Saturday, September 17, 2016

This man is now a friend of mine, but...




....that was not always the case.  Lieutenant Edward R. Murphy, Jr., was a naval officer and I was an enlisted sailor.  He's since become a figure in Navy history as the former executive officer of the USS Pueblo, the spy ship captured by North Korea in 1968. The other night I happened see a televised interview of him on YouTube:

Citizen Soldier: The Ongoing Story Of USS Pueblo, With Executive Officer Edward R. Murphy, Jr. - YouTube

Six years earlier we had both been stationed at the Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines. I was an 18-year-old high school dropout, he was the base education officer and a tyrant about it.  He did not tolerate diploma-less sailors under his jurisdiction running around loose, so he restricted me to the base until I passed a high school G.E.D. test -- which I did with all deliberate speed.

Fast forward to 1967.  I'm a radio reporter at small station on California's north coast, working two jobs and attending college full time.  Busy boy.  Anyway, I learned that my former education officer was stationed at a nearby naval facility.  Seems that he and another officer were being awarded the Navy - Marine Corps medal for lifesaving.  They'd swum through 100 yards of cold surf with a bad undertow to rescue two stranded fishermen clinging to a rock.  So we had a reunion at an awards ceremony on the county fairgrounds.

We occasionally chatted over the next few months. Then he told me he was being transferred to a small ship in Japan, saying it was about the size of the coastal transports we had in the Philippines. But it was no mere coastal coastal transport.  It was the spy ship Pueblo.

A year had elapsed by the next time I saw him, not long after his release from a North Korean prison.  Although only in his late 30s his formerly black hair had turned completely white, presumably from trauma, and he'd resigned his commission.  When we met he  was being interviewed by a reporter for a series of articles published in the Christian Science Monitor about his Pueblo experience.  He later collaborated on a book in a similar vein:

https://www.amazon.com/Second-Command-Uncensored-Account-Capture/dp/0030850754.

I now live in San Diego, which is also Mr. Murphy's home town, and yes, we've reconnected.  While we are both civilians now, and well into our Medicare years, the former Lieutenant Edward R. Murphy, Jr.,  USN, will always be Mr. Murphy to me, an exemplary officer who had put the lives of others before his own, but also one quick to yank the liberty card of a recalcitrant sailor whose education needed improving.  

Consider yourself saluted, sir.

-oOo-

Send corrections, critiques and lavish praise to tomatomike@aol.com.

Thinking of people who made a mark on our lives is like a dose of thankfulness.  A lot of life is laid out to make us search for the light at the end of the tunnel, but memories of shared experiences, pieces of stories that make us evaluate our own good luck, that's all a gift.  It's nice, too, to touch base with those people we once knew and couldn't have thought we'd see again.  I'm glad you got that chance again with Edward Murphy.  Be well, Mike.  And keep 'em comin'  -- Zoey

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Wonderful! ! As always.  -- Juli

Thank you.  -- MB

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Sorry for the delay. I had to locate my magnifier. I can't read 1 point type anymore. But as always, it was worth the fetching. I love that story and that you've reconnected. You have more stories in you then you are writing. Please, keep me in the loop. -- Beaty
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Really enjoyed this. It's great that you've reconnected with your former XO. – Shannon

Shannon's dad is a retired Navy cap'n.  – MB

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One wonders if the current crop of officers have the same concern for their men to have basic educational necessities. Or want to put that sort of discipline and effort into their jobs. -- Wht

I think so.  Our now all-volunteer military has become so technically complex that a high school dropout would probably not be allowed to enlist.  Even when I joined in 1961, the Navy had the motto "Stay In School" in its recruiting campaign to discourage potential dropouts from running away to sea.  But those were also the days when judges often gave the choice of jail or the military to juvenile offenders of draft age, diploma or not.  -- MB





Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Stripper & The Church Lady

Six a.m. I‘m standing by my airport shuttle van in the driveway of a new McMansion near Sacramento waiting for a tardy passenger. The van company is a shared ride service, and this delay will make me late for the next stop. I’m getting antsy. 

"She’ll be out in five minutes,” the passenger’s boyfriend says. He’s standing beside the van in his bathrobe. He looks likes he just awakened from a sleep that began in 1973; Brillo pad red hair, droopy mustache. Disco Van Winkle. I could see him wrapped in a polyester leisure suit with white vinyl boots and a matching belt.

I clear my throat. “I have to pick up one more passenger, and I’m running late now,” I say. “Could you see if she’s ready?” 

He nods but doesn’t make move toward the house. Instead, he fishes a $50 dollar bill from his bathrobe pocket and hands it to me. “Just five more minutes, I swear,” he says. I tell him the tip is included in the prepaid fare, and anyway, $50 is way too much. 

“Take it. It’s for your trouble,” he says. 

I can take a hint. I pocket the fifty, then I hear the front door of the house open and close followed by the rattle of luggage wheels on cement. The passenger is 21 or 22, wearing sprayed on jeans, a nothing halter top, sandals and navel a ring. She’s also slugging down a bottle of Wicked Ale. 

“Hiiiiiiiii, Mr. Van Driver!” she gushes, all boozy cheer. “Here I am!” I take her suitcase, then politely but firmly suggest that she sit in front, where she’s less likely to throw up from motion sickness on the curving hillside roads we'll be taking, and where I can get a Hefty bag to her in a hurry in case she throws up anyway.  

“Guess I better not take this, huh?” she says, finishing the bottle and handing the empty to the boyfriend. “I’ll call you when I get there,” she tells him. “Think he’ll let me smoke in his van?”

They look at me. “I’d like to say yes, but state law and my next passenger say I can’t. And we’re running late. We better go. Now.” 

She throws me a wobbly, mock salute. “Yessir!” she says, and pulls herself into the front passenger seat. She blows a kiss to her squeeze:  “Bye bye. I’ll call when I get there. Will you miss me? Say yes!” 

“Go. You’ll miss your flight,” the boyfriend says. She pouts. I climb in and we’re on our way. 

“You sure I can’t smoke in your van?” she asks.

“I’m sure.” 

“Are we making any stops?” 

“We’re picking up a church lady.” I mentioned the church connection on purpose. I thought it might make my tipsy passenger more circumspect. Silly me. 

“For real? We’re picking up Dana Carvey? That is soooooo cool! Should I ask for his autograph? I love Dana Carvey! 

“We’re not picking up Dana Carvey. We’re picking up a real church lady. A Presbyterian.” 

My dispatcher warned me about her the night before: "Watch your fucking language. The old bitch calls corporate and complains about the drivers swearing and shit." 

The elderly Presbyterian church lady is in tears when we arrive, thinking she's going to be late for her flight.  I assure her that she will be at the airport in plenty of time to have her luggage looted by airline baggage handlers, be humiliated while spread-eagled by an obese TSA minority hire, then jammed into a cement airline seat and nibbling on blanched rodent turds the airlines claims are peanuts. I don't put it that way of course,  but that's how I've come to think about airline travel since federal deregulation too effect in the 80s.

The stripper tries to help. "Hiiiii!," she gushes again, exhaling an invisible cloud of ale breath. The church lady's mouth puckers up like a barnacle.  

"My name is Tawny," the stripper says. "I'm going to Vegas. Are you going to Vegas too?" 

The church lady's barnacle pucker gets even more puckered. "No," she says with a rimless glasses glare. The stripper is too full of ale and God knows what else to take the hint. She presses on in a cheerfully boozy way: "Well, where are you going?" 

"Shhh," the church lady hisses, trying to shut the stripper up. 

Not a chance. Never try to quiet an aggressively happy drunk. It will have the opposite effect.  Tawny proceeded to prove my point.

"Gosh, I'm just trying to get your mind off missing your flight. I mean, wow, you were like crying your butt off a minute ago. But it will be okay. Like, even if you miss your flight, you can come to Vegas with me. Do you have any daughters? Hey, do you mind if I smoke? I'll give you $20 if you let me smoke." 

"Shhh," the church lady hisses. 

The rebuff hurt the stripper's feelings. "Fuck! I'm just trying to be friendly! Just because she's gonna miss her fucking flight, it isn't my fucking fault! Gosh! Shit!" 

Actually, the delay is her fault. But I don't say that. Instead, I say, "No one will miss any flights.” I gesture toward the windshield. We are on US 50 in light traffic, passing through an industrial area.  "Look, there's hardly any traffic and we'll be at the airport in plenty of time." 

"There's my club!" Tawny shouts. She waves an arm in front of my eyes and points to a cinder block building the Presbyterians on the zoning board wanted as far away from a residential area as possible. "Hi Marci! Hi Twila! Hi Amy! I'm going to Vaaaaaaaaaygas! Ha ha!"

"Shhh," the church lady hisses.

I intervene: "Miss, better settle down or Southwest Airlines won't let you on the airplane."

That seems to work. Her posture stiffens in drunken dignity and she clams up. A dense climate of silence settles over the van for the rest of the ride.  We arrive on time and the church lady bolts from the van, snatches her carry-ons with a blue-veined claw and scuttles full throttle to the terminal entrance.

The stripper gets out before I can open her for door for her and takes a deep breath. She appears momentarily sober, her eyes clear despite the alcohol. I unload her luggage from the back. 

"You've been patient with me," she says. She opens her suitcase, extracts a $20, and stuffs the bill in my shirt pocket. I start to say the tip is included in the fare and her friend had already been more than generous. She wouldn't hear it. 

"Hush.  I know what it's like to work for tips," she says, and tamps the twenty down. 

Back on the road, I reflect on which of those two women had the more Christian nature set forth in the Sermon On The Mount; the angry Pharisee or the sweet drunkard who strips for a living? 

My money is on the latter.


-oOo-

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Blue Van Blues



The other day i saw blue Super Shuttle van I-5.  Made me mad all over again.

See, I drove for Super Shuttle between 2002 and 2004 in Sacramento when the company switched its drivers status from employees to independent contractors. This resulted in all expenses, including maintenance, dispatcher services, insurance, lease payments, uniforms, taxes and airport fees, amounting to about $6000 per month, being passed on the to driver, including a requirement that drivers commit to a minimum of 60 hours on the job six days a week for a 10-year period.  In the words of a black cabbie I knew, "Sounds like life on a plantation."

We were not allowed to take the 10-year contract out of the Sacramento office for review by an attorney, even though the Los Angeles office encouraged drivers to seek legal counsel before signing.  A further stipulation required that the independently owned contractors' vans, not those leased from Super Shuttle, be no more than four years old, and that the contractor pay Super Shuttle the cost of the van's paint, livery and decals -- all at inflated prices.  Super Shuttle also had a pipeline to Ford, Chrysler and GM dealers for new vans at a fat markup.

As for maintenance, Super Shuttle mechanics in Sacramento would replace drive wheel tires with recaps, which is illegal for vehicles used for public transport in California, and resulted in one van being totaled on I-5 from tire failure. I picked up the frightened but uninjured passengers.

There in no limit to the greed of Super Shuttle's Phoenix-based owner/owners.  The company's compensation plan is based on the employment laws of the misnamed "right to work" state of Arizona with its union busting statutes.  A class action suit was filed by former drivers for back wages in 2008. The drivers won.  My share was $500, a token amount considering what I'd paid for employment with Super Shuttle -- the worst company I've worked for in my 50 productive years before my blessedly slothful retirement. 
'
I've noticed that nowadays most of Super Shuttle drivers seem to be recent immigrants with little knowledge of English and even less of labor rights. God help them. God help their passengers, and I thank God I'm an atheist

Maybe things would have worked out better for me if I had been a Blue Man for a Blue Van. 

Naaah.  Super Shuttle owns the rights to its special blue paint.  I would've been charged a monthly user fee.  

-oOo-

E-mail comments, critiques and snarky corrections to tomatomike@aol.com

Whoopie!  Another insight into your past. Blue vans, super shuttle, limos, taxis and who knows what else, Sky Taxi?  Good to hear another story and thanks for including me. -- Kent
Thanks for reading it  MB
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Sometimes you just have to say something.   Well seriously.   I'm sorry that integrity isn't a mainstay with everyone, and that the bottom line is not the same across the board.  No one should have to be forced to do the right thing, either.  Writing this stuff down should be therapeutic at least, and hoping for poetic justice or something else satisfying is understandable. I've SO been there.  So what do we do now?  I will join forces with you against 'em or bring something fun and inappropriate to take our minds off.   Send instructions. -- Zoey

Just vote with your business, your cash and your credit card.  -- MB
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I get up and check my email and what do I see?...an email from my friend Pomidoro Mike!....Have a great day ok Mike?...you tomato man you :-) Qbman
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If I see these in operation around here, I'll put the word out.  This should never have been allowed to happen in the first place and I am sorry it did to you.  -- Rusty

Well, that Asian driver might be supporting his and his wife's parents plus his own offspring. Super Shuttle's fares are still less than half what a Seattle-Tacoma airport taxi charges for a trip to either city. I used SS even after I left the company.  Got to meet some old buddies and catch up on company gossip. -- MB

Tuesday, August 23, 2016




Right to left.  Don Simons, Karen Simons, and a slightly unstable bald guy in a vanity cap wondering where his bifocals are, at the Weatherstone Coffee House in Sacramento, 2014.  

The Simons hijacked the bald guy a year later and moved him, lock, stock and bifocals to San Diego in a U-Haul truck.  Being San Diegans themselves, they considered the move as protective custody, installing Mr. Bifocals in a secure condominium with no sharp edges they just happened to own, in exchange for a very token rent and occasional service as a house and dog sitter when they are out of town.  

They also leaned on him to be a tuxedoed usher for live performances at the university theater and as a guest at the outdoor venue in Balboa Park, occasionally hauling him off to lunch and/or bringing relief supplies from In 'N Out Burgers, which is the finest fast food chain in the known universe and probably beyond.

Okay, the condo is great, the San Diego climate worthy of paradise, my blessedly quiet neighbors have an amazing ability to mind their own business, and anything I might think I need is within 5 miles.  Hell, I don't even have to drive to get it.  If it's small enough it will fit in the basket of an electric scooter the Simons gave me.  

But there is a downside to scooter travel. Being an ex-biker, I'm well aware of the hazards of two wheeled travel in traffic where aged motorists tell the cops, "I dunno, officer.  He just came out of nowhere" as the biker's flattened remains are rolled up and stuffed into a rubber bag.

The only other problems I've had were self-inflicted.  Still are, and ain't that always the way?  I've managed to kill off not one but two tropical fish by not reading the directions that came with the water purifying chemicals for the small aquarium.  That oversight purified the aquarium of fish as well as algae. Twice. So now I have a low maintenance fishless aquarium that looks rather nice, a light illuminating the multi-colored gravel along with the plastic grotto scenery.  I'll suppose I'll get another fish and seek the fish person's counsel about proper care and feeding, but not today. 

The latest crisis occurred yesterday when the ghost of a previous tenant and maybe a troublemaking banshee hid the keys to my condo, my car, my storage locker and what remains of my mental balance.  The bill for the locksmith, the locks and replacement keys has me on a bland diet with headache and constipation supplements.

Well, it could be worse.  I could be fishless in Sacramento where the triple digit August heat makes mere breathing an Olympic event.  So here's to the better weather and good friends in San Diego.

                                              -oOo-


Address comments, critques and snarky suggestions to tomatomike@aol.com

If all else fails, let the muck take over the aquarium and raise frogs or salamanders. Say you did it deliberately.  -- Brat
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As always, a nice thing to get mail from you.  It seems as though my friend Mike has appropriate thankfulness for a pretty good life.  I really appreciate the thought of you being in nice digs with good people around you, and events of the days making your brain workin' good and your heart laying back warm.  I say that "brain workin' good" stuff in spite of your lost keys portion and for a very good reason.  I, too, have lost my keys and my little packet of ID cards, debit cards, health cards, irretrievably vanished into thin air.  I refuse to chalk that up to any sort of brain fade so I can't accept that for you either . Instead, I prefer to think of these things as a life challenge and character builder, and right off, an exercise to see how many expletives I know.   Keep the words coming, Mike, and be well, keep California Dreamin'.  -- Zoey
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Awww love it! -- Julisari
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I, too,  am glad you're out there, but still no report on their famed zoo. I also want a review of that "In 'n Outburger place which I've heard so much about. We don't have one here.  Are they as good as their hype?  Take care and keep writing. me.  -- Linda

As far as I know, In 'n Out burgers are geographically limited to California.  And  yes, they're very good.  -- MB
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Sounds like you are doing swimmingly and, as for the fish: highly overrated unless they're plated.  Always good to hear from you!  -- Ellen




Saturday, May 28, 2016

Death Of A Salesman -- Almost.



A friend wrote asking if I remember a failed southern Californija real estate development named California City, located smack in the middle of a desert north of Los Angeles.

Oh yes. I remember California City and its ad campaign very well. The developers saturated the L.A. airwaves with commercials in 1959. I was 15 when the development was being promoted, with offers of free info. I thought my parents might like to read about it, so I called the number on the screen for the brochure, giving our address, as I thought the info would be mailed. To my horror and my parents bewilderment, a salesman showed up with a big fat briefcase full of shiny booklets and thick contracts. He wasn't your basic annoying salesman, either, but some young guy obviously struggling on a straight commission existence. Everyone was embarrassed. Well, not my mother. She was not embarrassed. She was royally steamed. That's when I learned that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

A few years ago I was a door-to-door canvasser and telemarketer setting sales appointments for several heating-air-insulation-window companies. We insisted that the homeowner and spouse be present for the presentation. If the man of the house  said "I make all the decisions," we would not schedule an appointment.

That's because the man of the house would suddenly be stricken with psychic castration when the sales guy showed up. “I'll have to talk it over with the missus” he'd say. That would be the last we'd hear from that person. So we always emphasized that both household decision makers had to be present when it was dotted line time with a salesmale.

The same applied if the missus said she made all the financial decisions, only she could not castrate herself if the deal went south. Instead she'd become a shrinking violet who needed permission from her lord and master before spending a dime.

Being a door-to-door canvasser can teach one a lot about human nature. See, we were ordered -- not just told but ordered – to knock on doors with "No Soliciting" signs. "That means the homeowner has no sales resistance," said the sales managers.

Wanna bet? I never knocked on doors marked No Soliciting. We worked between 4-9 p.m. when the someone-who-makes-all-the-decisions was likely to be home -- and it was bad enough when the knock was answered by someone with a chicken drumstick in one hand and a can of Budweiser in the other, or tucking in his shirt and zipping up his fly after coitus interruptus. Not a hot sales prospect, he.  And those were the homes without No Soliciting signs on the door.

There were several communities around Sacramento that had what are called Green River Ordinances, named for Green River, Wyoming, which banned door-to-door soliciting in 1931. The idea spread like a prairie fire to other western states. There's also a band named Green River Ordinance. Probably former canvassers.

The nearby city of Davis had such a ban, so naturally we were ordered to canvass Davis. I think we lasted about 30 minutes before the Davis Police Department escorted us out of town with full military honors. I quit canvassing after several more similar incidents and one dog bite later.

Guess I was paying a karmic debt for my misadventure with California City.

-oOo-

Snarky comments and lavish praise may be sent to tomatomike@aol.com.

Sorry I was late with my reply. My fall the other night has kept me away from the computer. As always, glad to see you back on the small screen. I love your stories and style of writing. Very readable. (Very important.) – Beaty
Thank you. Please don't take another spill. I need all the readers I can get – MB 
 Gee, brings back memories, remember when EVERYONE came to the door? The ice man, milkman, Jewel Tea guy, Avon Lady, the guys who sharpened knives, vacuum cleaner salesmen, magazine people, Mormons- -but for door to door solicitors it was a tough way to make a living. You've had some interesting jobs  -- Lynda

The Mormons  still make house calls, but usually by appointment. The Jehovah's Witnesses canvass without warning.  I'm unfailingly polite to them.  See, a JW family invited me inside on a cold wet night when I was peddling dual pane windows. They brought me a cup of tea and some cookies, offered me a chair next to the fireplace, and listened to what I had to say, which wasn't much through chattering teeth.  They did not commit to a sales visit, but nor did they proselytize about religion. The subject never came up. They were too busy being Christians to talk about it unasked. I've been especially polite to JW people ever since. – MB 

I read this thinking of the times I've had strangers at my door holding papers. Papers about vacuums, sales, neighborhood parties, church events, and saving of my soul - as if saving my soul could be done by the reading of a pamphlet. I've also come home to stuff hanging on my door knob and stuck in my door frame. I've also picked up papers on my mat, had them taped to my front door, and even had stuff rolled up and thrown up to my balcony. If I wanted this stuff, I'd ask for it. I guess asking for it in present-day is just having an address. It's the nature of business (and  saving souls)  to get things moving in any way you can. I am retiring soon and have a desire to solicit my labors doing artwork or writing or singing a bit more. Hm...I'll bet I could make some flyers -- Zoey

No, Zoey. God, the government and Cisco Corp invented the Internet specifically to keep you from papering your neighborhood with flyers. So show a little gratitude, willya? – MB

Great stuff, thanks for sharing – BSRS

If I had been your mom at that moment, I may have bought a share and shipped you to live there.  Did you at least get grounded? --Tammy

No, but when I joined the Navy my parents seriously considered moving and leaving no forwarding address. – MB

Wonderful, as always – Julisari

Your bribe is in the mail, along with some Oreos. -- MB

Thanks for keeping me on your mailing list. Just read your piece about almost-death of a salesman heheh You are a wordsmith to be sure. Sorry we never connected while you were nearish. Glad you're loving San Diego. My hometown, ya know.
Keep me in the loop! – Kaa

Really? I thought you were an island born wahine. Must've been your surfing background. I know that you don't get much surf in the Napa Valley. but hey, you're in the midst of some swell wineries. – MB



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Good News Bad News


First, the good news:

Here's my new world headquarters in the Mission Valley area of San Diego owned by Don and Karen Simons.  Last year they forcibly uprooted me from Sacramento and transplanted me in one of their rentals for a very token sum, which they claim is a needed tax write-off.   Riiiiight.  Considering the rental prices for comparable places in this Southern California coastal market, I feel like a bandit.   Not that I'm inclined to reform, mind you, but I have just enough of a conscience to feel mildly guilty now and then.

Not shown is a Great Big TV and a balcony the looks like a miniature Hanging Gardens Of Babylon.  Karen Simons is a gardening demon and doesn't understand people with black thumbs, like me. 

Anyway, I'm as happy as a clam at high tide here.  And with San Diego's maritime climate, I won't wilt as I did during the triple digit summertime temperatures in the Sacramento Valley. 

This must be karma, of sorts.  Maybe I earned it by not shoving the elderly down elevator shafts in a previous life.

Now here's the bad news:  Cracker Jack will no longer include paper toys in its bags of caramelized popcorn, and I bet you'll find fewer candied peanuts, too.  It was bad enough when Cracker Jack stopped including plastic and sometimes metal prizes and substituted paper ones in its boxes of sticky delight, but now -- are you ready for this? --  Cracker Jack prizes are going digital!   

An outrage!  Worse, Crackerjacks aren't even in boxes, but in environmentally harmful plastic bags that take a thousand years to biodegrade, pollute beaches and strangle Harp seals! Okay, I made up the part about Harp seals. Only plastic beverage rings do that.  But still, does Crack Jack management have no shame?  No sense of history? 

 Well, here's some history I swiped from Inquisitr.com:

"Cracker Jack was the invention of Frederick William Rueckheim, a German immigrant known informally as “Fritz,” and his brother, who sold popcorn in Chicago beginning in 1871, according to CrackerJack.com.

According to an urban legend, Rueckheim produced a popcorn confection and presented it to the public at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago’s first world’s fair) in 1896. The sweet confection became even more popular and associated with baseball when Jack Norwith penned baseball’s anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” urging baseball-goers to “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,” during a 30-minute subway ride in 1908. The music to accompany Norwith’s lyrics was written by Albert Von Tilzer."

Whenever I get bad news or my cable bill, I feel like sulking in my tent, like Achilles.  Only I don't have a tent. I have a very nice place in a really swell city with some built-in friends.  Makes it hard to sulk that way.  Same with felony snacking.

And now I want some Cracker Jack -- even if it's in a sad droopy bag instead of an All American stand up carton.  Now, if Donald Trump really wants to Make America Great Again, he should buy Crack Jack from Frito-Lay and put it back in the box along with some real prizes.




If you care to comment/encourage/criticize or insult, e-mail tomatomike@aol.com.

What a LOVELY PLACE! I love San Diego! So happy that you have such a nice place, Mike! -- Tab

An uncannily timely message!  Just TWO NIGHTS ago, Vern, Anthony, and I were eating Cracker Jack, 6 boxes of which I had purchased at 3 for a dollar, as we watched the Blues beat the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We marveled at the cheesiness of the new prizes, and Anthony downloaded the app or whatever that makes the little paper "prize" animate on the screen or whatever in the hell it does. I remember when Cracker Jack toys were real and touchable and... and... made of things like REAL PLASTIC.


But on to the first, and more important, part of your mail. WHAT A GORGEOUS APARTMENT YOU HAVE. And I can think of no one who deserves such a living space more than you, my long-time Tomato friend. I'm so glad you have good friends who actually live close enough to you to hang out in person. Wish I had the same privilege! 
-- Margie

Wait a minute. Crackjacks are still sold in boxes? I am verklempt. – MB 

It does my heart good to see you in this beautiful place – Lynda

I love your new home and the people who were kind enough to drag you out of your valley inferno. As for Cracker Jack(s), I was a fan until I got a peanut. I didn't like them mixed in with my caramelized corn. Glad you're writing on a more frequent basis!
-- Beaty

Great digs!!!  Hugs to the landlords for kidnapping you. I am calling dibs on the chair in the corner when I come to visit. – Tammy

Do your friends need any more friends?  – White Sport Coat

Sure, but I think they're out of condominiums. – MB

Niiiiiice digs! I eat neither sugar nor corn, so the Cracker Jack thing doesn't offend me, one iota. – Ellen

You're no fun.  -- MB

The good news is splendid! The bad news funny:) Sooo glad your living situation is amazing! – Julisari

Plastic bags get ingested by sea turtles who think they're jellyfish. I kid you not. Screw Cracker Jacks. Werthers now makes a caramel popcorn. It's reallly addicting. Came across it at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Tad bit more expensive than CJ, but definitely better. Did I mention addicting. I don't know about other people, but I can finish one off all by myself, no problem.  If you get bored, and feeling adventurous, I have a caramel popcorn recipe that's better than CJ, too. You can burn the caramel sauce and it will taste a lot like CJ. -- Brat

Please send. MB

First, nice digs, Mr.  I'm so glad you've got a good place to sit and write these great pieces and to do stuff.  It's important. Second, for cryin' out loud.  Not only do I now have to remember that when I was a kid my great-uncle Billy gave me an entire tin stuffed with all of the GREAT old Cracker Jack toys he had saved - and then I squandered them away, AND I have to face it that now I'm allergic to peanuts, I can't even get a damn BOX of Cracker Jack, throw out the peanuts in favor of the admittedly mediocre present-day "prize" – but I won't now get a prize at all?   WTF?  The world just sucks sometimes, and sometimes Cracker Jack makers have questionable sense, I just want SOMETHING to stay like it was.  No change.  Same toys, same peanuts, same popcorn, same box.  Would it kill you to just leave it alone?    Tsk.  A travesty. – Zoey.

That's tellin' em, Lady Z – MB 








Saturday, May 7, 2016

Neighbors

Among the gifts Don and Karen Simons bestowed on me when I moved to San Diego was a great big jungle plant with great big leaves. It's on the balcony along with the rest of the flora that's somehow surviving my unintentionally lethal black thumb. One of the great big leaves had enough of my alleged care, and it up and died.  Then it fell off and landed on the neighbor's balcony below mine when I pruned it.  I thought I better retrieve it to avoid having the neighbor think I was letting my jungle shed plant stuff on his or her property.  Wars have started over less.  Down I went and rang the doorbell.  A half-nekkid short guy whose muscles had muscles and whose muscles had tattoos answered the door and triggered my o shit alarm.  I explained my mission, saying I was there to retrieve a zombie leaf that had landed on his balcony.  He just waved me off with a smile and said he'd get rid of it himself.

I'm thankful to have an agreeable neighbor. Years ago I heard a radio preacher (I had the Sunday morning shift at a station on the north coast) say that God was trying to convert a non-believer whose name I've forgotten.  As usual, the Almighty made threats of plagues, pestilence, rains of toads, etc., but the sinner remained  unmoved.  Then God played His ace in the hole, His holy hole card.  He threatened the sinner with bad neighbors.  That tore it.  The sinner converted right there on the spot.
 
I liked that Sunday morning gig.  Not much to do.  Lotta recorded religious programs including that awful overblown Mormon Snaberwackle Choir.  My relief at noon was Dean Elliot. 
 
I've written about Dean;  AB, MA, Hamilton College; Ph.D, Northwestern; Phi Beta Kappa, OSS service in WW2;  polyglot linguist, musicologist and godson of Rudyard Kipling.  How he wound up as a $500 a month engineer and record spinner at a small station in a minor market is another story.  He was in his 60s when I knew him.
 
Dean was not happy about having to pull a record shift.  He'd show up wearing a surly attitude, a  Beethoven sweatshirt, and carrying a shopping bag.  The bag contained a 40-ounce bottle of Rainier Ale, a bag of Fritos and the current edition of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  It was best not to talk to Dean then.  Just brief him about any tech problems, but otherwise keep quiet, wear beige and get lost.
 
There was a live broadcast on Dean's shift, a  Pentacostal preacher bought an hour of time to preach the gospel and raise money.  He  was especially moved  by the Holy Spirit one day,  pounding the table below the microphone while telling the tale of his conversion. "There I was in the  wilderness of sin BLAM! Then something happened to me BLAM!" Each blam caused the transmitter meters to spike, and Dean to get increasingly annoyed.  "But THEN, brothers and sisters BLAM, something happened to me! Yes!  BLAM.  Do  you KNOW what happened to me? BLAM BLAM BLAM."
 
At that point Dean was thoroughly miffed.  He opened the control room microphone and asked, "You ran out of money?"   
 
Well, there was a quite a contretemps in our little studio that day, let me tell you!    The preacher complained to the station owner in a stuttering rage. But the owner, a nice and long suffering man, could only let Dean go at the risk of the station's financial and technical peril.  Dean had made many modifications to the ancient Collins transmitter --  but kept the plans in his head.  Upshot:  No more live religious broadcasts on Sunday.  All records and tapes.  We even taped the pastor's sermon when Dean wasn't around, and Dean kept his job.

Now if I can just figure out how to resurrect dead plants.  Maybe I should find a Pentacostal pastor and get some resurrection lessons, but then, the pastor would see what an unrepentant sinner I am and want to water me in a San Diego Bay baptismal ceremony.  Well, maybe then I could empathize with the plants I water. Throw in some scented bubble bath or something. But until then I'll remain a comfortably dry atheist, thank you.     
 
-o0o-


Comments? E-mail tomatomike@aol.com.

Loved this, thanks for sharing. – Julisari

Enjoyed that. As usual. – Ldywrtr0

I envy your sentence structure.  So very readable!  -- Galen

Aw shucks, lady.  High praise indeed from a published author and world renown academic. -- MB

I am not so sure what to call myself in the belief department - I mean, if I have to have a label.  I do know that I can keep my assorted balcony flowers alive all spring and summer every year, but if I bring a house plant here, it dies as soon as I shut the front door.  "Oh, this variety will grow ANYWHERE" I have been told while accepting a clipping of something or other, and no matter where I set it or what it's in, it wilts, it yellows, and then it dies.  If it could, it would have screamed "Don't leave me here!"  I am not sure, but I think there might be some sort of analogy here.  Do yo suppose God just comes around every so often to watch me through the sliding glass doors, knowing full well I'm messin' up in here?   I love your writing, always, always.  I hadn't received any for a long time, and I was starting to get the shakes.  <smile>  -- Zoey

Not that I'm an expert, but I must say, this was one of your better pieces. Have you been practicing? Well done! Whoo whoo! – Beatsyr

Quite the opposite.  I've been a sloth.  That's why I had to edit and re-edit the piece, even after initially posting.  So thank you.  -- MB

Laughed out loud, Mike.  -- Thea