Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An uplifting tale

Nov. 27, 2012.
 Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico,
en route to Memphis.

I clear security at the Ft. Myers Airport, get to the gate and find out my flight to Atlanta, where I’m to meet co-workers who are flying in from LaGuardia, is delayed.

In Atlanta, the four of us are supposed to board a flight to Memphis, but there’s no way I’ll make that connection. 

The agent gives me two options. A) Once the plane gets here, I can fly to Atlanta, spend six or seven hours hanging around the airport, and take a flight to Memphis that’ll arrive in the wee hours, or B) He can put me on a flight first thing tomorrow that’ll get me in around 11 a.m.

I have a client dinner tonight and meetings starting at 8 a.m tomorrow.

“Option A,” I tell him.

“Can I offer you a lift to Memphis?" asks a man about my age, traveling with his wife, who has overheard the conversation and is in the same predicament. “I just called for our plane and it will be here in a couple of hours to pick us up.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Not at all. My pilot’s flying into Naples. We usually use our jet but we’ll be in our Cheyenne twin engine turboprop today,” he says almost apologetically. “The jet’s tied up.”

“Believe me, the turboprop is fine. Thank you so much.”

“I had free tickets I was trying to use before they expired,” he explained. "But we want to get home. I have business to tend to, and my wife has a lunch at the country club.”

Assuming that folks who have a fleet of airplanes at their command don’t drive themselves to the airport and leave their cars in parking garages as do hoi polloi like me, I offer to drive us to the Naples airport. We pile in my car, and drive 20 minutes south to Naples.

While we’re waiting in the private terminal, my benefactors, Jack and Sarah, and I discuss politics, ambulance-chasing lawyers, the fiscal cliff, chocolate, golf and home renovation, among other subjects.

I halfway expect to find them pretentious but they’re not. They’re as nice as can be. The kind of people you wish you knew more of. The kind of people who wouldn’t hold it against you if you ended a sentence with a preposition.

Sarah jokes that maybe I ought to be nervous accepting a plane ride from strangers.

“You two don’t seem like serial killers,” I reply with a laugh.

Turns out they married right out of high school, built their own businesses and never invested a penny in the stock market. Instead, they bought delta farm land. Wise decision.

After an hour or so, the plane arrives.

And as I write this, we’re on our way to Memphis.  

I’ll miss the cocktail hour but I’ll be at the restaurant in time for dinner.

I owe Jack and Sarah big-time. Not only for the lift but for the uplift – for reminding me that, despite everything you hear, there are some very kind, generous and, above all, genuinely nice people on this earth.

And, at this moment according to the altimeter, 22,000 feet above it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A tip of the hat to J.R.

Young, childless and carefree, we lived in midtown Manhattan in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. When the work week ended, there were thousands of things we could have done to amuse ourselves – go to bars and restaurants, to Broadway or off-Broadway productions, to clubs, concerts, you name it.

But we didn’t. Every Friday night, like millions of Americans, we stayed home and watched Dallas.

Dallas was riveting TV for the simple reason that J.R. Ewing, its central character, was the best villain ever. He drove his wife, Sue Ellen, to drink. Repeatedly screwed over his sanctimonious dim-witted nemesis, Cliff Barnes. Schemed to defraud his brother Bobby out of his share of Ewing Oil. And viewers loved him for it.

Dallas gave the city of Dallas – where JFK was murdered – a chance to redeem itself. Thanks to Dallas, Dallas became respectable again.

We traveled to Ireland the summer of ’80. The Irish, we learned, were more into Dallas than Americans were. Almost everyone we met asked us, as if, because we were from the USA, we knew, “Who shot J.R.?”

Just about every character on the show had a perfectly good reason to shoot J.R. (including Miss Ellie, his mother, who most of the time managed to overlook his dastardly doings) but the shooter's identity, of course, was a closely-guarded secret known only to the writers and producers – even the cast didn’t know. We were as surprised as anyone when the answer was revealed that fall. (Kristin, Sue Ellen’s sister.)

Larry Hagman, who played J.R. and was starring in a new version of the show on one of those off-networks whose name I can never remember, died Friday. He was 81 and had been battling health issues since before the original Dallas ended in 1991.

Hagman may well be in heaven but J.R., it’s a safe bet, went straight to hell.

Which, suddenly, has become a lot more entertaining place.  At least on Friday nights.

Monday, November 19, 2012

And the Password is ...

Loved Password, the old game show hosted by Allen Ludden.

But I hate having to remember the numerous Passwords required to log on to or use web sites I visit regularly, including (but not limited to): Over the years I’ve bought nearly 300 vintage travel posters. Why? So my children can someday call Hoarders, stage an intervention, and earn enough royalties from the episode to pay for my nursing home., where I post reviews about hotels I liked, such as the Serena Hotel in Buenos Aires (“Phenomenal Value”) and those I didn’t, including the Jameson Inn of Wilson, N.C. (“Room Smelled Of Urine”)., the cable company that serves our Florida house, where I can read about how much Comcast cares for its valued customers whenever I log on to find out when service will be restored to my area., so I can pay my Citibank American Airlines World MasterCard bill at 11:59 p.m. the day it’s due. to pay the monthly water bill using my Mastercard so I can earn miles. Not Alcoholics Anonymous -- American Airlines, where I can keep track of frequent flyer miles and book free trips with the miles I earn. Despite its recent bad press, AA is the best. Its frequent flyer program actually rewards customers for their loyalty unlike that of …, where, if I get lucky, I can book a free flight for triple the number of Skymiles Delta claims are required. How this God-awful company has survived these many years is beyond me but I have 450,000 Skymiles so I hope it lasts long enough to use them for a free economy class ticket to Atlanta someday soon., where I can order Lipitor and blood pressure medicine refills without having to call the pharmacy and punch in prescription numbers an automaton order-taker repeats back s-l-o-w-l-y, as if I were an idiot., an aggregator of news articles carefully selected to appeal to liberals who either a) don’t work or b) inherited their money and feel guilty about it, where I post argumentative comments under stories with which I disagree., so I can ignore friend requests from business associates I never liked in the first place who are out of work and suddenly need me to say nice things about them to potential employers. for personal banking. It isn’t nearly as user-friendly as its predecessor, On the other hand, Wells Fargo Bank survived, even with its lousy web site and reps who give you lip when you call the 800 number. Wachovia, which had a great web site and treated customers like royalty, didn’t. Go figure., a free, sometimes hilariously bad, investment newsletter featuring articles from contributors who often appear to be eighth graders. I only use the password to make comments to stories., an account I had to establish to pay for the stupid posters., so I can find family documents for the book I was writing but have set aside because even my mother, who likes everything I write, says it’s boring., another news aggregator, this one founded by conservative pundit Lucianne Goldberg, to whom Linda Tripp confided that her friend Monica Lewinsky was giving hummers to Clinton. There I post argumentative comments on stories carefully selected to appeal to an audience that is slightly to the right of Hitler., where I can make sure any book on CD I checked out for the 1,340 mile drive from Connecticut to Florida, and mailed back, has been received. The Wilton Public Library is great. The Bonita Springs Library here in Florida isn’t. Most of its books are LARGE PRINT editions for its geriatric clientele., the cable/Internet/telephone provider for our Connecticut house, where, once I check out what’s on the 801 TV channels we receive, I usually wind up reading a book. It also enables me to forward our land line to Florida so we won’t miss a single robocall from Rachel at Cardmember Services., to download Kindle books and order Christmas presents since I refuse to set foot in a brick and mortar store during December., where I order real books I’ll eventually donate to the Wilton Library., where I download iTunes, most of which I am purchasing for the second time because I bought them 45 years ago on vinyl. Latest download: It Hurts To Be in Love by Gene Pitney., which provides phone and Internet to our Florida place. I could save money with Comcast's Triple Play cable/phone/Internet package but I tried that once and it was as unreliable as Comcast cable. (Why is Internet capitalized? Anyone know?) for email and to post to this blog., where I post misleading stock tips on message boards in the Finance section. If I think a stock is about to go up, I diss it so readers will dump it, driving the price down so I can hopefully buy it cheap. Everyone else does the same thing., where I track points earned for flying back and forth between New York and Florida. JetBlue recently revamped its generous frequent flyer program. Now it sucks., so I can pay my bill and track the Membership Miles I’ve earned that aren’t, alas, transferable to American – only to Delta and JetBlue., enables me to review how much my health insurer did or didn’t pay toward medical bills Einstein couldn’t decipher., for business banking., where I post comments on stories handed to NBC and MSNBC by the Obama press office for which its so-called “reporters” are mouthpieces., a place to track charges to the electronic device that enables me to breeze through tollbooths which, on the east coast, are on almost every road except the street I live on, and I’m expecting to see one there soon., the Master Community Association for our Florida house, where I can find out about exciting activities like bocce, yoga and meetings of the butterfly club., the sub-master community for our Florida house, so I can check the menus at the clubhouse., the sub-sub master community for our Florida house, where I can learn what days of the week I’m allowed to turn on the sprinkler system., a site that enables me to authorize guests and workers to pass through the front gate of our Florida community, which is harder to get into than Harvard., where I can track a stock portfolio consisting of three shares of Apple that have lost 20 percent of their value in two weeks., so I can learn what friends had for lunch, see photos of their grandkids, and shamelessly plug this blog. Hardly anyone uses Facebook any more. If you own the stock, for God’s sake dump it now.

Some passwords are all numbers. Some are alphanumeric. Some are all lower case. One is all UPPER case. Some are a combination of UPPER and lower case. A few are actual words. Some contain the last four digits of my phone or Social Security numbers.

Astonishingly, I remember them all. But there’s going to come a time I won’t.

And when that happens, it ain’t going to be pretty. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saturday's child

Inexplicably, there remains outside the Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Mo., no appropriate obelisk commemorating the birth of yours truly on November 17, 1951 – sixty-one years ago tomorrow.

The family into which I was born lived eleven miles down the road in Auxvasse (population 507 as of the 1950 census), where my father ran a general store.

November 17 fell on a Saturday, the one day of the week farm families came to town to load up on provisions. Thanksgiving was five days away, so business was sure to be extra brisk. Not wanting to miss a moment of mercantile action, my father, when my mother called the store late that morning to tell him her time had come, dispatched my 16-year-old brother to drive her to the hospital.

It was snowing. My mother, the world’s most skittish passenger under the best of circumstances, reacts to riding in a car while it's snowing as if balls of fire were falling from the sky. Her screams of terror (from the snow), pain (from the contractions), and fury (at her husband for his cavalier dismissal of her distress) made the drive miserable for my brother, who dropped her off and returned to the store, where dad put him to work. 

Around six o’clock that evening, the doctor called to inform my father I had arrived. Dad announced the news to a store full of customers. One of his clerks was wrapping sausages he tossed up in the air and let plop to the floor, declaring, “I’ll be goddamned – a boy!”

My mother, to this day, is still angry that my father didn’t drive her to the hospital and hang around the waiting room, but I understand. 

Things were different back then. Men weren’t expected to “participate” in the births of their children as were men of my generation who, after weeks of Lamaze classes, learned our role was limited to handing out ice chips wrapped in gauze while encouraging our wives to breathe “he-he-he" as they struggled to expel creatures with heads the size of cantaloupes. 

My father couldn't have done anything, other than smoke cigarettes and pace back and forth, had he gone to the hospital. So he elected to stay behind and do something useful: He worked. 

This past summer, when my brother, sister and I were cleaning out our mother’s house – she sold it after moving into assisted living -- we ran across our father’s leather-bound ledger, in which he carefully recorded each day’s receipts. On Nov. 17, 1951, Dryden's General Store rang up nearly $400. That was huge. 

After he closed up shop that night, my father drove through the snow to visit his wife and new son. 

Wish I could have been there to see his reaction as he stood there in his overcoat, hat in hand, peering through the nursery window.

Come to think of it, I was. But I don't remember a thing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to secede without really trying

The flag of the Kingdom of Callaway, which seceded from the United States 150 years ago. Observe the Confederate stars and bars and the nifty crown at the center.

Since the election, according to news reports, residents of seven states have collected enough signatures on petitions indicating they want their states to secede, that the Obama administration has to, by law, take them under consideration.

That’s nothing new to residents of my home county which, legend has it, seceded from America 150 years ago.

I’m a native of Callaway County, Missouri, almost smack dab in the center of a state that was admitted to the Union in 1821 as a slave state.

Like most of the central and southern parts of Missouri, Callaway was settled by Scotch-Irish farmers from Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. Many of those original settlers brought slaves with them. To this day, native Callawegians  -- including this one when he’s had a couple of drinks -- speak with a distinct twang that evokes the Appalachian Mountains over which our ancestors traveled.

Callaway, in 1861, was one of four counties comprising Missouri’s tobacco belt. Tobacco required intensive labor. Though it was lightly populated, Callaway had more slaves per capita than almost any county in Missouri.

When the Civil War began and other slave states seceded, Abe Lincoln sent Federal troops to force Missouri to remain in the Union.

That didn’t sit well with the residents of Callaway County – the white ones that is. And here’s where the details become sketchy.

Legend has it the men of Callaway got together and decided their county would secede from Missouri, but wouldn’t join the Confederacy. Instead, it would become a new nation, conceived in slavery and dedicated to the proposition that rich tobacco farmers should remain that way.

The new country wasn’t to have a president. It was to be ruled by – I'm not making this up – a king, who would reign over his realm from a new capital, Kingdom City. The citizens of Callaway would send troops to help their Confederate brothers but, seeing the writing on the wall, didn’t intend to link their fate to the South's. The former Callaway County, Mo., would henceforth be known – and still is today – as the Kingdom of Callaway.

Even after the war was over, the Kingdom for years refused to be governed by outside forces and continued to assert its sovereignty though, eventually, residents threw in the towel. 

Papers have never been found to document any of this silliness, but every Callawegian knows the story. If, indeed, a king was chosen, his identity remains a secret. I like to think he was one of my ancestors and that I might be ruling today as King Thomas I -- though I would have certainly freed the slaves. Realistically, however, the kingship would have gone to my older brother and I would be a mere prince.

Located at the junction of Interstate 70 and U.S. 54, Kingdom City today consists of three truck stops, four motels, a McDonald’s, a Denny’s, a carpet outlet, a candy store called Ozarkland, a retro clothing store called Nostalgiaville USA, and, last time I was there, a remarkably good BBQ joint/biker bar whose back wall is festooned with brassieres. 

A couple of those bras are large enough to be used as parachutes in the event Callaway ever again decides to secede and its paratroopers have to jump behind enemy lines. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank you, God, for the incredible 52” Panasonic® Flat-Screen TV regularly $799, now just $499 (quantities are limited)

Forget the turkey. Forget the pumpkin pie. Forget traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. Forget everything you know
about Thanksgiving. 

No longer is it a day for families to gather and give thanks for their blessings.

It’s a day to shop. 

The Friday after Thanksgiving has come to be known as Black Friday, an ominous moniker if ever there was one. Up to that day, chain retailers would have you believe they have been operating all year at a loss. On Black Friday, which marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the red ink magically turns to black and from then until December 31, their stores operate profitably. The chains advertise special Black Friday prices on merchandise research shows will draw the most people through the doors. Crazed bargain-hunters camp outside for hours, waiting to charge through the doors when they are thrown open at 12:01 a.m. or 3 a.m. or 6 a.m or whenever. Every year you read about some poor soul being trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede.

But opening early on Black Friday is no longer good enough for the management at Sears, Kmart, The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Toys ‘R Us, all of which have announced plans to stay open Thanksgiving Day, along with Walmart and Target which will open at 8 and 9 p.m. respectively Thanksgiving night.

Keeping their stores open on Thanksgiving, and opening them in the wee hours on Black Friday, not only ruins the holiday for the hundreds of thousands of employees who have to staff the check-out lines and/or spend the day stocking shelves in anticipation of the hordes who will rush through the doors, it perverts the meaning of Thanksgiving and, for that matter, Christmas. The Three Wise Men didn’t camp outside Gold ‘R Us, the Frankincense Republic and Myrrh-Mart, and they sure as hell didn’t trample anyone to death.

I am making a note of the chains that will be open on Thanksgiving and will never patronize them again. 

If you agree, please share this posting and do the same. If enough Americans say "enough already," perhaps the greedy bastards who run them will learn that some things, including Thanksgiving, are, and should remain, sacred.