Saturday, June 25, 2016

Remember the Good Old Days? No, no you don't

Remember the good old days? No, no you don’t.


Simple dangerous ideas

Dear Hank,
I have to say this world is a pretty sad place at times, and this is one of those times. For every situation there seems to be a simplistic saying to cover it, both for and against. It seems we humans want to believe that there is someone else in charge who will fix things if we screw up. Every once in awhile we have to face the reality that it might not be the case and we’ll have to do it ourselves, but that rarely happens. This can be summed up in two sayings:
      We faced the enemy and it is us. (Pogo)
      Having faced the situation we moved on. (Anon, or I forget whom to credit.)

I am in the midst of a course called “Deep History.” The professor is looking at the universe from when it began and keeps asking the question, “What is your evidence?” He then goes on to provide that evidence and the thoughts behind it.

It seems people are craving simple answers. I understand that desire but I have to keep asking what is the evidence that the suggested panacea is working? 

The exit of Britain from the European Union is a case in point.
It seems those who wanted to leave felt helpless and wanted to be more on their own.
That’s fine if they are willing to accept a lower standard of living, which it now seems, less than a day later they are not.
However, that is the bed they have created so they will have to lie in it for a decade or more before it will change. For the rest of us it’s a problem of not getting sucked in to their problem (or should I call it stupidity?)
Yes, the EU has problems. Yes, it was flawed from the start. Maybe, there was a better way of structuring it, but that was the best that could be done at the time.
With Britain in the EU, the EU was the third largest economy in the world. It still is.
Britain was the fifth largest economy. Overnight, the drop in value of the British economy took it from number five to number six. Whatever benefit the charlatans that foisted this idea on the people of Britain was gone in the first twenty four hours. 
The bigger problem requires one to look at history for the last two centuries.
Let’s start with Napoleon. He was French and took over as dictator, excuse me emperor, after The French Revolution. He conquered most of Europe. He got defeated and exiled. He came back and was a much different fellow than that first time. He wanted peace. The Prussians (now Germans) wanted none of that. Bismarck the leader of a fragmented Germany used the excuse to fight Napoleon to finish unifying Germany. Napoleon met his Waterloo and was exiled to an island off the coast of Africa. 
But dreams die hard. Napoleon III and the French Republic of the 1860s had grand ambitions. He put a cousin up in Mexico to distract the people from his dictatorial rule. He suffered under the illusion that his army was a match for the Prussian war machine and decided to fight them. It was a disaster for France. Paris was occupied by the Prussians for close to a decade. Not satisfied, the French aided by the British and a series of interlocking treaties went to war again in the beginning of the twentieth century. The belief was that in a few months they were going to spank the Huns, as they derogatorily called the Germans - didn’t work out that way, four years, 70 million people later they stopped. Germany lost and was told to pay an absurd amount, which they couldn’t do. They got pissed off; ignored the payments, built up an army on the rise of a strong man who not only said he’d fi things but he’d make Germany really really great. Once again Britain went to war, this time on the side of the French against Germany and 100 million people later they stopped.
At that point the head of the British government, Winston Churchill, made a speech where he said that he feared they would go to war again unless all of Europe became bound together. It took years but eventually the European Union came into fruition.
Now, overnight the Brits have thrown that out. We once again risk the specter of greater conflict in Europe. I know, it can never happen again. That’s what they said in 1815, 1871, 1914, 1945, and that’s only the last two centuries.
It can happen; and I hate to say it will, but you know what they say, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Next topic: Stoopid Economic Ideas
With resignation,
Your friend,


Monday, September 07, 2015

Why You Should be a Hokie Fan

Why I am a Hokie fan and you should be too.
Sept 7, 2015

Dear Hank,

Many things have been going on, which have caused me to be away from the keyboard, but now it’s time to get back to it.
Did you notice the subject line?
Okay, I know you like those stinkin’ gators down in Florida, and that’s okay, but you should be a Hokie fan too, maybe, a closet Hokie fan.
But for those of you who are not sports junkies, like my brother, let me explain. Hokie is the name of the mascot for Virginia Tech.  The mascot is represented as a turkey. The name came when there was a song or cheer that needed a word to complete a rhyme, and someone made up the word “Hokie” and it stuck.
Virginia Tech is located at the western part of the state of Virginia, in Blacksburg, at the edge of the Appalachians. It’s a good school, but it’s out in a place most people wouldn’t stop by unless they were going to the university.  They have a really good football program,  but like Rodney Dangerfield – it gets no respect, or very little. They have a knack of winning an important game and losing some stinkers, and then in the bowl games they tend to blow it. So there’s a reason that they are considered a tough opponent that can ruin your season, but rarely are they considered the team to win the national championship. The last time they were in contention was when Michael Vick was there and he took them to the championship. His brother, Marcus, was next in line to the throne and he blew it, then Michael got in trouble for dog fighting and he went to prison and now he’s back. But it’s like that for the Hokies.
The other big name in Hokie football is Bruce Smith, rough tough defensive back for the Buffalo Bills. Bruce played in Blacksburg. He came back here to establish some hotels and restaurants, and can be seen along the sidelines during most home games.
Being married to an alumnus of Virginia Tech, I’ve been caught up in the mania of Virginia Tech football. Every year it starts out the same, during the winter there’s discussion of who left, who’s returning, and who’s new and promising. This builds to a crescendo leading up to the first game. I call it, “This could be the year!”
And then.
Something happens.
Or doesn’t.
Then there’s the “Why?” “What happened?” “Why didn’t they?” questions.
Ah to be a Hokie.
It’s like my becoming a Mets fan. I lived outside of New York and everyone was a Yankee fan. This was the age of Mickey Mantle and then Roger Maris. We had a chart in my 6th grade classroom keeping track of the two men’s home runs, “Who would make it to 60 first?”
I hated baseball. I developed that hatred, or rather indifference, in day camp. A sandpit literally, where every afternoon we’d play softball. It was very unstructured. The biggest kids and the loudest mouths played. The rest of us took up spots in the outfield and sat down. We didn’t even come in after three outs. What was the point? A kid who was three feet tall would scream, “Batting order begins at the top of the order” every inning. No one challenged him. I don’t know why. Maybe, nobody cared. Every other day a ball would roll my way and people would be screaming at us in the outfield. We could see in the distance people running around bases as the dust rose. One of us would jump up and heave the ball somewhere near second base, and then we’d sit back down and pick weeds or toss pebbles. It was hot and miserable.
Then the Mets came into existence and I was a Mets fan. I didn’t know anything about how well they were doing or not doing, all I knew was – they weren’t the Yankees.
What was the point of cheering for the Yankees? Everyone thought they were going to win. They were supposed to win. If they didn’t it was a fluke. It never had anything to do with the skill of the other team. It was just an accident, and that was that. I hated that attitude.
Well, the Hokies are like that. They upset a team and it’s not their skill and ability but the other team wasn’t ready. Virginia Tech got a lucky break, etc. etc. etc.
They’ll be a sports summary of a game and the other team gets mentioned all over the place and Tech barely gets mentioned. It’s not fair, but that’s what happens.
Take last year. Second game of the season. It’s away. It’s at Ohio State. Ohio State hasn’t lost a game at home in 24 games. They’re ranked. They might be the national champions, etc. etc. etc.
Virginia Tech comes in and beats them 34 to 21. That’s not a small margin. The sports announcers before the game were talking Ohio State; the sports announcers after the game were talking Ohio State.
This year Ohio State is the first game of the season, but they aren’t playing in Ohio like last year. They are playing in Blacksburg, in Lane Stadium. I’ve been to Lane Stadium. I know what it’s like.
Just before the team takes the field the PA opens with a guitar note, one note, held. It’s Mettalica’s Enter Sandman. I’ve never listened to Mettalica. I don’t really know their music. Just one of those things, too many groups, not enough time. But that note, that chord, once you hear it you know what’s coming. It’s like the beginning of Satisfaction by the Stones or George Harrison’s opening to I Feel Fine. Or Beethoven’s ninth. You hear those notes and you know what’s coming. Except in Lane Stadium, the note comes over the PA and the place explodes. It’s the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in a stadium, except the time the Hokies played at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (Redskin Stadium). When Enter Sandman played there, that was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. And that’s a huge open air stadium where the sound goes straight up into the air with no ricochet. It’s hard to make a big noise there, but the fans did.
So what’s the discussion for tonight’s game? Two things: What quarterback will Ohio State start, and will they repeat as National Champion. The in-depth reporting mentions how many returning players Ohio State has. The polls also mention that Virginia Tech doesn’t have a chance. They somehow forget to mention that Tech has just as many returning players on both offense and defense as Ohio. They forget to show, or mention, the sacks of Ohio State’s quarterback, or the interceptions he threw in last year’s game. (The smart money says he’ll start again.)
There’s rumors the Metallica has hotel rooms in the area under assumed names.
Ohio State may be national champions. They may repeat. They may start the same guy they lost with last year, or they may start the guy who took them to the championship. I don’t think it will matter.
I hope, for all the Mets fans, for all the Rodney Dangerfields, that the Hokies deliver one of the most stunning upsets in sports history. Just like they did last year.
Go Hokies.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

The VMAs 2015 - recap

August 31, 2015
from The Bunker

Re: Last Night VMA recap

Dear Hank,

It’s been over a year since my last correspondence, but - as you know - I’ve been busy, what with the campaign and all. (Please don’t ask me what campaign or which campaign because it really doesn’t matter, all that is important is that there is a campaign for which one can claim to be busy in.)
But I come to you on a lighter note today I am writing my review of last night’s VMA awards. This is strictly for the “not young people” crowd. In other words anyone over the age of thirty, and probably over the age of 25. 
VMA stands for “Video Music Awards.” I mention this because if you watched the show you would only know that there were awards. There was one video, and little music. So if you had been dropped into the scene from Mars, which would have been a good place to be from given the costumes, you wouldn’t have known that this was a show about videos or about music. There were some old people at the show: Britney Spears, Justin Beber, Nicki Minaj to name a few. And there were some ancient people Billy Rae Cyrus who is the father of the host Milley Cyrus. There were, of course, some cringe worthy moments where my wife and I turned and looked at each other and said. “Her dad must be so proud.” (In case you missed the point here - that was a sarcastic comment.)
There was really no surprise for me in who won the video of the year award - Taylor Swift. My guess as to why she won was that she had the only video that they showed. It was beautiful. It told a story, and she sang in the video. 
Now there probably was a reason they didn’t show more videos and or sing. First off they only had three and a half hours of prime time, and secondly no one sings anymore. The first hour was the pre-show. The kind of red carpet part of the show where people you don’t know introduce people you think maybe you’ve heard of. The main MC was the obligatory black guy you’ve never heard of. His name was SWAY. I think he’s related to the obligatory black guy who hosts the X-Games. Except SWAY doesn’t have dreads. He has what I would call the semi-nappy head look. As opposed to Weeknd (pronounced “Week End”) who has the full nappy head mullet look going but more about him later.
So SWAY was with Kelley Osbourne who wore a long black dress and had half here head shaved to reveal a tattoo above her left ear that had either small letters or numbers that kept reminding me of the Holocaust tattoos, except they were on the arms. (I know you can’t compare anything to the Holocaust and I’m not; it’s just that I couldn’t get the similarity out of my mind.) There was a third host that I thought was an un-named Kardashian. I guess she wasn’t because they never flashed her name up on the screen. SWAY and Kelley got that billing, as did their various guests, most of whom were the casts of various upcoming shows. Neither the shows nor the cast members were known to me. There was one show that I remembered called “Awkward”, which - as the name implies - probably is.
Walk the Moon opened the pre-show by singing one of their two hits. I asked my wife if she thought I’d look good in the lead singer’s hairdo, a teased white guy’s attempt at a nappy head combed into a mullet roll, shaved on the sides with pink raspberry coloring on the left side of the mullet. She didn’t think I could pull it off.
I gotta give W-M (that’s the way the drum kit showed their name - stacked vertically, which I initially tried to guess was WHAM.) credit. they showed up with their instruments, which they played and the lead singer sang. He sang in such a way that you could understand the words - mostly. He wasn’t drowned out by the instruments or other sounds, and he and the band members were energetic and he, the lead singer, actually smiled, like he was having fun. I mention this because this turned out to be a departure from most of the rest of the entertainment for the night.
When SWAY, Kelley, and pseudo-Kardashian weren’t MCing the show there were a bevy of young women (five? seven?) who were standing in a curved line smiling at the camera or one another and were exchanging comments about each other, or the act that just played or was coming up, or someone they were interviewing. Words like awesome, cute, and huge were used a lot. Everyone was in one or two of those two categories. They spent a lot of time smiling and showing you they were having a terrific time. They interviewed Devi Levatano, whose dress they loved (another term that was used a lot.) Devi went on to have her picture taken at the red carpet staging area, which wasn’t a red carpet, but did have a backdrop of a mishmash of MTV icons and old symbols. That was the most clothing old Dev wore that night, for her performance she was in a hot pants and suspenders showing off a lot of skin under a transparent top. 
Come to think of it there was a lot of skin. Plunging necklines, suspenders covering up just the right spots, slits up the sides with black panels in front. Lots of skin, little of it titillating or sexy, but lots of skin. Miley led the parade in that department, When she wasn’t revealing parts of her body she was covering them up in bizarre ways. Large eyes over the breasts, or circles (also used as a patch on one eye), 
Taylor had another video, which they only showed a few seconds of that features a bevy of women that looked a lot like her, They were beautiful and very sexy. I would have liked to see more of that. One of the women was Margarite Haggerty (Jayne Mansfield’s daughter that stars on C.S.I.) She was in the background of the group of women but she was there.
As to the performances Nicky Minaj opened things up and the first thing I saw were the guy dancers’ hair. It looked like Alphapha had gone to rubber spiral school. The hair pieces were a bunch of ten inch long tightly spiraled rubber springs atop their heads. It caught your eye, that’s for sure. Nickie was atop a small pyramid like structure. She was wearing a giant red featured cap that extended three and a half feet above her head, very ancient Egyptian looking helmet. She was dressed in red, surrounded by dancers in black body paint with gold glitter raccoon like eyes. I guess they were supposed to be her nubian slaves. The Alphalpha dancers on the stage below were in matching fire engine red. She did her song, which was her typically type song, a mixture of music and rap, mostly rap, none of which I understood. The dance was comprised of her opening and closing her legs at the knees while seated and then standing with her dancers and slapping near her crotch on her thighs, alternately with her hands. A move her dancers mimicked. All the while being in what we in karate would have called The Horse Stance. I guess it made a statement. 
Then Taylor Swift joined her and they finished Nicky’s song and sang one of Taylor’s. All this was to show that the Twitter feud between them was over or never was. In case you missed the Twitter feud let me recap it for you here. (Nicky twited something. Taylor replied “Why are you saying this? All I’ve done is support you.”, Nicky “I wasn’t talking about you.”) 
Then Nicky “Threw some shade” ( a term Shelby learned from following the goings on on Twitter.) This means Nicky looked game faced at someone, which I think was Miley and said something that was not positive and Miley played the Taylor part of “Why are you saying this all I’ve done is support you.” reply with a bit of a dig, which I don’t remember.
Oh yeah, in the pre-game show Nick Jonas sang. Apparently, everyone thinks Nick is the come back kid, so he gets to walk and sing. He’s followed by a group of women dancers in silver knee high boots, with matching silver hot pants and space helmets, aka MTv style space helmets. He walked and sang. They walked along a different path. Occasionally they ran into each other, which was an occasion for Nick to stop and them to gyrate. I have to say the young ladies had great thighs. One did seem bruised, or maybe she was covering up a tattoo. Then they had to stand at attention while Nick got plaudits from some of the MCs. All I could think was the girls must be getting really hot in those helmets. One in the back row had fogged up.
Justin Beber came out and sang and danced with his group. Most of the group were girls in black leather bras, but there were at least two guys who wore what looked like bra-shoulder pads. The kind of thing I’d expect to see at an Oakland Raiders tailgate. The Beb’s dance routine was a step to the right (okay several but I had to throw in a RHS ref) which looked either like it came from his personal trainer telling him to walk in low right angle knee bend, or else he had been watching old Monty Python John Cleese Minister of Silly Walks routines. After stepping to the right, you guessed it, they stepped to the left. At the end someone said he cried, or shed a tear, I dunno I missed it.
The Weeknd came out and sang. He’s awesome. How do I know this? Because the semi circle line of smiley girls told me so, or someone did. I gotta give him credit, He sang. I just keep looking at that nappy headed hair that’s set at a 45 degree angle to his head. It looks like an aircraft carrier riding up on his head. I’m ready for little airplanes, ala King Kong style, to come flying along and land on it. To end his song he stood inside a circle that spouted flames. This was real drama. I wondered if his hair would catch fire. If it did I wondered how quickly it would go up in flame and leave him bald and burned out. I didn’t get to find out. But Miley thought the performance was even too out there for her. Wow.
The there were the rap acts. Lots of them. Iggy (Azalea not Pop) got in on it and some guys that I thought were Run DMC but weren’t. And my favorite was the white guy and the black guy with the drummer. The white guy was wearing a knit red hat that seemed to be a series of cylindrical forms one atop the other, like the old Devo hats. He also sported a sheer panty like material in a smokey shade that was around his neck and pulled up behind his ears to the back of his head where it disappeared under his red multi-cylindrical ski hat. It made him look like he hadn’t washed anything but his face his whole life. The black guy was wearing torn jeans and jacket that looked like they were either rejects or the latest style from Abercrombie and Fitch. The drummer was white sporting huge smears of red around his eyes.
The act was a typical rap act. The two guys trading lines in a kind of iambic pentameter and then they’d both come in on the one line chorus. The drummer would randomly hit the cymbals and the skins for no apparent reason and with no real beat.
To me most rap is like what these guys did:
Guy 1: de dah, de dah, de dah dah dah!
Guy 2: de dah, de dah, de dah dah dah!
Both  : Dah de dah Dah!

And repeat, 
and repeat.

Finally stop.
there last line mentioned “the VMAs.”

In between acts Miley came out in one bizarre creation after another. She had a few pre-recorded bits that were supposed to be funny. One with Andy Samborg, and one with Snoog Dog. 
When they broke to commercial they showed one of three bits from previous VMAs: Miley twerking, Madonnas kissing, and someone fondling Nicky’s boob (or someone’s boob.)
The show ended with Miley getting ready for her big final number and being half dressed back stage (or rather she didn’t want to reveal her costume yet.) and she needed to thank the last act or introduce the commercial and apparently they forgot about the logistics and didn’t give her a mic as she hid behind a curtain and announced whatever she was going to announce.
Her final act included a group of women of all shapes and sizes, or maybe they were drag queens, or a combination of the two. There were some musicians on stage, three, dressed up in cosplay doggie costumes. All these bizarrely dressed people, came out in what I’d called European clown like costumes. the biggest feature of several of them was a giant cone in the center of the breast area. Maybe, it was supposed to be a mono-breast, maybe it was just a traffic cone they picked up. Miley stood at the end of the center ramp with her legs spread while one of the doggie musicians put a long tube between her legs near her crotch and fired a puff of smoke from it. That was done several times as the climax to the show.
There were numerous awards to people we had never heard of, barely heard of, and like that there. The new thing is to shorten your name by taking out vowels. There was an award that folks were voting on that had started with five people and was by the time of the awards down to two. You could vote for Fwat Whap or Vic Monrow, or something like that. Fwat looked like he had lost his left eye to a bb gun a long time ago, while Vic looked pretty normal. Naturally, Fwat took it going away 71% to 29%. He wasn’t there to accept the award because he was touring in Europe.
Thee smiley group of girls also talked about some acts that were blowing up and gonna be HUGE. One of which I had read about in Rolling Stone. F.W.Twig or something like that. She’s dating Robert Patterson, the guy who started in those Twilight Series Vampire/Werewolf movies with the girl who can’t act Kristen Stewart. Yeah, so Twig, as I remember from her RS article likes to record in the studio, doesn’t like to publicly perform, but is dark and gonna be Huge. Okay then.
A special tribute was given to Kanye West, who was there with his wife Kim (and Kim’s mom was shown briefly in a group pic. and one of the other daughters teamed up to announce an award.) Kanye accepted his award in his POW camp pajamas and then was given free reign to ramble on incoherently about award shows (he doesn’t like them; doesn’t understand them), his regret over what he did to embarrass Taylor a few years ago (although it gets lots of air play), and that he doesn’t think it’s fair that people that work so hard get shafted when someone else wins. It was even more embarrassing than what he did to Taylor. I gotta hand it to him; I didn’t think he could top his previous “statement.” but he did.
The guy who designed the award was there. He was wearing a multi colored very wide vertical striped jacket that reminded me of the old TV gone off the air symbol they used to put on. Right after they showed him at the pre-show and Miley came out in her second of many costumes (her first being a suspendered mini-hot pants number that had wide suspenders strategically covering her aureolas) which featured a multi colored sleeved boa that looked like it was taken from a Ricky Ricardo or Martin fruit headed lady. She would have made the perfect other half of the couple to Mr. vertical wide stripe jacket guy. Oh well.
One of the high lights for me was when Taylor Swift and her group of beautiful women joined SWAY and Kelly at the pre-game show where they gave her an award. She was stunned and awed in that lovely Swiftian way we’ve come to expect. She couldn’t believe she had gotten the award, and she was exceedingly grateful. She then paused and asked exactly what the award was for. Apparently, she missed that little nugget of information.
All in all it was three and a half hours spent.

That is all, Carry on, As you were,


Corrections and addenda:
It’s Demi not Devi
It’s “The Weeknd” not “Weeknd”
I don’t know how Nicky or Miley spell their names.

Forgotten fact #1: Rebel Wilson awarded Nicky Minaj an award. Nicky is said to have a big butt. Rebel played the fat girl in the Pitch Perfect movies and is a very funny lady. Nicky is reputed to have a big butt. She can’t compare to Wilson. Well, hers sticks out (back?) further, but in the width department - no contest.

Forgotten fact #2: At the end of Kayne’s speech (rambling?) he threw in an “oh yeah” type comment. He announced he’s running for President in 2020. He didn’t say of what, so we are left to assume of the U. S. of A. I hope he runs as a Republican because by 2020 they’ll need a new infusion of crazy.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

San Diego Caper - Part VI

San Diego Caper - Part VI

     We walked through the hotel and out onto the boardwalk. It was a gorgeous day, bright blue sky with a few white clouds. The boardwalk was alive with people. Some were riding bikes and others on rollerskates; most were just walking. It was a day that you felt great to be alive. 
     We walked out a few paces from the sidewalk onto the beach, scanning the sky.
     “Where are the kites?” asked Hank.
     “I don’t know,” I said. “Some kite festival, not a kite in the sky.”
     “Must be the national convention,” I replied.
     “Yeah, they’re probably having their business meeting,” Hank said.
     Then we heard a voice, high-pitched, and half yelling at us, say.
     “Kites?  Are you looking for the kites?”
     We turned to see an old lady sitting on a bench. She wore sunglasses that had a rainbow colored swirl on each lens, and she held a large orange canvas bag in her lap, which didn’t match her baggy bright green dress that appeared to have a white prehistoric fern pattern on it. On her feet were pink running shoes and with white ankle socks.
      She sat on the bench, clutching her large canvas purse, and looked straight ahead. She sat there stoically. I wasn’t sure if she or some disembodied voice had just spoken.
      “Excuse me?” I said. 
      “Are you looking for the kites?” she asked.
      “Yes. Yes, we are,” responded Hank.
       “They were here yesterday.”
       A man was approaching the bench. He was slightly bent at the waist. He moved slowly. He wore a faded blue sweater, wrinkled tan pants, and a white polo shirt. He sat down next to the woman, and said. “They weren’t very good.”
      The woman nodded.
      “What do you mean?” I asked.
      “Well,” said the man shakily taking his fore finger to brush the bottom of his nose where a little bit of moisture had formed, “they didn’t fly very well.”
       “Looping and diving,” said the woman.
       “That’s right,” said the man. “Even with two strings on either side of the kite they couldn’t stop them.”
        “Two?” said the woman, as she fished in her purse and brought out a sandwich in a plastic bag and handed it to the man, who began to take it out of the bag. “Some of those kites had four lines!”
       “And they still couldn’t control them,” said the man, who then took a bite of his sandwich.
       “They needed more tail,” said the woman.
       The old man nodded, his mouth full. There were crumbs of bread spilling out onto his lips and into his lap. “More tail.” He nodded as a cascade of crumbs came out of his mouth.
       “You would have thought they would have known,” I said.
       “Yeah,” said the man.
       “The kites were beautiful,” said the woman. “But they couldn’t control them. Except for those big bags that looked like fish.”
        The man nodded. “Those were real kites. Stayed in one place like a rock in the sky. They even had another kite on the same, line way up high. Never seen one like that. It was square.”
        The woman nodded, “Square kites and bag kites that looked like fish, who would have thought? We used to buy a kite for a nickel. Dad put them together, and we’d go to the school yard and fly them.”
        “Lots of tail,” the man said, “that’s what they needed. We’d put them out so far you could hardly see them. Had to send my little cousin to the store three times to get more string.”
        The woman nodded. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The San Diego Caper - Part V

Part V - The San Diego Caper

     He stood on a hill 75 yards away. He wore a tan leather jacket with fringe and cradled a shotgun in the crook of his arm. He was a stump of a man. His white gray stringy hair ducked out from his greasy baseball cap that had a logo on the front with big lettering saying “Freedom First.”
     He looked at us, and yelled, “Now hold it right there.”
     Hank kept walking right at him.
     “I told you to hold it right there. You understand? Speaka da English?”
     “Yeah, I heard you,” said Hank. “Of course, I speak English.”
     “Well then stop where you are and state your business.”
     Hank kept walking and drew out his wallet. He flipped it open and held up the side that had his Sheriff’s badge prominently displayed. “Hank R. Murphy, Sheriff, and this is my associate Mr. Bryce Holliwell. We’ve been on deep undercover assignment in Mexico when we got discovered. We must get to San Diego immediately.”
     “I’ll do be doing the questioning,” said the man.
      Sheriff? I was thinking. Here we go.
      “Well, that’s fine sir, go right ahead and do all the questioning you want. By the way can that weapon of yours shoot down a Hell Fire missle launched from a drone cruising at twelve thousand feet?”
      “Course not,” said the man. “Why?”
      “Well, I don’t want to alarm you but as you can see from the condition of our most recent mode of transportation.”
      “And escape,” I added.
      “Yes, and escape,” Hank continued. “Then I, as Sheriff of Conestoga County, and as his attorney...” He jerked a thumb in my direction and I nodded. “Recommend that we take cover immediately. Do you have transportation readily available? We only have a few minutes before  - you know.”
      “You know,” I said, crossing my arms and nodding sagely.
      “I don’t know what you boys are talkin’ about. But you don’t look like no drug smugglin’ mules to me.”
      “Well shucks, we ain’t,” exclaimed Hank.
      I was afraid Hank was going to start doing his Dukes of Hazard impression. He has a way of imitating the accent and manner of speech of whomever he is around. I don’t know which is worse his fake hillbilly or his fake erudite scholar. Seemed like he was going for hillbilly Libertarian gun tottin’ Tea Partier. I hoped I could keep a straight face. The best way for me to do this I decided was to pile on to whatever he was saying and see how thick I could layer it without getting caught.
      “No sir, we ain’t that. As a matter of fact, we are undercover agents trackin’ them kind,” I heard myself saying. I wondered where I was going with this and where it would end.
      “Yes that’s right we be undercover U.S. guvment agents,” said Hank. “We gotta get out of here right quick. You hear me?”
      The man stared. “Undercover huh? Mule trackers.”
      We nodded.
      “Almost got caught though?” he asked.
     We nodded again.
      “Look, they got a lot of fire power chasing us and I’m afraid we don’t - unless you got something bigger than that,“ I said pointing at his double barreled shotgun.
      Hank looked up in the air and said, “they don’t have a bead on us yet. Did you see that glint?”
      The man looked up in the sky, “No, I didn’t.”
      “Drones,” said Hank. “Tomahawk model sevens with mini-Hellfire Vulcan 6Bs. Deadly. Hopefully, we’ll be out of here before they get their bearings.”
       “We’ve got to get to San Diego immediately,” I said.
       “San Diego? Well, I don’t know.” said the man.
       “Either you take us their or we’ll have to make an emergency acquisition of your transportation. Which is?”
       “Ford - pick up. They make ‘em like that no more.”
       “Damn shame,” said Hank. “Come on, time’s a wastin’ We gotta move.” 
       He walked right by the man and headed for the dusty blue truck parked at the edge of the highway near where the man was standing. I wasn’t sure if the man was going to shoot Hank in the back or not. I thought I could hear two banjoes playing a fast and furious breakdown. I expected a Dodge Charger to come surging up over a hill at any moment.
       “Hey,” the man said as he began to nearly run to catch up to Hank. 
       “Naturally, the office will cover all your expenses, and if we’re lucky I can get you an accommodation,” said Hank. 
       “All expenses? You mean like a meal and gas?”
       “That’s right Pardner, you just go to the local FBI office and tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. I’ve got carte blanche,” said Hank, “Let’s saddle up and get going before them drones find us.”
        The guy looked up at the sky.
        “You’ll never see it coming,” I said.
        “Until it’s too late,” said Hank, “Come on now. Vamos!”
        The old man lowered his gun and headed for the rust bucket he called a truck. It took him a while to even get it going and once he did we headed out at about thirty miles an hour.
       After a mile Hank yelled, “Stop.” The guy put both feet on the brake pedal, not that it did much good. The brakes were so mushy that the thing rolled and slid to a gentle landing. 
      “What’s wrong?” asked the old man.
      “I think it’s your carburetor,” said Hank. “Lemme check it. Pop the hood, keep the thing running.”
       Hank got out and looked under the hood. I heard the engine race. He looked around the hood at the windshield and yelled, “You better come here.”
       The guy got out and Hank was motioning for him to grab the throttle and goose it a few times. The engine roared. Hank came back to the driver’s seat and got behind the wheel. “Man we’ll never get there if he drives,” he said. Then he yelled out the window, “See what I mean?” 
      The fellow shook his head.
       “Okay, never mind,” Hank yelled, “Get in.” He began to move the car forward and the man twisted away from the truck. We went forward about fifty feet. The fellow was running after us cursing and screaming. 
       “Close the hood please,” Hank said to me. I jumped out and slammed the hood down and jumped back in the truck. Hank slammed the thing in reverse and passed by the fellow, almost hitting him. It spun the old guy around several times. Then Hank pulled up beside the fellow, leaving the old guy on the passenger side. 
       “Roll down the window please Bryce. Let’s see why he’s so excited.”
       “You sons of a ...”
        “Hold on, sir. I’ve got to get to San Diego pronto. Are you coming or are you going to stand there jawin’ at me?”
        I opened the door. “Better get in and hold on,” I said.
        He climbed up and was hardly in the cab when Hank floored the truck.
        “Whoa!” cried the fellow. I held on to him.
         Hank did a little wiggle in the middle of the road and the door slammed shut.
         “Please be quiet,” Hank said. “It’s best if I concentrate on my driving.”

        I don’t think the old fellow knew what to do or what to make of us. He sat bolt up right, grabbing whatever he could. I do believe he was going through his list of things he had wished he had taken care of in his life before this morning.
        There weren’t many vehicles on the road and that was probably a good thing for the old fellow’s heart, because Hank has a belief that when you are going considerably faster than the surrounding traffic they are, for all intent and purposes, standing still. A view he shared with us when he got the truck up to over ninety. At that speed the wind was rattling the bumpers. Whatever straw and dirt that might have been in the bed of the truck had left or was sucked into a corner. We came upon a convoy of several trucks with some cars nestled in between. Hank never hesitated and began to pass them all. It was at that moment that over a rise another truck appeared, coming straight for us. I tensed. The old guy started screaming, “Holy Jesus! Mary and Joseph!”
      Hank cut the wheel and we nosed in behind a truck. We were so close you could see the rivets in the sheet metal of the truck’s rear doors. We popped out on the other side, running on the shoulder, We heard the truck’s horn in the other direction go from high pitch to low, as it zoomed by the truck we were passing on the shoulder. Once we were clear, Hank cut back to the passing side of the road only to meet another truck and have to duck back again. By now the old fellow had closed his eyes and was just screaming. Hank never took his foot off the gas. 
     “See no problem,” Hank said. As if to demonstrate the techniques he had just been describing. Before we left the last truck, the one leading the pack, Hank decided it was a good time to demonstrate slipstreaming. He pulled up to within a few inches of the back of the lead truck. He gunned the engine while pulling up on the emergency brake. He pulled up just enough to slow the forward motion of the car a bit while the engine raced. He released the brake as he cut the wheel to one side and the truck lurched out to pass. 
      “See how that’s done. Nothing to it,” said Hank.
       The old guy’s eyes were bulging. He was catatonic. His eyes were red and and moist. I think he was saying good-bye. Good-bye to life, to his sweet old truck, to everything. 
       As we got close to the beach Hank said, “Haven’t seen any drones. But we gotta be careful. Tell you what. I’m going to pull into this hotel garage, where they can’t follow us. You take over and go out the other side.”
       “Me?” said the old guy startled.
       “Yeah, you. Get ready.” He cut the wheel hard and careened into an double decker parking lot. Slammed on the brakes and jumped out. I followed him. 
       “Quick,” said Hank, “Go out there so the drones won’t know anyone got out. We’ll be in touch. Go to the FBI office. Tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. Now vamos!” 
        Hank ran for the hotel door and I followed. We heard the truck pull away.
        Once inside the coolness of the hallway we slowed to a walk.
       “Who was he?” I asked.
       “Don’t know,” said Hank.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Part IV - The San Diego Caper

Part IV - The San Diego Caper   

     I’m sure there are more terrifying words than Hank saying, “I know a shortcut,” when we are going to no doubt be chased by a motorcycle assassin team and probably a few pickup trucks full of pissed off hombres. But the thought of waiting a few hours on the Mexican side of the border didn’t leave me with any good ideas. The whale of a Cadillac was rocking and rumbling down little dusty streets. Hank was turning the wheel furiously one way and then the other. 
     “I’ll try to lose them,” he said.
      I wedged myself into the front seat by pushing down on the floorboards and up on the roof. I apparently pushed a bit too hard as I felt the floorboard under my right foot give way and I could now see the road streaming past through the small openings of faded stringy carpet and rusted floorboard. I moved my left foot to prop itself agains the bump running down the center of the car.
     “Would you mind grabbing that cinder block out of the back?” Hank asked casually.
     I looked over the front bench seat. There on the floor was a three hole cement cinder block. 
     “Where did that come from?” I asked.
     “Oh I requisitioned it from the front of that cantina we were in. I thought it might come in handy.”
     “Really?” I said as I dove halfway over the seat to reach the block. I pulled it up and over the seat. It was then that I saw a motorcycle speeding toward us down the road.
     “I think we have company,” I said.
     Hank glanced in the mirror, “Uh huh. Looks like it. We’re almost there. Say, would you mind placing that block down here on the floor next to the gas pedal. We may have to make a quick exit and let the car go ahead on its own. I’m sorry we don’t have a better form of cruise control.”
     Hank cut the wheel down an alley and then turned on the street running parallel to the one we were just on.
     “Hey your heading back in the direction we just came!”
     “Yeah, that ought to confuse them. Be ready to open your door in case they jump over here a few blocks early.”
     We were running parallel to a large cement wall.
     “What’s that?” I asked.
     “The border,” said Hank.
     The road and the fence diverged.
     “Hey we’re getting farther away from the wall,” I said. It was obvious and a stupid thing to say, but when you’re stressed I’ve found; you say stupid things.
     I saw the motorcycle pop out from one of the side streets, hesitate and then head for us. “Here they come again,” I said.
     “Yup,” said Hank. “I think I see an opening.”
     The road and the fence were now a quarter of a mile apart and the gap was growing wider. The motorcycle was advancing rapidly and I saw the young man from the bar on the back lowering his revolver.
     “He’s getting ready to shoot,” I said. 
     Hank yanked the car to one side. It careened wildly and the tires squealed. “That should calm him down until he gets closer,” said Hank.
     Sure enough, the shooter had sat back down and the motorcycle was closing.
     “Here we go,” said Hank. He jerked the car off the road onto hard pack. Cacti, flew by, we were leaving a trail of dust. The car bounded up and down.
     “Crappy shocks, need struts,” said Hank. the car was heaving up and down, front to back. “Stay low, Bryce man.” Hank was steering by looking through the space between the steering wheel and the dashboard, when he looked at all. Most of the time he stayed hunched down below the seat, which was a good thing as a burst of bullets came through the top half of the car. The glass shattered into many little chunks and rained down on us.
     “Get ready with the block, I don’t know if we’ll need it or not. Sit up! Brace yourself!”
     I swiveled from where I had been huddled and shot my legs straight out and stretched my arms out to try and keep myself in one place. Before us two maybe three hundred yards away was the cement fence. There was a small gap between two sections. Could the car fit through there? I wondered.
     The more immediate problem was the flatland we had been traveling on was ending and there was a gulf, a dry riverbed that was in front of us. The car careened over the edge. The weight of the engine caused the car to go nose first toward the ground. At that moment the motorcycle went flying by Hank’s window. The driver and rider were hanging on for all they were worth. Hank opened his door but was too late to hit them. He braced himself for the impact of our landing. The engine had revved until he took his foot off the gas. The car burrowed into the side of the riverbed and then emerged in a cloud of dust. It was so dusty I couldn’t see a thing. Hank had his foot holding his door open. I heard a thud.
     “Got ‘em,” said Hank. He floored the car and it lumbered across the dry riverbed. I looked out the back of the car and saw the driver of the cycle sprawled face down. The shooter was crouched trying to line up a shot. 
     “He’s shooting again.”
     “Keep low and put that block on the gas. Jump on my signal.”
     Bullets pierced the roof. I got down on the floor and moved the block next to Hank’s foot.
     “Ready for the switch?” he asked. 
     “Ready,” I said.
     “On my signal, put that bad boy on the gas and hit the door, dump and roll. Then run.”
      “10 4.”
      “3 2 1, now!”
       Hank moved his foot and I crammed the cinderblock into place. I moved for my door. We had slowed considerably as we came up the far side of the riverbed. The Caddie was churning up dust and dirt. It’s big engine struggling with the incline. I could hear the front wrist pins grinding as the oil ran to the back of the engine. The car had slowed to twenty miles an hour. The cement wall rose up before us. There was a slight gap between its massive sections but then I noticed that the gap had a chain link fence and a giant yellow metal post blocking the way. 
     There had been a momentary hesitation in the engine’s revving between the moment Hank took his foot off the gas and I got the block in place. It was as if the old whale took a gulp before roaring upward. It was in that time that I leapt from the car and noticed the gap in the fence, and the pole. 
     I hit the ground and rolled. Finally, I got my footing and held on to the ground. I sensed our buddy, the assassin, still had it in for us. It was at that moment that the Caddie hit the chain link fence with its right bumper as the left began to climb the cement wall. Astonishingly, she kept grinding right up the cement face until the car was nearly vertical. At that moment the rear wheels came off the ground, and spun free. 
      It was a majestic sight, if only for a moment. The car seemed to halt all motion as it reached the zenith of its climb, like a whale when they leap part way out of the water to have a look around (“spyglassing” is what the whale watchers call it.) For that moment, the car, the shooter, Hank, I, and the world came to that split second when time was meaningless because nothing moved. The world and time halted as the Caddie made her last dying gasp in one magnificent pirouette. It had climbed the sturdy cement wall with its left side and had ripped the chain link fence out of the ground with its right. It held the fence in the maw of its grillwork as it spun on its back rear right corner of its bumper. The car spun into the gap, exposing its underbelly of rusty pipe, muffler, and undercarriage. It was beginning to fall when the cement wall on the other side of the gap caught its roof. The car had begun to slide backwards but now the downward force was translated into a sideways movement that began the car’s tumbling side over side down the embankment from which it had just climbed. 
      I had to run crabwalking as fast as I could to avoid the rolling car with the chain link fence wrapped in its grill. The car rolled past me and I could feel the air being whipped as the chain link fence twisted past. With each roll the fence hit the ground making a loud Whump sound. Clutching the ground, because the ravine was so steep I looked over my shoulder to see the shooter at the bottom of the slope. He had been taking aim at me but then he saw the car rolling toward him, his eyes got big - really big - and he ran to avoid the twisting metal, but he wasn’t quite fast enough. A tendril of chain link fence reached out and ensnared his waist, picking him up with ease and tossing him, like a wind swept tornado, into the air and casting him onto the dust dirt beyond.
     All was calm. The car lay on its roof gasping its last. The engine still running. The wheels turning. The engine belched and a cloud of black smoke came out from under the hood, followed by white. It had surrendered to its fate. The shooter lay on the ground, He wasn't moving.
     “I don’t think we should stay here admiring the view,” yelled Hank from some hundred and fifty feet away. “I, as your attorney, would advise you to head with all due speed to the opening I have created for you to the U S of A.”
     With that we crawled and pulled ourselves up to the opening and rolled through, happy to be alive.
     It was then that we saw the man with the shotgun.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Part III - The San Diego Caper

Part III - The San Diego Caper    

 I decided I needed a break from all this. I needed a chance to clear my head, to make sense of it. I felt I was in a cheap Mexican spaghetti Western. I sensed danger, but I didn’t know from where exactly.
     “I gotta pee,” I said to Hank, and got up and went to the back where the sign for Banos was. 
     The door opened onto a small dirty hallway with a mop in bucket that was so dry I was surprised it hadn’t self ignited. There was a set of metal shelving holding extra cleaning supplies and candles for the tables. There were two doors: one had a picture of a bull fighter, the other a picture of a lady dressed in Flamenco attire. I went in the bull fighter door. The room was filthy with green film in the corners and black grim. There was a three part horizontal window whose middle section was tilted open into the room. There was a rusted screen and bars on the window. The bars were in a frame held in place by rusty screws. Everything seemed to have dissolved and oxidized into place over years of neglect and disinterest.
     When I came out Hank was standing by our table. There was a cheap leather briefcase on the table. It was open and four rectangular bags of white powder, wrapped in clear plastic filled the case. Three men stood looking at Hank. The one in the center was thin and sported a pencil thin mustache, and wore a slightly soiled white linen suit. If ever there was a character from central casting to play the part of a drug middleman he was it.
     The other two were big, muscular and fat. I would have burst out laughing and insisted that the director of this bad movie send these actors back to get someone more realistic, but the problem was it wasn’t a movie set. We were in a cheap bar in Mexico. No one knew we were here.
     “You deliver this to my friend,” said the man in the suit to Hank, “And everything will be okay.”
       Hank stood there. For once he didn’t know what to say.
      “Hey,” I said as I approached the table, “what’s this?”
      The man in the cheap linen suit smiled. It was, you guessed it, a cruel smile that twisted up on one side of his face. “What do you think it is?” he asked.
      “Flour,” I said, “or sugar.” I looked straight at him. He flinched. His upper lip drew up cruelly. 
      “You are mistaken,” he said. “It is some of the finest ‘product’ in all Mexico.”
      “Really?” I said. “then you don’t mind if I sample it to make sure it is as good as you say.”
      He hesitated and nudged one of the goons, who promptly slammed the case shut and held his hand on top of it.
      “That will not be necessary because it is the best in all of Mexico,” he said.
      “The best what?” I asked.
      There was a flurry of Spanish that came from the man’s lips, as if he were having a conversation with every Spanish speaker in the room. Several men laughed derisively at me.
       “You know what I mean. Now, take the case.”
       The two goons were warily moving an arm toward the middle of their backs, where I assumed they housed their revolvers. The young man was also moving his hand and it came to rest on the butt of his gun. The barkeep, who had stopped cleaning glasses, now seemed to be holding something just below the counter, like a shotgun.
     Hank looked at me and swallowed. I nodded at him. “My man,” I said to Hank. “Would you be so good as to fetch the car?” He was about to say something when I silenced him with a nod. I turned to the man in the linen suit and said, “Very well, we’ll take your advise that this is the best product in all Mexico and deliver it, but first I propose a toast. 
     “Tequila!” I shouted, “for everyone. Dos bottles please.” I said to the barkeep.
     This stunned the crowd for a moment. I was able to keep smiling an said through my teeth to Hank, “Bring the car behind this place by the men’s room window.”
      The bartender had brought over the tequila and glasses.
“Please pour,” I said. When he was done pouring we lifted our glasses in salute. “Get the car,” I said to Hank. He headed for the door and the goons let him pass. All eyes were on Hank’s departure. So when I tipped over the bottle of tequila and splashed it on the goons pants no one was the wiser and it must have seemed to them an accident.
      “I am so sorry,” I exclaimed. “Let me get a napkin.” I moved quickly to the bar where I grabbed a napkin and a pack of matches.
      “It is okay,” said the man. “Please, take the case and go.”
      “Of course,” I said. “but first I need to  - how you say? - banos?”
      He nodded and smiled.
      I grabbed the second bottle of tequila and headed for the men’s room. I grabbed the mop, tilted it mop head up against the door to the bar and set it on fire. I doused the hallway with most of the tequila. I went into the bathroom, stood on the sink and placed a foot through the window and kicked at the screen and the bars. Nothing moved. I panicked and kicked some more. It gave way just as Hank pulled up in the Caddie whale. I managed to slide my body out the window as I heard shouts from inside the bar. I threw the tequila bottle hard against the floor and heard it shatter. I lit the whole pack of matches and tossed it into the bathroom. 
     There was a harumpf  sound as the floor burst into flame. I jumped into the passenger seat and Hank stepped on the gas. He swung around the building and made sure to knock over the little Japanese rice rocket that no doubt the motorcycle assassin used. We were careening out of the parking lot when the first people tumbled out of the bar. The thugs had their pant legs burned off and were trying to fire in our direction. The young assassin and his driver were running over to the bike. I hoped Hank had done enough damage to forestall them following us.
     “We can’t wait at Customs,” I said, “They’ll find us for sure.”
     “Don’t worry,” said Hank as he looked intently over the steering wheel, “I know a shortcut.”