Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Forward! Into the past.

By Michael A. Nettleton         

 I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of time travel. I think it might have started with reading the H. G. Wells story and reinforced by watching Peabody’s Improbable History on Bullwinkle. Weekly, the brainy dog and his boy Sherman transported themselves back to another age in the Way-back machine.  

Recently, I’ve been reading Jodi Taylor’s delightful series The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. It centers on a group of historians who use time travel to go back and observe and record historical events, with the proviso that they do nothing to interfere with or change anything. What could possibly go wrong, right? (Spoiler: Plenty)

          We all know you shouldn’t muck about with the past. The butterfly effect and all that. But what if you could go back and visit your own past? At least to answer the question “What the hell was I thinking there?” There are pivotal events in our life stories that affected what happened for the rest of our lives. What if you’d made a different decision? What if that girl who jilted me decided I was Robert Redford in the flesh and had called to apologize the same night? What if . . .
          I got into the radio business, because I was a bad actor. Not horrible, you understand, but when I announced to my theater teacher at Southern Oregon College that I intended to go to New York and pursue a career on the Broadway stage, she got a look on her face that was a cross between a deer trapped in the headlights and “Oh, dear God, I’ve got to tell him”.
Kind lady that she was, she gulped and said “Well, you’ve got the voice for it, but you move on stage like a hippo emerging from his wallow.” Or words to that effect. She suggested I go talk to Dave Allen, who had started a student radio station because “You’ll need a way to support yourself while trying to find acting jobs. And there are already enough waiters in New York.” So I did, and 40 years later, retired from a semi-rewarding career in radio. But what if I’d ignored her and hitchhiked to New York and started auditioning? Could I have become a big star? Had my own entourage? Or at least found a job waiting table at a nice restaurant?
Or . . . I could have gotten discouraged and found an entirely different profession. But, what? I know I wouldn’t have gone back to my home town and signed on to pull green chain at a lumber mill. I’m butt lazy and needed to find a way to pay my rent without breaking a sweat.
          The second moment I’d like to revisit involves an on-air phone call. I was doing an afternoon on-air shift at a station in Eugene. Because I often engaged my mouth long before firing up my brain, I shared a newspaper blurb about the local nudist colony, The Willametans. They invited people to an open house on Saturday. Glibly (code word for stupidly) I said; “Volleyball is nudism’s national game. It’s a little known fact that we have one of the world’s best nude volleyball teams right here at (station call letters). That would have been a fun throwaway, (move along, nothing to see here!) but the phone rang. In another moment of temporary insanity, I put the call on the air. “Hi,” a friendly voice said, “This is Tim, the social director of the Willametans and your team is officially challenged. One pm Saturday. Bring a gallon of sun screen.”
          I still could have saved my ass. All I had to do was laugh, say “I was just joking,” and go on with my life. Instead, I piped up “You’re on!” My death wish once again trumped any common sense I may have possessed.
          So, I was forced to recruit some of my co-workers to go and play nude volleyball the following Saturday. Oddly enough, a great number of them agreed and we were able to field a team. We lost the game, (I did play by play on-air),gained some new friends. I also earned myself a rapid job search as the evangelistic general manager didn’t find my antics even remotely funny. On the plus side of the equation, I fulfilled one of my ongoing fantasies. I got to see my program director’s most excellent girlfriend naked.

So. If allowed to travel back in time, would I have made more mature responsible decisions at pivotal moments in my life? Probably not. But I wouldn’t mind going back there again anyway, if for no other reason, to get another 
peek at Darla. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

An Agnostic Talks To God

By Michael Nettleton
I’ve always been a skeptic. I was that kid in Sunday school whose parent were most likely to get a call saying “It would be a good idea if you came and took Michael home.” 
Not that I went out of my way to be disruptive. It’s just that I tended to blurt out questions that made the Sunday school teacher get that “deer in the headlights” look and raise his eyes to heaven for help. Questions like “Adam and Eve were the first and only people on earth. They had sons. Where did the sons’ wives come from?” and “Noah put two of every living thing in the ark and they stayed there for forty days and forty nights. Didn’t it really smell in there?” The “God works in mysterious ways” answer never quite cut it with the 9 year-old me.
Maybe it’s the imminent threat of the Corona virus or just my advancing age, but lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about God and Pascal’s wager.
Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century philosopher, mathematician, and physicist. He proposed that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell). This was the Christian God Pascal had in mind, but other religions advance similar propositions.
All righty then. Simple enough. Except . . . To tell yourself you believe in God is to suspend the disbelief that comes with being a rational, logical, thinking human being. Who, if you believe, God created the brain that helps you reason things out.  And if you profess to believe in God, when deep down you don’t, and it turns out he does indeed sit on a golden throne with a flowing white beard and a retinue of angels, won’t he take points off for insincerity? Only one person (is a deity a person?) to pose this question to and that’s the big Kahuna himself. Or possibly herself.  And, to be honest, I feel funny about praying to either gender, when I can’t find any definitive proof of their presence up in the clouds somewhere. After all, God didn’t answer any of my prayers when I was nine. Ronnie Flanagan, the neighborhood bully never got hit by a bolt of lightning. My parents never came into a gazillion dollars so my mom could quit working her fingers to the bone. My dog Panda never quit chasing cars, even after getting hit and almost killed by one.
Perhaps God will read this blog and leave answers in the comments section. I’ll just pose the rest of this as a series of questions.
1.      Why did you let the election of 2016 come out the way it did? Could this guy actually be your representative on earth like some people believe? On which day of creation did you come up with liquid tanning products? Aren’t the things he says and does supposed to send you straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200?
2.      If I’ve been a sinner (and we all are) and I don’t worship you during my entire life until the final 10 seconds before I pass into the next world, but if I profess to be a believer at the end, will I ascend to the same heaven as Jim Baker, who spent a lifetime fleecing his followers in your name and is now hawking a bogus Corona virus cure to make money to fuel his limo?
3.      Do you really take sides for fans of one team or the other in NFL football games? How about hockey?
4.      Are you really that easily flattered? Do the people who constantly sing your praises and drop your name into every conversation really have an inside line to your Kingdom?
5.      Of all of the hundreds (or is it thousands) of religions that exist worldwide, could it be possible that only one of them is on the money? And what are the chances that it’s only one narrow interpretation of that religion?
6.      Where did Adam and Eve’s sons find wives? (This one’s bothered me since I was frog-marched out of Sunday school so many years ago.) A tip. The “God works in mysterious ways” still doesn’t track with me.

Well I’ll post this now and wait to read your feedback in the comments section. If you respond, perhaps I’ll take Pascal’s wager and start believing. Then I could start praying again. After all Ronnie Flanagan’s probably still out there beating up people and stealing their lunch money.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Dream Interpretation

Carolyn J. Rose

A few weeks ago I visited a friend in New Mexico and took her on several shopping expeditions. Shopping for quilts and end tables and hassocks led to rearranging furniture. Rearranging led to driving new nails and moving pictures. The results were satisfying.

But not so the dream that seems to have been born from the experience.

It gestated in the depths of my unconscious for almost a month before emerging and flashing across the dark screen of my mind. In the dream sequence, I moved pictures again and again. After I hung them they changed, shrinking and expanding, taking on new colors. Landscapes became portraits, portraits became blocks of color. Pictures that seemed to be perfect for the spots we chose transformed into art from another century, another country, another world.

And then there was the furniture. It grew larger and bulkier and heavier. It refused to fit through doorways and up the staircase.

And those doorways and stairs changed as well. Rooms appeared and disappeared as I headed toward them lugging a nightstand or carrying a lamp. I didn’t have a rock to roll up a hill, but I felt like Sisyphus.

The morning after the dream, exhausted, bleary-eyed, but fortified with strong coffee, I powered up the computer and went in search of meaning. If you’ve ever done the same, you know the search can set you wandering through a vague landscape where many signposts point toward your childhood, your past relationships, your unresolved issues, and emotional turmoil you didn’t know you had.

Hanging pictures, I learned, could mean I was reaching a compromise about a situation, or perhaps coming to an understanding of things. Moving pictures could mean I was reconsidering thoughts and feelings, or perhaps trying hard to please.

The furniture might represent relationships—past and present—and how and where they fit into my life. As with the pictures, moving furniture might mean I’m reassessing how much space those relationships should take up and whether they’re of the everyday-use or guest-room-only variety. The increasing weight and size could mean I feel burdened.

I pondered that and decided I do occasionally feel burdened—but mostly by my relationship with exhausting dreams.

Perhaps tonight I’ll dream about having the power to wake up before a dream wears me out.

That probably signifies something, but I have no intention of making another excursion into the realm of dream interpretation in order to find out.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Return to the Son of the Revenge of the Land of Manãna

By Mike Nettleton

So where exactly is the Land of  Manãna? And why is there a picture of a cheeseburger with green stuff globbing out of it on your computer screen? And why does the title of this blog look like the marquee of a very badly made black and white horror film?

(Mike inhales deeply)

Yuh see, it's like this. 

The Land of Manãna is New Mexico; more specifically Albuquerque. This is where Carolyn and I lived for a dozen or so years, met, and commenced to live in sin and then marry in 89. We have many old friends there and visit periodically. Part of the reason is to help with my S.A.D.D's which is brought on by the grey of Oregon this time of year. Another part is the food. We'll get to that in a minute.

Why is it called The Land of Manãna? Well because no one seems to be in much of a hurry there. Take your car to the shop and ask when it will be ready? The answer . . . Manãna. When is the rent due? Manãna. How about that overnight UPS delivery? Manãna.
The exact definition of Manãna is "I don't know, maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after, I'll call you, Ese, okay?

The highlights of this trip, along with catching up with old amigos was a couple of field trips with our friend Faye. We rolled down Interstate 25 to a magical wildlife refuge called The Bosque Del Apache, just south of Socorro. 

The Bosque is home to cranes, swans, geese, ducks, coyotes, deer, cougars and literally thousands of other varieties of birds, mammals, amphibians, rodents and reptiles. (A confession here. The first spectacular shot is snitched from the Bosque's web site. We took the one of the crane. 

The second field trip out of Albuquerque was west to Acoma Pueblo better known as the Sky City. This is typical of the terrain on the way out to Acoma, with towering mesas reminiscent of a Western movie.

Acoma Pueblo is built atop a sheer-walled, 367-foot sandstone bluff in a valley studded with sacred, towering monoliths. Since 1150 A.D., Acoma Pueblo has earned the reputation as the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.  The mesa-top settlement is known worldwide for its unique art and rich culture. 

 Those fun-loving Spaniards invaded in the early 1600's bringing small pox, Catholicism and tyranny in their wake. Using Acoma Indian slaves they began construction of the massive San Esteban del Rey Mission in 1629. Since there are no trees of any size nearby, beams had to be cut from trees near Mt. Taylor about 30 miles away and transported to the construction site. The priest insisted the trees and beams could not touch the ground and still be sanctified so the Acomas had to hand carry the massive vigas (beams) all the way. It's no surprise that the natives revolted against the Spanish and threw them (in some cases literally) off the mesa several times. 
I said there were no trees up there and that's a small lie. Our Acoma guide, Gary led us to a lone cottonwood in the middle of the settlement. "This," he said "We call the Acoma National Forest. Try not to get lost in it." That Gary. What a kidder. A great guide and storyteller though.

Before I finish, I should explain the cheeseburger. Remember the cheeseburger? (The battle cry of the gastric wars of '97)

At the entrance to the Bosque Del Apache is a run down looking building called The Owl Bar and Cafe. Don't be fooled by it's exterior. Inside is a saloon that could have been lifted right out of a Randolph Scott western movie. (Gasp . . .Randolph Scott!) This place is world-famous folks. Even been written up in The New Yorker and everything. And they serve a green chile cheeseburger that is sublime, transcendent and packed with spicy goodness. About 27,000 calories worth. No pilgrimage to New Mexico would be complete without one (or maybe more) of these babies. Ours was brought to us by a sweet, gray-haired lady who had been waiting tables there since I was in Junior High. You do the math.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this mini-travelogue. Watch this space for more spine-tingling bloggish action. When? Oh, Manãna.



Thursday, January 2, 2020

Scourge of the Supermarket

Carolyn J. Rose

You know who they are.

But do they?

And if they do know, do they see any reason change their ways?

I’m talking about people who hold up progress. Not progress on the scale of bridge building or highway construction, but progress checking out of a supermarket in a timely manner.

Being a Virgo and loving to make lists and check things off, I’m well prepared for the weekly hunt for provisions. I even go so far as to structure my list to match the layout of the store. That way I can zip through the aisles without having to backtrack. I can get the chore done faster.

Unless I hit a roadblock at the checkout stand.

Those roadblocks aren’t always obvious. They certainly don’t wear signs advising those in a hurry to detour around them. In fact, some might resent being passed by the more aware and organized.

So, congratulating myself on my progress so far, I unload my groceries. And, being a Virgo, I have a system for that as well. Frozen foods go together, refrigerated items gather in a pack, fruits and vegetables clump together, cans line up in military fashion, and then eggs, bread, and bags of chips take up positions in the rear. I place my cloth grocery bags at the front of the line, get out my debit card, and—

Progress comes to a screaming halt.

The shopper ahead of me seems stunned, not by the tally, but by the concept of having to pay. This shopper—who may be any gender, any age, or from any background—peers at the display, and peers at the groceries piling at the end of the moving conveyor belt. The checker repeats the total and, at the speed of a barely awake sloth, the roadblock shopper digs for a wallet. Then dithering begins in earnest. The roadblock shopper considers paying with a card, wonders if he or she has enough cash, counts out bills and coins, decides to use the debit card after all, ponders a mix of cash and card, then speculates about using a credit card instead.

By this time I’ve passed through frustration and low-level rage to considering whether a jury would convict me for what I’d like to do. Next, I fight the urge to walk away, to do without the items I so carefully set on the belt.

Sympathy for the checker keeps me in place. This is only an occasional problem for me, but not for the person running the cash register. There will be other roadblock shoppers unloading their carts—maybe within an hour, maybe before the end of the day, and definitely in the days to come.

Because they’re out there. Not only at the supermarket, but at movie theaters, coffee shops, bookstores, food carts, and many other places where money exchanges hands.

And the next time you think you’re making progress, one might turn up in front of you.