On a Taxi Driver

It was almost noon in Amman, Jordan, and the temperature was already in the upper 90s. From the sidewalk in front of an expensive shoe store, a shopper waved his hand, and the taxi pulled to the curb and stopped.

The man with the bags opened the back door, tossed in his purchases, and slid into the seat. “Abdoun,” he said to the driver. The affluent suburb of the national capital did not see many fares since most people who lived there owned their own vehicles. Many of them had drivers. 

“You live in Abdoun?“ the driver asked. The passenger looked out the window as the taxi pulled into traffic.

“Yes, but that’s none of your business.“ 

“My apologies, sir,“ the driver said quickly, looking at his passenger in the review mirror. “I was only curious.”

“Don’t be,“ the passenger answered.

The next minute or so passed, and the two men proceeded in silence. “Well, if you must know,“ the passenger said finally, “my car is in the shop.“

“I’m sorry if I offended, sir.“ The driver said respectfully. 

“No worries,“ his fare said. 

“Repairs can be costly. And having a vehicle is expensive, sir. I know even maintaining this taxi it’s not cheap,” the driver added. “The economy doesn’t help.”

The passenger scoffed. “You are telling me,“ he said. “The government does not seem to be doing anything to help us.“

The driver looked in the rearview mirror and narrowed his eyes. “The King should be able to have a larger effect on prices.”

The passenger looked forward and caught the eyes of the driver. “Oh, I don’t know. Don’t be so hard on the King. I think his hands are tied by economic factors outside of our country. He’s doing his best. For one so young.”

“For one so young, perhaps,” the driver echoed. “You like our King, then, sir?”

The passenger leaned forward in the seat. “It is not ours to like or dislike the king,“ he explained. “We have no choice in his rule over us.“  

“What do you mean, sir?“ the driver asked.

As the trip proceeded, the passenger spent most of the trip telling the driver what he thought about kings and nations. He told the driver that kings are put over us by God, that we are as subject to them as we would be to Allah since Allah put the king in power. However, he explained, the king of Jordan was smart and capable and wise. For one so young.

“For one so young,” the driver repeated again as they arrived at the man’s destination. The house was fine and comfortable but not ostentatious by any means.

As the passenger got out of the taxi, the driver also stepped out to assist with the bags. “No, no, I have them,” the man said. “How much do I owe you?” 

The driver smiled. “Nothing; it is I who owe you, sir.”

“Oh, come on! I have to give you something,“ the passenger insisted, reaching into his pocket.

The driver got back into the taxi. “You gave me more than you know,“ he said, and he drove away.

“What a nice young man,“ the passenger thought as he took his bags inside his house.

Back in the taxi, 37 year old King Abdullah II of Jordan smiled to himself and looked for his next fare.

On an Adoption

Alice and George Swallow always believed in helping others. The couple from Cundy’s Harbor, a village on Maine’s rocky coast, strongly held the idea that all of God’s creatures on this earth deserved love and affection. George was the chief of the village volunteer fire department, and Alice was on the ladies auxiliary and was the village’s librarian.

One day, when Alice’s brother told them about an orphan who needed a family, the couple gladly opened their home to him. The mother had been found dead by the ocean, and no one claimed the baby. So, he came to live with the Swallows.

They named him Hoover, George later said, because he vacuumed up his food like that eponymous machine.

Hoover grew rapidly, and the couple marveled at his appetite. They loved Hoover, and, as Hoover got older, he also grew to love them. He was especially attached to George, it seemed. The pair became inseparable. George spoke with the accent peculiar to that part of the northeast, and, even as a youngster, Hoover quickly came to imitate George’s brusque, harsh tone. It delighted family and visitors alike to hear one so young speak in a thick nor’easter timbre. 

When time came for Hoover to leave home, he moved south to Boston. There, he became somewhat of a celebrity. And the reason he reached celebrity status in the city was that he continued to speak with that same style of intonation that George had. It amazed people that Hoover  spoke that way. There are even recordings of Hoover‘s voice, and, if you listen to them, you, too will be amazed. When Hoover passed away at a relatively young age, he was mourned by many, and his obituary appeared in the Boston Globe and in the New Yorker.

You see, it wasn’t only that Hoover spoke with George’s accent. The truly amazing thing to all who met Hoover was that he was a harbor seal.

On a Rear Admiral

George loved the navy. He made it his life. From the late 1930s, his almost forty years if service to the United States carried him to almost every continent and ocean. George did it right, too. He graduated from Annapolis in 1941, immediately before the start of World War 2.  In fact, George made it to Honolulu in time to be an eyewitness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

George distinguished himself during the war and rose through the ranks quickly. The Navy, short of staff officers at the beginning of the war, sometimes promoted men faster than they could get the rank changed on their uniforms. He took flight training in Pensacola, and he flew missions In the Pacific theater for the entirety of the war. In Hawaii, he met a pretty girl named Clara in 1942 and married her there.

Over the next six years, three children – – James, Anne, and Andrew – – were born to the couple as James hopscotched around the globe to different postings.  Sadly, George wasn’t home much to enjoy the family and watch his kids grow up day today. That’s the price American military personnel often pay to serve their country, a price that the public usually doesn’t realize.

He became heavily involved in military action during the Korean conflict and later thwarted arted a North Korean incursion into South Korea. In 1964, George found himself in charge of the US the fleet in a gulf off the coast of Vietnam—the Gulf of Tonkin, in fact—when an attack there led directly to  President Lyndon Johnson ordering an American response that developed into the Vietnam war.   And, as that war wound down, George directed efforts at removing pro-American Vietnamese from Saigon to Guam.

Yes, it can be fairly said that George was involved in every major American naval action from World War II through the mid-1970s when he retired with the rank of Rear Admiral.  The long list of citations and the ribbons that George proudly wore on his chest testified to the time that George was away from his wife and 3 kids.  Upon his 1975 retirement, George looked forward to being able to make up a little bit for all those years that he missed.

Sadly, George’s oldest, James, had died in 1971.  George was not close to the boy, and it’s easy to see why. In fact, that lack of a strong relationship was a regret that George would take to his own grave.  Yes, Rear Admiral George Stephen Morrison served his country well, even though he felt like he had not done the same to his family.

You know his oldest son as Jim Morrison.

 

 

On a Drummer

Randy Scanland grew up in England after having been born in India during the early days of World War II. His mom was studying to be a doctor, and his dad was in the military. Like so many young men of that time, Randy’s dad died in the war, leaving his widow and infant son to fend for themselves in a foreign land. But, as also often happens, Randy’s mom met another man, also a British military man, and married him. The new family welcomed another son, Rory, born in 1944. They moved back to England in 1945 as the war was coming to a close.

Randy’s mom, used to the larger houses they’d lived in in India, felt confined by the much smaller houses in England, the row houses most people lived in there. So, the enterprising young woman hocked all her jewelry and put her money on a 30-1 long shot horse—and won. With the winnings, the family bought a larger Victorian house. In fact, the house was so large, Randy’s mom was able to open a music club in the big place’s basement.

That suited Randy just fine. He loved music, eventually showing a propensity for the drums. So, his mom bought him a nice drum kit, and Randy started his own band, the Black Jacks. This was the time period when popular music was taking off in England and, soon, the British Invasion would conqueror the globe with bands from Liverpool, Manchester, and London.

By 1960, Randy and the Black Jacks had developed quite the reputation in locally. Part of the reputation was due to Randy’s dark good looks. Almost no musical group had the drummer as the group’s leader, but the Black Jacks did. Randy was not a spectacular drummer, but he was steady, and, besides, the venue was owned by his family after all.

That’s when another group, one with about as much local appeal as Randy’s, approached him. They needed a drummer for a tour over in Europe. Would he be interested? Randy thought about it. The Black Jacks had started to bore him. Europe sounded fun. Other groups were doing that, and Randy wanted to see what all the fun and fuss was about. Randy, unlike the others in this new group, had managed to finish his school exams and had the opportunity to continue his education in university, but he agreed to go on tour with the group knowing that, if it didn’t work out, he could always come home and go to school.

The tour went badly. They had to play more and longer than they had been promsised, and they had to do this for less money than promised as well. In addition, the living conditions on the tour were abysmal. The group lived in squalor. Randy began to second guess his decision to go along. One member of the group, protesting their poor rooms, lit a prophylactic on fire, and two members of the group were arrested for attempted arson. The tour was cancelled, and they all were deported back to England.

But something had happened. Playing in Europe had hardened the musicians. They had a rawer, edgier sound to them now. Randy, rather than merely providing a smooth rhythm drumming style, had become a driving, forceful drummer. The entire group sounded, well, harder. And it fit them. Playing back in England, people started to notice. In fact, the group received a recording contract. Randy thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d made the right choice to join this group.

But something was wrong. In the studio, the producers talked among themselves. Randy’s drumming, they said, was good—technically. It wasn’t how he was playing on the songs, it was what he was playing. They advised the group’s manager, a young record store owner, to replace Randy. And so, after getting approval from the other guys in the group, he did.

You probably realize by now that Randy was adopted by his mother’s second husband. That second husband, Rory Best, called the boy by his middle name–Pete.

Pete Best.

On a Shooting

Mass shootings are all too common in our day and age. America’s marriage to firearms, while constitutionally protected, has come with a high bride price. Take, for instance, the mass shooting that occurred in Los Angeles in 1968.

Most news organizations and statisticians classify a mass shooting as one that involves five or more people “with no cooling off period” between the shots. Thus, the shooting in question here fits that category. Six people were shot; one of the six died of his wounds the next day. Those shot were named Bill, Irwin, Bob, Paul, Liz, and Ira.
We don’t really remember these people. Why should we? At this point, with the hundreds of mass shootings since (and, arguably before), they are simply statistics and not really individuals whose lives–and the lives of their loved ones–were irrevocably changed by the shooting that morning. We simply sigh and send thoughts and prayers–and wait for the next fusillade of bullets and news bulletins.
But, yes; lives that were irrevocably and forever changed. And, if it doesn’t directly affect us, we, the American public, by and large, we don’t really care about these shootings, truth be told. As long as the mass shooting doesn’t keep us as Americans from going to Wal-Mart and buying more stuff, then we usually ignore the statistics and the body count.
The numbers, the changed lives, the victims and even those who pull the triggers–if any action is taken regarding these people, it is almost an afterthought. It’s never pro-active. It’s almost always reactive. And that, in its own way, is almost a violent act perpetrated on our American society itself.
Oh, the shooter? He was a young, disaffected man in his mid-20s, a real loner. It’s become a cliche, a one-size-fits-all profile, hasn’t it?
Six people shot. One dead. 1968. Los Angeles.
The perpetrator used an 8-shot .22 revolver, which was quite an unusual gun for a mass shooting. He managed to shoot the six people at close-range because they were in a small passageway when he opened fire.
Bob received three of the bullets. He was the one who died.
Lives changed.
You see, your life changed because of this mass shooting, and you probably don’t even know it. You might start to realize it when you realize that the shooter was named Sirhan Sirhan, and the deceased was Bobby Kennedy.

On anEditor

Otto wasn’t sure how to handle the manuscript before him. It was immediately after the war, and many people in Europe weren’t that interested in another first-person  account of war-time experiences. After all, the market was saturated with them. Everyone from generals to privates had his story to tell. Here was yet another tale, in the form of a journal, that most people, he surmised, would probably not find interesting.

Otto thought that the account would probably be best sent to the author’s family and acquaintances, the type of thing that should be published privately since  it was likely that only the family would be interested in the contents. In fact, as Otto began to read through it, there were a lot of personal references to family members, references that he thought might be even too personal. The work was clearly that of an amateur even if it was honest and pulled no punches.

Yet, the task of editing the manuscript had fallen to him. Work had been hard to come by after the war for Otto, so he was glad to have the distraction. Like many in Europe, Otto had also seen difficult times during the war, but he was ready to start a new chapter in his life. And then this manuscript came across his desk.  The intermediary who sent the work to Otto was Dutch, and he knew that Otto had lived in Amsterdam for part of the war. In fact, the work was written in Amsterdam. So, at least, Otto had that connection to it.

But there was something else, something that began to touch Otto deeply. As Otto read more and more of the work, he felt that the words on the pages brought him closer to the author. As unpolished as the writer was, Otto felt a kinship to the author as he read, a bond that eventually  brought him to tears. By the time he finished reading it, the manuscript  had moved the editor unlike any thing he had ever read before. He was now determined to publish it, and he felt strongly that it was a story that should be told.

Of course, it makes sense that Otto would feel a relationship to the writer. She was, after all, his daughter. And so, Otto Frank edited his daughters’s journal.

You know it as The Diary of Anne Frank.

On an Indigent Cancer Patient

The doctor looked at the patient’s chart. “Sir,” he said to the weathered old man in the bed in front of him, “You’ve got lip cancer.” The old man nodded. He didn’t seem surprised or shocked. “D’you use tobacco?” the doctor asked. The old man nodded. “Smoke? Chew?” “Both,” the man answered. Now it was the doctor’s turn to nod. “And,” the doctor added, turning the pages over on the clipboard, “you seem to also be something of a drinker.” Again, the man nodded. “Can’t seem to quit that,” the old man acknowledged.

The doctor turned back to the front page of the sheath of papers. “James?” he said in the form of a question. “May I call you James?” he asked. My friends usually call me Jim,” the old man grinned. “Ok, Jim it is. We’re gonna fight this together, ok? Are you with me on this, Jim?” the doctor wanted to know. Again, Jim nodded.

“Can I ask what you did for a living, Jim?” the doctor asked.

“A little bit of everything,” Jim answered. He then ran through a litany of jobs he’d held just in the past few years—construction, bouncer at a bar, security guard, digging ditches. This list made the doctor look again at Jim over the rim of his glasses. The doctor could tell that, once upon a time, Jim had probably been a physical specimen, given the frame that now lay broken under the sheet of the hospital bed, a frame ravaged by time, hard work, drink, and now, cancer. He looked at the chart again and then smiled.

“Doc,” Jim said, looking sideways at the physician, “there’s something else you gotta know.” “Yes, Jim?” the doctor said, taking off his glasses and stashing them in his front pocket. “I…I don’t think I can pay for this, for what I gotta do to fight this thing,” Jim admitted. “You see, we’re broke, and I ain’t got nothing but my name and my memories.”

The doctor’s slight smile left him. He could sense the pride that this man had, and he didn’t want to show him any disrespect. “No, Jim, I don’t think you could. Don’t think many people could these days. It’s not cheap. But don’t worry about that now. Let’s just worry about getting you better, ok?”

Jim nodded and then sighed deeply, and, the doctor thought, sighed as if a man had a large burden taken off of him.

A young nurse came in the room, and the doctor handed the chart to her. “You rest now, Jim. We’ll talk later.” As he started to leave the room, the doctor called the young nurse over. Turning his back on the old man, the doctor said, quietly, “Take care of him, will you?”

“Of course,” the nurse said, surprised that the doctor would even say that to her. After all, she always took care of her patients. “Do you know who that is?” he asked her.

She read the name. “No?” she whispered.

“Oh, ok. Well, just make him comfortable,” the doctor said, and he left the room.

Later, at the nurses’ station, the young nurse asked an older colleague.

“What’s so special about Jim Thorpe?”

On a Rough Rider

We have largely forgotten the Spanish-American War. Perhaps the only thing most remember from the war was the propulsion of Theodore Roosevelt to national prominence—and, eventually the White House—as a result of the exploits of the troops under his command, the Rough Riders.  Roosevelt had helped to put the unit together, billing it as being made up of mostly western cowboy-type cavalry men. In reality, it was a fairly diverse volunteer unit of troops and included several Ivy League and upper class friends of Roosevelt’s as officers. Ironically, even though they were cavalry, they fought the war in Cuba on foot because their horses never arrived.

The Rough Riders and Roosevelt won their notoriety in a famous charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. Roosevelt made sure that plenty of reporters were on the ground in Cuba with his troops so that his heroics there could be documented. Today, we would say that the reporters were embedded with the troops, and, indeed, several reporters even took up arms in the conflict. These reporters described the battle in glowing terms, giving credit to Roosevelt for his leadership and coolness under fire. Such was the popularity of this type of reporting that President William McKinley, running for reelection in 1900, chose the young Roosevelt as his running mate.
In many ways, the Spanish-American conflict was a war created by and for tabloid journalism. When tensions were rising between Spain and the United States, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst sent artist Frederic Remington to Cuba to report on the situation. Supposedly, Remington sent a telegram back to Hearst stating that there was no real conflict to report on. Hearst, possibly apocryphally, said something to the effect that the artist should provide pictures and Hearst would provide the war. The idea was that Hearst would whip up sympathy for the American cause and hatred towards Spain that would result in a war fever. He was not far from wrong. Newspapers were the major source of news for the United States in the era before electronic media. However, sensationalism ruled, and the public ate up the lurid details of Spanish atrocities against the United States—even if the “atrocities “ had been fabricated by newspaper men like Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.
Thus, Teddy Roosevelt’s rise to fame was a part of this pro-war propaganda. However, not all Roosevelt did in Cuba received good press. You see, the Rough Riders had been in another engagement in the days before the famous charge up San Juan Hill. And, unlike San Juan Hill, a previous battle, called
Las Guasimas, was the opposite of glorious. Accounts are muddled, but it appears that the Rough Riders and Roosevelt blundered into a Spanish ambush. Oh, the Spanish were retreating anyway, but the fact that Roosevelt and his troops gained control of the battlefield caused TR to claim a victory despite the fact that the Spanish outfoxed and outfought the Americans. Several American troops were killed including one of Roosevelts officers.
One reporter’s story back home headlined the battle of Las Guasimas this way: Roosevelt’s Rough Riders’ Loss Due to a Gallant Blunder. The reporter criticized the American troops and leadership for ignoring the warning signs of the ambush and for not listening to their Cuban scouts who had warned them of trouble ahead. The reporter credited this to an American overconfidence when prudence and caution would have saved American lives. It made Roosevelt and the other leaders look foolish.
Roosevelt was furious when he heard about this report. He knew how important reporting such as this would be seen, especially to someone like him who had political ambition. He later spoke of what he called cheap novelists posing as reporters who wanted to strike out against anyone they considered to be their superiors. In his book about the war, written a year later, Roosevelt tried to set the record straight regarding the ambush at Las Guasimas. In fact, Roosevelt portrayed himself as being such a hero, one critic of his memoir said that the book should have been titled Alone in Cuba.  Luckily for Roosevelt, the positive press that surrounded the charge up San Juan Hill quickly obliterated any negative reporting that may have happened after Las Guasimas. Some historians have argued that Roosevelt led the impetuous charge up San Juan Hill in an effort, in part, to change any possible negative public perception that the ambush had caused.
And who was this reporter who struck such a nerve with the future president? He was, in fact, a novelist. Roosevelt got that part right.
The novelist was Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage.

On a Coma Patient

The coma patient had finally been stabilized after the car accident. The vital signs were good. The internal injuries were healing. The problem was, as the doctor saw it, was how long the man would be still in the comatose state. After all, a triple skull fracture was not something easily overcome.

Melvin was his name. His family stayed with him around the clock, taking turns at his bedside, ensuring that someone would be there,hoping and praying that, somehow, their husband and dad would come out of the coma and be his fun-loving self again. You see, Melvin was loved by everyone. He was a fun guy. He was the type of guy you wanted to be around, the type of guy who was the life of the party.  

The family held his hand, and they spoke to him, begging him to wake up. The neurologist said that talking to a coma patient stimulated the brain and sometimes caused the patient to come out of the coma. So, that’s what Melvin‘s family did. For two long weeks.

Then, the neurologist had an idea. He addressed Melvin again, but this time he asked to speak to someone else who lived in Melvin‘s head, another personality, another side of Melvin. To everyone’s surprise, Melvin, using another voice than his own, answered the neurologist. “I’m just fine, doc. How are you?“  All the members of Melvin‘s family and everyone on the hospital’s medical staff were amazed. The doctor smiled and tried talking to Melvin again, this time addressing even another character in Melvin‘s head. Again, a different voice answered the doctor.

Over time, the doctor addressed several different characters in Melvin‘s head, and each personality answered in a different voice. Finally, he asked to speak to Melvin himself, and Melvin answered in his own voice. Soon, he was out of the coma. Within a few months, Melvin was even able to go back to work…from his hospital bed..

What work did Melvin do, you may ask? Well, Melvin was, primarily, a voice actor. Many people probably know him better as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tweety Bird, among dozens of others. It was these personalities the neurologist addressed, and it was these personalities who answered the doctor.

He was known professionally as Mel Blanc.

On a Tough Sergeant

Look at the photo. Man, Bob was tough. School bored him, so he dropped out in the ninth grade. As an 18 year old, in 1961, he joined the Air Force, and he quickly became a master sergeant. It was the perfect job for a guy that tough. He loved the authority, the power, the respect as well as the responsibility that his position gave him.

Stationed in Alaska, Bob also came to really love the sweeping vistas, the soaring mountain ranges, the closeness of nature that the Great Land displays in spades. You might think that the tough and mean master sergeant would not care about nature, but Bob grew to love it in Alaska.

Bob was that the guy in the military, in his own words, “Who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” He was so good at yelling, apparently, that, over his 20 year career, having to be the tough guy began to take its toll on Bob. He started to look for some way to unwind, someway to escape the responsibility and the pressure that came from the mean side of himself.

At a local USO in Alaska, classes were offered that provided the opportunity for Bob to pick up a hobby. So, almost on a whim, he took the classes. He found out that he was good at them. He found that he enjoyed the release that his new hobby and burgeoning talent provided him. He enjoyed it so much, that he decided it was time to retire and pursue his hobby full-time.

He also promised himself that he would never raise his voice again. The years of the mean, tough Bob were over. That yelling, tough guy was to be replaced by an almost Zen-like Bob who is today known all over the world and almost revered as an icon of calm.

Bob’s hobby? You know that, too. You see, Bob became a painter.

You know him as Bob Ross.