Thursday, December 31, 2015

I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.

I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.  I remember her first one, couldn't forget that.  She came so quickly, I hardly had time to get settled for what I thought would be a long haul and she was there. So insistent, so present, so there.  When we took her home I spent the first night with her so her mother could sleep. On the family room floor next to her, listening to her soft rapid breathing, every couple hours she'd wake and cry and I'd take her to her mother to nurse.  Then back on the floor. With me.  Just me and my only daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

I remember her growing up, she would get her words mixed up, saying "callipeter" and "beltseat". She had an electric smile that lit up the room, with gleaming eyes under a pageboy haircut.  Like me she was small with dark hair over fair skin - a bundle of energy and joy.  She would go out to the swing set and sing her favorite song from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs.  Of course she was the Mermaid. I would listen to my daughter sing and marvel that she was mine.  And I forgot her birthday.

She had a tough streak:  she had to because she had a big, no BIG brother three years older who went where he would, including into her her room, her things, her space.  We had a rule that Amelia could hit Sam but Sam couldn't hit her.  A rule to his credit he honored.  And Amelia needed all the help she could get simply to keep the big lug from straying to deeply into her precious things, we would hear her shouts of rage and whack whack whacks as he nonchalantly proceeded, almost oblivious to her.  I loved her intensity and prayed that she would keep it her whole life.  I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.

She and Sam grew to be friends.  We would go to our beach house in Michigan for two  weeks every year and their mother would fret and plan for ways to keep them occupied on the eight hour drive, cleverly devising games and gifts and other fun.  But in the end they entertained each other, communicating in the way that brothers and sisters always do.  I will always remember my son teaching his sis' some important details of of life:  "Hey Ameeeeelia (he always stretched the e, dunno why) do  you know what the "S" word is?"....."no...what?"..."Shut up".  And a few minutes later: "Hey Ameeeeelia, do you know what the F word is?"....."no...what?" ...."Fart".  I almost drove off the road, laughing so hard at my son and my daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

Amelia was a risk taker in a way that I or Sam or her mother never were.  One day I was working in my office on the third floor in our house which stood on the slope of the hill.  In front of it, further down the slope was a  young white pine tree, four stories high, its top reaching my third floor window.  That windy spring day I was busily beavering away at something and I heard her voice "Hey Dad! Look Here!" It was Amelia, clinging to the highest part of the trunk in the swaying breeze. The last time I left what had been our house I looked up the white pine and there were seats and jump ropes and other things that she had put up there for her and her friends. And I forgot her birthday.

I remember one time I was working outside on something and she was riding her bike. She had just learned - Sam had taught her - he loved her even has he vexed her mightily.  She was driving around the house on the garden paths in her bare feet.  By the neighbor's standards we were "bad parents" because we let our children "run wild". Not really - but we gave them the freedom that our parents ha given us and were willing to take the risks that our choice presented.  Including the risk of a barefoot young girl riding too close to the extra slate roof tiles and slicing her foot open.  She cried so hard that she couldn't breathe - her intensity again - I almost cried with her but soon she calmed down and we dressed the wound and went up the family room where she got a popsicle and I a margarita and we watched Sponge Bob Squarepants together.  Not my favorite but at the time one of my daughter's.  And I forgot her birthday.

As time passed. my situation became more troubled and our marriage more desperate, I didn't spend as much time with Amelia.  I was travelling overseas often and obsessed with making money that I needed to maintain our lifestyle.  She didn't punish me for my lack of attention, continuing to treat me much as she always had.  She was such a beautiful girl and I was so grateful for her.  And I forgot her birthday.

Then there was the day that we told the kids that I was moving out.  That our marriage was at its end and that there was no chance of reconciliation  My wife began the tale of woe and I finished, breaking into tears towards the end.  My son and daughter jumped up and embraced me, the three of us crying together, Amelia's hot tears on my neck.  And I forgot her birthday.

I realized that my daughter was no longer a girl some time later.  I had a partner who had a huge, wonderful yacht and he graciously invited Amelia to have her fifteenth birthday party on it.  She brought seven or eight friends and I was amazed how she had become a beautiful young woman.  While Sam spent most of the time driving the boat (those of you that know him know what I'm talking about) I spent most of my time watching her.  Her poise and grace.  How she carried herself, how she was so very beautiful.  My daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

I was with her five short days before she turned nineteen two days ago but that fact never once registered in my mind.  You see after a period of frustration, things are going well for me again - I have a new business and was dating a woman for the first time since my marriage failed. In many respects was in as good a shape as I had been for a decade.  I was so happy - and to be be with both my kids at Lake of the Ozarks at my friend Debra's was a double treat.  I was so full of myself that despite being with my daughter I forgot her birthday.  I know I'm selfish, I know I'm weak but I didn't realize that I was so selfish and weak that I would forget her.  But I did.  She of course forgave me but that did not and can not change the fact that I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.

The only thing I can say, Amelia is that I'm sorry and that I love you and that I am so very proud that I have a daughter and that she is you.

For I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday

Ode to my larger brother

Oh larger brother!
Monstrous, looming force from God,
with capacious jaw and large scale nod.
You envelop us in your great embrace,
as we disappear 'neath your solemn face.

Oh larger brother!
Giant of our time!
You expand, back, front, side to side.
Waxing ever greater, ever wide.

Oh larger brother!
Beast of great burden - save when it hurts your back,
hauling kegs and cases home - whatever you lack.
Tap them, pop them,
Drink them, quaff them.

Oh larger brother!
Once you sheltered in my shadow,
now in yours I cower below.
You blot out the sun,
spreading shade from which no one can run.

Oh larger brother!
With booming voice and balding pate.
Friends ask "Is that your big brother?" and I say "yay".
May you always be greater, larger, more.
May I always be the "little" bro that you adore.

Oh larger brother!
On your fifty second year of birth.
At fifty four I marvel at your girth.
Thank you brother, for being so large.
I couldn't have bettered it had I been in charge

My kids ain't no Yalies

My Grandfather Elmer Elton Savage was born to sharecroppers in the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. He attended school right over the border in Elgin, Kansas - he and his brothers would avoid walking two extra miles by taking a rope swing Tarzan style over the Caney River. He graduated the sixth grade before beginning his career as a "roustabout" on oil rigs. Difficult, dirty, dangerous work and my Grandad started when he was 13, ending his career some 50 years later as Regional Production Superintendent in the Permian Basin. In a real sense he was a key man in the industry that makes our cars go. So you can understand why when one of his Grandsons (moi) matriculated University he would refer to me as a "Yalie" (particularly when I would say "who? Moi?") even though I never got near Yale, attending Tulsa and Chicago (now my father nearly became a Yalie which may have influenced Grandad's rhetoric - sort of a retrospective warning). When I said or did something particularly egregious (which you'll be shocked to know actually happened) he would call me a "candyass Yalie" - although always with a mischievous grin.

But I think if Grandad had witnessed the utterly unhinged howling and shrieking on display at Yale this last week he would have apologized for associating me with any of them.  Because if I had displayed that type of childish - no toddlerish - behavior in front of him he would have kicked my ass all the way to El Paso.

And so I must take some modest credit (jointly with their mother, Diane) for saving my children from the Yalie fate.  You see I'm a libertarian conservative and by and large I taught my kids to interpret the world that way.  So when they toddled off to school and now University (not Yale, thank God and Man) they had a proto-world view that their much more left wing teachers and professors constantly challenged.  They never had the luxury of having their every bias and whim validated for them in every forum they attended.  And while I don't think they were ever taught by avowed Marxist Leninists or Radical Islamists, I believe they were exposed to some of the widest range of worldviews available in America today. Which will serve them in good stead as they navigate life's slings and arrows (Is that a mixed metaphor?  How can you navigate slings?  Or arrows?  Oh well).

The problem with leftish thinking in America today is not so much that the left critique of our society is all wrong but that because of the nature of our educational system and news media it's the only meta narrative that you tend to hear in public (outside of churches and Fox News, that is) and going through childhood without ever having your preconceived notions challenged makes for very weak and emotional thinkers. I have great, guilty fun debating friends who have been marinated their whole life in the standard vaguely leftish received wisdom.  I flummox them, I rabbit punch them, I pull the Ali "I am the greatest rope a dope" on them.  It is so much fun but quite illegitimate.  Because I'm no smarter than them. It's just that I've  spent most of my life sparring with teachers, professors and Phd candidates and doing lots of two and three on me's with friends.  It makes you tough and teaches you your opponents' weaknesses and most importantly:  your own.

And that's what I did for my kids - not because I thought of it but because it's who I am - I'm stupid lucky that way.  Look, I don't know where my kids are going to end up on the political spectrum but I know they won't ever behave like the panicked, shrieking, cursing, spitting leftists at Yale.  They're too tough for that.

So Grandad, I guarantee that your Great Grandkids will never, ever be "Candyass" anythings.

The trials and tribulations of arboreal diversity

There's some early fall color from Red Maples on our street. Of course "Fall" is more a state of mind than a fact of life this time of year on Houston. In fact these maples celebrate fall in the same way that folks from Greece or China celebrate their ethnic festivals. They pick out a time in October when the trees back in the old country are celebrating and go all red themselves. The orange, grapefruit and lemon trees do the same thing around Christmas, turning their fruit bright citrusy  colors that celebrate the season just kust like dear old grandad did. The tropical palm trees (who are also botanical immigrants, more and more coming every day) disapprove of all this polyseasonistic behavior. They hold that "there is no Season but Hot Season and the Date Palm is its Prophet". Occasionally this leads to violence where Maples and Oaks have their tops lopped off. Which ticks off the native Texan Live Oak trees who get all up into the foreign trees' grilles while the Arizona and California Ash trees plead "dudes! Can't we all just get along". Such are the trials and tribulations of arboreal diversity.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Zombie Hedge Apples from Outer Space

I was undertaking my mandatory  Thanksgiving postprandial peregrination when I espied a peculiar protuberance from fallen hedge apples in an Austin field. Some of the hedge apples had taken a rust colored hue on one side. At first I though that said rust was simply rot from the dying hedge apple's core but when I drew nearer it became apparent that whatever was brown was also alive. Well not so much alive as not dead.

Before that day I would have characterized things in this world as either "living" or "dead" what the Grammar Dominatrix's (trixi? trixians?) at my high school called a "Mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive" or MECE list. No longer. For the "rust" was actually the furious activity of thousands of alien zombies preparing to decamp their Death...Apples and put Central Texas to the sword or ray gun or whatever. 

Fortunately for the Austinite computer geeks resplendent in their matching hipster habits, the Rust Colored Cohort's grasp of interstellar scale was squat.  The entire million zombie army carried on 20 or so Death Apples weighed no more than a couple table spoons of malt o meal. And looked similar. My brother's dog was with me and he wiped - actually licked - out an entire Death Apple's landing cohort. And for reasons understood only by other alien zombie soldiers, an army that crossed interstellar space at faster than the speed of light decided that they would conquer earth on foot. Which means they will get to my brother's house sometime in early 2017. If the dog doesn't lick them first.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Chicago Cubs and Isomorphic Mimicry

I've been reflecting on the Cub's recent success and their ongoing campaign to become a "championship" team. I'm afraid it will end in tears.

I say this not as a resentful Cardinal fan but as a concerned citizen who wants to help others avoid terrible, humiliating mistakes.  Because I've been reading Frank Fukuyama (of Fuk! It's the End of History Fame) and I've learned a Big Word - well actually two: "Isomorphic mimicry" which he nicked from a gang of developmental economists gone bad. IM refers to the tendency of less developed non western cultures to adopt the forms of western institutions (parliaments, bills of rights, welfare states and so on) without possessing the underlying cultural attributes from which these institutions sprang. Which results in a mess. I suppose the answer is for everyone to live their own lives and quit sticking their noses into other people's business which of course is the answer to most things. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

What I wanted to say was this: I'm worried that the Cubs and their legions of Old Style besotted fans are committing the mistake of sports Isomorphic mimicry. You see the Cubs have recently advanced to the National League Championship series - which is a form characteristic of championship cultures like the St. Louis Cardinals. And the problem is that the Cubs represent a "loser" culture. According to developmental economists, trying to graft a championship team onto a loser culture is destined to fail. Recall the last time the Cubs wandered into the playoffs: they had almost won their first trip to the World Championship since God knows when and what happened? A desperately loyal fan reached out and interfered with an easy pop foul which initiated a cascade of catastrophic events that resulted in their losing the game and the series. It's almost as if the loser culture as embodied in that hapless pawn of a fan reached out and thwarted the attempt by Cub elites to impose an inappropriate isomorph on an institution known the world over for hopeless haplessness (or is that hapless hoplenessness, hmm).

It's better if indigenous cultures develop their own organic sports team forms. For example the Cubs could really build on their league leading "Worst Franchise Ever".....franchise. It is so much easier to go with the grain.

What? You come here and say that! Well then back off man, this is science!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Eulogy for Hugh W. Reeves

"Are we true to ourselves, or do we live for the expectations of others? And if we are open and honest…can we ever truly be loved? Can we find the courage to release our deepest secrets…or in the end, are we all unknowable? Even to ourselves."
Believe it or not, that's a quote from a TV show. It gives voice to one of the great philosophical questions of all time: can we really know someone? Even ourselves? It's an argument that Augustine the famous third century Roman theologian took up. He proposed that only God can know us completely and I suppose that's true. But I knew my father - at least I knew him from the facets that I could see. Because like all of us my father was a precious stone fashioned by God and God's world into a many faceted jewel. A jewel of great complexity and beauty. I could see him only from my perspective - as a son and perhaps a friend. I could not see him as a husband, or a brother, or a colleague although I believe that in the way light shines into one facet of a diamond and refracts out the others I could get a glimpse of my father through your eyes and you of him through mine.

So today I am going to tell you about my father as I saw him, through the facets he presented to me. I hope that my memories shine through him and illuminate your memories of my "pop" Hugh Warren Reeves.

First and foremost my father was True. I have never and suppose I never will meet a truer man. He was honest when it mattered and honest when it was hard - I know there were times in his career where his unwillingness to shade or obscure the truth cost him professionally. Sometimes his truth could be irritating, even in my estimation petty but at crucial times he served me brutal honesty when I needed it so very much, I recall a time when I was in college and described to him a 'prank' that some of my friends had committed and that I thought was so very clever. We were walking together at the time and he stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said "anyone who does that is a blank" stating a certain word which I won't repeat. I had never heard my father use that word before. But it was the right word and I needed to hear it. He was true to his standards and true to me. I have never and could never live up to his.

My father was indega, indegaft, indefatigable - well, I really can't pronounce that word - he was relentless, he never gave up or gave in. Never gave up on himself and he never gave up on us. He had setbacks and frustrations like we all do but they never appeared to affect his efforts on behalf of those he had made commitments to - he just kept on plugging away. When we moved to Singapore my brother and I signed up for little league. We were without a doubt, the worst baseball players on our respective teams. So rather than let us languish on the bench between short stints in Right Field my dad got up before dawn to go to work so he could come home early and practice with us before it got dark which in equatorial Singapore was at six PM sharp, every day of the year. In all the months he did that I can't recall seeing any other parent doing the same for their children. Pop didn't give up.

I could give you many more examples of his relentlessness but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about the one, single, solitary time that I am aware of that pop did throw in the towel. My father was a great golfer and he wanted his sons to enjoy the game he loved so much that he paid for years of golf lessons for us at the Island Club in Singapore and took us 'golfing' in the same way that he helped us with baseball. Many years later when my brother and I were home for Thanksgiving he took us out for a round here in Houston at Quail Valley. After I had shanked, topped, sliced or plopped my seventh in a row into a pond or someone's yard he turned to me and said "You know, you're never going to be any good at this game". It turns out that pop could also be a realist.

My father was loyal - to us and to the rest of both sides of our family. Pop was the go to guy when people ran into trouble, when they needed help. Once in a while back when I was making a lot of money I would get a call from him giving my 'subscribed' amount to help out another member of our extended family. Despite the fact that I made more than him back then I always knew his number was bigger. And in the fullness of time when things got hard for me, he stood there to help us too. Sometimes his loyalty got the best of him. In particular he did not respond well when he thought someone was failing to show appropriate respect to us. One time on our way home from Jakarta we laid over for the night at a Hong Kong hotel. It was rather late when we arrived and the desk clerk apologized and said that there were no rooms left but not to worry if we would just follow him and the porters they would walk us to another hotel nearby. My father was having none of that. He could sense that his family was being treated without the respect that we deserved. So despite the clerk's protestations and assurances he demanded that they call a cab to drive us to the new venue. When we got in the cab, the bellman gave directions in Cantonese. The cabbie turned and looked at us quizzically and then shrugged his shoulders and put the car into gear. If you've ever been to Victoria or the Hong Kong Island side of Hong Kong you know that it is very hilly, crowded and back then constantly under construction with many one way roads. So long story short, we spent about fifteen minutes driving in dense traffic up, around, back and then down to other side of the city block where we had started where the porter was waiting with our bags.

But my father always fought for us. He was always on our side.

My father loved his family deeply. He didn't show it much in public but among us, at certain times his love blazed through. When my son - who was his first grandchild - was born he and my mother were with my wife's parents at the hospital waiting for the blessed event. It was quite the scene with the grandmothers unable to abide by hospital rules and constantly making unauthorized forays to the birthing room for a peek and being thrown back with increasing stridency by the staff. But eventually Sam came - he's the large bearded one up front - and after all the post birth details were resolved he was plopped into my arms to carry out to meet his grandparents. I knew my Father so I gave Sam to him first and almost immediately his tears began and didn't stop for quite some time. It was very characteristic of him to love so openly. And so very beautiful. And when he was sick, particularly when he was suffering the indignity of one of the many painful procedure he endured, he would always tell me just how much he loved us and how grateful he was to us for what we were doing for him.

One other important thing about his love: he and my mother had their 'moments' of conflict - we all did with him - and sometimes the insensitivity of his truthfulness could wound. But I will say this with absolute certainty: my father never, ever said a disparaging word to me about my mother. He invariably praised her and told me how grateful he was that she had married him. As he proudly told anyone who would listen, she was the love of his life.

My father didn't talk of faith much but later in life I know that he reflected upon it a great deal and that he was a Christian in the traditional, orthodox sense that he placed his faith wholly in Jesus' substitutionary atonement for his salvation. He said that he most felt God's presence when singing with the choir. That one: behind me and I can believe that for my father experienced things of the heart so very deeply.

So that's the man I knew and grew up loving. He wasn't always easy but he was always true. His relentlessness often irritated me but he would not let me give up. His stiff backed Anglo Scottish loyalty to kith and kin sometimes embarrassed me but he showed me how important family is and in his tears and in his life he showed me what it is for a man to love.

To end I'd like to do something that I think my father would have done had he had my literary bent. You see, I write poetry. There I said it. Not only that but from time to time I write love poetry. I know, I know but still (at this point my kids are probably rolling their eyes in the same way that I used to roll mine at my father. And all I can say is be patient, you'll get there). My love poems aren't usually targeted at any particular person, and I used to think that was odd. Yet after quite a bit of reflection I have concluded that what I'm really doing when I write about love is reflecting on all of the love that I have experienced up to that point in my life. And without a doubt one of the great loves of my life has been my father.

So I have a poem. Now most of this poem is irrelevant to Pop, simply the sort of stuff you would expect from a third rate hack like me, but as I reread the last stanza of it yesterday, my father's love suddenly shined through. So if you'll indulge me, I'll recite the last few lines that contain so much of my father's love as my last formal tribute to this great man that I loved so very much. The poem is entitled "To Know You"

And when our time is done

in death, despair or ruin.

I am more for knowing you

and you for knowing me.

And in the end when life

has no more time to run,

You are more for knowing me

and I for knowing you.

To understand you,

Love you,


To live so that at the end of days,

when all this world is done.

All of time cannot deny

that I knew you.

And was found,

known and


by you.


And that was my father, my pop. Thank you so very much for coming.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Julia Child Calling

So I was beavering away at something particularly unproductive when I got a call from mom at the HEB, "car won't start, popsicles melting". Needless to say, confronted by such pathos (save the popsicles!) I hightailed it over there pronto.

Anyway after transferring Mom and her groceries to my car, I dialed AAA. Got a sweet young thing on the phone. No, seriously, she really was a young thing: a computer and she couldn't have been more than six months old. So as is the custom among our cyborg helpers, I entered this number and pressed that pound sign and yessed and noed a bit and voila! I got a real person who sounded neither sweet nor young and of course immediately gave me the third degree: "so who's car is this anyway?"
"my mom's, I'm her wonderful son who is helping her out", bracing myself for the well earned praise.
"Who's on the title?"
"I suppose my mom"
"Well sir I'm sorry but until she calls and tells us she needs help, we can't help her"
"But I know she needs help"
"And she knows she needs help"
"And I just told you she needs help so you know she needs help"
"Yes but she has to tell us herself or we can't help"
"You mean you won't"
"You won't help even though you could"
"Umm well we can't"
"No, can't"
"Won't, won't, won't"
And that's when she hung up.

Well if you're a regular reader you know that I was 'fit to be tied' which in my case means that I was stomping an imaginary AAA headquarters filled with little imaginary AAA ants as I flailed my arms and foamed like a rabid Irish Setter (they have good hair don't they). I was all set to call back and pretend I was my Dad who was upset because the delay in helping mom had led to the death of that Irish Setter but I decided "why should I play their game?" So instead of lying that I was my Dad I called them back as Betty Jean Savage Reeves. And boy was I savage. Affecting my best Julia Child Locust Valley Lockjaw with her patented combination of ribald condescension and aplomb I conducted a 'Tour de Force' of how dare you's and well I nevers. It was quite fun although I did it in the produce section which caused several grocery patrons to nervously edge away from me.

And this is where I had a bit of an epiphany: up until this point I had always given a hearty 'tchah' to anyone who tried to tell me that anything as central as gender (which just means sex but the dull boy OR girl kind as opposed to the fun boy AND girl kind) could be "socially constructed" which as I understand modern college speak means " made up". Because I think I could seriously pull off the Julia Child thing. After all I like to cook, have a great snotty accent in the higher register and I clearly make a profoundly ugly woman so all I really need are a few mid 20th century frocks, some sensible shoes, a boatload of makeup and Food Network here I come.

I think Big Food could use a cross dressing retro food program where a faux Julia Child. (Moi) socially cuts, dresses down, mocks and otherwise humiliates all the celebrity chefs on TV. I would particularly enjoy making that obnoxious Englishman (you know, the one with dyed hair that's always making all the other cooks cry) snivel and sob about how his mother never loved him or his Creme Brulee.

So if this Silicon Valley gig doesn't work out I've always got that going for me.


I was rambling around the local strip shopping center when a came upon a Karate studio. Actually I'm not sure if it was Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Ninja Masters or whatever, but you get the picture. It's the sort of place where the bullied are supposed to go to get the mojo to bully their bullies like they do in all the movies. Although I've never seen it work that way in real life, probably because the bullies get to these places first. It has always seemed to me that taking fencing or an NRA marksmanship course would be a better approach to making bullies scarce. Although applying what you've learned in those courses would to tend to attract the police. Life is full of trade offs.

So like I said, I was walking by this joint early in the morning and the Sensei or the apprentice to the Sensei was washing the inside windows in preparation for the wimps du jour. And me being me I simply could not resist. I stopped, rapped the window to get his attention and in my best Karate Kid went with my right hand "wax on" and then with my left hand "wax off".The Sensei - having no idea what I was doing smiled and waved at me. "No!" I said urgently, "wax on, wax off!" which perplexed him, so he went back to his washing. I rapped again and gesticulated more aggressively "I said wax on, wax off!". At that he turned around and walked off into the back of the store. I think he may have misunderstood what I was telling him to do as he ended up going into the toilet and closing the door.

But it's obvious that this place is not run by legitimate Karate experts nor by aficionados of 1980s youth cinema. Fakers.

My father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

My father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

He awoke in the wee hours with trouble breathing so we had the ambulance take him to the ER. I rode along. During the trip I had a suprisingly beautiful conversation with the young ambulance driver about life and death and loss. I guess being so close to so much death and pain gives one perspective.

Not long after we got to the ER dad lost consciousness and his vitals began to crash. We had specified do not resuscitate so the ER staff turned off all the beeping cacophony, turned down the lights and left me alone with him and my memories. For four hours I watched as his breathing got slower and shallower until it finally stopped. I spent those hours alone with him in that dark, quiet room. I held his hand and over and over I told him how much I loved him and how very proud I was to be his son. I told him it was OK to stop fighting, to go into that good night. And then it hit me: I would never hear my father's voice again. There would be no more talks with "Pop" about the weather or the Sooners or the lawn or life. And that's when the tears for him that had been bottled up in me for so long came pouring out. Alone with my father in a dark room as the last grains of his life slipped away.

For my father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

Hugh Warren Reeves

Hugh Warren Reeves passed away on Sunday, August 23rd at 11:04 AM CDT after fighting a glorious eleven year war with cancer. Hugh was born to a noted Wichita oil man and his secretary - after she became his wife, of course.  Being the eldest son of a successful oil man, Hugh was sent back east to the Taft School for his education. But rather than march lockstep with the rest of his classmates to Yale and then Wall Street, Hugh chose to follow his father's footsteps into the oil business, attending the University of Oklahoma and learning to sing "Boomer Sooner" rather than "Boola Boola".  This choice was instrumental in making him a lifelong Sooner fan and a skeptic of all things Longhorn.  In his later years he would  frighten his sons by walking up to very large men who were dressed in University of Texas burnt orange and saying:  "Boomer Sooner".

Hugh was also an outstanding golfer. It is a testament to his commitment to the Game that despite holding a student deferment by the skin of his teeth during the Korean war, Hugh chose to focus on his golf rather than his studies. Fortunately for him, the Army sent him to Germany.  As he told one of his sons much later, he spent far more time on the frauleins than on the front lines. But all that was forgotten when he returned home and met the love of his life - Betty Jean Savage.  In his telling he fell in love with her on first sight and in the fullness of time made her his bride (after he had demonstrated the ability to graduate college and get a job that paid more than an itinerant golf pro) . He never looked at another woman.
Hugh and Jeanne married on December 23rd, 1959. And as is traditional among oil explorers, Hugh promptly dragged his new bride and eventually their two sons off to a seemingly never ending series of the oddest, most out of the way places in creation:  Big Lake, TX, Roundup, MT, Glendive, MT, Williston, ND, Casper, WY, Rifle CO, Red Deer Alberta and so on. This was in spite of his sons' desire to remain in a single location that had quality Saturday morning cartoon programming and large supplies of reasonably priced Dr. Pepper. In fact Hugh helped explore what is now known as the Bakken, the first and one of the largest of the oil fracking plays in North America. Unfortunately at the time they lacked the technology to exploit the find. A fact that - reflecting back on their time in North Dakota - his family looked upon with great relief.

Eventually Hugh's career took him and his family overseas, first to Abu Dhabi back when it was so primitive it didn't even have Dhabis and from there to Singapore during its first great burst of growth and thence to Indonesia where he explored for oil in the wilds of Borneo and Western New Guinea. Eventually Phillips Petroleum called him back to Houston where he retired and where Hugh and Jeanne chose to make their permanent home.  Blessed with health and free time he devoted himself to golf and good works, principally within the Methodist Church, eventually alighting at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas.  A frustrated artist, Hugh eventually gave in to the siren song of one of the best Church Choirs in the greater Houston area, touring around the world with them several times.  He said that he felt God's presence most deeply when singing God's music.

Eventually illness caught up with Hugh in the form of a series of cancers.  He reacted in his typical “never say die” style by entering an experimental treatment study and outliving every single other member of the program. Saturday before last he was with his family celebrating his younger son's birthday.  It is a testament to his long and varied life that a man who had been born in the radio age was greeted by grandchildren via iPhone video chat.  Late that night Hugh began encountering serious difficulties attributable to his illness and a short time later entered the arms of the Savior that he trusted wholly for his salvation.  He is survived by his Wife Jeanne, his Sons, Bill and Todd, his Granddaughter, Amelia, Grandsons, Sam, Jake and Miles and his Sisters Nancy and Martha and their families. Hugh was a special man from a special time and we shall not see his like again.
Requiescat in pace

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bill Reeves: Errant Knight

So I was at this community hoe down or jamboree or whatever in John - my Lord and CEO's -neighborhood. I've never heard Irish pop played by a country band before - or heard it played by senior citizens although I guess that is the fate of all Irish pop: reinterpreted Grand 'ol Opry style by Senior Strummers in places like Nevada. But that's neither here nor there, well it's here but not about here, and it's about there. Ireland, that is. But I digress.

OK Reboot: So I was at this hoe down and one of the 'party' I was with plied me with a snootful of Moscato. Now I don't know if you've ever Moscatoed - I hadn't - but Moscato is apparently the Skittles of the wine family. So with my mouth appropriately puckered I headed for the fountain mewling wwwrrrr, wwwrrrr (serious puckerage) only to be confronted (in a manner that completely blocked the sidewalk) by a moppet of seven or so who pointing to the tree above lisped "I lost my necklace" - which wasn't completely true. What she HAD done was chuck it into the tree. And not into some little sapling but into a big tree - about ten feet up. And this is where my whole damned chivalry thing falls apart because while I want to aid damsels in distress, I really prefer to do it when convenient to me. Yet here I was forced to de-damsel this moppet while seriously over puckered.

So long story made short: I ended up IN the tree, swinging back and forth on the branch like a demented macaque while two older gentlemen whacked at the offending jewelry. One of them - who probably should have been in a walker - used a vigorous back and forth slashing motion with his cane that quite impressed me until he started hitting me on the wrist and head. The other gent, who was taller and more strategic, took advantage of the additional downswing that my attempts to avoid the wayward whacks caused and expertly snagged the necklace with his umbrella to the cheers of absolutely no one. Because the junior Jezebel ungratefully pocketed her 75 cent bauble and strolled off without as much as a thank you - after all, her mother DID tell her not to talk to strangers.

So still puckered but now quite pleased with myself (lookit, I'm a hero!), I finished my jaunt to the water fountain. As I returned, I spied our diminutive Delilah: tossing the same damned necklace into the same damned tree. Well you can probably guess what I did next: I drew myself up to my full height and...forcefully strode the other way. There was no way in hell I was going to let that mite sized Mata Hari cry at me again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Let's adopt the Ten Commandments!

So one objection to my (brilliant IMHO) recommendation that we ban anyone that wants to ban anything is that would mean couldn't ban murder or Baseball Cardinal hatred which clearly would be wrong.  So I have another solution.  Lets just use the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue or the Nine No Nos plus One.  Now before you go all "boy he's really a party pooper, let's get him!" I must point out the (really) Big Ten doesn't ban parties or drinking or even making an absolute drunken ass of yourself (yay!)  Neither does it ban gay marriage or imbibing intoxicating substances not approved by government scolds (ya a a a aaaay!).  In fact Marijuana would be legal everywhere - which is good because if it was pronounced the way my West Texas Grandad used to say it: "Mary-Jew-Wannah"  it could be considered a sacrament in two or even three religions (I'm not sure about the ancient faith of Consumerism - experts disagree on whether wannah or chargeit is the principal mantra of the Consumerati).

Now some of you will no doubt argue that the Tennoes require that people Honor thy God which is true and under my new regime you would have to.  But in these narcissistic times many of you consider yourselves Gods so this requirement could be handled by simply looking at oneself in the mirror and telling yourself "My God you're a Great God" or something to that effect.  For those of you who don't believe in God and consider worshiping God blasphemous you can worship anything you want - a rock, your toothpaste tube, your own self righteousness - any old thing.

And of course there is the problem with Honor thy Mother and Father.  I know, I know many of you have Mommy Issues or Daddy Derangement and this one is pretty damned tough for you.  But after consulting with a crack team of Pharisees I've come up with a workaround.  Technically all you need to do to honor your parents is to acknowledge that yes, indeed, there were the source of your DNA and that anything wrong with you is in fact their fault.  This simply gives them credit where credit is due and that's all the honor anyone can expect.

The Sabbath is also a problem, what with the NFL, and golf. I solve this problem by noting that Muslims say it's Friday, Jews say it's Saturday and Christians say it's Sunday. So I say it's sleepday.  Nobody really knows when the Sabbath is so let's honor the Sabbath in the most solemn way possible: by sleeping through it.  And having the Sabbath be whenever we're asleep has the additional benefit of making waking Dad up a sin and a crime which would have done wonders for my outlook back when I had midgets lemme tellya.

And the rest of the stuff is pretty straightforward.  Of course you shouldn't be messing around with someone else's wife, cow, boyfriend or iPhone.  And if you are, stop it right now!

Some of you will say well Jeez what about zoning disputes and racism and the infield fly rule? Will everything else just be up for grabs?  This is where the Two Commandments that Jesus condensed everything into come in to play: the first is just a reprise of the "Honor Thy God" gig with some "and try really, really hard" (really?, yes REALLY!) which is handled as above. Simply get your mirror and remember: when lovin' on yourself really put your back into it.  And the second commandment "Love thy Neighbor as Thyself" can handle most of the other stuff through the mechanism of "mandatory backsies"  if someone zones you, you zone them, someone hates on you, you hate on them, someone says you look like a dyspeptic poodle you are required to call them a superannuated Chihuahua.  My crack team of Pharisees and I are in the process of coming up with a comprehensive list of the mandatory backsies required under our new regime.  None of this 'turning the other cheek' crap will be allowed.  It is hoped that by forcing the baddies to confront the badness of their behavior immediately through symmetrical back at you badness that the baddies will feel bad about their badness and will de-bad.  There is of course a small chance that the bad acts will engender badder acts and badder acts until the entire world is enveloped in a thermo nuclear catastrophe of epic proportions. But the Old Testament is nothing if not apocalyptic so that will be OK too.

Which leaves the unforgivable sin: hating - or even rooting against - the baseball Cardinals. This, along with the infield fly rule are the exceptions that prove the rule.  They are part of a special covenant between Yahweh and the Cardinals to be known from this day henceforth as "God's Team, PBUT (peace be upon them)".  And I'm afraid this is a strict ban with no backsies or Pharisaical outsies either. Sorry, this is my system.  If you don't like it come up with you're own damned Moral Framework for Civilization.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Family Line

For my father and mother.

We are all part of the family line.
Stretching far into the past.
Whatever I am they were.
Whatever they dreamt, I can be.

We don't know who came before.
We can't remember their names.
But what they were stirs inside
those of us who remain.

Fathers begetting sons marrying daughters becoming fathers.
Mothers begetting daughters marrying sons becoming mothers.
Over and over, again and again.
It's the family line. The eternal family line.

I can't imagine life without my mother and father,
for they gave me life and my brother.
Anything admirable I am was founded on them.
In anything praiseworthy they had a hand.

All that I am, all that I'll be comes from the Family Line.
From my father and his father and his father too,
to my mother and her mother and her mother who
held tightly to their dreams, tightly to the family line.

I'll always be grateful for how I was made
Loved by people who gave -
gave me their heart, gave me their soul
so that I could know the family line.

Fathers begetting sons marrying daughters becoming fathers.
Mothers begetting daughters marrying sons becoming mothers.
Over and over, again and again.
It's the family line. The eternal family line.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Get me to a Nunnery.

I was the last person on a full Southwest Airlines flight from San Antonio to St. Louis so I wasn't very optimistic about my choice of seats. My usual fate for habitual lateness was to be wedged between Mr. Big 'n Sweaty and the strange little dude that keeps muttering to himself while looking at what he has in his bag and peering up and down the aisle.  It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to thwarting terrorism per se, it's more that I would prefer the nut job be seated next to someone who has a greater need to be a hero than I because I find staring at a person so that I can intervene when he starts his detonation sequence to be tedious. I've also found from personal experience that sometimes what looks like a terrorist setting out on his date with destiny is actually just some weirdo fiddling with his fuse.  But little did I know that day something much more heroic would be required of me than simply separating some simpleton from the Semtex.  As I peered into the cabin knowing smirks and chuckles filled me with foreboding.  And then I saw it:  the tell tale gap that signified an empty seat or small child. Bracketed by full habit (damn! no child), including that head thingy that the radiation poisoned humans wore in that really bad Planet of the Apes sequel.  A wimple? Yeah, that's it: wimples.

These Wimplestiltskins instantly locked on me with expressions that had successfully seen off every single boarding passenger, including the legally blind ones.  If I have a soul they definitely peered into it to verify its serial number and see if I had any recall notices.  And in clearly inappropriate behavior for women who had taken vows of poverty not to mention chastity, they were sprawled all over the window and aisle seats, leaving about six inches of middle seat open.  So, resigned to my fate, I grimaced a hello and wedged my frame in the inter-wimple space.  As I did so their staring, begrinned heads swiveled with me like searchlights tracking a crippled B-17 over Berlin.

And then it got really weird. Because these two 50 to 70 somethings (the wimple really does wimple away the years, ladies!) were in full party mode.  Apparently they were part of a fairly but not completely 'cloistered' nunnery - which as I understand it is a nunnery where none of the nuns are known outside the nunnery because the nuns don't do non nunnery things with non nuns.  And they had been sent by the Head Nun to go to some sort of nun convention. And like convention goers everywhere these girls - I say girls because their demeanor was wholly girlish - were behaving with the enthusiasm of sailors on East Indies shore leave.  They were on the nunnish equivalent of a toot - a bender - this was their "Porky's" moment.  And as it turned out I was to be their amanu...amaneu...amanuiens...I was going to be the guy they were going to toot with - in other words, their tooter.

"Well my, aren't you a handsome young man", said the big one, which was a lie in all its particulars but recognizing that my role in this shore leave scenario was that of the Subic Bay barmaid with a heart of gold, I played right along "well I'd have to be to sit between you gals". After we had dispensed with biography and the most impressive bevy of sincerely insincere compliments exchanged between nuns and backsliding Presbyterians since the Peace of Westphalia the drink lady came along.  My normal response to stressful flying neighbors (unless they're looking 'bombish') is to hand the stewardess, oops, I mean flight attendant, oops I mean Mistress [insert name here] Provider of Libation and Distributor of Pain a full book of the drink coupons that Southwest uses to sedate excessive fliers like me and tell her to "keep 'em coming".  As I was handing over the book I spied the ladies of the cloth looking expectantly so quickly called an audible "and whatever these young ladies would like as well".  "Bourbon, neat" shot the alpha nun without a moment's hesitation while her smaller sidekick held up two fingers in an expression known the world over to mean "oh hell yes". For a moment Mistress Annabelle (for that was our Flight Dom's name) looked at us uncertainly, her smile wavering - as if to say "there is something quite wrong with this picture" that she couldn't quite put her finger on but that someone, somewhere had warned her about - but she shook it off, lashed us with a couple strops of her whip and moved to the next row of flying gimps.

Which kicked off one of he most fascinating two hours in my life.  Their tongues loosened by liquor, the nuns gave me the lowdown on convent life, regaling me with tales of skulduggery and intrigue that could be profitably used by a Game of Thrones writer.  It made me a little bit ashamed that despite at the time being a partner in the Big 'n Greedy consulting firm I couldn't match their Machiavellian tales - although I suppose Machiavelli, the Medici's and the Borgia's were Catholic so it's not surprising that their full time team has a leg up in that department.  We then proceeded to their apparently inexhaustible collection of jokes.  I gamely tried to match their prodigious output joke for joke but I think all those years spent on their knees 'praying' had given them a significant competitive edge.  Eventually I simply sat back and let it all wash over me, secure in my role as audience and drink purveyor.  I honestly don't believe that we stopped talking and joking and laughing the entire time.

At one point when the Alpha Nun stopped to catch her breath the little Beta Nun leaned over and whispered conspiratorially "you know you're not the first man to buy me a drink" to which I (with uncharacteristic aplomb) replied "well how about the first to buy you two?" while waving my drink book and calling for another round.  I suppose if I were Catholic that little maneuver would have bought me an extra million laps or push ups in Purgatory but since I'm what they call a "Reformed" Christian (albeit one still needing quite a bit of additional reformation) I am convinced that "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate" which in my admittedly eccentric reading of scripture means my little nun "tootilage" was in fact all God's idea. After all, they were His nuns.

But Roman or Reformed, in Purgatory or Predestined I don't think I've ever laughed more.  Nuns are cool.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why it's hard to reform Harvard Trained Economists or Crack Whores - The Case for Epistemological Modesty

Something I wrote back in 2014.

Okay I'll admit that writing a piece on epistemological modesty demonstrates a certain lack of.....epistemological modesty. But Emodesty (oh please God, don't make me write epistemological again) is an essential ingredient in any constitutional republic or indeed any well functioning society.

So what is Emodesty you ask? It's the recognition that we fallible human beings know rather less than we think we do. There is a natural tendency to explain things that happen in causal "just so" terms: that glass full of vodka smashed on the floor because you were smashed on your feet. You see: cause and effect. Yet that example is flawed: the glass didn't smash just because of your BAC level was north of .3, it smashed because of a whole expanding tree of causality: the glass was glass, the temperature was south of 1500C so the glass was brittle rather than molten, the glass was held in your hand at a height sufficient to gain breakage velocity, the floor was tile rather than rubber, your hands were slippery from the soap you failed to rinse off and so when your smashed mind caused your normally modest gesticulation to explode into a grandiose gesture the friction between your fingers, the soap on your fingers and the condensation on the glass and the glass fell below some critical level that some poindexter could explain but I can't, leading the glass to first go up and then because of the Earth's gravity come flying back down above critical smashage velocity whereupon you were sent home in a cab to sleep it off. See what I mean? It was the damned floor, not six vodka tonics that caused your girlfriend to break up with you.

And I haven't even gotten to the most important reason we need Emodesty: human agency. When you throw humans into a causal tree - when they're part of the sordid "just so" story, so to speak - their dynamic responses to changes in their environment make prediction vastly more difficult.

This is why we have gotten pretty good at predicting tomorrow's weather but can't predict whether the stock market will go up in the next minute, hour or day much less what your date is going to do if you 'accidentally' touch her boob. Natural systems lack any sentient control or feedback loop (well, except when God wants to smite someone) and therefore in theory with enough information and processing power the causal, deterministic tree can be mapped forward from a known state with some level of statistical accuracy. Not so with us humans: we respond to changes in the environment which cause other humans to respond which causes us to respond to their response and so on and so forth. Thus, human mediated processes are far more dynamic and far less predictable or manageable than natural or synthetic systems.

There are several critical drivers of this 'random walk' result:

The information problem - Fred Hayek, a Nobel Laureate from Chicago (my fair school) won his Swedish Gong for explaining why central planners couldn't plan their way out of a wet paper bag. It turns out that there is an immense amount of information that each of us process to make economic and social choices every day. This information is distributed and particular to us and as such, is unavailable to any central authority that seeks to 'optimize' a process to achieve a 'desired' outcome 'for' us. For example, the simple task of figuring out how many T Shirts of which colors, styles, sizes and assortments will be demanded in which locations at what price at what time of the year is beyond any central planner's ability to compute. However, a market composed of many distribution, manufacturing and selling points interacting with millions of customers every day figures it out, even if there's always some ridiculous end of year blowout sale to move the chartreuse XXXL women's half tees with the bare midriff that buyers were sure was going to take the big 'n hefty market by storm last winter.

The just so fairy tale problem - when we seek to manipulate others, we put ourselves in their shoes without being them. So a Harvard trained economist (God help us all) pretends that he's a crack whore on the mean streets of Scarsdale...wait, Hell's Kitchen and then explains how his pet theory or project or more likely manipulation will cause this crack whore cum Ivy League honors graduate living in Scars...Hell's Kitchen to choose the sunny uplands of purity, chastity and rare single malt scotches rather than the crack pipe, Antoine and his list of nice 'friends' who "just want to spend a little time with you". Which works just about as well as a crack whore modelling Biff and Muffy's marital reconciliation which isn't going well because Biff's a real whiffenpoof and Muffy's preference for small batch Gin turns her into a martini whore. We all like fairy tales, particularly ones where we manipulate others to do what we think they ought to do. And like all good fairy tales, we (the prince, or princess or frog who becomes one) always end up getting what we want the way we want it, even though it's not us doing any of it, even the wanting.

The dynamic response problem. Even if we could get all of the information that the crack whore had at a given point in time and even if we were a crack whore who understood crack whores and knows all about Antoine and his so called 'friends' we would still struggle to predict how crack whore #1 would respond to interventions by (Harvard trained) crack whore #2. This is because in human relations every action has a reaction that is driven by so many unknowable factors that it's as if in our smashed glass example the floor kept flipping from tile to cotton wool while gravity fluxed from none to Jupiter's and we cycled between the alcohol consumption of Mormons, backsliding Baptists and Welsh poets.

This is why people who try to use the state and it's immense power to take, hurt and humiliate others into being 'good' or at least 'better' shouldn't. Because inevitably they end up doing things that lead to outcomes that were not predicted in places that they didn't expect that have consequences that weren't in the spreadsheet that Biff typed up to hide his list of glee club 'friends' from his drunk whore of a wife. Frederic Bastiat - the last good French economist (yeah, I'm lookin' at to you, Piketty) called this 'Things seen and things unseen' - the tendency of of interventions into human interactions (which is all an economy or glee club or S&M bar is, really) to generate unpredictable outcomes elsewhere that swamp the so called benefits of the intervention and make the intervener look stupid to the people he is trying to manipulate even if he gets pelted with praise from the other Harvard trained economists (God help us all).

And tragically, our fair Government in the Imperial Capital of Washington DC is just one big fricking manipulation. Indeed a better name for the place would be 'Manipulations R Us' because toying with us is what they specialize in. And sadly, most people, drowning in their own 'just so' logic and towering self righteousness lack the epistemological modesty - hell, they can't even spell it or know what it is, much less have it - to restrain the pack of thugs, pugs, mugs, looters, shooters and Senators that infest the capital like tapeworms.

Their motto, indeed our glorious Federal government's motto is "make them pay". Or maybe it's "gimme, gimme, gimme" - either way it's bad.

In future installments I shall give those willing to undertake the arduous process of recovering their EModesty some rather juicy examples. Recovering one's EModesty is sort of like going to AA to recover your sobriety: it's a lot of sitting around and saying "Hi, I'm Bill and I'm a self righteous, blinkered, manipulative bastard" and then the crowd goes "Hi, Bill". Sadly, there are virtually no EM groups active in Washington DC or Cambridge MA at the present time. God help us all.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Daisy Jane

I was listening to some old music from my high school days in Jakarta.  In particular Daisy Jane by the band America.  Critics will tell you that America's music was "unremarkable", "pedestrian", even "bland" and I suppose they're right. But for me their songs are the soundtrack to a particularly pivotal time in my life.  I was fourteen or so and was learning for the first time what it was to truly, deeply love someone else and to invest that person with a significance that had heretofore been invisible to me. That more often than not the object of my affections had no inkling made no difference at all.  It was my amazement that I could feel so deeply that came first eventually to be followed by the markers of manhood necessary for it to be requited.  But oh what strange and wonderful emotions I felt back then. For it seemed that anything was possible and that everything could be beautiful.

Now that I'm on the wrong side of fifty and divorced I know that the game of love is filled with at least as much pain as joy and that it often can end up more akin to a marathon or forced march. Like most of us, I've collected (and inflicted) my share of emotional cuts, scrapes and bruises and they've made me cynical about others' (and my own) motives - why is she interested in me?  What does she want? -  until it seems there is nothing left inside but jaundiced suspicions.

Yet...yet...when I listen to the old songs I still feel the stirrings of possibility and hope.  Somehow against all evidence to the contrary I continue to believe in love.  Believe that there is someone somewhere out there for me, someone who will make this world brighter, less lonely.  It may be a pipe dream but it's a good dream and I refuse to give it up. Which is why I still listen to Daisy Jane.  Yeah, I'm a sap, so what's your excuse?

Daisy Jane
By America

Flyin' me back to Memphis
Gotta find my Daisy Jane
Well, the summer's gone
And I hope she's feelin' the same

Well, I left her just to roam the city
Thinkin' it would ease the pain
I'm a crazy man
And I'm playin' my crazy game, game

Does she really love me
I think she does
Like the stars above me
I know because
When the sky is bright
Everything's alright

Flyin' me back to Memphis
Honey, keep the oven warm
All the clouds are clearin'
And I think we're over the storm

Well, I've been pickin' it up around me
Daisy, I think I'm sane
And I'm awful glad
And I guess you're really to blame, blame

Do you really love me
I hope you do
Like the stars above me
How I love you
When it's cold at night
Everything's alright

Does she really love me
I think she does
Like the stars above me
I know because
When the sky is bright
Everything's alright

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

University of Chicago Horror Story or....the Fall of the House of Friedman.

This is the reading room of the William Rainey Harper library, the under-graduate library at the University of Chicago. Kind of pretty huh – well we’ll see how pretty it looks to you after you’ve heard my tale. Because it was here, well just outside here, that I made one of the most shocking discoveries of my young life – one that would change me forever. I had just matriculated the U of C fully intending to get my Phd in Economics until - realizing that Phd meant you had to actually understand calculus rather than just pass the class - I settled for that "Gentleman's C" of degrees: the MBA.

As career and money minded harlots in the high temple of academe we MBAs were held in a certain amount of contempt. Because while we were reasonably smart and hard working we were also terribly normal. And of course there was that odd spot of bother that most of had with the calculus. I realized that I wasn't in Kansas anymore the first day that I moved into my apartment just off campus. I ran into my next door neighbor on the elevator and after introductions I asked him what he was studying and he said "linguistics" to which I replied "that's cool, which language?". He reacted as if I had Ebola: he stepped back and his face turned bright red as he hissed "It's Ling-Guist-ics! Not languages!"

"Oh, ah, so I so what is the difference exactly?"

At that he fled towards his room muttering sinister imprecations about "fucking MBAs" or something to that effect. I never saw him again - I believe he asked to be transferred to another apartment because before I knew it he had been replaced by this nice evangelical Christian Japanese couple - or at least they strummed evangelical tunes with Japanese words which I assumed were Jesus oriented. In other words: more freaks who disturbed the intensely secular and intellectual karma of all the other Maroons.

Because that was what we were: Maroons. You see the U of C was founded with a huge check from John D. Rockefeller Junior. Junior had a knack for giving away money that was at least as brilliant as his dad’s was for making it and it was the University’s good fortune to be standing directly underneath him when he gushed forth. This is one of the reasons that the University of Chicago is tied with Cambridge University in England for the most Nobel Laureates associated with a University despite being one tenth as old. Because when JD Jr. brassed up the other big name US universities were all busily climbing the social register – sneering, discriminating and oppressing while prioritizing the admission of callow white boys who had as they so quaintly put it: “sand”. Although why they wanted so many beachcombers I do not know. So for many years Chicago got all of the smart kids who hadn’t been to the beach resulting in a lot of the sort of prizes that smarty pants win.

So what was I talking about again? Ah, yes Maroons: it turns out that at the time of the great Rockefeller Money Flood Harvard was considered the primo college brand and since they were called the Crimsons the branding geniuses at U of C HQ decided: “hey, Maroon is a drab imitation of Crimson so let’s brand ourselves as a drab imitation of Harvard” – they might have been geniuses at calculus but they didn’t know squat about marketing. Nor had they ever seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon. What a bunch of maroons.

So the other Maroons really looked down on us MBAs even more than they looked down on the budding shysters over in the law school - which hurt our feelings not at all because if all those flaky maroons thought lawyers were swell then we sure as hell didn’t want them to think we were. Which is probably one of the reasons we came up with the idea for “Liquidity Preference Functions” in the first place - the liquidity preference is a concept in financial economics that says ceteris paribus (not that it ever is) people would rather have a five spot in their pocket than an IOU from their loser brother in law because they can use the five spot to fulfill their real liquidity preference for alcohol while no one in their right mind would take the idiot B in L’s marker for love or money or more to the point for that alcohol - which of course wasthe point of our Liquidity Preference Functions. And when the weather was nice we held them out of doors in the quadrangle in front of Stuart Hall which was the old neo Gothic pile where all of the B School’s lectures were held. It was also right below the undergraduate reading room of the William Rainey Harper library – command central for the strangest mob of undergraduate matriculants ever to matriculate with their pants on.

Imagine the scene: It’s five pm on a Friday in September at least four weeks before midterms. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the beer is flowing. The stereo system is pumping out the Rolling Stones Tattoo You album at collegiate decibel-age and the boy ‘n girl MBAs are starting to get their weekend college grooves on, something that at least half of us hadn’t experienced since the last time we were in college and had dreamed about almost every night since (OK, maybe it was just me but still). And what did we hear through Mick Jagger’s wails? the shouts and curses of undergraduates from library windows far above us. Shouting at us to turn the music down and go inside. Naturally we thought this was just undergrads pulling our chain because they wanted some of our beer so we pointed out that any girl could come down and get beer for free and under duress said that any guy she was with could have some too (the business school was seriously short of women and none of the women we had were interested in undergraduate men, well…boys really) - but they didn’t come down, not even the chicks. They didn’t want our beer, they didn’t want to meet a bunch of studs who were this close to making the big bucks. They didn’t want us at all. They wanted to study. No, honest. I am not making this up. Ask anyone who was there.

And that’s not all because the story gets even darker. Not only did they want to study, they wanted us, the noble, normal ones to go. So they called the cops on us. On a Friday at five thirty pm in September when the birds were singing and the sun was shining and the beer was flowing. And did I point out that the beer was free to almost all comers? When the cops arrived we of course gave them a snootful which they happily quaffed as they explained sorrowfully that we would have to go. We said “Aw C’mon” to which they responded with sheepish, outstretched arms as if to say “we agree with you brilliant MBAs and would prefer to drink beer, meet women and rock on with you and we do not understand the bizarre aliens jeering at us from upstairs any more than you do but we work for bizarre aliens just like them only worse so to keep our jobs we’ll just take your beer and make you go inside.” It was that bad. Even the cops were trapped in the darkness. Cops who wouldn’t – couldn’t hang with us and show the girls their cool guns or even make their sirens go "woop woop". Dark times I tell you, dark times.

And that searing experience has colored my perspective on life to this very day. Because if undergraduates at an accredited college at five o’clock on a Friday a full four weeks before midterms when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the beer is flowing for free turn it down to study more (did I point out that it was Friday evening four weeks before midterms?) then the world is a much darker and less comprehensible place than I had believed possible.

Yes, my innocence died that day in Chicago amidst the free beer, Rolling Stones and hysterical jeering freshmen, never to return again. May God have mercy on our Souls

Saturday, May 23, 2015

JES "Romance". Or a groundhog trapped among the angels: failing to come of age in 1970s Jakarta

They say that boys develop slower than girls and I believe them.

When my son graduated the sixth grade - excuse me, but when did people start graduating the sixth grade? My Grandfather only made it to the sixth grade but they didn't hold a bleeding graduation for him did they? No they sent him off to work as a tool monkey on oil rigs - imagine the educational credentials you need to be a twelve year old tool monkey. But my son's school had to have a graduation ceremony where every kid was expected to recite a poem or somebody's used speech or bang on a piano and if they screwed up would cause their parents to lose face with all the other scheming, grasping social climbers that infested Ladue like termites on a Baobab tree. So parents would hire teams of professionals to turn their lackluster spawn into a poor facsimile of a pop star for one lousy rendition of a 3 minute song so they could one up the Friedmans only to be upstaged by the Korean scholarship kid playing flawless Chopin. Bloody private schools. Or when I'm thinking more clearly: bloody overachieving immigrants.

But I digress. As I was saying, it was when my son graduated the sixth grade that I first realized something quite shocking: among the thirty or so students graduating there were 15 little boys in matching blue blazers and mommy's best bowl cuts and a few little girl equivalents. Then there were 11 or 12 beautiful, poised young women who seemed to have strolled into the wrong ceremony. I turned to my (ex) wife and said: I don't remember it being like this when I was their age. She looked at me dismissively and said: "it still is" - no, that's no true, she didn't say that but she was thinking it. What she really said was "Oh yeah, that's the way it is at that age".

I had no idea.

Not a clue, not even a hint of a clue of the immense chasm between boys and girls. Which is funny because I lived it. No that's not quite right: I writhed in agony over it for years on end. I was a small, late developing and particularly testosterone challenged young man (young man being what older adults call you when you exhibit absolutely no evidence of manhood whatsoever). And I had no idea what was really going on. Yes, I had had the "talk" and had played tether-ball while the girls had all the "extra talks" which in retrospect wasn't fair at all. Not only were they emotionally, physically and for all I know spiritually more mature, they also got more coaching - how in the devil did they expect me to cope with such an extreme power imbalance?


For I was Protoman - in theory male but lacking virtually all evidence thereof, a subterranean dwelling groundhog like creature who when I first came to the surface in seventh grade encountered such dazzling creatures, such angels, so unlike the grubs and roots that I had lived with my whole life that I was blinded and like Punxsutawny Phil forced to retreat and await the end of my puberty winter six years hence. Were I wiser, I would have stayed underground or gotten sent to a military school or boys reformatory or supermax prison or some other place less harrowing than American style secondary coeducation was for me.

But of course I didn't.

Because I had fallen in love. With all of them. Well almost all of them or at least in love with the idea of being in love with all of them which admittedly - given my lagging hormonal chemistry - was a rather foolish thing to do. But as I stipulated earlier I had absolutely no idea that the girls that I saw walking around my school had in the space of a few short months moved light years beyond the kids that I used to beat at Indian leg wrestling. And crucially, that I had stayed stuck firmly in the same shrimp sized space I had always inhabited. It was this dichotomy between my self image: "Debonair man about campus", my reality: "Pure boy containing no less than 10% pimples by weight" and the changed status of the girls around me: "Goddesses" that was the source of so much pain and suffering through my junior high and high school career. Take for example the problem with my locker.

At my international school in Jakarta we had those little lockers that stacked five one on top of the other and I had the middle one. The two lockers above me were occupied by two of the tallest, blondest girls that I had ever met. They were from Germany and Holland respectively and they had breasts. At about exactly my eye level. They would come up between class talking in their (in my humble opinion) sexy Germanic accents and stand there with their lockers open expecting me to weave between their - I mean them - to get to mine. Sometimes they would drop things on me and I would pick them up for which they thanked me the way a young Marlene Dietrich must have thanked Humphrey Bogart for saving her from Nazis, turning me into a gibbering, crimson ninny. To this day I attribute my "C" in Algebra I to poor locker placement. I cannot understand how the school could be so lax as to not consider the threat of psychological trauma to boys like me when allocating locker space.

Then there were the Bikinis. There is this notion among church ladies and other paragons of virtue that small revealing bathing apparel is immoral. I don't know about immoral but for protomen like me it was definitely stressful. Particularly in Jakarta which is five hundred miles away from the equator and warm all year round. And given that one of the 'hot spots' for teens centered upon an American club with a large pool and a notable lack of air conditioning, bikinis were de rigueur. Bikinis weren't a big problem in the fourth grade but the bikini issue began to rear its curvaceous head in sixth grade and was a roaring monster by seventh, expanding in certain directions every year thereafter. I'm not really sure girls understood just what an impact all the bikini-age had on the boys around them. Perhaps it was a special topic covered while we were playing tether-ball. Something along the lines of "OK girls here's something that will drive the boys nuts but the key is that you can't ever let on that you know it's making them gaga. Here are the three key maneuvers guaranteed to temporarily cut blood supply to the male brain reducing their ability to cope by the equivalent of ten IQ points". Me, I think I generally lost twenty because encountering bikini clad teen girls limited my vocabulary to single syllable words and "ums" and I had an incredibly difficult time answering simple questions with anything but a strong, declarative grunt.

Now I'm all "yay" bikini - except for my daughter of course - but back then I honestly don't know how I made it through holidays like spring break and Christmas what with all the exposed Goddess flesh.

To get girls to pay attention to me I often would 'hang out' with guys that I thought girls liked or at least that girls stood near for extended periods of time in the hopes that whatever attracted girls to them would rub off on me. One time I was hanging with a couple guys who seemed to be friends with the Girl of My Dreams du jour. They were using a code that I later found out had to do primarily with girls' private parts. This code was not one that I was familiar with as I tended to learn all of my more salacious vocabulary and details from my (much faster developing) younger brother. So I was standing with these....gentlemen when The Girl drove up on her minibike. I bobbed, gulped and choked in lieu of a greeting while my friend - we'll call him "Tom" began the intricate dance of insult that he had been dared into by the other kid present who we will call "Brian" for want of a more appealing name. Tom began this particular dans macabre with the classic veiled innuendo to which the young lady (young lady not implying lack of maturity as young man clearly does) in question responded with a firm nolle prosque to which Tom countered with the appropriate (unbeknownst to me) insult. Which caused her to make a face - at which time I - thinking the joke quite different than the one that Tom was trying for - laughed. Earning me the most withering glare that I had ever experienced from an incumbent Girl of My Dreams who then proceeded to fire up her mini bike and drive off. I have to confess that I never had the courage to look her in the eye again - and we rode on the same school bus every day. It was a particularly tragic loss to me because she had the Suzuki. And the thing was: I didn't even know what the hell anyone was talking about.

Our school, not being in the bible belt - actually we were in the Koran belt but that didn't apply to us - had a lot of dances. Dances that included slow dancing without anyone walking around trying to stick their hands in between the dancers - what is it about certain people that they get their kicks at finding couples who are enjoying their dance and try to stick their damned hand in between them like it's some blue stocking menage a trois? Honestly, don't teachers get enough at home?

But I digress. Slow dances sans handsy teachers turned out to be a problem for me. Surprisingly I was able to get girls to dance with me but when things got close "He" reared his ugly head and I had to break the clinch to "get something to drink", "go the bathroom", "burp", or some other lame excuse. Little did I know that girls considered "His" arrival as simply an occupational hazard of slow dancing with boys, not that they particularly wanted "Him" to show up during "Color my World" but what were they going to do? This paranoid obsession of mine became a particular problem when a truly beautiful girl of Polynesian extraction took an uncharacteristic interest in me at the annual Sadie Hawkins day dance. I know, it freaked me out too. She kept asking me to dance fast dances over and over again clearly expecting me to reciprocate on the slow ones but I knew she was only doing that because she didn't know about "Him". As soon as she found out about "Him" what would she think of me? So I wasted an entire evening alternatively dancing with and ignoring the most beautiful girl that had ever shown the slightest interest in me.

We remained friends despite my deranged dancing behavior and it led to other incidents that I shudder to recall. For example, she was bigger than me. Not that she was fat, she was simply an older, much more mature, full figured girl normal for her age and I....wasn't. So we were at some event or party at the International club which had a pool even bigger than the American club and she of course was in a bikini (what was it with these girls and their bikinis?) and everyone was doing the game where you put your girlfriend on your shoulders and then they 'fight' - the sport has a lot of touching and grabbing and girls fake fighting so you can understand its appeal. Except I was with someone who outweighed me. So we solved the problem by me sitting on her shoulders which resulted in us rising to the top of the league tables but was not a particularly good sign for a budding romance. Indeed this party closed out the school year and by the time I came back to Jakarta in the fall my Polynesian princess had found an older man replete with whiskers, muscles and most importantly, a total body mass at least double mine. Sigh.

Then there was the girl in my Modern History class: V. She was great: beautiful, friendly, open, engaging - even to me - me! I thought she was a cross between Diana Goddess of the Hunt and that French lady they copied for the Statue of Liberty. So I maneuvered myself into permanent perch in the desk next to her the better to moon at her rather than pay attention to class. Until one day when she turned up in a dress. I mean a real woman's dress back in the days when they wore hose and heels and everything. And that was all it took. Well that and the fact that some much older, more worldly man, perhaps a junior, flipped her skirt up in my presence which allowed me to see absolutely nothing. But simply the concept that girls could wear such things and in theory one could go up to them and flip their skirt up so overwhelmed my imagination that I had to move several seats away from her so that I could regain my composure while Mrs. Barbour explained the difference between Cavalry and Calvary - not that I cared that day whether I was ridden or saved.

Eighth grade turned out to be particularly traumatic for me mostly because of my successes: I got into the school Musical, Bye Bye Birdie. Playing a teen. Me. A teen! All I can say is that they must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel to miscast me as a hip 50s teen - I would have been a more credible little brother to someone. And on top of this in a clear error of judgement rising to the level of negligence whomever was in charge of casting gave me a role as a dancer, And not some surreal dancer in leotards but a 50s sock hop dancer. With a girl. You know, dances that had dance moves and slinging the girl around and all that. They had yet to develop the acronym OMG but that is in fact what I thought when I read that I was to be paired with my friend's older sister S. More like OMG-WTF with extra skulls and daggers. And surprisingly when S found out she didn't have the typical response that girls unfortunate enough to be paired with me had: lodging a formal protest with the authorities and failing that, contracting a highly contagious disease that cleared up just after the event in question. No, she actually swallowed her pride and undertook the daunting task of turning me into someone who wouldn't completely humiliate her on stage. I repaid her mercy in the cruelest way possible by becoming completely infatuated. Which was a no brainer: beautiful? Check, seemed to tolerate me? Check, was constantly touching me and telling me better ways to touch her? Cheecckk! So you can see she was doomed to having Pimplestiltskin hopping around her until she ran me off.

Which happened pretty quickly after I took my younger brother's advice on how to handle 'babes' as he so eloquently put it. He said "you just go up to her and tell her you like her"

"Then what?"

"Whaddya mean what? You say that and if she says she likes you then bam! you're 'in'."


So I went with the little bro's advice which went over about as well as you would expect. For if she didn't get the point from my witty repartee she definitely got it from my crazed, desperate look. So aside from casting doubt on my brother's claims of romantic expertise the entire exercise was a huge, humiliating bust. Not that S was cruel - she let me down as easily as any demented kid could be. But it still felt like I'd run over myself. Over and over again.

You would think with all of my romantic false starts, hiccoughs, stumbles, trips and falls that I would have been particularly sensitive to the pain that others experienced playing the game of romance without a full deck. And you would be wrong. There was a girl in the grade below me, K. She had braces and was tall in that awkward way that teenage girls sometimes get: all knobby knees and elbows. One day she mustered the courage to ask me to the Sadie Hawkins day dance. I could tell what was going through her mind and knew how stressful it must have been for her but I still harbored dreams of repeating my Polynesian experience (and this time getting it right) so naturally a 'hot commodity' like me didn't want to be tied down by a member of the 'awkward squad'. So I made some ridiculous excuse and she reacted the way that I did in such circumstances: with equal parts embarrassment and disappointment. And the sad thing is I actually liked K and we would have had fun. But the saddest (and most karmic-ly appropriate) thing from my perspective happened five years later. I was back home for the summer and I spied perhaps one of the two or three most beautiful women I have ever encountered in my life. Honest. I am not exaggerating. She must have seen me staring because she turned and walked straight up to me but instead of telling me to buzz off and get a life, she said "Hi Bill". It was K, in town for her wedding.

Eventually Mr. T (I pity the man who ain't hairy and don't smell) showed up at my door. But deeper voice and actual muscles notwithstanding, when it came to the fairer sex I remained the same consummate ass I had always been. And the best example I can give of my supreme ass hattery (assitude? assness?) was my rematch with S if you can call yet another complete fiasco a 'match'. It was over a year later at our Concert Choir's end of year Anyer Beach junket and blowout weekend (what can I say? we were a peculiarly profitable high school choir) and after dinner somehow my friend C. and I ended up with S. and her friend R. Our friend M. probably would have joined us and kept me out of trouble had he not been on the lam because he had rashly smeared Afitson (Indonesian Ben Gay) on the toilet seat of the choir's largest Bass who in response was enthusiastically seeking M so he could use all of his badass bass-ness to as he so colorfully put it: "wring his scrawny little neck".

So we four strolled out onto the beach. It was a moonlit night (of course) and the waves were crashing and sighing against the shore while palm trees swayed in a breeze filled with the tantalizing scents of Java and Sumatra (of course). And in the distance there were flashes of heat lightning illuminating the waterspouts sinuously weaving around the doomed island volcano of Krakatoa. It was that bloody romantic. Barbara Cartland could have cleaned up had she put that setting in one of her bodice rippers. And it was in this almost comically charged environment that we plopped down onto the soft, dry sand to talk. Somehow C. ended up paired up with R. and I with my previous nemesis: S. Sigh. Thinking that C and R were trying to get something going and being a good and thoughtful friend I swallowed my embarrassed discomfort and sat there talking with S. We talked about this and that as I doodled in the sand. Eventually I drew a line and then absentmindedly made it into an arrow to which she added fletching and then - inexplicably - drew a heart around it in the classic Cupid money shot configuration.

And I froze. What did this mean? My mind began to race: "OMG, OMG, OMG? Doesshereallylikemenow or am I just imagining things? WTF? OhGodohGodohGodohGod whatdoIdo? Is she looking at me, how do I look? What? How? Where?" As my brain descended into panic mode my body seized up. If someone had consulted my System Manager it would have shown my CPU and RAM pegging out at 100%. Now I know that this wasn't technically true but it seemed as if I entered a state of catatonic paralysis with my hand upheld, poised to write on the sand and that so locked was carried back to my hotel room and from there back home. Of course by the time my brain finally rebooted and I could function again my (imagined?) moment had passed. I knew this because in the interim my 'good friend' C had gotten together with S and not R as one would have reasonably expected. On the bright side M lived to smear toilet seats again, narrowly avoiding being strangled by the big bad Bass whose temper had cooled at the same rate as his burning backside did.

And it wasn't long after that that my family left Jakarta, moving to a place where scrub oaks swayed in a breeze filled with the rustic scents of Oklahoma cow pats, where exploding electrical transformers flashed, illuminating the killer tornadoes dancing in the distance and where handsy teachers ruled the land. But maybe, just maybe in Bartlesville, Oklahoma I would find the romance that had so eluded me in the tropics.


Contrary to my elaborate fantasies, I didn't suddenly turn into God's gift to womankind in Oklahoma. Apparently there was a strong global consensus on my many romantic inadequacies at that time. I actually didn't get an honest to gosh girlfriend until I was 20 which was about the time that I started shaving. Since then I've had three 'serious' relationships, if you count my marriage (and boy was it serious), interspersed with a few fiascoes for old time's sake. All three women were both uniquely beautiful and perplexing to me - I cherish my memories of each of them. I wouldn't say that I've been particularly 'lucky' at love (I remain, as ever, something of an 'ass' in this area) but I have realized that having another person who is uniquely yours and you theirs, someone who chooses of their own free will to intertwine lives with you is something that I have longed for ever since my first futile blunders in the seventh grade. And I don't suppose that will ever change. Because like most people, I need to be wanted and want to be needed.

Author's Note: Believe it or not these stories are all true. Or as true as I can make them over thirty years after the fact. I really was that big of a dope - ask anyone. Some of you may think that I have gotten some of the details wrong which is probably true as my memory today is certainly no better than my 'romantic moves' were back then. That being said, if you don't like my story make up your own damn memories - I mean faithfully record your memoirs for posterity. Then we can have a memory off. God help us

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Mint Juleps? Really?

I just ran in to someone who is actually watching the Kentucky Derby.  It turns out people really do. Who knew?  I mean watching twelve Jumbo bags of Puppy Chow on the hoof run a circle around the largest corral of drunks outside of New Years Times Square isn't my idea of fun.  Particularly when you realize the drunks are drunk on the worst mixed drink since pond scum.  In fact I'm embarrassed to say that I originally thought that Mint Julep was an insult you shouted at cleft palates of the Hebrew persuasion. Which is actually less offensive than the drink.  I mean to sully Bourbon with smashed weeds and sugar is sacrilege.  Noble Bourbon - the firewater that rooked a million Indians (Thanks Great Grand Dad!) out of their allotments. Bourbon - made from the ancient corn plant - native of North America.  Bourbon - product of backwoods peckerwoods everywhere.  Bourbon - so refined yet so simple that even Canadians can make it - even if they get the name wrong.  Bourbon - made by men who may be speaking an undecipherable dialect of English but at least are doing so with their pants on..

I first was exposed to the vile Mint Julep in Vicksburg Mississippi at a restaurant that claimed to have invented the potion - I assume in their secret volcano lair.  When they proudly brought the concoction to me I thought they were funning me - so simple son of the southern plains that I was I said so:  "Ha ha, but seriously, where is this hairlip drink you say is so great?" and to their credit they told the truth (not something I would have done in their place. I would have swept that dreck off the table and said "sorry our Mint Juperator is busted how about a beer?" but I'm fast on my feet) and boy was it embarrassing because between the half chewed mint cud and the sugar I simply couldn't force it down. Yuck O!

But the existence of the Mint Julep does help me understand why the South stuck by slavery way past its sell by date - I mean if the Julep is your regional drink then you're going to be in a pretty crappy mood when the cocktail hour rolls around pretty much every bloody night - enough to make you want to oppress an entire race of people.  Not that mulched cocktails justify chattel slavery mind you - it's just the tragic byproduct of a mixology choice gone horribly wrong.  It's almost as bad as the Cuba Libre whose questionable Rum and Coke combination so devastated Cuba that within a few short decades it fell to Communists who ran on the platform of "No Cuba Libre"  and to their credit they've kept their promise ever since.