Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rules for a Happy Marriage

It seems impossible, but I have been happily married for over 35 years. This incredible record is probably a result of the marriage of the two most stubborn people in the world. Still, I do have a few words of advice for people considering committing marriage.

First, rules for the men. Years ago, my father gave me three great rules for marriage, and for the most part, I have followed them.

The first rule. Give your wife her own desk, and stay out of it. No matter what file you are missing, no matter how much you need a stamp, stay out of that desk drawer. This is not to give your wife a certain amount of privacy; it is actually to save you from losing your temper. Trust me, there are things in that desk that you really do not want to know about.

The second rule. This rule is very much like the first, but much harder to follow. Never, never, never look into your wife’s purse. Boy, this is hard. No matter how much you need her keys, or anything else, never put your hand in that purse. Take it to her and let her root around in that bag. Not only will you be respecting your wife’s privacy, but it is much safer. The inside of a woman’s purse is about as sanitary as a public toilet in Juarez. Can you imagine the infection that could come from a paper cut contaminated with a 20 year accumulation of rancid makeup mixed with petrified breath mints?

There is a hidden benefit in the second rule. In exchange for never violating the sanctity of the purse, men receive the right of cargo. This means that when asked, wives are supposed to carry something in the purse without complaint. My wife, The Doc, has to be reminded on a regular basis about the right of cargo.

The third rule. Inarguably the most important rule. If for any reason you find that during an argument your wife is demonstrably wrong and you are right; say about the capitol of Turkey or something else you can prove by consulting a dictionary… apologize immediately. It will save time and is cheaper than flowers.

Now, the rules for women. Actually, I don’t have any rules for you. Hell, I’m not even sure that women are the same race as men. The way women like jewelry and other shiny objects they could be evolved from crows.

Still, I do have some timely holiday advice for you. Women give horrible gifts. After 35 years of marriage, counting Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and Father’s Day, I have been the recipient of over 175 such gifts. Frankly, most of them sucked. The Doc, my wife, certainly was trying to give me a good gift, but she has no idea what to give me. Talking to my married friends, it turns out that this is a common problem. So here are the guidelines:

1. Don’t give us clothes unless you think you are married to a metrosexual. If your husband, like me, is not really sure what that word means, he doesn’t want clothes. Most mornings, I just wear what’s next in the closet. My wife once gave me a pink shirt with no pockets, and while it was a poor shirt, it made great rags for cleaning my guns.

2. Almost any man will be grateful for a new electric drill. I have nine, five of them cordless, nevertheless, I would be delighted to get a tenth.

3. Sporting goods are a great idea. Guns, fishing poles, golf clubs, or anything else in this vein. One caution, unless you actually go shooting, fishing, or golfing with your husband, don’t pick out the gift yourself. Ask his best friend to help you. (And Honey, if you are reading this, Chuck knows exactly which Ruger Single Action in .45LC with a 5 ½ inch barrel I want.)

4. Ladies, if you can’t bring yourself to buy any of the above, here is a sure fire winner. You will have to trust me on this, because you won’t understand it, this is a Y linked chromosome gift. Go to the hardware store and buy him 50 feet of good rope. I asked most of my male friends, and almost all of them said they would trade their last birthday gift for 50 feet of good rope.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Death by Stephen King

About 20 years ago, I had to make a series of trips across the state of New Mexico for business. I forget how many times I drove up and down I-25 from one end to the other. This is beautiful country, but after you have seen it a few times, you are mostly aware of the long periods of time with nothing out there.

It was at the end of the summer, and I was getting a late start as I headed north in my pickup. By the time I passed the chili fields of Hatch, it was very dark. The night sky in New Mexico is always fantastic, either the lack of lights make the constellations seem to leap out at you or as it was that night, the summer storms produce unbelievably beautiful lightning.

If you have never seen desert lightning, the blackness suddenly pierced by blinding flashes that reveal the mountains and valleys… well, you probably live someplace where you should stay. We don’t need any more damn Yankees living here. Don’t move here, you wouldn’t like it anyway. You wouldn’t believe how many square miles we have without a Starbucks. Hell, the entire state only has a single Costco, and its 200 miles away.

Somewhere north of the town of Truth or Consequences, I began to notice that my headlights were getting dim, evidently my alternator had died and the truck was running off the battery. Miles from a town, all I could really do was select the spot where I would spend the night. I couldn’t even pull the pickup very far off the road, but I stopped on the top of hill where when the lightning cooperated, I could see Elephant Butte Lake off in the distance with the mountains behind.

Too far to walk to the next town, well out of cell phone range in those days, all I could do was sit and wait for the highway patrol to find me. I raised the hood, tied a white rag to the hood, moved over to the passenger seat and tried to get comfortable. I like to drive off road, and in case of trouble, I carry a lot of gear in my truck, I had more than everything I needed, I even had a book to read.

I have and will read anything, behind the seat I had stowed a Stephen King novel. Horror books aren’t my usual style, but since I had never read one of King’s books, I was looking forward to trying one. I positioned a candle on the opened glove compartment door, lit it and began to read the book. Wow, that was a great book.

Each truck that went down that highway rattled the truck. Every few minutes I would get so absorbed into the book that I would forget where I was, but a sudden flash of lightning through the high desert air would bring me back to my senses. Stephen, you are a master, I was scared silly. If someone had walked up to my truck and knocked on the window, I probably wouldn’t have lived long enough to write this. Death by Stephen King.

At one point, either the thunder or the passing of one of those eighteen wheelers shook my tiny pickup so violently that the candle fell over. The fall didn’t put the candle out and I didn’t even notice this until the dash caught fire and the fumes from the burning plastic got my attention.

I never got any sleep that night; I spent the entire night reading that book, finishing a few hours after the sun came up. The highway patrol had been busy with a wreck on another highway, all together; I spent about 14 hours before they found me and arranged for a tow truck to take me back to Truth or Consequences. The highway patrolman felt bad about the delay in finding me, he didn’t seem to understand why I was happy about the night I spent on the side of the road or why I wouldn’t have wanted to have been found any sooner.

Horror books will never be my favorite, but I have read several Stephen King books since then. And though he’s a great author, I don’t think he can write a book that will compare with the first one I read.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cargo Cult Comes to New Mexico

During World War II, various Melanesian and New Guinea islands were suddenly confronted with the advanced technology of both the Japanese and American armies as they invaded and set up airbases. The islanders marveled at the technology the soldiers brought with them. To a stone age culture, even a trash dump must have seemed like a wonderland. Think 1989 and East Germans running through into West Berlin. Think kid in a toy store. Think my wife in a jewelry store.

To the islanders, this was a perpetual Christmas. They thought the planes were messengers from the gods bearing wonderful gifts. Too soon for the islanders, the war ended. The planes flew away and the strange men left. The islanders waited and neither the men or the gifts from the sky ever returned. Obviously, the gods were angry. There was only one thing to do; copy the behavior of the soldiers so as to attract the planes again.

So the natives dutifully built bamboo replicas of planes, painted USA on their chest, made fake headsets out of coconuts, and even constructed a bamboo control tower. They lit signal fires and waved signal flags on the runways. All to attract the planes. Sounds sort of like an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the Captain and the Professor build an airport.

Anthropologists call this a Cargo Cult; where magical thinking and ritualized practices are supposed to produce quick wealth. In New Mexico, we call this the Spaceport.

Several years ago, our state managed to convince the voters to raise taxes in order to build a spaceport in Southern New Mexico. This is a poor state, there are few jobs, and most young people who get a degree in our state promptly leave the state for a job somewhere else. In an effort to jump start the economy, we started our own cargo cult. If we built a spaceport, the rockets would come. A multimillion dollar industry would land from the sky.

If you build It, they will come. I think I’ve heard this before. Unfortunately, so have the states of Virginia, Wisconsin, Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arizona. All of these states, and a few other countries, are building spaceports. And several of these have actually launched numerous successful rockets. So far, New Mexico has a nice concrete pad and nothing much to show for the proposed $225 million dollar project.

Well, that’s not quite true, we can show that we raised taxes, and starting next month you can go on a tour of the site. Save your money and just imagine a large rectangular concrete pad in the middle of a desert. And we have launched a few rockets, a few even worked. We launched James Doohan’s (Scotty from StarTrek) ashes. The rocket fell into the mountains and for a while was lost. Scotty would have done better to beam off.

But, we have a tenant. Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic has signed a million dollar a year lease for 5 years. It is heartwarming to think that by the year 2234 we will break even, if he continues the lease. I think Branson has found another virgin.

Well, if it is any consolation, he found another one in Sweden. He signed a contract with them, too.

New Mexico needs jobs, but we don’t want to do the things that will help jobs come here; lower business taxes, repeal closed shop legislation, reduce property taxes, etc. I guess there is nothing wrong with a cargo cult, but I wish we could have just built it out of bamboo. I don’t mind if the governor wants to run around the desert waving signal flags, but why does it cost $225 million?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Travels With My Family

Oh, the joys of travel. I can remember a time where people put on their Sunday finest if they were traveling by airliner. Not a plane, an airliner, a word that conjures up an image of the dignity of traveling on a cruise ship of a hundred years ago. The important word here was dignity. ‘Was’ as in past tense. Today, traveling by plane is more like being sentenced to the county jail for the weekend.  Complete with the strip search.

Is it even possible to enjoy traveling by air anymore? The cost, the delays, the brain dead security, and the overcrowding are bad enough, but the true terrors of traveling are your own family.

My own very real brush with hell was a Christmas flight to visit my wife’s family. Not only would we take the boys, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One, but we were taking Aunt Dingbat. Once a bright, incredibly talented woman whom I was proud to have as a friend, she had been turned into Aunt Dingbat by dementia. While this sounds unnecessarily cruel, it is important to realize that the previous tenant has moved out of the familiar body and the present squatter has no resemblance to the previous treasured member of the family.

Okay, I am a little cruel, but personally, if I don’t do it this way, all the great memories I have of a wonderful person will be replaced by memories of a clown.

So, there we were, traveling with small children and Aunt Dingbat. The children are bad enough; since even a trip to the grocery store and back requires that you tote enough luggage, baby bottles, and diaper bags that you resemble an African safari attempting to locate King Solomon’s Mine. If I had it all to do over again, I would buy stock in the parent company of Pampers before we had the children.

We checked Aunt Dingbat out of Our Lady of Perpetual Motion’s Home for the Habitually Stupid and made our way to the airport with just enough time left to catch the last seats on a late flight to Dallas Love Field. I’m not going to tell you about dragging this group through airport security, since we all know it is too ineffective to catch a drunken moose. I was once held up by security for over an hour for the sin of carrying a fountain pen. The security guard had never even heard of one before.  Would someone please try to strangle a pilot with a bra?  If we have to undress at airport security, I want to see something come off more interesting than feet.

The flight was delayed by bad weather, the flight was bumpy, and every child onboard, including mine, was screaming. We arrived late, so late that the rental car company was obviously doing me a courtesy by waiting for me to show up and claim the car I had reserved. Since the flight was on the ground, I reasoned the worst was over, my luck was changing.

I had rented the largest land yacht available, a real pimpmobile. I told myself that I wanted a car big enough to handle two child seats, five people, and a mountain of luggage, but in reality I was trying to rent a little dignity. Maybe a luxury car would make up for the fact that I had just flown on a cattle car to the colicky baby convention.

As I drove back to the airport from the car rental office to pick up my family, I could see the lights in the terminal building turning off. It was midnight; Merry Christmas.

I parked in front of the deserted airport where my family was waiting, hit the button on the dash to open the trunk, set the heater on high to warm the car, and got out to begin loading the trunk. I ran around to the passenger side of the car and opened the front door for Aunt Dingbat, then started to tackle a mountain of luggage.

Aunt Dingbat was impressed with the car. She leaned over, resting one hand on door’s armrest and admired the leather interior. “Wow,” she said. “This is nice.”

Then she stood up, hitting the door lock button, stepped back, and firmly shut the door, locking us out of the car. The key was in the ignition, the engine was running, the airport was deserted, and we were screwed.

Want a silver lining? The trunk was open. I got to pick the window I broke with the tire tool.