Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fifty-three years ago today

President and Mrs. Kennedy had breakfast in Fort Worth and later in the day rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.

Then the world as we knew it ended.

I was a 22-year-old airman, married for six months, and working in Strategic Air Command's underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

A year earlier I had completed twelve weeks of training to become a computer programmer, but when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in the fall of 1962 we enlisted folk who worked in the underground were formed into details to move lots of furniture on dollies up many ramps to the main Headquarters building so that the Battle Staff of twenty-some generals could live in the command post for the duration of the crisis. No one knew how long that might turn out to be. We were in the middle of moving furniture up and had not yet begun the equally formidable and muscle-wrenching task of moving other furniture down when a Chief Master Sergeant appeared and asked, "Does anyone know how to type?"

Since I could type quite well (about 120 words per minute) and I also thought this might be a way to get pulled off the furniture-moving detail, I ignored the little voice saying never to volunteer for anything, and said, "I can."

He said, "Come with me," and for the next 18 months I worked as a clerk-typist in Colonel Shirey's office along with Captain Bendorf, Major Something-or-other, and civilian Ginny Milacek. I also could take shorthand, which proved helpful. After the Cuban crisis had passed and the underground had been reconfigured again -- I was not recruited to help this time -- Colonel Shirey's office was moved to just off the Command Staff Balcony. Every day I had a full view of the two-story-high maps and data projected on the walls as well as the screens and consoles on the main floor below. One of my assigned duties was to clean up the balcony area after each use. In the spring of 1963 I went back to Florida to marry Mrs. RWP, and when we returned to Nebraska I had already moved out of the enlisted men's barracks into a small apartment just outside the back gate of the base, on a street of houses near the Missouri River. We lived so close to my work that I could easily go home for lunch and often did. At some point that year, Ginny quit to get married and another civilian, Irene, replaced her.

On November 22, 1963, I said to Irene, "See you in a bit," and I went home to have lunch with Mrs. RWP as usual. When I walked back into the office, Irene said, "The President has been shot." This was such an unimaginable scenario that I replied sarcastically, "Yeah, what else is new?"

"I'm serious," she said. "Look down on the floor at the consoles." I went to the edge of the glassed-in balcony and peered into the command post below. All the officers were gathered in groups around several communication centers, trying to learn as much as possible as rapidly as possible. It wasn't chaos, but there was a tense, deadly serious air about the scene. Irene hadn't been kidding.

The phone rang on my desk. It was Mrs. RWP telling me what she had just seen and heard on television from Walter Cronkite. "I know," I said, "I found out when I got back to the office." I mentioned that things were uncertain at this point and that I may have to remain on base overnight, but as it turned out I was able to go home at the end of the regular work day. The next few days were a very sad time for Americans, most of whom watched not only the state funeral but the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald on live television by Jack Ruby in the Dallas Police Station.

My lasting memories of that week include the motorcade above, Mrs. Kennedy walking in black behind the President's casket, and the moment caught by UPI photographer Stan Stearns that broke the nation's heart:

Eventually I did become a computer programmer again, but that is a story for another time.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Loose ends from last month

My plan to embed the video of my two grandsons' duet in their high school band's portion of the marching band competition in Pell City, Alabama, died aborning, nipped in the bud before the bud ever had a chance.

The problem, at least in part, was that the video was made on an Apple phone and my computer uses a Windows operating system. Apparently never the twain shall meet. More specifically, getting the file to migrate successfully from its Apple home to its destination on my Windows system is the fly in the ointment. I mailed the file to my email successfully, or so I thought, but then could not open the attachment. So I could not add it to my blogpost.


If you know how to do it, you're a better man (or woman, as the case may be) than I am, Gunga Din. If you want to try to explain it to me in terms I can understand, the comments are now open. If you think there's no reason an Apple video cannot be opened when sent to an email on a Windows system, I repeat: the comments are now open. If you think I'm a stupid old fool, please keep your thoughts to yourself.

Moving right along, I can still put plain old photographs into my blogposts even though at times some of them simply refuse to be rotated.

Here we are with our granddaughter after a performance at her school of Thornton Wilder's Our Town in which she played the role of Emily:

Here she is with her mother and a sugar-free cupcake, complete with candle, that our granddaughter made for her father's birthday:

And here is our son preparing to eat his sugar-free cupcake, apparently complete with candle. For the record, I have no idea where he gets his zany, madcap sense of humor/humour:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

There is always method in my madness

During the run-up to the recent American presidential election, certain bloggers from the U.K. who shall remain nameless would occasionally make a comment about the ultimate winner's surname, which is Trump in case some of you have forgotten. Apparently in England that word (Trump) means what my mother used to refer to as "breaking wind" and what much of current-day America calls "fart" (an Anglo-Saxon word that is not in my vocabulary, the technical terms being "flatulence" or "passing gas" or "tooting").

Who knew?

Anyhoo, it got me to thinking (how novel) about the chapter on names in my book Billy Ray Barnwell Here: The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind which you can access in its entirety by clicking on a link in the sidebar over there to the right.

So, to make a long story short and not to beat around the proverbial bush one second longer than necessary, I have decided to show you yet another chapter of that book, Chapter 7 to be exact, right here at rhymeswithplague in the hope that someone somewhere will be tricked encouraged to read more of Billy Ray's outpourings for him- or herself.

Anyone who does will learn very quickly that Billy Ray has a mind of his own that is not at all like mine. He writes very long, run-on sentences that can be downright exhausting. That was done on purpose. I set out to write a book that ignored all the rules of writing, and I think I just may have succeeded.

I'm pretty sure I haven't shown you this before but I could be wrong.

Chapter 7

Billy Ray Barnwell here, Mama always said fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but here goes anyway, some people have unusual names, don’t you think? for example the principal of the high school I attended back in Not Grapevine Texas was named Willie Pigg, he had a daughter named Barbara Ann and a son named Billy Dale, you’re prolly saying what’s wrong with that? well don’t look now but their initials were B. A. Pigg and B. D. Pigg, why would anyone do that to their children?, and back around World War Eye as the famous bandleader Lawrence Welk would say there was also a Governor of Texas named Jim Hogg, he and the lovely Mrs. Hogg had a daughter they named Ima, that’s right folks, Ima Hogg, and legend has it there was also a Ura Hogg but that has been emphatically denied, I have heard that in her old age Miss Ima Hogg reigned supreme as the grande dame of Houston society sort of like Alice Roosevelt Longworth the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt did up there in Washington D.C. with her little pillow that said if you can’t say something nice about someone come sit by me, but I don’t know whatever became of Miss Ura, if indeed there ever was a Miss Ura, I guess the jury is still out on that one. In the service I had a friend named Jim Parsley and I knew of a guy whose last name was Turnipseed and I worked with a Marsha Lamb, I don’t know what it is with animals and vegetables, oh and my first grade teacher back in Pawtucket Rhode Island, as the famous newspaper columnist Dave Barry says I am not making this up, was Miss Edith Wildegoose, I still have her wedding announcement that Mama cut out of the newspaper to prove it, yes I was born in Rhode Island but only because I wanted to be near my mother and she happened to be there at the time, but just as soon as I could convince my family, we moved to the South, well that’s a little joke but it’s not entirely untrue, I was six years old and pre-asthmatic when the doctor told my parents I would prolly do better in a drier climate, and since my father thought he might find work in the aerospace industry, we sold our furniture and packed up our clothes and left our third-floor apartment at 61 Larch Street and our landlord Mr. Lee Vitale pronounced Mr. Leave-a-TALLY and the Misses Irma Chisolm and Yvonne Schack at the Pawtucket Day Nursery and also Mrs. Mullins who taught me for one whole week in public kindergarten before I was moved into the first-grade class of the aforementioned Miss Edith Wildegoose at Hancock Street Elementary School and moved to Fort Worth Texas on a train, a trip that took three days and two nights. I can hear some of you saying Texas isn’t the South, it’s the Southwest, well it seceded if that’s any qualification, but getting back to odd names, let us not forget Tom Bledsoe, and Mama said she knew a girl back in Philadelphia named Violet Roach, and when I finally got around to taking Latin in college the teacher who taught me all about conjugating the verbs and declining the nouns and adjectives so that I finally understood Mama’s little joke and also realized that my uncle wasn’t saying “so messy phooey” at all, he was saying the principal parts of the verb to be in Latin, was named Elizabeth Beaver. I have heard that when people began using surnames several hundred years ago they might pick a nearby geographical feature like Hill or Field or Rivers, or their occupation like Carpenter or Taylor or Cooper which means barrel maker, or an identifying physical characteristic like Long or Short, we won’t delve into that any further, or an animal name like Wolf or Fox or Byrd, but why someone would choose Beaver or Roach or Wildegoose is beyond me, and it’s not just animals either, some names just sound right and some do not, take colors for example, we all have friends named the Whites or the Blacks or the Browns or the Grays or the Greens but do we have friends named the Yellows or the Purples or the Oranges or the Beiges? no we do not and in the great overall cosmic scheme of things there’s prolly a very good reason why we do not, and some people go out of their way to try to be cute, for example that guy who wrote the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had characters in it named Truly Scrumptious and Caractacus Potts, of course those people were not real, but I think trying to be cute can create a burden for the child, for example George Lear who created Lear Jet airplanes named his daughter Crystal and so far so good but her middle name was, are you ready for this?, Chanda, that’s right, Crystal Chanda Lear, and my friend John Cornelius told me the other day he used to know a girl named Candy Machine but he may have been pulling my leg. Girls seem to have to bear the brunt of parental inventiveness, for example I know a family named Musselwhite where the sons are named Fred and Wayne but the daughter’s name is Fredonia, and I know another family named Furbush where the son’s name is Carl, common enough, but the daughter’s name is Tranquilla. Fredonia Musselwhite and Tranquilla Furbush and both of them are Caucasian, so you can stop giggling and rolling your eyes about the Sha’niquas and Champaydrons in your local African-American community. Two of my all-time favorite names are Ninnie Threadgood and Fannie Flagg, one is real and one is made up, in fact the one that is real made up the one that is made up, maybe we could start a contest and you can guess which is which, just send your postcard entries to me, Billy Ray Barnwell, care of General Delivery, Not Grapevine Texas, say either “Ninnie Threadgood invented Fannie Flagg” or “Fannie Flagg invented Ninnie Threadgood,” whichever one you think, we could have a drawing for the big prize, maybe a year’s supply of fried green tomatoes or something, this could be big, really big, but getting back to names, we all know families who fixate on a particular initial, for example I know a D group, Don, Doris, Darryl, and Dawn and I know a J group where the children are Jonathan, Jennifer, Jessica, Jeremy, Jason, Justin, and Julia, but the parents, go figure, are David and Sabrina. I also know a woman with a beautiful name, Amalfi, who told me her father was visiting in Italy and saw a highway sign that said Amalfi and he said if he ever had a daughter he was going to name her that, I told her if he had gone to Atlanta instead we would be calling her I-285 today, either that or Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Amalfi’s sister Sammie has a total of 21 names because her father happened to be the pastor of a small church and when his wife became pregnant every woman in the congregation suggested a name for the new addition and since the pastor and his wife didn’t want to show favoritism or hurt anyone’s feelings they used all 21 names, Amalfi can rattle them off without blinking an eye but I can never remember what all of Sammie’s names are, the whole concept is so overwhelming, so whenever I see Sammie I just make some names up and say Hi there, Sammie Imogene Esmerelda Hildegarde Florence Ophelia Desdemona Eleanor Bess Mamie Jacqueline Ladybird Thelma Betty Rosalyn Nancy Barbara Hillary Laura, well you get the picture, and we all have a good laugh, Sammie doesn’t mind, but one thing she does do is she gets married a lot, she has been married several times in what I believe is an unconscious attempt to have enough last names to bring the scales into balance. Then there’s the case of everyone’s favorite violet-eyed actress, the famous Elizabeth Rosamund Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky, I don’t know what her reason is, and let’s not even attempt to understand Zsa Zsa Gabor who is from Hungary and has been married so many times her wedding dress is prolly drip-dry. Speaking of Hungary, foreign names are a world unto themselves, for example people from India all seem to have names like Praline Lolafalana or Bajeeb Bagoshbaghali, don’t you think? and we have all heard about names that are prolly just jokes, you know the ones, let me write phonetically here, fuh-MOLLY, oh-RON-juh-LO, luh-MON-juh-LO (female, orange jello, lemon jello), it just gets worse, my step-uncle, that would be my stepmother’s brother, married a woman named Ovaline and I always called her Ovaltine, behind her back of course, and years ago when a friend of mine married his wife Udella, no kin to Udella Mabry, three little kids I know began calling her Umbrella, behind her back of course, maybe it’s something in their DNA, like I said earlier the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and on that disturbing note this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

[Editor's note. Something else that prompted this particular post was the fact that we ran into Amalfi and Sammie at lunch yesterday at Captain D's seafood restaurant. We hadn't seen either of them in about eight years. Here's Amalfi, who is nearly 90, with Mrs. RWP:

And here's her sister Sammie, who informed me she is 93 (she looks 60), has 19 names (not 21), and that it is their sister Peggy who has been married so many times, not her.

Keeping it real, folks, keeping it real. --RWP]

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We shall not cease from polling, and the end of all our polling will be to arrive where we started and reach conflicting conclusions.

My apologies to T. S. Eliot.

I thought about W. H. Auden's poem "The Unknown Citizen" yesterday. I knew I had shown it to you before, so I checked into Ye Olde Blog History and discovered that I showed it to you in May 2008 and again in September 2012. Presidential election season in the U.S. both times. And since it is U.S. Presidential Election season once again, election DAY in fact, it is altogether fitting and proper that I show you Auden's poem again as a commentary on the incessant polling and daily rush to announce yet another set of polling results that have been hallmarks of 2016 in my country:

The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07/M/378/
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Last time around I added the following comments of my own:

"I wish I could explain adequately why I like this poem so much, but I have never been able to find the exact words. Perhaps it is the sly way Auden thumbs his nose at the notions, current then (1939) and only intensified with the passing of time, that humans exist for the benefit of the state, that individuals must decrease and the collective must increase, that external measurements are all that matter, that we can learn the most important things about a person through a conglomeration of statistics.

"In my humble opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

"I said in 2008 that this poem makes me simultaneously melancholy and hysterical (not as in funny, but as in alarming), and my opinion has not changed. The ideas that there is a “right number of children” and that it is laudable not to interfere with one’s teachers’ education and that one can hold “the proper opinions” and that what ought to be one’s strongest belief can so easily be overturned by those in power (“When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went”) make my blood run cold. I find it most ironic that more and more people find the world described in Auden’s poem perfectly normal."

The comments section is now open.

Friday, November 4, 2016

I can put my eye back in now

In my last post I revealed that I had won Frances Garrood's clean limerick contest and would be keeping an eye out for the small mystery prize she was sending my way.

It arrived today, all the way from Jolly Olde You-Know-Where.

Here are some closer views:




Thank you, Frances! I love the tea towel! It definitely fills a void in my life too, as I was in London in 1969 and neglected to buy a souvenir.

Note to self: I am simply going to have to learn how to orient photographs properly so that my friends don't get stiff necks from looking at my blog.

Domine dirige nos indeed.

<b>As Robin once said to his BFF...</b>

"Holy place names, Batman!" Here's a list of holy-sounding place names that I threw together. Can you identify the ones ...