Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ham and Lima Beans and Inspiration

Mack Hall

Ham and Lima Beans and Inspiration

Motivational / inspirational speakers often employ war metaphors and quote admirals and generals. That’s a good sign that their war experience is pretty much limited to watching The Hitler Channel and reading the memoirs of the beribboned and famous. And then there’s the matter of the ham and lima beans barking in the night-time.

What if motivational speakers quoted enlisted men instead of generals? Here are some original sources for them for their next speeches. N.B.: although the wording may not be precise, almost none of this, except for the “be inspired” motif, is fictional.

“All ready for night patrol. Ain’t the C.O. coming?”
“Naw, he’s in his air-conditioned bedroom – I mean, the radio room – practicing his these-eyes-have-seen-it-all stare for his election speeches after the war.”
“He’s inspiring.”

“The FNG got dinged real bad. Anyone told the lieutenant?”
“Yeah, he and the C.O. are in the command bunker writing each other citations for medals.”
“Oh, yeah, they’re inspiring.”

“That swing ship brought the first mail we’ve had in two weeks – where is it?”
“It’s coming; the officers are getting theirs first.”
“Officers inspire me.”

“That idiot C.O. sat in the bunker and radioed conflicting orders all last night. If not for the Chief none of us would have gotten out of that mess alive. Why isn’t the Chief in charge since he knows what he’s doing?”
“’Cause the C.O.’s got a college degree and the Chief ain’t.”
“Oh, well, that’s inspiring.”

“Chief, what’s PTSD?”
“That’s something for officers and for civilians back home; you ain’t entitled. Now get them bullet holes patched and this boat washed down.”
“Okay, Chief.”
“And be inspired, son, be inspired.”

“Get the stand-down crews up. Night patrol’s coming in early. One boat’s burning and being towed. Five dead, a bunch wounded. Man, the generals and admirals in Saigon and D.C. will sure get a bunch of medals for this.”
“I’m inspired.”

“Bubba, what did you do before you joined up?”
“Bathed. Didn’t cuss as much. Didn’t know how popular ham-and-lima beans was.”
“Ham-and-lima-beans inspire me.”

“I got paid more as a sack boy back home than I do here in Cambodia makin’ th’ world safe for democracy and stuff.”

“Say, who are those pretty fellows in the nice new uniforms funnin’ with the C.O.?”
“Those are some famous reporters. They’re going out with us for a few hours to take pictures and talk into their recorders. They’ll be back for the cocktail hour in their hotel in Saigon tonight and back in the states in a couple of days to get journalism awards for talking about how rough it is out here.”
“I’m so inspired.”

“I tossed a c-rat can of ham-and-lima beans over the perimeter to some hungry Vietnamese kids.”
“They tossed it back.”
“I ain’t that hungry either. But I’m sure inspired.”

“Do officers ever have to eat ham-and-lima beans?”
“I saw one do it once, but he was just drunk and showin’ off. That was after he ate a cockroach.”
“Most inspiring.”

“Say, whose bright idea was it to make so many c-rations out of ham-and-lima beans?”
“Probably Ho Chi Minh’s.”
“Ah! He was inspired!”

“Why are these boats made out of plastic?”
“Cheap to repair.”
“Are we cheap to repair?”
“Just be inspired, sailor, just be inspired.”

“Man, you don’t want to be captured alive by the V.C.”
“Why? They gonna make me eat ham-and-lima beans?”
“Ain’t you inspired yet?”


Monday, August 23, 2010

A Review of Paul I. Wellman's THE FEMALE

The Female by Paul I. Wellman. Wellman is remembered for his western history and western fiction, including The Comancheros, the basis for one of the best Saturday matinee John Wayne films.

The Female is a stab-'em-up, though, not a shoot-'em-up, a fictional bio of Empress Theodora, and it is a curious book much in need of editing. The first third or so is quite pornographic, unnecessarily so -- I'm not, not, not being prissy; there is just no need of page after page of and-then-she-dropped-the-gauzy-whatever-she-was-wearing-and-was-completely-you-know-what, and it drags the plot. After Theodora finds her way to then-Prince Justinian's bed by a clunky plot device the narrative does move faster, esp. in the matter of the Nike / Nika riots. Overall, Wellman clearly did a thorough job of researching Constantinople, but then didn't seem to know what to do with the material.

Wellman's hostility to any form of organized religion is another problem; he dismisses Orthodoxy / Catholicism (this is long before the Schism, remember) as contemptuously as he does Monophysitism. He also -- and this is most curious -- despises all Byzantines of all classes, and, indeed, doesn't seem to like anyone except the person of Theodora herself. Justinian is rendered first as a good, solid man, and then illogically reduced to a useless religious fanatic helplessly wringing his hands. One can conclude that Wellman constructed a Theodora who is nothing more than a somewhat twisted sexual and philosophical fantasy, and makes what could have been an entertaining and useful fiction into something rather creepy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coffins -- Thinking Inside the Box

Mack Hall

Coffins – Thinking Inside the Box

In an episode of Alice Flo said that when her time came she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered over Robert Redford.

Christendom has historically been opposed to cremation, probably because of its pagan associations (think of Dido in The Aeneid), and although c’mon-baby-light-my-fire is somewhat more common now, most folks still prefer to be “charitably enclosed in clay” (Henry V). Indeed, to bury the dead is one of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy (Missale Romanum, p. 33).

Our Lord Himself was buried (He didn’t stay buried, of course) clothed in a shroud, but when possible a box is preferable. And in order to bury someone in a box, someone else must first make the box.

Now ‘way down yonder near New Orleans reposes Abbey St. Joseph, a Benedictine monastery some 120+ years old. The Rule of St. Benedict (6th century constitution written in hopes that people living together wouldn’t squabble at the supper table) is very clear that those associated with a religious order should live a life of work, study, and prayer. And St. Benedict was as serious as Gunny Ermey on a bad helmet day about work; a monk is to milk the cows, till the fields, cut lumber, fire up the forge, and all that sort of thing. A Christian monastery does not live by the begging bowl but by the work of the brothers’ hands. And a gift shop.

Abbey St. Joseph used to do some serious dairying and farming, but now is down to kitchen-gardens and forestry as well as maintaining an out-in-the-woods retreat facility which is very popular with many religious and secular groups despite the lack of neon, gambling, and showgirls. The Abbey also runs a fully-accredited four-year college and helps parishes in the area. In sum, Benedictines do not sit around looking, like, holy and stuff.

Still, the Rule is big on the work-with-your-hands drill. What to do, what to do. Hmmmm. Trees. Lots of trees. Could build stuff out of wood. Why coffins? Actually, the brothers at St. Joseph’s have been making coffins for, again, some 120 years for their own end-of-life use. Even bishops have asked to be buried in coffins made by hand by the Benedictines, and other people, too, began asking about coffins for their loved ones.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the idea of being buried in a plain, unpretentious box handmade by men who prayed over it while building it – and sometimes listened to New Orleans Saints’ football games on the radio – is more comforting than an expensive, assembly-line, upholstered, chrome-handled, Buick-y, superheterodyne metal construct more solid – and more expensive – than your first car.

So the brothers agreed to make a few more coffins for sale. Not many boxes; this isn’t Willow Run out on the creek near Covington. Just a few boxes for a little income. And how appropriate that the brothers of a monastery named for St. Joseph, the patron of craftsmen, should craft good and useful things out of wood.

Alas, the State of Louisiana and The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors cried “Prohiberimus!”

It seems that in Louisiana burying folks is a closed-shop, and that includes the funereal accessories. Even the Louisiana legislature, that model of honesty, efficiency, and service which is the envy of the civilized world, forbids the monks to sell unregulated boxes to people who want unregulated boxes. There is no word on whether or not the monks will be permitted to whittle and then sell unregulated birdhouses or unlicensed windchimes. One wonders if a mourner in Louisiana risks prison time for picking unauthorized flowers from his own unauthorized yard or buying unauthorized flowers from an unauthorized florist and placing said unauthorized flowers on Grandpa’s grave without fee-paid supervision from The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directions.

In order to sell plain pine boxes the Abbey would have to become a funeral home, complete with embalming facilities, and the monks would have to spend a few years learning how to bury the dead government-style. Understand that this requirement stands even if the brothers never embalm one body or carry out one funeral – this is just to sell boxes, pine boxes.

Alas that the Benedictines at Abbey St. Joseph hadn’t thought to build little mosques instead; the State of Louisiana would have backed away in terror at the possibility of being labeled insensitive.

A disclaimer: The brothers of Abbey St. Joseph are kind and patient in putting up with my presence for two or three days most every year. This is probably because Abbot Justin hasn’t yet discovered that every now and then Fr. Raph and I sneak out back for a cigar.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wedding Bullet Blues

Mack Hall

The AP reports that in rural Turkey last Sunday a wedding went off with a bang when the groom shot his father and two of his aunts. Besides taking out Dad and some aunties the groom wounded eight other merry-makers when he discharged his automatic rifle in a moment of giddy happiness at having married such a wonderful girl.

Actually, that reminds me of some of the stories I’ve heard about my ancestors.

Shotgun weddings are so last week; the fashion now is automatic-weapons weddings.

And what a lark when the happy little children, led by the ring-bearer and the flower girl, scrambled merrily for the spent shell casings!

Grooms in most other nations would be happy with a slice of cake and a glass of champagne, but in Turkey the wedding reception is apparently a happy Kalashnikov moment.

This must have been a challenge for the wedding photographer: “Okay, beautiful bride, just hold up your new father-in-law’s severed head; I’ll photoshop the rest of him in later…now smile…”

Maybe that was after the happy bride and groom cut the cake with the bayonet that great-grandpa used on unarmed Greek and British prisoners in 1918.

Imagine the challenges for the wedding planner in a Turkish wedding: groom’s men relatives’ side, groom’s women relatives’ side, bride’s men relatives’ side, bride’s women relatives’ side.

And just what firearms do the groomsmen carry -- the traditional musket, the elegant and understated Walthers PPK, or the manly .44 magnum?

It must be a poignant moment for all when imam or mullah says: “I pronounce you man and wife. Husband, you may now beat the snot out of your new bride.”

Older women reminisce with their husbands about the past with joy: “Suleiman, remember the first time punched me on that moonlit night, and how you whispered to me that you would despise me forever?”

And then the gifts: for the groom, three goats, a box of ammunition, and a blank fatwah for killing any one person the groom doesn’t like. For the bride, a new mop, bucket, broom, and scrub brushes. A touching fashion this year was the presentation of certificates of donations, in the name of the groom (the bride doesn’t count), for the coming triumphal mosque at the site of the 9.11 victory over the infidels in New York City. Moreover, the certificates were printed in soy ink on recycled paper.

Late in the evening the bride tossed her hand grenade to her friends.

But all good things must come to an end, and as the bride meekly followed her husband through a double line of his friends, not hers, his car, not theirs, was decorated with the customary nuptial signs: “Death to Greece and Israel,” “Nuke the Great Satan Amerika,” and “Now Go Make New Little Martyrs.”

Sniff. It just makes one want to cry.


Friday, August 6, 2010

BRAVEHEART and TITANIC -- Joyful Comedies

Anyone who can watch Braveheart and Titanic, especially the endings, without tears of laughter streaming down his cheeks has no soul.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Notes from the Okay American Road Trip

Mack Hall

Folks’ vacation narratives are almost always boring, so the Gentle Reader may wish to skip this and go on to something more Snooki and Chelsea.

Roswell, New Mexico

Little Green Men – these aliens come from China. Whoever started the rumors about flying bread-and-butter plates was a marketing mad-man genius, and Roswell’s main runway is a merry we-have-come-in-peace-gauntlet of shops selling toys space ships and tees featuring LGM, and storefront, oh, museums advertising The Truth about UFOs. It’s all good fun. But why are there never any Little Green Women?

Lincoln, New Mexico

All of the little town of Lincoln is a historic site and features many buildings, including Tunstall’s Store, Murphy’s Store (which was also a courthouse, jail, and Masonic Lodge), and San Juan Bautista Church. A ten-dollar ticket gets you into the public buildings and sites, but of course walking around a looking is free. The one-day ticket is also good for other New Mexico State Monuments at Jemez, Coronado, Bosque Redondo, Fort Sumner, Fort Selden, and the El Camino Real International Heritage Center.

The current governor of New Mexico, angling for re-election, is considering pardoning that lethal little freak Billy the Kid because long-ago territorial governor Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben-Hur, had agreed to give the Kid a pardon for ratting out his homies. However, B the K continued to murder people and steal their stuff, so any pardon would have been irrelevant since the nasty little dude well deserved The Long Drop for his post-state’s-evidence murders.

As for Tunstall, Murphy, and McSween, they were turf warriors toting fire arms instead of cell ‘phones, and hiring hit-men to murder each other. The Lincoln County War was a gang squabble over government contracts and monopolies, and all the participants were killed or died broke and broken. The one fellow who came out of it looking pretty good was Sheriff Pat Garrett, a stand-up man who put an end to a pathological weirdo. History has been unfair to him.

Magdalena, New Mexico

Magdalena was a large mining and cowtown on the Santa Fe, which long ago pulled up tracks and trucked out of town. The old depot remains as a little museum and library. My father was in the CCC in nearby Horse Springs, which no longer exists as even a name on the map. Also nearby is the VLA – Very Large Array – of very large parabolic receivers trying to receive messages from Captain Kirk or from Little Green Men.

Springerville, Arizona – the morning temperature was 64 degrees.

Fort Apache is a curious place, situated in the middle of the White Mountain community. The first Apache I saw was hitchhiking absent-mindedly while talking on his cell ‘phone and listening to his ear-bud-box-noise-thingie. He wore knee pants and a ball cap.

The Army left Fort Apache in 1922, and the fort is now home to the Theodore Roosevelt School in some handsome buildings. Some of the military buildings, especially the officers’ quarters, are still in use, and there is a nice little visitors’ center / museum headed by a University of Texas graduate. Inside there is the now almost-requisite faux First Nations dwelling reconstruction and a video of a medicine man relating a creation story, but the overlaid drum and flute seemed stagey and the Harley-Davidson cap – well, I dunno.

A few miles away up a dirt track and past the beer cans the red-rock ruins and re-ruins of an ancient pueblo called Kinishba repose silently on a mesa. A 1930s attempt at reconstruction, imaginative at best, is collapsing back into the ages, but the high walls and wreckage and isolation give one pause. Who will be meditating upon our ruined buildings a thousand years from now?

Winslow – there not much to see here except rail lines and blowing dust and small-town streets and that famous corner, which the city parents have nicely fitted out with a mural, a bronze statue of a hitchhiker, and a cherry-red 1950s Ford flatbed in primo condition. Yes, I had my picture taken, but it’s all a tribute to an event which never happened made as a song by musicians who perhaps have never even seen Winslow. No Little Green Men.

Kingman sells itself for maintaining more authentic Route 66 road than any other community, and does a good job of it. The usual souvenir stores obtain, and in the old town area the Power House visitors’ center and Route 66 Museum (and it really was an electrical generation plant) is a very nice stop. Across the road is a little part with a really big Santa Fe steam locomotive and folks selling some nice arts and crafts and some awful Chinese knives. You’ll see lots of beautifully maintained 1950s wheels.

Kingman is the home of Andy Devine, and if you are under sixty you probably wonder what new fusion band that is.

Oatman is a former mining town along the old Route 66 from Kingman to Needles, California. The drive from Kingman is eleven slow miles of I’wonder-if-I’m-going-to-fall-screaming-to-my-death-today terror; from Kingman to Needles isn’t bad at all.

The town was prosperous until 1942 when the federal government whimsically banned mining for gold, collapsing the local economy and impoverishing individuals, families, and companies. Oh, yeah, that helped the war effort. The very narrow main street, about four blocks long, is gauntletted with tourist shops and features the usual middle-aged-guys-shooting-blanks gunfight at noon, but the best part is that the descendants of the miners’ burros wander around town begging for handouts (bring carrots) and doing naughty things in the street.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned in the hotel. Gable often took some quiet-time in Oatman, probably the only place in the world where he didn’t have to be CLARK GABLE in all caps.

The thermometer outside the hotel stood at 120. After Oatman the laptop computer was never again able to send or receive email (maybe the Little Green Men…), but the burros didn’t seem to mind.