Thursday, December 30, 2010

Auld lang syne, my dear

I have never understood why people make a big deal out of the arrival of a new year.

It's not a grumpy old fart thing. I've just never seen the significance of celebrating the arrival of another new day. It happens every 24 hours. But once each year it happens and people go crazy drinking and hugging and kissing each other and often total strangers. I have nothing against drinking or hugging and kissing. It's the occasion that stumps me.

Some people suggest New Year's Eve is just an excuse for a party.

Maybe, but I think there's something deeper going on here, something meaningful. Mortality, perhaps? I want to understand, to "get it." So, today I began looking into the holiday and I started by researching the song that defines the event and the spirit:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
 For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup o'kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

That's the first of several verses and choruses of the original poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. Literally translated, the Scottish "auld lang syne" means "old long since," but in context, "For auld lang syne" is loosely translated to mean, "for the sake of old times."
 
The little light bulb has just gone on in the cartoon balloon over my head!

New Year's Eve isn't about the arrival of a new year, it's about the passing of the old year! 

(Oh, puh-leeze, cut me a little slack. I'm often late to arrive at an obvious conclusion. Especially when people say the opposite of what they mean!) 

It's not about the arriving future, it's about the departing past? Well, Hell's bells, then why don't we make it about that and have an evening of nostalgia and reminiscence? Why don't we just haul out photo albums and tell each other great stories from our personal pasts? Why all the expense, the travel, the fancy meals and too much booze? Why do we insist on making New Year's Eve a big deal?

I don't know. Maybe they're right. Maybe it really is just an excuse for a party and kissing total strangers.

Still, in the words of Robert Burns:

 We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

How can you argue with that?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stuff

As I type these words I am awaiting a knock at the door from the repo man.

He's coming to get my beloved motor home. Unemployed for four months now, I must let her go. (I say "her" because men always give cars, boats and RVs women's names. We love them, ya know? We really, really do. But at this point I'm glad I never named her.)

It's just a thing. Just stuff. Frankly, I'll be glad to have it out of the driveway where it was a constant, nagging reminder of my income shortage.

Carolann and I had a couple of years of great comfort, relaxation and good times in and around our motor home.

The repo man can't take the good times.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Art Linkletter would be proud

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I believe that. So, today I'm going to spare you  959 words.

Our five-year-old grandson is learning to spell. Doing exceptionally well, too. Right up to that last letter.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Up on the houstop reindeer pause...

(This is an annual re-publication of my holiday warning I issue to friends and strangers alike every year at this time. Please take heed. Stay off the roof!)

December 8th is an anniversary for me. This time it will mark twenty years since the day I fell off the roof of our house while putting up Christmas lights.

I only fell eight or ten feet and I managed my fall. Knowing that I couldn’t prevent it I intentionally jumped and hit the ground with a tuck and roll strategy to minimize the damage. I shattered nearly every bone in both heels and ankles. After five hours of reconstructive surgery I spent a week in a hospital. I was in a wheelchair for the next three months while receiving painful physical therapy three times a week. And now, nineteen years later, I still walk with a noticeable limp and am in constant pain. If I spend a full day on my feet for some special occasion — a family outing at Disneyland, for example — the pain can be so excruciating I can’t sleep. On my best days it’s just a constant, nagging reminder of one really bad decision I made a couple of decades ago.

And I’m the lucky one. 

I could have easily broken my neck or back and been in that wheelchair for life, paralyzed from the waist down. I could have died. People do, even from a fall of just eight feet. The doctors at the ER told me ‘tis the season. They get many such cases every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And there is one thing all of us have in common: We’re all, every one of us, smarter than the fools who will take a tumble.

Absolutely none of us think we might fall off the roof when we go up there.

I know you. You don’t think so, either. You’ll be more careful than I was. “Thanks for the heads up!” you’re thinking. That was my attitude, too.

That morning, December 8, 1990, Carolann phoned me from a friend’s house to say she saw a sign in our neighborhood for a guy who would put up Christmas lights for $20 but I said, “Oh, no. It’s my job. I’m the dad!” It cost me thirty THOUSAND dollars and a lifetime of constant pain to put the lights up that year.

And there are the dreams.

You have occasional dreams of being able to fly? I have frequent dreams of being able to run again, to run like the wind in a baseball outfield as I did when I was young or just to chase after my grandsons at my current age. I can’t do that. I have to call after them and hope they run back to me.

All for the sake of Christmas lights.

I met my wife when we were teammates on a competition dance team. I haven’t been able to dance with her for nineteen years now. Oh, we can slow dance but we can’t do the show-off stuff, the fun spins and fancy twirls that brought us together in the first place.

Thanks to those damned Christmas lights.

Frankly, I get tired of telling this story so I’m not putting much effort into it.

Some of you have no plans to go on the roof so it doesn’t matter. The rest of you are going up on the roof no matter what I say.

Personally, I’m not going to fall off anything higher than a bed or a barstool from here on out. You all do what you like.

You've been warned.

Merry Christmas! (It's a lot more fun without oxycodone.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Circles of Influence

Had lunch with Dwight Case yesterday. 

We met at one of those fabulous intimate, classy joints along Ventura Blvd. -- this one in Studio City -- on a perfect, sunny and mild Southern California autumn day.

Dwight knows everybody in the place, of course, including the owner, with whom he has established a warm relationship fostered over nearly 40 years of business/social events. 

I arrived first and was sipping a Heineken at the bar when I spotted Dwight through the window handing his keys to the valet. He came through the door and was greeted like Dolly Levi strutting through the entrance to Harmonia Gardens.

I gave him a bear hug and we were swept to our table by a doting proprietor and his staff, fairly singing the signature to Dwight's return and my unquestioned VIP status for merely being in his company.

We spent two hours over wine and one of the best lunches of my life. (Place is called The Wine Bistro, on Ventura just east of Laurel Canyon.) And while we shared a fair amount of warm, laughing reminiscence it wasn't one of those maudlin affairs where old men gather to bitch about the changing world. We talked a lot about the current state of media but Dwight, as always, has his sights firmly fixed on potential and possibilities and "what ifs?"

He walks slower now, though bears no cane. He wears a windbreaker on a warm day. 

Dwight Case at KROY 40+ years ago

But he'll still have three drinks with you and give you more great ideas in two hours than you've heard or dreamed up by yourself in two years. Now, for example, he is studying what type of music will soothe the nerves of dogs in the waiting room of a veterinary hospital. There's money to be made there, I kid you not.

We talked briefly about my situation. He knows I am out of work, flat broke and can scarcely afford the gas money to drive the 30+ miles to meet him.

Nevertheless, he suggested we split the check, and we did.

For those of you who don't know him, let me just explain that Dwight understands every nuance, consideration and emotion going through everybody else's mind, or so it has always seemed to me. By suggesting we split the check he wasn't being stingy, he was cutting away the uncomfortable pride and insistence dance that always comes delivered by a guy in a stained black jacket and bow tie.

He was also showing me the respect I have proudly earned over forty years of being his student and admirer. He has rewarded me for achieving a degree of equality.

It's not at all unlike a boy growing to become a man in his father's eyes.

And, you know what's really cool?

I have a couple of proteges who feel the same way about me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spring forward, Fall back; rinse and repeat

This weekend is the end of Daylight Saving Time. 

Please note, it's "saving," not "savings" with an "s" on the end. You can't put daylight or time in a bank to be withdrawn and spent in the future. That would be very cool but it doesn't work that way. Time doesn't care who you are, what you do, what you think or how you use the finite number of breaths and heartbeats given to you on this earth. When you're finished, that's it. Doesn't matter what the clock is reading.

Time just marches on, as they say.

Still, it's amazing how many intelligent and otherwise reasonable people seem to think that when we turn the clocks back one hour late Saturday night or early Sunday morning that they will actually, magically GAIN an honest-to-God hour in their lives.

"Yay!" they say, "I get to sleep an extra hour!"

Patiently, I try to explain, "Uh, no. Not really. You'll sleep the same number of hours but the time will be different, that's all."

For some reason the fact that they turned the clock back one hour when they went to bed has totally slipped or befuddled their minds.

"No, when I wake up at ten tomorrow morning it will really be eleven!"

And that's where logic has somehow jumped the rails and turned over in a ditch.

"It will really be eleven."

My late, beloved Grandma Webster used to put us through our paces on this when we were just kids. For days, maybe weeks after a time change she would say, "It's really nine o'clock. Time for you kids to get in bed!"

"No, Grandma, it really is EIGHT o'clock!" we'd explain,  "Look, it says so right on the clock!"

She was undaunted because we were just dumb kids and she was in charge. And, so, we'd have to go to bed an hour early because the world had recently switched to Standard Time. Nevertheless, six months later we'd go through the same routine with her in the opposite direction.

"Why are you kids up so early? It's really only six in the morning."

"Grandma, no. It's SEVEN! See? The clock says so!"

After awhile she'd get her circadian clock in tune with the one on the stove. But it was a struggle to get her there.

And six months later, we'd do it all over again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Adventures of Captain Underpants

Saturdays are Grandpa and Isaiah days. 

Carolann works. Isaiah's dad works. So, it's just the eight-year-old and me.

This past Saturday I was preparing to fix us lunch when Isaiah marched into the kitchen and proudly proclaimed, "I AM CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS!" I didn't turn around to look at him right away because this is the sort of goofy thing I've come to expect of young boys, having been one myself and having several of my own. It was the sort of announcement that would have evoked a shake of the head and a single word from my dad:

"Knucklehead."

My grandpa called me "Knothead." Same thing, I guess.

Capt. Isaiah Underpants
When he persisted, "Grandpa, look!" I turned and found myself facing Captain-Honest-To-God-Underpants in the flesh. At that point I think I actually did call him a knucklehead. I laughed and that was apparently all he wanted. Pleased with himself, Fruit-of-the-Looms perched firmly on his large, round cranium, he took off to save the world. Or, the TV room, at least.

I marvel at childish imaginations. I would give anything to have mine back.

When I was a kid in the fifties we had cowboy TV heroes like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger and Sky King, among others. We all had our own cowboy outfits and toy cap guns. We did not ride stick horses made from a single fence picket. That sort of thing was for babies. We merely slapped our thighs in a hoofbeat rhythm as we ran through the fields and neighborhood flower beds. We lived in a perpetual cloud of dust.

Back then I made a name for myself in the Wild West of North Sacramento as "Dapper Dave!" I don't think I ever mentioned it to anybody, it was my secret. I think even then I had an instinctive understanding of how stupid it sounded. But you have to give me credit for using the word "dapper" before turning ten and for appreciating the cheesy charms of alliteration.

Denny, Mike, Danny
Dapper Dave rode the range, battling bandits and rescuing lovely ladies with the help of  his sidekicks, Denny, Danny and Mike. These are my uncles, my mother's younger brothers, only slightly older than me. If they had their own cowboy monikers they kept them secrets, too.

Now, here I am half a century later, rinsing dishes and looking squarely into the britches of Captain Underpants and trying to figure out how we got from cowboys to this.

Don't get me started on Spongebob Squarepants, which is obviously where this lunacy began.

Only today have I learned that there actually is a Captain Underpants character! Isaiah did not invent him.


Captain Underpants is a super hero in a series of children's books with such
titles as Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of Professor Poopy Pants and Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets). These books are being sold at Isaiah's school fundraiser. Mind you, this is the same school that will send a kid to the principal's office for calling a classmate a "butthead."

I wonder who makes the call when a kid is referred to as a "Nasty Nostril Nugget"?

Look, I take pride in being open-minded and young at heart but I confess that when I first heard of these books I was a bit shocked and annoyed. Suddenly, Spongebob seemed as old-school and boring as Popeye. But, after thinking about it a bit I understand that the writers, cartoonists and publisher of these books are merely appealing to kids at their own level of developing sense of humor. And while part of me fears this will boost our progeny into more advanced levels of outrageous humor involving obscenities and pornographic themes at an even earlier age, the truth is, what I think doesn't matter any more. No, really, it doesn't. And that's a profound relief.

My work here is done.

While I assist in the care of my grandsons they are not mine to raise except when their own parents ask for help or drop the ball. Then I get involved because technically, I am merely continuing the raising of my own sons.

It's a wonderful release to no longer feel personally responsible for the plight of society and the direction it is headed. I'm an oldster now, paddling alongside those younger adults frolicking and jockeying for position in the mainstream of ever-changing modern culture. Our kids are now making the tough calls and the big decisions. They're the ones guiding the development and/or decay of the society.

Not my job, not any longer.

Just as Dapper Dave is nothing more now than an old, fond memory, so shall be my little Captain Underpants in the not-too-distant future. I suspect he'll be just fine for it. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff. But I'll tell you one thing:

The first time Captain Underpants refers to his five-year-old cousin, my youngest grandson, as "Bionic Booger Boy" we're going to have a little talk.

© David L. Williams, 2010
® Captain Underpants is a registered trademark of Scholastic Books. (That’s funny too, huh?)

Monday, October 18, 2010

I just broke a cfl bulb!!!

Now I’ve done it.

After living a good, clean life for nearly six decades I’ve thrown it all away. Well, I didn’t throw it, exactly, I just knocked it off the kitchen counter onto the floor. It shattered on impact.

The warning on the bulb’s housing read:  CONTAINS DANGEROUS MERCURY POISONING. DISPOSE ACCORDING TO LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL LAWS.

Yes, of course I panicked! My eight-year-old grandson came running in to see what happened.
“Did it break?”

“GET OUT!” I shouted, “STAY BACK!!”

It scared him. He ran into the dining room.

“IT’S DANGEROUS!!” I said, my grandfatherly tone of assurance stripped from me like a catfish shorn of its skin by a pair of pliers.

“WHY??” he asked. “WILL I DIE?”

I’m not making this up. Every word is true.

“No,” I said, grasping for a sense of experienced, calming leadership. Even as I said it I wondered if the dread mercury poisoning had already found its way into my lungs and blood stream. Is it wafting through the air to my boy? Are our Yorkie and Papillon about to keel over in horrifying death throes?

“Will YOU die?” He sounded slightly less worried, here.

“No. I don’t know. NO! Nobody is going to die.” I said it with authority. I just didn’t quite believe it. “Keeps the dogs out of here.”

And then, because I don’t know any better, I did what I’ve done throughout my nearly sixty years of life whenever I’ve dropped a lightbulb. I grabbed a broom and a dustpan and cleaned the damned thing up.
Oh, did I mention — these cfl wonders are supposed to last fifteen years or more? And this one burned out a year, maybe sixteen months ago?

I tossed it in the trash with the junk mail and spent soup cans. I took it out to the big rubber bin in the back yard, the one that will be picked up by an unsuspecting civil refuse engineer tomorrow morning. Off it goes — my poisonous contribution to the destruction of our environment, Mother Earth; of all things holy.

That was an hour ago. We’re fine so far. The dogs are fine.

I’m cooking dinner in that room.

But, still sporting a trifle bit of concern I checked it out thoroughly on the Internet on several websites. Get this…

One cfl light bulb contains roughly 1/125th the amount of mercury of the old mercury thermometers our moms frequently stuck in our mouths and up our infant rectums.
1/125th.

George Bush signed the mandate into law. Otherwise, I mostly liked him. 

The greenies are still ecstatic. Ace Hardware is stocked to the rafters with cfl bulbs and have doubled the price of old, incandescent bulbs. In a year, all we’ll have are the screwy ones. It will be illegal, by federal law, to manufacture, sell or purchase good old Tom Edison light bulbs.

(Which, by the way, are much brighter and whiter in our bathroom.)

Incidentally, in case you care, the cfl bulbs are made in China.

You can mount protests and carry signs and raise hell, maybe start the Clean Light Party. I don’t know.
I’m just gonna keep a broom handy.

And a bottle of wine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The nice police

I don't know why we sugar coat things these days.

For some reason the word "cripple" is distasteful so we now say "disabled." Frankly, I don't see how that's any better. I guess the nice police figure it implies strength within infirmity. It excuses us our physical and mental shortcomings. It helps us pretend we are not less than complete; we cripples are just as good as anybody else, even though we are, admittedly, "disabled."

Pardon me for saying so, but in the words of my Wyoming coal-mining cowboy grandfather, that is horse hockey.

I'm crippled. It's no shame. I had an accident, that's all. My feet don't work well but my brain still does. And by the way, the accident was my own fault. I need to know that so please don't take it away from me.

Nobody is old these days. We're "senior citizens." 

Puh-leeze. It's cute but I'm not a big fan of cute except in babies and puppies. You can be a "senior" if you like but don't call me that, okay? I'd rather be "old" or, better yet, not defined by my age at all. Don't make me cute. It's condescending. 

People don't get fired these days, they get "laid off." 

I remember when "laid off" meant you could expect to be rehired in the near future. Not anymore. The fact is, you've been fired, canned, kicked to the curb. The company you worked for just doesn't need or want you anymore. But, it's somehow less personal to say you were "laid off."

It's not your fault, nothing is.

And that's the problem, isn't it? Nobody is at fault and nobody is to blame for the ups and downs of what we used to just call life.

My grandson's soccer league doesn't keep score. They don't want any losers.

I don't have to explain to you why that's so horribly twisted. Most of you are old and wise like me. You remember when your parents and grandparents watched you fall, waited for you to cry and picked you up to wipe your tears, clean your wound and say, "I told you so!" Touching a hot stove is the only way to learn to never do it again. Losing is the only way to learn to win.

It used to be, anyway. These days being on the losing side of a soccer game is considered the death of self-respect.

The only thing that seems to matter is our fragile ego and self-esteem.

I can't change the culture but I still have something to say about the raising of my own sons and grandsons:

--You will curse your mistakes and failures; I will quietly celebrate them because they are lessons I cannot give you. You are a winner and, at times, a loser. Deal with it.

--You will suffer emotionally and I will try to love you out of your misery. But then I'll have to go home and leave you to sort it out, yourself.

-- There is not enough time in my life or yours for us to completely share our hearts. Try to be grateful for every moment we have together, especially the ones that seem unimportant at the time.

Thirty years ago, while in the depths of my greatest despair my own father, my hero, told me -- in these exact words, which I will never forget: 

"If you don't love yourself you'll never be worth a damn to anybody else."

And now, I have finally reached an age where I am qualified to add to my dad's life-defining revelation:

You don't love yourself for your goodness, that's a given. You love yourself for falling down, getting up and living right.

Copyright © 2010, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.

The seven-year-old diplomat

Post-It Note found on our grandson's bedroom door this morning...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer

What is it about summer that fills and yet drains us?

You say it’s the heat and certainly that defines it. It’s the close intensity of the sun through a hazy sky. Sharp shadows. Fuzzy memories.

Summer was our youthful promise of immortality. It began at the exact moment of the final school bell in early June. It proceeded through endless days of hitting baseballs and jarring polliwogs from the slippery, slimy-green drainage ditch that ran through our neighborhood like our own private subway.

Summer involved rolling down grassy hillsides, giggling, wearing only shorts and then being itchy all day.

Summer made necessary running through lawn sprinklers, wherever we found them inviting us in.

The entire neighborhood played hide-and-seek. No place was out of bounds. It might take half an hour to find kids scattered behind parked cars, perched in trees and jumping fences to race through neighboring backyards.

“OLLY-OLLY AUCTION FREE!”

Summer evenings frequently found us in front yards on blankets. The entire family was there and neighbor kids and sometimes their parents, as well.

We’d look through the grass for four-leaf clovers and watch Venus follow the sun into a darkening horizon. We looked for shooting stars and UFOs. We drank Kool-Aid and talked about what we wanted to do tomorrow.

The cricket chorus began at full darkness as the Delta breeze arrived from the Golden Gate. Shortly after that Mom said it was time to come in and take a bath. The truth is, I didn’t really mind. I was tired.

And I wanted tomorrow to get here fast.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The lonely road

Many years ago my world ended at the age of 30. It happened the day I moved out of my house, away from my wife and four-year-old son, and into a drab apartment. Divorce happens and when one is young it truly seems to be the end of all that matters.

Happily, we are profoundly ignorant in youth.

These days, nearly 30 years later, I travel with my darling Carolann and our precious girls,
Cricket and Lady. Our 35-foot Class A motor home is perfect for us and so are we. I also hit the road alone frequently because I must. For that I have a Lance camper and Ford F-350. And when I go, I travel in my own good company because after my first thirty years of living I learned something rather delightful.

I like me.


"In solitude, where we are least alone." -- Lord Byron

Shortly after the separation I was forced to go on vacation alone. Still buffeted by the emotional storm I set out for a week by myself in a too-big rented house along the Northern California coast which, of course, was where my now ex-wife and I had spent many happy times together. Great choice, huh?

For the first time in my life I was truly alone. At the age of 30 I spent my first night ever in absolute and despairing solitude. I cried myself to sleep and the sound of it was disturbing.

"With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves." -- Eric Hoffer

It's odd, I remember thinking, to pass entire days without uttering a single word because there was nobody else to hear it. So, several days into my forced solitary confinement I tried talking aloud to myself. It was a comically depressing exercise and I soon gave it up. But then a funny thing happened. I continued to hear my thoughts.

This, too, was a first in my life and a stunning one.

It was a distant voice, quiet and almost shy. It was I, trying to get my own attention. And so, I began to listen.

I told myself to get out of my wallow and take a shower. Leave this place for awhile, I said. And so, we did.

"I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity." -- Einstein

I put on nice clothes: slacks, dress shirt, tie and jacket. I took myself to a nice restaurant and when I boldly asked for a table for one I added, "by the window, if possible." I ordered wine, treated myself to an expensive meal and had a nice, long, quiet internal conversation while watching the sun slide behind the Pacific.

"People who aren't alone are rather noisy, aren't they?" I commented. "Yes, they certainly are!" I replied with a grin. And then I opened my notebook and began to write my impressions of the people around me in the restaurant. My inner self did the eavesdropping while I wrote descriptions. I gave them names. I invented their lives and I found I enjoyed them as well.

"What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely alone can be." -- Ellen Burstyn

By the end of the evening we went back to the rented house near the thunderous surf and amazingly, it was no longer empty.

No place ever has been since.

Copyright © 2010, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Box o' troubles


I have an odd affinity for wooden boxes.

I have some nice ones, too. Some are old and ornate, some are not so old and plain, but they hold my treasures. I keep all sorts of mementos in a couple of them but most of them are empty.

Well, not quite. The biggest one holds my hopes and dreams.

Today I’ve decided to designate one of my beautiful wooden boxes as my troubles box. It’s Saturday morning and I’m going to dump all my troubles in that box for the weekend.

I’ll take them out one at a time next week as I need to deal with them.

Is that silly? I think it’s brilliant.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wanderers Anonymous


My name is Dave and I have wanderlust.


I inherited this compulsion from my father, the late Don Williams. He lived for the fever. It was unyielding.

He would throw a few things into a bag and hit the road alone with only a moment's notice to his wife. She learned to be okay with that. It was who he was. He needed to chase the horizon every few weeks or he would surely wilt and become a joyless, withered old man.

He would jump in his old Ford pickup and speed away from California as quickly as possible.

Achieving Nevada he slowed and began to breathe easy. Meandering across the desert in the good company of his own thoughts, he stopped occasionally to stretch, take a walk, kick a few rocks and get a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He chatted amiably with the waitress and the truck driver seated next to him at the counter. The three of them would inevitably find things in their lives, sometimes people, they had in common. If Dad whiled away most of an afternoon in idle conversation he'd find a motel room. A snort of scotch and a snootful of Louis L'Amour would soothe him to sleep for the night.

At the hint of dawn, he'd move on, eventually showing up unannounced on the doorstep of distant relatives in Utah. The visit might last an hour or two, sometimes a day or two.

Soon enough he would reunite with his heart, which still lived in his boyhood home in Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

Sweetwater County, where the wind whips the jackrabbits mean.

Trout as big as a man's arm frolic in Green River until a Super Duper garnished with a savory red salmon egg invites one to fight its way into your creel.

Here's a little secret most wanderers don't know: when you travel through Wyoming the horses you see on the prairie are still wild. If you don't see a fence, that's because there ain't one.

I'm romancing the place. Frankly, if you've ever driven through that country you have probably driven through without noticing. I-80 is straight and fast. You go thataway, zipping past the offramps for Green River, Purple Sage, Rock Springs and Reliance. If you do it in a winter tableau of prairie white the freeway exits may actually be blocked with signs reading "Town Closed".

Keep moving, wanderer. Rawlins, Laramie and Cheyenne lie east, dead ahead. Pinedale and Aspen Hole -- I'm sorry, Jackson Hole (but never just, plain Jackson) -- are north on Highway 191.

The Tetons are always in sight. Salt Lake is a hop, skip and a sandwich stop away.

Move on when you're ready and not a moment sooner.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bugs

Mel Gibson is a bug. He needs to be squished.

He is famously handsome, funny, lovable, talented and wealthy.

Which is why he must now be squished.

It's what we do to our icons, right? We make 'em bigger than life, take away their material needs and leave them alone to wrestle with their emotional needs.

It's the deal with the devil, the price of fame and fortune.

And then, when they get as rich and famous as they're going to get, when we're about finished with them, as they get older and stumble and we can smell the fear we jump on them like a pack of wild dogs.

"'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!'" *

There is no excusing or justifying Mel's behavior but there is a reason for it. I don't know what it is. It suggests a raging psychosis that must be chemically treated and held in check.

But, hell. I don't know. How would I?

How would you?

I don't care what happens to Mel Gibson. Well, I do care but only in an abstract way. What I care about more is the cheap thrill we get from the pervasive, nonstop media airings of Mel and Oksana's dirty laundry.

It relieves us to mock and spit on our icons.

Who cares if Mel eats a bullet?

And while we're at it, send that booze-sucking slut, Lindsay, to jail and throw away the key.

We made them. When we're finished playing we'll destroy them.

"The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering." *

Lighten up, it's all in good fun. These people aren't real people, we invented them.

It's not my fault Michael Jackson was weird; I didn't kill him. He did it to himself. He was weird.

And I was finished with him, anyway.

"We was on the outside. We never done nothing, we never seen nothing." *

It's been a week. The story is old. Oksana will thrive. Mel will live or he won't.

Who's next?

"'after all we aren't savages really...'" *

* William Golding, Lord of the Flies

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sting of the road


I am thrilled by the fever of wanderlust.

I am dazzled and excited every morning I awaken someplace new.

Like most RV vacationers, Carolann and I think about full-timing when we're able to retire. Wandering at will, from here to there and then someplace else; it seems like the perfect reward for two lives well-lived.

We've punched our workday time clocks for forty years. We've each loved, lived and lost a first marriage. We've raised our kids, separately at first and then together. And now, still in our fifties, we've been together for 22 years -- nearly half of our lives.

We've done right, well and honorably. We're in love, we deserve each other and we're not letting go. Not ever.

So, what's next?

Do we have what it takes to live a life of vacation?

Carolann and I agree that even if we were able to whittle the stuff of our lives down to what we could carry in about four cargo bins and a closet we'd still like to have a sticks and bricks house of some sort just to feel the security of being tethered to normal life, the only life we've known. And who knows, maybe we'd get over that after a couple of years of wandering hither and yon.

I'd love to hear from some of you who have done it. And here's the big question:

Don't you ever want a vacation from your lifelong vacation?

I once read a story about a well-to-do, elderly widow who lived aboard a cruise ship. She had the finest and most expensive stateroom on board. She had daily maid service, room service and every fabulous meal of her life was prepaid with no preparation or cleanup required. She was constantly and lavishly entertained, sailed from one beautiful port of call to another and made new friends every week. From time to time she had family members join her and occasionally she would disembark and spend a week or two with some of them.

But she eventually grew lonely.

She was literally and figuratively adrift. While living a life of complete luxury and freedom she came to miss the one thing she had given up: purpose.

This is what scares me away from a fulltime RV life.

I worry that after six months, or a year or two, we'd start to run low on anticipation. The thrill of the unknown would be tempered by repeated experience of life on the road. We'd learn to expect the curves, the climbs, the static-though-changing views; everything good, bad and indifferent. We would start thinking there's no need to go rushing down the highway every week or two because when you've seen one RV park you've seen them all. I worry that I would come to hate RV park offices, maps, rules, TV guides and WiFi instructions that nearly always require assistance.

Eventually, we'd hook up and chill out. With nowhere in particular to go and no reason to keep moving we'd just move when necessary because the parks have rules about staying in one place too long. That, in fact, would become the metaphor of our lives.

We'd want to go home but would have none.

(Cue music: Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is?)

Melodramatic? Probably. I'm just imagining, after all.

I've heard the lectures, read the blogs and seen the books about all the wonders of living as a full-timer.

But there has to be another side of it.

Those of you who have tried it or are still living the good life on wheels, please help me out here. I'm really curious.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A chirpy "Good morning!"

I awoke in an unusually good mood today. I'm really happy.

There's no particular reason for it and it's not that I ever wake up grumpy, because I don't. I just awoke super smiley today, that's all.

I went to the grocery store at about 9:30 a.m. In the parking lot I approached a woman leaving the store, pushing a basket and apparently in deep concentration. She seemed oblivious to my existence.

"Good morning!" I chirped. This is not like me. This is something new. I don't talk to strangers, especially strangers who seem to be busy, even if only in their private little worlds. Maybe especially then.

That's what it is, really. I'm not an unfriendly person. I just don't want to intrude on your privacy. But, for some reason and for the first time in my life that I can recall I smiled broadly at the concentrating stranger and chirped -- yes, I'll use that verb again because it's perfect -- I chirped "Good morning!"

The woman blinked and look momentarily confused and maybe just a tad defensive. Who are you? What do you want? (I'm sure those were her first thoughts.) Why are you bothering me?

But she forced herself to smile weakly and nod slightly. I think she also picked up her pace just a bit.

Inside the store I decided to experiment. I chirped "Good morning" to almost everybody just to see their reactions.

The people who work in the store responded in kind but they have to. It's their jobs, so they don't really count. But, I give them a lot of credit for taking pride in their small, personal part-ownership of Albertsons. How can you not love people who love their jobs?

A man slightly older than me, wearing shorts and a Mexican tourist fishing hat, smiled broadly and returned my greeting as I scooped up baby red potatoes. I think he and I could have sat down at Starbucks, had a cup of coffee and solved all the problems of the world together.

I guess it stands to reason that men about my age or slightly older would be the most likely to find genuine cheer in my greeting than younger men or women of any age.

In the cold and pain relief aisle I met a guy I would guess to be in his late 30s or early 40s. He smiled, nodded and said "Hi!" brightly but rather professionally. For a brief moment I felt like a prospective client but his smile whipped right past me to his watch. I'm sure he didn't mean to do that. This is the best place I've ever written for me to use the word, "perfunctory."

I encountered a young woman in the pasta sauce section. She had a small girl by the hand and a baby in the basket. (In a baby carrier in the shopping cart, I mean.) She looked pleasantly surprised by my greeting, returned my smile, gave me a little finger wave and cheerfully said, "Hello!" I think I amused her. It struck me that without noticing I have apparently slipped into the age where young women no longer think I'm trying to hit on them. They probably think I'm just a cute, harmless old man now.

Darn.

But, I continued.

A woman about my age glanced at my chirpy intrusion and said nothing. She quickly transformed her glance into one of those panning gazes beyond me as if to appear that was she was looking wistfully for her long-departed love to return from war. Or maybe she was looking for the saltine crackers aisle.

I was careful to not chirp "Good morning!" to any children. Especially not little girls. I didn't want anybody to become suspicious that I might be a dangerous, dirty old man. That's sad, isn't it? It is to me.

By the time I reached the checkstand I felt like Santa Claus.

I had smiled and chirped my way through a supermarket full of people who might mention to their spouses or best friends, in passing, about the weird, strangely happy guy they had met in Albertsons this morning. It might be a revelation to them. They, themselves, might become happier and more outgoing in public.

Or, not.

More likely none of them gave it a second thought once I was at a safe and non-communicative distance.

On the other hand, I learned something vitally important for myself:

Being happy makes me happy.

What you do with it is up to you.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Liar at checkstand four!"


I went grocery shopping yesterday and saved $29.75.

I know I did because it says so right on the bottom of the receipt just above the place where the receipt urges me to take a customer survey online and become eligible to win $100.

When did grocery stores become so damned chummy? A little small talk with the checker is nice but I don't need to have an ongoing personal relationship with corporate Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs.

It really irks me to have to carry a special card identifying me as a Preferred Customer. In fact, I would be quite happy to be an Undesirable Customer and remain totally anonymous if I wouldn't get hosed at the checkstand for refusing to become a subject of their marketing database.

Once I went shopping at a foreign grocery store in a different city.

"Do you have our rewards card?" the checker asked sweetly.

"No. Just go ahead and give me the 'screw-you' price," I replied. I really did. I said it with a smile but I think it unnerved her a bit. Felt kinda bad about it. Kinda.

When I signed up for the coerced honor of being a Preferred Customer of our neighborhood Albertsons I lied.

That's what these annoying, albeit minor, intrusions do. They force us to lie. I didn't want the store to have my phone number so I made one up. It gave me a great feeling of smug satisfaction until the day I arrived at the checkstand without the card and was told, "That's okay. I'll look it up. What's your phone number?" I told her I didn't know it. Then, I broke down and admitted my rebellious perjury. I looked at my shoes as I did it. I half expected to hear an announcement a moment later on the p.a. system, "Manager to checkstand four...we have a liar at checkstand four!"

Not long after that I was back at the same store. When I told the checker (a different one, thank God,) I didn't have my card she asked for my phone number and for some reason I don't quite understand I told her my actual home phone number. I knew it wouldn't work in the system but I just felt ashamed and wanted to purge myself of my well-deserved reputation as a known charlatan in Albertsons. Guess what? It worked!

My actual phone number was accepted and I was back in the good graces of the Albertsons Corporation! I was, again, a Preferred Customer, praise the Lord!

A moment later I realized why my phone number worked. Somebody else had fabricated a phone number and it just happened to be mine!

Now the checkstand clerks have taken to thanking us by name as a result of their marketing scheme database and as I turned to leave the store that sunny afternoon, awash in the warm renewal of smug satisfaction for having beaten the system the nice lady at the checkstand said, "Thank you and have a nice day, Mr. Martinez!"

Life is good.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Thursday, June 17, 2010

RV lifestyles of the rich and fru-fru


Have you ever walked through one of those million dollar motorhomes?

I dig the on-board washer and dryer. The spectacular sound system and the 52-inch HDTV screen that magically slides up out of the furniture are very cool. For the life of me I can't understand why you would want marble counter tops and gold and crystal chandeliers on a mirrored ceiling in a recreational vehicle but that's just a matter of personal taste. To each his own.

They're impressive as heck but what I really don't get is where you find the nerve to drive a million dollar RV on public highways. The fear of having a wreck would make me apoplectic. Bugs smashing themselves into the afterlife on my million dollar windshield would drive me out of my mind. The very idea of attaching a million dollar water and sewage system to public faucets and crapper dump lines would make me a snob on the order of Thurston B. Howell III.

Do these things have bidets? I'm just curious.

I do understand that if you can afford one of these rolling mansions you're not likely to be terribly concerned about the cost of maintenance and insurance. I get that.

But, where do you go in a million dollar motorhome? Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park RV Camp? A KOA littered with kids? A patch of desert in Quartzsite?

Don't you feel just a little ostentatious parking next to a pop-up tent trailer containing a giggling, family of five, ignorantly joyous within their RV peasantry?

A couple of years ago Carolann and I took our brand-new $100,000 motorhome to a swanky RV resort in Vegas, one of those places where you can buy your own lot for a mere quarter-to-a-half-million dollars and dress it up with fancy landscaping and magnificent outdoor patio bars and barbecue islands.

(This picture, taken at the Vegas resort, is not a public group area. It is a single privately owned RV pad. Every feature, including walls and all hardscape are custom-built at the owner's expense. Click on it for a closer view. Click the BACK arrow to return here.)

We were just renting a space for an extravagant weekend celebrating our 20th anniversary. Next to the other motorhomes in that place we felt like the Beverly Hillbillies in our spanking new Sea Breeze.

(Important! If you ever find yourself making a reservation at such a place don't tell them you want "full hookups". They will laugh themselves sick. Instead, ask if the price they quoted includes the butler. Now you've got them on defense.)

I accidentally spent one night at an "eco adventure resort" along the California coast that even I, a native Californian, found hard to believe.

It had a lodge, cabins, RV hookups and tent spaces. It had a spa, complete with hot-tub and massage facilities. Each tent space featured a large wooden deck on which to pitch your tent so it wouldn't have to actually come into contact with dirt. I'm not kidding.

Oh, and no dogs allowed. In a campground!

This place had daily yoga classes. The cutely, quaintly named "General Store" sold breakfast croissants freshly baked on the premises and brewed-while-you-wait, five-dollar Starbucks lattes; it offered fresh fruit, wine and cheese with an assortment of fancy crackers, and the "bar and grille" (the "e" gives a grill respectability, I guess) offered catering services.

Catering.

In a campground.

You know what it didn't have? Recreational vehicles. Not one until I fell from the sky like a bad penny, alone in my truck camper with my scruffy beard, wearing a sweat-stained cowboy hat and tie-dyed t-shirt.

I looked like a homeless man with gas money.

So, where are these million dollar motorhomes in the real world? Outside of Vegas resorts and RV shows, where are they? Seriously.

I really don't like to sound like a poor snob. As I explained in an earlier post I graduated from dirt camping to motorhome semi-luxury.

But, sheesh!

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PS. Last week I asked for pictures of your hometown tourist attractions. I received a few but would like more for the Readers' Scrapbook I plan to add to this blog. If you don't have pictures of local tourist attractions, please take some. Otherwise, just send me your favorite family photos of your adventures out Thataway! You retain all rights and I won't divulge any personal information. I swear.

Send them to:
dave.thatawayroad@gmail.com

Thursday, June 3, 2010

To kill a mockingbird

3:12. Must sleep. Can't.

Must.

It's hot. Throw off the bedspread. Can't feel the fan.

Such a pretty sound. But it's so loud.

How can it go on like that all night? And so loud? Most birds don't make any noise at night. None. Sun goes down, they shut up. This one's different.

Don't think about it. Don't think about anything. Think about something else.

I forgot to clean the porch, the front door. And the light globe, too. And the pine cones in the basket. Need to hose them off. Need to get the truck into the shop. Hope it's not expensive. Can't afford it. Don't think about money problems in bed, don't ever do that. Think of something else. Anything.

Damn, that bird is loud!

"Dammit!"

"I know, Honey. Try to go to sleep."

That was lame. Try to go to sleep?

3:14. Relax. Let your mind relax. Stop looking at the clock. Don't think at all. Wait for the weird thoughts, the weird semi-dreams that morph into REM sleep. Don't clench. Relax.

I wonder how many different types of birds that one is mocking? How many different songs is it singing? Fascinating, actually. But so loud! Louder than the party and the fight on the street the other night when we called the cops. The bird is actually louder than a bunch of fighting drunks!

Still, it's such a pretty sound.

Wish I could call the cops on the bird. Wish I had a pellet gun. No, I don't. Of course I don't. Wouldn't shoot it. Couldn't find it anyway. It's in a tree outside, hidden by moonshadows. It's everywhere. Sounds like it's right here in the bedroom. It's out there.

3:46. What? Must have dozed off. But I don't remember, so it doesn't count. The bird is still singing. Carolann is thrashing and moaning.

It's cold. The fan is cold. Pull up the bedspread.

Relax.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"...and it does the rest!"


I swear to you, this is a true story. I'm telling it with no embellishment, exactly as it happened not five minutes ago.

You think advertising isn't effective?

It's 6:13 on a Saturday morning. I know that precisely because I was starting my coffee maker and it has a clock on it.

Seven-year-old Isaiah appears, rubbing his eyes and telling me he sprained his groin while sleeping.

I don't know. I didn't ask.

A moment later he's in our TV room as usual for a Saturday morning but instead of cartoons I hear something that sounds like an infomercial. I expect that to change to Spongebob Squarepants momentarily but it doesn't. It's too loud. I go into the TV room and ask him to turn it down. He does, but he still doesn't change the channel and he is transfixed on whatever he's watching.

"Isaiah," I say, "why are you watching a commercial for a floor sweeper?"

"It's a very good floor sweeper!" he explains, with a great deal of animation. "It's very lightweight and with the Haan© steam cleaner you just add water and it does the rest!"

As the dogs are my witness.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kids just don't get it.

Life is difficult. It's complicated. Kids don't understand that.

Well, why would they? We handle all the complicated stuff for them. They just play. That's their job and most of them do it exceedingly well. You can even say they're experts at it. The sad thing is that we were all kids once but for some reason as we get older and the world gets more complex we think we need to find more complex ways of having fun. It usually involves a lot of money and frequently a lot of time and planning.

Now you're thinking, "Oh, fiddle-faddle! I don't need a fancy vacation or dinner at an expensive restaurant to have fun." Maybe not but I'll bet I can't get you to giggle your way through an afternoon by playing in a cardboard box.

Forgive me for saying so but I can't imagine you and your closest friend squealing with delight for hours while running through a sprinkler.

And I'll bet most of us would consider planting flowers a job rather than a pleasure. Maybe both if gardening is a hobby or one of your particular adult pleasures but it is still definitely a chore.

My grandsons just don't know how boring life is.

Please don't tell them. They'll figure it out in their own time.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 22, 2010

RV versus Tent Camping


(Reposted from my RV travel blog: Thataway Road.)

I don't make the distinction.

Like most people I started camping as a kid in a tent in dirt campgrounds with my dad, mom and younger sister. Sometimes my dad and I would go, just the two of us. We'd hike and fish and sleep on the ground under a gazillion stars without the tent or even the campground.
Those times are cherished memories. But, now that I'm older I love not having to get my fat, creaky body off the hard ground in the middle of the night to walk 100 yards in the cold to a fly-infested outhouse.

To me it's all "camping" whenever I spend more time outside than inside
and don't have things I should be doing.

I think that's the key to it, right there. When you're camping you have things you must do but nothing you should do. You leave your guilt bag at home.


As kids we pitched a tent in the backyard and watched the sky for UFOs all night while chowing down on RC Colas, Hostess Snowballs, Look bars and Chicken Bones candy. We always woke up the next morning with the sun in our faces; the tent was getting hot and we had kids Sunday morning hangovers from too much sugar and not enough sleep.

Now I awaken refreshed, in a quiet RV park around 5AM, in a soft bed next to my sweet wife. I tiptoe across the carpeted bedroom to use the proper bathroom and from there I close two sets of pocket doors behind me to give Carolann her privacy in Slumberland. I press "START" on the preset coffeemaker, feed and walk the dogs, boot up my computer or pick up my book and begin the day on the sofa, swaddled in creature comforts, blinking cobwebs out of my brain.

At a sensible hour, say six or seven, I might go outside and take my leisure in a folding chair, perhaps making a campfire if it's still chilly. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just sip coffee and greet the neighbors as they walk their dogs.

Here's an embarrassing revelation: as much as I enjoy having coffee and reading a book outside I also enjoy watching a movie first thing in the morning on our motorhome TV. Just sometimes. How decadent is that?

Who made the rule that "camping" must imply "roughing it"?

When you get right down to it camping has nothing to do with where you sleep and change your clothes. It doesn't matter if you get your milk out of a fridge or an ice chest or whether you cook over a campfire, a Coleman stove or in a microwave/convection oven in your Mini Winnie. Camping is just being away from home free to do what you like because you left your guilt bag behind. It's the people you're with, the deeply gratifying thoughtful and funny conversations with family and good friends you never seem to have enough time for. It's eyes that sparkle just because you're all together and the stress is gone.

Camping is unleashing your spirit and letting it run joyously free like a dog chasing gulls on a beach.

And when you go home, as you must, your heart is happy knowing you'll do it again.

And that guilt bag isn't nearly so heavy.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My dad, the inventor


Nearly sixty years ago my dad did something that seems pretty goofy now, but at the time we were all amazed and impressed. He was very proud of himself.


This was back in the fifties when TV was black-and-white, we only had two or three channels and a huge number of American households didn't even have a TV yet. Nobody had more than one. That would have been as silly and pointless as having two cars!

TV commercials in those days seem quaintly funny in retrospect. Some seem flat-out unbelievable. Click here and check this out:

"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!"

The commercials annoyed my dad. Not the messages themselves, just the fact that there were any. He thought all TV programs should be absolutely free. I don't know if he ever considered why anybody would bother to create them if they were.

I don't think it bothered him much that his favorite program, The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was presented by the Gillette Safety Razor company. Boxing was purely formatted and made sense: three minutes of two guys trying to kill each other followed by a one minute commercial and then back to the fight.

I think Dad felt that having us watch a commercial in that situation was more a matter of respecting the fighters' private dignity than commercialism. I think he also figured -- as an afterthought -- it was better that his six-year-old son watch an Old Spice commercial rather than be subjected to the between-rounds visuals of two guys sweating, bleeding and spitting teeth into a bucket while receiving one minute of facial reconstructive surgery as fat men yelled at them before they go back out to resume the effort to kill or be killed.

Dad was sensitive like that.

Incongruous as it seems now, any of these commercials might have popped up between fight rounds. I remember them all:

"Bosco gives me iron, and sunshine vitamin D!"

But Dad seemed to think that TV commercials were essentially the same thing as somebody intruding on our private home life. It was almost as if John Cameron Swayze or George Fenneman were making a habit of walking right into our living room every few minutes and interrupting our evening's family entertainment.

So, what did he do?

My dad invented the MUTE switch!

I kid you, not.

Decades before the invention of TiVo and the insufferable mysteries of universal remote control units, my dad attached a long cord to one end of our TV's speaker through the rear of the console. The other end was attached to a simple two-position plastic switch that allowed him to click the sound on and off at will!

Sure, we still had to watch and wait for the commercials to end but we didn't have to actually listen to stuff like this...

"That's a woman for ya! I ask her to get my shirts whiter... "

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday morning...


It's the pause in our week. It's the moment we put down our worries, responsibilities and busy thoughts.

Just for a moment.

-- My hummingbird is sipping nectar from the backyard feeder I filled last week. He goes away and comes back for seconds.

-- The barbecue smoker stands proud and manly on its pad, ready for the lovely babyback ribs it will soon receive and slowly perfect over the long, busy day.

-- Over breakfast as my wife is hurrying off to work she has this conversation with the seven-year-old:

"That's a nice outfit you're wearing, Nana!"

"Thank you, Sweetie!"

"It looks really old!"

-- I drive to the newspaper stand outside the donut shop on Route 66. The usual crowd is there, old men with their coffee and cigarettes enjoying the chilly morning air, the rising sun and each other's company. Some read newspapers. One has a racing form. They all sit alone at separate tables while talking to each other from the privacy of their individual space.

A similar scene is going on at the nearby Starbucks but it's an entirely different crowd. They have lattes and laptops. No smoke; less conversation.

The sun is fully up. Yard sales are underway.

I have things that need doing and it's time.

Saturday morning is fleetingly sweet and perfect. I pray for another one next week.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Travelogue: An important memory!


Everywhere Carolann and I go in our motorhome or Lance truck camper I keep a travelogue. It's sort of a combination diary/travel guide. It reminds me of the places we've been, the experiences we've shared and the things I've learned but might forget if I don't write them down.

This entry, written eleven years ago, falls into that last category: lessons remembered.

* * * * * * * * * *

July 2, 1999: Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park RV Camp at Beaver Creek, Cobb Mountain, CA.

No kidding. That's what this place is called.

When I decided spontaneously to take this weekend trip alone to get some writing done it didn't occur to me that this is the July 4th weekend and that all the nice RV parks along the Mendocino Coast would be booked. So, I'm here instead.

This place is located ten miles west
of Clear Lake as the crow flies, 21 miles from the town of Lakeport. I know a lot of people who love Clear Lake but it never did much for me. It's one of California's inland, low-altitude lakes that gets brutally hot in the summer and here I am in July. If it wasn't for the excellent air conditioner in my Lance camper I wouldn't be typing this, I'd be running like a crazed dog to the ocean where it is forty degrees cooler.

This doesn't look anything at all like the Jellystone Park I remember from the cartoons. No mountains, no pine trees; no green grass or cute bears wearing hats and ties. No pic-a-nic baskets.

Unlike the lovely pictures on the park's website it's mostly sparse, brown grass with a few scrub oaks;
very dusty, dry and hot.

Did I mention this is July?

The park consists of five or six rows of graveled roads and hard pan RV pads. It does have a small, dark green man-made body of water they call a creek and people are paddling around in kayaks and peddle boats which are free to the paying public. I suppose that's nice but they're making a hell
of a lot of noise and the water looks scummy to me.

As I drove into the park muttering to myself about all of this I thought Carolann would hate it here and then I immediately realized, no, she would not. This place would be a virtual theme park compared to the similar but humorless places she used to camp as a kid whereas I grew up in the campgrounds of the High Sierra, the Rockies and California's scenic North Coast.

Suddenly, I realized for the first time that I am a camping snob.

The many kids in this park are having a ball, splashing obliviously in the dark, creepy-green creek, laughing, riding bikes, running and kicking up a dust cloud folks can probably see in Glenhaven. The adults are clustered in small groups shaded by trailer awnings enjoying snacks and cold drinks, telling stories, sharing memories, laughing heartily and often.

I, on the other hand, was silently cursing the heat, the dust and the noise looking for a pristine spot to dock my Lance as far away from these lovely, happy people as possible.

I don't like admitting that but it's the truth. Suddenly, I am ashamed and a little bit lonely.

As a future grandpa (I hope,) I need to remember this day.

I want to never forget that when you're a kid heat is no big deal and a little water and a lot of dirt are pretty neat things to have together in one place.

These are the places and times that define families and construct future generations.

While writing this Travelogue entry I just saw a doe and two fawns grazing not a hundred yards from here... over there, by the three long-abandoned, rusted cars and the pickup truck with no wheels or doors.

I guess beauty is where you find it.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 8, 2010

They call me "Hoss."


Did you ever have a nickname? Did you ever want one?

I'm betting the answer is yes to at least one of those questions, although most people never have a nickname that sticks and is used more or less by everybody they know. For the sake of the discussion here I'm not talking about diminutive forms of your actual given name like Rosie for Rosemary or Dick for Richard. (Now, there's a discussion we need to have some day.)

No, I'm talking about nicknames that have absolutely nothing to do with anything.

People with... shall we say unusual first names often have a nickname like Bud. I don't think any little boy was ever called Bud or Buddy on his birth certificate but the world is full of guys called Bud. When you get to know them better you learn the truth. These guys typically have real names so weird even their own parents wouldn't use them. I have two friends everybody calls Bud though their given names are Harley and Clerin. No disrespect intended but those are odd names. My own father dodged a bullet because his middle name, like John Wayne's real first name, was Marion. It was apparently a fashionable name in the 1920s but please, who is going to name his son Marion these days without also teaching him martial arts so he can defend himself?

Girls typically acquire nicknames that begin as simple endearments: Kitty, Angel, Candy, Missy, Boots, Peaches.

Seriously, one of my dearest friends in the world is a woman named Ruth but almost nobody knows that. She is called Boots by everybody. And even though I have asked her why I can't remember her answer. She's just Boots, that's all.

I also really knew an adult woman called Peaches though I never heard of anybody called Plums or Apricots. Academy Award-winning Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has a daughter whose legal given name is Apple but that's a Hollywood affectation that we can shrug off even if the poor little girl never will.

Don't get me started on what became of Chastity Bono. We all saw that coming forty years ago.

I had a high school baseball coach who called me Ted. That was because I was a left-handed power hitting outfielder like the real Ted whose last name was also Williams. I thought that was cool but nobody else used it. No surprise there. You can't use a real name for a nickname. If your name is Mark but one guy calls you Ralph you think everybody else will pick up on that? Nah. I don't think so.

For the past twenty years I've gone on regular camping trips with a bunch of guys I used to work with. One of them started calling me Hoss ten or fifteen years ago because I am large and have a beard and always wear a cowboy hat. It seemed kind of fitting and I'm fond of it but only from these guys. I don't want my son's in-laws or my wife or mom calling me Hoss.

I guess no matter how you look at it a nickname is a term of endearment even if the name is something less than flattering like Shorty or Bug. My wife and her first husband used to call their premie son Bug because he weighed only four pounds when he was born. He lives with us now. He's about to turn thirty and looks nothing at all like a bug. I'll just leave it there.

Nicknames are interesting. What's yours? Or what would you like to be called?

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Williams Family Wild West Roundup


My favorite vacation is the one we took about 13 or 14 years ago.


It was our first motorhome adventure and in spite of some fairly significant problems along the way, I was hooked. RV travel, I decided, is the only way to live.

I was a popular radio personality in Sacramento in those days and managed to talk an RV dealer into giving me a brand new 38-foot gas-powered Class A motorhome to take wherever I wished for two weeks. The deal was, every morning I would phone the radio station and do a short report (aka, "commercial") explaining where we were, the exciting things we'd seen and done, how wonderful the motorhome is and how the luxurious convenience of that motorhome had brought our family closer together in blissful, eternal bond.

And where you could buy one, of course.

Sweet deal, huh? It was for me, though I'm pretty sure the RV dealer felt differently when we returned.

"On the road again!... I just can't wait to get on the road again!"

I like to start every road trip by treating the family to a loud, bad rendition of Willie Nelson's signature song as we're putting the sticks and stone house in our rearview mirror. They roll their eyes and groan but I know they'll remember me sweetly for it when I'm gone.

And so, we were off; Carolann, our sons Nathan and Jeremy, Jeremy's girlfriend and eventual wife, Emily, and me.

Like a band of gypsies we went down the highway!

Sacramento to Sparks, Nevada, is only 135 miles but that's where we stopped for the first night because we got a late start and having never driven a big rig before three hours of stressed concentration was about all I could handle.

Oh, yeah -- and somewhere in the first hundred miles our brand-new, never-used motorhome had lost all electronic functions in the dashboard. It drove fine but we had no idea how fast we were going, no clue as to whether we were about to run out of gas and no headlights.

For some reason the turn signals and brake lights didn't want to have anything to do with this calamity and continued to work.

Poised on the western edge of the great deserts of Nevada and Utah and pointed THATAWAY with no patience for sitting two or three days in a Reno repair shop, we accepted the challenges and charged into our two-week, four-thousand mile adventure the next morning with no electronics to guide us.

We thrilled to the spectacular Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and played peek-a-boo with the puckish prairie dogs of Devils Tower, Wyoming.

We meandered in awe through Yellowstone Park and hiked lightly among its world-renowned geysers.


We drove the literally-breathtaking Beartooth Highway to its dizzying eleven-thousand foot summit and beyond, into Red Lodge, Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota including historic Deadwood and the magnificent Crazy Horse monument. Then, onward to Zion National Park, across Southern Nevada into Southern California and then 400 miles north and home again. We did it all in two glorious weeks sans electronics.

We never drove at night, we bought gas at every opportunity and my wife and son gauged our highway speed using roadside mile markers and a watch with a second hand.

But, wait...there's more!

Our never-used motorhome, plastic carpet covers still in place, began literally falling apart by the mile. Cabinet doors wouldn't stay shut. The bathroom and refrigerator doors wouldn't stay shut. A window screen blew loose. Mirrors began to rattle. Stray screws began falling out with such frequency we could never walk barefoot inside the rig.

Duct tape became the primary theme to our homey decor. It was everywhere.

At one RV park, inexperienced as we were, Carolann and I managed to back into a very solid bush. Bush, though biologically correct, is a bad way to describe it. It was more like a boulder with branches and leaves. It did not manage to shake some sense into the electrical system but it did make a scratchy dent in a lower panel that seemed to get bigger each time I looked at it.

Oh, and did I mention that our beautiful young future-daughter-in-law was highly prone to motion sickness but too embarrassed to tell us? Somewhere in the Rockies she learned for the first time she is also prone to altitude sickness. The poor thing was pretty miserable throughout the trip.

The dealer was apoplectic when he saw us limp back onto the lot. Wearing four-thousand miles of road dust and squashed bugs, duct tape flying like streamers in a Home Depot parade, we surely looked like Clark Griswold's Cousin Eddie and family arriving for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

But honest to God, this is my favorite family vacation of all time. Because between the knicks, bruises, queasy tummies and duct tape door locks we shared a million smiles, hugs and laughs that we still carry in our hearts.

The best memories are full-spectrum life experiences: the good, the bad and the sticky.
There was an error in this gadget