Monday
Aug202012

Uncle Joe, Part II

In “Joe” part one, I introduced my uncle Joe and told the story of Joe and his wife Connie’s encounter with a mirror at their high school reunion.  I promised to tell how he met Connie.

Connie is Joe’s second wife.  He had been divorced for some time when his eldest son John became engaged to be married.  As the wedding approached John’s young friends dragged Joe along on their bachelor party, bar-hopping in the Plaza and Westport.  They arranged for a limo (“Yeah, and I got stuck with the bill,” Joe remarked) to haul them around in order to avoid anyone being forced to maintain sobriety. It seems from the very first drink the boys sought to get Joe hooked up with “some young honey.”

“Problem was,” Joe said, “they were all young enough to be my daughters.”

Joe, no robber of cradles but an intelligent man, a creative man, a man smart enough not to ask a woman how old she is, devised a “weed out” method to determine if any of these ladies were old enough to pursue.  Joe managed within the initial information gathering repartee to casually bring up Charles Boyer (pronounced boy’yay). If any of the young ladies were old enough to remember him, well then they were fair game. One after another the pretty young things stared blankly at the mention of the actor’s name.

The evening grew late, at a rather swank place the boys pushed towards an attractive lady. Though a decade younger than Joe, Connie knew exactly who Boyer was and even discussed his performance with Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. The match was struck. The fire still burns today.

 

[For those too young to recall Mr. Boyer, he was a famous French actor who was nominated for best actor Academy Awards four times.]

Bergman and Boyer in "Gaslight"

Monday
Aug062012

Uncle Joe I

Uncle Joe was a prominent attorney and Johnson County Probate Judge.  Retired now, he spends winters on the Gulf coast with his wife, Connie.  I rarely see him.  When I was a boy, my mother’s younger brother Joe seemed to be the one grown-up who remembered what it was like to be a kid.  He was funny and friendly and often hung out with his nephews and nieces at family gatherings rather than sipping martinis with the adults.  I remember shooting fireworks on the fourth with him, including a rowboat excursion tying M-80s to rocks as homemade depth charges. Very cool.

I guess I had forgotten how enjoyable it is hanging with Uncle Joe.  It had been a few years since I’ve seen him and the occasion of our last two meetings were family funerals not conducive to hanging out.  Joe’s daughter Holly’s pressured insistence overcame our family’s male inertia tendencies and we got together: my dad, Joe and his son John, my brother, sister and brother- in-law and me.  We talked for several hours and it all came back, all of the reasons I like this man. 

As we talked, my dad told Joe how remarkably he now resembled Pop, his father.  Joe laughed and told this story:

He and Connie went to his 50th high school reunion in Omaha a few years back.  They walked down the hotel corridor towards the ballroom and the walls near the door held floor to ceiling mirrors.  Joe stopped and looked at his reflection.  A look of dismay crossed his face as he said,

 “What the hell is my father doing here?”

Connie, standing next to him and looking into the same mirror, responded “And what’s my mother doing with him?”

Next up: How Joe and Connie met – it’s a hoot.

Yes, crappy resolution. From left: cousin John, Uncle Joe, brother Phil, me, sister Julie, brother-in-law John, my dad Phil

Monday
Jul092012

Big Trouble

Yes, Big Trouble!  Whether you believe that our world’s people (USA leads the pack) doing all of that dumping of huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere is causing global climate change, or whether you believe as some do that it’s merely cyclical change that has gone on since the beginning of time, it’s here.  Global warming, global climate change, call it what you will.  The evidence is everywhere. 

Glaciers retreating.  The ice at our poles shrinks.  Cataclysmic storms.  Blizzards. Tornados.  Tsunamis and hurricanes. Epic heat and drought.  There’s some bad shit going on.  But last Friday night my research discovered something that I believe no one has thought of, something much more terrible.  In order to properly reveal my research and its potentially far reaching repercussions, I must take you back to the year 1958.  A film late Friday night jettisoned me back to that year to face a denizen of my childhood nightmares

In the summer of 1958 I had just finished the 4th grade and was old enough to accompany my 7th grader brother Phil to adult-free Saturday matinees.  The mid-late 50s - with the exception of a thousand Russian atomic bombs pointed at us – was a care-free, laid-back time, a time when movie houses like the Overland Park Theatre featured matinees with shoot-em-up westerns and chilling monster movies.  The ground work for my research was laid one July day in 1958.  My big brother Phil and I were dropped off in front of the theatre for what was touted as a thrilling monster movie titled The Blob.

Perhaps I was a bit young to watch such a scary movie.  It would have frightened the pee out of me had I not used the restroom right before it started.  The Blob literally terrified my fragile young psyche.  My big brother fed Milk Duds into his yap, apparently amused at both the film and his freaked-out kid brother.  But you see, the Blob was gobbling up that Pennsylvania town’s populace at an alarming rate, and nothing could stop it.  That’s when a teenage Steve McQueen and his girlfriend (who would grow up to be Mayberry’s Helen Crump, Sheriff Andy Taylor’s girlfriend) used a CO2 fire extinguisher on the Blob and it retreated a bit.  Turns out that it was warm blooded (warm-globbed?); cold bothered the Blob more than it bothers a Phoenix retirement village full of baby-boomers.  

In 1958, the sight of those high school kids and adults, all manning extinguishers from the town’s high school, freezing solid that now movie theatre-sized blob came as a big relief.  Once frozen, the Air Force carted the Blob using a giant net and an air transport plane and dumped it off in the middle of the arctic wilderness.  The End.

Here’s the thing, though.  The arctic wilderness is melting.  Just ask the polar bears.  Someday, and it may be sooner rather than later, the Blob will be traipsing (squishing?) its way south, growing and gobbling up Canucks as it heads for Kansas.  Will anyone be able to stop it?  I know one thing, tomorrow I’m heading over to the Paola Family Center to buy me one of them CO2 fire extinguishers.   

Friday
Jun222012

17 Again

Since early adolescence I have craved a fast car, a really fast car, an impressive looking car that turns heads.  At 20, I owned a Mustang, but a puny six-cylinder engine powered it.  I little later I bought a 1970 Javelin, somewhat fast looking and somewhat fast.  The Javelin approached my dream, but fell short, and add to that the sorrowful Javelin was the only real lemon I ever owned.  Since that time I’ve been a frugal car owner, purchasing a parade of good gas-mileaged, four plus passenger, ho-hum cars.  But the craving never completely dissipated.

My son Conor got married on June 9th and three days before the wedding I drove into the city to pick up my tuxedo.  I sat behind the wheel of our back-up family car, a 2001 PT Cruiser with 193,000 miles on its odometer.  On my way home, out in the country, in the one tiny stretch of 69 highway that gets no cell phone reception, the Cruiser instantly conked out at 74 mph.  It would not restart.  Turns out the timing chain broke. 

The timing chain is a relatively important part of an engine.  Suppose you played for the Kansas City Chiefs football team and after you broke the huddle and as your center hiked the ball, your quarterback broke, just let go of the ball and sat down.  Chances are that particular play wouldn’t work so well.  The timing chain quarterbacks the engine.  It tells the cylinders exactly when to fire and in which order.  When the chain goes out, chaos reigns.  Often such chaos results in season ending injuries and the whole engine being placed on the team’s “physically unable to perform” list.  Such was the case for our unfortunate Cruiser, a good car that served us well.  The Cruiser now lives at the Highway 7 Salvage Rest Home where as an automotive organ donor, bits and pieces of her will prolong the lives of its next-of-kin.

Suddenly we were a car short.  My two options were: drive my big old 4 X 4 pickup that gets the same gas mileage as an M1 Abrams tank, which is negative, negative-3-miles-per-gallon; and the second option, my 1966 Ford Galaxy 500, which is an antique and not to be driven willy-nilly even though it gets slightly better gas mileage than an M1 Abrams.

My kids are grown and the nest is empty.  My wife has her own car.  The time was ripe to assuage my craving.  I bought a fast car, a very fast car, a new old, 2006 Mustang GT Premium with 37,000 miles on her.  She carries the big 8 cylinder engine, a 5 speed manual stick shift, Flowmaster exhaust.  She sounds fast just idling.  And inside she wears a Shaker 500 sound system with 6 CD changer and MP3. 

She sounds like those hot cars of my youth, that rumbling exhaust, just the kind that when you pull up to a traffic light, and sit there idling, everybody looks at your car and the male’s faces are painted with envy.  I was always one of the painted face enviers, except when I rode in my friend Kevin Arnold’s 396 Chevelle SS.  Well, scratch this craving off the old clichéd bucket list.  I feel as if I’m 17 again, young and wild and free. 17 year-old Kline, in his chubby old man disguise

 There are couple of minor problems: it’s so beautiful that I must drive like a grandpa (I know, I am one now) on the two miles of gravel each time to and from our house.  And I’m going to have to break down and buy a good car wash chamois instead of using my old Little Mermaid beach towel.

Last night I took my wife Nancy out to dinner.  Once we crept past the last bit of gravel road, I put the Mustang through its paces, laying rubber on each of the first three shift changes.  I think I smiled some.  Although she said nothing, I could tell Nancy was impressed. 

After dinner when we arrived home, Nancy took my keys and informed me that I was grounded for the weekend.  Dang it!

 

Tuesday
Jun192012

New Friends

A couple of weeks ago I attended a writers retreat with 29 women and 6 other men - sweet.  Women jockied for postion to sit next to me at meals and sessions - also sweet.  I met a writer from Russia and she and I are now Facebook friends.  And I met author Jean Grant, who splits time between Lawrence, Kansas and the south of France.  She spent a number of years in Saudi Arabia teaching and writing for an English language newspaper.  Jean has written a novel which she asked me to read and review on Goodreads and Amazon.

"If it's a good review, that is," she said.  "If not, please don't post it."

Good news, Jean.  I have posted it in both venues and am placing it here as well.

This is not a book for men, I thought.  So how come I was still reading it?  It seemed little more than a well written, literary version of chick-lit.  Why couldn’t I put it down?  Why did I ignore all those other things that I should be doing to keep turning Burning Veil’s pages?

Twenty-nine year old Sarah Moss is a successful emergency room doctor.  She’s independent and cautious of relationships, having been dumped when she became pregnant, a pregnancy which ended in her seeking an abortion.  Sarah’s experiences at the ER and in her life have guided her to a staunch agnostic belief system.  Her parents remain at arm’s length, as they are Limbaugh listening, 700 Club watching, proselytizing Christians. 

Sarah’s life changes when she meets a friend of her brother Pete, Ibrahim Suleiman, who has come to Wisconsin on a Fulbright Scholarship.  Ib is a wealthy young Saudi hydrologist, whose father owns and runs a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Predictably they fall in love, and against her parents protestations she decides to take a six-week ER exchange position in Ib’s father’s hospital.  Sarah wants to see if she can live in a Muslim country with radically different customs, one that both elevates women and severely restricts their freedom. 

Veil’s plot moves along predictably, and also predictably Sarah’s ER stint in the Saudi hospital leads up to September 11, 2001.  Here’s what kept me reading:

Debut author, Jean Grant’s story is chock-full of fascinating people, ones with foibles, serious ones.  Some are intensely likeable, some aggravating.  There’s Malika, Ib’s mother, a stern matriarch in a patriarchal society; Ib’s brother Shaheen, is as unbendingly fundamentalist in his Muslim faith as Sarah’s parents are in theirs, cousin Tisam, an unfortunate closet lesbian in a country that stones them to death, and Ib’s sister Layla, a warm, loving follower of fashion where fashion for women may not be worn in public.

Author Grant gradually ramps up the cultural chasm between Sarah’s upbringing and Ib’s.  The pressure builds like a really fine horror film, we know the bad stuff lurks just around a corner but which one.  Grant allows the tension to ebb and flow until we wonder if things will turn out fine after all.

They don’t.

In its way, Burning Veil is a top-shelf thriller.  And Grant allows westerners inside access to Saudi-style, middle-eastern Muslim culture, its graces as well as its warts, and she touches on the fundamentalist fringe that brought the world Osama Ben Laden.  Good stuff.