Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Being Smarter Than A Can Opener

The Lady Karen gave me the gift of a can opener. Not just any can opener, but a super de luxe razzle dazzle blue and white Mark XII Z-88 can opener that could have been designed by NASA for the Space Shuttle. She saw me struggling with my old squeeze and twist can opener that left finger slicing edges on the lid and decided it was a hazard to myself and others. So she sent me a plastic composite space age can opener that rounded the edges of the lid, allowing the operator to pop open a can of Boston baked beans without causing a visit to the ER.

The can opener came with a page of illustrated instructions which I of course ignored as I tried to fit the can opener to a can of Boston baked beans without success. I tried it several or maybe a dozen more times when that annoyingly smug Internal Voice Of Quiet Reason muttered a 12 Step bromide: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

"Shut up," I explained, and went back to my struggle for the hearts and minds of my Boston baked beans in my accustomed manner, augmenting the effort with some heartfelt swearing. No luck. No beans either.

I took a break. The accursed IVOQR put in another guest appearance while I brooded with the impenetrable can of Boston baked beans in one hand and the can opener in the other."Try reading the directions, smart guy," it said in a snotty tone.

Okay okay okay. I'll read the frapping directions. Jesus. Some people. So I read the directions...and saw what I was doing wrong. I was zigging when I should be zagging. Doing that was pitting the can opener and the can in an unholy alliance against me.

Got it. Time to stop swearing angrily and become the can whisperer.  And follow the directions. It worked. Off popped the top with safe rounded edges. My smartass IVOQR  played the Halleljuah chrorus on its psychic boom box.

So, my thanks to The Lady Karen not only for the gift of the can opener, but for the can opener's  gift of humility. Humility is an underrated virtue. It means an absence of pride, which is an overrated vice. Pride is also the first among the Seven Deadly Sins, and not one of the fun ones either.  Pride causes more trouble than a hijacked airliner or a classroom full of sugared up middle school kids. It even lets prideful dummies think they are smarter than a can opener.


Comments are welcome.  Especially flattering ones. Send them to tomatomike@aol.com.

When you finally opened the beans- did you hear canned applause? – Offpat

For a second I thought you wrote applesauce.  No, but I imagined Beethoven’s Ode To Joy.  MB

Yeah, reading the instructions can be of use! (Get it, "can" be of use) – Lynda

Gawd, Lynda.  Cracks like that make me a believer in strict pun control laws.  MB


Funny, as always. Thanks 'Materman. -- Shannon


Thanks so much, Mike! I expected one story, but after reading the comments, I saw one after another...stories, all written so brilliantly as to make us unaware that we were actually reading anything that took effort! Your work is genius, as always, so flawlessly entertaining......I can say that you have changed my life for the better, making my days brighter with your Emails which state I am going to be delighted by another edition or more of The Tomatoman Times! Love,  --  Amanda

Aw shucks,  Amanda  ::::staring at the ground and  kicking pebbles;::::
Thank you for the compliments.  MB

Directions are way overrated unless they're directly translated from Japanese or Korean. I always thought they should be written in the original Kanji or Korean. Then if you really want to know what to do, you can ask a Japanese or Korean person to figure it out. I use a hammer and chisel instead. The beans thank me for it. As always, a slice of life to brighten a day.. or is that a slice of finger? Is that in the digital instructions?  --- Linus

Use a pun, go to jail.  It’s the law!  MB

Thanks!  Always a good and memorable read.You have the ability for the craft and handle it well, even adroitly. I appreciate you.-- Kent

I honed what writing skills I have in classes taught by Kent's late wife, the estimable and formidable Barbara J. Wrede.  MB

My mom (and maybe Ken too) used to say, deadpan, "When all else fails, try reading directions."  More fabulous timing in your pithy writing. so good!  -- Galen


I'm curious about the packaging and how you got into to it to get the can opener out. I'm sure that's another whole story and would love to read about it in The Tomatoman Times. But we should all thank Karen, who saved your fingers from possible ruination and even fewer wonderful stories.  – Beaty

Fortunately it was not shrink wrapped, or I'd still be trying to peel it.  MB

Blush, blush. I am finally named in one of the great master’s works of art. Beam, beam. I am flattered and humbled that I am so honored to be given recognition as the instigator of your IVOQR.—Karen

Thanks, Mike!  -- Regondi

Wonderful ending. Great insight.  – Tammy


Haaaaaaa loved it!  --- Julisari


I'd been wondering if the absence of your "voice" indicated you'd been canned.

After dealing with this freaking "smart" phone, I'm tempted to write an essay on the freaking "new features" of the iPhone 6. They've dicked with it so much, all the damned emoticons and other weird stuff that comes up these days when all I want to do is get the punctuation page and insert a comma or period. Whose idea was it to create those other pages the come up on the keyboard? Where's the opt-out button for those of us senile old farts who don't want none of them there fancy symbols and junk? Waste of storage space.  – Brat


One friend gifted me a decent wine opener which finally took the place of a piece of metal aggravation that I kept hoping would one day magically work for real. Yeah, I suffered through using the old one repeatedly, cussing a blue streak like you did, instead of actually buying one that worked myself. Stubborn. Anyway, thanks for a good read, as yours always are. And thanks for the memories. Always. - Zoey


A pleasant surprise indeed! I've missed the T-manTimes!  -- Sum


I always knew you were smarter than a can opener...and the hill o' beans inside. I'm happy to see you writing again; it's been too long.  --  Laf

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Return Of The Prodigal Wallet - A Short Holiday Story

Aside from drowning, there is no sinking feeling like the sinking feeling of reaching for your wallet and finding it isn’t there. That happened to me today. I checked the floor. Nope. Didn’t drop it. How about the car? I’d just returned from a grocery run. No wallet there either. I even checked the freezer because of something similar that happened years ago with a partial denture of mine. Embarrassing.

Well then, maybe I left it at the store. Drove to the store. No one had turned in a wallet to customer service or to the manager, but they took my number in case someone did.

Took some deeeeep breaths and emptied my alleged mind of imagined catastrophes about going to Debtors Prison because an identity thief had emptied my account then stretched my credit/debit limits to the felony level. Maybe I’d be dragged through the streets behind an ox cart and flogged by hags and then strapped to a dunking stool. 

At the very least there were the hassles of replacing my plastic self with the credit union, DMV, Veterans Adminstration, pharmacies, etc. The drowning parallel holds here too. The more you thrash around in a panic, the quicker your demise. In this case, the more hidden the wallet stays. So, I clammed down and drove home. On the way the resident manager of the apartment complex where I live rang my ringer. Said a man had found my wallet and was returning it.

I pulled into my parking space and there he was, a smile on his face and my wallet in his hand. I only had $3 cash, which was much too paltry a reward, so I asked if he had any daughters. He did. I gave him a beautifully detailed Santa doll in an Eskimo parka made of reindeer hide – which might have made Dasher, Prancer, Donner, Blitzen and the rest of the sleigh pullers nervous. The doll had been a gift to me, but I felt the giver would approve if I paid it forward. (To my relief, she did.)

And the man who returned my wallet? He’s Hispanic. Name’s Campos. I thought it should be Santos.

 Or maybe Santo Campos.

Happy holidays.

# # #


You always make my days brighter  -- Carol


What a great story, Mike, thanks so much! – Amanda


Holyfield (Santos Campos, or vice versa). I have a client by that name, or actually a variation, Hollyfield. – Trog

Thanks for the link and the story -- glad it had a happy ending!  Wishing you a Merry Christmas and the best of it all for the coming year -- Cynthia

Thank You for sending me this link.. I very much enjoyed the wallet story.  Happy Holidays, my friend. -- Pandora

I liked them all, of course. The most moving one was the last one about the purse left on top of the car. Like most of us, been there, etc. A lousy feeling indeed.
Thanks for keeping in touch this way. It reminds me of good times in my former life and that outweighs the others. I'm thankful you are still making a difference to many.Merry Christmas! -- Kent

Sweet story. Anything you write about is so easy, funny and sweet.
 Merry Christmas! -- Mimi

Your stories are way too few and far between. Not that I want you to lose your wallet more often, but I'm sure there are other stories rolling around with your marbles that you could share?  Are you moving to Maine? I guess I missed that. -- Beaty

No.  I’m staying put.  Rusty is moving, as noted in the next post.


This is great and I'm passing it along to those friends and family I know will appreciate it. You've been a master story teller and you and I have history.
Things are in motion with the magazine and on the home front, as well. Thanks to Linked In and Facebook, we've really grown and that's bringing clients into the writing and editing business as well.

So, this will be my last Christmas in Seattle. Tom Robbins is still living in LaConner and I've checked the area out. It hasn't changed much since I lived there before. So I expect that by this time next year, I'll be set up in a quiet place in a community I served well once and stand to serve well again. It'll be a little tougher for out of staters to visit but then it's also a good reason for them to bring their own sleeping bag and plan on staying a stretch.  -- Rusty

Thank you for your embarrassingly generous praise.  I hope your move is as hassle free as any move can be, which ain't much.

I know the area where you're bound. I'd go with my mom when she visited friends in Linden. Me, I'd rather live in Copalis or Pacific Beach. When I was kidlet we'd find glass globe fishing floats in twine netting that had drifted in on the Japanese Current. In later years the floats were plastic and not nearly as desirable as beachcombing loot.

Mom would visit her author pal Norah Berg who lived in a ramshackle place the color of driftwood on the beach at Copalis with her big fat alcoholic husband, a retired Marine named Sarge who had a roadmap face and a big red W.C. Fields nose. Norah wrote a book about those times:

I remember a story Norah told on herself. Seems she had been mushroom hunting in the woods near her place when she happened on an injun burial ground. Some of the skeletons were exposed, probably dug up by our little forest friends. Norah espied some trading bead jewelry on a bone, which she picked up, took home and popped into a hot oven to bake the dried flesh off the bone and free up the pretties.

About that time her friend and neighbor, the chief of the Moclips tribe, whose burial ground Norah had looted, dropped by for a visit and took a seat at the kitchen table. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. 

"Norah," he said. "Something's burning."

Norah burst into tears and sobbed, "I may have one of your relatives in the oven!"

The chief got up, opened the oven door, peered in for a moment, closed the oven door and sat back down. During a break in Norah's sobbing he said, "Norah, if anyone's gonna have that stuff, I'd just as soon it be you."

And happy holidays to you, sir.


I bought that book for my mom as a Christmas gift ! She, like me, loves the Copalis area. This will be a great story to share with mom .  Great story!  Warms my heart to think of someone doing the right thing which led to a huge relief for someone and a child being generously rewarded.  – Tammy


I once found a wallet in an overcrowded street on a Saturday afternoon. A quick look around, trying to identify an anguished glance in someone's face, but no...nothing.

The wallet held the equivalent of maybe 20 bucks in bills and petty cash. The ID card showed the face of a lovely teen girl, from a town 150 miles away. I was already too old for teens.

So I rushed to the nearest police station, hoping to meet the distressed owner busy declaring the loss.  But no one in sight.

In the lost/found property office was a young slob, his feet on the counter, narrating his last skiing week-end on the phone.  After 20 minutes, I had enough about the contemplation of his soles, so I left the office without waving good-bye.

Once home, I called the lost property service at the same police station, saying that I had found a wallet, and I wished to give my phone and address in case the owner was still in town and wished to retrieve it.

“Sorry, but it doesn't work that way!  You have to come and drop it at the station and fill a few forms.”

I recognized the voice of the young punk.

I told him that's exactly what I had done, but all I found there was a sucker on the phone who didn't pay any attention to me for 20 minutes, busy as he was with the glorious narration of his skiing holiday.

Deep silence on the other end of the line.

I finally just mail the wallet to its owner. I got at thank you letter a few days later.

 -- Gerard


Dang!  Where did you get/develop that strong gift for narrative structure?  Wallet to good ethnic Xmas and gift giving and eskimos too.  All in such a short few paragraphs.  Bravo!.  Wish i could do that! -- Galen

Practice. Reading a lot of John O'Hara's stuff at an early age helped. He was a genius with dialogue. So was Steinbeck.

Plus I've always had a pedantic streak. The hard part was learning to curb my lecturing instinct and write for the mind's ear. People don't converse or think in complete sentences. However I still try to abide by The Rules as set forth in various manuals of style (the best is Chicago's), and to me, a misspelled word is as unsettling  as a dab of  spinach on the front teeth of a first date.

Another author I liked was all the rage with one book in the 70s. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He once taught English composition at a college in Montana. His first assignment was to make students write x amount of words about a penny, maybe two or three pages on lined notebook paper. Once the whining stopped and the writing started, the kids would really get into the assignment and would fill up page after page about that penny; where it had been, a moment in the life of someone who held it, how it served as an electrical conduit to bring the light to a darkened house, and so on.

Pirsig wrote one other book after that. Lila. A stinker.

Thank you for the compliment.


I went to a friend's house some years ago to deliver a bag of cookies I had made for her, and then I was off to Christmas shop with $180 in twenty dollar bills. I loaded my coat in the back seat, and then headed to the mall across town. I found a parking space and reached for my purse.  No purse.

I did the same as you did. I looked in my pockets, around the car on the ground, all around the front and back seats of my car. I drove back to my friend's house, and also searched the ground where I had parked.  Nope. Gone.

I drove home with no money, no form of ID, no credit card, AAA card, insurance card. I walked into my house dejected, got a piece of paper to make a list of everything I would have to replace, who to call, and wondered how much money I had left in my savings account to buy a gift or two.

Right then the phone rang. It was a man who lived two blocks from my friend's house, calling to have me identify a purse he had found. He had tried to recover as much of the contents as he could.  Oh god. I surmised I had laid my little purse on top of my car.  My purse had gone flying when I was on the road. The man had been a few cars behind me and saw it happen.  He retrieved as much as he could and found my address and phone number on my blank checks.

I drove to the address he gave me on the phone. He answered the door, a man about my age. He apologized for maybe not finding everything, and handed me my purse, my checkbook, insurance card, credit card, license, and my AAA card.  Then he gave me a handful of twenty dollar bills. He asked me how much I had lost, and as I counted it, I paused, and looked up at him with tears in my eyes. "Nothing," I said.  He had searched two icy slippery blocks, dodging traffic, and found them all.

 "I haven't lost one thing because of you," I said.  He smiled and said he was glad. It was three days before Christmas, and I tried to give him one of the twenties, feeling it wasn't enough for all he had done out in the freezing wind. He wouldn't take it. He said what good people say. He said that he didn't want any reward and hoped that if he lost his wallet one day, someone would return it intact. I hugged him again and wished him a Merry Christmas.

That was ten years ago, and I still vividly remember what he looked like and how grateful I was that in a world where people often don't do the right thing, my purse fell into the hands of an honest man with a good heart.  – Zoey


Nice story. Happy holidays. – Lowell D.


Wonderful holiday story!  -- Julisari


Sweet! – Lynda


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Risky Business Of Radio Listening

was watching Risky Business for the second or sixth time on cable so I could see Rebecca De Mornay. There's a bit of a connection there. A very thin one, but a connection nonetheless.

Rebecca De Mornay's biological father was the late Wally George, a right wing radio and television personality whose studied abrasivness bordered on the comic. His early radio career included a stint at a 5000 watt radio station located On the top floor of a whorehouse hotel in Eureka, California, which had the unintentionally revealing call letters of KHUM. For Humboldt County, you see. That's where Eureka was located. Still is.

By the time I worked there, a decade later in the mid-60s, the station had changed owners and call letters. It became KINS "Friendly 980." I understand the KHUM call letters have been resurrected, so to speak, by a Humboldt County FM station.

Wally George was long gone by then, but his reputation lingered. According to one old-timer, Wally would fake epileptic fits and throw office furniture into the street. He was one of a colorful crew which included a DJ who collected stray dogs and kept them chained in the studio during his record shift, even when they had to pee. Eventually the stink became overwhelming.  The urine leeched into the walls and stained the wallpaper in the hourly rate hotel rooms below.  While this Saint Francis of dogdom was commendable in spirit, the station managment let him and his dogs go before the dogs could go any more.

Another announcer was an aged Thespian named Frank Robinson Brown.  He had a Shakespearean voice, especially after downing two or maybe five shots of whiskey in the whorehouse hotel bar each morning before going on the air to read the news while wobbling precariously on a bar stool in the studio. He would read the news flawlessly in mellifluous pear-shaped tones, then fall off his bar stool at the end of his newscast.  But I was told that he fell with elan, with style.

Someone once told him, "You'd better slow down. You're going to hit the skids." His response: "My good fellow. Here I am working in a 5000 watt station in the town brothel in a small fogbound radio market, and you tell me I'm going to hit the skids?"

I met him years later, after he'd sobered up and was peddling a self-published book of lyric poetry. I admired him.

And Wally George? Wally moved on to be an emcee in a topless strip club in Santa Monica, then to a syndicated television show called Hot Seat out of Anaheim, a show with such a conservative bent that it makes Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity look like left wing bliss ninnies in comparison. You can Google it. It's almost a self parody. The show aired live between 1983 and 1992 with segments sold in syndication thereafter. I'm sure it's still floating around in the ether someplace.

Since then AM radio has evolved. Maybe devolved. Now it's an anvil chorus of conservative blather, foreign language broadcasts and the sort of money mad Bible thumpers that Jesus would kick out of a temple and off the air. FM radio, with the exception of NPR and a few brave and broke independent stations, is so largely consulted by suits and programming so automated, so predictable, that's it's blander than tap water. Lukewarm tap water.

Well, shoot. I miss the Wally Georges, the Frank Robinson Browns and their broadcasting brethren -- and no, I don't include that fat gasbag Rush Limbaugh, although he can change my mood from blah malaise to self-righteous anger with a flick of a dial. I mean, it's entertainment, right?  Even the His Gasbagness admits that.

I wonder of Rebecca De Mornay is a Republican? 

 Or worse, a Limbaugh Dittohead?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Airplanes, Hamburgers And Heroes

Being a gourmand, I like to have lunch at the Jack In The Box burger place on Sacramento’s Freeport Boulevard, just across the way from Executive Airport, where light planes roost.  The airport was built in the 1930s as one of  Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration programs to provide jobs for the unemployed.  Hoover Dam was a WPA creation.  So were a lot of municipal buildings, streets, parks and airports.  Executive Airport served airlines as well as light aircraft until 1967 when an airport big enough accommodate passenger jets was built north of town. 

Exec, as pilots call it, came under a cloud in 1972 when a privately owned Korean War era jet crashed into an ice cream parlor on Freeport Boulevard, just off the end of a runway.  Twelve children attending a birthday party were killed. (The pilot survived.)  The county banned vintage military jets from the airport after that, although modern business jets are allowed.

My Jack In The Box does not have a runway aimed at it, but it does have a swell view of airport comings and goings that I enjoy while munching my Sourdough Jack with artery clogging fries and slurping down a big drink of strawberry flavored chemicals.

You see, I’m an ex-pilot.  Second generation.  The reason I’m an ex-pilot is that I cannot pass the federally required physical exam due to decades of fun but bad habits.  Plus the cost of renting a light airplane nowadays would put me on a Top Ramen diet.  Aircraft I rented for $15 an hour in 1967 now rent for 10 times that amount.

Ah, yes. 1967.  That’s the year I was licensed as a private pilot, paying for my time aloft with two jobs, and later with the G.I. Bill while attending college in Eureka, Caifornia, a coastal town 300 miles north of San Francisco and one of the foggiest locations in the continental U.S.  

The man who licensed me was the late Matt Ward, a former Marine aviator who had served in the Pacific during WW2.  The flight portion of the two part licensing exam was localized.  That is, student pilots had to learn to navigate the twists and turns of the Mad River Canyon to avoid the fog when approaching Eureka, and to do it within the canyon walls.  We also had to learn how to take off and land on hillside air strips that were little more than firebreaks.  

Matt and my other instructors also worked on my thinking. "Fly ahead of the airplane," they counseled.  Anticipate what's ahead; weather, air traffic, trolls and ogres, whatever.  Try not to be surprised.  Be ready in case a surprise pops up anyway.  Start flying mentally at least an hour before getting in the airplane.  Have a preflight checklist and follow it.  Complacency is your enemy, especially if you have trusting passengers on board.  Oh, and rest assured you will be the first to arrive at the scene of an accident. 

Then Matt was killed in a crash when approaching North Bend, Oregon, along with three passengers.  The feds determined that he'd had a heart attack, slumping forward on the control yoke and throttles of a twin engine Cessna Skymaster at an altitude of 500 feet.  The largest piece of the wreckage was a tire.  Matt was 52-years-old.

My parents drove up from Los Angeles that day. I did not tell them about the wreck.  My dad, who had flown commercially for 40 years, was not happy that I was learning to fly and my mom hated flying anyway.   They'd lost too many friends to accidents over the years.

Yet there were moments aloft when I felt like I'd been slapped with an epiphany.  No, God did not smite me with a bolt of lightning, but whenever I ascended above the clouds through a hole in the overcast, where the sky was a cerulean blue above a dazzling white layer of frosted clouds, well, I could almost hear the final chorus of Beethoven's Ode To Joy.  

Another time I was flying over coastal waters with just enough altitude to reach the shore if the engine quit.  I looked down and saw two humpbacked whales just below the surface, lazing their way from the Bering Sea to Scammon's Lagoon in Baja California. I didn't hear any ode to anything, but the sight remains with me to this day.

So do thoughts of Matt Ward, Captain, United States Marine Corps, and, of course Nat Browne, Lieutenant, Aviation Section, United States Army Signal Corps, WW1.

I'll probably observe the holiday with a Sourdough Jack, fries, and a red chemical drink at Jack In The Box, watching airplanes come and go, and thinking of my two heroes.

That will be my Memorial Day.

Comments, critiques, letter bombs?

Beautiful Michael. I'll never forget the time you flew my mother and me from Sac to Redding in the middle of a storm after my dad died. I've never been so scared in my life. My mother was speechless with fear. But, we made it unscathed. As I remember you weren't too thrilled about making the trip yourself. It's sobering to hear how many people have died in light plane crashes. I guess it just wasn't our time. Thanks for getting us safely to my grandfather's house. Love you. -- Annie

Aww, it was just the tail end of a thunderstorm.  More sound than fury.  It was a little bumpy, but that's about it.

Mike- Your prose soars heavenward like a homesick angel. -- Ron

Great writing, I enjoy reading all your observations,stories and thoughts. Have a great holiday. -- Bsrs

Wonderful story, Mike. You were very lucky to have been taught by a pilot like that. And it does bring Memorial Day to mind. Thanks -- Wht

Thanks. That was a nice memory for this Memorial Day weekend.  Several years ago, I was sitting in a passenger arrival/departure area at National, now Ronald Reagan National, Airport, waiting for my husband's plane to land --this was way back when when airports actually allowed non-passengers to wait in the seating areas. There were four of us sitting there, myself, two men, and an obviously well-traveled, worldly woman. The other three had been talking about their flying experiences. The woman told them about a time she had to laugh when she had gotten onto a flight to discover the cockpit door open and the pilots so inexperienced they needed to use a cheat sheet to ensure they were doing things correctly.
This woman, who had spent two years working in an Air Force flying squadron, just rolled her eyes, bit her tongue and, surprisingly, said nothing. It wasn't worth the effort.   – Brat

I like it. You have this relaxed style that makes easy to read. Smooth .  – Renado


 Wonderful as always!  -- Juli


Great writing, I enjoy reading all your observations,stories and thoughts. Have a great holiday. It's been too long, sir.  I love what you have been writing and have meant to tell you much sooner. – Brett

Nice, Mike.  You make storytelling seem so effortless. I know better, so thank you for the labor you've done in putting this story together and sharing it with us.  -- Karen

John Steinbeck counseled "writing for the ear," reading sentences aloud, especially dialogue, to determine mental veracity.  Including fragments.  People don't.  Think in.  Complete sentences. 


Thanks for sending this. Happy Memorial Day and weekend. -- Angel


Your writing is always a nice surprise to receive, and a great time to read, so I really appreciate the vivid, clear images you paint and share with words. Thanks so much..  -- Zoey


Excellent, Mike. I lived off of Fruitridge Road between Freeport & 24th Street Road and I'm very familiar with the airport. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. --   Rusty

Nice writing Pilot Mike.  Thanks.  -- Smirks

Keep them coming Mr. Mike. I have been to so many wonderful places when I read your Times.  -- Carol

One of your absolute best. I wish I could join you and hear more.


Thanks everyone for your kind responses.  If I could, I'l treat you all to a Sourdough Jack, some coronary fries and free refills of strawberry flavored chemicals.  We could do Plane Spotting across the road from Executive Airport

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Birthday Gift Of Priceless Memories.

Among the gifts I received for my 70th birthday was a hangar filled with restored vintage airplanes and one 69,000 ton aircraft carrier.  Quite a haul of birthday loot, I must say.

I left the airplanes and the aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, in the custody of the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Midway Foundation, both of which seem to have a proprietary interest in keeping their exhibits right where they are and might get peevish about outsiders claiming ownership.  Since they are doing a swell job of taking care of my new possessions, I decided to leave the status as quo.

Anyway, neither the vintage airplanes nor the Midway would easily fit in the carry-on luggage I’d brought to San Diego for a weeklong visit, courtesy of Don and Karen Simons, and Karen’s mother, Wanda.   Besides, the extra baggage fee levied by Southwest Airlines for a squadron of antique airplanes and one aircraft carrier on the return flight would have been downright discouraging.  Getting through the airport metal detector would have been problematic too.  So my decision to leave things as they are was not entirely altruistic.

I was also given the historic gold mining town of Julian in the high desert of eastern San Diego County, but magnanimously left it in the care of the state which is doing a fine job of keeping the place up.

We also stopped by the former Naval Training Center where Seaman Apprentice Browne, the recruit Brigade Commander, led a graduation parade of 2500 newly minted sailors in 1961, which is now a shopping center name Liberty Station. The asphalt parade ground, called The Grinder, is now covered with retail enterprises. 

But an aluminum and wood mock-up of a destroyer escort, the USS Recruit, remains landlocked in place and registered as a national historic site.  Between 1949 and 1967 an estimated 50,000 sailors annually learned basic shipboard nomenclature and procedures aboard the Recruit, also called the USS Neversail.  Not one case of seasickness is noted in the ship’s log. Homesickness, maybe, but I didn’t see the log.

Karen treated me to breakfast with the Oceanside Chapter of the Old Bold Pilots Association in a Denny’s banquet room.  The name is based on the axiom “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.”

Oh but there are. I was among about 100 of them, mostly former and retired military pilots, some of whom had flown combat assignments in three wars; WW2, Korea and Viet Nam.  Even at 70, I was a relative kid among these guys who had more flight time in training that I did in my entire flying career.  Yet there was not an ounce of braggadocio among them.  Just self-deprecating humor and mild inter-service ribbing.  It was a privilege to be among those people.

 An attractive woman who appeared to be in her 40s appeared during the breakfast, saying her late father had flown B-17s during WW2 and wondered if she could join us.  Of course the gallant old horndogs made a place for her.

We also visited Point Loma Lighthouse which has been in continuous operation since 1891.  It was the last sight of America  that 17-year-old Seaman Apprentice Browne saw in 1961 when sailing aboard the USS El Dorado for a new home port in the Philippines.  As the El Dorado passed the lighthouse, the morning fog lifted showing a cobalt sky and a matching sea.  Two dolphins swam inches from the bow of the ship, showing the way.

So, my thanks to the Simons family for the gift of priceless memories.

# # #


Love it Mater-man, you kid you. I was 70 last year. You will love the 70's. Much better than the 1970's!  Stay well, and know we love you Mikee.  -- Canids

Call me Mikee one more time and I'll cut you off my tomato-prunecake at Xmas list.

Happy Birthday! Better late than never, eh? -- Lynda

Hell, I'm happy to survive lunch.

Thank you! I needed to read this. Peach of a fellow, you!  Astounding, considering your absolute tomatoness  -- Kaanii

Aw shucks. You say that to all the produce

Love it!  After all these years, I can still count on exquisite prose whenever I open a T-man Times!  -- Sum

Wonnderful as always, and a very very Happy if belated Birthday to you. -- Juli

Such skillful writing! And thinking. They are related.  -- Galen

Thanks!  I am verklempt!

Your anecdotes are always welcome. Planes and ships and how we felt the first time seeing them are always with us. A birthday is a good time to reminescence. Happy Birthday to YOU!  -- Wht

How nice to get a piece of mail from you again after a long absence of it. As always, I enjoyed rereading the stuff I'd read before, and the new stuff, too. "Requiem" is one of my favorites. The new one  I read with great interest, paralleling, as it often does, with bits of my life as well - especially the people and emotions that make up a hell of a stockpile of memories to keep. Your words ring so true and are so relatable, Mike.  -- Zoey

Happy birthday Mike.  My older brothers were in the Navy - 1966 - 1972 - and did their basic training in SD. We attended their graduation ceremonies at that time. My father thought he was on the freeway heading home when he flew by a guard that came running after our 1961 yellow Oldsmobile. My dad looked in the rear view mirror and said, "There's a man running after us". The guard gave my father stern directions how to get out of there and on the right road. Funny memories! -- Dana aka Meemir

Wow, what a wonderful memory you were given. It's a good thing you wrote it down, because.... No, I won't go for the loss of memory joke. I think you filed away some permanent memories, cemented by your trip, and your wonderful friends, the Simons.  -- Beaty

Thank you for your service! (and writings!).  My draft classification was 1-Y.  I could only be used in a national emergency, and wasn't called upon. Truly, I was a very conflicted young man.  -- Gambatay

So was I.  At time I was running away to sea where I thought I would have the least chance of being shot at. I didn't factor in a greater chance of drowning.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Radio Sorcerer Of The Redwood Coast

Dean Elliott was entitled to the honorific of “doctor,” which he refused to honoriff to himself, and he didn’t want you to do honoriff him with it either.  “The Latin root of doctor means ‘to teach,” Dean said,. “Doctoral degrees require an original contribution to a given field, except one. Medicine. I don’t practice medicine and I don’ t teach.”

Oh, but he did teach.  Maybe not in a classroom, although he had done that in an earlier time, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Consider his creds:

* Bachelors and masters degrees in Latin and Greek from Hamilton College,  a small college in upstate New York founded in 1794 with Alexander Hamilton as a trustee.

*  Member, Phi Beta Kappa.

*  A doctorate in mathematics from Northwestern University.

*  Military service in WW2 as a lieutenant commander in the Navy assigned to the Office Of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, where he taught code to agents who would be parachuted into German occupied France.

*  An accomplished pianist who earned extra money while attending Northwestern by playing piano in Chicago clubs, including with touring bands that  needed a pickup pianist, Benny Goodman’s and the Dorseys’ among them.

*  A godfather named Rudyard Kipling.

How did Rudyard Kipling get into the mix?  Damned if I know, but I can guess.  Dean was in his sixties when I met him in 1966. He was born in Governeur, New York, a town named for Governeur Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration Of Independence.  Dean’s father was a man of means and an anglophile.  He sent Dean to England to attend Harrow, a prep school on the order of Eton where privileged boys lived on bad diets and cold baths.  Kipling visited America now and then, and became pals with Dean’s father, enough of a pal to attend Dean’s christening and be named as Dean’s spiritual and moral guide.  Maybe Kipling influenced Dean’s father to give the lad the benefit of a British schooling, lousy food and all.

Okay, so how did a high school dropout like me get to know such a man?  Well, we both worked for the same small radio station in Eureka on California’s north coast.  Dean was the chief engineer.  I was an announcer/DJ/guy who emptied waste baskets and part time newsman.  I was just starting my broadcasting career.  Dean was finishing his.

At the time he was converting rhe station’s ancient Collins transmitter into solid state, which is like making a Lambroghini out of a Ford Escort.  He replaced the huge glowing tubes with equally huge transistors he’d designed and fabricated from old telephone transformers.  Those are the big gray things that look like garbage cans atop telephone poles.  When he was done, it only took seconds to get the station on the air instead of the usual half an hour to allow the tubes to warm up.  He also taught voice, piano, overhauled the organ for his Episcopal church and learned to play the recorder, the medieval predecessor to the flute.  He was active in the March Of Dimes and a promoter of the Republican party at a time when being a Republican was not seen as a character flaw.

Dean also had an on-the-air shift on Sundays playing classical music.  He loved the music but hated the shift, showing up for work in his Beethoven sweatshirt with a shopping bag containing a quart of Rainier Ale, a science fiction magazine, a bag of Fritos corn chips and a grim look on his face. It was not wise to talk to Dean at such times. The ale was against federal rules and station policy, but Dean had all the modifications he’d made to the station in his head and not on paper, which gave him unlimited job security, but he still had a corn chip on his shoulder about having to pull a record shift.

About that time I was dawdling about returning to school.  Hell, I had a high school GED, why bother?

“Because tough times are coming, that’s why!” Dean exploded at me. “You can either get an education or go on welfare!”

So I enrolled in College Of The Redwoods that fall and graduated Humboldt State four years later. I was working at the station the night of my graduation.  Dean showed up with two quarts of Rainier Ale to celebrate. 

His approval was my Phi Beta Kappa key.


Any sound and fury?

Mike, just a minor point. The first "doctorate" was granted by the University of Bologna in Italy and was in law, not medicine or some academic field. [You can see Portia referred to as "doctor" in "The Merchant Of Venice"]. Good story. --  HadleighSJD


Nice. And so glad to see the Times again. Wish I'd had a Dean in my life. Glad you found him, or, he found you. – Penny

Thnanks.  Right now I'm going round and round with the editing function of this jewel of a program trying to match up the fonts.  I wish Dean was here.  He's figure it out in a jiff.


One comment, not on your words per se, but on those quoted from the subject, Dean Elliott, where he says only the physician is called "doctor" without having contributed something original to his profession.  I have a doctorate in law (Juris Doctor degree) and while I believe I have made original contributions to the profession, it wasn't via any formal, peer-reviewed means, that is, like the physician, I have a doctorate without having had to write a dissertation and have it accepted by an academic board.  – Trog.

Thanks.   Noted and posted.

'Bout damn time! – Brat


Thanks, Mike!  Been far too long between TManTimes fixes here. -- Sum

Are these new pieces? Good for you getting them out for your adoring reading public.  -- Karen

Sorta.  This one has been simmering in my computer for years.

It's really nice to get something from you after a long time. Thanks. – Zoey

Love it!! – Juli

Enjoyed your story.  Your conversational style is easy on the brain. – Gambatay

I have to really work at seeming relaxed.

Could you play "Misty" for me ?  -- Gerard

Can’t read music.  But then, neither could “Misty” composer Errol Garner.  Anyway, “Play Misty For Me” was a stinker of a movie.  Any disc jockey who could afford a Jaguar XK-120 and a redwood house in a radio market the size of Monterey, as Clint Eastwood’s character did, is selling nose candy for the Medellin cartel.  He also has a lousy radio voice.  However, he  is an accomplished jazz pianist.

Nice article, as always, and good to hear from you again – SOY

We all need a Dean in our life. Our world would be in much better shape. I always have a hard time holding onto my grumpyness after reading your articles ...always make me smile  -- Tammy

It's really nice to get something from you after a long time. Thanks. – Z

Love it!! – Juli

Enjoyed your story.  Your conversational style is easy on the brain. – Gambatay

An absolutely fantastic character sketch of a person, so real, I feel acquainted! --Ig Bear

Love it!  -- Shannon

Good read thanx for sharing !!  Much love  -- Renaldo