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  • May 26, 2023

    MEMORIAL DAY WITHOUT THE SPEECHES

    HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY FROM MY BROTHER CHUCK AND ME – photo by Carmela Cunningham

    It’s strange how all these years I still take pride in my military service.

    Vietnam was a stupid war, waged by a stupid and corrupt President, backed by a brain trust of arrogant “intellectuals” who squandered the lives of young American patriots with little regard for the human cost.

    It doesn’t matter. I didn’t do it for the politicians or the bureaucrats. I did it for my country and for myself.

    War is the most manly of pursuits. It is baked into our genes. Defend and protect the homeland. It has been the story of the world since we climbed down from the trees, lost the tail, and started wearing clothes and making weapons.

    I don’t need to go to a Memorial Day observance, with a stage full of politicians all wanting to make a speech and pay lip service to the sacrifices made by young men who died in service to their country.

    Most regular Americans will take the occasion to fire up the barbeque, toss on some burgers or hot dogs, and enjoy the company of friends and neighbors. And that’s OK – in fact, that’s just fine. That’s exactly what those young men from years ago fought and died to protect.

    I served in Vietnam, and I witnessed some of those young men take their last breaths. That was early in the war and we moved around the country, wherever there was a need to combat the enemy – D-Zone, the Iron Triangle, the Plain of Reeds, the Central Highlands.

    My brother, Charles Kenneth Cunningham, was stationed in support of a Special Forces unit in the Mekong Delta region. The Americans were not officially allowed to torture prisoners, so that task was outsourced to the Vietnamese, but my brother, who was eighteen at the time could hear their screams in the night.

    So he stole pain pills from the medical supplies and would smuggle them to prisoners. It was a stupid thing to do. Giving prisoners pills for the pain did little to improve their long-term prospects, and he could have been court martialed and punished if he had been caught.

    Five years later, he was killed in a construction accident. My mother was presented an American flag all neatly folded at his funeral. I still have the flag. I am not sentimental, but for some reason I cannot give it up.

    Military service used to be a common experience shared by most American men, whether they picked up a rifle, flew an airplane, or peeled potatoes in the mess hall.

    It’s different now. I went to the funeral of my wife’s uncle at Arlington Cemetery in Riverside a few weeks back and the mourners were directed during the salute to the flag to place their hands over their hearts. Veterans were directed to salute.

    There was a time when almost every man in attendance would have saluted. That was then. I only saw two mourners who saluted – an active duty Marine, the husband of my niece, and myself. There may have been others that I didn’t see, but most stood silently, with their right hand over their hearts.

    That certainly doesn’t make them bad people. Many are people I love and respect. It’s just different than it used to be.

    Service to one’s country changes the way one thinks about what it means to be an American. Sadly, as each day goes by, it seems to mean less and less.

    So when you join your friends and family to celebrate the holiday, you are doing exactly that for which those warriors fought and died.

    Enjoy your holiday, but if you think about it, take just a moment to say a little thank-you prayer or at least send out a kind thought for those young men and women who would be doing exactly what you are doing if they could.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time. You can also find past stories at: www.georgeleecunningham.com

  • April 27, 2023

    Business, Humor and Guts

    DON’T FLUSH AWAY YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS OR YOUR PETS

    Do you ever feel like we live in dour times, when nothing can be funny because it might offend someone, somewhere?

    You see this a lot in big corporations, where they bend over backward not to offend anybody, anywhere because a tiny minority of people are offended by pretty much everything.

    Then you see some rare bright spots of businesses just trying to do a good job and make a living without losing their sense of humor. An example is the sign in the bathroom of the auto shop in Huntington Beach where we get our truck serviced.

    “Please don’t flush sanitary napkins, paper towels, kittens or puppies, or hopes and dreams down the toilet,” it says. I would never do any of the above, but especially, I would not flush puppies, hopes or dreams. I’m not really a cat person, but I would never dream of flushing a kitten down the toilet either.

    My bill for the day, for an oil change, four new tires, and 24 new lug nuts was well over $1,400, but the funny sign in the bathroom made the financial pain a little easier to bear.

    FYI: the 24 lug nuts were not a rip-off. The bitter experience of having been stranded by the freeway in Tucson in the June heat with a blown tire and stubborn lug nuts that were almost impossible to get off made me a believer. One of the not-so-pleasant realities of the Ford F-150 are the notoriously cheap and hard-to-remove lug nuts.

    Another example of corporate humor in this virtually humorless age, is a flyer we got in the mail from Al Moses, a carpet cleaner in Glendale, who begins his pitch by warning would-be customers not to invest in saltwater fish tanks or chickens – both things, he says, are “instruments of death.”

    “Saltwater fish just drop dead for no reason,” he warns. Consider your tank death row.”

    Chickens aren’t much better.

    “We started with 10 chicks a year ago, six turned out to be roosters,” his ad reads.

    If you get roosters, everybody in your neighborhood will hate you for waking them up at 4 a.m. every morning and might even kill your chickens. And even if the neighbors don’t do it, the alpha rooster will eventually kill off his competition.

    One of the four hens got sick and died, and although the surviving three became family pets, the cost of food, shelter and various other chicken paraphernalia, not to mention the personal labor involved, meant the hens would have to live to three times their life expectancy for us to break even in fresh eggs, he said.

    On the other hand, if you want your carpets cleaned, Mr. Moses is your man.

    We don’t need our carpets cleaned, we recently had it done by another company, but next time, I will call Al.

    The point of all this is, I don’t want to flush away my sense of humor or my dog, I certainly don’t want to raise saltwater fish. And even though I would be tempted to raise chickens if I lived someplace where they could be free-range happy creatures, I do understand the risks.

    The good news is that out there in the real world, people still have a sense of humor and that alone is enough to brighten my day.

     

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time. You can also find past stories at: www.georgeleecunningham.com

  • March 25, 2023

    Life Lessons at the Supermarket

    SUPERMARKET SAFARI

    I love going to the supermarket.

    I usually have a long list of the things I’m supposed to buy, but I really want to do is see what’s not on the list. I want to walk up and own every single aisle, explore every offering along the way, and check out what is available, even if I do not plan to buy any of the items I see.

    There are some people, whom I wisely choose not to name, who think this is crazy. They go to the supermarket, get what they need, check out as quickly as they can, and then come straight home with their purchases. They feel that shopping for groceries is a chore, not an adventure.

    They couldn’t be more wrong.

    Going to the supermarket is like going on an exploration of the society in which we live. What are people eating, how are they preparing it, and what does it all say about society as a whole? If you want insight into how the world works, don’t turn on the news. That is not now, nor has it ever been, a reflection of reality.

    If you want to understand our culture and the people with whom we share it, go to the supermarket.

    We all have to eat, and Americans come together at the supermarket, telling their own stories in what they buy, how they act, how they relate to their fellow shoppers, and how they pay for what they buy.

    There are the folks who see the market as a place to meet with friends. They block the aisles as they gossip with acquaintances and kinfolk or even people they’ve just met. There are the bickering husbands and wives, snapping at each other over what kind of mustard or jelly to buy. There are the out-of-control children, whether in the cart seat or running up and down the aisles grabbing whatever catches their fancy.

    Some brave souls go to the market with a list and an objective. These people are on a mission. For them, it’s in and out fast. Pick up the groceries, do a quick self-checkout, and out the door to the parking lot. These are the efficient and focused people – not at all bad people, but not very curious or interested in the other folks and the drama that unfolds all around them.

    Then there are the explorers – people like me, who go up and down every aisle, checking to see what’s being offered – even if they have no plans to buy. The explorers are in the same genus as the bargain hunters with a handful of coupons, looking to save a few cents on each item. The explorers are at war with the people on a mission, because the explorers are always loitering in the aisles, getting in the way and blocking the progress of the in-and-outers.

    For explorers, there is a lot to see. There’s the cheese and cheese-like food products – processed slices of cheddar, shredded jack, cheese wedges, string cheese in a stick, and rubbery pretend cheese like Velvetta, Cheez Whiz and American cheese slices – some of it legally classified as cheese and some on the borderline.

    There is the dairy section – milk and milk-like products – such things as almond milk, cashew milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk. These products have nothing to do with milk, except they are a sort of a whiteish liquid that may or may not be creamy. Even the real milk comes in nonfat, 1 percent fat, 2 percent fat, half-and-half, pure cream, and whipping cream, which is often more vegetable oil than dairy product.

    There are the novelty items, such as the omelet mixes – all you have to do is add an egg, stir, and microwave. Peanut butter and jelly or chocolate and jelly all pre-stirred in the same jar, mini bagels made to taste like pizzas, dozens of keto products, and various pickles and pickle relishes. The list goes on and on, and explorers want to check out all of it, even if they have no problem with putting their own peanut butter and jelly separately on their own bread.

    If you are thirsty, there are sodas (somewhat out of fashion now) mineral waters, energy drinks, fortified water, distilled water, and zero calorie drinks. There’s also a huge variety of juices and juice-like products that are more water, special flavoring and a bunch of dyes. If you want to grab a meal without sitting around a table with your pesky mate or children, there are hot pockets, chicken tenders, frozen calzones, tater tots, protein shakes, and sugary, high-fiber, high-protein “health bars.”

    There are a lot of cross-over items that span more than one category. Things such as trail mix – a supposedly healthy product that may include candied nuts or little chunks of chocolate in case you need to feed your sweet tooth while you’re hiking the High Sierras. There’s cereal, wheat or rice flakes and nuggets, often coated in syrup, icing, sugar, and artificial coloring and sweeteners.

    CEREAL OR CANDY?

    There are canned and frozen fruit chunks, packed in syrup or coated and frozen with a sugary glaze. There are even vegetables that have been mixed with extra ingredients to make them more enticing than they might otherwise be.

    Even the fresh vegetables in the produce section have been processed, cut up, mixed, and added to in order to save you from doing those menial chores yourself. Many children have never seen a head of lettuce or leaves of spinach that weren’t mixed in a plastic bag with a label that says “Spring Mix” or “Asian Slaw.”

    BBQ CHOICES

    Unless you’re a chemist, don’t bother reading the ingredients on most of what you find in a grocery store, first because you won’t understand them, but mainly because you don’t really want to know what is in a lot what you’re planning to put on the dinner table and in your body. I don’t really want to know, either, but I have an in-house expert who likes nothing better than to inform me of how may grams of sodium and how many grams of sugar and sugar-like components are in whatever snack I am about to put in my mouth.

    I’m not looking down on any of these processed food-like items – except maybe baby carrots, which are just grown-up carrots cut up to look like what a baby carrots might look like.

    I happily consume and appreciate what modern science and corporations have done to make our lives easier, such as low-sodium turkey bacon, which is a staple at my breakfast table. It may not be as tasty as fatty high-sodium swine bacon, but it is apparently healthier, so I do eat and even enjoy it.

    The whole supermarket society is presided over by a corps of burned-out, fed-up employees, who – if tracked down and prodded – will help you retrieve the item from the back of the top shelf that only a pro-basketball giant could reach on his own.

    Sometimes, because it is no longer considered a serious crime to steal, small, expensive items are locked behind closed glass cases that only an employee can open. Then, when the customer gets the item and examines it up close, he may decide he actually wants the similar one next to the one he got behind the same case. That never puts a smile on the employee’s face.

    The employees at the store are the grocery store bureaucrats – much like government employees, except they can actually be fired if they step too far out of line.

    The drama doesn’t stop when you finish at the check-out line. It continues right into the parking lot.

    There are the people who have forgotten where they parked and are wandering up and down the various aisles, trying to identify their own vehicle – a task made harder by the fact that modern cars all look sort of the same.

    There is a gauntlet of political hirelings collecting signatures for issues on which they have little information or understanding and bums looking for a handout.

    There are the parents who let their children run wild through the slow, but potentially deadly, parking lot traffic.

    There are the people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of an empty parking space, even though there is a corral for empty carts just a few steps away. These are usually the same people who can’t wait to get home to enjoy their snacks, so they throw the wrapping on the ground as they back out.

    Then there are the parking lot heroes, those fine folks who take their own carts back to the corral, often picking up other carts along the way. They’re the same ones who help old ladies struggling to transfer their groceries from cart to car.

    That’s who I aspire to be.

    It may not be my ticket to heaven, but maybe – just maybe – it’ll make me a little bit proud of myself.

    I can only hope.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • March 15, 2023

    AN EARLY BIRD CELEBRATION

    Getting old is not for sissies.

    I just received an invitation to my 65th Boca Ciega High School reunion, class of ’58. I am happy to report that Boca Ciega High School is still the home of the Pirates – apparently the bloodthirsty outlaws of the sea have not yet fallen victim to the politically correct hordes.

    The invitation was surprising to me in a couple of ways. First of all, I was surprised that it’s been 65 years since I graduated high school. That’s a really long time. And second, why me? I hated school – elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. My biggest goal when I graduated high school was to get as far away from all those people I had so little in common with, and to never see them again. I’d been pretty successful, up until last week. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember anybody from my high school days who hasn’t already died. That said, I’m kind of curious about what those few survivors of the Class of ’58 are doing 65 years later.

    As I studied the invite, I found a few interesting things. I have been to a lot of celebratory receptions, dinner-dances, awards dinners and lunches, and even fancy breakfasts to honor this person or recognize that anniversary. But, I have to say, this 65th High School Reunion invite had some things I’d never seen before. The dinner is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. – just in time, I suspect, for the early-bird special. As far as I can ascertain, there is no dancing scheduled – so it’s a dinner, rather than a dinner-dance. That’s kind of a plus in my book, although my potential date voiced disappointment.

    The reunion info packet proudly highlights that the Holiday Inn is only 500 feet from the reunion restaurant, which made me speculate as to whether attendees walking over from the hotel would be required to check their walkers by the door or if guests would be able to bring their walkers on in and park them near their tables.

    Sixty-five years is a long time. As I mentioned, there aren’t a whole lot of us left, and I wondering what, exactly, we might have in common. What are we going to talk about, besides our health problems, their grandkids, and exchanging lies about how no one has “changed a bit,” since high school.

    It seems to me that the event would be a lot more interesting if there was some kind of “tontine” involved. A vintage 1958 Bogey sweatshirt with a pirate on the chest for the last surviving member of the class would be nice. Or perhaps something even more valuable that we could all stand around and admire and that might give one of us that added determination to stay alive just a little while longer, so we could be the one to collect the final payout.

    Tontines have fallen out of favor in the United States over the years, but they are actually quite special. After World War II, there was a brief resurgence, when guys who left their homes and risked their lives together created them as a way of somehow staying in touch with blood brothers who scattered far and wide after the war. They had some pretty cool tontines in those days. My favorite was the one that was for a very good and very old bottle of Scotch that was trotted out once a year to sit in the middle of the reunion lunch table and be admired before, finally, being left with the last man standing to sip and remember his old buddies. That’s if his doctors still allowed him the occasional swig of alcohol.

    Graduating high school together isn’t nearly as dramatic as going to war, but tontines would sure make 65th high school reunions a lot more interesting. We could all make side bets over who was going to die next and who was most likely to take the final prize.

    It was very nice to be invited to the 65th Boca Ciega High School Reunion. But with all due respect to my fellow Pirates, I’m not going.

    Even if I could be back in my room at the Holiday Inn by 6 p.m.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • January 30, 2023

    Following Directions or Kowtowing to the Man?

    CHINESE CRAPSHOOT

    There are people in this world who don’t like reading instructions or following rules that have been written down about some new complicated device – which these days can be a new car, a new stove, a new refrigerator, a new phone, or God help us, a new computer. I, on the other hand, was trained as an engineer, and so by nature I want to read all the materials that come with any new device before I even think about putting it together or using it.

    My wife, whose first action on getting something new is to throw away all those pesky directions that come with things, tells me this is strange, because I’m the guy who hates to follow the rules. It’s true. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and I sure as Hell don’t want some elected or appointed official sitting around making up rules to govern my daily life.

    I see rules and regulations as helpful guidelines to make it easier for everybody to get along. And to be honest, the more that other people follow all the rules, the easier it is for me to choose which rules I want to follow and which I choose to disregard.

    For example, I don’t stop and wait at traffic lights at 3 a.m. if there is no traffic in either direction and no cop cars in sight. Why would I? I’d just sit there feeling stupid. I don’t think it’s anybody else’s business what I choose to eat, drink, or smoke or how I choose to spend my money – especially not the government’s. And even though I consider myself a safe driver, if traffic conditions allow, I do not obey speed limits. But for some reason, I don’t extend this unwillingness to follow rules to following instructions. I’m sure they’re different, although my wife tells me I’m wrong about that.

    We recently bought a new dining room table that’s taller than our old table. It’s a splendid piece of furniture, but Carmela did not like the drab chairs that the retailer had suggested, so we ended up with a beautiful marble table that was too high for our old chairs.

    So, she went online, shopped around, and ordered some higher chairs that happened – like almost everything else these days – to come from China. They are very nice chairs, but let’s face it, anything you order from China is a crapshoot.

    The chairs came packed in a box with various pieces to put together and line-drawn pictures with a brochure in computer-translated English that misused adjectives and neglected prepositions altogether. I carefully read the directions, studied the drawings, sorted nuts and bolts into little glass dishes, and started putting the first chair together, following each step carefully.

    But when it came time to attach the braces at the top of the legs, nothing lined up. I’m not saying things needed a little elbow grease to bend the metal into place. I mean things were an inch or so off.

    I stared at the instructions and the line-drawing picture of the finished chair. In the picture, the bottom ring, where you rest your feet, was on the inside of the legs. Carmela didn’t look at the pictures or the instructions. She just said the foot ring should be on the outside of the legs – not inside.

    It was an obvious observation, but I was so busy studying the stupid, faulty instructions that I lost my way. Carmela didn’t even look at the instructions. She just used her common sense. Kind of like I do with rules and laws.

    Further, the seat – according to the instructions – was supposed to attach to the legs by four bolts. There was no way the four bolts lined up with the four holes on the bottom of the seat in which to screw in the bolts. I tried for a long time before I finally went online and read what other customers had to say. Nobody got all four bolts to line up. Three seemed to be the record; two was the norm.

    I attached three seats with two bolts each and got two chair to take three bolts. I tightened them down snugly, and the chairs seem to work. I will check them again to make sure they stay tight, but the chairs are both comfortable and look nice. And, they seem to provide the pop of color Carmela was looking for.

    But all this has got me thinking. Carmela says that reading and following instructions on how to put things together is the same thing as “kowtowing to the man,” something this child of the 60s still rails against. I’m not sure that’s really true, but she is insistent.

    She says it’s all just a matter of degree.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.