Friday, December 10, 2010

25 Random Things: # 5

5. Beer, pizza, ice cream, buttermilk biscuits. I believe that pretty much says it all.

Nothing really a lot to say about this one. But I'll try.

1. Beer - considering I didn't drink until I was a sophomore in college, and didn't really start drinking until a year later, this was surprising to me. I never thought I would be a big drinker. My friends I hung with in school didn't drink, so I didn't. I didn't have a problem with drinking, or those who did. I just didn't do it myself.

My sophomore year in college, our school's men and women's basketball teams won the national championships. While the playoffs were going on, we started going to all the games, and then going out to the bars afterwards to celebrate. It was fun, and the start of something.

So, since then I've drunk more than any person should. I used to work in a liquor store, and people would ask me what I drank. I would just point to the shelf behind me and tell them to pick something, because I used to drink it. A lot of tequila and whiskey, as well as the beer. And schnapps. Man, I love me some schnapps.

But those days are over with. Now it's just beer on occasion, as I'm hardly drinking at all (working nights will do that) and some whiskey once in awhile. Of course, not having any money really cuts down on that also.

2. Ice cream - I love it. Vanilla, mostly. Some chocolate chip every once in awhile. But mostly vanilla, with some chocolate sauce on it. Or even better, some butterscotch. Man, I love vanilla ice cream with butterscotch.

For those of you reading previously, you'll know that Neeve loves ice cream too. It must be a genetic thing. She likes strawberry, which is a good choice, but it's not vanilla. And vanilla shakes. Those are good too.

The best ice cream I've ever had was in Amsterdam, which, oddly, is not known for its ice cream. If you stand in Dam Square, and look at the palace, just to the right of it is a little alleyway. Between the palace and the Rembrandt museum. If you go down that alleyway about 25 yards in, on the left side, there's a little shop about the size of a walk-in closet. I don't know if it's still there or not, as I haven't been in a few years. I hope it is. Now that I'm legal, I need to take a road trip.

3. Buttermilk biscuits - what can I say, its the country in me. Since I can remember, I've loved biscuits. I can't get enough of them. I'm not talking English biscuits, which are cookies. I'm talking scones, but so much more than that. Get them hot out of the oven, slap a pound of butter on them, and that's a meal for a king.

In fact, that is my breakfast a lot of time. A bunch of biscuits and nothing else. Of course, my cholesterol is up, but I don't care. I'm not missing out on my biscuits. Slap some gravy on them for biscuits and gravy, some hot coffee, and I'm in redneck heaven. I could eat biscuits 3 meals a day, and have them for a snack in between.

4. Pizza – who doesn’t love pizza. Not the wussy cheese pizzas, or pineapple pizzas. I’m talking the meat lovers jumbo. Sausage, pepperoni, ham, whatever can get on it. I could easily eat pizza three or four times a week. That, however, is the problem. I like it too much, and it doesn’t like me back. Of course, too much of anything isn’t good for you, so I try to keep it at a couple of times a month. Dominos will deliver here, but lack of money helps me resist the temptation.

Those are my four staples of life. Those are my 5 food groups: beer, ice cream, butterscotch sauce, biscuits and butter. I'm not healthy, but I'm happy. Are you with your crap vegetarian diet?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book review --- The Greatest Generation; by Tom Brokaw

I finally got around to reading The Greatest Generation, after having it sit on my bookshelf for 9 years and follow me through 4 different countries. It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid it, it just seemed that I always had a better book at hand. I knew it would be a good book, but it was also seemed to be one of those Oprah book clubs selections that everyone read because it was more popular than good. Not the type of book I usually choose, but the subject matter was more important than the hype.

I was also interested in the book because Tom Brokaw was raised in South Dakota, where I have lived and visited since I was a teenager. He spent the early years of his life 50 miles from where I used to live, and is a Midwesterner born and bred, who also came from a family with a military /wartime background. Very similar, if somewhat different to me. Reading about places I’ve been to and know well always interests me.

Brokaw breaks the book into eight sections, aptly titled Ordinary People, Heroes, Famous People, for example. He starts with Ordinary People, and takes his through his early life, with his family and people he knew growing up. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most, as it was just about Ordinary People. The kind of people I knew and grew up with. These people truly were the Greatest Generation.

Many of the later sections deal with more famous people Brokaw came to know during his career as a correspondent, although to be fair, they were the Greatest Generation before they became famous. Although there were a few interesting stories, I didn’t really learn all that much new about the famous people that I didn’t already know about. Brokaw provides some more in-depth knowledge of these people, but nothing groundbreaking.

This is where my egotism from my military background comes into play, as I wasn’t very impressed with the section on the Home Front. Yes, I know the military needs equipment and support, but equating those who didn’t fight with those who did doesn’t really work for me. They were important, and they did important things. But turning screws on an assembly line doesn’t carry the same weight as carrying a rifle. This section doesn’t belong in a book like this.

The section that does, and the best section of the book, is Shame, where Brokaw profiles those who were discriminated against and not allowed to be part of this Greatest Generation as a full member. He doesn’t go into a rant about what happened, nor do those people in the book. They state what happened to them, that it wasn’t right, and that they carried on with their lives the best they can. People who fought for freedom for people of other countries that they were denied themselves. That’s always worth reading about.

I can tell you from personal experience that there are three things any soldier wants: hot food, mail and to have their families taken care of. Love, Marriage and Commitment is an excellent section that details what it was like to be the spouse of a soldier serving overseas. I’m always on the side of the soldier, but the families never get enough credit for what they bring to the military, and to the soldiers. In today’s world, this section is a great read for anyone who knows a military family.

Where the book loses me, and starts to drag, is in the Famous People section. This becomes more of a roll call of celebrities and politicians that Brokaw has a personal relationship with. That makes sense, obviously, as it was easier to find and write about people he knows than to go out and recruit strangers. It doesn’t make this a bad thing, it just give more illumination to people who have the light shining on them for years. Skipping this section and finding more Ordinary People would have been much better, to my opinion, and made this more a book of common people who made the generation than rehashing great people who have who were part of the generation.

Brokaw is at his best when common people tell their stories and provide us new insight to this time and place. A lot of this is common knowledge years later, as it finally began to become an open story after Saving Private Ryan and this book. We’re all familiar with the story now, but 12 years ago, the general public didn’t know this side of World War II. Brokaw helped get the word out, and even though the book lags at times and becomes a walk of fame, he gets the point across about what these people did, and thing issues they dealt with. The chapters on Joe Foss, Daniel Inouye, Nau Takasugi, and Art Buchwald and his family and friends from back home make it worth the read.

The luster has passed on this book, and sadly, the entire “Greatest Generation” phenomena. It shouldn’t, however, as these people are leaving every day, and way to soon, there will be none left. The theme of this book might be passé, but the stories aren’t. Pick the book up. Read it. Remember it. It’s important.

*** Note --- I’ve never tried to review a book before (not that anyone cares all that much), and looking back over this, I guess it’s more of a review of my opinion of the book than an actual review of the book itself. Oh well, that’s how we do things.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A look at our enemies

So today is December 7th, or as we call it in some areas, “Pearl Harbor Day”. For those of you not in the know, that is the day when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii, and got the United States into World War II. Of course, the fact that the Japanese ambassador had already delivered a declaration of war previously to that helped out a lot.

These days, 69 years later, we are mostly friends with the Japanese. In other words, we are friends, have normal diplomatic relations, trade relations, and people move back and forth between the two countries fairly regularly, either working or as tourists. We’ve been able to get over it, or forgive them, or sell out, or whatever each person wants to fell is the issue. This is a country that attacked us without provocations, fought a brutal war with us, tortured and murdered our prisoners, had two nuclear bombs dropped on them by us, were occupied by them, and yet we’ve each managed to forgive the other and become friends.

Hell, we’re even friends with the French, so pretty much anything is possible. So this got me to thinking about other countries we’ve had ‘issues’ with, and what our relationship with them is, and what the outlook is:

Canada --- we tried to invade them during the Revolution and the War of 1812. Neither was successful, and we let it go at that. Now we have the largest undefended border in the world, and even though we aren’t best friends, we’re at least drinking buddies and everything is pretty normal.

Mexico --- lots of history and bad feeling here, but we have normal relations with them. Kind of two neighbors pissing and moaning over the back yard fence about whose turn it is to trim the communal tree, but friendly nonetheless. Of course, a large portion of Americans claim citizenship on both sides of the border, so it behooves us to get along. Mexico is the black sheep uncle, and we're the white collar relative who never knows how to handle things.

Cuba --- I really hope Castro had something to do with Kennedy’s assassination, because there really isn’t any reason to be this pissed off at them. They weren’t the ones who tried to launch missiles at us, even though they were going to allow it. Nothing will ever change until Fidel is gone, and maybe even a few more years to get rid of the old guard. But as soon as they Cold War Hawks are gone for both countries, things will open up and we’ll be fine. And Havana will get an expansion team. Cuba is the kid from Rushmore, and we're the guys from Breaking Away.

Vietnam --- gave us the only whooping we’ve ever had, but some pretty good movies also. Not that that is a reason to be friends, but we kind of are. My father and uncle are both Vietnam vets, and they don’t have any issues. We both seem to have forgiven the other, and political philosophies seems to be the only drawback to true friendship. This is the work buddy you got into a bar fight with over some silly argument, didn’t speak to for months, and now you’re both tiptoeing around the issue in order to get along again.

Russia --- no more Cold War, no more reason to be enemies. This is just an adversarial; I’m the big dog in the schoolyard kind of relationship. The only reason we can’t be real friends is because we aren’t allowed to be. There has to be two polar opposites in world politics, and even though there is no real animosity, there is no real friendship either. We’re both more worried about China than each other. This is the jock and the greaser competing for the foreign exchange student.

Germany --- we were never really made at Germany. It was the genocidal assholes that we really didn’t like, but we were mostly fine with the Germans. Germans like Americans, Americans like Germans, and everything is fine. There has never been any real problems. We like their beer and women, and they like to visit Disneyland. Germany is Stiffler, and we’re trying to bone Stiffler’s mom.

England/United Kingdom --- no real issue here. They pretend to like us, and we pretend to care. We beat them twice, and now they’re our best friends. The two leading English speaking countries in the world, and we work together to get things done, even though we pick and snipe at each other all the time. Its an extreme rivalry, but with friendship. This is the big brother and the little brother running the family business together; with the big brother keeping the books while the little brother handles sales.

Italy --- yeah, we actually fought Italy during the war, even though most high school students don’t know it. But no one cares about this anymore. It’s the land of vacations, hot girls, and guys in dresses. We all want to visit, but don’t really have a clue about what goes on there. We get along fine, but in a cautious, don’t get too close way. Italy is the hustler cousin who always want to borrow money.

That’s the list for now. I’m sure there are other countries out there, but I’m not really going to go more in-depth. Feel free to add your list. Not much to any of this, of course, but it was kind of interesting. At least to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

25 Random Things: # 4

4. People think I talk too much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.

Yeah, I'm kind of verbose, and tend to talk a little bit too much at times. Life goes on. When I was a kid, you couldn't have gotten me to talk. I was as shy as it's possible to be, and didn't think it would ever get better. Like most people, I had my moments, and could have a lot of fun and act up. But mostly I never did. Even at kids parties, I was the wallflower and wouldn't go talk to people I didn't know.

It was really bad in school, because it affected my grades. For some stupid reason, you have to do projects where you get up in front of the class and read it, or present it. That was a big problem for me, and I didn't like it. I would refuse to get up, or tell the teacher I hadn't done it, and take the failing grade. Failing was better than standing up in front of everyone.

There are a lot of reasons why I was like this, but I won't go into them. Mostly, it was a fear of failure or being laughed at. I don't know if that's the common reason, but it was mine. Suffice it to say, it was a problem. I would do anything I could to avoid being in front of a crowd. About the only thing where I didn't have a problem with it was in sports. But I wasn't a good athlete, so it wasn't like I played a lot.

Of course, this didn't help when it came to meeting women. It was always a big problem, because I wouldn't approach a woman to ask her out. Now don't think I was entirely lonely all that time. I wasn't. I guess some women liked the shy act, even though it wasn't. It would just take the woman approaching me and then it was fine. If she was going to come talk to me, then she must have been interested.

This finally came to a head when I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the time everything in Somalia kicked off. My job was going to require me to give presentations on the services we provided, and not just to soldiers. To the high-level commanders and the spouses. If you've never had to brief a group of Army wives, you don't know what pressure is. You really don't.

I knew I had to get over it. To be clear, it wasn't fear of being up in front of a group of people. I had done that. It was being noticed by people I didn't know more than anything, and it wasn't fear, such as sweats and shaking and wanting to pass out. If I had to do it, I could. It just wasn't comfortable and I didn't like it. I always had the comfort level with people I knew, and think I was mostly okay socially in my own way. It was strangers I had a problem with. So now I was faced with a situation where I had to do it, and had no choice.

As luck would have it, I was fairly close to home, and would go back to Missouri on long weekends. I would stay with my good friend Layne, and we would hit every bar and party we could find. Layne is a performer (singer/actor/etc) and being the center of attention is his thing. Like Robin Williams, he is always performing. And I was the sidekick straight man.

So one night we went out, and Layne met up with a girl he wanted to go out with, who was out with a friend of hers. We met up at the Legion dance (oh, the joys of small town living) and then went to Country Kitchen for breakfast. Layne, as usual, dominated the conversation and I kind of sat there. I figured these two pretty women weren't interested in anything I had to say, not while Layne was around. Eventually, one of them asked me something and I responded with a joke, or a one-liner or something, and they laughed.

Hey, good times. Further on through the evening, more questions to me, more funny lines, more laughter and all of a sudden I realized I could actually involve myself with people I didn't know, be funny, and the world didn't end. By the end of the night, I was carrying the conversation, the two girls were laughing and Layne was pissed because he wasn't the center of attention. He still hasn't gotten over it. That seems like a small breakthrough, but it was amazing. It showed me I could actually talk to people I didn't know and get up in front of people if I had to. I had a comfort level that I had never known before. It really was that simple.

So when it came time for the presentations, I aced them. I was funny, I was informative, and I managed to deflect some tension from the subject and sent everyone home feeling better about what we could do for them. The Group Commander, who was in attendance, even sent me a hand-written note telling me how well I had done. Which was great, because it's not unusual to get a form letter with a signature, but this was an actual hand-written letter. I still have it.

Since then I've given countless presentations, attempted conversations in foreign languages, meet presidents and prime ministers, and have generally gotten over it. If I have to get up in front of a crowd now, it's no big deal. I'm still nervous about doing well, but not about being in front of people. I've actually helped write comedy shows for a friend, and have been asked to do stand-up routines by someone else. When it came to meetings, the people I worked for were confident enough to let me run the meetings with dignitaries. It's become easy.

However, on the flip side of things, now people think I tend to talk too much. Some people have told me that I never shut up, and I should back off a little more. They might be right. They probably are. It's hard to know where to draw the line between being involved or not involved. I don't think I have it figured out just yet. What I have figured out is that the way I am now is a lot more fun than the way I used to be. And I won't shut up, and I won't go back to the way it was. If people have a problem with that, they are more than free to tell me. They just have to realize I don't care.

It’s not fun being that shy, and it isn't good for people to be that way. It can be lonely at times, even sometimes in a crowd of people. So people are going to have to deal with it. I've found my voice and I'm going to use it.

I refuse to be quiet any longer.