Move from Hell

I have to move again?  I’ll just stay here.

When we moved recently from California, it was the move from hell.  Although I am no longer a fan of California, I’m not saying it’s hell.  Well, maybe not exactly hell, but  . . . let’s not go there.  No, I’m referring to the experience of moving.  Twice in less than a year.  That was hell.

Some time back, I heard that moving is one of the top ten stressful experiences.  While I could find no study that backed that up, I did find ones that put it at number 20 and number 32.  It is, of course, a subjective number.  For some, it’s a bi-annual jaunt, nothing of any great consequence.  However, when you’ve lived 18 1/2 years in a house, it’s an arduous task.  First, you’ve accumulated a lot of stuff.  Since we had plenty of storage, we would just stash things away rather than evaluate, “Is this really something worth keeping?”  Yes, sometimes is was not junk, but not something we would ever use again.  So we saved it.  Other times, it was sort of junk.  And we saved it.  To be clear, I’m not talking about stacks of newspapers and old magazines, but more like 15 year-old receipts for tax returns and books we would never read again.  With a two-story library, having over 6000 books with tons of bookends and mementos was, well, cool.  Until we moved.  Second, no two houses are the same.  Even though we were not downsizing, the layout was not the same.  Having done several remodels over the years, the house where we lived, while not perfect, was pretty dang close.  And all our furnishings fit perfectly.  Not so the “new” house.  So we purged like mad.  We gave to the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and the local library (who got about a third of our books for their money-raising sale).  Boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff.  Big boxes.  We sold things that we’d stored since moving there almost two decades before and never used.

One man’s treasure is a Millennial’s junk

We tried to sell some nice antiques, but I found Millennials aren’t interested in “old junk.”  I took pickup loads of other stuff to the dump.  But not enough, we found when we finally did move.

The moving itself was a disaster.  There were not a lot of local companies in our small town.  Even fewer that could handle a move so large.  Like two.  One was not available as soon as we needed to move.  Ernie’s Red Ball Express in Grass Valley was the only choice. So we signed a hefty contract with them.  The plan was to pack for two days, load for two days, drive the less than 100 miles to the “new house,” then unload for two days.  On the first day of packing, I was handed an inventory form to sign before they would start.  It was pages long.  I quickly signed without fully reading each item.  What I didn’t realize was that their evaluator had marked many items with far more scratches, etc., than the items had.  Lesson: even if people are waiting, read EVERYTHING.

I’m not saying these are the actual movers, but . . .

All boxes were to be tagged with a number and labeled as to what was inside.The first day, the three men didn’t even finish the library.  In a panic, the company sent out seven men the next two days.  While I tried to keep track of what they were doing, it was impossible.  After the trucks were loaded, I was to meet them at our destination the next morning.  I tried to keep track with the “bingo cards” that listed the numbers of 605 items as they unloaded so I could tell them where to take each box or item as it left the truck.  Unfortunately, not all boxes were labelled with what was inside or even had a number.  Some of the unloaders were unhappy that I wanted to open the boxes so that they went to the right room (important in a two-story house with heavy boxes being unloaded), so they would just put them wherever they wanted.  A surly one refused to cooperate at all.  But we were finally moved.

Typical box upon delivery

Let’s talk damage.  There was a lot.  I guess I shouldn’t complain.  A friend of mine had the moving van roll over en route and pretty much destroy everything, so I paid extra for more coverage.  If you’re moving, be aware all that is normally provided is a maximum of $.60 per pound.  Think of that.  A valuable table that weighs say 20 lbs. is only worth $12!  I had full value insurance with no deductible.  I recommend that, if your mover has that option.  Not all do.  We listed five items of above-average value.  Two were damaged, one of them destroyed.  I saw a two-hundred year-old Georgian card table come out in pieces.  As we later unpacked, we found 23 items seriously damaged or destroyed and two, a valuable knife and a tactical flashlight, missing.  An interesting later discovery was our Amazon Fire TV stick, that we couldn’t find and replaced, had a new home.  A couple of months ago, we noticed a charge from Amazon on our account.  I called them and was told it was for premium channels.  I told them I never authorized that.  They told me I had watched “Frozen” the night before in my house in Yuba City, CA.  I told them I did not then and never had lived in Yuba City, plus I didn’t even like “Frozen!”  Obviously, it had been stolen in the move.  They immediately cut off service to the “missing” Fire stick.  If not for the thief adding charges to my account for the stolen Fire stick, I might have thought the little device merely misplaced.  I let the person who answered the phone at Ernie’s know the story, but never heard back.  Ah, well.  For more about this move, go to my Yelp evaluation here.  We only unpacked maybe a third of the move, but I had to file the claim at that point.  We had 180 days to file the claim, but another matter made it a rush to file.  That follows below.

Actual killer view at night

You see, once our house went into escrow, we went actively looking in our new location.  Although we finally settled on a house and went into escrow, on reconsideration there were too many negatives, so we dropped the escrow.  That put us in a near panic.  We had to move and had no house.  I mean, we couldn’t live out of our car with a whole household of goods in a trailer towed behind.  So we bought in haste. Don’t get me wrong.  It was a nice house and had an incredible view of the city.  But it wasn’t us.  We don’t have a formal life style.  It had a formal living room and dining room.  The entire main level floor was travertine marble.  Pretty, but cold and formal.  The rooms were, of course, totally different from our previous home and lacking in serious space where we needed it most.  There was no place for a large library, no pantry, no beautiful built-in cabinetry for the TV and DVDs.  Then there was the matter of my cars and shop.  With two garages and a separate workshop, I had plenty of room for our two “civilian” cars as well my 3 classics cars and huge collection of tools.  Not so the “new” place.  The three-car garage barely qualified as a garage, much less a shop. So it was filled with boxes around my two old Vettes.  I also rented a storage space for the rest of my shop equipment and my old T-Bird.  Sure, I could sell one or two, but I’ve owned them from 21 years up to 45 years and lovingly restored them from junkers with blood (from smashed knuckles), sweat (from working in hot garages) and tears (from the costs involved).  I mean, it would be like selling off a child!  With less than 1/3 of an acre and an active homeowner’s association, I had no hope of expansion.  My plan was to put in a lift that would handle the Vettes and let me park our other two cars in the garage, but there would still be no decent shop.  The great view itself harbored another problem.  Although not right in the city, a busy road was down the hill.  At night, periodically a “crotch rocket” would scream up the hill, wound tight and loud.  It seemed like one in the morning was a favorite starting time, followed by regular intervals.  It would wake me and I would maybe catch sleep at ten or fifteen minute snatches as the bikes played Ricky Racers the rest of the morning.  The morning sun from the east-facing window I planned to block with black-out drapes, but the noise was unsolvable.  Like I said, buy in haste.  However, we did not repent at leisure.  We did so quickly.  Within a couple of months, we knew we would move again.  And we did, within four months.

Never really unpacked.  I also hate orange, but planned to repaint.

Moving damage the second time was minimal, nothing serious.  A lot of boxes were still packed and I moved what I could myself (with hired help) before hiring a company for the heavy stuff.  Although the Atlas Van Lines policy from the first move stated the damaged items could not be moved, the insurance company paid almost everything I requested.  Fortunately, I had taken date-stamped pictures before the second move.  And I guess they felt sorry for me.

Where we live now is very quiet, on an acre and has plenty of room for our stuff, my cars and even for a workshop.  It is not formal, but very comfortable.  Sure, there are things I’m changing, making more what we like, and it may never be ideal.  But it feels like home.  And I might even be unpacked by the end of the year.  Maybe.  If I’m lucky.  So now perhaps you understand why I have not posted an entry on my blog for some time.

 

 

Daylight Savings Time- The Big Fraud

Is time real or not?

While anyone who reads my blog knows, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.  But there is one conspiracy, one built on money and myth, that I want to expose.  It’s Daylight Savings Time- The Big Fraud.  Every year, we set our clocks forward or back in an effort to pretend that time is relative.  I’m not writing about how when it’s noon in New York, it’s 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles.  That is a constant, something determined by location, and not something changed at the whim of some legislators.  But when the sun is directly overhead, it’s always high noon, right?  Wrong.  It’s 11:00 a.m. real time when observing daylight savings time.  But why this pretense?  Why pretend the time is not what it is?  The argument is that it saves energy, but I will show that it is a dated and invalid one.  Plus, the negative affects are often ignored.  I won’t do that.

Ben Franklin-
A smart man with a dumb idea

It started with Benjamin Franklin.  He was awakened by a noise at 6:00 a.m. one April morning in Paris and was surprised to see that the sun was giving light to the day.  Being  that he was 78 years old at the time and a scientist, I do find this rather surprising.  However, as the “penny saved is a penny earned” guy, he decided that a lot of money spent on candles could be saved if the work day started earlier and ended earlier instead of working after dark.  He proposed having this happen from March 20th to September 20th.  Since Parisians then usually started the work day at noon and continued until late at night, he calculated a large savings.  He wrote, “For the great benefit of this discovery, thus freely communicated and bestowed by me on the public, I demand neither place, pension, exclusive privilege, nor any other reward whatever.  I expect only to have the honour of it.”  (click here for entire text)  Interestingly, he didn’t just propose people start work earlier and get off earlier in the spring and summer, a much simpler solution than messing with clocks.

No one tried messing with time until the Germans and the British started changing the clocks to save money used to light factories during World War I.  The British plan was to add 80 minutes, in four separate increments of 20 minutes each on four successive Sundays.  The first Sunday was May 21, 1916, and they termed the change Summer Time.  But it was not adopted in America.

Train Wrecks-
A good reason for standardizing time.

Originally, all times were local, established by sundials, rather than standardized.  That meant noon was different in towns not that far apart.  But it could be confusing.  Let’s say you were to meet someone at noon in a town a hundred miles away.  But was that noon your time or the other person’s time?  Since the distance usually was not only East-West or North-South, it would be difficult to know how much difference there was in time between the two.  This problem was exacerbated with trains whose arrival and departure times needed to be standardized for scheduling as well as for safety, so two trains didn’t hit head on because of time confusion.  So time zones were created.  With a small country like the United Kingdom, there was only one time zone, Greenwich Mean Time.  Established when Britannia ruled the waves, it became the reference point for time zones. But America was different, far too large for noon in New York to be noon in San Francisco and the railroads devised their own until 1884. That was when the International Meridian Conference met in Washington DC, and drew up time zones on the globe.  Although Greenwich was set as zero point, interestingly enough the French showed Paris as such on their maps until 1911.  Franco-Anglo rivalry has deep roots.  The U.S. government did not officially adopt the time zones until March 19, 1918.  At the same time, it established Daylight Saving Time (more commonly known as Daylight Savings Time) from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.

Factories in World War I-
The real reason for introducing DST

Daylight Savings Time was not popular in the U.S., but we entered the war on April 6, 1918, so the energy-saving advantages in that day gave a strong reason for it during wartime.  However, it was repealed when the war ended with enough voters in Congress to override President Wilson’s veto.  It became a local option.  A few major eastern cities and states kept the “spring forward, fall back” schedule, but most of the U.S. happily abandoned losing sleep for much of the year.  In 1942, it again became a federal law because of World War II, becoming optional again when it was over in 1945.  Once more, the local communities decided, with some cities and counties choosing to follow DST, while a neighboring ones might not.  Confusion reigned.  On a 35-mile stretch of Route 2 between Moundsville, W.V., and Steubenville, Ohio, there were seven time changes.  Imagine trying to set up a bus schedule of stops along that route!  The Uniform Time Act of 1966 made standardized times, including the Daylight Savings Time schedule from the last Sunday of April to the last Sunday of October, within each time zone.  Only states or territories could opt out of DST, not cities.  The ones to opt out were ones close to the equator, where the daylight hours were the most consistent through the year, which were Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.

Waiting to get gas in 1973

In the name of energy savings, Congress has continued to mess with our clocks.  During the gas crunch of the 1970’s, it passed the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973, which greatly lengthened he duration of DST, first starting it on the first Sunday in January, then changing it to the last Sunday in February.  That act expired in 1975, however, Congress changed the start and stop dates to the first Sunday of April and to the last Sunday of October in 1986.  Not satisfied with just a little messing with our minds and time, in 2007 they went for the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.  All these expansions of DST are based upon flawed information and assumptions.

Main user of energy according to 1975 study

A 1975 study by the Department of Transportation estimated that Daylight Savings Time saved about one percent on energy usage per day it was in effect.  This was based upon the premise that most of the electricity used was for lighting.  Even if that were true then, it is not now.  Air conditioning, televisions and other such high electricity usages don’t care whether the sun is shining or not.  In fact, making people get up before the sun is up, which often happens with DST, more than offsets any gains on the other end.  A study by the Department of Energy in 2008 concluded that any saving was negligible.  (click here for study)  In fact, another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2008 concluded that it was actually costing more to have DST.  (click here for study)   Yet, the 1975 DOT study continues to have the most sway.

Farmers work by the sun, not clocks

Another claim is that it helps farmers get more work time in the fields.  In fact, when the California Legislature scuttled efforts to end DST in 2017, that was one of the justifications.  My father, who was raised on a farm, thought that the farmer argument was laughable, something only a person who had never worked on a farm would say.  Farmers don’t work by the clock, he told me, they work by the sun.  Changing the clock only causes problems.  Because other business run by the clock, farmers are forced to start earlier, disrupting their established schedule to comply with those of trucking companies and such.  In fact, farmers were instrumental in getting DST revoked in 1919.  Alas, they are less of the voting population now and have far less clout.  As a side note, my father, who left the farm and  got a job at GE, had to get up at six every morning to go to work and DST forced him to get up before the sun for much of the year.

“At least I had another hour of daylight!”

A recent article in Forbes gave the five most common justifications for DST and why they are wrong.  (click here for article)  It would seem that the so-called pluses are “fake news.”  What about the negatives?  We humans do not like our sleep habits changed.  Although there are conflicting studies regarding auto accidents and fatalities, with increases right after time changes well established, pedestrian fatalities also take a sharp uptick, as much as triple in some areas.  School children are very much at risk since when the change occurs, they are sometimes waiting for buses in the dark while groggy drivers speed by.  Also, there are more heart attacks when DST starts.  People have less sleep, often staying up later on the “new” time because their body is accustomed to it, while being forced to get up earlier.  All medical research shows that not getting enough sleep is detrimental to your health.  CNN recently did a piece on the many health risks from DST, such as strokes and heart attacks.  (click here for article)  WebMD stated that “Moving our clocks in either direction changes the principal time cue, light, for setting and resetting our 24-hour natural cycle, or circadian rhythm.  In doing so, our internal clock becomes out of sync or mismatched with our current day-night cycle.”  The universal opinion from all studies is that Daylight Savings Time is hazardous to your health.  Yet, unlike smoking, using opioids, or excessive drinking, there are no large movements to stop it, no petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures sent to legislatures.  Like the mythical ostrich’s head in the sand, the body politic acts like ignoring the threat will make it not exist.  But it does.

So, why have DST?  It does give more time after work for outdoor activities like playing golf or grilling steaks.  Obviously, things like watching TV or movies, playing computer games or mucking around on social media are sun-neutral and do not benefit from DST.  While outdoor activities are good, the cost to get one more hour is too high.  Why not play nine holes before work and nine holes after instead of a full eighteen after?  Why not put lights on the patio for late-night grilling?  Daylight Savings Time is no longer needed.  It, like smoking and three-martini lunches, has been exposed as a danger, not worth the cost.  It’s time to kill it so we can live.

 

 

Gourmet, Gourmand, or Foodie?

Graham Kerr, the gallant Galloping Gourmet

I want to chat about food diversity, but first, what is the difference between a gourmet, a gourmand or a foodie?  Having lived more than a few decades, I am amazed at the changes in so many areas, including the English language.  I will leave what I term the “hijacking of words” to another post, but the changes in terms about food are fascinating.  Let’s start with the three in my title, gourmet, gourmand and “foodie.”  Gourmet was long the term for someone with a discerning palate.  It implied someone who tasted his food as an oenophile tasted fine wine rather than like a wino who chug-a-lugged jug burgundy.  For those of you old enough to remember, Graham Kerr’s “The Galloping Gourmet” hit TV with an energetic, non-traditional cooking show.  He was not like Julia Child, standing in front of the camera, stiffly instructing the viewers how to prepare some difficult dish like beef bourguignon, but a dashingly dressed, decent-looking, youngish man who liberally used cream, clarified butter and wine to add zest to his dishes.  He did it with a great deal of flair and wit in front of a live audience, with no retakes.  He would raise a glass of wine to his lips before commercials and would seem to be finishing a healthy (or unhealthy) swig when the camera returned to him.  However, he actually imbibed very little during the show.  It was, if you’ll pardon the pun, all for show.  At the end of each episode, he would be joined by someone from the audience (normally female) and the camera would zoom in on their ecstatic faces as they sampled his culinary triumph as the show closed.  While it took a few years for the food-show craze to fully hit America, Graham Kerr was the pioneer.  Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, and Guy Fieri, you owe a lot to Graham Kerr.

Gourmand or glutton? You say tomato . . .

Gourmand is a word whose meaning has definitely evolved.  Originally, it meant a glutton.  Now it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking” and also as “one who is heartily interested in good food and drink.”  Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, gives “a person who takes great pleasure and interest in consuming good food and drink” as its first definition, with “glutton” as almost an afterthought.  In a nation that is known for overeating, saying someone is a glutton has become almost as forbidden as a racial slur.  “Excessively fond of eating” is the acceptable term, but glutton is not.  But making a euphemism so that a word no longer has bad connotations is to weaken the language in the cause of being politically correct.

The food photo fad. If food is only a hobby, then is collecting picture trophies more important than eating it?

Now there are foodies.  The term originally came from an article by Gael Greene in the New York Magazine in 1980 and has since come to such common usage that it’s almost passé.  Wikipedia defines a foodie as “a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not out of hunger but due to his interest and hobby.”  A hobby?  Like building model planes?  Whatever.  And what’s the difference between a foodie and a gourmet?  Again from the Big W, a foodie is “not as elitist as a gourmet, more discriminating than a glutton.”  Like a wine drinker who drinks Two-buck Chuck (now a little more pricey), but not box wine?  So what does all this have to do with food diversity?  Food has become more than something to eat.  It’s become fashionable.  And the more diverse and strange your tastes, the better.  It shows you are cool.

The size of a half order of spaghetti at Vince’s in the 1960’s

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents moved to sunny California from Kentucky, not exactly a multi-ethnic state back then.  But my mom learned to do some rather bold dishes here, at least for that time.  Our neighbors were from Oklahoma and taught her a few Tex-Mex dishes.  Tacos, enchiladas and what was termed Spanish rice entered our diet.  Since the rice was not really Spanish style, I suppose it was a euphemism since Mexican had less “class” back then.  That was odd since Mexican restaurants were not termed “Spanish.”  Not logical, but that’s the way it was.  Our neighbors’ daughter-in-law was Italian-American and taught my mom to make spaghetti and meat balls as well as lasagna.  I remember how my mom would start making the spaghetti sauce in the morning and the wonderfully pungent aroma of basil and oregano would fill the kitchen as it simmered through the day.  I was a picky eater, but loved those “foreign” dishes.  We also had corned beef and cabbage, which is an American tradition on St. Patrick’s Day, but not really Irish.  On the rare occasions we went out to dinner (we were not wealthy), many times we went to Mexican or Italian restaurants, no doubt because they were often cheaper.  Vince’s Spaghetti in Ontario served a huge plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (their half order, no less) for 65 cents!  Although Shakey’s Pizza Parlors started the pizza craze in California in the 1950’s, their’s were not really Italian style, so I don’t include them in this post.  While there also were Chinese restaurants around, we didn’t go to them.  I don’t remember any other “foreign” cuisine restaurants around back in the day.

Dar Mahgreb- great atmosphere, even if not great food

As I became an adult, I was more ready to try new tastes.  My broadening of international food experiences started with Chinese food when I was in college.  The restaurant I went to was Cantonese, but then I didn’t know different regions of China had different styles of cooking.  Szechuan  is my favorite now, with its bold chili peppers and garlic spicing.  The next, if I remember correctly, was Japanese.  It was Miyako’s on Town and Country Road in Orange and apparently is no longer around.  This was in the early 1970’s and sushi was not known to the general populace, so raw fish was not on the menu.  I did love their sukiyaki and miso dressing on the salad.  Then came Moroccan.  A small chain of Dar Mahgreb Restaurants were built to look like imitation Alhambra palaces, with plush cushions on low couches for seating, it was a bit of experiencing North Africa in Southern California.  You ate with your hands out of a communal platter of food.  It was fun dining, even if the food was a little sweet for my taste.  A  belly dancer added to the atmosphere.  The one where my wife and I sat almost on the floor to eat was in Palm Springs.  Alas, it is now closed and I understand the last one of the chain in Los Angeles is too.  I say that not because I loved it, indeed I have not eaten at a Dar Mahgreb since the 1970’s, but it is the passing of a memory.  Another dining expedition of that decade was an Indian restaurant, name long forgotten, in Riverside, CA.  I do not remember what I had, but it was not good.  It took years before I tried Indian food again and loved it, but not at that now-closed establishment.

Sushi and sashimi can be found all over America now.  Few people say, “Raw fish, Eew!” anymore.

Jump forty years in time to the present.  Change can be good or bad, but the diversity of cuisines available now is definitely good.  Not all cuisines are equal or even, to my palate, good, but having the choice is.  Now finding Thai, Indian, Japanese, Greek, Persian, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Jewish and many other dining options is not confined to major cities.  Not only that, Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants have greatly expanded their menus.  No longer are tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and tamales of my youth the limit of choices in a Mexican restaurant.  Carne asada, chimichangas, empanadas and Tex-Mex fajitas as well as burritos with a multitude of fillings are the norm with more exotic items on the menus of many places.  I had never even heard of mole or chipotle in the old days.  And Italian used to mean tomato-based sauce.  Now, there is cream-based alfredo and my favorite, pesto.  Penne is so much easier to eat and saves many shirts from permanent stains, but only long spaghetti was available for so many years.  Risotto?  Never heard of it in the previous century.  Now, when you say “Japanese food,” sushi comes to mind, but few would have tried raw fish forty years ago.  Delightful chimichurri sauce was only in Argentina when I was growing up, but now is on many menus.  America often puts its own spin on the different cuisines, but the variety has expanded wildly.  And that is good.

The heck with the view, let’s eat.

Returning to the title of this post, am I a gourmet, a gourmand or a foodie?  To say I am a gourmet sounds presumptuous to me.  I don’t have that trained of a palate.  I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on flavors.  I love hot and spicy, but hate sweet.  That, in itself, probably disqualifies me to so exalted a title.  Am I a gourmand?  Harkening back to the original definition as being a glutton, I hope not.  I do enjoy food, but try not to overindulge.  At least not on a regular basis.  So I guess that, by default, I’m a foodie.  I do have an interest in food and don’t always eat just because I’m hungry.  My interest is more refined than the person who raves about Egg McMuffins or Taco Bell tacos, so I am not at the bottom of the food-discernment chain.  I enjoy many cuisines and some of the more esoteric varieties as well as the common ones.  Do I approach my dining experience “not as elitist as a gourmet, more discriminating than a glutton?”  I suppose so.  But is food merely a hobby?  Not for me.  I love it too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Santa Claus

In 1897, eight year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper, asking if there was really a Santa Claus, saying that one could always believe what she read in the Sun.  Some of her friends had caused her to doubt Santa’s existence.  The editor’s reply became the most reprinted editorial in history.  (click here for editorial) To paraphrase it, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and I am he.”

St. Nicholas of Myra

I am Santa Claus, at least I have been him many times over the last 40-some years.  I lay no claim to be St. Nicholas of Myra, the 4th century bishop of Myra in Turkey whose legendary secret giving of gifts is said to be the basis of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, St. Nick and Santa Claus.  (click here for more on St. Nicholas)  I am merely an agent of his, one who dons his attire to spread Christmas joy during the season.  Since all of us agents wear the same suit as the Big Guy, it confuses the Grinches and Scrooges as to who is the real Santa Claus.  My Santa story begins in 1976, when my parents gave me a Santa outfit for Christmas.  I’m not sure why and, alas, neither are on Earth any longer for me to ask.  Although I had never expressed a desire to become Santa, I had always been a big fan of Christmas.  My parents had loved Christmas as well, serving as my inspirations.  My passion for the season endured finding that Santa was the spirit of Christmas instead of the bearded guy in the department stores.  That must have been why they gave me the costume, to inspire me to keep the spirit of Christmas in my heart.  It worked.

The Bat Rod in 1976, Santa’s ride

The year they gave me the Santa suit, my wife and I started Christmas at my in-laws house in Westminster, CA, having stayed there for Christmas Eve night.  Since I had received the suit early, I wore it as I came down the stairs on Christmas morn.  Then I wore it as my wife and I drove up the 605 freeway and across I-10 to Claremont, where my parents lived.  I was driving the first Bat Rod, a ’73 Pontiac Trans Am, with the back seat filled with wrapped gifts.  I was in my new suit, beard and hat.  Cars would pass me, then suddenly slow to let me pass them.  Kids would be at their windows, wildly waving.  I returned the wave.  I got a big kick out of it.  I wonder how parents explained that Batman’s secret identity was Santa Claus.  Or was it vice versa?

Santa Claus now

My next fond Santa-suit memory is the next year when I wore it to the company Christmas party.  My wife’s parents had started a family business in the the 1950’s and my wife and I opened a second location in 1973.  By 1977, we had maybe ten employees there and held our party at one table in a local restaurant.  I came as Santa.  A couple of our drivers even sat on my knee, giving ludicrous Christmas wishes.  Then a waiter came over to me.  “There’s a little boy here who would like to meet Santa,” he said.  I went over and talked to him.  I did it as Santa, keeping in character.  The boy loved it and so did I.  I was hooked.

When my daughter was born, I had a whole new reason for putting on the suit: bringing the magic of Christmas to my child.  My wife’s parents never gave her a belief in Santa, so she considered it lying and feared that it would cause our child to doubt us on everything else when she found that Santa was a fantasy.  But on this I was adamant.  I cherished that memory and wanted it for my child.  I won.  Every year, I would don my red and white attire and come to the front door, jingling bells to imitate my reindeer’s approach.  I would bring a few gifts, promising to return later with more.  One Christmas Eve, the dreaded moment happened.  After I left through the front door and sneaked through the garage to a back room of the house to change, my daughter caught me.  She had a feeling that I was Santa and had gone through the house to find out if she were right.  I was as devastated as she was that the fantasy was over.  After a few tearful moments, she asked, “Will you still come on Christmas as Santa?”  When I assured her that I would, she cheered up.  Some of the magic would continue.

Christmas 1999 with Fionna and our daughter. We had recently returned to the States and our furniture had only arrived two days before.  Note the boxes.

My most memorable Santa event was in 1990.  For some time, our daughter had wanted a dog.  But a dog is a big responsibility, a life that becomes your obligation to care for and nurture.  My wife was loathe to bring in a canine member to the family, having lost her only dog when it was hit by a car when she was very young.  But finally we decided that it was time.  However, we gave no indication to our daughter.  Instead, we secretly bought a Sheltie puppy and set up to deliver it on Christmas Eve.  Santa came through the front door with the puppy tucked under his arm.  Our daughter broke into tears, sobbing with joy.  Several family members watching teared up as well.  We have it all recorded.  It was Santa’s big day.  Our daughter has said it was the best Christmas gift she ever received.  She named the Sheltie Fionna.

I continued to be Santa, making appearances for my your great-nieces.  When we moved to the Isle of Man in 1994, Fionna and the Santa suit went as well.  However, the suit stayed in a box in a closet. Father Christmas looks a lot different in the British Isles than the American Santa Claus.  When we moved back to the States, the box with the Santa suit and some other items was lost.  Perhaps someone needed it more than I.  If so, maybe it continued to make appearances without me.

Santa in a 1948 Van Pelt fire truck

In 2003, my wife surprised me with a new Santa suit.  The old one had not been expensive and I had added a new wig, beard and hat to make it better.  The new one was  very classy.  It also had an upgraded beard and wig, so it was top notch all the way.  A local car club in which I am a member has had an annual toy drive for decades and so I took up the job of the Santa for it.  At first, I stood around and waved at people.  Soon I had children to meet and greet with a candy cane.  Now I sit and hear what they want for Christmas.  I arrive at the parking lot where the toy drive takes place in an antique fire truck, going through town in an unofficial parade, followed by as many as 50 classic cars and hot rods,  The local police have become steadily more cooperative over the years, escorting us and blocking side streets on the way, so that we can all stay together.  It is quite a sight.  I enjoy waving at everyone as we go.  I make it a point to wave to everyone I see.   Young women are very enthusiastic, while young men are the least responsive. Yet very few do not return the wave.

Santa with a young fan

As Santa, I have made some observations over the years.  While most kids enjoy seeing Santa, especially if he gives them a candy cane, the age of belief in Santa seems to stop at about six.  Considering what is shown on TV, it’s surprising that their belief lasts that long.  About every TV show and movie has Santa pull down his beard at some point.  Writers and directors evidently think this witty.  I consider it witless.  Why do it?  To destroy a child’s fantasy?  When I am dressed as Santa, I stay in character.  I never pull down my beard or do anything else that might adversely affect a child’s belief.  I take my role very seriously.  I eat nothing and only drink water through a straw the entire time I am Santa.  When a child tells me what they want for Christmas, I make no promises.  If I did and they didn’t get the gift, what would they think of Santa?  If they want a puppy or some other pet (yes, I have been asked for a pony), I say that it’s a big responsibility and they should speak with their parents first.  The kids accept that, since Santa is the Man.  This year, a little boy asked for a laser tag set.  His mother was shaking her head behind him.  I said, “That can be dangerous,  Why not wait a few years and ask me then?”  He shrugged and said, “Okay.”  I think a high point as the toy drive Santa was when a lad talked to me for a while, then asked, “Are you the real Santa?”  I never lie to the kids, so I asked him, “What do you think?”  He studied me, then answered, “I’m not sure.”  I had done my job.

Yes, I am Santa.  At least for a few days a year.

 

 

 

 

Murder in the Foothills

My latest book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is now available on Amazon.  It’s a bit of murder in the Foothills for Christmas.  The book is a cozy mystery, meaning there is no foul language, explicit sex or graphic violence.  Something to read in your rocker with a nice fire in the fireplace on a cold night.  Cozy, right?  It starts just before the Kirkin’ of the Tartan service at Father Robert Bruce’s church, St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church in Buggy Springs, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.  It ends on Christmas Day.  I filled it with characters and places inspired by living in a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills for 19 years.  It is fiction, but fiction should come from real life.  For a sampling of the book, click here. If you like what you read here, click on the Amazon link on the sidebar.  If you don’t like what you read, then don’t click.  It’s your choice, but I hope that you will give Father Robert a chance.

Kirkin’ of the Tartan

Bonnie Prince Charlie as a young man-
Egotistical and self-centered

Let’s start with the apocryphal history of the Kirkin’ of the Tartan (a.k.a. the Kirking of the Tartan or the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan).  In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the son of the claimant to the British throne, James III, or the Young Pretender) led a revolt against the Hanoverian king, George II. While I could write a lot about how this French-born usurper used the Scots for his own purposes, that is another topic entirely.  (click here for more on Bonnie Prince Charlie) The relevant fact is that Charlie failed and many of his Jacobite (a term derived from Jacobus, Latin for James and the name of Charlie’s father, grandfather and great-great-grandfather) followers died at Culloden, Scotland, on April 16, 1746.  In the aftermath, the Proscription Act of 1746 had several parts, including banning Highland dress (kilts and tartans) and owning weapons.  As a side note, it is oft said that the bagpipes were banned as well, as a “weapon of war,” but there is nothing mentioned about them in the Act, nor any historical record of this.  (click here for Act)  But it was a time of oppression for many Scots and the fracturing of the clan system.  All this is authenticated history.  Now we get into the not-so-factual part.

Rev. Peter Marshall, the father of the Kirkin’ of the Tartans

The story is that the Scots would hide a swatch of tartan cloth and sneak it into the kirk (church) each year around St. Andrew’s Day (patron saint of Scotland) to be blessed.  the term “kirk” is the term used by Scots for a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) church.  After 1782, the Proscription Act was repealed, so the Scots could openly wear their tartan kilts without fear of arrest.  However, there is no record of this Kirkin’ of the Tartan ever happening until the early 1940’s in America.  That was when the Rev. Peter Marshall, the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and an immigrant from Coatbridge, Scotland, preached a sermon entitled “the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans” and the legend was born.  (click here for more on Peter Marshall)  It was either in 1941 or 1943, depending on your source.  Ironically, most of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army were Episcopalians and Roman Catholics rather than Presbyterians.  However, Rev. Marshall inspired Americans of Scottish descent to honor that supposed tradition and the Kirkin’ service spread like wildfire.  This year, Kirkin’s will take place all over America and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand.  Rumor has it that they will also happen in Scotland, but I have not been able to authenticate this.  If so, it would be ironic that an American invention of Scottish history was imported to the homeland.

Immanuel Presbyterian Church

Does the fact that the Kirkin’s themselves were not historical make this ceremony something to be shunned?  Not at all.  The honoring of our Scottish ancestors and acknowledging the actual oppression they endured is a fine tradition.  I have been an active part of many through the years, including huge ones at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Blvd, L.A.  Actor Hugh O’Brien (Wyatt Earp on TV) spoke there. It was even televised on network TV.  These services play an important role in keeping our Scottish heritage alive.  Much of what we think we know about Scottish history and traditions are, shall we kindly say, doctored.  That is true for every culture.  Since this is about the Kirkin’, I will not go into anything but the Scottish one, but romanticizing the past has been done as long as there is recorded history and, no doubt, before.

St. Andrews, Patron Saint of Scotland with the Saltire Cross

Since traditionally the Kirkin’ should be held around November 30th, St. Andrews Day, let’s consider this patron saint of Scotland.  Why was that honor given to him?  St. Denis is the patron saint of France.  He was the bishop of Paris in the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and was beheaded for his faith.  St. David is the patron saint of Wales and was a 6th century Welsh monastic known for his holiness.  St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and was the man who had the greatest influence of converting Ireland to Christianity.  So shouldn’t the patron saint of Scotland be St. Columba (click here for more on St; Columba) or St. Ninian (click here for more on St. Ninian), the two men accredited with bringing Christianity to Scotland, right?  Wrong.  It’s St. Andrew, the fisherman disciple of Jesus and apostle of the church.  Church tradition has it that he was crucified on an X-shaped, or “saltire,” cross in Patras, Achea, date unknown.  According to legend, he preached in Fife, Scotland, or his bones washed ashore in the 4th century and were enshrined in St. Andrews, of golf course fame, but were lost during the Reformation.  Another legend is that 9th century King Angus saw a sign of clouds in the sky of a Saltire Cross, much like the sign seen by Constantine before the battle in 312 A.D. that made him Emperor, and Angus went on to beat the Saxons in battle.  In other words, St. Andrew has no factual tie to Scotland, but made a reputable patron saint since he was an apostle.  In 1286, it was used on the seal of the Guardians of Scotland and ,in 1385, the Saltire Cross is finally mentioned in an act of the Scottish Parliament.  The rest is legend, and not of the highest credibility.  (click here for more on St. Andrews) A bit like the Kirkin’ of the Tartan.

Scottish flag with the Cross Saltire

So I am proud to take part in this Scottish-American ceremony.  On Sunday, November 19th, the Gold Country Celtic Society in Nevada City will be holding our Kirkin’ of the Tartan at Trinity Episcopal Church and I will be at the fore as chief of the Society.  Let the purists criticize, but if not for such traditions, however recent in origin, much of the the real history of my Scottish ancestors might be forgotten.

The St. Nicholas Murders- A Cozy Mystery

St. Nicholas of Myrna Episcopal Church and Father Robert Bruce

The first of my Father Robert Bruce mysteries, The St. Nicholas Murders, will be out in a few weeks. Unlike so many crime-solving priests in novels, Father Robert Bruce is young, fit and handsome.  As an Episcopal priest, he can marry, although he hasn’t thus far.  This makes him the target of matchmakers and lonely women.  When a strange phone call leads him to think a murder has been committed in his small town, he starts investigating.  It is a cozy mystery, which is normally defined as a mystery that has no graphic sex, violence or language.  The crime-solver is an amateur, but normally has help form a professional detective or law officer.  That’s what happens in this book and the law officer is none other that Lee Garcia, who made a brief appearance in the last Morg Mahoney mystery, It’s Bad Business, as a detective in Colton P.D.  He has since retired to the Sierra Nevada Foothills, where he has taken the job of chief of police in Buggy Springs, CA.  Morg also plays a part in Father Robert’s investigation, but this is not her tale.  It is Father Robert’s, the rector of St. Nicholas of Myrna Episcopal Church in Buggy Springs.

Blue, a.k.a. The Dude

Never heard of Buggy Springs?  That’s because it is based upon Nevada City, which is also in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.  While the book is fiction, places in the book were inspired by living here and people I have met, not only here but throughout my life, influenced characters in the book, but there are no carbon copies.  If you’re too young to understand that term, Google it.  All names of people, places and things have been changed to protect the guilty.  What I’m saying is that no one in the book is a real person except for Blue, a.k.a. The Dude.  He’s my Aussie and has given full permission to use him in the book as long as I give him doggie treats every week.

Take a look at a few chapters on this website.  This story ends on Christmas Day, so the St. Nicholas title refers not only to Father Robert’s church, but the holiday.  Hopefully, you will like what you read enough to get the whole book, either in hardcover or Kindle.  Amazon will be carrying it.  The next in the series, The St. Christopher Murders, is already written and going through multiple editings.  It starts at a Fourth of July parade in Buggy Springs.  Stay tuned.

 

Dunkirk Manx Omission

If you’ve seen the movie Dunkirk, you know that it was not a British victory, but snatching disaster from the jaws of defeat (click here).  Amazingly, an armada of civilian small craft were able to assist the Royal Navy in evacuating 338,000 men from the beaches.  The movie gives the nitty-gritty view of this action, the view of the soldier, sailor or aviator who is just trying to survive.  No noble speeches by soldiers dying on the beach or British civilians braving German planes to save the remnants of their army.  Churchill, the eloquent statesman who provided the impetus for the operation, doesn’t even have a cameo.  Dialogue is minimal and terse, but that is often more realistic.  However, there was one glaring omission in Dunkirk: the Isle of Man.

What, you may ask, does an island in the Irish Sea have to do with a rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from the coast of France?  I mean, Great Britain is between them.  The answer is the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, or IoMSPCo, is the longest continuously running passenger shipping ompany in the world (click here).  Yes, little Isle of Man’s ferry line is the oldest in the world.  What was its role at Dunkirk?  Eight of the steam packet ships answered the call to serve the nation and sailed to Dunkirk, crewed mainly by Manxmen.  These ships were unarmed, at the mercy of German aircraft.  Three of them were lost to enemy fire.  That’s a pretty high loss ratio, but these were unarmed vessels.

RMS Fenella under attack at Dunkirk

Twin Screw Steamship (TSS) Fenella (the name is derived from Fionualla, a daugher of the Celtic sea god Lir who was changed into a swan for 900 years) was commissioned a Royal Mail Ship (RMS) at the outbreak of the war.  She sailed to Dunkirk.  While embarking troops, she was hit by enemy fire. They and the crew evacuated and she sank in the harbor.  The Germans later raised her and rechristened her the Reval, but the RAF sunk her again and finally in 1944.

TSS Mona’s Queen during peacetime

The RMS Mona’s Queen (Mona is an early name for the Isle of Man) was a veteran of evacuating refugees from French and Belgian ports by the time of Dunkirk.  Mona’s Queen’s first trip to Dunkirk brought 1,200 men back to England.  On her second trip, she struck a mine as she approached the harbor and sank in two minutes.  Twenty-four of her crew of fifty-six were lost, seventeen of them Manx.  Fourteen manned the engine room, trapped as the ship sank.  The ship was never raised, designated a “water grave” for the men.

The veteran ABV King Orry

The last ship lost at Dunkirk was the RMS King Orry, named after a legendary king of the Isle of Man.  King Orry was already a veteran by Dunkirk.  In the First World Way, she was an Armed Boarding Vessel (ABV) and had boarded suspicious ships.  She seized a German freighter and an oil tanker.  She was the only representative of the British mercantile marine (same as the American merchant marine) at Scapa Flow, Scotland, when the German High Seas Fleet surrendered on November 21, 1918.  Called back to service for Dunkirk, she carried 1,131 men back to England on her first trip.  On her second, she was badly damaged by German aircraft as she entered the harbor.  In order to prevent blocking the harbor, her valiant crew sailed out after midnight.  She sank and other ships picked up the survivors.

Although hard data is difficult to find, the Manx population was less than 55,000 in 1940.  The United Kingdom number about 47,500,000.  The Manx ships rescued 25,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk out of 338,000 saved.  That means an island just over one percent of the population saved over seven percent of the men at Dunkirk.  One out of every fourteen men rescued came home on a Manx ship.  Good show, Isle of Man.  Although the BBC gave a nod to the Manx (click here), the movie did not.  Shame on you, Christopher Nolan.

 

 

 

High School Class Reunion

The CHS Wolf, courtesy of the CHS Alumni Society

Before I begin, let me say that I did not have a lot of school spirit when I graduated from Claremont High (CHS) in 1967.  For those of you doing the basic math, yes, it has been 50 years since my graduation.  I didn’t hate high school, but this was the late Sixties and California’s CHS students had a more blasé attitude rather than a rabid “rah-rah, go team” one.  We were the Wolfpack, which is a name I now like, but it wasn’t important to me then.  I was never in any sports, never on any student council, never held any class office.  I was very quiet then, rather shy.  While I had plenty of friends and was not a nerd, I was never a “sosh” or a “jock.”  However, I lost track of most of my high school friends when I went to college and then got married.

Gone and best forgotten, like the 5-year reunion

Fast forward to my 5-year high school class reunion.  I’m not sure to this day why I went.  It was held at a restaurant in the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway.  There is something apropos about that.  The snobs were still the snobs and none of my friends attended, so I ended up sitting at a table with people I didn’t even know.  It was like no one had graduated from high school.  The same cliques, the same pettiness.  I decided to never go again.

Class theme song? Click here to listen.

Fast forward to my 20-year high school class reunion.  My wife, who graduated from a different high school in the same year and been very active in sports and school activities there, was going to her reunion and encouraged me to go to mine.  Reluctantly, I did.  Surprise of surprises, I enjoyed it.  Some of my old friends were there.  Sure, not everyone was over high school, but enough were that it was a fun time.  For some reason, “Gloria” by Them was sort of a class song and when the DJ started the night with it, about everyone hit the dance floor.  It was like 20 years evaporated, but in a good way.

Fast forward to my 40-year high school class reunion.  Although I lived in NorCal, I was spending a lot of time in SoCal because of family and got on the reunion committee.  The chair was a woman who had been in one of my Latin classes in high school and we shared a few humorous remembrances of “dear days at Claremont High,” as is said in our Alma Mater.  I was the only guy on the committee.  When I told my best friend, whom I’d known since my freshman year at CHS, he said, “I hate those things.”  However, his wife put him in a full-nelson (figuratively) and said, “Your brother’s on the committee and you’re going.”  While we may not be biologically brothers, we are spiritual ones.  Anyway, we went and both had a great time.  Fewer people were living back in high school and most were just enjoying seeing people they hadn’t for 40 years.

Fast forward to my 50-year high school class reunion.  Wait, it hasn’t been ten years, has it?.  Five, maybe six at the most, right?  But who’s that old geek in the mirror with gray hair, a gray beard and lots of wrinkles?  Is that me?  Naw!  But it is.  And I was headed for the big 5-0 reunion.  Although I helped with some emailing, I did little for the reunion committee.  My best friend grumbled a bit about attending, but sent in his registration.  He said, “This is the last one.”  I told him, “You’ll go to the rest of them to see if you’re the last man standing.”  We both made reservations at what used to be the Griswald’s Hotel.

Griswold’s Smorgasbord in its heyday

Okay, here’s a rabbit trail, but it’s Claremont history and I’m a history buff.  Griswald’s had a smorgasbord buffet restaurant that had been the hot thing in the Sixties.  It had started as a fruit stand by college professor George Griswald (no, you Christmas Vacation fans, not Clark) in 1909.  In 1950, the Stanfords (no relation to Leland) bought it and added the smorgasbord and bakery that made it famous.  They later bought the old Claremont  High School when the school moved a few hundred yards north (it happened during my tenure there) and converted it to the “Old School House” with shops and restaurants.  Then they built a new hotel.  My wife and her parents stayed there the night before our wedding in 1971 and we had the reception there.  But Griswald’s got too ambitious and opened two more locations they were not equipped to run.  In 1992 they went bankrupt and now the Claremont hotel is under Hilton’s Double Tree banner.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  Roughly translated, it means, “so passes the glory of the world.”  Okay, since I took Latin for three years in high school, I had to show that I remembered a few words fifty years later.

Not the real room, but you get the idea.

So, we checked into the Double Tree.  I’m not saying the room was small, but if you took two paces across from one side to the other, you’d bump your nose on the wall.  Especially if you’d had a glass or two of wine.  I know.  Just kidding.  But the small room did not damper the great time I had.  Although the hotel was a bit pricey for what it was, the event was not.  It was $100 for the weekend, which encompassed a Friday hors d’oeuvres party where everyone brought a food contribution with about 100 people crowding into an alumna’s house and backyard, a Saturday catered event with over 140 people that included a professional portrait photo and a gift bag with two 60’s music CDs, and a Sunday finger-food brunch with maybe 40 attendees.  Since I wasn’t there on Sunday, that’s hearsay.  But beer, wine and soft drinks were included in the $100!  Such a deal.  The committee deserves an award for getting the most cluck for the buck.

Remember your 5-year reunion, my pretty?  Ha, ha, ha!

While this has been a rather long intro, let’s talk about the people.  I will use no names, mainly to protect the mostly innocent.  There was only one woman (who shall not be named, but was at the 5th) who seemed to still have her nose too high in the air to see the peons, but now she reminded me a lot of the Wicked Witch of the West in appearance.  Well, her skin wasn’t actually green, but . . . .  The rest of the alumni were there to reminisce and enjoy each other.  Let’s talk about my good impressions.

I talked to many people.  The football quarterback and the ’67 annual’s best “looks” guy were downright warm.  I knew them both, but we had never really been friends.  Now, I’m not saying we went up and hugged or anything like that, but we had nice conversations.  Something that would not have happened in high school.  I had a chance to have chats with people I had not seen in over 40 years, including one guy I’d  known thorough college with whom I had enjoyed engaging in theological discussions, but not seen since I was married in 1971.  He had recently retired as a Methodist minister.  He, like many, had traveled many miles to be there.  I spoke with so many about shared experiences and memories that I have lost track of the numbers.

The real Grace Kelly

There is one meeting that I have to describe.  There was a woman there who had always reminded me of Grace Kelly.  While not a doppelganger, she had that same classic beauty.  But more than that, she had an inward beauty that made her just as wonderful to know as to see.  I can honestly say that I didn’t have some schoolboy crush, some weird fantasy we would get together and live happily ever after, but I did appreciate her beauty and enjoyed talking with her.  I wanted her to know that I and many guys in high school saw her that way, but how do you tell a woman that without sounding like some kind of perv or stalker?  Now I’m going off on another rabbit trail.

My wife and I went to her 50th in June of this year.  At our table was a guy who was probably 3 inches taller than I am and 100 pounds heavier, none of it muscle.  He was wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, improperly tied.  I do know how to do that.  He also had on a short-brimmed black straw fedora that he wore throughout the evening.  I see red when a guy wears a hat indoors, but I said nothing.  He had a cane and would walk across the dance floor, tapping his cane and forcing dancers to get out of his way.  That evening, he went up to one of the “popular” girls and told her, while her husband was not by her, that he’d been madly in love with her from afar all through high school.  Creepy.  She didn’t know how to respond.  I did not want my Grace Kelly from high school to think I was like that.

If you want to be sure that a woman knows you’re not “putting the make” on her, be with your wife when you talk to her.  Being married for almost 46 years, I was not going to take any chances on misinterpretation.  Actually, it was my wife’s idea that we go over to Grace Kelly, so I had double protection.  When I said the line about inward and outward beauty, a guy sitting at Grace’s table said, “Amen!”   Well, maybe not that exact word, but he expressed that same sentiment.

The Lost Patrol

For the first time in many years, four of my group in high school that termed itself the Lost Patrol were reunited.  Since only one of them, my best friend, had said he was coming, the other two were unexpected and we had a great talk.  Sadly, one of our Patrol died in March of this year.  He had a lot of issues in high school and they only got worse over the years.  They became serious mental problems and I had not spoken to him in decades.  In some ways, it was surprising that he had made it this long.  It was a reminder of our own mortality.

This is on the driver’s door of my Ford Explorer. Look familiar?

Remember I wrote that my best friend said he would not be going to another one after the 40th, but came to the 50th?  He volunteered to be on the committee for the 55th reunion.  It looks like we’re both going to be at that one, God willing and the creek don’t rise.  I hope even more of the class of ’67 make it.  Maybe the older you get the more important the memories of your youth become.  So now I say, “Go, Wolfpack!”

Conspiracy Theories

Before I begin, I’d like to warn any readers that believe that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the CIA, that the Illuminati still exists (especially if you believe they are in any way associated with Freemasonry), that the Knights Templar continued as a secret society after 1312 A.D., the Holocaust is a lie, that the Moon landing was faked and/or that aliens are kept in cold storage at Area 51, that you should skip this post lest your blood pressure skyrocket and you say I conspired with unnamed government agencies for that to happen.  For a partial list of conspiracies, click here.  Now, this is a Wikipedia list, so use caution.  Anyone can edit it, including those who are conspiracy theorists and those who wish to brand their enemies as conspiracy theorists, so be discerning.  I could add more to this list, but you get the idea.  The point is that conspiracy theories are pure rubbish and I will trash them here (like that double-lined garbage bag?).  They fall right in line with alt facts, fake news, etc.  They are the fodder upon which weak minds feed.  Sorry if you think that was insulting, but it was much kinder than my actual opinion.

True cowards, the KKK.

Conspiracy theories, in and of themselves, are not new. Often they were used to justify prejudices and violence. Anti-Semitism was used from the Middle Ages (Christ Killers) all the way to Hitler’s Holocaust (yes, it really happened) to justify violence against Jews for no other reason than their ethnicity. The Ku Klux Klan used the “plot” of non-WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) against society to justify violence, including lynching of blacks. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of conspiracy theorists are neither violent or seeking to harm anyone. The danger is that the mentality of finding someone to blame for things in society one doesn’t like is that the extreme fringe will resort to taking action with their own hands. However, most modern conspiracy theories are not a matter of justifying prejudices, but trying to make sense out of what seems senseless and/or mistrust of a government that has, however ineffectually, kept secrets at times. There are also those who want to romanticize history into what they would like it to be. All are delusional.

Who had JFK in the cross hairs?

The first conspiracy theory that hit the big time was the JFK assassination. Without a doubt, the nation was stunned, wondering, how could this have happened? I was in high school at the time and felt total disbelief. People started to wonder if there was a reason, a plot to kill a popular president. Jack Ruby did the biggest service to theorists by killing Lee Harvey Oswald. But did that prove a conspiracy? I wonder how many hours have been spent by theorists studying the meager film of the shooting. Did his head move in the right direction for being shot by Oswald? Was there a second sniper hiding behind the infamous “grassy knoll?” If so, was he hired by the Mafia, who Bobby Kennedy was targeting as Attorney General, or the CIA for some not-quite-clear reasons, or the Emperor of Japan? Actually, I’ve never seen the last one, but if it starts cropping up, you read it here first. For some of the theories about who did the dirty deed, click here. Oliver Stone even made a movie that catered to such theories, JFK. In it, the FBI, the CIA and the military worked together. If the idea of that is not fictional, nothing is. Of course, Stone has never had a problem with twisting facts to make his movies sell. He said, “I will come out with my interpretation. If I’m wrong, fine. It will become part of the debris of history, part of the give and take.” In other words, no apologies for errors. And his many errors in the film provided fuel for the fire of conspiracies. He’s like a guy yelling fire in a theater, causing panic, then saying it wasn’t his fault. He was being creative. The interesting thing about so many of the theories is they dispute each other’s “facts.” There is not agreement about what actually happened. To me, it’s all smoke and mirrors. I do believe Oswald might have been at least encouraged to kill Kennedy. Fidel Castro had good reason. The Bay of Pigs happened right after JFK took office and there seems to be credible evidence that the CIA did try to assassinate Castro, so Castro well might have had hard feelings. Also, Oswald spent time there. Do I consider this positive proof, worthy of devoting my life to proving this possibility? No. That’s called an obsession. That’s called nuts.

The Internet brought conspiracy theories to new heights. Anyone who has received a forwarded email that was not factual knows how fast lies can spread online. I once corrected someone on forwarding false information before verifying it and was told, “I don’t have time for that. I just send it on.” I shuddered. So much for personal responsibility. But anything can go viral, and often does. Truth be damned, full speed ahead. So let’s look at a few.

September 11, 2001

The Twin Towers were destroyed by the CIA so that President George W. Bush could start a war for control of Iraqi oil, or was instigated by Wall Street insiders to manipulate the market, or was orchestrated by the Israelis to get us to attack Iraq. They claim that the Towers could not have collapsed as they had without planted explosives to bring the buildings down and have their experts to verify that. Okay, other experts have said the flaming jet fuel pouring down the elevator shafts definitely would have compromised the structures to that extent, especially since they were never designed for such a scenario. Also, the amount of explosives claimed to have been used could hardly have been brought in surreptitiously by a few agents and secretly planted. That’s by far wilder than jet fuel. Then there is the relatively unsuccessful attack on the Pentagon and the crashed Flight 93 where some passengers not only gave their lives to stop an attack, but left a cell phone legacy. As to the so-called motives, they are far more unbelievable than Jihadists willing to die for their cause. And do you honestly think that all the individuals in as many agencies who had to be involved could have all kept their mouths shut for all these years? Get real.

This is supposed to be derived from the symbol for the Illuminati, according to conspiracy theorists.  Look familiar?

The Illuminati, with all its various addenda, is my next focus of illumination. The only historical Illuminati (which means enlightened) was a Bavarian group that was organized in 1776. Their purpose was to control superstitious and religious influences in government. Originally in competition with Freemasonry, they then tried to recruit from it, with limited success. At its height, the order had between 650 to 2500 members (depending on which source you believe). In 1785, Bavaria banned the organization and by 1787, it had ceased to exist. Sic transit Illuminati. Unless you believe the Internet. According to the conspiracy theorists, they are alive and well, controlling the economies and governments of the world. Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons gave legs to the myth. As with so many of his books, the gullible were sucked in by the fiction (and his books are fiction). The phantom Illuminati are working toward a “New World Order,” a one-world government controlled by this secret society. They are also behind the Twin Towers. Remember the Wall Street insiders? They’re the ones. They control everything, yet are invisible. The interesting thing is, if they’re so ruthlessly secretive, how do we know about them? Ah, there’s the rub. There must have been a leak. And a bigger one that gave all the insider information to the conspiracy theorists. And no one stopped it, even though it’s been a secret for over 200 years and people were killed to keep it so. Hmm. Does that sound odd to anyone else but me? Anyway, I do love that there is an Illuminati Official Website (click here) that says, “The Illuminati is an elite organization of world leaders, business authorities, innovators, artists, and other influential members of this planet. Our coalition unites influencers of all political, religious, and geographical backgrounds to further the prosperity of the human species as a whole.” It even has pictures of its members. Oddly enough, I’ve never heard of any of these movers ans shakers.

Emblem of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon or Knights Templar.  Too bad they didn’t copyright it.

My last example is the Knights Templar. “How are they a conspiracy theory?” you ask. Because people don’t accept that the order ended when the last Grand Master, Jacques De Molay was burned at the stake and Pope Clement V disbanded the order in 1312 and think they’re still around. I will not go into the lies that were said about the order by King Philip IV to justify what happened, but let’s just say that avarice reigned supreme with the king. However, that was the end of the Templars. Much of what is now fodder for believers that the Templars not only continued on, but helped the Scots win the battle of Bannockburn is pure bunk, since Templar tactics were nothing like what were used by the Scots. Then Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigant, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln claimed that the Templars were guardians of the Holy Grail, which was the seed of Jesus in Mary Magdalen. And the line continues to this day, kept secret by a secret society of Templars. A leg upon which the “proof” in the book stands is the Priory of Scion. This was a scam started in 1956 by Pierre Plantard. He claimed the Priory was a secret society that protected the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalen, which was tied to the Merovingian kings of France before Charlemagne. He even went so far as to plant false documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to prove his fabrication, but has been thoroughly discredited (click here). The book was based on “historical evidence” such as this. But when Dan Brown wrote The DaVinci Code, two of the authors sued him for stealing their intellectual property. They finally lost because, if it were really history as they claimed, how could it be intellectual property? If you claim fiction is fact, you can’t own it. But, since they must have known it was fiction, to say it wasn’t would make them liars about what they wrote. Tough choice.

Conspiracy theorists love “experts.” Normally, they’re as bonkers as those who follow them. But watch out for terms like “it’s obvious that,” ” anyone can surmise that,” or experts agree that.” Generalities are the enemy of academia. Plus, how convoluted are the arguments? Occam’s Razor, a wise philosophical concept, says that the simplest solutions are normally the best. That is not the motto of conspiracy theorists. When you consider how effective the governments have been in hiding what they do for the long term, it makes it very dubious they could do so well on so many issues as the theorists would have you believe. While I would agree that governments often lie, so do a lot of other people. While I don’t say that all the theorists knowingly embrace lies, they do unwillingly lie to themselves when they buy into the wild conjectures that are flying around the Internet these days. Always doubt. It’s a good starting place.