Pool frogs and the joys of dislocated disks

Searcy Athletic Club:  I am sitting on the couch in the lobby.

Normally, I’d be upstairs working out – in the very limited manner that I do.

The bride is upstairs in the exercise (i.e., torture) class.

Disgustingly healthy people are passing by me with their fru fru water on the way to the weight room, racquet ball, or one of the classes (i.e., torture room).

They look at me smugly as they sashay by.

Maybe I remind them of a mangled car wreck.

It sure looks that way by their looks.

Meanwhile, one of my lower back disks is continuing to press upon the sciatic nerve going down my left leg like, well, like they do when they aren’t content to stay in place.

And it all happened this time because of a frog.

And I don’t even like them.

These little green guys love to swim in our pool. Problem is that when they are finished swimming, they can’t find their way out. And eventually, they are pushed over to the skimmer where they drown.

Along with the other thousands of insects.

Seems strange for a frog to drown.

Sometimes I find rats in the skimmer.

I don’t want to see the frogs die.

I don’t mind rats dying.

Sometimes I find the frogs before they drown.

It’s always a nice surprise to look into your skimmer and find frogs still croaking.

So, on this unfortunate occasion I checked the skimmer and there he was. A goodly sized bullfrog who still had a few breaths in him.

I’ll call him Mr. Green.

“Give me at outta here,” gasped Mr. Green.

I obliged and lifted the skimmer. Water poured out revealing a plethora of deceased insects. If only we had had the pool when my daughters were collecting bugs for their eighth-grade science class. But I digress.

I empty the contents of the skimmer onto the grass as I normally do and Mr. Green falls to the grass. He was bloated with pool water of course, but he was still alive.

He hadn’t croaked.

Well, he couldn’t really croak with all that water inside him.

Here’s the fun part; I squatted down and inspected Mr. Green.

He seemed okay.

Well, besides being 12 times his normal size because of the water.

Then I abruptly turned to my right, while still in the squatting position, and felt and heard the sound of crunching cellophane crumpling.

That was my spine.

About .02 seconds later the pain arrived.

I could not walk, or do much of anything else. Except for writhing in pain.

Because I had my cell phone with me I called my daughter who was merely a few feet away inside the house.

She rushed outside to see me in an unfortunate state of agony. Since then: lots of pain, physical therapy, and a few surgical consults.

So, until I get better, I’ll stick to the lobby couch while the bride works out in the torture chamber upstairs.

No word on the whereabouts of the waterlogged Mr. Green but I have a contract out on his family.

 

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Hershey the Wonder Dachshund

In a few seconds, she’ll be asleep.

She’s lying in my lap all snuggly and warm. Wait – there she goes – fast asleep.

Hershey, our newest addition, is a full-blooded mini Dachshund.

And by full-blooded, I mean temperamental, lazy, and loves to snuggle.

And is ALWAYS hungry.

Oh, and she’s pretty smart too.

She takes several naps every day and has no apparent plans to cut back.

I drove to Georgia to get her.

My oldest daughter scoured the Internet for months to find the perfect mini dachshund.

And apparently, the perfect Dachshund was 600 miles away in south-central Georgia.

On the way there, I drove through Plains, Georgia. I figured I would never get a chance to do that again so why not?

Who knew there weren’t perfectly acceptable Dachshunds in Arkansas?

On the way there, I drove through Plains, Georgia. I figured I would never get a chance to do that again so why not?

It’s certainly not on my usually traveled path.

Americus, Georgia was nearby. I’ve always liked that name for a town.

For as long as we have been married, we’ve had a dog – 24 glorious years. That’s a lot of dog years.

First, there was Snoopy. Snoopy was a girl. I explained that Snoopy was a boy, but my Russian bride was set on the name Snoopy. So it was Snoopy.

I acquired Snoopy I (yes, there were subsequent Snoopies in our family) from a guy in Theodore, way out in the hinterlands of Mobile County actually. But I had to go through Theodore to get there. She made the move to Arkansas with us but then she was stolen. We were sick about this for months.

Snoopy made the move to Arkansas with us, but then she was stolen – twice actually.

We were sick about this for months.

I (kind of) remember the first dog my dad brought home. He was a Chihuahua and he was in my dad’s front shirt pocket. At least that’s what I remember. Because we lived on a busy road, one that’s even busier these days, not many pets lived long at the Swann house.

I’ve witnessed my share of dogs getting run over on Celeste Road. And now my sister tells me that they’re turning it into a 5 lane mega road. I can imagine the number of dogs that it’ll claim in the future.

I’m hoping Hershey will never have to deal with that kind of danger. She does stay outside some, but we live in a quiet subdivision.

The real dangers are hawks and owls.

Plus most of the time she’s lying next to me or another of the Swanns fast asleep, probably dreaming about her next meal.

I’m glad you’re here Hershey.

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The Assumption of Ignorance

James chapter 3 paints a dramatic picture of the tongue.

It is a little guy, but it is some kind of powerful. You’ve probably heard lots of lessons from this chapter. Watch your tongue – watch what you say.  Etc. It reminds me of the last verse of a well-known children’s song:

O be careful little mouth what you say O be careful little mouth what you say There’s a Father up above And He’s looking down in love So, be careful little mouth what you say

I have personally been blessed with opportunities in life to demonstrate my maturity and keep my mouth shut in many circumstances.

And I failed miserably every time.

I’d like to share a stellar example of the lack of control over this little tongue of mine.

Dr. Constantine is the director of the International Bible Society in St. Petersburg. Well, he was in 1992 anyway.

As you can imagine they have lots of Bibles at the IBC. In 1992, Christianity was being reborn (sort of) in Russia. I was a part of a group of missionaries in northern Russia.

One of our challenges, like all missionary efforts, is to provide Bibles.

Inna, my Russian translator (at the time), and I traveled to St. Petersburg to acquire Bibles and then have them shipped back to her hometown. We couldn’t just order them from Amazon and have them delivered. There was no kind of system in place for that at the time. At least not in Russia anyway. They would eventually arrive by train many weeks later.

We found the office of the International Bible Society in St. Petersburg, went inside, and found Dr. Constantine. He was a very distinguished looking gentleman.

Because we were in Russia, I assumed he didn’t speak English.

Was that smart?

No. No, it wasn’t.

We met and began the discussions for the Bibles. I would say something, and Inna would translate.

This is important: Sometimes, I’d mutter something to her softly, not really meant for translation.

This went on for 30 minutes or more. I wish I could remember everything I said. We managed to negotiate a price of approximately $0.80 per bible.

Following our discussions about the bibles, we sat at a table inside the room stacked full of bibles. Inna continued to translate whatever I was droning on about.

I asked her to get the director’s name and contact information. He pulled out a card, wrote on it, and handed it to me. His information was written in plain English.

Let me say that again.

It was written in PLAIN ENGLISH!

I searched my mind quickly to see if I’d insulted him or said anything else that would not be representative of Jesus. I could think of nothing then nor now – years later.

I stopped everything and looked at him for a long second.

“How long have you been speaking English?” I asked softly.

“Ah, years. I don’t know exactly,” was his approximate reply.

He was content to allow me to go on rambling and having Inna translate for me all the while understanding everything I said in my shaky Alabamian English.

It all made sense to me in an instant. This man is a scholar. He speaks and writes and reads Russian, Greek, and Hebrew. So, why not English too?

I stopped making assumptions about the language abilities of people after that.

And found a bigger appreciation of simple little songs.

So, be careful little mouth what you say

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Skip land – Skip land – Skip land!

My dad is on the top of a 40-foot pine tree beside our house, but it’s okay.

He has emphysema, a bad heart, 40 years’ worth of very hard living, an unfiltered cigarette addiction, and clearly a lack of trust in others.

The pine tree is close enough to the house that you could climb onto the roof and then simply step onto the tree halfway up.

The roof will save you a lot of pine tar grief.

And here’s the thing, anyone of us could have done it.

My brother, a few other guys working for my dad, or even I could have accomplished this difficult but doable task.

But at approximately 51 years of age with the aforementioned maladies, he was clearly the right one for the job of installing a new CB/short wave antenna on the top of the aforementioned 40-foot pine tree.

CB radios were a big thing then. Once he installed it, he could talk to new friends as far away as New Zealand.

He’d sit in his room with a large radio shouting: “Skip land, skip land, skip land.”

A few seconds later, you’d hear the reply from the other side of the world:

“Go ahead skip land.”

And so it went four months.

It was cool having a short-wave base station. I still remember our FCC license, which we were required to get to operate a CB radio.

KAMO2894.

One of my friends made his license into a sign-song every time he signed in to talk.

The K da Q da K …  Something like that. I don’t remember the whole thing. (To be honest, I never completely understood his call sign.)

As a teenager, I became somewhat proficient at CB lingo.

Once, I carried on a conversation with a guy while riding west on Highway 84 towards Monroeville. Dad was driving and mom was in the passenger seat. I had control of the CB radio with the mic in my hand. I think a sister or two may have been with us. I asked the voice about the possibility of “Smokey” being in the vicinity. I suppose this would have allowed dad to speed even more than he normally went. After a few minutes, the voice decided to tell me exactly where Smokey was. Right behind us. I threw the mic down and crawled under the back seat. Everyone else got a good laugh.

The CB also became a way to meet other people – besides the police that is.

So, my friend and I were talking to anyone who’d listen one day after school. To our surprise, a lovely female voice echoed back to us through the CB radio speakers. And we spent the next 30 minutes or so flirting with this lovely voice, whoever she was. Turns out she sat right across from me in one of my classes at school. But I never had the intellectual capacity to actually talk to her in person. Maybe this explains why some disc jockeys or talk show host sound so bold on the air, but not so much in person.

Anonymity allows for a certain level of bravery/arrogance/stupidity.

And instead of merely acknowledging her the next day at school we probably just hurt her feelings. I don’t remember, but I am pretty sure that I said something stupid. Or failed to say anything.

I’ve remained surprisingly competent at saying the wrong thing through the years.

Dad finished his precarious high wire act to the relief of my mother and all of the other able-bodied men who should have been up there in the first place.

Did we really need a high-powered shortwave antenna?

Yes!

With only three TV channels, it was unlikely I’d get a real life Kiwi accent piped into the room talking specifically to us.

As he eventually weakened from the reduced lung capacity and other maladies, my dad continued to talk to people all over the world.

That is, until September 1979 when Hurricane Frederick came ashore and had the audacity to uproot all of our 13 majestic 40 foot plus pine trees. None of them touch the house. They all scattered like tooth picks poured from a jar onto a table top.

After that, the shortwave and CB experience stopped. Well, except for the small unit in the Pontiac Bonneville. But it wasn’t near as strong as that antenna on the top of that pine tree next to the house above the wisteria vine that dad put up on a hot summer afternoon so he could talk to people from New Zealand.

“Skip land. Skip land. Skip land. Come in Skip land.”

“Go ahead Skip land.”

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The 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment Company K

This is a picture of my dad’s jump school class at Camp Campbell, KY in 1950. I am currently studying the Cabanatuan Raid in the Philippines, which occurred in January of 1950. I am sure this photo was taken well after then. Besides, the Airborne was not used in that raid. I spend a lot of time scouring the internet for pictures of my dad’s unit. If you know someone in the picture, please leave a comment. You’ll also notice that my dad’s photo is crisper than the others’. That’s because I have the 8×10 from this class also and it is the exact picture the photographer used to make this collage. I just placed the better version of the photo over his picture. One more thing, you’ll notice that some of the men are “x’ed” out. In the late 1970s, he was looking for surviving Army buddies who could corroborate his military injury as he was applying for VA disability. The men with the X had passed away by that time.

The 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment Company K
The 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment Company K

 

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My brother’s bike

A Kawasaki 900.

It was probably a 1988 or 1989 model.

I don’t remember, but it was a beautiful bike.

Dark blue and way too much power for a teenager to handle. Heck, my Suzuki 650 that I bought four or five years later in Montgomery was way too much for me to handle – but I digress.

I was a teenager – maybe the 11th grade – and I don’t want to brag or anything, but I had a motorcycle license. In its wisdom, the state of Alabama wouldn’t allow me to drive four-wheeled vehicles at 14, but driving the far more dangerous two-wheel type was just fine.

David was my brother and he spent a lot of time working on the road at construction sites.

The Kawasaki was also his.

He was a welder. No, he was a tremendous welder. And sometimes during high school, he and his fiancée got married and moved to Houston, Texas so he could attend tech school and fine-tune his welding skills. Also, being the 1960s hippy that he was, his hair was longer than his wife’s blondish locks.

Sometimes during that time, my dad, mom, sisters, and I made the long drive to Houston to see how they were doing. They were doing pretty good, just a young couple trying to make it in the world. I don’t remember if he was working anywhere, but he was definitely attending school.

One night, we drove for what had to have been hours just to a drive-in movie theater. They were playing a doubleheader and one of the movies was Ode to Billy Joe. I don’t remember the other movie.

David was so good at welding that he worked himself up in the construction industry (mainly paper mills) to manage remote welds on nuclear power plants. I don’t know all the specifics, but I remember talking with him about his job and some of the different things that he did.

One of the peculiarities of his job was that he had to limit his daily exposure to nuclear radiation. Is that something that you have to worry about in your job? Let me say that again, nuclear radiation was a daily concern for David. I decided that that was something that I probably didn’t want to pursue.

For some reason, he took a great interest in the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in Ukraine.

Who knows why.

But he loved welding and became an expert. Like most welders, he liked working with stainless steel. Once, I texted him a picture of some very nice stainless steel work of a staircase at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where I was stationed at the time. It was just a staircase of a new building, but the stainless-steel work was really beautiful. He later told me how he appreciated that I thought about him and his work.

But, back to the motorcycle. I had my own car at the time that I appropriated David’s Kawasaki. It was a 1973 Dodge Gold Duster. It had an imitation snakeskin roof and some type of clear plastic over the seats, which took a little while to get used to. It had a slant-six engine and while I forget the horsepower, it was just a beautiful car – especially for a punk teenager.

I liked my car, but the motorcycle was way cooler.  David made the tactical mistake of leaving his motorcycle undefended at mom’s house. So, what’s a little brother to do when the older brother is away?

Exactly.

It was loud. Either it didn’t have mufflers or they were really bad mufflers or they were just designed to be as obnoxious as possible.

I am going for the last.

I hate loud motorcycles, but the cool factor was just too great to pass up.

And, like I said before, this bike was way too much power for me to handle. In the 11th and 12th grade, I would leave school around 11 o’clock or so for trade school in Prichard, which was right beside Vigor High School. I studied air conditioning and heating, just like my dad. He had his own air conditioning company and I’m sure at the time I was planning on going into the trade myself.

On this day, I took the Kawasaki. As 11 o’clock approached, I sashayed over to where the numerous other bicycles and motorcycles were parked, beside the cafeteria and the track. I climbed aboard the beautiful Japanese creation and cranked it up.

Did I mention the mufflers?

My friend Tim later told me that although he was clear across campus he heard the bike engine engage. It was kind of like experiencing a rocket crank up.

It was a beautiful feeling pulling away and heading south on Highway 43. I was happy just to be able to use it for a few days and show off on a bike that I clearly had no business riding.

How cool was it to be a clueless teenager and ride such a cool bike when you’re 16 or 17 years old?

Occasionally I’d borrow other stuff too like say, blue jeans. If David was foolish enough to leave his blue jeans at my mother’s house, they were fair game. And bonus if there was currency in the pockets!

I have a few tools that he loaned me now and then through the years. I can’t return them to him because he was killed in a tornado last year in Louisiana.

At some point, he grew out of the motorcycle riding, like most sane people do. I did (but I am not making any claim on sanity). I was encouraged to stick to four-wheeled vehicles when I almost became roadkill on Interstate 65 over the Mobile River Delta when a lady in a van drifted into my lane.

I’m not sure what triggered the Kawasaki memory. I long ago filed it away in a dusty file folder in my mind.  Maybe that’s what happens when you lose someone close. The dusty memories want to seep out every now and then and remind you that they’re still there and longing for a simple ride in the open air.

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City Barber Shop

Saraland, AL, — (2012) The City Barber Shop has been in business for as long as I can remember; it is owned and operated by a guy named Roger. It is the place where I remember getting my first hair cut. I must have been around 4 or 5. My dad took me and Roger put a board on the barber chair so I would sit up high enough. I always asked for a “GI,” which was the easiest haircut possible. I doubt that that was my first haircut, it is just the first memory I have. I am pretty sure that my elderly sister used to cut my hair before then.
This morning I got up early and was at his place at 7:30. Because Roger takes a little longer than others, I knew I had to be first in line to go on to other things I had planned. However, the wait is worth it for a really good haircut.
What I like about visiting Roger’s is that I get to meet people who reconnect me with forgotten memories and sometimes correct faulty memories.
Case in point: I met a guy today who’d graduated from Satsuma 12 years before I did. As we spoke we learned we had some connections; he worked in the A/C business (I once sort-of worked in this business) and we both went to Satsuma High School. But what caught my attention was his last name.
I played baseball for the Shelton Beach Pharmacy Wildcats for three years. This was my first time to play organized baseball; I was 10. Coach Byrd was, well, the coach. I have memories of going over to his house on McKeough Street to try on uniforms, of riding in the back of his green pickup truck to practice, and of his love of coaching.
As I spoke with the guy at Roger’s I learned that he and Coach Byrd were brothers. I had thought about my coach many times in my life. Once, he allowed me to pitch during practice – a mistake that Ernie Carlisle regretted as I threw a wild pitch right into Ernie’s back. Thankfully, he didn’t charge the mound. I also remember the confidence that I gained by playing for Coach Byrd.
Sadly, his brother told me that Coach Byrd had passed away several years ago. Mr. Byrd said that Coach Byrd’s wife sold her house and moved away after that.
I need to make it over to Roger’s more often.
A sad footnote: Last year when we drove down for my brother’s funeral, I saw that Roger’s barbershop was being refurbished. I didn’t think anything of it because it had always needed to have the floor raised because it flooded with just a little rain. Sadly, the shop was being readied for new tenants because Roger had passed away. To my surprise, I learned that he had passed away in 2014. Rest in peace Roger. Best barber – wonderful person.
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Learning to Read and to Love

When they got married, in 1903 in Alabama, my paternal grandfather (Ollie Manning) couldn’t read. I am sure this was common in this area of Alabama in the early twentieth century. He was a carpenter, so he could work to some degree. My grandmother (Mary Jones) decided that she’d teach him to read. And she did. When they married, she was about 15 years old and he was about 26. The first picture shows them on their wedding day. She was a little over 5 feet tall and he was not much taller. I don’t know why he is sitting while she is standing.
The next photo shows them years later. They are probably both well in their sixties and maybe seventies. I am really not sure, but I do know that one is 11 years older than the other. So, there is my grandfather, whom I never knew, reading to my grandmother, whom I also never knew. He’s reading his bible to his sweet wife after her eyesight had gotten so bad that she could read no longer. I wish I could have spent time with them.
Grandpa reading to my Grandmother
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My “Kennedy” Connection

Another sun sets in my review mirror. (I knew that picture would come in handy one day.)

And I’ve managed to keep breathing for another year.
Which doesn’t really seem to me like an accomplishment.

Not everyone gets the chance to see another birthday…

But like my mom used to say, “It’s just another day Paul…”

When I was younger, I’d buy my mother a present for my birthday and explain that she was the one who’d done all the heavy lifting, not I.

She liked this little tradition.

When I was in elementary school, I would tell classmates that I was born a year and one day after President Kennedy was assassinated.

“Wow” they’d say. Which of course (as an ignorant kid), is what I was going for.

As if that was something I had any control over or that the terrible event was something that I wanted to be associated with. I think I was probably in the 7th grade before I stopped telling people about my “association” with Kennedy.

I am, however, just happy to be here and to maybe see another sunset.

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War Storm (Flash Fiction)

The winds picked up outside of the barracks at Fort Louis.
Captain Roger Greenwood, a Tennessee Army Guardsman, reclined on a worn leather sofa in the day room in the dilapidated Vietnam Era barracks.
His soldiers sat around; some on the phone with their girlfriends or mothers.
Most of the men played games on their smartphones. They’d just returned from a deployment assignment in Afghanistan and were happy to be almost home.
  Roger looked up for a moment as the wind whistled through the eaves of the barracks. For a few minutes he dreamed he was back home in Tennessee; the East Tennessee mountains– at his daughter’s school…
***
As he dozed, he found himself glaring through the dirty truck window of his 2001 Chevy Silverado trying to recognize the flags in front of his daughter’s school. His truck radio blared something about a tornado warning. But he was in a hurry and usually ignored what he called “panic warnings.”
Man, I hope the guys are all OK in this mess, he thought.
He was at school to have lunch with his 10-year-old daughter, Rochelle. The snap of the flags was louder, and he turned to stare and shook his head at the insane world he left behind in Kabul.
The school flags waved as the wind picked up more.
The crooked smile of Ms. Wrangler, the school secretary, met him as he entered the front office. He wondered how such a sour person had landed a job working with children.
“Here to see Rochelle for lunch.”
She ignored him and went back to bidding on a cherry-red Chevy Tahoe on eBay.
 Roger scribbled his name on a puke-green visitor’s tag and stuck it to his shirt pocket. He started down the hall. It should have taken less than two minutes. He felt dizzy and slammed into the wall next to a Crayon rendition of George Washington, steadying himself until he could walk straight.
“Good grief, Roger! Are you drunk?” he whispered to himself.
There was only silence where instead a cacophony of children’s voices should have drowned out his footsteps.
Where is everyone? Roger wondered.
The only sound was that of Moonlight Sonata being played over a boom box in the lunchroom.
He walked back toward the front office. But Ms. Wrangler was gone. And where was Rochelle?
Roger headed for the exit. The sunlight steadied his confusion. He sat on a concrete bench just outside the front door. As he looked over the lawn, he saw the school flag waving in the still air.
A moment later, the sound of automatic gunfire rattled him. A live round grazed his head as he retreated to the closest piece of earth he could find. Thoughts of his daughter’s elementary school faded. It was the Afghanistan he had left weeks earlier.
Yards away, the earth exploded, sending a horizontal shower of crystallized molten metal and dirt. Roger prayed that the shrapnel wouldn’t find its way to his legs. His prayer wasn’t answered favorable.
He saw a cinder-block building to the north, checked for more approaching fire, mentally calculated the distance, and he sprinted to the closest building and dove through an open window.
The floor was carpeted with shattered glass. Blood seeped from his wounds. When the shelling stopped, he heard cries. He searched for a radio to call for a medic.
He heard another whispered whimper. A moan. And a sharp cry of pain.
Atop the pole, the flag stopped moving.
And then there was silence. He combed his right hand through his hair, bent over, and rested his head in his hands. He wanted to go back to the school’s front door. But no one was there. The screams reminded him of a train engine. Pain shot through his legs, and he inched closer to the cries.
He awoke as a large tornado ripped through the base.
In the day room, all of his soldiers were relaxed, sprayed out on the floor, and dying to get out of Fort Louis and back home.
The intensity of the storm picked up outside the remodeled Vietnam-era barrack. The holes in the walls whistled. And then the winds stopped; the flag clung to the side of the pole, lifeless. The TV was silent and in several pieces.
***
A Fort Louis fireman reached Roger first. His body was a bloody mess “Over here. Got a live one.”
The broken bodies of most of the soldiers were scattered to the four corners of the post. Some would be going back home in a box.
“Hold tight, Captain. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
Before retreating back into the gray Mississippi sky that spring afternoon, the twister plowed through most of the adjacent counties leaving a scene reminiscent of a distant and brutal war.
 
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