I’m Just Not Feeling it

“It’s not unpatriotic to denounce an injustice committed on our behalf, perhaps it’s the most patriotic thing we can do.”

― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

Happy birthday America! Two hundred forty-six years young. The grand experiment…the shining light on the hill…an example for the free world. I think we need a transfusion or take off our rose-colored glasses.

I’m just not feeling it. Oh, I went to the annual Bennett July Fourth eve cookout and gorged myself on ribs, pulled pork, and Carol Ann’s potato salad. But I’m not feeling the patriotism. Even after talking with a young man (57) who had spent the past eighteen years in China, I couldn’t feel it. It was just a backyard cookout to me, and I didn’t stick around for the fireworks. I’ll probably watch the fireworks on TV but then I will think about the fireworks on January 6, 2021,

I’m not feeling July 4, 2022. I am feeling a bit overstuffed from last night. That’s not a good thing either.

The Fourth of July is supposed to be a celebrated, a day to commemorate independence, a day of freedom…”let freedom ring.” It took seven years of war to gain that independence and when the gunpowder cleared there were many still not free. Should I dwell on that?

I try to take comfort in the history of our nation. We’ve rarely been totally united as a nation. Our history is rife with examples of discord, and few examples when we all marched together, in step for a cause. Somehow, we’ve muddled along despite the discord. Well, there was that four-year period during our Civil War. The best I can say is we have a voice that is allowed to express our discord.

The thought really is only responsible for a small portion of my malaise and indifference. I’ve been in my malaise since 2016 and it is darkening. It isn’t my malaise; it is my country’s malaise, my country’s failure to come together on anything. Rare is there common ground. It is us versus them and them are the traitors.

Malaise: an indefinite feeling of debility or lack of health often indicative of or accompanying the onset of an illness. A vague sense of mental or moral ill-being. That is according to Merriam-Webster and sums up how I feel about my country. I fear we are on our death bed.

A post came across one of my social media platforms that gave me pause, “I don’t think America deserves a birthday celebration this year.” That’s what I’m feeling. I’m also feeling that there might not be many more birthdays to celebrate…at least in our country’s present form. America the Beautiful may have an incurable illness and facing life support.

I read a quote made by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When a whole nation is roaring patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart.” Fain is a somewhat archaic word that means pleased or willing.

I hear and see posts from people who, by their own voice, call themselves “patriots” and point fingers at people with opposing opinions calling them traitors. This accusation is not even implied, it is boldly printed or yelled. It is on their standards as they march on city streets, wrapping themselves in Old Glory, their faces covered lest someone might see who the “patriots” are. I never thought I would be accused of being a traitor for doing what I thought was right…even if that thought was wrong.

These people are wedges. If you ever spent time splitting wood, you know the function of a wedge…to split. I believe people are being indoctrinated, nay…groomed to be wedges. Whomever is responsible is doing a bang-up job. I’ve never seen us so splintered…not since 1968 and I think 1968 falls short of the mark when compared to present day, July 4, 2022.

On a personal note, I used the words indoctrinated and groomed purposely. I see it all the time when reading about the educational shenanigans in my home state. Mostly they are directed toward my former peers, teachers.

Along with Critical Race Theory and the word “woke,” these are dog whistles or buzz words to further turn people against each other. They are used to wedge apart teachers and parents and liberals and conservatives.

To what end? To destroy public education in favor of for-profit private schools? That is what I think. Just “follow the money.” Propaganda ads reigned supreme as “big money” from out of state fueled one of the sides and our deep red state ate it up. The same is true when the government gets involved. I am so happy I’m a retired teacher. I guess I could retire as an American.

Last quote and I’ll quit beating a dead mule.

“… patriotism lies in supporting the values the country is supposed to cherish: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When our government compromises, undermines, or attacks those values, it is being unpatriotic.” Howard Zinn, WW II vet, historian, playwright.

I believe January 6, did just that. January 6th compromised, undermined, and attacked our democracy. As I have watched the congressional committee my depression has grown. I consider myself to be a sane man most of the time. I don’t know how anyone could watch the videos from the January 6 Insurrection and not believe it was exactly that…an attempted insurrection.

It was an attack on our democracy and I believe on some level, planned. I don’t know how you can question what occurred.  I don’t know how you can question what the congressional committee has unearthed.  

Yet people do. They question the election, the motivations, come up with more and more bizarre theories. My malaise grows when I think that many applauded as they watched it unfold on their televisions.

Happy Birthday these dis-United States of America. I’m not sure you were ever as great as I thought you were but I’m damn sure you are not as great as you could be.

Some will say, “If you are so unhappy, maybe you should move to another country.” Well, my retort is unprintable.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that over half our population lost the right to control their own bodies this past week. I fear more losses will occur.

Don Miller’s authors page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2YOthoDURrlEvGPVx2PXKdydIqxQqHnp9KNhjdK8ez-tm8sQjz8C4gUPo

Cheerwine…”Nectar of the South”

“Born in the South. Raised in a Glass” – Cheerwine Slogan

The little general store on the winding mountain road caught my eye and without consulting my co-pilot, Quigley Apples, or my navigator, Linda Gail, I slid the Jeep to a stop in front of the ancient gasoline pumps, Gulf with the old clear tops and decorated in blue and orange. There was copious barking, and not from Quigley. My wife did not like being jerked about.

Photo by Kathy Clark

“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs”.  The store front sported many antique signs, some with bullet holes, but unlike the song, they didn’t block any scenery, they made the scenery. The store reminded me of the image I use for my blog, a colorized version of a depression era general mercantile in North Carolina…except for the Texico pump.

Original photo by Dorothea Lange, colorized by unknown

Once I quieted the snarling from my bride, we made our way into the breeze created by the big overhead fans and the aroma of smashed hamburgers cooking on a gridle with onions. What a glorious smell. Quigley agreed if his nose in the air was an indication. Linda Gail? I’m not sure but her nose wasn’t in the air. She has no affinity for the smell of grilled onions.

What pulled me up short was the ancient Coca Cola ice cooler which, due to its age, had been turned into an ice box. Soft drinks covered in ice, a weep hole drilled into the side to allow the water to drain into a large, graniteware dishpan as the ice melted. With visions of an eight-ounce coke filled to the rim with a package of Lance peanuts, I reached in and got a surprise.

I didn’t pull out a “Dope”, instead my fingers closed around a Cheerwine. Golly, Gee, Whiz, I haven’t seen one of these in a month of Sundays. Well, I don’t get out much and I tend not to choose soft drinks unless it is in a Cuba Libre or Jack and Coke. What a lovely surprise.

Cheerwine has been around since 1917 but for some reason it is scarce as hen’s teeth in my part of the world, or I haven’t been paying attention. Supposedly it is the oldest continuous family-owned soft drink company in the United States, the Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC. The family of Lewis Peeler, its founder, runs it and has for the last one hundred and five years.

From their website, “Cheerwine has a mildly sweet flavor with strong cherry notes, most notably black cherry; is burgundy-colored; and has an unusually high degree of carbonation compared to other soft drinks. The product was named for its color and taste”. According to Wikipedia, the company website also states that “it made sense to name a burgundy-red, bubbly, cherry concoction—Cheerwine.” The far superior, “Retro Cheerwine”, variant is sold in glass bottles and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Despite its name, Cheerwine is not really a wine and contains no alcohol. I had scored a glass bottle.

From Zac’s Dinner Menu, Burlington, NC. Note the burgundy color that contains the “strong cherry notes”

As I sipped, I remembered the fountain version sold at the old pharmacy on main street in Monroe, NC that I mixed with another Southern libation Sun Drop. Served with a maraschino cherry, I found it to be better than the traditional cherry, lemon, Coca Cola. There is a drink called “The Whining Pirate” made with Cheerwine and Captain Morgan Rum. I’m getting a bad vibe thinking about praying to the porcelain altar after a few too many Whining Pirates.

The Cheerwine takes me to further memories of the eight-ounce Cokes, Pepsis, and Nehi grape and orange sodas at Pettus Store’s cooler…and the bubble gum machine where a one cent speckled ball got you an eight-ounce nickel Coke for free. With an added nickel I could add a pack of peanuts. Heaven for six cents if I was lucky.

Just for clarification, I used the word “Dope” because the early version of Coca Cola supposedly contained cocaine and the “old folks” called it a “Dope.” Further, if you are in the South and ask for a coke, be prepared to answer a follow-up question, “What kind of coke?” If you actually want a Coca Cola, you should ask for a Coca Cola. The descriptor coke is one of the all-encompassing titles that could include any form of soft drink in the South from Mountain Dews, Sundrops, to Royal Crown Colas. For goodness’ sake, don’t ask for a “soda pop” or it’s shortened version “pop”. You might get run out of town in a northerly direction.

Visit Don Miller’s authors site at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RoznX3G2uccbNXc-ZvsS1Dxfyk0wvVhXpJYsCeHWey4W1A5nKnlxglDg

Don’s latest book is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and can be found at the link above.

🎶 Time to turn so you don’t burn! 🎶

“During this heatwave, please remember to dress for the body you have, not the body you want.”                – Unknown

There was a time when I lived for the sun and joined in with the sunbathing crowd. In high school it might have been the old swimmin’ hole or the pool in Fort Mill or Springs Park…Springmaid Beach on vacation.

Later there was the green grass known as Cromer Beach at Newberry College next to the women’s dorm or Macedonia Beach near the church with the same name on Lake Murry. The local radio station would periodically issue a burn alert accompanied by the ding of an oven timer.

The aroma of Coppertone was heavy in the air. The smell of nubile, young women in bathing suits laying around the pool, rendering in Johnson’s Baby Oil or some coconut butter “tanning lotion”. Young men cannon balling off the diving board trying to get the attention of that certain someone.

There is something about the scent of Coppertone that brings back memories. A black two piece on a deeply tanned, dark-haired senior coed who took pity on a tongue-tied Sophomore one Sunday at Macedonia Beach. Epic.

The Coppertone Girl and Puppy

Now it is about the smell of burning flesh as I have another batch of cancer cells cut from my body and the incision cauterized. “Be sure your sins will find you out.” There will be a time when you must “pay the piper.” When it comes to the sun, I have been found out and the piper continues to insist upon his “cut”.

Now it is more about sitting around the pool under a massive umbrella covered in SP100 with the smell of BBQ rendering in its own fat. Ribs or butts being prepared by someone else. If I have my “druthers” I sit inside in the air conditioning swilling a gin and tonic or Meyer’s Dark Rum and tonic, with a twist of lime…a beer will do but I must get my dose of citrus.

Covered in sunscreen Blogspot.com

I’ve become the old fart who pontificates about the good old days. Stories embellished from a lifetime mired in the past. The nubile young hanging on my every word are neither as nubile nor young as I remember.

To quote Buffett…again, “One day soon I’ll be a grandpa. All the pretty girls will call me, “Sir”. Now where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.” I hate to tell you Jimmy, we’ve both reached that milepost…and it is in our rear-view mirror.

In addition to losing the skin encasing my body, I don’t sweat well. At any temperature above seventy-five my sweat glands work like Niagara Falls after the spring snow melt. I don’t glisten like a Southern Belle; I gush and continue to gush well after I quit my activity.

Photo by Fabio Pelegrino on Pexels.com

I didn’t notice it so much during my younger days. I guess I was too intent on the young females in skimpy bathing suits. I did notice it in the hay, corn, and cotton fields of my youth but then there were no girls about to distract me. There was no scent of Coppertone to inhale, just the scent of “Ode de Don” as certain areas became yeasty with the heat generated from my effort.

I was reminded of this, this past weekend. My walking friend was out of town, and I decided to do our weekly walk without him. During my days running before my knees let me down, Saturdays were what I called LSD runs…you had to be tripping to do them…especially in the summer. No, LSD stood for long, slow distance. For me, during those days of yesteryear, it was usually a ten miler. Now, in real time, it is a five miler, walking.

Due to so much uncluttered time with no one to talk to, I was forced to do something I rarely do…think.  What I thought about was how thankful I was to be on the trail this beautiful if humid morning. What made me more thankful were the large numbers of people who appeared to be, like me, refugees from a geriatric ward. 

These were “seasoned” men and women who were trying to outride, outrun, or out walk the grim reaper.  I was particularly motivated by the much older couple who strolled up the slight incline using walking canes while holding hands.  There was a young man who came screaming up the incline on his low-slung hand powered bicycle, useless legs just along for the ride.  AMAZING AND MOTIVATING!

I want to apologize to the three older men I met.  Not for what I thought or said, but for the fact my jaw went slack and agape when I saw the large expanse of white skin and hair from their shirtless bodies.  Guys, I know it was hot and humid, but you should not run without a shirt. In fact, anything you might do without a shirt should be privately contained.  “Guys, I apologize for my facial expression, but you looked like three very pale Mr. Potato Heads.

My tee shirt had gained about a pound of sweat, but I would never take it off in a public place…not even at a pool. I am in fairly good shape…for my age…but have reached the age that I now try to sneak up on mirrors when naked or partially naked. 

From Pinterest.com

Despite all the bicep curls I do; my arms are sticklike.  Pushups can’t keep my chest from falling into my stomach, sit ups and planks can’t keep my stomach from collapsing into my rear, and I don’t know where my rear is going. I guess into my feet because they are still growing.

My years of sunbathing, waiting for the transistor radio to alert me when to turn are over. So are my ten-mile LSD runs. I still reserve the right to ogle ladies in swimsuits and spandex. The cute little girl, probably thirty plus, who ran by me, her ponytail bouncing, was like a chocolate dessert. She smiled sweetly as she sprinted by, and I watched in appreciation of the female form. It is okay to look if I don’t touch. I would be like an old dog chasing a car. If I caught it, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

Jimmy Buffett’s ode to aging. “Nothing But a Breeze.”

Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3U6N5NmXWSwpqgCTf-ex4Akj7DmVnUX6kcaN6hEyBC-iHxGtJMeKQrMz0

Lies My TV Taught Me

“The Wild West didn’t have much in the way of forensics; when you saw the bullet hole you’d say, ‘That’s prob’ly what kilt ‘im’.”P.K. Vandcast

My recent trip to Texas got me chasing a pig trail looking for a “Western” rabbit hole.

I am from a generation that learned Wild West history on the “Silver Screen”, both the large one and the smaller one. Many of the producers of Wild West movies and TV programing learned theirs from “dime novels”, the forerunner of comic books, written about Wild West heroes and outlaws alike, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which opened to European audiences in 1887. Much that was learned was not actual history.

I admit I also learned Wild West history through authors like Max Brand and Zane Grey. Later I would add Louis Lamour and Elmore Leonard to my list of western authors read. Since…James Lee Burke’s Holland family series has made the list.

Unfortunately, most of that history, while founded on ‘glimpses’ of the real West, is based upon romanticized lies…romanticized because the truth can be quite boring.

William F. Cody, Buffalo Bill, had firsthand knowledge of the West, he was a rider for the Pony Express, an American soldier, bison hunter, and army scout. He even won a Medal of Honor in 1872. It was revoked in 1917 due to a change in military regulations. The medal was won for gallantry, but Army Scouts were “civilian” scouts. It, along with four others, was restored in the 1980s.

Poster from PBS’s American Experience

More to my point, Cody was a showman and knew what was needed to sell tickets. He sold a lot of tickets. His show would run for thirty years, mostly to sold out crowds, even though Cody had to have help mounting his horse during his later years. The show would tour Europe eight times.

The show featured gun fights, bank robberies, cattle drives, battles with Native Americans and a Wild West version of “Ben Hur’s” chariot race, with chuck wagons. Like any good Wild West show, the good guys always won…usually shooting down a “dark hat” with a six gun.

As many as one thousand actors participated in the three or four hour show and included the likes of Ned Buntline, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and Black rodeo star, Bill Pickett. Unlike the early movies, real Plains Indians and other Native Americans were employed, along with many women and Mexican cowboys. Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, and Red Cloud, all toured with the show. Cody was in some ways an equal opportunity employer.

Rodeo star Bill Pickett-Trend Magazine

His show, along with the print media of the time would go on to influence the motion picture industry during its infancy and to a certain extent still does. The romantic Old West is still portrayed today and is just as inaccurate. Lies build upon lies. This is true of the smaller screen, TV, too.

The first motion picture ever made although that is disputed, was “The Great Train Robbery, a1903 American silent Western film made by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company. During the radio days, pre-TV, Saturday Matinees featured westerns. In 1949 the first western debuted on TV, The Hopalong Cassidy Show. By 1959 there were thirty western TV shows and another fourteen aired the following year.

Frame from the Great Train Robbery

Most of those shows featured the steely eyed hero rather than working cowboys, Rawhide and a few others excepted. “Good Guys with a Gun”, square jawed, squinting eyes and a bedrock sense of what is right and wrong…and a way to enforce the right…the six gun. Matt Dillon facing the gunslinger at High Noon. Every Friday night, on TV, the bad guy drew first, and Matt still sent him to his just desserts.

Actual gunfights in the Old West were exceedingly rare, few and far between despite what we would like to believe. Fewer gunfights took place in the middle of the street at high noon. In the cow town of Dodge City, there was only one. There were shootings at the famous Long Branch Saloon but there were no “rules”. Men didn’t face off in the street at twenty paces and the quickest draw didn’t always win.

The famous Gunfight at the OK Corral didn’t take place at the OK Corral, but in a vacant lot behind it. According to all accounts, it lasted about thirty seconds, a gunfight between the bad guys and the not quite so bad guys. Good and bad were not always clearcut in the Old West.

Gunfights were violent affairs where not one, but several gunshots were usually fired. Six shooters were wildly inaccurate. Often onlookers were hit. And unlike in the movies, easy shots were often missed. Often the two shooters just continued firing until they had completely emptied their pistols and called it a day. If no one was hit, drinks might follow with a lot of backslapping. “Belly up to the bar, boys.”

Gun slingers weren’t even called gun slingers. The more authentic terms for the period would have been “gunman”, “pistoleer”, “shootist,” or just “bad man.” The term gunslinger wasn’t used until the 1920 movie, Drag Harlan. The term was adopted by Western writers and movie makers after the fact.

Most experts on the Old West also agree, it was not the “fastest gun” who won. Most gunfights went to the more accurate shot with the coolest head. Those same historians also agree, if you were shot dead it was probably with a rifle or a shotgun…and likely from behind. Like today, long guns, repeaters like the Henry or Winchester, were preferred because of range, accuracy, and rate of fire.

Still, many associate the American West with the “good guy” with a gun, the lone knight in black instead of shining armor ala Paladin in “Have Gun, Will Travel”. A Colt Single-Action tied down against his thigh instead of a sword. Overall, they are both myths, even though with most myths…there are kernels of truth.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Westerns. “High Noon” with Gary Cooper’s Will Kane I consider to be the greatest Western ever put on film…maybe the greatest film period.  Man versus man, man versus elements, man versus himself. A moral dilemma, stay and fight or take his new bride and run. Kane is loyal, brave, and prideful…even when abandoned by his own town.

Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon ABC News

Will knows that it would be easier if he and his wife merely ran away from killer Frank Miller and his three henchmen, but Kane is emphatic, “They’re making me run,” he says. “I’ve never run from anybody before.” His bride saves the day and Tex Ritter provides a song now playing in my head, “Oh, don’t forsake me oh my darlin’….”

Scenes from High Noon and Oh Don’t Forsake Me Oh My Darlin’ at the end

Westerns shouldn’t be remembered just for their inaccuracies. Hollywood has reflected American culture at its best and its worse, against the backdrop of the politics and social issues of whatever time they are produced. I grew up during the Cold War and cowboys were a bit darker than Roy Rogers or Gene Autrey singing as they rode into the sunset. John Wayne in The Searchers and Alan Ladd in Shane are early examples. Clint Eastwood as the antihero “man with no name” in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Westerns were uniquely American even when they moved to Italy.

Westerns have provided a vehicle to discuss thorny issues in American history too. Dancing with Wolves, Brokeback Mountain, Django Unchained, The Harder They Fall all made political or social statements.  

According to director Quentin Tarantino, “One of the things that’s interesting about westerns in particular is there’s no other genre that reflects the decade that they were made and the morals and the feelings of Americans during that decade [more] than westerns. Westerns are always a magnifying glass as far as that’s concerned.”

I wish our culture weren’t tied so tightly to guns and the fictitious “good guy with a gun”. I have to believe the Westerns my generation grew up with contributed to the mindset. You’re not manly enough if you aren’t willing to settle it man to man with your fists or a gun.

Gun culture is so uniquely American that it is estimated that Clint Eastwood killed almost four hundred victims to the cheers of his adoring fans. According to MovieBodyCounts.com that is good for fifth place on their top twenty-five behind Arnold Schwarzenegger. Don’t despair, Clint was tops in western movies, but John Wayne didn’t make the list. John was more selective about who he killed. Having an internet site devoted to body counts should tell us much about the culture we have created.

Clint Eastwood in a “Fistful of Dollars”

In the American West created by the likes of Max Brand, Zane Grey, or Buffalo Bill, the “good guy with the gun” always wins, kisses the girl…or his horse, and rides off into the sunset. I wish this were true in real life. In real life the good guy is usually out gunned and ends up dead.

***

Don Miller writes on various subjects and in both fiction and nonfiction. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2uADIyymZJmWtp4LzVSDsEk6HTplFqkJAjPIfc3SKJGMLL0FFdP6ENR5o

Blog image of John Wayne and Natalie Wood in the movie The Searchers.

“Big Hat, No Cattle”

 “I was feeling real good and real manly. Until a real cowboy walked by and told me I had my hat on backwards. So much for my career as a cowboy.” – Michael Biehn

Okay, the title is an old Texas saying about someone who is all talk but brings nothing but his mouth to the table of life. A variation is “All Hat, No Cattle.” I began following a pig trail that involved Texans and their cowboy hats…or the lack thereof.

We have family in Texas…no we don’t say that in whispers despite Governor Greg Abbott and Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz being two of my least favorite people. It is my bride’s family anyway. I have plausible deniability. To be clear, we are not from Texas…no, we’re from South Carolina. Oh, the irony.

We have just returned from a week plus in Texas due to a family emergency. My bride’s brother had some issues, and we loaded the modern Conestoga, threw Quigley the Blue Heeler in the back, and drove straight through…as much as our bladders would allow to drive straight through. Including painful gasoline stops, fifteen hours to Richardson just outside of Dallas. I don’t suggest you do that even though we did the same thing coming back.

The brother is recovering, thanks for asking, but it was touch and go for a bit. I’m not sure Quigley will recover…or my back.

I grew up watching “oaters”, western movie reruns and TV programs, on a black and white TV. Many focused in Texas. The Lone Ranger for instance was a former Texas Ranger. I’m sure John Wayne played a Texan at some point in his nearly two hundred movies. Turns out, 1959’s Rio Bravo, its unnecessary 1967 remake El Dorado, and other sixties-era westerns like The Sons of Katie Elder, The Comancheros, and The Undefeated were all filmed in Texas.

Tom Tryon, with his turned-up Stetson, played real life Texas lawman, “Texas John Slaughter”, “who made ’em do what they oughta, and if they didn’t, they died.” That might be the Texas motto, or at least Governor Greg Abbott’s. Chuck Norris in “Walker Texas Ranger?” Too new? Maybe.

Texas is one of those places whose size is only dwarfed by their attitude of self-importance, but I found it interesting that I saw only one cowboy hat. One, and it wasn’t a ten-gallon one or a Stetson. I know they live near the urban center that is Dallas but even JR Ewing of “Dallas” fame, wore a big Stetson, usually white. I thought the good guys wore white hats.

The Texans I saw dressed just like the people from South Carolina. Baseball caps and “do rags” were the fashion choices. There were plenty of wide brimmed, floppy Boonie hats, too. Good thing, it was bright, sunny, and 99 degrees. The heat index? As a Texan so colorfully expressed, “Hotter than three feet up the Devil’s colon.”

The one cowboy hat I saw was obviously on the head of a working cowboy. It wasn’t the hat that was the giveaway but his cowsh!t incrusted cowboy boots. These weren’t boots for looks, these were boots that had stepped in a lot of manure. In between the hat and boots were faded Levi’s, a plain, big, buckled cowboy belt, and a long-sleeved denim snap button shirt. Yes, this fellow was the real deal.

His face was beetle brown, both from the sun and his ethnic background, and etched with crevasses. There seemed to be the permanent squint associated with staring into the sun.  I paused to watch him walk past to see if he had John Wayne’s practiced gait. He didn’t.

John Wayne saunters across the street in Rio Bravo

My thoughts circled, as they often do. I wondered what this fellow thought about the “Saturday Night” cowboys I sometimes see in my home state. Pointy toed cowboy boots, starched jeans with sharply ironed creases, a faded circle caused by a tin of Copenhagen Snuff in the back pocket, colorful western shirt, and a cowboy hat. All contained in a jacked up four by four that costs more than my house and requires a step ladder to climb into.

For some reason, the term “Dime Store Cowboy” comes to mind. I don’t know when I first heard the descriptor but according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “1: one who wears cowboy clothes but has had no experience as a cowboy. 2: one who loafs on street corners and in drugstores.”

“Dime Store” Cowboy? From Urban Cowboy Apparel

One of the most popular films of the 1980s was “Urban Cowboy.” It’s the story of a Houston oil rig roustabout (John Travolta) and a feisty young thing (Debra Winger) that looked great in her jeans. “Bud and Sissy” were “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” according to Johnny Lee. Mostly the film’s action centered around the real-life Country-Western hot spot known as Gilley’s Club and helped elevate country-western music to the forefront.

The movie influenced me…not in a clever way. I hate to admit it, I had a big ole straw cowboy hat with a feathered hat band that put Richard Petty to shame and tried to learn the Texas Two Step. I mean, its two steps, how hard can it be?

I even rode a mechanical bull in an inebriated state once, just once. It was after my first run with Jose Cuervo. That would make me a dime store cowboy, and I don’t think it positively affected my ability to attract cowgirls in tight Levi’s.

Famed Race Car Driver Richard Petty with a hat I always wanted to pet.

Later, the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffett tune ran in my head, “Livingston Saturday Night.” “You got your Tony Lama’s on your jeans pressed tight. You take a few tokes make you feel all right. Rockin’ and a rollin’ on a Livingston Saturday Night.”

“Pickup’s washed and you just got paid. With any luck at all you might even get laid. ‘Cause they’re pickin’ and a kickin’ on a Livingston Saturday night.”

For the uneducated, Tony Lama’s refer to cowboy boots…expensive cowboy boots. I perused their site and the cheapest I saw were on sale for $695.00. I’ve bought cars for less. A Stetson El Presidente worn by JR to top off his western business look was a cool $919.00. Maybe that is why I didn’t see but one cowboy hat and it was the cheaper straw variety. Boy Howdy.

Cowboys wearing wide brimmed ten-gallon hats were a myth perpetuated by their depiction in early movies. Early western film star, Tom Mix wore the biggest in almost three hundred, mostly silent films. Of course, he was more flamboyant matinee idol than cowboy although he was an excellent rider and shot in real life. He was also friendly with Wyatt Earp of OK Corral fame, who didn’t wear a ten-gallon hat. He wore a medium brimmed, somewhat tall, crowned hat in photographs.

Tom Mix in a white ten gallon plus hat

The hat of choice by western cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen? The Derby, often called a Bowler. Narrow brimmed, it stayed on their heads in high winds and still protected from the sun. Renowned lawman Bat Masterson, renowned outlaw Butch Cassidy, and renowned killer or a misunderstood young man, William Bonney, known as Billy the Kid, shared that fashion statement. So did many of their contemporaries who were not as famous.

Butch Cassady and the Hole in the Wall Gang

To be clear, all cowboys didn’t wear one type of hat, but it was more about what they could get their hands on. Wild Bill Hickok even wore a ladies’ pancake hat.

The man with the cowboy hat seemed out of place in an area that should have been awash in cowboy hats. Out of place but then I realized I saw him in a Walmart. Nothing is out of place in a Walmart whether in South Carolina or Texas.

Gene Autry’s ode to the dime store cowboy before there were dime stores. “I’m an Old Cowhand.”

Don Miller’s writings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1l23Kv0gebvmz3IbLqYeEtFUuZyUvj4_kM3k59LhVQjCr0bkmbp6V_Hd4

Goodbye HoJo, I Thought You Had Already Died

“Little roadside restaurant we artfully complain, Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain” – Opening Lyrics of Jimmy Buffett’s Coast of Carolina

Earlier in the week I made note of the passing of the last, orange roofed, Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Once it boasted hundreds of restaurants along with motels. First the motels were sold off to Marriott, who later sold them themselves. The restaurants were closed until there was only one left standing in St. George, New York. I was surprised to learn that it still existed. I also noted that as a child I referred to it as Howard and Johnson’s. Stupid kid thoughts.

Yes, “Another baby-boomer icon has bitten the dust. The last remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the orange-roofed baby-boomer favorite known for fried clams and twenty-eight flavors of ice cream including both peanut and pecan brittle, shut its doors, bringing down the curtain on a chain that once boasted 1,000 locations across the nation, the Times Union reported. The outlet, in Lake George, New York, closed this spring after almost 70 years.”

I am a baby-boomer, but I am not a gourmet of wine or food…I don’t speak French either. I do know what I like, and Howard Johnson’s was never what I liked…ice cream not included. I can’t remember any ice cream I didn’t like.

I ‘m certainly am not making a definitive epicurean review but when I hear the lyric, “Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain,” several restaurants come to mind, HoJo being one of them along with the cafeteria style S & S my father and brother and I frequented when we visited my mother in the State Hospital in Columbia.

My mother was part of a study of ALS, known as Lou Gerig’s Disease, at the state mental hospital, less than affectionally known as the crazy house. Our Sunday visit lunch choice was the S & S. I do not have fond memories of the S & S, but it is more about the death of my mother than their food offerings. Well, there was their green Jell-O salad.

Cafeteria style right down to the plastic plates and glasses. Good, cheap food…well cheap at least. With their different food choices and ambiance, I shouldn’t equate HoJo’s and S & S to each other, except their “facture de tarif” should have been accompanied by a gastric SOS. Facture de tarif is bill of fare, but I had to look it up.

Howard Johnson’s died due to the fast-food industry and the lifestyles we are forced to live. Most of us don’t have the means or the time to sit down for even a cafeteria style meal. There are other restaurants that died too, thanks to the fast-food hamburgers and fried chicken…along with some of their fans as ground beef patties fried in fat clogged their arteries.

The first hamburger chain in the States was White Castle opened in 1921. It was opened by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson who started with the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita in 1916. They had a small menu which had cheap, square shaped hamburgers and they sold them in large numbers. The first franchises appeared in 1921 (A&W Root Beer franchised their syrup) and the first restaurant franchise appeared in the 1930s by Howard Johnson.

Johnson didn’t know he was contributing to the eventual demise of his restaurant and honestly it didn’t begin to snowball until the Fifties when the American love for cars became associated with suburbs, drive-ins and in my part of the world, the Hardee’s fifteen cent hamburger that made its appearance during the Fifties and Colonel Sanders’ KFC sold its first franchise in1952.

As bad as I thought Howard Johnson’s food was, it didn’t die because of its chicken dying in vain. It was American lifestyle changes. Well, the chicken might have contributed.

I do feel remorse that another symbol of my youth is gone even though the orange roof had been previously forgotten by me. I also regret all fast food doesn’t taste like Burger King hamburgers smell. But then Burger King hamburgers don’t taste like they smell.

May all your fast-food hamburger patties be larger than the pickle slice topping it and may you not die of a heart attack from eating them.

A little live Buffett for your listening enjoyment. No, not Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Don’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Gpuu1x2MckONqCD6fIVcrtZbn6FG4595ZSgRqE2sDiwZAzECxvPAF7lI

“Celebrating” Memorial Day

A Pacifist laments Memorial Day

Ravings of a Mad Southerner

Grills will be lit; beer will be iced.  Pool parties will be scheduled.  Many will celebrate a three-day weekend.  Many will not consider, “What cost?”

Memorial Day is a remembrance of horror, the costs of war, in blood and bone, in flesh, in broken bodies and minds.  It is a remembrance of loss.  The day should not be a celebration but too many of us treat it as if it were.

We have fallen in love with the idea of war.  We have been at war for far too long.  I was born during the Korean “Conflict”, came of age during the Cold War and Vietnam.  I have lived through too many wars, lived through what has become almost continuous.

We glorify our military conquests and denigrate anything other than total victory.  Memorial Day should be a sobering recognition of what glorification costs instead of a drunken celebration of war.

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Culture of the Gun

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”                 – attributed to Albert Einstein

As a retired teacher I have suffered over the deaths at Uvalde…and Columbine…and Sandy Hook…and…so many more. Late in my career I participated in “active shooter” drills and helped to produce strategies to counter an attack. We locked our doors even though the only thing between us and an active shooter was a five-eighth piece of sheet rock.

Since the brutal deaths of nineteen students and two teachers in a Texas school, barely a week after the shooting of six, one killed, in a California church, and ten killed in a New York grocery store many have opinions on what needs to be done to ensure the safety of our children and ourselves.

Most of the reactions follow a familiar path, “thoughts and prayers”, media outcries for change, pro-gun rights folks debate anti-gun rights folks including deflection, time passes with nothing happening except more guns are bought until the furor dies and we are again shocked with the next mass shooting. The debate begins again and honestly…we don’t seem to be as shocked as we once were.

I’ve seen suggestions from arming teachers, my least favorite out of myriads of least favorites, to we must “harden the targets.” That sounds like something from a war zone or a “sh!th@le” country. All ignore the underlying issue. A culture that embraces violence over diplomacy and access to weapons to execute that violence.

Another suggests “evil exists, and laws will not change that.” The next time a highway patrolman pulls me for speeding I think I’ll try that one out. No, I’m not equating speeding to murder, but the comment has me wondering why we have laws at all. Laws are for honest people?

Let me be fair. It is not just about school, church, or supermarket shootings. It is the drive by in LA, or gang violence in Chicago or Baltimore, or the drunken good ole boy who decides to William Tell a PBR can off his friend’s head and misses a bit low with his hunting rifle.

It’s about four students wounded while walking to their prom. It is about gunfire due to road rage and looking cross eyed at the wrong person. It’s about good old boys strapping AR-15s to their back when they get a coffee at the local coffee shop. It is about a lack of empathy and ignoring the sanctity of life in favor of an amendment.

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of youth death’s surpassing automobile accidents. Most were suicides. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384). The numbers came from the CDC and were backed by other sources. According to CNN, personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own a firearm, yet 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted.

It is a fact that it took a finger to pull the trigger, the gun didn’t do it on its own, and these Pew and CDC statistics do not reflect accidental gun deaths or where guns were a contributing factor but not the cause of death. It is also true that we live in a gun rich environment. Five percent of the world’s population owns 44-46% of the world’s civilian firearms depending on the study you might be reading. According to a recent CNN study, we own more guns than we have people, one hundred-twenty guns per one hundred people.

According to a Scientific American study in 2015, assaults with a firearm were 6.8 times more common in states that had the most guns, compared to the least. More than a dozen studies have revealed that if you had a gun at home, you were twice as likely to be killed as someone who didn’t.

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health tells us that states with higher gun ownership levels have higher rates of homicide. Data even tells us that where gun shops or gun dealers open for business, killings go up. There are always exceptions to the rule, but some politicians would have you ignore the overall data and quote the exceptions rather than the rule.

In an article by Fortune Magazine published by Yahoo, Gun rights groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year, compared to just $2.9 million in lobbying from gun control groups. Beyond lobbying, gun groups have contributed $50.5 million to federal candidates and party committees between 1989 and 2022, with the vast majority going to Republicans. They spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending.

Oh, but the Second Amendment…. I’m not going to debate it except to say that one side always ignores two words, “well regulated.”

Will there be a change after Buffalo and Uvalde? If history repeats, why would I expect there would be change. I don’t believe I am an overly cynical person but why would I expect change? Guns are as much a part of our culture as mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Other than exchanging duck and cover drills for active shooter drills little has changed.

Our history is rife with violence, mostly involving a gun. Our country was born from violence and expanded using violence. Do we have a greater propensity for violence than other countries? I don’t know but other countries have done a better job of curbing theirs.

We have violent games, violent movies glorifying the gun and the heroic figure welding it. I’m just as guilty. Several of my novels include violence…gun violence but the good guy with the gun always saved the day…unlike real life. 

When I read my comic books, Zane Grey, or Louis Lamoure, I knew it was fiction. James Arness or John Wayne wasn’t really gunning them down in the streets. After I became a history student, I found out their fiction was…based on fiction. There were few gunfights in the streets and the Gunfight at the OK Corral lasted about thirty seconds. My novels are no different.

Other cultures have violent games, movies, and literature, but they don’t have real-life violence like we do here. Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the violent. Maybe we should look at the underlying issues that lead to violence and attempt to correct them.

It is mental illness. I believe someone who goes out and kills nineteen children is mentally ill…but that doesn’t give him a free pass. Other countries with much lower murder rates have mental illnesses too. Could it have something to do with our health system? Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

It is parenting. Probably but why? Single parent homes? Parents having to work multiple jobs leaving their children to their own devices. Cycles of poverty? We don’t seem to care much once a child is born.

Criminals will always find a way…yes probably. Why are we not cutting off access at the source? Gunmakers and smugglers? Everything is done after the murder instead of trying to prevent it. Could it be gunmakers and politicians are making too much money off the sale of legal and illegal firearms?

Maryland was one of the outliers in the Pew study. Strict gun laws but a higher number of gun deaths. Sixty-five percent of the guns used in violence in Maryland that could be traced came from other states with laxer gun laws. I don’t know the numbers but the same can be said about Chicago, I’m sure. Just something to ponder.

Cain killed Abel with a rock. Yep, if the Bible is to be believed. I would rather confront a killer walking around with a bag of rocks than a bag of thirty round magazines and a rifle or pistol to put them in.

Along the same lines, “We’ve taken God out of … fill in the blank.” There are many countries who aren’t considered “Christian Countries” who have much lower gun homicide rates. Research Shinto Japan and while you are at it research their gun laws. Japan has a very violent history at times. Somehow, they decided to overcome it as did other less Christian countries.

It does seem we have lost our appreciation for the sanctity of life…all life. Our hatred for others leads us to violence. Disagreement has become life threatening. Some Christians will say it is because we have become Godless, I will say that some Christians have driven me from organized religion because they are Jesus-less. If you can’t appreciate the Earth and the people who live on it I want no part of you.

I don’t expect any of this will change anyone’s mind about guns…or violence…or mental illness and I don’t believe any effective change will occur. Gun violence is too engrained in our culture, and we pass it on to our children. I fear it is who we are.

***

For clarification, Albert Einstein had many thoughtful quotes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” was not one of them. The quote, or a similar quote, first appeared in an Al-Anon article in 1981. There is no evidence Einstein ever said it.

Research cited


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-is-clear-gun-control-saves-lives/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/26/world/us-gun-culture-world-comparison-intl-cmd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2vEhlMbsPbVhwBEXTyXtC6iUkx2VAkGf37uCdLzyMABlHEDSPSANOacV0

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/lobbying-gun-rights-groups-hit-152634408.html

Thoughts and Prayers….

Updated from five years ago. Little has changed

Ravings of a Mad Southerner

PESSIMISM WARNING! I hate to pee in your Cheerios, but nothing will change. Another mass shooting, another school shooting.  It is just who we are. We are a toxic brew of violent nature, toxic masculinity, with a gun and target rich environment.

We are first in mass shootings, first in gun deaths, nearly half in suicides, and domestic abuse. More than any county of the “civilized” world, not at war. But nothing will change. We make it about anything other than intelligent gun control or an in-depth study of our violent culture and how we perpetuate it.

We don’t want to spend money on education to lift up people, we would rather spend it on prisons or shift school money to private schools. We would rather erect a wall than take a serious look at our own culture and its motivations and the dangers from within.

It must be about…

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Old Screen Doors, Friends, and Mayonnaise Sandwiches

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a [loaf of] bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.” ― Shel Silverstein

Shel’s words put me to thinking of old screen doors, flapping in the breeze. I like quotes…other people’s quotes because I’m not bright enough to create my own. I’m a lot like an old screen door. How many slams do I have left?

The old door’s paint is an silver gray that was once white. In places bare wood shows, the paint worn away from the many hands pressing against it. I remember the slam it makes as it shuts behind you. A shout from one of the grownups, “Quit slammin’ the door!!!!”

A portion of the screen shows rust, ready to crumble if touched. The spring that pulls the door shut is sprung, not doing its job as well as it did when it was first hung.

My hinges are still intact but operate with a rusty squeak. Like the old door, with a little help, I’m able to do the job of filling the space I was first hung to fill. Just push the door closed gently and don’t make me move too quickly.

I don’t know how many slices of bread I have left in my loaf. I’m sure those that I have are dry like toast, and a bit moldy. Looking in a mirror, I’m thinkin’ moldy hardtack. Is it an age thing to contemplate your future as you look back on your past?

As the size of the loaf decreases, I wonder, “Is it better to slice them thin or cut the slices thick?” I do love my carbohydrates but to carry the metaphor further, “Isn’t it what is on the inside of the sandwich that makes the sandwich?” A fresh tomato sandwich is just a mayonnaise sandwich if you hold the tomato. Isn’t the bread there to soak up the sweet juices of the tomato and the tartness of the Dukes Mayonnaise? There may be a metaphor there too. Doesn’t our outward glow come from the juices within?

The rest of Shel’s quote deals with what is on the inside and I’m not sure about that either. “How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”

I’m not doing a tremendous job of “living” my days well. If living them good requires productivity, I’m empty. I have plenty to do…I’m just not doing it. I choose instead to frolic with my new puppy or author essays that you people don’t read. Well, I must do some grass mowing and weed eating…tomorrow.

I have two close friends, my bride, and the legend Hawk. I’m lucky to know two people I can count on…outside of my family…maybe. Granted, they may grumble a bit…especially my bride. I feel inadequate when I compare their friendship to my friendship toward them. Is it enough to just be there? I feel I should do more. Are they investing more than I?

I need to be less contemplative. I feel inadequate when it comes to my family too.

Elbert Hubbard is quoted, saying, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” I do agree. It’s good to have someone to talk to who won’t judge you and holds on to my secrets like a miser pinching a penny. Thoughts I would never tell my wife I tell Hawk, and vice versa.

Friends are comfortable with each other. Comfortable to sit and listen and reframe from commenting. No opinion, no commentary, no judgement. Just a simple nod of the head. Comfortable to tell the truth when asked without fear of someone getting their nose out of joint.

Comfortable like your favorite jeans…or a worn-out screen door. They don’t even seem to mind when it slams behind you. Okay, maybe I’m a better friend than I supposed. I listen and nod my head a lot.

Now if I can answer the question, “Cut the bread thin or thick?” I think thick…go for the gusto and make sure the tomato is thick too…add a grilled hamburger with lettuce and onions. You get from life what you put into it. My grandmother would have said, “You reap what you sow.” I would say, “If you don’t take the time to plant them, there won’t be a tomato slice in your sandwich.”

Don Miller writes on various subjects in various genres. His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2Tt2GKJxfLHrqnRj07OkDGGWGHSd2QDPwTSQgohR3DMnLhAvDoeDL8nGY