Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kent Preparing to Dine on Ship Island

That is a spear gun protruding form the garbage can with a cap hanging on the business end of the spear.

Safe Haven on Ship Island

I choose to believe that my parents were brave and wise, not just naive. For example, I think of the time they allowed me to camp on Ship Island with my friend Tom. Tom was 18 and I was 17. We drove a few hours from New Orleans to Biloxi in a car full of camping gear plus snorkeling and scuba equipment. There was a tour boat that took folks on an hour or so cruise into the Gulf of Mexico to Ship Island, the site of an old brick fort. Also a gift shop, snack stand, and residence were housed in a single building perched atop wooden pilings that reached at least 10 feet above the sand below. Other than the fort, sand is what constituted Ship Island. Sand, grass, vast swarms of mosquitoes, the fort, a dock and the tourist trap on a couple of square miles of island that was periodically washed clean by storm surge.

We laboriously hauled our gear from the dock to a spot half a mile or so along the beach facing the mainland. The boat operator just shook his head at the two skinny teens hauling boxes, bags, and even a metal garbage can filled with scuba gear. Apparently very few folks camped on Ship Island.

It was boy heaven. We had a tiny pup tent. We cooked on a camp stove and a driftwood fire. We swam with fins and snorkels for hours and hours in the relatively warm waters of the gulf. Small reefs were just offshore and swarmed with lots of interesting fish. The scuba tank allowed us to marvel at the sensation of breathing while several feet below the surface. At night we fished off the dock while the mosquitoes enjoyed a hearty meal on our bare torsos. When we bedded down, so many mosquitoes had joined us in our screened in pup tent that we decided on a radical course of action. We sprayed the tiny interior of the tent full of Black Flag flying insect poison. We even sprayed it into our palms and coated our bodies with it. The mosquitoes promptly died, apparently it is taking a while longer for Tom and I.

I don’t know how many nights we stayed. I do remember the huge black squall line that filled the sky as a big storm headed our way. The owner of the gift shop etcetera was kind enough to walk down the beach to let us know that the storm was a big one. He told us we were welcome to come up under his house and cling to the wood pilings if things got too hairy. However, we figured we were safe one or two feet above sea level in a pup tent that was anchored to the sand dunes with long pieces of driftwood. I imagine we might have died had we chosen to camp on the windward side of the island, just a few hundred yards away. Even on the lee side the storm howled and ripped at the tent. One year after we camped there, hurricane Camille cut the island in half. Last year Katrina widened the gap so much that only two small islands are left and all human construction other than the massive fort was swept away.

We awoke to an eerie quiet the next morning after sleeping soundly through much of the storm. We spied the gift shop empresario walking quickly to our tent. Breathlessly he asked if we were o.k. The storms winds were so strong that his building swayed badly on its wooden stilts. The family finally fled to the refuge of the old fort to wait out the storm. After he left, we congratulated ourselves on our cunning resourcefulness in the face of nature’s fury. I had not yet realized that fools bed down where angels fear to camp.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sgt Peppers, Beatles, 1967

The Mustache Story

The mustache story must be understood in the context of my experience with athletic coaches. I know that good hearted coaches exist, just as I know that straight talking politicians exist. I have caught glimpses of both, but that is a minute portion of my overall experience.

An early memory is playing in the 95 lb. football league in suburban New Orleans about 1961. My coach was eager to retain a player who was moving on to the 110 lb. league. Even though the kid was tall and skinny as a rail, the coach tried to get him to cut his food intake. He made the kid run lots of extra laps in hopes of sweating enough weight off of him to get him back into the 95 lb. league. To my father’s eternal credit, he came to practice and chewed the coach a new orifice after I carried the tale home.

It was taken for granted in that era that coaches should humiliate and physically punish their charges. Wind sprints until we puked and the like were par for the course. They were expected. My junior high team (7th – 9th grade) started the football season in August of the New Orleans summer, 90 degrees and 90 percent relative humidity. We were sweating by the time we tied our cleats. Practice lasted for several hours each morning. The coaches used every means of control possible. Verbal abuse, kicking, pushing, laps, and the like were common. One coach carried a length of broomstick that we referred to as the green weenie. He had taped one end to give him a no slip grip as he beat our backsides. One form of discipline that I really hated was how water was controlled. Sometimes we were allowed brief breaks to fight among ourselves to get a few gulps from an outdoor faucet. We ran to the faucet and attempted to drink while the other players fought to push in for their turn. If someone was strong enough to stay at the faucet for more than a few gulps, the coach would shove him away and declare that too much water would result in cramps. What I really dreaded however, was watering by rag. The coach would dip a dirty rag into a bucket of water. Those he felt had performed the best were allowed to suck on the rag first. He moved the rag amongst us until the weakest or most inept players were allowed only to chew the saliva laden rag in hopes of moistening their mouths.

Although such things were miserable to endure, they were temporary. That cannot be said of my knee injury. It occurred as I ran downfield during a summer scrimmage. I was blindsided by a running block. I spun completely around while standing on one leg. Unfortunately the long cleats we wore in those days kept my foot and lower leg from turning with the rest of the body. The pain in my knee was perhaps the worst I have ever felt. As I thrashed on the ground the head coach shouted at me. “Get up Schnake. Get up.” Each time I tried to rise, I collapsed in agony. Finally the coached walked over and kicked me onto my back. “Looks like you’re going to have one of these”, he chuckled as he pulled up his pants leg to expose a huge scar on the side of his knee. “Get him off my field” was his next comforting statement. Teammates dragged me to the side of the field. I propped my leg on my helmet since I was unable to straighten the leg as I lay there. Later when practice ended, I implored the coach, “How can I get home, I rode my bike?”

“That’s your problem” he called back, as he strode off the field.

I managed to hop on one leg to the school parking lot where someone’s mom gave me a ride home. I wore a cast for a few weeks. Ten years later, after my leg buckled under me a few times, I had surgery to remove torn cartilage. Now at age fifty five, I wear a brace to minimize the grinding of bone on bone in what is left of my knee.

But I could still swim! In fact I was better at swimming than any other sport. I started about age 12 and continued through college. Most swimming coaches were profane and loved to see us exhausted, but the opportunities for outright beatings and for injuries were fewer. Perhaps that frustrated my college swimming coach. He was very eager to assert his authority. He was a junior member of the coaching staff at a small university (Carnegie-Mellon) that was well known for academics. Athletics were an afterthought. He loved to have us sit shivering in our Speedos as he glared down at us and gave fiery “pep talks”. He also laid out the rules. I had grown a sparse mustache and pair of long sideburns. “No hair on your face”, he declared. “Shave or you are off the team.”

It is important to realize that this was in 1968. Attached is the cover of a Beatle’s album released in 1967, “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. You can see wax figures of the early 60’s Beatles to on the left side of the cover. They were called “mop heads”. By the late 60’s Beatles had mustaches and side burns. It is hard to remember, even for me, how shocking their hair and facial hair was for that generation.
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My coach was not alone in deploring my appearance. Our culture was convulsing. Hippies were suddenly a big item in the news. Long hair and facial hair were more than a fashion; they were a political statement.

I really loved swimming, but I also loved my new found freedom at college. How could I have both? I decided to do something that was very uncharacteristic for me, I went to the authorities. In this case, I made an appointment with the Dean of Men. Perhaps he would be willing to hear my case. As I walked into his office I suddenly realized I was fortunate beyond my wildest dreams. It happened that the Dean was a black man with a mustache. I made my case. He listened intently. “I think we may be able to help”, he said.

I attended my next swim practice with my mustache still feebly sprouting from my upper lip. The coach called us together for a shivering session. He paced back and forth. He could not conceal his rage, and he spoke with difficulty.

“Some anonymous coward has gone behind my back.” he shouted. “Whoever it was didn’t have the guts to oppose me to my face. He talked to the Dean, which is just about as high as you can go in the college administration. Now the Dean is telling me that I can’t make rules about hair, beards, and mustaches. But I see a way to deal with this. If you, the team, vote to adopt the rules, then they won’t be my rules. They will be the team’s rules.”

I marveled that the coach spoke as if there was any mystery about who had spoken to the Dean. I was the only team member with a mustache and sideburns. No one else had questioned his rules. How could he not see that it was me? Why wasn’t he speaking directly to me instead of in generalities? I decided to clear things up.

“Coach, I told you I didn’t like the rules. I am the one who spoke to the Dean. Why would you say I am a coward?”

It was years before I realized that he knew full well it was me. Perhaps he was trying to humiliate or intimidate me. Fortunately, I thought he was just a bit slow on the uptake. So I laid things out for him clearly.

The coach still held the vote. It was unanimous, against him.

The team captain pulled me aside and berated me for embarrassing the coach in front of the team. I was amazed. Wasn’t I the one that had been called a coward? How could he be the one who was wronged?

I swam on that team for all four years at Carnegie-Mellon. Eventually I was elected captain of the team. I tied the school record for 200 yard freestyle. But I always sensed that our coach would have preferred to see me quit. In 1972 Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in the Olympics. He had a mustache.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

This Article Blows My Mind

I have not had so many loose threads weave together at once since I became a Christian. What do pagans, vegetarians, naturopaths, the Greens and hippies have in common? This article at the link above explores the connections.

The creation is a good thing. God made it. Some folks just get confused and worship the creation rather than its creator. And hippies forgot about sin, for a while.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pictures Just Because

I notice that I really like seeing pictures in other peoples blogs. So here are some from
Kent's life, from my older son's graduation and senior all night party.

The Mustache

Here is a photo of the infamous mustache and "long hair" that got me kicked off of the swim team. Can't you just feel the evil emanating from this visage. Story to follow some day soon.

The Only Axe Murderer I Ever Knew

Somewhere down in the depths of this blog is an essay about people I have known.  One of those people is the only axe murderer that I ever knew.

I tried to Google the events and find his name, but I couldn’t.  Probably it is just as well.  He may now be an orthodontist in Minneapolis or something.  I might get sued if I got the details wrong.  Seems strange that I would have to consider legal action by an axe murderer while posting in my blog!  What a nation of lawyers we live in.

I was on the swimming team for four years at Carnegie-Mellon University, beginning in 1968.  During the first or second year, I recall that there was a quiet guy that had the locker next to mine.  It was where we changed into our Speedos (caution, do not allow a mental image to form of me in a Speedo, it may cause permanent psychological scarring)

They guy was a senior and I don’t recall him being remarkable in any way.  His hair was neat and short in an era where I got kicked off the team for having a mustache (story for another time).  He was an engineering student.

After he had graduated, his name appeared in a big story on the front page of the Pittsburgh newspaper.  He had been dating a girl and had gotten engaged to her.  She decided to end the engagement.  He got drunk one night and climbed up to the second floor of her house where she was asleep in her room.  He chopped her to death with a weed cutter (wood handle, big steel blade, you get the idea;  I always say “axe murderer” because it has entered into the lexicon in a way that “weed cutter murderer” never will.)
If I remember correctly, her parents were asleep in another room when he killed her.  He hurt his back when he jumped off the roof of the front porch to escape, and was quickly apprehended.  

The thing that has made the biggest impression on me is how ordinary he was.  Absolutely nothing clued me into the idea that this guy was dangerous.  On the contrary, he seemed meek compared to a lot of the jocks I had to deal with.

That was almost forty years ago.  In a more recent decade, many thousands of the citizens of Rwanda and Burundi decided that they really didn’t like some of their neighbors. In fact they killed 800,000 of those neighbors in a few short months.  Mostly they hacked them to death with machetes.  The scale and suddenness of the genocide is astounding.  But for it to happen at all, those thousands of people all had to cross the same line that the fellow in my college had to cross.  They didn’t have to be ignorant, savage, or dedicated to a particularly violent ideology.  I believe most of them referred to themselves as Christians.  It almost seems that their collective crime is more understandable than that of my former swim team associate.  He acted alone with only alcohol and the sting of rejection to break down the wall of civility that generally stops us from killing each other.
The folks in Africa had a long history of being angry with their neighbors and were whipped into a frenzy by politically motivated leaders.  Most of them must have been caught up in a sort of mass hysteria.

I find it very important to remember that the only axe murderer I ever knew was very ordinary.  Otherwise I start to think that all those people that commit atrocities are somehow in a different category than you and I.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Most of us have committed murder in our thoughts.  Many of us have come much closer to seriously physically harming someone that we would care to admit.  Probably most of us have caused more spiritual and psychological damage to our fellow humans than we can possibly imagine.

It is not a matter of “there but for the grace of God”.   We are already there. I thank God for his mercy and grace.,782533&dq=carnegie+mellon+engineer+murder  

follow up article bottom of page dated 2007