Monday, June 28, 2004

"Feed the birds and what do you get? Fat birds!" From Mary Poppins

We purchased a bird feeder, my daughter and I, and a large bag of "Wild Bird Food" just last week.

We've seen many birds dancing gaily from fence to fence where the surrounding neighbor's and our backyard meet. They sit on the wires, or nest in the branches. Our small jungle gives them a veritable amusement park, with it's abundant variety of banana, avocado and palm trees.

When the sprinklers come on in the late afternoon, you see them speedily landing to take their highly anticipated showers. After a long hot day in the Florida sun, they make it look extremely enticing. More than once after witnessing this event, I've had to let my daughter jump over the sprinklers herself. Next to jumping in the pool, it's one of the most refreshing things you can do in the summertime.

After mowing my lawn, with the grass shaved thin and the soil exposed, and once I've walked inside to get myself a drink, our winged friends pounce down on the poor unassuming worms that frequent our pastures. You see them arriving in droves, as if they smelled the banquet from miles away.

We thought it would be nice to give them a feeder; a shaded perch where they could stop for a bite on their way to more exotic lands. For their first feeding, we packed it up halfway - not wanting to let any food go to waste and hoping to gauge what amount would be appropriate by the way they sought it out.

It took a few minutes before any of the birds took notice. Then a couple shyly approached the feeder. They rapidly flew in, pecked at it a little and, just as quickly, they were gone. Then more birds showed up. Little ones, big ones, dark ones, blue ones, green ones, white ones, brown ones...every kind of bird you can imagine. The black ones seemed to be the toughest. While they were eating, all the others waited their turn. Then the most amazing thing happened. One of the black birds began to kick off some food to the ground. The rest of the birds were eating away on the ground, as more and more fell on them. It wasn't quite fifteen minutes after we'd filled the damned thing that it was already empty. And all the birds were gone.

Now we've opted for filling it up a little at a time. And then maybe just a couple of times a week. Darn food ain't cheap, ya know!

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Anonymous Remarks

I stand by what I say...most of the time. I mean, I'm not afraid to change my mind about something when I see the light; I'm perfectly willing to admit I was wrong if you can prove to me I was. So if years ago I spoke out about something and steadfastly held on to my reasons for doing so, and now I'm suddenly singing to a different tune, well, it's not necessarily because I'm wishy-washy, it's because I've seen a different perspective since then that's altered my opinion. Clear enough? Good!

The reason I'm bringing this up is due to two completely different factors that have brought it to mind lately.

First, it's an election year, and candidates are bound by things they said, votes they made, or positions they took in years gone by; in this case, a change of heart or opinion is viewed as weak.

Second, weblogs. I've found that most bloggers choose to safeguard their privacy by revealing very few specifics about who they are. Oh sure, we pour out our hearts for all to see, holding back hardly any intimate details of our personal lives. But we do so under the shield of partial anonymity, with the vague certainty that we will probably never meet anyone who's read our writings (read: anyone who's been looking while we bared our souls).

Regarding my first point, on politicians, well, it's an ever-changing world and we live in a society who's values and mores never cease to transform with the times. Only staunch conservatives who believe in tenaciously holding on to the puritan ways of our seventeenth century ancestors, or religious zealots of any creed who believe the writings of their prophets should govern the actions of all humanity, can claim to not be influenced by the shifting tide. The survival of our world depends on our ability to accept change and adapt to it accordingly. It's not fair to sentence somebody to a particular status of credibility solely on the history of their opinions. Change is a sign of growth, and it should never be something we need to hide, feel ashamed of or apologetic about.

On the subject of bloggers, we're not running for office, so who cares what anybody thinks. Yet we feel a certain degree of vulnerability; our fear that someone who reads our blog might know who we are is akin to finding our older brother reading our diary. In many cases these are our innermost thoughts, fears, and dreams, laid out online for all to see. But we don't want anybody to know it's us; their neighbor, co-worker, brother, lover, whatever. This would expose our inside secrets to the world who knows us, and make us the object of their ridicule or admiration. Whichever it is, it's hardly relevant, since what we blog about our things we wouldn't necessarily tell them about in conversation.

So, I can't blame anybody for not being more forthcoming with their personal information. I know I wouldn't want anybody who's read my blog, thinking that they know me and showing up at my doorstep like some long lost friend. But I'm not ashamed of what I write either. I don't feel I have anything to hide.

In conclusion, I am what I am; what you see is what you get. I've no interest in disguising myself for anybody's benefit, least of all mine. I'm proud of my opinions, views, and history, and I don't care who knows it. And if tomorrow I change my mind about it, tough shit!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Books


Part of my library...messy, I know...what are you gonna do?
 Posted by Hello

In my youth, I always derived a sweet, slightly pathetic satisfaction out of finishing a good book. Oh, I don't mean the Stephen King thriller of the week, or a Sydney Sheldon page turner. I'm talking about the true books - the classics, by Tolstoy, Hugo, Joyce, Faulkner, among many others.

Sweet, because I'd managed to work my way through a powerful tome and had (seemingly) assimilated its essence. Pathetic, because in reality that didn't amount to much of an accomplishment.

I read a lot in my early twenties. I felt that my function at the time was to obtain an education, and I never believed my professors were able to teach me half as much as I could learn on my own. I still think I was right.

I'd put away one or two books away weekly, which wasn't easy when you're working and going to school full time. But when you're alone in a big city there's not much else to do with your time.

There is a good deal of pleasure to be found in reading. Allowing the author's narrative to take shape in your imagination, as the characters gain depth and the plot thickens. It's easy to cry with the heroes, or smile when they're being privately clever - like you're the only one in on the joke.

But my greatest delight lie in simply having another book under my belt; having read yet another great one. It wasn't for bragging purposes. Hell, most of the people I hung out with barely even knew how to read. No, I just never wanted to feel left out, not knowing what was being talked about. Be it in casual conversation, class, watching the news, reading a book, anything. When a reference was made, I wanted to know exactly what was being said.

Pretty shallow, I suppose, but there it is. Regardless of the purpose behind it, I feel I gained great complexity, depth and wordliness through it all. The beauty of other cultures is something that can only be observed through extensive traveling or reading, and traveling is something that most of us are much too financially challenged to enjoy thoroughly. But to share in another being's insight, to view the world through another's eyes, well, the nearest we can come to doing that is by reading other people's thoughts. And don't you wish more people did that?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Bill & Michelle

I felt alone then, as if abandoned by the world. My fiance and best man together, I was left with nowhere to turn. Who's there left to speak to? Where do you seek solace when it's your very loved ones who've fucked you over?

I remember holding my tongue about it at work the next day. My crew could sense it. I worked in the California oilfields then, on an oil rig. Part of a three man crew. There came a point, when we broke for lunch, that Bob said "Hey, is everything alright with you? I mean, you seem a little down." Joe jumped right on it: "Something's wrong man, I can tell. Something happened. You're not telling us."

I blurted it out right then. I couldn't keep it in. It's wasn't out of a sense of friendship, it was just a desperate attempt to get some sympathy. I just needed somebody to help me cuss the bitch out, pat me on the back and tell me I'd been wronged; make idle promises to cut my ex-best friend down in some back alley and make him pay for what he'd done.

But Bill didn't do shit. It was all my fault.

Bill and I were like brothers. We'd been through the kind of shit together most people only hear about. It made our bond as strong as blood. Yet women will break even that if you let them. And I let Michelle do just that.

She was a basket case, Michelle. She was jealous of everything. She couldn't be in the same room with me if another beautiful woman walked in, because all she could think of was that I was checking her out, and liking her. Even if I never looked her way. She would go ballistic on me afterwards, when we were alone. Making me pay for nothing. Hell, I couldn't even stop at the store on the way home from work because she figured I was probably seeing somebody there. Some serious insecurities...

So occasionally, when she would go into a temper tantrum that I couldn't control, I would call Bill in to help me calm her down. And he'd go talk to her, try to get her to see things more clearly. It worked...or so I thought. I never realized what was going on. Not until it was too late.

She gradually became distant and started picking fights with me about every little thing that would come along. Eventually we decided to postpone the wedding. We called it a postponement but we both knew it was over. Postponing it was just a way to gloss over the ugly truth.

We continued living together while I got a place of my own. I had a lot of bad credit problems and little to no history with people in town. I'd been there for only a short while. So, Bill was helping me find a place. Ironic, as it turned out, that Bill would be helping move out of that house so he could move his treacherous ass in there.

And so it was that while in his company, I noticed Michelle behaving toward him like a scorned woman. They weren't even openly together yet and already she was giving him shit.

Well, I had to confront him with it. He laid it all out, told me they'd fallen in love with each other, but hadn't done anything about it for my sake. They were waiting for me to be out of the picture. You know, so as not to hurt me. Well that plan was shot to shit!

As he spoke, I began to feel the most intolerable pains in my abdomen that you can imagine. The type of pains that come only when you discover you've been horribly cheated. We came close to getting ugly, but our brotherly ties prevailed. I decided I wouldn't let a woman come between us.

Now that was a far cry from granting him forgiveness. That would come much later, after their inevitable break up and his remorseful, tearful apology.

I remember, in another pathetic attempt at obtaining sympathy, a stranger at a bar responding to my solemn, end-all statement, "My bride ran off with my best man," with a straight from the hip: "Ah, that's just hit on your ego. You'll get over it. Can't help it if the bitch falls for another guy. That don't make him a better man, it just makes him luckier." That put a lot of things in perspective.

I did get over it. In fact, within the following couple of weeks I met and began courting the woman I would eventually marry. The consolation in all this was that here I am, eleven years later and still happily married, while their little stunt didn't even make it through six months. So you tell me, who is the luckier man?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Border Patrol (republished by request)

The stories were gory. They told of many a soldier who met his maker while patrolling the Czech border with West Germany. The same border I found myself guarding for a month at a time, every three months, back in '85.
Today's children grow up unaware of the Cold war, but back then it was something that affected everybody in the western hemisphere.
We spent our border tours gated in a few miles away from the line. We rotated on weekly "Reaction Force" shifts. Reaction Force members had to be on alert 24 hours a day. From the moment the camp alarm went off we had 15 minutes to be fully dressed in field gear with chemical suits on; our weapons clean, loaded and operational, and our tanks rolling out the main gate. We had so little time to do this that we could never afford to be out of our chemical suits. We kept our boots on at all times. Hell, we weren't even supposed to shower!
We would spend all our time studying classified border terminology, proper international procedures, friendly and enemy vehicle (air, land and sea) identification, and, an Army favorite pastime, cleaning.
Those who weren't on Reaction Force spent their time doing regular training exercises and preventive maintenance on their vehicles. Others rotated on guard duty at the line.
Now, being that we're talking about the Iron curtain, you would expect the border line to be fenced off, or walled like in Berlin. But there was nothing like that. There were markers placed every few hundred feet, indicating when you were walking into enemy territory. These were easily missed in the thick of the Bavarian forest.
When going on guard duty, we would rotate around on four hour shifts. Dressed to the gills and armed to the teeth, wearing white snow camouflage over our parkas, a jeep would drop us off a hundred feet or so from the border. We had no radios to keep in touch. Nothing but the late night forest sounds to keep us company.
Every now and then you would see a tiny flickering flame, when the guard on the opposing side of the line would light up a smoke. I would always hide behind a tree before lighting up one of my own.
The bone chilling coldness would never dissipate. I walked around in circles, even did jumping jacks occasionally, but nothing could keep the shivers from climbing up your spine.
Your senses become overly acute there. When it's late at night and you're in a potentially volatile situation, with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle both cocked and loaded, you hear many things seemingly creeping up on you. The shadows in the darkness take different shapes and the whispers of the forrest sound like human voices.
We'd all heard the tale of the three man crew in a jeep who'd fallen asleep on their post, only to be found with their throats slit the next morning by a search and rescue party. Those events were always kept under wraps for fear of starting an international conflict, as well as to deter an inevitable embarrassment in the diplomatic arena.
It's been years since then and I still hang on to my border certificates with pride. When the Berlin wall fell and the Cold War ended, the U.S. government sent me yet another certificate, testifying to my contribution toward fighting and winning the Cold War. These certificates along with the other awards I received, are a deep source of honor for me. And I draw on them and cling firmly to them each time a surge of patriotism takes over me. But I hesitate to admit we won much.
There will always be an enemy. If there is none, one must be created. Humans simply cannot live in peace with one another. Petty jealousies and blind ambition will always ensure that somebody somewhere will try to get a bigger piece of the pie.
Third world countries will always seek to blame another for their misfortunes. Religious fanatics everywhere will always believe they're right, even though they're passing judgment based on faith rather than reason.
I can't imagine living in peace. It's hard to attain peace in a single household, much less on an entire planet. Still, I yearn for a world in which we no longer step on each other to make our way. Perhaps someday.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Birds


Green Parakeets 

Close up! 
I took some pictures of these birds this morning, as I was warming up my car to go to work. I see them around quite often, but this time I actually ran inside, pulled out the camera and snapped a few pictures. Unfortunately, I don't have a zoom on my digital and they flew off as soon as I approached them. This is the most I could spread the layout without losing too much resolution.
I'm always somewhat awestruck by the fact that these birds live around here. It seems like they belong in a more tropical setting, or maybe in a jungle somewhere. Not that I know a thing about birds, it's just my impression. Hell, I'm not even sure if they're parakeets! But they're a beautiful tone of green and they have parakeet-like beaks.
Anyway, if anybody knows what these guys are doing in South Florida I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

My Tasha


This is my beautiful dog Tasha's last picture before we laid her down to rest .

Friday, June 04, 2004

Why do we blog? Hmm...

Debbie was asking this question in response to a comment I made earlier. This is what I came up with:

Well, now you've got me thinking...what the hell was I referring to?
I guess what I meant to say is that, regardless of your initial purpose when you started your blog, there is a certain pressure to produce once you get an audience.
Having people read your stuff is an incentive to keep putting it out there, and whether we admit it or not, we want people to keep coming back to see if we wrote anything else worthwhile. Otherwise we would just keep our writing to ourselves, and maybe just save it for posterity on our hard drive.
Once you begin writing to please others it becomes a task, and then the whole thing becomes more difficult. And trust me, whether you want to now or not, or whether your only purpose is to release your mental notes uninhibitedly, you will want people to read your blog.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Formula One

About six months ago, some buddies and I planned a trip to go see Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix this June in Indianapolis. It actually falls on Father's Day. I've wanted to see one of these damned things for as long as I can remember. I figured I owe myself a little getaway because, Christ, I don't do a damn thing but work my ass off to take care of my family. It's hard for me to do anything else because my wife works at night, so I have to take care of my daughter. Which I love don't get me wrong, but I could use some release.
Anyway, I reconciled the whole trip in my mind and decided I deserved it. My wife agreed. But what's wrong now? I feel like a total shit. I get two short, lousy weeks of vacation every year and I'm going to blow one of them on myself? I mean, what the hell does my daughter get out of this? I'm not being fair at all.
Already I find myself frequenting the Disney World website, checking out hotel rates and availability. It's getting too hard to justify blowing money (which I can't really spare to begin with!) on myself, instead of giving my daughter something to remember. Besides, I would miss her miserably. I know I have to take advantage of her now when she's only four years old, and she still thinks it's cool to hang out with me. She'll be changing her mind soon enough and then I'll have plenty of chances to go see the fucking races.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

You're welcome

A question arose at the dinner table last night, while eating with family: Is it always necessary to say "you're welcome" after being thanked for something?
My sister contends that in some situations, "no, I didn't request a thank you" and should therefore not feel forced to welcome it. It is the person receiving the service who is responsible for showing his or her appreciation, and the person who provides it should not be obligated to further indicate (many times falsely) that it was a pleasure to do, or at the very least not a bother.
But I believe that every show of thanks or good will merits a response, or some sort of recognition. In the same way that salutes or hellos should be returned. It's basic courtesy.
When I hold the door open for a woman, whether she be a stranger or not, I expect a thank you and I respond in kind when received. But many women take it as their god given right that men should be there, opening doors for them, and so neglect to even acknowledge you as they walk through. I find that reprehensible.
Though there are times and mitigating circumstances in which even thank you's may be summarily swept aside, like when you have two people working together on a car or a craft project that involves a lot of giving and receiving (or handing out "bless you's" after the third or fourth consecutive sneeze), it is my opinion that most actions of giving should be responded to with a thank you, and all thank you's should be replied to accordingly - be it "you're welcome," "sure thing dude," "anytime bro," or "no problem." There needs to be some reply that communicates that the service was done in good faith. No matter how small the actual service was.