Monday, January 29, 2007

Red Hot Cold

Flea and Anthony

Red Hot Cold

Hey oh... listen what I say oh
I got your hey oh, now listen what I say oh

For the official record, on Friday January 26, 2007 I stepped outside my box. With my wife, daughter and her two teenaged friends in tow, I struck out for Charlottesville, Virginia to see one of the top touring rock groups in the world right now, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Come to decide that the things that I tried were in my life just to get high on.
When I sit alone, come get a little known
But I need more than myself this time.
Step from the road to the sea to the sky, and I do believe that we rely on
When I lay it on, come get to play it on
All my life to sacrifice.

When I found out that my daughter wanted to go see the band on their Stadium Arcadium Tour stop in Charlottesville, Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena, I felt it would be my wife’s and my duty as parents to be her chaperone. Actually, we’ve always enjoyed the Chili Peppers. Even though they tend to play to a younger crowd, I’ve always enjoyed the grooves they spin. Their music has a signature sound that’s not reproducible by any other group. You can spot their tunes over the airwaves from miles away. That’s also my main criticism of them, too. Many of their songs sound almost identical, just with different words. Skynyrd used to have the same issue (Gimme Three Steps/What’s Your Name?)

Hey oh... listen what I say oh
I got your hey oh, now listen what I say oh

When will I know that I really can't go
To the well once more - time to decide on.
Well it's killing me, when will I really see, all that I need to look inside.
Come to believe that I better not leave before I get my chance to ride,
Well it's killing me, what do I really need - all that I need to look inside.

Getting to Charlottesville was a cinch, which was very strange indeed. Traveling to Charlottesville is usually a lot like sitting in a dentist’s chair and smelling tooth enamel as it’s superheated by a whining drill inside your brain. Friday, Charlottesville accepted us.

We traveled to the heart of the city and dropped the kids off at Sticks Kebob, not the “rock” group; but rather, the faux-Mediterranean kebob joint. My wife and I then moved back down the road a few blocks and ate at our favorite bagel joint, Bodo’s. She had some humus thing with other equally squishy things embedded within a warm, soft bagel. I chose my roast turkey bagel with cheddar, sprouts, lettuce, tomato all slathered with gobs of rich mayonnaise. After inhaling the food, we buzzed by and picked up the girls before heading off to the arena.

Hey oh... listen what I say oh
Come back and hey oh, look at what I say oh

The more I see the less I know
The more I like to let it go - hey oh, woah...
Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder where it's so white as snow,
Finally divided by a word so undecided and there's nowhere to go;
In between the cover of another perfect wonder and it's so white as snow,
Running through the field where all my tracks will be concealed and there's nowhere to go.

Surprisingly, we drove right in to the heart of the John Paul Jones (JPJ) Arena parking garage and got a fantastic spot. I maneuvered our Grand Caravan into its berth, carefully backing it in on one try. Then after a moment or two, we scrambled up to the entrance of the arena.

The concert was slated to begin at 7:30 with opening act Gnarls Barkley. We were in our seats by 6:45. I love being early. It gives me a chance to just absorb the surroundings.

JPJA is an amazing modern structure. Seating close to 16,000 people, the spanking new arena is state of the art. Women especially love JPJA because it boasts about 50 palatial women’s restrooms. Men on the other hand must make do with three small restrooms. Thus, lines of men who were crossing their legs snaked around the concourse. I watched one young man spend time twirling in the center of the walkway, then he would run to a wall and study the joints between blocks. His inspections very much pleased him.

Our seats were located near the top of the arena in the corner. In fact there was only one row and a strange little corner concrete pad above us. In keeping with the pergola theme used throughout the university campus, architects used huge structural i-beams all along the upper tier creating a functionally safe roof structure but also a stunning colonnade effect. Wisely, they chose not to place any seats directly behind these hunks of structural steel. I remember attending Salem Pirate baseball games at the old Salem Municipal field. That place also has the structural beams supporting the roof. The only difference was, however, that they had seats right behind the beams. In fact, it was very difficult to even sit down with a beam between your legs and wall of steel in front of you. Watching baseball from those seats was out of the question.

Went to descend to amend for a friend of the channels that had broken down.
Now you bring it up, I'm gonna ring it up - just to hear you sing it out.
Step from the road to the sea to the sky, and I do believe what we rely on,
When I lay it on, come get to play it on
All my life to sacrifice

Hey oh... listen what I say oh
I got your hey oh... listen what I say oh

After the crowd had mostly filled the arena and just before Gnarls took the stage, a playful group of irascible souls began a “Let’s Go Hokies” chant. Within seconds, *Hokies from all over the arena took up the chant. Befuddled, **Wahoo’s murmured in alarm. They tried to mount a response by jumping into their favorite school song, Auld Lang Syne as they swayed to and fro, but that didn’t seem to strike the resonate authoritative response that was necessary to quiet the Hokies. After another round of Hokie cheers, they finally mustered an audible but rather crude “Hokies Suck” cheer.

Gnarls Barkley stepped onto the stage with enthusiasm and lots of shouting. I can honestly say that I couldn’t understand a single word that anyone in that group said nor could I really differentiate between any instruments that were playing on stage. All I really knew about them was that they started songs and about 3 minutes later they just stopped playing them. I suspect if they had better sound engineering, their music might have made sense to me.

When will I know that I really can't go
To the well once more - time to decide on.
Well it's killing me, when will I really see, all that I need to look inside.
Come to belive that I better not leave before I get my chance to ride,
Well it's killing me, what do I really need - all that I need to look inside.

Hey oh... listen what I say oh
Come back and hey oh, look at what I say oh

Red Hot Chili Peppers!

The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) were an amazing group. Their music was tight and clear. Vocals were mostly taken care of by the audience since their songs were so popular. Most of the young people watching the concert felt the need to sing along at the top of their lungs as they recorded each song on their electric blue glowing cell phones. One of the girls we brought played her recording from the concert afterwards and all we could hear was her singing.

RHCP won me over Friday night, not because of the hits they dragged out of the deep vault, but because of what they did surrounding those hits. At the beginning of the show and between almost every song, the drummer, bass player (Flea), and guitarist would stand around beside the drums and just jam. One of them would begin a groove and the rest would join in. Sometimes these jams went on longer than the hits. The guitarist was making his guitar cry and the bass player was making his bass hurt. The drummer, who dedicated his performance to a very female looking 83 year old Uncle Frank, unleashed titanic power from his sticks. These guys were pounding and relentless. I’m sure his Uncle Frank was proud, but the late legendary guitarist and philosopher, Frank Zappa, would have been prouder still. Never in my life have I ever heard such a jam. As far as I was concerned, they could have just continued all night.

Behind RHCP was an amazing array of video effects. I suppose other groups these days have these types of effects, but I found them to be extraordinary. A huge screen behind them seemed to be made of steel bars which magically became the most gigantic wide screen television ever. Embedded within this massive screen were other screens that appeared as if by magic to give close up looks at all of the distant stage action. Hovering above the stage was a lighted fleet of mother ships that floated up and down above the stage illuminating the stage and being themselves illuminated.

A hazy artificial haze hung around the arena. It was also sweetly scented, the byproduct of certain illegal activities happening in the row and platform directly behind us. My wife and I wonder just how much marijuana a person could possibly smoke in one sitting and remain standing. As we were leaving one of the smoky young ladies was attempting to go down the stairs just behind me, and I overheard her saying that she needed a bath because she felt like she was swimming.

Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder where it's so white as snow,
Finally divided by a word so undecided and there's nowhere to go.
Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder where it's so white as snow...
Running through the field where all my tracks will be concealed and there's nowhere to go.

I said hey oh yeah oh yeah... tell my love now
Hey yeah yeah... oh yeah.

We ended up being some of the last people to leave the arena since we were up so high in the corner, but that also meant that we could cut across the seats and exit right in front of the doors by which we entered. So we popped out far ahead of all of those who were trapped in the mobbed concourse. By the time we made it to our car, traffic still had not really begun flowing out yet, so we escaped Charlottesville even easier than we entered it. In all my years living there (15 years), I’ve never experienced such free-flowing traffic.

Arriving home at about 1:30, I had time to just sit and reflect on the evening, letting my sound memories over wash me before finally falling to warm cold of sleep.

I said hey oh yeah oh yeah... tell my love now
Hey yeah yeah... oh yeah.

Snow (Hey Oh) Lyrics

* Hokie: A person who is associated with Virginia Tech.

**Wahoo: A person who is associated with the University of Virginia (aka France).

Thursday, January 25, 2007



“In 1973, a survey found that 95 percent of the public reported having heard of UFOs, whereas only 92 percent had heard of US President Gerald Ford in a 1977 poll taken just nine months after he left the White House.”

In the summer of 1973, I was 13 years old and looking for something to do.

Back then, although I was generally considered a good kid, I was known to be influenced by a fairly rough and daring group of peers. We would stay out into the early dark of evening and mess around in the fields and streets near my house. That particular summer, my friends Mark, Jimmy, and Donnie were spending our evenings hanging out in the field between Mark’s house and Donnie’s house. That field was an excellent place to play all sorts of sports, especially football. Our games would go on most evenings. Then as the sun gave way to dark, we’d stop playing and just sit there gazing at the stars as they winked into view one by one.

With all of the hoopla in the news concerning UFO’s, we were determined to spot one. So we’d sit and look. Sometimes, I’d bring my binoculars and scan the sky. Not surprisingly, we would spot several “UFO’s” each evening. These strange craft always seemed to follow the same flight path and always seemed to have the same three lights. Most would either travel from south to north or from north to south. We were convinced in our fantasy minds that our Earth was being visited by aliens, and while that thought excited us, we were also secretly very scared by it, too.

One evening Mark, Jimmy, Donnie, and I had just finished our evening games, and we were just sitting around when we noticed that the bathroom light came on in Beverly Dalton’s house. Beverly’s back yard backed up to the west goal line side of our football field. On the boundary between her house and our field was a huge old apple tree whose limbs were so laden they grew to the ground, forming a hollow shelter inside.

When we saw Beverly, a lovely girl our age, inside her bathroom, some inner sense kicked in. I believe it was Jimmy (it usually was) who suggested we head under the tree and spy on her. So we did just that. We took turns sharing my binoculars as Beverly worked on her hair. Lying under that tree among the half rotted apples didn’t matter to us. Our peep show was too captivating.

I’m not sure who saw it first, but when everyone’s attention was drawn to it, we immediately cowered in fear. Slowly over another neighbor’s house beside Beverly’s, a glowing light began to build. It was a cool bluish color and generally round. It was absolutely silent and seemed to be traveling very slowly, getting closer and closer to us. After our initial shock and fear, we were frozen there among our rotted apples. All thoughts of spying on Beverly had fled our minds to be replaced by stone fear. We were in survival mode. Every now and then I would glance up and peek at the light as it grew in intensity and size. It continued to slowly grow and approach our hiding spot.

With eerie stealth, the icy cold light floated to a position right above our apple tree and stopped; its glowing light radiating in intensity from icy blue to sterile white. It seemed to be looking right in to my soul. It saw everything inside of me. It knew everything I cherished. It understood everything for which I lusted. My friends and I had played at watching for UFO’s, and now we were experiencing more than we bargained.

The light hovered above us silently for all time. Frozen in youth we lay under that apple tree like eternal Rip van Winkles; unable and afraid to move, too petrified to awaken from our nightmare. The light, so brilliant in its iciness, probed every inch of our rigid bodies. No thoughts passed within me. No utterance escaped me. Unblinking, I helplessly met it as it painlessly plundered my mind and body.

Without warning its grip on us weakened. As I began to move again, I noticed that Jimmy, Mark and Donnie were moving, too. Well…shaking really. We watched silently as the light moved away from us and then unexpectedly, it just zapped away instantly.

It took some minutes before any of us dared speak aloud, but none of us really knew what to say.


“What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Some blue light thing or something.”

“Did it…you know…look in you, too?”

Heads nodded around.


“What the hell?”

We spent many more minutes that evening trying to figure out what that thing was that touched us all so deeply. The closest we could get to explaining the icy blue was that it seemed like some helicopter searchlight; a probing light born of silence yet with some indefinable intelligence.

After all ideas were exhausted and without so much as a farewell or even a secret pact, we edged away from our unsuccessful hiding spot and staggered back to the safety of our homes. It seems somehow strange to me that from that night on, we never gathered together anymore to play or get into mischief. While we still saw each other at the bus stop, we all seemed to grow apart and go off in separate directions in life. To my knowledge none of us has ever mentioned that night again.

I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days. As I'm sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called “possession of my soul." There are times since, I've felt like a child, born of those two fathers. But be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again. To teach to others what we know, and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.

~Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) Platoon

UFO Sighting in Charlotte

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Hollow Bush

The Hollow Bush

On top of Dead Man’s Hill, there stands a hollow bush. Boxwood by nature, shielding by trade, the hollow bush protected me when I was younger and lacked sound judgment.

The neighborhood that I grew up in was beautiful and lively. Nestled in a two block suburban-like layout, our neighborhood, a product of the war boom, had matured into a forest of houses, trees, shrubs, and kids. With the oldest of us being fifteen and the youngest being ten, we terrorized the neighbors secretly for several years. I admit these crimes now that the statute of limitations has run out, and I have a son and daughter to raise properly.

Holidays were important to my group of neighborhood terrorists as well as idle time. Seldom did a Halloween or July 4th pass without some attack on the neighborhood mailboxes. Now that I’m older, I know the frustration the neighbors must have felt when they would be forced to replace a mailbox after an M-80 whamming campaign. It was the cowards’ crime really. Simply light the fuse and run like hell. Dive behind some bushes and listen for the boom. The next day we’d slyly saunter past the carnage and cop a quick peek at the devastation. Life in the neighborhood terrorist brigade was a trip. All of that would change in time.

Dead Man’s Hill, located at Countryside Golf Course’s main entrance on Cove Road, actually came by its name legitimately. Late one night, one of the teenaged girls who lived in the neighborhood was coming home from work in her baby blue Volkswagen Beetle. As her car crested that blind hill, she was met head-on by a speeding Lincoln town car driven by a drunk man in the wrong lane. She didn’t stand a chance and died instantly. I went over to the wreck site a few days later and all I saw were the awful skid marks and stray pieces of blue metal and plastic.

One of our favorite crimes involved produce. Depending on the season, we would gather surplus vegetables from neighbors’ gardens and chuck the fruit around. Everybody, it seemed, had their special private source of tomatoes and other vegetables. The Grosso garden was the best, because Mr. G. grew so many tomatoes and other stuff that a small sack full would never be missed. I preferred to get my stash from my father’s garden. I was selective and sneaky, or so I thought. I particularly received pleasure watching zucchini smack against a tree and splinter into bits. The hollow sound it made when it struck before exploding in a shower of dark green, lime guts, and seeds was extraordinary. Apples were fun, too, although my brother rather enjoyed the sport of “pegging the youngsters.” Whenever I was around my brother and apples, I was always prepared to run for my life. It was only natural, I suppose, that our vegetable annihilation game would evolve into a frightening crime sport.

Loaded with a sack full of bombs, we would troop over to the top of Dead Man’s Hill under the protective cloak of darkness. Less than ten yards from where our neighbor died, we set up our prankster shop behind a row of boxwoods that lined the drive to the old stone house on the hilltop. This position afforded us all that was needed for a successful road attack; clear visibility of the road in both directions, cover, and a field full of fleeing space behind us for our inevitable escape. We always posted a lookout. As a car would approach the crest of the hill, the lookout would signal us by whispering, “Hey, it’s coming!” The boxwood raiders would then cock fruit in the hand and fling those grenades at the onrushing automobile. A good toss was anything that could be verified as a hit on the car. A great toss was a confirmed windshield strike. The thrill of this criminal sport came in that fraction of a second after a confirmed strike when we would hold our breath watching for a brake light and listening for a honk. We were always prepared to flee because deep down, all of us were good kids, and there would be hell to pay if we were caught. We couldn’t bear to accept that possibility.

One evening during tomato season, we went up to Dead Man’s Hill with a sack full of the juicy red fruit. We were quite experienced by then. We rarely missed our targets. I particularly enjoyed the sound of the splashing tomato across a windshield, and I was an especially fine marksman. This particular night, our spotter called up, “Hey, it’s coming!” When the car entered our bulls-eye zone, we let loose an excellent volley of half rotted tomatoes. They struck the Volkswagen all over with a fury. Predictably, the brake lights went on and the bug slammed to a stop.

We had seen people stop before and back up, but they had never found anything but the chilly night air because we had always fled the scene. But this guy had stopped very quickly. He was out of his car before any of us could move. I saw him walk around his car checking it over. Everyone held their breath. Something told me, however, to seek better shelter. After all, we were in plain view of the guy in the half moonlight. I slithered over to a nearby bush. To my surprise, I discovered that I could crawl right inside this hollow bush. So I curled up inside snugly and felt like I now had a shield of protection.

The man continued pacing around his plastered car. I could hear him shouting and swearing as I huddled in a fetal ball inside my bush. Through the branches, I could just make out his dim outline. I saw him reach down into his car for something. He held it above his head and an explosion sounded; a gunshot, live ammo! Sparkling loud, close, and all too clear! I knew at that moment that we were as good as dead. I mean, even if we weren’t gunned down in cold blood, the noise from the weapon fire was sure to draw a most suspicious crowd. I huddled on in my new found hollow bush. An eternity seemed to pass. “Come on out here you damned kids! Come on!” Finally the man, still muttering and shouting into the night, piled into his tiny car and raced off, blaring his horn. After all was clear, we went back to our back yard tent and shared our thrilling tales. Then we decided it would be best to lay low for a few weeks.

I really didn’t want to go back out there ever again, but soon I found myself back out. Simply put, I had to go or I’d be seen as a wimp. So when the word went out that we’d be sleeping out again, I gathered my tomatoes.

The night was dark. A misty drizzle filled the air. It was time to get back in to the game. Dead Man’s Hill looked to me as if it owned that name. Our spotter was deployed and the rest of us huddled behind the boxwood hedge. Even though we were timid at first, this being the first time out since the small arms fire, we adjusted and fell in to a groove. Warning… Bombs away… Wait… Warning… Bombs away… Wait…

When we received the final warning, it didn’t register with us that his message was subtly different. I remember hearing the spotter’s voice calling out as headlights approached us from below. Dark nights and misty rain offer the best throwing conditions in many ways. The headlight beams somehow appear thicker, thereby making the car that follows an easier moving target. As it approached the crest of the hill, I carefully cocked and then at the right moment let fly with my best windshield blaster.

Everything that followed happened all at once, and I can recall every detail of it. It registered in my brain as I released the splatter that the spotter hadn’t used the usual words. He’d said, “It’s a…” and then his voice trailed off. I was already into my wind-up and didn’t have time to stop. With my aim true and my target at the top of the hill, the results were predictable, but not completely. The car screeched to a stop and FLASHING RED LIGHTS filled the sky, COP!! I caught a quick glance at the panicked faces of my comrades as they turned and ran like the wind across the field. The rule of the flee was that we’d all scatter in different directions and use basic evasion techniques before eventually making a rendezvous at the tent in my back yard.

I was in trouble right from the start, however. I was close to the road, and, therefore, close to danger. As I turned to flee, I stumbled and fell on my face. The police car had just come to a stop and was now backing up fast, tires squealing. As I looked up, I saw the misty outline of my sanctuary, the hollow bush. I scrambled on all fours and slipped inside just as the policeman began scanning the area with his powerful car searchlight. Finding nothing, he got out of his car and began walking toward the boxwood drive. I waited with anxious apprehension as he flashed the bushes with his penetrating flashlight beam, gradually coming closer to my hiding spot. He actually brushed the leaves of my hollow bush as he slowly passed by. Then, just when I thought I would escape his search, he turned back and shined his light right through my hide-out. Petrified, I lay there, dressed in black and curled in a ball. I was invisible.

After an eternity, the policeman returned to his car and slowly drove off. I was too frozen with fear to move. I still hardly dared to breathe. A few minutes later, he buzzed back by with his searchlight on; I remained perfectly still with only my eyes tracking the car. He drove by several more times over the next half hour or so, but I was becoming confident that he would not spot me. I was in no hurry to be anywhere else though. The hollow bush had saved my life. If I had been caught, my life would have been ruined. Who knows what would have happened to me. That policeman and that man with the gun from the time before saved my life, too. Curled up in that bush, I reflected a lot about my life and the choices I was making. I vowed to change my ways and never do anything like that again.

Seemingly several years later at the rendezvous, all of us had finally straggled in to the back yard tent, each of us with our own tale of excitement. The spotter was the last one to make it back. He was the only casualty. When he had whispered, “It’s a COP!” he dived straight down in to what he thought was English Ivy. The next day he discovered that the ivy was the poison variety instead. We talked and swore all night in that tent in my back yard. We decided it would be best to lay low for a few weeks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What's Wrong With Education?

Ever since I can remember as a teacher, there has been so much criticism of our public schools. As an experienced teacher, I view some of the criticism as being valid. However, much criticism is simply an extension of hate speak.

I was monitoring a discussion on a message board concerning the faults of our educational system and the people arguing were making the whole discussion much too simplistic: One group argued that poor schools greatest need is an infusion of money. While the counter point was that teachers are horrible and students don't want to work hard enough.

After watching the argument go back and forth, I began compiling a free-flowing list of things that can be wrong with schools, parents, teachers, and kids. What follows is my stream of conscious thoughts, not particularly polished, edited, or organized.

  • Kids don't give a flip.
  • Children are learning more than ever, but it doesn't seem to be enough to satisfy people.
  • Teachers are over-taxed and stressed out.
  • Expectations on teachers and children are unrealistic.
  • Parents and administrators wield accountability over teachers like a dagger.
  • Parents bad-mouth teachers in front of their kids.
  • Teachers bad-mouth parents in front of their classes.
  • Administrators bad-mouth teachers and parents in front of each other.
  • States are not funding schools at levels mandated by law.
  • Federal government butts in with regulation mandates yet doesn't fund resources needed to attain proficient levels.
  • Significant numbers of kids come from broken homes.
  • Kids are awash in a warped social culture that values immoral behavior.
  • Some children may get left behind. Not all children can learn. 100% is an unattainable goal.
  • Religion is banned from schools.
  • Religion is over-bearing in schools.
  • Violence is a real threat or at least a real fear.
  • Teachers aren't trained enough to know their craft.
  • Education is not a family priority.
  • Sports are more important to the community than education.
  • Kids aren't in school long enough over the course of the year.
  • Kids aren't in school enough during the day.
  • Localities are more concerned with cutting taxes than providing all of the resources that schools need.
  • School physical plants are aging rapidly and are not being replaced or modified fast enough
  • Inner city schools are pits.
  • Generations of kids are missing a generation in the home. These kids are being raised by their parent's parents.
  • Men have abandoned families.
  • Teachers assign too much homework that serves no educational purpose.
  • Children are not taught to think, analyze, or evaluate. Instead they are taught to pass tests.
  • The Secretary of Education labeled members of the NEA as terrorists.
  • Many kids do not have school supplies.
  • Many schools do not have paper clips (I personally bought my school paper clips a few years ago).
  • Schools are beginning to get technology upgrades, but they receive little professional training.
  • Teachers aren't financially encouraged to continue their education.
  • Elementary teachers have little to no planning time with their colleagues.
  • Ridiculous lawsuits against innocent teachers abound.
  • Special education (Federal program) is out of control.
  • Kids can buy snacks and sodas at lunch.
  • Gangs. Rap Culture. Hate speak.
  • Teachers can't effectively discipline kids without parents becoming enraged.
  • ESL (English as a Second Language-old terminology) kids are flooding our schools.
  • Trained EEL(English Language Learners-new terminology) teachers are hard to find.
  • Too often secondary teachers are pulled from the business world without adequate teacher preparation.
  • Kids are carted everywhere after school: to dance, to piano, to football, to Karate, to swimming, to soccer, to basketball, to church.
  • Families do not sit down to meals together anymore.
  • Families do not go to church.
  • Video games suck kids and their parents into altered states.
  • Kids don't have reasonable family chores.
  • Many children come to school hungry and live in poverty at home.
  • Prejudice abounds.
  • In many states(including VA) there is a huge funding disparity between school divisions.
  • Teachers are not paid a wage commensurate with their education.
  • The public does not value education.
  • Criticism of education is nothing more than hate spiked lip service, instead of being truly constructive.
  • Our government seems more inclined to spend billions every month on destructive missions than helping build our future at home.
  • Television overcomes family.
  • Children are assaulted with media streams: cell phones, TV, i-Pods, DVD's, My Space, IM, Internet, etc.
  • We live in an instant world that expects instant results instantly.
  • The average teacher quits after five years in favor of a better paying and less stressful job.
  • There is a silent epidemic of kids with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Asthma, and Autism.
  • Children do not know how to grip their pencils properly or write legibly.
  • Recess is too safe.
  • Children and parents are too afraid of the world.
Not all of these are wrong every time, but some of these are wrong some of the time. Until our country gets its collective head screwed back on straight, our public education system will continue under extreme stress....

Then again maybe nothing is really wrong with our educational system. Perhaps people just like to grumble a bit.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



Race; it’s a word around my hometown that still draws whispers. I discovered the other day that according to disputed US Census data, Roanoke, Virginia-my hometown- is the 66th most segregated city in America and the most segregated in my state.

Most of the time, I really don’t consider Race very much. It’s just too inconvenient and uncomfortable to think much about it. But when I read that stat about my hometown, I began to really analyze and question my own experiences. How has the racial divide affected me? How have I helped perpetuate it? What was and is my role in ending it?

Have you ever been in a group of White people when a Black person comes in to the room? Immediately eyes begin darting around as the White people try hard not to be noticed staring at the Black person. Sometimes they’ll even whisper quietly to each other about the group intruder. Other times when White people are having conversations with each other and no Black people are present and the name of a Black person comes up in normal conversation, they will reduce the volume of their voice when identifying the Black person. “My son plays on the Chess team. Coach Smith, he’s a Black man… says that ….”

Up until the year 2000, Virginia was the only state in the Union to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday alongside those great Virginia Civil War leaders, Robert E. lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Somehow, that holiday always struck me as odd, and by the year 2000 national pressure had boiled to the point that my least favorite Governor of all time, James “No Car Tax” Gilmore, wilted under pressure and segregated our holiday. Since then, Lee-Jackson day is celebrated the Friday before the Monday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Friday for the Whites. Monday for the Blacks. Separate but equal.

Please don’t let me get off scot-free on this issue. I am the product of my hometown and the times in which I spent my youth. I never really understood the depths of the racial divide when I was a kid. Back when I was a child, Black people lived in certain areas and White people lived in other areas. That’s just the way it was. What I wasn’t really tuned in to was the fact that Black children could not attend White schools, Black people could not get served in many restaurants, Black people had their own water fountains, Black people were economically oppressed. I had no clue. It seemed just normal to me for us to have a Black lady bus over to our house once a week and clean up our home. I later learned that my mother felt that she really needed help in taking care of her four children, but she always felt very uncomfortable shuttling our maid to and from that bus stop. My parents didn’t use a maid for very long, and I suspect that they simply at some level couldn’t stomach having some person serve them in this manner. Plus, I don’t think the maid was very nice.

When I entered Mrs. Haith’s third grade classroom at Southview Elementary School in the fall of 1967, I was greeted by the usual 34 classmates and row upon row of student desks. However, one desk was set aside at the front of the room by the window beside the chalkboard. In it sat the first African American boy I had ever seen in my classes. His name was Eric Lewis, and it was obvious to the seven year old me that Mrs. Haith hated him. She resented his presence in her room and from the very first day, she pegged him as a troublemaker, placing him in that isolated corner. He couldn’t even see the board, but he was able to spend hours gazing out the window.

Eric was no troublemaker in my estimation. During recess, we actually became friends. We played on the swings and ran around together. I thought Eric was just a nice guy. Mrs. Haith, however, verbally abused him every day. How he managed to keep his cool, I’ll never know.

My contact with Black students was very slight over the years. Very simply put, I lived in a predominately White school district. The only Black people who attended our school were from a segregated community known as Kingstown. There, you could find the Lewis's, Brattons, Johnsons, Simpsons, and Sweetenburgs. Most of the kids from these families struggled in school, but excelled in athletics. Jinx Simpson was a great basketball player for our team, but the greatest of all was 6’9” Bernard “Super Nard” Harris. Nard ended up earning a basketball scholarship to VCU and then played his way to the NBA where he spent several seasons with the Buffalo Braves. Mrs. Haith would have hated Nard.

Throughout my high school career, I was great friends with Robert Parks. Parks played the trumpet and had the uncanny ability to mimic Dizzy Gillespie’s puffed cheek playing style. Robert, the only Black kid in the band, was an amazing trumpet player with an excellent high range. By the time he was a junior, he had taken the first trumpet position in our band. Parks lived in poverty at his grandmother’s house in Kingstown. Robert never told me much about his parents. I really have no clue why they weren’t a part of his life, but his grandmother was so very mean to him. She would ground him for nothing. She wouldn’t allow him to go anywhere with his friends. I can only imagine how difficult life was for him at his home.

We used to love to stay after school and shoot hoops. Robert would stay after just not long enough to get in trouble with his grandmother. Parks wasn’t much of a basketball player, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. He was an outstanding football player and was the main weapon on our band football team. He was faster and stronger than any other players on the team, running through arm tackles with power and speed. I should mention that band football was a brutal sport; full contact tackle football with no pads in all seasons and weather conditions. Robert was the most feared member of our team. One day, after we’d played all we could play, Robert and I were just messing around on the field trying field goals. Well more accurately, I was holding for Robert, and we were trying to see just how far he could kick the ball while wearing his worn Converse All-Star tennis shoes. It turns out that Robert could nail a field goal from 55 yards, no problem. He was simply amazing on the football field. This did not go unnoticed. Soon Coach Jim Hickam, brother of the famous Homer Hickam -author of the famous book that led to the Rocket Boys movie a few years’ back, began trying to convince Robert to come out for the football team. Coach would have no luck, however. Robert wanted to play, but his grandmother wouldn’t hear of it.

Something happened to Robert during his senior year; something that affected him very deeply. His grandmother, angry and resentful, tossed him out of her house and he was forced out onto the streets. He found a room at a local roach hotel not far from school and took a job busing tables to earn enough for his room, and he stopped coming to school. After being absent for a week, my band director did some sniffing around and found out that Robert was homeless. In a move that still amazes me to this day, Mr. Vail took Robert in to his home and allowed him to live there with his wife and young child for the rest of the year. After graduation, Robert dropped out of my social circles again. I heard that he had turned to drugs and then I learned that he had joined the Marines. The last I heard from Robert, he was playing in the President’s Marine honor band in Washington, DC.

Along the same time all of the turmoil was going on at school with Robert, my life had been radically changed, too. Beginning in the early 1970’s, my neighborhood began undergoing a metamorphosis. Gradually, over a period of a few years, our White neighbors began selling their homes. The rush or flight began when the house across the street from us was sold to a young Black couple. Immediately, whispers began. Soon “For Sale” signs appeared. Houses were sold to more Black families. Fear gripped our neighborhood.

For my family, we were not interested in moving away. We really liked our house and enjoyed being next to a swimming pool and golf course, but that changed when the City of Roanoke decided to snatch us away from the County of Roanoke. Back then, cities in Virginia had the right to annex land from other communities. We were caught in the annexation trap of 1976. The city got our taxes and in return we were promised city services and sidewalks! We never got the sidewalks, and they still haven’t gotten them to this day. The services certainly weren’t as good as what we had with the county. Because of this annexation in 1976, my sister and I, the two youngest children, were in danger of being forced to change schools. The county and city, however, struck a deal that would allow my friends and me to finish at my high school, but my sister would be forced to transfer to William Ruffner Junior High. Frankly, that idea terrified my parents. Ruffner was a predominately Black school and it had a reputation as being very rough. Very simply put, my parents were willing to do about anything to keep her from attending that school.

Home prices in our neighborhood, already declining due to the arrival of Black homeowners now plummeted with annexation. People couldn’t even give away their homes. We knew that we were stuck in a bad situation with little hope for escape. One day, completely out of the blue, a man knocked on our door and asked my parents if they wanted to sell their home. It seems he was driving around with clients who saw our house and wanted to buy it. The real estate agent was a known agent in the area, so when his excellent and timely offer came, my parents snatched it. We flew and got out of that trap.

These days, Roanoke is the 66th most segregated city in America. Many people in the city proper are economically oppressed. Whites and Blacks in general do not share neighborhoods. There is a vast racial, economic, and cultural divide in my hometown; one that gnaws on us all like a cancer, yet is so subtle that it draws only whispers from us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Regarding the War

This is a link to Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment" on January 11, 2007. In his comment, Olbermann took a direct approach and addressed his comments to our President. I hope he was listening. (This link should work using Internet Explorer. Firefox has difficulty with it.)

Keith Olbermann Speaks Out

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


My, Robot

Got home from school today.

Daughter said that computer not getting Internet.


College bills due by 5 pm

Need to make electronic transfer of funds

Call cable company

A goddess answered.

“Hello, thanks for calling Cox Communications,” She purred in my ear. Please listen to your choices. Press 1 for billing information, press 2 to report a cable television outage. Press 3 to report a cable internet failure…”

I interrupted her and pressed 3.

“I see you have a problem with your internet connection. If this is true, please say ‘yes.’”

“Yes.” For the first time this robotic goddess heard my voice.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t catch that. I see you have a problem with your internet connection. If this is true, please say…”

“Yes,” I cut her off.

“Okay, I’ll connect you with the next available technician.”

In the interim, she played some digital cable advertisements for me. Then she interrupted her commercial and spoke directly to me. “I’m sorry this is taking so long, let me see if I can help you. Do you have any internet connection?”


“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”


“I see. Let me check on something. I’ll be back in a moment.”

More advertisements played for the latest digital cable package.

“Well, I can see your modem, so let me try to ping it. Hold on, this will just take a moment.”

I walked away and got a drink of tea.

“Good, that worked fine. Do you have a connection now? If you do, say ‘yes.’” If you do not, say ‘no.’”


“I see. Let me check on something. I’ll be right back.”

I have to admit, I was really beginning to fall for her lilting voice. It seemed so delicate, like a fresh bloomed flower. I secretly began hoping that when she came back we could expand our discussion…She’d say...

“Do you like go hiking?...I do, too. I love the outdoors. The air is so fresh and crisp… I find the outdoors so stimulating, don’t you?... Why don’t you bring your laptop with you to a mountaintop and turn me on….”

“I believe I’ve found the problem.” She was back and snapped me out of my fantasy. Some systems use a wireless router, a box-like machine with two antennae sticking up in the back. Do you have a wireless router?”


“Good. I need for you to disconnect your cable connection from it. Once you’ve done that, please say ‘continue.’”


I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please disconnect your cable from your wireless router. Once you’ve done that, please say ‘co…’”


“I’m sorry this is taking so long.” Her voice sounded hurt and pained. “If you’d rather talk to a live technician, please say ‘yes.’ If you would rather continue working with me say ‘no.’”

“No.” I couldn’t give up on her now. I was falling for her. Such a beautiful voice, so caring and delicate. How could I give up on her?

“Good, now I need for you to disconnect the power on both the cable modem and the wireless router. Take your time. There’s no hurry. I will be here waiting for you. Just say ‘continue’ when you are done.”

I loved her at that moment. She really cared. “Continue.” I just wanted our conversation to continue on. I forgot all about the e-bills, the stresses of the day. This robot was a true lady.

“Now I need for you to plug in all of the cables and power to your modem. Take your time. I’ll be here. Say ‘continue’ when you are finished.”


“Next, I need for you to connect the power and cables to your wireless router. Please say ‘continue’ when you are finished.”


“Just a moment. I’ll try to pick up your signal. There I see it.” She sounded genuinely happy for me. “Are you able to connect to the Internet now?”


Do you want to come over to my place for drinks?”


“It’s been a pleasure helping you. If you need any further assistance, please feel free to call back. Thanks for calling Cox Communications.”

I replaced the telephone handset and sat back in my chair thinking of what could have been.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Sherrif

The Sherriff

“Howdy partner, come on over and try the Dodge City Shootin’ Gallery. You can shoot at the ducks, frogs, flowers, trees and bad guys; all for only 25 cents. So come on over and give it a try. The Dodge City Shooting Gallery.”

Bev Roberts passed away over the weekend. He was the voice of the Dodge City Shooting Gallery at Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem, Virginia and the park’s owner, too. I can’t say that I really knew Bev, but I did know that voice, shared a dream, and knew enough to fear him.

I was a lowly games operator back in the late seventies. I had taken my job there to escape the nightmare of working odd hours at a Wendy’s fast food joint located 45 minutes from my house. They’d only call me in when there was a rush, and I’d drive the 45 minutes one way to collect my $2.35 and hour. Considering gas cost $0.77 a gallon and I drove a car that got 12 miles per gallon, I pretty much had to work three hours to break even. They usually only allowed me to work two. Plus, they would take out money each week from my pitiful check for meals and uniform cleaning even though I never ate anything there and I did my own laundry. Hence working at the local amusement park for $1.80 an hour wasn’t such a bad job.

The one drawback of the carney job was the long stretches of complete boredom, especially if I worked job without a microphone to bark at guests. While Saturdays were usually hopping at the park with thousands of visitors streaming by all day, weekdays were a completely different story. Some weekdays we’d be lucky to have 700 people there. It was on those most slow days that if I was assigned to the front games, the dime pitch or the weight game that I’d have to listen to old Bev’s Sheriff voice encourage players to come on over-day after day, minute after lonely minute. His voice permeated my being, my conscious and unconscious self.

Sometimes, we’d have a Bev alert issued. Apparently, the old man was a stickler for detail. He supposedly liked his game row spiffy and full of flash. That meant that once the warning went out from the games boss, we were expected to fill the walls surrounding our games with plush animals and slum prizes. Cigarettes had to be out of sight (although chewing tobacco was acceptable), counters shined with silicone spray, and loitering girls shooed away. We were expected to be actively barking when Bev made his visit. Interestingly, Bev never seemed to give the games a second glance as he walked by to enter his office. Yet the drill instilled fear.

The only person I ever saw Bev talk to other than my games boss and the general manager was a ride mechanic he nicknamed, “Bull Fighter.” I knew Bull Fighter as Johnny Larocco. Johnny’s parents were my little sister’s godparents, so our parents were pretty close friends. Sometimes as kids, we’d go over to the Larocco’s house and play with their kids. They seemed to have kids that matched up with our kids (Leslie-->Becky, Jimmy-John-->Jody/Becky, Joey-->Jody, Chip-->Greg, Bull Fighter-->me). Johnny and I were about the same age, but other than these occasional visits, Johnny and I never really became good friends. In fact, I kind of lost track of him as we grew up. When I first encountered Johnny at Lakeside, he came across as a really macho short guy. Bull Fighter had a gift for loading on the bull really thick. On the spot, he could invent heroic stories where he always played the central role. I always wondered if he was that way because he never grew past 5’2”. All I know was that he was one tough son-of-a-gun, perhaps that’s why Bev nicknamed him Bull Fighter. I remember Johnny used to say that he never grew taller because he used to drink coffee all the time when he was a little boy. He told that tale with such authority that I believed every word. Bev loved Bull Fighter and treated him like his own son.

Bev was portrayed in the newspaper article about his passing as being one of Salem, Virginia’s greatest youth league coaches. I believe that’s how he met Bull Fighter. The paper went on and on about how dedicated Bev was to that organization. The paper also mentioned that he owned our wonderful amusement park and opened its doors to the entire community. I’ve always heard that you should never speak ill of the dead, and I plan to adhere to that sacred tenant; however, I do wish to seriously point out something about Bev and his family that just seemed plain wrong to me. You see, Lakeside was very white when Bev bought the park and it remained very white as long as he could keep it that way.

When Bev bought the park in 1965, Lakeside was famous for its old rollercoaster and its huge open air sand beach pool with an incredibly high diving board. He immediately went about investing a million dollars to build the state of the art Shooting Star wooden roller coaster, a true masterpiece in engineering and thrill. But civil unrest all across the country was spilling even into Southwest Virginia and Bev was soon faced with the prospect of having to open his pool to dark people. This was intolerable to him. So when that time came, rather than allow one single dark-skinned person to “pollute” his pool, he closed it down and paved over it. Also at that time, he was faced with having to admit Black people into the park to ride his rides and drink from his lion’s mouth fountain. Grudgingly he accepted this reform, but I personally think that every time he walked in to the park and saw a black person, he cringed. I also believe that he was convinced that the black people were the main reason the park was going down hill in the 70’s. Personally, as an insider there, I believe the park began to lose ground because he simply stopped investing in it. I don’t know why, but I have my suspicions. So in 1981, Bev sold the park to Frank Selby, a local businessman who bled even more money from the old lady.

In my last years at Lakeside, I had risen up the ladder to be in charge of the games department. Quite often, I’d find myself fascinated as I rummaged around the old junky 1920’s ballroom above the penny arcade. This huge room, where we stored all of our games stock on an expansive system of rickety shelving anchored into the floor with screws and nails, had long ago hosted its last dance, but its skeleton remained; a beautiful although scarred dance floor, lights-many broken-strung on a chain all across the expansive room, and crusty, filthy windows effectively sealing in the past. That’s the room where Bev stored all of the park’s treasures, unbeknownst to most people. I don’t even think the new owners knew those treasures were all there either. In one corner were the old Wildcat roller coaster cars. Pigeons loved them. On the far side of the room sat the old hobby horses, hand carved and painted, gathering pigeon droppings and dust; conservatively valued at $250,000 back then. But my favorite treasure in that room was a fading map poster that was stuck on a wall. It represented what I believe was Bev’s dream.

Apparently, before King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens came to Virginia, Bev had a dream of creating his own super theme park near Martinsville, Virginia. That framed map poster was the only known lay-out of that imaginary park. Bev had gotten a hold of the land. I’m not sure if he bought, leased, or made some other arrangements for it, but he had the land. He had someone draw up his vision. It was going to be filled with a wild animal park and lots of water features on many, many acres. Looking at the site plan, I could only guess that its size would rival the early Disney World. I don’t know what caused Bev to abandon his dream. I suspect it was some sort of money issue, but I never heard for sure. Imagine what Martinsville would be like today if he had succeeded in building his dream.

I would visit that ballroom often and just stare at that faded poster. In a sense, Bev’s dream became my dream. It might be the only connection we actually shared, although he never knew it. “Come on over and give it a try. Right now.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tell It Like It Is

Tell It Like It Is

I can’t say as I remember the exact year, but I’m quite sure that the ’67 Summer of Love didn’t arrive in Roanoke, Virginia until sometime around 1970. That’s when, fresh after Woodstock, the enlightened people of this fair city were given the opportunity to experience.

The local AM radio station, WROV, heavily promoted the event of the summer. Playing for one day only was the tribute documentary to The Summer of Love, Monterey Pop. This acclaimed documentary was very simply an archive of a moment in history that flipped the world on its collective arse. It was radical stuff.

The movie, sealed in a 16mm cans, was ushered in to the dark projection room in Roanoke’s state of the art Terrace “Rockin’ Chair” Theater. A throng of screaming teens who were intent on letting their freak flags fly crammed inside. Sickly sweet smells permeated the hazy air inside that packed auditorium. These were high times and this moment was a pinnacle.

I was there. I don’t know what my parents could have possibly been thinking letting me, a mere ten year old child, go to that movie. But there you go. As I recall, my sister wrapped in her bandana, took my brothers and me in our brand new 1970 Jehovah (Nova). We managed to cram inside the packed theater and rocked as the crowd chanted for the movie to start. The scene inside was sweaty and energized, much like the original Monterey Pop Festival was back on June 16, 17, and 18 of 1967.

We roared when the movie started, a bit grainy, but we didn’t care. We were all becoming experienced. Jam after jam played across the psychedelic screen. It was almost as if we were actually in that crowd of 50,000. But right in the middle of our celebration the whole place went suddenly silent. Our movie screen melted away in some kind of seemingly freakishly bad acid trip. It wasn’t bad acid trip either, baby. The movie screen simply melted away. Moments later you could smell the burned film that had affixed itself to the hot projector bulb. Moments turned into minutes and the sweaty, amped crowd grew restless.

Then the chants began, quietly at first… “play the movie, play the movie, play the movie.” Gradually growing louder and louder in a crescendo that would have smoked Hendrix himself. “Play The Movie, Play The Movie, PLAY The Movie, PLAY THE MOVIE, PLAY THE MOVIE!” This went on and on for seemingly hours when finally a tiny man in a suit with a pencil-thin tie popped out from behind the curtain and offered peace to the crowd. Everyone grew quiet to listen to the man.

“The movie broke, and we are trying our best to repair it now. Please be patient.”


Soon though, true to his word, Otis Redding began belting out his soul again for a few moments more before the light bulb performed its duty once more and protected the innocent, sheltered youth of Roanoke, Virginia, USA.


Popcorn began flying toward to the screen, followed by cups and other debris. There would be no pacifying this crowd. We were only moments away from having Hell’s Angels come down on us, hard.

Patience could not be had this time by the tiny man, so he just gave up. He shouted to us that there’d be refunds at the door. Angry and aroused, we stormed out of that theater, taking moments to reclaim our $0.75. It was sure a strange trip and a bad scene, a real bummer man. I never did finish seeing that movie. I was only ten.

Are you experienced?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

VT 69 Duke 67

Deron Washington leaps over Greg Paulus for a key score late in the game.

It was an awesome victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium over #5 ranked duke!

Friday, January 05, 2007

It Is, Has Always Been, and Always Will Be

Felix and '95

Due to the graphic nature of the following story, reader discretion is advised. Just to brighten an otherwise dark piece. I will intersperse the narrative with two phrases from two of my favorite books: “So it goes.” from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and “Sorrow floats.” from John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.

It Is, Has Always Been, and Always Will Be

I was visiting a classroom today to install some important software on a teacher’s computer. This particular installation, one of many this week, was taking a very long time so I ended up leaving to do another one and then coming back to check on its progress. On one return to check, the teacher and I began one of those polite but meaningless conversations.

I’ve always noticed in conversations that if something is really bothering a person, they sometimes just have to bring it up, to get it out there and in the open. This lady felt so moved today.

She said, “I’m a little down in the dumps today.”

“Why’s that?” I replied.

“We had to put our dog down last night.”

“Oh I’m very sorry to hear that. That’s so sad…How old was your dog?”

“She was twelve, but she was a black lab…”

“That’s not too old, but I’ve heard that labs don’t always live as long as other breeds…”

“Yeah well, this was certainly unexpected and it’s left us all in the doldrums today.”

“I understand, we’ve had to put a dog down before…the pain does go away. But it will take time.”

That conversation made me start thinking about pets that I’ve had over the years and some of the tragic ends that befell them. For some reason, pets aren’t very lucky living with me. For those with a morbid curiosity, I’ll recount some tales of lost pets.

When I was a young kid, we always had cats around the house. The mother of these cats was mostly a very fertile young cat we named Winnie, Mama Winnie. Now Mama Winnie would have many litters of cats in her time, and she outlived every one of her many babies. Most of them died on Cove Road right near our house. They would invariably get caught crossing the road just on one side of the hill after spending the evening hunting mice, and they would get caught by a car. Sometimes they’d limp home-injured and broken while other times, they’d end right there on the highway. Each time death struck, either my father or my oldest brother would go out and reclaim the body and a proper burial would take place out in the backyard near the garden. Taffy was my favorite cat when I was a kid. He died in that horrible manner. So it goes.

Wags, our family dog when I was a teen, lived a very long and prosperous life. As he aged, he became deaf and mostly blind. One day he was accidentally backed over by a car. That was a tragic ending. So it goes.

Back in the early 70’s, my brother discovered a mother cat and two kittens under the pool at North Lakes Swim Club in Roanoke. This family was wedged under the concrete pool walkway in a tiny opening near the chlorine tanks. That close proximity to the leaking tanks had almost sealed their eyes shut and this poor family was really suffering. My brother rescued the mother and the two cute tabby kittens. We named her Claudeen (Clawdeen) and her two kittens were Missy and BJ (Big John). BJ became my favorite cat and all three led relatively uneventful lives with only a few scrapes with cars. Claudeen went on to live with my sister at college and beyond. Missy lived a very long and natural life at our home for almost twenty years. BJ, however, met the highway near Bonsack, VA. His loss saddened me. So it goes.

Once I married and had children, the pets began to follow. We were especially good about winning gold fish and having them die within a week or two. We once had a couple of these county fair goldfish in a big ten gallon tank, and one the kids alerted me that one of the fish was wallowing around fitfully upside down. My kid and my niece, Jacque, were very distressed and wanted me to do something. Without really stopping to consider whether or not it would work, I grabbed a straw from a kitchen drawer and began what can only be described as mouth-to-gill resuscitation. Miraculously, after a few repeated puffs of air directly in to the poor fish’s gills, that little fella turned himself over and started swimming around normally. My kids were amazed and my niece, although now in her twenties, still brings that story up from time to time. That fish died a few weeks later of the same mysterious malady. I tried my straw trick again, but it didn’t work. Sorrow Floats.

Sorrow floats. John Irving in his modern masterpiece, The Hotel New Hampshire, filled his pages with dark characters with many secret soulful closets. In addition to dancing bears, Irving tossed in a family pet aptly named Sorrow. Whenever Sorrow appeared in the story, something horrible or tragic happened. Sorrow lived a very long, smelly, and pitiful life before finally expiring as I recall, yet his dark and quirky family decided to preserve the old boy for all time by having him stuffed. After his return from the taxidermist, he became the property of one of their strange children who would not allow himself to go anywhere without Sorrow. The family decided to take a plane overseas and the boy took Sorrow along. Predictably the plane crashed; everyone was killed. Much debris was found from the plane but rescuers were most surprised to find the stuffed dog in one piece. It seems that Sorrow floats.

The first pet my wife and I got was a big ole tabby cat we called Bo (Bogens). Bo was huge, weighing in at 20 pounds during his large years. We later learned that Bo, while adopting us, actually belonged to my farmer neighbor who called him “PoJo.” I remember I found that out one time when I stopped by my neighbor’s farm to let him know that his chickens were destroying my garden. I knocked on their kitchen screen door. I could plainly see old farmer Dean sitting in there having a drink of some dark liquid when his rather large daughter, Jackie, came to the door. Before I could introduce myself properly, Jackie blurted out, “You’re the ones thats gots my PoJo.”

I mumbled some incomprehensible reply then she went on with the history of her PoJo. How she had adopted him, gotten him neutered, moved him from Charlottesville to her daddy’s farm, etc. Finally, I blurted out, “I’m sorry (I think I’ve apologized more in my life than most people…when I foul someone playing basketball, I apologize) Well do you want him back?”

“Naw, I reckon not. He nowheres come here when he’s got all that good food over there.”


“Actually Mr. Dean, I came over to let you know about your chickens.”

Mr. Dean, a wrinkled old man with no teeth wearing dirty bib overalls piped up, “What about ‘em?”

“See they’ve been running loose in my yard and eating up all the seed I put down in my garden.”

Mr. Dean paused as if very seriously considering what I had to say…

“Well then…shoot ‘em and eat ‘em. Jest shoot ‘em and eat ‘em!”

With that he turned back to his dark liquid refreshment and Jackie said her goodbyes. I walked on back to the house and shooed those chickens away yet again.

(Readers: Use caution for the rest of this piece)

Bo lived a long and very happy life with us until his last few weeks. He was probably about 20 years old when we think he died. We never actually recovered his body. For days he had pretty much parked himself on our deck, without energy enough to even think about moving. We knew the time was coming rapidly when we’d have to put him down. In fact, that very day, we decided that the time had come for us to have Bo depart us. The day took a strange twist, however, when we noticed flies landing on poor old Bo as he sunned himself on the back deck. He seemed more tired than normal and made no attempt to shoo them away. More and more flies hovered around him seemingly by the minute. Finally, I went over to him to see if there was some kind of problem that I could spot and when I lifted him to look at his belly I found a gaping open wound covering most of his stomach area and it was loaded with maggots, thousands of wiggling maggots, hatching into flies before my very eyes. I’ve never seen anything like before and never hope to seen anything like it again. The vet was closed for the evening and we vowed right then to put him down the next day first thing. I probably should have put him out of his misery myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that to my friend. He seemed content enough in the early evening. Unmoving, very weak. We wondered if he would last the night. Late that evening, he began yowling. That was the last we ever heard from him. Some time during the night, Bo managed to lift what was left of his body off the deck, crawl to the backyard fence, somehow scale it, and disappear in to the woods near our house. The next day we expected to find him passed away on the deck, but we never found him. So it goes.

Vonnegut used the phrase “So it goes” in his novel Slaughterhouse Five to connote death, dying of any thing- living or non-living. From Billy Pilgrim (optometrist, soldier and main character) and the Tralfamadoran’s (his bizarre multidimensional space aliens, perspectives; past, present, or future exist on the same plane. There is only what is, and what is has already been written in the layers of universal history. So when something dies, they simply say, “So it goes” to mark that event, knowing full well that it is, has always been, and always will be.

Then, of course, there’s the sad tale of Felix and ’95. These two golf course tabby’s were adopted by my niece (the fish girl-Jacque) and my son, Sam. Jacque named hers, Felix, while Sam named his’95, since we found them in 1995. They were really cute kittens and both kids really enjoyed playing with them every day after school. We’d leave the garage door open for them to come in, get milk and food, and to sleep on the couch or rag piles. They loved it there. One afternoon, we were driving back from school, and we were met in our driveway by Jacque. She was distraught. Felix lay dead beside the drive, gutted by some animal. The murder had just happened when Jacque and her mother drove up. They saw two emaciated coon dogs chasing 95 away into the woods. Apparently, these killers had stumbled onto our property, smelled the cats, and attacked them in the garage.. Everything in there was in disarray. Obviously, the kittens put up a good fight, but Felix was nabbed by one of the beasts and dragged into the yard while 95 tried to make a break for it. We don’t think he made it. We later learned that the same coon dogs killed a cat on the other side of the golf course later that very day and also attacked the cat’s owner. Luckily, those dogs were captured and held in confinement for thirty days. I believe they were later released back to their “owners” who petitioned the court claiming that they were valuable hunting dogs. We looked for 95 for weeks and my son was heartbroken. 95 was never found. So it goes. (**details of that event are sketchy in my brain...I'm sure that some family member will help me get the correct story...reflecting on what I wrote the following morning, I seem to recall that '95 survived the attack by scaling a 75 foot tree. We called a woodsman to climb and get him. '95, always a bit skittish after that ran away one day when dogs appeared in our yard again...either it goes)

My last horrible pet story involves an innocent soul, Champ the dog. Again Jacque plays quite a large role in his story. I must note that Jacque spent most summer days with us at our house while her mother, my sister-in-law, ran the neighboring country club’s pool. Also, Jacque spent many months living with us when she was much younger. She’s very much like my other daughter. Jacque and the rest of the pool kids found Champ running loose near the golf course one summer day in the mid 90’s. Jacque and Sam thought it would be a good idea if we immediately adopt this German Shepherd-like mutt. He certainly was friendly and a lot of fun, so it didn’t take them long to convince us.

Just before we were set to move to Roanoke in 1997, Champ began experiencing seizures. It was so scary to see him just drop and convulse on the floor. He’d loose his bowel control and slobber all over the place. When the seizure relented, he’d stumble around blind and deaf for a few minutes before gradually recovering his senses. Our doctor placed him on Phenobarbital and later on a combination of Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide (KBr). These are quite powerful drugs and I suppose they extended poor Champ’s life a few years. However, in 1999, Champ began to experience seizure after seizure, even on the highest doses of medication. At that point, we crossed the line and had to put the guy down. I remember taking my kids with me, Sam and Callan, to give him rest. He was being racked with seizures every few minutes, so we had to time our trip to be able to get him to negotiate that last walk. I remember the vet, misty-eyed, giving him a needle to put him to sleep; then inserting the final needle to stop his heart. By this time we were all crying as he peacefully left his riddled body and his family, whom he loved very much. For I believe that a dog can truly love. I’ve seen it in their eyes. Champ passed. Sorrow floats.