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There Was A Fish There, I Think

I live in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in Western North Carolina. One of the many reasons I chose this place as my home is the generous amount of fishing that is available. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.

It was Thursday and I called a friend to ask if he wanted to go fishing the following week on the North Mills River. The long and short of it was that although the river was to be stocked the following Monday, my friend had hunting commitments and could not go. I was a little disappointed as I value his company but I decided in the end to fish the river by myself along with my wife.

The following Tuesday rolled around and I set off for the whopping 10 minute trip to the North Mills River. Yes, I knew it had been stocked just the day before and so I expected a few other fishermen. But Lord, as I approached the parking area I counted no fewer than 30 cars. Yikes! I perused the stream below the road and I thought I saw few rods in the water so I rationalized, as most of us do, that many of the cars probably belonged to hikers and that the fishing really wouldn’t be that crowded. Wrong! To boot, the water level was historically low and it seemed from the start the day was doomed.

I got into my gear and headed for my favorite hole. Holly Crap! There were people in the water, shoulder to shoulder. I looked like a dunking derby! I said, “Let’s go!” but my wife reminded me that I would probably just be back in the following morning anyway so I chose to stay and fight my way into the stream. It honestly seemed like Disneyland, although I could not spot Mickey roll casting anywhere on the water. I finally found a tight spot where I felt I wasn’t interfering with other fisherman and began plying my skill.

Almost immediately I landed four nice fish and released them. I said aloud, “This isn’t going to be terrible after all.” After shooting a little line here and there, I was in the rhythm and feeling like I had made the right decision in staying. I worked my way down to the bridge after a couple of fellow fishermen left the water for lunch and began fishing a deep hole.

At first, I thought I heard a couple of Buck Eyes plopping into the water ahead of me. That’s normal this time of year. Then I saw a flash of silver. WTF? Upon closer inspection I spied the creature. It was a local resident throwing a spoon the size of Jupiter across my line. Pop! Off went the Woolley Bugger that I was stripping along. I coughed a bit to let the clod know I was immediately up-stream as I tied on another fly. That didn’t dissuade the dude so I moved closer to the bridge as to offer him a clear view of what I was doing. No matter. The spoons kept coming like torpedoes for the next half hour.

You get to the point where who can scream, “Hello asshole – Are you blind or what?” or you can just walk away. I learned decades ago that the latter is always the best course. So I waded back up and out of the stream to have lunch with my wife. Sharing time with my love has always trumped even the best day of fishing. We found a picnic bench and began eating. Every once in a while I glanced at the spooner to see if he was still at it. He was.

I waited and I ate and ate and ate until there was no more to shove in my mouth. Spoon Boy was still tossing and not catching a thing except for everyone else’s line. I then waded back into the stream below him in a completely different hole and resumed fishing. All the while, I wasn’t getting even a strike. The constant bombardment from up-stream kept coming like it was the London Blitz. Then a very strange thing happened. A complete quiet filled the air and I noticed my nemesis was gone. But where? Hell, it didn’t really matter so I waded out and back into the stream to where my frustration had begun.

At last, I was in my favorite hole with no tormentors or distractions. I laid out cast after cast but there were no takers. That happens. Unfettered, I continued but with no success. I knew they had put in 1,800 fish the day before so what was going on? Too much pressure? Probably. Too low water? Definitely. I was sure there was a fish there somewhere.

Another fisherman happened along and he politely fished below me, showing complete respect and stream etiquette. We spoke a bit as the action heated up again and each of us started catching fish. It was though the switch had been pulled on. It was really comforting to see another person on the water who knew those unwritten rules of the stream. I was so impressed that I smiled and asked this fellow if he would like to fish where I was fishing as I was going to move way up the stream. He thanked me and moved in as I moved out of the hole.

An hour or so later found both of us on the bank heading for our cars. We chatted for quite a while about things fishing and of life. I liked this guy so I gave him my number and invited him to call me the next time he wanted a fishing partner. The day had at last gotten better, not in the water but on its banks. As I left the river, I looked back and mumbled to myself, “There was a fish there, I think…”

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The Fear Of Being Milkless

What a queer and delightful sight! Nearly the entire population of our tiny town rushes to the local market like a pack of lemmings to strip the shelves entirely of milk and bread. What brings about this strange activity? A calamity of biblical proportions? An imminent nuclear attack? No. In this small corner of the world, it is the mere mention of that four letter word – Snow.

I am not exaggerating here. When the weatherman predicts even the slightest chance of a dusting of snow, people here run to the markets and stock-up on milk and bread. I’ve often mused as to why milk and bread? Are they thinking of waiting out a blizzard making bread pudding? As crazy as it is, it is also very comical to watch.

But the fun doesn’t stop at the local markets. No indeed. Entire shopping malls shut down in the face of less than a half an inch of the white stuff. Schools are automatically closed for days or even weeks, assuring our under-educated children remain so. To be sure, somewhere in the distance there is a bedraggled old woman shrieking, “Run for your lives – the chariots are coming!”

Yet in the midst of this circus-like activity, every under-skilled driver sooner or later decides they must venture out of their warm garage and give their car a chance in the destruction derby. It’s not that the roads are impassable with such light snow, it’s just that our local drivers here in North Carolina are about 90% from up north where they tend to be a little on the stupid side when it comes to driving or down south in Florida where snow is just a Christmas theme. The results are as equally entertaining as the run for the roses in the milk aisle. There is something devilishly funny about seeing an old douche bag with a Brooklyn accent slide into a ditch with her Cadillac four wheel drive utility vehicle and then utter that she should have bought the bigger model.

It is the fear of being milkless that drives this frenzied behavior. Having lived in the Italian Alps where 8 to 10 feet of snow is normal, I can only shake my head in disbelief and wonder what these poor souls would do in a real snow storm.

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Remembering Kenton

Every one of us has someone in their past who is remembered but no longer with us. I have many such people in my past but the one who always sticks out is Kenton Morse. I wrote another blog about Kenton on October 7, 2014 but there just didn’t seem to be enough words in that post. The original is here: Here’s another attempt.

I knew Kenton as a student and friend over 50 years ago when we both attended Sylmar High School in Sylmar, California. In a world that now seems light years distant, Kenton’s memory always comes shining through. Initially we really were not best friends at all. He was a grade and a half behind me and initially had a different set of close friends. However we were thrown together in the Southern California world of 1960’s surfing and there his memory will always reside. Thankfully, we eventually became the closest of friends.

Kenton was born on August 10, 1949 and I remember him as being the only son of his parents. After he was admitted to the Rising Sons Surf Club, of which I was president, we became good friends with daily contact. He had an untamed side that I admired and a shrieking laugh that demanded friendship. He often drew me out of my seriousness and he certainly made me smile. Most of all, he kept me sane through a few tough years of my youth. Some simple memories from a faded photograph and an ever fading time in my youth:

In late 1965, Kenton and I were frequent visitors to Carpinteria State Beach, south of Santa Barbara. We’d become good friends by then and regularly headed up the coast together for surfing trips, either in his 1954 Mercury wagon or my 1956 Chevy Wagon. We surfed the beach break there together and got to know a few of the locals quite well. There was a guy named Joe who lived in a mobile home with his mother near the beach. He became our friend and also a local guide to the girls. Kenton and I would hit many a party in Santa Barbara with Joe and the three of us always seemed to have a blonde surfer girl on each arm. Those were the days!

On one trip up to Santa Barbara, Kenton and I were stopped by the local Carpinteria police due to Kenton’s loud muffler. Actually, as I recall there may have been no muffler at all as the custom of the day was to run open pipes. The motorcycle officer pulled us over in Kenton’s 1954 Mercury station wagon in a parking lot and immediately wrote out a ticket for excessive noise and driving with bare feet. (Yes, both were against the law back then.) As the office mounted his motorcycle to leave, it wouldn’t start. In typical Kenton fashion, my friend leaned out his window and yelled, “What’s a matter? Won’t that piece of shit start?” Oh yeah, the second ticket was written: Insulting a police officer. (Also against the law back in the day.)

At the then famous Bob’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant on Sepulveda Boulevard in San Fernando, California, Kenton and I played out a typical night. We drove in drunk as usual with open beer in the car and ordered a burger and their famous strawberry pie. Sometime after the burger, the local police drove through and spotted Kenton’s car. Immediately, they got out of the patrol car and approached us. Without so much as a blink of the eye, Kenton dropped the open beers through a hole in his floor boards and proceeded to assure the boys in blue that we weren’t doing anything illegal. It was a nice trick, except the beer cans rolled out from beneath the car to the officers’ waiting feet. Busted!

Kenton was one of only four people to surf what became known as Rizzi’s Reef. This little know spot is a reef break that comes to life only in the largest of storm surf on the California coast above Ventura. The first time it was successfully surfed, Kenton was there beside me as we paddled out into what seemed the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He had the balls to take the first wave and it was he who stood up while paddling up the face of another monster only to be crushed after an eerie laugh. He was always pure Kenton. You can read the full account at: Fifty Years Ago – A Surfing Trilogy.

Kenton and I also double dated a lot when I was a senior in high school. He had a girlfriend named Leslie and I had one named Sharon. As I recall, our girlfriends were not particularly friendly with each other but what did it matter. Both Kenton and I had station wagons with blackout curtains in the back – kind of a surfer’s dream and a young girl’s nightmare. God knows those mattresses in the back of both cars were a mess of sand from the surfboards and the beach, usually cluttered with wet suits and surfboard wax. It didn’t seem to make any difference in the end.

Kenton and I regularly surfed together, in part because we were both very good at our sport but also because we shared a common sense of iconoclasm. We were both rule breakers and we broke one hell of a lot of them together. One afternoon in 1965, we had a surfing contest scheduled when we were all supposed to be in school. I arrived in the office of our registrar Homer Ganz with a fake looking note in hand; something about a fictitious doctor’s appointment. I was facing Mr. Ganz explaining my medical fantasy when behind him and through his window appeared Kenton in the parking lot with two surfboards hanging out the back of his station wagon. He revved his motor and his four-inch glass pack mufflers regurgitated their loud howls. The poor registrar looked out the window then turned to me and said in a resigned voice, “Just go!”

I graduated high school in 1966 and immediately headed to college with the intention of writing the great American novel. As Kenton was a year or more behind me in school, we saw considerably less of each other as I cracked the books and he continued to crack the jokes. One of the last time together found Kenton and me returning from a surfing contest in Baja California which was held at a beach called K38. We were both tired from the two-day event as we approached the northbound border crossing. When the border control agents began asking all of those questions they ask, I pushed in the cigarette light in my 1956 Chevy wagon. The agent gave us the go ahead just as the lighter popped back out. I then calmly lit a cherry bomb and dropped it at the agent’s feet as I speed off. Of course, I forgot the secondary border check some miles up Highway 101. It seemed like Kenton had finally rubbed off on me completely. Busted again? Oh, most definitely.

On October 7, 1967 I was studying Chaucer at Cal State Northridge and Kenton was heading down the Pacific Coast to do some surfing near Camp Pendleton. He caught a flat tire and pulled over to fix it. While he was taking the wheel off the car, a drunk Marine from Camp Pendleton veered off the road, sideswiping and killing Kenton instantly.

The funeral was a terrifying experience for me and one that I remember all too vividly. The music that was played was Born Free and virtually everyone Kenton had known showed up in disbelief. As I leaned into the casket to say goodbye, I couldn’t help to expect that my old friend would jump up out that wooden box, laugh his crazed laugh and tell me and everyone else that he was just screwing with us. That didn’t happen and I have had a hard time accepting that ever since. Friends like Kenton don’t come into our lives too often.

I always try to summarize Kenton in my mind: Kenton was a great friend and member of the Rising Sons Surf Club while attending school at Sylmar High School. He had an infectious laugh and could often be heard on the California coast yelling “Comin’ down!” as he jumped into waves at the last moment. He is missed by many of his old surfing buddies around the world. He is missed especially by me. Tight curls from all of us who are still around!

Tomorrow, 50 years ago, I lost the one true friend that kept me sane and laughing throughout high school. Thanks to you Kenton, I’m still here to tell the tale. I’ll be lifting a glass to you tonight and will continue keeping you in my heart… that’s a promise from a friend.

Note: Kenton’s photo from Sylmar High School yearbook, 1966.

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I Y’am What I Y’am

Those of you from the 1950’s and 1960’s surely remember Popeye The Sailor and his classic line, “I y’am what I y’am!” To you millennials and others who are experientially challenged, I offer my apologies. Popeye was a classic cartoon but moreover a spokesman for iconoclasts everywhere back then. I was one of them.

I grew up with Popeye and learned his lingo and attitude well. It has both served me and deterred me throughout my entire life. “I y’am what I y’am” can mean a lot of things but it seems to always exude an attitude that basically says: “Hey, I’m who I am – if you don’t like, too bad!” It is a form of honesty that I am thankful for learning at an early age. It has kept me true to myself and my beliefs for nearly 70 years. It has kept my compass straight as well and has kept me moving forward unimpeded by those who would doubt or criticize me to a fault.

However this forerunner of do your own thing has its down sides as well. It can also be met with: “Great but I don’t give a damn!” and “A little self-centered, are we?” Those are the perils of living one’s life with conviction. They can manifest themselves as job offers that never come as well as friendships and romances that are smothered from the first instant. I have been the recipient of all of these and much more. Sometimes being stalwart just doesn’t work in today’s world.

On balance I believe the “I y’am what I y’am” attitude is a healthy one that should be embraced by more people today. As of late, I have seen too many of what we used to call yes men and sycophants cluttering up the political and social landscape. Just going along with everyone else has historically been a non-starter and often a finisher. It’s no different today. Whether it’s millennials who just need to grow a pair or milk-toast geezers who can’t find a pair, Popeye has a few good lessons to be learned.

Over six and a half decades on I still admire the old sailor for his sand. Through the years, I have even learned to like spinach as well.

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High School

We’ve all pretty much been there – High School. This eternal crucible is where most of us get our true start in life. Our high school experiences mold us into the people who we are to become more than any other experience in our lives.

As we enter high school, we are usually immature children who need a lot of growing up. We usually get that and a whole lot more during our years in high school. I certainly did. When I entered high school, I was still using crutches after a really bad broken leg which left my tibia in over 200 pieces. I was a bit shy and constantly bullied because of my perceived handicap. My whole life needed changing and I set out to do just that.

Finding that I needed to regain my physicality, I turned to surfing for physical therapy. I also embraced the sport to regain my confidence and message a much battered ego. Riding waves and interacting with others in and out of the water seemed to do the trick. When I left high school, I was confident bordering cocky and I could walk again without a cane. I was ready for the waiting world.

It’s the stuff in between that was really interesting. In my junior year I helped form the Rising Sons Surf Club at Sylmar High School and it soon became one of the premier social focal points on campus. We would stride into the Sports Nights (Friday night dances) with our embroidered shirts ablaze, declaring to all that we thought we were pretty special. We were special in our own little way. But the experience of belonging to a surfing club matured us all in so many small ways. We learned the value of comradery, keeping healthy and even the mathematical logistics of surfing a wave.

High school was also a time of fun and screwing around before the heavy weight of adulthood set in. We loved drinking gallons of beer, campfires on the beach and the adventure of taking off in a car at night with only a vague destination in mine. Selling liquor to unsuspecting freshmen in watered down paper cups was natural and harmless back then. Nobody ever seemed to get busted back then. The lack of restraints was a wonderful thing and we bathed in the utter calm before the storm.

However, I was always serious and a bit too grounded at times. I was a writer even back then and I always had my head in a book and a pen in my hand. I knew that I would head for college immediately after high school and I seemed to have been constantly preparing for that journey. I was also the guy who knew how to cook and as such did all of the cooking for our merry band of surfers when we were on the road. Fresh muscles over a campfire in Mexico were my specialty.

Years move on with increasing speed after we leave high school. When life’s currents fully envelope us, we become part of the flow and are propelled ever faster onward toward our final destination. We pause occasionally to reflect or go to high school reunions but we find that the feeling was of the moment and can not be relived. It is as it should be. However, for the briefest moments in time we were all there long ago in a place called high school.

The good-looking guy in the photo is me in my 1966 high school graduation photo. (That’s as about as cleaned up as a surfer got back in the day.)

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This Duke Ain’t No John Wayne

So here’s the backdrop. We were in Italy for three months when Duke Energy decided to install a “Smart” electrical meter on our house without advising us. Fair enough; that’s the way big monopolies do things in America. We planned on returning home to a nice new meter and hoped for the best.

However, right after the installation we received a string of emails from North Carolina that our garage door was open. Not knowing the cause, we told a neighbor to kill the breaker until we returned to see what the problem was. After arriving home and restoring the garage door power, we were baffled to see our garage door open, close and open again, mainly on Friday and Saturday nights. Hmmm. We checked all of the normal possible problems (cut beams, wires, etc.) to no avail and finally concluded that the only variable was Duke Energy’s new meter.

We waited over the Labor Day weekend, knowing that such important people as public utilities do not work on holidays. After the weekend, we called Duke Energy to see if they could send a tech out to check their new meter installation and verify if the problem was theirs or ours. WTF? They said they would absolutely not send a technician and that we had to hire an independent electrician to check the problem. WTF? I didn’t ask for Duke Energy to install a new meter to begin with and now they had the gall to ask me to pay to see if my problem was their problem. Incredible!

I should mention that we were initially disconnected by a phone room sweetheart named Raquel and then had to make no fewer than 3 transfers to find the supervisor of the other phone room dummies. Doing business with any utility is pure shit. This string of useless phone calls was no exception. At the end of the day (literally), we were told in rude and certain terms that they would do nothing to help us.

So here we were with an overpriced power company telling us to jump in a lake while our garage door continued to open and close. What to do? I tried tweeting Duke directly and received (to their credit) some nominal explanations involving prior complaints from their customers. To be fair, my Twitter exchange did provoke some well thought out comments by one Duke Energy representative. This anonymous person at least tried to provide a rational explanation of our problem but did not go as far as to try to actually solve it. Again, they refused to send a technician out to look at their installation. When you’re dealing with the Utility Lords, you are left to your own devices. I have been trying to solve the problem for weeks and it’s looking like it may not be their new meter after all. But what’s with all the attitude and poor customer service? The arrogance and total lack of customer service that Duke Energy exhibits is completely unacceptable even for a monopoly.

Whether my problem is solved or not, my next stop will be the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission (which always backs-up there cohorts). I’d be interested in learning if Duke Energy does indeed have a responsibility to send a technician out to check their work. Or is it just assumed that nasty monopolies never make mistakes?

At the end of the day, one thing is for sure: This Duke ain’t no John Wayne. Wha-ha! Get a hold of them on Twitter at @DukeEnergy if you have similar problems or complaints. Maybe they’ll be naive enough to follow you like they did with me. One sure bet: You’ll know you’ve been Duked!


Bloggers. I must admit that until a few years ago, I wasn’t even aware that they existed. Now I have been one for several years myself. Yikes!

What started out as a perceived vehicle to sell my books to the awaiting public has turned into a passion that I practice with precision every Friday at noon. I have written several hundred blogs on subjects as diverse as poetry, social commentary, surfing, fly fishing and travel. Along the way I have also read a great deal of my fellow bloggers’ work and have formed some observations worth sharing:

Bloggers. No two bloggers are alike. That statement seems obvious but with thousands of bloggers out there, I have yet to see much if any overlap in style, subject, geography or background. That’s a good thing. Diversity is what makes blogging exciting.

Importance. Everyone has something important to share. With the whole range of the human experience at their disposal, each blogger has something unique to say. I’ve read really interesting blogs dedicated solely to food preparation, others on politics and still others on virtually every imaginable subject. Most are wonderful.

Imagery. Pictures and photographs are important. I feel more connected to the content if I am provided with an interesting photo, cartoon or graphic. It may be the kid in me but I like a little visual stimulation along with the words.

Experience. It’s like being there. I love travel blogs, especially those which deal with locales that I have never visited. As a world traveler, I appreciate learning about something new. Again, photographs really help fill in the gaps.

Details. I am a well read person but I love to learn new, small details about history, modern life, food, travel and just about anything under the sun.

Length. I prefer blog posts that are under 800 words. I don’t read blogs the same way I read a novel and I appreciate brevity in order to get to the point. Most blogs fall into this category although I have read some interesting posts that are longer but none of them were books.

The Author. I also like learning a bit about the author and appreciate seeing their photo. It helps me connect with what they feel is important. Being able to put some experience and a face with the blog post helps round out my experience, sort of like an espresso after dinner.

In conclusion, I salute you fellow bloggers for your ingenuity, talent, and above all your desire to share some of your life and ideas with the rest of us. It truly makes for a human experience.

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The Trip Over

Few of us are old enough to remember. Still fewer of us can even imagine.

Coming to America in the 19th century was a far stretch from coming to America today. First, there were no jet planes to whisk you from one continent to another in 10 hours. The crossing was by ship and it usually took 8 to 10 days of often super uncomfortable travel. My grandparents made this long trip several times.

Many, many Italians and Tiroleans traveled to America on the SS La Bretagne. The ship sailed from between 1886 and 1923 and carried thousands to a waiting Ellis Island on the Le Havre–New York route, initially with the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) shipping company. My grandparents, Eugenio Rizzi and his wife Anna Flor made several trips to the U.S. on this vessel.

La Bretagne was launched 9 September 1885 by CGT in Saint-Nazaire. Built for France to New York service, she had a 7,112 gross tonnage and measured 150.99 metres (495 ft 4 in) long between perpendiculars and 15.78 metres (51 ft 9 in) wide. Equipped with twin triple-expansion steam engines driving a single screw propeller that drove her at 17 knots (31 km/h), she was outfitted with two funnels and four. La Bretagne was initially equipped with accommodations for 390 first-class, 65 second-class, and 600 third-class passengers. Her hull was made of steel from the foundries at Terre-Noire and featured eleven bulkheads which created twelve watertight compartments; her deck was planked with Canadian elm and teak. The ship cost $1,700,000 (about $45 million today). As dated and run down as the ship appears in pictures, it was actually one of the classier vessels for transporting immigrants.

In 1912, the newly reorganized Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique purchased a number of second-hand ships—including La Bretagne—for its relaunch of South American service from France. Bretagne sailed on the South American service through 1923, the last four years under the name of Alesia. In December 1923, Alesia was sold to a Dutch firm for scrapping. While on her way to the shipwrecker, Alesia’s tow line parted and the ship ran aground on the island of Texel, becoming a total loss.

Along with sister ships La Champagne, La Bourgogne and La Gascogne, La Bretagne carried the bulk of Tiroleans to America on trips that a usually terminated at Ellis Island in New York. From there, most had a destination in mind, often joining relatives or friends who had already made the trip over. For the Tiroleans, these destinations most often included mining towns in Wyoming, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Once they were settled in, one of the first pieces of business was to become an American citizen.

Photo: SS La Bretagne circa 1895.

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Everyone’s An Author

Everyone’s an author today. Yet, there was a time when you actually had to know how to write before calling yourself an author. God, how times have changed.

I think back fondly to the days of Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner and countless others. These were people who could write the English language with superb talent and share with all of us the wonders of their pens. They are part of a large fraternity of writers who are for all time truly authors.

Today, thanks to the internet, everyone’s an author. You can self publish your books without regard to writing talent, content or even the ability to write. On Amazon alone, there are nearly 800,000 titles available and many are from folks who can’t write a coherent sentence or have content that appeals to less than a few dozen people. However, all of these people are authors and have “published” a book. Bravo!

Then there is the plethora of writing that is seen on web pages, everything from Facebook to Linkedin to WordPress to Twitter to God knows what. These forums also allow everyone to be an author, sometimes with hilarious results. The obvious lack of skill with grammar, spelling and basic writing is consistently appalling. A good 90 percent of these authors never learned the difference between to and too and that is, as they would say, to bad. Grammar, spelling and content are not egghead abstracts. They are the very stuff of accurate communication that is required of all authors.

The new shorthand of the millennial generation (and old farts that want to be millennials) also thwarts many would be authors. If you insist on writing in shorthand, abbreviations and code, you are sure to miss a good percentage of your intended audience. To make matters worse, if you can’t even spell the word or the abbreviation, you are in obvious trouble. Yes, I know some are lol at this very moment but if you can’t spell laughing or the abbreviation, you might want to consider something else on your resume besides author. See:

All of this is not to say that to be an author also requires one to be a Rhodes Scholar or some bow-tied literature professor. But insisting on a little competency is not asking too much. Writing is a learned skill and many people in today’s world just don’t want to spend the time and effort to learn. It takes effort after all. But why should they? In today’s world, everyone’s an author.

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Guns Now And Then

I remember as a youth of 15 going into a liquor store (now called mini market) after hunting in rural California to buy a Coke and some chips while having a .38 revolver strapped to my side. I would wander the aisles a bit, find what I wanted and go to the cash register and pay for my purchase. The cashier could see that I was carrying a sidearm but no one got upset. It was legal and accepted behavior at the time and nothing out of the ordinary at all. In fact, there were hundreds of us hunters and target shooters that regularly did the same without as much as a frown.

Try that today! Someone would scream “gun” and you would be dropped like a bowling pin in under a second. We are talking about a huge change here in the way Americans perceive guns. The pitch has gone from calm to plain nutty.

When I was a child, I can’t remember ever hearing about a murder in our small town. There may well have been some but they certainly didn’t make the evening news. Likewise, I never heard of anyone shooting a thief in a home invasion although I am sure there were plenty of thieves back in the day. And I never heard of anyone shooting anyone else just for the hell of it. So what are we talking about here, facts or perceptions? It is probably a bit of both.

Some sixty years ago, there were fewer guns and yet they were more openly presented as opposed to being hidden away in closets. Today there are way more guns but practically no one wears a sidearm in the open with the exception of law enforcement personnel. (Here in North Carolina, we have an open carry law.) There is way more gun related crime now, even on a per capita basis than sixty years ago yet everyone wants to hide their weapons. These are the facts.

Now the perceptions. Six decades ago, people weren’t particularly afraid of guns or gun ownership. It was a part of the American West that carried over into the twentieth century. Guns were considered a normal piece of family life in America. Sure, there were the exceptions but nobody seemed to get upset at the idea of gun ownership. Then came August 1, 1966. In Austin, Texas, Charles Joseph Whitman, a former US Marine, killed 16 and wounded at least 30 while shooting from a University of Texas tower. Police officers Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy shot and killed Whitman in the tower. Whitman had also killed his mother and wife earlier in the day. This was a pivotal day in the perception of guns in America. Guns were now feared. America had long forgotten about September 5, 1949, then it came back in an instant: In Camden, New Jersey, 28-year-old Howard Unruh, a veteran of World War II, shot and killed 13 people as he walked down Camden, New Jersey’s 32nd Street. His weapon of choice was a German-crafted Luger pistol. He was found insane and was committed to a state mental institution where he died at the age of 88.

Today we fear guns as we have seen what they do in the hands of the insane or terrorists. People get shot everyday in America and unfortunately it is viewed as a normal occurrence. Often these shootings are over petty disagreements. Criminals who use firearms illegally put a huge burden on the shoulders of law-abiding gun owners, resulting in the gun hysteria we have seen in recent years. All gun owners are now painted with the same “bad guy” brush.

It is time to take the mystery out of guns, severely punish those who use them illegally while preserving our heritage and rights to own and correctly use firearms. Voices have to calm on both sides of the gun debate. Perhaps both the facts and perceptions will change for the better.

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