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BALLING ANCHOVIES

        I spent most of my life somewhere near the sea. When I get too far away from the briny waters, a strange uneasiness comes over me. It is not a coincidence that Mother Nature made our blood and sea water of almost the same consistency.

        In many ways the behavior of our society and that of the creatures that inhabit the oceans have taken on remarkable similarities.

The anchovy has played a part in my experiences around the ocean. I have used them for bait to catch game fish, since first starting to fish. Purse-seiners use nets to catch them for anchovy paste, fillets, fertilizer, cat food and many other uses.
        An anchovy is a beautiful creature. Its back is a bluish green that has a fluorescent look, while its underside is a lighter color
       The anchovy is too small to eat other fish and does not have a way to protect itself, other than a few inadequate defense measures it has adopted. Because it must feed close to the surface of the water, its light colored belly blends in with the sunlight above, to protect against detection from below. The colored upper part of its body is camouflage from danger above.
        Once while on a fishing trip to Baja California I observed a strange phenomenon that I had read about, but had never seen. I became aware of it when I heard sea gulls making wild squawking noises as they dove frantically into the water, gobbling up bait size fish.

The sea was boiling with small fish swimming on top, trying to get away from larger fish below.

The fish eating the anchovies were, in turn, escaping from larger fish that were trying to eat them.

The whole effect was a maelstrom created by a feeding frenzy that lasted for at least thirty minutes while moving up the coast for a couple of miles.

The magnitude of what was happening also startled me; it must have been a quarter of a mile across.

          This strange occurrence made me think about the creatures involved.

The large sharks on the bottom, that were grabbing the smaller fish, had no malice toward the other species; they were just getting something to eat. That rule applied all the way to the end of that particular food chain.

 But, what about the anchovy that was food for all the other links?

          When predators attack a school of anchovies, and if they cannot escape, the school resorts to balling. Balling is a desperate mechanism that sometimes saves the some of the small creatures. All the anchovies swim in a circle to accomplish it, forming into as tight a ball as possible. This means that the strongest anchovies force their way into the center while the weaker ones bunch together into the ball as best they can. The fish in the ball swim as fast as their tiny fins can go, in the hope that the killer fish will eat some other weaker, slower anchovy. This defense doesn't always work, but if you are an anchovy what else can you do?


A disturbing aspect of today is that our society has evolved into the shark stage. Most of our human predators have no malice, although some do. If the shark has no malice, can there be a conscience.

          In our panic and confusion have we regressed to the point where we now have people balling? Is it any consolation that most of the time only the ones on the outside get eaten?


THE FRUIT- FLY FESTIVAL

didn't apply, so they sent us home. They didn't want to make the same mistake twice so they sent us home in the beds of pick-up trucks. My wife wouldn't let me in the house until she washed me down with a garden hose. Wow, that was really cold!
        I don't think I'll have the Oktoberfest again. None of my neighbors are speaking to me, and I don't know if the mites are still in my eyebrows. I got a microscope but I couldn't figure out how to see my own brows. They are probably there because I still have jock itch and athlete’s foot. Some of the wThe small town where I live recently discovered Mediterranean Fruit Flies in a Lemon Grove. Because the fly is such a destructive thing, the State of California is attacking the problem with Malathion Poison, sprayed from helicopters. The poison is mixed with molasses, and then sprayed at night over the city. Generally several choppers fly in formation and cover the infected area by flying back and forth in a grid fashion. As you can probably imagine, the whole thing upsets some of the citizens.
        There is a group that calls itself GASP (Group Against Spraying People). They won’t get very far by opposing the spraying. This county is too dependent upon the various crops in this area to maintain our economy. I think we should do everything possible to preserve the agriculture.
        I decided to try a 180-degree approach to the poison spraying. Why not let the poison serve a useful purpose? I set out to form a FRUIT-FLY FESTIVAL. I knew that I would have to operate in a covert manner. If the GASP people discovered what we were doing, they would probably march on my home with pitchforks and burning torches.
        I put out feelers around the neighborhood to see if there were any Malathion lovers, other than me. Finally I gathered a small group and we met at my home behind drawn curtains. When we discussed the spraying we came up with all sorts of things that could be helpful to us.
        One member of the group had read about a microscopic mite that exists in everyone's eyebrows and eyelashes. This mite is so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. He showed us a picture of the thing. Everyone was repulsed at the sight. In its magnified state it was a horrible looking thing that seemed as big as a hog feeding in a cornfield. He believed that maybe we could destroy these things by letting the spray from the helicopters fall on us. Another member said that if it killed the mites, maybe it would work on jock itch and athlete’s foot. We had a unanimous vote and decided to tie it all in with an Oktoberfest.

        When the next spraying was due we met at my house in the early evening. I had a keg of beer and lots of beer steins. To get in the spirit of the occasion, I had cornstalks and pumpkins along with food and cheeses that lent themselves to the theme of the evening. I also provided everyone with a wreath of laurel leaves to put on their heads. I thought it provided a festive touch.
        I should explain that I live next to a golf course in Leisure Village. Immediately behind my home are two fairways, and there is an enormous open area of green grass.
        All of my neighbors who came are senior citizens. As the evening progressed, the members, of our little group consumed stein after stein, of beer, and when the choppers were due, everyone was feeling no pain and we were ready to go.
        We all stripped down to our birthday suits and waddled, ran, skipped or danced out onto the golf course. I have never seen that much naked, wrinkled flesh and gray hair before, but nobody seemed to care. One ex-musician brought an accordion and was playing lively tunes while everyone tried to do the polka or just cavorted about. The musician said that it was quite painful playing the accordion while naked.
        Just at that moment the sprayers flew over. We were sprayed with Malathion and molasses mixture from head to toe. I noticed that when the choppers flew over they seemed to waver in their flight, as if the pilots had lost their concentration. Then several minutes later, here they came again. We were not only sprayed again, but this time they turned bright spot lights on us similar to the ones the police use when they are pursuing bad guys with helicopters. Headlights from the Village Security patrol cars suddenly came on at the end of the fairway. We were illuminated in a light, bright as day.
        I quickly glanced around at our group and saw one member with his shorts on. I knew immediately that a mole was in our midst, and he had been leaking information to GASP from the very beginning.
        We were rounded up and loaded into patrol cars. That was a mistake on their part because the molasses from the spray stuck us onto the car seats and they had to pour warm water over us to unstick all those wrinkled old butts.

        As we walked into the Police station a lot of loose stuff stuck to us, like cigarette butts, pieces of paper and other debris. I had fallen down in the grass and I looked like a giant ChiaPet or a green version of big-foot. The police decided that we had not broken any laws and that due to our age; indecent exposure omen, who participated, said that the molasses held their hair-do in place for weeks, but their dogs licked them and got sick.

        I was thinking of having a spring festival. But on second thought, maybe I won't.

 

 MY FRIEND ANDY

 

        Andy was born in Syria and may have lived in Egypt. He told me about making love to an Egyptian girl, which led me to believe that he lived there for awhile. He thought the girl was peculiar, because she insisted he cleanse himself in the Nile River before and after making love. He probably came to the U.S. as a young man because he had no trace of an accent.             When I knew him, he had two daughters who were going to the University of Southern California. Andy looked like a Syrian should; he had an olive complexion, a hooked nose and a large belly, set on a short frame and he was very strong. He laughed a lot and everyone liked him. He was my friend.

        I first met Andy in 1939 when I got a job delivering groceries for a store in Santa Monica, California. He owned the produce section and I worked for the couple that had the grocery part. Today it is hard to imagine that store in our world of supermarkets, but the meat, grocery and produce sections all had different owners. My aunt worked next-door in a drug store, and got me the delivery job. When Andy left that store to move a few blocks up the street into another store, he asked me to work for him as a produce man. He said he would pay me $18 a week; I jumped at the chance of a new job and a big raise in pay.

        Andy was a good boss and teacher. I soon picked up on what it took to be a produce man and I liked the work. In those days we would plug a watermelon and give the customer a taste to see if it was ripe. If customers asked for a soup bunch, we gave them a bag full of vegetables that were wilted or past their prime for ten cents. I liked waiting on customers, stacking fruits and vegetables and keeping things looking neat and fresh. Unlike today's fancy misting nozzles, we had a garden watering can that we used to sprinkle the greens.

After we closed the store at night, Andy dropped me off close to my house on his way home. He had an old Model-A Ford flat bed truck, I enjoyed those rides. We would stop at a liquor store while Andy got a quart of beer and a cigar and I got a Royal Crown Cola. Andy never smoked at any other time –I don’t think his wife liked it. He always kept his beer in a brown paper bag so no one could see the bottle.
        Once I asked him if he ever had to take a leak after drinking all that beer. He told me that one time he couldn't hold it, so he got out of the truck and went to the front, raised up the hood and leaned in as if he were checking the engine and peed by the front wheel.
        On Fridays I stayed overnight at his home so I could go with him to the wholesale market in Los Angeles early Saturday morning. We had a little ritual that we went through each Friday, first we ate dinner, then Andy's wife, his daughter, Andy and I went to the movies. Sometimes at the show it was kind of embarrassing because the cola I had drunk earlier filled me up, and being a teenager, I was too shy to excuse myself and go to the bathroom, so I just held it till later. The next morning Andy woke me while it was still dark and we went to the market.

        Going to the wholesale produce market in Los Angeles was like going into a third world country. There were languages from many nationalities, trucks honking while maneuvering in tight places to unload their produce, and men with hand carts yelling, haggling, and feigning outrage at the nerve of a vendor to ask such a price. Andy was one of the best at finding the freshest and best items at a good price. Everywhere we went he was greeted by name. I could tell that they all liked him. When we had all of our sacks, crates and baskets on the truck, we headed for the store. By the time the sun came up and we were getting close, we stopped at a small cafe to have breakfast.

        Saturday was our busiest day when most of our customers did their week’s shopping. On Sunday Andy went to church. He was a very good Roman Catholic and attended church with his family. After church he put on his work clothes and came back to the store. This was the day to scrub the racks where the green vegetables were kept and to clean up the area. I helped him when I could. We would take everything off the racks and put it all in crates, and then we put the racks out on the sidewalk where we scrubbed everything. When they where clean we hosed them off with a garden nozzle. After they dried for a while we put everything back and restocked all the greens.

        Andy's life was not an easy one, but he managed to put two girls through an expensive college, and finally retire to a two-story home in the Pacific Palisades, California, that would be very expensive today. I worked with Andy until I went into the service in World War II. My enlistment paper lists me as a produce man for an occupation. He died during the War, and I never saw him again after I enlisted.

        I should probably explain a little of my growing up experiences. My earliest memories are during the Depression. My dad was a steam shovel operator and was one of the earliest to be put out of work due to the slump in the economy. My parents lost the small home they were buying in Venice, California and we were forced to live with relatives. Whenever a job for my dad was available, we would pack up and move to that location. I lost track of the number of schools I attended and the places we lived.

        My parents worked whenever they could find a job and I found work that a young kid could handle. I worked on a farm in Utah one summer, sold newspapers on a street corner in Venice and rented out umbrellas on the beach in Santa Monica.

My shortest job was for one day, as a cowboy when I was eleven years old in Colorado. I had a horse and was hired by a man who owned a small herd of whiteface cattle. I was told to help him bring them in for branding and dehorning. I worked from before sunrise till after dark and received fifty cents for the day.

        Because of all the moving and changing of schools, I formed very few permanent attachments to people or things. The only things that seemed solid and unchanging were when we returned to Venice or Santa Monica in California, between our moves to new jobs in other places, where I could be with my grand parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I grew up in an atmosphere of what I, at one time called benign neglect—but have since decided was not benign, just neglect.
        My mom had all she could do just staying afloat. Dad was a hypochondriac and a bully, and neither of them had any idea of how to raise a child.
        In 1939 we returned to Venice where my Dad got a steady job and we bought a house. I finally had a semblance of some stability and it was at this time that I met Andy.

        Andy came into my life when I needed a male role model, and that good-natured, funny little man was just the influence I needed. He was an honest man who gave me an anchor when I needed something to hold onto. He taught me virtues, not by preaching but by example. He was an earthy man but he never swore or had a mean thought and was scrupulously honest. If I had done anything to discredit myself in his eyes it would have been too painful—so I never did. I think I filled a niche for him as the son he never had.

        After the War, I went to visit Andy's family, but it was difficult. Too many things had happened to all of us. I never went back. I think of Andy often, and smile when I remember the things we did.

 

JOHN THE MARLBORO MAN

        

        The first time I heard that John had posed for one of those cigarette ads, I thought Christ, he's perfect. He had a lean hard look, with a leathery creased face. If you put a cowboy hat on him, a Marlboro cigarette in his mouth, and sat him on a horse, John was indeed The Marlboro Man.                    John was a Fireman and worked at Fire Station 17 on The A shift. I worked there, on the B shift. The station, located in the middle of the industrial section of Los Angeles. at Seventh and Santa Fe, was built in the 1800s, when it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Not far from the station a metal stamp mill clanged night and day. Our station was dirty, noisy, and uncomfortable and we caught some of the biggest fires in the city.    

        Fire station17 seemed to attract guys like John. You had to be tough to work there, and John was tough. I heard about him before we ever met. He was a hard- drinking, free spirit.         Once he traveled down through Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula, carrying nothing but an old beat-up fiddle and a duffel bag riding whatever transportation was available. He started out on a bus from the Greyhound depot in Los Angeles, and then traveled on everything from trains to burros.               
        He never had a problem drinking the water or eating the food because the tequila he consumed killed any germs that had the misfortune to land inside or on him. He would stop in some small village, go to the nearest cantina and start playing his fiddle. The people in those little places loved him, and soon they were buying him cervesa and tequila. The next day, John would take his giant hangover and move on to the next stop.           I left station 17 and didn't see John again until I went on a memorable fishing trip a few years later. It was a strange trip that came about because of my Cousin Don, who was also a fireman and worked at F.S.17 before my assignment there. Don knew John and his hard-drinking, two-fisted buddies who worked the same shift as John.

        On his days off, Don moonlighted in a boat yard in Venice, where he helped build a fishing boat for a wealthy rancher from Santa Barbara, California. During construction, they became friends.
        The rancher planned to take fishing parties out of Gaviota, California to the nearby fishing grounds. When the boat was finished, the rancher invited Don on an overnight fishing trip on the new boat and said he could ask some of his friends to go along. Don invited a few firemen including me, plus John and his drinking buddies from F.S. #17.

        We all gathered at the Gaviota pier with our sleeping bags and fishing gear. The plan was to fish that day around the islands off shore from Santa Barbara and then go ashore on San Miguel Island for the night. When John and his bunch arrived at the pier they were half smashed. They were drinking bourbon and milk out of a milk bottle. The rest of us had a couple of bottles of wine, some beer and soda pop. Everyone brought a brown bag and a few things to cook at a campfire that evening. We loaded our stuff on the fishing boat and set off for the Island.

        My cousin, Don, was a good skin diver. He had been a surfer and learned how to dive before scuba gear was invented. We grew up in Venice where he belonged to the Venice Paddle Board Club and was an outstanding swimmer. He had been on the swim team at Venice High, and learned to dive around CA before the lobster and abalone were cleaned out from over-fishing. Because he was so good at diving, the guy who owned the boat wanted Don to get him some big green and red abalone that could be found at San Miguel. Don asked Charley Davis to come with us and help him do the diving. Charley was a fireman working at Fire Station 2, and was also a good diver.        
        When we got close enough to the island for Charley and Don to dive, we dropped them off along with their gear. Their gear consisted of flippers, face masks, abalone irons (to pry the large mollusks off the reefs) and an automobile inner tube with a gunnysack attached. The gunnysack was tied with heavy cord to the underside of the tube so that the divers could toss the abalone into the open sack. 

        While Don and Charley were diving, the skipper let the boat drift with the current. We all rigged our fishing gear to troll for bottom fish by putting one pound sinkers on the lines and attaching leaders with six to eight large hooks. For bait we used frozen chunks of abalone guts.
        I can't remember ever catching more fish than we did on that trip. Every time we drifted over a submerged reef or rock, the fish would bite on almost every hook. We did that for about an hour then went back and picked up the divers. They dried off and dressed, and we all started to fish again. This time we didn't use bait; the fish were so voracious they bit on the shiny hooks.

        As the afternoon wore on, we were thinking about going ashore and were staring at the island, when out of nowhere a giant swell hit the boat. All of our equipment and the fishermen went sliding toward the port gunwale. We barely managed to stay on board. I looked at the skipper; his face was pale and he was shaken. I realized he wasn't experienced in the ways of the sea. After that one swell, it was as calm as before, but we decided we had fished enough for the day.
        Don owned an old Navy rubber raft that he brought with us. We inflated it and ferried us and our gear onto the beach of San Miguel.Island. The skipper brought us as close to the shore as possible while we shuttled back and forth on the raft. He decided that he would take the boat offshore, anchor for the night, and stay on board just in case another large wave came through.

        Our camp on shore was at the base of a high, sandy slope on a pristine, white beach with plenty of bleached dry driftwood to make a fire. We soon had a spot above the high tide line on the sand where everyone laid out sleeping bags around a campfire. As darkness arrived, we cooked wieners, canned stew, and beans. John, the Marlboro Man, his buddies and those who had hard booze started on that while the rest of us had a few drinks of wine.
        It was one of those rare nights at the beach when the sky was clear and there was a gentle warm breeze. As we rested and began to mellow out, the moon came up. It was full and the white dunes with the surf gently washing up on the beach made a beautiful scene. The more booze and wine we drank, the more exaggerated the campfire tales became. Firemen are good storytellers and these veterans of World War II and years of fire service had plenty of experiences to draw from.
        Charley said, "I'm going to do a little exploring, anyone want to go with me?"
        Ralph Peters said, "I'll go maybe I can find some interesting driftwood." Ralph was a talented guy; he could play almost any kind of musical instrument, and created ceramics and paintings that were considered professional quality.
        They left and we got mellower as the evening went on. In about half an hour they came back.
        Ralph said, "Look what I found." He held up a hollow tube about three feet long and about three inches in diameter. Ralph had stumbled onto a strange thing that I have seen only on San Miguel. The sand on the island is composed of silica that hardens when it gets wet. When it rains, the water runs down a hole or crevice and the sand around the hole hardens. Later, when a strong wind blows, the soft sand around the hardened sand blows away and this sand tube is left standing, much like a stalagmite.

       
John staggered to his feet. He stared at the sand tube, and said, "What the hell is that?"
        I told him, "That is a petrified walrus cock. This is a hauling out ground for sea animals and that cock is probably very old."
        "Oh my God, I gotta have one." John turned to Ralph, "Where did you find it?"
        "Just up the beach." Ralph said.

         John started down the beach, but he soon lost his bearings and we saw him climbing the steep sand mountain going up from the water's edge. In the bright moonlight we could see John struggling in the loose white sand. He would take a couple of steps then slide back, stopping every so often. I suspected he had a bottle with him. He was quite a way up the slope when we saw him fall forward and then turn over on his back with his arms stretched out. He lay there without moving.
       
Don said, "Let's go get the son of a bitch. I think he passed out."
         Don and I struggled up the sandy slope and reached him. I looked down at him. His eyes were open.
        Don said, "Hey, asshole, what do you think you're doing?"
        "I am communing with nature," John said, and with that his eyes closed and his head fell over to one side. He passed out completely
.
       
I asked, "What should we do with him?"
        "Let’s drag him back to camp." Don said, we each grabbed a leg and dragged the Marlboro Man back to the fire and stuck him in his sleeping bag. If he hadn't been so drunk, he probably would have had a few bruises the next day.

         John and his buddies woke up at sunrise with no apparent serious problems other than hangovers. I didn't see John after that trip but I did learn that he was in demand as a male model for Marlboro cigarettes and other ads where they wanted the rugged male look.

        John's drinking and exploits continued for years, each time more outrageous than before. Finally his friends and buddies all fell away or died. John was no longer the virile macho man. His health and vigor began to fade. He died a few years later, alone in a cheap flophouse.
            Only a few people were at the services, including the Fire Department Chaplain and the guy from the Fire Relief Association who goes to all firemen's funerals.
            That seemed like a sad ending for The Marlboro Man.

 

SOLVING AN AGE OLD MYSTERY

        

        After living a couple of summers in Las Vegas, I think I have solved a mystery that has baffled geologists for centuries. I have the solution to the preservation of mummies, as found in ancient Egyptian pyramids. No one knows for sure why these mummies have lasted for such a long time.

        I stumbled upon the answer quite by accident out in my patio. After a family-get-together at my house, I decided not to clean up for a couple of days. (I know—lazy---lazy), but I’m retired and I can do whatever I want. When I finally did it, I noticed a forgotten wiener that had been exposed to the sun for a couple of days. When I picked it up there was a considerable difference in its weight from that of a fresh hot dog. Not only that but it was wrinkled and very dry.
        I took a knife and cut it open; the inside had the look of a piece of jerky that you can buy in some markets. It looked okay, so I finally got up enough nerve to taste a small piece. The taste seemed all right and somewhat like the jerky being sold.

That night I found the definition of jerky in the dictionary, it was-- meat cut into thin strips and dried in the sun. I thought that was pretty cool so I went to the store and bought more wieners.
        I laid a dog on a table and made a small screen mesh to cover it and keep the flies off. In a couple of days I smelled and tasted my test dog. It wasn’t too bad! My next test was the same except I heavily salted the meat. Eureka, my jerky had very little moisture and seemed to be preserved satisfactorily.

        My mind raced furiously, thinking of the possibilities of this minor discovery. For many years the idea of preserving people after they die, using cryogenics and freezing the remains has been tried. This sometimes resulted in disastrous results when funds ran out and the frozen person was just abandoned.

        What if we just turned them into Jerky?

        For instance, if Uncle Joe died of cancer we could turn him into jerky, crate him up and keep him in a cloths closet. If later, they found a cure for cancer we could just add water, fluff him up a little and cure him on the spot.

        On a more practical note, think of all the possibilities. We wouldn’t necessarily have to use Las Vegas. We could send all of our dearly departed to Death Valley (note: the subtle use of an already named place). We could call it “Death Valley the Jerkytorium of the U.S.” The bodies in the jerky making stage could extend from one end of the Valley to the next. Not only have that, I think there is natural salt there that could be mined and used to help dehydrate our beloved ones.

        For many years our cemeteries have been filling up. We are running out of room. After my system of jerkafying goes into effect, their weight and size would be reduced considerably. One pallbearer could carry two jerky people, one under each arm. This way we could put them in light boxes and warehouse them on pallets ten or fifteen high.

            

        This brings me back to my original premise, about the Egyptian mummies. The Egyptians had access to salt because of their proximity to the sea. They undoubtedly made jerky out of the highborn of their time and then wrapped them in linen strips. This preserved them for centuries.

If you think about that, something else comes to mind. What about the commoner, the ordinary Joe Egyptian? Were they jerkyfied also? If so, what was done with the bodies? This might bring an entirely new meaning to the age-old question. How come Egyptologists never find any non-mummy people? 

 


UGLY PEOPLE

             In Southern California, not too many years ago, there were two major retail outlets. They were very big and had lots of stores. One was White Front and the other was Safeway. White Front sold all kinds of things and was similar to Wal-Mart, while Safeway only sold groceries. I used to shop at these stores all the time, and after many years, I developed a theory about their clientele. All the ugly people went there.

            I went there just to watch the ugly people. At White Front I would get a hot dog and a cold drink, then I would either sit in some quiet corner or walk around pretending, I was eating, just to watch. It was harder to watch the ugly people at Safeway, I had to pretend I was shopping. One day an ugly woman caught me watching and hit me with a bologna.

            As you probably know these two companies went out of business in Southern California I really felt bad. There was no place to go and watch the ugly people. Oh, you would see one once in awhile driving a pick-up truck or a 4 wheel off road vehicle, but my main recreational activity was gone.

            After a long period of depression I decided I should get into a new hobby. Just by accident I decided to attend a genealogy club meeting. When I walked into a first meeting I almost fell over. All my ugly people were there. They walked around with little cups of punch eating dainty cookies. I could hardly contain myself. I went over and got a cup of punch and a cookie and started sauntering around. I held my cup between my thumb and forefinger and extended my little pinkie finger, trying to affect an elegant nonchalant look. I would nibble on a cookie while I was looking. It was my opinion, this was the cream of the ugly crop, the mother lode of ugly. Based on these findings, I joined the Genealogy group right away.

            I was certainly enjoying my ugly people, and my observations went on for a long time. At one meeting I saw this really ugly guy standing alone. His knuckles almost drug on the floor, he had no neck and I could see he had lots of body hair. His brow protruded and he looked a lot like the pictures I have seen of Neanderthal men. I decided to sidle over close to him. I was nibbling my cookie with my little pinkie extended when I heard him call his wife.

He said, "Come here Bertha."

I thought, this is great, his wife has an ugly name. She came over and she was as ugly as he was. I could see them talking and looking at me.

Then I heard him say, "Look Bertha, there is a really ugly one, and he's fat too."

I almost dropped my cookie and needless to say my little pinkie just wilted. I couldn't believe my ears, and I could hardly wait to get home to look into a mirror.

            When I looked, sure enough there was an ugly person staring back. I wondered what ever happened, I was so cute and cuddly? I used to be gorgeous. This time I really went into a blue funk and I could feel myself slipping into a deep depression.

Finally I decided, the only thing to do was to go back and get with the ugly people. When you fall off of your horse you must get right back on and ride again. When I rejoined the ugly people, they were all there drinking their little cups of punch and eating their cookies, but I suddenly noticed, they all had their little pinkie fingers extended. Not only that, they were using their pinkies in the most refined ways. They used their little digit, to wave at someone across the room, to make a conversational point, express approval or disapproval and any number of things I hadn't even thought of. It was at this time I suddenly discovered they were not nearly so ugly as I had previously thought. In fact, some of them were even a little on the handsome side. A light suddenly came on, these people were bright, funny, interesting people and I enjoyed being around them. I guess I'll have to do what all the other ugly people do and work on my family history. Come to think of it some of my family was really ugly also.

Ugly or pretty seems to be determined by where you're coming from. I think I will call my family tree the Ugly tree.

 

 

CHRISTMAS LETTER

           

        Well, another year has rolled around and as usual the Rogers Family was busily engaged in all of its many activities. We decided to move around the Western U.S. as much as possible. And, oh my, weren’t we the busy ones?

          I thought I would start out locally, so I went down to my old neighborhood in Venice. At “Muscle Beach” I watched the musclemen work out. I was so involved that I didn’t see the guy that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger walk up behind me. He gave me a tremendous wedgie. I apologized for being on his beach and said I hoped his hand wasn’t hurt when he lifted me off the ground by my drawers.

          Since our plan for the year was to travel, we went to the Grand Canyon. When we got there, it was closed because of the balanced budget stalemate and they wouldn’t let me in. I sent a thank you card to every politician I could think of.

          Because we are family oriented we went into the Middle West to visit relatives. We bought a new car to make the trip; it was a beautiful emerald green, 4-door sedan, LHS Chrysler (top of the line with everything on it). When we got to St. Joseph Missouri and checked into a nice hotel. We were having diner in the hotel restaurant when we heard a terrible commotion. We dashed to the front of the lobby and saw hailstones coming down on our car, (they were big). I ran outside and threw myself across the hood. It didn’t do much good. The car looked like a green golf ball with dents all over it except for the smooth shape of my body on the hood. It was similar to the chalk outline of a dead body on the street after a shooting. The welts on my body made me look like a black and blue marshmallow.

          Since our visit to relatives in Missouri wasn’t too lucky we decided to try visiting our Cousins in Arkansas. We called when we crossed the State line to let them know we were coming. They said it was okay to come but they were packing to leave. They were allergic to chickens and since the State is just one big hen house for Tyson Chickens, they had asthma, and couldn’t breathe or stop sneezing. We really enjoyed our short stay while we helped them pack their things. We gave them boxes of Kleenex as little gifts before we left.

          Our kids live in Las Vegas, so our next trip was to visit them. I called ahead and reserved a room at the hotel Rio. Josephine likes to take food and other goodies to our Daughters family when we visit. We stopped at their house before checking in to leave off tamales and other non-fattening things. During the stopover I turned on the TV and saw that the Rio was on fire and groups of people were standing outside while the firemen put out the fire. The temperature outside was over 100 degrees and the guests were in their nightclothes or whatever they could grab as they ran out. They were very uncomfortable. The fire started in a ventilating system for a restaurant in the hotel. The firemen finally got it out and we were able to check in later that day. Everything turned out okay but we smelled like baked hams for a couple of weeks.

          Josephine and I decided we should try to do something together. So we had colonoscopies, it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. At first it was pretty good. They have you put on gowns that are open in the back, then you climb onto a Gurney, and they cover you with a warm blanket. Next you get an IV with a small amount of sedative in it. That was nice, and they even darkened the room. The Doctor came in and had me lie on my side. I don’t even like to think about the rest of the procedure. Let’s just say that he wasn’t checking my teeth, although I am sure he could see them.

          Our Granddaughter, who is so smart, said that she was going to become a vegetarian and that she wasn’t going to eat anything that had a face. We thought that was pretty cool and that maybe we would become Veggies also. ( Jo said that I was a couch potato, so I was already a Veggie, and to eat vegetables would be cannibalism). I was still toying with the idea when we went to Sea World in San Diego. That dirty rotten Shamoo, the killer whale, deliberately splashed me. I knew he meant to get me wet because he grinned as he swam away. After Sea World we went to Jungle Land and while I was gawking at all the animals I stepped in a big pile of elephant dung, I didn’t know they could eat that much! After that venture into Southern California we went through South Missouri, while on the way to Kentucky. There was a place that is arranged so that you can drive through simulated African plains. They don’t have dangerous animals, but there are elk, zebras, gazelles, buffaloes and other plains critters, all running free. I forget what time of year it was, but it seemed to be the universal rutting season for all the animals. I am just an innocent city kid and all that activity was embarrassing to me. But, I would have been okay if a love-crazed zebra hadn’t taken a fancy to my car. I looked in the rearview mirror and I could see him coming. Eyes glazed over and tongue lolling out; it was pretty obvious what he was after. I just barely beat him out of the gate. At that point I gave up my benevolent attitude toward animals. I’ll eat any beast known to man, everything from a rattlesnake to an ostrich. Just give me a knife and fork and stand back.

          Next year I intend to take up surfing and marathon running and Jo wants to go into line dancing and maybe a little clogging on the side

          We wish you a happy 2002. Enjoy the Holidays and remember that “a frown is just a smile turned upside down.

                                                      The Rogers Family

 

 

 

The Crazy Boy

         I don't know where the Crazy Boy lived, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood.

          I was walking down a street on the way home from school with an older boy, when suddenly the Crazy Boy jumped up on the other side of a fence. It was a low wooden fence close to the sidewalk we were on. He had a chain in his hand and he was slamming it against the fence and yelling in gibberish that I couldn't understand.

The older boy said, "don't pay any attention to him, he's crazy." He yelled at the boy, " get away from here and stop that."

The Crazy Boy ducked behind the fence and left. The older boy and I went on down the street. When my friend left to go home, I ran the rest of the way to my grandmother’s house. I was living there at the time with my mother and sister.

          When I got there I was very frightened. I went into my bedroom and closed the door. I had never seen, or even heard of anyone that was mentally deranged. I didn't tell anyone about the crazy Boy.

          From that time on I kept looking for him, when walking anywhere in the neighborhood. I would go blocks out of the way to avoid a chance meeting with him. Every once in awhile I would see him and

then quickly hide or run off in a different direction. I couldn't tell if he saw me or not. At night I would have nightmares that he was chasing me.

          On day I was alone going down an alley. The crazy boy came out of a back yard. I saw, that he had an ice pick in his hand. There was no way to avoid him so I ran. He was probably about the same age as me, but it was hard to tell. All I knew was that he was crazy and I was afraid of him. I ran as fast as I could for home. I heard him chasing me, but didn't dare look back. He was shouting something unintelligible as he ran. I finally made it to the house  where I ran in and slammed the door.

          My mother heard the door slam and could hear the crazy boy outside yelling. She wanted to know what was going on.

“Why are you hiding.”

I told her, “He chased me home with an ice pick and he’s after me.”

          Mother said, "you go out there and chase him away."

 "But Mama, he has an ice pick and he wants to kill me."

"Never mind that, if you go out there he will run away."

I started to cry and would not go out.

"Alright you big baby, I'll do it."

Mother went outside and I could hear her yelling at the crazy boy to get out of there and go home. When she came back she sent me to my room until time for supper.

          It wasn't long after that that we moved to another town and I never saw the crazy boy again.

          I have often thought of that poor deranged child. I wonder how much that episode shaped my thinking as I grew up. Why was I so terrified of him? Why couldn't my mother realize the depth of that terror? Why couldn't she hug me and tell me not to be afraid? Why couldn't my grandmother shoo him away and calm my fears?

Later in life I realized that they couldn't because they didn't know how. Grandma was a rugged, pioneer type woman who scrabbled for a mere existence all of her life. I am sure that she never received any tenderness and she in turn never passed any down to her children. They survived as best they could as dirt farmers in their bare and unforgiving area.

  

 

 


Life in Las Vegas

       For all my friends and relatives who wonder about life in Las Vegas I am composing a short list of some of our activities. I tell everyone that once you get off the strip, with all its hoop-a-la, Las Vegas is like many small towns. We have our schools, churches, PTAs and all the other regular stuff.

Everyone is talking about the lizard races out on the Westside. This is strictly a hometown event. Some have tried to get some of the betting crowd to come out and see how much fun it is. I personally like to keep it on a low key.

Today we are going to the petting zoo. They really have a fun thing there. Gila Monsters are running all over the place and for 50 cents you can buy a plastic bag full live scorpions and feed them to the to the monsters. You really have to be careful, neither the bugs nor the ugly lizards like people. It seemed like a month before I could pry one critter off of my finger.

I recently joined a nature group and I must say they do interesting things. One of the members has an ultra violet lamp and at night he goes into the backcountry. When the lamp shines on rattlesnakes or scorpions they fluoresce. He made a mistake the first time he went out and mistook a sidewinder for a stick and tried to pick it up. It took him quite a long time to recuperate from that.

In conjunction with the nature group there is an offshoot devoted to art. They scour the countryside for natural things, vegetable or mineral and assemble them into collages that are wonderful works of art. The one that really caught my eye was a collection of dried coyote dung. Most people do not know that when dried, the dung assumes twisted and contorted shapes and has a crystallized appearance. The member that created that beauty must be an artistic genius.

The area in Las Vegas where I live was just recently developed from natural desert to the housing we now have. Somehow the insect world did not receive the word about the change. Our new area is infested with grasshoppers and crickets. Just for fun the neighbors and I gather in the evening at a street light over a paved area and have a bug stomping contest. Because of my age I never seem to win but I have fun with all the camaraderie and I sometimes keep score.

The men here are pretty tough. I asked one guy how hot it was. He broke an egg on his palm and held it out the window. He then judged the temperature on how long it took for the yolk to turn hard.

            Guys with thinning hair like me have to be very careful when we go outside. If you don’t wear a hat your skull heats up and if you are not careful your brain starts to boil. The scary part is that you are not aware of anything wrong until the escaping steam causes a high-pitched whistling noise in your ears. When this happens your blood pressure is too high to measure so they use a rectal steam gauge and get PSI or pounds per square inch reading.

            That is all the stuff I have today but I’ll keep you posted.