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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

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In 1989, I arrived at an unexpected milestone in my life when I was slapped with divorce papers after two decades of marriage.

Slapped is the right description. I had no idea it was coming. I wasn’t guilty of anything, and, I eventually concluded, her reasons for leaving had little to do with me. People change.

But it happened, and it caught me off guard and left me reeling. In time, I coped and adjusted and moved on. I wasn’t the first guy to get dumped.

After several years, I began casually dating again. Some of those relationships lasted a while, some didn’t.

Happily, most of my dating encounters were positive. None became permanent, or even lasted long, but they were pleasant at the time. For the most part, good memories.

But not always. A few times, the women I met had issues — carried baggage in their lives that wasn’t healthy.

One turned out to be clingy and needy to an unsettling degree, as if her self-worth needed proving. The evening was awkward. I felt bad for her.

In cases like that, when the alarm bells went off and I felt uneasy, I distanced myself as soon as I could politely do so.

I suppose that’s how the dating scene goes, especially later in life. By then, everyone has a history. Kids and grandkids often are in the mix. Everyone carries baggage, some benign, some toxic.

I mention this because of an old memory that surfaced recently, a sad memory, about a woman I dated not long before I retired. At the time, I was living in the community of Between, Georgia. I moved there, fittingly, because it was located between work and family.

Her name was Carol. She was 10 years my junior, which was intriguing, and divorced for some time. She was an accountant for a large Metro Atlanta construction company, and she lived in a subdivision about a mile from my place. One of my co-workers knew her and thought we should meet.

So, I called her, and we talked, and we agreed to a Saturday lunch date at Ruby Tuesday.

The anticipation as I walked into the restaurant was intense. Blind dates will concentrate the mind, no matter your age.

I told the hostess I was meeting someone. She gestured toward a nearby booth, and there was Carol, smiling at us.

She was disarmingly attractive. Slender, stylish, coal-black short hair. My immediate prayer: that her personality would be as good as her looks.

And it was. She was charming, intelligent, interesting — superlatives all around. I tried to be my nicest self and not act too giddy, but giddy I was.

The reality, of course, was that we both were trying to make a good impression. This was our first meeting, much too soon to assess or understand someone. You have to be realistic and patient.

And soon, I got my first glimpse of the real Carol.

I had told her that my passions were hiking and kayaking, that I spent most weekends either on a trail somewhere or paddling. She replied that she had been canoeing a few times, but she was unable to walk very far because of an accident.

She explained that, several years earlier, she fell and broke several bones in her right foot. The injury never healed properly. She underwent surgery twice. She remained under treatment and was no longer in pain, but she was left with a slight limp.

She explained all this with great intensity. Her voice had an edge. It was clear that she was fixated on the accident and her situation.

When we finished lunch and were leaving the restaurant, I got to see the condition she described.

To my surprise, the limp was barely perceptible. I didn’t comment, but, to me, this thing she spoke about with such feeling seemed relatively minor.

To Carol, it wasn’t remotely minor. What happened to her was unfair, unacceptable, and anguishing. As we walked to the parking lot, I knew she was both embarrassed by the moment and furious that fate had dealt her these cards.

After that, we went out two more times. It was clear that she was consumed by the matter and the perceived unfairness of it. It dominated her life.

Maybe, in one rosy scenario, I could have helped her get beyond the bitterness and deal with her situation. But I knew almost nothing about her life and background, and I had no real skills to offer. Not without regret, I decided to walk away.

We all handle adversity differently. I’ve known people who faced significant life problems — medical, marital, financial — with grit and grace. They didn’t always prevail, but they handled their issues with dignity, maturity, and class.

I’ve also known people who found themselves in serious situations, but couldn’t cope.

At about the time I met Carol, I got a call from an old college friend who was working as a NASA administrator in Florida. Over the years, we had been in touch periodically.

He said he was the victim of botched renal surgery that left him damaged and in chronic pain. The doctor was incompetent. A lawsuit was in progress. He mitigated the pain with prescription drugs.

For the next couple of years, he called me every few months, stoned and miserable. As he rambled, usually incoherently, I sat quietly at the other end of the line. My role was to listen, not speak.

Apparently, his drug use got out of control. He lost his job. His parents took him in.

I dreaded his calls, but I took them.

Then the calls stopped, for reasons I can only guess. I was relieved and despondent at the same time.

What happened to Carol was less dire, but a tragedy nonetheless. She simply couldn’t find it within herself to cope with a problem that, in truth, amounted to bad luck.

That failure poisoned her as surely as any drug.

Better

 

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Tune o’ the Day

Everybody knows the rock classic “I Fought the Law,” in which an inmate explains how he ended up in the slammer. The song was written, ironically enough, by a Texas 21-year-old with a clean record.

That Texan is musician Sonny Curtis, who in 1959 became lead singer/guitarist of The Crickets after the death of Buddy Holly.

The Crickets recorded “I Fought the Law” in 1960, and it went nowhere. Then, in 1965, the tune was covered by the Bobby Fuller Four, another popular regional band. This time, it got national attention.

Curtis is still around today and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fuller died in 1966 at age 23. His death was ruled a suicide, but various alternate theories exist, including one claim that he was murdered by mobsters involved in the recording industry.

I Fought the Law” has been covered 50-odd times over the years. The song is notable for its simplicity, for the inmate’s candor about his plight, and for his clear lack of remorse for having pursued a life of crime.

Bobby Fuller Four

I Fought the Law

By the Bobby Fuller Four, 1966
Written by Sonny Curtis

I’m breakin’ rocks in the hot sun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I needed money ’cause I had none.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I left my baby, and I feel so sad.
I guess my race is run.
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I’m robbin’ people with a six-gun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I miss my baby and the good fun.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

I left my baby, and I feel so sad.
I guess my race is run.
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had.
I fought the law, and the law won.
I fought the law, and the law won.

 

 

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More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

Hokey pokey

No dumping

Bench

Mannequins

Minion

 

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Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now, if you should ever want to reach me, call me at this number. Don’t call me at that one. That’s the old one.”

— James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in the movie “Harvey,” 1950.

———

I cast my first ballot in 1961, the year I turned 18. Technically, my 18-year-old self could vote only in state and local elections; at the time, the minimum federal voting age was 21. As you know from your high school civics, the 26th Amendment, enacted in 1971, lowered the voting age nationwide to 18.

But it’s a fact that from 1961 to the present, I have faithfully cast a ballot whenever the law has allowed me to cast it, without missing a single election, ever. An unbroken string of 50-plus years. I’m right proud of that.

Also notable in this regard is that I have never once — never once — voted for a Republican.

Just to be clear, I’ve voted in a boatload of elections over the years — primaries, runoffs, special elections, general elections, local, state, national — and I’ve never cast a ballot for anyone running as a Republican.

Judging from the way the GOP continues to spiral downward into lunacy, delusion, and paranoia, I never will. But let’s not talk about the Republicans and their beliefs, which range from the laughable to the selfish to the mean. It befouls my mood.

This record of never having voted for a Republican wasn’t planned. It occurred naturally, owing to the fact that I’ve been a liberal Democrat as long as I can remember. That’s just how I roll. When I realized I had a no-GOP thing going, I found it quite satisfying and resolved to keep the record intact.

A couple of decades ago, the political landscape was different from today. In the old days, the Republican Party was, as always, fixated on greasing the skids for business interests and rich people. It was right-leaning, but far less wild-eyed and extreme than today’s GOP.

Democrats back then were a mix of non-whites, white liberals like me, and, awkwardly, Southern white conservatives. The latter belonged to the Democratic Party by long tradition.

Under those circumstances, I had no trouble choosing candidates. I simply ignored the Republicans, and I ruled out any Democrat who admired George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, or anyone of that ilk. Voting was a piece of cake.

But then, in the late 1960s, the Republican Party enacted its despicable “Southern strategy.” This was when the GOP brazenly tacked to the right in order to curry favor among white Southerners who resented societal changes, such as the civil rights movement, and despised the hippies.

The Southern strategy was cynical and dirty, and it worked brilliantly. The GOP siphoned off virtually every white conservative voter in the South. Within a decade, the Democratic Party was devoid of Southern white conservatives.

By and large, nothing really changed in Southern politics, government, or governance. The same people who ran things as Democrats now ran things as Republicans. Their worldview and behavior changed very little.

And, as far as my voting habits and practices were concerned, none of this mattered much. For a while.

The transition of the South didn’t take long. The GOP steadily took over virtually all local and state politics, like mold on cheese. And once that was done, in order to keep Democrats out and Republicans in, the gerrymandering commenced.

Gerrymandered

Georgia’s gerrymandered congressional districts.

Examples are everywhere, but here are two from my own back yard.

— Atlanta, a stronghold of the Democratic Party, was gerrymandered into four separate congressional districts. Atlanta’s voting strength was diluted, and three of the four districts immediately elected Republican congressmen.

— Athens has been a liberal bastion for years, but gerrymandering split Athens between the 9th and 10th Congressional Districts. Both were large enough to neuter the city’s political influence, and today, those districts, too, are represented by Republicans.

For me, who never misses an election and doesn’t vote for Republicans, this presented a problem: what to do when everyone on the ballot is a Republican?

I don’t remember exactly when I faced this dilemma for the first time. Probably sometime in the 1980s. Probably in a local election in which all the candidates on the ballot were Republicans.

Voting for one of them was unacceptable. So was skipping the election. So was turning in an empty ballot. The obvious recourse: a write-in candidate.

The first few times, making a good-faith effort, I wrote in the names of local people I could imagine doing the job. But, really, what difference did the name make? It was a single write-in vote, destined to mean nothing.

So I came up with a new system. Each time I encountered an all-Republican ballot, I wrote in the name Elwood P. Dowd. Over the years, I’ve voted for Elwood countless times.

Just last week, I early-voted in the Jefferson mayoral election. The race is between the incumbent and a challenger, both cookie-cutter, small-town Georgia Republicans. No Democrat was on the ballot. Therefore, I voted for Elwood P. Dowd.

By so doing, I was able to extend my unbroken voting streak of 50-plus years and also preserve my record of never having voted for a Republican.

That’s assuming Elwood P. Dowd was a Democrat, you understand.

Georgia voter

Dowd

 

 

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Finding My Niche

Before I retired and became a man of leisure, I was an ordinary working dude. A nine-to-fiver. A white-collar wage slave.

Over the years, I came to know a series of corporate cultures that were every bit as Kafkaesque as the world of Dilbert, but without the humor.

Some of those places — actually, most of those places — were dreadful, borderline dysfunctional organizations. Bureaucracy, politics, and incompetence were constant obstacles. In truth, the organizations were not so much managed as mismanaged, and everyone knew it.

And, oh, how I hated it. The pomposity of the corporate caste system, the norm of inefficiency and waste — everything about it was offensive. I was in a state of constant indignation.

Probably, eventually, I was destined to leave corporate life behind. I had no idea what I might do to make a living, but I wasn’t making peace with the life I was leading.

Then, in 1989, when I took a new job in metro Atlanta, I got a lucky break.

The job was in the advertising department at Lithonia Lighting, a national manufacturer of commercial, industrial, and residential light fixtures.

The position, it turned out, provided a niche that gave me unexpected protection from the worst of the corporate crapola. I was able to do my work in a manner I found acceptable. It was a gift from God.

The details are a bit tedious, but I’ll try to keep it simple.

Lithonia Lighting hired me as the company’s first professional copywriter. The Advertising Department staff included graphic designers and marketing types, but no writers.

I soon learned that, in large part, I was hired to fix a chronic and maddening problem: the higher-ups were tired of being sued, sometimes by their own sales reps, over typos and inaccuracies in the printed material describing the products.

For a long time, the bosses had been reluctant to hire a writer. This was a company of and for engineers — real men — not some useless liberal arts major.

But they finally relented, and there I was, a detail-oriented guy with a knack for writing, grammar, proofreading, and similar skills that the engineers, poor things, clearly lacked.

The inaccuracies in the sales literature were having real consequences. When a contract is signed to supply the light fixtures to populate an office building, a factory, a mall, or whatever, the financial commitment is significant.

And lots of variables are involved — wattage, voltage, light source, lumen output, fixture dimensions, and more. If the products delivered are not precisely as quoted, and don’t perform precisely as promised, the manufacturer (or the manufacturer’s rep) is legally liable.

Lithonia Lighting was capable of manufacturing countless product variations. The technical specifications for all those theoretical products were maintained in a vast set of central files. The files amounted to a blueprint of what could and could not be manufactured.

When the sales reps needed descriptions of specific products to facilitate a deal, the company would refer to the official files and furnish the necessary information to the reps. In effect, documents describing any version of any product were available on demand.

When a product was modified or a new product variation was created, the central files were updated. Thus, theoretically, the sales force always had access to the latest and most accurate information.

In the years before I came along, the central files had been maintained and updated by a succession of employees — product engineers, marketing trainees, sales people, and others.

They were, to be sure, sincere and capable folks in their areas of specialty. But ensuring the accuracy of a huge mass of constantly-changing data was not among their skills. Hence, they decided to try someone like me.

Owing to the scale of the task, I was allowed to hire a few young copywriters fresh out of college. Like most writers, they were naturally detail-oriented and undeterred by what others might see as overwhelming and unmanageable.

And it worked. Within a year or two, we brought discipline to the system and restored the data files to a state of accuracy that was, if not perfect, at least acceptable. The lawsuit problems faded away. The bosses were pleased.

As a result of all this, management tended to stay out of my way. They were happy to let me do my thing, more or less undisturbed.

Because I was important to them in this manner, I was exempt from many of the petty annoyances of corporate life.

When a stupid management fad came along — Six Sigma, Core Competency, Management by Objectives — I wasn’t forced to endure the training sessions as were my peers.

And never once was I assigned to the universally-hated duty of helping to conduct the periodic inventories of the main warehouse, which was the size of the Pentagon.

As time passed, the people changed, and the tools we used and the tasks we performed evolved. But the work remained interesting and fun.

The Advertising Department, an enclave of creative types amid a sea of math and science majors, was never dull.

And I stayed plenty busy. In addition to overseeing the product data, we produced product catalogs, prepared advertising and marketing material, wrote news releases and newsletters, and edited a steady mass of correspondence.

Yes, the place was still a typical large corporation. The bureaucracy was appalling. The mismanagement, at times, was spectacular and stultifying.

But I stayed anyway. For 25 years.

All because I got lucky and found my niche.

Managing

 

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One day back in 2002, my mom called and said excitedly, “Rocky, have you heard that new Johnny Cash song, ‘The Man Comes Around’?” I had not.

“Oh, you need to hear it. Johnny Cash is always good, but this song is something else. It’s… biblical.”

She tried to explain, but it was futile. I had no idea why the song had her so amped.

When I finally heard it, I understood her enthusiasm.

The song was the title tune on Johnny’s 2002 album “American IV: The Man Comes Around.”

Wikipedia explains it thusly:

“There are numerous biblical references in the lyrics. A spoken portion from Revelation 6:1–2 in the King James Version introduces the song. The passage describes the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each heralded by one of the ‘four beasts’ first mentioned in Revelation 4:6–9.

“The musical portion then begins with Cash reciting that ‘the man’ (Jesus Christ) will one day come to pass judgment. The chorus indicates that these events will be accompanied by trumpets, pipers, and ‘one hundred million angels singing.’ The voice of the Lord in Revelation is often likened to the sound of a loud trumpet. Revelation 5:11 states that John saw that there are millions of angels in Heaven.

“The song also alludes to the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel of Matthew with the lyrics ‘The virgins are all trimming their wicks,’ a reference to the virgins’ preparation of the Second Coming of Christ.

“The phrase, ‘It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks’ cites Acts 26:14, where Paul the Apostle describes meeting Jesus while traveling to Damascus. It is a reference to a Greek proverb where a kicking ox only injures himself by attempting to kick against a goad, intended to represent the futility of resisting the Lord.

“Elsewhere, the song mentions the wise men who bow before the Lord’s throne, and cast their ‘golden crowns’ at the feet of God. Revelation 4 refers to elders who worship the Lord and ‘lay their crowns’ before Him. ‘Alpha and Omega’ refers to Jesus Christ. ‘Whoever is unjust… etc.’ is a quote from Revelation 22:11.”

Mom was right. Johnny Cash going Old Testament biblical is something else.

The Man Comes Around

The Man Comes Around

By Johnny Cash, 2002
Written by Johnny Cash

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder:
One of the four beasts saying: “Come and see.” And I saw.
And behold, a white horse.

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names.
An’ he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won’t be treated all the same.
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup.
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the man comes around?

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singing.
Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born and some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom.
Then the father hen will call his chickens home.
The wise men will bow down before the throne.
And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still.
Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still.
Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.
One hundred million angels singing.
Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettle drum.
Voices callin’, voices cryin’.
Some are born and some are dyin’.
It’s Alpha and Omega’s Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
The virgins are all trimming their wicks.
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree.
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In measured hundredweight and penny pound.
When the man comes around.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts,
And I looked, and behold: a pale horse.
And his name that sat on him was Death.
And Hell followed with him.

 

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