• Kaboom
  • The Big Story
  • Port Town
  • Port Town
  • Port Town


  • June 1, 2022



    It sometimes seems as though all your plans goes off the track at once. First one thing goes wrong, than another, and before you know it you’re standing on the rocky shoulder of an offramp, just east of Tucson, sick as a dog and wondering if you somehow pissed off the Gods.

    We had been on our way to Florida, pulling out of the driveway shortly after sunrise, ready for a quick 700-mile dash to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico – Carmela with Henry the Wonder Dog on her lap and me at the wheel.

    We were on our way to Florida to visit family. We had planned a quick two-night stop in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to see my pal Jonathan Beaty and his wife Linda. Seven hundred one miles, but that was OK because I was feeling strong as I pulled out of the driveway and headed east.

    Except, of course, for that slight, early-morning sore throat, that I was hoping would get better as we cleared California and pushed east across Arizona. But it didn’t get better. In face, it got worse as we drove.

    So I did what all manly men do. I ignored it and pushed on. I’m not a sissy. A little sore throat was not going to slow me down. Mind over matter. Blah Blah Blah.

    So we got to Truth or Consequences shortly before sunset, checked in, ate and fell exhausted into bed. I planned to meet with my pal – no women, just us – for breakfast early the next morning. Then we’d all get together later – ladies too – for an early dinner.

    Jonathan and I disagree about many things, but he is an extremely intelligent man and his opinions are never cookie-cutter crap that was hand-fed to him by a teacher, a preacher, or society in general. I have never had an extended talk with Jonathan that I didn’t come away a better perspective on life and the nature of all of us sharing the same planet.

    Our talk over breakfast extended until well past noon, sitting in his truck, looking out over Elephant Butte state park and lake and sharing stories and opinions. It was a good talk, both enlightening and enjoyable. But by the time it came to say good-bye, I was feeling so ill, so tired, and so drained that all I could think about was lying down in bed until I either felt better or died – whichever came first.

    I begged off getting together that evening, and returned to the room, where Carmela and Henry were waiting. I was hoping to feel better the next morning, when we planned to make the long drive to Fort Stockton in Texas. But when the time came, I was feeling worse than I had the day before.

    If you’ve never been to Fort Stockton, it’s a nice town, but not the place you want to get stuck, especially if you’re sick and trying to get better for the drive across country. Don’t get me wrong. I like Texans and I like West Texas, but it’s a long way from everywhere, not where you want to get stuck, especially if you’re feeling like chipped beef on toast (SOS to you former jarheads)

    So we decide to head back home – seven hundred one miles back – although we didn’t think we’d be able to make the entire journey without overnighting somewhere along the way. But then the hours passed, and so did the miles, and we were really cranking westbound along Interstate 10, thinking if I could just hold out, maybe we could make it all the way home.

    And then it  happened – in the fast lane, just east of Tucson at 80 mph plus – our left-rear tire gave up the ghost with an explosive poof and our mad rush became a wobbly disaster. We made it slowly across four lanes of heavy traffic and down a half-mile-long, off-ramp to no where.

    And there I was. Sick, stranded, and wanting more than anything to just crawl off to the far shoulder into the litter and weeds piled against the chain link fence, and lay there until the Gods decided what to do with my stinking and rotting corpse.

    But that wasn’t really an option since Carmela was there and she wasn’t feeling sick, and she would never allow her husband to feel so sorry for himself that he would even think such a thought, so I bucked up.

    I had no choice.

    We were parked on an rocky incline, I had never changed a tire on the truck, the spare was tucked and locked up under the bed of the truck, I had no idea of where the jack was stowed or the lug wrench, so as Carmela called the Auto Club, I went through the manual that came with the truck, and discovered the jack and lug wrench was stowed against the rear wall behind the seat inside the cab.

    In the end, the Auto Club sent roadside assistance to us within just a little more than half-an-hour. The story didn’t end there. Getting the spare unlocked and lowered was a job in itself that required both the keys to the truck and a crank that fit through a special portal at the read of the vehicle.

    Even with the lovely man from the auto club – a 59-year-old former resident of San Diego who sold his home, bought a similar brand new home in Tucson for a couple of thousand grand less – it was a tough job. The ground was all hard and jagged stones, the truck was parked on a steep slant, and the temperature was in the mid-90s – cool for Tucson, but a little warm for sissies like us.

    But he got it done. Then there was a decision to make. Spend the night in Tucson and try to get the blown tire replaced the next morning or head for home. For Carmela and me the decision was clear. We would go for it. If the spare or some other tire failed on the way home, we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

    So with sunset just an hour or so away and 424 miles still to go, we started driving. I drove first, then in Phoenix, Carmela took the wheel. The sun was down, but the western sky was aglow for a couple of hours afterwards as we sped east along the interstate.

    I was still sick, but it was almost a magical time – Carmela and me racing across the desert, passing trucks and slow-pokes on our long dash home. We traded off again in Quartzsite, Arizona with a last minute fill-up of cheap Arizona gas, then headed west with me at the wheel.

    We arrived home, exhausted, at one-minute before midnight. I immediately collapsed on the couch, Carmela unloaded some essentials from the car, then fell asleep as well.

    As sick as I was, and as tired as I felt, it was a lovely and loving experience as well as an adventure.

    We didn’t get a new tire until almost a week later, but it didn’t matter. We were home, we were safe, and I was once again feeling strong.

    Carmela is my hero, and I hope that I will always be hers.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • May 15, 2022



    As a person who has strayed off the path a few times in life, I have a soft spot for other folks who have done the same, whether they ended up in jail or not.

    Maybe it’s because people who have never screwed up just don’t seem to be trying hard enough. And they’re certainly not nearly as interesting as the people who did.

    People screw up because they get greedy, because they get careless, and sometimes just because they get curious. They break the rules, stray outside the confines of respectable behavior, and explore their dark sides. They may wander into the ethical weeds on their own adventures and often end up paying an emotional and social price for it.

    The people who screw up tend to irritate the hard-working, decent folk who don’t, and I understand that. The good folks, who obey all the rules, who manage to resist temptation, who stop at all the red lights, show up for work on time, do a good job, and collect a fat pension at the end may be the backbone of society, but to me they just aren’t as interesting as those who wander off course.

    Of course, there is a third category, which is larger than one might think. These are the so-called respectable, hard-working folks, who have secret lives.

    They’re ones who go home and beat their wives, terrorize their children, and drink themselves into a stupor. The ones who slap their friends and associates on the back, then berate the hired help. Or maybe their more sinister counterparts – the ones who exploit children, take advantage of the weaker members of society, and never lose a moment of sleep over it.

    These folks are always assholes, and sometimes downright evil. That’s all they are, that’s all they are ever going to be. And when they finally die, one-by-one, the world becomes, one-by-one, a slightly nicer place.

    Most of us, whether we like it or not, are a combination of all three types. And when we grow old – if we grow old – and we begin to tally up our score, we get a clearer picture of what it all meant.

    What was important, what was not, and how we did. When you tally it all up, it’s either pass or fail.

    Will the world be a little bit better without you in it or a little worse? Only you know the answer.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • April 18, 2022


    Gulfport George

    When I left Florida headed for California in 1969, I thought that except for visits to see family, I would never return. Happiness back then was seeing Florida in my rear-view mirror as I sped west.

    Why would you want to go to California, my Floridian family and friends kept asking me. People are crazy out there, they’d warn.

    And that was precisely why I wanted to go. Because I was crazy too – completely nuts in fact. In California I would fit right in. In California, I could be whoever I wanted to be. People in California were laid back, they were right-wingers, left-wingers, middle-of-the roaders, teetotalers and drug dealers.

    There was, of course, the rule of law, but so many people stepped over the line so much of the time, that it was almost expected.

    Now, I find myself headed back east to the state where I grew up, for many of the same reasons that I left.

    Florida is now the state where you can be whoever you want to be. It’s a state that – for the time being at least – values personal freedom and the individual’s right to choose his own path. It’s a state that works – much as California used to work when I arrived in 1969.

    It’s not just the changes in this once amazing state that has me looking eastward. Over the past 50-odd years, I’ve also re-discovered the importance of family. Many decades ago, when my mother and father separated and then a few years later, when my father died, my family consisted of four people, my mother, my two brothers, and me. The rest of the clan – the uncles and aunts and cousins that were from my father’s side – became a part of the past, as had my father himself.

    A few years ago, I received a Facebook message from my cousin Susan Hencin, asking if I was the George Cunningham who used to live in Florida. I hesitated to answer. Did I really want to add to the complexity in my life of an extended family that had disappeared back when I was in my teens?

    Carmela convinced me that I did. Carmela is of Italian descent. Her father was born in Sicily and her mother’s parents across the narrow Strait of Messina in Calabria. To Carmela’s father, she and her siblings were half-breeds, only half Sicilian. But the one cultural touchstone for people on both sides of the strait, was that family was valued above all else.

    When Susan contacted us, my brother Bill was not too interested in re-establishing the relationship. Although he was too young at the time to remember the split, he remained bitter about the hard times my mother and we boys faced trying to eke out a living on our own. I was older at the time of my parents’ separation and maybe because I had more time and memories with those cousins, I was more willing to re-establish family ties.

    On Carmela’s advice, I answered the inquiry and opened the door to an entire family of people whom I remembered only as small children, the girls in puffy skirts and the boys in short pants. They are now all senior citizens, as are we.

    As it turned out, my brother Bill died in the years since my cousins and I reunited. My mother has been gone for more than 20 years, and my brother Chuck tragically died in his 20s. Carmela and I remain close with Bill’s wife, Susan Tucker and with her new husband Jeff, and I’m very interconnected with Carmela’s large and rambling family. But, those missing cousins of mine are the only blood relatives I have.

    Nightlife for Old Guys

    Although I love and enjoy all of my cousins, Carmela and I have established a special relationship with two of them – Susan’s youngest sister, Nancy Hoffman and her husband Roger. They live in Gulfport – a town of fishermen, carpenters, and other craftsmen back when I was a kid – but now a charming and kinky village by the sea. It has a large gay population with a laid-back vibe that embraces all kind of folks from grumpy retirees to flamboyant artists and a downtown shopping area that includes independent restaurants, bars, art galleries, souvenir shops, farmers’ markets, and sidewalk vendors.

    Carmela loves it. She loves that she can walk everywhere. She loves doing yoga on the sand as the sun comes up over the Gulf. She loves that almost every restaurant looks the other way as she wheels in Henry, riding in his ill-disguised baby carriage.

    Hardly anybody is wearing a mask in Florida these days, and those who do – mostly visitors from the north – start peeling them off after a  few hours of feeling out of place in a world of smiles and chatter.

    Is it a perfect place? No way.

    Property prices have shot up in Florida in recent years as folks flee from places like California, Illinois, New York, and other locked-down and up-tight locales. And Florida, unlike California, is hot and sticky in the summer, smack in the danger zone during the annual hurricane season, and full of creepy-crawly bugs and reptiles.

    But does our future lie in the place that I once fled.


    – George Lee Cunningham

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    Javeliina Avengers

    I know all about revenge being a dish best served cold, and I know about making public proclamations of how one’s rights have been violated and that somebody will have to pay. I even know that once proclamations are made, you’re honor-bound to carry on with the plan or admit that you are a complete phony and your cries for justice are nothing more than empty posturing.

    Despite knowing all that, Carmela and I keep amending our plans for revenge on the javelinas who chased us away from our picnic in West Texas and threatened to eat Henry, our sweet little doggy boy who depends on us for his sustenance, and who I believe would defend us to the very end.

    First, our plan was to return to the picnic area along Interstate 10 to confront the pack of wild javelinas who terrorized us. We planned to dole out at little Texas-style revenge. We planned to use the big walking sticks we’d received as gifts to bash the javelinas when they approached and to leave them lying dead by the road as a lesson to all the other javelinas that actions have consequences.

    In other words: Don’t screw with the Cunninghams.

    But then, we started thinking.  Would our walking sticks be enough to ensure one of the javelinas didn’t get through our gauntlet of hickory and oak staves and manage to sink their dirty feet or teeth into our flesh.

    We needed some more ammunition, so we went to our local Cabela’s sporting goods outlet to find a secret weapon to use as a backup – some pepper spray that we could employ as a sort of nuclear option if the battle turned against us.

    The salesman at Cabela’s was interesting. He suggested that we should use bear spray – a toxic spray chemical guaranteed to stop a charging grizzly bear in his tracks from 40 feet away. But he warned us to be very careful, because if any of the spray blew back on us, it could blind us and cause severe complications. A little spray can cost $59.99.

    That seemed like a little overkill to us. I mean javelinas are nasty little beasts, but they are not all that big and they posed no real threat to us personally, besides chasing us away from our picnic area.

    We chose a lesser spray, one that didn’t shoot out very far. It was more of a self-defense spray to use against evil humans than a javelina repellant, and it only cost $17.99. But it would be enough, the salesman promised, to ward off the javelinas at 5 feet away. It would cause intense pain and send the beasts packing. How long, we asked, for it to wear off.

    Well, there was no real answer for that. The javelina would probably have to find some water to wash the chemicals out of his eyes. Of course, the desert that is West Texas is not known for its lovely trickling streams.

    But, I know my wife.

    She would turn from avenging goddess to defender of all creatures in less than a nanosecond if confronted by a javelina squealing in pain. If we did spray a javelina and get some chemical in his eyes, I would end up having to chase the wounded – and likely very angry – beast down and then hold him while Carmela washed out his swollen eyes.

    And if his eyes were still red and swollen, she would insist on transporting him to the nearest vet – which in West Texas could be many many miles away.

    That’s where we would find out that our rescued beast was really not a he, but a she, and she was pregnant. And even after we spent hundreds or thousands of dollars saving the animal, then what?

    Nobody, especially a no-nonsense Texan, is going to take the javelina mother and child home as a birthday pet for their little girl. And we couldn’t take the animal home to share a house with our little pup – whom the javelina would kill and eat as soon as the door closed behind us.

    Of course, this is all conjecture. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you let your imagination run wild. Probably we wouldn’t have to use the toxic spray against the javelinas. Probably just waving our new walking sticks at them would be enough.

    But now we have started thinking about the poor javelinas, just trying to live in the desert by scaring humans into giving them food. Their life is hard enough. Then we come along and just because they hurt our feelings we want to cause them great pain.

    We could, I suppose, go to one of those stores where they sell white mice that snake collectors buy to feed their reptiles, and give them to the javelinas as a gesture of forgiveness. The problem with that is that by the time we got there, Carmela would have given the mice names, fallen in love with them, and made them members of our family.

    That’s the problem of living with a soft-hearted woman. They make you do soft-hearted things just to make them happy.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • March 31, 2022


    West Texas Javelina – PHOTO by Carmela Cunningham

    Back in the old days, when I was in the Army, there was a short, slightly built sergeant, whose full name I have forgotten, and who may be long passed-away, but whom I will refer to as Sergeant A.

    There were several things about Sgt. A that distinguished him.

    He was a black man at a time when black men had a lot to be angry about, but he didn’t let that interfere with his ability to relate to all races. He was pugnacious at a time when such actions could get one reduced in rank. And he wasn’t afraid to confront the enemy, either domestic or foreign.

    We were stationed in Okinawa before we shipped out to Vietnam, and one day during our morning run, Sgt. A ran us down near the Marine barracks. We didn’t get along with the Marines. We were paratroopers and we considered ourselves elite bad-asses. They were Marines, and they considered themselves just as elite and their asses just as bad.

    That was the mindset of both groups, and that was our advantage in combat.

    The truth is that both the Marines and we paratroopers were bad asses, mainly because that’s how we saw ourselves. We were all young and strong, and we all had a lot of testosterone boiling up inside of us.

    So this one morning, Sgt. A slowed us down and brought us to a halt when we got in front of one of the Marine barracks. He ordered a right-face so we were all facing the barracks.

    “All right, you jarhead m*****f****rs,” he yelled at the barracks. “You want to mix it up, come on down assh***s. Jockstraps and entrenching tools. Let’s get it on.”

    By this time a few sleepy Marine faces were looking out the window of their barracks, trying to figure out what was going on. We waited. Nobody came out.

    “That’s what I thought, you sorry-ass punks,” Sgt. A yelled at the Marines.

    He turned us left, and we finished our run.

    As it turned out, Sgt. A had a drunken confrontation the night before with a bunch of Marines and took a lot of abuse from them. His payback was an empty and angry gesture. But it’s going on 50 years later, and I still remember it. We had no personal stake in the game, but the chance to mix it up with a bunch of jarheads was just too good to pass up.

    Of course, this is all ancient history.

    What brings it to mind is a confrontation Carmela and I had earlier this year with a pack of javelinas in West Texas who wanted to kill and eat our dog Henry and chase us away from a picnic table with our lunch on it

    For you eastern folks, who don’t know what a javelina is, let me explain. A javelina is a pig-like creature, smaller than a wild boar, and actually closer biologically to a goat than a pig. They have been known to kill and eat dogs and other small domestic animals, and although they usually stop short of killing animals as big as humans, there are instances of people who have died after being bitten, usually from their wounds becoming infected.

    When the javelinas showed up at our roadside picnic table, we hustled Henry inside our truck, but our lunch was still sitting on the table and the javelinas were between us and our stuff. We tried to chase them away, but they failed to be intimidated by our yells or our waving a big blue rubber mat at them. They came within a couple of feet of us, checking to see if we had something they could eat.

    Carmela at first wanted to flee and leave our big picnic bag with food for the dog and us on the table. I immediately vetoed any such idea. A brief argument ensued.

    “I’m not leaving our picnic supplies and a bag of Henry’s food to a bunch of wild-ass javelinas. No way.” A second argument ensued. “You wait in the car, then” Carmela said, pointing out that I am old, on blood thinners, and bleed profusely at the smallest of wounds.

    Carmela is 15 years younger than me and in far better shape, but now she is going too damn far. All that she said may be true, BUT, in my mind I am still that bad-ass young paratrooper that I was back in 1964, who is ready to die before he submits to the indignity of sitting in the car while his wife faces off a bunch of wild javelinas by herself.

    By this time the javelinas, who apparently were unable to climb up on the table itself, had wandered a short distance away. We walked briskly to the table, gathered our stuff and started walking back to the truck. As soon as we did, the javelinas came running back at us, to be met with another round of shouts and fist-shaking on our part. This went on a few more minutes, with Henry barking encouragement from inside the truck. Finally, we chased the javelinas far enough away that we could retrieve our picnic basket and get everything back in the truck.

    We saved our stuff, but it was hardly what could be classified as a victory.

    A few days later, when we visited our cousins in Florida, they had special presents for us that we both loved – handcrafted walking sticks – big, heavy oak one for me and a smaller hickory one for Carmela.

    Carmela’s hickory stick is actually much prettier than mine, but mine is much bigger and heavier than hers, which makes a lot of sense, since she is much prettier than me, and I am much bigger and heavier than she.

    JAVALINA ASSASSINS – Photo by Susan Pack/McPack Studios

    Here’s our plan. The next time we are passing through West Texas, we plan to stop at the same picnic ground. And like Sgt. A, we plan to call out the javelinas. You want a piece of us, come and get it, you ugly little piggly-wiggly, snout-nosed creeps! I suspect they won’t come out to confront us, but that’s OK. We’ll put them on notice, that if they want to mix it up, we are ready.

    In the unlikely case, they do come out of hiding, we’re going to take our walking sticks and lay their skulls wide open, and leave them dying by the side of the road as a warning to any other pig-like creatures who want to mess with the Cunninghams.

    A few hundred miles away in Arizona, javelinas are a protected species and it’s against the law to kill them. But we won’t be in Arizona. We’ll be in Texas.

    I don’t know if there’s a law in Texas about killing javelinas, and frankly I don’t want to know. In the unlikely case we get arrested and sent to jail, that’s OK.

    We will plead ignorance of the law and get a lighter sentence. And even if they lock us up, the word will spread in the javelina community not to mess with the bad-ass Cunninghams.

    And just like the Eagles, we’ll be already gone, and we’ll sing our victory song:

    “Woo Hoo Hoo Woo Hoo Hoo”

    – George Lee Cunningham

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