Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tony



“Tony”

            DALLAS -- What can I say about Tony Cross? Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to say anything. His brother, friends, and a church of Christ preacher did a much better job than I could in describing the life and times of Kay’s 33 year-old nephew.
            One young lady described Tony as loud, loving and fun. He was definitely all of those, but the “loud” part stood out more for me. When Tony was a kid, you had to watch him. Watch him close. Had I been his first grade teacher, I would’ve demanded home schooling for the lad.
When ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) was invented, the condition immediately attached itself to Tony, which explained why he was the bane of some instructors and the target of many bullies. Tony had no awareness of his trouble making. He just finished his assignments quickly and then started visiting with the rest of the class.
I must say, I didn’t exactly light-up at the thought of Tony’s presence during his early years. He was big into computers, which meant I didn’t understand half of what he said. He enjoyed computer games so much that after getting a degree in, uh, computer stuff, he got a job working for a company that created computer games.
When he tried to explain about a project he was working on, I’d zone out after the second sentence. One technical thing I did enjoy hearing about was how he would use something called “motion capture” in creating the illusion of animated characters convincingly running, walking, stumbling, smiling, crying, laughing…  I believe he could’ve used more basic terminology in explaining the technique to me, but I still managed to catch on to some of what he said,
Fortunately, Tony was into football, pretty much favoring the same teams I did. He also kept up with politics and current events, which allowed me to involve myself into some of our conversations. Tony was one of few people I could disagree with about politics without either of us getting ticked off at the other. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. They were mostly funny bones.
            As previously mentioned, I learned most about Tony from those who spoke at his Memorial Service. In some of the Power Point photos that were displayed, Tony was dressed up like a Viking. I had no idea he was into Viking reenactment events. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  
            One of his friends recalled how he and Tony were once driving somewhere in Dallas. As the usual Tony was in mid-conversation. Suddenly, he pulled the car over to the curb and told his friend he’d be back in a minute. Then he jumped out and ran over to help a family that was struggling to get a couch up to the second floor of an apartment. The big lug not only liked people, he took time to notice them.
            Just about everyone who spoke said that Tony was the life of every party. It was said that he would “Tony up” any gathering. He had a quick mind that generally went ahead of his talking. He was curious, engaging and adventurous. He had one of those jeeps that can practically climb a cliff. Many of the photos displayed during the service gave evidence to practically everything that was said about Tony.
            I most appreciated the comments Tony’s brother, Steven, made about their childhood days. Reminded me of when Dennis and I were kids. Steven’s stories were for the most part humorous, and still made me shed nearly as many tears as Steven did in the telling.
            After the service, Kay’s family had a cramped gathering in the hotel room of one of the cousins. The complications getting to the airport in Seattle, the flight to Dallas, the car rental problems, difficulty reaching the church building where the service was held, and the emotions stirred during the service made me question my mental fitness for the gathering. Unlike Tony, I’ve seldom been considered the life of any party.
            I rode with Jill back to the hotel room. Jill had met Tony two Christmases past, and was flabbergasted at how much he reminded her of her son, Ethan. She and Tony just seemed to click. She insisted on driving up from LaPorte to join Kay and me in Dallas. It was so good to have her there.
            Tomorrow, we’ll all go our separate ways. Kay and I plan to drive back with Jill to LaPorte, stopping off in Conroe to check on the construction of our new home. We’ll stay the night with Jill, and then fly back to Washington. We’ll take advantage of more time with our family and friends in the Northwest.
             The past two weeks have been a disturbing time from all involved. One day we were worried about forest fires, and then we get the call from Kay’s brother, Mike, about Tony being one of the victims of the mass shooting in Plano. Tony was with friends in preparation for the Dallas Cowboys’ game, when the ex-husband of one Tony’s friends walked in and murdered his ex-wife, and seven others, one of whom was Kay’s nephew, Tony.
            During the Memorial Service there was little mention of the horror of that day. All of the right words were said. No one attempted to find meaning in the happening. They couldn’t if they tried. The only thought that gives me a sense comfort comes from a passage found in Psalm 31. – “As for me, I trust in you, O Lord. I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” – Yes, heaven has been Tonied up.
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Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.

Oregon on fire




“Fire on the Mountains”

            SANDY, OREGON  --  Up until five hours ago, I didn’t know Oregon had a Sandy. Not only do they have one, but Kay and I are staying at the town’s Best Western located behind a McDonalds and Taco Bell.
            We generally don’t stay in a hotel/motel without first making reservations. We were forced to barge into this Best Western unannounced, because we never anticipated needing to stay overnight in a town with a little girl’s name.
It’s perfectly okay to name your child after a city, but cities should never be named after a child – Tommy, Ronnie, Jill, Sandy… How on earth is a high school supposed to come up with a mascot with names like that? – The Fighting Tommy Trains! The Clawing Sandy Crabs!
Try to forget all of that. This story is not about Sandy. It’s about Crater Lake. Tonight, we had reservations at a Lodge in Crescent, OR… home of the Fighting Crescent Wrenches. Crescent is a town near Crater Lake. Kay had booked us a room for two nights, with an option for a third.
We were headed for Crater Lake at the urging of Jim Jackson. Jim is a friend at church. When he heard we were going to be staying in the Northwest for a few months, he told us to visit Crater Lake. Didn’t ask us. Told us. – “You’ve gotta go! Don’t come home until you’ve seen it! Most beautiful place ever!”
Due to Jim’s constant carrying-on, Kay and I incorporated a trip to Crater Lake after our visit with my sister, Susan, and her husband Col. Don in Tacoma. The average citizen of Tacoma owns two cars and drives each at the same time. I’ve been trapped on the Southwest Freeway out of Houston, and I’ve sat in traffic on I-10 at the end of the day on a Friday. Yet, none of that compares to Tacoma at practically any time of the day. Every highway in and around Tacoma is too often in rush-hour mode. Same with Seattle.  
Kay and I had a great visit with Sue and The Col, but after our short stay, everything went all Targaryon us. I calculated that we could travel the 340 miles to Crater Lake in six hours. Turns out, after six hours we were still stuck in Portland. Let it be known that our slow go had nothing to do with the fact that Kay was navigating. Little to do with that.
My wife is a jewel. I love her dearly. Yet, she has two flaws. She will not argue, which makes it absolutely impossible for me to vent. The second thing is that, while navigating, she’s good at telling me what road I missed… but only if I ask. – “What? Uh, oh. You missed the exit a mile back.”
In truth, while navigation was a major problem, it didn’t have a lot to do with my lovely navigator. The major problem Monday was the fact that everything was burning. The first fire encounter had to do with a truck-fire in the middle lane of I-5.  If you’re going to catch fire on the freeway, you need to combust on one of the far lanes. That way the police might allow cars to pass on the opposite far lane. That makes a bad situation almost tolerable. In this case, the police closed both sides of the freeway.
After an hour of inching down the road, we arrived at a point where the freeway was blocked, and the four lanes of traffic had to funnel down to one lane feeder. The problem with the “detour” was that there was no indication of where to go next. The feeder was bumper to bumper, as were all side streets.
The roads going south were blocked because of forest fires. The haze of smoke had been a menace during most of our stay in Washington. Washington, Montana, Utah, Oregon, and California are on fire. Not the entire states, you understand. It just seems that way. The Northwest is experiencing a drought. Seattle hasn’t had rain for at least three months. It’s the worst drought in Seattle’s history of droughts. (Seattle has received rain since the publication of this article.)
After six hours on the road, we pulled into West Linn, a small town a couple of miles southeast of Portland. It was here that we entered Shari’s CafĂ© and Pies. We brought our map, phone, and independent GPS device inside the place so we could plot our next move.
While inside the restaurant, I tackled a smart-looking man and begged his help in mapping a route to Crater Lake. He squeezed into the booth next to me, because Kay’s purse was preventing him from snuggling with her. The man turned out to be a meteorologist for the state. He immediately pulled up a satellite view of Crater Lake on his cell, and showed us the fires on three sides of the park. He told us that the entrance to the park might still be accessible, but the lake would be hiding beneath a cloud of smoke.  
He then informed us that it could conceivably rain tomorrow, which might kill the fires, thus making everything right as rain. Instead of slapping him, I chose to shoo him out of the booth. Fortunately, at least one Oregonian meteorologist has a good sense of humor.
 Having no hope for rain in the foreseeable future, we plotted a route back home, and managed to drive 24 miles to Sandy in a little under two hours. Hopefully we’ll go farther than that tomorrow. Not to worry, there’s a Taco Bell just across the parking lot.
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You can contact Mark at hayter.mark@gmail.com. You can locate  articles you may have missed by visiting Mark’s Wayback Machine at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.

On aging







Young Old
           
            GRANDVIEW, WA – I was sitting on a wire bench at the Walmart Pharmacy in Sunnyside waiting for someone to call my name. I had my doctor call my drug order into the Sunnyside Walmart, because I didn’t have the phone number for the pharmacy at our Dairy Queen. Did I ever mention that Grandview is a small town?
After a 20 minute wait in the line for pills, I was told to report to the drop-off line. Odd, because I had been told over the phone that my pills were ready, so I had nothing to drop-off. I suppose I should’ve immediately walked to the front of the to assure that I was in the right line. I think only one or two in line ahead of me would've pummeled me. Washingtonians are a generally nice people. They're just not all that gullible.  
After a short wait in the drop-off line, the pharmacy lady asked for my insurance card. I was an idiot not to think that the insurance card goes to the "drop-off" line. The lady then politely told me to wait until my name was called. I had heard no names called during my wait, so figured she was just messing with me.
When I asked her if she was messing with me, she pointed to the waiting-bench. The pharmacists at Conroe's Kroger never told me to sit. When Martha saw me, she would run over, smile, and ask how Kay and I were doing. All the while she’d be checking the computer for my prescription info.  
So, there I was 2300 miles from home sitting on a bench in Walmart, studying shoe inserts on nearby shelves. You would not believe the variety of shoe inserts available in this country. That’s exactly what I was thinking when a lady, pushing a cart in which a youngster was riding wheeled up and remarked, “Grandma’s tired, so I’m going to sit here on the bench and wait.” The boy in the cart said, “You mean you're going to sit next to the old man?”
The old man? My time had arrived. I know I’m old, but that’s the first time I heard anyone described me as such. I would’ve preferred he called me “The man in the green shirt.” -- Kids! Are they cruel or what? Grandma said, “Jackson! That is so rude. Now, apologize to the man.”
Even though I was crying inside, I started fake-laughing. When the chips are down, I can be a fairly convincing laugher. Jackson had no idea why he had to apologize, but he did tell me he was sorry. I told him it was okay because I was an old man. I asked him how old he was, and he had to think about it before holding up four fingers and then adding his thumb. I said, “Five.” He said, “Yes, fife.”
At the age of fife, I could say my age without the use of any appendages. Of course, since I’ve become an “old man” I’ll likely forget how old I am in the not too distant future.
I did some research today and discovered that in Canada they have assigned old people into three categories. The first phase (65 to 74) is called “Young Old.” The second (75-84) is “Middle-Old.” The third (85 and beyond) is called “Old-Old.” When you get on in age, I recommend you not move to Canada. Those people will depress the daylights out of you. 
Even though Jackson's label cut me deep, I’m still glad I got to meet him. He was a good talker, showing signs of near-intelligence. For example, he had a black smudge on the tip of his nose and his grandmother called him Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. I thought that odd, because the dirt wasn’t red. I said, “You mean Rudolph the Dirt Nose Reindeer.” The kid corrected me. “No, I’m Jackson the Dirt Nose Reindeer.”
It was during our discussion on superheroes that I heard my name called. Sure enough, a lady behind the pick-up counter was motioning for me to pass everyone in line and pick up my prescription. I imagine she only did that as a courtesy to a Young Old man.
While standing just outside the pharmacy-area waiting for Kay to show up, I heard, “Goodbye, mister!” I turned to see the dirt-nosed kid. “Goodbye, Brandon!” I said. He corrected me. “No, I’m Jackson!”
All of those in the vicinity of the pharmacy heard me holler, “Right! And, I’m Mark!” It was my intention to make Jackson think I was joking about forgetting his name. Truth is I was doing good to come up with “Brandon.”.
 Jackson’s reply was drowned out by Kay walking up with a cart containing most of the groceries on her list. That made me super glad I waited with Jackson, because I got to miss out on the shopping. I have hated shopping ever since I was Middle Young.
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You can contact Mark at hayter.mark@gmail.com. You can revisit Mark’s articles all the way back to 2009 at http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.

Harvey



“Should’ve being there”

            GRANDVIEW, WAI feel so guilty for not suffering along with you guys. The area in and around my hometown experienced the worst flood ever, while I’m living in an irrigated valley in the middle of a desert.  
            Had my sister Sue not invited Kay and me to come to Washington for a few-month visit, we would now be living with Jill in LaPorte. At the height of the disaster. I called Jill to ask how she was doing. She said she had enough potato chips to last a good while. Had I been there, that would not have been the case.
Jill told me that her street was flooded, and the water had just overflowed the giant drainage ditch next to her house and was only a few feet from her door. There was nothing I could’ve done for her, but I needed to be there. Jill told me not to worry. She said, “If the house floods, it floods. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”   
            Turns out, within the next hour or two, the rain subsided a bit and the drainage ditch was able to do its job. The water receded, never again to escape the ditch. That’s pretty much the story for my entire family. Everyone came out if it with little or no damage.
            Wednesday, Big Al was able to get to the new subdivision where our house is being built. He told me there was no indication of flooding. If you live in a house that didn’t flood during this storm, there’s a pretty good chance it’s not going to… at least for a few years. There is a chance the 500 year floodplain will be demoted to a five year floodplain.
            When the hurricane went past Beaumont, I imagined it would go up and circle around Kentucky and re-enter the Gulf at Apalachicola, FL. It would then circle around again and come up I-45.
Speaking of a hurricane circling, how on earth can the Weather Bureau predict that a hurricane is going to backup, reenter the Gulf and then circle around and then head for Beaumont?  I’m beginning to think there’s more to this science thing than a lot of people believe.
            The only thing Kay and I have suffered up here is a lack of news. We were only able to get the 5:30 national news from CBS and NBC. (By the way, we get the 5:30 news at 7:30.) I hate to say it, but the local channels in this area weren’t big on reporting the hurricane. After the national news, our nearest TV station opened with a story about how the city decides where to put traffic signs around a school zone. You’ve got your hurricane; we’ve got our “Slow Children Walking” signs.  
            I have learned a lot from watching small town local news. In fact, I’ve determined that I could be a good small town weatherman. I've got the facial expressions nailed. I know my geography. I can even point at a map in the general direction of Yakima.
            I just imagine you’ve been saturated with a 24 hour rehash of news. I would’ve tired of all of that during Hurricane Ike, but we didn’t have electricity for nearly eight months, so didn't get any news. (Seemed like eight months

.) Dennis said that he never lost electricity during Harvey, but he did lose his cable provider. With his old antenna, the only channel he could raise was the Walker Texas Ranger Channel. That alone is cause to evacuate.
            Kay and I did get a lot of storm news off Facebook. We learned what was happening with our friends. I don’t know if you read my old friend Brad Meyer’s posts. He had pictures of the water from the small lake in his subdivision. He mentioned that the pier floating in his backyard belonged to his neighbor.
            Brad also shared a list of observations he made during the storm. They were the most candid and worthwhile of anything else I read or heard about the disaster. He posted it on Facebook on August 30. Give it a read.
            While Brad’s coverage was a well-written, serious response to Harvey, I have tried to  tackle the subject in a lighthearted manner. I realize that for some of you it’s near impossible to find humor in anything related to what you’ve experienced.
I wrestled with the notion of using a no-nonsense approach to such a severe happening. But, I thought a lighter view of the time might be slightly uplifting. – What am I saying? If I had been there, and was forced to crawl into Jill’s attic to knock a hole in the roof so we could be hauled up in a wire basket, I would’ve still found some humor in the experience. It’s the same reason we find ourselves laughing with friends at funerals, as we remember the life of a loved one. It’s the stuff that keeps me marginally sane.
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You can reach Mark at hayter.mark@gmail.com