Best rock group ever?

July 10th, 2019 by John Morris

On one memorable day in Fort Wolters, Texas, I was the third leg in a three way argument including my squad Sergeant and his close friend. The argument centered around the best rock group ever. Each man had a different choice. The close friend selected the Beatles and made it clear any other choice would show only overwhelming stupidity. My Sergeant’s choices were more grounded in the pre-British invasion. I listed several quality candidates for the position of best ever but refused to settle on any one because I felt were vulnerable.

Our head butting happened for about an hour in summer 1968. Groups like Queen, CSNY and Creedence Clearwater Revival were only then just joining the top levels of performers. You can imagine this argument never got resolved or completed. The only thing to end it was our hunger for red hots with cold beer.

It’s now fifty years later, and I finally offer my selection. It is a session band known as the Wreaking Crew. They played on almost every American based hit from the late 50s to the early 70s. They were The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra with father, Frank and hundreds of other easily recognized songs. They were not a garage band either; they consisted of dozens of the best musicians around, i.e., guitarist Glen Campbell. They were a large number of musicians who recorded in major studios twelve hours a day. The entry for this group was remarkable musical talent coupled with the ability to get it right fast.

Record labels and music producers wanted them because they were a tight knit band who could take raw songs and fine tune them in amazingly quick time. Top performers would alter their work schedules to match the Wrecking Crews’ availabilities. They were the unseen element that kept the hits coming. They’re the sound track of the boomers’ lives.

I had not acquired this information until I watched a video on the Wreaking Crew. This one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZgBexrZvM0

The downside to educating yourselves about the Wreaking Crews is it will erode your admiration for many of your favorite groups.

Welcome to the supply room.

June 20th, 2019 by John Morris

The human brain is a remarkable structure. There are times when it’ll send forth information quicker than its owner realizes. There are other times you’re left wondering if it’s working at all. The former can make me feel invincible, and the latter causes me to question my powers.

I’m not talking about remembering names or why you walked into a room. This is normal “getting old stuff”. Dementia is not knowing where your car keys are it’s not knowing what car keys do.

I thought about an earlier time in my life when my usually serviceable brain refused to function.

I was stationed in the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas. My usefulness as an at-will enlisted man had come to an end, and my small band of malcontents were being pieced off in the hopes we would find meaning in our remaining months of enlistment.

The Sergeants decided I could do less harm if I got buried in the Supply Department where things were cut and dry. It was all about counting what you have and checking your count against the number on the manifest.

On my second day on this assignment, I was left behind while all others went to lunch. My instructions were simple: answer the phone and don’t blow the place up.

It was when the second call came in that my brain went AWOL. I answered the phone in a crisp, military manner. The caller went straight ahead. “Do have PFC Chevrons?” I took only a minor pause and said, “No, Sir, we have no one named Chevrons, PFC or otherwise”

His response derailed my composure. “I didn’t ask for PFC Chevrons. I want PFC Chevrons”! At this point, I figured this was some brand of Army-speak that a knuckled headed SP4 could not manage. I tried to defuse the situation by saying the supply guys are at lunch and call back later. This must have been the worst possible answer because the non-com-poop on the phone became loud and theatrical.

I hung the phone up and vowed not to answer another call. I concentrated on not blowing the place up.

It was when the Supply Sergeant returned, and I was telling him about the call that it came to me: “PFC Chevrons” were the physical stripes worn by PFCs. I stopped my report and told him what a bone-headed move I had made. He laughed his hillbilly, self-righteous laugh and said it would work out.

The Sergeant took the follow-up call, and looked at me while he listened to his counterpart’s version of the story. Seems the other guys felt treated to a story they’ll tell for a long time. I was assigned the butt-of-the-joke position and all was peace and light. This is when I learned Army life is so mind numbingly drab they’ll look for ways to break up the daily monotony.

I declined the offer to deliver our available PFC chevrons to their newest destination. I didn’t want to hear their mocking laughter.

A life lesson learned

June 4th, 2019 by John Morris

I am often guided by a lesson I learned in 2002. I was touring China then with my son, Adam. He taught English at a school in Tianjin, and we had planned a father/son trip of a lifetime together.

We were traveling by ship on the Yangtze River where the Great Dam was being built. After the dam was completed, rushing water would flood the many communities lining the storied river. It would be our chance to see Chinese history before it disappears.

The ship anchored at the end of the second day. It was here where we booked a day trip up one of the tributaries into a remote section of the river. We would see troops of monkeys; ancient fishing villages and religious symbols on the sides of mountains. It would make for a good adventure. The alternative was to sit all day on the crowded, dirty ship in a smelly harbor.

We were moved from our large boat and into smaller ones holding two dozen passengers. We then roared up the narrow inlet.

The day did present all we expected: monkeys, fishing villages and shrines were seen. At one point about a dozen local men pulled our vessel up the river and over rocks using ropes and muscles.

At the turn-around point, we were served a simple Chinese meal of rice and mystery meat. Tea was free, but if we wanted other beverages, the local market was standing by. They also were brimming with touristy purchases.

My son and I had a bad turn with the other adventurers on our mini-boat, and wanted nothing more to do with them. We found a section away from the food market. It was a rocky beach where fishermen staged their boats each work day. A nearby group of small children were playing without any toys or gear. They viewed us with mild curiosity but played on.

A boy aged around two years came over to me and extended his hand holding a small rock. He gave it to me and looked down. He did not ask for anything in return. I was struck stupid by this gesture. I bowed and thanked the boy but did not accept the rock from him.

Later my son told me these people have very little, and to the boy, this was all he could offer me as a gift of friendship. When I learned this, I was leveled by how badly I acted. Many times, I wished I could recreate this moment but that can not happen. All I can do is take the lesson I learned from this moment when a little boy made a lovely gesture of friendship to me, a stranger, and I was unaccepting.

I often remember this watershed moment. I learned to always look for the kindnesses of others. I now will accept small symbols of affection as the big gifts they are.

What happened to the little boy? He and all of his region were relocated to large cities to start new lives. He may not remember me, but I carry him in my heart every day.

Keeping things just for the sake of keeping things.

February 1st, 2019 by John Morris

Hoarding stuff is not my way although my wife, Lyn may disagree. One thing keeping me from this extreme way of life is my history with hoarders.

When my Dad’s mother moved from one home to another, he assigned me to help her. My Dad decided I would help her after school and on weekends. I wondered why I was the chosen one since I had two Aunts and four cousins living near her. They knew to get scarce I guess.

GrandMa had worked at a local thrift store for years. When I walked through her home, the message I got was the store didn’t throw anything away, my Grandmother just boxed it up and took it home. Once there, she simply stockpiled it never to be used again.

We’d load volumes of low worth items into her station wagon and unload them into the new destination’s basement. I was at her home for about two weeks and rejoice when I got the word I no longer would be going there.

I wonder whatever happened to that mobile junkyard she kept. I am better off not asking.

My business partner, Harry Crosson managed to fill his home with so much “stuff” visitors would need to move boxes around to get across a room. When he moved, he asked me to help him with the move. He had family, but he would suffer the high price of their disapproval.

Moving Harry from his single home to a one bedroom apartment required the rental of a storage locker equal in size to a tractor/trailer. His belongings in the new apartment caused a redecoration in the fashion of his old home. Stuff was jammed into all conceivable areas. The move took a week of six hour days, and the move was only two blocks away.

A story to illustrate the way of the hoarder.

As we started the move, I suggested to Harry that he first go through his stash and throw things away. “NO!”, he said. I then reached into a box and removed a nearly empty box of chocolate covered cherries. It looked to be years old. I said, “Why are you keeping this?” He shot back, “Well, someone may want it.” I said, ” May I have it?” After he said, “Yes”, I threw it into a trash can to make a point. Harry used moves and reflexes of a younger man as he scurried across the room to reclaim the box. I tried to explain there is zero chance anyone will ever eat the candy so it a burden to keep it and all the other things like it. The chocolate in the box went to the storage locker. It was still there when he died. Then it was someone else’s problem.

In 2016, I reorganized my humble bedroom using the KonMarie method*. I cleared a lot of stuff I was not going to ever use. Even today, I stored clothes and other items a la KonMari.

Maybe with my past history with hoarders and my newly found “sparking joy” way of life, I will not descend into the self-loathing ways of hoarder.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6BkvPWaCnI

Long running

August 22nd, 2018 by John Morris

For parts of my life, I ran long distances for exercise and sanity.  It started in high school when I joined our cross county team.  I was classically built for the event: a tad over 5’5″ and under 120 pounds.  I had all I needed except speed.  It matter little to our coaches since they already had their “horses” and just need filler for the meets.  My assignment was to not impede the other runners.

My usual finishing position went in the books as “also ran”.  My efforts did nothing to change the competitions’ outcomes.  “Also ran” is an even mix of non-recognition recognition and why did I bother.  Decades later, I found dignity in being an “also ran”.

To me “also ran” means someone who entered a competition with little chance to win awards but runs anyway.  The battles are with ourselves and our past efforts.   Getting an “also ran” tag meant we were there.  It says we tried.

In 1980, I ran a Philly half-marathon.  I finished one minute short of my goal of under two hours.  I was lifted enough by my accomplishment to not really care.

I read a follow up interview with the race’s winner, Rod Dixon.  He had finished almost one hour ahead of me.  To his credit, he hung around the finishing line after the awards ceremony and cheered for the many finishing their personal odysseys.  It was exciting to see a member of running royalty cheering home runners like me.  He was feeling the connection runners have.  So was I.

Months later and in a different setting, Dixon gave an interview and spoke about talking with an “also ran” about the four hours plus needed to complete his marathon.  He was truly impressed by the man and said, “You actually ran for over four hours!”

Did my “also ran” runner’s heart good to hear such praise.

 

 

Friends are everywhere we go.

August 12th, 2018 by John Morris

This year my nuclear family gathered together in Canada for a summer holiday.  This marked the first time I spent more than one day in the land of our northern neighbor.  Quebec City and Montreal were bookends of the complete adventure, but we spent time in a small and charming city called La Malbaie located on the Saint Charles River, population 8,271.

Our lodging was at a first class hostelry selected by daughter-in-law, Yuri Kim.  It had great rooms, pools, hot tubs and a three star restaurant.  Yuri should book vacations for a living.

What is there to do in this vacation haven?  I did something I like to do.  Travel to the heart of the business area and walk around.  I avoid other mainstay locations such as industrial, residential and shopping centers.  Give me rows of small locally owned businesses, and I can extract a good day.

Fearing the hilly terrain, I took a taxi to the epicenter of the town.  It was a nicely appointed church with a tall enough steeple visible from distances.

The library is my usual first stop on these mini-adventures.  This one had multiple displays about the region and more like a museum.  La Malbaie was a fishing village and a water harbor.  Too bad La Malbaie is French for the bad bay.  Ships routinely came in but often didn’t get back out.  Something about sand bars causing them to dry dock.

I hit the street armed with small goals (find a restaurant for tonight’s dinner and wander around).  I first walked around for about 45 minutes to get a feel for the area.  Then I hit the shops.  I’d spend five minutes just talking with the clerks and owners.  Then I’d make token purchases and move along.

After I toured the stores of interest in the greater La Malbaie area, I realized I had more than two hours before my planned return to the hotel.  I hatched a plot to stay in the village and have my family pick me up for dinner.  But what to do for this extra stay?

This is when I took a tangent from the main drag toward a side street.

I saw a welcomed sight.  A Grand Opening sign for “Bistro-Thé L’Échange.  A nifty looking tea oasis just when I want it to be there.  I first walked around inside this small shop mostly devoted to tea.  I decided to have that first really good tea of the day (genmacha).

Not content to just serve tea, this bistro-the has coffee, pastries, candies, beer and sandwiches.  I joked I didn’t need to leave this place.  Note: the pastries are made in-house.

I later ordered a sandwich and beer for my snack.  I settled in to talk with the young barista.  She was a pleasant and charming lady who took me early for an American.  Her English was better than good.  She told me many younger people are bilingual.  Older folks? Not so much.

We chatted about our lives and what we were both doing of interest.  I learned about her without ever learning her name.  She lived with her parents and a son named Bastian.  He played soccer and was doing well in school.  As I listened to her story, I realized how happy her life made her.  It radiated from her and lifted our spirits.

Time went by, and my ride arrived.  Bastian’s Mom told me were to go for dinner thus finishing my to-do list.  I left the tea shop with another fun day stored in my memory banks for future recaps.

This short story shows why I enjoy what my son, Adam and I call “following our noses.”  No plan on what to do or expect.  Just go out and let the karma flow.  Does it always work?  No, but it does often deliver life memories like my time with Bastian’s Mom at Bistro-Thé L’Échange in La Malbaie, Canada.

 

 

Clueless men in ads.

August 10th, 2018 by John Morris

Years ago, a wave of new commercials hit the TV world.  In them, the women were portrayed as more intelligent and capable than the helpless men.  I enjoyed these early commercials due mainly to the fact they were twists of the normal.

Fast forward to today, and we see a constant storm of these commercials.  So much so that I don’t remember the last ad I saw when the woman played the stooge.  The advertising world’s drones must believe the male of the species must play an incompetent fool to maximize their sales.

Hey advertising geniuses, it’s time to find new approaches for hawking goods.  Setting men up as incapable children insults men and women they think still need catering.

 

First your legs go

May 30th, 2018 by John Morris

Boomers learning to play baseball in the mid 1950s were taught throwing the ball starts with the legs.  The muscles in the legs act as springs sending energy through our trunks into our arms flinging the ball away.

This distant memory came to me today while I was throwing yard debris into the borough’s dumpster.  The container was filled to the top as it always is.  I dragged the load from the car and grabbed a small section only to have the entire mess become inter-twined making it more than I could handle.

I found a way to make smaller sections.  Now all that was left was to fling these bundles over the five foot high sides of the dumpster.  My first attempt was so bad the debris bounced off and landed on my head.  I gathered my dignity and summoned once mighty leg muscles to send the bundle onto the pile’s apex.  My better efforts landed just above the container.  I was able to push the bundles past the point of hanging on the edges.

I can thank a symptom called disequilibrium.  This unwelcomed visitor is the result of neuropathy in my legs caused by diabetes.  My description of this aliment is trying to walk with legs not quite strong enough.  The feet drag, and there is much stumbling. Most of the time, the legs just don’t respond as you’d expected.

I have started walking with a cane.  It does help.  I would have fallen at least twice today but not for this support.

Am I happy to need a cane to ambulate?  Not at all!  Canes are for old folks or so I thought.

But my cane is not just any ordinary cane.  No, no, it was made by our local handyman/good guy, Dominic Guerreri.  When Dom’s retirement came, he made canes for his male buddies.  Dozens of these handcrafted canes made their way to friends.  They could now continue their long walks with Dom.

My Dad was one of the men for whom Dom made a cane.  When Dad died twenty years ago, the cane found its way to my basement.  It looks like a wooden vine with a strong bow in the long section and a oddly angled handle jutting from it. Do I feel jaunty when I use it?   No, I feel more like I’m on display.  I wonder who is watching me and what their new opinion of me is.  Of course, I can’t allow these thoughts to control me.

I know it’s just a cane, but it’s symbolic of a decline I fear and despise.  I guess I’ll always believed I would be one of those rare old-timers with still some spring in the legs.

Yeah, like I can stop time.

 

My favorite music group?

May 22nd, 2018 by John Morris

For bits and pieces of my life, I’ll favor one music group over all the others.  This position was held by Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Mommas & the Papas, Meatloaf, Beach Boys and most recently, The Band.  Coming on strong now are The Kinks.

During the course of my obsessions, I’d listen to the group’s music and all and everything on-line about them: live performances, Wiki-stuff, biographies, etc.

For sometime now, I’ve been focused on the Canadian-American group called simply, The Band.  If their work is unfamiliar to you, I am jealous.  I would love to switch places and hear them for the first time.

Some back story: a rockabilly group named Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks toured Canada and found some seriously talented musicians: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson.  Traveling with him was American drummer, Levon Helm.  After putting down some serious road time, Robertson, Manual, Danko, Hudson and Helm decided to break free from Hawkins and let him tour in Canada alone where he was a big enough deal.

Calling themselves Levon & the Hawks and The Canadian Squires, they slowed buildt up respect and fame within the rock world.  They also caught lightening in a bottle when they became Bob Dylan’s backup band.  Dylan was planning to drop folk music and start a rock career.  He needed a talented backup group.  This career change came with stiff resistance from the “folk” world.  Bob Dylan and the Band were booed mercilessly at concerts in America and even worse overseas.  The trauma of performing under hostile conditions caused Dylan to stay off the stage for years even after recovering from a motorcycle accident.  Levon Helm quit and went to work on an oil rig.  He would later return to the fold.

The Band moved to Saggerites, New York bordering Dylan’s home in Woodstock, NY.  It was at this home/studio where The Band and Dylan created new and inventive music.  They’d jam for monster hours producing several classic hits guided by Bob Dylan’s genius.

The rest is rock history.  Watershed moments for The Band include playing at Woodstock ’69 and creating the quintessential rockumentary, The Last Waltz.

The Band broke up after Robbie Robertson announced he would no longer tour.

I would like to report that all went well for the five minstrels after their split, but I can’t.  They became factionalized with a lot of the usual back-biting about money and credits.

After awhile, The Band started touring again without Robertson.  They now played at smaller, yet still magical venues.  Robertson became a music directors for films.

Following a long history of drug abuse, Richard Manual committed suicide.  He had suffered enough for one lifetime.  The Band’s signature song, The Weight echoes bits of Manual’s struggles in its lyrics.

Although shaken by the loss of their talented mate, Danko, Hudson and Helm kept the music going until Rick Danko passed in his sleep.  Helm was running the show at the time and decreed there can be no “The Band” without Manual and Danko.

Levon Helm continued to have a full bodied career and elevated the Southern rock genre.  The music community and legions of fans lionized him.

Cancer struck Helm and took his singing voice. He performed until it returned.  This man with an indomitable spirit also died leaving Garth Brooks and Robbie Robertson behind.  If we are to learn more about The Band, it will come from these two.

In a display of brotherly love, Levon Helm and Rick Danko are buried side-by-side in Woodstock, NY.

The gifts given by The Band exceeds their music.  They led lives most men would choose, if they had more nerve.

Okay and a whole lot more musical talent.

 

Pleasant dreams

February 25th, 2018 by John Morris

In September 2017, the Coatesville VA Hospital Doctor suggested I’d be tested for sleep apnea.  To me, my symptoms didn’t match his suggestion but I reasoned, he’s the Doctor, and it would be just another test in an nonending stream of tests.

The sleep test will be done at the Michael Crescenz Veterans Affairs Hospital in Philadelphia.  Turns out they have the VA’s regional Sleep Study.

At my first appointment, I was given an apparatus to circle my chest with stylish matching devices for the hand and face.  I took these machines home and hook them up.  The results of my sleep test would be transmitted directly to the Sleep Study folks.  Note: I love technology.

Despite the technician’s simple directions, I got the hook-up chore wrong, and it never recorded my sleep.  I discovered my misstep in the morning and called the Sleep Center.  I guess this must have happened enough for them to react with saint-like patience.  “Try again tonight, Mister Morris.  You seem to understand how it works.”  And so I did.

The result came back quickly.  “You are waking up at night at an average of 19 times an hour”.  Note the accepted average for older adults is 5 to 10.  These little shocks of wakefulness were robbing me of quality sleep and making fatigue a way of life.  A new appointment was next for a CPAP machine fitting.  Oh what joy is this?

Things can happen slowly with the VA, but this was not one of those times.  In two days, I travelled back to get my new gear.  But first there was a classroom lesson to endure.

I sat at a computer and watched an instructional video about the workings of CPAP machines and a cartoon-like rendition of how to put on the mask.

Amy, the sleep technician took me to her work station to explore how to set up the my new machine.  This took me back to my days at Fort Gordon, Georgia when I was learning now to operate radio teletype machines.  Except Amy was a better instructor than those “I love the Army” type I had then.

Amy tried on a small number of CPAP masks, and we decided the best for me was the full face mask due mostly to my tendency to be a “mouth breather”.

A lesson on how to clean the machine was drilled into me in a way that showed Amy did this routine a lot.

With this behind me, I was good to go; so I did.

That night, I set up my new sleep buddy and fully expected to have a major improvement in my condition in the morning.  This did not happen.  As the weeks passed, I reached out to others using CPAPs.  I was told it takes a while.  Weeks, maybe months before I would feel the positive effects.  Everyone said to stick with it.  The results are worth it.

My journey started in October 2017.  I have steadfastly stay with the CPAP program.  On February 22nd, I experienced my first night of restful sleep and my first high energy day.

Four month of sleeping with a plastic cup strapped to my face with its attached air hose forcing wind into my face has finally paid off.

The difference is easily measured.  After a poor night’s sleep, I can push myself to do chores, but I need to take rest breaks.  Following a good night’s sleep, I am active and do chores more effectively.

If sleeping with a CPAP machine can give me a better day, I’m all in.

about


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.

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