Friday, September 30, 2005

The Flipper Occupation Conspiracy...Perhaps

Hurricane Katrina spawned many a ferocity -- floods, tornadoes, hysterical reporters and ludicrous Howard Dean sound bytes -- along with many a fallacy: Dubya created Katrina by not supporting Kyoto, Dubya hates black people, Dubya had the US Army Corps of Engineers dynamite the 9th Ward Levee in New Orleans, and ludicrous Howard Dean sound bytes.

We can add to it one other story, though this one flipflops precariously between the borders of truth and fiction: US Military assassin-trained dolphins, now (or alleged to be) loose in the Gulf.

According to a reporter in a British tabloid, the US Military had -- and lost containment of as a result of the hurricane -- 36 trained and armed Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins. Dolphins trained in military applications which included identifying and 'neutralizing' terrorists attacking American military and economic targets at sea, such as warships and oil rigs. Armed with toxic dart guns, the dolphins could attack and 'neutralize' an enemy agent, so that military interrogators could capture and compel information out of them, ala Lindy England/Club Gitmo/Abu Grabass style.

However, now with 36 trained and armed dolphins on the loose in the Gulf -- and most likely out of contact with their handlers -- these dolphins might not differentiate between an Al Qaida scuba terrorist, a Greenpeace activist, and/or a vacationing snorkeler from Newark, NJ.

All could be fair game in the eyes of Flipper.

US Military spokespersons have acknowledged that they have -- since World War II -- sought to train dolphins, long recognized as highly intelligent, for military missions at sea; however, they deny the story that dolphins have been trained to use offensive arms, let alone are now loose with those arms in the Gulf.

That denial is not believed by all, least of all those who both seek any and every chance to scream "conspiracy!", as well as those who might see in the Gulf an avenue of attack on the American continent.

And that fact, in the case of the latter, has the suitably aggrieved members of the ACLU* incensed. An offishial statement from ACLU* spokesperson Fahrak A-al Schmuckassoui states unequivocally that "this is a calculated, racist move by the US Government in their crusade against the righteous forces of Islamic Jihad. The rights themselves are not guaranteed by the infidel scrap of paper flippantly called the Constitution; they are guaranteed by the dictates of Allah and the righteous wrath of Islamic Jihad against the infidel". He noted that ACLU* attorneys were petitioning simultaneously the World Court and the 9th US Shortcircuit Court of Appeals for an injunction against the US Military, Government, and the Bush Administration. He demanded that "these corrupted-by-infidels dolphins be captured and properly indoctrinated in the ways of Islam, or eaten".

Additionally, he demanded that Flip -- the Frontier Airlines spokesdolphin -- be included in the round up, decrying him as "a capitalist dupe of the infidels, an airborne spy and spotter for the infidel fish of the Great Satan".

Calls for statements from Frontier Airlines, the Bush Administration, the US Navy, and the 9th Shortcircuit Court of Appeals, regarding the ACLU* charges and demands went unresponded to. Calls to the main offices of the ACLU* (1-900-DUMBASS) were answered with a pre-recorded message, echoing Schmuckassoui's prepared statement.

Ravings from the ACLU* aside, the overall veracity of the "killer dolphins" controversy is challenged at the Urban Legends and Folklore website ( , among others, as "X-Files nonsense".

Whatever veracity one might attach to the story circulating, it is rumored -- not unreasonably, in light of her other public comments -- that peace activist Cindy Sheehan has joined forces with the ACLU*, and is demanding that the Bush Administration and Israeli Jews "end their illegal occupation of the Gulf of Mexico" through the covert deployment (under the cover of a Dubya-inspired hurricane) of militarily-trained dolphins.

No doubt she wants to ask Dubya about that face-to-face, too.

* Al Qaida Civil Liberties Union, hoping to suicide bomb near you

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

USS Texas

For a life-long landlubber, I love ships. Especially those guarantors of our nation's security, the venerated warships of the US Navy.

Being from Iowa, it's with not a little pride that I fondly recall the mightiest quartet of battleships ever built, the Iowa Class. Ships built well enough to serve into the waning years of the 20th Century (and beyond, if again called upon), and see action in one major, and three minor wars. In 1989, I had the unexpected pleasure of receiving a brief but thoroughly gratifying tour of the then in-commission USS New Jersey, basing in southern California. An awesome experience.

Today, with all of the human drama building around Hurricane Rita, my thoughts dwell as well on one venerable historical vessel, now resting once again in Harms' Way: the USS Texas, BB 35. In her day, an old, slow, but formidable battleship of the US Navy; now, a floating museum located at the San Jacinto Memorial Battleground near Laporte, Tx, close to Houston.

And in Hurricane Rita's projected track.

To some, she's little more than a relic of the early-mid 20th Century; to me, she's invaluable history and a living, tangible tribute of this nation's power from an era where military might -- and the ability to project it -- meant the difference between having freedom, and having it threatened, if not taken away.

Not so different today as then; different enemies, same need of projectable power to meet them.

In brief, the USS Texas was commissioned in 1914. She saw service in World War I, but never came to serve that primary role she was built to perform: meet the nation's enemies in battle. A generation later -- newer, faster battleships were coming online, and much of the older US battle line lay devastated in the mud of Pearl Harbor -- the USS Texas would fulfill her mission many times over: as fire support off French North Africa, during the TORCH invasion in November, 1942; as fire support on the historic morning of June 6, 1944, off Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach and targets inland, for the Great Crusade; she and the USS Arkansas would duel with German shore batteries near Cherbourg; the Texas was straddled 65 times during the engagement, and hit once by a dud 240 mm shell, but never flinched in her mission of fire support; in August, she would again provide fire support against German shore batteries during the Allied invasion of Southern France.

Not content to rest on her laurels at the conclusion of her ETO mission, USS Texas would sail on to the Pacific Theatre of Operations, providing invaluable fire support to the soldiers and Marines who stormed the harrowing, heroic beaches of Iwo Jima in February, 1945; and one last time, she provided two months' worth of on-call fire support at Okinawa, during which time she was singled out by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft for destruction; but it was the kamikaze who went to destruction, at the hands of those who stoutly manned the guns of the USS Texas.

In 1948, she was decommissioned, and came to her place of honor at San Jacinto Memorial Battleground.

In the summer of 1990, while in Houston on business, I had the opportunity to stand on the deck of the USS Texas. Like my experience the year was awesome.

Now, 60 years after having last fired her guns in anger, the USS Texas stands again in Harms' Way. This time, with no mission to defend our shores; the enemy -- Rita -- is one for which the Texas was not built to confront.

But confront she must.

So while my thoughts and prayers will be with the evacuees and the emergency services personnel -- many of whom don't have the luxury of evacuating ahead of Rita -- I will have a thought and prayer as well for a valiant, durable, long-serving fighting lady, and deserved historical monument to a great nation at a great and trying time in her national history.

With the tradition long established, and bearing the name USS Texas, I believe she'll meet this challenge as stubbornly and doggedly as heretofore; I believe she'll come through.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Naming of The ... Ear?

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: my life is absurd. Rush not to defend me before you hear, in the words of Paul Harvey, "the rrrrrest of the story".

I'm a life-long bachelor; well, nothing particularly absurd there. I just ain't found the right one yet (thought I had once or twice, but various and sundry 'shes' disagreed). I live a low-key, simple, austere life. I have my virtues and my vices, one of which I'm trying to give up in the interests of a more balanced fiscal status.

In short, I'm boring, but I digress.

I like lots of things that other folks like. I do have one hobby that's a bit 'living life on the edge' -- tornado chasing for photos -- but I also have that luck that keeps me from getting into more trouble than I can get out of (so far). Except for that, not much absurd here, you probably think.

Then there's my pet rock. Seymour. Pictured above, posing with a 'mooovenir' for a friend in Japan, who owns and operates the Moooo! Bar on Shiraishi Island (an adult beverage emporium done up in contemporary holstein). Of course, she's not Seymour's only crush: he's got a thing for a writer/blogger who Drew Barrymore models herself after down in Texas, too.

But that's not the real absurdity in my life. The real absurdity is, my pet rock has now fallen for the souven"ear" I brought him back from Iowa. An authentic ear of corn. That's right: my pet rock is in run amok lust (my view) with an ear of corn.

And he is insisting that 'I' name her.

See, he -- Seymour -- has decided that the ear of corn is a 'she'. How he makes that determination is beyond me; for that matter, how I made the determination that Seymour's not a Simone is beyond me as well, but I sorta digress, not wanting to think too hard about this just now.

Are you beginning to grasp the absurdity here?

At any rate, I have a rock demanding that "I" come up with a name for this thoroughly amused (or possibly touched, in more ways than one) ear/earette. Trying to reason with a lust-struck pet rock is like...trying to talk to a rock in general. Those of you with teenagers can probably draw some comparable analogies, I reckon.

So...I guess I'm to have a lust-struck pet rock named Seymour, and his lastest 'lust puppy' earette of corn....named Jane.

Not that I am suggesting any remote resemblance between a pet rock, an earette of corn, and a famous actress. Uh-uh, not me.

Of course, I know of a way, I think, to relieve some of this absurdity that's overtaking my semblance of a life: I need a geologic psychotherapist.

Not for Seymour; for me. I really need to understand all of this. And where I lost control.

Particularly before I discover one day that Seymour and Jane have figured out the birds and the bees thing.

A rock and an earette of corn, you say?

I told you my life was absurd.

Photos of a Journey -- II

1. Your blog author and childhood friend, aka the Class of '75

2. Overview of site of now extinct first farm house and farm; field in foreground (full of soybeans) was part of that farm

3. Barn on 2nd farm (resided and painted since '91)

4. I fished in many of the local creeks, catching foot-long suckers, sunfish, bullheads, even having a tangle with a snapping turtle or two; this photo suggests that Iowa creeks hold all kinds of surprises, especially after a heavy rain*

5. The north side of the 2nd farm house (extensively landscaped since '91)

6. The Presbysterian church my family attended from 1964-1971

* well maybe I didn't take this picture, and maybe it was enhanced just a tad...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Photos of a Journey -- I

(From Left to Right):

1. The old fishing hole, across from the second farm house

2. The third and final farm house I called home 1970-71

3. An Iowa sunrise, September 7, 2005 (my first in 15 years)

4. Orange Elementary School

5. The first house I called home in 1964-65 (pre-farm)

6. The second farm house I knew as home, 1969-70

Monday, September 12, 2005

Part VIII: Parting And The Hazardous Road

So it was, 200 years ago: as with any great "journey of discovery", there is a beginning, a mid-point, and an end. For Lewis & Floorwax, I'm digressing, since they're a current-day radio duo, wreaking havoc on a local radio station in the mornings in Denver.

For the real Lewis & Clark, the return for them -- from coastal Oregon and the Columbia River -- was anything but known: a portion of their return route would be by a differing course than they had used coming west. Vast tracts of wilderness, deep mountain snows, and no Fast Wong's Buffaro Wings & Chinese Take-Outs awaited them on the long road back. They had much yet to see, and deprivation to experience in the process, so that a fair deal of the return was as much a journey of discovery for them as the outbound segments had been.

Whatever else it was, at least they didn't have to drive across Kansas.

200 years later, it was nothing like that for me: by late Thursday night, September 8, I had accomplished pretty much what I had set out to accomplish (see Parts I-VII) on my own personal journey of discovery. All that was left was the return journey. One I knew well, having driven it before.

Originally, it was my plan to depart in the mid-morning of Friday, September 9. But at 2:30am that morning, my whim decided to kick in under the guise of a mild bout of insomnia. Thus it was that I commenced the return trip in the early and very dark hours of Friday.

Fittingly, as I pointed my auto westward on US 20, the Classics Four song Traces came on; one last touch of nostalgia, as I pulled away from the place that had been home to me, so many years before. For a brief moment, I again recalled little Melody, and I was almost as misty as the moisture-laden night air.

That lasted until the song ended, and I was plunged into another moonless night, with an overabundance of ground fog to obliterate visibility ahead. I remember muttering something about the procreative similarities of humidity and fog, but won't delve into the concise terminology I employed.

Night time is the right time for a lot of enjoyable things, to be sure; but driving cross country through fog, where wildlife and/or wandering livestock consider the road a place to meander and stand about, and not grasp the significance of approaching headlights, isn't one of them. At first opportunity, I let an 18 wheeler pass me up, and then latched onto his slipstream: not only as a visual guide, but under the selfish notion that if anything decided to play in the road, he'd find it first.

But this segment of the road was uneventful; so was the southbound pivot onto I-35 toward the eventual link-up with I-80 westbound, and the great Nebraska reckoning. With a speed limit there of 70 mph, the fog diminishing, and the sparse traffic at highway speed, I continued my tagalong, though more relaxed with the improved conditions.

Until just north of Story City, that is.

With an 18 wheeler ahead, and another barrelling down from behind, just in the wake of the leading tractor I coulda sworn I saw something ahead, off the side of the road.

A pair of eyes.

Then in the reflection of my own headlights, I saw them again. And once more, in the reflection of the 18 wheeler that was just now starting to overtake me on the left.

And then again, as whatever it was broke into the highway. Right in front of me.

I had another of those epithet moments. At 70 mph, with traffic on my left, my options were simple: (a) hit it or (b) evade, and prepare for the consequences under the existing conditions.

Speed and a split-second made the decision for me: whumpft! as my left front tire terminated contact.

*note to person who's now a pet short in Story City: next time, keep your cat indoors, m'kay?*

The rest of the I-35 segment was uneventful, as was the link up with I-80 westbound. But as I would note in a little over two hours, it wasn't only a wayward cat that was possessed of poor timing.

I hit Omaha's interstate system at morning rush hour. And it quickly conjured up one other nostalgic moment, though more recent: the place I had just visited, considered a traffic jam five cars backed up behind a tractor towing a haywagon. Sorta.

That wasn't the case here: like in Denver, I found myself wondering why so many cities like to turn perfectly good interstate highways into no-motion parking lots. On the other hand, at this speed, I could avoid throw-rugging any wayward cats that ran in front of me.

Finally I cleared the Greater Omaha Metro Parking Authority, and began to ponder some of the scenic options that Nebraska had to offer, and that I had first noticed on the drive east. I had promised a coworker that I'd stop at the archway museum near Kearney, Nebraska, and let her know what it was all about. As I exited in Kearney, I found that the archway museum had competition: the University of Nebraska had an art museum, also in Kearney.

What to do, what to do: the choice of an archway museum that displayed the history and artifacts of pioneer and cross-country travel? Or, viewing a collection of college artwork, like a bust display of a tall, lean, beautiful Nebraska cheerleader, placidly grazing on astroturf*?

The promise won out; and 40 minutes later, as I hit the road westward again, I wondered if the grazing cheerleader wouldn't have been the better option. At least I could have put the rumor of astroturf to rest or not.

The rest of the drive was relatively trouble-free, since I'd learned that when stopping at road side rest stops, I put my car keys in my pocket, first. Weather-wise, it was hot, dry, and the winds were blowing across the interstate at gusts up to 35 mph; I plowed along, bucking the winds, 'enjoying' again the intense, attention-getting miasma of the stockyards close to the I-76 junction near the Colorado border, and wincing at the occasional bug that gradually and collectively obliterated my field of forward vision. This vision problem I relieved at Julesburg, Colorado. At least until five miles SW of Julesburg, that is.

That's where I plowed head-on into Mothra.

Right smack in front of me, at nearly 80 mph: an almost Hostess Pie-sized ooze exploded all over the windshield, and the (what seemed like) six-foot spanning wings of the grotesquely-departed, flapping atop my car like a pair of parade pennants, threatening to allow me a Wright Brothers' moment at Kitty Hawk.

Yes, I'm sure it was Mothra; if not, it was the biggest hummingbird the world will never (again) see.

That required an unscheduled stop. One that I blame for the grand finale, the end of the journey: arrival in Denver. At rush hour.

I coulda killed Mothra, but realized it was a silly notion: I already had.

And in the midst of rush hour, a gust front came blowing off the foothills, bringing with it high winds, rain showers...and snarled traffic.

My journey of discovery, the return to the land of my past, was over. I had covered a lot of miles; and more importantly, a lot of years. The revisitation of memories was good. Seeing and reconnecting with old friends was enjoyable. The remembrances...special. And I got the the souven"ear": Seymour would be pleased.

But it was over. I was home. Well, at least near there, mired in traffic.

Lewis & Clark, shut up.

* at least according to the University of Colorado football team...

Part VII: Remembrance

When one journeys back in Time, so to speak, there's more to it than just visiting the places from a personal past. My visit was no different in this regard. It wasn't all meant to be fun and games; I had one other purpose on my itinerary. On Thursday morning, I attended to it.

In several cases, I knew where I was going; in one very special case, I was unable to find where it was I needed to be. Thus, I made due with where I wound up. I figured remembrance would serve, whatever the venue.

One of the two places was Orange Township Cemetery. I had a few acquaintances to remember there. The site itself is set about 1/2 mile or more off the main road, back away from the homes and schools, on a piece of rolling countryside, surrounded by agriculture, majestic trees, and -- I believe -- serene, eternal peace. A very painstakingly maintained site, it is a place of genuine beauty, considering what it was. On this day, it was warm and muggy, with plenty of overcast and a threat of rain not far in the offing. Still, a worthy place as any to come to final rest in. On this day and at this place, it was certainly that.

One by one, I located acquaintances from so many years ago: my old school bus driver, who took such good-natured but serious pains to see to the safe and dependable transportation of a bus load of kids of all ages, school year after school year. And he did just that. Never once was a student injured on his watch in my time. I don't know when he retired; I only know he was my bus driver for my 3rd-6th school years. Now he was here, as he had been since 1985; his wife having joined him in eternal rest, in 2000. It was good to be there, and let them know they were remembered and appreciated.

Not far away rested our old family babysitter. Further down the lane rested a neighbor who ran a farm we had lived on for a time. And nearby, in a family designated plot, lay at peace a friend -- two years younger than me -- who had perished in a vehicle accident in 1970. I had paid respects to him at the funeral home before his funeral; it felt necessary and good that I would return again, 35 years later, and let him know he wasn't forgotten.

Good-natured soul that he was, I'm sure he knew it.

I spent a briefer period of time visiting two others whom I'd known, now resting in another cemetery further to the south. Then it was time to return once more to the Orange Township Cemetery. I had one more remembrance to do and this place was, to me at least, as good a place I knew to do it.

I started attending Orange Elementary in my 3rd grade year. Most of the students I attended with continued on with me, completing their 6th grade year at Orange, going onto another junior high for two years, then returning to Orange for the last year there was a 9th grade there; I moved to Colorado before that year was up. They all went onto graduate from Waterloo West High School.

All of them but one. She didn't follow us to the 4th grade. A higher power intervened.

I only met her once: she was desperately ill in our third grade year. Terminally ill, though many of us didn't grasp that. But one day, while she was still able, she came to class one time and for a short while, to be with her classmates.

She was weak and frail; but the joy in her eyes of being with her classmates was a beacon that day, and the smile on her face spoke volumes. I'd never seen her before; I never saw her again. It wasn't until after her gentle spirit had passed on that we were informed that she was beyond us now.

Strangely, I never forgot her. So many things I have forgotten over the years; but for whatever reason, I never forgot her.

I didn't know her parents' first names. A computer search before my trip had given me a hopelessly endless list of folks with the same last name, scattered all over Iowa and beyond. I had no idea the date she had passed, or where she'd been laid to rest. Record searches of deaths and cemetery listings answered no questions.

Then again, I'd come back to this place for a reason, and all that mattered now was the purpose.

So in this incredibly serene, quiet place -- little more than a mile from where I once and only once beheld her as a classmate -- I took a moment to remember little Melody Marsh. A classmate, a gentle soul, and gone way too soon from our presence here. She'd been gone 40 years; but at this particular moment, I could picture her in my minds' eye, just as she had been that day in the fall of '65.

Whether my imagination or not, a light breeze chose to gently whisper through the trees overhead about that time. I was willing to fancy that, in that moment, she was letting me know she heard me. And this was her effort at a smile, as from so long ago

Melody, I still remember. And you were worth the trip. God bless.

Finally, Part VIII: Parting and The Hazardous Road

Part VI: Criminal Of The Corn

For a few minutes, you could argue that this is what I became. All on account of my pet rock -- Seymour -- wanting a souven"ear" from my Iowa trip.

*Yeah, I know what you're thinking..."go ahead, blame it on the rock!"*

You obviously haven't met Seymour.

As I was arriving in Iowa, my itinerary of things to do was bouncing about in my head. Numbered in there, of course, and having (at the time) no thoughts other than those of a law-abiding gift shop visitor, I was wondering just where in the Sam Hillfeathers I was gonna buy Seymour an authentic ear of Iowa corn.

See, Seymour insisted that it be authentic Iowa corn. Since I -- his subservient benefactor and payer of the rent and power that allows him to watch movies on the VCR -- was a native of Iowa, he wanted something that was pure Iowa. And with my sense of humor firmly in Seymour's mind, he knew exactly what that something had to be: CORN.

I suspect my rock was exercising a wee bit of sarcasm here.

Initially, I saw no problem: September is the season of harvest in Iowa. Corn would be in excess abundance. Perhaps, even in a gift shop somewhere.

Yeah, right. Who buys a single ear of corn as a souven"ear" for a precocious pet rock? That question, perhaps once asked by an entrepreneurial gift shop operator, was quickly answered with a "no one in their right mind".

Such was the logic of the gift shop operator at my hotel: none to be had. I was going to need to find a gift shop operator with a more off-the-wall turn of economic mind. Or resort to other means.

Granted, I could have tried buying a can of corn, and passed it off to Seymour as the real thing, sans the cob, which wouldn't fit in the can. But Seymour -- despite his intellectual denseness in some matters -- isn't that gullible. Especially since I let him use my online encyclopaedia.

So on Thursday, having attended to many of my other itineral matters, I turned to the issue of the Seymour souven"ear". While driving the rural roads, surrounded by near-harvest time cornfields that blotted out the distant horizons, a shameless notion touched upon my soul: why not just pluck one from the field?

Yeah, I know: that would be stealing. Theft. The taking of property belonging to someone else, without permission and fiduciary renumeration. To the legal purist, that's one way of viewing it. Not being a legal purist, I settled upon another: the average acre produces around 135-139 bushels of corn. By taking one ear from one acre, that acre would suffer a microscopic wee miniscule drop in that bushel-per-acre average.

I thought long and hard about all the things I'd been taught from childhood -- like not to blame my audible flatulence on the dog, 'cuz everyone and the dog would know better -- and concluded that this particular example was non sequitur. Besides, I just couldn't face the ugly implications of returning home without that which Seymour had petulantly demanded.

So at a point where a tractor access lane to a field availed itself off the road, I turned in and parked. I chose a field that was about 2 miles from where I'd lived on the first farm. Not wanting to be seen doing the malfeasant deed, I walked a few rows into the field; there hidden from the view of all but Himself, I muttered something akin to a "judge me not on the purloin of one ear, Lord", and did the deed. Back to the car I went, carrying an ear in the husk, which gave me a quizzical "you don't resemble a John Deere harvester..what is the meaning of this?". When I told it what was the meaning, it shook it's cob, muttered "well don't that beat all", and resigned itself to the long road back.

Thankfully, it didn't have a cell phone like the rest of the world.

Seymour, needless to say, is thrilled with his souven"ear". And even the souven"ear" -- after Seymour showed it the section in the encyclopaedia on the production of ethanol from corn, and a how grits is made -- is decidedly happy with the change of venue.

As for me, a couple xtra "hail Marys" and donations to charity might just get me off the hook with Himself; but I won't know that until The Great Disposer of Events disposes of me. And I digress.

Next up, Part VII: Remembrance

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Part IV: The Land That Time Forgot...And Not

On this visit to the land of a significant part of my youthful past, I found change to be anywhere from miniscule, to sadly complete and total. Let's start with the homes, of which there were four (we moved a lot in my youth):

#1: there were no visual surprises at the first house I knew as home in Waterloo, in 1964: a small three bedroom two-level on Wisner Drive. Except for the tree in the yard (little more than a sapling when I lived there, and now a 30' plus shade tree), there was little change to the exterior of the house I first called home. So went things for the neighborhood overall: except for trees bigger than I remembered them, it looked as I remembered it.

I almost expected to see me walking out the door to go to school, except that (a) for the time of day, I should have already been there and (b) I would have had a 'Ground Hog Day' moment, if it had been me. I'd really hate to have to turn me in for truancy, let alone explain it to some educrat who has the imagination of a door knob, but I digress.

#2: the first farm we lived at. It was located just south of town, and of the old Highway 412, at the top of the hill on the east side of Hammond Avenue, an almost two lane gravel road. The house was immense: a full basement with a total of six rooms; the main floor consisted of a kitchen, pantry, dining room, office, living room, sewing room, bathroom, and two stair cases to the second floor (one with a bannister, one winding); the second floor consisted of five large bed rooms, a bathroom, and a stair case to the attic; the attic had four useable rooms, though it got rather warm up there in the summer. The yard was sizeable, and had large pine trees (over 60' tall) bordering both sides of the driveway; the main yard had a couple climbable maple trees, a large weeping willow tree, a walnut tree, and more pine trees, as well as tall poles with bird houses atop two of them (one of which my one sister had crowned me with when I was 8, but I digress).

The rest of the farm buildings were (from east of the house to around to N of the house): a two car garage; a utility shed/chicken coop; a storage shed (which, at the time, contained the landlord's amphibious car); a huge grainery; a barn for livestock; another utility building; four heavy gauge grain bins; another livestock barn; behind it, yet another livestock barn; to the north of it, a corral for horses; in the back of it, a storage shed; and to the north of that, the pasture. North of the house and on the west side of the corral, an old garage converted to a chicken coop; and a small orchard, with trees bearing apples, cherries, mulberries, and plums. Between the house, buildings and corral, was a large open area, with the makings of a road toward either the corral or past the grainery building and into the fields beyond. And straight east and to the south of the outbuildings and house, over 400 acres of farm land.

It was a wonderful place to grow up between 1965 and 1969.

When I was last back to visit, around 1991, all of the farm outbuildings had been levelled. But the house, the first garage, the trees, the yard and the orchard remained.

In was all gone, save for three of those immense pine trees, which now served as ornaments for what was there: a large retirement community development, consisting of a series of ranch-style single level homes (see picture above). At the far back of the development (into what would have been part of the farming field), was a high-rise retirement building.

Change is inevitable, even in bucolic Iowa. But I must admit that it saddened me, knowing that all I now had of the old farm were my memories of it, along with a couple pictures of the old house from the 1991 visit.

#3: this large farm house had been converted by the owner into three apartments, two upstairs, and the main floor back in our time (we occupied the main floor, and two couples occupied the upper apartments). Along with another sizeable basement, and a full covered front porch, it was yet another magnificent farmhouse of the kind one saw all over the Iowan rural landscape in those days. The house had changed little; and it was still set up as three apartments (as evidenced by the trio of mailboxes out front). The farm itself had changed some: two of the older, worn outbuildings were gone, replaced with three new grain storage buildings, and an even larger conveyor/elevator structure to transport the grain into them. One barn -- one we'd used to house my sister's horse -- remained, but had been resurfaced with some metallic sheeting on the outer walls.

And the current resident(s) had put a great deal of time into gardening and landscaping the west and north sides of the property.

The farmland around the property was as it had been: full of corn and soybeans, nearing harvest time.

The old pond across the street -- a private club pond, with bass and pan fish abundant therein, and one I fished at often -- remained, though somewhat shrunken from the size I remembered. The old club building had been completely rebuilt, and was quite impressive.

So was the large mouth bass -- I estimated it at 5 lbs or better -- that chose a moment I stood by the water's edge, to meander slowly by, and sticking its tongue out at me in a defiant, knowing taunt.

Bastur...danged fool fish.

#4: the last farm house hadn't really been a 'farm' house when we lived there: it had no agricultural property attached to the house and garage. And it had changed somewhat as well: the large, open-aired-but-covered front porch had been enclosed; a bungalow had been added on to the westside of the house; the garage had been renovated. And the old climbing tree -- the one I used to climb into while taunting one of our dogs, and the one I blew a squirrel out of with my shotgun early one morning, waking up the whole house, had grown up enough to have the house side of the tree pruned back. Otherwise, it was an even more effective shade tree for the yard than it had been in 1970-71.

But for a couple of new houses built immediately to the west and north of the property, the overall view from the property roundabouts was absolutely no different than I had viewed from the spring of '70 to November of 1971.

And then there was the other school I wished to visit. The one I attended for one year, as a second grader: Kittrell Elementary. It wasn't so much that I had fond memories of the school itself; I just had to return, 41 years after the fact, to the scene of my first brush with cooties and chivalry, and having learned my first lesson about the occasional fickleness and lack of appreciation by the female of the species (recounted in another part of this blog) .

I was amazed that the school itself was, like Orange, unchanged from 1964; the gentle downhill grade from the parking lot to the playground was, as well, as it had been back then. All that was missing were those musical, demonic monkey bars (torn down and removed a year before my visit, as a safety hazard I was told), and the stupid, unappreciative little girl who spurred me to my reckless moment of chivalry. And at a time I had no idea the word existed, let alone knew what the horsefeathers it meant.

She didn't thank me then; bet she wouldn't thank me today, either.

Finally, I visited our old family church in town. Immanuel Presbyterian, with a few cosmetic changes, looked largely as it had in the period of 1964-71, when we attended there. The old parish house -- formerly occupied by the pastor and his family -- had been sold off sometime after we left, so I was unable to revisit that basement where, on the eve of my move to Colorado, I had played 'spin the bottle' at the behest of the minister's son, with four of his girlfriends. I don't mind saying those four young ladies taught this lad how to kiss; and one in particular seemed to enjoy my rapidly-gained prowess. Her I shoulda married.

But at the age of 14, there probably would have been issues. Let alone, how I'd of 'splained it all to Ma.

Later that day, I would get together with friends I hadn't seen in 15 years, getting caught up on the intervening time.

On balance, it was a good day.

I saved the next day for the more solemn part of the trip. More on that in Part VII.

Part III: Coming "Home"

Wednesday morning, September 7, 2005: from a motel off I-80 near the burg of Walnut, Iowa, I set forth once more at dawn, to complete the remaining 210 miles of my journey to Waterloo. Conditions that morning were certainly nostalgic: clouds heavy on the horizon, with humidity such that not only had my car taken on the appearance of having sustained a heavy rain (it hadn't), but thick, at times almost impenetrable banks of fog and ground mist hovered along the low lying portions of the highway ahead. Shortly into resuming the trek, a blood red morning sun peered through the haze, providing a photo op I haven't seen in years (pictured at right).

After skirting what passes for rush hour traffic on the western edge of Des Moines -- and laughing at how puny it was, compared to that I've seen in Denver, along with a silent "thanks" that it was so -- I headed north on I-35, then east again on US 20. As the miles passed, the names of towns on sign posts became more and more familiar to me from another time, almost bringing me a feeling of proceeding forward and backward in Time at once. Finally, I passed a mile marker indicating Waterloo's southwestern outskirts were now but 5 miles ahead, and I began to seek familiar ground.

In vain; the build up along US 20 was not at all what I had expected in bucolic, Time-stands-still Iowa. Proof, though none was really needed, that the idea of Time standing still is an illusion, regardless of appearances.

Finally, I bailed off US 20 at the Highway 21 exit, and I was on recognizeable ground: I sat at a stop sign, only one air mile from the first farm and second of four houses I had once known as home back then, and but three times the distance from one of the schools I knew. A strange, nostalgic feeling came to the fore. If you've returned as an adult, to places of your childhood, you know the feeling. With some time to kill before I could check into my temporary home of the next two days, I decided to feed the nostalgia with a visit to that school.

As I reached the intersection of Hwy 21 and Orange Road, I was struck by the fact that the surrounding countryside looked just as I remembered it to, 34 years ago at this time of the year. Cornfields on both sides of the road, with corn stalks at full maturity at six feet plus in height, creating an almost tunnel effect for the road and obscuring my first view of Orange Township, less than a mile west of me.

Upon reaching the stop sign at Orange Road and Kimball Avenue, I was confronted with a view almost completely unchanged from when I last laid eyes upon it. There stood Orange Elementary School (photo to follow): originally built in 1915, it continued to serve students into the New Millennium. A complete k-12 school at one time, it was now only an elementary school.

With not a brick out of place.

A tour of the school (accompanied by a student counselor who was as interested in my reminisces, as I was in the here and now) revealed that not all was as before: now it only served as a k-5th grade facility. Certain rooms like the old library, were now referred to as a 'media room', and one room was filled with Apple-Mac PCs (the Computer Training Center). The third floor of the building was not in use (due to the presence of asbestos there, which unlike the first and second levels, had not been cleaned up in the 1980s). Yet despite some new doors and windows, as well as lockers where none had existed before, the facility and all of the rooms I remembered were not much different than when I attended there, in my 3rd-6th grade years, along with the first quarter of my 9th grade year (the last year that 9th-12 grades attended there).

Change had seemingly almost completely bypassed Orange Township; but change was in the wind, according to the counselor: within 5 years, almost all of the original three-story building would be demolished, and a new, modern elementary facility would be erected in its' place.

I guess 95 years was service enough.

I drove around Orange Township after leaving the school, and noticed that my original assessment held: almost no new houses had been added to the township. Almost every aspect of the township remained as I had remembered it, 34 years prior, other than the size of many of the trees. The Lutheran church that sat in the township had added onto the backside of the original building, but the frontage remained as I remembered it, when my old Boy Scout troop -- #13, and aptly designated in our case -- used it as a meeting place therein, and a recreation place on the lawn out front.

As I sat visually taking all in, I felt as if I had stepped through a time portal, and emerged 34 years ago. The only things that broke the sensation was the aforementioned size of the trees, and the face in the rear-view mirror.

I would revisit this area once more the next day, but for another reason. One I'll get to later.

Meantime, it was time enough now to drive to where my reserved hotel was. The location I knew well: the corner of old Highway 412 and La Porte Road, aka Hwy 218, also known through town as University Avenue.

Time and progress here more than made up for any illusions of a backward time warp in Orange Township: Highway 412 was 412 no more; it was now San Marnan Drive. And utterly, thoroughly bordered by seemingly endless commercial build-up: restaurants, car dealerships, strip malls, a huge auto finance center, and the anchor Crossroads Mall. Only Crossroads Mall had been here before I moved away in '71.

In the midst of all of this ruralness gone suburban commercial, I spotted the hotel. Just beyond it, I-380 loomed large and horizon-blocking, another change on the atmosphere of my memories. No less than US 20 was, a four lane highway that was but a drawing board project 34 years before. Now it lurked to the south, cutting through what had been the horse pasture of our old first farm.

Where another shock would await me in Part IV: The Land That Time (Almost) Forgot...And Not.

Part II: Nebraska Explained (aka, A Key Dilemma)

North of that void in the central USA, knowd to those who've watched The Wizard of Oz as the place Dorothy figured she wasn't in anymore -- Kansas -- lies another such void on the road eastward.


But for the most western and eastern portions of the state, Nebraska is not significantly different from Kansas, except in spelling and crops (more corn, less wheat). So many of the descriptives applied by persons commuting across Kansas, tend to apply in large degree to Nebraska as well. In my younger days, when driving across Nebraska enroute to Iowa or other points E/NE, I saw it as The Great 7-plus Hour Blackhole Of I-80 (this was also at a time that speeds had been restricted to 55 mph, down from 70). A couple times, I tried to plan the bulk of my drive across Nebraska for night time, sparing my eyes the scenic equivalent of Mimi (of The Drew Carey Show) in a thong bikini.

But Time and wisdom tend to soften, if not change, perspective. Of the former, not the latter. That's still ewwww.

For instance, in my youth, I was possessed of those driving gifts (real and/or imagined) of iron kidneys, a gallon bladder, and an insatiable urge to cross that vast gulf of *yawn* as quickly as was humanly (and barely legally) possible. Now -- 2005 -- I am forced to admit the painfully obvious: my iron kidneys are little more than Saran Wrap, and my bladder is pint-sized. At very useful intervals -- 40 miles or so -- Nebraska provides a very necessary series of well-crafted and positioned rest stops. With rest rooms.

My kidneys, bladder, and car seat appreciated this, as well as the state that provides and sustains them, as never before.

There are a few noteworthy differences between Nebraska and Kansas: Nebraska is a study in sensory contrast. Shortly after I-76 (from Colorado) merges with I-80 short of Ogallala, the olfactories are given a sudden, and rigorous test of function, courtesy of a very large, and interstate-side cattle stock yard. Just when you might have been concerned with being lulled into a sense of driving euphoria, bordering on inattentiveness, Nebraska slaps you up side the haid with an olfactory "pay attention!", forcing the other senses to sharpen focus and alertness.

Without the benefit of a road sign to warn drivers of "Caution -- Big STANK Ahaid!".

The stock yard sits just far enough back off the road to prevent drivers from seeing the cows wink and rib each other, satisfied that they'd "dung it agin".

In early September, Nebraska isn't quite so boring to more experienced eyes: harvest time is near upon, the fields are at their peaks, and there are a plethora of attractions and distractions from the long road, designed to help break up the boredom of the still long (6 1/2 hours) crossing from SW to E (helped considerably nowadays by a posted 75 mph speed limit).

Not the least of which -- attraction-wise -- is a built-up archway, spanning the interstate about 4 miles E of Kearney, Nebraska. It's billed as a museum of the old pioneer trail that would one day become a part of the Cross Continental Highway (from New York to CA, much of which is I-80). However, even with all of the more appreciated sites, facilities and smells that Nebraska offers to cross-country drivers, a battle with attentiveness still creeps into the equation.

So it reminded and caught me at a rest stop E of Kearney.

Answering the call of my pint-sized bladder, I had pulled off at the strategically positioned (and gratefully arrived at) rest stop, and was taking advantage of a nearby trash recepticle to relieve my auto of interior clutter (ie., an empty coffee cup, water bottle and sandwich wrapper) enroute to relieve my bladder of it's clutter. And that's when a moment of inattentiveness caused it to happen: when I threw the aforementioned items into the trash recepticle, my car keys followed them.

I am convinced that they tried to escape.

In any event, my car keys were now in the possession of the Nebraska Roadside Refuse Recepticle Department of Assorted and Sordid Waste Management. In a considerable understatement of the moment, I was a touch nonplussed.

Ignoring my own biological urgency, I removed the lid of the possessing recepticle, to encounter not a pretty sight: it was the refuse equivalent of parts of New Orleans, in minature. And my keys were in it, and not on the equivalent of a rooftop.

Don't you hate when that happens?

With a young couple from somewhere, Wisconsin USA, looking on (and giggling), I gingerly fished about, trying to rescue my keys and only my keys from the mix of solid and liquid miasma -- including, of all things, a disposable diaper -- slowly composting together in the mash.
After a few seconds -- which seemed like hours and made that stock yard almost seem like olfactory potpourri -- I eagerly grasped my keys, which were by now desperately seeking succor from their poorly thought-out escape attempt.

I won sarcastic applause from the young couple. I wished them a safe journey. And a flat tire.

After thoroughly washing off my keys, my violated mitt, and dealing thereafter with a code red biological crisis just barely ahead of meltdown, I was on the road again. And my keys behaved themselves thereafter.

That proved to be the high (low) light of the drive east.

Next up, Part III: Coming 'Home'

Friday, September 9, 2005

Part I: A Journey of Remembrance

About 200 years ago began the celebrated Journey of Discovery, as Lewis & Clark set forth from St. Louis, to explore the upper reaches of the Mighty Missouri River, and seek the mythical Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.

They could have waited a few generations and flown it in a fraction of the time, but that's non sequitur and I digress.

Roughly 200 years later, I began my own journey. Not of discovery in the sense of Lewis & Clark; for my journey was taking me back to a place I had already been, years ago. But discovery still awaited me there. Discovery of what remained of the past that I'd grown up with and around.

It began at 11am on Tuesday, September 6, 2005. It ended at 4pm, Friday, September 9, 2005. It covered 1717 driving miles: light of day, dark of night, city, highway, rest stops, rural country roads, parking lots, even a cemetery. It 'took me home' on country roads of asphalt and gravel; it saw miles of hot, muggy sun, and periods of torrential, driving rain. It saw magnificent sun rises, placid sun sets, early morning mists, pre-dawn fog, and a dark of the moon as black as I remember. It took me across rivers with an ease that Lewis & Clark could but have only envied; and it took me across one of the rivers they explored (the Missouri), and across others they never knew of (the Platte, the Nishnabotna, the Racoon, The Skunk, the Iowa and the Cedar).

With one exception, I sought no specimens on my journey; and those my windshield collected, well, they would have been unrecognizable after impact, anyway, even by Lewis & Clark standards.

At all times, it was September, 2005; yet, for brief moments, I stood in a place, little changed from that as I knew it, as much as 41 years before. It was me, revisiting places and memories of my childhood. And it was definitely done in the style that's been me through much of my life, as various upcoming episodes will reveal, confirming that a part of my childhood lives on herein ;-)

The klutz part.

The trek began from the Green Mountain portion of Lakewood, CO, where I reside; destination, Waterloo, Iowa: home from 1964-1971. My planned itinerary included, but was not limited to:

- visiting the homes, farms, schools, church and other landmarks that were a part of my life back then

- visiting friends whom I hadn't seen in 15 and more years

- getting photos of that/whom I could (a few of which will make it hereon)

- looking up others who I remembered, or was asked to locate by other family members

- paying respects to a few who were since departed

- acquiring an ear of field corn as a souven'ear' and companion for my pet rock, Seymour

As you can see, it was an important trip. Well, okay, it was at least to me. And originally planned to be fit into a five-day itinerary.

Subject, of course, to change at a whim. Mine.

Upcoming episodes to include:

Part II: Nebraska Explained (aka, A Key Dilemma)
Part III: Coming 'Home'
Part IV: The Land That Time Forgot...And Not
Part VI: A Criminal Of The Corn
Part VII: Remembrance
Part VIII: Parting And The Hazardous Road

Journey along, as I stumble and bumble my way to the past, with some current-day visitations of stuff that's...weirdly me.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Life Trek: Generations

It's my blog and I'll babble if I want welcome to one such rambling.

In the case of the title, I promise that William Shatner won't sing.

It is said that each generation has a "defining moment", an event on which it focuses, defines, shapes and hands down the lessons learned to the next generation. Not entirely unlike that indestructible fruitcake that Grandma's great grandma handed down, and each holiday season the tradition of giving the gift that can't be got rid of fast enough goeth on. For no one dares open it, lest Pandora's Culinary Con Carnage be unleashed upon the masses, like Riders of the Apocalypse, or Survivor: Newark, New Jersey.

So much for my generational view of fruitcakes and TV faux-reality shows.

Going back just a few generations, it isn't hard to find those easily discerned "defining moments": for my grandfather, it was most certainly "The Great War", World War I, and the following Great Depression (answer me what was so great about either?). For my parents, it was being children born amidst the Great Depression, and the follow up of "The Great War II", aka World War II. For my generation -- late Baby Boomers -- it was the Cold War and Vietnam, Watergate and The Great Malaise.

My grandfather's generation learned that we had the makings of being a great power in the world, but we didn't have to be if we didn't want to (and alot back then didn't want to); then he learned how quickly even a reluctant great power could fall victim to global economic downturns. In his case, as in so many others, he learned therefrom to pull himself and the family up by the bootstraps, because in the Great Depression, the welfare state had not yet been awarded statehood and unalienable rights.

My parents' generation learned how to be self-sufficient and get by, as well as -- desired as it was by some -- isolationism wouldn't work in a world with things like bushido and The New World Order, Nazi-style, jackboot loose and freedom-free. If it was worth having, and worth passing on to the next generation, it would have to be fought for and defended. That didn't change when National Socialism was beaten back, and replaced as a foe of capitalist freedom by Leninesque/Stalinesque Communism.

My generation learned all of this, but additionally found that not always is the enemy who we think; and not always is the fight a good fight. Some among us learned to question and defy authority; of free love, of tuning out and turning on; others among us learned to question authority alright, but to maintain that which we have and are, that civil disobedience had limits, and that authority, imperfect as it is, must also be trusted in to a point. In short, participation in the political process.

My generation still argues aspects of that today.

Today's generations -- those young adults, and those coming up -- receive all of the wit and wisdom, mistakes and triumphs, biases and personal perceptions we pass on to them. They take it all in, mix it with their own observations, life experiences, input from other sources, and find themselves having similar arguments to ours, plus those uniquely theirs, today. On top of which, they have their own "defining moments" to reckon with: September 11, 2001. The War on Terrorism. The Malaysian Tsunami. Hurricane Katrina. William Hung's Greatest Hits.

That last is proof that Life has a sense of humor. And/or is tone-deaf.

It is perhaps waaaaaay too soon to ask what the current youthful generation will take away from the "defining moments" of the fledgling New Millennium, to pass along to their proteges. But I'll venture some WAG*s anyway:

-- we're fighting the Fourth World War in the Middle East, called Islamofascism. It's a war that will go on for years beyond the roughly 25 years it's been going on so far (in my book, since 1979, with the taking of American hostages in Teheran). And like many wars, it must be fought to a conclusion; anything short of that will be taken by the terrorists as a sign of weakness; OR, we're refighting Vietnam, and all we have to do is apologize to the terrorists, give 'em some aid money, and let them know that we'll respect them and their rights to suicide bomb...and they'll leave us alone.

-- Puhlease.

-- no matter what the disaster, foreign or domestic, American hearts and wallets will open wide, and American volunteerism will rise to the top.

-- despite some American protestations that while American aid is always there when poop hits the fan elsewhere, foreign aid to America isn't there when poop hits the fan here, that isn't true, as Katrina shows. And while America could well get along without aid from anyone is just as appreciated here, as the givers now appreciate receiving it, when it's their turn in the maelstrom. In the face of natural disasters, it really is one world. At least for a little while.

-- along with that, unfortunately, will rise the squeaky-wheeled complainers and political opportunists, seeking to assign blame faster than liberals will spout apoplexies over tax relief and Social Security reform. No victim and their relief should get in the way of a chance to attack and savage a political opponent. And it isn't one-sided: if rabid liberals aren't blaming a hurricane on a president, some idjit evangipol is suggesting Katrina is the result of decadence in society. *Sigh*...let me jackslap the both of them and move on...

-- good and bad happens in the world; the media will focus on the bad, first, last, always. Depending, that is, on which party the president is from.

-- FOX News is becoming the great information disseminator; CNN, the great societal divider.

-- you'll never see the AFLAC duck at a disaster site, except perhaps as the main course.

'Nuff of my postulizing for now. I'll leave you to your William Hung album. Don't worry; I'm wearing hearing protection.