Saturday, July 19, 2008

Digging our way out of a hole.

"To put it plainly, T. Boone Pickens is out to save America,"

-Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club

While I freely admit that I am far from ever being the sharpest knife in any drawer I did have to pause and again wonder about my fellow countrymen and women lately. The “Current Occupant” of the White House saw fit to try and once again bully Congress to give one final gift to his friends in the energy business in the form of allowing oil drilling off American shores. Never mind that in many countries a man holding office with his approval ratings would be sweating at night worried over a possible coup most in the Democratic controlled Congress have never received delivery of their spines and have been more than willing to bend over an squeal like a piggy on a regular basis.

Seeing fit to take advantage of those spongy folks in Congress Bush spoke on television recently about how he had dropped the executive order issued by Daddy Bush barring offshore drilling and began asking the public to put pressure on their congressional leaders to force them to rescind one passed by an earlier Congress. The reasons he gave were what gave me pause to wonder about the old conspiracy theories that said fluoride in drinking water was a commie plot to undermined American will making them placid cattle subject to control.

Our esteemed and respected president citing a CNN report is quoted:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush lifted an executive order banning offshore oil drilling on Monday and urged Congress to follow suit. Citing the high prices Americans are paying at the pump, Bush said from the White House Rose Garden that allowing offshore oil drilling is "one of the most important steps we can take" to reduce that burden. However, the move is largely symbolic as there is also a federal law banning offshore drilling.

"This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil reserves is action from the U.S. Congress," Bush said.

My bewilderment in all this is that it will take years before any of this oil makes it to market. Leases have to be sold, exploration rigs will drill many dead holes before finding any substantial oil, and all sorts of logistical issues have to be settled as rigs and people are put in place. For shits and giggles and to avoid a conflict of interest, I won’t even touch on my environmental concerns. Because when the high paid energy company lackeys in the media swear up and down they can drill without screwing up the oceans and coastal environments I don’t believe them for a minute. However, if drilling did take place demand is growing at an astronomical rate in countries like China and India and our own demand for the black crack is not about to slow down even with the new found popularity in hybrids and SUV’s being sold for close to nickels on the dollar. So if anyone is buying the argument that drilling off American shores will bring back the glory days of 2.50$ gallon of gas I have some used charcoal that I should be able to sell them as diamonds. If they bought into Bush’s con job of solving our energy addiction by drilling for even more oil they will buy into anything.

Once again I have bumped into another guy who has a plan that could end our addiction to oil, help the environment, and allow us to pull down our pants and instead of squealing like a pig for the assorted fruits and nuts of OPEC tell them to kiss our ass. But, as always, it’s just the question of getting the amorphous mass of the Mr. and Mrs. Middleclass to stop whining and do something.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Meeting Mickey Spillane

Author's note: My original version of this story was posted on my previous blog. Before I switched over to this blog I saved everything including the original version of this story to my computer's hard drive which was lost not long later due to my procrastination in burning my old posts to a CD and my son downloading a virus which destroyed everything on the hard drive. Due to my hearing a rebroadcast of the "Fresh Air" interview of Mr. Spillane I felt the need to rewrite the story for no other reason than to acknowledge a good deed that he did for a young scared kid.

One of my favorite programs on National Public Radio is “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. I’m not big on listening too much of what the rich and famous like to whine about on other interview shows. But many times Ms. Gross has been able to open up various subjects and people I could have cared less about and making the topic or people interesting to me. Her interviews dig deeper than the superficial People magazine or Entertainment Tonight pieces that usually have some loony pop diva or whacked out actor expounding on their latest trip to rehab or their new diet of lawn clipping and tequila. Ms. Gross is able to draw out a real person and their beliefs most of the time with the exceptions I’ve heard being Gene Simmons who acted like a prick on her show and Bill O’Rielly who really was one. Then there was the show that they rebroadcast recently were she interviewed Mickey Spillane and I still got the strong feeling that after countless interviews where she handled many an overbearing personality she had a hard time coming to grips with a guy who was to use an old saying from my grandparents time: “common as an old shoe.” Of course I’m bias since I carry the memory of when I encountered the great writer as a young kid with him helping me out in a tough situation down in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

It was the mid-70’s and my parent’s marriage was a roller coaster ride of reconciliation and estrangement. Their marriage never was solid even going back to days before any of my siblings were born. As my siblings arrived both seemed unable to adjust to the added stress with each moving off into their own little worlds unable to come to terms fully with the children they each brought into the world. My father never was an emotional man often given to bouts of moodiness and outright detachment. My mother existed in her own little world full of stories of opportunities for a career she lost due to marriage and children. Where as my father grew detached and more distant over time my mother took refuge in a bottle and ever more elaborate fantasies of what she could have been, all the while increasing the circle of those guilty of holding her back. Given the times we lived and the general stigma that divorce still held in the South instead of ending the misery of their marriage they continued to be drawn together like a suicidal moth to a hot flame.

For some reason I can't even begin to understand my parents tried again to reconcile this time living on the mainland side of Pawleys Island in a trailer park just off the south causeway leading to the island, but it fared no better than their other previous attempts. After months of battles between the two involving all sorts of crimes, both real and imagined, my father arranged the purchase of another trailer and had it setup on the far end of Murrells Inlet off some dirt road. After months of enduring their strange behavior both my siblings and I soon came to appreciate the move and the relative peace that set in as we settled into our new home as the summer began. Like most good things though, it was never meant to last for long.

For those who don’t know Murrells Inlet even today bills itself as the seafood capital of South Carolina. Driving up Highway 17 just north of the Litchfield area unless you see the sign you still stand a good chance of missing the spur off the highway leading into the village. Many times I have written about the almost hidden coastal village of Pawleys Island but Pawleys to a great degree was always a destination more than an actual town. During the 70’s and earlier while there was a population of locals on the island itself it was still a place that drew tourists staying in one of the many rental beach houses and were wealthier types own second homes. The only difference was that the tourists did not come from as far away as they do now and had the consideration to leave once their vacation was over. Murrells Inlet on the other hand was always a working fishing village. But over the centuries it had also offered a haven for pirates, Confederate blockade runners, and during that time the occasional boat full of marijuana and its crew. How I know about the last one I will never tell, at least until I know for sure the statue of limitations has run out. For the first few months of the renewed separation between my parents it also became a haven for my siblings and me. The trailer park offered many things to keep children occupied before the advent of music videos and video games drew them inside for most of the day.

Behind our trailer was a rather large swath of woods that allowed us to run through viewing the occasional wild turkey, numerous possums, and the foot print evidence of a local bobcat that my grandfather identified during a visit. Many days would find my brothers, my sister, and me running through the woods with me carrying the BB gun trying to stalk the phantom bobcat or hunt squirrels so my grandfather could teach us how to clean and dress it to make squirrel purlow like he did as a child during the Depression. Yes, a few of the furry critters gave their life in our efforts. Just a little further down was a L-shaped pond that I’m now sure was artificial but never the less held many nice sized bream and a few small bass that we fished for many times early in the summer mornings. The trailer park we lived in had only recently been cleared and opened up and only a few other trailers had been setup and all were spread out leaving a huge area for playing without having to worry about making too much noise.

My mother’s mentally peaceful period ended upon the start of the school year. It was always difficult to judge when the dark clouds inside my mother would developed. Her alcoholism helped to bring it on but often times it was difficult to tell what was the cause and what was the effect since she could literally wake up one morning after weeks of being human and begin accusing everyone around her of disloyalty, lies, and holding her back for which she would start to drink. The really scary times were when she got this soulless, feral look in her eyes that seemed to suggest any sort of mayhem was possible. You just knew she would go for the belt which would be used to punish us for the most minor infraction. During these periods my grandparents did their best to blunt the worst of her bad times, when they knew about them. My mother had a fantastic acting ability to mask her darker moods from everyone. Being the oldest I did my best to keep track of her actual state of mind but even I was painfully caught short at times after returning home and she discarded her act of normalcy like some cheap Halloween mask.

Mr. Spillane’s appearance and help while brief and minor did much to defuse a glowing rage my mother had late one weekday afternoon. I’ve tried to pin down what drew the great mystery and crime writer to Murrells Inlet and the best I can discern was that he came to the Myrtle Beach area sometime during the 50’s after being invited to some sort of celebration that was being used to draw more tourists down. He somehow stumbled upon Murrells Inlet, which during that time was even more cutoff and secluded than when I lived there, and fell in love with the place, enough that to the best of my knowledge it cost him his marriage at that time. But to this day I’m thankful he did since his timely help may have saved my siblings and me.

Mom’s drinking could either be like a mad flood in which she quickly consumed enough beer and hard liquor to cause her to pass out, which could be a small blessing. At other times it was slow and steady which almost always fed whatever demons that lived inside her. These were the worst times to be around her since reality, even in her sober moments, was an ill defined thing subject to a whole manner of influences but drinking made it far worse. We were all home playing outside when she realized that there was nothing for her to make for breakfast the next morning. My siblings and I were rounded up and loaded into her Chevrolet Caprice that not many months later would carry us all across country as she chased the voices inside her head. Our destination was an old fashioned general store not very far down the road but the last thing I was worried about was my mother wrecking the car while under the influence. She had this almost supernatural ability to drive perfectly while heavily drunk and still gulping down a rum and coke she had mixed up before leaving the house.

We pulled into the parking lot of the general store with her sipping her drink and leaving the car running so she could listen to her music. She handed me a five dollar bill and gave me a list of various items that I was not to deviate from in the least, she assured me a whipping would result if I did. Wanting to get back home and outside away from her I quickly walked into the store and looked for the needed items placing them on the counter as two guys talked nearby. The clerk was a rather tall mustached fellow who owned the store and had always been kind to me whenever I went inside. The second guy sitting on a stool drinking something I don’t remember looked to me like a short fireplug of a fellow equally jovial and lighthearted. Right off the bat they could tell I was nervous asking me if anything was wrong. I was only eleven years old at the time and it was beyond my ability to explain to them that my mom was in a possible dangerous frame of mind due to her drinking. I knew enough that when confronted before she could without hesitation don her mask of civilized behavior and act out abject puzzlement over how anyone could believe she had any sort of problem. I don’t remember my answer but I sure I said everything was alright. Looking back while they might have accepted my answer they knew something terrible was wrong after seeing my reaction to the clerk telling me I did not have near enough money for the items I had brought to the counter. I felt like some cornered animal unable to fight or flee knowing that once my mother found out she would be instantly convinced I had lost the money between the car and the store. Repercussions upon returning home were sure to be swift and brutal. I’m not sure how much time passed between me being told of the lack of enough money and the gentleman on the stool coming up and looking into my eyes worried that I was hiding something but I remember him putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me it was going to be alright as he pulled out his wallet paying for the groceries and giving me a couple of dollars more along with returning the five dollar bill I walked in with. The clerk then asked me if I knew who the guy was that they knew had delivered me from some sort evil and I said no. The clerk then went on to tell me that my benefactor was none other than the famous writer Mickey Spillane. I, of course, had no idea who he was at that time but to this day I know he saved me from my mother’s rage that night.

I returned to the car carrying the bag full of groceries and sure enough my mother asked what had taken me so long. I told her that I did the best I could while giving her the couple of dollars Mr. Spillane had handed me. Like a petulant child the return of more change than she expected sent her clouded mind off onto another, calmer direction, I kept the five dollar bill hidden for weeks only breaking it out while staying with my grandparents one weekend. As we drove off I saw that the man identified to me as Mickey Spillane had walked out the store and had been observing the interaction I had with my mother. I could tell that it was more than a casual observation and that he was genuinely concerned over my fearful behavior. While I never saw Mr. Spillane again I was always touched by his simple gesture and concern. He will always be a king among men to me.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Parrothead Review: WALL-E

For more time than I am willing to admit I’ve been trying to write something at least half way deserving of Disney/Pixar’s new film “WALL-E”. I’ve simply been unable to express in words how much of a home run the masters at Pixar have achieved yet again on several different levels. For me their high mark was “Finding Nemo” for both the story and how well the colors exploded on the screen as Marlin began his epic journey to find his son. While this movie was very different from all their others I have to say that it still held my daughter’s attention the entire time while offering some very adult ideas for grownups to mull over.

The opening scenes depart greatly from the bright living colors Pixar has done in its other movies. Dusty beige and browns dominate a dead world showing skyscrapers being overshadowed my huge towers of compacted trash. Flying over the long dead city we see huge signs everywhere for “Buy-N-Large” something that might be described as the mutant corporate offspring of a mating between Halliburton and Wal-Mart. From the visuals we learn “Buy-N-Large” dominated retail sales, banking, public transit, and just about every aspect of life before Earth was abandoned. At ground level we are shown mounds of un-compacted refuse and moving amongst the detritus we find Walle doing the job he was programmed to do seven-hundred years earlier. Walle is the last of his kind whose job it was to collect, compact, and organize the trash for some sort of global clean-up that the president of Buy-N-Large assured would take only five years as the planet was evacuated . During that time away from the planet people would enjoy having their every whim met by an armada of service robots aboard huge luxury starships. I will have to be forgiven but given the nature of Buy-N-Large apparent total global corporate takeover I had to wonder what happened to the poorer customers on the dying planet that may not have been able to afford a berth on the interstellar versions of the Love Boat.

Whatever the final disposition of humanity or the project Walle and his defunct kin were tasked with he goes about his daily chores but after many centuries the little robot has developed a curiosity about the discarded items he finds. Things like a cigarette lighter, common light bulb, and bubble wrap arouse his curiosity but his most treasured procession is a betamax copy of “Hello Dolly” that he watches at the end of his work day as he takes refuge in some sort of broken down transport. From this we also learn the little robot is not just curious but we are given numerous hints he has long since exceeded his programming and become a little lonely.

Things get interesting with the arrival of a spaceship that deposits a gleaming white robot that goes about scanning everything around it searching for something. The new robot is Eve and right from the start Walle is smitten over the new robotic stranger. At first Eve doesn’t even know Walle exists and comes close to blasting him to atoms a couple of times but after some close calls the two finally get to know each other. Walle eventually takes her to his place to show off his collection of humanity’s trash and to make some simple and innocent robotic moves on Eve. Eve is fairly unimpressed with Walle’s stuff until he shows her a simple living green weed that he had found while working and had transplanted to an old shoe. Eve quickly takes the plant, stores it inside her and shuts down. Walle is worried and heart broken but stands guard over her until to his surprise she is picked up by the same ship that dropped her off taking her off the planet. Like any guy in love Walle refuses to simply let her go and hitches a ride on the ship that takes her carrying him off as well.

I won’t go any deeper into the story, but I will say that to a great extent the situation and visuals do depart from the usual kid’s movie. I referred earlier to how Pixar scored a homerun with this movie because if you step back and look at the entire forest instead of just the simple trees this movie is a strong statement against mega-corporations that answer to no one, sickening American hyper-consumerism, and the destruction of the environment. For me, one of the funniest and strongest images had to do with Walle hanging onto the spaceship carrying Eve and passing real close to one of the Apollo landing sites. As the ship and Walle continues out we are shown a Buy-N-Large corporation sign proclaiming the impending construction of an outlet mall on the moon. Here in South Carolina as unregulated developed has destroyed much of what people came down south to enjoy in the way of nature and culture, after the golf course and gated communities outlet malls symbolize for me the worst aspects of the tourist industry and population growth.

Humans do make an appearance in this movie and right from the start I was intensely curious about Pixar actually having a real man and woman appear in film along with Fred Willard who makes a cameo as the global CEO of Buy-N-Large. As the movie progresses I learn why they went to the extreme to show real people. After seven-hundred years aboard luxury starships the descendants of those who fled Earth having their every whim met bear a far stronger resemblance to Jabba the Hut than the unnamed slim and attractive couple that Fred Willard’s character showed boarding the starship during the evacuation. Taking the couch potato syndrome to the bizarre people now move only by floating on some sort of ant-gravity easy chair never taking their eyes off a holographic screen floating in front of them. Legs are little more than numbs never used and the only use for arms is to reach for some super-sized drink that a tiny robot butler supplies a person as the last drink has been finished. At one point we are introduced to the human captain of the starship Walle ends up on while trying to stay with Eve. As the captain goes about his duties on the bridge we see behind him the seven-hundred year “evolution” of humans as the pictures of former captains’ show each one becoming just a little more rounder as the centuries progressed much in the same way a famous painting show humanity evolving from ape to Homo sapien. Lending much to the argument of me forcibly ending my son’s renewed interest in his Nintendo Wii and making him run a mile or two every couple of days.

Simply put this is a great movie. Some will completely miss all the images I write about and their greater meaning only seeing the entertainment value of a cute robot. Others will find this movie too preachy and maybe even some sort of liberal propaganda given that it dares to criticize in a cartoon manner the lifestyles and wasteful nature of many. Yes, I personally saw the greater meaning in the movie and I agreed with it completely. Decades ago when the world’s population was much smaller and poorer America committed the sin of blithely ignoring the waste and pollution it created and its affects on the rest of the world. Earth was a big place and the idea that little humans could make a harmful mark on it carried an air of arrogance they felt. Now we are approaching seven billion people on the planet with only fools and liars claiming that our actions and lifestyles are too small to affect the world we share. The difference this time it’s not just lazy Americans, the rest of the world after centuries of oppression and poverty wants what we have and quite simply the planet ain’t got it in her. Natural resources are running thin, despite some honest efforts pollution is getting worse, the oceans are threaten due to over fishing, and the entire planet is warming due to CO2 emissions. Several times half jokingly I’ve written how I believe humans are not an intelligent species. We seem unable to move beyond the basic survival program that millions of years have hardwired in our brains. At some point the species as a whole will have to acknowledge the fact that we cannot go on like we are currently. Adjustments and sacrifices will have to be made for the sake of everything will hold dear beyond the realm of material processions. With us Americans having to pull our collective asses from our butts and come to terms with what we have done for the sake of cheap CD’s and fast food. The humans in WALL-E had the chance to board spaceships and cruise among the stars to avoid the worst aspects of what they wrought. Here in the real world we will not have the same advantage and our own time is running out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Labor and Delivery soap opera

A whole host of alligators have crawled out of the swamps these last couple of days making for some very tiresome days at both work and home. So, I’ve been in something of a mental and physical funk that I’ve had a devil of a time shaking off. After some really hectic days at work that just never seemed would end I’ve sat down at home several times over the last week to try and write something only to have another crisis erupt pulling me away from my place and leaving too tired, frustrated, or both to write anything coherent. However, today at work a strange, maybe bizarre circumstance developed that was at least for me was very memorable.

Comedians of many different stripes have used the gimmick of a very upset and pregnant woman bringing down verbal hellfire and brimstone on her poor husband as she pushes something the size of a small watermelon through a much, much smaller opening. The hypothetical husband usually has to just smile and be supportive of his suffering wife no matter what insults or family secrets his wife exposes to those around them in the delivery room. It’s just that hospital security usually doesn’t have to make an appearance.

I normally work on sterilizers, surgical tables and lights along with pinch hitting on other equipment. So today when I was asked to help one of my co-workers repair one of the high-tech hospital beds that almost does everything including allowing the patient to manage their stock portfolio I was glad to help. My co-worker Robert and I entered the delivery room early this morning with the expectant mom in the malfunctioning bed, the expectant dad sitting next to her, and his mom and dad sitting on the couch in the room. All concerned at that moment were happy smiles waiting for the baby who according to the doctors was rushing to greet the world. It was still the very early stages of the birth and the bed the mom was laying decided not to obey any commands from the hand controller. At some point the bed was going to have to be raised and stirrups installed so the mom and baby could be more easily managed so the bed had to be working correctly. The nifty thing about the bed was that it was so high-tech that a little LCD screen at the foot was actually telling us what was wrong so even a monkey could repair the thing. Robert and I chatted with the family as he and I removed a few panels, fished around for the proper connector, then reconnected it to the proper circuit board and tested the bed. I found then basically country folks since the biggest topic of discussion involved the approaching deer hunting season and how the expectant dad and grandfather would still be in the deer stand that first day even with a new baby back home. The soon-to-be grandmother was all grins through this segment of the conversation but I did notice a sour look on the new mom laying in the bed. After the bed was fixed Robert and I retreated out of the room and went our separate ways.

Several hours later in the day I returned to the Labor and Delivery department to perform some preventive maintenance checks on the surgical lights in the room right next to the one Robert and I had repaired the bed in. The intervening hours had brought a huge difference in the family situation that had existed that morning. At first I noticed that several other family members had arrived waiting in the small waiting room nearby. When I entered the room next door to do my checks I could hear the screams of the expectant mother and figured she must have either forgone the epidural or had the misfortune to have it wear off too soon. She was calling the expectant dad every name in the book along with declaring that he would never ever touch her again. I admit that I cringed when I heard her tell what had to be the doctor and nurse in the room that her husband’s penis was so small that she didn’t even have a good time getting pregnant in the first place. After a few minutes the expectant mom became quiet and I figured she was between contractions but I continued to hear voices although I was generally unable to make out what was being said. I hurried as quickly as possible to finish what I needed to do knowing that when the next wave struck the expectant mom was sure to fare up as well.

Just as I was collecting my stuff I could hear the next wave of contractions begin as the mom began to scream. The expectant mom once again started tearing into her husband and while I left the room and entered the hallway I was prevented from leaving by another nurse who stopped me and wanted to wait at the nurse’s station as she went to retrieve a part she wanted me to order for her. The nurse’s station was just a few feet away from both the room I was in and the room with the highly upset mom so I was still getting an earful of what was going on.
The other members of the family including what I would soon learn were the expectant dad’s brother and sister-in-law and the expectant mom’s father were in the small waiting area along with the expectant dad’s parents who had never left. As I waited at the nurse’s station trying to ignore all the commotion along with the other nurses who seemed more amused over what was going on the sister-in-law jumped up saying she would stick her head in the room to try and help. She had not gone two feet in the room when the laboring mom exploded asking who the hell asked her to come inside. I heard the sister-in-law say something to the effect that she just wanted to see if she could relieve the abused dad. While I will not swear what I heard next was an exact quote, it’s damn close.

“Help me?” the laboring mom screamed. “Your son of a bitch husband may actually be the one who put me in this position.”

It was then that all the nurses at the station jumped up as one and rushed for the waiting area and the delivery room. One had the presence of mind to yell further down the hall for a nearby security officer as I made a hasty retreat out of the area. I noticed the commotion increased in volume enough for me to hear small bits as the big automatic doors of the department closed behind me. Personally I had heard enough of that soap opera.