my younger days: the two things that remain in my life that I loved in 1981 are writing and photography.

I thought of all this because one of my college roommates, Carey Johnson, who at that time we knew as “Chip,” sent me a couple of photographs of the dormitory where we lived, Adams Center, and the strip mall across the street from it, Stubbeman Village, being demolished.

Adams Center was a complex of four red brick towers that, along with Walker Tower, dominated the skyline of the south part of the OU campus. Stubbeman Village was right across the street to the west.

Help me remember, Norman people: Stubbeman Village had two restaurants:  Mr. Bills and Pinocchio’s, the Half Acre Food Store, a video game arcade, and a movie theater, where my friends dragged me to see the terrible animated sci-fi fantasy Heavy Metal. Later that same year, my first girlfriend Tina took me there to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What else was in Stubbeman Village?

I was doing a lot of changing and growing, and screwing up, in those days, and while some of the friendships I forged remain to this day, others I carelessly squandered in my arrogance. I was moody and mopey and hard to get along with (please don’t mentally say “and still are”), and I took college much less seriously than I should have, so I didn’t really get enough out of it.

One thing I did manage to create and nurture in college was my love of writing and photography, which have become some of my strengths as the years have passed. During my time in college, I remember that I couldn’t wait to get out of journalism classes and go do some journalism.

But now, the buildings where our young lives were lived, fun was had, and mistakes were made, are dust. I like to think that some small of us, maybe just traces of our DNA, remain in that dust.

Stubbeman Village lies in ruins next to the rubble of the Adams Center Dormitory at OU. Photo Courtesy of Carey Johnson.
Stubbeman Village lies in ruins next to the rubble of the Adams Center Dormitory at OU. Photo Courtesy of Carey Johnson.

Bookstore Days

I recently came across a YouTube video about the demise of Borders Books, and it sent me down memory lane about my bookstore days in the 1990s.

I photographed one of my best friends, Jamie, at Hastings in the 1990s. We were all sorry to see the demise of Hastings.
I photographed one of my best friends, Jamie, at Hastings in the 1990s. We were all sorry to see the demise of Hastings.

My friends in Norman, Oklahoma, and I would often meet for lunch on Sunday, then pick something to do in the afternoon. Much of the time, we would make a grand tour of the bookstores in Norman: Hastings, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and, in the mall (remember the mall?), Waldenbooks.

We browsed for hours, almost like in a library, though we almost always bought something.

I don’t know if it sounds bombastic or pretentious, but my first stop was usually the philosophy section. I was absolutely entranced by the idea of reading the world views of brilliant minds, both contemporary and historical.

Once in a while a couple of my Norman friends and I would drive up to Full Circle Books in northwest Oklahoma City, often paired with a stop at Akins Natural Foods nearby. Full Circle is just the right combination of coziness, impressive selection, and employees who love reading.

I don’t want to leave Ada out, of course. Many of us loved going to Hastings in North Hills Center. One of my closest friends, Jamie, worked at Ada’s Hastings for years, and I was always glad to see her there.

Ay, there’s the rub. As with everything else in the 21st century, reading has been transformed by our electronic devices, and not always for the best. I don’t want this to sound like a post mortem for reading. Some of the best people I know love to read, and would rather grab any book one their shelf than watch or listen to anything on their smartphones.

Hastings and Borders are gone, swallowed up by e-readers and bad business practices, but somehow Barnes and Noble is still around.

Not too make people know this yet, but I am finally getting my book together about my life with Abby, so a final question might be: would you read it in print, or would you rather see it on your smart device?

I happen to think that reading, especially reading actual printed books, is one of the best ways to enrich ourselves and those around us.
I happen to think that reading, especially reading actual printed books, is one of the best ways to enrich ourselves and those around us.

The Persistence of Memory

I haven’t had a huge amount of time off in the last few weeks. Today is Monday, and while I often have Monday off at my newspaper, that’s the day I teach photography, so it’s not really a day off. I write this on a Monday, and as it happens, this was the only day my newspaper could arrange for a gym for our all-star basketball game, so I’ll be covering that this evening.

I try to fit projects into the gaps and cracks, but often enough I get inspired by something else, from the weather to sunsets to brilliant conversations, and today was no exception: as I was cleaning out and archiving files in my iCloud drive, I came across this photo:

This is a Google Maps screenshot of my first girlfriend's house.
This is a Google Maps screenshot of my first girlfriend’s house.

I’d been looking around Google Maps for this and that, and why I thought to navigate to my first girlfriend, Tina’s, house, I don’t know.

Still, it brought back a spitload of memories, mostly positive ones, about my time with her and this house. She and I dated from the middle of my junior year in high school until the end of my first year in college.

Of course, the rabbit hole of Google Maps lead to the rabbit hole of my own journal.

I first went to Tina’s house in November 1979 because Tina stopped showing up in class, and I found out she’d been in a car crash. I helped pick glass out of her hair.

I can picture the inside of the house: the dark, seldom-used living room on the right side of the photo, the kitchen and dining room in the middle, and the den on the left side. Tina’s bedroom was at the back on the right, and it had bright red shag carpet, and she had a bright pink velour bed spread. A trio of shelves above it displayed her Smurf collection.

There were a lot of long goodbyes on that front porch, winter and summer.

Since I wrote in a journal, she gave me a copy of Jay’s Journal (since debunked as Mormon propaganda), which I read cover-to-cover in a couple of days.

We woke up February 9, 1980 to find a foot of snow on the ground. I walked to Tina’s (one mile in the snow) where her mom and siblings joined friends for pizza, then session after session of snowball fights.

“I never had so much fun in my whole life. We were rolling around on the grass when I saw an airplane fly over, so I yelled, ‘air raid,’ and we both ran and hid under George the bush,” I wrote later that year.

In October 1980, she had an operation on her elbow. My journal doesn’t say why, but her arm was in traction with a drain tube in it. I have no recollection of that at all.

On another occasion, we were horsing around and I dove out that front window, breaking one of the panes with my heels. I wasn’t hurt, and had to buy a new window pane, but I remember that moment perfectly clearly.

She considered Dan Fogelberg’s Longer as “our song,” though I did not. I took her to see Fogelberg in concert in Norman in early 1982.

She worked at a toy store in the mall.

She had an older brother and a younger sister. I don’t remember much about them. Her mom and dad were divorcing at the time, but she and I stayed in the margins of that as much as possible.

As far as I know, there are no photographs of us together.

Here is an image I made in September 1980 at my high school's "trike races" event. On the left is Jena Owrey, who was always sweet to me in school. I have lost track of her. In the back on the right is Jeff Glenn, my college roommate who killed himself a couple of years later.
Here is an image I made in September 1980 at my high school’s “trike races” event. On the left is Jena Owrey, who was always sweet to me in school. I have lost track of her. In the back on the right is Jeff Glenn, my college roommate who killed himself a couple of years later.

Till, We Meet Again, or Tine After Tine

The early peach tree varieties on the patch are blooming now. We almost always have a late freeze, but even if we do, we might have peaches, plums, cherries, all three, or none at all. Even when I don't get fruit, tending my orchard is very satisfying.
The early peach tree varieties on the patch are blooming now. We almost always have a late freeze, but even if we do, we might have peaches, plums, cherries, all three, or none at all. Even when I don’t get fruit, tending my orchard is very satisfying.

My first tiller was named Tilly, of course. It was the smallest gasoline-powered tiller available.

Abby decided the new (2020) one’s name is Tyler.

I tilled a nice patch for the garden yesterday, which was tougher than before since I did not get a garden in last year.

I expect to till it at least two more times before I get anything planted, especially to dislodge all that stubborn Bermuda grass.

Choppa choppa dig dig.
Choppa choppa dig dig.

Get Well Soon

My social media fans might have seen that I was sick the past week. I was pretty sick with what was probably influenza, or “flu.”

Someone asked me recently why I thought toilet paper got scarce at the start of the pandemic, and upon giving it more thought, I sort of settled on the idea that most people don’t really understand terms like influenza, flu, virus, and infection.

Anyway, I am almost entirely recovered from whatever it was, and returned to work this morning, just in time for the temperature to drop into single-digits. Zing!

You can picture me like this, your humble host, or you could picture me like I was earlier this week, which was pretty much the same, only not as dressed up, and with a fever.
You can picture me like this, your humble host, or you could picture me like I was earlier this week, which was pretty much the same, only not as dressed up, and with a fever.

Why Would This Be Fun?

Should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?
Should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?

I did some man-caving in the garage tonight. After walking the dogs and taking trash to the curb, I set out to see if an old 23-channel citizen’s band (CB) radio was working. When I discovered it was not, I decided, quite organically, to take it apart. Part of me says I was scavenging for parts, but the other part was just having fun learning about how radios were put together in the 1970s.

As an aside: one thing I explored on my recent drive to Kansas City for Thanksgiving: where is the CB radio scene these days? I deployed a magnetic-mount antenna connected to my Uniden Pro501HH. I didn’t really expect to hear anything, but was surprised that the chatter was almost continuous through my whole drive, and I discovered that CB radio is mostly populated by noisy, inarticulate, lonely people who are on the verge of mental illness. How much of this parallels the real world and/or the comments section of pretty much any hot internet topic I don’t know, but it was unsettling to say the least.

Most two-way radios, including CB radios, can be modified or programmed to transmit a “key up” tone, which is sent at the beginning of a transmission. At the beginning of this clip, you can hear the “key up” tone is a screaming child…

 

But back to tonight: one oddly satisfying thing in my disassembly is trying to unscrew stubborn screws. When they don’t budge, I lean into the handle of the screwdriver, push and turn. When I finally get that little “pop,” as the screw unseats, it’s like a tiny victory.

In the end, I have little to show for my effort except the fun of piddling and a pile of parts.

This is the fruit of my labor: a proud pile of junk.
This is the fruit of my labor: a proud pile of junk.

Thanksgiving 2022

My cousin Lori Wade and her husband Bill Wade invited my sister Nicole Hammill, her husband Tracey Hammill, and me to join them for Thanksgiving at Lori’s home in rural Platt City, Missouri. We were joined by Lori’s father Wes on Thanksgiving Day.

My cousin Lori, my sisters Nicole, and I pose for a photo in Lori's living room.
My cousin Lori, my sisters Nicole, and I pose for a photo in Lori’s living room.

The last time we joined Lori and her husband was when Abby and I drove there in 2010.

Lori, Nicole and Tracey take their turn in front of my camera.
Lori, Nicole and Tracey take their turn in front of my camera.

I made the six-hour drive on Wednesday before the holiday, with my Chihuahua, Summer, in the back seat.

Summer was nervous and sat in my lap early in the trip, but settled into the back seat for most of the drive to and from the Kansas City area.
Summer was nervous and sat in my lap early in the trip, but settled into the back seat for most of the drive to and from the Kansas City area.

I asked Bill, an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, if he owned an AR-15, and he did, so we took it down to his range and did some target practice, which was very fun.

Tracey and Bill's brother Kyle reload a magazine for Bill's AR-15. The weapon is chambered in .224 Valkyrie.
Tracey and Bill’s brother Kyle reload a magazine for Bill’s AR-15. The weapon is chambered in .224 Valkyrie.

At my urging, Lori brought out a box containing her father Wes’ Canon FTb, a popular single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera from the 1970s. I have a very clear memory of seeing Wes about to photograph the Thanksgiving table at Grandma Barron’s house in Independence, Missouri when I was in junior high, and thinking it was the coolest thing I’d even seen. I asked him if I could look through the viewfinder, which he let me, and I was smitten with the idea of one day owning such a camera.

This is my Uncle Wes' Canon FTb camera from the early 1970s. Big, heavy, and solid, it was made at a time when cameras were meant to last a lifetime.
This is my Uncle Wes’ Canon FTb camera from the early 1970s. Big, heavy, and solid, it was made at a time when cameras were meant to last a lifetime.

I gave the camera a quick look, and it appeared to be in pristine condition, and everything still worked fine.

Your host holds his uncle's Canon FTb. Wes is still alive, and joined us for Thanksgiving dinner, but he hasn't made any photos with this camera in at least a decade.
Your host holds his uncle’s Canon FTb. Wes is still alive, and joined us for Thanksgiving dinner, but he hasn’t made any photos with this camera in at least a decade.

Lori seemed genuinely happy to be our host. She looked great and was so glad to see us. She cooked for us, and it was all delicious.

Between eating, conversation, and taking care of five dogs (Lori and Bill’s two Newfoundlands Sailor and Scarlet and their old retriever Riley, Tracy and Nicole’s Labrador retriever Dauphine, and Summer the Chihuahua), none of us every turned on a television, and only sparingly looked at our smartphones.

One rare occasion for using my smartphone was to show a photo of my wife Abby, Nicole and Lori in the same spot 12 years ago.
One rare occasion for using my smartphone was to show a photo of my wife Abby, Nicole and Lori in the same spot 12 years ago.
Lori and Nicole proudly pose in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Lori and Nicole proudly pose in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Uncle Wes and Tracey, Nicole's husband, sit for a few minutes with Summer, my Chihuahua. I was proud that this little dog got along with all the bigger dogs so well.
Uncle Wes and Tracey, Nicole’s husband, sit for a few minutes with Summer, my Chihuahua. I was proud that this little dog got along with all the bigger dogs so well.
Nicole and Tracey show off their retriever Dauphine's manners for Uncle Wes.
Nicole and Tracey show off their retriever Dauphine’s manners for Uncle Wes.

Lori seemed to have a great time being the gracious hostess, and put very amazing meals in front of us the whole time.

A steaming turkey sits on a cutting board.
A steaming turkey sits on a cutting board.
Bill places the turkey on the table.
Bill places the turkey on the table.
You either love Brussels sprouts or you don't. We all do, especially roasted like this.
You either love Brussels sprouts or you don’t. We all do, especially roasted like this.
Our uncle Wes is seated. Behind him are Kyle Wade and Bill Wade, our cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, and her husband Tracey.
Our uncle Wes is seated. Behind him are Kyle Wade and Bill Wade, our cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, and her husband Tracey.

I Don’t Need Surgery

I thought for a bit about how to illustrate this entry, but as I was doing it, I also needed to illustrate my column for tomorrow about COVID-19 vaccination, and had some interesting outtakes, including these two tiny water droplets clinging to the tips of two injection needles.
I thought for a bit about how to illustrate this entry, but as I was doing it, I also needed to illustrate my column for tomorrow about COVID-19 vaccination, and had some interesting outtakes, including these two tiny water droplets clinging to the tips of two injection needles.

Why is not needing surgery news? In succinct terms, I was grimly beginning to think that my achy breaky left shoulder was going to need work.

I already had a minor piece of surgery this summer, and while it was easy and painless, part of me says that I don’t want to be the guy whose health falls to pieces rapidly after his wife dies.

As a matter of fact, I have no recollection of injuring it, but am very sure it started bothering me on the very day Abby died.

Today I saw the same shoulder guy that looked after Abby’s shoulder (the left one, of course), and after an examination and a couple of radiographs (okay, fine, x-rays, which they actually aren’t), he told me I probably did not have a torn labrum like my sister did last year, but some osteoarthritis in the joint, and inflammation in the  surrounding tissue. He prescribed a course of oral steroids, and physical therapy.

Despite this and the fact that I am less than a year away from turning 60, I feel I am in top physical shape.

After my needles illustration was done, I fiddled around a little with water droplets from the needles. If you've ever had an influenza or COVID-19 vaccination, or injected yourself with insulin, this is the size of needle they use.
After my needles illustration was done, I fiddled around a little with water droplets from the needles. If you’ve ever had an influenza or COVID-19 vaccination, or injected yourself with insulin, this is the size of needle they use.

Green Day

Wake me up when September ends

An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
  • After a summer that got browner and hotter from the end of June through most of August, our patch of green got some unexpected – and sometimes unforecast – rain.
  • The Shoffner family reunion was this weekend, and I went Saturday.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
  • Our hosts Troy and Rachel had portobello mushrooms on hand to make as veggie patties, but I had a longish drive home so I didn’t stay for dinner, so they sent them with me, which I made for my last two meals, and which were delicious.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
  • I washed my wallet. It was probably time to replace it, but I was super annoyed with myself for throwing those jeans in the washer without checking the pockets first.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
  • I traded a pistol I didn’t like for one I think I will like, the Ruger LCP-II in .22lr. It didn’t do well the first time out; I think I have a bad magazine, since rounds kind of pop up and strike above the feed ramp and won’t feed. I ordered two more magazines, so we’ll see.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
  • I just finished teaching a really fun photography class. We made lots of great photos and had tons of “aha” moments.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
  • The fall sports season has started, and it’s kept me busy, including a super-fun evening covering the Ada Cougars at Ardmore Friday. The drive down there was brimming with rainbows, which I chased a bit.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I'll work on it.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I’ll work on it.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.

Today is also the 44th anniversary of my journal.

My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.
My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.

Returned to the Fold

Decades ago I was a member of the Ada Amateur Radio Club, listed as Ada ARC. I let my membership lapse about 20 years ago during a time when the club fell into neglect.

This is a snapshot of me at a meeting of the Ada Amateur Radio Club. In my right hand is my first dual-band handheld transceiver, the Kenwood TH-79A, with a long BNC-whip antenna a fellow member was letting me try. The phone on my belt was my first cell phone, which I got in January 1997, and which only lasted a couple of years, so this photo was from that era.
This is a snapshot of me at a meeting of the Ada Amateur Radio Club. In my right hand is my first dual-band handheld transceiver, the Kenwood TH-79A, with a long BNC-whip antenna a fellow member was letting me try. The phone on my belt was my first cell phone, which I got in January 1997, and which only lasted a couple of years, so this photo was from that era.

Yesterday I was listening to a local amateur radio repeater, one I use and monitor all the time, and heard several “hams” mention that their meeting would take place at 6:30 at the college, and that the parking lot construction was finished, so parking wouldn’t be a problem.

“I should go to that meeting,” I thought to myself, “and join the club.”

Ada ARC has long since been replaced by the Pontotoc County Amateur Radio Association (PCARA), and though I have been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1996 (callsign KC5TFZ), I have never been a PCARA member, so I applied and was accepted last night.

I bought the Icom 2350H in the late 1990s when it was discontinued, and have found it to be one of the most robust and reliable electronic devices I have ever owned.
I bought the Icom 2350H in the late 1990s when it was discontinued, and have found it to be one of the most robust and reliable electronic devices I have ever owned.

In the same way that photographers like to ask you about your cameras, and shooters like to ask about your guns, ham radio operators like to ask about your radios, which, last night, they did. I told them that I have two dual band Icom radios in my Nissan Juke. The 2820H below the climate/audio panel is set up as a scanner on the left side, and my primary transceiver on the right side, while the 2350 in the center console is set up like a VHF scanner on the left, and a UHF scanner on the right, programmed to monitor police, fire, EMS and storm spotters around the area. The Icom IC-V8000 is a high-power 2-meter transceiver in my Nissan Frontier 4×4.

They all informed me I should have bigger antennas, but my current setup is about right-sized, since they all seem to have solid signals while being short enough they don’t bang on the garage door frame when I pull into the garage.

At the end of the meeting, I invited anyone who was interested to join me as my guest Friday morning at 6:45 at the Aldridge for Ada Sunrise Rotary. Some of them seemed surprised to learn that there is a 6:45 in the morning.

My Icom 2820H is shown configured for split uses. The left side of the radio is set up to scan my most important public safety frequencies, and the right side of the radio is set up to operate in the amateur band.
My Icom 2820H is shown configured for split uses. The left side of the radio is set up to scan my most important public safety frequencies, and the right side of the radio is set up to operate in the amateur band.

A Visit from a Red-Headed Stranger

I had a very welcome visit today from Abby’s daughter Chele, her husband Tom, their son Paul, and their gorgeous golden retriever Samson. They grabbed a couple of pizzas on the way in, and we had a great time.

One of the many gifts Abby gave me in our years of marriage is love of dogs, and I was able to meet Samson, Abby's "grand dog", today.
One of the many gifts Abby gave me in our years of marriage is love of dogs, and I was able to meet Samson, Abby’s “grand dog”, today.

After Abby died in March, Chele and I spent a week kick-starting the big clean-out, the process of changing our home into my home. We set aside several plastic bins of items that Chele considered sentimental or valuable to her, with the intention of storing them here until Chele and her family moved to the Dallas area from Baltimore, which they did a month ago.

In the intervening months, however, I went through many more items, especially family documents and photographs, and loaded more plastic bins.

Anyone who knows Chele knows that she is the person you want on point on Thanksgiving day when it’s time to put away the leftovers. No one is better at “fridge Tetris” than she is.

Despite this fact, we only got a fraction of the bins and boxes loaded into their truck.

I anticipate traveling their direction before too much longer, though, with my truck loaded with more bins and boxes.

One thing I’d really like to do on my next trip to the Dallas area is visit Founder’s Plaza, DFW airport’s hot spot for airline spotting, which is interesting to me both as a pilot and as a photographer.

It was great seeing Chele and her family again, and I’m glad I finally got to meet their wonderful dog Samson. Samson got along with my dogs, and we all had a great time.

Tom, Chele and Paul pose in the front yard today with their gorgeous dog Samson. Not everyone likes or even gets along with their in-laws and out-laws, but Abby's family and I have always been close.
Tom, Chele and Paul pose in the front yard today with their gorgeous dog Samson. Not everyone likes or even gets along with their in-laws and out-laws, but Abby’s family and I have always been close.

Bringing Dead Tech Back to Life

This is an array of some of the old garage sale/thrift store/Ebay handheld scanners I have around the house. About half of them work, but getting the other ones to work is an intriguing rainy-day project idea.
This is an array of some of the old garage sale/thrift store/Ebay handheld scanners I have around the house. About half of them work, but getting the other ones to work is an intriguing rainy-day project idea.

In a household clean-out that seems never-ending, today I reached down under a 14-hole cubby cabinet in the sewing room to find a plastic cube bin that appeared to contain something technological. After carefully vacuuming the spiders and other sketchy-looking stuff from it, I started pulling things out. Included were…

  1. A Sony FM/casette Walkman
  2. A Coby MP3 player
  3. Three unused wired earbuds
  4. Two well-used wired earbuds with earhooks
This is the Sony cassette Walkman at pretty much the pinnacle of development. I think it's a very neat-looking piece of hardware.
This is the Sony cassette Walkman at pretty much the pinnacle of development. I think it’s a very neat-looking piece of hardware.

I don’t know anything about the cassette player, except that it’s nice-looking, like a stylish piece of tech from the 1990s near the peak of its evolution. But I do recall the Coby MP3 player, which Abby used for years at work, mostly to listen to audio books while she worked. Before that, she used various CD MP3 players, and after that, until she retired, she used her smartphones.

I turned on the Coby, and it seems to be working fine. It plugs directly into USB, so I put it in my laptop and saw it contained one of the books Abby was hearing right around the time she retired.

When you turn off the Coby MP3 player, it’s display says, “Bye Bye!!

This Coby MP3 player of maybe 2005 vintage still works just fine, and will hold 1GB of music. I also found its teensie plug-in boombox, which only needed a new AA battery.
This Coby MP3 player of maybe 2005 vintage still works just fine, and will hold 1GB of music. I also found its teensie plug-in boombox, which only needed a new AA battery.

Collecting and playing with aging technology is one of my interests, though I don’t exactly know why. It’s very fun for me, but to what end? Part of me thinks it has to do with the galling idea that capitalism/mercantilism is selling us the same thing over and over, with the entirely hollow and somewhat immoral idea of taking our money.

You own a VHS video cassette of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the DVD of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the Blu-Ray of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the rights to stream Gone with the Wind. You have basically bought the same product four times.

Another area of old tech I think is fun to collect is old police scanners, shortwave receivers, and amateur radio transceivers. Some of them work, and some of them don’t, and some of them are becoming less useful as communications becomes more integrated with digital communications and  the internet. But there are still some neat radios out there to collect, try to make work, and even use while I still can. And one of the best things about that is that they cost nothing: you can sometimes get this stuff for $5 at a yard sale.

In their heyday, these two scanners, the Radio Shack Pro-2004 (bottom) and the Radio Shack Pro-2006 (top) were the best you could buy, costing nearly $1000 new. I was able to fix the 2006, but the internet informs me that the 2004 is a hopeless case due to bad soldering during its production run. Too bad I wasted $15 on it on Ebay.
In their heyday, these two scanners, the Radio Shack Pro-2004 (bottom) and the Radio Shack Pro-2006 (top) were the best you could buy, costing nearly $1000 new. I was able to fix the 2006, but the internet informs me that the 2004 is a hopeless case due to bad soldering during its production run. Too bad I wasted $15 on it on Ebay.

Surgery Virgin

Trigger warning: stop now if pictures of stitches or scars bother you.

Updated June 28 to include a photo of the scar with the sutures removed.

I haven’t had any surgery of any kind since I was 17, when I had my upper third molars (“wisdom teeth,” whatever) removed. Before that you have to go back to 1968, when I had my tonsils out when I was just five.

Yesterday I had a teensy basil cell carcinoma on the left side of my neck excised. Basil cell is the most common cancer in the world, and one not likely to metastasize, but there was no real reason to ignore it, so I had it taken off.

I thought it was teensy, about the size of a dime, but of course, there are more cells than you can really see on the surface, so a skilled dermatologist will dig around and get it all, so I was a little taken aback when I removed the bandage this morning to see two inches of incision and 14 stitches, more than I’ve ever had anywhere (the previous record being five stitches in my chin after a bike crash when I was 11.)

By the time my wife was my age, she’d had many of the standard removables removed: hysterectomy, thyroidectomy, cholecystectomy, and full mouth dental extraction and dental implants. She still had her appendix, both lungs and kidneys, and her scruples. A friend of mine, Wayne, had a kidney and pancreas transplant this spring, so wow, I really am a surgery virgin, and would like to keep it that way.

It doesn’t really hurt, but it does itch a bit, and I wore a bandage on it at work to spare my coworkers and the public from thinking I was among the undead, and as a result of that bandage tugging at me oddly, I put tension into my shoulders and back, so that hurts a bit.

This is a very minor surgery, but it's new to me.
This is a very minor surgery, but it’s new to me.
This is the scar the day I had the sutures removed.
This is the scar the day I had the sutures removed.

Vacuuming a Vacuum

For some time now I have noted that my vacuum cleaner, a wedding gift from Dorothy in 2004, wasn’t picking up things like yarn bits and threads like it should. I don’t know how long this has been going on, but a while.

Yesterday when I spilled a huge amount of dirt and dust from an area rug on the bare kitchen floor, I decided it would be easier to vacuum it up than to sweep it. When I ran the vacuum over it, though, it didn’t really do the job, so I upended the thing to find the beater bar wasn’t spinning.

I disassembled it to find that the belt was broken, and as it happened, I had an extra belt hanging on the handle.

While I had it open, I noted that it was super-filthy inside, so I got a smaller vacuum and vacuumed out the vacuum.

When I put it back together today with the belt in place, it was like a brand new machine. I vacuumed the living room until the canister got full, about a quarter of the way across the room.

I find this episode personally embarrassing, since I should have realized long ago – although I don’t know how long ago – that the belt was broken.

In the end, though, I’m glad I got it fixed, because I am getting rid of a huge amount of household filth.

I hate to think how long this deep filth has been lingering beneath me, but I am glad to finally be getting rid of it.
I hate to think how long this deep filth has been lingering beneath me, but I am glad to finally be getting rid of it.

“Dear Abby”

Abby walks down to meet the neighbors on beautiful summer evening. I love this image.
Abby walks down to meet the neighbors on beautiful summer evening. I love this image.

I had lunch in Ardmore yesterday with Abby’s daughter Chele and her husband Tom, who were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to look for a house, as they are moving there from Baltimore in July. It was great seeing them, and we all hope their move puts them on the north side of the metro area so meeting for lunch regularly like this will be this easy.

Later, one of my longest-time friends Jamie and her husband Ian came by to get my six-burner propane grill, an item Abby was super-proud to have brought home to me, and one with which we made some great meals. But I don’t use it any more, and Jamie and Ian will, since they entertain all the time.

The six-burner propane grill sits in the driveway in April 2020.
The six-burner propane grill sits in the driveway in April 2020.

While they were here, we poked around in the garage for a while, where Jamie decided it was just too chaotic.

This was the scene earlier this week in my garage.
This was the scene earlier this week in my garage.

Jamie plopped down on the garage floor and started organizing.

It doesn't really show, but Jamie did tons of organizing, including freeing up shelf space to eventually hold stuff I want to keep. She even offered to help me host a garage sale.
It doesn’t really show, but Jamie did tons of organizing, including freeing up shelf space to eventually hold stuff I want to keep. She even offered to help me host a garage sale.

In the mean time, Ian got interested in a console radio/phonograph that Abby had purchased years ago as a piece of furniture, and was able to get it to come on and receive one very close radio station.

Ian was able to get the this pile of vacuum tubes and dust mites to tune in a radio station.
Ian was able to get the this pile of vacuum tubes and dust mites to tune in a radio station.

Last week in my cleaning efforts, I found a 1/4-size Moleskine notebook with journal entries by Abby from March 2004 until the day we got married in October 2004. The notebook itself was mostly empty, so I decided to use it to make notes about what our marriage was like in the form of letters to her … “Dear Abby.”

I was also aware that she’d written more journal entries than these. After Jamie and Ian left, I did some more cleaning, and found a ½-size hardback journal with entries in it starting on January 31, 2003…

“I’ve started dating Richard Barron. It is so great it’s scary.”

Yes, it was, Abby. Yes, it was.

As I was contemplating all this, the song My Tears Are Becoming a Sea, by M83, shuffled past, and it fit so well.

“I’m slowly drifting to you
The stars and the planets
Are calling me
A billion years away from you
I’m on my way.”

I miss her today.

Abby and I pose for a self portrait on the anniversary of our first date, January 17, 2004. It was on this occasion that we decided to get married, and it stands as our engagement day. "One year with Richard," she wrote. "I met Richard at his apartment. He had candles, wine, and a gift for me... great romantic evening."
Abby and I pose for a self portrait on the anniversary of our first date, January 17, 2004. It was on this occasion that we decided to get married, and it stands as our engagement day. “One year with Richard,” she wrote. “I met Richard at his apartment. He had candles, wine, and a gift for me… great romantic evening.”

Two Chances of a Lifetime

Now is the time for Team Blackout to start planning for two solar eclipse events.

An annular eclipse will pass across the United States October 14, 2023, and a total eclipse will pass across the United State on April 8, 2024 just two years from today.

This map shows the path of the October 14, 2023 annular eclipse.
This map shows the path of the October 14, 2023 annular eclipse.
This map shows the path of the April 8, 2024 total eclipse.
This map shows the path of the April 8, 2024 total eclipse.

I plan to be in the path of both of these events to photograph and enjoy them. Abby and I met with my sister Nicole and her husband for the Great American Eclipse of 2017 (link), and it was an amazing experience.

Now is your chance to plan a road trip! Who’s in?

The most unusual item Abby and I photographed in 2017 was the Great America Eclipse, which we saw with my sister and her husband in our mother's hometown of Park Hills, Missouri.
The most unusual item Abby and I photographed in 2017 was the Great America Eclipse, which we saw with my sister and her husband in our mother’s hometown of Park Hills, Missouri.

Why I Don’t Want to Be “That Guy”

A vial of cyanocobalamin, vitamin B12, a syringe of B12, and some B and C vitamin tablets sit on my bathroom counter tonight.
A vial of cyanocobalamin, vitamin B12, a syringe of B12, and some B and C vitamin tablets sit on my bathroom counter tonight.

Today would have been my wife Abby’s 72nd birthday. Since she died just ten days ago, I’ve had a ton of stuff to do, and another ton of stuff on my mind.

I shared my thoughts about her birthday on Facebook, saying, “I promise I won’t be that guy who gets all nostalgic with every holiday and anniversary, but this one snuck up on me…”

Almost everyone told me it was okay to “be that guy,” or be anyone I want, as if I was telling them I wouldn’t be boring them with endless moroseness or tedious old news, but the truth is I was saying it to myself.

I don’t want to be the guy who was crushed by grief over my wife’s death. I want to be the guy who gets up in the morning and sees the sun shining a little brighter because she was here with me for nearly two decades. I want to be the guy who smiles more and says hello more and does a better job because of the love Abby and I shared.

I am also hearing (and seeing via technology) a lot of people asking me if I am okay. Yes, I am okay. I am not numb or dead inside, and I have no sense of regret or unfinished business. It is true that my body is responding to this process, and I am feeling an uptick in the little things, like tendonitis in a few of my joints due to my job and my age, and I recognize that big emotional changes are indivorceable from physical changes. “The body knows.” I am responding as I always have, with heat, stretching and exercise, and Tylenol when my jaw clinching gives me a headache.

So, I am taking care of myself. I am busy and optimistic. I am eating and sleeping. I am talking when I need to talk. An aside to this is that tonight I decided to use Abby’s prescription injectable vitamin B12. (I got really good with needles in the 1990s when I was giving myself allergy shots.) I don’t think I am vitamin deficient in any way, and I believe that diet is always the best way to address potential nutrient deficiencies, but the B12 is already in the medicine cabinet, and it won’t hurt me to use it.

So let me leave you with this heartwarming story of love to the end: when Abby was in nursing care, I visited her every day. When she was well enough, I’d pile her into a wheelchair and we’d go for a stroll, sometimes with Summer the Chihuahua in her lap. Sometimes she would ask me for a Coke, a drink she associated with growing up. On one occasion, the vending machine was out of Coke, so I went to the corner store to get one, where I found a bottle of Starbucks’ frappuccino, which I often brought home to her, and bought it, too. When I rounded the corner coming into her room, her smile was irrepressible, and as she drank it, she looked so happy. “This is so good,” she told me. That was about a week before she died.

Sometimes all we need is a little something that helps us feel good.
Sometimes all we need is a little something that helps us feel good.

The Comfort of Chatter

Most of the people I’ve known over the years have had the habit of having a television on from the moment they get up or the moment they get home from work. My wife always does, but when asked why, she only ever said, “It’s background noise.”

I kind of piled an odd collection of old and new handheld radios together recently to remind me to charge all their batteries in advance of storm spotting season.
I kind of piled an odd collection of old and new handheld radios together recently to remind me to charge all their batteries in advance of storm spotting season.

I find the chatter of television utterly distracting and irritating. Never mind that the actual content is usually insulting to our intelligence, the side-chatter it produces when you are not watching it is almost unbearable.

One of the real evils of television is the way advertising it produced and presented to be louder and more attention-getting than content. In the broadcast world, this is equivalent to having a huge red banner flapping in the breeze above a car dealer’s lot, or a brightly-flashing sign by the highway at the casino.

The result, for me, is distraction driven close to madness. I hate that chatter.

This is the barely-working Realistic Pro-2020, a 20-channel analog scanner from the early 1980s, which I bought a couple of years ago on Ebay for about $10. I like old scanners.
This is the barely-working Realistic Pro-2020, a 20-channel analog scanner from the early 1980s, which I bought a couple of years ago on Ebay for about $10. I like old scanners.

I also know tons of people who keep broadcast radio on at all times in their cars, regardless of content, usually at levels too low to actually hear and enjoy the content, but too loud to converse over. I despise that as well.

But I’m not necessarily pure. There is one form of chatter that I enjoy and appreciate, though many, like my wife, hate it.

American 689, level at two five zero, light chop.

I’m 10-8, 10-19.

2224 is 1 and 2 to Mercy.

Engine 680 is on the scene. 501 is command.

KC5TFZ monitoring.

Even if none of this chatter yields a news story or other amazing tale, I still find myself digesting and processing all the things I hear on my boxes: crimes, flights, fires, cures, lives saved, persons jailed, information traded; people touched in one way or another.

I have storm-spotted, both as an emergency operations volunteer, and as an amateur radio operator. I have had many discussions with air traffic controllers about this altitude and that waypoint. So once in a while, if you are lucky, you might hear my voice in the chatter.

Though we have a P-25 compatible digital scanner at our newspaper, I am still able to monitor many important public safety communications using older analog radios.
Though we have a P-25 compatible digital scanner at our newspaper, I am still able to monitor many important public safety communications using older analog radios.

The Ring of Truth

I spent the evening with my wife Abby at Ballard Nursing Center watching Super Bowl LVI. She and I have shared every Super Bowl since we’ve known each other. This one wasn’t very good, and the pageantry surrounding it was even worse. We turned to conversation.

“I lost one of my travel rings Friday,” I told her. “It probably came off when I was covering basketball at the Ada Cougar Activity Center.”

“I used to find rings inside gloves,” she told me, noting that we both have slender hands, and when it’s cold, our fingers shrink a bit and tend to remain very slick. I told her that it was just a $10 ring, and that it was just an object.

I came back home and let the dogs in, then gathered all the trash to take to the curb. I donned a pair of my work gloves and … hm. What the? In the right glove was the ring I thought I had lost on Friday!

In the center is the $10 "travel ring" I though I lost this weekend, and the gold rings on either side are rings Abby thought she had lost, but which I found in the floorboard of our Nissan Frontier while I was looking for her lost purse, which turned out to be not lost at all.
In the center is the $10 “travel ring” I though I lost this weekend, and the gold rings on either side are rings Abby thought she had lost, but which I found in the floorboard of our Nissan Frontier while I was looking for her lost purse, which turned out to be not lost at all.