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Last Sunset with Harry and Deirdre

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Last Sunset with Harry and Deirdre

From High Rock Mountain
June 22, 2013

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A COMBINATION OF THE MANY SUMS UP LIFE OF DEPARTED FRIEND BY JIM NANCE

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Published in The Dispatch, Lexington, NC: Thursday, August 8, 2013

The following is a deeply personal rambling written in fragments after the death of my life-long friend and boon companion, Ben Philpott. There will be other opportunities to comment on current events and idiot laws and the shame of our legislature. For now, I need to ruminate on this loss and this gift. Some of you have heard parts of this, which were read at Ben’s funeral. I take this opportunity for, as one of our high school friends said that day, “This one is tough.”

In this situation one always thinks of when they first met someone. For Ben and me it was really early.

Our first common experience was actually pre-birth. Our parents were returning from a Kiwanis convention in Asheville in the winter of ’53. This was on U.S. Highway 64 as I-40 was years away. So here our parents were, careening down the mountain in a Roadmaster Buick at breakneck speed with two pregnant women. I think this marked Ben and me both as the drivers we became.

It also may be why we spent so much time in cars together. Not just around town or “across the river” or to Chapel Hill or the beach, but major road trips: two West Coast treks for over a month each time, one to Key West, one to New England, a weekend journey to Scotland during our Oxford summer and later golf caravanning around Ireland with Fatz and Dr. Jessup.

A lot of stories: the statutes may not have run on all of them, a lot of music, from Buck Owens and Bob Wills to Sinatra and Bennett to the Delfonics and the Chi-Lites to the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots to Buffett and Jerry Jeff.

We owned at least two albums together, The Mills Brothers and Little Richard (I don’t know where they are now). There was a lot of singing along as the miles passed or as we cruised the lake in Alvin’s “battleship.” We thought we sounded pretty good, taking the occasional vague compliment as a call to continue. One fine evening, 20 years ago, while “chaperoning” some hoodlums, we sat outside the Welborns’ beach house and sang all the Mills Brothers we knew and every single Beatles song from every album in order. The high school youths marveled.

As one would expect, there was a lot of adolescent silliness: writing ballads about many of our classmates, all to the tune of “The Wreck of the Old 97”; Beno creating a “religion” based on the non-sequiturs of a classmate complete with prophets, priests, etc.; attempting to write a musical version of the Book of Job and only getting the first act finale chorus (“Gird up your loins and answer like a man …”); Beno writing a complete satire of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” under the pseudonym, Bertolt Safka.

I am haunted by the memory of a day in high school when Ben said that due to being cast in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” he needed to learn how to smoke for the role and the afterschool trip we made to buy cigarettes. I told him he didn’t need that for the play and just wanted an excuse to start smoking. Right now, I can see him light that first smoke, amid my feeble protest, and it breaks my heart.

Often I have referred to Beno in this space, once calling him “the purveyor of gems from the cultural frontier.” He introduced me to Texas Swing, Sondheim and single malt. I introduced him to Earth, Wind & Fire, Jung and oysters. We shared our first visits to Gettysburg, the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate.

I have referenced him numerous times in columns in a manner that only he would recognize, such as any use of the phrase “a combination of the two,” which was the title of his Milton piece. He responded to my memorial of our mentor, MiIdred Ann Raper, by printing it out, grading it as she would have and mailing me the red-ink dripping result, which was as if she had done it herself.

I told him many times that he was a frustrated English professor, to which he readily agreed. I am not sure what I would think or know about a seemingly infinite number of topics were it not for exposure and opinion provided by the Beno.

Ben was strong-willed, frighteningly intellectual, acerbic, at times brutally honest, funny, fun, exasperating, unfailingly generous, lovable, interesting, corny, creative and at times brilliant. He had his own theories of, well, everything. That was his true gift, his creative approach to all of life and life’s challenges and the sure belief that he was right. It served him well in most pursuits making him a good, albeit different force, on the basketball court or in the courtroom or in crafting his various often breathtaking writings.

The only pursuits where it failed him were golf and driving a car. There are many ways to do both successfully; Beno’s were none of them. Once, when asked how I would describe his golf swing, I responded that I found it better not to watch.

Divergence of opinion was common, though even in disagreement, I wanted his unique take on things. For example, we disagreed on the death penalty. We were both against it, of course, as sanity would dictate, but he disagreed with my reasons. I finally got him to grudgingly agree that all reasons are valid.

He played the cynic well, yet under that veneer was a soft heart and gentle soul. Mostly, he hid them well. However, let the conversation wind ’round to his beloved niece or nephews or his wife or particularly his son, Harry, and he was as sentimental and effusive as any of us.

In the past two decades, we talked frequently of Harry whom I called the “young prince” and whom he called “the lad,” and Ben’s pride and joy were unmistakable and unabashed.

Sadly, he is done.

Indeed, in the words of the old song, “We shall meet but we shall miss him. There will be an empty chair.” Now, I don’t have anyone to sing the Mills Brothers with or anyone to point out the ridiculous and make me laugh or the sublime and make me marvel.

And we are brought to this painful place where we are indescribably diminished even as we know that we are immeasurably enriched by the life of this notable, singular character. He will always be a part of who we are — and with that we are blessed.

Thanks be to God

Newmonia

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm

 Okay. I’ve been sick. At worst, I have felt like a Hindu learning the finger food was fried, rabid bat, not eggplant crisps. At best, I have felt like the Jersey Shore. Only in the last few days have I felt like reading, much less writing.

The primary culprits were pneumonia and my obstinate idiocy. Feeling crappy at Christmas, I got the docs to prescribe meds in hopes of avoiding the hospital. It didn’t work. I visited my pulmonary doc and when the nurse checked my vital signs, she could have been looking for shrimp in a kosher deli. I did not have any. The worst vital was my blood pressure. Suffice it to say that I have little in common with Abe Lincoln, but at that moment, we shared the same blood pressure.

The young, relatively inexperienced doctor proved so grim in demeanor that he freaked Deirds, who for a while thought the end was near. I had a nice trip to the emergency room, then was checked into a regular room where they shot me up with so many antibiotics that bacteria started fleeing the room like lemmings. I slept for two days, only vaguely aware that I was being visited by somber friends and family who thought they might be viewing my animate carcass for the last time.

Gradually, we returned to reality and relaxed. My appetite returned, and I would heartily recommend the fruit cup for any one unfortunate enough to have a stay at WFU Baptist. I started feeling better (though in this case the bar for comparison was low – I felt better than a desiccated wombat). I started recognizing my hand. The doctors began repeating a weird mantra – “there’s not much reason for you to be here.” Luckily they didn’t mean that my pneumonia was hopeless; they meant that I could be treated as well at home as in the hospital.

The means for treating me was a semi-nefarious device called an infusion pump. The size of a smart phone on steroids, battery operated, having a digital screen (unlit, which meant that Deirds and I could read it only under fluorescents in the kitchen or bathroom or with a flashlight), it pumped liquid antibiotics into me all day and night. This through a “pick” – a two tubed IV hook-up in my arm. Which had to be kept dry. Which meant I had to take 43 second showers with my arm wrapped in Saran wrap with the machine’s alarm beeping. And the bag of antibiotics had to be changed at the same time every day.

I had to bear the device in a “fanny” pack, which posed a physiological problem in addition to the psychological stress. I have no fanny. Where some have butt cheeks, I have mud flaps. What I do have, however, is a nice little pot belly that has developed in the last five years or so. It has the size and shape, though not the texture, of the Christmas wreath outside a condominium door.

Being connected for so long to anything works weird mojo on the mind. I ate with it. I watched TV with it. I urinated and defecated with it. I slept with it. It heard my snores. It heard my night whelps and murmurs. It heard all the conversations between my wife and I cussed it. I swatted at it. I began talking to it. I held it. I petted it. I began telling it my most secret thoughts and dreams. I mailed it a card. The florist delivered flowers. Soon, we became……

Well, you can see where this is going……. Come the day when the nurse finally unhooked us and severed the connection, I took Annelise (yes, I had given her a name) outside and, with the help of a hatchet, a 3 wood (which I hit much better than a driver) and a ball peen hammer, reduced the leech to an Irish stew of wires, plastic splinters, and Mott’s apple sauce in a black fanny pack. Two days later, when the courier from the Baptist pharmacy showed up to get the pump and take it home, he shook the bag. It didn’t jingle or jangle. It made a sound more along the lines of what you’d hear if you took a baseball bat to a baby’s head. The courier shook his head.

“Did you fall down the stairs?” he asked.

I nodded, instantly recognizing that he’d given me an alibi.

“It happens a lot,” he smiled.

Unhospitalized, unhooked and unsick, I have been on the men eventually, within the last several days, have been feeling spunky enough to resume human contact, even type a little. In fact, I have improved to the point where I am almost my old self, at least to the extent where my short term memory is a little iffy. Reread my first paragraph, and you’ll find I am starting to repeat myself a little. So, this is as good a place as any to sign off my first blog of the new year. Don’t worry, faithful readers (all 7 of you) – I’ll be back soon.

Hugs and hickies,

Beno

A Break in the Action

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hello Boababs and Boabettes.  I thought you might appreciate a break in the action.  I know following Fatz and I in our trek along the west coast is as suspenseful as counting presidential ballots in Florida.  I also realize that I have essentially been writing a travelogue regarding sights I could more succinctly pose as:  sea, cliffs, sand, golfers, redwoods, sea lions, cliffs, vines, desert, Crater Lake, more desert, river, waterfalls, beer, Space Needle, Chihully, clams, mussels, monorail, Olympics, Portland, roses.  If this is as deep as you care to go, take a break for a while.  If you remain intrigued, then by all means read the next installment when I post it in a few days.

Meanwhile, I had another of my fun visits with the radiology/oncology folks and an MRI last Friday at Baptist.  My cerebellum and occipital lobes are like rain or manna.  They’re like the water in Crater Lake.  In other words, they are free and clear.   What’s left of my brain is healthy at the moment.

Also, I visited with my hematology/oncologist.  The latest PET Scan, read in connection with the battery of tests they performed on me in connection with my pneumonia episode, indicates that what might have been a trouble spot in my lung was more likely latent infection.  In other words, my lung ain’t troubled by the big one at the moment.

The healthy, happy and newly invigorated (in a manner of speaking) Beno visited the Sigma Chi house in Chapel Hill last Saturday for some tail-gating before the debacle with Georgia Tech.  Normally, I’d not darken the door of a Sigmachi house, but my lad happens to be a brother in the Tar Heel version of this subversive organization, which is a cut or two above the norm.  The pre-game sky was clear as Amendment II of the Constitution.  The air was unseasonably warm.  The weather forecast for the afternoon promised an Edenic day.  Which is to say that I soon found myself surrounded by comely young lasses.  Some wore jeans that must have been spray-painted on.  The rest wore short skirts and knee high boots.  They all smiled.  They smelled good.   At one point, Harry asked me, “Living vicariously, Pops?”  Called out, I could only ask the way to the refreshment center.

Rather than risk arrest by describing the thoughts that winged in the cage of my brain that morning, I will content myself with saying that I did a little reflecting on to the past – on parties in little fraternity court of days gone by.  Distilling those thoughts, I have come up with a Foxworthy style variation on the theme, “You know you had a good time last night when….”

You Know You Had A Good Time Last Night When:

– you wake up in the shrubbery;

– you wake up jailed under a friend’s name and his parents have posted bail;

– it turns out the friend actually did what you’ve been jailed for;

– a women’s dorm starts wearing t-shirts with your picture on the front

– the heart attack and fatal dry-mouth you’re experiencing turns out to be the frat’s pet cat, which has fallen asleep on your chest with its paw in your mouth;

– you wake up with a dollar in you wallet, an unopened beer and a thank you note in your pocket from Sandye.

If ya’ll have any additions to the list, please send them in.  Otherwise, and in the meantime, before I catch you on the flip side, live large!!

Beno

How the West Was Wan, 3

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm

5.

After the magnificent morning at Bandon, we dashed down the coast,slowing only for Fatz to admire a few cranberry bogs (!!?!), and arrived in Crescent City, CA, a few minutes before the Redwoods National Park rangers headquarters closed. The harried and hurried rangers, including a surfer guy with golden locks spilling over his collar, dealt with us and a couple of other elderly tourists with equanimity. Blondie let slip two fateful bits of information. The best drive for experiencing redwoods was not through the National Park, but through the Jedediah Smith state park east of town. And, amber or turquoise or azure or whatever color of whales had been sighted that day from the Klamath River overlook on down the beach. Thus was our early itinerary set for the next day.

That night, we stayed in the Curly Redwood Lodge, which had been built out of a single redwood tree. I attempted a blog posting there, as you may know, but wi-fi reception in the room was iffy, so I carried my i Pad to the lobby. There, unbeknownst to me, awaited 15 minutes of extreme discomfort. I chatted with the owner. A pleasant widder woman. Her husband had died a few years ago of “the cancer,” and she was keeping the motel in hopes her grandkids might take an interest. At this point, a woman whom I’d not noticed joined the chat. She had her lap top in her lap in a shadowy corner. She wore a bandana on her head. She turned out to be one of those aggressive and proud cancer survivors who wanted all details, who viewed cancer as her own belated wake-up call to change the world’s behavior. The two of them wanted to know all about me and then commenced to commiserating on account of how the bandana lady had lost three close friends to cancer and the widder lady had two still births and had lost another child to cancer but had survived it all thanks to the Lord. When they augured in on an intense discussion whether the world was more likely to be saved by Jesus or macrobiotics and green tea drinks, I managed to slip away, grateful for my escape. It had been like spending15 minutes in the dentist’s chair, while having a root canal, with Kenny G playing on the stereo in the ceiling.

Rosy fingered Dawn stroked our eyelids the next morning, and we quickly shooed her out of our room. We showered, packed, ate, and ambled on a roadway east. The sky was clear, the temperature was friendly. Nothing about the start of the day really prepared us for the morning.

Howland Hill Road through Jedediah Smith State Park happens to one of the semi-great roads in the universe. As soon as you cross the park boundaries, the pavement ends. The road narrows and grows dark. It begins curling and zig-zagging among and around trees, almost twitching with the vehemence of a New Orleans wino suffering the DT’s a day after Mardi Gras. And the trees are a tad bit bigger than your average tree. These are redwoods. They are tall. They scratch the butts of clouds drifting overhead. They are huge. If you rammed one with a Mack truck doing 90, you’d collect scrap metal instead of splinters. I mean to say, these suckers are big!

The Beno Is Stumped

It took about 12 minutes before we suddenly looked up with the mutual and simultaneous realization that there is, indeed, a useful function for a sun roof in a car. Driving through a redwood forest, you can open it and gaze upward in wonder, if you’re not behind the wheel. Although the road tossed us around in the car like the ice in James Bond’s martini shaker, we enjoyed the drive more than Georgia crackers love duck calls.

Once out in the sun again, we keep a beady eye out for Requa Road, which was the cut-off for the whale watching overlook. We had to wait awhile for yet another road crew repaving a stretch of road. Of at least a little interest is that the flag man turned out to be a flag woman, and a babe as such folks go. By “babe” I mean that she had: no facial tattoos, no visible underarm hair, a feminine shape under her road crew clothing and orange vest, and a face that would not stop the Impala’s digital clock.

We passed through the quaint little cross-roads of Requa and according to our map we driven past the turn off. After a few dead ends, we decided that we must have passed the road we wanted amidst the construction frenzy, we headed back on account of Fatz had a Jones for sea life. We was gonna see us some whales or bust!

So we turn the car around. We run up against construction traffic. We wait. We get dusty. We move in spurts. Finally, incurring the wrath of anxious drivers behind us, we drive slowly along the mile or so of repaving, eyeballing every little path through the woods we saw. Nada. There was no Requa Road, no promised Klamath overlook.

Clearing traffic, we turned the car around and, as luck would have it, after a couple of schools of cars had been let through before us, we found ourselves stopped at the Carhartt work-booted toes of the flag babe. We waved her over. Amazingly, she spoke American without a toothpick in her mouth. Though she wasn’t from the area, she reckoned the turn we wanted was a few miles beyond where we had turned around. In any event, if we just drove on a little further than we had, we’d run into an “Indian attraction,” and they’d be able to tell us for sure. We thanked her. She resumed her station. It was only when we saw her spit that we noticed she had a pinch of snuff between the tooth and the gum.

When we finally reached the Native American tourist attraction, it turned out to be “Trees of Wonder,” where for a modest fee, you can ride a chair lift through the redwoods. We declined. We did get directions, and it turned out our maps were wrong! The turn-off was a few miles ahead. We thanked the kind folks, bought cokes and proceeded on our merry way. For some reason, the establishment was marked by large statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox. The connection between white American folk takes and red American culture still eludes me.

Paul and his faithful cow

So we finally made it to the overlook. The view was lovely. We were 1,500 feet over the ocean. Sunlight lapped the waves. Fresh blackberries grew on the brambles. A gull called nearby. A healthy breeze ruffled our collars. We looked. Fatz scanned the water with his binoculars. But there weren’t no whales. Either they had left or, upon hearing us arrive, they decided to hold their breaths under water for 30 minutes. And Fatz and I realized that we were so high up, even had there been whales, they’d have been so far below us they’d have looked like minnows in a bait shop tank. We had spent an hour and a half traversing the same miserable stretch of road under construction to achieve utter inconsequentiality. I, for one of two, had not spent such a waste of time since I voted for Gore for president.

“Well,” said Fatz, in an attempt to put things in perspective, “had we never tried, we’d never have been disappointed.”  

How the West Was Wan, 2

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm

3.

We spent our second night of the trip in a Best Western in Newport, Oregon. Newport is Oregon’s Myrtle Beach – hell, it even has a Ripley’s and a Tanger Outlet Mall. There are differences, however, and they ain’t exactly subtle. The Tanger, for instance, would fit in the end zone at Keenan Stadium and still leave room for all the broken hearts of the NC State football team. We actually had to search awhile before we found the Ripley’s. It occupies a modest house and a couple of built-on rooms along the historic, four block long waterfront of the town.

The motel had a great view of the beach from our balcony. The shore was the sort of rippled sand you find at the ends of islands when the tide goes out,, which hurts your feet to walk across. But I looked at the the view and figured my eyes had gone wacky. Things were miss-sized and out of focus. Something wasn’t right. Then I saw some folks walking toward the motel from the surf. They were climbing up and down ridges of sand! It turned out that though tidal wrinkling in the sand might be half an inch deep at Sunset Beach, NC, at this beach in Oregon, the ridges were four or five feet high and ten feet apart. I was so grateful for this realization that I celebrated with a locally brewed ale.

The southern half of the Oregon coast has fewer rocky crags and cliffs and more dunes. And when I say dunes, I do not mean the quaint little sea oats topped rumplings of sand we walk through at Ocean Drive. There are wide stretches of links land where Jockey’s Ridge would wake up to find itself surrounded by brothers and sisters – some of them older and bigger. My imagination was as staggered as my step.

4.

Down near Bandon, we got lost in pine and spruce woods while searching for a beach view. The road had wandered away from the coast for a while, and we needed a fix. We wound up looping through the same intersection a few times without making any discernible progress seaward.

This is as good a point as any to confess that, every day, we suffered a shut-down of our internal GPS’s (Fatz’s doesn’t work, any way) and had to back-track. We’d make a wrong turn searching for yet another lighthouse or a quaint Victorian village and find ourselves in Upfunk, where old cannery machines reeking of cod and salmon had been dumped. Or our local maps were wrong. Sometimes, the Oregon roads department was at fault, for every ten miles or so they were repaving a section of 101. Not until the very last day of the trip did we realize that the State of Oregon really was at fault for some of our difficulties: after posting roadsigns normally, at the intersections where we really did need to turn, significant signs were placed not only on the other side of the intersection, but also on the left side of the road! I am still amazed that we did not kill ourselves by turning into traffic in Portland. But it wasn’t entirely Oregon’s fault. We managed to do the same thing in Washington and California, for daily delays and detours lasting from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

Any way, lost in the woods, we took a turn and found ourselves on the grounds of Bandon Dunes, one of the few sure destinations on our trip. Fatz booked a tee time for 7:50 on Pacific Dunes, celebrated by all the golf magazine pundits as one of the greatest courses in the world. We had to see for ourselves. We found……you guessed it, a Best Western!… in the pleasant little seaside town of Bandon and retired to feed and fortify ourselves for the golf the next day.

Now, I have an instinctive aversion to the ostentatious pairing of money and golf. One of the best things about golf on the great courses of the British Isles is that most of the courses belong to the public. A local mechanic or postman can be a member of Ballybunion without having sworn himself to a life of penury and celibacy just to play the game. In America, the great course playable to the real public is as rare as a camel at the North Pole. The greens fees at Bandon (for an out-lier: if you had cashed in your 401K to stay at the resort, the fees were slightly more reasonable) would, if earned in a week, disqualify the normal bricklayer for food stamp assistance. Of course, I did not plan to play. I can’t see a golf ball very well. I am not in marathon shape, and Bandon is a walking only course. But I had bought a little three-legged stool so I could walk with Fatz as long as I could without wearing myself out. So, we set out the next morning bright, early and windy with a guy named Mike from Surrey, England, who was our age and a computer software magnate in another life.

And…….I almost hate to say it, but Pacific Dunes is everything they say and more. It might be the most natural course I have ever seen. Beyond the flattened and turfed tee boxes, the course does not betray the hand of an architect or designer. The traps appear opened and carved by wind at random. The uncrowned greens are where nature dropped them on or at the fringe of dunes, and are demarcated from the fairways only by being mowed a little more closely. I would walk on by the greens, perch on my stool and watch the two Mikes finish out a hole, then walk with them to the next tee, and I was grinning the whole time. Just to walk the course was an exhilarating experience!

I had checked with the starter before hand, who pondered the question and finally allowed as how he thought it would be okay if I did hit a tee shot off No 4. No 4 happens to be spread out over bluffs overlooking the ocean and is as near as perfect as a golf hole could be. So I teed up a ball. I took a few practice swings. I could have swung and launched a high slice into the Pacific Ocean. I could have hit a low screaming hook that would have cannoned into dunes and gorse. I could have popped it up and at least had the satisfaction of having a ball drop somewhere in front of me. But, no! I clunked it into a shrub about 30 yards off the tee. But what the hey, I have played at Pacific Dunes!

I ventured back out into the increasingly brisk winds around the time the two Mikes (Fatz’s real name, in case you are curious) should have been reaching the 18th tee in order to see them finish. There was a drop-dead gorgeous brunette nearby holding a $10,000 Nikon with a zoom lens crafted by Ansel Adam’s grandson. I slipped my point and shoot Canon into my pocket, then introduced myself. It was Mrs Mike, who chatted very politely and briefly with me in a very crisp English accent. I say briefly because it became quickly evident that, despite her impeccable manners, she wanted to put as much ground – the clubhouse, if necessary – between me and her as she could with all due dispatch. It’s nice to see that I still have the same effect on women as I always have!

And…..Fatz did break 100.

 

How the West Was Wan, Installment One

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Prologue

Flying ain’t what it used to be. In the sky of my youth were stewardesses – not cabin attendants – who wore sexy uniforms and beguiling smiles on lovely faces. They fed you grapes and champagne and made you feel pampered. I once ate Beef Wellington on an airplane.

A few weeks ago, I was gazing out the window of a USAir/United jet. Fatz was lounging in the aisle seat, our gunk dumped on the empty seat between us. We were on the first leg of our pilgrimage to the Pacific northwest. “Drink?” a gravelly, lispy voice asked. I looked over to see the shaved head and Doc Holliday mustache of Thor, our cabin attendant. “A Coke, please,” I said, wondering how a muscular neck could sag low enough to hide the top half of the knot of a necktie.

“And you, sir, look like you could use a few premium Bourbons to start the day,” ordered Thor. Fatz, intimidated in his proximity to the beast, quickly agreed to buy two bottles at $25 a pop. I forget the brand. The malt is made by drawing blood from leeches specially trained to suck the last drops of bourbon out of staves from used barrels. Thor’s biceps rippled like gunny sacks full of marmosets as he poured Fatz’s drink.

“Got some free peanuts or pretzels,” said Thor, and I quickly indicated I wanted some of those.

“But you, sir, look like you could use some of our specially formulated meals in wrappers with green tea and antioxidants,” said Thor. He held Fatz in a level stare that would have caused the statue of Lincoln to melt off the chair in his memorial. Fatz promptly agreed to buy one of every food packet USAir had to sell.

“Thanks,” peeped Fatz.

“No, thank you, sir,” thundered Thor. As he pushed the service cart a few feet further along the aisle, his muscles sounded like a rugby match.

Morning clouds yielded to clear skies after we flew over the Mississippi. Curious where we might be, I spoke to Thor as he passed. Fatz slurped bourbon and nibbled at a chocolate chip granola bat’s curd yeast luncheon bar that he didn’t really want. “Excuse me, but what are we flying over?”

Thor looked at me with a screwed up face as if I were the single stupidest creature in existence. “Like…LAND!”, he said, then shook his head as he stomped up the aisle to business class.

As I said, flying ain’t what it used to be.

1.

We flew from Charlotte to Denver, thence to Portland. You’ve already met Thor. Regarding this merry little tale, I should remind you of Dick’s Caveat: Just because something might not have happened exactly as it is told does not mean that it shouldn’t have happened that way. The second leg of our flight was less stressful. Fatz had to sit in the middle, with me at the window. On the aisle was a pleasant widow who’d taught kids in Uganda, run a real estate office, and was now on the way to visit grandkids on the coast. I thought she was smitten with Fatz, but he was too shell-shocked from his experience with Thor to notice. Our attendant this time was a middle-aged female who performed her duties efficiently, but without much enthusiasm. She had a slightly pained expression as though she were suffering from an old roller derby injury.

No balloons, fireworks or ticker tape awaited us at the Portland airport. I watched over the bags while Fatz fetched the rental car. On the plane, we had decided to begin our odyssey with a drive up the Washington state side of the Columbia River, then cross the big bridge at the mouth of the river and find lodgings in Astoria, Oregon. Which we did. And the bridge was a glory, commencing with a high span over the shipping lane then descending a mile or so down to Astoria. Though the town was busy, we had no trouble finding a handy Best Western and later, over local brews and seafood at the bar of a funky bistro across the tram tracks from our motel, we found out why. Our arrival had coincided not only with a local beer and brewery fest, but on the morn would be the annual bridge walk. Any lunatic who wanted to could run or walk across the bridge.

The piano player at the bistro was a highlight of the evening. He was good. He was also inventive. In a swirling, three minutes intro to “My Funny Valentine,” he might visit chord progressions from “Happy Birthday,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “I Kissed a Girl.” This from a guy who looked like your grandparents’ insurance agent. We enjoyed what we could hear.

The high school band that awoke us the next morning consisted of a tuba, a saxophone, a flute, a bass and guitar and drums. The first runners completing the 5K portion of the bridge run were welcomed with a version of “My Sharona” which, besides being better than the original, turned the grass brown around the finish line.

We ate breakfast in the flagship restaurant of a chain of pancake houses started in 1951. Back then, they delivered a pancake on demand. Now, they flip more flapjacks than Cockney realtors flip flaps.

Fatz and I tidied ourselves at the room, then wandered over to the finish line for the Bridge Walk. It was too late to register. Already, the sweaty and tie-dyed masses were stumbling in their $250 cross-trainers across the finish line. Though we did not walk or run the bridge, we did both buy sporty tee shirts.

2.

The northern Oregon coast is a fantasy created not, as I had thought, by the clashing of continental drifts, but by the flow of lava from a string of volcanoes about 50 miles inland. Cliffs drop into the sea. Occasionally, the headlands are cracked and wedged by rivers marked by small harbor towns, or creeks that create small crescents of beach. There’s a state park at every beach, half full of the campers of folk who do not care that the water is cold enough to freeze a snowman’s cojones. And here and there, at points jutting out into the ocean, are historic lighthouses that beg to pose for obliging shutter bugs.

On the first day of driving, I think Fatz and I pulled out onto every overlook. Each view was more gorgeous that the last. I could try to describe them all, but I have no desire to write War and Peace. Plus, you’d be bored into submission within minutes – you might even start watching “Encino Housewives” on the Prurient Network. I will try to add a pic or two, maybe even with captions, when I post this on the blog. Suffice it to say, until I indicate otherwise, that as we drive, Fatz and I are seeing scenery that is somewhat above semi-mediocre.

It turns out that Fatz has a jones for sea life. The mere thought of seeing otters or seals or sea lions or whales makes his little decrepit heart go pitter-patter. He brought along binoculars in the hope of catching a glimpse of something – anything – lounging atop distant rocks or frolicking in the far surf. I’d start wondering where he was at a lookout, and there he’d be, spying on the distance like a wife on a Nantucket widow’s walk.

Which is how, on either our first or second day, we came to visit the Sea Lion’s Cave. This fabulous roadside attraction was advertised on billboard and in brochures as being the one place in the Pacific northwest where we could be guaranteed to see an army of sea lions lolling about, in a cave that is for them what the Ritz is for Americans in Paris. How special!

70 years ago, someone as generous as Bill Gates and Alfred Nobel combined sunk an elevator shaft through 140 feet of agate to afford you and I the privilege of seeing sea lions in their natural habitat. The entrance was through a Blowing Rock style gift shop with the sort of regional gewgaws available everywhere – your Oregon and Sea Lion Cave mugs, ash trays, thimbles, teacups, tee shirts, and so on and forever. The girl who took our money allowed as how the normal price for entry was $16, they were only charging $8 because there was only one sea lion in the cave that day. Figuring what the hell – one is more than none – Fatz and I forked over the cash and descended a trail down to the elevator, which only had two buttons, “Up” and “Down.”

The cave was wave-washed and wet. A wire screen stretched across a big open window into the cave designed, I guess, should some crazed lumbering mammal suddenly decide to take up rock climbing in order to terrorize tourists. The lone sea lion slept on a rock with his back to us. I guess it was a sea lion. It could have been my mom’s old mink coat. Images from a camera trained on the sea lion were displayed on a big screen TV next to the window. The sea lion’s back was smaller on the screen that it was in real life. Fatz and I glanced at each other. Other taken tourists oohed and ahead. Sufficiently edified and brimming with big blue marble feelings for our fellow creatures on this great planet. Fatz and I bolted for the elevator.

Me being me, and my health being my health, the quick walk down to the elevators was a long trek back up to the gift shop. Luckily, there was a bench halfway along the climb. As I sat there, breathing heavily, I was given to contemplate the notion of the űber giftshop as it might be splayed worldwide. Somehow, I think if I were ever to visit the Pyramids, I’d find a gift shop selling snow globes of the Sphinx!

Sometime on the first day, Fatz and I realized that if we continued pulling off at every scenic overlook, we’d exhaust our entire trip on the Oregon coast. Consequently, we forced ourselves to become connoisseurs of beauty. Mere cliffs tumbling into roiling water – bah! We would wait for rock formations with natural bridges. Broad vistas of wild surf and rolling dunes – feh! We’d wait for a beach where New York City runway models were sunbathing topless.

And, I realize that if I attempted to write a blow-by-blow description of our days on the road, I would: a) bore you to homicide, for how many verbal descriptions of similar sorts of natural beauty can a human brain tolerate.without exploding?; and, b) I would expose Fatz and I as the truly doddering limp dishrags we have become in our dotage. I mean, really, whereas I might have described bar and pub hopping our way along if this were a trip 25 years ago, nowadays I’d be describing passing with a wistful eye yet another espresso hut on the side of the road.

I will, in the post, try to include a few pics, so you’ll have an idea of what we were seeing. If you read this and see no pics, you’ll know that I proved unsuccessful. High technology and me ain’t exactly the happiest of bedfellows yet.

“The Bridge”

“Buena Vista”

“Vista Buena”

From the Redwoods of California to the Deadwoods of Carolina

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm

We landed in Portland after noon and got the rental car (an automatic upgrade to an Impala with a sun roof), then drove west on the Washington State side of the Columbia River. My docs won’t let me drive any more, so this was my first car trip as a passenger. Well shy of “the Breaks”, where the river meets the sea in a clamor of breakers and spray, we crossed a mammoth bridge and cast up for the night in Astoria, Oregon.

A too-nice Best Western next to a weathered Sons of Norway meeting house was the first sign that we were running a string of incredibly good luck. Below the motel was a stop for the trolley that ran into the historic downtown. The commotion in the parking lot of the nearby cafe where we dined proved to be volunteers setting up booths and stands for the finish of the annual bridge walk scheduled for the next day. This fact alone explains why we awoke the next morning to the strains of an over-amped high school combo playing “America the Beautiful” and “Tequila.”

From Astoria, we headed south along the coast. I had driven my old friend Fatz nearly mad and almost to death during several golfing jaunts through Scotland and Ireland, and it was his turn to take the helm. He tended to veer off the road for every scenic vista along the way.

North Carolinians are jaded about beaches, which are wide and broad and accessible and seldom more than a few steps away from the car. On the northern coast of Oregon, beaches are brief crescents of sand cupped by rocky cliffs, with each one more jaw-dropping than the last.

Of course, Fatz and I both are knock-overs for road-side cheese, such as the elevator down to the sea lion cave. With only one sea lion in residence at the moment, the kind folks at the gift shop charged us only half the normal fare. The lion in question, perched on a big rock far away with its back to us, could have been a stuffed animal bolted there for all I could tell. Afterward, with a map spread in the parking lot, we realized at this rate, we would not finish the Oregon coast until after the election. We definitely needed to speed things up.

In logging 2,500 miles on the odometer, we drove through tsunami warning zones, along beaches thick with dunes as big and tall as Jockey’s Ridge, by lighthouses, through redwoods thicker than a Bunce building and 10 times as tall as the Newbridge Bank building, miles of grapevines, miles of nut trees and olive trees, high desert and high grasslands. We stayed in a motel built out of a single redwood tree and one swarmed by gardens that make the Masters Garden in front of Cecil School look like a scratchpad.

Sea Lions had taken a fancy to the docks at Ft Bragg, California, where for less than a dollar you could reach out and touch one. We saw the world’s tallest sundial, Mt Shasta, Crater Lake, lava flows, a notch where the Rogue River is squeezed between cliffs no more than 25 feet apart, waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge, the Cascades, the Olympics. There was a pull-off in the high desert where you could stand and see a string of volcanoes, including Mt Hood and, 100 miles to the north, Mt Rainier. The marker gave before and after heights for Mt St Helen’s. We drove over the “Bridge of the Gods,” rode a ferry boat, saw fish tossed in Seattle’s Pike Street Market and ate steamed mussels and clams in an outdoor bistro overlooking the market. We learned that a sun roof can actually be useful for looking upwards when driving through a redwood forest. And, as luck would have it, we enjoyed the Pacific northwest in 70 degree temps without a cloud or a drop of rain.

Best of all, when local newspapers focus on local interests, such as disputes between mom and pop and agribusiness marijuana growers, or when you are changing clothes for dinner during the wrap-up of the presidential debate, you tend to lose contact with the petrified dinosaur manure of politics these days. Having spent so much time steeping in such huge and ancient beauty, I find it hard to revive any passion for the petty squalor played out on TV news every night. Consequently, it is with a measure of peace and calm that I will close this column with mention of an article in the Portland Oregonian, which bemoaned the fact the state had become so dependably blue that presidential candidates no longer bothered to visit it. I wish more places were like Oregon.

Detours

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I apologize!

My last post left you expecting to read my column soon.  That hasn’t happened.  I did not mean to leave you twisting in the wind, but two things happened.  First, I realized that my column wasn’t due until the 23d, and I did not want to scoop the Dispatch by self-publishing before the column appeared in newsprint.  Second, before I could write a post to explain, I slipped off on one of my visits to Big Medicine.

Last Sunday, I ran a nighttime fever, but thought I’d sweated it out and felt fairly good on Monday.  That night, you could have fast cooked a rack of ribs on my forehead.  Finally heeding spousal admonitions, I agreed to drop in on the fine folk at the ER.  They bundled me into a room, took a chest x-ray, did a CT scan of my heart, gave me an EKG, took 25 minutes to put two IV needles in shrunken veins, and began pumping me full of saline solution and antibiotics.  My vitals were going bonkers.  My temp was 104.  At one point, my blood pressure was 53/38, which apparently is less than it takes to inflate a whoopee cushion.  As there was no room for me in the inn, I got to ride an ambulance over to Baptist, where I was carried by the EMT’s to an intermediate care room.

There was something about the story that sounded familiar.  Naturally, I was eagerly awaiting visitors from the east bearing Ball Park hot dogs and Channel No 5 (franks and scents for those a little slow on the uptake).  Instead, I was besieged by nurses and techs bearing needles, plugging me into pentagon computers, stealing my vital essences and I don’t know what all.  Some woman, who normally does special effects work for John Carpenter, tried to puncture my rib cage with a wand as she did an ultra-sound of my heart (and had she been successful in puncturing my rib cage, I think she’d have grabbed my heart and started snacking on it).

So it turns out I had a bout of pneumonia concentrated in the part of my right lung that had been previously radiated so heavily.  My heart took a look around to find itself so close to so much infection that it said, “Ew-w-w-!!”  That’s when my heart started A Fibbing, which is something different from what I used to do when I was a kid and a fibbed when I forgot my a homework.  As the doctor explained it to me, one side of my heart was beating 356 beats a minute, while the other side was beating 154…..or something like that.

So they started pumping me full of chemicals and monitoring the hell out of everything the could monitor and my treatment team started delivering pronouncements like “Let’s get the Lung Guys by and see what they want to do with you.”  So the Lung Guys would visit, take a gander, say looks good to us, nothing we need to do.  Which would prompt the lords of my treatment team to announce in that case, they needed the Radiation Oncology guys to come by and take a look.  Which they did.  With predictable results.  So, once every conceivable interest group in the entire danged hospital came by to take a look (even cadaver cosmetics, who did think my cheeks could use a bit of blush), my treatment team decided they could get around to releasing me once they figured out how to convert my liquid portions of drugs into pill portions (excuse me, but shouldn’t this be medico-pharmacology 101?).

There’s more, but what the hell, Archy, what the hell!  A sharp doc and sharp nurse who took over my case Friday morning insured I was able to eat supper that night at home.  And, best of all, none this A Fibbing is related to any long-term problem.  All of which meant that I got to sit in my own chair in my own den and watch my own TV as Carolina yesterday played football like it needed a trip to the ER.  To every silver lining, there’s a cloud, I always say.

And now, I can sincerely say that I’ll be posting a copy of my column soon.  Love ya, mean it!  Keep the Faith!

Return of the Naif

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Yo, earth-bound bawds and babies.

Fatz and I have returned from our most excellent adventure.  Among things I have learned about my age and health is that major travel and airtime is a killer.  I slept most of last week and since have felt about as energetic as bait at a fishing tournament.  I did muster enough strength to pen a guest column due the Dispatch for tomorrow, which I will post after it goes to print.  It is a capsule version of the trip, a Cliff’s Notes description of things seen and done.  I am already at work on the tell-all, unauthorized version of events, which I’ll post in installments, or maybe in its entirety – I dunno:  let’s see how it goes.

I do want to set the record straight about one thing right now.  The Pacific northwest is rumored to be wet and cool, mossy as a cave.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Fatz and I enjoyed sunny, cloudless days with temps in the 60’s and 70’s.  One night was cloudy.  There was low-lying haze a lot of days, but what the hell.  I think the reputation for a rainy climate has been nurtured and spread by devious cranks, who want to keep as many people away as possible.   If the ocean water weren’t a year round 38 degrees, the area would be known as the Riviera of America.

I don’t know that I have any other revelations that are quite as startling, but there you go.  Keep reading.

Live long, prosper and drink artisanal beer!!

Beno