Friday, December 18, 2015

Stephen King wrote it...

Now reading another novel--Doctor Sleep--by Stephen King.

Hard to make sense of it over the first 108 pages (as far as I've gotten), but I can tell you the story harkens back to King's earlier masterpiece--The Shining (about an old haunted hotel, the Overlook, in Colorado).

Never knew until I read the preface that FEAR is an acronym for: Fuck Everything And Run

Oh well.

Other memorable lines:

1. "All we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." (Quoted by King from the writings, I believe, of William James)

2. "You better stay somewhere soon, or you won't be able to stay anywhere."

3. "Take me to the movies... Pay my way and buy me popcorn. The dark makes me amorous."

4. "You don't want to date, do you?" (Great pickup line!)

And my favorite:

5. "You take yourself with you wherever you go."

Translation (my opinion): It really doesn't matter where you run off to. Or who you might escape with. You can't get away from yourself.

Dogs--God's chosen animals

Can't resist commenting on two stories I recently read about dogs.

(Found them both on CNN.COM)

One was about cancer-sniffing canines. That's right. Scientists are finding that dogs can detect cancer better than some kinds of high-tech machines.

More research, as they always say, needs to be done. But the day may come when dogs will be used to smell you for cancerous tumors or moles.

Makes sense to me. After all, dogs have a sense of smell hundreds (thousands?) of times more keen than ours.

Second piece I noticed about dogs was from Istanbul, Turkey. Hundreds of dogs (many of them golden retrievers) are roaming the streets there. Once they were puppies and had good homes. But now, bigger and not as cute, their owners have left them to fend for themselves in Istanbul.

They don't have a chance making it on their own because they're so used to being taken care of. As one of the women in the story noted, "All a Golden wants is food, love and affection."

Many of the dogs, thankfully, are being adopted by an agency in Atlanta, Ga., which is helping them find good homes.

Excellent program!

I love dogs. Some dogs are better than some humans. Hate that so many of our four-legged friends are being abandoned in Turkey.

Shame on their Istanbul owners!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

High drama at Congressional hearings

I've never been a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but I sympathize with anyone who has to withstand an 11-hour Congressional (about all things Benghazi) hearing.

It was grilling and exhausting.

It was extremely partisan.

It was at times picking at nit. It was as if Republican Congressmen (prosecutors?) were intent on derailing her path to the presidency.

Hillary, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, endured. And she did pretty well--if you take to heart what the pundits say.

Nothing striking about Benghazi (that hadn't already been disclosed) came out of the marathon hearing.

That said, there WERE some things that troubled me.

Why, for instance, has she said repeatedly that she's revealed almost all her emails (95 percent of them) if that's not the case? Congressman Trey Gowdy, chair of the committee, for example, questioned her about where she has come up with the 95 percent number? Hillary's fuzzy response: her attorneys and others in government handled the email disclosures.

And I don't think we've heard the last about one Sidney Blumenthal--Hillary's most prolific emailer. Who was/is this guy? And why'd he zap so many messages (which Ms. Clinton said were "unsolicited") to the former secretary of state?

One committee member (a Republican) commented in the hearing that something didn't smell right.

Do you think that Hillary Clinton has been totally transparent about Benghazi and her emails?

Or is she hiding something?

I've heard she erased her personal email server.

Totally transparent?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lee Child lights it up

As a writer, I'm often asked what I'm reading or who might be my favorite author.

Hard to say but I do like and admire Stephen King very much. (I've blogged about him before.)

A writer I perhaps haven't mentioned is Lee Child (pen name for Jim Grant). He's British and does the dance extremely well.

While I'm co-author of one novel--Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface--Lee Child, who formerly worked professionally in television, now has 20 novels to his credit.

I've read about 10-15 Lee Child books. Excellent prose in all of them. Tight, descriptive, sufficient complexity and character development to hold your attention. Child writes crime stories that keep you engaged--all of them focused on an ex-Army cop named Jack Reacher. I particularly recommend Echo Burning, 61 Hours and The Hard Way.

In one of his books, someone asks Jack Reacher, 6 foot, five inches tall and 250 pounds, for his identification.

"My name is Jack Reacher," he replies. "I am nobody."

So I have stolen that line when someone asks me for my I.D.: "My name is Larry Timbs Jr. I am just like Jack Reacher. I am nobody."

Jack Reacher roams around the United States getting himself into trouble when he somehow comes upon people in a bind. It could be that they're falsely accused of a dastardly crime, or they themselves have been assaulted or hurt deeply, or they are struggling, against heavy odds, to achieve justice.

You don't want to tangle with Jack Reacher. He's rough. He's a man-handler. He mangles people. He breaks bones--arms and legs and necks (if he has to.)

A drifter who doesn't carry a suitcase or a change of clothes (and only has a toothbrush and a bank card), Reacher has been known to beat senseless and put into the hospital up to four or five men who dared take him on.

You may have heard of the movie "Jack Reacher," starring Tom Cruise. Strange choice of a person (so short in stature) to portray a giant of a man.

If you haven't read a Lee Child novel, give one a try.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Celebrating Clint Howard

Clint Howard, my father-in-law, passed away a few years ago.

But his music will live forever.

This slideshow honors him and his friends and family. Turn up your sound and enjoy:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tennessee hillbilly pacifist is big-time WW I hero

Some of you may have heard about Sgt. Alvin York of Fentress County, Tennessee. He was the most decorated American soldier of WW I, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic action on a battlefield in France.

I recently visited his birthplace (and his gravesite) just outside Pall Mall, Tennessee.

Get a chance, go there. It's well worth it. Here's my story about him--published in today's Charlotte Observer.

And just in case the link does not work, read it below:


Almost 97 years ago, Sgt. Alvin York crawled through the fog from a muddy World War I foxhole in France to take out two enemy machine gunners who threatened to slaughter his fellow American soldiers, and singly killed 25 Germans and helped capture 132 more.

He was America’s most decorated hero of World War I. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honor and and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic actions against the German offensive outside the French village of Chatel-Cheheny on Oct. 8, 1918.

When the gangly, humble York returned to America from the “war to end all wars,” he had a chest full of medals. The press couldn’t get enough of him. He was lavished with ticker-tape parades, keys to cities, hugs and pats on the back from generals, governors, senators and even the secretary to President Woodrow Wilson

Here’s the catch: York, a soft-spoken hillbilly sharpshooter from Fentress County, Tenn., tried – for religious reasons – to avoid being drafted into the Army. York was denied his petition to the draft board and, after much prayer, went off to war.

The rest is history, and it lives on at his home just outside of Pall Mall, Tenn., not far from the Kentucky state line and about six hours northwest of Charlotte.

But when he returned to Fentress County, York didn’t much want to talk about killing, fighting or the ravaging war. By the time it ended in late 1918, World War I had claimed almost 10 million lives. Instead, according to his daughter-in-law, Margaret York, he preferred to focus on his family, faith, local community and schools.

Today, Margaret York, wife of the late Thomas Jefferson York, is a hostess, greeter and tour guide at Alvin York’s Pall Mall residence, part of Alvin C. York State Historic Park. The two-story white frame house in the Wolf River Valley is where York (1887-1964) and his beloved wife, Gracie, lived out their final years. Wander through this five-bedroom house, free and open to the public seven days a week, and get a sense of all the love, laughter and music that filled these rooms. See Alvin and Gracie York’s furniture, including a grandfather clock, piano, pictures, dishes, a replica of the 1903 Springfield rifle he used in the war – even the hospital bed Alvin spent so much time in after he suffered a stroke in 1954.

Not far from the house, and also worth visiting, is the Alvin C. York and Sons General Merchandise Store. Refurbished in 2000, the building is a throwback to the grocery store Alvin operated with his sons after he came home from the war.

The building is now leased from the Tennessee state park system. It features a free, 10-minute video documentary on Alvin York narrated by Walter Cronkite and a gift shop full of souvenirs, coffee mugs, pictures, shirts, quilts and other mementos of Fentress County’s most famous war hero. Plus, the store is one of the very few places that sell the 1941 Oscar-winning movie, “Sergeant York,” (starring Gary Cooper), according to the visitor center’s Ginger Pearson.

“A lot here is about Alvin York the man instead of the hero,” Pearson said. She believes fervently that Alvin York, one of 11 children born to Mary and William York, should never be forgotten.

“He’s someone that the kids can admire and aspire to be like,” she said. “He always thought of himself as a rich man, and it wasn’t wealth. It was all his friends and the people he was able to help in this area.

“He’s left a legacy on all of us here and we’re trying to keep it alive for him.”

Indeed, York made a huge impact on his community when he returned from the war in Europe. For example, he served as president of the York Institute, a school he founded in nearby Jamestown, Tenn., and he worked tirelessly to raise money for education through his nonprofit York Foundation. On many occasions he made speeches, for no fee, to benefit worthy civic causes.

After visiting Alvin York’s store and residence, stop by his gristmill. It’s also part of the Alvin C. York State Historic Park and is on the Wolf River. The mill adjoins a tree-shaded, grassy area with picnic tables and playground equipment. A sandy beach is a good launching point for waders or swimmers.

Alvin Cullum York’s final resting place is in the Wolf River Cemetery, just off Rotten Fork Road and near the state park that bears his name. Alvin’s wife, Gracie Loretta Williams York, is buried next to him. (Two of Alvin’s sons, ages 92 and 85, and a daughter, 82, survive him.)

An American flag flaps gently over the couple’s graves, and here, too, is a giant white cross and angel with folded hands. Picture boards document Alvin York’s life and accomplishments. It is a quiet, peaceful, beautiful place, near the shade of a giant tulip poplar tree – aptly placed for one of America’s most famous soldiers.

Larry Timbs, a Vietnam-era veteran, is a retired journalism professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

It’s about a five-hour drive (almost all of it interstate) from Charlotte to Pall Mall, Tenn. At the Alvin C. York State Historic Park ( are Sgt. York’s gristmill, his two-story house and general store and the cemetery where he and some of his family members are buried. Picture boards illustrate key aspects of York’s life (his parents and his birth, his heroism in the war, his business and farming pursuits, his marriage, the civic causes he supported and his death).

When you reach Crossville, Tenn., on I-40 just west of Knoxville, you’re 47 miles from the state park. From I-40 at Crossville, take U.S. 127 North to the state park. It’s an easy, scenic drive on the road that, before World War I, was built by a road crew that included Alvin York. Today, the highway is named in his honor.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

About the race at Bristol Motor Speedway last night

Okay, so I'm not a big NASCAR fan.

But when you get a free ticket to something called the "Irwin Tools Night Race" at Bristol Motor Speedway just outside Bristol, Tenn., you go.

The steeply banked track, which seems to have been carved out of a mountain canyon, is called the "fastest half-mile in the world." And signs around it boast that it's "The Last Great Colosseum."

Impressions from last night:

1. Tons of white people

2. Confederate flags everywhere (and, to be fair, a bunch of U.S. flags)

3. Thousands and thousands of pickup trucks, motor homes and travel trailers

4. Shirtlessness in the stands

5. Beer cans in the stands

6. White towel waving in the stands

7. Good helpful crew of golf cart and shuttle bus drivers

8. DEAFENING, ear-splitting roar of engines

9. Rough-looking but polite fans

10. Young drivers

Here's a video that I snapped while the drivers were warming up:

Eucharistic miracle

I recently blogged about my questions concerning the Eucharist (Communion) at my daughter's Catholic church in St. Louis.

I'm becoming more informed about why the Eucharist is such a sacred practice in Catholism. To that end, daughter Dorothy sent me this video about a miracle that happened not long ago in Argentina. Son-in-law Patrick shared with me that the Argentine bishop who commissioned the investigation of the miracle was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Today he's known worldwide as Pope Francis. Pretty credible source!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rattlin' good read

This could be a scene right out of the novel "Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface" (by Michael Manuel and Larry C. Timbs Jr. and available on Kindle or Amazon for $6.95). Video used with permission from Mark Garcia. Thanks, Mark!

Hold onto your seat and click below for the riveting video!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Chillin' in the Midwest

I've been in Sunset Hills (a suburb of St. Louis) for the past few days. Here mainly for the baptism of my newest granddaughter. (See photo of my oldest daughter holding the the little one--BORN ON MY BIRTHDAY--accompanying this blog post; see also photo of my new granddaughter under a quilt sewed by my Mom).

Have noticed a few interesting tidbits during my visit.

1. Don't try to take communion if you are not a Catholic. A priest directed me back to my pew (thank you very much) when I sashayed up to the alter and asked to partake during my granddaughter's big day at church. Stupid me (I guess). But I did find the service solemn, moving, uplifting. And I won't forget the sanctuary, framed on the inside with statues of key figures from the Holy Bible and brilliant stained glass windows. The actual baptism took place in the back of the church. A flying saucer shaped vessel--about 3 feet in diameter--held the water. My little cute one was like a perfect angel when the priest christened her. As an aside, son-in-law sent me the following tickler link on something called the Real Presence for my "edification," as he put it, when he read an earlier version of this blog post:

2. If you visit the farmer's market in Kirkwood--near where my daughter lives in Sunset Hills--do not take your dog. That is, do not take him or her if he's breathing. (See curious sign that I noticed this evening at the market.)

3. I don't often read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (winner of 16 Pulitzer Prizes, according to the newspaper's nameplate/flag), but I think some excellent journalists work for this paper. Consider the following sentences from a profile story in today's edition about an undertaker:

The reporter wrote that the object of his profile calls himself an undertaker. Why? Consider the undertaker's rationale:

"I once told somebody I was a funeral director and he wanted to know what films I had directed."

And then there was this--later in the story (which I'm offering as my quote of the week).

"My grandpa was an embalmer. My Dad was an embalmer. My uncle was an embalmer, and I have been a licensed, practicing embalmer for over 32 years. I'm a damn good embalmer and really good deconstructionist."

4. If you come to St. Louis, eat at the Spaghetti Factory. It's down by the Mississippi River among a bunch of ancient cobblestoned streets. Kind of hard to get to but worth it. Food's delicious. Last time I ate there was about 1980, when I worked as a journalist about 70 miles away in Vandalia, Ill. Never dreamed I'd come back for another meal 35 years later!

5. My daughter and her husband, parents now of three wonderful children, have a sign posted in the living room of their home. (See accompanying picture). Good rules for everyone to live by!
6. Remember Officer Darren Wilson--the cop who last year killed Michael Brown? (See his mugshot with this post). Remember all the fuss and riots and burnings and protests? Officer Wilson lives just a couple of blocks from my daughter. Really and truly. But no one has seen him in months. Is he in the Witness Protection Program? I wonder.
7. Lastly (related to number 6), there was another cop shooting of a black man last night in Ferguson, prompting violence (but not as much as last year, thankfully), and generating a fair amount of racial tension. How will it play out? Only time will tell. Got a chance to chat with a park ranger at the St. Louis Arch. Here's what he told me about the trouble in Ferguson: "We're waiting for it to go away. It's what you make of it. We've got the 80/20 rule here in St. Louis. 80 percent 're good; 20 percent 're knuckleheads." Well put.

Footnote: Get a chance, check out the following blog: It's by a member of my extended family. She's an excellent writer. We need more bloggers and less Facebookers. You go, girl!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Farewell to a good man

If you're like me, you fear and dread going to the dentist.

I've always been afraid of someone poking around in my mouth or drilling or yanking or filing.

Maybe it's because an Air Force dentist (during the Vietnam War era) hurt me way back when. Or maybe it goes back earlier than that--to my boyhood. Perhaps a dentist did me wrong. Inflicted pain and aching.

Dr. Mark Landrum of Piedmont Dental Partners in Rock Hill never hurt me. Always, with his caring, professional staff took excellent care of me. Consistently was gentle, careful, meticulous, professional, efficient.

But Dr. Landrum, who unfortunately died a few weeks ago at the age of 54, was even more than that. Many, including yours truly, will say he was the best, most skilled dentist they ever had. But we shouldn't also forget that, along with all that talent and professionalism, he treated his patients like people. He knew some of us were scared and loathed coming to the dentist. He knew we'd rather be someplace (any place) else. He knew we were babies when it came to getting our teeth taken care of.

But he put up with us. No, he did more than that. He REALLY CARED about us--about all his thousands of patients over the years--and made sure they went away happy, with excellent dental treatment.

Dr. Landrum, like so many dentists, I'm sure, bounced from treatment room to treatment room at his office on Constitution Avenue in Rock Hill (and now I wonder how on earth he did that!). But for all that bouncing around, he was GOOD. He always spoke to me (and to other patients in the other rooms). Always strived to put us at ease and make our dental visit the best it could be.

He and his staff succeeded like no other dentist and staff I've ever seen.

And I've been to a lot of dentists in my time. I'm 67 years old, but Dr. Landrum, my dentist for some 25 years, was the best.

I've been living in Johnson City, Tenn., about a four-hour drive from Rock Hill, since I retired from Winthrop University in 2012.

But you know what?

I always drove back to Rock Hill (more than 200 miles from Johnson City) to keep my appointments with Dr. Landrum.

People here tried to persuade me to find a dentist in Johnson City. "No way," I always told them. "I have the best dentist in the world in South Carolina!"

One more tidbit. Flashback to April 2008. I had double-bypass open heart surgery (scary stuff) at the VA hospital in Asheville, N.C. But before the surgery, the VA said I'd have to be looked at by their dentist. (Apparently there's a connection between dental health and the heart.) The VA dentist assessed my teeth and exclaimed that someone had taken REALLY GOOD CARE of them.

Thank you, Dr. Mark Landrum and your staff.

You were a GREAT DENTIST and a VERY GOOD man.

You will be missed.

(Photos of Dr. Mark Landrum and his staff courtesy of Piedmont Dental Partners website).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Is there life way out there 14,000 light years away?

Exciting, titillating news a few days ago about the discovery of a planet some 14,000 light years (8.4 quadrillion miles) away from Earth.

Planet “Kepler-452b” is thought to be hospitable to life—just like Earth.

Its temperatures are not frigid or scorching. And scientists think that if we could go there, we’d find liquid water, and who knows what else.

Of course, the million-dollar question is whether the planet sustains creatures (human-like, salamanders, deer, birds, dinosaurs or otherwise).

Wouldn’t it be amazing if that were the case?

Kepler-452b (where in the world--or out of this world--did they get that name?), in the constellation Cygnus, is about 60 percent bigger in diameter than Earth. It orbits a star that resembles our sun. It’s also in the “Goldilocks zone”—a place not too hot, nor too cold for life.

On another note, I heard a thought-provocative sermon today. It seems that an old man was whiling away his time on his front porch in one of those so-called iconic rocking chairs from Cracker Barrel.

More of the man’s life was behind him than in front of him. In fact, only a sliver of a few years remained before he would leave this world.

So there he rocked, and thought, and rocked, and pondered.

Rock, rock.

Creak, creak.

Eyes opened drowsily. Then eyes closed. Then back open drowsily.

Rock, rock.

Creak, creak.

These are some of the questions he asked himself:

1. Will I leave this world better than I found it?
2. Have I accomplished all that I want to?
3. Have I been faithful to the Almighty?
4. Been good to my family?
5. Used my money and gifts wisely?
6. Been kind and good-hearted?
7. Generous or greedy and selfish?
8. Made good and wise choices?
9. Been good to my dog?

(I added number 9!)

The preacher asserted that when we live our earthly life, there are no do overs. (No undo command like there is on a computer). That’s it. We die and come before the judgment seat of Christ. What we have done, how we’ve lived our life, what we’ve believed in. All these determine our eternal destiny.

If there are beings (of some sort) on planet Kepler-452b, are they rocking and harboring such thoughts?

I wonder.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Birthday blogger

I’m almost 67—very, very close.

On the verge.

Happy birthday to me (as if I needed to be reminded.)

Feeling the years.

Not as much energy as I once had.

A golfing partner told me recently that life is but a slow death.

Morbid but true.

So much stuff in my mail these days about long-term nursing care, pre-paid funerals and burial plots.

What is there left of my life?

Maybe a few more healthy, vibrant, happy years—if I’m lucky.

Need to really bear down during this homestretch of medicine-taking, frequently going to the VA Hospital (to something called, of all things, the “anticoagulation clinic"). Cynthia and Becky take care of me there, and I have a good, caring, supportive nurse, Barbara—who works on the same floor but on the opposite wing .

Must find God and religion. For I’ve always been a believing Christian but not a very faithful church goer.

Must finish writing this second novel, which Michael (my co-author) and I have titled “Justice For Toby.”

Must take good care of my dogs and my family.

Need to do a better job of expressing my true feelings. (I’ve always had a tough time with that).

Lots of places I yet want to visit. And I have a BUCKET LIST (rhymes, as President Obama recently noted) with F….LIST).

Books and other literature I want to read. Classics. Shakespearean plays. Poems. The New York Times. (Have always thought if I read that newspaper very day, I’d be smart as heck).

Babies to hold and spoil. Children to take good care of before I punch out.

Golf balls to hit. (I’ve never solved the mystery of playing golf but keep trying).

Fish to catch.

Music to listen to.

Walks to take. (I’ve been walking somewhat consistently—almost every day for about two miles—the past two years).

Songs to sing—or at least hum.

Freelance articles to write.

Old friends to reconnect with—especially in Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa, Georgia (Mark Staley, I hope you’re still reading my blog) and Tennessee.

Let the final home stretch begin.

Happy birthday, Larry C. Timbs Jr.!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Amazing Grace

Some folks took issue with President Barack Obama singing "Amazing Grace" yesterday at the funeral of the recently slain senator from Charleston.

But I thought our president deserved an "A+"

I have said this before: No one can hold a crowd like President Obama. No one can connect so skillfully, so closely.

And that's what he did yesterday afternoon in Charleston.

The conclusion of his eulogy for Senator Clementa Pinckney was truly amazing.

And beautiful.

And solemn.

And stirring.

And spiritual.

Yesterday at that service he was more preacher and gospel singer than president. Many of those who heard his words were hurting, grieving, devastated--their families ripped apart by a cold-blooded killer. These same families had offered healing grace to the one who so heinously killed their loved ones, and President Obama's singing was in that spirit.

I loved his rendition of "Amazing Grace."

In case you missed it, here's the clip:

Monday, June 8, 2015

TV commercial highlights our novel

Y'all might know by now that Michael Manuel and I have written (and gotten published in mid-2014) a novel titled "Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface."

Michael, working with an audiologist in Johnson City, recently created a catchy TV commercial that has been airing in East Tennessee. Have a look:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Looking back long ago...

I don't usually blog about myself, but for whatever reason I'm feeling a bit introspective and reminiscent today.

I found a few old photos of yours truly and so here they are--taken long ago.

I never knew how much I weighed when I entered this world, until someone mailed me the birth announcement (from my parents' possessions after they died a few years ago).

So I took my first breath--out of the womb, bloody, naked, screaming, thrashing about--weighing in at a whopping seven pounds!

The one of me looking happy and content in the crib was when I was two and one-half months old (this fact is scribbled on the back of the photo).

I'm standing in one picture next to my two grandfathers--Ed Jenkins (my mom's dad) on the left; James Avery Timbs (my Dad's dad) on the right.
Papaw Jenkins was an intensely religious man. He would sit alone on the porch and pray and recited Scripture every day and every night. He was good, gentle, caring--devoted to his church, Valley Forge Christian Church, which he helped found early in the 20th century. Papaw Timbs, a deputy sheriff in his younger days, liked to fish and hunt, and he loved to play games--horseshoes, checkers, card games such as setback and spades and rummy. I think maybe some of my playfulness derives from him. I cherished every day I had with him. He died in the late 1960s, when I was in the USAF, serving in the Philippines. So I never got a chance to say good-bye to him, something I regret to this day.

And, of course, that's me as an Indian (maybe I should say Native American??) with the knife in my mouth.

I loved playing cowboys and Indians.
I remember having guns and holsters and bows and arrows. And when I got older, I enjoyed watching westerns like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel (with Wire Paladin). (And whatever happened, as the song says, to Randolph Scott?)

Today, I'm 66 years old (soon to be 67) and I dearly wish I could get that playfulness back!

As a bumper sticker prompted me the other day, I should be wagging more and barking less. No truer words were ever spake...

It's worthwhile to look back and try to figure out how I became the man I am today. Where did I come from? What forces (or people) shaped me? And then, of course, there's those inevitable questions dealing with finality: what happens now? Where do I go from here? What will be my legacy? Patrick Yeung, my son-in-law, has put that legacy question to me a few times.

I still don't know how to answer it.

Maybe some day.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Looking into a dog's eyes

I've been wondering about something I heard recently on National Public Radio.

As noted in a blog by Rachel Feltman, a researcher has concluded (not suprisingly, in my opinion) that dogs and humans can communicate very naturally and can easily become friends.

But much of this is all about the eyes--of the dog and the human.

Because locking eyes with a dog, according to the study, creates a tight bond between dog and man.

It has something to do with the oxytocin feedback loop in both the canine and human. Oxytocin is a hormone acting as a neuromodulator in the brain.

When you and your dog stare at each other for several seconds, even, in some cases, for minutes, human and dog each get a chemical boost that leaves both life forms better at bonding and reading social cues.

This only happens with canines and humans, not with wolves (even wolves raised as pets).

One researcher believes that the feedback loop (again facilitated when a dog owner stares into his dog's eyes) accounts for the positive feelings humans have for their dogs. Canines use this mechanism as a "shortcut to our hearts," he writes.

This makes complete sense to me--even though I had never heard of oxytocin. Because when my sheltie (Joe) or my bichon (Michael Jackson) locks eyes it does seem we are somehow bonded closely. And sometimes I believe my dogs can even sense how I feel (well, sick, up, down, depressed, happy, sad...).

I always knew my dogs were smart, perceptive and somehow could get inside my brain.

Now we have evidence.

Bark, bark!! Ruf, ruf!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

What ran through his mind in those final seconds?

One of the biggest mass murderers in history is 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz.

He was the presumably bright, skilled co-pilot on that ill-fated Germanwings jet that crashed a few weeks ago in the French Alps, killing 150 people, many of them high school students and their teachers.

We now know Lubitz was severely mentally ill and should have never been allowed into the cockpit, let alone had the lives of 150 souls in his hands.

Why did Lubitz crash the plane when he locked the pilot, who had taken a bathroom break, out of the cockpit?

Evidently, according to audio recordings found in the plane's wreckage, the captain did his desperate best (unsuccessfully) to get back into taking control of the fast plunging jet. He banged on the door. He yelled, "For God's sake, open the door! Open this damn door!"

But cold-blooded murderer Lubitz kept the plane--an Airbus 320 en route from Spain to Germany--diving into the remote, jagged, snowcapped Alps.

Wonder what he thought in those final seconds--as terrified passengers in the back, realizing their lives were about to end, screamed and pleaded for mercy?

Perhaps it was something along the lines of: "I'm taking this baby down, and soon I won't have a worry in the world. Dumb trusting, stupid, idiotic people. None of 'em deserve to live any way. And after I'm done with 'em, nobody'll even be able to find their bodies. Not even a fingernail for some of
'em. Ha, ha!"

I can see him smirking, licking his lips, eyes wide with anticipation, grinning with devilish delight, fist pumping.

And then, the big, horrendous, monstrous collision into the mountainside.

So many dead. So senseless.

One reason I'm blogging about this is I have a close friend who's mentally ill. I've visited him a few times when he was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit.

Not a pleasant place to spend much time. Last visit, for example, a woman kept pounding on her food tray, angrily demanding this or that from the nurses. Finally, they sent her from the dayroom out into the hall (similar to putting a 3-year-old in time-out). Another man, learning that I was a veteran, asked me if I could take him out of there to the VA Hospital, cause 'they always treat me the best there. I love the VA.'

He was emaciated and pale. Pitiful and so sad and bored--slumped there in the dayroom in his pajamas.

Of course, I couldn't have gotten him out of that psychiatric care facility even I'd wanted to, because such places are locked units. Only a doctor can get you out.

If only Andreas Lubitz had been in a locked psychiatric unit instead of at the controls of that Germanwings jet...

Monday, February 23, 2015

A few questions about last night's Academy Awards

Like millions of other people, I watched the 2015 edition of the Academy Awards. The show started early yesterday evening and lasted till midnight (I guess.)

I'm guessing because I fell asleep at 11 p.m. after watching endless (it seemed) Oscars awarded for really trivial (my opinion) aspects of the movies. Things like best sound editing and best short animation (or words to that effect) and best costume design and best short documentary (or whatever) by a foreign director, and best makeup and hairstyling.


Okay, I get it that it takes great skill to be a sound editor or set designer. But why put viewers to sleep with all these minor awards and the endless, boring acceptance speeches? Why not start strong with Best Picture or Best Actor or Best Actress and work your way down?

My other question is who or what organization chose Neil Patrick Harris to be the emcee last night? He wasn't funny. And he probably missed his husband. Better he stayed home so he could have stayed in his underwear.

And what happened to Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper"? The movie that has taken it some $300 million at the box office and that many have raved about as perhaps Clint's most stunning production ever? Why on earth didn't it win "Best Picture"?

And finally, in the segment where homage is paid to actresses, actors and others in the entertainment business who died in 2014, why no mention of Whitney Houston? Why wasn't one of the best voices ever totally ignored at the Oscars ceremony?


This blog post is for you, Whitney. God bless your soul.

(Oops, I guess Whitney died in 2012. But I don't care. Her spirit lives on...)

Monday, January 26, 2015

How does SK do it?

When you're a writer, you always wonder how others write. And you wonder about what makes a successful writer tick.

I've been wondering a lot lately about worldwide best-selling novelist Stephen King.

He's 67 years old and has written 55 novels. More than 350 million copies of them have been sold.

He writes, I learned in a recent YouTube interview where he spoke to an audience of academics and students at the University of Massachussetts, about 2,000 words a day.

Other tidbits about the worldwide best selling novelist SK:

His mother essentially raised him, because dad skipped the premises. His wife, whom he's been married to for more than 40 years, is Tabitha King. He frequently acknowledges her in his books. He once had a severe drinking problem. He almost died a few years ago when, while out for a walk, he was struck by a car. His genre of writing is variously described as horror, science fiction, macabre, frightening, ghastly. He got his first big financial break in the early 1970s from a manuscript he had gotten disgusted with and tossed in the trash. Tabitha fished it out of the garbage, and Stephen, at his wife's urging, decided to finish it and send it off to a publisher. The couple had a baby at the time and hardly any food or money. But the paperback rights to the "Carrie" manuscript, later made into a full length feature movie, fetched SK $400,000!

Such is how the life of one starving writer can be forever transformed (for the best).

I love Stephen King's novels. I love how he can spin a tale. How his characters come alive and the story holds you--no GRABS you the deeper you get into it. How he can scare the bejesus out of you!

Stephen King, you rock. Below are some of his novels I've read. Get them if you want to read a true literary giant's work.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bill Gates gives us clean drinking water

Dorothy and Patrick, my daughter and son-in-law, recently made me aware of an interesting, almost unbelievable humanitarian achievement backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hundreds of thousands of people die each year, mainly in Third World countries in Africa and Asia, for lack of safe, clean drinking water.

But what these people always have plenty of is their own feces (human poop).

And who knew that feces has water?

How to get the water extracted from the feces and to make it clean and drinkable?

Scientists (again backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) have devised a process, at something called an Omniprocessor plant, that does the trick.

Notice the picture accompanying this blog post of Bill Gates drinking water made from human poop:

Gates says he'd drink the feces-derived water from the Omniprocessor every day. It's that clean and delicious.

After the water is taken from the solid waste, that dried out poop is used to power a process that purifies the water.

Think about the implications for travel into outer space. It will take humans months, maybe years, to travel to another planet. And now they might not have to worry about where they get their next drink of water.

Thank you, Bill and Melinda Gates!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A salute to the fallen cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo

It was a dark, sad day yesterday for free-press loving journalists all over the world.

Twelve people, including some talented cartoonists at the editorial office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, were senselessly slaughtered.

Their offenses: creating so-called blasphemous caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

We often talk about the enormous "power of the pen" in journalism.

But sometimes we forget about the consequences of that power. And we disregard how a few deranged others might respond to it.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had poked fun and ridicule at Muhammad. Some, I'm told, had even drawn him in unflattering sexual poses (distasteful but their journalistic right).

How dare they insult Muhammad??!! (Who's been dead, by the way, for some 1,400 years).

Their drawings doomed them. Murderous terrorists, believing the cartoonists had crossed a sacred line, invaded their editorial offices and within minutes left behind a trail of blood, screaming and panic.

Today, the people of France (and free spirited souls worldwide) have united on behalf of freedom of expression.

"Je suis Charlie!"

I've said it before: the greatest profession in the world is journalism.

A free and rambunctious, aggressive, untamed, unpredictable press is the cornerstone of democracy. (Okay, maybe someone else said that before I did, but you get my point.)

Condolences to the families of those slain at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. And a curse on the murderers. May their souls burn in everlasting Hell. And while they're burning, I hope they have to eat their own poop.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Homeplace revisited

It's good occasionally to re-touch your roots or past.

I took a walk a few days ago in Country Club Estates just outside Rock Hill, S.C.

This is the place were I purchased my first home from the recently deceased Dorothy Shaw in 1986. I instantly liked her when I discovered the house (on my own, without a real estate agent). After scouring Rock Hill all day with realtors, I took a drive late that afternoon through Country Club Estates.

A "For Sale" sign in the yard caught my attention. Tall majestic trees and lots of shrubs also caught my eye. I pulled into the circular driveway and lingered for about a minute. I loved the location--framed by a forest. A short, insistent woman suddenly appeared on the front porch.

"Come on in and have a look!" Dorothy Shaw beckoned.

When I flinched, telling her I might not be able to afford her home, she smiled and assured me she would work with me on a reasonable price.

The final price: $65,000.

The address: 381 Stephanie Lane, Rock Hill, SC 29730

I only lived there for about four years. But in some ways I remember it like yesterday.

The folks who lived behind us were Eddie and Mary Ann Aberman. Good neighbors they were.

Just up the street from us were Mr. Whisonant and his wife Ruby. I used to love riding around with Mr. Whisonant in his pickup truck and listening to his reminiscing about the area.

Claire Sturkey, who had worked at a place called the Human Development Center at Winthrop University (no, they didn't assemble human bodies there!), also lived just a few houses away. Liked having coffee with her and swapping lies about Winthrop.

Virginia Whitesides, who resided with her husband Roger in a huge, stateley white two-story home about two blocks away, was good as gold to me. Southern and kind to the core, she gave me refuge in some really hard times.

Other friends were John and Maureen Berg and their two children, Sandy and Johnny.

We attended Mount Holly United Methodist Church just a few miles away. Chris Poole and his wife Barbara were close friends.

And our children all went to Oakdale Elementary School (pictured with this blog post). That little school must have done a good job, because all three are college graduates.

Also pictured: The house at 381 Stephanie Lane (looks about like it did in 1986!); the mailbox that I put up when we moved in (still standing today after all these years); and Oakdale Elementary School.

It was a good, safe, friendly neighborhood with good people.

I'll never forget it.