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 Finale

DWTS’ messiest season finally came limping down the home stretch. It was more of a Finally than Finale. Still, like all seasons it had moments of greatness and moments of what the hell? And the Finale seemed to sum it all up nicely. Moments of greatness and moments of, well, you know.

Three editorial comments.

1 I want Bruno’s jacket! It totally rocked.

2 I miss Cher’s original nose. It gave her character. It looked like they rolled in the wax mannequin from Madame Tussaud’s. I know she’s had some work done, but she’s approaching Michael Jackson creepiness. I saw Cher some years back, twice. The first one was actually a man. Well, both were men. I was on a ski trip to Tahoe with a local ski group. They had us all on the same floor in rooms beside each other. Me and the guy I was rooming with were at the end. It turned out we had no hot water in the room. Management couldn’t fix the problem, so they offered to move us to another floor. Just us. No. I wanted to be with my friends. Across the street was an award-winning spa. They gave the two of us access to the spa. We went there every day after skiing for relaxing and then cleaning up. Not so bad. The management also gave my roommate and I passes to the hotel show. I hadn’t paid any attention to stuff like that, but we went. Not until we got in line did we notice it was a drag review. Got to admit I laughed my ass off. Great show. The only problem with this Cher is that she was too thick. Think Cher built like a tank. Original nose, though. The other sighting was on a cruise, over Halloween, with 250 gay men. No, I was not part of the 250 gay men. I was on a dance cruise. We just happened to be joined by the Friends of Dorothy. If you want a rocking party, put 250 gay men on a boat on Halloween. Late that night I was in the disco with a few of our ladies. The lights were low, and a slow ballad was playing. Looking out over the floor there were mixed sex couples and same sex couples, all embracing on the dance floor. The thought occurred to me that no one cared. We were all there to dance. Maybe dancers should run the world. It might be a better place.

3 I generally like Erin. She seems to actually have a brain, unlike Tom’s two former pals. However, last night her mouth seemed to be on autopilot, and she made a few howlers.

  • “Tonight, the judges don’t count”. I took that to mean that the judges wouldn’t be giving scores. I would have missed that, although at this stage it’s mostly pro forma 10s.
  • “Pitbull is a multi-grammar winning artist”. I’ve listened to Pitbull’s rap and grammar does not seem to be his strong point.
  • Kel’s last dance “was the best freestyle I’ve ever seen”. Say what? What has she been smoking?

Enough of the digression. On with the show. We finally were rewarded with a glitzy opening number. I missed the JV dancers. Nice to see them again.

It’s Freestyle night and my expectations are different. With four dancers I expect to see four incredible exhibitions of the art of ballroom dancing and four glamorama, Busby Berkley extravaganzas, with maybe a wee bit of ballroom content. Well, three out of four on both isn’t too bad.

Ally (aka Tina) and Sasha. This jive was one of my faves the first time around and still maybe my favorite dance of the season. No one channels the Tina like Ally. Sell it, girl. Like Bruno said, a full diva turn. I give it a 10 paddle and maybe the rare 4 paddle added on.

Lauren and Gleb had an oh so floaty foxtrot. Done the way it should be. I love that Dolly Parton song with all its dark inferences. She embodied it, just drew me in. Even had shaping. We saw a whiff of Gleb’s chest. No waxing. Good on ‘im. Rotten eggs to all the judges. A solid 10.

Kel and Witney. JAZZ IS NOT BALLROOM. Nevertheless, they weren’t together on the synchronized moves and that had to be some of the worst break dancing ever. Reminded me of grandpa at the wedding reception showing that he still has it. Usually ends up in the emergency room. Disqualified. No score.

Hannah and Alan’s VW was perfection. I loved it. Light and airy. At times it seemed a bit rushed but that may have just been the music. It was kind of fast. I like Alan on smooth dances. 10

Okay, after that we were ‘treated’ to a promo for the Bachelor. Now, I have never seen an actual scene from any Bachelor or Bachelorette season. I believe it is an insult to personal relationships. The promo showed people in a shower and rolling around in bed among other things. It implied that a lot of sex was going on. Correct me if I’m wrong but people having sex in front of cameras is kinda the definition of pornography. And this is prime time viewing? And we wonder why our kids are whacked?

Then there was some guy singing something about criss cross and Pitbull rapping about something. I liked the latin music part. Hated the rap. I liked Pitbull much better as a judge than as a performer. I hesitate to call him a singer because I have never heard him sing, only chant. Interesting that the house dancers only came on stage for the actual singing part. Evidence that you cannot dance to rap, therefore, it is not music.

Freestyle

What happened to the giant posters of the celebrities dancing through the season? That’s like a staple. If I were a contestant and I came in the practice room on the last day and there were no posters I’d feel cheated. Man, what a rip off, I’d say. I loved the giant posters.

Ally and Sasha. I liked the salsa and samba parts, the tribal parts, not so much. The lift dismounts were awkward. Not Sasha’s best effort. I expected more from him with such a talented partner. He blew it. 8

Lauren and Gleb. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Country is my thing and loved the country gal in her element. It was like a memory of a night at the Longbranch, our long-lost saloon. 10.

Hannah and Alan. He definitely brought his A game. Chills ran down my body when the three tango dancers checked in sequence to the three drumbeats during the opening. Super tango section. Wild, no holds (or lifts) barred. And the dismounts from the lifts were so smooth and liquid. Earlier in the season, especially in her faceoff with Lauren, I found her to be stiff. No stiffness here. Definitely the best of the night and probably in the top ten of the twenty-six or so predecessors. I give it a 10 paddle and add on a 6.

Kel and Witney. Really? That’s all they had? A total waste of my time. As an old white guy, I didn’t relate to the song and definitely did not relate to their jumping around. I can’t call it dance. And even then, he wasn’t keeping up with the extras they brought in. They were all outshining him. Once again, grandpa at the wedding reception. Carrie Ann’s attempt at black slang was disgusting and patronizing. And again, Erin thought it was the best in history? I must be totally out of touch. Just put me in the old fogey’s home with Len. He was the only one with the guts to say the emperor had no clothes. He called it right. 5 (and that is generous)

I’m satisfied that we are back on the right track of awarding the trophy to the dancer who showed the best stuff and danced her heart out. No more stumblebums, please.

DWTS 10

First off, my heart goes out to James van der Beek and his family. The loss of a child is devastating to any family and he has my deepest sympathy.

As for the show:

They wasted their budget this week on the sleazy commercial instead of a snazzy dance number for the opening. All those dancers on budget just standing around. Nothing to do. Maybe a little bit of dance? And apparently despite efforts to the contrary this became the unintentional My Most Miserable Moment episode. I know, weeping sells only second to sex, but I thought we might be spared this season.

On the upside, without Stumblebum Spicer, the dancing was great, without a missed heel turn in sight. The first six dances were all my favorites until they came to a jarring stop. Three disqualifications this week for not dancing ballroom. Can I have about five minutes alone in a room with the weasel that does this each week? Just five minutes. That’s all I need. This was my last night to see great ballroom. Next week they’ll all be doing some ignominious mishmash jumping around like escaped lunatics. Yes, the Freestyle. Although I think they give the dancers to redo their favorite one. That’s always a treat.

I definitely award Lauren redemption on her Paso Doble. I got chills right out of the gate. Great side by side moves and I loved her PD face. Not angry, more like “I’m above all this.” And the dominatrix outfit must have been stolen from Peta’s closet. Do they even know what a dominatrix is in Alabama? Raspberries to Gleb for waxing.

I missed part of Kel and Witney’s dance because I was wiping the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard at those ugly wallpaper pants. What in God’s name was that about? Who thought it was a good idea? From what I saw of the dance, the judges were way off. They seem to go way too easy on Kel. Are they afraid of being racist for picking on the black guy? For his tango he seemed to take some classes at the Sean Spicer school of dance. He was marching around with his nose in the air like he was inspecting the troops. Not the level I expect to see in the semifinals. And what’s with all the weird faces? No redemption. Although the way Witney popped up after each sit spin was cool.

Ally on VW. OMFG! So many chills. I was totally transported. Sasha always delivers in the smooth. Not always so for short guys. But they floated around as if on air. Definitely achieved escape velocity and made it halfway to the moon. And what a great red dress. Redemption and Best Dance of the Night award.

Hannah in a beautiful rumba. It was wonderful. I love a rumba that’s more than just vertical sex. This was proper rumba and so, so sinuous. And just remember the first word in sinuous is sin. Kudos to Alan for saying no to the wax. Redemption achieved.

Last out was JVDB. My first thought was “could those pants be any tighter?” I would have preferred less line dancing and acrobatics and more cha cha. OMG, I sound like Len. I did like the disco vibe of the whole thing. It was like a flashback. Haven’t had one of those since the disco days. Sorry, like a Coke bottle: no redemption, no return.

I’m not sure what the theme of the second half was except to drive me nuts. Only 2 dances and 3 messes. Okay, I give the Charleston partial credit.

Lauren and Gleb led off with a floaty VW directly out of a fairy tale. She was dressed in a princess pink dress. All she needed was a tiara. Gleb on the other hand. What was that jacket? The last time I saw something like that there may have been some psychopharmaceuticals involved. At first, I thought it was shadows. Then maybe he grabbed it from a housefire and forgot to get the soot off. Only in full light did I realize it was totally LSD inspired. I think the costume designer needs to pee in a jar. However, the dance achieved orbit. I give it a 10.

Then the crap began. Kel kept looking questioningly at Witney as if asking “what’s next?” All his moves were heavy. He never achieved the lightness the dance needed. Oh, yeah, some good lifts, but we’ve seen all that. Move along, nothing to see here. BTW, CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE. I thought it was interesting that after the whatever it was, Erin said “Now, back to dancing.”

Ally and Sasha were ambushed. Sing Sing Sing is a QS. Everybody knows that. WTF? But they pulled it off with a Busby Berkley extravaganza. “Golddiggers of ‘19”. What Bruno said, a Hollywood musical. Very cute. NOT BALLROOM but at least a recognizable couple dance

JVDB had a great Foxtrot considering what he was going through. It was one of his better dances. Weird costuming, though. What was the look they were going for with him? Tails, collarless shirt and no tie.

Hannah and Alan. What a mess. The moves had no relation to the musical tempo mostly because there was hardly any music and no tempo. No harmony, no rhythm, just word salad. They made some beautiful shapes and acrobatics, but it would have been no different with the sound turned off. Maybe better. That “music” was awful. They were sabotaged. Whoever is the dickhead who picks the music and assigns the dances?

So, did I pick it or what? I said JVDB was on the way out. Going into the finals, it’s anyone’s to lose. Didn’t we use to have three people do the freestyle? I remember years ago when Laila Ali was one of the three finalists. Halfway through the final show they announced she was kicked out. Whoever Tom Bergeron’s puffball sidekick was stuck a microphone in Laila’s face and asked how she felt to be kicked off. Laila looked at her like she had lost her mind (Laila was the master of “the look”) and said, “Well, I’m pissed. How do you think I feel?” So why four this go around. Was it four last year?

My analysis is that it’s between Kel and Ally. He is the worst of the four dancers, but the judges keep giving it to him. It may not matter, though. I imagine as usual; all contestants will get 30 points. The judges seem to have lost all but their 10 paddles in recent years for the finale. That puts it totally up to the viewers. And that’s what may put Ally over the top. Hannah and Lauren stepped up last night but who can pull the most viewer votes. Gleb and Alan have large followings, and Lauren, Hannah and Ally pull very different demographics. Lauren pulls the country music fans but how many of them watch DWTS? Hannah pulls the Bachelorette fans. It boggles my mind that any of those people exist and that they can function in the real world. Ally is the girl band breakout and could really push the girl power thing but seems to be wilting on that point. However, IMO she is the best dancer among the four. Lauren tends to be stiff when unsure of herself. Hannah has moments of looking ungainly. Her Alabama butt is starting to fill in. And Kel’s just not that good.

I haven’t trusted the public to pick the better dancer on here or SYTYCD in years and doubt they will disappoint me. But I like Ally and Sasha needs a mirror ball.

DWTS 9

Apparently, there is a god. And he smiled on us last night. DWTS shook off Sean Spicer like a pesky case of crabs. I was woot wooting around the house so that my wife thought I’d gone crazy. The joy of it was almost enough to forgive them for two indiscretions. Almost, but not enough. JAZZ IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE. While Ally may have perfectly done what Sasha taught her, and deserved her 10s, refer to the previous sentence. Actually, I liked JVDB’s better. It was more hip hop than jazz. HIP HOP IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE, EITHER. However, it had swag and suited the song. They pulled out Magic Mike moves that Carlos Penavega used a couple years back. Then, they called it rumba. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqTKUUYAVVE  Especially at the one-minute mark. And why do they keep wasting him on jazz and contemporary when he can throw down some great ballroom if they’ll just let him. His jive was a real showstopper for me. High energy and the kicks I like to see. Could have used more pumping as Bruno said. But then I went down the rabbit hole thinking about Bruno talking about pumping.

Smilin’ Len seems to have been moodier this season than in the past. If any of the celebrities say anything to him, he pulls an attitude. And his mouthing off to Ally of “Don’t touch me” was inexcusable. He has pulled few punches in his dislike for Spicer, at least twice telling him that he didn’t belong where he had gotten. Truth. He should have been dumped first or second week. I especially liked Len’s comment about his Argentine tango “The best thing about it was that it wasn’t very long.” Len’s still got it.

THE dance of the night had to be Hannah and Alan’s tango. It was classic tango; sheer elegance and a thing of beauty. Perfection. I had chills several times. Quite possibly best dance of the season. Their salsa on the other hand, was lacking. It had energy and flash, but, yeah, the lifts were sloppy. If you’re gonna lift, make it perfect.

And when they weren’t jazzing, Ally and Sasha had a near great samba. I’m with Joey Fatone; where’s the rolls? I don’t pull out my 10 paddle for a samba unless it has rolls. No one but Derek ever did linked forward and backward rolls, but at least give us a notion of a roll. Here’s an homage to the king of rolls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdz4OMAQJg

Lauren and Gleb seemed MIA last night. Their QS was nice, but nothing to write home about and where did they dig up that ugly dress? It should be burned immediately before someone tries to copy it. As for the rumba, I was still recovering from AJ being completely covered with tattoos. What the hell was he thinking? There is no universe where that is remotely close to attractive. He looks like a sideshow at a carnival freak. As for the dance, Gleb did a lot more rumba than Lauren, but it was still nice.

Kel and Witney’s Paso briefly turned into Riverdance. Who were those guys and where did they go? Just a brief cameo. Way too angry. And wasn’t that the same song Mel B. used a few years ago, and then someone else after her? Have they run out of songs? Their VW had an airplane and a flekerl; what’s not to like? Not airy enough though. It felt grounded whereas it should float. A couple of wobbles on the landings. And as my partner tells me, he should take bigger steps.

Now that the true deadwood is gone it’s anybody’s game.

The Southern gals definitely got game, but both are inconsistent. So are Gleb and Alan. That looks like a recipe for disaster. JVDB seems to have faded into the woodwork. He needs more facetime if he wants to win it. I don’t think the fanbase is there. Same with Kel. Most of Kel’s success is due to Witney. She is almost like a female Derek in pulling dance out of anyone. My money’s on Ally. She has the most raw talent and Sasha knows what he’s doing. They’ve made him dance with old people and midgets. It’s great they finally gave him someone he can work with. They already have Emma’s mirror ball at home on the mantelpiece; it’s time for Sasha to have one to balance it out.

DWTS 8

OK, technical difficulties may be a thing of the past. I am typing this on my brand-new HP Pavilion 360 touch screen. Sweet. And the space key actually works.

Now, on to more important matters. I’ve been seeing chatter online and on Facebook that people are starting to realize what I called some weeks ago. Sean Spicer is going to win DWTS unless someone does something. If the crazies can elect a nincompoop for president, they can easily elect at stumblebum as a dancer. When they get down to 4 celebrities and the bottom two are named is probably our last chance for him to be at the bottom. They will want 3 for the finale. Two will get perfect 10s and Sean will get 3 sevens. Just like Bobby Bones. Len has already said that he doesn’t belong in the competition and Carrie Ann seems to feel the same way. If only we could find a friendly producer to fudge the numbers just a bit. Or if the judges could get together and give Sean three 0s every time he’s up. I mean they say the judges’ scores count for fifty percent. Jefferson talked about this – letting the masses vote. People are stupid. You let them vote and there’s no telling what they might do. Witness Trump and Brexit. Witness Bobby Bones. If they go to the mat and let Sean take it, then that is my last day with DWTS. Someone else can write the reviews in the future. If they have a future. Allowing voting blocks with an agenda to hijack the show is making it a joke. A laughingstock. If that’s the case, why bother with the dancing? Just go right to the results. We all know what it will be. I feel they may be sealing their own doom. I have read that a lot of people are touting So You Think You Can Dance. I have a number of issues with that program starting with Nigel Lithgow. During the preliminaries a couple of years ago two men came on as what they called Male Pair Dancers. Two men, doing acrobatic and somewhat ballroom together. One said he was gay, the other said he was straight. Why a straight guy wanted to do that, I have no idea. They weren’t very good. Nigel went on a tirade and said some extremely homophobic things, being mean, and shaming them. Mary Murphy joined in. I used to respect her, seeing how she had been an abused wife and had found herself and ditched the abuser and become famous. But she showed she could be just as abusive. I was ashamed for the entire show. I think the next week Nigel came on and offered a somewhat tepid apology “if anyone was offended”. Not even owning up to what he had done. I cannot respect such a person and don’t want to watch him mouth platitudes week after week. And the try outs are annoying as hell. They bring out a couple hundred barbie dolls who come out in their Annette Funicello two piece and say “Hello, my name is Lauren and I’ve been doing tap and ballet since I was in the womb.” Apparently, she just jetéed out of Mom. Ballroom dancers rarely do well because of the screwed-up system. A ballroom dancer needs to work with a partner. SYTYCD is supposed to be all about partnering, yet all the tryouts are solos, except for the few ballroomers they let on. And then, if they have to do a dance for their life performance, it’s a solo. What the hell do they expect a ballroom dancer to do? In the past, there was a ballroom couple, husband and wife, who both made it on. When he had to do a dance for his position on one show, he got a cape and threw down a paso doble that wowed the crowd. When his wife was faced with a similar issue, she just did sets of cha cha and salsa shines. It’s kinda stacked against them. And they are always the best at partnering. And it’s reverse racist. A few years ago, a black girl who was a hip-hop dancer was on. When she flubbed the waltz, Nigel made excuses for her because she didn’t have the background. Later when a white kid had to do a krump, he was castigated because it looked “too polished”. He didn’t look “gangsta” enough. I call that reverse racism.  Or just plain old racism. It is what it is.

Maybe DTWS needs to take a page from the past. There was a dance show, Superstars of Dance. It was hosted by Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley. You may remember him from Riverdance and Feet of Flame (or as I call it Feets on Fire). What most annoyed me about the program was that as it came on, they had a metal globe turning. It faded into the background as the name of the program came up. But the globe was turning the wrong way. With the thousand and one people involved in putting on the show, no one noticed that? It went on for about five weeks. They never fixed it. But on the positive side, they had a panel of judges, there were either six or eight. And they decided who the winner was. None of this letting the unlettered public decide. People who knew what it was supposed to look like did the deciding. Maybe DWTS needs to go back to that.

And speaking of TV gaffs, I remember another back in the late 70s, circa 1979. I was at the fraternity house preparing to go to a football game on a Saturday. The TV was on for ambience. And of course, Saturday morning cartoons were on. By the late 70s, animation had gone to the dogs. I grew up on the classic animation of Hanna Barberra, Wiley Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Huckleberry Hound. Not the wooden animation that was to come. I saw the writing on the wall with Johnny Quest. They went for realism with the characters, but the animation was atrocious. And looking back, the race baiting of Hadji was terrible, and what exactly was the relationship between Dr. Quest and Race Bannon? But by 1979 diversity was coming along and we had the first black superheroes. The cartoon I remember being on that morning was Superstretch, Microwoman and Baby Plaz. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. But every time there was a station break and they showed the title, they misspelled microwoman. They had MIRCOWOMAN. Once again, how had no one noticed that? But I have digressed far afield. Bottom line: DWTS is in trouble and I’m prepared to abandon ship.

I was not sad to see Kate leave the show. She had shown some capabilities, but I never warmed up to her. Don’t know why. And there was no big opening dance number. First, they’re chintzy with the Halloween dances and now no opening number. Budge must be very tight. Another sign they may be on the ropes.

Two dancers were disqualified for failing to dance ballroom. Sean proved that not only can he not dance ballroom, he can’t dance other genres either. As if there was any doubt.  All I could think of was that if you put him in Navy whites, he’d look just like the Pillsbury doughboy. AND JAZZ IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

Sad that they wasted JVDB on a pajama dance. After the judges waxed poetic about its beauty I rewound and watched again, but still didn’t see it. Carrie Ann talked about the difficult lifts that had never been executed before. WTF. We see that stuff every time they allow lifts. Yes, the lifts were nice. But we’ve seen that before. I think the judges just got 10 happy. CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE.

And another thing. The highest scoring couple was supposed to get immunity from the throw down and an extra two points. By my score card, Ally and Sasha scored 30 as well as JVDB and Emma. So why did JVDB get the pass? Also cool that the two pros who got perfect scores are married.

The other two disappointments were Kate and Lauren. Coincidentally, both were jives. My eyes may never recover from Kate and Pasha’s costumes. They had more and better kicks than Lauren and Gleb but were so messy. Way out of sync many times.

And Gleb, what happened? You have a possible winner on your hands, and you give us this? It was entertaining and toe tapping, but those were the wimpiest kicks I’ve seen this side of Kate Gosselin (remember she looked like she was trying to get something stuck to the bottom of her shoe to fall off?).

Kel is bringing it now they’re down the home stretch. There was a stumble at the end. Loved the Star Trek Next Generation uniform with the side apron.

Hannah and Alan. 3 jetés? Wow! Lotsa fancy footwork goin’ on. White shoes after Labor Day? Faux pas on Alan.

Ally and Sasha. She was on fire! Where’d she find all the anger she was channeling during that dance? That was the best skirt work since Julianne Hough and maybe even better than her. It was wicked. Damn, girl. Perfect score so deserved.

Throw Down

Ally and Kel. I give it to Ally by a nose. The judges disagree.

Sean and Kate. Best laugh I’ve had all day. Kate by a mile.

Hannah and Lauren. I called it a draw. Hannah looked a bit stiff, but Lauren looked ungainly with her butt rolls. Gleb and Alan had to know they were going to take off their shirts – they were waxed (boo!) So why did they skip the spray tan? The glare was killing me.

Second place is anybody’s game right now. All but one of the deadwood is gone. The five remaining dancers can duke it out and Sean can stomp to the trophy.

HALLOWEEN!

The Hell you say. What’s the big deal with Halloween? Halloween was a big deal to us kids when I was growing up. I mean, wow, an excuse to get candy from the neighbors and eat it until you threw up. Who could pass up on that? And back then you could eat the apples and oranges you got in your bag without examining them for needles and razors. And the dressing up was kinda neat. I loved trick or treating until I was about 12. After that, a Halloween dance at school was always nice. I liked school dances. I wasn’t afraid to get out on the floor and was considered a good partner by the girls. I always had dance partners. And sometimes we’d meet in the upper bleachers or behind the bleachers. But that’s a story for another day.

All the dorms and frats had big Halloween parties in college and that’s when I began seeing outlandish and frequently group costumes. It was off the hook crazy. And I loved it. I was less adventurous. Just give me a sheet and I could rig up a toga. Twine some ivy around my head and, hey, I’m an ancient Roman. Not to mention the toga parties. But again, a different issue for a different day.

            My parents never put up Halloween decorations. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody that did. I mean some people, like us, put a Jack o’Lantern on their front porch, but that was about it. This was the 1960s and 70s South. Everyone I knew was Baptist and they had decreed that Halloween was of the devil. Maybe they were right.

            What are we celebrating, anyway? All Hallows Eve. The night before All Hallows Day, the day all the saints are worshipped and any saint that doesn’t have a special day, well, this is for him or her. If it’s a Catholic thing, then Baptists are sure it’s a thing of the devil. In Mexico it is El Dia de le Morte, the Day of the Dead. It’s a particularly ghoulishly named celebration of our ancestors. While the whole shebang seems wrapped up in Christianity, somehow Halloween has taken on the trappings of the other side. Who wants to be an angel for Halloween when he can be a first class Satan?

            These days Halloween has morphed into a major holiday. Maybe Hallmark and Hersheys  are to blame. It seems nearly every house in my neighborhood has their trees, bushes and porches wrapped in orange lights. There are larger than life blow up black cats, headless horseman on his steed, with a pumpkin as his head, ghoulish demons or is it demonic ghouls. What is a ghoul, anyway? Ghastly and ghostly heads and streamers hanging from trees. And one house has about twenty skeletons trying to get in. Or are they trying to get out?

            Hope your neighborhood is properly decorated and hope you don’t get TPed. Remember doing that? Of course you do. Happy Halloween to all. This week my story is actually a memoir. It’s about a fun time I had on a Halloween about 46 years ago. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Halloween Past

The summer after I turned sixteen I was allowed to buy a car. We lived way out in the country so becoming self-mobile was an important step. The sudden freedom to come and go as you please was wonderful. No more asking Mom or Dad to take you “to town” to buy things. No more borrowing the family sedan for dates. It was just incredible.

            It turned out one of Mom’s friends at work had a son who was entering college and couldn’t carry his car so he wanted to sell. It was a metallic blue 1966 3-speed Mustang. Probably one of the sexiest cars ever. It’s now a classic. But back in 1973 it was just a seven-year old car. I got it for $500. I was soon recognizable far and wide by my “blue ‘stang”. And it didn’t hurt that girls didn’t mind being seen riding around in such a cool car. I can’t say that I was ever cool, but my cool factor sure moved up a few notches with that purchase.

            But this story isn’t about the car, only what the car made possible.

My friend and I were casting about for something to do on a Thursday night. It happened to be Halloween night. Two sixteen-year-olds and Halloween are usually a recipe for trouble but we were (fairly) good kids. I came up with an idea.

            First you have to understand the situation out in the country where I lived. Our community was about a dozen houses stretched along a couple miles of country road on both sides of a country church. Then there were the outliers farther out or on even further back roads. Our church boasted a constant population of about 100. The local kids wanted to be part of “trick or treat” (free candy, duh) but they had to get their parents to take them to nearby villages where they really didn’t know the people. Also, the people in our community were always disappointed that we couldn’t participate in giving out goodies because no one trick-or-treats in the country. Our church came up with a nice idea. All the members of our church who wanted to give out Halloween goodies would leave their porch lights on. All interested children would meet at the church at sundown. An elder with a pickup truck would pile the kids in the back and drive to all the church member houses so the kids could do their thing. And along the way, they would pick up information about other neighbors, not members of our church, who might also have some treats. Of course, that wouldn’t work in 2019 because it’s illegal for kids to ride in the back of a pickup, but this was a simpler time.

            So, about sundown I picked up my friend and had an old white bedspread. While the kids were inside the church for a required prayer and mini-sermon before the main event, he and I pulled up behind the church. I took the spread and went out into the graveyard beside the church. I crouched down behind a tombstone and waited.

            The kids all came filing out of the church in their various costumes. There were about ten of them ranging from about 4 or five up to about 12. They climbed in the back of the truck all excited. As the driver turned on the engine, I rose up from behind a tombstone with the bedspread over my head. I raised my arms and started loudly moaning. At the squeal from the first kid who spotted me, I began moving toward the truck. Soon all the kids were screaming in fear and glee at the Halloween ghost. The driver, seeing what was happening sped off and the chorus of squeals died into the distance.

            Totally pleased with myself, I got back in the car and drove about a half mile in the opposite direction the truck had gone and pulled off into a wooded road so my car was hidden. I stood beside the road in my white disguise. Soon I heard the roar of the old pickup coming my way. I raised my arms and waved them back and forth. The truck driver began blowing his horn to get the attention of the kids in the back. As they sped by me they were all shrieking once again in glee.

            After they had passed, I drove to an old farm house and parked behind the barn. I went out into the field beside the house and hid behind a bale of peanut vines. This was one of the last stops. As the last kid was climbing into the back of the truck, I stood up and began running toward the truck waving my arms and howling. The kids all began screaming, “Go! Go!” to the driver. He timed it and pulled away just as I was getting close. I ran after the truck a little ways still carrying on. The kids were loving it.

            That was it for the night. My friend had only gone along for the company. He stayed in the car and told me alternately I was “weird” or I was “crazy”. But he had a smile when he said it.

            On Sunday there was still a little chatter among the young kids about the ghost they saw Halloween night. My friend and I never told anyone. So, if you were a kid who saw a ghost while trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1973 in eastern North Carolina, I’m the Ghost of Halloween Past.