K: Kalispell, Montana

K: Kalispell, Montana

“If it hadn’t been for Grayson, reckon where I’d be….” TOM DOOLEY, by The Kingston Trio


If I hadn’t been fired from my first teaching job, or taken that plane ride, or gotten that telegram, we never would have met.

IF, suggests choices made on the spot, choices that are life changing. IF ONLY I had not done this or that would I still be back in wherever, or married to someone else and a much different person. The major decisions we make are blind choices, or forced choices, and the future is unknowable. In 1968 I’d barely heard of Bakersfield—it was hot—yet I chose to move here. Like many teachers I met in the 70’s, I planned to teach in Bakersfield and then move to the coast. What I had wanted was to teach in Kalispell MT, a beautiful city and less frozen than where I was then working. That means 10% less snow and 5 degrees warmer.

I foolishly agreed to coach wrestling in Eureka MT and got fired for my efforts. The administration never stepped inside my classroom, but I’d screwed up coaching. Lesson 1: have experience in wrestling before coaching.

My first plane ride was from Kalispell to Spokane WA for an education conference to interview school districts from California to Washington state plus Hawaii. From more than 20 interviews I had been offered a job in Los Angeles and Hawaii. The first offered a good salary and the worst of all possible lotteries for job site. The second offered a great location, even free housing on the most southern site in the United States. The glitch was I would plunge into poverty and debt, have to take summer classes and then get me, and my car, to Hawaii. So I really wanted that job in Kalispell where at least I knew some people. The Kalispell interview went well but I was a slow learner. The job was for junior high and coaching WRESTLING.


Kern High School District sent the BHS principal and we had a good interview. I was relaxed, the salary was better than Eureka’s and I had those offers from LA and Honolulu in my pocket. Two weeks later I got a telegram from Bakersfield offering a job in Shafter. I replied, YES. Opportunity, choice, and an unknowable future: all the elements for a good drama. Two days later Kalispell called and offered me the job.


Had I not come to Bakersfield so much would be different and I never would have met Linda or joined Writers of Kern. At 23 I never could have planned this—never even thought of retirement.

Linda and I stayed in Kalispell on our honeymoon, and again 20 years later. A nice place on the shore of Flathead Lake, and snow covered all winter.



J: Jolted as only California can jolt an audience. A World Series Memory

J: Jolted as only California can jolt an audience. A World Series Memory


October 17, 1989 the 3rd game of the World Series was just starting in San Francisco: San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland Athletics. Where were you when this one hit hit the Series out of the ballpark?

The devastation was widespread, millions in damages, loss of life and a lot more than a baseball game disrupted. Now you remember, right?

I know where I was—at home. That was one of the years we decided our kids would be better off if we had no television.


I recently saw GONE GIRL, so as Amy would say, let me set the scene. Even though I agreed with my wife about the storing the TV into the garage, we got in some argument [my fault] about it so there was no going back. The disagreement was the night before the quake. A friend of mine said his wife’s family had no TV in 1963 so she had no visual memory of the JFK assassination. Until the next day I was a lot like that. Our dog paced back and forth, never stopping for hours. From the radio reports I knew the general outlines of the event: chaos, disaster equipment, a fallen freeway, fires and a whole lot of people trying to get home. This predated universal use of cell phones so communication, even if the towers survived, was nil. My suggestion that the natural event would be educational for the kids was now persuasive.

A few months before our family vacation had been to the Bay area. We included a ride in the harbor, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and other sights. On night my wife and I awoke as the bed shook. We nudged each other and whispered, “Earthquake, let them sleep and they’ll never know.” After a few tremors we went back to sleep. When the real one hit in October we bout said, “We felt the warning shock that night in the motel.”

Again, uh, let me set the scene. A week after the quake I attended an English teachers conference in Yosemite. Hey, even if the talks are poor the scenery is spectacular. At least 3 of the speakers there all had the same story. They taught at Berkeley, SF State, and maybe a Bay area high school. “I’m really sorry. The slides and handouts I had prepared are in my office/room and the building is condemned so I couldn’t get in.” My best guess is they winged it and gave good talks anyway.


A year later I read an article in the newspaper about a minor incident from that night. A guy at the game went to the parking lot to find his car had been stolen. And that night the police would have really cared. Over the next several months vehicles were and bodies were recovered from the fallen highway and as best they could they let the families know. The guy whose car was stolen at the game got a call from the police about his car. It seems they found it crushed like a pancake with a dead body at the wheel. See, crime does not pay.


When the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco my grandfather moved there to work on the reconstruction of the city. He was a paperhanger, carpenter, painter, and a jack-of-all trades. My Dad even remembered being there as a little kid. Snatches of memory—he was about 5.

I: Incessant

I: Incessant


The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “Incessant,” as “of something regarded as unpleasant) continuing without pause or interruption: the incessant beat of the music.”

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

Thanks to the competitive 24-hour news cycle the major story du jour is repeated INCESSANTLY. You may have heard about the Ebola issue or ISIS when you turned on the television.

I have never been so relieved to find a baseball game on TV, or to relish the silence of no TV in the background.

Hero, Hubris

H: Hero & Hubris and Home Runs

Viking series

“All men are timid on entering any fight. Whether it is the first or the last fight, all of us are timid. Cowards are those who let their timidity get the better of their manhood.”
– General George Patton Jr, “War as I knew it” 1947

I have trouble with fictional “heroes,” who have some mutant power that enables them to overcome ANY enemy. Aside from a dose of Kryptonite, what did Superman really have to fear? He could outrun a bullet, jump buildings and stop a train. Lois Lane really underestimated Clark Kent’s abilities.
I know that Batman has the car, the lab and the money to stand up to the baddies ruining Gotham but at the root of all this is his name. He chose Batman because bats scare the daylights out of him, and they are more common than Kryptonite. The whole story of Batman is how he overcame his fear, retook his rightful place and saved the city (until the next movie.)
Hubris is the character flaw that enables the hero to grow. Hubris is what enables us all to grow. The classical hero cycle is played out in Star Wars, The Lion King and The Odyssey and just about any show on TV or at the movies.


Luke Skywalker and Star Wars. He has a lot of doubt and fear as the story begins and he tells his uncle that he wants to find his father. He is called to adventure by the robots and Princess Leia. Obi Wan and Yoda teach him and he frequently screws up. Just before he grasps the force, a belief that he can do great things, he reaches the abyss. As he grows in the force he grows as a man and by the time he leads the alliance against the Death Star he believes in himself and he saves Leia and a good portion of the universe as well. Joseph Campbell was as advisor on the Star Wars set. The Lion King is a perfect fit for the hero cycle.

Hero Cycle
Campbell’s hero cycle is important because it is the story of our lives. Think of your first love in high school and how he/she dumped you and how you recovered went on with your life. What about all the failures and screw-ups you’ve done since and how you survived, learned and moved on? We are each the hero in our own story, so it makes sense have the hero’s journey.
So what does this have to do with baseball? People identify with sports teams like The Lakers, The 49ers, Seahawks and USC to name a few. This week and next when someone hits a home run or pitches a shutout he will be called a hero. It’s true, he did something difficult but the penalty for losing is not death. Last season Peyton Manning threw for more touchdowns in one season than any other quarterback in history, he will go to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. But when The Broncos lost the Super Bowl I heard a lot of talk that he can’t win the big one. Three times in the Super Bowl and he only won once. Custer had a better chance at The Little Big Horn than Denver had against Seattle.
I’d rather cheer for Luke and Leia because they have flaws and know they can die. The kid who is battling cancer is a hero and her family is also heroic.

Who is a fictional hero you like or dislike?


Gone Girl and Pillow Girl

G: Gone Girl


Have you seen this woman?


Her husband has questions.


The hot book and hot movie at the moment both are titled “Gone Girl.” (GG) I’ve been reading the book on my iPad but was still in the early stages. A friend recommended Gone Girl as a good show to watch. So my wife and I went to see the ads for upcoming movies and eventually got to GG. I knew the premise: on 5th anniversary Nick Dunn goes home to find his wife, Amy, missing. Then the heart of the movie begins. And at the end we learn…you’ll have to read/see it to know but I’ve heard the movie stays true to the book. Not surprising since Gillian Flynn is the author and screenwriter.

I was engaged in the movie by the plot and characters. The story benefits from constant, ever increasing tension, complex characters, shifting relationships and a few stray characters to story in a different direction. The author’s use of diary vs. action to move the story along is clever, almost like a third major character. Every actor played the character flawlessly. There may be some academy award nominations here.

I’d recommend seeing the movie for the reasons mentioned but have a word of caution for the easily offended. There is a lot of nudity—I really know what Amy Dunne looks like and the same is true for other major characters. I guess that when I read I tend to gloss over the F-word and fail to register how often it shows up. “Saving Private Ryan” introduced us to FUBAR and the other times the F-word showed up must have been buried in dialog between characters; I glossed over the word. In this film the use of the word must rival the number of times the writer used verbs. Only the cat skips using the word.

After fifteen minutes I started to get real tired of everyone using it to talk to anyone else. If the heavy inclusion was meant to show depth of passion it became so routine that all meaning was lost. Think of it like the word “very,” used to describe how very much in love the very young characters were, and how very tragically it all played out.



Friday morning five college age girls and a guy sat down for coffee at Panera’s. One girl carried a pillow that she put on her lap when took her chair. Her hair was in a single long braid, she had on a t-shirt that could have easily served as sleepwear, and sweats.

“Self,” I said to myself, “this is a grist for a blog.” Self replied, “Take her picture, go over there and ask her name and why she has the pillow.” What? “OK, that’s a bit much,” Self muttered.

Start the story; you have a character and setting. Tell me the first 5 lines.

F: is For Family and Friends

F: is For Family and Friends

Life is a roll of the dice. I mean we have no idea what the new baby will be like, or what she’ll be like in 20 years. Tomorrow is not guaranteed but we plan on it. There’s even a commercial on TV that is filled with the word, “Tomorrow.”

Our ties to friends and family can tug us off schedule at a moment’s notice. About a year ago our phone rang at 3:00 AM. The familiar voice on the other end of the line started out, “Dad I’m sorry to call at three in the morning but I have to take M to the hospital.” Son-in-law had injured his shoulder a few days earlier and she needed us to go over and watch the baby. In a later conversation I assured her she was welcome to call any hour.

SIL’s injury also meant that we had to pick up the slack on childcare since he was on paternity leave. While the arm was being treated he could not pick up his own child. The upside is we spent more time with our granddaughter, a real blessing.

I spent a few months being with a close friend when he was ill with cancer. How could he be the one dying? I was the slacker who was overweight and out of shape. He had always been there to help me so I was glad to return the favor.

Now a friend is dealing with the kind of life and death issues nobody wants to face but are a part of life.

We carry these lines of contact with friends and relatives in part to share the good times. My daughter just sold her house, and both girls like their jobs. My asthma etc. presents some challenges to travel but Linda has adapted. Some vacations together, some apart. We can work it out.

In the natural order of things we have close contact with some family and friends, and not so close with others. The real allure of FB is the ability to connect quickly and easily. My first day on FB I learned a friend was moving to Texas. We had been in a group of 4 couples so a few FB messages and phone calls later we had a going away party planned and set for the weekend.

Is there a message for the readers? No, this is what was on my mind and the issues are universal.Chess 2

E: Eye catching

Coffee houses provide any number of perks but one of the most popular is people watching. Today I sat against the wall in Starbucks and watched a never-ending stream of customers file in, order a caffeine hit plus some pastry to face Friday. I’ve used overheard conversations to start stories, plug in dialog, and add flavor to non-fiction. Aware that I’m behind in this blog challenge and trying to catch up one post at a time, this writer decided to find a likely subject and give him/her a life script. Who, what, where, when and why? The questions are endless once someone I find the right customer. And then….
Gloria is white, in her late twenties, brown hair just below her shoulders, green eyes and a well-tanned look that suggests she spends time outdoors. She moves with the easy grace of a fitness trainer. Gloria took her coffee and left without adding sugar or half & half. Tough—she takes her coffee straight. But what caught my eye was the dress. The lavender background has a plaited border around the collar and down the neckline that ends at her sternum. By the time she had picked up her order I knew she was the one. Her dress reaches min-thigh with a band of flowers just above the hem but the material stops at her waist. A large bow trickles out of hair above the bare back. No tan lines anywhere, just a good tan.
Gloria and her business partner run a trendy dress shop catering to the under thirty-five crowd. Call it Fashion Depot. Her partner is likely female and five years older. Together they make a good team.
Regular customers know that today Fashion Depot is having a 25% off sale until 2:00 PM and a large crowd is expected. Today will be a good day, all day. This evening she will join her boyfriend for dinner and a drink to celebrate the store’s success.
Or maybe she lost a bet and her boyfriend chose the dress. In that case it will be an interesting day for the new secretary at Wells Fargo Mortgage. She’s already planning her revenge.
How would you modify or enhance the story I have here? Post your changes below. TR


D: Dependency, Dismay, and Distraction

This has been an interesting week in Apple-Land.

What I have observed about all this technology we use is how distracting it can be and how much we have to work to keep it happy. As the man said, “I’d never take that attitude from a toaster.”

I was a hard-core Windows guy until about 4 years ago when I bought a MacBook. Apple makes it easier to run their computers (which really is everything they sell from desktops to the wristwatch that can run your world.) Compared to Windows I found operating a Mac to be simple, elegant and fun. Installing Office takes minutes and I remember spending hours to put the newest Office on my Windows computer. The first time I installed an application by dragging an icon across the screen I was hooked.

Frankly, updates and upgrades have always seemed like part magic and part top-secret. I watch the computer reach out to Apple or the manufacturer and the new program installs itself while I drink a cup of coffee. Moving to the iPhone 4 was exciting but I found myself saying, “I wonder what that’s for…why are they asking that question…I really hope this works.” Using the MacBook meant I already knew how to use the iPad and the iPhone because the OS was pretty much the same on each device. The process repeated itself as my wife and I moved to iPhone 5.

This abundance of data at our fingertips is both a convenience and a distraction. The real function of Facebook is to distract us from getting to what we wanted to do. And it becomes addictive. I checked FB before starting this blog and will check it after I post. Our dependence on these gizmos has become an important part of our lives. I know that using the computer helped me produce better teaching materials, and now enables me to write whatever I choose.

You may have heard about Apple’s latest operating system, OS 8, now called OS 8.2. On Windows there seemed to be an option to take or leave an update for some applications; Apple insists I take the new version and is remarkably persistent. Whether I use the application or not makes no difference. After I downloaded the gateway to the future on my devices I learned I had some issues. Almost as soon as the OS 8 was installed millions of customers found a problem. The newest version appears to be a lot better than the one released a few days before.

The other night while cruising FB I found a page dedicated to comments about OS 8. The complaints were legion and vociferous. I realized my glitches were nothing compared to the people who could not get to their files, log into work or school or make phone calls. Hell, I had trouble tapping my code into the iPad and could not find my photos on the phone. Apple has since addressed most issues and most will likely send out another fix soon.

We have become emotionally dependent on our gadgets, but they help so much. I’m addicted to oxygen so maybe it’s not that bad to be addicted to current technology. I would hate to go back to the old typewriter and one phone in the kitchen.

C: Cowardice, Clarity, and a Code of Conduct

C: Cowardice, Clarity, and a Code of Conduct

The NFL is all tangled up over a rash of recent incidents featuring pro football players beating the hell out of someone who could not pose a physical risk. Why the Confusion?

Question 1: Is it appropriate for a man to assault a woman, especially his lover or wife? NO Question 2: is it appropriate for a man to use a weapon (belt, stick, branch etc.) to produce bruises and welts all over the kid’s body including in his groin, all in the name of discipline? NO

If these football players were car salesmen they would be jailed and unemployed. Because they have athletic skills the league gets the two questions wrong. Suspend the men without pay until it is adjudicated in court. Then, if one or more is acquitted give them their back pay. When faced with a scandalous child abuse case Penn State did everything wrong to protect the felon—I decided they asked the Catholic bishops how to handle the affair. Yes, I am Catholic. It looks like the NFL’s PR specialists are asking for advice from the Ferguson Police.

Football, especially pro football presents the ultra macho men and does everything possible to make them role models.

A MAN does not need to beat up his wife or son. Spouses protect one another, or they should. See, it’s not complicated.

A is for Adapting, Adrift, America

World Trade

A is for Adapting, Adrift, America

I retired in June of 2001 but in my mind I mark 9-11 as the date of my retirement. The next day I watched TV as our country bled and grieved. 13 years ago today I went to Stockdale HS to see what “Mom Night” was like when I was not anchored in my room giving a talk to parents. I was adrift, compelled to retire for health reasons and grieving the loss of my job.

Over the next few years I had to adapt to making retirement worthwhile even as America had to adapt to a new world. I am a very different man now than I was 9-10-01. All this I had to learn, enrolled in a course I could not see.

Now I am engaged in a Blog Challenge with my friends in Writers of Kern and glad for the chance to write. The newsletter I hoped to publish when I was teaching (hey, we’re English teachers we can write a column) found its way into life in WOK. The writing club has been essential to my growth and healing over the past 13 years.

Today is for America, the way we used to be.

Su Kay posted that today is National Suicide Prevention Day. Today is an important day to remember those who struggle with the horror of depression on a daily basis.


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