Archive for the ‘Play’ Category

Sports and Games

ancient-olympics

A foot race at the Olympic games in classical Greece (Bing Images)

© 2016 By Bob Litton

Back in my pub-hopping days one of the denizens at a Dallas bar described me as “that heavy dude”. He wasn’t referring to my physical frame but rather to my tendency to limit my conversations to serious topics. He had a fairly broad notion of what is considered as “serious”.

The immediate spur to his remark was my lament that all the local “watering-holes” seemed to be turning into sports bars, with multiple TV sets scattered throughout. One bar I used to frequent now has five TV sets on the walls of its two rooms, but the only time more than one person watches them is on Sunday afternoons in the fall when the gladiator contests known as American football are being  flushed through the cables. And they are attention-hogging during the endless days of the national championship events. Of course, baseball’s World Series and the triple-crown horse races draw a small bevy of viewers also. But mostly the TVs are there for “ambience” and to make you feel comfy when you’re the only lounger in the place.

I quit going to bars recently — even gave up beer — but primarily for reasons other  than the distraction created by those constantly blinking images on TV screens. Still, the sporting events were a significant part of my withdrawal. I’m just not a fan of sports, particularly of the contact sports such as football and hockey and especially the “extreme” sports that look to me like glamorized street-brawling.

Funny thing, though, is that, when the only stool available at the pub’s bar is directly in front of a TV, I get drawn in. If it’s a contact event I instantly begin to silently root for the “underdog”. If it’s a solo event, such as golf, I become hypnotized by the ball’s behavior. The ball takes front-and-center status only when it’s either  in a sand pit or lands on the green, especially on the edge of the green: that’s when the drama starts; it is rescue and putting time. I quietly gasp in awe as the seemingly self-determined white globe rolls serenely past the hole then does a U-turn, returns, and plops in (I’ve actually seen that). Now, that’s entertainment! But it’s all provided by the ball; I don’t give a hoot about the golfer; don’t even pay attention to his name.

To me, golf is not a sport. True, there is calculation, concentration and occasional slight exertion (at tee-off) involved, but no strenuous action by the body. No, golf is strictly a game.

This is where it gets complicated: What is the difference between a game and a sport? The terms are often used interchangeably by the players and the commentators. Both are contests, but in my view a game is a contest between calculations (aka “strategies”), while a sport is a contest between skills and endurances. There is a degree of calculation in sports, I acknowledge, but it is not what draws the fans and it is not the primary element in winning, while in games it is all that matters.

I read that over the past few years players of chess, poker and bridge have petitioned the International Olympics Committee to include those games in the quadrennial show. What’s next, tiddlywinks?

I also read that the field sports people also want to be included. I don’t know what the IOC has against their inclusion. Could it be that they require too much space? Or perhaps it is because those sports are not sufficiently universal. I am glad that auto-racing is not an Olympic event; it is really just a contest of mechanics’ skills and draws viewers who basically only came to see wrecks and perhaps be treated to the sight of a body being toted off the track on a gurney.

To me, the truest sports are those such as boxing, wrestling, soccer, tennis, swimming, and tumbling, where the human body is fully tested for strength and vigor; and the brain is tested for strategy and constant calculating. Also, in boxing and wrestling the “violence” is minimal and no harm to the opponent is intended; the victor wins on points, not on knockouts.

I recognize that my view of the Olympics differs from the original events in ancient Greece. The Greek city-states put a lot of pressure on their athletes: if a contestant dared come home without a laurel wreath, he was shamed; if he came home a victor, on the other hand, he was treated royally and became a celebrity. Also, the boxing events were bare-knuckled and bloody, pretty much like our modern “extreme sport” boxing.

I wonder if the IOC will ever include TV sports-watching in its lineup of events. I might try out for that, although I have no doubt that I wouldn’t even survive the preliminary trials.

Finis

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How a childhood trait became an adult habit

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I believe I have written elsewhere in this blog’s archives that major reasons for engaging in it were to analyze my own personality and to obliquely write my autobiography. What I mean by “obliquely” here is that, although the primary topic of any particular essay might seemingly be far removed from the notion of personality traits, some of the illustrative experiences as well as the attitude revealed therein could add tone, form, color and dimension to the hidden autobiographical theme of the blog site as a whole. (I want any future biographer to have access to the most reliable resource imaginable: this blog.)

Some traits, however, cannot be easily presented in such a camouflaged manner. The trait of which I am thinking here is parenthetical remarks, i.e., comments inserted into a scene or conversation that have nothing directly to do with that scene or conversation. Some, in my case, were naïve remarks I made as a child, and some were “zingers” I made as an adult. The only real difference between them was that the youthful ones were simply expressions of curiosity without any intent to be hurtful, while the adult ones were simply attempts to be comical in a stinging way but still not really hurt. Zingers are, I lamentably admit, a regrettable, deeply ingrained aspect of my personality; for laughter-inducing humor usually comes at the expense of somebody’s self-image. My only partial defense here is that I often try to pull the joke out of my own hat, i.e., at my own expense.

What brought this topic to mind at the present is that I have done a lot of reminiscing about Mother lately, particularly of my childhood years when we were closer to each other than during later years. Much of the youthful time, I was what has become classified as a “latch-key kid”. Mother worked as a silk-finisher at a Dallas dress factory called Lorch’s, so, when school was not in session, I was often left to mind myself. However, she did occasionally find someone to keep me in tow.

For a while there was a next door neighbor named Mrs. Woodruff (family and friends called her “Woody”). I don’t remember much about her other than I loved her, that she liked to listen to soap operas on the radio, that she described for me a road that wound around a mountain, and that she had false teeth which she would suddenly stick out at me: it was one of those tricks that kids love, the kind that both scares and makes them giggle.

Also, for a while I stayed at Mrs. Lybrand’s house a couple of blocks away. Mrs. Lybrand and her husband had a large back yard that was a very pleasant place to play. She also was a great cook and she liked to listen to gospel songs on the radio much of the day. I didn’t appreciate gospel music and one day asked her, “Why do you listen to those ol’ god songs instead of Gene Autry or Bing Crosby?”  I don’t recall her answer, if there was one. I liked Mrs. Lybrand and certainly did not mean to offend her; and I do not believe she was offended. She most likely viewed the incident as a child being innocently too curious and too honest.

Last May 9, I published here an essay for “Mother’s Day” in which I discussed attending a kindergarten in Dallas and how a cab came to pick me up and carry me downtown to Lorch’s, where Mother was still at work. I did not mention in that post an interesting incident at Lorch’s which I don’t recall personally but which Mother related to me many years later. “My supervisor,” said Mother, “was a very tall German woman of whom I was afraid. You looked up at her and asked, ‘Are you a giant?’” Mother said she was “scared to death” because she didn’t know how the big supervisor would respond, but there was no reaction.

Another episode Mother had to relate to me many years later happened on a streetcar. (Many readers won’t know what a streetcar was: it was a vehicle about as long as a modern bus but more strictly rectangular in appearance and it was powered by a wire strung above the roadway that fed electricity to the streetcar by movable antennas extending upward from each end of the vehicle.) Now, back to the incident. One day while Mother and I were on board a streetcar bound for downtown (she told me) I noticed a very old lady across the aisle, with deep wrinkles; I turned to Mother and asked, “Mama, why is that lady’s face all wadded up?” I have no memory of the incident nor any recorded continuation of Mother’s anecdote to regain the consequence of that comment.

So, you can see how early my bad habit of spouting “zingers” began. As an adult, the tendency became more conscious and pronounced. Most targets know me well enough to realize I am just trying to be funny…in a fairly blood-thirsty way. A local bar-maid and a waitress here have put up with me long enough now that they have practically developed rhinoceros hides. And, like I said above, I try to balance the cajolery out by occasionally making myself the target, usually uttered in a manner that hints they should reply by saying, “Oh no, you shouldn’t say or even think that way about yourself!” They don’t swallow the bait.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall many of the adult zingers, I guess because there have been so many. There is one, however, that I do recall only too clearly and which I wish I could go back in time to expunge. One noon-day, I was sitting in a “blue-plate-special” café in Dallas that I had recently begun to frequent when I heard the main waitress relate to another regular customer how she needed new tires on her car and that she didn’t know how she would cope if she had a flat someday. “Don’t worry about it, Jane,” I called out. “You’ve got a spare around your waist.”

Jane looked over at me kind of sad-like and, after a few seconds of bewildered silence, replied, “I can’t believe you said that, Bob.”

I should have apologized then and there, but I didn’t. And to this day I don’t know why I didn’t apologize. Perhaps the additional stress that an admission of impropriety added to the impropriety itself was too much for me. I don’t know. But Jane, although she was indeed slightly plump around the waist, was not obese, and she was pretty and one of the most pleasant people I have ever known. Oh, how I wish I had an operable time machine!

So, you can see how a childhood capacity for curiosity can develop into an adult habit of zingering.

Finis

Naughty Children…Rated R.

© 2016 By Bob Litton.  All Rights Reserved.

It’s a good thing Christmas is already done and gone; I would hate to complicate the stockings for any toddlers who might accidentally see this post and become corrupted at a very early age. But, oh heck, it’s bound to happen someday, what difference does it make if that day is today?

Recently, for some unknown reason, I began reflecting on my childhood experiences, particularly on the little ditties my playmates and I used to sing between our giggles. Whoever wrote the lyrics, I have no idea; the tunes, though, went with familiar songs from operas…although we were not acquainted with any operas at that age (5- to 8-years-old).

Here’s the first one; the tune’s source I don’t know, but it was well-known — perhaps “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ opera Salome (?), or the “Bacchanale” from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Dalila (?):

“All the girls in France
wear tissue paper pants.
All the girls in Spain
go naked in the rain.”

Now, who came up with those verses? The author surely must have been an adult; it is highly unlikely that any child wrote them. I want to make it entirely clear here that the depictions of national habits are fabricated…false. And I do not believe the author of those scandalous lines was intentionally being derogatory; he (or she) was more probably just depending on the countries’ names as sources for rhyme words, just as many of our naughtier limericks include “Nantucket”.

What interests me now, though, is the question: To what extent did our singing those ditties reflect our level of developing knowledge about what is naughty? Actually, in my case it is an unanswerable conundrum. My memory is not that retrievable or specific; I do well just to recall having sung them when I was so young.

And here’s the second, sung to the “Toréador Song” chorus in Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen:

“Toréador, don’t spit on the floor.
Use a cuspidor; that’s what it’s for.”

Those lines, of course, are not “naughty” in the usual sense of the term, merely slightly gross. I can credit them for at least causing me to learn what a “cuspidor” is, for I had never seen one and did not see one until many years later, in a movie.

Finally, here is one which I suppose we can say is derogatory, although not against any nation or even any particular persons. The words are to be sung to the “Bridal Chorus” music from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin:

“Here comes the bride,
Big, fat and wide;
Here comes the groom,
Skinny as a broom.”

Now, on what occasion would any child sing that?! Only during those times when two or more of them are together and acting silly — which happens frequently; or at least did during my early childhood. I believe you will agree with me that the verse is snide, and to that limited but still hurtful extent “naughty”. Many children, I believe, sometimes feel impelled to be cruel in what they say: What child hasn’t yelled at a parent he/she loves but who is denying them something, “I hate you!”?

Very young children are not as “innocent” as parents and politicians often proclaim them to be.

Finis

The Ultimate Texas Brags

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A Halloween decoration set up this month in the yard of a modest-size home just a few blocks from the author’s residence. (Photo: Courtesy of my ol’ fast-drivin’ buddy, Pancho Castillo, Las Cruces, NM.)

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: I really wanted to wait until October 30th (the day before Halloween) before publishing a post about one of our favorite festival days. However, since I have to travel 65 miles next Monday to have another molar extracted, and 205 miles on Tuesday for a cataract operation on my left eye — the right eye was operated on last Tuesday — I realized that I will be either too busy or too tired to write this post the coming week. Of course I know that I could compose it now and hold off on publishing it until October 30th; but, as I have mentioned before, I haven’t the will-power to hold any production in my hot little hands more than a few hours. That’s just part of my horrific destiny!

*  *  *  *  *  *

Too Big

The booklet of out-sized jokes Texas Brags was first published in 1944 and reportedly saw as many as 20 later editions. Amazon.com’s site indicates the book is now out of print. Written by John Randolph and illustrated by Mark Storm, Texas Brags at the time was seen purely as a joke book full of exaggerated depictions of what it was like to be a Texan and to live in Texas; it was not taken seriously by many people, not even Texans.

Now, though, the title of the booklet, as well as its tone, has been adopted by our governor for the design of the state’s official web page. It is another example of the governor’s office’s on-going drive to lure industries from California and elsewhere. It turns my stomach.

Nonetheless, I am a Texan, and the bigness applies even to me. At the first of my time in the air force boot camp, I had to march and go to classes and chow wearing the initially issued pith helmet for an extra two weeks while the supply clerks located a fatigue cap that would fit my 7-5/8 skull.

Ever since then, finding shoes — without special-ordering them — has been an increasingly onerous task: it seems that with each additional millimeter in foot length the choices in patterns decline.

A month ago, a VA doctor ordered an elbow support pad for me. When it arrived, I could not pull it above my wrist; it was a Size Small. There were four other sizes available, according to the box my pad came in. I measured my elbow and discovered to my surprise that I would barely be able to insert my arm into the Extra Large, for my elbow’s circumference measured 33-1/2 cm, while the Extra Large was designed to fit elbows from 32 to 34 cm. But I got a replacement, and it will do.

The size problem more insistently struck home a year ago, though, when my dentist, pointing to an x-ray, said I had the largest sinuses he had ever seen.

And then, last week, when I was being prepped for the cataract surgery on my right eye, the ophthalmologist noted that the depth of that eye measured 27 mm, while the smallest depth is 21 mm, and the average is 23 mm. I asked the doctor if there is any advantage to having a large eye depth.

“There is a slight risk of a tear or a detached retina,” he replied.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “I’m not quite six feet tall, and I am not nearly as heavy as a lot of men I see, yet I hardly fit into anything. And now you tell me that even my eyeball is bigger than normal.”

“It is all a matter of proportion,” he said.

So, nothing to brag about, I concluded.

*  *  *  *  *  *

And back we go to Halloween

Every year about this time, the media get saturated with documentaries about vampires and werewolves as well as the more academic aspects of our celebration of the dead — for instance, the contrast between Anglo-America’s treatment of Halloween and that of Hispanic-America’s. (It is a more serious event down south — “El Dia de Los Muertos” — where the natives allow themselves a more intimate relationship with the dead.) There are also the simply entertaining televised features such as Charlie Brown’s adoring the “Great Pumpkin”; and Hallmark Channel’s “The Good Witch” both frightening and enlightening a small New England town.

Last year, I published on this blog a “mood editorial” about Halloween which I had written for The Shorthorn, UT-Arlington’s student newspaper. Some of you might enjoy perusing it today at: https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/reflections-on-a-jack-o-lantern/

I haven’t much to add to that piece. I still prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving to all the other festivals in our nation. Halloween is not a holiday, i.e., the public offices and schools do not close on October 31st. And yet more money is spent during October than is spent on Christmas, New Year’s Day, or any other celebration here. That is what I have read in newspapers over the past few years, and I still find it hard to believe. To think about it for a minute, though, we buy a hell of a lot of candy during this month, and chocolate is pretty damn expensive. Then there are the costumes — rigs often designed to win contests at parties. The parties themselves are probably not cheap either; but I don’t go to any, so that is just a supposition.

When I was a child, I enjoyed the “Trick-or-Treat” part of Halloween. Since then, however, I lament the fact that “Trick-or-Treating” has become rather too dangerous; mean-hearted people have taken to slipping razor blades and poison in the sweets they parcel out to children who knock on their doors. Many communities have adopted the custom of arranging parties in public schools and community centers in lieu of letting their children roam the neighborhoods.

Even though some of my neighbors’ children still go out with the treat bags after sundown, they usually don’t visit my apartment complex, for the residents here are either elderly or not all-together in their wits…or both. In past years, I have bought a “bargain-size” bag of candy to dispense, but none of the little brats knocked on my door; so I, dreading the resultant weight gain, had to eat all the little candy bars. I don’t do that anymore: I just turn out all the lights after the sun goes down and venture off to my favorite bar.

For a Halloween “treat” I will provide you below with the URL to Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, a segment of Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ&list=PLQhqbTXltizz431wjB6XwyX2GLQYCZZi3
Enjoy!!!

Fin

 

 

What I Learned About Girls: The Early Years

©2015 By Bob Litton

During a recent reverie I wished I could recall the moment when I realized the difference between boys and girls. Life has taught me, though, that such enlightenment is similar to another momentous event: exiting the birth canal. We repress the knowledge. At least did.

It had to be before kindergarten, because that was where I fell in love for the first time, with a girl who just happened to be the daughter of the woman who operated the kindergarten. My sweetheart stands on my left in the group photo below. Her home, in which we children gathered for our first taste of group dynamics, was just across the street and down a couple of houses from the elementary school we would be attending soon. Others in the photo were, I believe, younger and would follow us into grade school. I don’t recall that young lady’s name and indeed remember only one curious thing about her: In spite of the fact that she lived so near the elementary school, she was habitually late to the first class; while I, who lived just over half a mile away and walked to school, never was late.   I wonder now how that situation affected my future assessment of women’s dependability. Our “affair” did not extend beyond the first grade.

School Photo 1945

This was my kindergarten class of 1945.  My girlfriend and I are in the center of the back row, she to my left. A doll, eh?
                                                        

But I am getting ahead of myself. First there was Annette D. who, along with me, is featured in the two other photos in this blog post. Annette and her mother resided in the duplex apartment connected to the one where Mama and I—and occasionally one or the other of my two brothers—lived. When I was not playing with my friend Ronnie S. across the street or with a couple of other boys several houses down the block, Annette and I would play together. The “play”, as well as I can recall, usually involved listening to fairy tales on the radio program called “Let’s Pretend” and then reenacting the stories ourselves. One episode, which is the only one burned into my memory, was connected to “Sleeping Beauty”.  That story, of course, ended with an awakening kiss, which Annette insisted on. My first romantic kiss! I swear to you: She insisted on it!  I think the only fact of life I learned from that episode was that girls tend to sleep for a very, very long time; and the only way you can wake them up is to kiss them.

Another of Annette’s aspects I recall is her funny dance routines, when she would don one of her mother’s hats, a necklace, and maybe even her shoes (I cannot imagine now how that was possible, but the memory persists) and dance on their front porch.  I don’t recall how I reacted to such performances, but I certainly hope my comments were at least kind if not applauding.  Her “get-up”, I’m sure, was no more outlandish than my curling the brim of one of Pappy’s fedoras to transform it into a cowboy hat or attaching my cap pistol’s holster to one of Mama’s wide belts to create a “gun-belt”.  One evening, while Annette and I lay on a blanket out in the front yard, watching the stars, and our moms sat in folding chairs nearby, I heard the women discussing the possibility of our eventual marriage.  No way! I thought.

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Annette D. and I in a clinch circa 1944. I am certain the embrace was coached by our mothers, since my hand is comradely placed on Annette’s shoulder and her hand is hugging my arm in a firm grasp. Oh, how possessive girls can be!   By the way, you can tell that Dennis the Menace was patterned on me by the overalls and striped T-shirt I am wearing and the cottony hair.

Annette and I a few years later. You can see that our mothers were still hopeful

 Annette and I a few years later. You can see that our mothers were still hopeful. Oh, what a growth spurt I have made. And Mama got me all duded up. I feel certain she designed and made the two-tone coat with its weird collar and pockets, and the pleated pants. Nobody else would have done that. Annette looks like she can’t believe what she’s looking at.      
                                                                                        

I never met Annette’s dad, for he was killed at the beginning of World War II. I do remember accompanying her to a party for children of absent servicemen (I suppose as her guest, since my own father never served). Annette’s mother remarried; her second husband was an FBI agent. They moved into a house clear across town. The step-father, I found to be a pleasant person, but the only conversation I can recall sharing with him occurred when Mama and I went over to their home for a visit while I was en route to Okinawa and my first air force duty station. All I can recall of that conversation was his hypothesizing about what positive influence my being assigned to the USAF’s Security Service might have should I later seek employment with the government as a civilian. Before we sat down at the supper table, I glanced into one of Annette’s high school textbooks, which she had just plopped down on the coffee table, and recognized it as the same English Literature text I had studied my senior year; I deduced from that that Annette was one year younger than I. I had not seen her in more than a decade.

But back to grade school.

I must admit my affections ran madly rampant during those elementary school years. In the second and later grades I became accustomed to gauging girls by levels of prettiness.  Perhaps that was when I first realized that a girl could be something other than simply another brand of playmate.  Their variety and comeliness were as dizzying as that merry-go-round out on the playground.  I learned to be unfaithful. But, at the same time, I was shy and hush-hush about my amorous feelings.

Another of my silent girlfriends of that time, Lola V., was outstanding as far as dress was concerned.  I particularly enjoyed the days when she wore one of her brown, green and red plaid skirts and frilly-sleeved, white blouses.  I recall attending a party at Lola’s house on Hall Street, where we had to ascend several concrete steps to reach her door. It must have been a Valentine’s Day party, because one of the treats parceled out to Lola’s guests were those small heart-shaped mint candies with various, brief comments printed on them such as “I love you”. I recall sitting on one of the steps, holding a mint between my fingers, and wondering what it meant. That was the first time I ever saw such a candy, but I have encountered them quite often over the past sixty-eight years since then, and they always remind me of that day. I regret that I do not have a photo of Lola, nor of any of the girls I will mention from here on.

The only girl I really played with after school, though, was Alef B.  This girl’s home was within—or adjacent to—a cemetery about a third of a mile southwest of our apartment. I really cannot recall her home’s exact placement: my memory tells me that the house, with a flower shop attached, was only a short distance inside the main gate, but my memory, as I have since discovered, plays tricks on me.  Anyway, her father was a florist.  Alef and I walked home from school together at least once; I remember this clearly because we made a game of zig-zagging around some trees that had recently been planted in the verge beside Cole Park, Alef going in one direction, I in the other. Also, when I contracted measles and our apartment was quarantined for a week or more, Alef brought me some get-well letters from our classmates; it was the second grade and we were just learning to print on lined paper. The brief notes all said the same thing (probably copied off the blackboard where our teacher had written the original); but they pleased me anyway.

One really fun—and odd—adventure for Alef and me happened one day when I visited her at home. We listened to a couple of our favorite radio dramas and then decided to make some fudge. Unfortunately, there was no granulated sugar in any of the cabinets; however, Alef did find some brown sugar, so we tried it. Man, that candy was wild-tasting…and gooey!  She dipped out some on wax paper for me to take home. I ate some of it along the way, but it was too strong for me.

By the fourth grade, a girl named Betty T. caught my eye. Still, I was reticent, and before I could exit my shyness shell in Betty’s company, Mama had bought a small house out near White Rock Lake. As luck would have it, though, I did get to see Betty again the following year. It was at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, where I had gone to attend the annual “children’s day” as put on by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Walter Hendl. A poem I had written won a school district-wide lyrics contest, and a class in Oak Cliff had garnered the music part of the competition.  As Mama and I were descending the auditorium’s steps after the performance, I heard someone shout out, “Look, there’s Bobby!”  Looking over to the right, I saw with delighted surprise Betty T. and one other girl whom I recognized then but cannot picture now. We exchanged greetings and the usual updates briefly and then parted. But I could not—actually did not want to—get Betty out of my mind. I called her a short time later and invited her to meet me at the Plaza theater—which was much closer to her home than to mine—the next Saturday for the children’s matinee. Her mother brought her to the show in their car and then left. It was a pleasant date…at any rate about as pleasant as any time sitting in a dark theater watching a serial episode, cartoons and a shoot-‘em-up can be pleasant. Not long after that I received a chrome-plated bracelet with my name printed on it at a shoe store where my mother had purchased some shoes for me. I sent it to Betty as a love token or perhaps as a “Let’s go steady!” signal, but she sent it back with a note saying her mother did not want her to accept gifts from boys. For whatever reason—most likely because of the miles that separated us—I did not call Betty again.

By the sixth grade, at my new school, competitiveness became the unexpressed law of the campus. Close friends became more important and close girlfriends even more important. Still, shyness hampered me. Perhaps our dancing lessons were partly responsible for that. I cannot recall if the square-dancing and the ballroom dancing were part of physical education classes or a separate part of the curriculum. Could it have been a “socialization” class, steering us toward the mating game?

Anyway, that was when I learned that some girls had warm, damp hands while other girls’ palms were cooler, drier. I much preferred to dance with the dry-hands maidens, one of whom was Evelyn M. She preferred me as a partner, too, although I cannot claim that my hand humidity was her reason. Evelyn’s looks were only average, and she was skinny, but she had one of the most out-going and caring personalities I have ever met. In addition to our frequent partnering during dance lessons, we went out trick-or-treating one Halloween night; and we also went as a date to some school party at White Rock Lake.

That party was the occasion for one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. I had a slight cold and had brought a white handkerchief with me. When we first arrived, Evelyn perceived that the bench she wanted to sit on was dusty, and she asked me if she could use my handkerchief to dust it off a bit; I let her have it. Later, when she came back to request the use of my handkerchief again, I was too reticent to let her know I had wiped my nose with it and I gave it to her. She came back shortly afterwards and, smiling, returned it to me while saying, “It’s been used.” O Mortification, how eternal you are!

Another of my favorite dance partners, for square-dancing, was Shirley C. This girl was pretty but was also a bit plump. However, that was okay, since I was not in love with her but appreciated her only as good company when the caller sang out, “A right and left around the ring/ While the roosters crow and the birdies sing” or “Everybody swing and whirl/Swing ’round and ’round with your pretty little girl”. Yeah, Shirley and I were good at that! Decades later, I saw Shirley at our 15th year high school class reunion. She was in fine physical shape and a true beauty. In fact, I noticed that day that there were a bunch of beautiful women in the class of ’58. It was a rare crop!

The only remaining memory from those elementary school years worth noting was the night I “fell in love at first (and only) sight” at a community room in Casa Linda Plaza. The place had only two rooms, I believe, not counting the restrooms; there were chairs placed around the walls, and the lighting was dim. On Saturday nights the place was transformed into a sort of junior nightclub. Somebody played 45 RPM records. We young folks sipped soda pop, chatted, and danced under the watchful eyes of a couple of adults. I went there only about three times, if my memory serves me well.

One of those nights I met a young lady whom I had never seen before. I do not know what school she attended; I did not even ask. But she was a beauty beyond compare, and I was fortunate enough to dance with her at least once, probably more. We left at the same time, each assuring the other we would be at the “club” the next Saturday night. As we approached the curb out in the parking area I saw a new, maroon, four-door car pull up, and the girl got into the back seat. The shopping center’s yellow lights gleamed on the car as it pulled away forever, and I thought of Cinderella’s pumpkin.

Finis

Ruminations

By Bob Litton

“But why, then, do you write?”
“Well, my dear sir, to tell you in confidence, I have found no other means of getting rid of my thoughts.”
“And why do you wish to get rid of them?”
“Why I wish? Do I really wish! I must.”
“Enough!  Enough!”
— Excerpted from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Book Second, §93, translated by Thomas Common (Nietzsche’s meaning of “gay” is “joyful”, not “homosexual”).

 ♦

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Solitaire

Wha’d I tell you? It’s been only a month and here I am again, typing out a blog post. And what have I been doing in the meantime? playing Solitaire, just like the indifferent lover in Karen Carpenter’s song. So, leaving off the blog did not equal leaving off the computer. I am gathering the notion that my only viable alternatives are chains or a lobotomy.

Actually, though, I did learn a few lessons through my time among the cards: that playing Solitaire-to-win requires perserverance, and that I am an impatient student; that although Solitaire is basically a game of chance—more so than Free Cell anyway—there often is some wiggle room for strategy; that it is extremely frustrating when a bunch of small-digit cards (2’s and 3’s) or the royalty cards dominate the bottom row when they are first spread (nothing more useless than a “2”, and yet two or three of them often appear face-up when the cards are laid out); that the prospect of losing is essential to enjoying the game; and that Solitaire is addictive, so much so that I ran back to my blog to escape it.

* * * * * *

Hail to thee, mockingbird and cicada 

Well, it’s summer now in my little hamlet. Most of the pecan, pear and oak trees survived a severe wind and rain storm here a couple of months ago; a few large limbs crashed, and even some old trees and a few young apple trees had to be put to sleep. But the vast majority of trees have leafed out fully. The daytime high temperatures range from the mid-eighties to the lower nineties so far; they will probably dance around the low one-hundreds before the summer is over.

A mockingbird croons occasionally—too seldom, as far as I am concerned. The mockingbird population in this part of the state is minimal compared to North Central Texas, where I come from. I love to hear the clear, varying notes of the mockingbird: it is the adopted mascot…of, say, my Solitaire team.

Perhaps I just never noticed the local cicadas before—though I find that hard to believe—but for the first time in thirteen years here I have been hearing their loud clicking, what we called the locust’s song during my childhood. You know, of course, that there is a big difference between the cicada and the locust, for the real “locust” is actually the grasshopper of biblical scourge fame. The cicada’s mating and alert calls are not “pretty” like the mockingbird’s, but they are amusing at least.

To us kids in Dallas, the cicada was one of the fun events of summer. They are funny to look at—though they can be scary under magnification—and they are easy to catch. We used to climb up a small tree and grab one off a limb, tote him to earth, tie a thread noose around him, and then toss him into the air, where he would swirl around to our great amusement, just like a tiny kite or a model plane. But, like I said, I had not heard one in decades until this summer; I had come to believe that the oil companies had exterminated them.

I had also come to believe that the oil companies drove the fireflies (a.k.a. “lightning bugs”) into extinction, for I haven’t seen any of those in decades either. However, a really dark night is required to see the alternating beams of a lightning bug, and, even in this remote place, we live in virtually endless light. Also, I am no longer a creature of the night, retiring about 9 o’clock each evening, provided the neighbors will allow it. And twilight lingers after nine.

* * * * * *

“Should” should be dropped from dictionaries  

You realize, don’t you, that with each year gained in age comes a complementary ability to spot flaws in individuals, in society…dang it!…in the world itself. Well, I haven’t escaped even that undesirable aspect of accumulating years. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell whether a particular flaw in our environment is new and truly awful enough to warrant castigating.

I am inclined to believe that one among many modern phenomena deserving of a good thrashing is our use of the word should and its synonyms: ought to and need to. Now, I admit that I use these terms frequently enough, especially when engaged in soliloquies about what I have failed to do, have overlooked, or am scheduling.

That is bad enough, but when I see the term used extensively and every day on the Internet programming sites, I get really annoyed by it all: “Ten foods you should not eat”, “Twenty places you should visit before you die”, “Why you need to explain to your children the reason they have no daddy but two mommies”, etc. Often, there is a whole page lined up with such article titles. It all brings to mind images of “Big Brother”.

Now, don’t chastise me! I know I have used in this post the very word I want everybody to expunge from their vocabularies. Just goes to show: I will never meet the qualifications for “Big Brother”, although there is still the opportunity open to me for the presidency of this great nation.

Finis

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