From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Friday, December 25, 2009

tis the season

we sent our son joel, who now lives in washington state, a christmas present that we shipped via united parcel service over a week ago.

since he likes spy stuff, the wife picked out what appears to be an innocent ball point pen. actually, the device doubles as a spy camera, which is located at the opposite end of the writing instrument. it looked like the perfect gift for our boy who loves the latest gadgets.

joel lives in an apartment in vancouver, washington. if you are not home at the time when a ups delivery truck arrives, the driver will leave your package with personnel at the apartment manager's office. all he requires is a signature, and then the man in the brown uniform flies away in a hurry.

joel had known for over a week to expect something from us soon, so yesterday he stopped by the office where he asked if there was anything waiting for him.

"look through that pile over there and see if you can find something with your name on it."

what a disappointment -- there was no such package among the whole lot.

he has since called ups to verify that the company actually did deliver it. they claim that they did, and the signature they have offers solid proof.

the office people only shrug and say it isn't their fault.

so our son is without his present this year.

me, i am about ready to suggest that he file a lawsuit against the apartment office. either that or we send him a new spy toy; one that will explode if opened by the wrong person.

merry christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

it's never easy being green

i once had a job in the military where i worked along side my contemporaries as a graphic artist for leatherneck magazine, published by the united states marine corps. it all sounded glamorous when i first arrived, but i soon learned to hate the assignment.

i discovered right away that it was tedious and boring work. confined to a small cubicle, each artist sat at a tiny drafting table where he struggled to make the text of a given story fit a two or three-page layout. he was also supplied with a handful of eight by ten black and white photographs which he had to crop to fit on the page in an eye-pleasing fashion.

all of our efforts came under the scrutiny of the art director. he typically criticized everything he saw, while offering his own ideas of how a page should look. we all learned that there was no winning with this guy.

during slow times, we layout artists would congregate and complain among ourselves about how unfair and depressing it was to work for such an egomaniac, and how things should change. that is, all except paul.

paul lloyd had transferred to leatherneck magazine directly from viet nam, where his job overseas meant hauling ammunition for a machine gunner through hot and humid jungles filled with leeches, poisonous snakes and, of course, lots of viet cong guerrillas who were bent on killing him and other marines.

he would patiently listen to us gripe about the horrible working conditions in our building as we sat next to one of several air conditioners located on our floor.

and then he would shake his head after we were done complaining, and would say how thankful he was just to be working indoors, as well as living with his wife and kids in a nice apartment in arlington, virginia. he had also stopped having bad dreams and sweating like he used to, he said.

the rest of us quit our bitching after that.

paul could tell a great story and made most of us laugh with his animated way of saying things. soon after hearing him describe a gorilla who rejoiced with his clan after discovering that a large bone could knock a gorilla from another tribe senseless, i made a point to go see the newly-released movie called "2001: a space odyssey". it turned out that i liked paul's humorous narrative best.

then he told us about the wilkins coffee ads he had seen on television in philadelphia, where he grew up. we laughed ourselves sick as he acted out several of the commercials for our entertainment.

a customer in a check-out line wants to buy a cheap brand of coffee.

the cashier inquires.

"wouldn't you rather try wilkins coffee?"

"nope. i like the cheap stuff."

the cashier glares at him and growls.

"cheap stuff is for the birds."

and with that, a giant hammer comes out of nowhere and knocks the customer unconscious. little birds fly in a circle, singing "cheep-cheep-cheep!"

the cashier looks down at the the floor and then stares into the camera.

"cheap stuff is for the birds."

in another ad, a cab driver pulls to a stop on a busy street. someone on the sidewalk screams into his window.

"i have to get to the airport, and fast!"

"do you drink wilkins coffee?"

"no! why?"

"too bad."

and the cab zooms away, leaving the dumb-founded passenger stranded.

yes, i laughed at the way paul told things. the man had a knack for comedy.

but then recently, while doing an internet search, i learned the shocking truth about the wilkins coffee ads: muppeteer jim henson was behind them all.

he used early versions of kermit the frog and rowlf the dog as his two main characters. henson made lots of the coffee commercials, which aired across the country during the 1960's.

i found a few examples you can watch on youtube.

no wonder i thought paul was so funny.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

the three little dogs

a bedtime story i invented for my three boys

once upon a time there were three little dogs who lived with their momma near the deep, dark forest. they were all happy little dogs, running and playing and having a grand time as they chased after each other, or after their own little tails.

now from as long as they could remember, their momma had given the three little dogs a stern warning and told them to listen to her and pay close attention.

"never go into the deep, dark forest, for it is filled with many dangers for little dogs."

but the three little dogs did not heed the good advice of their wise momma.

one day the three little dogs decided to go investigate the deep, dark forest. but it wasn't long before the trio became separated.

each of the three little dogs then began to run through the deep, dark forest, all barking loudly while they looked and sniffed at new and amazing things.

after awhile, the first little dog discovered a porcupine waddling along on the trail, so he rushed to greet him. the porcupine stopped and politely warned the approaching little dog.

"watch out, or i will stick you with my pointy quills!"

the first little dog barked with excitement.

"woof-woof-woof! i am not afraid of you!"

so the porcupine stuck the first little dog in the nose with sharp barbs.

the first little dog then turned around and ran home to his momma, howling all the way.


the second little dog met up with a bobcat, and rushed ahead to greet him, but the bobcat arched his back and hissed as the hairs on his neck stood up.

"sssssttt! don't mess with me or i will scratch you with my sharp claws!"

the second little dog acted brave as he barked.

"woof-woof-woof! i am not afraid of you!"

and then he charged the bobcat, who indeed did scratch the second little dog with sharp claws.

the second little dog then turned around and ran home to momma, howling all the way.


the third little dog soon met a skunk in the deep, dark forest, and he charged ahead to greet him. but the skunk turned the other way and raised his tail high in the air, and then he warned the third little dog over his shoulder.

"don't come near me or i will spray you with my stinky stuff!"

but the third little dog kept coming.

"woof-woof-woof! i am not afraid of you!"

so the skunk sprayed the third little dog with stinky stuff, and then the third little dog turned around and ran home to momma, howling all the way.


and so after that unforgettable day, not one of the three little dogs ever disobeyed their momma again by venturing into the deep, dark forest.

Monday, December 14, 2009

why, that's just awful!

i grew up in southern georgia, a place crawling with alligators, all four of the poisonous snakes native to the united states of america, plus the strangest of people who lived near by.

we were odd folk as well, i must admit. my family lived in a grits mill which sat on a dam that held back a sixty-acre lake where we all fished and boated and swam for fun and pleasure. my father worked in the coastal city of savannah, fifty miles to the east.

at one time the mill house had a working water wheel. for awhile, dad ground corn and sold scores of bagged grits to many of the locals in our area. their common complaint focused on weevils found in the cornmeal packed inside the half-pound paper sacks. dad claimed the bugs were natural protein and good for you, and said that they should be thankful, for the insects came free of charge.

down the road lived the dyce family who farmed a small acreage of mostly tobacco and peanuts and watermelons. louie and etta had three children, and were dirt-poor by local standards. louie like to drink his hard liquor on occasion. once, while on a bender, he threatened to blow his head off with a shotgun while his wife and kids stood by and looked on, all of who encouraged him to go ahead and pull the trigger. the old man never did.

another family lived up the lane and not far away from us. coon sapp was the father of a large family of barefoot kids. his wife soon became pregnant again, and then gave birth to twins boys whom they named larry and jitus. the unusual names were the hot topic of gossip in the area for many weeks afterward.

my parents had lots of acquaintances who they visited often. one couple they knew had two boys who were slightly older than me. one night, while all the adults sat and talked in the front room of the friendly hosts, i was led to a back bedroom by the two brothers, where they tried to get me to join in their secret game of dressing up in woman's clothing. i stood and stared hard at the pair before running out of the room.

fanny rogers was a widow lady who lived nearby. she kept a few cows that she milked, and then sold in bottles to neighbors. we drank the milk mom bought from fanny, which was often tainted with the awful taste of bitter weed, a plant that grew abundantly in her pasture.

a merchant came by our house once a week, driving a converted blue school bus that we named the rolling store. the lumbering vehicle contained as many items for sale as a modern-day seven-eleven, and it's arrival always caused excitement for us country kids. our favorite items were soda pops, which we drank by driving a nail through the cap, using a hammer.

and then we sucked the bottle dry.

there is nothing more pleasurable than growing up in the deep south and living next to a dirt road.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

little girl in a tub

when i was a young boy, my mom would tell my two sisters and me lots of stories, always at bedtime. often she would read to us from books as we snuggled in our beds under heavy quilts, warm and secure.

lots of her narratives were frightening accounts which commanded our attention. there was a fierce dog with red eyes as large as saucers, or maybe the small girl and her little brother, hopelessly lost in the forest, but looked over by angels. then one story told of a witch's house that stood on giant chicken legs. they would rise up to rotate the dwelling occasionally, scaring us to no end.

other true sagas she related from her own childhood, and this tale is about one of those.

she was born in abilene, texas, at the turn of the century. it was a virtual wild west town in those days, according to her colorful descriptions. one of my favorite subjects was her story of the bath.

her parents had recently divorced, she said.

marie, as she called her mother, was a wild woman; the wanton vixen worked as a dance hall girl as well as a local prostitute.

her father leo, who seemed to be a respectable businessman, owned a popular saloon which faced one of the bustling abilene streets. the dirt roadway was usually packed with wagons or men on horseback, plus lots of pedestrians as well as dogs, i remember her saying.

leo and his daughter thelma, who was five years old, lived upstairs, sharing a small apartment above the bar.

it was his habit to bathe her after noontime, letting a hireling run the place downstairs during a lull in the drinking trade. but on this particular day, a noisy disturbance broke out in the saloon, so he had to leave young thelma and run downstairs to investigate the ruckus.

left alone, the girl became bored with her tub and the bath, so she got out, crept down the wood staircase, and then left the building to run wild down the middle of the street, naked as a jaybird.

the crowd roared at the spectacle, and she enjoyed her jog immensely, she told us.

it took her embarrassed father some time to catch up with the little imp and take her home to make her decent, which was the part of the story that we always loved the best.

run, momma, run!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

how to learn to speak english properly

i once contracted to wallpaper a small kitchen for a young lady named robyn. i had done work for her several times before, and she always loved the results of my efforts.

after several weeks later, i showed up at her house on the appointed morning at eight o'clock sharp, ready to go to work.

i noticed an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway as i parked my truck, and then after ringing the doorbell and entering the home, i discovered that the vehicle belonged to robyn's mother, eileen, who was visiting her that day.

that's when i saw the little girl standing between the two women.

robyn politely introduced us.

"this is liudmila. say hello to my friend, harry."

she pronounced the girl's name as "lewd mella".

the eight-year-old acted shy and hid behind both ladies.

robyn tried to explain her timid behavior.

"she is from romania. i just got her from an orphanage there, and am in the process of adoption, but she doesn't speak any english at all."

however, her mother had been born and raised in romania. eileen spoke the language perfectly, so it was not difficult for the two adults to communicate with the child.

throughout the morning i heard them speaking clearly to liudmila as i worked in the kitchen.

"these are my shoes. i put them in my closet. now you say that."

"i must always keep my room neat and tidy. repeat that, liudmila."

"this is my piano. i shall learn to play it well. try to get her to say that, mom."

i noticed an ever-increasing tone of frustration coming from both of the women.

finally, i could not take the drawn-out and futile english language instructions any longer, so i laid down my tools and stepped into the living room, where i saw liudmila standing next to robyn and eileen.

i beckoned with my forefinger at the child and spoke with authority.

"liudmila, come here!"

robyn smiled while eileen spoke to the waif, saying something foreign to my ears . the girl glanced up at eileen, and then she looked at me as she grinned and began walking across the room.

when she got close enough, i made a typical american statement.

"gimme five!"

she looked puzzled, so i held up my palm in the air while placing her hand to match mine.

then i slapped it hard.

her grin grew wider, so i repeated myself.

"gimme five!"

liudmila caught on immediately, slapping my palm and giggling happily. she understood, i could tell.

so i looked over at the ladies once before returning back to the kitchen to earn my day's wages.

but then for the rest of the afternoon, i kept hearing the little girl calling out my name.

"hoddy! gimme five!"

Thursday, December 03, 2009

a surprise for my mouth

spaghetti is a favorite dish around here. i have eaten it for as long as i can remember, starting early in life when my two sisters and i consumed countless cans of store-bought chef boyardee pasta for our supper. my mother was such an inventive cook during my childhood.

later on, as a young adult, i continued to eat large amounts of home-made spaghetti noodles, along with meatballs and tomato sauce.

then at some point i became jaded with the fare, and so returned to basics, adding only satisfying butter, salt and pepper to the pasta.

one night i had dinner with a friend who made and served up a typical meal of spaghetti, meatballs and sauce, but it had an unusual twist.

he offered me a small jar and invited me to try some of the green and pea-sized capers it contained.

spread some over your noodles, he suggested, so i did.

whoa! now that new taste sensation had me hooked all over again, at least for awhile.

then on a different occasion, i enjoyed another home-cooked meal with an italian friend of mine who had married a wonderful japanese lady. they both were gracious to me on that evening.

kimmy was already an excellent cook when she married don, but had since learned a few new tricks from her mother-in-law.

after he and i were seated, she sat a large plate before me, heaped with nothing but plain noodles. a steaming bowl of tomato sauce sat nearby, which i reached for and helped my self.

but as i began to eat, i discovered unfamiliar things lurking under my pile of spaghetti.

"what are these?", i asked, poking at two long objects with my fork.

don replied,

"those are italian sausages. you gotta try 'em."

so i did, and thereby discovered something wonderful again.

I am so pleased i got to meet kim that night and enjoy her creative cooking.

today, i refuse to eat spaghetti without having both capers and hot italian sausage to go along with the meal.

tomato sauce is still optional.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

old monkey business

my family moved to plainview, texas, in the summer of 1953. i was 10 years old at the time.

in august of 1960, i joined the marine corps and moved away, leaving behind my parents, along with two younger sisters.

currently in retirement, i blog about modern life and childhood memories.

while doing research for a current story i am struggling to compile, i telephoned the plainview daily herald to verify facts about the granada movie theater. i felt some excitement as i dialed the number.

the phone rang twice before a male voice answered.

"oswald printing."

that's odd, i thought. what's going on here?

"i'm sorry. i must have gotten the wrong number. i was trying to reach the herald to get some information about the granada theater."

"no problem. maybe i can help you with that."

encouraged with his attitude, i explained my curiosity about the present condition of the old movie house.

i still remember the place well; a large domed ceiling high overhead, painted black and bedecked with twinkling lights to represent countless stars in the night sky.

around the walls arose a realistic sandstone castle, replete with parapets, along with clinging ivy vines.

details included a small waterfall, as well as a stuffed owl, which sat and glared menacingly down over the audience below, who relaxed in their plush, red velvet chairs, waiting for the movie to begin.

my informant responded with news that i did not receive well.

"it's now been divided into two theaters."

how sad is that, i wondered. how can that be?

then he volunteered some intriguing information.

"i have worked here for over fifty years."

that led me down a new path, so on an impulse, i asked a question.

"did you, by any chance, know my dad? his name was h.a.tippins. he owned 'reliable business machines', located on galveston street."

his voice went up a notch in timbre, and he exploded with excitement as he spoke.

"yes i did.! he had the monkeys!"

well that convinced me -- he really knew my dad, who actually did keep a pair of capuchin monkeys in a spacious cage, located at the rear of his shop, during the later years of his illustrious career.

i then told the printer the wild story of the smaller male, who as i had witnessed many times, constantly pursued the larger female around their wire enclosure, trying to have sex with her.

it always ended the same; the female monkey rested in one corner, bored and unaffected, while the frustrated male sat across the cage from her, masturbating unabashedly to relieve his stress.

usually the act happened in the presence of innocent human females, much to the delight of my dad.

the printer and i both chuckled over the event, and then after exchanging a few pleasantries, we said goodbye and i hung up the phone.

plainview, as i remember it, is a town like no other.