The Itch

Cruising the California coast, soaking up the ocean view, gliding through the beautiful rolling hills, reveling in the glorious late spring weather…we were on vacation.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t call it a vacation, because I’d been retired from the Air Force for a year.  We were all settled into our new place out in the wilds of the Missouri Ozarks, and now our primary job was doing whatever we felt like.

We were on a mission, though.  Our son, who was a doctor in the Air Force and doing his residency at Travis Air Force Base, had been captivated by a bewitching lawyer lady and they were getting hitched.  It would be a lovely outdoor ceremony at dawn the next morning, out in the lush hills of the wine country.

We had set up camp in Santa Rosa at a Motel 6, the only place in the area that allowed pets without a hundred bucks’ worth of non-refundable cleaning deposit.  Bear, our shepherd/Lab adopted son, was on his normal professional guard duty, pretending to snore peacefully on his blankie next to the bed while staying ever-alert for encroaching evil.

It was two in the morning when my eyes snapped open.  My innards were in a turmoil that suggested our take-out from the local A&W had gone rogue in a big way.  I felt light-headed as I stumbled to the bathroom, and was thinking this was a heck of a time to come down with the flu.

I was sitting there scratching my head before I realized I was doing it, and then started scratching a little more.  And a little more.  And then I realized my whole scalp was itching.  A LOT.  And it started down my arms.  And my chest.  And then the fleas of a thousand junkyard dogs, in fierce competition with a massive swarm of ravenous chiggers, were gnawing on every square centimeter of EVERYWHERE.

I headed back to the bedroom so Sugar Babe could share in my misery, ‘cause that’s what marriage is all about.  The world was spinning.  My throat was tightening up and it was getting hard to breathe.  I collapsed on the bed.

I was starting to suspect this just might not be the flu after all.  Sugar Babe quickly concluded that circumstances called for a little more than her stash of Tylenol and Band-Aids.  But what we did have was a doctor in the family, who could use a heads-up that there might be a slight snag in us getting to his ceremony as well as maybe even providing some free medical consultation.  She dug out the number of the bed and breakfast where he was staying and dialed him up.  I scratched and moaned.

Rousted out of his deep slumber at oh-dark-hundred on his wedding day, and needing to be out in the boonies in three hours for the festivities, Doc shook off the blearies and agreed with her that it sounded like some kind of allergic reaction was going on and I needed to get to a hospital before it got worse.

So, like any good retired military officer, used to quickly analyzing a situation and making lightning, but informed, decisions — and this being way before the widespread use of smart phones with GPS and Google — Sugar Babe grabbed the yellow pages and started looking for emergency rooms.

I did my part — lying flat on my back because I’d pass out if I tried to stand up — struggling into my clothes.  That was the limit of my capabilities, and I didn’t do that very well.  Bear helped by sticking his wet nose in my face to ask what was going on.

She found two emergency rooms, thought it would make a lot of sense to see which was closer, and looked for a map of the city.  Would you believe that the yellow pages for Santa Rosa, California, would have 18 pages of instructions on how to recycle everything from paper and plastics to Aunt Fanny’s old bloomers, but only had a tiny, one-page map for a city of 175,000 people??  Yeah.

While she was calling emergency rooms to see if they would take our medical insurance, Doc woke up just a little bit more and realized she had been telling him that besides the itching, I was too dizzy to stand up, which just might mean that my blood pressure had dropped a lot and I just might be having a close, personal relationship with anaphylactic shock.  He figured he’d better call her back and tell her to forget about the emergency room and just call 911 and get an ambulance there pronto.

He called Information and they gave him the number for “the Motel 6.”  He tried that number and the motel clerk said there was nobody by that name registered.  It turned out that there were two Motel 6’s in Santa Rosa — on the same road, no less — and he got the number for the north one while we were in the south one.  Nobody realized that at the time, but when we found out later, it sure resolved a lot of questions.

Meanwhile, the first emergency room — the closer one, of course — wouldn’t take our insurance.  The second would, so Sugar Babe got directions to supplement what she could make out of the tiny lines on the map and asked if they’d please have somebody meet us with a wheelchair or something because I couldn’t walk.

She helped me stagger out to the Expedition, went back for Bear, and off we went.

Finally, something went right and we were met in the parking lot by a wheelchair, which I plopped into, a pathetic pile of quivering wretchedness.  I was whisked inside to sit in front of a bored woman with paperwork, who rejected Sugar Babe’s offer of pertinent info because she wanted it directly from me.  Me, the guy who could barely breathe, let alone sit up and converse coherently about identification and medical insurance.  I tried feebly to comply.

A nurse appeared and put a blood pressure cuff on my arm, pumped it up, glanced at the dial for a few seconds, and said, “Oh, sh…”

Medical folks are rigorously trained not to say, “Oh, sh…” and I was proud of her for managing to choke it off as she grabbed the wheelchair and zoomed me out of the waiting room, hollering at the paperwork person to get the info from his wife because he needed to be elsewhere, and right now.

It was finally exciting for a bit as people appeared and wrestled me onto one of those uncomfortable beds while grabbing equipment and wheeling it around and checking that pressure one more time to make sure.  I asked the nurse what it was, and she said, “66 over 37.”  I suggested that didn’t sound really good.  She assured me she was impressed…she’d never seen a pressure that low on somebody who was actually still breathing.

I felt special, anyway.

I spent the next 7 hours in that bed, watching a doctor occasionally walk in, stare at me from across the room while stroking his chin thoughtfully, and tell the nurse no, let’s hold off with the epinephrine for a little while longer and see what happens.  I was an impromptu, involuntary, single-case medical experiment conducted by a psychopath.  I focused on somehow getting my hands around his throat.  Couldn’t even sit up.  Had to be content that the itching faded.  Mostly.

I stayed in that dizzy, breathless limbo for hours until he finally relented and let the nurse shoot me up.  And then, in short order, all was well.  They observed me for a little while, scratched their heads in wonder, and discharged me.

I was in the emergency room from 2 hours before the wedding started until 15 minutes after the reception was over.  I guess I wasn’t meant to be a witness to it.  If I’d only known that in advance, I could have saved the 4,000 miles of round-trip driving…though we did manage to have dinner with Doc and LawLady before heading home again, so there’s that.

What caused it?  No clue.  The subsequent allergy test revealed only a little hay fever in conjunction with ragweed and suchlike.  I carried an epi-pen for years, but never used it.  The mystery reaction showed up a dozen more times over the intervening decades but was always nipped in the bud by a little benadryl before it got to the hard-to-breathe stage.

Conclusion?  Mother Nature’s trying to kill me.  For the previous year since I’d retired and moved to the Ozarks, she’d been attacking me with wasps, snakes, poison ivy, bats, falling trees, armadillos, spiders, and forest fires, and still I lived.  So now she was sending in the assassination squads with methods apparently undetectable by modern science.  I’ve foiled them…for now.  But they’re relentless.

So I moved to Tennessee to escape…and it turns out she’s here, too.  The attacks are escalating.  It’s only a matter of time now.  But I have a yard tractor, weed whacker, and chainsaw, and I’m taking as much of her with me as I can.

You might want to stand back…this is gonna get messy.


POW/MIA Recognition Day

Today is POW/MIA Recognition Day.

This is a picture of the POW/MIA White Table. It’s a display that’s often set up at military or veteran functions, and a ceremony is frequently performed along with it. I know a lot of civilians haven’t been exposed to it, but I’ve been surprised at the number of military members and veterans who aren‘t very familiar with it, either, so I wanted to explain a little about it. 

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It’s not just done as a way for us to remember those who have been captured or gone missing, but also as a way to reinforce that thought in the minds of those who are yet to experience it. You see, there are few things that those prisoners and missing members can cling to, and one thing that keeps their hopes up is knowing that they will always be remembered and their compatriots will never give up until they are found and brought home. The more we display our commitment to them, the stronger that hope may be.

The script below is from the ceremonies my VFW Honor Guard in Ava, Missouri performed at schools and many functions around town, and it explains the items displayed on the table. The picture frame holds this script also, as an explanation for static displays when the ceremony wasn’t performed.


Those who have served, and those currently serving, in the uniformed services of the United States are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice. Throughout the history of our country, many of our comrades have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their loved ones and to defend the freedom that we hold so dear. Countless others have been taken captive by enemies, or have become unaccounted for in the heat of battle. We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy the daily pleasures of our freedom and our way of life, there are others who have endured, and may still be enduring, the agonies of pain, deprivation, and internment. They are known as POWs – Prisoners Of War, and MIAs – Missing In Action. They are the ones we honor with this ceremony.

Your attention is called to the table in front of you. The table is small and set for only one, to represent the frailty of one lonely individual against many oppressors. REMEMBER.

The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of the fighting person’s intentions when he or she responds to our country’s call to arms. The napkin is black, representing the sorrow of captivity. REMEMBER.

The chair is empty, representing those who cannot be with us. REMEMBER.

A slice of lemon is placed on the plate to remind us of our comrades’ bitter fate. REMEMBER.

The salt sprinkled on the plate is symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait for the return of their loved ones. REMEMBER.

The single red rose in the vase signifies the blood that many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our country, and also reminds us of the families and friends of our missing comrades, who keep the faith while awaiting their return. The yellow ribbon represents the ribbons displayed by the thousands of people who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us. REMEMBER.

The glass is inverted, for they are not here. REMEMBER.

The single white candle is indicative of the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation. The flame burns freely to remind us of the freedom for which our comrades fell – the freedom that burns within all of us as we continue the march. REMEMBER.

The flag of the United States of America, symbol of our country, our faith, and our patriotism, stands for the total commitment and sacrifice made by our comrades. The POW/MIA flag reminds us that although many of our comrades have departed us physically, they remain in our hearts and in our minds, they are not forgotten, and we will not rest until all are accounted for. REMEMBER.

Please take a moment of silent reflection in honor of our missing comrades. To all POWs and MIAs…past, present, and future…you are not forgotten so long as there is one left in whom your memory remains. WE WILL REMEMBER.

Facebook Hacked? Probably Not.

The epidemic of hacking or cloning or spoofing accounts on Facebook seems to be getting worse as time goes on. I know three of my own friends affected in the last week, so let’s try to beat it back a little. I think we need to start out with a little clarification of what those terms really mean.

When someone pretends to be you and sends new friend requests to people on your friend list, a lot of people think that means you’ve been hacked and you need to change your password. This is very seldom the case. If your account is actually hacked, someone can get into it and make posts or messages that look like they’re coming from you, or change or steal information in your profile, or change your photos, or do anything they want. That’s serious, but usually if someone makes a post that looks like it’s coming from you, it’s because you left your phone or computer logged in and somebody came across it and they’re playing with you. If you actually did get hacked, you need to change your password if the intruder hasn’t already done it and stolen your account from you. You also need to get ahold of FB customer service and work with them to fix it.

Like I said, that’s rare. What most people experience is that somebody who isn’t you is pretending to be you and sending friend requests to people on your list. Almost anybody can steal your profile picture and your cover photo and use them to open a new account using your name. This is called cloning, also known as spoofing.

Why do they do this? Many reasons. They may pretend to be in dire circumstances and request money. They may be able to get people to click on links they provide, which may lead to malware, or ransomware, or even just ads that they get paid to get people to click on. They may be able to glean a lot of information from people who reveal things to friends that aren’t available to the public, which can be used to steal their identities. Lots of bad people are out there doing bad things.

What you can do to help prevent this is restrict a lot of information in your security settings. But if it happens, whether it happens to you or if you get a suspicious request from somebody who’s already a friend, you need to report the offender to Facebook. This is how to do that.

The easiest way is to go to that fake page. Do this by typing your name (or your friend’s name) in the search window, and select the one that looks like you or your friend, but isn’t.

On the bottom right corner of the cover photo is a little square with 3 dots. That’s if you’re on my computer…if you’re on my smart phone, the 3 dots are in a little circle to the right under the profile picture, labeled “More.” Hopefully your computer and phone are close enough to mine and you’ll figure it out…I’ll cross my fingers.

Click on those 3 dots and you’ll get some choices…click on the one that says, “Give feedback or report this profile.” In the next window, click on “Pretending to be someone.” Then you’ll get a choice under that, and you can click on “Me” or “A Friend,” depending on which you’re reporting. After that, click “Send” at the bottom and follow any further prompts that might show up. When I’ve done “A Friend,” it’s given me a list of my friends to pick from so their troubleshooters can determine who’s fake and shut them down. If it’s your account and a friend reports it, you may get contacted by the FB folks to get it sorted out, or it might be obvious and they’ll just fix it. It’s usually pretty quick.

Just remember these tips and if it happens to you again or you get something suspicious from a friend, it’s easy peasy to shut ’em down.

Welcome To The Asylum

This is what life is like for someone hated with great passion by Mother Nature, not to mention the Universe.

Three weeks ago, I had a tri-axle truckload of topsoil (?) delivered to fill in all the trenches in my front yard caused by the grass unwilling to grow in the shade of all the trees I’m not allowed to cut down, leading to no roots to hold the soil in place, leading to gobs of erosion over the years.  Lawn (?) repair was overdue.

Dirt Project 05

I spent the intervening eternity spreading dirt as I picked out the giant rocks, tree roots, and tangles of rusty barbed wire that somehow appeared in my topsoil (?).

Dirt Project 12

Dirt Project 28

Then I lovingly sprinkled buckets of sun-and-shade-loving (?) grass willy nilly about the property, spread straw everywhere, and started watering because the frequently-promised rain refused to materialize.

Dirt Project 26

Dirt Project 25

The grass began growing.  Success!  Just a little while longer and I would maybe even have an actual lawn instead of a yard of dirt.

Then, today, the forecast was for 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms, with an anticipated accumulation of .02″.  This area has a long history of forecasting rain, pushing the forecast back and back and back, and finally just staying dry.  I jokingly (?) said I should turn on the sprinklers and that way it really would rain.

When it got over an inch of accumulation, I finally put on a poncho and my rubber boots and went out to turn off the sprinklers.  It’s almost stopped now, and so far, we’ve gotten 1.72″.  The rivers going through the yard are starting to drop, but they’ve been running high and very brown from all the topsoil they were carrying away.


Yes, I know.  My fault for making jokes with Mother Nature.

If you hear in the news about a giant sinkhole swallowing half of Tennessee. . .that was me.  Tell my story to the tabloids.

Remembering and Understanding 9/11

Seventeen years ago today, our nation was stunned by an attack so horrific it was almost incomprehensible that something like that could have happened on our soil. For a lot of people, that has turned into a place in the history books. For the kids who are going into their junior and senior years of high school, it’s something that happened before they were born, shrouded by the mists of time.

But most of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. We can still hear and see and feel the explosions and screams of terror and the shock, whether we were actually there or experienced it through television or the internet. It’s a part of our lives and has had a lot to do with shaping how those lives have been lived since that day.

There was a shift in how we traveled, in how we went through security checkpoints, in how we packed our bags. There was a change in immigration procedures, and how we looked at people who might look or act a little different from us. We changed the way we sensed our surroundings, whether we were comfortable going to public places, and whether we trusted people we’d just met…and even people we’d known a long time.

A lot of what changed was how we banded together against those who wanted to harm us. We had a great feeling of patriotism and a common purpose in protecting our friends and families and our country.

I hope that’s not something that’s fading away in those mists of time…becoming another paragraph in the history books. It’s hard to watch the memorials that have been going on all day, on TV and across social media…but it’s something we really need to do. We need to have those memories to keep the awareness alive, to make sure we never lose the realization of how fragile our freedom and way of life are and how quickly they can be devastated.

I remember it like yesterday. I was deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch, and I was supposed to be part of the line of defense that protects our country from the forces of evil. But when we turned on the TV news in our little office trailer in the desert after the end of the “normal duty day” and saw smoke pouring out of the first tower, and watched the second plane hit the second tower live on CNN from 6,000 miles away, all we could do was sit and watch.

Everything had changed and we weren’t the ones fighting the enemy. The people confronting the forces of evil were airline passengers, firefighters, secretaries, clerks, stewardesses…all the people we were supposed to be protecting were right in the middle of it and we were powerless to stop it.

We have all of that…the surprise, the shock, the helpless rage…seared into our brains. We’ll never, ever forget it. But those kids in high school, who weren’t even born yet, didn’t feel that impact and don’t have those memories. They’ve seen it on TV, but they don’t feel it inside, like we do. We need to make sure we keep telling them, and showing them, and making sure they understand.

One day soon, they’ll be the ones who will have to confront the forces of evil. They need to understand how essential that feeling of patriotism and unity will be. They need to understand that the world can change in the blink of an eye, and our freedom and way of life might not survive if they don’t come together to protect them.

We need to make sure they understand.

Thought For The Week

Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.

— Douglas Pagels