Saturday, November 28, 2009

Another News Comment

I just went cruising by CNN again this morning when I got up and settled down with my coffee...

There just seems to be something wrong about the fact that the headlines for two days have focused on a couple of wannabe losers who managed to sneak/crash/lie/cheat or whatever their way into a state banquet in pursuit of yet another 'Reality TV' contract. In the meantime, the coverage of the event itself and almost everything about it got lost in the scandal-sheet, rumor and hype style of reporting. Yup...the Secret Service blew it and it could have been a disaster if someone had slithered in with a bomb vest instead of a cummerbund but they didn't. Learn from it and fix it. By Tuesday, some scapegoat slob is going to be looking for work. A supervisor might even resign or get sacked in the uproar but at the end of the day, it's all a sideshow that distracts from anything that really matters much beyond the failure in security implications.

Since this is the season for wishing, I have a wish for the world...Can we move on and forget about Reality TV? Reality TV is most decidedly NOT reality to anyone but those creating it and profiting by it. In the interest of sanity, could we get back to talking about news on the front page and let Judge Judy take care of the rest on weekday afternoons? I'd sure appreciate it and I'd like to think I'm not alone.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Gearhead

So I got thinking about music from the past and that almost always leads to something else...

There was a time geologic ages ago when I worked on a farm. I was a teenager for most of it and for some reason, actually loved what I was doing. Something about machinery I think...small boys and big toys...

It evolved out of a field next to the house in Caroline where I grew up. We lived beside a flat piece of cropland that I never really noticed much except when I was hiding in the tall grain or cornstalks and the times every once-in-awhile when the tractors would show up. I used to sit and watch them go around and around, not really knowing what they were up to but fascinated just the same. I would wait long minutes between passes to watch them make a turn at the end of the field and dive back in for another go-round. I think I was a little scared of them but couldn't ignore how much they intrigued me.
My Dad knew the farmer who worked the field and the two of them would occasionally meet along the headland and shoot the breeze for a bit in the evening. It was just meaningless big-people talk to me but I always managed to wander over next to the tractor or truck and just look up at the monsters while the men visited about weather and politics. Dad introduced me to this tractor-man and he shook my hand once like he always did when he and Dad met. My fingers wouldn't even reach around his palm as he took my hand and his callouses left scratches but I almost felt grown up for a minute. I did eventually learn that this farmers name was Herb and I remember him from back then as a big man usually dressed in grey who mostly looked as dirty and dusty as his machines. His clothes smelled of old hay, the cowbarn from morning chores, diesel fuel, baler twine and sweat. To me, it was the smell of summer. He wore a limp-brimmed old hat that used to have some farm machinery's label on it before it disappeared in the dirt and he probably shaved once or twice a week if he had time or happened to go to church on Sunday. But he always waved and smiled as he worked his way past my lookout perch and when he stopped, I soon found out that he often had cookies and sandwiches stashed in brown paper bags and a quart metal jug filled with whole milk right out of the bulk tank or a jar of used-to-be-iced tea. More important, he was willing to share whatever he had with the wide-eyed, waist-high kid hanging around the big back tires.

Then there was the first time he offered me a ride. I had to ask Mom first and I think I had to do some pleading but somehow I ended up on the fender, way up there in the air, watching the hay go by and feeling like I was flying. I almost think I sat behind the steering wheel while he drove but it's all pretty fuzzy. I don't remember too much except the impressions of a really young boy but what I do know is I was well and finally hooked. I'm pretty sure they had to pry me off when dusk fell and the day was over. Unless I'm really mistaken, I would have slept right there on the platform if they'd let me. It was a start.

From there on out, Herb couldn't make a move in that field without me attached. Having to go to school was a real hardship in the spring and fall because he would start without me and I'd find half the work done when I got off the bus. He'd plow, plant and cut in turn as the seasons went and I'd usually be nearby at least watching the wheels go around or shamelessly trying to finagle a ride. Rainy weather was a serious disappointment because it meant the equipment parked under the maple tree wouldn't move that day and I might miss something. Gradually, the big red and green tools became more familiar and I started to know what each one did and how they worked. No matter what, they were all fascinating to a grade-school, entry-level gearhead.

The first really vivid memory of any particular machine came from that same field beside the house. Late one summer when harvest came around, Herb pulled in on a sunny afternoon to cut oats with the biggest thing I'd ever seen on wheels...a faded red combine. Much later I'd find out that it was really pretty small as these things go and it was already old when I first saw it but to me, it was like looking at a moon rocket. Later still, I got to know that old soldier as a plain-jane Massey Harris 82 with a ten foot grain table and pick-up reel but the day I first saw it, it was a wonder of the world. It was noisy and dirty, hung with belts, rods, augers and chains. You had to climb a ladder to get in the cab which was equipped with a bewildering array of levers, pedals, old burlap bags, stray tools, an inch of black dust and the ever-present brown lunch bag. When it chewed into the grain, it looked like the whole thing was in motion...belts and pulleys spinning, straw and chaff flying out the back, reel wading into the standing crop like it was pulling itself along. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Of course, I wanted a ride as soon as I saw it and Herb was willing to oblige. I made the long climb aboard and could hardly breathe in the heat and dust of the cab. Air conditioning was at least ten years in the future and all there was was a couple of little fans to blow the suffocating air around. The door was tied open and the glass windshield was almost opaque from dirt but it still was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. Herb boosted me up and I rode around the field watching the slats pull the stalks into the cutterbar in waves and the feed auger swallow it in a cloud of dust. Behind the cab, the clean grain poured into a bin in a steady stream until it threatened to overflow and the straw shook out the big hood at the back in long windrows behind us. Every time around, we had to stop beside an ancient Dodge truck and dump the grain bin with a long auger and spout on the side of the little Massey. After a while, Herb put the machine in low-and-slow gear and set the header height a little high, put me in the seat to steer and climbed down the ladder as we rolled along to check if any grain was going out with the straw. He couldn't have been gone more than a minute or two but I thought I was the king of the world 'driving' that old beast out there in the sun. It sure was a big thing for a small boy, even though I didn't have a clue how to stop it or do much of anything except follow the line of the last cut and hold onto that big steering wheel spinner for dear life. There just was nothing like it.

I know that evening came too soon and I finally got hauled into the house for dinner when the dew fell and the oats got too tough to combine for the day. Herb and Dad chatted as usual before Herb headed home with the old Dodge and the day's load of grain. He had to get there before it got dark since the muffler-less truck probably hadn't had working lights in a decade. My clothes got stripped at the door and I got thrown in the bathtub to scrub the incredible amounts of dirt and chaff out of my hair and off my face. That's about the time I discovered for the first time that I had rip-roaring hay fever and a dust allergy. My eyes swelled shut and itched so bad I thought I'd scratch them out but I was too busy trying to breathe to bother with it. My Mom put cool washcloths on my eyes to take down the swelling and I eventually sneezed out enough crud to inhale again but it looked pretty bad for my future riding on combines. I don't know if I cried more about being miserable or the proclamation that my farming days were probably over.

I think I begged and made myself a nuisance so much over it that Mom and Dad finally relented and once more, I rode the combine. Predictably, I was a mess again but to my mind, it was worth it. Eventually, a prescription from the doctor made the hay fever tolerable if not ignorable and I was off and running on other adventures in Holsteins and International Harvesters, which paved the way to the railroad and the right-hand seat of a locomotive. In a sense, everything since has been tied to that old '82' and that long-ago summer in one way or another. I guess you just never know how some seemingly insignificant events can shape your life...even when you're only a little, four-foot tall future gearhead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

...And Then There's The Music...

For more years than I care to think about there has been music. The title of this blog even relates to a song from my high school old Kansas song. "Carry on my Wayward Son...There'll be peace when you are done...Lay your weary head to rest...Don't you cry no more." For some reason, that line still means something. I'm not even sure what or why but it does.
A song brings memories that's for sure. I can still hear 'Call Me The Breeze' and 'Come Sail Away' playing on a converted car-stereo in the barn when I used to milk cows and 'Delta Dawn' on an AM tractor radio one summer baling oat straw in the heat. 'I'll Be Standing By' was a long drive home in my '74 Dodge pickup from a bad weekend in Geneseo. 'Don't Fear The Reaper' is still the song of my life since I heard it at my long-gone friend's house in '76. Along the way there was 'Turn The Page' for a thousand miles in one day on a Sportster, 'Runnin' With The Devil' on the cassette deck of an ugly orange Javelin. And then there's all the lost years of disco and the Big Hair days. Kiss and Ted Nugent, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart. 'Aqualung' and 'We Are The Champions' were my first apartment and the first season out of the nest. 'Do You Feel Like We Do' chased 'Like A Rock' around a tiny, one-room house I shared with my wife-to-be and a pet racoon we adopted like an orphan. 'Come Sail Away' segued into 'The Sultans Of Swing' and 'Rapper's Delight' at an ancient roller skating rink I hung at whenever I wasn't working. That's where I first set a diamond in a groove and learned the craft of mixing records from a DJ/college student named The Texan or just Tex to me. He taught me all I needed to get underway before he went home for some dental work and died in the chair from the anesthetic. I see him still when 'If You Could Read My Mind' runs into Yellow Magic Orchestra on the tape he made for me in '79.
We ran with it through 'Funkytown' and 'Situation' on lighted dance floors and hardwood skating rinks all over the east coast until Devo faded to Kool and The Gang and LLCoolJ.
Somewhere in all that, I got into the DJ business and the '80s still live in 12" singles on my shelves upstairs. Occasionally they even grace my old Technics 1200 turntables when I feel the need to 'put the needle on the record' for old time's sake. Even way back when, I paid what seemed like a fortune for those 'wheels of steel' but I loved hooking them to a trailer-load of amps and cabinets outdoors or in a frat and just letting them open up and scream...
'It Takes Two' was 900 high school kids jumping up and down in front of my lights and every watt of power I had on a winter night. 'Welcome To The Jungle' was frat parties 'till 3 in the morning and cops checking IDs. 'Daddy's Little Girl' came and went with years worth of weddings and 'Everything I Do' was there for hundreds of first dances. 'Old Time Rock And Roll' was the Big Gun that got everybody on the floor when nothing else worked. 'You're In My Heart' became "our song" and plays whenever I think of home from wherever I happen to land.
I somehow lived through Breakdancing and Milli Vanilli and found my way from Boston and Eddie Van Halen back again to where I started; Blue Oyster Cult. It all came around from the days of New Jack Swing to where I live now; a world where most anything goes...Enya to Megadeth...Willie Nelson to Black Label Society...Madonna to Drowning Pool...Jimmy Cliff to's all there on my iPod. I still lean into BOC pretty often though...after all, they are the 'Nexus of the Crisis and the Origin of Storms' but nowadays Rage Against the Machine does 'Know Your Enemy' and Korn is 'Falling Away From Me' more often than not. Metal has become the default these days for one reason or another. I don't even know why but the shoe fits.
I once wrote that metal music was the "black steel mirror" that I look into when things are falling apart and it seems like the world is going insane but then, Jimmy Buffett, ZZ Top or plain old George Thorogood pops up and the landscape seems a little brighter.
One way or another, the music is always it as a memory of times long gone or a patch over a hurt this's never gotten very far away and I hope it never does. The 'Train Of Consequences' is running and the 'Wayward Son' is still carrying on. It's come a long way from 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' and 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' but all the time I spent as a kid watching the 45's go around on the turntable for hours at a time has sure paid off in the end.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gone Again

Time to roll again. I seem to wind up writing this after the phone rings to go to work in the wee hours of the night. Maybe it's just quieter or I'm really just stalling the inevitable of having to leave on another trip. This is the week where I miss pretty much the whole weekend because of the crew rotation so I won't see home until sometime Sunday. It makes the days just run together when there's no real break between trips. It's the reality of the job and like the rest of the insanity that goes with it sometimes, you have to deal with it if you draw the pay but it doesn't mean you have to like it.
...and I don't.

I think I said once before that it seemed wrong to have to choose between getting fully healed up after an illness and having an income...well it's pretty much the same when you have to choose between having any real time at home and making a living. I hope the guys who took away our days off are working this weekend...I am.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Anybody Out There?

So I made it back from another trip and looked in on my email and The Wayward Home...

I'm a little curious if anybody's reading this thing or if I'm just whistling in the wind. I guess it's good therapy to tap out some frustrations no matter whether it's going anywhere or not but I'd be kinda cool to know if there's a soul out there who's stopping by now and again. I see there's three followers which is great but the rest of the world is pretty quiet. Anyone looking in on my tiny corner of the internet?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

There I Go...Reading News Again

I spent some time hanging around the 'net and some news outlets today and once a dose of weirdness that seems to be so prevalent lately.

Does anyone actually believe...?

  • That because the health care system is in trouble, we've begun the long slide into socialism?
  • That torture is a legitimate way for the United States to interrogate prisoners?
  • That paid radio and television commentators should be dictating policy?
  • That the President of The United States is not a citizen?
  • That some secret government agency is going to tell you to euthanize your relatives because they’re old, ill and not worth the cost of saving?
  • That every follower of Islam is a terrorist and wants to kill westerners?
  • That America should lead by 'going it alone' as we did for eight years?
  • That the government was responsible for 9/11?

Please...tell me it ain't so.

Some of this stuff is so outrageous that it seems like even the lunatic fringe would have a hard time swallowing it but I guess since it gets air time, somebody's listening. It's awfully hard for me to absorb quite so many conspiracy theories when I'm just trying to make a living every day. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising though since there's still a lively debate on the Kennedy assassination and a good share of those doing the debating weren't even born when it happened. Could we move on please? It's obvious that the 'vocal minority' has a lot on their minds and a lot of time to dedicate to their cause...whatever it is.

Hey, I'm just a blue collar guy with a mortgage and car payments. Most folks trying to make a living can't spend hours doing Freedom of Information lawsuits and digging through 'newly released govenment files' when they have to earn a paycheck. There's a few things that really do get my curiosity going but trying to figure out if Roswell was a federal cover up isn't tops on the list. One that does make my skin crawl is the debate over waterboarding ie., torture. Like I said, I don’t pretend to be overly educated in politics or social sciences but what I do know is this:

A while ago, I realized that I was for the first time in my life, terrified by what was happening to our country. Even more so than when 9/11 occurred, I felt as if we were vulnerable and under attack, not from some shadowy terrorist band but from ourselves and some of the people we elected to represent us. Not because of some secret conspiracy, but because of what was happening in the front of God and Country.

We somehow sold our souls to the devil of ‘security’ and nothing was exempt from that all-consuming, double edged sword. I never felt as ashamed of us as I did the day that ‘waterboarding’ became a legitimate tool in our ‘war on terrorism’. We jumped, fell or were pushed from the high ground and lowered ourselves into the same evil mud pit occupied by our enemies. We were told that torture was necessary to gain the information we needed to protect ourselves and in a blink, the end justified any means. Legal teams were trotted out to legitimize it and the talking heads of Fox News lined up to tell us that it really wasn’t torture in the strictest sense of the word and that since nobody really drowned, it was all OK. Good people knew it was wrong and our leaders spent useless time whistling in the dark trying to make everyone believe it wasn’t. We lost our position of strength in the world right then by refusing to hold to our honor and took a dangerous step closer to becoming what we were supposedly fighting.

How did we, not 'they' allow this to happen? That's a question that matters more to me than any rumors about Lee Harvey Oswald or Obama's birth certificate. When did we decide that we could do this and still be leaders in the world? I wondered then and I wonder now...I'm just glad that it's supposedly over and hope we learned something from it. Nobody respects a hypocrite and we led the world in that department for a while.

That's it for my political and social commentary (commonly known as my own opinion) for tonight. I'm on my way to work again in a few hours and the sheets are calling before the phone rings.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quote Of The Day

I've been thinking about one of my favorite quotes a bit these days. Its one that I have hanging on the wall in my office to make me think when I get barking about one thing or another...

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."

Friedrich Nietzsche - Aphorism 146

I take it as a little reminder when I start getting angry or complaining about...well, almost anything...that maybe I'm not any better than what I'm up in arms over. If I'm so busy ripping about some of my acquaintances or circumstances, maybe I should just shut up and take the high ground instead of going down the same path I'm so unhappy about.
Be it personal, financial or occupational, it's awful easy to become the monster as the quote says, and once you do...there is no winning.
I don't much believe in things like New Year's resolutions and such where you suddenly make up your mind to change and then just do it because of an arbitrary date. It might work if you're resolving to keep your tires rotated on time but it's probably less likely to make a difference in how you behave. I do think that being aware when a part of your world doesn't feel right and taking some action to fix it is something that you need to do all the time.
Maybe it's the fact that I hit that five-oh milestone that sharpened the focus a little and made me think about these kind of things a bit more. A little introspection on occasion can't be all bad.