Saturday, September 29, 2007

Little Eddy #4, "Nothing Can Stop the Army Air Corps . . ."

The most life altering experience of my young life came at age 18 when I enlisted, and was later called up to serve in the United States Army Air Corps. World War II had begun when I had been a sophomore in Mirabeau B. Lamar High School in Houston, Texas. I'll never forget the morning of Dec. 8, 1941 when F.D.R.'s voice rang forth over the school intercom announcing, “Sunday, December 7th, 1941, is a day that will live in infamy,” (it sure as hell will!) and further announcing our entrance into World War II.

Three years later I graduated from Lamar at age sixteen (It was an 11 year curriculum back then.) They graduated us at midterm so that we could get some college in before we trundled off to war. I chose enlisting in the Army Air Corps rather than letting myself get drafted into the infantry. I figured being flown was preferable to slogging on the ground. What did I know?

Anyway, after a lonely overnight Pullman ride to San Antonio, Texas, I went into the Army Air Corps in October 1944 at the tender age of 18, inducted in Ft. Sam Houston. I was immediately shipped to the Air Corps basic training facility in Amarillo, Texas. There we were assigned to whatever our specialty was going to be for the rest of our service. As for everything in the service, we formed a long line. The man in line before me had been a truck driver all of his civilian life. He was assigned to the kitchen detail as a baker. I had two eyes and a trigger finger, and I was destined to be a gunner. The man in the line behind me had been a chef for all of his working life. He was assigned to drive a truck. Situation normal.

What I remember most about basic training was the plain cake doughnuts in the in the PX vending machine, doughnuts which the machine made from scratch. They tasted incredibly delicious with the PX coffee, and I have been chasing plain cake doughnuts ever since. I even made my own for awhile from an old Vermont recipe, but strangely none of them have ever matched my memory of those Air Corps vending machine doughnuts of basic training.

My dear late mother had a thing about bowel movements, she lived in constant fear of missing one herself, and she consumed laxatives often and administered every kind of laxative known to civilized man/woman to me, all the while espousing that not going for as much as three days was sure to lead to grave infirmity if not my actual demise. Well, I went into a kind of shock when I went into basic training, and did not move my bowels for 16 days. Really. I counted. I had one mighty jam up down there when things finally began moving again, but that incident rather punctured Ma's myth about the necessity of daily bowel movements and I have never taken a laxative since. Nor have I ever had a problem with constipation. It’s all in the mind?

Memories of basic training have now become blurred, but I ended up learning one thing there that has served me well through the years, and that was how to correctly fire an M-16 rifle. You take a normal breath, exhale half of it, then gently squeeze the trigger while sighting down the cross-hairs before exhaling the rest, making sure to follow through your squeeze as it fires. I have not fired a rifle since basic training, but I found that formula essential in the taking of good, clear photographs. Sight through the view finder what you want in your photograph and focus. Brace yourself against something if possible, take in a breath, let half of it out, then gently squeeze the camera's trigger, not forgetting to follow through after the lens is tripped. This is a formula which if adopted is guaranteed to make you clear, razor sharp photographs, providing of course you also focus and expose properly.

Legend has it that the only thing between Amarillo and the North Pole is a barbed-wire fence. I was stationed there in the fall, and you couldn't prove that statement by me, but I believe it is probably true. Fortunately by winter the gods of the Army Air Corps had sent me south, about as far south as I could go and still be in Texas. I was assigned to a B-24 air crew as a Sperry Ball turret gunner and was sent to Harlingen, Texas for crew assignment and initial training. Ah, the sun soaked Rio Grande valley, the only Air Corps base I'm sure with an orange grove taking up much of its real estate. I could tell you about Rosita, the famed exotic dancer from across the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, who used muscles most females never even dreamed they had, but, alas, this is not that kind of post. Besides, I was a good boy, I never actually saw Rosita, only heard about her. From all accounts though she really was the stuff legends are made of.

I should say a few words about the Sperry Ball turret. It was round, literally a ball, and when the plane was flying it sat completely outside of the airplane. For landing and take off it was cranked up inside the airplane. Once you entered it you lay on your back in a true fetal position, and you rotated the turret by way of the gun's triggers and you sighted your target through the gun sight between your legs.

The turret was fairly heavily armored, and the gunsight itself was about 8” square, it was an analog computer, and was reputed to be able to accurately mathematically figure the speed of your aircraft, and by your tracking of the attacking plane, the speed of the attacking aircraft. And supposedly it computed the correct lead for hitting the attacking aircraft you were tracking firing with the two 50 caliber machine guns you had at your fingertips. Fortunately I was never in a position to be able to test the accuracy of the computer gunsight.

At Harlingen they told us that in the European theater of operations crews used to pull the turret out, and replace it with a ring which held a machine gun with which you could try and shoot at planes coming up at you from below. No fancy computer to compute your lead, you had to guess. Also at Harlingen we were told the story of a Sperry Ball gunner while in training whose crew's B-24 dipped a little low on the gunnery range slightly scraping the ball on the ground. When they got back to the base, and cranked up the turret so they could land the plane, they found the gunner inside covered with sand, his hair had turned white, and he had lost the power of speech. Stories like that really prepared us well for the big war which lay ahead.

B-24's were large, bulky aircraft which when crash landed in water had a floating time of about a minute and a half (compared to a Boeing B-17 which had been known to float for up to thirty minutes upon a sea landing (in the vernacular it's called a ditching.) B-24's were known affectionately as Flying Coffins and were the gift of the Lockeed Aircraft Co. They stank of aviation fuel, were drafty, and were extremely conducive to air sickness. I didn't throw up during every flight, but it was pretty close, probably six or seven out of ten flights.

What I remember best about Harlingen was the orange grove on the base which took up quite a bit of the base real estate. On mornings when we were to be assigned duty I was very much in luck, my last name being Badeaux, it's prounciation seemed to lie beyond the skill of the average detail sergeant, and so in their embarrassment they would either skip over my name altogether, or else mangle it so badly it wasn’t recognizable. That enabled me to disappear into the grove when the sergeant wasn't looking where I would pick oranges for awhile, before ending up in the PX. In any case I was able to miss many a work detail. And I have been so thankful for my name ever since.

We practiced shooting at moving targets on the ground at Harlingen by shooting at skeets flying through the air using a shotgun mounted in the back of a moving truck. No fancy computational device in order to hit the skeet, you had to gauge the proper amount of lead to give the target yourself. It was weird, but kind of fun. We also fired at targets from our airplane with our 50 caliber machine guns. The targets were hauled alongside us by an airplane which pulled the target on a very long leash.

One day a farmer's cow was machine gunned (not by me), for sport I presume, and all hell broke use. Soon afterwards we were shipped to Muroc, California for more crew training. Now named Edwards Air Force Base (and an alternate landing field for the space shuttle) it was originally known as Muroc Army Air Field and was primarily used at that time for testing new types of aircraft. The most unusual aircraft I saw there was called the Flying Wing, and that is exactly what it was, a huge wing painted black with the crew quarters, the bomb bay, everything, inside this gigantic wing. It was a four engine plane as I remember, it looked just like some gigantic flying bat, and I had always thought that if the Air Force had built a hundred of them and flown them over Japan the Japanese would have been so terrified they would have given up the war on the spot. The air force eventually came up with an alternate way to scare the Japanese into surrendering, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My way would have been far less traumatic and injurious to the health of fellow human beings. But armies always seem to prefer overkill, and besides they were dying to test that awe inspiring weapon.

While we were stationed in Muroc we saw a couple of other test planes. The first one flew alongside our formation of B-24's while we were heading for gunnery range practice. The plane flew alongside us for about ten minutes, then suddenly pulled away, making us look like we were standing still. It turned out to be the XP-59, the very first jet fighter plane developed in the U.S. for the air force. The XP-59 never was put into use, and therefore never had the X (which stood for experimental) removed from its name.

One day all the flags on the base were flying at half staff. I asked one of our officers what happened, and he said President Roosevelt had died. A short time later the flags were flying at half staff again and this time I was told they signaled the end of the war in Europe.

A couple of weeks later our crew was on a photography mission (our turrets were loaded with cameras loaded with film, and when we reached our target we were to photograph it. The film would later be processed and our accuracy determined.) At any rate on that day another strange looking aircraft flew alongside us. This plane was really sleek looking, and after flying alongside us long enough to attract our attention, it too flew away, this time at a speed so great it made us look like we were flying backwards.

Some fool, as I remember it was me, took pictures of that mysterious apparition with the film destined to be used on our targets. (This plane turned out to be the highly secret XP80 which did later get the X dropped from its name, and was put into service late in the war), and that night when our film was developed the base notified the Inspector General's office in Washington that pictures of the Air Corps newest secret weapon had been developed in their darkrooms, and a couple of days later we had several FBI types disguised in Army Air Corps uniforms trying to find out what lout had had the gall to photograph this highly secret aircraft.

Paranoia was the order of the day, the rumor mill had some Japanese agent riding rampant over America's secrets (he would have been German had not the war in Europe ended). As far as I know they never found the culprit (me), and if you ask me it was the usual complete waste of the army's money. Don't fly strange exotic airplanes by us when we have loaded cameras if you don't want some damn fool to take pictures of it. We never heard anything more about it, and they never caught up with me. I don't know if that incident had anything to do with what came next (I very much suspect it did), however a few days later all of our crews were transferred to Tonopah Army Air Force Base near Tonopah, Nevada.

If there was one geographic characteristic you could count on it was, next to every large mountain the air force would build an airfield. I suppose the rationale was to keep the pilots sharp and on their toes. And it put the Fear of God is those of us non flyers who were reluctantly along for the ride. Tonopah, like Muroc before it, was desert. Pure desert. On other bases when they wanted to manufacture pointless work they formed grass cutting details. At Tonopah we painted the rocks that lined the pathways white. The two bases were nothing alike. Muroc was all air force, and it was an important cog in the wheels of the air force. Virtually every plane that was developed for the Air Corps was tested there. Still is. Tonopah, on the other hand, had an old Calvary General as its commanding officer, and the Air Corps be damned, he was bound and determined to run the base as a traditional Army base.

The usual missions we flew from Tonopah were called Navigation missions, where the navigator plots the course and the pilots fly it. The course consisted of flying north to Reno, then west to San Francisco, then south to Los Angeles, and then east to Las Vegas and finally North once again to Tonopah. Since we flew the same course every damn time I fail to see how the Navigator got much hands-on experience by charting an identical course ad infinitum. The trips were interesting, though. Especially when we got near the ocean near San Francisco. One of the sights I will never forget on those missions was seeing the giant fog banks off in the ocean rolling into San Francisco in the late afternoon. If the fog had already rolled in, which happened once or twice, you couldn't see San Francisco at all except for a few tall buildings poking through the fog.

Through either some miracle, or some oversight, I had actually made corporal by this time, but one day when the automatic heated gloves and shoes on my flight suit didn't work, I was so cold and miserable I unplugged my oxygen mask and passed out. And I got busted. Actually there were two of us back in the waist who had passed out. We had oxygen checks every five minutes while flying, and when our station didn't answer they sent the engineer back to find out what was what. We both got busted. I like to think that that oxygen deprivation had no long term effect on my brain, but come to think of it that might explain a thing or two.

I managed to pull off one other real gaff which would have gotten me busted if I hadn't been busted already. When an officer came in the barracks the first person to spot him was supposed to jump to his feet shouting, "ATTENCHUT!" Well, one day our captain came into the barracks, and I looked at him, and he looked at me, and not a word did I utter. Much less shout. In truth I was philosophically opposed to calling a barracks full of tired crewman who had risen at 4:30, been briefed at six, and flown from 7 until 1:30 to attention just because an officer happened to come into the room. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, the captain or me. At any rate, the sergeant in the top bunk across from me happened to look up, saw the officer, and shouted "ATTENNCHUT!!!" on his way down as his feet hit the floor. The men, as a man, hit the attention stance, me included. I didn't object to standing at attention, only to calling the others to attention. Needless to say my time off hours for the next few weeks were occupied in white washing the rocks that lined the walkways. Such did I serve my country? However, a short time later I did some job for another Captain, and he was so pleased with my work that he insisted on inserting a letter of commendation into my official record. That must have confused the hell out of them at command central.

I ended up flying 256 hours in the Air Corps. It wasn't much fun. The planes were cold and drafty and reeked of gasoline. I got air sick on most flights. I'll never forget the day I ate a pint of strawberry ice cream just before take off, and not 30 minutes later at 20,000 feet every last ounce of it had come back up, refrozen onto my oxygen mask, looking exactly as it had looked before I had eaten it. The only difference was it reeked of the odor of bile.

Another thing that was unnerving was when the engines torched in flight. An engine torching meant that it was playing like it was a comet and shooting a tail of fire out it's exhaust, and because all of the gasoline for the flight is stored in that same same wing with the torching engine, the whole event was just a wee bit unnerving. B-24 engines would torch frequently, but I remember the worst torching incident happening after dark when we were on a night Navigation mission. The engine was not only torching, but orange flickering flames were licking their way across the very wing in which all of that gasoline was stored. The tail gunner and I both had our parachutes on, and we were standing beside the bomb bay in case there was an evacuation in our future. He was praying, and I was trying to remember how to. How did the pilots put out the torching engines, you might well ask? They did it by blowing out the fire, which meant revving the engine up to its maximum capacity in hopes the ensuing wind would blow out the fire before it ignited the wing tanks. Fortunately on that night blowing out the fire worked, allowing me to keep my parachute jumping record at Zero!

In the town of Tonopah virtually every third establishment was a gambling joint. There was one three day period while I was there when a blizzard prevented all means of transportation into or out of the town. As a result the Friday night base payroll would not be able to be met. You might not believe this, but when it became evident that the army's payroll wasn't going to be able to be met the town's gaming establishments all got together and put up the entire payroll for the base. They weren't exactly being patriotic, they did it so that the men could come into town that night and lose a great deal of their pay back to their benefactors. Ain't free enterprise great?

The war with Japan ended the night we graduated from crew training. We were given a delay in route on the way to where else, the east coast for deployment to Europe? The war in Europe had ended months earlier, but there's army logic for you. I spent VJ night in Las Vegas, Nevada, waiting up all night to catch a morning flight to Houston. I could not buy my ticket in advance, so I had to spend that entire night surrounded by crap tables and slot machines, all crying out loudly for my flight money. I gingerly fed a slot machine here and there, and went to an all night movie theater to kill a few hours. And when the next morning finally came around I made it safely to the Las Vegas airport and I was only a few dollars short for my ticket, but luckily they had a fund to help GI's pay for tickets home when they were short of money. They are realists in Las Vegas.

After my delay in route I took a bus to Greensboro, N. C. for the ORD (Overseas Replacement Depot) which was to send us to Europe. When you came into the town of Greensboro your duffle bags were confiscated by the Air Corps base, no matter what branch of the military you were in. Every duffle bag, whether it be soldier, sailor, marine, or air force, it mattered not, wound up at the base. It was government thievery pure and simple. To reclaim your gear you had to go out to the base and look through moutains of duffles. Well to make a long story interminable my bags were nowhere to be found, and I had to get all new issue, and at that point the army was winding down, and all they had in the way of clothes were terrible fits.

I was skinny, I went into the army weighing 118 and came out weighing 128. The waists on the clothes I was issued were huge, they were for soldiers much fatter than I. I wore them anyway though, and repeatedly got stopped by officers who asked me where I had gotten my uniforms. I explained how my bags had been confiscated when I had arrived in town, and had been subsequently lost, and these clothes I was wearing were what I had been issued. They asked me why I hadn't gotten them altered, and I told them I couldn't afford it on my private's pay. They tsked, tsked, but not a one offered any government assistance in the costs of alteration. Once we had gotten to the base the army figured out our points and decided we had too many of them to be dispatched to Europe. So they made us what was called permanent party in Greensboro.

Free enterprise lives on even in the oppressive throes of the USAAC. Greensboro was an Overseas Replacement Depot, the men there were restricted to quarters at night, they weren’t given passes to town. A buddy and I went into town, bought much bread, mayonese, mustard, lettuce, lunchmeat and cheese, and we made sandwiches which we went through the barracks selling to the men who were restricted to their barracks. It was quite a little business, the men appreciated our freshly made sandwiches. We weren’t the only permanent party doing this however, and the PX ended up complaining to the MP’s that some soldiers were free lancing and ruining their business (our sandwiches were freshly made and consequently a lot better than those dry, stale ones the PX sold), and so one night, catching sight of roving bands of M.P.’s we decided to bring our little bit of free enterprise to a screeching halt.

Several months later after a furlough and another trip home, the army added up my points again and decided to give me an honorable discharge. They sent a whole train load of us dischargees back to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Our troop train had an overnight layover in New Orleans. We were allowed to go out on leave for the night, and for what was probably the first time in history of the army, not one soldier missed getting back to that train on time the next morning. They staggered back in all stages of inebriation, many in the company of their connubial partners of the night, but come back they all did. Not a single one missed that discharge train.

I was discharged from the A.A.C. on August 11, 1946. I had served 1 year, 10 months and 21 days. My service number had been 18228386, a number which I remember to this day. However my story has two postscripts. I would have you know that 10 years later, in 1956, an army vehicle pulled up in front of 1608 Haver St. in Houston, TX, and a young soldier brought two mostly empty duffle bags to the front door. Every bit of the GI issue had been removed, not one sock or pair of olive drab boxer shorts remained therein, all that was left were a few musty possessions of long ago, an electric razor, a long dried out fountain pen, a box of yellowed stationary, and what not. I have often wondered how much money had gone into tracking me down 10 years later so that the army could return those few mostly worthless personal effects. And gee, wasn't that a super idea in the first place, confiscating all of that G.I. luggage?

There is a second ending to my story. In 2003 I was diagnosed as having Chronic Myeloid Lukemia. There is one drug for this, Gleevec, which costs $3,000 a month. My youngest son, Joel, who is taking his residency as a doctor, got me to enroll in the VA. When the clerk accessed the VA computer, there I was. This was all true. I really had been in the Army Air Corps just like I had said. And I was eligible for health care via the Veteran's Administration. As part of their treatment the VA oncologist did another bone marrow scan and found that I had been misdiagnosed the first time around, and that I did NOT have lukemia. I never found out whether the VA would have paid for that $3,000 a month medication, but I strongly suspect that it would not have. But it is nice to know that at 81 years of age I now have only two conditions to worry about, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. With just a touch of Acid Reflux on the side.

When I stop and think back on it, there is nothing quite like the army. We had a saying, there was a right way, a wrong way, and the army way. And SNAFU stands for Situation Normal, all Fucked Up. And it always was. Every day and in every way. The book "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, published in 1961, sums up life in the Army Air Corps in Europe during World War II more lucidly than any other account I have read. In my mind Catch 22 should be required reading for all, and from all I can gather from the current news media things haven't changed an awful lot, military wise. Read the book. It's an education. Never before has so much truth been written so lucidly. It ought to be taught in the schools. Having it compulsive reading in our High Schools might even save our country from future disasters like Vietnam and Iraq. Peace in the world, or the world in pieces, that’s my motto.

The Real Little Eddy

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Eddy Blog #3: Who Fore Art Thou, Little Eddy

What to write about in this week's blog? “Well,” said the Google BlogGod who is constantly looking over my left shoulder and scratching his head, “why not explain your handle? Give us the story behind Little Eddy?” Ah, shucks, do you really want to know? “If I didn’t would I have asked?” Well, as you can probably guess I am a junior, Edward Raoul Badeaux, Jr. to be precise. As I was growing up at 1805 Fairview in Houston, Texas my mother created my handle in order to make it clear which one of us she was addressing. There was Big Ed (my father) and Little Eddy (me). I didn’t very much like it. I guess to tell you the truth I rather strongly didn’t very much like it. (The little prefixing Eddy was like adding insult to injury especially after I grew two and a half inches taller than my father at 5’10 1/2”, but isn’t that the way of the world, as both of my own sons have topped six feet?)

However, Ma (may a benevolent God rest her soul) truly loved the handle. It did the two things she wanted most, it allowed her to direct her words with specificity, but best of all in her eyes the handle kept me young and manageable. (Ha! So she thought.) Well, the years have frittered away, I may not be the original creature of habit, but I am certainly an early adopter and an archtype of the first degree. And over time I have finally come to accept the name. Each mention of it keeps the memory alive of that sweet and well meaning lady who once birthed me and then happily hurried off to go back to work. And so now, in my weekly blog, I decided to revert to the moniker I had while growing up. Little Eddy lives again.
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Our soon to be erstwhile president (just not soon enough for some of us) is trying to ride what he perceives to be a wave of public irritation at the audacity of MoveOn.Org for portraying General Petraeus as General Betray Us. How dare MoveOn indeed! It surely is one bad pun. And perhaps Betray is too strong a word. Perhaps Mislead would be more to the point. But you tell me what Presidential Pot is calling what MoveOn Kettle black over the word Mislead. I’m sorry, said Presidential Pot practically invented the word mislead. It certainly tuned it to a fine art. A pun on the General’s name may not be very funny, may even be in questionable taste, but it is not treason. It is not even defamation of character. This is a free country, or was until said Presidential Pot started monkeying around with our civil liberties. And in a free country the military are kept at arm’s length, with civilians put in charge of the locks. And anyone who has had occasion to serve in the military knows the importance of those locks. It is not that the military aren’t honorable men, I’m sure they are. But their expertise is in killing, and it is only in a dictatorship that military men are listened to as sages. And then it is only because the Military have taken over power and have forced the people to listen to their wisdom. So Democrats and other real Americans should not worry over whether MoveOn.Org pays a pot full of money to run an Ad in the N.Y.Times even if it is a bad pun. That is what we in America call freedom, it’s something we don’t get near enough of these days, but it’s the one thing we need to hang onto with all of our might.
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Sunday afternoon my computer spent several hours with Transmission's bit torrent engine downloading Michael Moore's new film "Sicko." It is by far Moore's most effective film, although I’m afraid the title might turn off some people who really would benefit from seeing the film. For lets face it, this is the one movie that everybody in America would benefit from seeing. Moore lets the people he was interviewing do their own talking. He has examples of people who lost their homes, their fortune, even their lives because of their H.M.O.'s denial of care. He had telling examples of the Canadian system, the English system, and the French system, all of whose hospitals are beautifully free even to non citizens of the country, unlike U. S. hospitals who practically want a complete credit history before they will admit you. He ended up taking a group of people who had worked at Ground Zero in N.Y.C. in the aftermath of 911 and who are subsequently suffering health problems to Cuba. After failing to get them treatment at the Guantanamo base, he wanted them to have the same medical help given the prisoners there, Moore took them to Cuba proper where they got medical treatment at no cost to them whatsoever. They ended their visit at a Cuban fire station, where the firemen saluted and praised them for assisting the firemen in N.Y.C. in the wake of 911. It seems firemen feel a common brotherhood all over the world, even in Cuba.

There are some really heavy ideas floated around in the film, particularly from Tony Benn, an ex-member of the English Parliament, who exposed our current system with unerring clarity. When Moore asked him how the British free health care system came about, he summed it up in a nut shell, "it all began with democracy. What democracy did was move the power from the market place to the polling station. From the wallet to the ballot." He talked about the unemployment in Britain in the thirties, and how the war later brought full employment. He reasoned, "if you can have full employment killing people, why can't you have full employment helping people? Building hospitals, schools, etc. If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people." Exactly what Franklin Roosevelt had put into practice during the depression here in the United States. Benn went on to explain how a society like ours keeps its people in line, first by getting them heavily in debt, then by keeping them that way. "A demoralized people don't vote, if the poor would vote and put in power people who truly represent their interests, then you would have true democracy."

But by far the most damning testimony to the commercial institutions who administer health care in this country was the repeated exposition of how the Health Maintenance Organizations used denial of care for patient after patient in order to make money for their companies and their stockholders. Moore even graphically shows how such a monstrously perverse system began, under the presidency of Richard Nixon, and thanks to those White House tapes, we hear it in the Trickster’s own voice. And after several stinging examples of testimony by people the industry hired to deny claims telling their stories, it climaxed with the testimony of one Linda Peeno, a former medical reviewer for Humana, who in a deathly quiet, tear streaked voice told a Congressional Committee:

“I am here primarily today to make a public confession. In the spring of 1997 as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation which would have saved his life, and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this, because in fact what I did, I saved the company a half a million dollars. And furthermore, this particular act secured my reputation as a good medical director and it insured my continued advancement in the health care field. I went from making $300 a week as a medical reviewer to an escalated six figure income as a physician consultant. And in all my work I had one primary duty, and that was to use my medical expertise for the financial benefit of the organization for which I worked. And I was told repeatedly that I was not denying care, I was denying payment. I know how managed care maims and kills patients, so I am here to tell you about the dirty work of managed care, and I’m haunted by the thousands of pieces of paper on which I had written that deadly word, denied.”

I am absolutely sure that the so-called Health Care industry will scream "anecdotal evidence" as if real stories are somehow tainted and not truly "scientific." Real people who see the film are likely for the first time to realize how out of control and basically wrong the health care industry in this country really is. As we said everybody should see this film. Then we should put the Democrats in power in 2008, and demand that they give us a truly universal system of affordable health care. I say Democrats because it is perfectly obvious that the Republicans won’t do it. They won’t consider a health care system unless the words “for profit” are grafted onto it, and that just doesn't cut it. You can’t run true health care for profit any more than you could run fire fighters for profit or police officers for profit. A for profit system can only make money by taking money in and not paying money out, in other words by denying care to patients, which is exactly what our present system has learned to do so well. And I retch every time that tv commercial comes on where Montel Williams touts about how, "the American Pharmaceutical Industry wants to help." Sure it wants to help, help keep those outrageous profits rolling in while giving lip service to helping a few needy persons pay for their grossly overpriced drugs.

My own case is miniscule compared to the stories in Michael Moore’s film. As a senior citizen I have for two years in a row drifted into what I call the Repugnacant Party's "doughnut hole" under which after a couple of thousand dollars of drug assistance your health care provider is free to cut your prescription assistance to zero. Type in "doughnut hole" into Google and see what you come up with.

Texas HealthSpring is my Medicare provider. During my first trip through the doughnut hole my physician was able to give me enough doctor’s samples of the Eli Lily’s Forteo Pen (treats osteoporosis) to get me through until the new year when my coverage would resume. But the Forteo pen is $700 a month, and after the three months of this year the pen had navigated me right back into that Bermuda Triangle of drug assistance programs, the infamous doughnut hole, and this time not only did I have to cancel the Forteo Pen, but my One Touch test strips which are used to measure blood sugar levels for my Type 2 diabetes have run out, and Edgepark, my supplier, has not renewed them, I’m sure because Texas HealthSpring will not pay for them thanks to that damned Repugnacant “doughnut hole”. And as a result my early warning system for excessive blood sugar levels is DOA.

Is this the kind of help a caring society really wants to give its citizenry, and particularly its elder citizenry? We have been listening to this private enterprise and hate the government crap from ardent Repugnacant loud mouths for the past seven years. As we approach the 2008 elections the American people really need to make an important decision. Do you really want your government to work exclusively for the benefit of the super rich and the giant corporations, and in the process elevate incompetence into a virtual state religion? Think about that for a minute. What kind of man would first relieve the super rich from paying their fair share of taxes and then start a major war? A Republican, who else!

The other choice would be to have your government return to working in the interests of you and me and to resume performing at the best level it can manage in the process? That is the real issue facing Americans. It's so simple a choice, really. But we Americans inevitably get sucked into that silly pipe dream that says, "let the rich make all the money they can, and maybe someday I'll be rich and get to enjoy the privilege." We never seem to learn. It failed under Coolidge and Hoover, in fact the country damn near went down the tubes after their respective reigns, and when a bunch of starry-eyed followers of Newt the Gingrich started mouthing off about the evils of government we fell for it all over again. I hate to be a disillusionist, but a health care system for profit just doesn't work. Never has, never will. In case you haven’t noticed the rich don't have a real good track record in benevolence department, in fact they have been known to get downright testy at the slightest mention of the word share, and so the result of our present system is: surprise, surprise? The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and middle class gets a royal screwing as they are left to pay society's bills. If America is to get true health care coverage for all it can only happen through the federal government. There is no other entity in our society that has the power or the will.

“But hey little Eddy, didn't you feel the least bit guilty downloading Mr. Moore's film and viewing it without giving the poor fellow a chance to earn a penny?” No I didn't. I don't have a car to go to the movies, nor could I go to a store to buy the dvd if it was out. These words are my contribution to Michael Moore’s film. And somehow of all the filmmakers out there, I think Michael Moore would be one to care the least about someone downloading his film. Like the folk musicians I talked about in Eddy Blog #1, the important thing for Michael is that people see his film and seriously consider his ideas. It reminds me of the yippie of years back, Abbie Hoffman, who once wrote a book he titled, "Steal This Book." I'm sure his publisher did a double take when Hoffman presented him with that title. I wouldn't know whether the book was interesting or worth stealing, I didn't steal books back then. Nowadays all he would have to do is put it up on the web and he would get his wish in spades.

I do have a suggestion for Michael Moore, and for all of you who have a broadband internet connection. A check with Amazon showed that the “Sicko” DVD is not out yet, so Michael get to work and release the DVD. In the meantime all you broadbanders out there fire up your web browsers and get on mininova, or Pirate Bay, or any one of the bit torrent search engines still working and download the film. Watch it yourself, then invite your friends over for a Sicko party, just like the Tupperware people do. Watch the movie as a group. Discuss it afterwards, sharing your individual experiences. Then try and arrange for each attendee to hold a Sicko party of his/her very own inviting their own circle of friends. If people can sell plastic doodads to their friends and neighbors, why not health care? If enough of us did this there is no telling how far we might be able to go towards fixing this broken health care system of ours. You might say, "I'm not sick, this doesn't effect me." But it will effect you, if not tomorrow, then next week or next year or somewhere down the line. Trust me. Getting sick is as inevitable as is our very mortality. You could call this suggestion for Sicko parties little Eddy's prescription for preventive medicine. Prevention from bankruptcy that is, for when you do get sick.

*A postscript. Every day since Tuesday I have trying to send the above piece to which is the email address listed on his website,, so that Michael could either dispatch his coterie of lawyers to shut me down, or if he likes what I suggested, give my blog a link on his website, but each day I got notification of delivery failure due to his aol email account being full. Michael, empty your aol box so that people can email you, or better yet, get yourself a Google account, which won’t fill up so damn easily.
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The true paint in a writer’s pallette is found in the words he uses. Each word has a very specific meaning, and the closer you can get to using the word most accurately expressing what you are trying to say, the more incisive your writing will be. Consequently the most useful tool in the hands of a writer is a dictionary. However, interrupting the flow of ideas to go to a printed dictionary to look up a word for its spelling or for the subtlety of its meaning is a painfully slow and distracting process. How did we ever manage to write at all in a world of only printed dictionaries?

For a writer one of the greatest blessings to come from using computers to write with is the ability to check the spelling and/or meaning of a word on the fly, quickly and painlessly. I write on an Apple iMac computer and I highlight the word I want to check using the mouse and the pointer and copy the word onto the clipboard pressing command-C, then call up the dictionary widget which comes on screen along with all of my other widgets when I press the button atop my mighty mouse. (For you non computer literati out there a widget is a small program which you can bring up in addition to whatever program you are working in.) Clicking the mouse at the left of the dictionary’s window and pressing command V puts the word I highlighted into the dictionary’s window, then hitting return brings up my word, providing, of course, that I spelled it correctly.

The dictionary widget makes a good first choice in checking spelling or meaning, but it will be of no use whatsoever if you didn’t spell the word correctly. Also its vocabulary is somewhat limited, a lot of perfectly good words are not there. In case the widget didn’t recognize your word fire up your web browser (I use either Camino or Safari, people trapped in the Windows world usually use Internet Explorer or Firefox), and go to the Merriam-Webster website and in the search box hit command V to again paste in your word. Then click on the search button to have their dictionary look up your word. If the word you want isn’t in their dictionary it will give you ten suggestions, and more than likely the word you are looking for will be among those ten. If it isn’t you will have to choose another word. The dictionary widget also comes complete with a Thesaurus as does the m-w website, which is useful for showing alternatives when you find yourself using a word too often. While at first glance the idea of stopping of the flow of ideas to look up a word might seem to be a distraction, after a time your writing will improve to the point where you will treasure the opportunity to give yourself those distractions.

Another wonderful bonus for the person who uses a computer as a word processor is the ability to change your wording with ease. This is detailed in an article by Stephen Levy in Newsweek. He began: “So I (born 1951) told these twentysomethings (at Google) that there was a time when people wrote on machines called typewriters, beginning at the beginning and plowing through until the end, at which point they would mark up the manuscript with pen or pencil for the next run through the typewriter. If there was a need to recast a couple of sentences or even an entire paragraph, you would type on a new sheet of paper, cut the new text from the page with scissors and use Elmer's glue to paste it over the original not-so-hot lines. "Oh!" said one of the Googlers, of 1980s vintage. "So that's where 'cut-and-paste' came from!" The full article is here:

Another blessing the web offers these days is Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia with over two million articles in English. There has never, ever been anything anywheres near it out here in the flesh and blood world of real life. It is like an almalgamation of dictionary, enclyclopedia and alamanac, all rolled into one. I am ever amazed at the abundance of topics which can be found there. In my first two blogs, and thanks to Google, I found Wikipedia references to Pete Seeger, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and Dave Garroway among other topics. What an abundant fountain of facts and knowledge. Some may question the value of a reference site that gives readers the ability to mess with the offerings. But I have found that the few references I have called up were right on target. That fellow who got the idea and oversees this project should get some kind of an online virtual sainthood.
– • –
I am addicted to several things. One is butter. Real, unsalted butter. During the early days of World War II when butter first got displaced by margarine (the cow displaced by the vegetable), and with each margarine trying harder to taste like butter, my dear mother and the aunt who raised me had me take the butter/margarine test. Numerous times. They swore that I would not be able to tell the difference, and after blindfolding me they repeatedly gave me a taste of each. I picked the real butter every time.

The other thing I am a nut about is freshly ground peanut butter. Do you know what Peter Pan and all those other big processed food companies do to peanut butter? First they take the peanut oil out of it so they can sell it to fancy chefs in France, then they take some other oil, heaven knows what, and homogenize it with the oil less ground peanuts. And then they salt it heavily. Do yourself a treat. Go to the nearest Whole Foods or other grocer specializing in real foods, and go to the machine which grinds roasted peanuts into real peanut butter while you wait. But it isn't homogenized, you say, and the oil will rise to the top, making the last half dry? Simple solution, turn it upside down as you put it in the refrigerator. The oil will rise to the bottom, and will be with you until the very end. I guarantee.
– • –
I really thought that radio was the ultimate medium for the artist, for it freed the imagination to bring to life any vision that a combination of words and sounds might create in the listeners mind. I got a taste of the power of radio when I was fourteen years old and snuck my radio under the bed covers one night, so that in the dark of the night I could surreptitiously listen to Arch Obler's radio program, Lights Out Everybody. I remember this one episode was about a college prank where a fraternity inductee was blindfolded and tied to a chair. At the end of the program he tips the chair over and crashes into a window, and most likely the sound effects man followed the sound of the breaking glass with that of a cocoanut falling on dirt to simulate the sound of the kid's head, as it was severed from his body and hit the ground below. Believe me, the picture these sounds planted in my fourteen year old mind has remained with me ever since.

A young flamboyant boy genius named Orson Welles demonstrated the unique power of the medium of radio as no one else has ever done before or since. In a halloween special on his Mercury Theatre radio program, he did an adaption of the H.G. Wells novel, War of the Worlds. It was a compelling performance, with a musical program being contantly broken into with remote broadcasts from the site of the invasion. Wikipedia has an excellent description of the event which can be found here:

At 1805 Fairview St. we had our own conflict on that fateful Halloween night. I wanted to hear Orson's Mercury Theatre, my dear late aunt Offie (Ethel Forman, I gave her the name Offie when I was little and couldn't pronounce either Ethel or her other nickname, Effie. Poor thing, she was stuck with the name Offie for the rest of her life.) wanted to hear the Chase and Sanborn Hour starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. She loved the weekly bit of romantic pap which starred Don Ameche and Alice Faye, who was married to the show's bandleader Phil Harris. That fateful night in deference to Offie's romantic desires I would turn back and forth between Welle's adaptation of Wells invasion of New Jersey, and Ameche's bit of romantic pap.

It was a little chopped going back and forth between the two programs, but the Welles’ drama itself was equally chopped with a studio orchestra playing what used to be called hotel music, but with frequent cutaways to the invasion that was supposedly happening at Grover's Mills, N.J., and which was being presented as if it was actually happening. By the time the program was half over all of the radio networks were announcing on every station break that the invasion of Grover Mills was fantasy, and wasn't really happening. And that went on the the rest of the night. My father read about the panic in the next morning's Houston Post, especially the panic in New Jersey where there was actually a town near the name Grover's Mills, and he regretted that we hadn't been able to hear the entire program. On the strength of the impact of that program Mr. Welles was lured to Hollywood where he was destined to film what is felt by many to be the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane. Most everybody agrees except William Randolph Hearst, upon whose life the film was based. He disliked it so strongly he would never allow his newspapers to print Orson Welles’ name again. (

Ah radio. What a fine medium. What potential. Such a grand platform only to end up becoming an escape for drive time driving, or fodder for right wing fanatics, along with commercial loaded top forty stations playing the same songs ad nauseam. Television with its hypnotic moving images, killed the imaginative potential of radio. R.I.P. radio.
– • –
A note about little Eddy’s picture at the top, page right. This picture was taken in Photo Booth, a program that comes with any Apple Mac computer these days. It was taken with the on board eye sight camera, using a distortion effect called light tunnel. That is one of nine optical effects you can get on page 2 of your options. Other distortion effects include, bulge, dent, twirl, squeeze, mirror, fisheye, stretch, and of all things, normal. Effects 1 give you a more organic level of effects, sepia, black and white, glow, comic book, colored pencil, thermal camera, x-ray camera, pop art, and again, normal. Each page shows you a small version of each effect, and clicking on any one of them brings that one to the fore. And clicking on the camera at bottom center brings on a three second countdown and SNAP – your picture is saved for posterity. I couldn’t resist captioning my picture recalling L.B.J.’s famous light at the end of the tunnel remark. Programs like Photo Booth horrify staid business types who only think in terms of bottom lines (the money making kind, not the fun kind) where anything unrelated to business is frivolous and somehow sinful, but built in extras like these help make owning a Mac a barrel of fun. The latest person to throw up his hands with Vista and defect to the Mac is Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and an H.D. tv channel. See:
– • –
For all fellow and would be ancients, check out Guy Kawasaki’s blog at: and particularly note the slide show presentation “You Know You’re Old When . . .” I particularly like the one you know you're old when: “your bowel movements have more drama and excitement than your sex life.” Too Funny. Too True. Too much.

The Real Little Eddy

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eddy's New Blog #2 Reflections on a Life Well Misspent

Isn't it interesting that you could have written General Petraeus' and Ambassador Crocker's testimony yourself a month ago. You knew exactly what each was going to say, and if given the opportunity you could have practically recited it along with them. And for some peculiar reason both men, and particularly the General, told President Bush exactly what he wanted to hear. I guess what they say is really true, great minds think alike.
– • –
Wouldn't you know that when I finally brought myself up to date in the world of Apple computers with a 17" iMac, six months later they would come out with a 20" version, aluminum and black trimmed, with heightened specs and a DVD burner inside, for exactly the same price. Oh, well, at least it's not as bad as what happened to the first iPhone adopters. They paid $599 for the privilege of being first, then just 72 days later heard Steve Jobs cut the price by one third, to $399. You could hear their groans around the world. Of course those who had bought in the last 14 days will get the full $200 refund providing they have the original sales slip. But those early buyers, including the ones who had to stand in line all night, well, they are going to get a $100 credit good in any Apple store, but the other $100 is water under a digital bridge.

But Apple had no choice, they had probably sold m0st all of those phones they were going to at $599, and they were creeping up on their first million, and so according to Jobs, Apple wanted to make the phone more assessable for the Christmas buying season, or as Jobs himself put it, they wanted to "go for it." Besides, they were going to come out with the iPodTouch for $399, which does virtually everything the iPhone does except make phone calls or take photographs, so they had no choice but bring down the price.

As for the early adopters, well that's way the system works. There is not a so-called smart phone out there that hasn't had it's price markedly reduced within months of its introduction. If you truly want a piece of technology you can sit around waiting for that next new evolution to take place, but if you do choose to wait you're liable find yourself waiting at the starting gate while the object of your desire passes you by. I think Pink Floyd once sang a song about waiting at the starting gate. (If you do buy it just be sure to hang onto the sales slip though, just in case.)

The remarkable thing about the iPhone incident is that the complaints from early buyers were so muted. There is so much love for the company among the users of its technology that the complainers were almost apologetic. Imagine for one long minute what would have happened if Microsoft had done such a thing. The resulting eruption would have mirrored Mt. St. Helens. And it's no secret why the Window OS is plagued with viruses and trojan horses, whereas Apple's OS X has none. Hackers resent Microsoft and they love throwing their digital monkey wrenches into the machinery that Bill built. But in addition to it's miniscule share of the computer market, the fact of the matter is that Apple users enjoy their experience, and the last thing that any of them would ever want to do is throw a monkey wrench into Apple's pie. Every now and then one security firm or another points out a new Mac OS X vulnerability, but no viruses ever come. The lesson can be boiled down to this: while Bill Gates was busy killing off Netscape to shore up his precious Microsoft Monopoly Steve Jobs was listening to the Beatles, and he learned his lesson well. "All you need is love." Jobs has created a love among the users of his company's technology that is absolutely unmatched anywhere else in American business. For a serious appreciation of Apple's business strategies go here:
– • –
Some people might question what the point of this blog is. And what an excellent question that is. A blog is a personal story. If you are famous or successful at what you do you write an autobiography, or you commission someone to write your biography for you. And people pay money to buy and read it, perhaps hoping to pick up some little secret to your success for their own use. But if you're not famous and/or successful, if you have nothing of particular interest to say, then you write a blog. Will anybody read it? Probably not. But if you can type Blogspot or one of the other blog clients will probably publish you. And thanks to the magic of internet search engines one or two surfers might stumble upon your blog and read it. And if you can manage to capture their interest maybe they will link it to a few of their friends and return for future posts. And besides, putting up a personal blog is a real ego boost. And that's something we could all use from time to time.

In case you are new around here, I need to direct your attention to the profile to the right of these words. It is there that I give away my age, 81. I have to tell you right up front that this aging gig ain't worth a glob of used spit. “Golden years” indeed? What that phrase really means is that year after year you will get to watch this or that bodily function throw in the towel and up and quit on you. I would register a complaint if only I knew who to file it with. I suppose one could seek out their nearest minister or priest or rabbi to vent to, and though it is their calling to listen and they will surely be polite, I'm certain they have a huge pile of their own personal problems and don't really need to hear about yours or my puny woes. And so I guess we'll just have to stuff our batch of catch 22 complaints into our own personal File 13. And move on.
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The following letter went out to all readers of Uncle Pan's stories that had written his email box: Friends, I am sorry to have to announce that I am giving up my previously stated commitment to write a story a week for This is being done because mrdouble will not allow me to mention the URL of my blog on my page, or anywhere else on his site. In case you may be curious my Blog may be found at: My blog is what I would call “Reflections on a Life Well Misspent,” and hopefully will offer a smorgasborg of reminiscences spiked with humor and with an occasional wisp of sanity thrown in. However, I would like to make clear up front that Uncle Pan’s 256 stories were written for mrdouble's website and its members, and I hereby give my permission for Uncle Pan's page to exist in perpetuity as long as I retain the usual author privileges. If my page goes down it will not be of my doing. I also reserve the right to seek publication of any new Uncle Pan stories at another website, and if I am successful, I further reserve the right to reprint certain of my previously posted stories at said site. And one more thing, please don’t construe this email as an attempt to upset the apple cart at is a very unique space, as you all very well know. There is nothing else like it on the entire web. I meant every word I said about it in my Doubleena Land piece, and as you read this if any of you feel a rebellious throbbing pounding in your temples I would urge you to take a deep breath, count to 10, sleep on it, and when you wake up in the morning forget about it. Family members suffer fallouts in even the best managed families, and woe to the one who ticks off the head of the household. I will miss mrdouble and all of my friends here, but hey, life goes on. Good luck to all. Unky
– • –
Weingarten Realty wants to tear down the place of my first employment.> My absolute first real job that paid money was as an usher in the Alabama Theater in Houston, Texas (now a BookStop, but it is housed in the well preserved art-deco building that once served as the theater.) What glorious memories from those blessed days. Saturday mornings full of screaming hyper children. Paper towels filled with all the popcorn we could ever want to eat during our breaks. (They gave popcorn to us in cone-shaped paper towels because the bags were counted to figure sales.) I learned to smoke on my breaks, my very first cigarettes were puffed in the balcony of that theater, and I kept that disgusting habit for the next thirty years, finally pulling the plug on nicotine at age 45, and not a moment too soon. Everybody I have known who smoked, and who didn't quit smoking, has died. Most of them from lung cancer. I quit a three pack a day habit at age 45, and today at 81 I'm still plugging along. If a little sluggishly at times. (See complaint above.)

Anyway back to Ye Olde Alabama Theatre. There was Pepper Higgins, a buxom lass of sixteen who was a fellow usher (or should I say usherette?). Pepper was a hot blooded, curvy young thing who used to like to lean against you, so that she could feel your presence. And you could feel hers. I'll ever rue the day I called her what she was, a p......k tease, and those lovely intimate moments came to a screeching halt. Will I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut and go with the flow? Probably not?

My next employment was at the other historic location that Weingarten Realty wants to tear down, the River Oaks Theater on West Gray. The River Oaks back then was managed by a former drummer name Pete Hamlin. Pete had two slightly faded lovelies he employed as cashiers, and I was sure fun and games followed each night’s closing. I became Chief Usher at the River Oaks proudly wearing my newly earned black uniform. Chief usher to whom? As best I recall we had no other ushers working there. Anyway I got a real feel for the movie industry working at the River Oaks.

One of our projectionists was a former boxer who I suspect had a drinking problem. One night, to a packed house, he mixed up the reels for whatever movie we were showing that night. There was a quiet pastoral scene with birds singing and two lovers coming together for a loving buss. Then the reel changed and suddenly it was a dark and stormy night with a car careening down a rain-soaked highway at breakneck speed. I have never since seen so many people leave a movie theater in such a state of total confusion. And since it was the first night of the movie, I hadn't seen it myself and therefore couldn't be of any help to them. Though I could have earned a lot quarters that night if I could have cleared up their confusion.

We had one projectionist while I worked there who had several patents on camera and projection equipment, and who had worked at one of the big studios in Hollywood. He was an alcoholic. Every now and then he would have a drink and wake up several days later in a city halfway across the country. Because of his expertise he had a job waiting for him no matter where he happened to land. He had ended up in Houston after having had a drink in St. Louis. He told fascinating stories of the early days of being a movie projectionist. In those days the projectors weren't motorized. You turned them by hand. And while your left hand turned the projector showing the movie your right had to remove the spent reel of film from the other projector and put on and thread the upcoming reel, all without missing a beat with the left. You ate your lunch and your dinner turning the projector's handle, and you emptied your bladder and bowels also without missing a turn. In addition your job was to pack up the film after it's run and carry it down to the lobby where the delivery company could pick it up, and the next day carry the new day's film up to the projector. He told me in those days he worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And his salary, a whopping $16 a week. Of course dollars were worth a little something in those days. That was before our obsession with President's wars that had promised both “guns and butter” but instead has gutted the value of our money.

My third and last job with Interstate Theaters was at the Tower Theater, the very theater whose Popeye Club had gotten my nickel, plus two more nickels for popcorn and a coke, every Saturday morning as I was growing up. The move happened because my manager at the River Oaks, Pete the exdrummer, got transferred to the Tower and talked me into coming over with him. And if I had found the Saturday morning crowds of kids noisy at the Alabama, the Tower certainly took the cake, or got the prize, or whatever. It was wild bordering on insane. However we the loyal usher staff stood with flashlights at the ready, to expose each and every childish excess. At the Tower theater I even emceed a short Saturday morning stage show for a time, demonstrating radio sound effects, and becoming something of a game show host in the making. Bob Barker will be happy to know my game show hosting days never blossomed any further.

I got to usher my way through several memorable films of the period, not the least of which was Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. What a marvelously crafted piece of work that film was, holding its own with the best of them. Just the right blend of romance, politics, and the human condition. It was a sleeper when it had its first run, the crowds didn't start coming until it made its neighborhood theater debut.

The other memorable film which I got to see many, many times was Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. What a true masterpiece of it's time? Or of any time for that matter. Welles and his cinematographer, Greg Toland did some extremely innovative camera work including scenes with two distinct points of focus in the same frame. It is said that Welles also did the lighting himself much to the ire of the electrician's union, and instead of having everybody being perfectly lit in every scene as was standard in Hollywood films of the times, he experimented with making some scenes poorly lit, some were even back lit, a detail which added a not previously known aura of realism to the film. According to Wikipedia in 2007 the American Film Institute listed Citizen Kane number one in a list of 100 of the Greatest U. S. made films of all time. In a recent poll of film directors the British Film Institute also listed Citizen Kane as the number one best film of all time. Only William Randolph Hearst hated it. And ever after its release the best Orson was able to do in Hearst papers was to be referred to as Mr. Rita Hayworth.

I was going to the U of H at that time, busily learning all I could before the Army Air Corps came calling, and I managed to successfully get my termination papers from my ushering career by attempting to organize a union among the other ushers. That went over with a distinct thud. Later drummer Pete tried to lure me back, but I was too into college. And the wild blue yonder was looming on my horizon.
– • –
I have spent a good part of my life working with children, in the University Settlement House in N.Y.C., and in three children's summer camps, the University Settlement Camp in Beacon, N.Y, Camp Killooleet in Hancock, Vermont, and Blueberry Cove at Tenant's Harbor, Maine. And I spent winters teaching kids and occasionally adults guitar and banjo in N.Y.C. and in Houston. I didn't make much money at it, all my life I seem to have been allergic to anything which had any real potential for financial gain. It was a lucky thing that when I was a kid my mother had taken in her Aunt Nina Harper who when she died left my mother, her brother, and sister Calumet Plantation across the river from Baton Rouge, La. Selling my share of it seven years ago was the only thing that has given me an income for retirement.

But getting back to camp, all three of the camps I worked for over a 22 year time span, were rich experiences. The Settlement Camp had three three-week trips a summer, and we tried to cram as much into those three weeks as a regular camp squeezes in over an entire summer. The children were a mix of kids from the Settlement neighborhood in N.Y.C. and the more affluent middle class kids who paid the full fare. The camp was a mile or so down the road from Pete Seeger's home on a mountain overlooking the Hudson River. Pete's wife Toshi's parents were the caretakers for the camp and Pete would sing for the camp at least once a summer. (For any of you unfamiliar with Pete at his most unique best, I would refer you to:

One night Pete was singing for the entire Settlement Camp on the lawn outside the camp's main building, when Charles Cook, the director of the Settlement House in N.Y. and of the Camp, came in and told Toshi's father Takashi Ohta that he was wasn't feeling well. He looked a bit gray around the gills and Takashi phoned the camp's doctor, who came poste haste. As the doctor was taking Cook's blood pressure he died of heart failure. (Cook wasn't the only person to die this way, Gene Roddenbery, the creator of Star Trek, also died while having his blood pressure taken.) Someone scribbled a note to Pete to move the children up the hill so they wouldn't see the hearse as it came for Mr. Cook. And he did just that, Pete played his banjo and led the three hundred children and counselors singing their way up the hill just like the Pied Piper that he truly was.
– • –
Last week I told you about Dena Kaye, the daughter of Danny Kaye who I taught guitar at Killooleet during two summers. Killooleet was owned by John Seeger, Pete Seeger's middle brother. Dena was a very shy, introverted child but evidently she took to guitar because I heard later she had a $25 an hour guitar teacher in Hollywood.

I don't mean to name drop here, but what the hell, why not? One year at Blueberry Cove camp I got to meet two of the persons I admired most (and I don't mean the father, son or the Holy Ghost) when parents visited. One of them was Dave Garroway, the most creative disc jockey I had ever heard and later to be among the creators of NBC's Today show. As a young man I used to listen to Dave's night time disc jockey show from NBC's affiliate in Chicago (wasn't AM radio grand?), and as a radio buff I loved it. So much so that on a trip I made with Mack McCormick, who later became my brother in law, we visited N.Y.C. with a stopover on the way in Chicago just so that I could meet and talk with Garroway. And he did meet and talk with us, bless his heart. Who would have thought that I would be a counselor to his son lo those many years later. Dave's son, whose name was also David, was seven years old, and he was a very disturbed little boy, his mother having committed suicide a year or so before. Dave Garroway explained that to me as we talked during his visit that summer.

I didn't remind him of having met him in Chicago, and he didn't bring it up. He did express his frustration. He wanted desperately to return to the Today Show, or do some kind of television. But he had a tic which would suddenly come on while he was talking, freezing his face in some grotesque expression, and there was no way that NBC or any other network was going to put him on television regularly with a condition like that. It was very sad when a few months later I was shocked to read in the newspaper that Dave Garroway had also committed suicide. That poor kid, I often wonder if he managed to survive.

A Google search will bring up the N.Y. Times’ obituary of Dave Garroway. The curator refers to Garroway as one of Chicago's greatest broadcasting geniuses (which I can personally attest to having been an avid listener to his nightly dj show, and Chicago was a hotbed of creative radio back then, the Breakfast Club, and Club Matinee with Gary Moore, and Arch Obler with his Lights Out were among Chicago's contributions to radio, and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie continued the Chicago tradition into television), although the general public will undoubtedly remember Dave Garroway mainly for having helped create the Today Show with Mr. Muggs, that damned chimp.

Our other most famous parent at Blueberry Cove that summer was Henry Fonda, who's youngest daughter Amy Fonda was a camper for several years. The Inn in Rockland, Maine like to went wild the weekend Henry Fonda visited his daughter. Although I didn't have his daughter directly, I was the trip counselor and knew her on trips and Henry sought me out for about a twenty minute conversation about Amy. He apologized to me as he explained the life she lived in Hollywood, the limousines in which children like Amy were ferried to birthday parties and the like with other limousine ferried kids. He said he certainly had nothing like that growing up in Montana, and this was why he was sure that Blueberry Cove would be a good fit for his daughter. He seemed to be apologetic for the limo life style, but I hastened to point out that Amy seemed to be a very well balanced child, showing no ill effects from her Hollywood life of opulence. Henry was the same tall, skinny, quiet-voiced person I had seen in so many movies, a sort of walking, talking Tom Joad who, nevertheless arrived and departed in a limo. Some years later after she grew up I heard that Amy Fonda had become a social worker. Good for her.
– • –
Children's Camps are magical places, physical properties which take on mystical proportions at the outset of each summer, offering the campers music and experiences that they will never forget. And a truly creative camp director goes with the flow. One night back when Henry and Bess Haskell were still running Blueberry Cove Camp in Tenants Harbor, Maine, one of the buildings, the art building to be precise, caught fire in the middle of the night. Some counselors had been having their very own lobster feast in the building earlier, and one of them must have been careless with a cigarette, or with the coals from the fire.

I want you to know Henry woke up the entire camp, and every one of us, some fifty children and twenty or so counselors plus the kitchen crew snaked down the hill to that burning building and watched in awe as its beautiful flames lit up the Maine night sky. Every few minutes a can of paint or some other flammable substance would catch fire, shooting multi-colored streaks into the night sky. We watched (from a safe distance of course) as the Tenants Harbor volunteer fire department did their best to keep the flames contained so that the fire wouldn't spread to other buildings. Fortunately it was a very still night, and the fire was safely contained to that one building. Bessie Haskell and the cook and kitchen staff made coffee for the volunteer firefighters, and Bessie chose that opportunity to give the firemen some junk candy bars that some parent had donated to the camp, but which Bessie felt would not be good for the children's health. Ever the practical Bessie. I guess she figured the firemen were tough enough to safely ingest that junk candy.

Each Fourth of July Blueberry Cove camp had a big bonfire at low tide and the children would line up on the dock to watch the flames lick into the night sky. Although the building fire didn't happen on the Fourth Henry Haskell was to later declare this night as the greatest July Fourth bonfire in Blueberry Cove history. I think Henry was right. I know I have never forgotten the sight of that building burning so brightly on that dark, mist ladened night, and I'm sure there must be others with just as vivid a memory.

The Real Little Eddy

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Real Little Eddy #1

It occurs to me that I have been selfishly living in my own little world, having not near enough to do with family and/or friends. It's not that I am hopelessly selfish, although that's probably a good part of it. But time races by, and I'll not be here forever, and there really are things I should remember and share with family and friends. And so I am beginning this what will hopefully be a weekly blog, at first at least without the web and consequently a log with no b. If I can write a weekly fantasy for mrdouble I can write down some of my reminiscences, and as number one son Daniel pointed out some time back, I owe it to all to do it. Particularly to granchildren, Cedar and Sol.
– • –
I think I would like to start my reminiscences with a tale from my radio days. At one point I was working for a sports oriented station called KATL, and one Saturday afternoon I was the only person at the station and was preparing to get a feed from Lee Hedrick, our sports announcer who was preparing to broadcast a Harlem Globetrotter's game from Hoffeinz Pavilion. All of a sudden the phone rang and the voice on the other end identified himself as Harpo Marx. I should have made him honk to authenticate himself, but I was too astounded to think of it at the time. When he managed to convince me of his identity (Harpo and Chico were playing the Shamrock Hotel, and when reading about the game in the paper made him think of calling the station.) Harpo volunteered he and Chico to a free halftime show if they would let them in. I got Lee on the phone from the stadium, and had him ask the management there. A couple of minutes later Lee was back with the word that the game was totally sold out, not even standing room, but if they would agree to watch it from the lighting booth up in the rafters they could come on down. From the laughter at halftime I could only guess that Harpo and Chico did give one helluva halftime show. Incidentally, Harpo sounded not unlike brother Chico on the phone, but he would never say a word on stage or camera, no matter how much money he was offerred.
– • –
What a wonderful world this is. Instant gratification is finally in our grasp. At least virtual instant gratification. Take last night, for instance. After spending part of an evening listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" with the itunes Visualizer hynotizing me along the way, I got a sudden hankering to hear one of the folksong era's most impressive epics, Don McLean's American Pie. Thanks to Joel I went to Safari and opened that incomparable bit torrent search engine (now closed to American users thanks the the movie industry's legal team, no doubt), and I typed in American Pie Don McLean. There were 11 peers at my disposal, and forty five minutes later the entire album was on my hard drive. Unfortunately I had to go to bed before it finished.

But when I got up this morning I started my day with American Pie. What a wonderful allegorical tale, an audio trip through Lewis Carroll's surrealistic looking glass, and yet as American as, well, as apple pie. If you haven't heard it lately, you should grab it. Unfortunately nothing else on the album is of equal note, although both Winterwood and the tribute to Vincent Van Gough are nice, and one or two others are tuneful. But American Pie really is a classic, and secured Don McLean's place in music history. For instance, it is 8 minutes and 32 seconds, and it forced it's way onto pop radio which hated any song of more than three minutes (they interfered with the commercials), and before A.Pie they would not play a long song at all. But A.Pie was so popular it forced its way onto their playlists. Also, once while staying after camp at Pete Seeger's house near Beacon, N.Y. I went along with the Seeger family to a Hudson River Sloop party that Don McLean held at his house. It was a nice affair, there must have been singing, but I can't remember whether Don McLean sang A.Pie there but he must have, it was in the middle of A.Pie madness. But I remember it being a nice, music filled day.
– • –
Remembering back to the days of staying at Pete's after camp brings back a flood of memories. One of the most vivid concerns Woody Guthrie who stayed there for a few days after finally being diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea and being released from a mental hospital in upstate N.Y. One of the things Woody did while there is make a clay pot on Toshi Seeger's potting wheel, he made it for his ex-wife Marjorie, and just before he fired it up he spit in it. I don't know whether or not Marjorie ever got the pot, but if she did I'm sure the spit was well dried after the firing. Another incident I'll never forget concerned Pete's dog, a dalmatian named for the song Darling Corey. Corey intimated all of us, Pete included. All except Woody. One day, when dinner was laid out on the table but no one had been called yet, Corey got under the table and proceed to guard it. He would growl at anybody who dared to come near the dinner table laden with our dinner. When Woody saw the situation he let out an exasperated mutter about dogs not belonging in the dining room, and he went inside and swept Corey up in his arms, and unceremoniously dumped the poor dog out in front yard. All of the rest of us males looked on unbelievingly, but Corey's doggy omnipotence was nipped in the bud on that day. He never guarded another table, or got away with anything after that day.

Another favorite Seeger reminiscence concerns Woody Guthrie's son Arlo, who came up to spend a few days at Pete's a couple of years later when he was fifteen. It was before his music and recording career, of course. But I'll never forget him walking around the outside countryside playing this two-finger guitar piece which a couple of years later was to become the musical accompaniment for Alice's Restaurant.
– • –
Healthwise, things are probably going along as well as can be expected. Thanks to the VA, and to my son the doctor, Joel, who took me down to the Houston V.A. Hospital, it's nice to know that I don't have Lukemia after all. My Forteo pen has run out and I can't afford the $700 monthly cost, but I've been on it for most of a year, and it seems to have really made my osteoporosis better. At least I don't have pain from it, probably thanks to the two Aleve's I take every day.
– • –
It is Monday, and again I'm going to take some time and delve into memories, observations, et. all. Thanks to prodding of Illustrious Older Son who doesn't want some of my memories, etc. to simply die away when time runs out. Since I write a story a week for mrdouble's site, I don't have too much time. However I am trying to devote at least three or four hours on every Monday to the task. I don't know what I will end up with, but I'll never know unless I sit down and knock something out.
– • –
Last week I told you about downloading Don McLean's American Pie thanks to Joel and the magic of the bit torrent search engine. One day last week I decided to do a search for the lyrics, and so I typed: lyrics American (I accidentally hit return before typing in Pie) and the first thing that came up was the complete American Pie lyrics accompanied by a really nice piano rendition that captures the spirit of the lyrics. I think it is a neat experience reading the A.Pie lyrics while listening to that nice piano interpretation of it.
– • –
I remain strangely habituized (is that a word? If not it should be. definition: subject to, a slave to habits.) For instance my cofee drinking habits. I have a blessed machine, a Cuisinart Automatic Grind and Brew, and each day of the week I have a different flavored coffee. Five require grinding. Two of them brew out of the bag. I'm sure you're just dying to know what each day's flavor is, so I'll not keep you waiting another minute. Monday, Hazelnut (wb-whole bean); Tuesday, Hazelnut Creme (wb); Wednesday, Cinnamon Hazelnut (wb); Thursday, Cinnamon Bun (grnd); Friday, French Roast (wb), Saturday, Dutch Chocolate Almondine (wb), and Sunday, Fudge Nut Brownie (grnd). I know this is not world shaking news, but it tells a lot about me, a different flavor a day keeps boredom at bay, and helps me keep track of what the day is.
– • –
My breakfast every morning is still McCann's Irish Oatmeal. I flavor it with Cinnamon and Nutmeg. I happened to use those two because I had originally bought them to add to butter to dip artichoke leaves in. Then I lost my two upper front teeth, so no more dragging artichoke leaves. And so I had the spices and I got the idea of flavoring that very bland oatmeal with them. I also use butter, real, not fake. And it turns out I scored big. For cinnamon is nature's way of keeping one's blood sugar low, and of course oatmeal is what they call heart friendly, a cholesterol dissolver. So it looks like my morning ritual should keep my old heart pumping and the blood flowing if not sugar free, as least sugar low for awhile.
– • –
I am a person with flawed, or weird heroes. For instance, my very first politician hero was Henry Wallace, who was FDR's vice president at one point before the political establishment began to be afraid of him as being too left wing. They replaced Wallace with Harry Truman for Roosevelt's last term. I often wonder what America would have been like if Roosevelt had not replaced Henry with Harry.
– • –
I went through a phase of liking the books of Thorne Smith, an advertising copy writer turned author, who wrote several fantasy books including Topper and Topper Takes a Trip among others. In comedy I loved Ernie Kovacs, who unfortunately didn't live long enough to let his cigar smoking do him in; he plowed his sports vehicle into a lamp post after a Hollywood party. I loved a French comedian named Jacques Tati for one movie, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, who's work in this movie like Ernie Kovac's dealt in largely in visual comedy. Harpo Marx, who I mentioned last week, would also fit with this group. And of course Charlie Chaplin was the 20th century master of visual comedy.
– • –
An aside here, the father of a Camp Killooleet camper named Karen Mogelescu headed a company call Dutch Masters cigars, and was a great fan of Ernie Kovacs whose company sponsored Kovac's tv programs, and we used to talk about E.K. whenever he came up to Camp Killooleet to visit his daughter. And he always brought me Dutch Master cigars, which I smoked, though I preferred the cigarette sized Trends at the time. Speaking of parents and Killooleet, I can't pass go without telling a couple of other little anecdotes.
– • –
I had a camper one summer named David Bloomgarten whose father was a well known Broadway producer with a big hit show at the time. David was the most downtrodden, worried looking kid I ever knew. He was always walking around with a long face, no matter what, and always seemed to wish he was someplace else. We had a local doctor, Dr. Huntington, who examined the campers when they were ill. One day David had to see the doctor, and presented him with his usual long face. Dr. Huntington, in order to establish some kind of rapport with this frowning kid, asked David what his dad did for a living. David explained with near enthusiasm that he was a Broadway producer. "Yes," Dr. H. said, "what did he produce?" "A Most Happy Fella!" was David's answer. He did, too, produce the show, not the son. Dr. H. did a double take.
– • –
Speaking of parents, our most famous visiting parent during my six year stint at Killooleet was Danny Kaye, whose daughter Deena was a camper. She was eight at the time and if memory serves she was in my sister Mary's cabin for at least one year. Anyway Deena's mother Sylvia Fine, and daddy Danny Kaye, both came up to see Deena at different times. Ms. Fine, who was Kaye's writer and manager as well as wife, was an interesting person, but nothing compared to the excitement that Danny Kaye brought when he visited the camp later in the summer. Danny went out of his way to be a most obliging camp parent, and patiently sat his way through the longest and most boring camp talent show I have ever witnessed. He managed to breathe a little life into it about three and a half hours into it when he finally consented to perform. His daughter, Deena, was mortified, and had to leave the auditorium, but Danny snapped his fingers and gave a wonderful singalong version of "Dem Bones, dem Bones, dem Dry Bones" that had the roof rocking, and almost succeeded in breathing a little life into that completely dead show. Earlier Danny Kaye had been playing pingpong with a boy camper outside the main house, and when he quit and went inside the boy turned to another boy standing there and said, "Geez, he looks so old. He looks old enough to be my father." Pretty good call that, since Danny Kaye was the father of an eight year old camper. Danny didn't look anywhere's near that old in his movies however. It's amazing what a little pancake makeup and a skilled makeup artist can do.
– • –
We moved into the our house on Fairhollow during the Memorial Day weekend in 2000. I bought all new things at the time, new refrigerator and stove, and a new washer and dryer. It all lasted about five years. We are on our third stove, and recently had to replace the hot water heater. The washing machine died a year ago, we are renting to own one which will be ours in about three more payments. I had to buy a new dryer recently. Moral, nothing lasts forever, nor even particularly long, least of all me.
– • –
Thanks to the generosity of Daniel and Joel I will probably never be wanting in the area of music for the rest of my life. Joel even showed me how to find and download my old Nightsong theme song, Tama, from Tonto's Expanding Headband. And between them they have each sent me several DVD's worth music, almost everything I could ever wish or hope to own. Ain't technology wonderful. This brings me to the R.I.A.A. and the asshole who runs it, and who is trying to prevent downloading by punishing a few they caught up with. It is true that riaa has a point, but professional musicians can be very picky lot. When I was working for KPRC-FM, my first real job, Benny Goodman and his sextette were playing a gig with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and they made arrangements with KPRC to borrow a studio to rehearse the night before the concert. Of course, you can well imagine we who worked there were thrilled to death, and the engineer on duty made sure that the microphones which were in the studio they were practicing in were turned on. Benny Gooidman suddenly realized three or four of us were listening to them play, and raised hell about it, and although he didn't know enough to simply unplug the microphones, he did everything he could think of, and ended up placing the microphones upside down in a couple of trash cans. The music sounded great, years later Capitol records invented the idea of adding echo and reverb to their music, but those of us in the control room at KPRC, Houston, heard echo and reverberation years before Capitol put in in records, thanks to Benny Goodman putting those microphones into waste paper baskets.
– • –
I would compare Benny Goodman's attitude towards giving away his music to the Weavers, who were playing the Shamrock Hotel in the early fifties. Goodnight Irene was an unbelievable hit at that time, and the Weavers played a several weeks engagement there. One Sunday Pete Seeger, bless his heart, made arrangements for the Weavers to do a completely free Sunday afternoon performance at the Jewish Community Center, then at 2020 Herman Drive. They weren't able to bill it as the Weavers (it was billed as Pete Seeger and friends), but all four Weavers showed up, and they went on to give a complete two hour concert to a grateful audience of several hundred, and not a bit of green was involved. At the time they were one of the most in demand musical acts in the country. And from that get together there came together the group who would later form the Houston Folklore Group, which evolved into the Houston Folklore Society. So can be found the contrast between the professional musician who is jealously trying to make a living, and the folk performer who gives away his talent just as often as he charges for it..
– • –
Well, as I sign off this week's note I celebrate the leaving of Karl Rove from the Bush Administration's employment. Let us hope this forments change, but no such luck, I'm sure. Rove wants to move on before the Democrats get those subpoenas writ. I sure as hell won't miss him.


The Real Little Eddy