The Inherent Indignity of Flying

I guess I should subtitle this as my politically incorrect musings on the trials of modern air travel. In my part time job working for an accreditation agency I fly frequently. In years when I manage one survey per month that’s twelve trips. There and back means I’m in the air 24 times. Since you can’t get many places directly from RDU, most of my trips involve a layover. Add in ski trips and cruises and I guess it’s safe to say I’m in the air over 40 times a year. So, I know whereof I speak.

I tend to avoid United. I’ve got nothing against them other than they seem to have purchased their fleet from a third world country.

And I never really liked Southwest’s festival seating. If I buy a ticket, that should be the end of it. You have to call early to get a good number. They entice you to pay $15 extra so you can call in 36 hours before the flight rather than 24. So, I did. I still got a C number. C stands for crappy seat; probably between two wrestlers with 3 ft wide shoulders. But for another $35 they can guarantee an A placement. How is this different than simple bribery?

American Airlines is annoying for several reasons. Any airmiles I’ve earned during the year they decide to ditch at the end of the year. Or I can “redeem” them for magazines no one wants. Golf Digest? Cigars? Really? And can you believe there is actually a magazine for pipe smokers? The other issue is their handling of irregular situations. I was trying to get home from Tucson last spring. There was an ice storm in Chicago that cascaded to bring the entire nation to a standstill. I arrived at the airport about 9 am, the requisite 2 hours before my flight. Check in was a nightmare. I was having back problems at that time and couldn’t stand more than a few minutes. I ended up sitting down in the line. Eventually I saw a wheelchair person walking by and flagged them down. Me and my wheelchair lady then waited in line for another hour. Then we had to get through security. Once past security my flight kept getting pushed further and further back. I admire the counter personnel for not fighting back at the people who were shouting at them, but they did keep us in the dark about what was going on. We apparently were in a satellite terminal and couldn’t leave. By early evening the terminal ran out of food. A hundred stranded, frustrated people were getting hungry. I feared it would get ugly. By ten that night they said they had booked me on a midnight flight to Dallas. At least that was part of the way home. I landed in Dallas about 2 am. The airlines then said they had a 7 am flight to RDU. I figured I could get about 4 hours of sleep if I went to a hotel. Plus, I’d only had one meal that day (a cheese quesadilla with no cheese because they ran out of cheese, but not quesadilla). I grabbed an airport hotel (with no food other than a vending machine). I think I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep. Back at the airport the next morning and my flight was delayed. And delayed. I finally got home about 6 pm. I tried to get some compensation from American. I had been a hungry, sleep deprived guest of theirs for 33 hours. They refused to pay for my cheeseless quesadilla. They said I should have used a meal voucher from the American counter. I explained that the American counter didn’t have any vouchers. No. I should have used the meal voucher available at the American counter. Well, how about the hotel bill? They would pay part of it. They would short me about $40 because it was over the amount they allowed. I got really steamed over this. It was not a luxury hotel and was right by the airport. In fact, the morning of my flight I rode in the shuttle with three American employees who’d spent the night in the same hotel. Am I not as good as their employees? I never could escalate my claim past “Jason” whom I could tell from his stuttering answers was a pimply faced kid. I finally filed a written grievance, but it was denied. So, I don’t fly American.

I like Delta. I fly them a lot and have a lot of skymiles. I even have silver elite status. That means I get to walk on the right side of the post when boarding the plane rather than the left side with the unwashed masses. I have actually been bumped up to first class a few times.

Getting to the gate has been problematic in the past year. As mentioned earlier, I have been experiencing back issues that make walking long distances painful. The airports mostly have wheelchair service to help with that. But you have to request it when you check in online. If you show up at the airport looking for a chair, you’re gonna wait.

On many trips I use a rental car. I still haven’t worked out getting my luggage and me from the car rental place to the airport painlessly. Sometimes there’s a shuttle. That usually works. But some smaller airports require you to walk (with your luggage) from the rental place to the airport. In some airports (I’m thinking of one in Rhode Island) that could be a long haul.

I like riding the wheelchair. You get some special treatment, such as being allowed to break line. The pushers are all very nice and usually young. And overwhelmingly Arabic. Just this weekend I was pushed in various airports by Ahmed, Abdul and Mohammed. One anomaly was at an airport last year when I was waiting at a counter. The counter attendant asked if I needed help. I said I was waiting for a chair. He said he’d take care of it. After a few minutes on the phone he told me Jimmy was on his way. A few minutes later he said, “Here’s Jimmy, now.” Jimmy came limping up and I’m pretty sure he was on the high side of 70. The way he was limping I wanted to get up and let him ride. But huffing and puffing he got me to the gate. He said he was limping from his recent knee replacement. I felt like a bad person making him push me.

I had an unpleasant experience with wheelchairs last year, I believe it was somewhere out west. I deplaned at the airport late at night. We were at the next to last gate down a long terminal hallway. I asked the gate attendant as I arrived if they had called ahead for the wheelchair since I didn’t see it. She said they had not. I thought that odd since I asked the people at the airport, I was flying from to call ahead for the chair. You’re not supposed to have to do that, but I do from experience. She called for the chair. I sat and waited about half an hour. I asked her to check on it, so she called again. After more waiting I noticed a house phone on the wall. It said it was for emergencies only. I considered this an emergency, so I picked up the phone. It didn’t work. I noticed another one about 50 ft. down the terminal. So, I went to that one. The guy who answered was nice and said he’d send a wheelchair right away. While using that phone I noticed a cache of wheelchairs in the corner. Most of them had the 4 small wheels, but one was a more traditional one with the large wheels so the sitter could push himself. Rather than walk the distance back to the counter, I got in and rode back to the waiting area. The wheels weren’t as large as usual chairs, so I had to really stretch to reach them. But I managed. The counter lady said I wasn’t supposed to use the airport chairs without an attendant. I have to admit I just looked at her and stayed in my chair. And still no attendant to push me. I had been waiting for about an hour now. I reasoned, I got me a chair. Let’s go. So, I put my carry-on in my lap and started pushing myself toward baggage claim. Totally against all airport regs, but the terminal was deserted. I’d have welcomed security personnel wanting to correct me. After a few hundred feet the counter lady caught up to me. She said she was getting off and this part of the terminal was shutting down for the night. She said she couldn’t just leave me, so she pushed me down to baggage claim. She shouldn’t have had to do that. Something went very wrong.

One of the so-called perks of being injured is that you are allowed to get on the planes before the others. If you have flown recently you know that the width of the aisle is now about 16-18 inches. Since I usually have an aisle seat, getting on early allows me to be banged over and over as people come in with their oversized carry-ons and the inevitable backpack. Someone speaks to them and they turn, oblivious of the backpack and it whacks me upside the head. And the average American person is more than 18 inches wide. So, they are squeezing down the aisle, snagging people who are already sitting and dragging us along.

And speaking of squeezing, flight attendants are no longer the Ken and Barbie dolls of yesteryear. They come in all shapes and sizes. I recently flew with one who may want to reconsider her career choice. She was on the plump side. She turned sideways to squeeze down the aisle, but she was as thick as she was wide. She exceeded the 18-inch barrier in all directions. It was a struggle for her coming and going. And on a flight this weekend the attendant had a full beard. I have never liked beards. I think they are creepy. You don’t what might be nesting in there. It was an evening flight and when Duck Dynasty suddenly loomed up out of the dark I nearly jumped out of my skin. I don’t do beards.

Dealing with fellow travelers can be a joy, sometimes. Then there are other times. Like the lady who I swear must have bathed in cheap perfume. I hope I never smell “Charley!” again. And the guy who may have had a bath in the past month, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Or the chatty conservative Christian lady who led to me putting on my headphones and turning up the music mid-sentence. The seat may be saved, but I’m not. And children can be the worst. I question the need to bring a newborn onto a plane. It can be painful to their ears and inevitably causes crying. If grandma just has to see Junior, send her a ticket. I was on a cross country flight with three babies on board. I think they fed off each other, wailing in sychronicity and three-part harmony.

Apparently parenting has gone out of style. Take the case of Little Leo whom I encountered last year. Little Leo and Mommy were sitting behind me. Little Leo was about 4. He started kicking my seat. I could barely feel it, so I didn’t complain. Still Mommy tried to stop him. She explained all about how it was bad manners and yadda yadda. Leo couldn’t care less. He just kept on kicking. And Mommy kept trying to convince him to stop. We hit turbulence so the captain said all tray tables should be up. Leo was having no part of this. Whenever Mommy tried to put up his tray he screamed. And apparently fought. Daddy who was sitting across the aisle told him Mommy doesn’t like it when you pull her hair and then, Mommy doesn’t like it when you hit her. WTF? Don’t they know you can’t reason with a four-year-old? He’s obviously running the show and turning into a little monster. As we stood up to deplane Mommy apologized to me. I just said, “no problem” and left, glad to be free from her constantly redirecting Leo. As I headed up the jetway I heard a sudden blood curdling scream. I looked back and little Leo had thrown himself on the floor at the entrance to the plane having a full-blown old-fashioned tantrum. I feel sorry for little Leo. It’s not his fault. But he will one day have a rude awakening. Maybe people should have to get a license to have a kid. Small children are nothing but id. The Lord of the Flies demonstrated what happens when left to their own devices. Our job is to civilize them. A long time ago in a rom-com with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore (a very long time ago) her best friend was a kindergarten teacher. She said, “My job is to break their spirit.” Pretty strong but not far from the truth.

Bon voyage!

The Accidental Novel

Hey, folks. Good news. For me at least. I now have seven stories that have been accepted for publishing in magazines. One is in this month’s Scarlet Leaf. You can find it online. In the meantime, take a look at this.

The Accidental Novel

            I never meant to write a novel. I never even wanted to write a novel. Novels are long and intricate and take a sustained effort. Much longer than I could ever maintain. Novels are written by smart people or people with something to say. What could I possibly say that would interest someone for 250 to 300 pages?

            Sure, like everyone the thought has flitted through my brain “I should write a book” and just as quickly flitted out again. I had lots of ideas even, but again I thought, how could I sustain them to novel length? It never even occurred to me that I could write a short story. I don’t know why. I enjoy reading short stories. It should have been obvious to me. But there are many things that should have been obvious to which I was oblivious. But that’s for another time and another story.

            It all began with my love of ballroom dancing. I’ve been dancing for nearly 40 years. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I dabble as a hobby rather than make it a focus. To become really good, I would have to work at it. Then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. I want to keep it fun. An outgrowth of this is my enjoyment of Dancing With The Stars. I don’t really watch much TV. I don’t have a favorite show or anything like that. If I turn on the TV, it’s usually to watch a movie. But I make a point to watch every episode of DWTS. It’s frequently campy and awful, but always entertaining. Since I have a decent knowledge of ballroom dancing and definite opinions about DWTS, about five years ago, maybe more, I started writing a little critique of each show. These were very tongue in cheek, little about the actual dancing but more my opinions on the format, the performers, anything that came to mind that was related. If you want an example of what I wrote, check it under DWTS on the blog.

            I sent out these reviews by email to friends who also watched the show and would understand. People seemed to enjoy them. I got favorable comments. One lady said she had to stop reading my posts at the library because it made her laugh out loud. She was also the one who kept telling me I should start a blog. I kept telling her I had no interest in a blog.

            Short stories weren’t totally foreign to me. I wrote a few in high school as English assignments. In college I took a creative writing class for which I had to write a 5 page plus story. I was not quite satisfied with my result, but the teacher thought it was excellent. I got an A. That story has since been lost in the sands of time. But about three years ago I had a dream. The protagonist of my college story came to me and complained that I had gotten his story wrong. He proceeded to tell me the correct story. I woke up and was amazed at the detail of the dream. I got up in the middle of the night and wrote down everything he told me. That became the story “It Went Down Like This.” It’s on my blog. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable comments such as “breezy” and “delightful”. You know, nice things. It became for several years a little noticed file in my computer.

            My father had died shortly before that. As I cleared out his house, I went through all his souvenirs and mementos. Many were meaningless to me, so I threw them out. But I also got a chance to review his photo albums again. The pictures brought back such nice memories. It was a very life affirming experience. I also found a bundle of letters to him from Mom when he was in the Army. There were about twenty letters covering his first three months in service. I don’t know why he saved these and no others. I was unsure if I should read them. On the one hand, they were private correspondence. But on the other, both were dead, so I didn’t feel like I was violating privacy. I’m glad I read them. I got a glimpse of my parents as two young people in love. The letters were endearing, sometimes annoying, a few times even heart breaking.

            My folks had told stories as I was growing up about their courtship. I had lots of family all around who kept the family history alive. Those people are now gone or scattered. I hated to think of such a nice love story being forgotten. So, I wrote “A Love Story”, also on my blog, using the oral traditions and the letters. I meant to send it to family members on Facebook. As usually happens when I get on Facebook, things when awry. I accidentally posted the story to everyone I know. I got lots of feedback on what a “lovely story” it was. I was encouraged to write more. A friend said I should send stories like that to magazines. The thought had never crossed my mind. But I was intrigued. Write short stories? Maybe it was a possibility. I did have a few ideas. But what do I know about writing? Would I be any good?

            Well, sixty stories later I still don’t know if I’m any good, but I’m having a great time. And that’s the point. I don’t care if I’m the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King. I write stories for my own pleasure. Since I’m not trying to support myself by writing it’s not a problem. I’ll do it as long as it’s fun.

            One of my early stories was “Best Summer Ever”. It was a kind of coming of age, teenage summer love story. It was from an idea I had as a teenager spending frequent weekends at Atlantic Beach, NC. That’s where the story is set. It’s just the latest iteration of an old trope. I didn’t explore any new ground or new ways of looking at it. I just wanted to add my version. I am happy with the story and it’s on my blog, I think.

            I have a good friend who reads my stories and helps with editing. She has made me follow the rules of paragraphs, hyphens and Oxford commas. I also value her opinions of my work. In discussing the story one day, she offered that she wondered about the background of the female protagonist of “Best Summer Ever”. I reviewed what little background I put in the story. She said she just wondered if there were more. I said that I could write a story about her, but that would require me to channel a 15-year-old girl and I didn’t think I could do that. She replied that I probably couldn’t. Well, that sounded like a challenge. So, I wrote a prequel to BSE. I named it “A Pretty Girl”. The two stories fit together well, and it gave me the idea of coming back and revisiting favorite characters. That led to the two Duchessa stories and the two Escape stories.

            I had left BSE with the comment that the next school year was going to be interesting. Re-reading the story one day I wondered what was going to happen next. Some of my stories I consciously create, building on a template of what I want it to be. Other stories, the ones I enjoy most, are from my subconscious. I tap into it and it pours out on the page, often surprising me. This was to be one of those times. I pulled up a blank page, wrote that Robbie was entering the school and then I opened up and let go. As promised, “Gordo” was a wild ride. Suddenly I had a trilogy. Now I had two stories from the male viewpoint and one from the female. I felt like the ladies should have equal say and “Gordo” only covered half the school year, so I finished out the school year with “Heroes” from the female viewpoint.

            My editing friend said I may have a YA novel on my hands. I reminded her that four short stories are not a novel and I had no desire to write a novel. I intended to leave it at that.

            My touch of OCD kicked in as I realized I had an outcome left hanging in the previous stories. Robbie’s relationship with his brother was not worked out. I wrote a story to reconcile them. As I neared the end of the story, I found that Robbie was not ready to forgive his brother and I couldn’t force it and be true to the story I was writing. The story became “Unforgiven”. I continued trying with another story which became “Finding Forgiveness” and the brothers found a way to co-exist.

            My friend then asked me what’s the deal with Kylie? He’s just background setting, like a lifeless prop. Does he have a story? So that led to “Survivor”. Then I wrote about Robbie finding the girl who would be the love of his life in the midst of a school shooting. That became “Love Among the Ruins”. By this time, I was eight stories in with this group of kids. I had to admit that my friend was right. It was looking like a YA novel.

            So, I kept going. There was “Requiem” as the group held a memorial service for one of their number who committed suicide. Then “Wedding Bells” as a couple got married. Then I backed up and wrote “Senior Year” to fill in a gap. Then there was “Act of Mercy”, the first few pages of which are autobiographical. Then “Kylie and the Spooks” and would it up with “This Perfect Moment” in which 32-year-old Robbie looks back over the past sixteen years and assesses how good his life has been. Looking over it I realized I had left out one important story. It was the hardest to write but I pushed through. It was the story of a character’s suicide. I wrote it first person present tense, so I was inside his head. As I mentioned, it was difficult. I call it “Fade to Black”.

            So now I have sixteen chapters and nearly 100,000 words. Yep, it’s a novel. I’ve entitled it “I Guess It’s Called Growing Up”. That is a comment someone makes in the last chapter. When it poured out on the page I immediately knew it as the title of the book. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable reviews and urges to send it to publishers. I’m still editing it, but maybe one day it will find a home with a publisher. It would be cool to have a book, but that’s the last one. I have no intention of writing another novel.

Remember Me?

After a long hiatus I am back. Remember me? No new stories for you yet. I’ve got a few put back for a rainy day, but I’m not ready to bring them out yet. I’ve mostly been working on editing my novel. I just revised an entire chapter going in another direction. Now I have to go through and find places where the events of that chapter were remembered and fix them.

I’m also a fair-weather writer. When in don’t feel well I just cannot write. I’m now in the midst of a chemical peel of my entire face. It either hurts, aches, itches or stings all the time. I began on January 2 under order from my dermatologist. This week has been the worst. I thought about posting a picture but decided against it. Just think zombie movie. That’s why this post is going to be short. I can’t keep focused when all I want to do is rip off my face.

Good news. A magazine accepted four submissions (I withdrew one for personal reasons). They wanted them for different issues. The anniversary issue is out today. You can see it at  www.scarletleafreview.com. I’m the second story after the opening interview with a poet. Just after the story about stray cats.

I’m going to go now. And try not to rip off my face. Until next time.

DWTS 3

Oh, good grief. Already with the gimmicks. Movie Night. Then there’ll be Latin night (hello, Latin is half of ballroom dancing). And Disney Night, which is just movie night all over again. I mean what else could they do; put a big dress on someone and say she’s Space Mountain? And the ever popular My Most Miserable Memory Night. At least with the fall season we’ll get Halloween. My guess is October 28. And who doesn’t love a Halloween party where the costume budget is unlimited?

Last night could have subbed for Latin Night. Only one non-Latin number: Quickstep. And what’s with all the rumbas? 40% of the dances were rumba. Okay, so let’s take the rumbas in order best to worst.

Ally and Sasha. Total redemption from last week for Sasha. He was working that rumba. But so was Ally. Only one performance separated it from Hannah, and way to smack her in the face and throw down the gauntlet. So much light and dark and shading. It actually had texture. She so rocked it. But what’s with Len’s “Don’t touch me”? Who made him God?

JVDB and Emma. This is the point in the competition I wait for. When the male celebrities actually start leading. You could see it all over that dance. He was so strong and pulled out real moves instead of all the acrobatics. One great rondé. Maybe he should have done the splits instead of Emma.

Hannah and Alan. Yesterday’s news. Ho hum. It was fairly hot, but not really rumba. All she did was spin and split. Over and over. Alan knows better than that. I did have to laugh at his sexy cop thing. Had to be the unsexiest cop ever.

Kel and Witney. He’s got those second position breaks down. Did them three times. Loved the confused look when he couldn’t find her leg for the assisted developé. Carrie Ann called it tight. That was a good word for it. And how come Witney wasn’t wearing the blue pendant from the movie? I mean it was Movie Night.

It’s hard to call a winner for the night. No one gave me chill bumps. Kate and Pasha did a very nice QS. Much better than we usually get this early. But her costume made her look fat. Reminded me of Hazel, that maid from the 60s. And those white legs. Did she miss her spray tan session? The glare was blinding.

Sailor and Val. Who’s the producer who doesn’t know what a tango is? This is two weeks in a row with the wild tangos. Way too much smiling going on. It didn’t sound tango; it didn’t look tango. Val grounded it and slowed it down, but it was fighting the music.  And the practice session. What is it with guys who wear hoodies with the hood up while dancing? He looked like some mad dancing monk.

Lauren and Gleb. Interesting how she so easily walked into the character of a hooker. But then she was dallying with about 20 men on national TV. Just sayin’. A whole lotta scrambling going on. She seemed surprised by some of Gleb’s moves. It’s been done before and much, much better. Look here to see how it is done. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHPY0oRfYzM

And it went downhill from there.  

I like Karamo and I hope he’s around for a while. He’s a hoot. But, what the hey, dude? The song title was prophetic. Except instead of still standing it should have been “I’m just standing”. That’s all he was doing much of the time. Jenna was jiving for all she was worth, and he just stood there. Even when he did dance it was so slow. Instead of fun it was more like walking my grandma around the mall. Two shuffles was all we got in the way of synchronized kicks so as far as I’m concerned it wasn’t a proper jive.

The night’s two cha chas were bad and badder. Hard to pick. I guess I have to go with Lamar for possibly worst cha cha ever. And I’m even including Master P, Billy Ray Cyrus Buzz Aldrin and Tom DeLay. Those are the big guns of badness to go up against and he held his ground. There were two actual cha cha moves and both vied for worst ever. After his outing as the Jolly Green Giant last week and this misbegotten mess he really needs to go. The show had the perfect opportunity for a double elimination last night. Losing him and Ray in one night would be a blessing. And as for the song, that also has been done before and much better by Jake Pavelka. See it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onmqBp0hZ_o

Let’s see Lamar shake it like that. I miss Miss Chelsea, as her rodeo celebrity called her. His great line was “I just do what Miss Chelsea tells me.”

And Sean, Sean, Sean (slapping him lightly on the cheek). What can I say? It was good until he started dancing. In actuality it was an order of magnitude better than Lamar, but still several orders of magnitude away from being presentable in public. At least he’s a good sport about it. Give him a few drinks to loosen him up. I hear he’s a real party boy.

The entire night can be summed up in my favorite police line.

“Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.”

DWTS

For a few years I have posted a tongue in cheek review of each week’s DWTS during the season. With a background of 40 years of teaching and dancing ballroom I know a little bit of what I speak. But I don’t really get into the technicalities. My posts are usually scurrilous, frequently profane and always catty. I’m a curmudgeonly old man and I call it like I see it. It’s my blog so I can say what I want. Some find it amusing; some wish I’d go away. I’m going to post my thoughts here on the blog. Aside from this one, it won’t take the place of my weekly short story (unless I run out). I’ll just put a menu tab for DWTS.

Dancing With the Stars: Preview

As predictable as a plague of locusts it’s that time of year again. Dancing With The Stars is upon us. Wow. A new season and hardly a star in sight. Used to be they had a few stars but seems it has now devolved into people few have ever heard of, has beens, and people who are known for being known, not anything they may have done. I call it Mysterious Notoriety. An example is Paris Hilton. Or the Kardashians. Why are these people famous? And this year is no exception. They are offering a gallywhumpus of misbegotten misfits and pusillanimous personae. Sadly, the definition of ‘star’ seems to have gone downhill. I always think of the classic definition- movie stars, stage stars, TV stars and music stars. These are few and far between in this crowd. One comic once commented that Dancing with the Stars would be more accurate if called Dancing with the Vaguely Familiar. So true. 

I have been tempted to boycott this season after last year’s debacle. It was won by a talentless radio personality from Arkansas. He couldn’t dance a bit but apparently everyone in Arkansas voted for him. I hate when block voting lifts the talentless over better qualified dancers. I keep reminding myself that, regardless of what Len says, it’s not a dance competition, it’s a popularity contest. Thus we end up with anomalies like Bobby Bones or that stumblebum baseball player the year before. When you leave voting in the hands of the public you sometimes get unpleasant results (like Trump). Occasionally there is a break out dancer who just wows everyone and runs away with it. Nyle DiMarco comes to mind. But then, I thought that was happening for Juan Pablo last season. He was killing it until suddenly bumped for some unfathomable reason. Even the judges were pissed.

I’m also annoyed at the departure of Sharna Burgess and Artem (I’m not even going to try his last name). I can understand Sharna. She’s getting older and she has her mirror ball now. Artem said he wanted to come back but was dropped. Why? He was a wonderful dancer and partner. He was a great example of masculinity married to grace. He was one of my favorites.

Over the years DWTS seemed to pull in their celebrities (a better and more accurate word than stars) based on categories.  Archetypes even. Such as:

Divas/Icons. These have tended to be bona fide stars. People like Patti Labelle, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Florence Henderson, Cloris Leachman, George Hamilton, Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond, Valerie Harper, Billy Dee Williams. People we have actually heard of and consider stars. This year we have Mary Wilson. She was a Supreme. And not one of the nine who sit in Washington. She stood behind Diana Ross and said doo wa. Still I consider her the only true star on this year’s show. Maybe Kate Flannery.  I’ve never seen The Office. It seems like a lower tier TV show, but what do I know?

NFLers. Emmett Smith, Jerry Rice, Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp. The show always has a few football players. They usually do well. All that stepping inside tires at practice makes them nimble and quick on their feet. Ray Lewis gets the nod this year and an honorable mention for Lamar Odom since he’s basketball. Bballers have not been successful on the show. Too tall.

Boy Band Refugees. Aaron Carter, Nick Carter, Mario Lopez, Joey Fatone, Joey Lawrence, Lance Bass, Drew Lashay, Nick Lashay. It seems all the Backstreet Boys and InSync have been on the show at one time or another. They seem to have cleared out all the boy bands. What about Boyzone and Menudo? Now they have moved on to girl bands – Pussycat Dolls and Fifth Harmony. Nicole Schwerzinger won it running away along with Derek Hough. He could probably win with a potato sack as a partner though. I mean he even got Big Girl from Glee across the finish line. He strangely couldn’t do much with L’il Kim, though. Fifth Harmony’s steatopygian Normani did respectably on the last outing. Ally Brooke will now try. BTW I only recently noticed that Camila Caballo ( of the recently wildly popular “Havana-na-na”) was with Fifth Harmony at one time.

People Seeking Redemption. Paula Deen (no), Kate Gosselin (definitely no), the Kardashians (Kim, nope; Robbie, yes), Li’l Kim (no), Jerry Springer (surprisingly, yes), Ryan Lockte (kinda). This is definitely the place for Sean Spicer. I don’t know who came up with him, but it was actually pretty savvy. People will watch just to see what he does. I have to give him credit for fleeing the Trump madness. I’m predisposed to like him just for that. He seems to be be pretty funny when he’s had a drink or three. Maybe they can let him have a few in the Celebrequarium and he can entertain us with his sparkling repartee. Maybe Sarah Huckabee Sanders next season. She’ll have to learn to wear a dress like a lady and stop fidgeting with her bra strap.

Embarrassments, WTF or Why?. Tom Delay, Steve Wozniak, Redfoo, Macy Gray, David Hassellhoff, Michael Waltrip, Rick Perry, Charo, Kareem Abdul Jabar. This sometimes is a catchall category. Since DWTS has cleared the celebrity B listers and C listers, they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Remember the bull rider? Or the rodeo guy who kept calling his partner Miss Whitney. So many times after scratching my head and saying “who?”, my next question is “why?”  There are a few this year. Hannah Brown has two claims to ‘fame’. She was on the Bachelorette aka “I can’t find me a man so I need to troll the whole damn country” and was Miss Alabama. Since her state seems to be winning the race with West Virginia to see which can be the most backward state, I wouldn’t brag about it. And Queer Eye guy Karamo. Is he the token homosexual? They’ve taken to being a little more inclusive recently. They also had that Carson guy from Queer Eye and Lance Bass. They even had Chaz Bono to represent transsexuals. I’d like to see them run a transsexual who hasn’t had their parts altered. I mean who DOESN’T want to see RuPaul on DWTS? They had a drag queen on DWTS Australia this year. Christie Brinkley? Okay, everybody knows her so the name recognition is good. She’s rich as God, but all I can tell that she has done is have her picture taken and marry and divorce Billy Joel. But she has also lasted nearly 50 years in the business without saying or doing something so unutterably stupid that the whole world hates her. Not so easy these days. Maybe she’s just really a nice person. Still doesn’t answer why she’s on the show. However, models have rarely done well on the show. Except for the brainless Brooke Burke. They tend to be stiff for whatever reason.

Career Reboot. All the Backstreet Boys, Mario Lopez, Ralph Macchio, Frankie Munez, Vanilla Ice. The bills gotta be paid, you know. This is where I put James van der Beek. The Dawson’s Creek and BH90210 kids have not done well. One died recently, one has been reduced to playing a dad on Riverdale, several have been in and out of rehab. I checked James VDB’s work and found he recently worked on Vampirina. Nuff said. Kel Mitchell may be a ringer. He’s listed as a comedian but has done some TV and movie stuff. In 2011 he was in “Dance Fu”, a kung fu/dance movie. So he’s had some dance experience. Most recently idb says he’s in Spongebob Squarepants. I guess it’s a voice part. The only live action I’ve seen is Spongebob on Ice. Not sure I’d put either on my resume.  And Lauren Alaina is listed as a country music star. Well, kinda. She was a runner up on American Idol. But maybe being runner up means she’s good. Like Clay Aiken. I mean, who remembers the guy who beat him? Although another Idol winner took DWTS by storm – NC’s own Kelly Pickler. But she charmed her way to the mirror ball, plus she was a good dancer.

Creepy. Gary Busey wins this category hands down but I think Macy Gray gave him a good chase. Still, Rick Perry’s bromance with Vanilla Ice was the stuff nightmares are made of. As creepy as Bing Crosby singing a Christmas carol with David Bowie.

Kids. Bindi Irwin, Zendaya, Bristol Palin, Milo Manheim, Duck Dynasty swamp girl. Kids usually do well, except NC’s Hayes Grier from a few seasons back. They’re kinda hard to break.

Handicapped People. Linda McCartney (one leg), Marlee Matlin (deaf), Noah Galloway (one leg, one arm), J.R. Martinez (deformed face), Amy Purdy (no feet), Nyle DiMarco (deaf), Danelle (blind), Terra Jole, the midget lady (Poor Sasha was saddled with her. When he first met her the look on his face was priceless. It totally said “OMFG what am I supposed to do with this?)

Olympians. Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Ohno, Dorothy Hamill, Charlie White, Meryl Davis, Evan Lysacek (I sense a theme here), Shawn Johnson. Athletes also do well. We call it Dance Sport for a reason.

People We Love Just Because. Jane Seymour, Dawn Welles (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island), Bill Engvall, Tommy Chong, Danica McKellar (Winnie on Wonder Years), Niecy Nash (and all her jiggly parts), Susan Lucci, Pamela Sue Anderson. Not any lovable scamps on the new season.

People We Love To Hate Just Because. Nancy Grace, Jerry Springer, Kate Gosselin, Tamar Braxton, Pamela Sue Anderson. Sean Spicer might also fit this category for some.

Singers Who Surprisingly Have No Sense Of Rhythm. Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Bolton, Master P, Wayne Newton.  I have to say I was so surprised.

Heroes. Buzz Aldrin (the man couldn’t dance a lick but he made 11 year old me want to be an astronaut), Noah Galloway, Alek Skarlatos, J.R. Martinez. Everybody loves a hero. I wish we had one to like this season.

People With Funny Accents. Helio Castroneves, Gilles Marini, Victor Espinoza, Cristian de la Fuente, Kelly Pickler, Bindi Irwin.

(Scary factoid: I pulled nearly all the above from off the top of my head. I did need to look up a few last names. I seem to have an alarming amount of my limited brain space devoted to this).

So there you have it. This year’s miscellany of miscreants. Off the top of my head without seeing anything about the contestants I’d say Mary Wilson won’t last long. She’s 75 years old. Ally Brooke, Ray Lewis and Kel Mitchell are my bets to do well. We’ll see. It starts up next week. Get the popcorn ready.

A Love Story

            Growing up I frequently heard my parents speak of meeting when they were young but I never knew much else. I usually ignored what I considered “mushy stuff” when I was a kid. During the last few months of his life I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with my Dad. He told me about their meeting and courtship. It was always his favorite subject. Putting it together with what Mom told me and other sources I feel I have a good feeling for how it went. It was such a neat story I wanted to record it.

            As a sad sort of coda, after Dad died I found a bundle of letters that Mom wrote to him during the first few months of basic training. I don’t know why these letters survived and none others. At first, I didn’t know what to do with them. Should I read them? They were private correspondence. I finally decided that since they were both deceased, it was okay to read them. I’m glad I did. I got a picture of my parents that I never saw. They were starry-eyed kids, so much in love. They never lost their love, but it settled down with time. But the letters spoke of the bright kind of love between a man and woman just a few months married, both still thrilled with each other and cruelly torn apart. And there were some passages that made me blush. I even found a discussion of possible names for “junior” if there ever was one. I also found bits of family gossip that I never knew. It was definitely interesting reading.

            But now, the main event. The Courtship of Mary and Alton.

A Love Story

In late 1952, eighteen-year-old high school senior Mary Reid wanted to have a Christmas party. Problem was all the Saturday nights in December before Christmas were already scheduled. So, she decided to have the party after Christmas, on December 27. Her friends told her she was crazy to schedule a party then. So close to Christmas everyone would be doing family things. But Mary was stubborn. She stuck with her plan. Saturday evening came and a few friends stopped in. Then a few more showed up. Then more and more. Soon the house was filled with people. A friend told Mary he was so glad she decided to have a party because he was sick of family gatherings.

Later in the evening, Mary’s frenemy, Edith, showed up with her new boyfriend, 22-year-old Alton Bass. The six-foot tall, handsome blond-haired blue-eyed farm boy caught every girl’s eye. He was quite a catch. He said later that he felt an instant connection with the party hostess. Within a few days Alton had broken up with Edith and paid a call on Mary. She was thrilled to be asked out by such a handsome boy, with a car, and making Edith mad was a bonus. Soon Alton had a date with Mary every weekend. He also came by frequently in the evenings after his farm chores were done. He would play cards and board games with Mary’s brothers while she finished her schoolwork. Father Reid said no courting until that was done. Alton had no brothers but three of Mary’s five brothers lived at home. They readily adopted Alton and made him part of the family.

Winter turned to spring and in June, Mary graduated from high school. She wasn’t ready to settle down and wanted to try life in a big city. She moved to the state capital, Raleigh, an hour away, found a job and boarding house and settled in. Alton was not happy about this. He was in love with petite blonde Mary. He continued seeing her. He would drive the hour to the city twice every weekend. He said he became very familiar with all the back roads. He ran off the road more than once while falling asleep at the wheel in the wee hours of the morning. He said his car only had two speeds – high and fly. He never got caught by the police, although he outran a patrol car one night.

This wasn’t working out. He was crazy about the girl so Alton asked Mary to marry him. She readily accepted. Since they had met in December they decided on a December wedding. They were married December 18, 1953 and settled down to farm life. They were in love and everything was idyllic. Then Uncle Sam called. Alton was notified in March, just three months wed, that he was needed for the peacekeeping in Korea. The country had been partitioned in the ceasefire just a month before Mary and Alton were married. No one knew if the peace would last.

Mary was frantic. Mother Mollie and father Lloyd Bass were also concerned for their son’s safety and the fact that he was their only son, and was their sole support as the one who worked the farm. The officials they spoke with assured them that Alton would be dismissed from service for “hardship” on his family. The paperwork was applied and the hearing came. A county official had to make the decision. This was a woman who for some reason did not like Mollie Bass. I have never heard my grandmother speak ill of another person except this woman. Mollie said “she dressed and acted like a man and was so ugly no man would have her.” The woman said Alton should not shirk his duty and refused to dismiss him. He entered the Army on May 18, 1954. Mary went to live with Alton’s family. She said in her letters that she cried herself to sleep every night.

Alton eventually was relieved of serving in the former combat area because he was the sole support of a farm family. By the fall, he was stationed in Japan. I have copies of some of the pictures he and Mary exchanged during the long separation. I have a picture of him lying beside a pool referring to himself as a “bathing beauty”. Another shows Mary in her Easter outfit with a note “The wind nearly took me away.”

Mary decided she did not like living on the Bass farm. She wanted to go to work. She moved back to Raleigh, got her old job back and moved into an apartment with a friend. I have a picture cut from the newspaper that shows her as the “girl flashing the big smile” as she is mailing drivers license renewal forms from the Department of Motor Vehicles in 1955.

In February 1956 Alton was told his enlistment was coming to an end. The Sergeant encouraged him to apply to Officer’s Training School and become career military. He said “I just want to go home and see my wife.”

The night before his ship left Japan Alton’s friends took him to a local tavern to celebrate. Some Navy men came in and as nearly always happened when Army and Navy mixed, a brawl broke out. Alton’s friends told him that if the MPs got him he’d be in the brig and miss his ship. They drug him to a back room and literally threw him out the window. He made his ship and spent 2 weeks sailing across the Pacific. I have pictures he took as they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge with all the soldiers waving their hats in the air and cheering. They had three days in San Francisco until air transport was available. Alton and two friends went to a café. Their waitress was blonde, pretty and flirty. She eventually became a bit suspicious of the three young men staring at her. When she cautiously approached their table one of Alton’s friends said, “Excuse us, ma’am, but you’re the first white woman we’ve seen in two years.” She smiled and turned on the charm. She got a big tip.

The soldiers’ air transport first landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was 20 degrees below zero and the men only had their tropical uniforms on as they had to hustle across the runway. Alton said the hangar seemed miles away.

Plane and bus and eventually in early March Alton stepped off the bus in Raleigh, NC. Mary was waiting and a mess with tears and makeup streaming down her face. She wrapped herself around him and said “Don’t you ever leave me again.” He promised and kept the promise for over 50 years. They went home and nine months later I was born.  

50th Anniversary

Mary Bass died in 2007. Alton mourned her every day until he passed away in 2016. His love for her was legendary in the community.

Do This One Thing

If anyone has ever sat on a front porch on a sultry summer evening listening to the crickets and bullfrogs, watching the lightning bugs and enjoying the feeling of being snug in your family, that is the feeling I am trying to capture in this story. It is a memoir as well as a tribute to my grandfather, a remarkable man. I am proud to have known him and to carry his name.
            He loved to talk and tell stories. He had a story for every occasion. Some he admitted were tall tales. But he always swore this one was true. Maybe it was.


Do This One Thing
A True Story?
I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods we kids called “climbing trees” because they were great for climbing. Grandma hated us climbing in the trees and would yell, “Y’all come down out of that tree before you fall and break your neck!” We never fell. Well, my cousin Edith fell. And broke her arm. But no necks were ever broken.
            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mom and Dad and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, and just enjoying being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.    
            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again. You dreamed it.”
“Dang if I didn’t,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.
            “This happened when I was a young man. Mollie and I had just been married less than a year so it must have been 19 and 23. Remember, Sweetpea? We’d run off in January and got married. We were still honeymooning. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had Raleigh Bryant run me to Garysburg in his horsebuggy. I had my valise with my birth certificate and a change of clothes. I won’t but eighteen, didn’t know nothing. Excepting that I loved Mollie. It was cold as hell, but I was sweating bullets till your grandma showed up. Lord, you were a sight for sore eyes, Sweetpea. I loved you so much.”
“Still do,” Grandma smiled at him, patting his knee.
“We caught the train to Emporia and checked in an old hotel. I wanted to go ahead and check in as Mr. and Mrs. but your grandma was all prim and proper. A real lady. She insisted on her own room under MISS Mary Grizzard. Cost us a whole extra dollar. And a dollar was hard to come by in those days. We found the justice of the peace the next day and got hitched. Then we went back and used that hotel room.”
“Lloyd!” my Grandma exclaimed. We could see her blush, even in the dim light.
“Like I said, I won’t but 18 and Sweetpea was 19. When we got home, all hell broke loose. But we was married and nothing they could do about it.”
“But, Granddaddy. What about the ghost?” At that age I didn’t care about dumb lovey stuff.
            “I was getting there. Hold your horses. We were living in the old Mayle house, just a sharecropper’s cabin with 4 rooms, but it was all we needed. It was August, the hottest one I could remember. Me and Sam Massey and another man, I can’t recollect who, were working the field up by old Miz Garris’ place. Alice Garris, now she was a firecracker. She was supposed to have been a looker in her day. They say old man Garris tamed her, but he died before I can remember, so she lived in that big old house alone. She dressed and acted like she had money. Did you ever see that house? It’s gone now. I don’t even remember if it fell down or got burned. It was up, back of Sam Massey’s old house. That’s gone now, too.”
            “Yeah, Granddaddy, I remember Mr. Massey’s house but not any other one. They tore it down when I was real little, but I remember it. I remember Mr. Massey would always bring us a watermelon from his garden every summer,” I said.
            “Yes, Sam was something else. Most folks didn’t care too much for him ‘cause he was a picker. Always picking at people, trying to get a rise out of ‘em. I remember when your daddy was young, we were working in a field and Sam started picking at him. I let it go, figuring the boy needed to learn to take care of hisself. Purty soon, your dad up and whaled him on the side of the head with a beanpole. Sam jumped up looking like he was ready for a fight but I stepped in. I told Sam, ‘you got what was comin’ to you. Now get back to work’.
            “Now, where was I? Oh yeah, we were working the field side of Miz Garris’ house. One day as we got ready to take a break for lunch we were near her yard. We decided to go over and sit under a big tree by the house. Ol’ Betsy, the mule, won’t having no part of it. When we tried to pull her over to the shade, she just bellowed and dug in her heels. ‘Well, just stand there in the hot sun, you dang varmint,’ I said to her.
            “It didn’t take but a few minutes under the tree before we smelled it. If you ever smelled a dead body, you won’t never forget it. Sam and me and the other man all looked at each other. Lonnie Birdsong. That’s who it was. I just remembered. Me and Sam were working with your grandma’s uncle Lonnie.  
‘When’s the last time you saw Miz Garris?’ I asked them.
‘She won’t at church on Sunday,’ Sam said. ‘Somebody said she was feeling poorly.’ ‘Reckon we ought to go look,’ I said.
            “We went up on the back porch and knocked on the door. ‘Miz Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?’ After a few minutes with no answer I pushed the door open. There won’t no such thing as locked doors back then. We all trusted each other. Not like these days when you got people robbing banks and stealing and all. Don’t know what the world is coming to. Anyway, soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was darn sure dead and after several days in August she was purty ripe.”
“Lloyd, must you tell it like that?” Grandma protested. “The young’uns will have nightmares.”
“I’m just telling what I saw, sweetheart. Ain’t nothing they don’t see on tv these days.
            “Anyway, ‘Dammit’, I thought. I’m sorry ol’ Miz Garris died but it was also going to make us lose a day of work. We needed to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson. When I said this, Sam said, ‘Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.’ ‘Naw, that ain’t right,’ I told him. That old lady deserved more respect than that. Plus I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away. So Sam and the other man took ol’ Betsy back home and I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.
            “They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead a number of days and was purty far gone. He didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d a been real embarrassed by all the mess.
            “That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and me didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. From where I was laying in bed I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted to and fro with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I was froze with fear. I saw her put her hand on the door jamb, lift her skirt and step into the house. I immediately saw it was old Miz Garris. Shit!”
            “Lloyd! Don’t say that in front of the children!” my grandmother chided him.
“Well, I was scared half to death, Mollie. She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said ‘Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.’ She disappeared suddenly and I was released and I set to squallin’.”
            “Like to have scared me out of ten years growth,” Grandma added. “He was yelling and wrenching around. Talking about ghosts. You just dreamed it, Lloyd. There ain’t no ghosts.”
“I know blame well what I saw, dammit. The next day I went to the general store and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miz Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. Turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she said, I ain’t never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.”
My cousins and I loved the story. We grinned and hugged ourselves in mock terror. It was full dark by this time. I don’t know if I really believed in ghosts back then, but Granddaddy’s house was big and dark and had lots of creaks and groans. I wasn’t about to walk back in that house alone until the adults went in.
My granddaddy loved to tell stories and knew many tall tales. But he always swore this one was true. As an adult I don’t believe in ghosts. They’re just tales we use to frighten the children. But poor old Miz Garris has been resting quietly for 96 years now. I agree with Granddaddy. I’d like to just keep it that way.