Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Class of '71 Reunion

High School, I’m told, is a traumatic time for some people. For others, the glory days. For me, not so much of either – if only because, back then, I just didn’t pay much attention. My goal at the time was to simply survive the ride, get out as soon as possible, and then go on about the business of becoming a rock star. How hard could that be?
Watching movies and TV over the years, I have come to understand that things like class reunions can be events filled with anxiety for many. Maybe that guy was some kind of stud in school and the rest of his life didn’t turn out like he and everyone else imagined. Maybe this other guy was not so popular in school and he was picked on by the other kids – so he holds no real affection for them now that he’s all grown up. Maybe that hot cheerleader has put on some pounds and would rather not show up so the old classmates will continue to remember her as she was. You didn’t get rich? The ones who did will flaunt it? Afraid the old cliques will re-connect at the reunion and leave you outside looking in…again? All kinds of stuff like that can go through the minds of people contemplating returning to their alma mater after so many years in the real world. Or, so I’m told.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a member of the Class of ’71, so, even if I had been the type to worry about such trivia, it was no skin off my nose. That was Becky’s class. I still had two more years to become a rock star. It could happen.
About the time we rolled across Greenbrier Bottoms we discovered a fantastic local radio station, playing “She’s a Rainbow,” by the Stones. Nothing could have been more appropriate. They followed that with Creedence Clearwater’s “Born on the Bayou,” as we crossed the bridge. We were home.
The gang was setting up the tailgate party for the Pioneers’ total destruction of the Wynne Yellowjackets when we got to town around 3 o’clock Friday. So, naturally, I took a wrong turn and got stuck behind traffic backed up at the Jr. High. (Hi Myra!) That place looked a little different than it did 40 years ago.
Once we found the spot, up next to the high school building, we unloaded our designated goodies and started to re-connect. Ironically, the first guy I saw there was the first kid I met when I moved to Batesville in 1967, James Milam. We got to do a little catching up before he had to bug out to officiate some other football game. Becky was already up there, hugging and kissing her own classmates, and the aroma of Don McSpadden’s fantastic BBQ was filling the air. It already felt “right.”
After those three years of longing to get out of that place, after the long ride, I found myself needing (if you know what I mean) to get inside. A few of us did. So we finally located an unlocked door – which didn’t even appear to have a latch on it – and immediately split up to locate our old lockers. When I left in 1973, there was still some stuff in there I’d like to get out, but I had forgotten the combination my sophomore year and never asked anybody to open it for me. The lockers had been changed out over the years, but we all found the spots where they used to be. We pointed out the classrooms of Mrs. Seibert, Mrs. Moore, Ms. Felts, and Mrs. Newton, and then decided we better get out before we were arrested for breaking and entering.
Coming back out, I was drawn to a framed picture of John Lennon on the wall, with the quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” In MY old school! How cool is that?
That first evening was more than pleasant, and the relatively few that made it on Friday broke down the tailgate and carried off a bunch of great leftovers. I was supposed to take Donnie’s stuff back to his house, but didn’t have a truck, so Duane “Gorilla” Pearson, graciously volunteered to do that for me.
Bec and I returned to Chateau de Price to rest up for the big night on Saturday. First though, she was to attend a breakfast out at one of the hotels where some of the girls were staying, and Nick Fudge said I could come hang out at Ben Treat’s shop where The Reunion Band was practicing for the gig that night. So, Saturday morning, she dropped me off there and me ‘n ol’ Rick Satterwhite got treated to an advance screening of the sets. That was a blast. Brought back lots of memories of the years I’d spent playing music with Andy Buschmann in “Orion” while Nick was elsewhere on the road with “St. Peter’s Road Show.” Both of those guys are even more talented now than they were then, as are Rick Buford and Ben Treat. Mike Foster didn’t make practice, but anybody who’s ever heard him play the keys knows he doesn’t have to. He’s a wizard. These guys are all old pros – the best in the business. If you haven’t heard them, you should make plans to do so. And if you’re ever out Albuquerque way, catch Mike Jordan’s stand-up comedy act.
After spending the rest of the fantastic fall day driving around Batesville, checking out the old neighborhoods, the time for the dinner and dance at Elizabeth’s arrived. And guess what: it may have been the best reunion ever. No anxiety. No pretentiousness. Only a lot of happy old friends genuinely enjoying the company of each other; and it went by almost as fast as the words I get to use here… and the previous 40 years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Ice Capades of 1971

From Dinner with WT; Posted here in honor of the Batesville High School Class of 1971 40 year reunion.

It’s hard to remember whose idea it was. Or even the exact date that it happened. All I know for sure is that it was the very cold winter of the first year I was in high school.
Jr. High had been pretty much a breeze. To be honest, I never had much of a problem with my grades, so I didn’t see the point of wasting valuable teenage time doing foolish things like studying. This was a time for having fun. The
only thing was, in our small town of about 7000, there wasn’t much fun to be had if we didn’t make it ourselves. That usually consisted of something that could get us in trouble. So those of us with extra time on our hands would create new and innovative ways of getting into trouble. It didn’t matter, much, if it was not exactly legal. All that mattered was that it was fun – and that nobody had done it before. Sure, we were thugs – but we were creative thugs.
The plots in Jr. High had been limited to Jr. High minds: Stealing and dumping into the river every fire extinguisher in the school district; Putting Fred in a 55 gallon barrel and rolling him down the hall – mowing the principal over as he
inadvertently walked out his door; Releasing the hand brakes on the school busses so they would roll backwards into the bayou behind the bus parking lot; Running our motorcycles gang’s flag up the flagpole, padlocking it on, and then setting the tall grass around the pole on fire when the principal climbed up there to cut the lock. Mischief. But nothing that was ever intended to hurt anybody.
With 1970 came high school. We weren’t prepared to change our lifestyles just because we had to change schools. If anything, we should be more cunning than ever now. We had the wisdom of three years of experience at our disposal. And now we could drive.
Man, the (open) halls of the High School were cold. Upperclassmen walked up and down them, carrying books and looking as if they had some sort of educational agenda in mind. It was frightening. What were they doing to these people up here on this hill? How could they have forgotten that spirit of hell raising so deeply instilled in all of us? Some things would have to change up here if we were going to be able to tolerate it. It was obvious though, that it was going to take some time. This was the age of causes. What we needed was a cause.
As autumn gave way to winter the expression on nearly every student’s face changed from “I’m an adult now, and I’m here to get a quality education” to “Man! It’s cold outside. I wish it would snow so we could get a day off from this rat hole and sleep in where it’s warm.” Complacency had given way to discontent. The basic elements leading to an insurrection were there, but the spark was missing.
Then it snowed. Every kid in the school was glued to the 10 o’clock TV news that night, with a transistor radio stuck up to one ear anticipating the inevitable announcement that all Batesville schools would be closed the following day. The
announcement did not come. It was business as usual – which was unusual in itself because, in past years, it would only take a light dusting of snow to get us out of school. This was nearly a blizzard by Arkansas standards. There must’ve been one or two inches of the stuff on the ground. There are places in the world that are equipped to deal with the hazard of the frozen white on streets and highways, but Arkansas isn’t, and never has been, one of those places. Counties and cities have better things to do with their money than to blow it on snow plows that would only be used once every blue moon. So, when it snowed even a little bit our Pavlovian conditioning had us blowing off the homework and staying up for the midnight movie on TV. It didn’t’ work this time. We were … well … unhappy.
An informal student inquisition commenced immediately. Who was the Bozo in charge, and what would it take for him to declare a snow day? Just getting out of school wasn’t all that important now. Tradition was at stake. Our cause was
After a few days of tedious investigation, it was determined how the process of declaring a “snow day” worked. School Superintendent Coats had recently purchased a four-wheel drive vehicle. On any morning that there was a question as to whether the condition of the roads was so hazardous as to create a dangerous situation for the busses, he would get up very early and drive the county roads, as well as the hill to the high school. His reasoning was simple: if he could make it, the busses could make it. If the busses could make it, school was on. Therefore: if he could make it, we had to get out of bed.
This was war. In 1970 very few high school students had four wheel drives. We had ’67 Mustangs, and Camaros, and VW bugs. What made that madman think our lives were any less important than those kids on the busses? At least that was the propaganda we used to rally people around our cause.
Sometime in the next few weeks, a plan was conceived amid the smell of French fries and pizza burgers with mustard, slaw, and hot sauce, in the dining room of Tommy’s Kingburger. Some of the greatest radical minds in town, left over from the
60s, decided that what we had to do was make sure that nobody could make it up that hill. Not even Coats. It would require a great deal of effort. Much more than that used to get out of bed in the morning and drive to school. It would involve enormous risk and the requisitioning of some very expensive mechanical equipment – namely, some of our parents’ vehicles – at a particular time of the evening when we were supposed to be in bed seeing visions of sugarplums. But it would be worth it. It would be fun. It was tradition.
With 1971, winter came on strong, and there wasn’t another snow cloud in sight. It was just very, very cold. The daytime temperature hadn’t climbed above twenty degrees in over a week. What we had to do was ice the road over. And we had to do it so well that nothing could get up the hill to the high school. There was only one road, excluding the rocky trail up the back way we called the “baja.” Nobody would expect us to bring our cars up that way. The busses sure couldn’t get up there. The original plan was to release the fireplugs on top of the hill so the water would run down and freeze on the road. There were minor obstacles that presented themselves in association with this scheme – specifically, how to distribute the water over the road in such a manner as to cover it totally and completely. The guy we put in charge of stealing a fire hose failed miserably. If we had just opened the hydrants, the water would simply freeze up there as it came out and we’d have an ice sculpture as a memorial to our failure instead of our long-anticipated triumph over nazi authority. No, it had to be done better than that. We’d have to do it manually. And we’d have to do it soon. Nobody knew how long this cold snap was going to last.
Row Lake was more like a big pond. It sat on the edge of the cemetery property down where the road forked to go up to the school. The water there was relatively warm and had frozen only in a thin layer around the banks. From this junction there was little traffic up toward the school – as it was the only thing up there – on any weeknight. We would have to use the lake as our water supply, and transport it about a half mile up to the hill in barrels by way of pickup trucks. Timing was of the essence. There had been a history of school vandalisms in our town (no, it wasn’t us) so the police had begun to make regular nightly tours around to all the schools. The trucks would have to fill up quickly at the lake because there was occasional traffic down there. While the trucks were away from the lake, distributing their
loads, there would have to be a guard hidden behind one of the tombstones down by the intersection with a walkie-talkie. Another guard up on the hill to warn the rest of us if anybody was coming. With four pickups, each carrying four 55 gallon barrels, we figured the whole mission could be accomplished in an hour. This allowed for each truck to make two trips. That was a total of 1760 gallons of water, which should freeze quickly, creating a sufficient slick.
There was a bus out that night. It seems like it was the basketball team, but my memory fails me on that. This was instrumental in our plan. The bus was due back in around midnight. We would have the road impassable by the time it returned. The bus driver would, in turn, report the road condition to someone of authority within the school system, who would report it to Superintendent Coats – who would have no choice but to call school off the following day.

We did have friends and relatives on that bus, and we didn’t want anybody to get hurt. Two guys were commissioned to paint a large sign to place just up the road from the intersection, which was to read “BUS BEWARE. SLICK ROADS!”
There were maybe 15 people directly involved in this conspiracy. All of us had taken an oath of secrecy. Not in the literal sense. It was simply understood that if word got out and our plan was foiled that the bigmouth would be exposed and relieved of some part of his anatomy that he had not demonstrated the right to own. Of course, we had to tell our girlfriends so they wouldn’t think we were out running around on them all night. That was OK for me, but for some of the guys I think it might have been a mistake.
As always, we were at Tommy’s on that fateful night. Around nine o’clock, when everybody usually left on weeknights, we hung around. Already the plan was beginning to unravel. Nobody had seen the sign guys. Only two of the four trucks we were supposed to use showed up. I think the same excuse applied to both of the no-shows: “My dad wouldn’t let me use it.” But our school motto was “A Pioneer Never Quits” and by-God we weren’t about to now. About 12 of us piled into the two pickups and embarked upon our expedition to the lake. Others, not so bold as to
brave the 12-degree weather, followed in cars. Probably a total of 20 guys by now. So there was a minor security leak. These things happen. But these guys were all cool. Nothing to worry about.

I’ve always been told that water froze at 32 degrees. The water we hand dipped from Row Lake that night could not have been over five. Short bucket brigades were formed between the trucks and the water. We’d dip in wastepaper baskets and then hand the full one to the next guy to pass up to the barrel man while accepting an empty one coming the other way. It was the epitome of teamwork, dedication, and sacrifice for the cause that, if it had only been used for good instead of mischief, was the kind of thing that produced greatness.
Four of the eight barrels that were supposed to have been on the two missing trucks were split between these two. We had to work faster than we had originally planned. In doing so, nearly every one of the guys on the ground got spilled upon. When the water splashed on our green army jackets it would freeze instantly. The working conditions were lacking, at best. But we were sure our plan would succeed.
We worked our way up the hill, meticulously spilling the water from the barrels as the drivers slowly took the trucks upwards – carefully avoiding the narrow grass shoulders on each side of the road, as we were saving these for our escape routes. It was amazing. The water froze the instant it hit the street. From out of nowhere, guys appeared on foot with sleds. They would actually follow the trucks on them.
This was working better than we could have imagined, despite the fact that our walkie-talkie man had forgotten to bring them.
After the first load was applied, one of the drivers made the announcement that he had to get his dad’s pickup home. Everybody was cold and tired and wet. Most of us thought the job was done well enough to accomplish our goal, and agreed that we should call it a night. It was about 10 o’clock. Big D and Larry Jack did not agree. They felt that we should apply some more water to the road and then come down to finish off the job by slicking the shoulders as well. They convinced one of the other guys that his dad would be sound asleep, and that we could “borrow” his truck without even having to disturb him. Big D and Larry Jack weren’t the kind of guys with whom any of us risked confrontation, so we, basically, stole the guy’s dad’s truck. In about 30 minutes we were back at the lake, shivering, loading up the pickups just one more time.
By the time we loaded the last barrels most everybody (the sledders and spectators) had gone home. I got to ride back up the hill inside Big D’s truck. Little me in the middle with D driving and Larry on the other side. As we rounded the first curve through the woods approaching the hill we could see the headlights of a car spinning around in the low place just before you start up the big curve. John and Fred (brothers), Jim, and Frankie were just behind us in the other vehicle. As we approached the car on the ice, about two hundred yards away, its headlights went out. We laughed. Obviously somebody down there having fun who thought we were the cops. The car had slid a little off the road into the woods just at the foot of the icy hill. D steered over into the grass and we began our ascent. About 50 yards beyond that a blue light appeared in Big D’s rear view mirror – behind the other pickup.
“Shit!” I heard Danny say it, and I got this terrible feeling that something had gone horribly wrong.
The car we had laughed about, spinning around on the ice, was a cop car. When I turned around to look there were two of them behind the second truck. D goosed ours in an attempt to speed up the hill on the shoulder, then escape down the baja. The shoulder was rough and water was splashing from the barrels in the back. I looked ahead and saw the flashing of two more sets of blue lights coming over the hill above us. The truck started spinning out. We were caught in our own trap!
In a moment two of the police cars slid sideways in front, and behind each pickup. The doors flew open and cops appeared with pistols extended over the hoods of the cars. I think one guy had a shotgun. What did they think we were
going to do? Freeze them to death? We weren’t going anywhere. The pickups were stuck. The cops had chains on their tires. They were prepared.
“Come out of the vehicles with your hands up!” commanded a voice over one of those bullhorns.
Larry looked at me calmly, and quietly spoke in his slow southern drawl. “Do ya reckon we oughta run?”

I knew I was going to be in jail in a few minutes – if these guys didn’t just start shooting and kill us – but something about the way he said that just struck me as incredibly funny. I was laughing uncontrollably when one of the cops jerked
Danny’s door open and started dragging us out of the truck. He was the one who had been driving the car that was spinning on the ice. He obviously failed to see the humor of the situation. He grabbed me by the hair and nearly broke my nose on the steering wheel as he yanked me out. I heard Fred back there yelling “Don’t push me you ….” (Well, use your imagination.), and looked back in time to see him literally picked up and thrown into the back seat of another car.
They loaded us all up in just two cars and we headed for the police station. Our driver didn’t have anything to say to us. We could see that he was still weak-kneed from the ordeal on the ice. As we neared the cemetery, Larry leaned over to
me and said, “Tell him to turn the radio up.”
“Sir,” I said, all to happy to comply, “Could you turn the radio up a little?”
It was ten or fifteen seconds before he answered. “Shuttup!”
Danny was laughing under his breath. Larry leaned over to me again and whispered, “Tell him.”
Although I really didn’t think it was a good idea, I was more afraid of D and Larry than I was this cop. I mean, he had to live by some kind of rules.

“Sir,” I repeated, “We can’t hear the radio back here.”
You know how, when you were a little kid, you would fight with your sister in the back seat on the way to grandma’s house? Your dad would yell at you and you would continue until he lost all control? That’s what this cop did. With a crushing backblow from his right hand he violently, and blindly, swung back to hit me in the mouth. Which is, I imagine, what I would have wanted to do if I were him. I guess he was a rookie or something because he totally forgot about that wire cage between the front and back seats. A deluge of obscenities poured from his mouth almost as fast as the blood squirted from his busted knuckles. Danny buried his face between my shoulder and the back of the seat to conceal his laughter. Larry went ahead and laughed out loud.
Soon we arrived at the police station and were herded inside where the chief of police was waiting. The chief of police! Almost midnight and we got the Chief! We were big time criminals. Nobody ever got the chief this late at night. The fire chief was there too. To this day I don’t know why he was there. Our cop came in behind us, wrapping a handkerchief around his bloody hand.
“Boys,” began the chief, “I want each one of you to call your parents and have them come down here”.
He was the only one of the policemen who didn’t appear to be angry. As a matter of fact, it looked to me like he was trying very hard to fight back a smile. Maybe even laughter.
One by one we took our turns on the phone. Most of the calls were short and spoken in the low, muffled voices guys use to tell their girlfriends “I love you too Honey” when there are other guys in the room. When Frankie was on the phone he turned to the chief. “My mom’s in her housecoat. She wants to know if she can just drive up and honk and somebody’ll come out to the car.”
It was a small town. “Yeah, Frankie,” the chief replied,
“That’ll be fine.”
My turn rolled around. My sister answered the phone.
“Robin, let me talk to dad.”
“He’s asleep,” she said, “He’s really mad ‘cause it’s after midnight and you’re not home yet.”
“Okay. Let me talk to him.”
“I’m not gonna wake him up.” She answered. “You better just come on home or you’re gonna be in big trouble.”
Everybody seemed to gather around the phone to hear my conversation.
“Robin!” I was getting a little upset with her. “I’m kind of in some trouble anyway. Now wake him up!” Already I could hear snickering from the guys. She laid down the phone and I waited for what seemed like an eternity.
He didn’t sound too mad when he picked up the phone. “Hello.”
“Dad,” I began. (I thought that was a good place to begin) “Do you think you could come pick me up?”
“You got car trouble?” I always had car trouble.
“No. I’m down here at the city jail.”
It got quiet. I thought he might have fallen back to sleep.
“Come on home.” He said sharply.
“No, really, I’m in jail.”
“Goddammit!” he was getting miffed, “Quit fuckin’ around and get your ass home!”
Everybody, including some of the cops, was laughing now. I handed the phone to Mr. Collins, the fire chief, and asked him to try his luck. He explained the situation to my dad and hung up.
In just a few minutes parents started showing up. Frankie’s mom pulled up and honked, and he was allowed to go home with her. Somehow, Jim got out of there too, leaving only five of us to face the music. My dad came in and talked to the chief, and it was determined that we would be charged with “malicious mischief”. (Although we later discovered a loophole in the definition that would have rendered that an inappropriate charge.) My dad cut a deal with them. If we could make the road passable by morning, and then spend the next Saturday picking up trash along the highway, they would drop the charges. An hour or so later we were riding atop two Independence County trucks filled with sawdust back out to the scene of the crime. And it was cold up there.

With square-ended shovels we emptied those two trucks while my dad walked alongside them pointing to places that we needed to cover. We finished sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when my dad told me that I’d better catch a few winks because I was going to school at 8 o’clock.
When we walked in the door at home my mother was sitting there on the steps, weeping because her firstborn had turned out to be a criminal. She’d been on the phone to my girlfriend around 10, trying to find out where I was. Becky kept the secret and, basically, lied, and told her that she didn’t know. Then mom called her back to inform her that I’d called from the jail, and a discussion ensued as to how I ever became a juvenile delinquent. The old man didn’t say anything else. He just went to bed. After I shook my mother I did the same.
School didn’t actually start until around 10 o’clock that next morning. The sawdust had melted the ice, then it froze back over with the sawdust inside it. Cars were stuck all over the hill and half of the guys volunteered to miss the first two periods to push the ones they could up to the dry pavement. A few people with 4-wheel-drives were shuttling back & forth to get the stranded students to class. It was a nice community effort. I was told to report directly to the principal’s office when I arrived. The other six guys were already there, smiling as I walked through the door.
Mr. Cross was not in a good mood that morning. He didn’t offer me any friendly greeting. No coffee. No “How’z the family?” No Pop Tarts. Nothing. I took my seat and he began his presentation, slowly and deliberately.
“I don’t believe that just the seven of you planned and pulled off this entire caper. I, therefore, don’t believe it would be fair of me to expel just the seven of you and allow the other culprits to go unpunished. Tell ya what I’m gonna do…” He stood up and wiped his hand across his face, like he always did when he was frustrated. “…I’m going to give you until 2 o’clock. At that time I want everybody who had anything to do with the planning or execution of this incident assembled in the library. You guys should not have to take the rap for everybody responsible. Now, get out of here.”
As soon as the door shut behind us we all knew what we had to do. We went about spreading the word.
When the 2 o’clock bell rang, Mr. Cross pushed his way into the library. Assembled there was a good eighty percent of the student population. Girls, nerds, boy scout types. Even the typing and bookkeeping teachers. It was heartwarming.
Shoving people aside, he made his way to the center of the big room and looked around with his hands on his hips. A disgusted look on his face. Sort of nodding his head “yes” as he looked sternly around the room into the huge crowd. He began to scream. “I WANT EVERYBODY NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED WITH THIS ICING INCIDENT OUT OF HERE NOW!”
Everybody started to leave, save the seven of us around the table in the middle.
“COME BACK HERE!” he screamed.
Everybody came back.
Cross calmed his voice a little. “If you knew about this plan, or were actively involved in it, then stay. If you didn’t know anything about it, then leave.”
Nobody moved.
He took another long look around the room, doing that nodding thing again. Then he wiped that hand across his face and stormed out the door. It slammed so hard against the outside wall as he threw it open that the glass broke.
“Well,” Larry Jack said, “I guess we can go now”.
We still had to pick up the trash, per the deal my dad had made with the cops, but we didn’t get kicked out of school. For our efforts we made the front page of The Batesville Guard under the title of “Ice Capades.” They didn’t mention our names, because we were minors. But we knew who we were.
Maybe high school wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Maybe it was different with you, but when I look back through the stacks of old albums up there on that high shelf in the bedroom closet for pictures of myself when I was young and pretty, here’s what I find:

1. Family photos, in the standard triangle formation. The three kids (baby sister missed out on most of these because she was, let’s say, late for the party) low in the middle, with our parents, centered above us. There’s me, the oldest, in my bowtie and white jacket; my head resembling a peach after the previous shearing by my dad with his fancy electric clippers. My mom always insisted we look “our best” when we had pictures made. I’d argue with her that the pictures should represent what we really looked like, but she didn’t buy that.
2. Photos of just the three kids – exactly like the family photo, but with mom & dad missing.
3. Single photo of me & my bowtie – exactly like the kids photo, but with everybody but me missing. Nice bowtie, Mr. Peach.
4. School pictures. ‘Nuff said.
5. Pictures of my sibs and me, standing in grandma’s front yard. No bowtie, but the tweed jacket and little cap are nice.
6. Pictures whenever somebody got a new car or motorcycle, or a new guitar. Not often.
7. Special occasions: Holidays, weddings, family gatherings, prom, performing at the Water Carnival and riding in the parade.
8. The occasional “candid,” taken mostly within a day or two of somebody buying a new camera.
9. All of them, fading into oblivion.

I don’t think it’s because we were any less vain than the youngsters of today; but money was scarce, and back then, taking pictures cost money. Even if you had a really cool camera, like a Brownie, you had to buy the film. Then once you got those great shots, you had to wind the thing back up into the little canister, fill out the form on the mailing envelope, pay your money for processing, and send it in to Fox Photo. Then, you waited for them to mail it back. Then you threw away the pictures that were no good, which you had to pay for anyway. You pays your money – you takes your chances. Who could afford that?

Then came my foray into the business of professional photography, when I found out that it was even more expensive to develop, enlarge and print my own pictures, especially if I was going to do that “in color.” But that decision was followed in a couple of years by the invention of the 1-hour photo lab, and that kept me going. Suddenly, I was taking pictures of everything. Flowers, ducks, cooling towers, dead snakes…and then my own lit’lin doing all sorts of things that he’d never want anybody to see when he grew up. Even then, it was hard to get a picture of myself, had I wanted one, from behind the camera. So, not too many shots of the young & pretty Rick.

Turn the page to 2011, after the appearance of the digital camera, the cell phone and Facebook. I have young “friends” on Facebook who have posted, for all the world to see, over a thousand pictures of themselves. And they were all taken in the last two years. Granted, they’re young, they’re pretty, and they’re having fun – but, truthfully, once you’ve seen, say, 500 photographs of somebody, doing basically nothing special, the rest start looking the same. I mean, “Here’s me in my red bikini, drinking a beer on Friday,” and “Here’s me in my blue bikini, drinking a beer on Saturday” are not all that distinguishable from each other, particularly when they’re both displaying the same brand of beer. Granted though, they’re all beautiful. And these are just the pictures of the guys. The girls? They’re endless.

Every kid over the age of 10, and many younger, have cell phones with built-in cameras, and a way to instantly throw those out into cyberspace for world-wide perusal. Once you’ve got the equipment, it costs literally nothing to do this. And, as such, the old dinosaur photographer is fading away as fast as the paper and silver halide images in that box in the closet. Who needs to pay somebody else to take their picture when they can just flip through their own camera roll on their phone and find a shot of themselves in every conceivable situation? Here’s one. Use this.

Sure, we old people could to this too, if we wanted. But who wants to see those images?

It’s an age-old story. Every generation worries that those who come later won’t amount to anything. We old fogies may fear that these kids, about to enter the world of adulthood and responsibility, are so spoiled and self-absorbed that they’ll never do anything meaningful with their lives. But that’s their business, isn’t it? Whether or not they take the technology that is available to them and discover new energy sources or how to make seawater drinkable or find a cure for cancer…at least those who follow them into this world will know what they looked like. Every waking moment.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Burning Down the House

They’d been smelling smoke for a long time. Every once in a while, he’d pull down his reading glasses and look at her over the top of the Wall Street Journal and say “Do you smell something burning?” She’d sniff, briefly, and, as she worked there at the kitchen table on her PTA speech, she’d say “Yeah. I asked you about that last week and you were too busy polishing your guns to pay attention.” He’d pull his glasses back up and bury his nose again in the paper.

Upstairs, the kids had involved themselves in one of those marathon Monopoly games – wheeling and dealing; trying desperately to survive the attempts of their siblings who were determined to score all the multi-colored bank notes and toss the other kids into the abyss of financial ruin. Another house. Another hotel. Rolling the dice. Pass Go; collect $200. Pay your rent! They’d get a whiff of the smoke now and then, but nobody was going to be the first to take their eyes off the board to see what was happening. You can’t trust those other kids to not cheat when you look away. They were busy. Besides, keeping them safe was their parents’ job.

So, the alarm goes off. She slams the greasy frying pan into the sink as he throws down his golf magazine. They run to each other, meeting in the dining room, and scream in unison “I told you something was burning!”

“Well, if you knew there was a fire somewhere, why didn’t you do something about it?” he asks.

“What am I?” is her reply, “The fire marshal? Why didn’t you do something about it?”

As the smoke gets thicker and they feel the heat of the flames about to engulf them they continue to stand toe-to-toe, screaming in each other’s face. There will be a divorce, for sure, and the battle for custody of the kids has begun – here, and now. “No judge would award those kids to you, because you let the house burn down!”

The flames have spread up the curtains, onto the ceiling, exposing the battling parents through the big picture window to the news crews gathering out in the street – arriving even before the fire trucks; even before the sound of the sirens, because these two are so busy fighting over who is to blame that they haven’t bothered to call the fire department. The stairway collapses. Giant, flaming chunks of plaster and timber crash all around the parents, who can be seen through the inferno, each still pointing fingers in the other’s face.

Meantime, upstairs, the kids are rolling the dice; trusting in their parents.

How will this story end? We’re told the answer will come by Tuesday. Who should get custody if the children survive? If the parents survive.

Does either parent deserve to have custody of those children? Would they be better off on their own, having learned everything they know from those self-centered cremains downstairs? Would they be just as well off without them?

Stay tuned. Hopefully, by Tuesday, August 2, you’ll wonder: “What is that crazy Rick rambling about now? They got the fire put out! Everybody’s fine.”

All I’m saying is this: Consider adoption.

© 2011, Rick Baber

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sister Sarah's Ride

Listen my children to an old man’s wailin’
Of the cross-country ride of Sarah Palin.
In two thousand eleven, ‘round the first of June;
Nary a person will forget too soon
Her account of history as her bus goes salin’.

She said to her family, “Let’s get on the bus
And roll ‘cross the country for Liberty,
Paint my name on the side so they’ll all see us
Holdin’ that paper with “The people we.”
Honk once if by highway, two if by net
I’ll look through the window shouting “You bet!”
We’ll look to the heavens and act so surprised
When the lamestream media catches our eyes,
The country folk will still hear it, knowing I’m wise.”

Then she said ‘You Betcha!” and with a muffled roar
The gawdy bus rolled up near the Seabrook Shore.
Just as Mitt Romney was announcing his run,
She stood ‘fore the cameras in the New Hampshire sun,
And spoke, changing history forever more.
T’was gun control was the redcoats’ aim
And the media here had gotten so lame
That the things they had told us way back in school
Was the reason those Liberals were such fools.

Mr. Longfellow, can you ever forgive me?

Why is it that the media can’t leave Sarah Palin alone? Here she is on a nice little donation-supported family vacation, touring the country in a huge bus, wrapped in the American flag and the Declaration of Independence; with her signature painted on the sides in giant letters – you know, incognito – and, still they follow her around asking her the hardball questions. It just doesn’t seem fair, really.

Sister Sarah wasn’t even born until 1964 – way up in Idaho – and was only a baby when her family moved to the country of Alaska. It is absurd, really, that anybody would expect her to know all the intricate little details of American history. It’s those “gotcha” questions, like “Who was Paul Revere?” that have led to her disdain for the lamestream media. And, can we blame her?

It has been a long time. Even most of us who were fans of Mr. Revere couldn’t, on the spur of the moment, recite all the words to “Kicks,” which, in my humble opinion, was the best song they ever did. Oh, sure, there was “Indian Reservation,” aka “Cherokee People,” but, now that we look at it through the tea-colored lenses of history, that was a rather subversive, anti-American song, and Sarah should be applauded for not remembering it.

Even if the good sister would have been born, say, ten years earlier, it would have likely been Mark Lindsay, the heartthrob, she recalled, and not Paul Revere, himself. Such is the nature of history; and if they weren’t so consumed with their desire to mislead the public into the misconception that Sarah is some kind of airhead political celebrity, these pointy-headed elitists in the press would realize this! They’re not so smart. I bet you could take any of them; show them pictures of the bands; and ask “Which one is Jethro Tull?” or “Which one is Lynyrd Skynyrd?” and over half of them would pick the wrong guy in each band.

What I’m trying to say is, sure, rock ‘n roll history is important, and knowledge of it should be considered as part of the qualification for the office of President, but there comes a time when we have to let the really old stuff go. If this attack mode of the press isn’t stopped, sooner or later they’ll start asking questions about Chuck Berry. Do we really want our presidential candidates on TV, easily accessed by our young, impressionable children, reciting the lyrics to “My Ding-a-Ling”?

© 2011, Rick Baber

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

God, Guns & Glory

As we creep steadily closer to the 2012 election, new talk and new legislative efforts have come up regarding getting
guns into church and church into schools. I’m wondering: by the transitive property of firearms, does that mean we’ll allow guns in schools?

Personally, I think carrying a hogleg to church is a good idea. For one, it makes the preacher put some real thought into his sermon planning. You don’t want to bore a guy to the point of violence when he’s packin’ a nine. Another good thing is your church can be defended if, on some sunny spring morning, the Huns, for example, attempt to overrun it and take your women. Huns do that kind of thing. The third reason is, of course, that … well, it seems there is no third reason – but those two are apparently good enough for the Arkansas House to pass legislation removing the ban on guns in church, and send it to the Senate. The Senate, apparently infiltrated with Huns, rejected it. For the time-being, anyway.

Now comes the perennial effort to teach The Bible in public schools. In late March, by a 71-16 vote, the brilliant folks in the Arkansas House passed a bill allowing Arkansas schools to offer the Good Book as an elective course in “history.” It’s not “required,” they insist, just making it available if the school wants to offer it. Presumably, some parents pulled their kids from Sunday Schools because they couldn’t take their pistols – on principle – and are now looking to fill that void in their spiritual lives in a tax-supported institution.

There’s a heartwarming little story going around the Internet about a kid wanting to know how God could let some terrible thing happen in his school, and God replies to him “I’m not allowed in your school.” For an instant, it kind of brings a tiny tear to the left hand corner of your right hand eye; but then, if you think about it, you have to wonder how an all-powerful deity – an invisible one at that – could be kept out of the classroom by a sign on the front door that said “No Gods Allowed.” Don’t you? Well, I guess the House doesn’t.

Here’s some more questions: Should the Senate pass this bill, which version of The Bible will be taught in school? I understand there are over 300. What if the school decides they like the Old Testament? Can they go with that? If so, will there follow a religious movement by the students to ban pork chops on the school’s lunch menu? Will the principals, as de facto parents, be compelled to kill disobedient children? What if they selected The Book of Mormon? Could the school administrators opt out of all of the Christian versions of “history” altogether and instead go with The Analects, the Avesta, the Koran, the Talmud, the Tao, the Veda, or The Epic of Gilgamesh? Here’s a good one – Scientology. If a school was to do that, even though the course is not “required,” could we expect some rather heated input from Protestant Christian parents who didn’t want these texts even being offered to their children? I dunno. Just askin’.

Playing Devil’s Advocate here (pun intended), what if, instead of disguising a religious doctrine as “history,” public schools offered a Theology course, in which the kids studied all of the various religions? That certainly wouldn’t leave room for anybody to say that Arkansas was attempting to circumvent the doctrine of Separation of Church & State by recognizing one form of religion as teachable history while ignoring scores of others. And when the children of the Arkansas Legislature are finally restored their God-given right to carry their guns to church and they return to Sunday School (probably none of them go to Saturday School), the fact that they’re also studying Theology in public school, being a completely different subject, shouldn’t have too much of a negative impact upon their “historical” teachings there, or their religious views. Unless, of course they are attracted to something in school to which they have never been previously introduced.

Something tells me this idea isn’t going to be too well received. Hey, I’m just an idea man. I don’t make the rules.


© 2011, Rick Baber

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Winter of Discontent

So long, winter. Buhbbye now! Don’t let the screen door hit you.
What in the wide-wide world of sports was that all about? Twenty below…in Arkansas? Two feet of snow? Are you kidding me?

One day, back in 1983, I pulled a big U-Haul truck into the driveway of our house on State Street and hurriedly loaded up all our earthly belongings, then stood our three-year-old son up in the front seat (it wasn’t dangerous back then, apparently) and mama followed us in the black Lincoln to Springdale. It was only a two hundred mile trip, and we had made it many times before to visit my folks.

A few months later, the three of us were sitting in a McDonalds in Siloam Springs when we looked out the window to see silver dollar snowflakes floating to the ground. She wasn’t particularly happy with me anyway - after moving her away from Batesville, and her family – and by this time we had encountered many domestic battles within the confines of our little duplex across the street from where they parked the chicken trucks. This time, she didn’t raise her voice. She just calmly looked across the table, over the cheeseburgers and the pile of salty fries, and said “You’ve moved me to the end of the world.”

Of course, I laughed. And then she did as well. We weren’t that far from home. Two hundred miles west and only a couple of inches north looking at the road map. Still in the same state, for cryin’ out loud! There was no way this short distance, in the grand scheme of things, could have any effect on the experiences we would have with weather. This was only a badly-timed coincidence.

I believe it was two nights after that, with the snow blanketing everything outside, the three of us, plus Parvo the Boston Terrier, Jinglebell the kitten, and Molly the Cockatiel, huddled in a makeshift tent in front of the living room fireplace to keep warm after the power had gone out. The ambient air temperature was around zero, but the wind was howling, and they told us on the battery-operated radio that the wind chill was in the neighborhood of forty below zero. Just after hearing that, there was a loud roar and I realized we were having a flue fire. I grabbed the folding insurance adjuster ladder and scurried up on the roof to throw snow down the chimney. No way to use the water hose.

That managed to get the fire out, but the black water rolled over the hearth and soaked the floor. Instead of thanking me for saving his duplex, the landlord sent me a bill for replacing the carpet. Sweetheart, he was.

We all survived. And over the last 28 years I’ve used that winter as the standard by which all others are judged. Until now.

There wasn’t much wind with this one, but the actual temperature at our house got down to negative seventeen. There were no power outages – if only because the trees all broke and fell on the lines two years ago, and the two feet of snow was so dry, light and fluffy that it just rolled off the highline wires. But, come on. The same night we hit -17 here, and -30 in one nearby town in Oklahoma, it was only -34 in Antarctica. Antarctica!

This winter hit us on Wednesday. Today is Sunday. My IPod tells me it’s 54 degrees. That’s 71 degrees warmer than it was 4 days ago. The snow has all melted off the streets, at least, and Becky has the window open in the kitchen. No problems so far. No frozen pipes, flue fires or power outages. No landlord to send me bills for replacing carpet. We’ve grown somewhat accustomed to living in Minnesota – but then, I guess pretty much everybody in north Arkansas has.

The worst part of this one, for me at least, is listening to the same tired snarks about “global warming” from all the people who hear the words but really don’t understand the concept. I mean, it’s cute the first dozen or so times you hear it but, like the snow, it gets old pretty quick.

Spring’s a’comin’. I learned my lesson. I won’t be saying we’ll never get that cold again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

For the Birds, Part Two

You know, some of this stuff, I actually don’t make up. When I saw this one on Mr. Gore’s internet, like most others I’m sure, I thought it was a gag; a ruse; a Saturday Night Live skit…but it wasn’t.

There’s an organization called “People for the American Way” (PAW) who put up a little video on YouTube of a nice lady named Cindy Jacobs making the case that the Blackbird and Drumfish deaths in Arkansas (for which I have coined the term “Avianocalypse,” but may need to revise to “Avianfishocalypse.”) may be God, showing his dissatisfaction regarding the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

As everybody knows, God has always been interested in American politics, and, apparently, not a big fan of red people.

You may ask yourself “What do dead birds and fish have to do with gays openly serving in the military?” And you may say to yourself, “This is not my beautiful fish. And this is not my beautiful blackbird!” And, you may ask yourself, “My God! What have you done?”

All you have to do is view the clip, entitled, “Jacobs: Birds Dying Because of DADT Repeal.” This lady makes such a convincing case that you’ll kick yourself for not figuring it all out sooner.

For example: The birds first fell in a town called Beebe. The governor of Arkansas is named Beebe! Also, “there was something put out of Arkansas…Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…by a former governor, Bill Clinton! And, so, could there be a connection?”
See there? Sends a chill right down your spine, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s like the Kennedy/Lincoln similarity thing! Much better than my UFO theory. I can’t make the connection between UFOs and Arkansas. Then again, I can make a connection, within six degrees, between Kevin Bacon and Arkansas! So, could Kevin Bacon be a murderer of helpless birds and fish? You decide.

Meantime, to expound on this biblical brilliance, let’s just offer up a few more points. Bill Clinton, the first black president, came up with the DADT policy. Bill Clinton was from Arkansas. Barack Obama, the second black president, is the one who repealed it. It was BLACKbirds that rained down on the town of Beebe! Not redbirds. Not bluebirds. Not yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Mike Beebe, the current governor of Arkansas, sits in (probably) the same chair that Bill Clinton sat in (sometimes) when he was governor!

The state in which Bill Clinton was governor, was part of the United States of America, and has a town called Lincoln. Abe Lincoln was also President of the United States and is known for the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he freed the slaves. The slaves, were predominately (you guessed it!) BLACK! Abe Lincoln was from Illinois, where there is a town named Clinton (zip 61313). You add those numbers together and you get 14, a one and a four. Even if you take 61 minus 31 minus 3, you get 27. Two times seven is 14! The phrase “No gays in the military” actually starts with the 14th letter of the alphabet! The video is 2:11 long. That’s 131 seconds. Thirteen plus one is 14.

Now, get this. Ms. Jacobs, in this very same video, refers to the Book of Romans (chapter 1) as the authority by which homosexuality is condemned. What verse? Yep. 27. Two times seven is 14! The number of spaces in “Book of Romans,” including spaces between letters, is 14.

Remember back (up there) when Ms. Jacobs described Bill Clinton as a “former governor”? Count the letters in that!

So, naturally, this being a biblical thing, I looked up the significance of the number 14. Here goes: Jacob worked fourteen years for his uncle Laban in order to be able to marry his daughter Rachel. The first period of seven years he allowed him to take Leah for woman, the older sister of Rachel, and after the second period of seven years, he could finally marry Rachel. And Jacob had of Rachel fourteen sons and grandsons.

I note, Jacob didn’t marry a man. But there’s no mention of blackbirds. So I decided to start with Kevin Bacon, and go the other direction. Too easy. In “Animal House” he played the role of Chip Diller, an Omega pledge who was trampled by the panicking crowd at the end of the movie. In the follow-up, “Where Are They Now” he became a born-again Christian missionary in Africa. Kenya, where Barack Obama was born, is in Africa. Barack Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I could go on and on, but what more proof do you need?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Explanation for the Birds

Here’s the first meiosis (I had to look that word up) for 2011: “Last year ended up kinda weird.” Over here in west Arkansas, we had a New Year’s Eve tornado that claimed the lives of 3 people. Three more up in Missouri. Having lived in the Natural State for over half a century, I don’t recall another tornado, ever, into the winter like that.
Then, just before midnight the same night, five thousand blackbirds dropped dead out of the sky in Beebe. A day or so later, it was revealed that 100,000 dead drum fish were discovered in the Arkansas River near Ozark. I’m still not sure as to when, exactly, those fish were supposed to have died.
So far, the Game & Fish has indicated their belief that the fish died from some kind of disease. OK. I guess that makes sense – that there’s some fish malady in the big river that only affects drum. It could happen.
But, this bird thing…it’s a mystery. After first coming out and suggesting that the blackbirds (redwings, most of them) died from the stress of year-end celebratory fireworks - then, perhaps, realizing what a totally ludicrous explanation that was – they’ve now concluded that the cause of death was some sort of blunt force trauma. You think? How high does a blackbird fly? High enough to get a knot on its head after dying, from something, and crashing to the pavement? And, just to add insult to blunt force trauma injury, they’re telling us this birdocide had nothing to do with the croaking of the drum fish. Just a coincidence. Right.
I remember a time, many years ago, when there were so many blackbirds roosting in the pines beside the Arkansas College gym that they had to bring out cannons to try and scare them away. Don’t recall any of them dying from fright, or flying into those pines, breaking their little necks, as they tried to get away. Birds are actually pretty good aviators. And I can’t recollect any 5th of July morning, after an evening when my neighborhood looked and sounded like Duhbyuh’s invasion of Baghdad, that my yard was covered with the little feathered fellers.
At first, I concocted a scenario that the blackbirds, hearing the exploding fireworks, realizing it wasn’t independence day, thought it was the shock and awe of the apocalypse and kamikazied themselves into the ground. Then the fish heard about this. Knowing the river was carrying them in that direction, they all died from anxiety. Drum fish, as everybody knows, are more emotional and socially conscious than, say, trout. They wear their little hearts on their fins.
Then, I remembered the only time I ever saw a bunch of belly-up fish floating on top of the water was back when me ‘n Bob Slisher used to sneak up to the pond around 2 am and toss lit sticks of dynamite in there. From my understanding, that’s because the explosion depletes the water of oxygen. They can’t breathe, and, since they’re not witches, they float.
Coal miners used to keep canaries in cages in the mines. If there was a methane gas leak into the “hole” the gas displaced the oxygen, and the bird dropped over dead – letting the miners know it was time to get out.
So, what do these two things have in common? I dunno. Oxygen? Is it possible that the weather conditons that generated tornadoes on New Year’s Eve, somehow, sucked the oxygen out of the sky, and also out of just the part of the Arkansas River where the drum fish were hanging out? Hey, I’m just asking.
Maybe it a suicide pact between the species? Something to do with that lunar eclipse a while back?
Can you imagine what ancient writers would have penned had they witnessed the moon turning orange, as it did, and then saw this happening?
Personally, I’m hoping that the next phenom around here is mass sightings of UFOs. Ancient Aliens freaks like myself can tie all that together and deduce that the Martians are coming for us, first killing off these critters that they suspect to be threats. It’ll make for a much more interesting story than the birds and fish both eating from some common contaminated food source. And it’ll make more sense than five thousand birds being clubbed by Sarah Palin chasing them down in a helicopter or (duh) flying into trees. And, maybe it’ll boost book sales a little.

© 2011, Rick Baber