Friday, December 31, 2010
Another game & another number
I was fifteen the first time I won money gambling with adult males of the species. It was in a card game in a pool hall during the summer in the small, rural Minnesota town where I grew up. The game was pinochle. I was playing with three farmers who had been rained out from working in their fields. I had been asked if I knew how to play because all the other adults present were involved in their own games of cards or pool -- or, were too engaged with drinking beer and discussing philosophy, religion and the great issues of the day. Well, that might be exaggerating their discussions just a bit.
I lied, sort of, anyway. I said sure, I knew how to play pinochle. In fact, I had never played in my life, but I had watched the men play for a few weeks and was reasonably certain I could get by if just a bit of luck accompanied me into the game. My partner and I won that game in just two hands, which was literally unheard of with the rules under which we were playing. Long before summer ended, virtually every man who entered the pool hall to play cards wanted me as his partner for pinochle and buckeuchre (Buck Euchre), and my nickname was "Lucky" among the farmers.
Just for the record, I no slouch at pool, either, or at tossing dice for drinks. Rules were rules, which meant young men my age could not drink beer, only pop. But, the rules (at least, the local customs) did not prevent young men from shaking the cup of dice to see who would pay for a round of drinks at the card table.
I worked on a farm that summer, as many "town boys" did, and it was a rainy summer. The days in the pool hall frequently were more profitable than the days on the farm. The same proved to be true the next summer, when I worked in a supermarket, and the next summer, when I worked in a lumber yard.
A few years later, I concentrated more on Poker (in which I have had no luck at all -- neither good nor bad) and continued "handling the bones," with a considerable amount of time spent shooting Craps. This, as you might imagine, mostly took place in the Marine Corps and included one absolutely fabulous night at a back room Craps game in Reno.
A crapshooter's mantra sometimes is "seven come eleven." If you hit either of those numbers on the first roll of the dice, you are an automatic winner. Simply because of that, I adopted seven and eleven as my lucky numbers. I usually won at Craps, often by rolling those numbers, so it seemed very natural to stick with them in all matters.
Do you see where this is going? Fanciful mind that I sometimes display, I am convinced 2011 will be a lucky year for me. In the meanwhile, all I have to do is figure out what the 20 signifies and to look around for a seven. Just teasing .... sort of ....
All-in-all, 2010 was a good year for me and to me. It was fascinating in many ways, offering new experiences. It was profitable in some ways and, possibly, the beginning of a stroll along a new, long-lasting pathway. The past twelve months have taught me a few lessons, and I believe I see the world a bit more clearly now than I have in recent times, although I still have no clue what my role is in it -- or, if I even have an actual role in it. Whatever ....
Three ideas are floating through my mind as a new year looms on the horizon:
Buy a house in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul and hang out for a year or two writing and writing. This = safety & security.
Move to Florida, buy a boat and hang out for a year or two diving and diving. This = adventure & long-shot gambling.
Travel by ship (a freighter that accepts a few passengers) from America to Europe and decide what to do next upon arrival. There is a run from Duluth, Minnesota, through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic Ocean, through the North Sea and into the Baltic Sea to Gdansk, Poland. This = learning & potential self-discovery.
So, then. How do those three thoughts rate in terms of rolling the dice? And, while I am thinking of it, how do you spell hiatus?
The opening lines of the song lyrics
by Bob Seger
He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
He wants his home and security
He wants to live like a sailor at sea
Where you gonna fall?
When you realize
You just can't have it all
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
One of the long-time-ago three best friends who I occasionally write about here, the woman, and I had an ongoing argument. At times, the argument rose to the level of shouting at each other.
This was the same woman, by the way, I once mentioned in a post in the context of shock and awe. In case you missed that post, our shock and awe was not in the nature of a military sweep by infantry troops or a barrage of bombs and missiles. It was this:
A few times, after a few drinks in a saloon where we were not well known, we would begin making out while sitting on stools at the bar. In a matter of moments, she would be on my lap and our hands would be as frantic as our lips. After a minute or two of this, we would abruptly stop, look around the barroom with startled expressions on our faces, grab our belongings and literally run for the door. There, we would stop, grapple for another moment or two or three, then rush out the door.
The origin of this had been one evening when it was not an act, not a performance, but, actually a spontaneous and genuine "fit of passion." We were both married at the time, and we collected our thoughts and controlled our emotions at some point along the dash between the bar and the car. Perhaps, that is why we remained friends.
In actuality, I was the cooler head, the calmer mind. She also wanted us to "run off" together and to begin another life together. I persuaded her that was not to be our destiny = not to be a road traveled.
Back to the original story. Our argument was this: I maintained that the only person worth competing against was oneself. My point might be illustrated by running. If I could run a mile in six minutes and my competitor could run a mile in five minutes, I should not be concerned about reducing my time in order to beat him, but simply should want to better my own time in the sense of bettering my own self.
My friend spoke passionately that she would be No. 2 to no one in any manner of undertaking without trying anything and everything to win. She was a hard competitor, and did not believe in being second best.
My next point in our debate was that no one can be the best at everything. So what if my competitor could run the mile faster than I could do it? Undoubtedly, there would be other competitive feats and ordinary tasks in which I could come out the winner.
No, she would say, you have to try to beat everyone at everything.
Neither of us would relent in our positions. We never did, but I do miss the arguments -- as well as our barroom improvisations. You see, her insistence at being the best at everything included being the best at kissing.
"Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known"
The first and the original last stanzas
by William Wordsworth
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.
I told her this: her laughter light
Is ringing in my ears:
And when I think upon that night
My eyes are dim with tears.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Let me go to the window
I know a doctor who believes everyone needs a window to the outside world no matter where he lives or where he works. I mean a literal window. Although the doctor is a surgeon rather than a psychiatrist, he is offering this opinion from a psychological point of view.
To demonstrate the depth of feeling behind his statement, upon moving into a newly-constructed clinic building and assigned to an office without a window, he paid with his own money to have a hole knocked in the outer brick wall and to have a window installed where there had been only solid mass before.
"I need to see the sky and the rain and the grass to keep from going crazy," he told me.
His viewpoint is not particularly unique. Where do you think the term "cabin fever" or, more appropriate yet, "stir crazy" originated? True, those concepts have to do with a bit more than a windowless room, but they are treading down the same roadway.
The townhouse in which I lived last summer was pretty much identical to the one I am in now except for the view provided from the window. Last summer, from the front window, I saw only another row of townhouses a few yards away across a narrow street.
Now, compare that to the window in this townhouse. While not offering a look at the most picturesque landscape imaginable, it reveals a glimpse of river bottomland filled with trees which is typical of the southern Minnesota countryside and provides occasional sightings of a variety of wildlife.
Like my doctor friend, I agree than any window is better than no window, but I would argue that the real value for having one to look through rests upon what is to be seen beyond the glass and in its value/meaning to the beholder.
To serve a real purpose, I believe that a window must offer a vision which not only draws the person toward it -- no matter if it is drawing one outside or inside -- but into it, and even beyond it, to who knows where.
Perhaps, now would be a good time to renew a friendship with Alice, to discover if the window really is a window or, actually, is a mirror and, possibly, to follow her "Through the Looking-Glass."
At a Window
by Carl Sandburg
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!
But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
It is no secret that I think cable television is ninety percent garbage television and an excellent example of how big government and big business form a monopolistic partnership to rip off the so-called huddled masses.
But, one of the few saving graces of cable television is that it serves as a time tunnel of sorts to programs and films from the past. Some of them -- many of them, come to think of it -- are excellent and, often, are beneficial, worthwhile entertainment which never would be seen today if it were not for cable television.
I guess you know where this is leading. A few nights ago, I watched an episode of "Twilight Zone" from 1959. It was the first year this show was on television, and the episode -- "Walking Distance" -- was among those written by the show's creator, Rod Serling. Here is an excerpt of the dialogue:
Robert Sloan: Martin.
Martin Sloan: Yes, Pop.
Robert Sloan: You have to leave here. There's no room, there's no place. Do you understand that?
Martin Sloan: I see that now, but I don't understand. Why not?
Robert Sloan: I guess because we only get one chance. Maybe there's only one summer to every customer. That little boy, the one I know -- the one who belongs here -- this is his summer, just as it was yours once. Don't make him share it.
Martin Sloan: Alright.
Robert Sloan: Martin, is it so bad where you're from?
Martin Sloan: I thought so, Pop. I've been living on a dead run and I was tired. And one day I knew I had to come back here. I had to get on the merry-go-round and listen to a band concert. I had to stop and breathe, and close my eyes and smell, and listen.
Robert Sloan: I guess we all want that. Maybe when you go back, Martin, you'll find that there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven't been looking in the right place. You've been looking behind you, Martin. Try looking ahead.
So, now that you have read the dialogue, here is some background information about this episode. A middle-aged man, Martin Sloan, is driving cross-country when he stops his car at a gas station. He is worn-out, burned-out, depressed, disgusted and disgruntled. His thoughts are on the carefree days of his boyhood.
At the gas station, Martin is told by the attendant that his hometown, Homewood, is within "Walking Distance." He decides to go there and, when he arrives, Martin finds Homewood appears exactly as it existed when he was a boy.
As a note aside, I will mention that the actor portraying Martin is Gig Young, who was born and grew up in Minnesota. His usual role in films during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was that of a supporting character, frequently playing the best friend of the leading man. He was a much better actor than he is generally credited as having been and, I think, his performance in "Walking Distance" demonstrates that fact.
Martin eventually encounters himself as a boy, and following him home, meets his parents. Trying to convince his parents that he is their son from the future, he succeeds only in seemingly demonstrating his insanity. Martin is asked to leave by his parents.
Martin finds his childhood self on a carousel and tries to warn his younger self to enjoy his childhood before it is too late. His advances scare young Martin, who falls off the merry-go-round and injures his leg. This causes the adult Martin to begin walking with a limp.
Martin is then confronted by his father, who now believes his story about being his middle-aged son. His father advises him that everyone has their time, and that he should look to the future rather than to the past. Martin finds himself back in his own time, walking with a new limp.
Returning to the here and now: Sometimes obvious answers to dilemmas are found in the damnedest places. It could be that after having read the background regarding the story, you might wish to read the dialogue once again and, possibly, to think about it for a minute or two or three. Or, even watch the entire show and form your own opinion of it and its message ....
Friday, December 17, 2010
It has been a few years since I wrote a book review, and I am not going to do it now, but I noted a few days ago that I would "report back" regarding my first encounter with Mitch Rapp -- the protagonist of something like eleven novels by Minnesota writer Vince Flynn. (That was a long sentence.)
I never have been a fierce fan of spy/crime fighter/detective/soldier of fortune novels per se, but I have read some along the way. Alistair MacLean and Frederick Forsyth are a couple of examples of authors I particularly like in this domain. Under the category of a series of books with a long, ongoing character/hero, Ian Fleming, (James Bond), John le Carre (George Smiley), Clive Cussler (Dirk Pitt), Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Tom Clancy (Jack Ryan) are novelists whose fictional characters are among those with whom I am reasonably well versed at reciting their exploits.
But, to illustrate that I am not an actual fan of the genre, Vince Flynn and his Mitch Rapp have been dominating best-seller lists for more than a decade and I do not recall running across them to the degree that I actually remembered them until a month or so ago.
In a few words, the novel which introduced me to Flynn and Rapp is the much acclaimed "American Assassin." It is the story of Rapp, a twenty-three-year-old recent college graduate who is recruited into an "off-the-books," contract group of assassins formed and operated by a few individuals within the CIA. These individuals believe America's campaign against terrorism has been soft and ineffective, so they launch their own "terminate with extreme prejudice" operations.
Rapp's wife-to-be was a passenger aboard Pan Am Flight 103 that was downed by a terrorist bomb over Scotland in 1988, and the setting for the novel is roughly twenty years ago. Rapp is determined to wreak vengeance (i.e., justice), is highly intelligent and an extraordinarily gifted athlete -- factors which combine to make him an ideal weapon in the war against terror.
Since this is not a review, I will only briefly state that the novel does present an accurate and concise description of the world that was in the 1980s and early 1990s in the Near East, and American involvement as it existed in places like Beirut, Lebanon, during that era. It also provides an accurate and concise picture of the intrigue and games played by intelligence and counter-intelligence officers during Cold War years. In a sense, it is an actual recital of history.
I found no faults with the book other than it ended too abruptly for my taste. It could have been (and should have been, I think) another fifty pages in length to provide more description, detail and character study/reaction to the final events as they unfolded: To put more meat on the bones of this tale and its central characters, in a manner of speaking.
A fascinating (to me, anyway) element to the story is that Rapp, like Fleming's James Bond and unlike le Carre's George Smiley or Clancy's Jack Ryan, is considerably more than a bit of a sociopath. In a sentence, Rapp could well be the next evolutionary step in "good guy" killers, succeeding Bond.
Conversely, Rapp lacks the intellectual and the emotional qualities of the "good guy" killers in le Carre's or Clancy's worlds -- men who understand love rather than simply experience sex, and who are capable of feeling remorse and guilt for their actions -- which makes him "less real," less believable and, certainly, less literary. (Another very long sentence. So, shoot me with a Walther PPK. Do I care?)
In essence, there is not much difference between the bad guys and the good guys in their actions and reactions except that the bad guys are after wealth and power while the good guys are after justice and, ultimately, peace on earth.
A candidate for a master's degree or a doctorate could do worse than to prepare a thesis/dissertation examining the evolution of spies, assassins and soldiers of fortune in literature over the span of the last generation or two. (Longer, if Dent's creation, Doc Savage, were to be included, since most of these books were written during the 1930s.)
I have read a synopsis of Flynn's other novels about Rapp and, frankly, the story line in all of them seems a bit too far-fetched to interest me, so I doubt I will pick up another unless someone gives it a great recommendation. The fly in the ointment of the Mitch Rapp series is that our young "Ubermensch" seems to me to be presented as an individual only one step away from donning a cape and flying to the rescue. I prefer fictional (as well as real-life) characters, including assassins, to have both feet on earth.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
It was in August 2008 when I first arrived on the sea of blogs. I was "following" a young lady I had met and who had asked me to read her posts.
In early January 2009, I began wandering around -- reading and looking. A few days later, I began my own blog. Two weeks later, I began a second blog. About two weeks later, I decided to run with just the second and dropped the first.
During the intervening two years, the most puzzling element of life on the blogs has been how many of those who were active when I began have since become very sporadic at posting or, in some cases, have gone away entirely.
It is disappointing in a sense, but not surprising. It basically proves that most bloggers are more interested in expressing themselves than in communicating with other people -- which is only natural.
What is most disappointing, following this line of thought, is that most people demonstrate this aspect not only by ceasing to write and/or to display photographs, but they also cease visiting others who, for one reason or another, they chose to follow.
In a sentence, I think this provides one more demonstration of how impersonal and shallow internet communications are when compared to real-world communications.
The circle lasts a lifetime
In the news business, something I was associated with for a few years, there is a custom of doing "roundup" stories at the end of the year under such categories as top ten news events of the year; top ten news makers of the year; ten best photographs of the year; ten worst natural disasters of the year. On and on.
This year, I am inventing a deviation to this concept and measuring my life in certain aspects experienced to this point. Here are some of the things I have been listing:
Foreign nations visited (either in the military, for business reasons, or as a tourist): Four in the Far East, two in the Near East, five European, four in Africa, three in south or middle America; one north of the U.S. American border (yes, I know there only is one there); and, and, and .... I guess that is it.
States lived in as a resident: Four; states lived in as a civilian non-resident: Two; states simply visited or traveled through or underwent military training in: Twenty-one, plus the District of Columbia
Seventeen cars or trucks owned; seventy-seven pistols, rifles or shotguns owned; two wives who owned me .... well, that seems like a good place to stop.
Now, the reason for this exercise: It is part of an attempt to look for some variations, some new experiences for the months ahead. It is obvious a person could travel forever and still never see everything. It is also likely there is no pot of gold or "magic person" at the end of the rainbow. So, why bother to look?
After a while, life seems to be nothing more than walking around in a circle. So, if I seem to be jaded, it is only because I am truly bored -- especially with snow and cold = winter.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
In America, even today, sixty-nine years after the fact, the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor still is observed and remembered. Yesterday's enemies are today's friends and allies, something I will never understand -- but, such is life, and there are many things I do not understand about life.
But, of more significance to me, December 7, is the anniversary of the argument my second wife and I experienced which eventually and directly led to our divorce. Perhaps, at this point in time, of even more importance to me on the calendar is December 10. That day will mark the thirteenth anniversary of my departure from the world of smoking.
If you have not heard this tale, here is the abbreviated version. I decided back then that the time had come for me to quit smoking. My habit during that era of my life included three or more packs of cigarettes a day (Salems and Camel straights), one or two cigars and an occasional pipe load.
Being a man of sound fiscal habits, I smoked the last of my cigars and pipe tobacco, and began work on the remaining cigarettes in the final carton I had purchased. As fate would have it, at approximately 2:00 p.m. on December 10, 1997, I lit the last cigarette in the last pack from the last carton I had and I smoked it.
I never looked back, but ....
As you might imagine ....
Probably every two or three months, I will tell someone that I miss smoking and that I am thinking about resuming the habit again. Maybe, just with cigars, I always am sure to add, because a good cigar literally makes my mouth water the way some food does, simply at the thought of them. But, so far, I have not done so.
Mind over matter. Not so tough if you really want something. Anything you really want, in terms of yourself, I believe, you can have if you really, actually do want it. Anyway, that has been my experience.
I do not think I would like him
There is not a great deal I wish to say about the band, Night Ranger, whose music I have posted here today, but I will make two remarks.
I think the band is greatly under-rated for its musical talent. It had a number of major, heavy-duty, rock songs, and the guitar work verges on the spectacular at times. Just watch and listen, if you do not believe me.
Then, too, is the stamina and the energy displayed during performances. Try dancing in your living room to this song, for instance, at the pace the music demands, and see if you make it to the end. I would bet you do not.
This is just one more band I regret never having seen live on stage. Like many things, it is my own fault that I did not attend a concert, because I probably could have made it to one. But, a person does not have time to go everywhere and to do everything. Life is just too damn brief, and there are not enough of them (lives, I mean) to make me happy. If there is a god, I do not think I would like him simply because of his design flaws when planning our existence.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Perhaps it is the fault of James
"Anyone who occasionally stops by here (and actually takes the time to read what has been written here) probably knows that I" -- sound familiar ?? I just copied those words from a post that I wrote a few days ago, but here begins new words -- seldom read a book that has not been around for a decade or two or three or more.
The reason is simple. I believe most books published today are literally not worth the paper they are printed on, and probably will have disappeared from the shelves of bookstores and libraries even before you have the opportunity to log in at eBay looking for a bargain price.
A book that has been in publication (and remains so) for a generation or two has proven its worth simply by still being in existence. Enough people continue to buy the book to justify a publisher re-issuing it even when it goes out of print. These are the books for me -- books that have proven themselves to be of enduring value.
All right. Now, to the point.
I picked up a copy of "American Assassin" by Vince Flynn a few days ago. I did so after watching a few James Bond films and listening to a few motion picture themes from the Bond series. This novel has been to the top of the New York Times best seller list for fiction and I have heard it mentioned by a few on television, so my curiosity got the better of me. Just to be real, I thought this book might be fun (even educational ??), and I hoped to discover how a new master at his espionage tradecraft might compare with the old grandmaster.
I will report back on my findings at a later date.
Diamonds never lie to me
Playing the "You Only Live Twice" music here a few days ago started me listening to more compositions from the James Bond films.
Shirley Bassey sang four of the Bond movie themes, more than anyone else, and, probably, the most recognizable ones. So, here are two from Ms. Bassey: "Diamonds are Forever" and "Goldfinger" -- songs and motion pictures by the same names. I assume there are many women in the world who would agree with the lyrics in the "diamonds" piece:
Unlike men, the diamonds linger;
Men are mere mortals who
Are not worth going to your grave for.
I don't need love,
For what good will love do me?
Diamonds never lie to me,
For when love's gone,
They'll lustre on.
Diamonds are forever, forever, forever.
During this listening period, I realized how little I knew about Ms. Bassey, so I took a look at her biography. She is British, Welsh, to be precise and, much to my surprise, she will be seventy-four years old next month.
The videos I have included here were made when she was sixty-three. She is a bit of a "showboat" with her gestures and her voice is not so smooth as it once was, but she sounds great, I think, and it is fun to see how much she is enjoying herself during these performances.
A personal note to close
Well, I signed on for an extra month in this townhouse, which means I am here until the end of January. It was not a difficult decision for a couple of reasons: Who wants to move on New Year's Eve (??) and I really have no immediate plans other than taking care of the family situation that will reach at least into January. In other words, since I am stuck here anyway, why change addresses in the middle of the situation?
In the meanwhile, another seven or eight inches of snow are expected between Friday and Saturday, which absolutely thrills me to pieces. Now, if I lived in the country, I might not mind it so much.