I AM SHUTTING DOWN THIS BLOG.
LOOK FOR RON MCKINNEY AKA OLD MACK IN YOUR BOOKSTORES.
I AM SHUTTING DOWN THIS BLOG.
LOOK FOR RON MCKINNEY AKA OLD MACK IN YOUR BOOKSTORES.
The Battle Invades My Sleep
By OldMack 08/11/2012 08:48
Previously published on Craigslist.org\lit and writing forum
The Battle Invades My Sleep
Sixty Anniversaries laid end to end stretch from that damned hill to my bed. Ghosts span that bridge of time who died on that ridge so long ago and so young. Time has leeched the color from their faces, from the sky and ground; the azure and ocher and crimson are gray as the bottoms of nimbus clouds now overhead. Those few days of August, twenty-one thousand nine hundred days in the past, caught up with me again while I tried to nap. As always I try to infuse those days and hours and deaths with meaning and, as always, there is none; they are simply bad days in August, mere tropical storms of the past.
RANDY’S WEEKEND VISIT.
The man who inspired the doggerel verse below has been my friend for forty-nine years. Last Friday, April 5th, he and his lady arrived at last, parked his huge, white Toyota pickup truck in our driveway and made themselves at home.
Randall looked slim and fit, as I expected, for he’s been hiking the hills of New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho most of the past year. But I was startled by his shock of thick hair which has turned snow white since I last visited him in Naples, Florida three years ago.
After our back-slapping abrazo, Randall turned to his lady and introduced her as Zia. Chris and Zia embraced and kissed; Zia shook my hand and gave me a thin smile.
“I love that shirt,” Zia said.
“This is one of my new Plane Shirts. My daughter, Kathleen, makes them for me. Kathleen is a flight instructor at the Westwind School of Aeronautics out in Phoenix; in her spare time she makes “Plane Clothes” and sells them at airport gift shops and on eBay. Randy has known her since she was in kindergarten.”
Randy added: “I haven’t seen Kathleen since her mother had that restaurant in Eastern Oregon. . .”
“The Wooden Nickel,” I interjected. That’s where Chris first met Millie. Pure serendipity. We stopped at the Wooden Nickel after a long night of driving up through the wilds of Nevada and there were my daughters behind the counter, Kathleen and Colleen were shocked to see me, and Lisa was at the range in the kitchen grilling burgers. Millie came out, took Chris by the hand and with a jug of wine they disappeared. While they were gone the girls had me in the scullery washing dishes.”
Randy gave Chris a quizzical look. “I didn’t know you had met Millie.”
“Oh yes. It was instant recognition; we knew we had the same cross to bear.” Chris said, tugging my sleeve. “Let me show Randy and Zia our guest room before you start another long-winded story.”
Last Thursday Chris and Allison went to Publix Market. They came home with a bagful of Poblano Chilies, the fattest I’ve ever seen. I was doubtful that they would serve for Randy to make his famous Chili Rellenos.
The luscious Poblano Chili Pepper (courtesy of Wikipedia)
The first step in the process of preparing the Poblano is to roast it over an open flame to char its skin. We took the chilies and a wet towel out to my camper van in the back yard.
The van hasn’t been opened since I quit trying to restore it more than a year ago. We had to remove the passenger seat and set it on the porch of the shop, and then shuffle the gear out of my boat, before Randy could get to the propane gas range to roast the chilies.
I turned on the gas valve while Randy spread the damp towel on the drop-leaf table and skewered the first pepper with a long-tined bar-b-Que fork. I handed him a box of wooden matches and he lit the burner. Both of us were surprised when that blue ring of flame lit up. Randy patiently rotated the pepper in the flame, blackening its skin and then laying it to steam between folds of the wet towel. As he worked on the peppers, Randy quizzed me about the design and construction of my boat; I was happy to tell him in detail how I dreamed up the boat during a long passage through the heart of Texas in our old house truck and then made a pair of I-Beam saw horses and laid the keel across them.
“I intended to make it light, a car-topper. But recalling the chop in San Francisco Bay, when the westerly winds whip up the water as the tide is ebbing, I beefed it up. I used three laminations for the sides of the hull and five on the bottom. As an afterthought I skinned the boat in Dynel cloth saturated with Epoxy. So that made it as heavy as a fiberglass boat; it would take a crane to stack it on top of a car or truck like you canoe; Randy asked what it weighed and I guessed eight hundred to a thousand pounds.
We carried the roasted chilies into the kitchen and Randy began to peel them.
“Do you have any enchilada sauce?” he asked. I didn’t.
“Let’s let these cool and go to the store. We’ll need more cheese than you have on hand, another dozen eggs, and the enchilada sauce.”
We split up in the store; Randy had to make a head call. I picked up the extra block of aged cheddar, a block of Pepper Jack, and a quart of sour cream. When I met him in the aisle where enchilada sauce is kept, Randy also had a block of cheddar. “Let’s get both,” I said, “I’ll use the cheese left over to go on burritos.”
Meanwhile, Chris and Zia were getting acquainted, telling each other about their years of hitch-hiking alone around the country in their “hippie” days. I had noticed earlier how down to earth Zia seemed, casually dressed and warm, open demeanor. Chris had downloaded the DVD movie “The Life of PI,” and assumed the reclining position on the sofa and Zia was supine on our love seat, engrossed in the movie.
I stood in the kitchen watching Randy make the Chili Rellenos, from removing the skin and seeds from the peppers, slicing them in half, inserting the sticks of cheddar and folding them over. And then he separated yokes from white, whipped the whites to peaks and then added the yokes and beat the batter some more while the skillet heated on the range. He poured batter in two skillets, added a stuffed pepper to each and then poured more of the frothy eggs over them. He cooked them first on one side to a golden brown and then flipped them and cooked the other side. I had cleared out the oven and placed a large baking sheet at his disposal. Quickly, it seemed, Randy had loaded the baking sheet with six chili rellenos each about five inches in diameter. He had set the oven to pre-heat to 350 degrees. I told him to turn it down to three hundred on the dial as that would control the temperature at 350.
Randy opened a couple green bottles of Yuengling Traditional Lager, reputedly Americas oldest brew. I would have preferred Corona Light, but the Yuengling tasted fine and I felt the alcohol affecting me before I’d half finished my bottle.
I’m normally loquacious, but after a bottle of strong beer there’s no shutting me up. With less than half a bottle working with my pills, I began to quiz Randy about his family. One of his daughters, the eldest, Allyson, lives in Brandon, just south of us, whom Randy plans to visit when he leaves here. Although he’s been divorced for almost a decade, he has maintained the house and acreage he inherited from his dad, but he recently sold out.
“I sold everything, the house, my boat, the whole ball of wax,” he said, “and went on my walk about.”
Since returning from his isolated sojourn in Ketchum, Idaho, Randy has been staying with his elder sister, Penny, in Naples and has resumed his psychological counseling business.
“It’s amazing how rapidly my former clientele returned and brought in a lot of new business. My work schedule is already busier than I like it to be.”
Before obtaining his Masters degree and getting his counseling license, Randy had worked for Outward Bound Schools for twenty years. One can imagine how being chained to an office must gall him. And yet he does it. I imagine many of his clients are troubled youngsters; Randy was one himself, prior to going to work as an instructor for Outward Bound in the Pacific Northwest. Becoming responsible for the lives of his students mellowed Randy, or so it seemed to me. Some day I hope to engage him on the subject more fully.
We dined at our kitchen table. In addition to the Chili Rellenos I served a large bowl of my home-made chilli con carne and a bowl of white steamed rice. The dinner was a success. (two of the chili rellenos were saved and I ate them both for breakfast at 0400 on Sunday morning).
Before leaving we discussed my boat, which Randy and Zia would like to have; I had shown them all of the work the boat needed in the way of cosmetic care and told them to contact our Allison, who has title to the boat. I phoned A.J. and gave her a heads up. I’d like to see the boat go to Randy, who will use it before it decays into a pile of powdered plastic and slivers; it’s been eight full years since the boat was last sailed and my sailing days are over.
Chris and I are both still in a trance, not quite able to believe our weekend was real; it seems more like a happy dream.
Crossing the street was nothing new; I crossed it many times every day to play in those vacant lots opposite our house. One of the other boys had brought the packing crate in which something very large had been shipped from back east to a store in San Diego; the crate, was made of thin plywood stapled to long, narrow boards. The empty box wasn’t too heavy; four of us lugged it from the sidewalk to the center of the vast vacant lot where we installed it in the midst of beaten-down weeds and declared it our Club House, No Girls Allowed. I had been crossing the street to play in the club house when it happened.
I remember dropping something which lodged in the groove between one of the streetcar tracks and the pavement. That’s about all I remembered when I first woke up in the County Hospital. I recognized the place. It hadn’t been so long since I got over the sickness called scarlet fever and diptheria. In addition to being bruised and sore all over I was humiliated and angry when I found myself in a bed enclosed all round by metal bars like a baby’s crib.
It was later, after the hospital was done with me, that my mother told me that I’d been struck by a car. People talk about kids being run over by cars; apparently the car hadn’t actually run over me. Mother said she saw the whole thing and that when hit by the car I’d flown into the air, sailed over the roof of the car, and landed in the street behind it, where I just lay. Mother thought I was dead, she said, but she didn’t see any blood and then I groaned and moved a hand or a leg or something, so she scooped me up and put me into the back seat of the car which had hit me and she told the driver how to get to the County Hospital.
When mother and the driver came to get me out of the hospital and take me home, I sat on the back seat beside a stack of gift-wrapped packages. While I’d been stuck in that baby’s crib, being told to HUSH by every nurse who came by, mother and the driver had become good friends and they had gone shopping together at Ward’s toy department and bought presents for me.
I thought their presents were neat. The Gene Autry cap pistol and real leather holster were great, even though caps were hard to get and firing them irritated our neighbors.
For some time after the incident I dreamed of flying. I would fly from the street in front of our house, soar over the vacant lots and our club house and sail right over the city and out over the bay to the Naval Air Station on North Island and land in the midst of fighters and sea planes as gracefully as a gull. Flying home again I’d circle over Balboa Park to make the caged Condors envious and then land in my bed.
“From solitude in the womb, we emerge into solitude among our Fellows, and return again to solitude within the Grave. We pass our lives in the attempt to mitigate that solitude . . . .”
From Aldous Huxley’s After Many A Summer Dies The Swan via Goodreads and Rodger Jacobs’ Silver Lake Adjacent blog.
Forgetting The Score
Is bad enough,
Forgetting the name of the game
In this season on Sundays
Unlike other days of the week
The wife and I share the same room with the telly
Watching two goups maul each other
How do you tell them apart?
Their uniforms are different, dear.
But they both have stylized raptors on their headgear
And look, they have their bloody hands all over the ball.
I’ve forgotten the score and which team won,
But that doesn’t matter, does it?
It was the way they played the game,
Despite the pain it must have cost.
I’ve forgotten the pain I’ve inflicted too,
While knowing there must have been plenty.
I only dimly recall a few of the brawls,
When I gave as good as I got.
I remember when I and my wife were slim,
She wore long jersey gowns with paisley prints
Which clung to her like a second skin and turned me on
Knowing she was naked under it.
We’ve aged together and the first thing we ask each other is:
What day is this? It’s Sunday, shall we watch the game?
Which game are they playing today?
I believe it’s the world series of football, or something like that.
Home From the Hills.
By Ron McKinney December 20, 2012
Tomorrow will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the day that MSTS troop ship, the General John Pope raised the Farallone Islands off the starboard bow. A hundred or so troops, soldiers and marines, rushed to the farthest point forward on the weather deck to see San Francisco rise on the horizon. We were elbowing and shoving each other out of the way. An old Army First Sergeant who had been teaching me to whittle gave a young Staff Sergeant the evil eye and said “Give this Marine some space, Soldier. Frisco is the lad’s home town.”
The ship changed course a few degrees to port and the waves breaking against the cliffs below the Cliff House were brilliant white against the umber face of the rocks. I could see George Washington High, where I’d completed Tenth Grade. Some unpleasant memories tried to surface, but then the troops on deck sent up a cheer and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view. It was my first sight of the bridge from the sea and it is truly spectacular. As the ship began to sail under the bridge, I’d have bet the forward mast would hit the damned thing; the deck of the bridge appeared to be that close. Of course it didn’t hit it, and the ship docked at the Army pier at Fort Mason, put out her gangway and five thousand soldiers shuffled off.
And then the ship sailed past Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf and finally docked at Treasure Island, where the Marines and Sailors disembarked.
What followed was very embarrassing. During the crossing someone had stolen my sea bag. The bag contained all of my uniforms save the dirty dungarees I’d been wearing for the past twenty days; even though I’d scrubbed them many times, soot from the pots in the galley was ground into them and they were mottled and would have made good camouflage gear. I was ordered to wait until all the troops were ashore and then I had to search all of the compartments, accompanied by the Officer of the Deck, trying to find the sea bag. It wasn’t there, so I was finally given permission to disembark.
There was a crowd still waiting on the dock as I came down the gangway. Prominent, because of the sign she was waving stood my sister, her two-year-old daughter, and several of her friends. I had time for only a quick “hello,” and then I had to run to the supply building for processing. I told Laura not to wait as processing might take all day.
I was issued a complete set of uniforms, shoes and new boots. I dashed into a barrack building and got out of my filthy utility uniform, took a shower and put on Greens; I looked like a raw recruit as I went back for orders to my next duty station, for leave papers and for an I.D. card. The clerk making the I.D. card said: “Jeezus, Mack. You won’t even be able to buy a drink to celebrate surviving the war.” With that he grinned and winked and made a second card with a date of birth which made me twenty-one plus three months. “Don’t flash that damned thing around here, Mack.”
By noon I was in a Yellow cab crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge into the City. We turned up Powell Street and followed a cable car past Union Square, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and turned right on Bush Street. At number 636 I got out, shouldered my sea bag and buzzed my sister’s apartment. She wanted to know about the war. I wanted a drink.
“I’m going across the street to that cocktail bar,” I said.
“You’re too young to buy a drink. The bartender will card you.”
“That’s okay,” I said, whipping out my extra I.D. card, which she examined closely.
“How’d you get that?”
“The office clown saw me come by in my dungarees and realized I was a real combat veteran and he took pity on me. That’s an authentic card, Sis.”
I borrowed a pair of my brother-in-law’s slacks and a sport shirt and went across to the bar. I ordered bourbon and water. The bartender poured it with shaking hands. He did not ask to see my I.D. card.
“You missed all the excitement,” he said.
“What did I miss?”
“The cops just left with the guy who tried to rob me.” The bartender pointed to a bullet hole in the top of the bar two stools from where I sat.
“Guy came in, waived his revolver and told everyone to go into the storage room. Then Bam! His gun went off. I opened the till, and scooted into the storeroom. So while the guy is grabbing the money, we all jumped down from the loading dock and split. I found the beat cop up near Powell Street and told him about the robber. So the cop walks in with his pistol drawn and there’s the robber sitting on a stool helping himself to a shot of whiskey. The cop cuffed him and frog marched him out to the curb where he called for the Paddy Wagon.” He wiped the bar with a flourish.
“You from around here?” the bartender asked.
“My folks live across the street. But I just got off a troop ship from Korea less than an hour ago. This is my first drink in the U.S.A.”
“What outfit were you with?”
“First Marines,” I said.
“Drinks are on the house, Mack. You ready for another?”
“I’ll have one more and then I’ve got to scoot. Today is my mother’s birthday.”
“Are you Ruth Cone’s son? She comes in every evening after work with her husband, Jim. Talks about you all the time. You got wounded, right?” I nodded.
“Ruth brought in a Time Magazine, had a picture of your outfit and a story about Bunker Hill. She pointed you out and there you were, with a big white battle dressing on your arm. Did it heal up okay?”
“Healed up and didn’t even leave scars. I went back on the line that same night, but with a different outfit. But tell me something about Ruth’s husband; they just got married a month before I enlisted and he was in the hospital with T.B.”
“Jim’s a prince of a guy. Works in the Orchid Room at the St. Francis Hotel.”
“What’s Ruth doing?”
“She’s working two jobs. Breakfast shift at the Continental Hotel and afternoon shift at Blum’s, down on Stockton Street. She’ll be in for her birthday drink this evening.”
“Speaking of which, I’d better get out of here. She doesn’t know I drink and she might raise hell with me if she finds me here.”
The bartender laughed. “She might at that,” he said. “Welcome home, Mack.”
Down here in Florida things tend to happen in November. Rarely do any hurricanes strike us after the middle of November, but one did back in 1950 and it surprised me as much as the natives.
On the first of the month I rented an efficiency apartment. It was in the half-basement of a house in Lake Worth, and an easy walk to my job; I was carrying block and mixing mud for a mason, who was building a new show room for the Chevy dealer, when that late hurricane came ashore between Hollywood and West Palm Beach.
A few days before the storm hit I had phoned my father, who was out of work in Middle Tennessee and waiting for a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He had jokingly said as I was leaving: “Write or phone if you find work.” I didn’t know the joke, which he later told me was common during the Great Depression, when I was but an infant. So I called him, collect, and boasted that I had a job paying 50 cents an hour and had a nice apartment. “Come on down,” I’d said.
I couldn’t believe it when my father, his wife and their kids showed up. But there they all were. Claude doesn’t take up much room, but his wife, Edna, was a buxom big woman and her daughter, Kathy, was a basketball player. My half-brother, Charles Lee, was only ten and skinny as a rail, so he took up the least amount of space. Charlie and I slept on pallets on the floor; Dad, Edna and Kathy shared my big double bed.
On the first day we were all up before sunrise. Dad went off on foot to look for work. I hiked to my job. And Edna and Kathy were there in my apartment sorting the bag of pinto beans for rocks and putting them in the kettle to soak.
Someone must have been warned that the storm was coming because county and city workers were out taking down traffic signs and business owners were taping their plate-glass windows and boarding them up. We were pouring the tie beam and buttresses with concrete that day and it was messy, hard work. I ate my bologna sandwich at noon. But we didn’t do anything else that day but gather up stray boards and tools and store them inside the roofless building to keep them from blowing away. And the whole time my mind was on beans.
Edna might not be the best cook I’ve known, but she can sure cook a great batch of beans, if given the butt of a pork shoulder to flavor them. She had baked a pone of yellow cornbread to go with the beans and boiled some dandy lion greens she and Kathy had picked. All four of us sat on whatever was handy with our bowls of beans on our laps eating as if it were about to go out of style.
We hadn’t no more than crawled into our beds when Charlie moved his pallet closer to mine and asked if I was scared. I admitted I was, but just a bit. The wind was howling and the fronds of those two royal palms out front were clattering like crazy, but the house above us was solid brick and had weathered storms before. Charlie was glad to hear that, and fell asleep with his back side tight against mine.
It was after midnight when Edna got up and turned on the lights. Water was spraying on the bed. A thin, vertical fan of water was being blown in through a hairline crack between the front windows. We shoved the bed to one side of the large room, but nobody was going to sleep in it that night.
“Did you wet the bed?” Charles asked me. I cuffed the back of his head. And then I saw that our blankets were soaked and there was half an inch of water covering the linoleum flooring.
Water was coming in under the door—which opened into the back yard—and it cascaded down the steps. Edna found a dust pan in one of the closets and a small wash tub. Kathy and Charlie and I began sopping up water with bath towels and wringing them over the tub, while dad scooped water up with the dust pan. Edna found a mop and was busy mopping and wringing. When the tub was full, dad carried it up the steps and emptied it out in the yard.
Lord knows how long we bailed water before those fronds from the royal palms began to flog the windows. Both trees had blown over; had they been a few feet taller they would have smashed the front of the house.
When the sun rose we could see that those palm frond had saved us. A red boulevard stop sign was tangled in the branches of the palms and screeching as it fluttered against the brick exterior.
There would be no work in town until the insurance adjustors did their jobs, so we all decided to move north to Lake Eloise; an advertisement in the paper said they needed pickers to harvest the citrus crop. We rode up on the Greyhound bus together. It turned out that I was the only one in the family who did any picking. Dad got a job in the packing plant. Edna was busy making a home in a cheap apartment house and getting Kathy and Charles Lee into school. Before Christmas they all went back to Tennessee, but I remained in Winter Haven until January.
Caveat emptor: 1950 is a long time gone, but to best of my memory the storm mentioned came ashore between Halloween and Thanksgiving that year; I know it was after my birthday and prior to Christmas, for sure. But records are scarce; 1950 was the first year hurricanes were named, and if the storm didn’t kill many people or destroy millions of dollars worth of property, they were not too newsworthy. I’m pretty sure, given allowances, that this blow came after Hurricane King, but I will not bet money on it. Individuals named in the tale are all long gone, every one.
The Camera Girl
I cannot remember her name, but I can picture her working. She’s wearing tan slacks and a smock. Her hair is still in curlers, but it’s light red and short and curly when she takes the scarf off. I think she’s older than my cousin, Erlie, but I really don’t know, because “it’s not polite to ask a woman how old she is.” She’s very pretty, like all of the women Harry Gordon hires to work in his locker club. Harry and the sailors who did business at the Bay City Locker Club called the girl “Red.” But I wasn’t supposed to call her “Red.” Maybe her name was Betty, or Mary, something common and easily forgotten. But I can remember watching her take pictures.
Betty had a section in the Locker Club all her own, and a Dark Room too. There were all sorts of funny things the sailors could show their faces through and have their picture taken. One was a muscle-bound guy flexing next to a Hula Girl and a background that looked like a beach, with painted palm trees and the luxury liner sailing in the painted ocean. A lot of the sailors who came into Harry’s to use his lockers, or to have their picture taken, had been to Hawaii and even to China. I didn’t really know where China was, but I knew that if you dug a hole in San Diego deep enough you’d come out in China.
Betty had a lot of cameras, but the one she used when I was there to watch was a camera like you see newspaper photographers use in movies with flash bulbs that pop out after the picture is taken. She had the camera mounted on a three-legged stand and operated it with a cable while she stood away from it and tried to get the sailor to smile. They couldn’t keep from smiling when she made silly faces at them. I was always surprised when the flash bulb went off.
It was a rainy day when Betty took my mom’s picture in Harry’s office. I remember that because my guardian had driven me into town to have my teeth drilled at “Painless Parker’s” and had said several times that having a cavity drilled didn’t hurt as much on rainy days. That was a lie. It really hurt, but maybe it would have been worse on a sunny day.
It was December Twenty-first, my mother’s birthday, in 1942, the day Betty took her picture in Harry’s office; maybe you can see the calander on Harry’s office wall, which still shows March, but it was really December and I was only there to visit my mother because it was her birthday. I had to use a pencil to do the subtraction, 1914 from 1942, to figure out that Ruth, my mother, was twenty-eight that day. Betty made several prints of the picture she took that day and she put one of them in a cardboard frame so I could take it back to La Jolla and show it to my friends at school to prove I really had a mother and that she really was as beautiful as any movie star.