Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Choice and Blood

The family I often prefer is the family of my choice, the people with whom I have shared good times and bad and have become close to. Blood family can often depress and repress. And sometimes, like today, family is irritating and petty.

On Sunday, I wrote about a man who visited our home many times. Mom always said she thought he was a cousin but I called him uncle. He fired my imagination and stirred my tenderest emotions because he had survived the Bataan Death March. He was a POW in Japan until the end of WWII and I still remember the scars on his thumbs by which he had been hung up and tortured. I've met a few veterans over the years, and interviewed many more, and I am always amazed they can find humor in the most horrendous situations. Their humor, I was told once, was a way for them to shield their families from the horrors they knew and lived with every day of their lives, as Uncle Lacy lived with his horrors.

One veteran, a man who had served in the first group of the 101st Airborne gave me a copy of his memoirs. I still remember the humor that runs through the tale of freezing nights in foxholes in the forest and overturned jeeps and dead cattle among the tulip fields in the Netherlands. One part of his story is about how he found a bicycle while on patrol in Holland and pumping hell for leather to get to a local cafe where they were serving steak. I still smile when I think of him pedaling along the canals to get to the cafe for his share of steak past a bloated, bullet-ridden corpse of a cow in a field still smoking from tanks and vehicles that were bombarded with shells and gunfire. Everyone in his squad rode that bike past the same dead cow along the canal to the cafe to get a steak dinner, a luxury after weeks of living on cold beans out of a can.

Then I think about the puking runs during basic when their evil commander told his men there would be no run that afternoon before releasing them for chow, which turned out to be spaghetti and meatballs, a meal they tasted again after their punishing run up that suicide hill. The 101st was the best airborne group in the Army maybe because of the trials and tribulations they endured to be a part of that elite group.

Uncle Lacy wasn't part of the 101st but he was a soldier, an ordinary soldier, who was caught up in an extraordinary series of events, the high point of which was the Bataan Death March. Then, as now, I see him as a hero, just as I see the men and women who serve in all branches of the military who stand in harm's way for each and every American.

That was the point of my post on Sunday, not my relationship to Lacy Prater but my respect and honor for the men and women serving in the military and walking in harm's way. That is what brought out the petty perniciousness in one of my cousins and reminded me why I prefer my chosen family to some of my blood relations. She thought I was trying to steal a little of Lacy Prater's glory by calling him uncle and sharing that with other members of the family, including her son who has served several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. She couldn't have been more wrong. I am not a soldier. Her son, Lacy Prater, and the sons of several friends are soldiers. My father was a soldier and served two tours in Korea, once during the Korean War and the second time during the Pueblo Incident. I know these people or know of them. I honor and respect them. They are heroes. They deserve so much more than I can ever give and more thanks than they will likely ever receive for leaving their families and their homes to serve in the military. My post wasn't about me; it was about them.

I remember Uncle Lacy every year at Veterans Day. I'm sad to say that I don't remember him every day. He deserves more of me and of us all.

Whether the war is popular or not, these men and women have chosen to serve in our stead and many have died. We should remember them every time we exercise our freedoms because they are the reason we still have those freedoms. I honor those veterans and all the veterans who have gone before, even though I wish their sacrifice had not been necessary.

Now and always, thank you, veterans, for walking in harm's way for me and for all of us. As far as I am concerned, you are the family I would choose.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Welcome to Hinckley, Ohio Chapter 3

I went back to work for the temp agencies that week to keep out of Mom and Dad's house (and out of Mom's way) as much as to earn some money while I was there. I didn't like being beholden to anyone, and I liked it even less when I was a one woman audience for Mom's diatribes about paying my fair share, which usually amounted to my fair share and a hefty portion of everyone else's. That's the way it was every time I came back to Columbus and ended up staying with my parents. I didn't mind helping out with cleaning and dishes and cooking. I didn't even mind paying my share of the groceries, but being stripped to the bone so I couldn't put aside enough money to get my own place was too much for anyone, and especially me.

It was the usual tug of war with Mom about getting out and doing things her way while under her roof. I'd rather get out from under her roof as soon as possible just for the silence having my own place afforded, even if the silence was punctuated by the the sound of children -- or in this case, one child, my eldest.

Mom had custody, as she reminded me constantly, but I had the responsibility of paying his way as well as my own. Nothing like having a leash with a choker chain fitted with sharpened spikes on the inside pointing at my jugular.

So I worked.

Caroline wanted to go back to Club 3 again and I had promised to meet Daryl, so I agreed to let her drive this time. I'd leave my car at the Bob Evans at Westland and she'd drive us there -- as long as she promised not to run out on me again.

Deja vu all over again. The stiff was at the bar nursing a draft beer and Daryl brought a couple of friends. One of them was Caroline's date from the previous week. He wouldn't be leaving with her this week; she had her eye on his friend. Caroline did like to diversify.

Everything about Caroline was friendly, even the way her belly kept jiggling like a flying jelly long after she had stopped laughing. In the back of my mind I kept hearing Mom tell me no one would want me if I was fat. Caroline had me beat at least three times and she never had a problem with men. They drooled all over her wherever we were. I just didn't get it, but then I guess it was my problem. It certainly wasn't hers.

Daryl was attentive and danced with me most of the night with the stiff cruising by every ten or fifteen minutes, eyes glued to Daryl's back as if he were wearing a target. When Daryl had to leave early because one of his boys ended up at the ER because of a broken arm, he took my backup ride with him. The way Caroline was acting, I was afraid to go to the restroom. I just knew I'd come back and she'd be gone with the pick of the night and I'd be phoning for a cab and hoping I had enough money to cover the cost.

No more drinks and no more bathroom, I told myself, but my bladder had other ideas. Sure enough, I got to the restroom in just enough time to avoid embarrassing myself and back to the table just in time to see the note Caroline left fluttering to the floor. The stiff picked it up and handed it to me.

"Guess you need a ride home," he said.

"You guess right." I thanked him for giving me the note and walked past him to the bar to ask for the number of a cab. The bartender pointed to the pay phone.

The stiff got in my way. "Excuse me, please," I said, but I was not being polite. It was the first warning before a game of grab, twist, and pull that would end with him clutching his jewels while I walked over his writhing carcass to get to the phone.

"I'd get out of her way," the bartender warned.

"I just want to help," the stiff said.

"Help yourself." The bartender threw up his hands. He knew stupid when he saw it.

Even though it had been a few years since I'd been to Club 3, some memories linger. That particular bartender had seen me down a couple of grabby drunks with more booze in them than sense. He knew enough to stand aside and let stupid take care of himself.

The stiff got in my way again. I hesitated. He was already injured with his arm in a sling and he was obviously too drunk -- or too stupid -- to realize he'd been warned. "Excuse me," I said rather pointedly.

"How about a ride home?"

"I have it covered as soon as I can get to the phone."

He stuck out his left hand. "Nick Sherwood."

A polite drunk. A stupid polite drunk, but okay. "Hi." I shook his left hand. "Nice to meet you. Thanks for the offer, but I'd prefer to pay my own way." And not your way either.

"Maybe I'm going your way."

"Hilliard by way of Westland shopping center."

He checked his watch. "I think the mall is closed."

I took a deep breath and counted to ten. Fixing a smile on my lips without too many teeth showing, I gritted out. "The parking lot is still open. Thank you, but, no, thank you."

"You can pay for the gas if it makes you feel better. I'll even let you ride in the back seat."

"With you up front. Somehow, without a meter running, I won't feel any safer, Nick." My mind supplied dick.

"Can't do much with a dislocated arm."

Would you like your other arm dislocated to match? I took another deep breath and let it out slowly. "Look, I appreciate the offer but I'd prefer to get my own way home."

Nick looked at me long and hard, without the usual roaming glance down to my breasts. "I'd really let you buy my gas. No funny stuff. Just rescuing a damsel in distress."

I couldn't help myself so I laughed. He was persistent and a bit abrasive, but his heart -- what I could see of it -- was in the right place. "I'm no one's damsel and I'm not in distress. Stranded, yes. Distress, no. I can find my own way home."

"Aww, let him give you a ride. He looks harmless," the bartender said.

At another time with me in a different mood, I'd have shot Jake the bartender a pair of laser beams right between the eyes, but the situation was ludicrous enough as it was. I could still call a cab and then call the police if Nick decided to give me any trouble, but he did seem harmless, if a little on the brick shy load of brains side of things. I could handle him if push came to shove. His wounded wing was on my side of the car.

"All right, but straight to Westland and no funny stuff. I'll tell you how to go."

Jake sniggered. "And how fast to get there, too," he muttered just loud enough for me to hear.

Nick didn't even finish his drink, which at the time told me he wasn't there for the booze alone. We walked outside and he tried to help me on with my coat one-handed. I had to give him credit for manners.

His car wasn't a car. It was a truck with a camper on the back. "Where's the back seat?"

Even in the dim sodium vapor light of the parking lot I could see him blush.

"It has a very wide seat."


He unlocked the passenger door first and offered his good arm in case I needed help climbing up to the seat. I didn't. He shut the door and duck-walked to the other side, got in, and started the truck. It fired right up. Points for good maintenance.

The cab was curiously devoid of the usual bachelor debris of fast food wrappers and nearly empty soda cups, the straws brown with a glue of saliva and cola. Except for a couple scraps of paper that looked like receipts, the cab was spotless. The windows were even clean on the inside, and there were no brown spatters that resembled dried blood, and no fading aroma of bleach. The only scents I could detect were faded pine from the pine-shaped air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror and spent sunshine and what seemed like spray starch.

The ride was silent except for my directions. He drove far too slow on the freeway for my taste. It wasn't as if the roads were bumper to bumper cars. There was the usual west side late night traffic and little else, but he kept to about 45 mph the whole way . . . on the freeway . . . with the speed limit posted at 55 and what few cars on the road zipping by at 60 and 65. I'm surprised the cops didn't stop us for going too slowly, but they were busy chasing down speeders drunk on the open stretch of highway under a glittering night sky.

When we got to Bob Evans, he stopped the car and started to get out. "I can let myself out. Thank you for the ride. I appreciate it." I opened my purse and counted out five singles.

"No need to pay me," he said, suddenly shy. "I just wanted to meet you."

I felt suddenly a bit ashamed of myself. All through this, I hadn't offered my name. "Jackie."

"Will you be at the bar next weekend? I'll have my sling off."

I couldn't help laughing. "I doubt it. I usually don't go out."

"You're not meeting your friend again?"

"Probably not. If I do, I'll bring my own car."


He sounded so disappointed. I knew he was interested since he hadn't buzzed anyone else either time I was at Club 3. I really couldn't afford to spend every weekend out. I wanted to spend some time with my son and I needed to work extra hours to save enough money to get a place of my own. Of our own since my son was with me. Provided Mom didn't play her usual game of puppet on a string.

"Maybe for one drink."

He brightened. "I won't keep you out late."

"One drink. Not one night."

"Right. I got it."

He waited while I got into the car, fired it up, and drove away. He followed me out onto Broad Street and up the ramp at 270, but didn't follow me home. He went back toward Grandview and I headed west to the Hilliard exit off 70. He could've taken advantage of the situation, but he didn't. Another point in his favor.

I might even show up next week and have that drink. Who knows? I might have two or see if he could dance. Anything was possible.  Anything at all.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Political Sidestep

One of the most frustrating parts of the past few months of presidential campaigning wasn't the name calling or friendships breaking up, but the constant blame game.

For the past four years, Obama has consistently blamed gridlock, transigent Republicans, and (mostly) President George W. Bush for everything that went wrong during his term of office. The economy was in such a mess because of Bush, in spite of Congress being controlled by Democrats, something that changed quickly after the first few months after Obama's election. Well, that and having forced a stimulus bill through Congress at light speed (D.C. wise) to make sure that Bush took the fall for the numbers since it was still fiscally 2008.

And there was so much more of the Obama Shuffle to go along with his world wide apology tour and snubbing of American allies. I've come to expect that kind of thing with Obama and his team of operatives and even considered not facing them down with facts and figures. I decided not to give in. Someone, even little old me, Cassandra of the 21st Century, needs to stand up and say NO in a frequently very loud voice.

Every time I wrote about the facts of what was going on in the government and in the economy, I was shouted down, called a moron (among other less polite names, like Repugnican or Republican, neither of which I am), and ordered to provide facts and figures that didn't come from Fox News. I guess they didn't read what I wrote because the facts and figures were there in the article or op-ed column, but they didn't sit well with the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds crowd determined to hang onto their one shot at forgiveness for having had relatives or having known people somewhere along the ancestral roots that owned or transported slaves, or did their best to keep the blacks down. Obama was the way they proved to the world they weren't racist because they backed a bi-racial candidate for president and he won. As long as they supported him and continue to support him, even in the face of damning evidence, they would be absolved of their associations.

Let's forget about civil rights and the millions of WASPs that supported and marched with black. Let's forget that Obama said that his campaign platform wasn't about race, even though anyone who opposed Obama or disagreed with him must be a racist. How else could they not see the celestial light of wonder that shone through him as they chanted, "Yes, we can." I still cannot figure out what they can do, but I know what Obama has done and will now finish doing. The writing is on the wall. Cassandra has spoken and is once again ignored. Troy will fall and the burning stench of her fall will darken the sun.

Okay, a little over the top, but I'm making a point here.

I posted side by side facts about the economy when Bush left office and with Obama in office for four years and the responses were vicious from the Obama Choir. "After all," one of them said, "the president has nothing to do with the economy and the cost of living."

Um, what?

Memories of a car in every garage and a chicken in the pot flitted along my synapses. Presidential candidates down through history have promised things will be better (Obama certainly did, "Yes, he did.") and that the economy will bountiful along that rose strew path to prosperity.

Of course, the president has everything to do with the economy and the cost of living. His policies and what he supports and hammers through Congress create and maintain the economy. I guess it was a little too much to expect polite discussion and civil debate from people whose eyes are filled with the light that shines from . . . somewhere out in the world (the White House is too boring for Obama and his family) while he continues his apology tour . . . and the feeling of renewal that came when their sins were washed white as snow by voting for a bi-racial candidate, who identifies himself as black in spite of his very white mother and maternal family. No one should be allowed to take that away. They earned it.

They turned blind eyes from the truth, like America's AAA credit rating falling to AA and the deaths of two Navy SEALS in Benghazi, not to mention the death of the American ambassador, while they hoped that change had come to them and life would get better. Gas would be 30 cents a gallon once again and the American dollar would soar so that travel overseas would once again be affordable, even on a janitor's salary. America would remain the only super power keeping the lands and seas safe from terrorists and the Red Skull (or whoever is the bad guy this year -- I think it's Islamic jihadists) and people could relax and take care of their two cars in the garage, lavish vacations, and even more lavish lifestyles with a new laptop computer and iPhone every 3 months.

So, to my Democrat friends who still believe in Obamessiah and continue to shout with unrelieved fervor, "Yes, we can!" I say, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot damn Republicans or Centrists or Moderates or Conservatives or Independents on the facts and refuse to see the facts when they don't shine with benevolent light on the man you have mortgaged this country for.

Yes, the president is responsible for what happens in the economy as he piles on even more debt and sells government bonds to China and the rest of the world. Yes, Obama is responsible for the cost of bread and milk and gas because every time he grants a government contract to a foreign national company, he takes jobs away from Americans. Yes, Obama is responsible for the growing unemployment, for the hundreds of thousands of people who have stopped looking for work and no longer get unemployment compensation. Even though they no longer figure in the numbers and percentages of Americans out of work, they are still out there and still don't have jobs. Yes, Obama is responsible for the unprecedented increase in Welfare and food stamp recipients, among them military personnel and their families, and, no, their communities are not supposed to support these soldiers and their families; that is the government's job because the government hired them to protect and defend this country and our allies around the world.

I could go on, but I wonder if any of this is getting through.

Bottom line: Facts are facts. Number don't lie, unless you know how to cook the books the way that Slick Willy did during his two terms of office. At least Clinton did one thing, cooked books and all, and that is put out a budget during his 8 years in the White House. Obama failed to put out a single budget in his entire first term, a term he promised would be his last if he didn't fix the economy and repair the damage Bush had done.

Let me be one more to voice reminding Obama he didn't fix the economy and he worsened the damage Bush and his Democrat-controlled Congress did.

No, I will not be silent over the next 4 years. Get used to the idea that this writer does more than write books and humor and slices of life. This writer is also passionate about this country. I am a flag waving, Yankee Doodle Dandy of an American. I always have been. I still stand up when the national anthem is played and I sing out loud and strong with tears streaking my face. I am still stirred by songs like America the Beautiful and my heart beats loudly for "...purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain." I need no one to absolve me for the sins of racism and slavery because I am a result of a melting pot of ancestry that includes Native American, black, and European in a cohesive package that has not forgotten the past but refuses to repeat the mistakes of the past with new mistakes in the present for a future worse than Nostradamus ever predicted.

I am an American and I will hold fast to my freedoms, however they may be eroded. This is one Cassandra the gods will not silence.

I see what you are doing and have done. Say it wasn't you, but I know and soon all will know . . . Yes, you did.