Monday, August 30, 2010

Super Saturday, and a trip to the Koffe Kup.

Last week some time, as I was grinding through my new schedule of classes, a couple of things happened. First the OFFICIAL letter explaining why I was discharged from teaching in San Saba and banned from ever teaching on prisons ever again, permanently, was received by my boss, the Dean of the Ft. Hood campus. It's a whopper too. Readin' through it, you'd think I'd killed someone.

So, the next step in that process is for me to file an appeal of their decision, which I've spent the last few days drafting. When I stop getting the runaround from the Windham School District prick who drafted the letter and finally find out who to file it with, I'll send it out. I don't really hold out any hope of them changing their mind, but I'll feel better just having put my own version of things out there. When I do, I'll also post my letter here, so that you can all see exactly what I've been dealing with.

Secondly, about the middle of last week I got an email from the folks that are putting on the ACL (Austin City Limits Music) Festival in October, telling me about the after-shows that are planned at various venues over the festival weekend. One of the bands I will see at the festival when Glenn and I attend on the Friday is the Black Keys. Turns out they're doing a full show at Stubb's Saturday night. I was exited when I found out about that, and dyin' to get tickets, but by the time I was able to get to a computer that wasn't blocked by public school bullshit the tickets had all sold out. They went quick, which is a testament to how awesome that band is.

At the same time, my buddy Glenn called me last week, telling me that he was planning to drive out to Hico, Texas on Saturday to see his old high school's 6-man football team play in an exhibition game that's touted as Super Saturday. It's an annual, invitation only exhibition that gives the top 6-man teams in the state an opportunity to play and show their talent.

For those of you who don't know, 6-man football is a version of the game that's played in schools in Texas that are too small to field a full sized team. Here's a little explanation...

Glenn played 6-man football in the little town of Strawn, Tx. in the 1960s, at the Junior High level, and his brother, who is now a football coach, played 6-man at the high school level. So he goes every year, and usually, Strawn's team is there. They were there this time, and we were gonna see them play. I floated the idea to Denise of driving up there and making a day of it, and she loved the idea. She loves football, and lots of other sports, so it was a fun time we could all enjoy.

There are always a few ex-pro football dignitaries there, including Walt Garrison, who goes there every year and hands out the trophies. I grew up when Garrison was playing for the Cowboys in the late '60s and early '70s, and always thought he was cool. he was a real cowboy, who rode bulls in the off season when the Cowboys weren't playing. Check out these memories.

Ain't they now. True wisdom ($5 quickies? Dude... Inflation is a BEOTCH). Of course, it was a bull riding accident in 1974 that wrecked his knee and ended his pro career, but he would always stand out as one of my favorite, old school players. When Denise and I go to pro games I always wear my Walt Garrison jersey, and this would give me a chance to get him to sign it. Plus, I'd never had an opportunity to sit down and watch a 6-man game, so I was really excited to go. I wanted to see how it's done for myself.

The weekend started on Friday afternoon with me going over to Temple to visit with Mom. She wasn't feeling up to going out to eat, so I just went over there and sat with her for a bit. before that, I'd gone down to Salado to get my self sheared. It had been 6 weeks, so I was in need. While I was there, at my cousin Peggi's salon, I watched a lady go through the seemingly laborious task of getting a Perm. Watching her have her hair rolled up, doused with noxious chemicals and then rinsed, made me think of all the trouble and expense a good buddy of mine used to go through back in the '70s to enable him to sport that Mac Davis look, which the ladies were goin' for back then. Man, the things guys won't do to look good for the ladies.

After visiting with mom I drove back home and started working on that appeal. It's about five and a half pages long, so brace yourselves. Anyway, Denise and I relaxed in front of the TV Friday night. Then we got up at about 9:30 AM Saturday, cooked ourselves a good breakfast of eggs, fried taters and bacon, and then we set off up the road to Hico.

Rather than take the longer rout, through Lampassas on 190 and then up 281, we decided off the cuff to strike out through the country. We drove up the west side of the base and hit 36 east of Gatesville. Then we drove up 36 to Jonesboro, and then onto 1602 to Hico. It's all beautiful countryside, with lots of cattle huddled, seeking shade under tall Live Oaks, and occasional Longhorns checkin' out the passing traffic (which was scarce - we was all by our lonesome out there).

Between Jonesboro and Hico, we rode through Fairy, Texas, which has an interesting history (click on that link and see for yourself). We figured they MUST have an interesting name for their HS football team. We got to Hico about the same time as Glenn, around 1:30, and met up with him at Hico stadium. We were surprised to see Glenn all on his own. His lovely wife Becky was feelin' puny, so she couldn't come.

Right off the bat, we located Walt Garrison and Burton Lawless, who were signin' autographs under a big tent, and I got Garrison to sign my jersey. I think Lawless was more excited about it than Garrison, but that's cool. Garrison wanted Lawless to sign it too, and I was cool with that, but he wouldn't. It wasn't his number, and I guess he didn't want to mess it up. Later, I came back and got a couple of souvenir fans, the cost of which went to support the event, and got them both to sign them. Then I leaned in behind them and a lady took our picture. It was a hoot.

Later on, a couple of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders showed up and took a turn around the field win a golf cart. Then they went back to that same tent and started signin' autographs. And you'll never guess. Their line was WAY longer and fuller than the one for the other two fellas. Go figure.

We avoided the crowd, sat down in the appropriate side of the field and began to enjoy the football. It was in the upper 90s Saturday afternoon, but there was a faint but persistent cool breeze that wafted though the stadium, teasing us with memories of many fall football evenings when we shiver and huddle up under blankets to fend off the weather. Those days are not far off, and I can't wait for them to get here.

We got there about half way through the match between Follett (in blue and white) and Throckmorton (in black). remember, these are little bitty towns (Throckmorton's zip code is higher than their population number), and they can't field a full team, so they play 6-man football. But I wanna tell ya, they hit just as hard as the rest. It was cool as hell to watch them move the ball down the field, even if it was a bit weird to try to understand exactly what was goin' on. But that's why I had Glenn there to give us a blow-by-blow.

Eventually, after Follett beat Throckmorton, Glenn's home town team, Strawn, took the field (in red and black) vs. Valley (in blue and white). It was hard goin' from the start for little Strawn, but they held their own until the last quarter. By the time Glenn looked up at me and asked me if we wanted to go ahead and go, the score was . Too bad. Glenn says he's seen them lose three years in a row now, which means that they're due for a spectacular comeback.

With that, we split up and left, but we soon met up again at the Koffe Kup Family Restaurant (formerly the Koffe Kup Kafe - a bit unreconstructed, back in the old days). The Koffe Kup is a Hico landmark, written up in Texas Monthly and featured on television shows like Texas Country Reporter, with Bob Phillips. The show is an institution in the state, reporting on all the stuff that's going on here, and everything we have to show the world. Click here and check it out.

I've driven by the Koffee Kup many times, but never stopped, so this was gonna be my chance to get some of their famous pie, and see what else they have to offer. It turned out, like so many things in life, to be a mixed bag. The pie was as advertised, and the burgers were awesome. I had the Scottster, which was a half pound of beef, lettuce, jalapeno peppers, bacon, ranch dressing and cheese. Denise went for Tam's Special, which is another half pound of beef, with sauteed onions, mushrooms, mayo and swiss cheese.

Glenn went for the Club sandwich, and a healthy plate of fries on the side. Both Denise and Glenn went for the fries, and they turned out to be wonderful. But I chose the supposedly famous onion rings... "Hand battered in our kitchen and served golden brown." Well, they sure are big enough. I think they must be gettin' their onions at the same place Jason's Delli get's their taters. Like Chernobyl, or some place like that. Huge.

But, unfortunately, once you bite into these dudes, you find that the flower has little or no taste. Very little flavor at all. Bland as hell. I had to douse mine with ketchup and ranch dressing, just to be able to taste 'em. Not good. Next time, I'll go for the fries.

After dinner, we split up, with Glenn headin' down 6 to Waco, and Denise and I headin' back down 1602, back through Fairy and Jonesboro, past the stray dogs, the totem poles, and the longhorns, back to the house, and the cool comfort of my recliner. It was a wonderful day, and we'll probably do it again next year. Thanks to Glenn for the heads-up. If you'd like to see any of the other pictures, click over to FlickR and check them out. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gettin' back to something like a normal routine.

For those of you who know me and have been comin' by here for a while, you know what that means. It means, among other things, goin' over to Temple and takin' mom out to eat on Friday nights.

But this last Friday, mom indicated that she really didn't want to go out. Turns out she'd gone to the grocery store earlier that day and walked up and down the isles, wearin' herself out... Yea, after spendin' $350 at the commissary the week before. But she says her local grocery store has better steaks and hamburger patties than the base.

She freezes the patties and then takes one out at a time to make herself some tacos, or a bowl of chili. So, after all that activity, mom was pooped when the time came to join us for dinner. We told her in stead that we'd go and eat, and then we'd bring her dinner to the house. With that, Denise and I decided to try out a Chinese buffet in Belton called Jake's.

Denise had heard from someone out at work that Jake's had great food, including great steaks. Well, it turned out that Jake's was a passable Chinese food place at best, and the steaks were nothing to write home about. Many years ago, when Dad was still alive and he and I were doing this Friday night ritual, we'd tried out Jake's, only to decide that it wasn't worth going back to.

That's when he and I started going to Dynasty every Friday night. I told Denise about this, but told her that that had been many years ago, and maybe they'd gotten new cooks and spiced things up. So we gave it a try. Denise said later that she was gonna have to have a talk with those folks out at work who told her how good it was. Set 'em straight.

In the end, rather than take mom a plate of Chinese food, she decided she really wanted a banana split from Dairy Queen. I can't tell you how often I've driven up 31st street and procured one of these delights for my mother. She loves them to death, but for whatever reason, hadn't had one in a long time.

We sat down and watched TV with her while she ate, and then Denise and I drove on home. Saturday afternoon, Denise and I were scheduled to drive up to Ft. Worth and attend a surprise birthday party for a very good friend of mine.

Ronda Stewart, the wife of my old canoeing coach from junior college, Paul Stewart, from like 30 years ago, just turned 70. Yea, he was my canoeing coach.

In my second semester in college, in the spring of 1980, I signed up for an inter-mural PE class called Camping and Canoeing. That class changed my life. I can say that unequivocally. I'd never been camping before, though something about it had always intrigued me. I'd played at it as a kid, but had never spent the night in a tent before. Anyway, I enjoyed the class so much I just kept comin' back, like a bad penny I guess.

In time, as the classes changed from a mix of guys and gals to smaller groups of mostly guys, I guess I got tired of the seemingly endless prick measuring contests that went on during the trips. The endless one-upsmanship always seemed to get in the way of my relaxation. Some dude, sitting in the front of my canoe, would be pissed at me because we weren't going fast enough down the river, racing the other guys. Shit man, I just wanted to enjoy the scenery and the water.

So, after the whole thing became a bit more tedious, I stopped going. I moved on, and got into grad school. That kept me pretty busy for a few years. But then, after getting my degree, I came back, and Paul let me go on a few trips. I was hooked again after that. The gals were back, and Paul couldn't shake me. I think he eventually had to retire just to get rid of me.

Not too long after that, in the spring of 1990, I was hired by the college I still work for to teach classes on deployed navy vessels. Between ships, so long as the schedule allowed, I'd tag along on a few canoe trips now and then. I also kept in touch with several friends that I'd met on those trips. Those folks became very close friends, and I still run around with them today. Then, when I stopped all that travelin' and started working here on Ft. Hood, I finally got a chance to get myself an appropriate vehicle.

Here's a shot from some time in 1995 or '96. We were runnin' the Blanco river, southeast of San Marcos. It was my first trip after buying my Jeep. I was so proud. I miss that car. That tent was cool too. A Timberline Vista. I got it cheap from L.L. Bean. I still have it, but all the seams are rotten and coming apart.

Later on, during the summer, Paul would occasionally invite me on his annual father-son trips. He'd get together with neighbors and folks from his church and they'd run the lower end of the Buffalo National River, in northwest Arkansas.

Those trips were always a blast, and it gave me a chance to meet up with Paul's brother, his nephew and some of his friends. A lot of those people were there at Ronda's birthday party Saturday night. We all enjoyed getting together again, and everyone voiced a desire to get back on the river.

I can't tell you how important this guy has been to my life. He introduced me to a world that became incredibly important in making me who I am today, and helped me grow up a lot. I went from being a scared, sheltered little putz, into, well, a much bigger putz with really cool camping skills and gear. What can say.

Denise and I drove back home after the party, and then slept in Sunday morning. Mom had alerted us earlier to the possibility that she was gonna cook some good food Sunday afternoon. She doesn't do that much cooking any more, so we didn't hesitate to join her.

Sure enough, she fried up some chicken, cooked some green peas, and tossed us a great salad with her special home made dressing. Denise provided potato salad, and my cousin Sue baked up some croissants that were slathered with garlic butter.

Denise also took charge, as usual, of the adult beverage production. Usually we have Strawberry Daiquiris, but this time mom chose Pina Coladas. Good stuff.

Yep, it was all good. I ended up bringin' home some left-over chicken, and had that, and some more tater salad for lunch/dinner yesterday afternoon. Good stuff.

Now, y'all try not to slobber too much on the keyboard, lookin' at these pictures. I know, that's just wrong. Cheers!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Having said all that...

Of course, there's other stuff goin' on too.

After givin' us a good scare a few weeks ago, mom seems to be doin' fine now. While I was off for the extra two weeks when I would otherwise have been drivin' to San Saba I spent a lot of time with her. I went to Sam's for her once or twice and took her to the commissary on base, where she shops once a month. My job there is to lift and haul all her heavy loads, crates of water and such, back to the house. She and dad used to do this, and when she was stronger, she'd do it all herself. I've begged her to let me go along with her, and this time, because of her weakened condition, she finally did.

I tell you what, that woman can shop! I feel like I'm 10 years old again when I'm followin' after her with that second cart. She'd see something on a shelf and say "OK, I need three off those. OK, give me ten of those." Eventually I started asking "Really?" It was amazing. Jezus, is she feeding an army? And no, to answer your question, it's not me. She's not feeding me. Not much anyway. She just stocks up for the month.

In case you're wondering, those two carts ended up amounting to $325.00 worth of groceries. Plus a $10 tip to the little Korean lady who bagged everything and loaded it all in the car.

I tried to keep all of my job drama from mom during the week, so as not to worry her. But she could feel it in my voice. I denied anything was wrong for a long time, but she finally worked it out of me.

She finally asked me if I'd been laid off, and I told her I had, to spare having to lay out the grizzly details. Of course, she was very supportive, and told me that she'd help me out with money if I needed it. But that's the last thing I want to do. I told her I'd be fine. The folks on Ft. Hood have assigned me enough classes that I'll be OK. I'll never let this shit take me down to the point where I need mom to bail me out. I know how to do this part-time crap, and everything will be fine.

Also, bein' off gave me the time to begin a project that I'd promised a friend I'd complete a long time ago. My buddy John Hoenow, who works as a guard at San Saba and has a liquor store there in town, asked me a good while ago to make him a leather possibles bag for hunting. He'd seen the leather case I'd made for my recurve bow and asked me if I had any leather left.

I told him that I had a bunch of the stuff layin' around, and sure, I'd make him a bag. But that was last year some time. He probably figured I'd blown it off a long time ago, but I actually started to try to figure out how I wanted to make it a long time ago. I was just afraid to start, for fear It'd turn out cheesy.

Feeling bad about all the procrastination, I finally got the leather out and started to look it over before this last road trip. I took the leather and stuff on the road, thinkin' I'd have some time here and there to get the project started.

Sheeeeit. NOT! But then, after coming home, I found myself sittin' here at the house over the last two weeks, stayin' up late at night, unable to sleep from all the shit that was unraveling in front of me, worryin' about the future. It was really therapeutic to be able to forget about all that for a time and concentrate on something else.

Like I said, I started thinking about how I was gonna put it together a long time ago, going over lots of different design ideas in my head and worrying about whether or not my skills would be enough to build the bag I knew I wanted John to have.

When John asked me to build it I'd gotten excited, but at the same time I was nervous as hell. I wanted to make sure the bag would stand up in comparison to real, antique hide bags.

Bottom line, I wanted to make a real possibles bag that he could use on his black powder hunting trips. One that would be strong and sturdy enough to last. I'd never built a bag like that before and I was afraid, from the ones I'd seen, that I didn't have the materials or skills to get it done. So I procrastinated, thinking about it and putting it off.

Once I got on with it though, it came together amazingly fast. It was just a process of figuring out what part of the thick hide I wanted to use for the body of the bag. Then, as I cut and turned the pieces, the rest of it sort of came together in my head. I found the long pieces that would be sewn onto the body to make the sides and straps, and then I started to figure out how I was gonna decorate it.

I knew I wanted to have some fringe on it, and I wanted to sew some beads into it too, but I also didn't want to tart it up too much. The last thing I wanted was for the bag to evolve slowly into something that looked like a purse.

So, I experimented with some fringe on the flap, and was really happy with that. Then I put some on the straps, thinking I'd eventually bead those sections. But after looking at it for a few days I decided that I didn't like that stuff. It was too much. So I took those off and started to think about the bead work.

Now, let me tell you, it's been a LONG time since I did a lot of bead work, and my eyes are NOT what they used to be. But with a head lamp and some good reading glasses, it's surprising how easy it is to get that nylon thread through the hole in that itty bitty needle.

Lots of ideas for beading the bag are still runnin' through my head, but the one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to do some kind of monogram. I started out slowly, but then in time the old skills started to come back to me and I was really happy with the way it turned out.

I'm still workin' on it. I took off some of the fringe on the front and am in the process of resewing it on the other fringe with some bead work to decorate it. I've also got some cool ideas for the strap. I'll show pictures of the final product when I get it done.

And the last thing, I've got two tickets to see Gordon Lightfoot tonight in Grand Prairie. Denise and I were gonna go, but a friend of hers out at work suffered a brain aneurysm and died the other day. She wants to go to his service tonight. I told her I'd blow off the gig and go with her, but she said "No, you go. Ask Glenn if he wants to go with you." I did, and he does, so we're good to go. We're gonna go to lunch after I get out of my lunch time classes and then when he gets out of school tonight we'll head out. It'll be fun.

So, everything is getting back to some sort of normal, despite the recent unpleasantness. Life goes on, and I'm determined to have a good time at it. So keep comin' by. There'll be awesome food shots and all the same old shit on display, I promise.

Oh yea, we started a new pool season last night and I won. All is well. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's been goin' on.

Like I said, the Tuesday of that second week of the road trip, Denise and I moved on up to Vine Grove, Kentucky, where her daughter Chantel and the kids live. We were gonna spend the rest of the week there before driving home on Saturday.

Well, the first evening there I turned on my laptop and checked my email. There was an ominous email from my boss in San Saba, asking me to submit a statement concerning something that has happened between myself and an inmate out there, something like two months earlier.

Somewhere around the end of the second 8 week semester, as my noon to 2:30 class was ending and I was leaving the jail, I found myself walking out the door from the education building, along a sidewalk that leads to the next locked door. You have to go through about seven locked doors coming and going from the education building. It's tedious, but comes with the gig.

There were prisoners, students, lined up along the sidewalk, waiting to go through the same door I was headed for. They were going back to their cells. One of them was a dude I'd had issues with in the past. He'd taken all my classes, and I'd had to write him up a few times for talking in class and throwing things at me.

Yea, one day he tossed a little piece of an eraser, or a rolled up piece of paper at me while I stood next to him lecturing, and the object hit me in the eye. I was PISSED when he did that, and I wrote him up for assault. But the guard in charge of the shift that day took me in his office and talked me into reducing the offense so that it wouldn't add years to the guys sentence. I was cool with that then, because as much of a pain-in-the-ass as the guy was, I didn't want to blow the thing way out of proportion just to fuck him over.

So, the little bastard was given a break. He came back into class in a few days, grinnin' like he'd gotten away with something, which he had. But the semester ended soon after that and the little shit was out of my life, or so I thought. I'd see him now and then in the hallways while he came and went from other classes, and other students used to joke about what a pain in the ass he'd been while he was in my class. The whole thing evolved into a big joke, or so I thought.

Anyway, back to the sidewalk. It'd been raining that day, if memory serves. This guy was standing out of line, in my way. So, rather than step off into the wet grass to avoid him I gave him a little shove. I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him aside and moved past him. I remember hearing him say "Hey!", but I didn't look back, and I didn't think anything else about it. I guess I was showing him a little contempt, as he done to me endless times, talking and disrupting my classes.

Thing is, you're not supposed to ever touch an inmate. It's in the rules. No matter how innocent or incidental the contact is, it's not supposed to happen. I'd been told that in the fall of 2008, when I was hired to teach in San Saba and given a briefing by the prison folks, but since then it had slipped my mind.

In the environment I worked in, spending 95% of my time with inmates, I saw a LOT of physical contact between them. Guys would arm wrestle one another and push one another, and it was always a joke. So I guess I allowed myself to fall into the perception that such contact was OK and forgot the instructions I'd been given.

Truthfully, the briefing we got in 2008 was minimal, and a lot of what they told us seemed then to be over the top: Don't ever let them know your name; don't ever let them know any personal information about you; etc. The fucking college gave us name tags that we wore every day, and the prison insisted we wear them. So much for "Don't let them know your name." In the reality of working there, most of the stuff they told us in the briefing went out the window in the first semester. So I guess it was natural, in that setting, for me to forget the fine points of the rules.

What's more, that wasn't the first time I'd had physical contact with a prisoner. There were many occasions when a prisoner was standing in my way in a hallway, or in class, or when one tried to sit in my chair in the room, and I'd gig them in the back or shoulder with my elbow or thumb to get them to move out of my way. It was a normal, almost every day thing.

I never did it to a prisoner I didn't know. It was always someone who I knew from class, who I knew to be friendly, who would have a sense of humor about it. I did it many times, in full view of cameras and guards, and nobody ever took me aside and told me "Hey, stop doing that!" So, you can imagine my shock when I found out that this former student of mine who I'd shoved on that sidewalk was having meetings with the Warden and trying to blow that shove into a case of assault.

Well, like I said, I emailed my version of the events to my boss, but then I didn't hear anything else about it through the rest of the week. Finally, on the Friday before we began the journey home, knowing that I was scheduled to begin a new semester in San Saba on the next Monday, I tried to get hold of the folks out at the jail to find out what was going on.

I didn't get anywhere there. Then I got a call from my boss on the Ft. Hood campus, who runs the college program out at San Saba. He told me that he'd gotten a surprising email from an official with the Texas Department of Corrections, and that we needed to have a meeting Monday morning. he didn't tell me what he knew, so I spent the rest of the weekend with a sword hanging over my head.

Long story short, I went in to that meeting Monday morning, after all of that drama with mother over the weekend, and the Dean informed me that as on now, the TDC had banned me from teaching on any of their facilities in the state. Because of that I'd be loosing my full-time teaching position with the college. That means I'd be loosing my salaried position, my medical coverage and my hopes for retirement.

So, because of a shove, a moments decision, almost an instinctive action, I'd gone from having a birds nest on the ground, with a killer salary, full medical and a nice retirement in 12 or 13 years, to being a basic part-time teacher with nothing much to show for 18 years of history with the folks on the Ft. Hood campus. I'm back to square one.

Realize, I'd worked towards that full-time teaching position for 18 years, ever since I started teaching for this college in 1990. I'd put up with all the tedious bullshit that part-timers have to deal with, for 18 years, all in hopes that some day I'd be graced with the kind of salary and benefit package that we all fucking DESERVE.

After 18 years of scrounging for classes and working 12 and 14 hour days, I'd finally gotten that full-time position. And it was a great job, even with the drive, and all the prison bullshit. And then I had it all taken away from me in an instant. Tossed under the buss by the TDC, and then by the college, with no hope expressed for any recourse. I tell ya, in the early part of that first week, with all of this hitting me, it's a wonder I didn't try to suck start one of my AKs.

But those feelings didn't last long. By the end of that week my friends on the Ft. Hood campus had stepped up, knowing how badly I'd been screwed, and they assigned me enough extra classes here on base to keep me going financially. What's more, other friends around the area, finding out about the drama, had shown me so much love and support... I can't tell you how much it helped me begin to start rebuilding my life. I guess it takes this kind of drama to show you how much you are respected... How much you're loved by the folks in your life. I also give full credit to Denise for supporting me emotionally, keeping me from going nuts. She's been wonderful to me.

The last little drama began late last week. The dean called me into his office on Thursday and put me on the phone with some woman on the main campus who told me that since I'd been terminated as a full-time employee, they were going to stop payment on the last month of my contract. They were gonna dick me out of about four thousand dollars, which is what I would have been paid through the month of August (the contract was from September 1st of last year to September 1st of this year).

It's taken me, with the assistance of my boss, until today to get them to back off and start to pay me what they owe me. I deposited a check today that should have been direct deposited last Friday, and I should get paid again at the end of the month. By the middle of September, the money I'm earning now as a part-timer should begin to kick in. Thing is, as a part-timer, there'll be no more extended holidays when we can go on trips. I'll have to work mini semesters over Christmas and new years, so that I don't have to go for two months between paychecks. There's no more medical, so I'm back to trying to find my own coverage.

Like I said, I'm back to square one. The whole thing is unbelievably frustrating and humiliating, and makes me wanna kill someone. I walk around here, going to and from class, looking at the faces of my friends and colleagues and thinking about what I've lost. I think about the plans I used to have for my life, and how much of that is torn to shit now. I try not to think about it too much. I'd go crazy if I did. I went through about two weeks of sleepless nights over it all, but with these classes starting, I'm really too busy and tired to think about it very much.

But it'll always haunt me. That moment on the sidewalk, that moments decision will be streaming through my brain on a loop for the rest of my life. I had it made, and I screwed it up. I let myself be set up. It was all my fault. I don't think I'll ever be able to get over that.

At the same time, one of Denise's nieces was diagnosed with a brain tumor today, and another friend of hers from work, a 45 year old guy, is in the hospital, brain dead from an aneurysm and not expected to last very long. That news puts all of my issues in perspective. And when I think of how lots of other people have to live, including friends of mine, and the issues of their lives, it makes me feel like a big pussy for feeling so bad about myself.

So, life goes on. I'll be OK. It may take me a lot longer, but I'll get back on solid ground again. I've been on this journey too long not to know how to lift myself back up and keep runnin'. I'll just have to redouble my efforts. I just thank God for all my friends, and for the woman I love, who has shown me again and again how much she loves me. When I think of what my life would be without her, or without the rest of my friends, I feel like a rich man. Truly rich.

So, that's the end of that. I'm back to work now and everything is gonna be cool. Thanks again to everyone for all their well wishes, and God bless all those who are struggling with crap they can't control. Cheers!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The road home, and the drama that ensued there.

So, like I said, Denise and I got up early Saturday, loaded the car full of the spoils of a two week adventure and started the LONG drive home. As we figured it, with the requisite number of stops averaged in, we were probably gonna roll into the driveway here in Killeen at maybe midnight.

We hit Nashville and started rollin' west at around 11:20AM. Memphis whizzed by about three or four hours later, and by the time we back on I-30, south of Little Rock, it was time to eat dinner. There's a place there that's been special to me for a long time.

Back in my old canoeing days, when I used to make regular trips up into the Ozarks to run the Buffalo National River (that's me in the back, circa 1991, steerin' the boat past Grey Rock), our group would always hit the buffet at Brown's on the way home. We'd be stinky and bewhiskered after three or four days on the river, and then roll into the parking lot there in Benton just in time to rub elbows with the well dressed folks who'd decided to come to Brown's for a Sunday meal after church. They'd look at us like we were outlaw bikers, or homeless, and then send us to some back room to eat. We'd fill up. Man, those were good times, and great folks that I ran with in those days. I miss them all!

I always regain Denise with these stories when we roll by. We stopped here a few years back, on the return leg of another road trip, but we both agreed the food was not what I remembered. So, I was surprised when she agreed to give it one more try. As we rolled into the parking lot I could see the canoe trailers in the back parking lot in my minds eye. So many memories.

We went in, paid for our dinner, and then I got situated in the line while Denise hit the restroom. That's 50 feet of buffet. They claim 100, because you can hit it from ether side.

You start out with salad items, and then steadily shift from one entree to another, and then through every sort of main dish you'd see at a Cracker Barrel. Only it's an all-you-can-eat buffet. My thing, back in the day, was to go through three plates; salad plate, dinner plate, and dessert plate. You should see the Ice Cream Sundays I used to make, pilin' up the vanilla ice cream from the machine, and then coverin' it with chocolate, fudge and chopped nuts. Mmmm, yep, it was good.

But something's happened in the fifteen or so years since those canoe trailers used to roll into that parking lot. Just like last time, Denise and I were both disappointed with what we had that Saturday. I don't know. Maybe it was the whole experience back then, the I-haven't-had-a-real-bath-in-four-days element, or the group psychology, that made the earlier experiences so much better. Or shit, maybe they've just lost a step in the years since then. Anyway, whatever it is, I'm not plannin' to go back. I can't say never. Never say never. But I doubt I'll ever be able to talk Denise into it, and I doubt I'll try.

After we rolled out of Brown's, it was a steady grind though the rest of Arkansas and into Texas. We stopped for gas at a Wal Mart just south of Dallas at about 10:15 PM. As we put the car back into gear, thinkin' we'd be home by 1:00 AM or so, my mom called. She told me she wasn't feelin' so good, and asked me if we'd stop by her place on the way home and bring her some Alka Seltzer. I told her we certainly would, but it'd be 12:30 or so by the time we got there. She said she didn't mind, so we got back on the road.

When we got to mom's place and saw how sick and miserable she really was, we insisted that she let us take her to the emergency room at Scott and White, the big local hospital that dominates the local skyline and economy. Once we got her there, it was clear that we were probably going to be there all night. I tell ya, I was pooped, but the emotions that were surging through me, seeing my mother in pain and wondering what the hell was going on, it's a wonder I wasn't a blubbering fool.

In the end, it turned out mom was VERY constipated and was suffering from a mild UTI (Urinary Tract Infection). They were also afraid that she might have a little spot of Pneumonia on one lung. So, around 7 AM (remember, we left Vine Grove at about 8:45 AM the day before), we took momma back home and put her into bed. On the way there, we stopped at the drive-through at Walgreens to get the two anti-biotic prescriptions the doctors had given her. By 7:30 we were puttin' her to bed and givin' her her pills. We decided then that rather than go home, 30 minutes or so away, we'd just bed down there and see how mom was doin' before we left her by herself. So, Denise went upstairs to bed and I hit the couch in the living room.

The next thing I remember I was waking up, surprisingly refreshed, at about noon-thirty. I looked in on mom and saw that she was still asleep, and then turned on the TV to wait for Denise to wake up. After another hour or so, Denise came walking down the stairs, asking me how mom was doin'. I went back in there and was surprised to see that mom was not in bed. I walked further into her bedroom and saw that the bathroom door was closed.

That's when the smell hit me. It turns out the two antibiotics combined have the effect of causing diarrhea. Well, with mom being so constipated, we thought that wouldn't be an issue. But it turned out that mom was too weak, from the nights drama and from her bad hip, to be able to get to the bathroom in time. It was a mess.

Long story short, Denise and I spent the next few hours cleaning the up the mess and getting mom cleaned up and back into bed. She was so embarrassed by the whole thing, but I asked her "How many damn times have you cleaned my mess in the last 49 years?" You know, it's my turn to help her now, and there's nothing I wouldn't do. But it's a good thing Denise was there. She went into the bathroom with mom, when we finally got her to open the door (she was humiliated and didn't want anyone to see the mess), and she got mom cleaned up while I started cleaning up the mess in the bedroom.

Eventually we called mom's housekeeper, a woman who's been helping my mom out for fifteen years and is basically part of the family. She cussed me for not callin' her earlier, and then came over and helped take care of mom and clean up what we'd missed while Denise and I went home and tried to unload and relax. It was 5:30 PM, Sunday evening, when we finally rolled into our driveway. That's what, something like 33 hours since we left Vine Grove Saturday morning? Sheeeeit, we was POOPED!

And it wasn't really over ether. Mom called me Tuesday morning at around 1:30AM and told me she'd fallen and couldn't get herself back up into bed. She'd been crawling around on the floor for half an hour trying to get to the phone. I got some clothes on and hit the road, leaving Denise at home. She's got to get up and go to work, and I told her I could handle it. Remembering the cussin' I got before, and knowing that she could get to mom much faster than I could, I called mom's housekeeper. Sure enough, by the time I got there Helen had come and mom was sittin' on a little stool she uses to help herself up into bed.

Bein' the Sasquatch that I am, I quickly reached down and grabbed mom around the waist and tried to lift her up and into bed. As I did she screamed out in agony. Her hip joint, which has no cartilage and is in dire need of replacement, was sending jolts of pain down through moms led and groin. Her creams scared the piss out of me, but I got her mostly onto the bed before I could stop. From there, mom was able to gently, carefully crawl back up onto her bed.

Apparently, the legacy of the diarrhea and trauma of Sunday had weakened mom to the point where, having fallen, she had no strength in her arms and legs to right herself, as she usually does. There's no tellin' how many times she's fallen and never told anyone, and it's all because of that FUCKING hip. I wish to GOD she'd get it replaced, but there's no way I could or should force her to. It's her body, it's her life, and it's her decision.

She's 82 years old, and is sensibly concerned about the trauma such an operation would have on her system. Her doctor wants her to have it done, as I do, but I learned a long time ago that I might as well piss into the wind as try to talk one of these women in my family into doin' ANYTHING they don't want to do. It's endlessly frustrating, but that's life.

Since then, mom has gotten stronger and is feeling much better. I went with her to see her hip doctor a week ago and was encouraged to hear her say they if she could get stronger and feel better, she might decide to go ahead and have the operation in a month or so, but since then she's backtracked. Like I said, I just shut my mouth and tell her I'll support whatever decision she makes.

That's much of the drama I've been dealin' with since I got home from the road trip, but it's FAR from all the drama. Just wait. It's like a friggin' bomb has gone off in my life, but I'll wait and tell you about all that in the next post. Until then, take care of yourselves. We'll talk. Cheers!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The week in Kentucky.

So, we got to Bowling Green late Friday afternoon and found everyone there in nap mode. We spent the next several days there relaxing, sitting around the house and playing with the kid. That gave me a lot of time to work on all the pictures I'd taken in Tennessee and upload them to FlickR.

There were a few pictures taken in Bowling Green, but most of them ended up like this. I tell ya, little Payton's not camera shy.

Her Nanna though... Witness Protection Program.

Like I said, it was a very relaxing time. Combine that with the heat (inside the house and out) and you're left with very little incentive to exert yourself at all. We did run a few errands though. There was a trip to Kroger's for provisions...

After which we made a trip over to the local liquor establishment, where we found some of that Sweet Carolina, sweet tea flavored vodka that Judy turned us onto. We'd found some Minute Maid lemonade at Kroger's, along with the makings for a big dinner, so Denise was in bidneth!

One thing. Later in the week, when we were in Vine Grove, Denise ran out of Minute Maid. So we went to a stop-n-rob and picked up some Country Time. Eeeeew, bleck! Not cool.. Don't go there.

That same liquor store in Bowling Green is also my sole supplier of George Dickel, Barrel Select. I've never found it anywhere else. While we were there I picked up a new bottle, and I was in bidneth!

Smooth. Very smooth. You see me sweatin' there? Well, apparently Lynn and Dale were havin' an issue with their air conditioner. It was usually in the mid 80s in the house during the day, which sucked balls. But I was maintainin'.

Saturday night, Lynn asked her mom to cook a traditional British dinner. This happens a lot, whenever we visit. It's their equivalent of us tryin' to get my mom to cook home-made peach ice cream and fried chicken, or her famous chicken enchiladas.

For Denise, this means Yorkshire puddings...

And Shepherd's pie. Add some carrots and you've got a meal fit for an English king. It was all wonderful.

After dinner I asked Denise if she wanted to go for a walk. I'd gone outside earlier and it seemed like there was the hint of a cool breeze in the air. It would get us out of the house, on our own, and also give me a chance to smoke a good cigar, which I hadn't been able to do since we were sittin' in Bruno's yard.

Well, the breeze turned out to be a fleeting thing. It was hot out there too, but the walk was fun and exhilarating, and the cigar was wonderful. Maybe it was the humidity, but that ash on my Kuba Kuba just hung on like a trooper.

We slept in Sunday morning, and then Denise whipped up a hearty breakfast, with eggs, bacon, sausage and hash brown taters. It was wonderful.

She had a blast playin' with little Payton as we ate. The rest of the day was spent chillin'. It was a serious adjustment, all this sittin' around, after all the activity in Tennessee. Like I said, I got a lot of picture work done, and a little blogging.

Monday, Denise decided to make a surprise visit up to Vine Grove. We weren't scheduled to go up there until Tuesday, but her youngest grandson was goin' crazy. Little Colin knew I was bringin' him a new airsoft rifle, and he was texting me over and over again, asking when we were gonna bring it.

Also, goin' up on Monday would give us a chance to see her daughter Chantel's boyfriend John and his son, Zack, who wouldn't be there Tuesday. John's a fireman and an EMS guy, and works something like 48 hour shifts. Crazy, but it's a good livin'. When we arrived, Colin took about a minute to ask me about the rifle. I got it out of the trunk and he set to work, pullin' it out of the box and puttin' it together.

On earlier visits, we'd always been pummeled by the family dog, Sadie, when we came in the door. She's a beast, but she doesn't know how big she is and loves to jump up. Plus, if she ever managed to get out of the house, it was always a chore to get her to come back. What's more, they were given a puppy a while back, a female German Shepherd, so we were expecting a double pummeling this time.

Turns out though, after John moved in he set up an electric wire fence around the yard, with shock collars for the dogs. Now the two girls tend to stay on, or as you can see here, under the porch, not wanting to venture anywhere near that wire.

The shepherd, Sarah, has definitely grown up. She was just a puppy the last time we were there. Unlike Sadie, Sarah is a bit more reserved, and less prone to jump up.

As you might imagine, the two dogs love to tussle. It was hilarious to watch, and I got some of it on video. Enjoy.

Like I said, as soon as we got there Colin was busy checkin' out his new gun. After a while I sat down with him and together, we figured the thing out and got it working.

Meanwhile, Colin's older brother Bryce, who's just earned his learners permit, asked his Nanna if she wanted to go for a drive. You can see her there, giving me a humerus, worried goodbye wave. Together, they drove off in the Jeep that her ex-husband, Bryce's grandfather, gave them last year.

In a while, Colin and I were set up. That's my airsoft rifle on the left. His new one is on the right. It took me FOREVER to get the grenade launcher on that thing, but it was cool as hell when it came together.

Next, Colin and I went out to the front yard to test it all out.

Of course, the other neighborhood boys LOVED it too. You can see how proud Colin was. Man, toys sure have gotten cool in the last 40 years.

The next day, as we drove up to Vine Grove from Bowling Green with all our gear, the sky started to cloud over and look ominous. It ended up being cloudy and/or rainy throughout the rest of our stay in Kentucky. At the very last minute, things cleared up and the humidity declined, just in time for us to drive home. It stayed cloudy and rainy just long enough to ruin a planned trip to a local lake, but it didn't ruin our fun.

On Wednesday, Denise and I went out to the CTC office on Ft. Knox. Denise worked at this office for something like 20 years, and still knows a lot of folks out there. While she was there doing school business, I jumped on a computer and checked my email.

We did a drive-by past the Patton Museum there on Ft. Knox, but the place was lookin' kind of anemic. We didn't see very many tanks on display outside, and it had begun to rain again, so we didn't even stop. It turns out the museum is in the process of moving, along with the bases armored forces, to Ft. Benning, Georgia. So, there probably wasn't much there to see anyway. Their web site is pretty cool though, if you're interested.

This late model Sherman was actually cooler than the stuff the Patton folks had, and it was sittin' next to a bank on base. What can I say, Ft. Hood's got 'em beat, big time. But I'm sure they'll have everything together when they finish the move to Ft. Benning next year.

After the CTC office, Denise and I went out to a huge new building that's been built on Ft. Knox for the armies human resources folks. We had a hell of a time getting in there, but we finally did. While we waited for a meeting Denise had scheduled with one of her school contacts, I started to recognize the sergeant behind the front desk. He turned out to be one of my former students from Ft. Hood. He'd taken my class two years earlier. While we were standing there, getting reacquainted, another former student came walking out the door for a smoke break. It was hilarious.

After getting back to the house, we decided to take Denise's grandsons to the mall. Nanna wanted to pick up some new school clothes for the boys. Let's face it Nanna loves to spoil these kids, and the kids know it. In the end, after terrorizing the stores for an hour or so, Denise called her daughter and we all made plans to meet up for dinner at a local Chinese food place.

According to her grandson Bryce, who along with me, is about the only person in this family who enjoys Chinese food, this isn't the best place in town. But it was close and convenient. The four of us got there first, and then we found out that along with Denise's daughter Chantel, her fella John and his crew were also gonna join us for dinner. He was in the middle of his 48 hour shift, so it was cool to see him and meet the guys he works with.

Of course, those who know me can probably guess what I ordered.

I've found in my travels that just about every Chinese food place turns out it's own particular version of General Tso's Chicken, which is just about my favorite thing in the known universe. Well, next to just about anything my mom whips up, this is the stuff!

But they did it VERY differently here at Green Bamboo. They make it with grilled chicken breast strips, rather than breaded and fried dark meat. This is the version that I would usually make at home. When added with store bought sauce, it's pretty good stuff, but it's not as good to me as the traditional, fried version.

Thursday, when John and Chantel were both off from work, and with John's son Zack with us again, the whole tribe was supposed to go to the lake. I was really lookin' forward to that too, but the weather didn't cooperate. So, with my prompting, we decided to set out instead to go spelunking at Mammoth Cave, which is about 45 minutes south of Vine Grove.

When we got there, it turned out we had a few hours to kill before the next tour, so we went to the cafe to eat lunch and then took some time to check out the shops. Then it was time to go out under the awning and wait for our tour to begin. We were scheduled for a two hour "Historical" tour down into the bowels of the earth. It would take us into the old entrance to the cave, and past the parts of the cave that had been visited by paleoindians, mined by slaves for Guano (to make gun powder) and toured since the early 1800s.

By the time the tour was about to start, both Colin and Denise decided they didn't want to go through with it. It was the treat of too many crampt spaces, and the two hour length that did it. So I Gave Denise my car keys and they entertained themselves while we went for our subterranean stroll.

When our tour guide, this munchkin sized park ranger chick, finally showed up, we all began the walk down through the woods to the entrance to the cave. As we got closer to that entrance, the cool air from underground began to hit us. Wow, that was awesome. I started thinkin' about the folks who lived in the era before air conditioning, and what they must have thought as they walked up to this huge hole in the ground for the first time, feeling the constant 56 or 57 degree temperatures.

As we gathered at the entrance, the guide stood up on the wall and got the crowd ready to begin the tour. She told us about some of the challenges we'd face in the next two hours, and that this was our last chance to change our mind. Hell, with that cool air blowin' up around me, I was ready to go.

With that, we started our descent into the earth. I hadn't been in a cave like this in a while, so I was really looking forward to it.

The trip down inside Mammoth Cave was awesome. It's not much of a cave when it comes to amazing stalactites and stalagmites, and beautiful limestone rock formations, but it was still awesome.

I was interested by the history of the place, beginning with early Native Americans, who visited the cave and buried some of their dead there. I was particularly fascinated with the story of Stephen Bishop, a slave in the early 1800s who discovered more of the cave than anyone else. The rangers really did a wonderful job layin' it all out for us. Click here for a run down on some of that history.

When we finally walked back up out of the ground, the above ground heat and humidity hit me and I was dyin'. I wanted to go back down in the cave and live there.

With that, we reconnected with Denise and Colin, piled into the cars and headed back to Vine Grove. We stopped at a McDonalds for dinner, and then headed back to the house.

Friday, Denise and I started to pack our gear and gather everything so I could load the car quickly the next morning. In the evening though, we both got gussied up and drove over to Elizabethtown for a party.

Denise worked with Joan (seated on the right there, with her arm in the air) on Ft. Knox for a long time. She's Irish, but was married to an American Air Force officer and now resides there in Kentucky. Her two brothers (seated at the table with her here) reside in Australia (the guy seated on the left), and Britain (the guy on the right). This was the first time in 40 years that all three had been together at one time, so it was a very special occasion.

The two folks on the left are Colin and Evander. They're Brits, long time friends of Joan and Denise who live and work in the US. Colin and I were introduced a few years ago, and ever since then I've always brought him a good cigar to smoke during our visit. Of course, Evander doesn't really like it, but that just makes it that much more fun for me.

As I said, the visit by Joan's brothers was a special event, and there was gonna be a huge party to celebrate the occasion Saturday night. But we were gonna have to start our drive home Saturday morning. So Joan got these folks together Friday night and we all shared a few pizzas, so Denise could see the guys and we could join in the celebration.

It was a great time, and turned out to be my only opportunity for some porch time during the road trip. It had been too damn humid and sticky to enjoy THE porch, in Harriman, but Joan has a decent, screened in porch on the back of her house. So, as the pizza and beer was being consumed, the guys all retreated to the porch to smoke. It was a two cigar, and maybe a four or five beer evening.

In the end, I handed the keys to Denise and she drove us back to Chantel's place.

After getting there, Denise finished our packing and tried to relax. I sat down with Colin and watched him play X-Box games.

The games on that thing are cool, but they're WAY beyond my skills. I'm still in Asteroids, Galaxiga mode. A fossil! Anyway, who's got time to vegetate on a couch with this sort of thing?

Anyway, the next morning, early, we loaded the car and started our return journey through four states and back to Texas. We knew it was gonna be a long drive, but we had no idea when we left Vine Grove that our return would be so exhausting, and so emotionally draining. I also had no clue how much my life would change when I finally came home.

I'll tell ya about all that in the next post. It'll be a doozy! Cheers.