Sunday, February 28, 2010

I AM A PRODUCT OF THE 60'S

I am a product of the 60’s … the draft-dodging, dope-smoking, free sex, flower power 60’s. Unfortunately, I did not participate. Sorry you misunderstood. I am a product of the 60’s … I turned 60 in August. I am official. I am on the downhill slide. It is no longer just a theory.

Age has a way of sneaking up on you. I did my part. I denied it at all costs. I continued to listen to Joplin and Dylan. I went to Brightside to get more tie dyes. I never forgave Mississippi and Alabama for their part in the Civil Rights record. I still have not come to grips with Viet Nam, must less Iraq.

I did my part. I tried to prove that time stands still. I tried hang gliding. But the clock kept ticking. I rode in a plane with no motor. But the clock kept ticking. I jumped from a height of 150 feet with a rubberband tied to my ankles. Tick tock. I rafted the rivers. Tick tock. I jumped out of a plane. Tick tock. I rode a rope down the side of a mountain. Tick tock. I rode a steel cable through the canopies. But the clock kept ticking. At each event, there were little clues. But I denied them all.

I think I knew it was time when the strength went. My strength was always important to me. I went to sleep one night a Hercules and awoke the next morning chained between two pillars and sporting a butch haircut.

I pick shorter mountains these days, or drive to the top and hike down. My hiking pack has backup glasses … a knee brace … an ankle brace … and a huge bag of Advil. Anne wants me to hike with a cell phone and is about to die to get me a GPS. I try to say “uh” every 15 minutes or so just in case someone has spoken to me. Medically, I have had everything fixed, am well into the replacement stage, and am knocking on the door of “learn to live with it”. I hurt when I go to bed and I hurt when I get up. I don’t want to be the boss at work anymore … I just want to be bossy. Anne says I get my clothes at Wal-Mart and wants me to get a new suit. I say, “Why, I plan to be cremated?” I have made more plans to die that I ever made to live. I still want to see the world, but I need new glasses.

I am a product of the 60’s alright. Don’t tell me. I wrote the book on the downhill slide.

DREAM: CIRCUS WAGONS

I had a dream. I always wonder what brings a dream on. Whatever.

Anne and I were at home and at the same time inside a matrix of one-ways streets. I knew the way out, but at the same time, I didn’t. Robyn Robbins from high school was there. We really did not know him at all other than to speak. For some unknown reason, circus wagons were coming to get me and I was never fully sure who was on the wagons or why. I told them which streets to take, but over and over, they took the wrong streets. That meant that they came out the wrong exit, which put them in the living room. When they showed up in the living room, it necessitated that I fight with them to make them go away. Anne and Robyn sat on the couch and watched.

The circus wagons seemed to be generated by a series of emails that I sent to Keri, one of which I signed as Susan. A final wagon was on its way and I realized it was taking the wrong turn. It glowed as it approached the end of the street. I found the misdirection very unsettling.

When I woke up, Anne was saying, “What’s chasing you? You are making funny, panting noises in your sleep.” I realized the dream that I was having had been a fearful one. When I closed my eyes I started right back to it. I asked Anne to snuggle up with me so I would not return to the dream. She said she would, but then I realized she had already gone right back to sleep. I will never forgive her. For the next hour, I struggled to maintain sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, there were little car-like objects zipping around trying to get inside the matrix but never doing so.

I have to snow blow tomorrow. I need my rest. At least in the Charlton Heston dream I was not groaning and trying to get away. As for Anne’s abandonment, I will speak with her later.

Friday, February 26, 2010

FACING YOUR FEARS






Do not be afraid! Before you read further, reread the title of this blog. I did not say irrational fears. I am a reasonably intelligent person. This is not about psychological mumbo-jumbo ... like being afraid to fly, or to go out of your house, or to step on a crack. This is not about some figment of the imagination, or misfiring of the synapses. This is about real fear. Fear as experienced and reinforced over time in menacing situations by a rational being … me.

For starters. Let’s take a look at the beasts in question.

What nut came up with the idea that mice are cute? Mice are nasty little creations that nibble the food supplies you keep on your desk and leave you a trail of chocolate sprinkles for your trouble. They don’t run … they scurry, which is unnerving to begin with. They have teeth! Big ones. When you are trying to sleep in a Vermont camp, they run around wildly once the lights are off and make just enough noise to get your attention. They run over top of you in the bed! Did you know that mice have friends in high places in the government. That there are allowable limits of mice poop that are considered acceptable in grain storage silos … government standards. Have you ever known horses to cut a deal like that? You can’t trust a mouse... or a politician ... they breed in the sames nests. They are constantly trying to get you. The mice that is. That is why you always hear them sneaking up behind you ...just out of sight! Mickey Mouse is a guy dressed up in a mouse suit. A real mouse the size of Mickey Mouse would kill you right off and probably eat your face.


Picture Source: chefranden

As for cows. They may be genetically linked to mice. They are equally vicious. They throw you off guard with those big, brown cow eyes … like a Venus fly trap. When they saunter up to you ... slowly … with their heads tilted back ... craning their necks. That’s so you won’t see the horns. You are so busy trying to prevent that wet, discusting nose from touching you … you are easy pickings. They are udderly, udderly horrifying creatures! They charge you (at a trot and never a run) with those udders swaying. If they ever got you down, I guarantee you they would use those udders to smother you. Sweet ole Bossie, my foot! Oh, I’ve been chased alright … I’ve been targeted by the herd. When they come at you through the high grass at night, the swaying udders make this swishing sound. I don’t want to talk about it.

I must have been watching too much Dr. Phil. For some crazy reason, I got in my head that I needed to “face my fears”. My RATIONAL fears. This has happened twice in my life. I tried to convince myself that I really should not be afraid of cows. I was the Principal in Chester at the time. The community was doing some sort of festival at the school and wanted the Principal to be the official judge of the Cow Plop Fundraiser. I was never so proud as the day the Board approached me about it and of course, I said yes. Yes to being the judge. Yes to dressing up like farmer Brown. Yes to the picture in the paper of me (in straw hat ) and the committee standing beside the cow … she looked like she could defecate with the best of them and I looked like a scene from Halloween IV. Yes to standing inside a poorly fenced area with two crazed cows, high on green corn, and looking for an opportunity to take me down. Day one came and went without incident. I craftily kept my distance. I measured the piles of poop (six inches diameter to be legal) and was careful never to turn my back.

On day two, it was slightly windy. The fence was nothing more that some plastic snow fence that moved with the breeze. The second the cows saw it move they realized that escape was an option. Cow one leaped the fence and took off down the main street of Chester with four parents in hot pursuit. I heard bellowing mingled with screams and turned around to see cow 2 spinning in a wild circle with an 8 year old girl dragging alongside at the end of the ten foot halter rope.

I rammed my hand and arm down my throat, carefully cupped my fears, ever-so-softly laid them aside for the moment, and scooped myself an overflowing handful of intestinal fortitude. I ran to the rope and grabbed it from the young girl. Cow and I spun in a circle as I climbed the rope and repositioned myself head-to-head with the Minotaur. I have seen my share of cowboy movies. I have hung around the rodeo in my youth. I applied by best bulldoggers’ headlock. I stuck my fingers in its nose and simulated a bull nose-ring. I crammed its ear in my mouth and chomped down. … and the beast was stayed! Mental note to self … wipe the snot off my fingers… rinse my mouth … read the fine print in Principal contract. Mental note … Never, never, never face your fears.

Time has a way of healing. It is called “I forgot”. I was walking down the hall past the nurses’ office and heard a commotion. I am the school secretary, the go to person for problems. There was a mouse. I sensed the fear … mine mingled with that of others. Imagine the effect of a loose mouse in a school full of middle schoolers. Could I help? They had the mouse trapped in the trashcan. I have my own solution, but this is Vermont. “Please don’t hurt it!”

For some crazy reason, I got in my head that I needed to “face my fears”. My RATIONAL fears. I didn’t want to pick up the trashcan. Mice can jump … easily the height of my throat. I would be calm. I would be in control. I reached down and picked up the mouse in my cupped hands and walked out. Five steps later, it was chewing a hole through my hand to escape. I was calm. I was in control. I stopped to whisper to the assistant principal, “I have a mouse in my hands; it is biting me; I am terrified!” I continued to the outside door and freed the mouse. I resisted my baser instincts for revenge and closure. Mental note … Never, never, never face your fears.

I consider myself an intelligent person. I know the difference between rational and irrational. I did not think that I would make the same mistake twice. But, I did. I am a relatively intelligent person. I never make the same mistake three times.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MOONSHINE


What’s with the South’s fascination with moonshine? Me too, I guess! I have had a little experience with it. Been known to keep a jar tucked back.

Got introduced years ago when I was in the National Guard. Our sister company from Franklin County , Virginia had a reputation for its production. When we went to summer camp, we loaded up with cases and cases of beer. The Franklin County boys came with moonshine. They filled their canteens with it and drank it all day. They kept jars of it under their bunks and I have watched them wake up at 5:00 AM, reach under the bed and take a big gulp to start the day … and their feet had not hit the floor yet.

One year, they brought 40 gallons to camp on the back of a deuce and a half and let it scorch in the sun. Drank it anyway and went back for more over mid weekend. I’ve watched chugging contest … carried losers to their beds over my shoulder and watched them grazing on hands and knees at 5:30 AM the next morning. Don’t know what they put in moonshine … some secret ingredient I suppose. Whatever it is, liquid courage could be, sure makes them want to fight … at the drop of a hat so they say. However, they will hit you before the hat hits the ground. It also seems to make them want to fly. Seen more that a few jumping off of second story barracks balconies. Lucky me. I never succumbed to the sirens call. That stuff kinda scares me.

Moonshine. Let’s take a look. Moonshine truisms.

It has no real taste. We swear that it is “So smooth - not hot at all” and that it tastes great. Do we say that when we drink grain alcohol? I’ll go on record as saying it does not taste good and yes it is hot.

We can’t wait to drink it out of a quart jar. “Welcome, can I get you a mason jar of Jack Daniels”? “Could you hand me the martini glass? I want have a moonshine before dinner”.

It is so nothing in taste that we fill the jar with rotting fruit. The result is a sickening sweet, somewhat thick beverage. Have you ever looked in the bottom of a jar of white lightning that they have sweetened with peaches? Floaters! Let me tell you it is a disgusting sight. It’s like beverage’s answer to snuff.

We stand in a circle and pass a jar of it around and say things like, ”Bubble it”. Did you check out the lower lip of the guy drinking just before you? Did you ask everyone in the circle where their mouths had been prior to this sharing binge?

Drinking moonshine to any extent other than a taste is just asking to get lit up and fall off the porch.

We sneak around to get it. You have to search for it. You got to know someone! That someone isn’t who you would think. It is not some back-woods, flannel -shirted, bib-overalled hillbilly. I dare say you can find a source for moonshine more easily on the golf course than in the poolroom.

It ain’t taxed, but it sure ain’t cheap.


That said … it is special! It is a mystery of the South. Maybe it’s magic. We hoard it, hide it and save it for special occasions. Maybe it is just the novelty of it! I keep mine hidden in the back of the liquor cabinet beside the eye-of-newt and the unicorn sweat.

Maybe I will change my blog to struckbywhitelightning! Next time you’re over, maybe we’ll take a taste. Do a couple a shooters. Float an oyster in one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Check out my other blog

I created a new blog to write about my art pieces. You can go to it at this address: www.wideopeninreverse.blogspot.com

Below is the opening blog for the site. Hope this gives you an idea of what it might be like
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Welcome

My art pieces generally have names. I give them the names … so maybe they are just aliases … aka. This blog tells the stories behind my art. In reality, I cannot actually describe my art to you. Have you read Einstein’s Dreams? It is about multiple realities or multiple interpretations of his theory of relativity. I believe the author has a point. I cannot describe my art to you. I can only describe my interpretation of the art. My reality. What you see when you view the piece may not be the same I don’t mean that you see it differently. I mean it might not be the same. If you adopt it, you may give it your family name.

The process of creating art is always complex though, at times, it may not appear so. The process is composed of a multitude of both complementary and oppositional aspects. Like content … materials … intent … innuendo. Every aspect has purpose and every step along the way has a reality of its own. The process is filled with something else. It is filled with what is not there. Like I said; it’s complex. When it all comes together, it has meaning. That meaning, taken with the physical, gives the piece a sense of wholeness. Circles. Circles of life. They show up in everything I do.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

THE LEGACY OF BOO RADLEY


Trees get hollow for a reason. Caves are formed for a reason. It is no accident of nature. It is purposeful and planned. It is in the grand design. They exist to be filled. You need to understand that we all share in this responsibility. You may think, “Not me”, but there is a little Arthur Radley in each of us. It is okay. It can be our little secret.

I don’t remember exactly when I started doing it, and at the time I don’t think I knew why. I was doing a fair amount of hiking at and was forever finding interesting hollow trees and small caves in the rock pilings around the hiking trails. I realized that I was drawn to these objects. Impulsively, better yet, compulsively. I felt the need to look inside. This worked well for the eye level hollows, but I regret to tell you that I have made a few hazardous climbs due to this compulsion. The caves are even worse! You have to crawl in. The spider, skunk, snake syndrome also tends to ratchet the act up on the higher, more significant event scale. No doubt, others must feel the same way! I already know what you are thinking. Carl Jung, right? Projection, according to Carl Jung, occurs when a person sees in another qualities they themselves possess. This is not the same. Jung is talking about people with psychological problems. I, on the other hand, am talking about people who seem to feel the same way as I do about a subject.


Remember the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when Jim finds the carved figure that Boo had left in the knothole of the tree? … and later, when he shared the secret with Scout?

I started keeping an eye open for odd or unusual things at the flea market that I could use. Small figures, masks, trinkets, etc. were perfect. I always tried to have something in my backpack to leave. More recently, I have gotten castoff sculptures (mostly demons) from the high school art classes. I got a few discarded crosses from a funeral home that closed that seemed the perfect fit for a couple of caves I discovered. Angels are good as well … you can’t beat an angel for a hollow tree. It balances out the demons.

Remember when you were a kid and played in the creek? Remember the fun you had finding things under every stone you overturned … maybe an insect … maybe a snake … whatever? I think about such things when I leave one of my treasures in a hollow or cave. I think about how the finder might react or what they might think when they find it. I think about what if it is never found and if it becomes one with the tree or the land. I think about what they would say if they knew I put it there. I cower behind the door with Boo Radley.

Filling those caves and hollows may be destiny … it may a flaw in my psyche … or it may just be my way of revisiting a simpler time when discoveries, no matter how small, awed us and explanations were never necessary.

DREAM: CHARLTON HESTON

I had a dream. I think it might have been important. It woke me up at 3:00 AM and kept me up off and on until about 4:00 AM. I was at a huge ranch, but I don’t know where. It was Charlton Heston’s. He had a gun, an automatic pistol. I got the gun from him. The pistol was real, but it was loaded with blanks. He was scaring people with the gun with blanks. The scaring was a fake … it was not real. I examined the blanks. They were not real. They were made of clay. The gun was real, but the ammo was not real. Charlton Heston disappeared.

In the dream, it all started to come apart. A series of people came to me to plead for me not to tell. I said, “No”, and they ran away.

I tried to understand it all. Charlton Heston was real … a real actor. But, he was not real. Charlton Heston is really John Charles Carter. My nephew, Smokey, has a signed picture that he got from Charlton Heston at a pharmaceutical convention. The picture is real. It is Charlton Heston. The signature is not real; it is John Carter.

Soupy Sales showed up at Charlton Heston’s ranch in the dream. Soupy Sales is not real. White Fang and Black Tooth were with him. They were real … real because they were real puppets. He was not real. He was Milton Supman.

At 4:00 AM, I thought about Charlton Heston and the red states connection. He is not real. That makes the red states pink.

In the dream, there was no car rental for people with the name "Marshall" to leave the ranch.

I will not tell the NRA about this.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TEMPTING FATE: ZIPLINE


Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

First, let me get this off my chest. I lied. I was over the weight limit. And I lied. I wasn’t thinking rationally. It was the ride from Quito. The trauma of it. Two hours on winding roads … west of the double yellows. I was numb and irrational.

We were at a local farm in the cloud forest area north of Quito, Ecuador. The setting was gorgeous and we were there to do a zipline adventure through the canopy. Then the weight question, and I was overcome by panic. It all started to crumble on the first of the six zip lines. I practically ran over the guide on the platform … too fast … too much weight. I called myself helping out on the next line. It was a long one that took me over a deep gorge, with my speed carrying me up to the platform at the end. I was flying! I reached up and laid my gloved hand on the cable a couple of times to slow me down. I was determined not to repeat the embarrassment of the first line. I did not want to kill the guide waiting for me. Suddenly, she was frantically waving me on. I was slowing down too fast. Ten yards to the platform. But I stopped!

I remembered the emergency drill. I flipped over, dangling upside down under the cable and grabbed the cable hand-over-hand. I was sliding backward rapidly and by the time I was able to stop my slide, I was 40 yards from the platform. In our training hadn’t they said this would never happen? I’m not the only liar. Back at the starting platform, the other guide was delivering the bad news to Anne. That I had not reached the end … that I was in trouble … that I was screwed! That is what liars get.

The platform was forty yards away … uphill. We were at 14,000 feet; the air was thin, making breathing difficult. It was hand-over-hand or nothing. I made twenty yards in the first burst of effort, but the cable got steeper. My strength was gone. Already, I was exhausted. I was pulling dead weight uphill … over the weight limit dead weight. Three pulls at max and I had to rest. I was gasping for air. I would inhale and fill my lungs, but I still felt like I was smothering. Is this what emphysema is like? Years later it seemed, I made the platform.


I sit on the platform waiting for Anne to finish her run. I am spent. It will be the next day before I am recouped. I finish the day in a semi-daze. You can bet that I did not brake again on any of the other four runs. I have time to think while I try to breathe. I make resolutions … for next New Year’s. I will lose weight … I will not lie … and most of all, I will never sign another “if anything happens, we are not responsible” form again.

TEMPTING FATE: RAPPELLING




Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

Rappelling was destiny for me. Once I had tasted the near-cousin of rappelling, swinging out of the top of a tree on a rope, I knew that I would not rest until I fulfilled my rappelling dream. Actually, I rested for quite a few years, but I am getting ahead of myself. I’ll explain.

For a brief period, I worked with a tree-trimming outfit while I was waiting for active duty with the Guard. I was a groundman … that is, my feet stayed on the ground where it was relatively safe. The regular crew, fortified by their morning guzzle of Jack Daniels from beneath the truck seat, were designated to roam the lofty branches with their chain saws howling. We were clearing a section of right-of-way and needed to take down about six huge oak trees. To accomplish this, someone needed to climb to the top of each tree in order to tie in a pull rope so we could guide the tree down. I said "climb" because our outfit was not equipped with any of those sissy cranes used by more reputable companies in similar situations.

Lucky for us, I was there. Amazingly, our treemen had, unbeknownst to me, been injured. One had twisted an ankle, and the other had pulled a muscle in his back. More incredibly, our foreman had experienced accelerated-aging syndrome and had actually gotten too old to climb since arriving that morning. Regardless of their personal hardships, my workmates somehow still managed to smile. I slipped by college degree in my back pocket (no need to rub it in their faces) and headed for the first oak. “Watch out for those dead limbs.” They had my back!

Climbing to the top of a massive oak was a bit more challenging than you might think. I saw the fear etched on their faces, but later realized it was just a reflection. At the top, my instructions were simple. Tie the pull rope to a sturdy branch. Fashion a rope seat around your butt and a slip knot around the rope. Sit down, push off as hard as you can, and control the wild descent down the rope and through the branches by gripping with your gloved hand. I not only survived … I actually had a great time. When you are 21, you don’t realize that you are about to die.

Thirty or so years later, Louis (if that is who he really is) and I were heading out in the morning fog from the B&B in Moncton, New Brunswick, for Cape Enrage on the cliffs surrounding the Bay of Fundy. Our destination was a 150-foot cliff, off of which we would experience our rappelling adventure. Our instructors were two young guys and, I must admit, were a bit more laid-back than I had expected. The instructional period consisted of a full minute of one guy hooked in a harness and saying “It’s easy”. At the start platform, we looked over the edge, 150 feet straight down to the Bay of Fundy, and thought that in reality, there might be more to it. Like how to get the nerve to lean backwards off the cliff and into our harnesses.

In unison, Lou and I demonstrated the baby steps technique revealed to us in "What About Bob", shoving ourselves from the cliff in massive one inch leaps. In no time, however, we figured it out and were springing down the side of the cliff five and ten yards at a pop. It was easy! And incredibly fun! What wasn’t so much fun was the climb back to the top. It only took a couple of those to start turning the legs to jelly. The instructors told us that usually customers got in five or six descents in the half-day time frame. Lou and I were literally running back up the slope to go again, and we managed to get in fifteen.

All in all, we had had a great day. We had once more challenged our manhood and survive. We would, until the next time, continue to baffle our spouses as to why. Best of all, we had secured bragging rights that should last for quite some time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

TEMPTING FATE: SKYDIVE



Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

I know this is childish, but I do not like to be told “No”. This is especially true when it is very clear to me that there is no legitimate reason for my being denied. Believe me, I am a very good judge of when I should get my way. Take for example, the case of the tandem skydive. I reallyyyyyy reallyyyyyy wanted to do the dive and contacted the company for more information. I received a letter from them indicating that there was a 235 pound weight limit. Follow me on this! They throw tanks out of planes on parachutes …. space capsules float to the sea … but I am too fat. I realized at once that they just did not like me and they were using their power to ruin my life.

I do not like to be told “No”. I went on a diet the same day. Four months and 60 pounds later, I booked a tandem skydivewith the same company.

Sometimes companies in Vermont do things a little differently than in other places. “Surreal” may be too strong of a word, but I will let you be the judge. We map quested our way to Charlotte, Vermont, an event similar to the trip up river in Apocalypse Now. Winding our way down a deserted dirt road, we passed the miniature donkey farm and approached a beat-up, old trailer with numerous dents in the side. It appeared that several large objects had struck the trailer from above. Inside the trailer, we signed off on the usual paperwork. Funny though, the guy with the forms was wearing a heavy hunting coat with long sleeves … even though the temperature was in the 80’s. Think I’d like to check those arms for marks! We were directed outside where I would meet my instructor … the guy that would be strapped to my back.

We were headed out the back door when….”quack, quack, quack”. All of us were startled, but that instantly gave way to head-scratching when we looked down to see a legless duck lying at our feet. We learned that the duck was born with no legs. However, we were told that it had been raised as pet and enjoyed lying in a pool of shallow water when it was being fed. The thought that occurred to me was “ if it looks like a duck , quacks like a duck …”. Then I wondered about the duck.

Fortunately my co-jumper arrived with a big bag of reality. “You’re a big one, ain’t ya mate?” He was about 5’4” and 140 pounds, Soon, I would have a first hand demonstration of what it means to have a monkey on your back. Me mate gave me the lowdown on the safety stuff and trussed me up for the jump. We headed for the plane and piled in. Did I mention that the pilot was bare-chested and bare-footed? I’m sure his American Airlines uniform was at the cleaners. Unfortunately, the plane would not start. Everyone there seems surprised … why “the guy said he had fixed it just the yesterday”. Off we went to plane number two. I am sorry to report it was not quite as nice a plane what with no seats and all. What the heck … I’m going to jump out anyway. The photographer hopped on board. Good news … he had a shirt … and shoes … and a helmet with a video camera duct-taped to the top.

More good news. This plane cranked. Off we went across the open pasture. Did I forget to mention that this was a farm pasture, not an airport? The plane climbed upward. It was quiet except for Cheetah on my back going on the game plan in my ear. Surprisingly enough you could detect the odor of freshly spread cow manure up an altitude of 5000’. I was pretty sure by this time that there would not be sufficient remains for a normal funeral. But the view of Lake Champlain and the surrounding farms was breathtaking.

Time to go! The photographer climbed out on the struts and hung like a monkey , his feet dangling, smiled and let go. Cheetah and I did a forward roll right behind him. Time and space just stopped … I mean stopped … it was a fantastic feeling ! As we finished our roll, the first sight I had was the cameraman, in the skydiving position, arms extended, about 15 feet away, grinning like a possum and giving me the thumbs up. I usually stay pretty calm … not a shouter … don’t show too much emotion. This time … I was screaming … I was pumped … I could not stop. We did freefall for about nine seconds, but it seemed like forever. Bull-riders only get 8 seconds.


The rest is history. Revenge of the fatboy. Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Because it is fantastic out there. However, It is always bitter sweet. I forgot to yell “Geronimo” when I jumped out. On the other hand, I did get that monkey off my back.

Friday, February 12, 2010

TEMPTING FATE: RAFTING

Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

Let’s set the record straight before we get started. I am an experienced river rafter. I did not say that I am a “good” river rafter. I’ve done the New River in West Virginia a couple of times. Its rapids are rated 3-6 on a scale of 6 and we ran mostly 4’s and 5’s. The Penobscot River in Maine on the other hand was mostly 3’s and 4’s. I did a trip on the tidal bore of the Bay of Fundy in which we ran head-on into the 3-10 foot waves as the tide was coming in. My point is that the dam release for the West River in Jamaica, Vermont with its 2-3 wave rating should have been a walk in the park.

Overall, I would say our raft group was more intellectual than athletic. There were no Navy Seals among us. We were muscle deficient. There was also a guy in the group, who thought he was funny and spent his time cracking jokes instead of listening to our guide. He was about my height, about my weight, had brown hair like mine and sounded just like me. Nevertheless, we eased our raft into the current and proceeded without incident for nearly thirty yards. I vaguely remember the high-pitched voice of the guide screaming, “Paddle, paddle forward, paddle!”

I realize now that those instructions were well-timed and highly appropriate for our situation. But, as I indicated, we were muscle deficient. Our raft formed a perfect horseshoe as it wrapped neatly around the small boulder in the middle of the stream. And there we sat! I must commend our guide on her willingness to accept suggestions from all of us in the group … democracy in action. We paddled! We bounced! We all shifted to one end! We got in the water and pushed! We failed! We failed! We failed! It was not for lack of encouragement that we failed. Across the top of the dam, shoulder-to-shoulder, stood the 200 rafters that could not put into the river due to our dilemma. It goes without saying, encouragement does not a muscle make. Finally, emergency ropes were thrown to us from the shore. We would pull the beached whale back into the surf. We all managed to get out of the raft onto the boulder and as the raft was pulled loose, we leapt back in.

We had no control whatsoever since the raft was completely full of water. I was seated on the front of the tube facing backward. As we hit the first sizeable wave, I was thrown into the boil. I came up gasping and coughing just as the raft crested a wave and started over my head. Somehow, I managed to grab a rope on the front. Generally I'm not esily scared, but I realized right away that if the raft went over me,I would be trapped underneath. The next thing I knew, I bobbed up beside the raft entwined in the trailing ropes.

The great white leviathan breeched. Tangled amid the web of ropes was Ahab … beckoning. Looking down at me from the raft was the guide. She quickly drew the survival knife from her vest and reached. I regretted all the smartass comments I had made earlier. Paybacks are hell! In and instant, she had cut the ropes away and in one quick move, hauled me into the bottom of the raft. Just as quickly, I mentally reinstated my former comments. Uncharacteristically, I lay there without speaking. It is very difficult to come up with funny, smartass comments from a fetal position. I heard the snap of the whip. I slowly rolled over and extended my paw. I had been tamed.

I look back at my “walk in the park” occasionally. I have very little desire to raft again. I didn’t think that I could be intimidated, but I was. I was totally unnerved. For a brief moment, I actually thought I might be killed. I am still surprised by it all. Damn you Herman Melville … you and your white whale.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

TEMPTING FATE: BUNGEE JUMP

Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

10…9…8…7…6… Stop! Before I proceed, know that I am standing on a small platform that is attached to a hot-air balloon basket. The basket is 150’ in the air, held aloft by a crane. The crane is parked in a cornfield in Vernon, Vermont. Directly below me is a shallow pool of water (just in case) and 40-50 spectators.

I had always said that if I ever had the chance to bungee jump, I would. Bungee jumping was the thing to do at the time and a wildcat crew was offering jumps locally in Vernon. They were fully booked, but said if I was willing to wait, they would work me in at the end. Funny though, when the guy told me this, he had a strange look on his face … like he was sizing me up or something! I waited patiently.

Finally, it was my turn. I found out that the reason I had to wait was that they had never had someone as heavy as I was before. They had to add an extra cord before I jumped. I chose to use the ankle harness rather than the waist. Making my mistakes head first seemed like the way to go. Before I knew it, I was roped and tied, sitting on the side of the basket and was being lifted to the jump point. Unbeknownst to me, private conversations were in progress below. Conversations about me.

Anne watched as I was lifted skyward. She caught the tail end of a conversation between the video guy and the boss talking about my upcoming jump. In short, they had never had someone my size jump before and they weren’t really sure what to expect. Their comment, “We’ll see”. Hopefully, four cords would be enough to prevent a bursting watermelon impersonation culminating the jump.. Chris, our friend’s young son, summed it up best … “Look’s like dope on a rope to me”.

The basket swayed precariously at the top and I stepped to the edge of the platform. The bungee cords dangled below the basket like some massive umbilical cord. My finest swan dive … that would be impressive. Below the countdown continued …

…5 … 4… 3 … 2… 1 … 0. No time to be scared. I launch! The ground appears to be rising to meet me, but there is no sense of falling. I wait for the jolt … to reach the end of the cords. Instead, I feel the ankle straps tightening, for an instant I stop, and then I am rebounding in the opposite direction.

The world looks strange hanging upside down, dangling by a cord. I have a vague sense that I have walked this path before. “Mrs. Marshall, it’s a boy!” I am surrounded by a bevy of arms ... taking my weight ... cradling me … protecting me as the cord is released. No doubt … I’ve been this way before.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TEMPTING FATE: GLIDER RIDE

Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed

It was to be a surprise … 18th anniversary to be exact. Having secretly packed her overnight bag, I met Anne at work and whisked her away to a B&B I had chosen near Jeffersonville, VT. Next morning, we stuffed ourselves on coffee and homemade bread with maple icing from a local bakery (later we would realize this to be an error in judgment) and took off for the Stowe airport. I had arranged for us to do a glider ride overlooking Mount Mansfield.

Heading out onto the airstrip, we spotted what was to be our glider. It was tethered with about thirty yards of release cable, which connected us to the small aircraft parked ahead. We helped support the glider wings as the plane taxied into a takeoff position and were told that we were to take the seats directly behind the pilot. A quick survey or our designated area convinced me that we could easily fit a backpack into the allotted space, but not us.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Or it could have been no-refund is the mother of invention. Either way, we managed to shoehorn ourselves into the tiny space. We left no stone unturned. By bowing my head and tilting it at a 45 degree angle, I was partially able see out the side window while simultaneously paralyzing myself from the neck up. This would nicely complement the paralysis that had already set in on my lower extremities.

I must admit that I was a little skeptical of the small plane being able to pull us into the air, but somehow it did and then outdid itself by taking us to an altitude of 9,000 feet. A moment later the cable released and we were on our own. The theory, as I understand it, is that the pilot keeps us aloft by seeking out thermals of warm, rising air currents. Needless to say, the view (even with a twisted neck) was incredible. Although it was not a great day for gliding, I believe the pilot could have kept us up about as long as he wished. For the next 30 minutes, he swooped, banked, curled and dipped us through the skies.

Every trip has a highlight. I remember two for this one. For me, it was the sound. I realize that sounds stupid. “Hey, let’s take a glider ride, blindfold ourselves and listen”. Not so crazy! There was virtually no sound at all. No engine, no radio, no nothing! Just the faint sound of wind moving by the window. It was glorious.

Yes, I did say there were two highlights. “Folks, we are heading in now. If you like, I can show you the ole loop-de-loop.” Straight down to get the speed, followed by two quick 360 loops to polish off the trick. Someone forgot to inform my stomach of the anticipated maneuvers so it gathered in my mouth on the downward phase and sloshed about for the duration. I found the nausea to be such a pleasant experience that I held on to it for the rest of the flight and about half way home. To my credit, my cookies were not tossed.

To date … I can walk again … my neck is no longer at 45 degrees … and I am back on solid food. And yes, my appetite for glider rides has been satisfied.

TEMPTING FATE: HANG GLIDING

Please read the document you have received closely and sign and date it at the bottom. It basically says that you realize that this is an intrinsically dangerous activity and we cannot be held responsible for injuries incurred while you participate. Of course, we will do everything in our power to assure that you have both a safe and enjoyable experience. The signed form is required before you can proceed.

The dunes at Kitty Hawk on the eastern shore of North Carolina were huge. The day was overcast and the air heavy with moisture. It made the kites heavy and reduced the distances for the flights. We trudged through the sand toward a distance dune where we could see numerous hang gliders awaiting us at the base. Walking was all the more difficult due to the Spanish Inquisition harnesses they had cinched us into moments before. The design sported leg straps that when properly laced separated my boys like the Mason-Dixon Line divides the North and South. I felt exactly like a small Cessna, landing gear lowered, preparing for set down.

Lynn and James were similarly attired and Anne joined us for the show. James and Lynn, for the record, were slightly lighter than feathers. I, however, was of a stouter stock. The instructor eyeballed me like a new recruit on Paris Island and pointed to a kite off to the side. It was enormous! It was the monster hang glider. James immediately dubbed it the 747, the fatboy kite. It easily had the wingspan of a pterodactyl. Stage one – haul the monster to the top of the dune.

My feathered friends ran downhill in turn and launched themselves, roller-coastering through the air toward the base of the dune. They bobbed ten to fifteen feet above the sand, maneuvering their kites to gentle landing at the staging area one hundred yards away. Not so for everyone. I launched the beast skyward and in an instant, it morphed into an ostrich, burying its nose (and along with it mine) deeply into the ground. I proceeded to squander my remaining allotted flights with virtually no airtime to show. Instead, I accumulated an interesting array of sand burns, blisters, and bruises stylishly arranged upon my bare arms and elbows.

I was given an extra run. Their faces said “fatboy”. I pawed the earth and charged – scattering the matadors – and l launched the beast and I skyward. I felt the wind beneath the wings lift me upward. I soared with the eagles … climbing steadily … the figures below fading. I leveled off at about three and one-half feet (I had visons of a leather jacket with Low Glider and flames on the back). Determined to squeeze every inch out of this last flight, I veered off the glide path toward an alternate landing sight and initiated a belly flop into a batch of sandspurs. I assure you … the pain was significant … the sympathy minimal.

My desire to hang glide has waned.

Friday, February 5, 2010

THE BIG APPLE



The troop leader dropped by to present me with my Old Codger Badge. You get that when you turn 60 … if you earned it. I’d sew in on later myself; so I could get credit for my sewing badge. Anne had a present for me as well. I was able to ascertain that it was a book due to my x-ray vision. The package also happened to be shaped like a book. My birthday was a week away, but I am not the kind of guy to turn down a present.

It was a travel guide to New York City. “Cool”! But I didn’t get it. “We’ll have to plan a trip there sometime.” Anne informed me that it was already done. The room was booked. She’d already told my boss that I would not be at work. We’d stay with friends in Westport and take the train in. Great idea the train. I had long ago refused to drive into NYC.

I have a secret. I am scared of NYC. Before you start with be 'fraidy-cat stuff, I have my reasons. Country cousin has been to the city. Back before soap was invented. Went there for computer training. The city had a bad rep back then. I rode the subways at night in a three-piece suit. I checked out a topless joint on east 42nd at three in the morning and fell for the "$20 by me a drink" scam. I wandered into the Polish bar where the only English word spoken was “Solidarity”. I wound up in a gay bar called “Dallas”. And then it was daybreak. Country cousin has been to the city!

Big, deal, you say?

I went there again about the time of the industrial revolution. The city was still the city. I was still me. They saw me coming. They latched onto me like a tick on a dog’s ear. “Give me money”, they said. I tried to outsmart them, but they had crystal balls in their back pockets. They read me like a book. They were already on page 255. They knew about the tourist map in my back pocket. They spotted the piece of straw between my teeth. They knew about my clenched butt, but I don’t know how. I have a secret. But, not from them.

I’m afraid that the Big Apple is waiting to take a big bite out of me.

The train ride in from Westport is great. I love to take the trains. The hotel is just a short walk away. Wow! The city seems to have cleaned up its act. I am still me. The chances of survival look good.

We tried our best to see it all. I had set my sights on the art museums – the MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum, the Frisk, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim. We did pretty well. Didn’t think we would have the time to do a play. That is where I was wrong – Anne already had the tickets. She grabbed the bullring in my nose and led me around unsuspecting. She didn’t produce the tickets until I made a dumb comment while I standing outside the theatre and looking at the marquee. Seeing “Billy Elliott” on Broadway is one the coolest things that I have ever done. Anne must have had one of those crystal balls in her back pocket too. Wonder where you get them?

I’m going back to the Big Apple. But, no way am I driving.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CHINA: SETTLING IN TO THE HOMESTAY


I remember my interview. I assured everyone that the language would be no barrier. Not for me. I would sing, dance, click, snap, point and gesture my way to crystal clear communication.

I looked across the courtyard at my prospective hosts. Howdy partner! Ain’t seen you in these here parts afore. I covered my nakedness with my hands and strained to see the audience through the glare of the floodlights. Were they thinking, “How will I ever feed the giant?” As surely as summer follows spring, the most diminutive lady stepped forward and led me away. I didn’t dare look back!

The streets of the village were completely deserted, save my host and me. Were they peeking through closed curtains as the circus train paraded past? I risked askew glances toward my host and found comfort in my perception that she was just as nervous as I. We silently dared each other to speak. I was soon ushered into my room and made to understand that I probably wanted to rest or take a nap. I graciously accepted for the good of all.

The first real test arrived with dinner. By this time, the daughter-in-law and infant had joined the group, and we all gathered around the coffee table in my room where the meal had been laid before me. I’m not a shy or squeamish eater. That was on my side. I’m proficient with chopsticks. All I need to do is watch for cues and display my moronic grin. I held my own with the moronic grin and would give myself a passing grade on the cue identification. The bones. It was the bones that tripped me up.

In China, it is not uncommon for dishes to have small bits of bone and gristle in them. A chopping or preparation thing, I presume. They didn’t seem to notice at all. My hosts tore through those bones like they were enjoying a bowl of crunchy granola. Me, I’m up to the third knuckle hoping to extract a few boulders from my mouth. Sweet success. What now?

I mentally assessed the options:
- the dentist’s delight
I forge ahead – poised for the duet of bone and tooth simultaneously crushing.

- the magician
I deftly palm the debris. “Look, nothing up my sleeve.”

- the Rodin
With an artistic flair, I skillfully stacked the bones beside my plate, forming a table sculpture worthy of any New York gallery.

Before I could make my choice, before I could ascertain that scissors cut paper, the daughter-in-law spit a morsel of bone and gristle onto the floor to the delight of the puppy in the corner. I followed suit, perhaps with far too little discomfort.

I knew now then I will be just fine.

Monday, February 1, 2010

CHINA: THE KAILI NOODLE SHOP


“Hit the streets. You’re on your own.” We’ve done this before. Noodle restaurant. Brad’s idea. He’s like a national treasure. He speaks and reads some Mandarin. This is his second trip to China. He’s confident and we’re more confident with him. He makes it all come together – with him, we can’t stop laughing. When he says, “Why don’t we …?”, it's like a slap across the face from a Frenchman’s glove. “Monsieur, I accept your challenge!” This time the duel will be held at the noodle shop. I am confident that we will find one.

We meet in the lobby of the hotel, but no Bill. Crossed signals. We’re off. Two blocks later, we find a place. That’s how it works when you’re with Brad. Barnum and Bailey time. We’re in for a treat. They make the noodles fresh (two young guys). I watch them shave the dough into the boiling cauldron. Brad orders for us, but there is no beer. Oh, boy, this ain’t Kansas. Brad takes off down the street in search of beer. Meanwhile, I am hoping it’s his Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation and “he’ll be back!” It’s hard not to notice 6’2” and 250 pounds in a tiny restaurant in China. I think small.

Brad’s back. Got beer at another restaurant. Sure, they’ll be more than glad to deliver the beer to our restaurant up the street. The noodle soup is superb. A lone patron talks with the cooks, but keeps a close eye on us. I think we are on his menu. The comments and questions commence. He’s taunting … baiting us. I don’t speak Mandarin, but I understand this language. He gets bolder, and Brad and I decide it is time to leave.

Two blocks later … full … laughing again. We glance across the intersection and can’t believe it. There’s Bill. “Where’d you go?” Each of us gets to say it. Bill hasn’t eaten. What else can we do? Back to the noodle shop.

The heckler is still there, but the cooks whisper to him and he is dismissed. Repeat performance… Brad is off for beer. Bill’s face says, “What the …?” and I recognize it as the face I wore earlier. We are laughing again. Threefold. Brad decides to teach Bill how to ask for toilet paper in Mandarin. Bill speaks slowly and loudly just like he is supposed to do. I hold my sides; I’m dieing. Now the cooks join in. They’ll have a story to tell as well.


They are showing us how they make the noodles. They throw the dough up, stretching it, separating it between their fingers as the noodles get longer and longer. We are spellbound. We are great tourists – we’re laughing , we’re staring, we’re applauding, our cameras are snapping. The cooks are smiling and laughing. They give us email addresses. We promise to send them pictures. For a moment, we are all best friends.

We laugh and harass one another all the way back to the hotel. It is always like this when you are with Brad. You’re trapped between “Oh, my God!” and “I can’t believe that just happened”. Through it all, I try to keep one eye on Brad’s face. He always looks delighted. Maybe Bill and I are too. It is hard to tell for all the laughing.

CHINA: FIRST HUNT

We settle into routines as each day melts unnoticed into the next. The pride wanders aimlessly it seems … safety in numbers … the bolder juveniles pacing its edges, growling with false bravado. Every step is an adventure, but we are well-cared for. Other eyes watch our every move. We’re well-fed and safe.

Xian is behind us now and we’re heading into Guiyang in preparation for our next homestay. The energy is low and I think everyone is looking forward to the alone time in the hotel tonight. Bruce Number 1 makes his announcement. Instead of our usual group dinner, he will give each of us money and we are on our own to hit the streets and find food. Scavengers and eaters of carrion. But, it is a fresh kill we seek. The energy level ratchets up almost immediately. Tonight’s menu is a new adventure.

We pour out of the bus and onto the street. Alliances are hastily formed, and we spread like ripples in a pond when the stone hits the surface. Bill and I hook up.

Several in the group approach the lioness and fall in step along the darkened path. They stay close. The trail is narrow and serpentine. Shoulders brush. Without warning, she turns and swats them semi-viciously. Each time they turn back to her, they receive the same. This time they turn away and are absorbed by the night.

We call ourselves checking out all the options before we make our choice. That’s not really true. Not sure where that confidence went. Give us familiar. Show us doorways that aren’t so dark. Show us menus with words we recognize. Wonder where the others went. Wonder how they are doing. We could join them. We look at each other, but neither of us will admit that we are nervous and unsure. Time is running out.

The kudu stretches its neck towards the water. Our bellies silently scrape the sand as we inch closer and closer. This is the one. We explode from the veil of grasses and darkness.

We finally decide on a place. We are bold … decisive. It has lots of light. It helps to be taller than anyone else. We look ferocious as we enter. Our first hunt together. We are doing okay. The menu has pictures.

Don’t be alarmed folks. They often pace nervously like that before they are fed. Not too close. Step back from the cages.

We thoroughly digest the menu as the waitresses begin to pile up. He’s mine! A frantic search turns up a waitress that can speak at least four words of English. Suddenly, all the waitresses seem to need something at the wait station. Even with the pictures, Bill and I are guessing. Bill can’t quite pull the trigger. He goes for the tourist fare with the American name. I point to the eel dish. It triggers a minor panic. Someone with authority strides to the table. She pours mysterious words and gestures over my head like water out of a bucket. I finally get it and gesture that I realize that I have ordered eel. I think I did. Or I may have gestured that the kudu tastes a little like chicken. It is Bill’s and my first hunt together.

A crust of bread hits the floor to our left, then a handful of peanuts. Just out of reach. Our muscles tense in anticipation of the leap. Step back from the cage. Feeding the animals is strictly forbidden.

We finish our meal and congratulate each other on a fine kill. We both know the meal is mediocre at best. We sidle toward the door with cautions steps. We make a good team … we have each other's back. Managers shoo the waitresses (desperate for one last look) away from the wait station. Bill and I …one step at a time … through the gauntlet.

Keep your hands outside the cages. Do not pet the animals.

Last step. The air is warm and wet. The night closes around us. We will hunt together again.