Monthly Archives: December 2012

I have wanted to write this for a long time – perhaps it is time to start.

My Travels With Mr. Bierce
© 2012 Kirby Sanders

My name is Jeremiah Stein. Long have I held sorrow in silence, but as age approaches and the scent of my own passing is on the breeze, I feel it is time to speak of a most singular companion, friend and employer.

In 1913, I was a cabin boy — a junior steward – on the Crescent Line railroad that served between New York City and New Orleans. It was a poor job, but suitable for a young man in search of adventure. The railroad allowed us passage but no pay with the proviso that we saw to the needs of travelers in the First Class sleeper and cabin cars. We worked for tips alone – and the occasional meal if we got in good with the kitchen staff in the dining car. The railroad provided us with a uniform coat and cap to signify our affiliation with the railroad proper. If we were remiss in our services, the Master Steward and the Conductor held power to strip us of hat and coat and put us off the train at any regular station. I was never remiss in my duties.

In October of that year, an elderly gentleman boarded the Crescent in New York and it was my fortune (for good or ill) to meet him at the platform as the cabin car was boarding. I recall him as a thin but strong man –elegant and obviously well heeled – but aloof and by his demeanor not someone with whom to trifle.

“Pardon me, sir,” said I to the gentleman. “May I carry your things and assist you in boarding?”

He stared directly into my eyes for what seemed an eternity – as though he were looking through me. He inspected my uniform stem to stern more thoroughly than ever did the Master Steward before responding “Yes, young man, I believe you may”.

His boarding ticket indicated he would lodge in the cabin car suites with passage all the way to New Orleans – and right to disembark at any station and rejoin the train later. A very expensive ticket, indeed! He indicated what I thought was a small amount of luggage for such a trip and told me to deliver him and the bags to the appropriate suite. Whether out of fear, respect or the expectation of a generous tip, I moved quickly to serve his wishes.

I showed him to his suite — a handsome accommodation with bedroom and a sitting parlor — and delivered the luggage with all appropriate haste. He said not a word until he was ensconced in his rooms. Thereon I stood (as is custom) with palm outstretched indicating the expectation of tip for service.

He turned and stared through me again. “You have done well, young sir. What is your name?” he asked.

“Stein, sir,” I stammered. “Jeremiah Stein.”

“Well, Master Stein,” he replied, “would it be possible to locate a bottle of decent whiskey on this train?”

“Indeed, sir! Yes indeed. The bar car ……”

“I do not care to go to the bar. Can you go and bring one back to me?”, he interrupted.

“Indeed, sir. Yes, indeed,” said I.

“Go then and do that,” he replied. “If I am in need of other services on this journey, may I rely upon you to assist?”

“Indeed, sir. Yes, indeed.”

The gentleman reached into his pocket and handed me fifty dollars. Fifty dollars!! A king’s ransom. “Bring me the whiskey,” he said, “and keep the rest. I shall call for you if I require further assistance.”

The train jolted forward, throwing us both a bit off balance. The journey had begun.

Said I, “May I be so bold as to ask your name, sir?”

Said he succinctly and quietly “Bierce. Ambrose Bierce. Go and get the whiskey.”


Civil Discourse and Polite Insults

Civil Southern Insults

© 2012 Kirby Sanders

Our civil discourse has gotten horribly un-civil. People calling one another “fascists” and “communists” and “sheeple” – using verbal bullying rather than understanding the finesse of a proper insult.

For many who were properly raised in the South or the Southwest there is ingrained  certain sense of decorum – and a proper insult is not honored unless properly delivered. It is quite possible (and respected)  for a gentleman or a lady to deliver an insult without being overly aggressive.

A gentleman can inflect a simple question such as “Sir?” so that it obviously means “look, you low-life son of a bitch” — but never call the guy a “low life son of a bitch”. Call him “sir”.

 One can also preface a response to any insult or unsubstantiated statement by saying “Bless your heart” –- meaning “I can’t believe you are stupid enough to really believe that.”

Then there is the available remark “I beg your pardon?”  Meaning “boy, you just pissed a lot of stupid in the soup bigtime”.

And of course “there’s a crow on your plate” — meaning “get ready to eat some facts, asshole”.

“I beg to differ” – see again “there’s a crow on your plate.”

Among the more aggressive suggestions might be that one’s counterpart in a given discussion is “thinking with the wrong head” – meaning their macho is outstripping their wisdom or perception of a given issue.

And a comment that “that boy ain’t right” – meaning “that is craziest psycho bullshit I have heard in a long time”.

In a pinch, one can explain that “I think I hear the dinner bell” – meaning “this discussion is terminated.” More aggressively but still politely, one may also say “Thank you for the conversation. You are excused from the table”. Notched up, one may also say “You are dismissed, sir. Good day to you.”

As a gentle reminder, one might hear a statement to the effect of “that dog don’t hunt” (irrelevant argument) or “what’s your horse in this race” (what is your agenda in this conversation).

The next time you are in the midst of an internet diatribe or a heated conversation – if you hear a calm and steady voice lightly scented with magnolia or mesquite stating gently “Pardon me – am I speaking too softly?”; know well, please, that a certain limit has been reached and someone at the table is about to be served with a royal flush in spades if the tenor of the discussion does not tone down to a more acceptable decibel level. And if the tone of the conversation does not  ramp down at that point? Well, “Katie bar the door! There’s going to be the devil to pay”.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Weapons Used in Contemporary American Mass Shootings

Weapons Used in Contemporary American Mass Murders
by Kirby Sanders
December 18, 2012

As the debate over gun control rages once again in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown CT, perhaps some analysis is in order to determine exactly what firearms have been involved in these tragedies. Including this most recent case, there have been 62 recorded multiple shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. Since the infamous Columbine High School massacre in Littleton CO on April 20, 1999, there have been 32 (including Sandy Hook) “mass murders” according to FBI / National Crime Information Center statistics. Those statistics quantify a “mass murder” as four or more deaths (excluding the perpetrator) in a single incident. The following is a statistical survey of weapons used in the 32 incidents since and including Columbine.

Given the fact that murderer Adam Lanza used a .223 caliber AR15 style rifle in the December 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, much of the current debate has again focused on “military style assault rifles”. These types of weapons have been used in eight of the 62 incidents.  AR15 variant weapons using .223 caliber ammunition were used in five of the 32 incidents since Columbine (one case being a European variant roughly equivalent to .224 caliber). AK47 variant weapons chambered for European 7.62×39 caliber were used in three incidents. None of those were fully automatic, true military “assault rifles”. All were civilian semiautomatic weapons.

Given that Lanza also carried a Glock brand semiautomatic pistol and a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol, those, too, have come under scrutiny. Glock pistols have been employed in eight of the recent incidents. Sig Sauer pistols have been used in two. Handguns have been used in most of the recent incidents with semiautomatic pistols constituting the vast majority. Of the incidents where handguns were used, five involved revolver type weapons — the balance employed an array of different brands and calibers of semiautomatic. Far and away, the most often employed caliber is the nine millimeter (9mm). This 9mm ammunition has been involved in 14 of the 32 cases since Columbine. It should be noted, however, that 9mm is probably the most common caliber of ammunition available in the United States.

In four of the incidents, the specific model of firearm used could not be determined.

Shotguns have been used in eight of the incidents, being 12 gauge chambering, pump action models every time.

Details of the incidents prior to Sandy Hook are as follows:
The base timeline and synopses of the incidents are from Think Progress writtem by Aviva Shen. Additional research on the types of weapons used in each case is by Kirby Sanders.

December 11, 2012. On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed 2 people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon. His motive is unknown.
• AR15 style  rifle / .223 caliber

September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN. Three others were wounded. Engeldinger went on a rampage after losing his job, ultimately killing himself.
• Glock semiautomatic pistol  / 9mm caliber

August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when 40-year-old US Army veteran Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four others were injured, and Page killed himself.
• Springfield XD (M) semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber

July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James  Eagan  Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. Holmes was arrested outside the theater.
• Two Glock Model 22  semiautomatic pistols / .40 caliber
• Smith & Wesson M&P15 AR 15 style rifle / .223 caliber
• Remington Model 870 shotgun / .12 gauge

May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing 5 and himself after a citywide manhunt.
• Para-Ordnance semiautomatic pistol / .45 caliber

April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot 5 black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.
• weapons undetermined

April 2, 2012. A former student, 43-year-old One L. Goh killed 7 people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, CA. The shooting was the sixth-deadliest school massacre in the US and the deadliest attack on a school since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
•  unidentified semiautomatic pistol / .45 caliber.

February 27, 2012. Three students were killed by Thomas “TJ” Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, OH. Three others were injured.
• unidentified handgun / .22 caliber
• knife

October 14, 2011. Eight people died in a shooting at Salon Meritage hair salon in Seal Beach, CA. The gunman, 41-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, killed six women and two men dead, while just one woman survived. It was Orange County’s deadliest mass killing.
• Springfield  Arms semiautomatic pistol / 9 mm caliber
• Heckler & Koch semiautomatic pistol / 9 mm caliber
• Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol / .44magnum caliber

September 6, 2011. Eduardo Sencion, 32, entered an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, NV and shot 12 people. Five died, including three National Guard members.
• AK47 variant semiautomatic rifle / 7.62×39 caliber

July 7, 2011. Seven people were shot to death when Rodrick Dantzler went on a rampage in Grand Rapids, MI. He killed his ex-girlfriend, her sister, and her sister’s 10-year-old daughter, his ex-wife and their daughter before going on a rampage on the street.
• Glock semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber

January 8, 2011. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head when 22-year-old Jared Loughner opened fire on an event she was holding at a Safeway market in Tucson, AZ. Six people died, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers, and a 9-year-old girl. 19 total were shot. Loughner has been sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years, without parole.
• Glock semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber

August 3, 2010. Omar S. Thornton, 34, gunned down Hartford Beer Distributor in Manchester, CT after getting caught stealing beer. Nine were killed, including Thornton, and two were injured.
• Two Ruger SR9 semiautomatic pistols / 9mm caliber

November 5, 2009. Forty-three people were shot by Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan at the Fort Hood army base in Texas. Hasan reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire, killing 13 and wounding 29 others.
• FN Five-seven semiautomatic pistol /  5.57mm caliber (European equivalent of .223 caliber)
• Smith & Wesson revolver pistol  / .357 Magnum caliber

April 3, 2009. Jiverly Wong, 41, opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded 4.
• Beretta 92FS Vertec semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• Beretta Px4 semiautomatic pistol / .45 caliber

March 29, 2009. Eight people died in a shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, NC. The gunman, 45-year-old Robert Stewart, was targeting his estranged wife who •worked at the home and survived. Stewart was sentenced to life in prison.
• unidentified revolver pistol / .357 Magnum caliber
• unidentified semi-automatic pistol / 22 Magnum caliber
• Winchester 1300 shotgun / 12-gauge

February 14, 2008. Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, killing 6 and wounding 21. The gunman shot and killed himself before police arrived. It was the fifth-deadliest university shooting in US • history.
• Glock Model 19 semi automatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• Kurz Sig Sauer P232 semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• Hi-Point CF380 / .380 caliber

February 7, 2008. Six people died and two were injured in a shooting spree at the City Hall in Kirkwood, Missouri. The gunman, Charles Lee Thornton, opened fire during a public meeting after being denied construction contracts he believed he deserved. Thornton was killed by police.
• Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver pistol / .44 Magnum caliber
• Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol (stolen from police officer whom he shot immediately prior to incident) / .40 caliber

December 5, 2007. A 19-year-old boy, Robert Hawkins, shot up a department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE. Hawkins killed 9 people and wounded 4 before killing himself. The semi-automatic rifle he used was stolen from his stepfather’s house.
• AK47 semiautomatic rifle / 7.62×39 caliber

April 16, 2007. Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in US history when a student, Seung-Hui Choi, gunned down 56 people. Thirty-two people died in the massacre.
• Walther P22 semiautomatic pistol / .22 caliber
• Glock Model 19 semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber

February 12, 2007. In Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square Mall, 5 people were shot to death and 4 others were wounded by 18-year-old gunman Sulejman Talovic. One of the victims was a 16-year-old boy.
• Mossberg Maverick 88 Field shotgun / 12 gauge
• S&W M36 revolver pistol / .38-caliber

October 2, 2006. An Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA was gunned down by 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts, Roberts separated the boys from the girls, binding and shooting the girls. 5 young girls died, while 6 were injured. Roberts committed suicide afterward.
• Springfield XD semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• Browning BPS pump-action shotgun / 12 gauge
• Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle / .30-06 caliber

March 25, 2006. Seven died and 2 were injured by 28-year-old Kyle Aaron Huff in a shooting spree through Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA. The massacre was the worst killing in Seattle since 1983.
• Winchester 1300 Defender shotgun / 12 gauge
• Ruger P944 semiautomatic pistol / .40-caliber

March 21, 2005. Teenager Jeffrey Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend before opening fire on Red Lake Senior High School, killing 9 people on campus and injuring 5. Weise killed himself.
• Winchester 1300 Defender shotgun / 12 gauge
• Ruger P944 semiautomatic pistol / .40-caliber

March 12, 2005. A Living Church of God meeting was gunned down by 44-year-old church member Terry Michael Ratzmann at a Sheraton hotel in Brookfield, WI. Ratzmann was thought to have had religious motivations, and killed himself after executing the pastor, the pastor’s 16-year-old son, and 7 others. Four were wounded.
• Beretta 92FS semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber

July 8, 2003. Doug Williams, a Lockheed Martin employee, shot up his plant in Meridian, MS in a racially-motivated rampage. He shot 14 people, most of them African American, and killed 7 before killing himself.
• Winchester 1200 shotgun / 12 gauge
• Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle / .223 caliber

December 26, 2000. Edgewater Technology employee Michael “Mucko” McDermott shot and killed seven of his coworkers at the office in Wakefield, MA. McDermott claimed he had “traveled back in time and killed Hitler and the last 6 Nazis.” He was sentenced to 7 consecutive life sentences.
• AK47 style semiautomatic rifle / 7.62×39 caliber
• Winchester 1300 shotgun / 12 gauge
• Retolaza semiautomatic pistol / .32 caliber

September 15, 1999. Larry Gene Ashbrook opened fire on a Christian rock concert and teen prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. He killed 7 people and wounded 7 others, almost all teenagers. Ashbrook committed suicide.
• Ruger P85 semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• AMT Backup semiautomatic pistol / .380 caliber

July 29, 1999. Mark Orrin Barton, 44, murdered his wife and two children with a hammer before shooting up two Atlanta day trading firms. Barton, a day trader, was believed to be motivated by huge monetary losses. He killed 12 including his family and injured 13 before killing himself.
• Hammer
• Colt 1911A1 semiautomatic pistol / .45 caliber
• Glock  Model 17 semiautomatic pistol / 9mm caliber
• H&R Revolver pistol / .22 caliber
• Raven MP-25 semiautomatic pistol / .25 caliber

April 20, 1999. In the deadliest high school shooting in US history, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold shot up Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. They killed 13 people and wounded 21 others. They killed themselves after the massacre.
• Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun / 12 gauge (Harris)
• Hi-Point 995 Carbine /  9mm caliber (Harris)
• Pipe Bomb (Harris)

• Intratec TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun / 9mm caliber (Kliebold)
• 12-gauge Stevens 311D double-barreled sawed-off shotgun / 12 gauge (Kliebold)

On a quantitative basis, as the following graph by Judith Robinson Levine indicates several worthy considerations:
Mass Shootings copy
1. There have been definite downturns in mass shootings immediately following major event years; notably 1999 – 2004, 2005 – 2007 and 2009 – 2012.

2. Semi-automatic weapons (handgun and rifle combined) constituted what was used in approximately 89.6% of woundings and fatalities. Approximately 10.4% of all deaths and woundings are attributable to manual weapons (revolver style handguns, shotguns, bolt-action rifles, etc). However, it should be noted that semiautomatic handguns in particular have become far and away the most popular models of handgun worldwide amongst police, military and civilians since the introduction of the European Borchardt Luger in 1893 and the “Broomhandle” Mauser in 1896. The Borchardt Luger was the first semiautomatic handgun to be patented and released. The “Broomhandle” Mauser could be configured as either a handgun or fitted with stock to serve as a carbine-style short rifle. Both are German designs.

3. The years with the greatest number of woundings and fatalities due to mass shootings have been 1999 (76 in number), 2007 (79 in number), 2009 (78 in number) and 2012 (142 in number).

4.  There has been a sharp increase in the number of woundings and fatalities due to mass shootings between 2006 and 2012.

5. Of the years within the scope of this survey during the “assault weapons ban” (1994-2004), the Columbine year 1999 represents a significant spike. The only years that show no mass shooting incidents are 2001, 2002 and 2004.

6. The years with the fewest number of woundings and fatalities due to mass shootings since Columbine 1999 were 2000 (7 in number) and 2010 (11 in number).

Update – December 20, 2012
Where have mass shooting events occurred?

As we consider the effect of mass shooting events on the public safety, another logical question is “where have these events occurred?”.

• 1) Private business establishments appear to be the primary locations, accounting for the sites of 11 of the contemporary events.

• 2) Public areas (city streets, shopping malls, etc) account for seven of the locales.

• 3) Schools account for six locales.

• 4) Religious or church facilities and gatherings have been the locations for five of the mass shooting incidents.

• 5) Government or military facilities account for three incidents since 1999.

• 6) Two appear to have involved private residences.

Sandy Hook Elementary (CT) School Shooting

The Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School
©2012 Kirby Sanders
December 15, 2012

Trying to dispassionately sort out the facts of the Dec. 14 shooting (now that we have some) in light of the predictable debate about firearms that it has engendered. My heart goes out to all of the parents and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and everyone in Newtown CT, but my purpose here is merely to rationally analyze facts.

The biggest problem in analyzing the matter in CT is that the weapons used (a Glock pistol and a Sig Sauer pistol) probably would not be covered in any additional gun control or registration legislation. They are common-as-cockroaches contemporary civilian market pistols. The shooter did have an AR-15 style rifle (Bushmaster brand) in his car that was not used during the shooting — but it, too. is a fairly common civilian production firearm.

All 3 of these firearms are in fairly common use by American law enforcement, but none of them are military firearms — all civilian market commercial manufacture.

As to the shooter, Adam Lanza – obviously he was a psycho. Existing background checks for purchase of pistols disallow purchase by persons who have a history of severe mental illness. Granted, those background forms do rely on self-disclosure in the matter of mental illness, however, misrepresentation or falsification of facts and answers on those forms is a federal felony in and of itself. In this case, the matter of Lanza’s capacity to own said firearms is moot — reports I have read are they were not the shooter’s guns. Supposedly they were his mother’s guns — mother who was also murdered in the home prior to the shooting at the school. It appears she may also have properly registered the pistols. (In CT, pistols must be registered upon purchase with copies of registration filed with State Police and local PD.) There may be some question as to the shooter’s access to those weapons in the home. But on the face of it, it appears he stole those guns from his mother, killed her and then went to the school. It is also illegal to carry firearms onto a school campus — period. The guy was a twice-felon before he set foot on the campus (theft and murder); whereupon, by going onto the campus with the firearms, he had committed three felonies before firing a shot in the school. Additionally, Lanza took his mother’s car to drive to the school. If  Lanza took the car without his mother’s permission (which he must have because prima facie he took the car AFTER he killed her), there is a fourth felony (auto theft) prior to his firing a shot at the school. A fifth felony in one day prior to firing a shot at the school if he stole car in flight to avoid prosecution.

I don’t know what use these facts might be — but them’s the facts as we presently know them.

UPDATE – December 16, 2012.

Medical Examiner is now reporting that the .223 calibre Bushmaster was the main weapon used in the school shootings – which does not mitigate the fact that it, too, was registered per CT law to and subsequently stolen from Lanza’s murdered mother by her son Adam Lanza. That new snippet does not mitigate any other facts regarding Adam Lanza’s multiple felonious actions leading up to the school shooting.

As to the matter of the Bushmaster / AR-15 clones, their .223 calibre ammunition was developed under contract by the United States military to be a particularly destructive (and cheap to produce) round specifically for the purpose of killing human beings. Those machines, the .223 calibre round and its later European counterpart (5.56mm) have a horrid reputation amongst serious military historians and those who study the changes in firearms technology as being unreliable (they tend to jam — a lot) and suitable to no other purpose than human slaughter.

As to the claim that Lanza’s weapon “could hold 100 rounds” – I believe CT law regulates magazine capacity to 10 rounds (and am not aware of any AR-15 compatible mags of greater than 30 round capacity). If Lanza was using restricted-capacity magazines, he was already using an illegal configuration of the weapon and more law would not mitigate that fact. He’s gonna worry about breaking the law worse? I doubt it. Some reports indicate that Lanza used a common trick of duct-taping two magazine together contra-posed to one another that would allow for quick magazine changes. A fire rate of 60 rounds per minute would be conceivable – assuming you weren’t aiming the shots. And the cowardly act of firing into a crowd of children would not require much aiming. Mostly “spray and pray”. There is also the likelihood of “pass-through” wounds  with .223 calibre. One bullet passes through one target and hits another. The only way to know how many shots were fired is to recover all of the spent cartridges and count them.

Them’s the forensics. I will leave to opinions to others.

Before It was Cool 006

Westbury High School – Teen Age Wasteland

Somewhere toward the end of Junior High or first year of High School I met Bruce Rogers. I guess we were both about 16 at the time. Bruce and I would become inseparable friends. Due to constant confrontations in the Butch Wax Wars, I had longish brown hair. Bruce’s hair was longish  sandy blonde. His dad was a sea captain (literally) and gone a lot of the time, leaving Bruce and his mother Doris holding fort in an apartment off of Bellfort Street.

I guess Bruce and I became friends because we were sort of mutual outcasts more comfortable with reading Rimbaud or Poe and smoking in the boys’ room and listening to Jim Morrison & The Doors rather than dealing with High School. Bruce was crazier than I was (if that were possible). I just got in trouble. Bruce got hurt. He was always banged up or broken here or there because of some foolish adventure. He also played guitar and piano. I slipped out of the swing-jazz kid-combo and Bruce and I formed a rock ‘n roll unit with Vic Griffis on bass and somebody else on rhythm guitar. We invented all kinds of weird stuff and referred to each other as “Putemous and Jocko”. Wrote silly songs like one called “Jack the Wurlitzer Man” dedicated to my drum teacher Jack Dudney and his studio-neighbor the piano teacher whom Jack and I constantly perturbed with our loud drums.

It wasn’t that Bruce and I were experimenting with anything especially dangerous out by the bleachers after school, but we co-wrote a song called “Big Guy In Your Heart”. The Beatles-esque chorus went.

“Mary, I wanna be big. I wanna be big.

The big guy in your heart.

Mary wanna, Mary wanna,

The big guy in your heaaaart.”

Lets be honest adults about this almost 50 years later, shall we people? We’re talking 1968 or so here. Half the football jocks and a couple of the ROTC Cadets smoked pot – usually at clandestine parties that my friends threw or at Saturday night “hops” at the city’s Bayland Park Recreation Center where my band played fairly often. Bruce was more of a drinker than I was – which may help explain why he was bruised or sprained or broken so often. He had an older brother that “got him stuff.” Remember also, this was Houston Texas in the suburbs. Beer was everywhere and the evening cocktail hour was a daily neighborhood ritual for everybody’s parents. The favorite teen-vintage wine smuggle at parties or at Bayland Park or on “the hill” at Hermann Park was Boone’s Farm Apple Wine or Passion Pink Ripple. Nasty sweet stuff that always made me puke. So I just smoked a bit and drank RC Cola or Mountain Dew soda. I had also been hanging around with jazz musicians since I was 10. Dad used to take me to jam sessions at the Musicians’ Union Hall. I think he was an “inactive” or “associate” member.

The Musicians’ Union Hall was a big building that had a big ballroom that was separated between the “private club” and the public area by a low wrought-iron fence type of thing. Houston, at the time, didn’t have public bars. It was BYOB unless one was member of a “private club”. The jam sessions were fundraisers for the local Musicians’ Union scholarship fund – and even if you were a union member afforded membership to the “private club” you had to chip in a couple of bucks for scholarship at the door to get into the jams. Minors were not allowed in “private clubs”, so dad would always sit with some other guys inside the rail and I would sit outside the rail at an adjacent kids’ table with a lot of others whose musically-oriented dads were doing the same deal. I got to hear lots of good music by Bobby Doyle (who later played with Blood Sweat and Tears and Joe Henderson during the  David Clayton Thomas period). Lots of sidemen from BB King and even Louis Armstrong bands showed up at the Houston jams to help raise money for the scholarship fund. While my dad did not attend occasional departures, us kids often heard a few dads say “Can you watch my kid for a bit, we’re going outside to meet with Mary Jane.”

Jack Dudney (my drum teacher) played the Union Hall jams on occasion and some young kid named Kenny Rogers occasionally played stand-up bass. I remember one incredible sax player named Jimmy Ford. Dad would lean over to me across the cheesey half-fence and tell me “Jimmy is good, but he’s probably messed up.” Jimmy was a junkie. He played like an angel in heat, but it took two guys to escort him onto the stage and one to turn the pages for him while he played the charts. Dad and I would listen to the music and then go home to suburbia.

Bruce Rogers and I also rewrote the lyrics to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” one year and we went caroling. We wandered around knocking on people’s doors and when they answered we would sing:

“We wish you a Mahavishnu,

We wish you a Mahavishnu,

We wish you a Mahavishnu and a Hare Krishna.

Good tie-dyes we bring to you and your kin!

We wish you a Mahavishnu and a Hare Krishna.
I still like to sing that little song around Christmas every year.

My first year at Westbury High, I had an English Composition class with the teacher who was also the debate and drama coach. She gave us an assignment one time to write a poem, so I wrote a poem and read it aloud in class. It wasn’t like “I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree”. More along the lines of “I have seen the best minds of my generation starving, hysterical, naked…” and contained “some language”.

After I read my poem the teacher said she wanted me to report to her after school. I figured I was probably in deep brown over the “language” in my poem, but I dutifully showed up as ordered.

“That was an interesting poem”, she said.
“Thank you, ma’am”, I replied.

She opened a desk drawer and I figured I was gonna get whacked with a ruler or something because of the language in my poem, but instead she pulled out a little book. She handed the book to me and said “Put this in your back pocket and carry it off campus. Don’t even look at it until you are off-campus. They could fire me for giving it to you. And I would like for you to consider joining the Debate and Drama Club”.

I tucked the little book in my pocket and covered it with my shirt tail, was grateful that I didn’t get whacked with a ruler and walked off-campus before I looked at the little book. It was a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind”. I read most of it walking home from school. It eventually opened doors for me to read more Ferlinghetti, more Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and T.S. Eliot and ee cummings and Dylan Thomas and William Bake. I also enjoyed (and do to this day) prose by Poe and Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and even William Faulkner. I still have that little book around – somewhere in the clutter of a lifetime.

I went back to school the next day and joined the Debate and Drama Club.

Debate and Drama was a god-send! I guess the school district figured debate and drama geeks were going to wash-out at sports anyway, so we had the elective of dropping Phys Ed in favor of Debate and Drama class. I was out of Coach Wilson’s grasp, safe and smart in Debate Class!!!!

I did pretty well in Debate Class. Won some regional UIL awards for Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking and Poetry Interpretation. I started tapping out my own poems on the Remington typewriter at home and showing them around at school, which eventually made me a sort of cause celebrite’ among the other intelligent outcasts at school.

My debate partner, Mike Leigh, and I would go to tournaments and set up our table including a pre-prepared canteen of mint coffee – which was really coffee dosed with surreptitiously acquired crème de menthe. The tourney judges never caught on to our sophisticated imbibement, but we were well known for the creativity of our arguments as debates went late into the day.

I made lots of outcast friends (eventually), Jacque B. and Robin & Dixie Z. and Jeff S. and Mike H. and Barbara B. and Cindy Sue and Chris T. We would hang out after class and talk about poetry and philosophy and other such stuff.

My Dad was pretty open-minded about my literary and intellectual interests. I remember there came a time that I mentioned I wanted to read “Das Kapital” and the “Communist Manifesto”. Dad bought me copies of both books at the University of Houston bookstore and brought them home. He dumped them on my bed rather unceremoniously and announced “go ahead and read them, but don’t believe a word – its all bullshit”. So, I read them and then dug a little deeper and eventually discovered that I liked Trotsky better than Marx and Lenin.  I still like Trotsky better than – say – I.S. Hayakawa or Ayn Rand.

Bruce Rogers, our band and I played a few music gigs around town. We got hired to do one for the Houston School Library Clubs – a convention for the kids who were interested and active volunteers in city and school libraries. Admittedly, we thought it was a tad uncool to do a dance-gig for a bunch of librarians, but damn those kids could party! Besides, they agreed to pay us. We brought in a keyboard player and rocked the ballroom for 45 minutes of our one-hour set. Coming up to the end, we launched into a version of “She’s Not There” by the Zombies and went to town. Before we (or anyone else) knew what was happening, “She’s Not There” had flown itself into a jam that eventually lasted about 40 minutes in and of itself. Everybody got a solo. Lead guitar and keyboard and rhythm guitar and bass and drums – everybody got an extended solo. The only rule in that jam turned out to be that when Bruce sang “Let me tell you about the way she looks, the way she acts and the color of her hair”, somebody launched a new solo or a duet with another of the players. Twenty minutes after our scheduled “close time”, the adult chaperones and organizers literally unplugged our amps while we were still playing and a roomful of sweaty dancing kid-librarians howled their disapproval of the sudden shutdown.

Shortly after that, Bruce Rogers’ Dad (whom we referred to in his absence as “Captain Ahab”) returned to shore for good and his family moved further away to a house in Bellaire. Bruce quit the band. I hooked up with a bass player from my homeroom named Jim Spector. Jim knew a keyboard player named Mick White and he joined up with us. Jim and Mick and I were all trained in jazz and classical music. Mick preferred to play an electric harpsichord that lent a really neat eerie sound to our core rhythm section. We played together for several years in an eclectic psychedelic rock via jazz band variously called “Madstone” and occasionally “Little Mickey and the Potatos”. Heavily rock-influenced by Frank Zappa, the Fugs and local legends “Bruiser Barton and the Dry Heaves” – not to mention our neighbors and acquaintances who performed as the “Thirteenth Floor Elevators” and “ZZ Top”. Jim and Mick and I played together for several years – our trio was the core of a constantly changing unit and we would bring in other pieces for different gigs. We would bring other pieces – guitars, bass sometimes but Mickey usually carried the bass on an assortment of keyboards. We had different personnel on practically every gig we played. We even went so far as to outfit a flute player patched through a wah-wah pedal and a violinist patched through primitive synthesizer at times. We practiced the hell out of the side players to get them up on our style and playlist before each gig. It was very “Mothers of Invention-ish”.  Nobody “conducted” per se, but Jim and Mick and I got so tight that eventually we could just look at each other and nod when somebody was going to take a flier on a solo and then follow each other back into the song.

Eventually there was some something I didn’t know about until years after the band disintegrated. There was something about something between Jim and Mick and one or the other of their wives / girlfriends. I was clueless at the time, but the band shattered and Jim and Mick went totally incommunicado. I still am unclear about who was doing what with whom, but I still miss Jim and Mick both sometimes.

Meanwhile, back at the raunch during High School, I suddenly discovered I had lots of female friends. Some were school-friends. Some were “band ladies”. I liked the school-friends better because they knew I was interested in poetry and intellectual stuff. Our “encounters” always had some depth. Either way, there were reasonably frequent “benefits”.

A bunch of us guys used to congregate after school for coffee and a pastry at Westbury Square or a nearby Shipley Do-Nuts shop. Their sign, not mine. They named the place “Shipley Do-Nuts”. We guys talked about important stuff at these salons – cars and girls and girls and cars and cars and girls. So one day we were sitting at Shipley’s and a somewhat rotund friend mused with some sorrow, “This place reminds of the girls at our school – they are all a bunch of Shapely Do-Nots.” I did not reply as I could not relate to his specific predicament.

Band ladies were a different story from the school girlfriends. There is a strange algorithm of attractions amongst band ladies. The lead guitarists, singers and bandleaders always seem to be pursued by gold-diggers. Rhythm guitarists seem to attract nice albeit kind of mousey chicks. Bassists get good and true salt-of-the-earth girls. Drummers attract all of the crazy bitches. I was a drummer. We crash and smash and sweat our asses off onstage and seem to attract women who crash and bash and smash their way through relationships.

Maybe that is how I came to be so fond of the women who were willing to take time to understand that I appreciated poetry and philosophy and classical art and Zen Buddhism. They took the time to get to know me rather than just crashing, bashing and smashing into the sack. I have also always had a somewhat reclusive streak even when I was performing. Actually, playing drums (always at the back of the band) was really a way I could “hide on stage” – separated from the crowd. I was always protected by and well behind the proscenium arch. Same thing with debate presentations and interp readings and speeches and poetry readings.  For all I appeared to be in the front of everything, I was really hiding behind the relative safety of that proscenium arch.

There were a few retrospectively amusing adventures with the band ladies – but we will deal with those later.

Also during those High School years, Robin Z. made me a “flag shirt”. It was a totally cool western-cut pattern that had a big blue yoke with white hand-cut stars, a red and white striped body, long red & white striped sleeves and big blue cuffs with hand-appliqued white stars on the blue fields. I loved it – and it got me into a lot of trouble.

I wore it to school one day – wearing a tie-died sleeveless tee shirt underneath. One of the teachers really objected to my flag-shirt. Never mind that the whole thing looked obviously handmade and appliquéd rather than a real U.S. flag cut up and desecrated, my German language teacher, Frau Kreider, objected to the entire concept. She threw me out of class.

“You go get a different shirt,” she demanded “and I don’t care if it’s a smelly gym shirt!”

I stripped off the flag shirt, delivered it to my locker and went back to German class in my tie-died tee. Between classes, I was walking the halls and the Dean of Men, Mr. Fred Pepper spotted me wearing my tie-dyed sleeveless tee. Sleeveless tees were not dress code — and Mr. Pepper demanded “You got get a different shirt. I don’t care if you have to go home to get it , but you won’t be prancing through my halls in a sleeveless shirt”.

So I went to my locker and put the flag shirt back on. Predictably, Frau Kreider spotted me later in the day (once again wearing my flag shirt), snatched me up and marched me to Mr. Pepper’s office for being insubordinate and possibly a communist. They had some big discussion and I was eventually required to go get my plain white tee-shirt that smelled of “teen spirit” from gym class and wear it over my sleeveless tie-dye instead of the flag shirt for the rest of the day. That was a big hit among the other rebels and hellions because plain tees were not “dress code” either and no one could believe I was under orders to finish out the day wearing my stinky gym shirt. I was “just following orders”.

Frau Kreider is an interesting diversion at this point. She and Fred Pepper and Coach Wilson were always up my ass about  irrelevant something or other – to the point that I started feeling like High School was interfering with my education. I think I got off on the wrong foot early in Frau Kreider’s class when she teamed up duos to write and present short skits (in German) for the class. My partner and I wrote up this little cops-and-robbers bit during which one of my key lines was “Stop or I’ll shoot” followed by a Keystone Cops chase around the classroom. The verb “shoot” in German is “schießen” (pronounced shee-zen). I inadvertently wrote and said  “scheißen” (pronounced shy-zen).  Frau Kreider hit the roof during our skit and marched me immediately to Mr. Pepper’s office for “intentionally using profanity in her classroom!” Apparently — intending to say “stop or I’ll shoot” — I had actually said “stop or I’ll shit”.

I also got thrown out of a Jimi Hendrix concert and a showing of the movie “Easy Rider” over the flag shirt. At the end of the Hendrix concert, Jimi played  “The Star Spangled Banner” and I ebulliently stood up and thrust my right fist into the air. Ushers and a cop gathered me up and escorted me out of the Houston Coliseum with the cop explaining “Kid, we don’t need a damned riot here”.

End of the “Easy Rider” movie – where Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson get shotgunned by rednecks — I stood up in the theater in my flag shirt and hollered “you motherfuckers!” Maybe they threw me out of the theater for shouting “motherfuckers” in public, but the flag shirt probably didn’t help maters.

The flag shirt eventually disappeared. Mom said something about it getting hung up and torn up in a malfunction of the clothes dryer.

The Butch Wax War continued. My hair wasn’t long long. It was kind of California-surf, Kerouac beatnik long. Block-cut in the back right at the collar. I started wearing my sideburns trimmed sharp at the base of the ear lobes. Radical!!!!!!!

Westbury High School got really weird about “dress code” and one day they gathered up all the guys and marched us into the gym. They made us all kneel on the floor and the coaches came around with rulers and measured everybody’s hairline at the back of the neck. If your hair was less than an inch above the collar line, they threw you out of school until you got a haircut. Max Wilson approached me that day with a look of malevolent glee in his eyes and — just as he went to measure my hair —  I leaned my head forward. I measured right at an inch above the collar line and didn’t get thrown out of school. Coach Wilson was visibly displeased.

They also gathered up all the girls in the girls’ gym and measured their dress hemlines to the knee. Girls whose hemlines were three inches or more above the knee got thrown out of school.

When they threw out the boys and girls who didn’t “measure down” to their standards, a lot of us who passed the hair and skirt tests walked out as well. That was the first “protest demonstration” I ever took part in. I walked out. We all just stood at the front of the school – making a human wall between the building and the castaways (the “children left behind”) as they waited for pissed off parents to come pick them up. Enough of us walked out that it essentially shut the school down for the rest of the day. There was no forthcoming retribution – and never again did a Houston High School pull that sort of stupid stunt.

After that, the girls all started wearing skirts that they could roll at the waistline to shorten at the hemline and roll back down if challenged — or they wore ankle-length “granny dresses”. The alleged “school” then got weird about girls’ granny dresses and boys wearing long-sleeved shirts. The gals that wore “granny dresses” and the guys who wore long-sleeved shirts (like me – because they covered up the rheumatic fever scars on my arms) were constantly harassed because the school administrators thought we might be hiding drugs or needle tracks under long cloth. Most of my female friends went to wearing granny dresses. We couldn’t win for losing. Constant dress-code “warnings” aggravated my “Butch Wax War” at home.

Almost 50 years later, I still usually wear long-sleeved shirts — even in the hot summertime. Overall, I tan good – but scar tissue stays fish-belly white and I am not a fan of fleshy polka-dots as a fashion statement.

1969 and 1970 got really weird as the war in Vietnam ramped up and the draft system that fed it got more corrupt in feeding the process of delivering young male cannon fodder. I couldn’t help but notice at the time. I was 17 going to 18 and it was my ass they were putting on the line. I didn’t much like that fact. At home, the Butch Wax War got worse because of my anti-draft thing. I didn’t want to live past 30, but damn it, I did want to live to see 30.

Firefighter Fighting For His Family – update Capt. Bud Planchon

Retired Springdale AR firefighter Capt. Harold “Bud” Planchon and his wife, Jane Watson Sexton Planchon,  are back at home in Fayetteville AR after a medical disability benefits hearing in Little Rock — but all is not necessarily well.

Planchon is suffering from stage four liver cancer that he maintains was caused by exposure to exhaust fumes in an unventilated fire station and on-the-job exposure to other toxins at fire scenes and hazardous material spills over the course of his 24-year career. Bud Planchon was forced  into medical retirement during the summer of 2011 by the spreading cancer and the ill effects of chemo-therapy.

On December 7, Planchon’s appeal to the state board that handles retirement and disabilitiy claims for Arkansas police and firefighters to have his medical disability recognized as job-related was denied. Planchon had earlier been approved for standard retirement benefits, however, the recognition of his medical condition as job-related would have guranteed additional death and educational benefits to Capt. Planchon’s surviving wife and children upon the event of his death.

Some 42 states in the U.S. automatically recognize the type of cancer that Bud Planchon is suffering as job-related for firefighters and is caused by prolonged exposure to toxins. The Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System (LOPFI) does not do so. The city of Springdale has, in recent years, taken steps to ventilate its fire stations so as to exhaust accumulations of diesel fumes and soot from the buildings. All but one of the states that border Arkansas recognize this form of cancer as a job-related illness /  disability for firefighters who contract the cancer. The bordering exception is the state of Mississippi.

Even the approval of his basic retirement benefits was not easy to come by, Planchon reported. While he had filed for his disability and retirement  in the summer of 2011, LOPFI took no steps to approve any benefits until afer a hearing on September 6, 2012 — despite a voluminous supply of documents and medical records that had been requested by and supplied to LOPFI from Planchon and his doctors. That fact left Planchon without any income and an ever-growing stack of medical bills for more than a year after his reirement due to illness.

After the Thursday hearing with LOPFI officials in Little Rock and the denial of his appeal, Bud Planchon became extremely ill. In a digital update, his wife Jane reported “Bud collapsed, from unknown abdominal pain after the hearing. We landed in the UAMS emergency room” (University of Arkansas Medical School – LIttle Rock). She also noted that Capt. Planchon had been in pain during the morning prior to the hearing but attended and collapsed after the hearing. The hearing began at 12:30 p.m. and ended at 2:30 p.m.

UAMS Little Rock stabilized Capt. Planchon and administered sufficient pain medications that he was ale to return to Fayetteville. Jane Planchon reported that the return to Fayetteville was a matter of  “praying my way home from hospital to hospital” as her husband slept, hoping they did not have to make an emergency stop on the 190 mile journey back to Fayetteville.

Jane Planchon also reports that she and her husband arrived back in Fayetteville during the wee hours of morning on Dec. 7. However, Bud remains very ill and in extreme pain at this time. Jane Planchon reported that her husband was “feeling better” as of Friday afternoon but still in a great deal of pain. She also reports that they are pursuing further appeals and legal recourse.

Report by: Kirby Sanders – ©2012
Fayetteville AR
Friday, December 8, 2012 – 7:00 p.m. CST

Tears From the Sky

Tears From the Sky

© 2012 Kirby Sanders

Rain on the rooftop,

tears from the sky.

Great booming sighs

or sobs
of thunder

and emotional flashes of lightning .

Mist is heaven trying to cry,

the rain is heaven’s success.

Weep, weary sky, weep –

or perhaps it is only

Thor yawning?

I love the rain, every single drop.

Every tear is a prayer.