Happiness, Freedom and Choices

I remember many years ago, when I was just a kid, sitting on the front porch and talking with my oldest brother, Bob, who looked at me with a smile and asked, “Are you happy?”

I don’t remember what I said but Bob gave me a thoughtful look and said, “I think we’re here to be happy” as he nodded his head.

That made sense to me and I shook my head and agreed. I not sure if I ever  thought about it before but I liked what Bob said back then and I still like it today.

I remember about the same time, a grammar school teacher went in front of the classroom with a serious look on his face and said, “Listen students, I want you to listen to this. I’m going to write something on the chalkboard that is probably the most important lesson I’ll ever teach you or that you’ll ever learn.” And then he wrote the word “Choice” on the chalkboard and he looked at the class very seriously and said, “This is the most important thing you’ll ever do, make choices.”

I remember looking at the teacher intently and thinking, “Yeah, yeah, go on….” But I guess that was the end of lesson because I don’t remember him saying much after that.

I’ve thought about that for many years since. The problem is, in all my years of going to school, from kindergarten through high school and through college, I don’t remember anyone ever trying to teach us how to make decisions.

The same thing is true with what my brother Bob said about being happy. Yes, I agree and I think that we are here to be happy. The problem is, it’s up to us to find what makes us happy. And I suppose the same thing is true about making choices and how to make a decision. It’s up to us to make a decision. And I guess it all comes down to your value system, what you consider important and what you believe and feel like you can do about it.

Of course since then I’ve lived many years, some happy, some not so happy and some downright miserable. I’ve also heard people say, “You can choose to be happy.”

First thing I think when I hear something like that is, “Show me where the “be happy button” is and I’ll be happy to push it.”

When I hear people talking about freedom, I think of the freedom of people to make their own choices and the freedom to do what they choose to do.

I look back and think of all the things I had to do that I felt I had no choice and I just had to do. You know, like going to school for years on end and then getting drafted into the army and then going back to school some more and getting a job and getting married and working and running a business and the responsibilities and obligations of relationships and raising children — which was all very meaningful, important and rewarding — at least the raising children part — and I’m very glad that I did it. But I’m not sure I ever consciously decided to do any of it. It just sort of seemed to be decided for me.

But now I’m basically retired and I can do what I want to do — but it comes down to freedom and making choices more than ever and I still struggle with how to do that.

So when I hear someone say “freedom is not free” I can relate in that it’s not easy deciding what I want to do. I don’t want to do anything I regret, like make choices and/or decisions (or not make choices and/or decisions) that I’ll look back on and ask myself, “Why the hell did (or didn’t) I do that?” which I’ve done many times before.

Maybe that’s why some people seem to feel secure with a strong leader or even a dictator or some religion telling them what to do. They don’t have to think about it and/or make choices. They just do what they’re told to do.

To me that doesn’t sound like freedom but I guess in some ways it may be freedom to not have to take responsibility of making a choice that you may later regret.

I can’t even believe I wrote that last line but I’m afraid that it very well may be true. Why else are so many countries run by dictatorships and/or religion? They don’t have to think, they just do what they’re told to do.

I recently asked as Asian lady I’ve known for many years if she was happy and she said, “Chinese people don’t think about being happy. They just do what they have to do.”

I didn’t really know what to say about that but I’ve thought about it ever since she said it which may be why I’m writing this post.

Of course millions of people come to America for “freedom” and “democracy” but then millions of people who live in America choose to get strung out on drugs, alcohol, money, power and religion. Is that freedom? Is that happiness? Of course some people would say they’re not choosing to do those things. They’re just addicted to those things.

And let’s not forget that Congress is basically run by “campaign contributions” (a euphemism for bribery) that is basically beholden to the corporations who have them in their pocket who really run things in America today.

So, I guess corporations have the freedom to do what they want to do (especially now since the Supreme Court said “corporations are people.”

And the rest of us? Well, I guess we have the freedom to choose to either try to change things or just accept things the way they are or choose to not do anything about it and choose to either happy about things or be unhappy about it.

The question is, what do I and what do you choose to do.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  flight_of_freedom_bald_eagle-normal

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Ditching School

It was early Tuesday morning and it was my best friend Eddie’s, 16th birthday and Eddie, Peter and I didn’t feel like going to school on Eddie’s birthday so instead we ditched school. We all jumped into my low rider 1950 Chevy and sped out of the Wilson High School parking lot before first period. “So, what you guys wanna do?” I asked.

“Let’s go to the beach, man, it’ll be fun to be there when we’re supposed to be in school.” Peter said.

“Na, we don’t have time for that. I’ve got to be back at school at three for football practice.” Eddie said.

“Well, Griffith Park is nice and it ain’t too far.” I said thinking more of the closer distance than the destination.

“All right, let’s go there but let’s pick up some beer first.” Peter said. So we stopped at Eva’s Liquor Store in City Terrace and bought two six packs of Budweiser. While getting on the San Bernadino freeway Peter popped open a beer and said “happy birthday” as he handed it to Eddie. Then he popped open another beer, took a long drink from it and then opened another beer and handed it to me without noticing that a cop was behind us so as he handed me the beer, an LAPD cop car with two cops in it turned on their red light.

My heart was pounding as I pulled over on the freeway and nervously saw people gawking at us as they sped by and I felt like a convicted felon.

“Aren’t you boys supposed to be in school?” one of the cops said. “Ah, school…? Oh, yeah, school. We were just on our way there now.”

“You’re running a little bit late, aren’t ya?” the cop said with a smile.

“Yeah, my car wouldn’t start. It has a dead battery so we had to push it and pop the clutch.” I feebly answered.

“That why you in the back is spilling beer all over the floor there?” the cop said as he pointed to the beer spilling under Peter’s feet.

“Ahhh….Beer…? I answered “Yeah, that beer can next to you there that you’re trying to hide and the two six packs under this guys feet here too.” the cop said as he pointed to Peter’s feet as Peter was trying to push the six packs under his seat with his feet.

The cops looked at us and one of them said: “Is this your car?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Nice little car you got here. You got a license to drive it?”

I pulled out my wallet and handed my license to him and he looked at it and looked back at me, paused for a couple seconds and said, “Look, I’m a nice guy so I’m not gonna report you guys for ditching school but I may have to write you up for having an open container in your vehicle while driving, son.”

Then he pulled out his pen and pad and was getting ready to write me up as I cringed.

Then he paused for a second and looked at my sad face and saw that I hadn’t even had a sip of the beer. He asked me to get out of the car. I expected to have the handcuffs put on right then and there but he smelled my breath, told me to hand him the beer I had been holding and saw that it was still full.

I looked at the cop and he said, “You haven’t even started to drink this have you?”

“No, sir. I haven’t.”

He looked at me, shook his head and said, “Just give me the beers and I won’t write you up for driving while drinking.”

I turned around and said, “Hey, guys, give him the beer.”

“I don’t want to see you driving with an open container again. You got that?”

“Yes, sir. I got that!” I said feeling very relieved.

As I drove away, Peter said, “Well, that was close.”

“It sure was.” I said with my heart still pounding and the sweat rolling down my back.

“Let’s get some more beer.” Peter said.

“You crazy?”

“Naa. We just won’t open it ’til we get to Griffith Park.”

Which is what we did. I drove to Griffith Park, we climbed up into the hills overlooking the merry-go-round, sat down, listened to the merry-go-round music playing, sat back and drank the beer.

Four hours later when it was time to go home, Eddie asked me to show him how to drive my car so let him sit behind the wheel and I tried to show him how to drive a stick shift in the parking lot of the merry-go-round but after the car jerked around a bunch of times and Eddie killed the engine several times, I said that was enough.

I got back behind the wheel and tuned on the music and cruised on home, thinking about the day, feeling relieved the cop let me go and feeling good that I wasn’t driving with an open container. All I had to do then get home without being stopped again, which because I had a low rider car, would sometimes happen more than once a day. Matter of fact, it was unusual if a cap saw me and the car I was driving, that he didn’t stop me and ask if he could search the car.

I made it back to drop Eddie off for football practice and asked him to write me a note for ditching school.

“What you want me to write?”

“That I was sick, What else?”

So I didn’t get a moving violation for driving with an open container in my vehicle, the cops took the rest of our beer away (which I’m sure they just poured out), I wasn’t suspended from school and I didn’t have to tell my mother and father of the incident and they didn’t have to take time off work to go with me to court or to the principal’s office (and scold me for the money it cost) and I didn’t lose my driving privileges.

Happy birthday, Eddie!

Thank you for the memories.

50 chevy 1950 Chevy

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Being a Vietnam Vet

I’ve been a  Vietnam Vet (VNV) since my tour of duty in Vietnam (Nam) was over in June 1967.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected as VNV. I just wanted to make it out of Nam alive and luckily I managed to survive. What I wasn’t expecting was people asking me why I went. It wasn’t like I said, “Hmmm… I don’t really have anything better to do today, why don’t I go to Vietnam?”  No, that wasn’t what happened. I was drafted and told if I didn’t report for induction into the US Armed Forces that I would go to prison for 5 years and get a huge fine to boot.

When I got my draft notice in June, 1966, I was still basically just a kid, so I hoped for the best and I reported for duty into the army.

5 & 1/2 months later, after basic combat training and medical training, I found myself in the Central Highlands of Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division. Each day felt like a week and each week felt like a month and each month felt like an eternity. I mean I counted the days, the minutes and watched the seconds tick off of my wristwatch. It was a very long year.

So when I made it back out of Vietnam alive, I was very, very happy as was my mother and my father and my girlfriend at the time.

But, aside from the people who I loved and who loved and cared about me, it seemed like not only did no one else care — many of them felt disdain and contempt toward VNVs. And many people didn’t want anything to do with VNVs and that included service organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veteran’s service organizations — and at the time, it also included the VA (The Department of Veteran’s Affairs).

Why is that? Well, it seems like the people who sent us to fight in VN didn’t know how to let us win the war. They were afraid if we did too good, the Chinese and/or the Russians would join the fight and they didn’t want that to happen because that might lead to a much wider war and maybe even to World War III.

So we weren’t allowed to win the war. But that didn’t mean they just gave up and let us come home. No, that  meant, there were places called “ free-fire zones” – in U.S. military parlance a weapons fire control measure, used for coordination between adjacent combat units. The definition used in the Vietnam war by US troops may be found in field manual FM 6-20: A specific designated area into which any weapon system may fire without additional coordination with the establishing headquarters.

Free fire zones were based on the assumption that all friendly forces had been cleared from the area, established a policy designating free-fire zones as areas in which: Anyone unidentified is considered an enemy combatant and soldiers were to shoot anyone moving around after curfew, without first making sure that they were hostile.

The opposite of Free Fire  Zones were “No-fire zones” where there were restrictions on firing weapons and on bombing raids so as not to harm friendlies. Not that most VNVs could tell the difference between who was “friendly” and who was “unfriendly” — so the war zone was basically a zone of schizophrenia. In other words, an actual real place that makes it hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is not real and how to to make decisions or think clearly or have normal emotional responses.

It wasn’t like WW II where whoever was wearing a uniform on the other side of the front line was the enemy.

So, when VNVs came home to less than hero status (to put in nicely), it was in many ways more damaging than actually being in Vietnam. VNVs were treated very badly and called “losers” to their faces and shown to be angry and crazy on TV shows and in the movies. Even my girlfriend at the time asked me why I put a Vietnam Veteran bumper sticker on my car.

There are persistent stereotypes about Vietnam veterans as psychologically devastated, bitter, homeless, drug-addicted people who had a hard time readjusting to society, primarily due to the uniquely divisive nature of the Vietnam War and that went on for decades.

Unemployment, depression, anxiety and suicide and divorce rates for VNVs have been much higher than the rest of the population. VNVs had a very hard time getting back to the civilian lives they had before going to Nam and many never did. I live up in the hills of Butte County, California among the tall trees and open space and the peace and quiet and I’m not alone in that respect. Thousands of VNVs have moved away from crowded spaces.

And adding insult to injury, one of the things that I felt was unfair was I remember hearing that President Carter or Ford pardoned those who dodged the draft but not the guys who tried the army and and found it was not for them so they deserted and here it is some 47 years later and they have never been pardoned.

But I learned a lot about life and about people and about myself having had the experience of being a VNV and the aftereffects. I realize there are good and bad in everybody and that no matter what life experience you have, good, bad or indifferent, you can learn from it and go on and still make life worthwhile.

I’m just sorry to have lost so many friends and so much time in getting here. But that is not to say that I don’t still have my struggles with depression and anxiety and feeling a sense of betrayal but I am happy to still be alive and still have people who love me.

ArmyPhil Phil in the army Nam picSouth Vietnam

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The Muse in Music

The entire time I was a kid and growing up there was always music in our house. My dad was always either singing or whistling or he had the radio on, and yes – he also watched Lawrence Welk regularly. Music brought my dad happiness so naturally I learned to love music as well.

As soon as I was old enough to save up a couple of dollars, I hopped on the Number Two bus from City Terrace and rode it to downtown LA where I transferred onto the trolley at the downtown bus depot and took the trolley to place called Wallach’s Music City located in Hollywood at Sunset and Vine. Wallach’s Music City was the biggest music store in LA and it had everything you could ever want from saxophones to drums to pianos to all the music ever recorded and played on the radio with bins of just about every record you could want.

I’d look into the bins for the 45 records that I fell in love with like Bobby Days’ Rockin’ Robin and Clyde Mcphatter’s The Treasure of Love and The Fiestas You’re So Fine and every doo wop record ever made. I’d pay the $1.03 and hold the 45 record in my hands that I’d wanted for weeks. Then I’d take the trolley and the bus back home and play that record over and over again until it was practically worn out.

When Motown music came out in the early 1960’s, I’d go to Wallach’s Music City every time I saved up enough money to buy an LP – a long playing record that had 6 songs on each side of the record. Naturally there was only one or two good songs on each side of the record. The rest of the songs were mostly just filler but for $3.09, it seemed like a bargain.

All the way through high school I listened to the sounds of the records I loved and then came the 8-track tape player that I installed in my car so I could play hours and hours of music without commercial interruptions like the radio had. Then came the smaller cassette tapes, so I bought many of the same songs again in the new format. Then came the CD and again I bought the some of my favorite songs in the new format. And now I’ve burned most of it all onto digital mp3 format so I can put in on a flash drive and take it with me where ever I go

I learned to play guitar so I could sing my favorite tunes myself. Then I began writing my own songs which also brought me pleasure.

In 1991 I became a disk jockey at KZFR, 90.1 FM in Chico, CA, doing “LA Sounds with Sr Felipe” every Tuesday night from 7:30-10:00 PM playing oldies, doo-wop, folk, soul, Latin, bluegrass, country and dance music (streamed live at KZFR.org) where I get to play all the music I learned to love including interviewing interesting people in the community. I’m still doing that and I now have several thousand of my favorite songs on a portable hard drive with over 150 gigs of music.

I’ve been hired to MC and DJ weddings and dances and anniversary parties and even funerals.

Music has been a great source of enjoyment and of soothing my soul since I was a kid. I even play soft music that I call “sleep music” at night when I can’t seem to sleep. It usually does the trick.

So I’d like to thank my father for introducing me to one of life’s greatest pleasures, right up there with eating and breathing. I don’t think I could live without music.

Thank you, dad. I can still hear your voice singing in my head and I hope I’m doing as good a job as you did to pass  the love of music along.

WallachsMusicCitySunsetandVine 2  Wallachs Music City (on the left), Sunset & Vine in Hollywood.                                   YoungDad2My dad

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The Mass Shootings

People keep asking why these mass shootings keep happening all over the country? These are the questions that come to my mind:

How can one of the richest countries in the world justify 50 million of its citizens not being able to afford health care when every other civilized country and some not so civilized countries in the world has affordable health care? How do we justify millions of people losing their homes while the banks that caused the problem in the first place are bailed out? How do we justify cutting taxes for the rich while we cut services for the poor and the middle class?

Or course people are angry when they feel that they’re being ripped off. And why do they feel that way? Because they see insurance companies making billions of dollars a year shuffling paperwork by just sending the money that we citizens send them to to pay health care providers? But who needs them? Cut out the middleman. How hard can it be to eliminate the insurance companies and put together a computer program to pay our medical bills?

I mean if we can send a rover to Mars that does scientific experiments and sends back data and pictures to Earth, not to mention the Jupiter Explorer that has traveled several billion miles and still is sending back data and has just left our Solar System, we ought to be able to put together a computer program that sends our money to health care providers without the insurance companies raking in billions of dollars in the process. Right there, we’d save billions of dollars a year.

And then I remember that our society is not based upon cooperation. Unless you consider the insurance industry and the oil companies and the bank lobbyist “contributing” to Congress with millions of dollars a year to vote the way they benefit the most which almost always is not the way the public benefits is cooperation.

And then you can see why people are angry and afraid (and some dangerous) because they see they are not going to get what they want and need even though there really is plenty of what we all need to go around but evidently that’s not enough for some people and corporations, they want it all and that has led to the 400 richest families having more money than half the rest of the country has.

That leaves hundreds of millions of people scrabbling and feeling like they’re not getting their fair share and a lot of those people are frustrated and don’t know what to do but they are angry about it.

So some of them do some pretty dumb things like listen to like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and the other hate mongers on Fox News who convince them that it’s not that the economic system is unfair,  no, it’s government that is the problem. And they rile some people up enough to do some pretty stupid things like voting against their own self-interests in elections.

The hate mongers rile up some people to believe that the problem is the liberals and the environmentalist and the immigrants and women having the right to choose to have an abortion and gays and gays having the right to marry. That must be the problem. They somehow fool people into believing that if only more money went to the rich, that would solve the problem. Yes, let’s cut welfare (for the poor, not for the rich corporations) and let’s cut education and let’s cut government regulations and environmental protection that might have prevented the huge Gulf Coast oil spill and the Wall Street collapse and the Banks from going broke.

They think, yeah, that’s the answer! Give billions of dollars to the banks and give tax breaks and subsidies to the oil companies and to corporations and to the rich and the hell with the middle class and the poor. They don’t deserve it. Let’s break up the unions. Yeah, that’s the answer. Let’s bust the unions!

People get angry when they hear that their Social Security and Medicare that they worked hard for all their lives might not be there for them when they need it. How do we justify big business controlling Congress and watch them destroying our atmosphere and our environment for their personal gain while they’re doing it? How do we justify cutting education funding for our children while big business cheers on unbridled corporate profits? Which, incidentally are higher than ever.

What’s all this got to do with the shootings that seem to be happening all the time now? Like I said, our society is based upon selfishness and not about cooperation and caring about the things that I just mentioned. But people feel cheated and a lot of them feel left out.

Most people seem to be able to somehow or other overlook it but not everybody can. It takes a lot of dexterity to survive in today’s society and some people don’t have the capability to do it very well and they’re frustrated and some have become self destructive alcoholics and some become addicted to drugs and some, cheat and lie and gamble and commit crime and become angry and become racist and sexist and have road rage and mental health issues.

The hate mongers tell them it’s the minorities’ fault. It’s the liberals and the environmentalist fault. It’s the immigrants’ fault. It’s the government regulations fault. Yeah, that’s the problem. Government is too big. Let’s cut out the programs that help keep people afloat that are left out and let’s cut government regulations and give more money to big business and the rich.

Oh, by the way, there just happens to be millions of guns and assault rifles (that are really weapons of war) laying around and some people are filled with enough hate and anger, fueled on by the hate mongers telling them it’s other people’s fault, that they use those weapons on innocent people. Suddenly someone with an assault rifle has some power and they want to use it and they don’t care who they hurt. And they must know that they’re probably going to be one of the dead.

Like I said, our society is not based upon cooperation. It’s based upon selfishness and I believe the mass shootings are the ultimate act of selfishness.

And where to hurt society the most? By shooting innocent people and going to our schools and shooting and killing what we love and value the most, helpless little children.

So how do we fix this problem? We’ve got to use our heads more and not listen to the hate mongers who tell us that people like Rush Limbaugh, who makes 50 million dollars a year by spreading hate and intolerance, is just good business for the Fox Network — and that cutting his taxes — and cutting your Social Security and your Medicare is the answer to our problems.

I think it’s just the other way around. We need to cut Rush Limbaugh’s hate filled mouth and keep Social security, Medicare and education strong because millions of people need it.

I remember my parents saying, it’s a dog eat dog world out there but here it is fall and soon we’ll be getting close to the holidays and isn’t cooperation and caring about something besides ourselves what Christmas — and all other religions holidays claim to be all about?

Or is that only for certain times of year — Except in Connecticut and Colorado and Washington DC and where every other mass shooting has occurred of course. Then it’s open season for anybody.

Assualt There are millions of these assault rifles all over the country and they are in every neighborhood in every city and in every town and they come with large capacity ammo clips and they can be bought with very little, if any background checks by just about anybody.

It might not be the most sensible thing in the world but, hey, it’s good for business and I guess that must be the most the most important thing because that’s what’s been happening and it’s what we’re continuing to let happen.

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I’ve had a friend for the past couple of years that I like quite a bit. We became good buddies and we’d visit each other regularly and talk about world events and relationships and whatever else came up. I mean I thought we could communicate with each other very well.

A couple months ago I noticed he was loosing weight. I mentioned it to him and he said his divorce was hurting him pretty badly. I said I was sorry to hear that.

As the weeks went by I noticed his clothes were hanging on him pretty badly and I said, “What’s up with weight loss?”

“Oh, you know, this divorce is just killing me. I love the lady but she’s making things pretty rough on me. We’re just fighting all the time and I had to move out of the house the other day so you know; I’m not eating much and not sleeping at all.”

I recommended a shrink for him to see he started seeing the shrink and he said that was going well but the weight was still coming off.

“Hey, man, you’re disappearing! What’s going on? You look like you’re melting away right before my eyes!”

“Yeah, you know, this divorce is just killing me.”

Every time I saw him he looked skinnier and skinnier but I guess I thought it was just depression and his not eating due to his “divorce diet” but today I found out through a mutual friend that he was busted for a DUI. He lost his job and his marriage and his house and everything else. I asked the mutual friend what happened. He shook his head and all he said was, “Meth.”

Suddenly it all made sense. I guess I thought he was too smart to mess around with something like that. I realize that intelligence doesn’t have a lot to do with addiction — but meth? Come on! I mean, I’ve known some alcoholics and some drug abusers who messed around with pot and pills (legal and illegal) and some snorted coke but messing around with a nasty killer like meth?! I was flabbergasted. All day long today I’ve been walking around and shaking my head in disbelief.

This is not the first person I’ve known who’ve messed up their life with meth. I had another friend who lost everything to it as well, including his teeth. He had a good job that paid $80,000.00 a year and he owned a house and a Harley-Davidson, he was married and had 2 kids and the last thing I heard was it was all gone, including 80 pounds of his weight and he wasn’t really heavy to begin with.

I mean losing any one of those things ought to be enough to have someone stop messing up and destroying their lives and hurting the people they love but I guess it’s not enough for some people.

I have another friend who was very  intelligent and educated but who insisted with all sincerity that the police were following him, parking across the street from him and were hiding in his attic. I mean he really believed it. He also said that the guy across the street from him was using a ray gun to shoot holes into his body. He put aluminum foil up on his windows to shield the ray gun from shooting him. He pointed to a tiny, practically invisible spot on his arm and said, “See! That’s where he shot me last night!” All I could say was, “I’m sorry but I don’t see anything.” as I looked at what might have been a tiny freckle or some other very slight blemish.

Oh, yes, I just remembered, I also had a shrink (I’ve had a few) who I admired very much and who I looked up to as a role model who I read about in the paper getting busted for smoking meth on the campus where he taught school. Talk about a fall from grace. I mean, he not only lost his job teaching but also his license to be a shrink.

So who would mess around with meth? Well, the 4 people I mentioned above would and there are a lot of other people who you can read about messing up their lives in the paper every day getting busted for doing and saying crazy (paranoid) things and losing everything from messing around with meth. I guess some people think they can be the one person who can mess with meth and not have a problem.

My message to whoever is looking for the thrill of trying meth? Sure, go ahead and try it if you’re crazy enough to want to bet against the odds of being another statistic to the people mentioned above and who you read about in the paper who are getting busted and losing not just weight and their teeth but everything else that has ever had any importance in their lives, including their freedom and their life.

crystal  Boby

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The Tet Offensive and Syria

During the last part of January 1967 and the first part of February, 1968, during the time I was in Vietnam (from June 1966 to June 1967) there was a lot of talk among the troops about “maybe the US was not winning the war after all like we’ve been told” because suddenly North Vietnam was doing some very serious fighting during Tet, which is the Vietnamese New Year.

But nobody talks about what I call the “First Tet Offensive” of 1967. My friends said, “This is nothing. Wait until next year. It’ll be much worse.”

What you do hear about is ”The Tet Offensive” that was a military campaign conducted between January 30 and September 23, 1968, by forces of the Viet Cong, or National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese army against the forces of South Vietnam, the US, and their allies during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the offensive was to strike military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam and to spark a general uprising among the population that would then topple the Saigon government, thus ending the war in a single blow.

It’s called The Tet Offensive because it began during the early morning hours of January 31st, the day of the most important Vietnamese holiday, Tet, which celebrates the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar. Both North and South Vietnam announced on national radio broadcasts that there would be a two-day cease-fire in honor of Tet, also called “Spring Festival.” In Vietnamese, the offensive is officially called The General Offensive and Uprising 1968″.

The Vietcong launched a major offensive beginning with a wave of attacks on the morning of  January 30th in the northern part of South Vietnam. This early attack did not, however, cause undue alarm or lead to widespread allied defensive measures.

When the main communist operation began the next morning, the offensive was countrywide in scope and well coordinated, with more than 80,000 Vietcong troops striking more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the national capital. The offensive was the largest military operation yet conducted by either side up to that point in the war.

The initial Vietcong attacks stunned allied forces and took them by surprise, but most were quickly contained and beaten back, inflicting massive casualties on N Vietnam. The exceptions were the fighting that erupted in the old imperial capital of Hue, where intense fighting lasted for a month, and the continuing struggle around the U.S. combat base at Khe Sanh, where fighting continued for two more months.

Although the offensive was a military disaster for Vietcong forces, it had a profound effect on the American administration and shocked the American public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the communists were, due to previous defeats, incapable of launching such a massive effort.

The majority of Western historians have concluded that the offensive ended in June 1968 but the effects it had was to greatly alter the American commitment to the war enough so that anti-war protests became much more intense and much more frequent and even though US forces did not leave Vietnam until 1973, the war was pretty much over and lost after The 1968 Tet Offensive.

I’m reminded of the huge public outpouring of anti-war sentiment all across the country after The Tet Offensive to stop the war in Vietnam by what’s been happening today with the “No War With Syria” protests, not just by Congress but by (or maybe because of) all the public opposition to not bomb Syria happening all across America and much of the rest of the world.

The US lost the war in Vietnam because after 10 years of fighting with nothing to show for it, the public had had enough of it.

And in the end, ironically, Vietnam has pretty much turned away from communism, which is what the US was afraid North Vietnam was fighting for. Which was not what it really was all about. North Vietnam was fighting to reunite with South Vietnam.

Today North and South Vietnam are reunited and it is pretty much a capitalist country. So who won and who lost the war and did it really make a difference to anyone who was not involved or personally affected by it? Anyone, that is, besides the 58,000 plus US troops who were killed there and the 100’s of thousands who were wounded both physically and psychologically — and their families who suffered because of it. Not to mention who knows how many 100’s of thousands of Vietnamese, both north and south that suffered even a worse fate.

And what will happen to Syria if it does not give up it’s chemical weapons?

Well, it looks like we’re going to see if anything happens.

Nam Major battles in Vietnam during The Tet Offensive, 1968

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Flying Free and the Lye Pit

My brother, Richard was 3 years older than I was. And Sandi, the girl who lived across the street from us was a year younger than I was.

Sandi’s little brother, Larry, was 5 years younger than I was. We’d all put on our skates and go roller skating on the sidewalks all over our neighborhood and up into the steep hills of City Terrace, which is part of Boyle Heights in East LA.

We’d skate so much that you’d see thousands of little white marks left behind all over the sidewalks everywhere we went made by the steel wheels of our skates which were held onto the leather soles of our shoes and tightened with a heavy skate key that we kept hanging around our necks with a chain and banged against our chest with every movement we made. Eventually the metal wheels would wear so thin that they’d get holes in them.

The skates had to be held very tightly onto our shoes with metal clamps that pinched  the bottom of our shoes (ruining our shoes my mother would say) to keep the skates from coming off. The clamps held onto our shoes so tight that it squeezed and hurt our feet -  otherwise the skates would fall off and we’d fall down on the sidewalk and tear up our hands and our knees or worse yet – according to my father – tear up our jeans which then had to have patches sewed on them.

But that was the last thing we were thinking about. When we had our skates on we felt like we were flying though the neighborhood where we usually had to drudgingly walk to school or wherever we went – but with our skates on – we could go for miles and miles anywhere we wanted to go -  including all the way to Lincoln Park which was several miles away in Lincoln Heights, which was reached by going through the dark and dank freeway underpass and then several miles down the dusty railroad tracks and skate by the spooky factories where we had to be sure not to trip and fall into the muddy creek running along the tracks – or worse yet – but more exciting – the open pit of the lye factory.

The lye factory was an open pit of 5 acres of milk-like lye surrounded by a white wall that was 6 inches thick and 5 foot high which was the perfect height to daringly climb up and walk around with the certain knowledge that if you fell into the lye below, you would never get out. You’d just disintegrate into the lye and never be seen again – but of course, that was the excitement of it – and to do it with your skates on -  that took the ultimate in guts and therefore if you did that -  you were the toughest kid around. So, naturally, my brother Richard had to show us all how it was done.

And then, of course, Richard had to taunt me into trying to do it too. Just taking off my skates and climbing up the 5 foot wall and then putting my skates back on while on top of the wall was the most frightening thing I’d ever done. But trying to skate on top of the wall and not look down at the deep pool of lye down below, was so scary that I was sure I was going have a heart attack at the tender age of 8 years old.

So while my brother Richard skated on the wall, I dropped my skates back to the ground and skipped on the wall while singing “The Witch Doctor” song, “Oo-ee-oo-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang” – mostly to impress Sandi and her little brother Larry. And then I jumped off the wall and promised myself that I’d never do that again especially after the men who worked at the lye factory yelled at us and said, “You’d better get outta here cause we just called the cops” but we felt that since we had our skates on, they’d never catch us.

We heard about kids falling to lye pit and were never seen again but that only made it all the more enticing.

Naturally something like an open pit lye factory would never be left within reach of kids to play around today and that’s a good thing – but back in the 1950’s – it was kids beware – and if you were crazy enough to fool around the lye factory like we did for fun -  it was your own fault if you fell in.

And I guess that was all part of learning how to fly through Boyle Heights on our skates in the good old days.

We eventually moved out of Boyle Heights and away from the nearby factories and the lye pit — but sometimes I look back and I miss the freedom of putting on the old metal skates, tightening them up good and tight with my skate key and flying free on the sidewalks of City Terrace.

roller-skates1 Old fashioned roller skates and the skate key worn around you neck.

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When Did You First Think of Yourself as Grown Up?

I was sitting with an younger friend a while back when she looked at me and asked me when I first began to think of myself as grown up.

I thought about it for a couple minutes and then answered, “I’m not sure I ever thought about that before.”


“Well, I was the last born of four children, who all happened to be boys, so I was called “The Baby” which I didn’t especially like to be called. Some people think of the baby as spoiled but in actuality the youngest child must put up with usually being the littlest kid and wearing nothing but hand-me-down clothes and always compromising and being pushed around and always coming last. Therefore my theory is, as the youngest, you have to always be ready to not get your way and you have to learn how to compromise at an early age. Whereas the older children are bigger, stronger and always putting you in your place and they get used to having their way so who are the spoiled ones?”

She laughed and said, “I was the oldest child in my family so I guess I thought of myself as grown up fairly young since I often had to take care of my three younger siblings.”

“Yeah I can see how that would grow you up. For some reason I usually seem to wind up with first born women.” I said.

“Guess they like you or you like them, huh?”

“Well, I guess so cause I married two of them.” I said.


“Yeah, and looking back, I’ve been with a few other first born women that I didn’t marry but maybe I should have.”

“That right?” she asked.

“I think maybe first born people are used to getting their way and last born people are used to letting them have their way, as in letting them decide what we’re going to do, where we’re going and that sort of thing, so even though it’s not by choice, I usually just say, ‘Whatever you want to do, honey, is fine with me.’ And they usually like that but it can get much after a while and I might say something about it and then they can’t understand what the problem is.”

“I imagine so.” she said with a chuckle.

“Yeah and flash forward 30 years and 2 divorces from 2 first born women later and I found myself a single father with three young children who needed to be clothed, fed, educated and prepared to go out into the world to slay dragons and again my needs did not come first. Of course, I was used to it by then but this time I was happy to be able to make all the compromises necessary for other family members, as they were my children.”

“Oh, yeah, raising children is a full time job.”

“Yes, it is. It’s a full time job just in itself. I had to work a full time job to be able to pay the bills and I had to shop, cook, clean, and get my kids to school and pay the bills. Did I already say that? And I had to help the kids with their homework and buy them clothes and everything else they needed in all aspects of their lives. I had to get them to their soccer games and soccer practices and friends houses and to school and to their mother’s house where they lived half time, which at first was every three days when we would switch, which meant that for three days I didn’t know what to do with myself because I was so used to running from here to there for the kids. But then when the kids came back, I had to rev up again and get back on the too much to do treadmill.

After a year or so of that, the kids decided they wanted to stay at each parent’s home longer so we switched back and forth every week. A year of so of that and it became every 2 weeks, then every 3 weeks and then every month and then it was full time with me because their mother moved out of the state. Which, believe it or not, actually made it easier because the kids were with me full time so there was no longer an adjustment period required of going back and forth.”

“Did that give you much time to have a life of your own?”

“Well, I had a business, which required a lot of time and work, but I still had to be there for my kids so I was trying to do too much but I did it with a smile and when the kids began to turn 16 years old, that meant they needed cars. My ex married someone else and had 2 more kids so she couldn’t help pay for the kids’ cars which meant if I wanted the kids to have cars, I had to pay for the cars which I did, one after the other as they turned 16 as they are only a year apart.

But what I found out was once kids have cars, they’re not home as much anymore but that doesn’t mean they required less money. They required more money. Trying to find a job in a college town like Chico as a kid is not easy and the jobs don’t pay much but the kids did find jobs in fast food joints and at big box stores but naturally those jobs don’t pay enough for all the requirements of car ownership like auto insurance and high school expenses, not to mention paying for college which all the kids went to. And let’s not forget cell phones.”

“Yeah, it gets expensive.” she said.

“Oh, yeah and by the time all the kids were finished with college and had jobs, I looked at myself in the mirror and I couldn’t believe I was in my 50’s and I didn’t know where all the time went and I definitely felt grown up. But honestly, raising kids was the most meaningful time of my life.”

3 kids

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The Flu Shot Question

They say it’s not too late to get a flu shot. I can’t think of anybody who likes to get a shot. I mean, have someone stick a needle deep into your arm or somewhere else? Come on!

When I got back from Vietnam, where I was a medic, I still had another 6 months to do in the army until my time was up so after my 30 day leave I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Army Airborne Ranger School.

One of the things I had to do was to give shots to families of the troopers at Fort Benning. That included giving shots to little kids just getting ready to attend school for the first time, so most of the kids were unhappy little 5 year olds.

Hundreds of them were lined up with their mothers for hundreds of feet going way down the hallway and out the door and down the block. The kids were not happy about being there and they were crying and their crying got louder and louder as they got closer and closer to me who had to give the kids shots and some of the kids needed more than one shot.

I did that all day long for a couple of weeks. It was better than being in Vietnam but not much better. I actually think giving shots to hundreds of kids is worse than being on the receiving end of getting the shots. I had to do it but I got to give the kids some candy afterwords. There was a huge bowl of candy and I told the kids to grab a handful, which usually put a smile on their faces — but not always. Sometimes they took the candy and stuck their tongue out at me.

One of the most memorable incidents was a mother who came with her 3 children who all needed shots including her. Actually she needed to get a TB test too.

“Which arm do you want the TB test in?” I asked.

“Does it matter?” she asked.

“Well, this does leave a little scar.” I answered.

“You mean I get a choice?”

“Sure, wherever you want it. I can even put in on your back.”

The lady  looked at me, smiled and lifted her dress up all the way said, “Put it here.” as she pointed to her upper thigh. That was slightly uncomfortable but I put it where she wanted it. She smiled at me and then her girlfriend who came with her and her 2 kids lifted up her dress and asked me to do the same thing.

“Well, this ain’t so bad.” I chuckled to myself with a smile.

Anyway, as much as I hate to digress, speaking of the army, a couple of years ago I got a flu shot for the first time in my life because they offered it to me for free at the VA clinic. I mean I read that the flu kills thousands of people a year and once you’re over 50 you ought to get the shot so what the hell, besides being stuck with a needle, why not get the shot? Not that I like needles but why not do the right thing?

But last year the VA didn’t offer the shots and so I didn’t bother to get one.

I figured I haven’t gotten the flu in quite a few years and how bad could the flu be anyway? And who wants to go out of their way to get stuck with a needle, right?

So guess what? Yeah, I got the flu.

Which laid me up pretty good and kept me from doing just about everything including doing my weekly radio show on KZFR.

What’s the flu like? Well, I’ll tell you.

I was:

1)      Weak and tired and dizzy as hell for days. I mean like I could hardly get out of bed to drag myself to the bathroom, which I felt like I had to every five minutes. That alone was exhausting.

2)      I had the mother of all headaches. I mean it felt like my head was going to explode and I wished it would already just to get it over with.

3)      I had very clogged nasal passages (stuffy nose and ear canals). It felt like my head was full of rocks – which I may have been accused of before this.

4)      I was sneezing non stop and my nose wouldn’t stop running. Like a faucet.

5)      I was coughing so much it hurt the back of my neck and side of my chest. I hated feeling a cough or sneeze coming on because I was afraid my head was gonna fly off.

6)      I had a fever.

7)      I couldn’t sleep for very long periods. I mean I was doing some serious tossing and turning.

8)      My body ached and I had pains and sore muscles all over. Even my jaw and my teeth seemed to be hurting.

9)      I wasn’t very hungry or social — which is not great for Thanksgiving which is my favorite holiday of the year — and with my kids coming over and I’m sitting there hoping to be able to hold up my head. And they want to talk and play games and I’m sitting there hoping I don’t fall off my chair.

Moral of this story? I guess people do get the flu after all — and next time a flu shot is offered, I’m getting one. I may even go out of my way to get one.

Hell, I might even get two shots just to be sure I don’t have to go through this again any time soon.


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