Monday, April 20, 2015

BB Gun Wars (or "Why my wife is overprotective of our kids")

As I have written about before, my cousins, brother and I were somewhat unsupervised in rural Texas in the early 1980s.  Our parents worked several miles away, and we were watched, in the early years, by teen babysitters who were, shall we say, less than motivated to execute their assigned observational duties in the strictest sense of the term.  We frequently wandered the country side to entertain ourselves, with whatever came to hand.

One thing that was ‘at hand’ was our little brothers.  These kids were only guilty of wishing to tag along, to join us in our tree house, and bask in the ultimate levels of cool pre-teen older brothers exude in the eyes of younger siblings.  And as we became good at giving them the slip, they annoyed the babysitter enough to bring down parental edicts to ‘play with the little kids.’  This is how it came to be that one of our babysitters was labeled with the nick name ‘sandwich.’

Sandra was a typical teen girl, likely 17 or 18 at that time (‘old’ from the viewpoint of 10 and 11 year olds) who stayed with us during the day on summer vacation.  My aunt’s house sported a window unit AC in the living room, which usually could drown out a reasonably sized thunderstorm, and thus let us make all the noise we wished.  One favorite activity was the awesome tree swing at Jerry’s house, with a rope that went up 20 or 30 feet.  Of course, another parental edict was to share a tree swing with the siblings, so we took turns pushing each other on the 20 foot high rope swing.  The goal, of course, was to see how high you could go.  

One sweltering Texas day in July, Jerry’s little brother Bo refused to give up the swing.  After tiring of attempting to reason with someone of obviously diminished mental capacity, Jerry and I thought up a cool twist on the game: we took a one by eight and ‘paddled’ him on each pass of the swing.  See, he was standing up in the swing to keep it going (against yet another parental edict; but to be fair, he was not the first to do so) and so presented a great ‘target of opportunity’ on each pass.  If he leaned his nether regions out to gain momentum, we got in a swat, never mind that our contact was limited by the fact that our swing had to catch up to him as he went by: he presented no target on the return arc.  This was brilliant on our part (so we thought): we got to paddle him unless Bo stopped swinging.  

Meanwhile, Bo was caterwauling at the top of his lungs for quasi adult intervention.  Did I mention that it was a hot day?  That the window unit was blowing like a jet engine, drowning everything from the yard into the house in white noise?  That we took that into account in our nefarious plan?  So Bo was yelling “Sandraaaaa!” and “OW!” every pass, we were laughing so hard we really could not land a solid blow, and Sandra continued watching ‘The Young and the Restless.’  At one point Jerry got a particularly good hit and Bo yelled for “SANDWICH!!!” which pretty much broke up the party, as none of us could stand up, being helpless on the ground gasping for air.

Anyway, a few years later we were no longer supervised at all (!) and had heard of the concept of Paint Ball.  As you can imagine, this captured the imagination of 13 and 14 year old boys: running around the woods, setting ambushes for the enemy, and shooting each other.  The problems were a) paintball guns and ammo were very expensive, b) it required safety equipment we did not have, and c) we were broke.  

Not to worry: we had baseball catcher’s equipment and BB guns.  However, we soon discovered how hot running through the woods in catchers equipment was, so settled on just the BB guns.  What could go wrong?

Another problem was lack of arms.  Jerry had his pump up BB/Pellet rifle, and I had a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.  Note that I quickly learned to keep my distance from Jerry, as his gun hurt on the rare times he hit.  This advantage was negated by the fact that my Red Ryder could shoot much faster (if less powerfully and accurately: it still stung), which precluded a rush attack from Jerry.  For all of the ammo we expended, we never did hit each other much.  

One exception was at the old cattle tank.  A cattle tank, for you urban readers, is what you might call a pond, if a muddy hole in the ground infested with turtles, frogs, snakes, various bugs and random thirsty bovines meets that definition.  This particular tank was ‘seeded’ with fish which were hand fed by Jerry’s father, in the futile hope of catching fish one day.  Why futile, you ask?  You see, one of the wonders of BB guns and glass bottles (everything was in glass bottles those days: mayo to shampoo to ketchup) is that bottles float, and you can sink them with said BB guns.  Aluminum cans were harder targets requiring Jerry’s rifle, but they too offered sport.  Sometimes almost empty cans or jugs of household chemicals fished out of the trash substituted when glass or soda cans were scarce, having already been sent to a watery grave.  My uncle never could figure out why that fishing bit never seemed to take off…

Jerry got peeved at me one day when I did not go along with whatever plan he had just dreamed up (by age 13 I was learning about Jerry’s plans, and the consequences I paid that he somehow escaped) so he took a shot at me with his rifle.  He missed and I quickly was on the other side of the tank, which he would not cross (we knew what was on the bottom of that tank, and it was chest deep).  So he shot at me across the tank.  And the BB went plop into the water by my side of the tank.

Time to digress.  Texas boys in those days learned many useful things from their fathers: how to skin a deer, squirrel or dove; not to urinate into the wind; not to talk back to their mother; the finer points of college football; and how to skip a flat stone across a body of somewhat still water.  You take a relatively flat rock (think deck of cards or thinner) between the size of a fifty cent piece and the palm of your hand, grip it like you would a hand gun (trigger finger around the curve of the rock) and sidearm throw it at a low trajectory angle to the water.  If the angle and power of the throw combined with the spin imparted to the stone just so, the stone would bounce off of the surface of the water, more than once if you were particularly skilled.  We had contests to see how many skips a single throw would produce (no smart phones in those days).

So when Jerry’s shot fell short, I realized my lower powered gun would never reach him.  Unless I could skip the BB! Surprisingly, this worked better than I could have dreamed.  Physics dictated that all my shots were between his ankle and the middle of his calf, but they were bona fide hits.  Jerry also had to reload (22 shots to my 600 plus) giving me time to pour it to him.  He left the field of battle that day a bit the worse for wear, having worn deck shoes, shorts and no socks on our outing.  

My aunt never did figure out where he got all of the tiny bruises, and nowhere but on his lower legs.  Much to my delight, she made him go to his room to strip for a health inspection while I almost vibrated off of the couch with suppressed laughter.

Nor did she understand why he wore a long sleeve shirt in the late summer after another such encounter.  On an unsupervised weekend (!) Bo insisted on joining the action, and prevailed in his petition with the threat of parental disclosure of the (supposedly unsanctioned, who was gonna ask?) BB gun combat.  His terms specified staying in the yard (Bo had learned not to get alone in the woods with Jerry without some means of defense) and equal time to shoot.  I observed that Bo did not have a BB gun, which seemed to nullify his argument until Jerry threw me under the bus.  Since my Red Ryder shot faster, Bo and I could be on the same team. 

NOW I had motivation to shoot Jerry, and a highly motivated ally with which to do so.  So we began the stalk.  Bo and I had to stay together, which at first limited cover possibilities until we started baiting traps for Jerry.  This involved presenting Jerry a target to induce him to revealing his position to the armed comrade.  Bo got popped a few times before we abandoned that strategy (you did not think I was gonna be bait, did you?).  

Then Bo got a great idea: we could climb up the TV antenna to the roof of the house, and shoot down on Jerry anywhere on the yard, as long as we used the peak of the rook for cover.  This violated yet another parental edict, but if you are already doing what you suspect any sane adult would frown on, you might as well chuck all the rules. This worked until Jerry holed up on top of a long unused dog house against the trunk of a large oak tree, where he could punch through the leaves while our lower powered gun could not.  We countered with hiding behind the chimney, which gave us an unimpeded shot.  We were now well within the ‘ouch’ range of Jerry’s gun (his shots nicked brick dust and shrapnel onto us) until I realized that he had a delay between shots, to pump up his rifle.  

At his next shot, I jumped out and nailed him there on the dog house, causing him to take refuge behind the tree trunk.  At short range I was a crack shot with my Daisy, and could fire several times in succession.  So we traded shots for a while, Bo and I waiting for his shot and him ducking back behind the tree to power up.  

Then I made a discovery: the tree was too small to cover his arm while pumping the rifle.  Between his shots his arm was briefly visible from the other end of the chimney!  So I timed my next shot to his pumping and got him on the elbow from my new vantage point.  In the heat of battle Jerry did not think, just adjusted his position so he was covered… and exposed his arm to Bo who had remained in our original position. Bo quickly got the Daisy from me and plinked Jerry from that angle, again around the elbow.  This went on for quite some time, as Jerry was convinced he had us pinned while we gleefully nailed his arm once or twice between his shots.

Thus it was that the next day, Jerry insisted on wearing a long sleeve shirt to church (to cover the bruises), telling my aunt he was cold (in 80 degree weather.)

And Jerry got back at me years later by telling my future wife of our exploits as kids, during those unsupervised summers.  My kids rarely get to do anything good outdoors.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How times have changed

I had a thought on how our society has changed. Or perhaps the change is in me?

My grandfather grew up on a farm, using a homemade slingshot during the depression era (in Texas, that era lasted from 1920 to 1945, it seems). They had guns, but could not afford bullets as much. He wandered pretty much where he wanted and no one minded.

My dad grew up around farms and in rural areas, and ran around unsupervised with a .22 rifle. He shot bullfrogs, turtles, and probably anything else he wanted to aim at. We are talking about a pre-10 year old, if I understand the stories right. And it was okay at that time: low population density, lots of space and lingering pioneer attitude, I guess.

I grew up with BB guns. We did not buy pellets very often, and the first BB guns did not fire them anyway. (But my dad did not let me have one myself pre-10 years old: Jerry’s dad did <wink>) We shot anything that moved, and quite a few things that did not. Including each other, when the best gun we had was the Daisy Red Rider spring gun. I’ll get into those stories another time. We also wandered wherever we could walk to.

When my son turned ten, he had never, to my knowledge, fired a sling shot, a BB gun, or a Pellet gun, much less run the countryside with one. (He HAD fired a .22 and various pistols, rifles, and shotguns, but never unsupervised) The only gun we left to his discretion is a water pistol, and not in the house!

Is it me, or have we gotten so protective that some great experiences are now lost? Sure, society is more crowded, and in this era when anyone sues for anything we have to be more careful, but why do I have a vague sense of loss about this, for his sake?

Yes, I was considering giving him a pellet gun for Christmas, but it would be locked away unless he is supervised. It is to teach him proper gun range technique and safe gun handling, not for him to range the woods like I did at his age. Of course, we do not have access to land like I did growing up (not that small matters like property ownership, vicious dogs, barbed wire fences, or armed residents ever slowed my cousins or me down…)

Maybe I simply know what CAN happen now, and that stops me from telling him to run free. I dunno. I just have a vague sense of loss over the whole situation.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Bad Start to the Day

from August 28, 2006
I had a really bad day when I commuted 30 miles into San Antonio by motorcycle, and thought I might brighten someone else’s day by sharing it.
Got up this morning early to get a good start on the work day. Helped the wife get the kids dressed, fed, etc. and ready for school.
Oldest child (9) was so tired I gave him caffeine to wake up; the youngest (4) drank most of the Dr. Pepper I gave the oldest.
Yes, sugar and caffeine will wake up a four year old. Getting her off of the ceiling is another matter.
Went out to start the motorcycle: noticed a strange glow from the bike barn.
I left the motorcycle tail light on all night, draining the motorcycle battery. However, the battery is new, so the bike starts. As I warm the bike up, I note that gas is a bit low, but should be more than enough to make town and the gas station.
Three miles from edge of town, traffic is stopped cold due to a short cycling traffic light. (Why do they put traffic lights across US freeways anyway? Isn’t that why God invented overpasses? Oh yeah, TxDOT does not believe in God.) Go into reserve tank while in traffic.
Traffic moves one car length at a time, causing cramps in my clutch hand. I use neutral and coast to massage my clutch hand against my leg. (Motorcycle riders know what I’m talking about)
Half an hour later when I cross the light, I note that I can still make work in time even though I need to stop for gas.
Run out of gas in heavy traffic at 65 miles per hour. You have not LIVED until you navigate a dead motorcycle across three lanes of traffic while coasting. No longer need caffeine to wake up at this point: pure adrenalin, baby. (Note to self: a half hour in traffic will drain motorcycle reserve tank)
Gas station is still a mile away, uphill. Call my boss to ask for help. Boss is stuck in traffic and is bumming a ride in any case; suggests I call my coworker, who we will call Fred as I am sure he does not want to be associated with this story in any way.
Fred goes off looking for a gas can to buy and fill with one gallon of premium (never use anything else in a motorcycle!) gasoline.
Although my bike is four or five feet from the actual traffic, I opt to sit on the concrete barrier that separates the freeway for the access road. The blazing heat from the morning sun is cooled by the steady breeze created by hurling semi-tractor trailers just missing the narrow shoulder I am sitting on.
As I keep watch for any inattentive drivers who might make me hurdle the concrete barrier to avoid bodily injury, I notice that several ants are attempting to climb said barrier. They get so far, and then the wind from a passing truck knocks them back to the bottom of the barrier. They never stop climbing, even though there is nothing at the top of the barrier that could conceivably interest an ant. I try not to ruminate on possible parallels with my work at the office. (Just kidding, boss!)
An hour later, Fred comes walking up the freeway with the gas can. (How can they charge $12 for a 1.5 gallon plastic container?!?). Fred assumed, quite correctly, that it was unsafe to pull a car off of the road where I have been sitting, and so parked up the access road. As we assemble the nozzle to the $12 gas can (I still cannot believe the can cost more than the gas!), I notice the can claims to be spill and leak proof.
The gas can leaks…
…and does not pour out gas when inverted.
After much exclamation, I note that the now gasoline-soaked sticker on the can has a small ‘peel here’ arrow. It won’t peel, of course.
Finally, instructions are revealed under the sticker, along with many warnings of all of the dire things that can happen when you buy a gas can at a convenience store at 7:45 am. Ignoring the warnings (what else can go wrong?) we find out that THIS gas can is for cars only, and you have to perform surgery on the nozzle to seal it to ‘prevent possible leakage.’ So we attempt to follow the directions while any part we happen to set down are blown into traffic by those hurling semi-trucks. We also discover that you have to pull back on the nozzle valve (as if you were inserting the nozzle into a car gas tank) to get the gas flowing. On a more positive note, this 1.5 gallon gas can boasts a ‘two gallon per minute flow rate!’
So I get the now not-leaking can into position and pull back the nozzle valve.
Two gallons per minute into a three inch deep metal hole produces one heck of a splash. I am now covered in gasoline along with my bike, the freeway, and Fred. Fred happened to move my helmet away from the bike just before this (thanks Fred!) so one item I will be wearing does not stink of gas.
The motorcycle still does not have any gas in it. We figure out how to rig the silly thing well enough to fill the bike, and Fred takes the gas can back up the road with my profuse thanks and the cash contents of my wallet to compensate him for the trouble and expense.
I make it to the gas station, where I fill the bike and go inside to clean up. The door to the Men’s room is locked, so I wait. My exposed skin is burning from the gasoline when, 10 minutes later, a lady approaches with a key that says ‘Lady’s room’ and unlocks that door.
I get the key to the Men’s, (strangely enough, attached to an 8 by 10 picture frame) and clean up.
I am now over an hour late for work. I get back on the freeway… and notice that traffic is stopped again. Not wasting any thoughts on the ironic fact that my former squatting spot is now not getting any breeze, I duck off down an exit ramp, and take an alternate route to work.
At work, my boss, who sold me the bike, razzes me about him owning that motorcycle for 13 years and never running out of gas… I refrain from committing homicide by reminding myself that killing your boss will most likely get you fired.
And the time is now 9:30 am. Boy, can I not wait to see what else happens today…

The rest of the day went well, since so many have asked

Thursday, April 9, 2015


It would seem that certain ‘people of indefinite nationality’ would like to assert that the United States, or large portions thereof, belong to a certain ethnic group, and the Caucasians should leave, or at least shut up. We are just immigrants, they say, and stole the land for the true owners, the ‘native americans.’ These folks want much of the United States to be returned to Mexico (who has done SUCH a good job with what they have already… /sarcasm)

Yes, my great-great-blah blah grandparents came to this country as immigrants, but their children were NATIVE American Citizens. Not native American as in teepees and buffalo hunts, but in terms of citizenship in the United States of America.

If you want to start the game of saying that makes ME an immigrant, we can do that too.
It all just depends on how far back you wish to go…

My family started showing up in the 1600s.

Most Hispanics have European blood from Spain starting back in the 1500s: that makes them immigrants to the entire new world just as I am.

According to the Smithsonian, the ‘Native Americans’ (Incans, Aztecs, Apache, you name ‘em) invaded the new world via land bridge around 7,000 years ago, and were not the first to do so. They were Asian Steppe people (for the most part) following the wild game; those already here (Clovis people, with European skull characteristics) were either destroyed, enslaved, or died out.

The Clovis people arrived as much as 12,000 years ago, and could still be considered immigrants, since man ‘evolved’ in Africa and NOBODY originated in the new world!

Since 99.999% of the Hispanic and Indian inhabitants of the new world have ancestors showing up as recently as 7,000 years ago, they are also 'immigrants by this standard.'

Heck, the Arabs and the Jews are STILL arguing over land disputes from 5,000 years ago: who is an immigrant there?

Back on point: What does it matter if your family arrived in America 400, 600, or 7,000 years ago? We are not talking about ancient history, but about civilized nation states, who sign treaties, make war, conquer, or cede land to each other.

Mexico gave up her rights north of the border when she scrapped the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, telling the INVITED gringo Mexican citizens in Texas that they were no longer citizens and had none of the rights promised them when they moved there.  You see, the gringos were asked to settle in Texas, because they would be loyal to Mexico and were industrious.  Ads were placed in newspapers along the east coast to bring them in.

Yes, they were lured in, granted citizenship, developed infrastructure and farms, but suddenly must leave or be subject to lawlessness by the Mexican government.  That action led directly to the loss of Mexico’s northern provinces (remember the Alamo?), and is binding to this day.  The Mexican regime of that time showed a substantial lack of good faith in dealings with other nations, and (like many other nations before and since) paid for their arrogance. 

Let’s look at each side of the border today: deserts to the north bloom, highways promote commerce, and the rule of law (mostly) protects the innocent.  South of that border?  Not so much.  Deserts are still arid wastelands.  Gangs kill without consequences, many times with the blessing of the corrupt government.  Citizens are serfs, and the rule of law is a joke.  And groups like La Raza (and how is a group calling itself ‘the race’ not racist?) want to return whole states to that system…

The great Southwest is far better off with the border where it is.

And the ‘norteamericanos’ (aka ‘gringos’) will fight to keep it that way.

Rural Problems You Likely Don't Have

Okay, I had to get this one out this morning... too good to sit on.

Normally I write stories offline and paste them here, but this will be the exception.

Living Rural has advantages and disadvantages.  Sometimes the advantage can become a disadvantage.

So my father lives in a place so remote that maps show roads that no longer exist.  UPS truck drivers get lost, and he does not get mail delivery.  When he still had a land line phone, it did not work when it rained.

Well, he broke his one and only toilet.  Don't ask, too long a story, just accept that it is unusable.  The advantage is that he has plenty of privacy on his 20 acres, so digging a cat hole to do his business is not a problem.  Of course, 'number one' does not require more than stepping into his yard, which is really pasture land anyway. The other business, what we will call 'acts of congress' require a stroll away from the house into the woods, where he has pre-positioned little holes for the purpose, as sometimes 'acts of congress' have a sense of urgency, especially when a pot of morning coffee comes calling.

This morning, at just after Oh-Dark-Thirty, congress is 'in session,' so to speak, when a "hissing growl" comes from six feet away under a cedar tree.  Needless to say, a motion for a recess was entertained after urgent business was hurriedly concluded.  The advantage just became a disadvantage: wild animals tend to leave suburbanites alone.

While the offended animal species remains a mystery, speculation by anonymous sources familiar with the location run from feral house cat, through pissed bobcat, and on up to cougar (mountain lion.)

When congress reconvened an hour later to continue business, certain precautions had been added to the 'legislative routine.'

Dad reports that performing an 'act of congress' while holding a shotgun complicates an already delicate operation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Christmas in Rural Texas

Every Christmas growing up in Texas we had some traditions that are somewhat rare these days, even here:

·         We eat Mexican food (technically Tex-Mex) on Christmas Eve, usually enchiladas (but I think that is just my father’s preference.)  I do not know where this came from, but know of many Texans who follow the same tradition.  I did find a story on the Web that says this derives from the Mexican tamale making family event called la tamalada, wherein the families caught up, resolved arguments, and aired differences prior to the meal, thus allowing everyone to enjoy the holiday.  Tamales are easy to make, easy to store, and are inexpensive for large gatherings.  Enchiladas, not so much

·         My grand-parents seemed to think Santa owned a citrus grove in south Florida, I think.  For some reason, they filled a large portion of our Christmas stocking with oranges.  As kids, we thought this was a waste of space that could have been better used for candy, but who was gonna argue with the big man in Red?  He had this list, see…  Anyway, citrus was sometimes augmented by apples and (gasp!) a banana (now we were talking!) This actually was my first inkling that all was not as it seemed, Santa-wise: I recognized a blemish on an orange that was in the fruit dish the day before, and wondered why Santa gave us our own fruit?  I asked Mimi about this fruit fetish not too long ago, and it seems that this comes out of their experiences during the Great Depression, when fruits were a luxury in North Texas farm country, and yet were inexpensive enough that they were available for Christmas.  In their childhood, fruit (presumably from The Rio Grande Valley) was a rare treat, and thus fondly remembered.  On the other hand, fruit was common in my childhood, and I was less than impressed (sorry, Mimi!)

·         We made Nestle Tollhouse cookies from scratch.  Mimi would double the recipe to get a single batch, as my brother and I usually ate half of the dough (and we are still alive to tell about it, so take that, FDA and your dire package warnings!).  We might spend half of the afternoon on these cookies, making batch after batch to share with relatives.  I liked taking a half dozen to my great grandmother, ‘Grandma Mac’ in the nursing home.  She sure had a sweet tooth!  (This also gave me a chance to sneak her some hot sauce.  Grandma Mac loved her hot foods, but her doctors did not like her to have them.  Grandad and I worked together on this: after all, in 1977, who would search an eight year old for prohibited substances being smuggled into a nursing home?)  I suspect that this was some of Grandad’s particular humor, used to engage a small boy into being interested in a trip to see his mother

·         Mimi and my mother both made chocolate fudge at different times for Christmas, many involving so-called ‘help’ from the kids.  I will admit that my motivation was to the same as making cookies: sneaking (like they did not know) a taste, and eventually getting to lick a beater or the bowl (beaters were a sure deal, but the bowl depended on if Dad was out of the house or perchance taking a nap!)  I remember dropping fudge into a cup of cold water to tell if it was done, and I remember scorched batches that no one liked.  This could be a disaster of biblical proportions, as we might not have the ingredients for a second batch (and/or the cook might have not been motivated again by that point)

·         In later years (the middle eighties) we would all pile into a car and drive around to look at Christmas lights.  Sometimes we even drove to remote towns if there was a particularly good (read: bright and colorful) display offered.  Family visited and discussed lives in these car rides: there were no cell phones, after all!

·         Christmas usually involved hunting at one point or another.  This was for the big game: Texas White Tailed Deer.  In our family, we were what you might call subsistence hunters: we hunted for food and somewhat less for sport.  You see, the total cost of a deer you process yourself might be a single bullet, the way we hunted.  You usually hunted for free (although we did have deer leases at times), and waited until you had a sure shot.  Many a deer were brought to the table with Grandad’s 300 Savage (Model 99 lever action) and a well-timed and well-aimed single bullet. (I killed two deer at different times last season with that same gun, but took three bullets… must be slipping in my old age!)  We would choose our deer carefully, if there was more than one offered, as no one wanted to field dress and process two deer at once.  You see, we gutted the deer and divided the meat into quarters.  This meat went into ice chests where we kept it cool (draining the bloody water periodically and refilling the ice) to get rid of the wild taste.  (You northerners might be wondering why we would put a deer on ice: just consult an online almanac as to average December temperatures in Texas for your explanation)  Then we cut the deer up ourselves.  Early on this required butcher paper, but Ziploc freezer bags revolutionized the process.  Then we ate the meat from the freezer throughout the year

·         My wife’s family does the Christmas ‘Tree’ present distribution by handing out all the gifts, with recipients tearing into wrapping as soon as possible, everyone at once.  I was always confused by this practice: how do you get to see what everyone got?  (I now believe that in the Tex-Deutch German culture the point is that ‘what they got’ is none of your business: if they want to show you what they got they will make a point of it!)  Not in our house.  We methodically handed out all of the gifts, and everyone waited to begin the unwrapping process.  Then we determined who would start, and which direction around the living room we would proceed, one person and one gift at a time.  Sometimes the oldest in the room went first, but often this was determined by largest number of gifts (the kids) going first.  Then everyone viewed the gift, made appropriate comments and expressed appreciation, all in order.  Then the paper was either preserved for future gifting, or (if a child opened the gift) thrown into a 30 gallon garbage bag strategically pre-positioned in the center of the room for the purpose.  This process proceeded until the last gift was opened and the last scrap of paper thrown away.  Once I had my own kids, this started the annual battery installation activities, as it seems that anything anyone gives a small child requires power.  Usually in a type of battery we just ran out of.  Many years I raided small appliances, flashlights and garage door openers to keep the peace and quiet required for another Christmas tradition: football on TV

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Modified Golden Rule Policy

The Modified Golden Rule Policy
Got a bee in my bonnet several years ago, and though you might enjoy a little rant… This is not serious, and I did not come NEAR to going after everyone I could have (the GOP should be very afraid).    I am SOOOO tired of other countries (and the domestic liars) holding the USA to standards they themselves have no intention of meeting.  This is a proposed principle for our laws and dealings with others, shortened to MGRP.

I would like to propose a new policy in our dealings around the world: Let us call it the ‘Modified Golden Rule Policy.’ Under MGRP, the USA will treat others exactly as we are treated. Simple and direct. This policy has the bonus that if the ‘bad actor’ gets caught and convicted, they KNOW that they will get the same as they gave out.
For example, terrorists who are shooting at our troops will be shot at, regardless of where they are hiding, be it a Mosque, Church, Holy Ground, Indian Burial site, or civilian home. If you shoot out the window, we will flatten the building. Hiding your rockets in the local UN school?  The UN better find another place to meet.  (Wonder how much cooperation ‘innocent’ civilians would be willing to give at that point, knowing that there will be consequences?) Collateral damage? Under MGRP, we will take the same caution as our opponents to prevent any: in this case, none. War is h3ll, get used to it.
Mexico: we put troops, tanks, fences and land mines on the border (like they do their own southern border) and shoot to kill, as they do. We violate their territorial integrity at will in pursuit of criminals (or anyone we feel like, as they do today when guarding drug shipments into the USA), and reduce their foreign aid by $10,000 for every citizen of theirs we catch within our borders (wonder how long it would take for Mexico to guard their own northern border as well?)
Saudi Arabia: All their women must wear bikinis in public when in the USA, and the Koran is prohibited (just being funny on this one)
UN: Percent of annual dues paid will be the same as percentage of votes we win, or maybe the percentage of countries who support our initiatives. They bite the hand that feeds them a bit too often, methinks.  Have to think about them a bit more…
Iran: Every rocket launched into Israel equals one conventional bomb dropped randomly in Tehran. Every IED exploded in Iraq equals another bomb in a major Iranian city. Every US soldier killed by state backed terrorists who’s funding comes from Iran equals one cruise missile into a power generating facility. Let them try to refine uranium by donkey treadmill!
North Korea: every nuclear bomb exploded or missile tested means the USA will hunt down and sink one military submarine, ship, or airplane. Every assertion that we are declaring war on them will be met with the sinking or capture of one non-military ship.  They have declared war on us, after all…
All two-bit banana republics who rail against the USA (Yes, Hugo Chavez wanna-be, this means you): Foreign aid reduced $10,000 by number of citizens caught illegally in USA, plus by $1,000,000 every time they voted against us in the UN within the past two years. This means Venezuela might actually owe us some refunds…
Closer to home, we might want to try out MGRP on the Main Stream Liberal Media: for every slanted news report they lose one station license for a month. For every op-ed piece they foist on the airwaves as news, they lose a station license permanently. Report the facts and keep your agenda to yourself!
For Elitist Liberals (think Mikey Moore): for every capitalist pig company that they rail against but actually own stock in, loss of the right to live in the USA for one month, going back five years.
For the democrats: for every unfounded accusation, one child loses a government provided school lunch for one day (this one could really cause hunger in America: After all, they accuse the GOP of this anyway). Every time they vote to tax the elderly, or limit Social Security, they lose a like percentage of their own retirement benefits (this one works for all politicians, come to think of it). Every time they break a law, they actually get punished for it (what a concept) instead of merely correcting the fraudulent paperwork once caught (Yes, dirty harry, this means you).
For the Supreme Court: every house taken for private development results in the loss of one house owned by a member of that body for the same purpose… starting with those that voted in favor of that law.
While on the topic of Eminent Domain:
For every politician who votes to take houses from citizens to give to private companies: they are the first to lose their houses at the same percentage of market value to that developer.
For every developer who wants to take land using Eminent Domain: Force them to pay 150% of market value (as determined by the sales in that area just like any real estate transaction) to the owners they would like to steal from. If they cannot make a profit at that rate, do not take the land! Why should the municipality be paying for this property? The developer is the one making the real profits! /soapbox
Smokers: never mind, they are already doing it to themselves
Criminals: Rapists: you guessed it… in whatever orifice they violated or closest by proximity. This would have to follow a below the waist/above the waist rule…Hit and run drivers or DWI: same injuries as their victims, with the same wait for medical services as their victims. Murderers: In Texas, we already ‘do unto,’ we would just use whatever implement the criminal used and cut the appeals process much shorter.
Enron type executives: confiscation of assets (and distribution to the victims), and a life relegated (after prison) to social security.
NSA: public publishing of every phone call, email and text (public and private) back to the day they started collecting ours.
IRS: Loss of taxpayer provided pension for personally targeting someone to persecute; loss of $100,000 in budget for every political target pursued in violation of the law.
Executive Administration: loss of one member in their future protection detail once out of office for every executive order issued to violate the Constitution and/or circumvent the other branches of Government.
Anti-Second Amendment public servants (Senators, Congressmen, Mayors, etc.): loss of the right to have armed guards in a protection detail, since guns are not needed by anyone.  Look, if their job was as dangerous as they pretend, all of their armed guards could not protect them from a criminal who is willing to shoot and get caught.  Since there is not a long line of dead politicians, it just ain’t so.  This is about power and control from socialists who realize they cannot force their ideology on an armed populace.
Militarized Police: loss of one year’s pension for every SWAT like home invasion that is due to either incorrect intelligence (do your homework before the raid!) or simply done to justify the existence of the team, prosecuting non-criminal (civil) offences.  A person disputing his property taxes cannot be intimidated by governmental employees with automatic weapons breaking down his door in a free society; it is not free if this occurs.  And loss of a month’s pension and a month’s pay for every secured dog shot in its own yard... this is another form of intimidation.
Professional Race Baiters (Al, Jessie, etc…): pay the victim’s (accused) family $1,000,000 every time they whip up a race story in the press, vilifying someone based on the race of the citizens involved, and the jury does not indict or the victim is exonerated in trial because the evidence does not in any way show the accused did anything wrong.  This could be called the ‘Wilson’ or ‘Zimmerman’ rule.

I could go on, and on, and on, but you get the idea…

Monday, April 6, 2015

Armadillos and Water Moccasins

Things are not the same from when I grew up, in rural central Texas circa 1980.  Boys were given BB guns almost as soon as they understood which way not to point it, and given free rein to explore the great outdoors.  Today this is not possible, since it involved such recently frowned upon things as trespassing, misdemeanor ‘destruction of property,’ vagrancy, and general juvenile delinquency.  Many was the day when I would take my trusty dog Poncho, a sack lunch (sandwich, chips in Ziploc bag, apple or orange, bottle of water), a BB gun (and a wonderfully na├»ve understanding of the Texas jurisprudence system of property law) and spend the afternoon exploring the fields, pastures and woods surrounding my or my cousin’s homes.  

You encountered wildlife, not the least of which included the bull in charge of some farmer’s cattle herd who happened to dispute your right of passage, and made their point vigorously (that is why the dog started to go with me: a border collie instinctively works cattle, giving his 10 year old master time to get back to the fence line).

Once, during a drought, the local creek hosted a snake convention at a small spring outlet.  Poncho and I watched from a healthy distance as dozens of snakes gathered at the spring to drink.  More on snakes in a minute. 

Another time, we discovered an armadillo somehow still out in the daylight.  That was when I first learned that these slow armored beasts have a defense mechanism (or Poncho learned, anyway): they jump straight up into the air, three to four feet.  Given their general bowling ball shape and armored back, anything above them got gob-smacked, and this also can deprive small boys hovering close by of a year’s growth!

Let me digress a bit at this point.  Armadillos inhabit from South America through portions of the United States.  They are generally inoffensive nocturnal insect eaters (unless they dig up your garden looking for a meal) who will usually try to burrow their way out of trouble.  They also can ‘run’ by hopping like a kangaroo for short distances.  However, they tire quickly, and if caught away from soft soil, curl into an armored ball.  Rolling into an armored ball only will protect you so long against a determined predator, say a hungry coyote.  So then the aforementioned defense mechanism comes into play: they mimic a bowling ball and then, when the coyote (or dog, in Poncho’s case) is above them, using their rabbit-like hind legs to jump straight up and into the canine mouth.  Most dogs and coyotes (one assumes, given the proliferation of armadillos versus the coyote population: coyotes will eat anything) learn this lesson after the first encounter, similar to how porcupines and skunks have earned canine respect, one dog at a time. 

Which digresses once again, into an interesting (and somewhat relevant) study from the Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine, which spent federal tax dollars (Motto: spending your tax dollars to satisfy idle curiosity) to discover why so many armadillos die when hit by cars.  Seems someone noticed that armadillos died dis-proportionally on Texas roadways compared to other small animals, like squirrels.  They determined that (and I am not making this up) armadillos die more often on bright, sunny days than in cloudy or night time conditions. (Do not ask me how they determined that one: I imagine scenes where college graduate students traverse country roads counting and tagging dead animal bodies…) 

They discovered that armadillos are conditioned to hunker down into a ball when surprised instead of running, as a squirrel would.   Then, the defense mechanism of jumping into the predator’s face is triggered by sensing said predator hovering over the armadillo’s back.  

Armadillos are not terribly bright (don’t need much brains to dig up grubs) and are very near sighted (almost blind in direct daylight).  Thus the reaction to a car passing overhead causes that unfortunate jump into the undercarriage of the speeding vehicle, with results not unlike that of a football off the toe of a collegiate kicker on Saturday afternoon.  Scratch one armadillo.

Anyway, my ‘cousin’ Jerry owned a Daisy Red Rider BB gun when we moved into the area.  These can still be had today, where politics and population pressure still allow.  Back then, they were famous for rapid fire (Lever Action! said the butt stock), spring loaded low power (thus safer for 10 year olds) and an enormous capacity (over 600 BBs).  These spring loaded rifles represented the pinnacle in pre-teen arms races, trumping sling shots, homemade bow and arrows, and plain old thrown rocks.  The muzzle velocity was so low, you could see the BB leave the barrel (but the same can be said of the model 1911 Colt 45 as well… just sayin’).  

A year later, Jerry graduated to an air powered pump rifle (shoots pellets or BBs! on the box).  This only held 22 BBs (or a single pellet) and required 10 to 20 strokes to pressurize the chamber for each shot.  But that shot was several times more powerful than the Daisy.  Jerry could knock a wasp nest down with it, whereas the Daisy only ticked the little beggars off.  (This, we discovered, was not a good strategy: shooting a wasp nest with anything short of a shotgun will get you your exercise… running away from angered insects.  Yes, the shotgun comment is from life experience several years down the line.  Poison is preferred… or gasoline)

So Jerry got the new rifle and I got the Daisy when we went exploring.  I actually did not mind, as given how inaccurate both guns were, I preferred volume of fire to power of shot.  One day in early spring (cool enough for jackets in the mornings) we were out and about, running from the Bad Guys (imaginary) across a cow pasture which was bisected by a very small stream.  As we reached the muddy cow crossing, I was in the lead when I looked down and saw a SNAKE (!) stretched across a patch of sunshine in my path.  I levitated over the snake, and warned Jerry to stop.  He took an alternate route around the offending reptile, and it occurred to us that here was a sanctioned Bad Guy that adults would not object to killing.  

So I started popping BBs at the snake (who was only trying to soak up enough sunshine to get his day started, like an office worker at Starbucks).  Now, this was a three and a half foot long snake that was moving very slowly due to the ambient chill, so he did not escape very fast.  In fact, he ignored my Daisy shots (when they hit) until Jerry got a good shot in with his rifle.  THAT got the snakes attention, who turned on us and opened its mouth to threaten us.  

This produced several realizations at once: that the snake was too slow in the cool air to chase us; that it had an extremely bright white mouth; and that this mouth was a target when opened.  Thus, Jerry would pop the snake (doing no damage externally) and when the snake hissed at us, I would pump BBs down its throat, past those very large fangs. 

Did I note that this snake had a peculiar trait we had not seen before, in our previous encounters with garden snakes, chicken snakes, and so on?  The head was like a triangle.  Yes, you guessed it: we were fighting a water moccasin.  God protects drunks and ignorant little boys: we messed with that snake for a good 20 minutes until it finally got away, and in that time its white mouth was bloody with BB hits.  (It was several years later before I realized what we had fought!)  

And I always wondered if the hundred or so BBs I put down its throat killed it, or did it leave BBs mixed with snake poo everywhere it went for weeks after?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Windmills and Gasoline

When we were kids, we made up our own entertainment. TV had a total of three channels, if the weather was right, and video games did not really exist. This is circa 1979, outside a small town not really close to what you would consider a populated area today, much less a city, deep in the heart of Texas.

So we made do with what we had available. And in the summer, wildlife was ‘available,’ so to speak. Wasps and fire ants were particular nuisances.

This story is about fighting wasps, bees, and assorted stinging flying insects. Bear with me; the buildup and background are important to the story.

Now I did not start out with a particular wish to do battle with miniature helicopters packing loads of Bad Attitude: that was where my cousin came in (who should remain nameless, because he knows who he is. Yeah, you, Jerry!… oops)

I stayed at Jerry’s house a lot that summer before fifth grade. We had just moved to the area, and our house was not ready yet, so my brother and I just lived with Jerry and his family, folks who were my ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ since our parents met in college. During that summer, we did what all boys do when it is 100 degrees in the shade and there is no ready form of entertainment: ran wild in the woods with BB guns; explored land our families did not own; discovered new ways to mistreat fireworks; caught snakes, turtles, and assorted bugs (locusts were a favorite); tortured our little brothers (did I mention we spent a good bit of time unsupervised?) We did have a teenage babysitter, but she was more interested in a) her soap operas, b) the air conditioning window unit in the living room, and c) running the children out of the house to preserve the sanctity of items a) and b). We spent time building tree houses out of scrap wood. But I drew the line at one of Jerry’s favorite sports: fighting bees, wasps, etc… with a tennis racket. To be more precise, with his father’s tennis racket. Which we were not supposed to touch. Right.

I was not scared or anything; it just lost some luster when I watched Jerry hit the little beggars and they GOT BACK UP in a really bad mood… and we both would get to see if we could outrun a mad wasp/bee/whatever. Although I had to admit using a water hose with a pressure nozzle made some sense, you had to find a nest within range of the water faucet, which limited opportunities somewhat. But we had plenty to do, and then school started.

During the first few weeks of school, we still rode the bus home to Jerry’s house, which required us to walk a half mile or so down a dirt road. Jerry and I quickly learned that our little brothers would not follow us through the woods beside the road, and so each day was a race between two routes to control the afternoon TV session. On one of these jaunts we discovered the Windmill. There was an old abandoned homestead out there (okay, we were lost at the time: that happened quite often the first few weeks) without a house (tornado must have taken it) but there was an old barn (locked) and this old Windmill. The Windmill was rusted, and made a lonely groaning noise when the wind blew, a noise we had interpreted on several occasions as some sort of monster or ghost (we generally won the race to the house when it was windy). But we never had much time to explore the site because we knew that Jerry’s mom would be home soon.

So one Saturday we went there on purpose to look the situation over. And we decided to climb the Windmill. Why? We were ten year old boys: because it was there, of course. No safety belts, no net, just tennis shoes and bare hands. And I went first. After losing ‘paper/rock/scissors’ (I still think Jerry cheated: I had never heard of ‘dynamite’ until then, and Jerry’s fondness for sharp tools made ‘rock’ my usual choice… but he would not LIE to me or anything).

Anyway, up I went, with Jerry right below me (after several judicious applications of the term ‘chicken’ from six feet in the air when he balked). See, there was this platform, maybe four feet square, under the actual apparatus where we thought we could sit. I actually made it 30 feet up or so, to the underside of the platform when I felt a bug sitting on my left knuckles, followed by an explosion of pain. My first thought was “Spider!” and I let go with that hand and grabbed with the other. It was not a spider, but a paper wasp nest, what we called ‘yellow jackets’ for their brightly banded abdomens. Of course, my other hand got stung as well. And I let go with both hands, until I realized that it was a LONG way down. So I grabbed with my left hand again, wasp sting or no, and promptly got stung again. And traded hands again. And got stung again.

By then I had convinced Jerry that I was coming down and he could move or fall, his choice. We ran back to the house, where dad put chewing tobacco on the stings to draw the poison out (no, we had never heard of any medicine for such a thing…) and I went around for several days not being able to bend my fingers due to the swelling.

All of that story to get to this: I now had a fine hatred of flying insects in general and stinging ones in particular. So the next weekend, after the swelling was gone, Jerry and I went to do battle with a bumble bee nest armed with water guns and badminton rackets (Jerry had gotten caught with the tennis racket, much to his bottom’s chagrin). Now, I had NO experience with bumble bees and so trusted Jerry’s opinion that we were a match for such large, slow flying insects (do you see a pattern here?). Bumble bees do not generally attack by themselves. And for future reference, they are too large for the average water gun, circa 1979, to stop. If you are quick with your reactions you can knock them from the air with the rackets, but they get back up. They also hold a grudge far longer than a paper wasp, and are known to chase their victims for hundreds of yards… and they did. We did not get stung, but one bee in particular was upset enough to follow us to the house and chase us around the house several times. Then we had the bright idea to split up. Now the bee was chasing Jerry and I was gasping for breath. Jerry could not leave well enough alone, though, and ran back by me, thus giving himself a chance to catch his breath while I ran. We traded back and forth several times before I used my break to run in the house and lock the screen door… Jerry did not get stung, so I assume the bee lost interest. I was enjoying a cold coke and the air conditioning.

Why didn’t we hit the single bee with our rackets? Well, uhmmm, we dropped those when we started to lose the fight. Okay, it was an error in judgement, but you show me the ten year old with the presence of mind to run from a dozen bumble bees and plan ahead at the same time…

That little story persuaded Jerry’s dad (after he stopped laughing) to ask why we had not used a cup of gasoline to attack the nest. I can honestly say that this concept had never crossed my mind (but I’m not so sure about Jerry: he probably remembered the whipping he got from an incident several years before involving gasoline, matches, and the brash gumption of an eight year old to lie to his father’s face when asked if he was playing with gas… while he reeked of the stuff…). Jerry’s dad then took us back to the nest with a jar full of gasoline and… no more nest. No running. No water guns. And best of all, we got the badminton rackets back. (The bees had claimed them as spoils of war) Gasoline freezes the exoskeleton of any insect, then rapidly kills the victim without affording a chance at a last revenge stinging. Most wasp sprays at the time still involved running from partially hit insects who would eventually die, but had a dying wish to leave you a memento of their parting from this earthly existence.

From then on, we used lawnmower gas when fighting insects. And a Crusade was launched. You see, killing wasps was a Good Thing in adult eyes, so we had semi-official sanction as long as we asked first (when an adult was home: if we were alone, it was time to do battle). I’m sure Jerry’s dad wondered why he was buying gasoline so often after that…

Lessons for would be Gas Fighters:

1) Despite what you might think, motor oil does not produce the desired knock down effect, although it is ultimately lethal to the insects, the grass, the flower beds… but most importantly, leaves too much evidence behind in the form of large brown stains under the home-owner’s eaves. All in all, best to wait for a clear volatile to become available.

2) Gasoline WILL eat through your aunt’s brand new plastic tumblers, and sneaking real glass tumblers out of the house is not a good idea. Telling your aunt that you have been filling her good glass tumblers with gasoline in an even worse idea. Stick to the mason jars in your uncle’s shop, but remember to put the nuts and bolts back in the jar when done to ‘cover the evidence.’

3) Do not stand under a nest you are killing. Not only will you smell of gasoline, but you might get stung by falling but not-yet-dead wasps. The stinger is active until the wasp dies! A forty-five degree angle is best.

4) Do not shoot a wasp nest with a BB gun before using gasoline: you want the wasps ON the nest, not in the air looking for you.

5) Gasoline will eat through a used plastic milk jug, so attempting to ’stockpile’ a supply other than in the metal gas can will not work. Also note that storing gasoline in a glass bottle with a rag stopper is viewed in many parts of the world as possesion of a molotov cocktail and could result in jail time.

6) No fire when fighting wasps! We never did this stunt, given that most wasps were under the eaves of Jerry’s house, and setting the house on fire would have been frowned upon, as even a 10 year old of that time understood.

7) Kerosene works, but is too oily and acts like motor oil (and neither stain will wash off with a water hose)

8) Your father’s bee hives ARE NOT a target! I had to physically restrain Jerry once at my house (much later) when he classed the expensive domestic bee hives as a ‘target rich environment.’ I considered even a wild bee hive (which were rare) to be TOO target rich: you would never get enough gas on the target to nullify the revenge seekers… who we willing to die to get at you (wasps could sting again and again, but bees got one chance  and were willing to die to teach you a lesson...(see Dad? I listened when you lectured while working bees… from sitting in the sealed pickup truck cab)

All around, we did our share to make the world safe from that which buzzed…