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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bus Toll

© 2010 by Tom King

Taking public transit was
Supposed to be a cheaper way
To get from here to there
And from there to home,
But for the tender-hearted
There are hidden fees.

I traveled on my card
The first time through.
An experiment with the new
Cashless economic system.
Fearful the plastic wouldn't work
And me with no backup.

Between the bus and train,
I was befriended
By a fairly well-dressed fellow
Who offered to show me the way to the station.
I was grateful not to have to walk alone
In that part of town.

Didn't sleep well on the plane, though.
My companion guide to the train
Casually having mentioned.
His homelessness.
And me with no cash had muttered
Excuses why I could not help him.

Coming home he met me at the train this time,
And walked me back to the bus station.
This time the story was different.
And my name was the same as his father's.
I didn't tell him we'd met before.
That I knew his game.

I gave him twenty anyway.
On the bus I slept, short of cash.
I'd carefully planned to make the trek
And spend as little as possible.
Keeping a reserve as a reward
For my frugality.

I'm pretty sure he bought a bottle.
He'd asked me just for three or so.
The price of just enough
To warm a belly or deaden pain.
It does not matter I am under orders,
To treat with kindness, not to judge.

I sympathize with those who pay,
The extra price that lets them
Travel where the bums do not sleep
Huddled on a loading platform
Against a warm door;
Where the skilled at homelessness talk quick cons.

Do I give the taxi man the twenty bucks,
A guy working a second job to make ends meet?
Or hand it to the helpful hobo schmoozing for a drink.
Or the big-eyed kid who ran away and brags he lives his own way,
Eating from dumpsters, but managing to fast talk a free ticket to Chicago.
Mostly a night on a warm bus to somewhere else?

Maybe every other time I'll take a cab or park my car.
Next time around I could pay the extra
To encourage the self-reliant guy with kids to feed and self-respect,
And to sleep in my seat with nothing on my mind
But where I'm going
And who I'm going to see when I arrive.

Maybe the next time after that I'll save the extra.
Pass among the bums; refresh my memory
Lest I forget how close a man can be to losing all
And more directly pay the toll for sleeping
For worrying about where I'm going
And if all will be well when I arrive.

* I decided that since my truck was broken down, I'd take buses and trains to get to the airport. I figured I'd save myself a little money and see how well the transit system worked, my having spent a year giving advice to the government on how to make it work better. I spent about what I would have to drive myself over to the DFW airport and get a friend to park my car at his house, not because the transit system wasn't economical.  It's the hidden cost of such a trip that will get you, for it is a trip through dark places. I saw a man sleeping on a bus station loading dock in sub-freezing temperatures. I was conned by a neatly dressed homeless man who apparently makes a passable income showing people how to get from the train to the bus station and back in downtown Dallas. He has quite a convincing patter and you won't have to hear the same story twice and apparently his father had a lot of names as it's always the same as yours. If you have cash when you start and you're not completely heartless, you will part with a portion of that cash before you wend your circuitous way from stop to stop and finally arrive at your destination. The taxi guy got almost the last of it. I put the rest in my son's gas tank. I apparently, am not supposed to have any cash on me. 

Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Precisely, why I gave the guy the twenty bucks. I figure I helped solve his worries for that one day. It's all we're asked to do.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Importance of A Proper Tarzan Yell!

(c) excerpted from "Swimming Lessons" 2010 by Tom King

Walt Whitman said, "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."  Every boy ever born understands the need to sound their own personal barbaric yawp. It's the sound of all the fears and terrors, joys and passions that fill you up when you're growing up. It's yelled from rooftops, treetops, diving boards and the hill that everyone wants to be king of. My barbaric yawp was a Tarzan yell.

That would be the Johnny Weismueller-type Tarzan I am talking about! You know, that glorious full-throated “ape man” yell he used to do in those great old movies.  I spent years perfecting my own version of that yell in the tops of the huge oak trees in my back yard. I used to climb one particular oak tree every morning at 8 AM and let loose what I considered a fearsome Tarzan yell. Undoubtedly grateful that at least I had waited till eight, most of our neighbors tolerated my odd behavior with surprisingly little comment. Lottie Warren, the neighborhood busybody referred to me as “that little barbarian King boy” and wouldn’t let her nephews play at our house lest our uncivilized ways were somehow contagious to her grandsons Jackie and Woody. I used to feel sorry for them. They looked so pitiful gazing wistfully through their Aunt Lottie’s garden fence at us.

Every day, my brother and I donned plastic Army helmets shouldered wooden guns and shovels and sallied forth to dig slit trenches in Mom’s garden. They weren’t much as far as trenches go, but we managed to scratch out 6-12 inch deep ditches in the hard clay and piled up enough dirt on either side to avoid most direct hits. The trenches were essential because of the nature of our weaponry. Not satisfied merely making exploding noises or popping off the occasional cap gun, my brother and I used to lob these huge red clay dirt clods at each other in lieu of hand grenades. If you smacked them with enough force against a solid object like a rock, tree or the head of a sibling, you could make them bust apart showering the surrounding area with dirt shrapnel. The object of our brand of trench warfare was to land as many clods inside each others’ trenches as we could without getting brained ourselves. Red clay dirt clods, however, are remarkably tough things, sometimes refusing to shatter. You wanted to avoid those.

Ricochet shots, properly placed, could stun an opponent sufficiently to end the round. We always played till someone got hurt. Bleeding or a concussion usually signaled the end of the war. Now that I think about it, Old Lady Warren probably had a point about my brother and me.

Anyway, barbarian or not, I cultivated my authentic Johnny Weismuller Tarzan yell the way an opera singer works his scales. I never mastered it, but I got close enough to claim the role of Tarzan whenever the neighborhood kids played African jungle in my back yard. Of course, being able to ignore my own personal safety, while jumping from limb to limb in the top of our brittle old oak trees, helped too. By the time I reached 10 years of age, my poor mother had given up trying to keep us from killing ourselves. It got to where she wouldn’t even look out the kitchen window anymore.

And by the way, about Buster Crabbe....

The man had the most pathetic, whiney, wimp of a Tarzan squeal. If it had actually attracted lions, they'd have eaten him. None of the rest of the pretenders that played Tarzan in the movies or on TV ever quite matched up to Weismuller’s glorious Tarzan yell. Some didn't try, but just borrowed the recordings. I finally got to where I would occasionally watch a Tarzan movie that Johnny wasn’t in, but it was never the same. He was an awesome swimmer, crocodile wrestler, elephant rider and my personal role model.

I became a swimming teacher because I wanted to be like him. I discovered years later that Johnny had been an Olympic swimmer and held world records that stood for decades. He and a Hawaiian named Duke Kahanamoku revolutionized the crawl stroke and dominated their events. Johnny later played Tarzan with the breath-taking Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. At camp, I became a lifeguard like one of my later heroes, Ronald Reagan.  I became a Red Cross swimming instructor and went on to train to become a water safety instructor trainer under Bud Bradley, legendary Texas swimming instructor who was trained by even more legendary Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, the man who pioneered mass swimming instruction for the Red Cross.

And I went on to teach hundreds of kids to swim like fish.

How cool is that?


Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Decree Went Out From Caesar......

(c) 2010 by Tom King

As most of the readers of this weblog and my more political weblog "An Apocalypse Observed" know, I'm fairly opinionated on the subject of politics.  A friend made a comment today that nothing happens without God's will and therefore, he chose not to be involved in politics.

I do understand his feelings about politics. So much of political discourse is pointless thrashing back and forth, arguing over a point the two sides will never agree upon as in this recent discussion on Open Salon.  I knew arguing with PJ, Oahu and Mark was pointless. I did want to hear their arguments, though, just in case I had missed something new.  I hadn't.  It was the "same old, same old", "you-are-stupid-and-I-am-not" closed cell argument throughout--pointless so far as reasoned debate is concerned. Rather like the "battles" the Zulus used to have where they gathered on the battlefield, beat their chests, threw a few spears, then went home feeling all macho without anything being settled.

So why do I do it?  Hey, once in a while someone with real intelligence engages me in a reasoned and thoughtful discussion. It's nice when it happens. We may not come to an agreement, but we often learn something from it--usually that we want the same things, but differ only on how to get those things.  But in that discovery that we have the same purpose is hope for a solution to the problems we both seek to solve.

But didn't Jesus always counsel a "render unto Caesar" policy?  Yes, He did and that's my policy too. Unfortunately, simply because we render unto Caesar and keep our mouths shut, doesn't mean Caesar is going to leave us alone (see 'Good' Friday). Doing what is consistently right will inevitably bring you into conflict with those who do what consistently gains them power.

Every disciple got into trouble with some government somewhere that didn't want them to do what they were doing--converting people to Christianity. In the United States, the government is set up to be "Of the people, by the people and for the people".  This means we personally have a responsibility to be part of the governing process.  We don't shuffle that responsibility off onto kings or princes or a special ruling class, whatever the progressive Democrats and country club Republicans might believe. Our responsibility is to defend the very constitution that allows our churches to practice their beliefs freely, to convert people, to take them into membership and encourage them to live by a code of conduct.  This right and privilege does not exist in all countries. It will cease to exist here if the people allow it. 

It is true that the king's heart is in the hands of the Lord.  Nothing happens in Washington that God does not allow. That does not mean that God wanted things to happen the way they did.  Look at the history of Israel, how when they rejected God's protection, He removed his protecting hand and let terrible things happpen that broke His heart.  God allows us to choose and we have the power to make an unholy mess of the gifts God has bestowed upon us in this "land of the free".

God sometimes places his servants before the rulers of the land and bids them speak.  If God's will brings you before the powerful, you are obliged to speak the truth. This does not always end well for the speaker. Check out the history of the prophets and the disciples.  How many died at the hands of government--most dying in particularly brutal ways.  It is true that nothing happens that God does not allow.  It is also true that sometimes God allows things to happen because of what we do or do not do, because of how we choose, or because it suits His purpose. The Israelites were repeatedly allowed to be overcome by their enemies because they allowed Baal worship, pitched their kids through the fires to Molech and tolerated the hilltop shrines because they didn't want to say anything, what with the pagan worship services being so popular and all. God may have wanted a message delivered at a certain time and place. Often the death of the messenger was part of the message. There's nothing like an angry, murderous response by a king or a government to reveal the true nature of that ruling power to the people who allow themselves to be ruled by it.  When it's behavior causes its people to recoil in disgust and fear, the martyrdom of the prophet marks the end of the ruler who murdered him or her. Tough for the prophet, but a blessing to those who are freed as a consequence of his sacrifice. Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than that he die for a brother." If anyone would know about that, He would.

I'm not sure remaining silent while our own government builds shrines to Baal is the best policy if you're a Christian. Okay, I know they aren't building literal shrines to Baal, but they do seem to be making policies that threaten the free exercise of the Christian religion, free speech and free assembly. The Internet would potentially lose free speech and assembly rights if some of these policies are enacted. Proponents of so-called Net Neutrality, for instance, also openly advocate adding a government controlled "kill" switch to turn off certain "disruptive" websites, servers or networks that might, in government's opinion, harm the public.

Politicians, in my experience, are like children. If you present them with a switch, they will not be able to resist flipping it.

So, I'm just sayin'.....................that's all.

The poet Dylan Thomas wasn't talking about political speech or rights or liberties when he wrote, "Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light."  But he could have been. In my reading of history, the loss of liberty immediately precedes massive loss of life.

Another wise man said, "You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed for these things must take place, but the end is not yet......They will hand you over for persecution and they will kill you. You will be be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another....but the one who endures to the end will be delivered."

Sounds like the politics is going to get a bit rough, huh?

Merry Christmas to all, while I can still say it without adding a disclaimer, or being forced to pile on every other holiday greeting you can imagine in order to stay out of trouble with the authorities.

A Fearless Christmas to all and to all a good life!


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Importance of Complete Information

(c) 2010 by Tom King

A friend told me this story once. It illustrates how easily it is to change your opinion, especially if you come to know what Paul Harvey used to call "the resto of the story.

My friend was driving to the pharmacy to renew a prescription. It was snowing and slippery. Suddenly a big Cadillac bore down on him from behind, blasted his horn and swerved past him at an extremely unsafe speed.

"Blankety-blank rich people think they own the blankety-blank road. What a selfish pig!" my friend, a confirmed member of the proletariate, thought angrily.

After 10 more minutes of slogging through the snow, he arrived at the pharmacy and sure enough, there sat the big fancy Caddie, slewed across two parking spaces (one of them a handicapped space). My friend stomped up to the entrance muttering dark imprecations and with a mounting determination to give that self-centered, capitalist pig a piece of his mind if he were to run into the man inside.

As he approached the prescription counter he found a well-dressed man (obviously the Cadillac owner) who was pushing his way to the front of the line. My friend surged forward, intent on thrashing this arrogant jackass now standing at the counter with his arm around the shoulders of a frightened looking woman in a thin bathrobe holding a small child. The man shouted at the pharmacist, who quickly pulled a bottle down off the shelf and soon the woman was struggling to coax some of the medicine down the child.

It was syrup of Ipecac. My friend could see the label clearly.

As the crowd fell back, the well-dressed man explained the situation to the pharmacist. As he told the story, my friends emotional state changed almost instantly.

The woman had been on the way to the pharmacy in the snow when her small compact car had slid in the snow and run off into the ditch. Her son had broken into the refrigerator and drunk a large bottle of cold medication kept there. She called poison control and they recommended getting him some Ipecac to make him throw up as soon as possible and then to bring him on to the hospital which was some 30 minutes away. Ambulances were all out on emergencies in the snow and unavailable, so panicked, she set out on her own when the car went into the ditch in front of a large estate near the edge of town.

The man in the Cadillac had answered the door when she pounded on it.  She told the man what was happening and without another word, he pulled on a coat and loaded the mother and child in his big Caddie.  They roared off toward the nearest pharmacy, honking at couple of slow moving cars along the way to warn them as they rushed past.

As the story became clear, my friend's opinion changed instantly. By then the crowd around the counter was watching the child anxiously.

"You better take him to the restroom," the pharmacist pointed toward the back of the store. "He should be about to....."

About then the kid threw up on my friend's shoes. Somehow, my friend didn't mind even that. Tears formed in his eyes as the child, his mother and their rescuer rushed out the front door on their way to the hospital.

The pharmacist looked down at the empty bottle of Ipecac on his counter, realizing suddenly that it had not been paid for in the rush. My friend reached into his wallet and laid a ten dollar bill on the counter.

"My treat," he grinned at the druggist.

"Paper towel?" the man grinned back pointing at his shoes.

It's a good idea, before you form an opinion of someone, to get the whole story.


Friday, December 10, 2010

No Virginia, There Is No Obama Claus.....

December 8, 2010 - We received the following letters to the editor at "The Nosy News" from 10 year old Virginia.  Virginia asks hard questions.


Dear Editor:

Conservatives believe in helping themselves at the expense of others; Liberals believe in helping others at the expense to themselves. Everyone knows that.  So, why don't you people believe in the Obama Claus?

Your Friend,



Dear Virginia,

You have it all wrong. You assume that only conservatives are greedy people.  There are greedy people of both political persuasions that believe in helping themselves to other people's money (see redistribution of wealth and Ponzi schemes - which are the same thing).  In fact, Bernie Madoff, convicted of the largest Ponzi scheme in history (he defrauded his clients of billions of dollars), was a heavy donor to the Democrat party and was a major Obama supporter.

Percentage wise, conservatives actually give more to charity than any other group. They give more foreign aid annually than the federal government - it just goes to people that need it instead of to greedy warlords and corrupt third world government officials.

You say "Liberals help others at the expense of themselves."  Really? Who is it that wants to take money from the wealthy (not themselves) to fund all this giving? Liberals claim to represent the poor and downtrodden, who are, by definition, from lower income groups.  Folks with no money probably don't pay any taxes anyway.  So I have to ask myself, Virginia, from whom is all this largesse, that liberals supposedly give, going to come from?

When we give to charity directly, to our church or to people who need our help directly, all the money goes to help people in trouble, not to support a fat bureaucracy that generates more paperwork than help.

Obama Claus is, after all, a myth designed to convince us we don't need to to be generous - that someone else will do it for us.

Your Friend,

The Editor


Dear Editor

My family donates hundreds of dollars and hours to our church. They haven't exactly offered to help us with my Dad's unemployment or my sister's medical bills. They did however, ask us to make an extra, "end of the year" ...donation to make sure they make budget.

I love my church and it provides me with spiritual guidance and education, but I don't quite see how it is going to help us find a job. It did teach me that I should feed the poor, comfort the hurting and help the sick, but that sounds too much like medicaid and healthcare reform.

Exactly what are we supposed to ask them to provide?

Your friend,



Dear Virginia,

I don't know what church you belong to, but in mine, I'm actively involved in the process of deciding where the church budget should go. If you want to feed people or help people who are struggling , be part of the decision-making process when you grow up. Get on the church board. Become a deacon or volunteer to run the food pantry or soup kitchen. When you have a home of your own, give a homeless person a room till they get on their feet.

You talk about your church as "them" in the same way you talk about the government in the third person - as though both church and governments were some kind of magical god-like creatures that are supposed to fix our problems for us. The government and the church are "us", Virginia.  Both organizations are run by people with various philosophies and values systems.
The question then is, dear Virginia, "Do you trust your pastor and the church elders or the politicians and the bureaucrats." My money's on the church folks.

And "What exactly do we ask them to provide?"  The answer is, "Whatever you think your church should be providing."  It is, after all, YOUR church.

Though I think sometimes the government is helpful for stuff like this, I'm not sure they are the most efficient way to dispense charity. 

Besides, I think the Obama Claus is up to something, myself.

Your friend,

The Editor

Monday, December 06, 2010

RIP: Dandy Don

Sunday, we lost a Dallas Cowboy icon when Joseph "Dandy" Don Meredith passed away of a brain 
hemorrhage. I miss him already, even though he's kept a pretty low profile for some years now.  It was the idea that he was still there that gave me hope for the Dallas Cowboys. I've never been a regular football fan. The Cowboys are the only team I watch. If they aren't in the Super Bowl, I'm not at all interested is sitting through the game.

I guess, in order for me to enjoy a sports contest, I have to have a home town team in the game.  I'm loyal to the Texas Rangers and the Cowboys especially.  Pudge Rodriguez and Nolan Ryan are the epitome of the Texas Rangers for me.  Nolan's bull-dogging of Kansas City's Robin Ventura when he charged the mound is my "greatest moment in baseball".  Don Meredith and Bob Hayes, Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson and to a lesser extent Troy Aikmann and Emmet Smith do that for me with the Cowboys.

Meredith used to throw these long bombs to "Bullet" Bob Hayes. You could feel the despair on the opposing team if Bob managed to hang onto one of those passes.  If you had three steps on Bob Hayes, he'd still beat you to the goal line.  The way Meredith used to throw, even Bob Hayes, the fastest human in the world at the time, had trouble getting under a Meredith pass once he let loose.  He still holds the Cowboy's single game passing record which, considering he was followed by the likes of Roger Staubach and Troy Aikmann ain't no small record to hold.

Meredith placed his mark on the Cowboys.  It was the trio of Meredith, Hayes and halfback Don Perkins that led the Cowboys out of the cellar.  It was Staubach, Pearson and Tony Dorsett that made Dallas a dynasty and Troy Aikmann, Michael Irving and Emmit Smith proved the formula.

Don Meredith was severely mistreated by fans despite his heroic performances. He finished his last game with broken bones, bruises, frostbite and pneumonia and got booed out of a Dallas restaurant a few weeks later.  But that's Dallasites and Dallas people are city folks and they think you ought to be able to buy victory with a credit card. Most of us folks out in the Texas appreciate the Cowboys whatever they are doing and most of us thought Don Meredith was just "Dandy" - hence the name. After all, he was an East Texas boy, born and raised and we understood how hard he worked.

I try to avoid watching Cowboy games during the season because the 'Boys tend to lose when I watch them.  I think I give off some sort of bad ju-ju or something.  Who knows?  I may be responsible for the two Green Bay games back in the 60 when Meredith's teams lost the NFC championships in the ice. I did watch both games, after all.

The Cowboys have done much better since I started watching irregularly, though there was that whole "can't win the big one" thing, but then, that probably wasn't their fault.  I tended to break down and watch all the "big ones". 

But I usually just get by on the news highlights, though sometimes, I just can't stand it and watch anyway. Sometimes they overcome my Ju-Ju and win. But even when they lose, players like Don Meredith made it fun to watch.  Some of the plays Meredith used to run were pretty wild.  Meredith used to confuse the heck out of defenses back during his day.

Staubach later on would do the same thing.  Aikmann was more of a traditionalist, but even he showed some of the flash that made the Cowboys fun to watch.

So to Don Meredith, the Cowboy who put the "fun" in the Dallas Cowboys, I want to thank you big guy. You helped set the tone for a whole lot of good Texas football.  And sticking the occasional pin in the highly over-inflated Howard Cosell has also earned our eternal gratitude.

I'm just telling you what I think....

Tom King