Saturday, November 10, 2012

Texas Toast


                                             Texas Toast

Did I tell you I was there the day Big Tex went up in flames?

It's been hard to talk about it until now. But life must go on. And the big guy will regenerate next year, I'm sure. When we saw the tall churning plume of black smoke and realized that Biggie was burning, I was upset. Christi was texting all her friends: OMG! OMG! Little kids were sobbing and TV crews were swarming and fairground cops whose biggest excitement up until then had been the day the frat guys had too much fried beer and all jumped into the reflecting pond, pushed us rubberneckers back behind the ladder truck.
What's so special about that giant Howdy Doody in a cowboy hat anyway? Well he's big and brash and loud. What's not to love? We watched his face melt and his hat crumble and his maxi-belt-buckle disappear in a nasty smelling belch of flames and we wiped tears we hadn't realized were running down our cheeks.
Remember the day T.O. danced on our star in the middle of the field? Like that, but with more angst and less cursing.

My daughter Christi and I rode down to the State Fair on the train. DART drops you right off at the door. All you have to do is get on our cute little A-train at the Denton station and change to DART at Trinity Mills.

It was her first train ride, and I'm always excited about the train. But when we pulled up to the Med Park station and saw a dozen or so soon-to-be-co-riders pushing strollers and holding toddlers by the hand I get this uneasy feeling....

Maybe they'd get on the other car, I thought. But they all trooped on with us and we were surrounded by, uh, OK I'll just say it - children.
Now I don't actually have anything against kids. I was one once myself and so was my daughter. But we were out of the habit of close proximity with 3-year-olds. And two of them were in seats next to us. Twins. Boys. 3 years old. Need I say more?

Well I'm going to. We'll call them Larry and his twin brother Larry. They were having a ball being 3 - kicking the seat and shouting all the 3-year-old dirty words they knew. Over and over.
"Tooty, tooty, poop, STINKY!" they shouted. Did I mention over and over?
Along about the Old Town station Christi and I began making up a story. The name of the story was Larry and Larry must die. We did not of course finish the story or try to turn it into a one-act play. It was therapy and it kept us sane until we could change trains at Trinity Mills, ensuring that we were on the opposite end of the DART from the twins.

The first swirls of black smoke arrived about the same time we did. We hurried to see what was burning along with all the other early arrivals that day. Firefighters pulled chunks of Tex down with their picks. They scattered him and soaked him and hauled his remains off in a big ol' body bag. I wondered as I posed with Christi for a cop to take our picture at the empty site what Larry and Larry might have thought of the spectacle.

"Tooty, tooty, poop STINKY!" they probably yelled.
Yeah, that's about what I thought too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

      Just Me, the Naked People, and the Band

     He was waiting for me at the front gate wearing only sneakers, a major tan, and a smile.
     He was expecting me. I had called a day earlier asking to visit. It's amazing - and fairly awful - what a columnist will do when deadline looms and ideas tarry.
     In desperation I had called the head naked person at a nearby nudist colony. He graciously invited me to drop by, clothing optional. I parked my car and walked with him down a path through a wooded area to a central recreation pavilion. People played volleyball (what is it with nudists and volleyball anyway?) Or they strolled around, or just sat and chatted and listened to the music.
     I had expected full nudal frontity, as Archie Bunker called it. But I had not expected a Mariachi Band.
     They wore traditional Mexican strolling band uniforms with big round hats. They played and sang traditional Mexican strolling band songs, trying not to stare and constantly upping the noise level as they attempted to appear nonchalant, as though they could cover their audience with a cacophony of Aie, yie, yie, yies.
     I wondered if they were expecting tips, since I couldn't see any change on anybody or even any pockets to keep it in.
     I wore shorts, sneakers and a sleeveless blouse. It was the best I could do to fit in with the crowd. I carried my usual big purse and clutched it over the front of me as if to cover the parts expected to be unclothed in this neck of the woods.
     It was my first visit to a nudist hangout (OK that was tacky) but I had seen photos. It would seem that the people anxious to bare all would have beautiful bodies to show off. Nonononono...... Many of them were average and some were really big tan blobs of fat.
     Why? I wanted to ask. Why would you let people see that unless they were medical personnel brandishing bottles of calamine lotion and you had recently stumbled into a bed of poison oak?
     They always swear they aren't exhibitionists and it's really all about the personal freedom that nakedness allows.  Nudity is the great leveler, they explained. You don't have to worry that someone will think your suit is not Adolfo if you aren't wearing one. I couldn't quite believe them. With no disguise, that old "mine's bigger" thing comes sharply into play.
     I do know that the head naked person was a fine specimen of a male, though of course I didn't look.
     There was nothing naughty going on. It was like any social occasion out in the woods with a Mariachi Band, a reporter and thirty or forty naked people. Just a typical Saturday afternoon.
     At last the Mariarchis trooped up the path to the front gate and I followed close behind. It wasn't that I didn't want to be the only one wearing knickers in the place, but I had a deadline as you recall.
     I had not informed my editors of my plan and they were surprised and a little wary of the ensuing column. They accused me of lying about my clothing optional choice. They questioned the  placement of such a column in a family-oriented newspaper. Just ask the head naked person about my attire, I shot back. And I had adhered to the core of good journalism, after all.
     I just wrote the naked truth, and the band played on.

Sunday, October 14, 2012



      I saw Mike Trimble Wednesday and learned a new story about his colorful past as a newspaper and magazine reporter. It involved a motorcycle on the third floor of a newspaper building. It was so wonderful I knew I had to share it.
     Now if you don't know Trimble, you have missed out. He's a lifelong journalist who spent his last several years as the opinion page writer for the Denton Record-Chronicle. He won many editorial awards, including a national prize that netted him a trip to Washington DC to be honored for his opinion writing.
     That ended a few months ago when he was fired for having the audacity to disagree with the publisher on facts he was editorializing on. Bad Trimble. He was shown the door, denied unemployment and is now volunteering for CASA.
     But I digress.
     The topic was being fired. My daughter just went through that and Trimble was telling her he was one of the few people who could say "I know how you feel," and be correct. But he said he knew there were times in his career when he should have been fired and wasn't.
     Most of them, in his early years, involved alcohol, he said. Back then, reporters actually kept flasks in their desk drawers and it was not uncommon to have drinks with dinner and then go back to the office and pound out another story. Those days are over. You can get fired for that.
     Trimble had a new motorcycle, he remembered. He was quite proud of it and decided to show it to the newsdesk. Yes, they were on the third floor, but there was an elevator. So Trimble and the motorcycle went up in the elevator. Then he revved it loudly and rode it down through the newsroom. The desk editors broke into applause. He took his bows and rode triumphantly down the elevator with his bike.
     The next morning he awoke with a hangover and saw the feat in a new light. the light of what the managing editor might say or do if he found out. Maybe nobody would tell him, Trimble thought.
     But as soon as he hit the newsroom, sans motorcycle this time, he found the note on his desk. "See me," it read, and was signed by the editor. Trimble knew he was in deep caca.
     He rushed to the editor's office. "I know I did wrong riding my motorcycle through the office," he began. "I was wrong, wrong, but I promise that if you won't fire me, I'll never do it again."
     The editor looked up at him and thought a moment.
     "Well, I hadn't heard that," he said. "I wanted you in here because it is time for your evaluation for a raise. Of course, knowing what I now know, I can't give you a raise. But I appreciate your honesty. See me in three months and we'll talk about it again."
     Trimble wasn't sure whether to be upset that he ran his mouth or grateful that he didn't get fired for running his motorcycle through the newsroom. Which ever he decided, it makes a wonderful cautionary tale all these years later.
      Good journalists are different. They're quirky. They don't just think out of the box, they live out there, exposed to the elements and the dangers of pissing off the wrong people. It's not a safe life, or one that offers even decent pay. But there are a few of us who have done it anyway, and not to brag, but we have made the world a better place, and we have stories like this with which to amuse our friends.

Friday, October 5, 2012

                                          Aloyishous the Vicious  Fishious

Now it can be told, Reedy said.
"Now that you're retiring, I have a confession to make," he announced, loving the fact that he was suddenly the center of attention at my little newsroom goodbye party. "I killed your fish. Well, no, I actually saved its life."
Immediately a vision of Reedy giving a beta fish mouth-to-mouth CPR swam through my mind. It was a fun vision - Reedy kissing a fish. I smiled.
Tom Reedy is a friend of mine, but he's one of those friends you wonder about. He's like a bad child. He will do anything for attention, even dance a little sidestep walking down a hallway to the accompaniment of his own questionable whistling. People hate that, but I can't convince him of it.
He once worked with me at the DRC but now he's the public information officer at the Denton County Sheriff's Office.
"You remember that fish," he said. "You named it something stupid. You always name and assign personalities to things. And you used to talk to it all day."
It's true. I name everything. My car is named Moira. My daughter Christi and I named the possum that visits our back yard Punxsutawney Phil.
"Yes, his name was Aloyishous the Vicious Fishious," I said. "Aly for short. He was a great fish. He used to hang around and watch me all day. We had some great conversations."
Reedy was working on a Saturday along with city editor Matt Zabel. Reedy decided my fish's water was dirty and he elected to change it.
"I carried the vase into the break room. I was going to just tip it and let the water stream out and then fill it back without actually moving the fish," he explained.
I thought I knew where this was heading. The drain trap in the sink in the break room is missing.
"So I tipped it a little, and next thing I knew the fish went over the side and down the drain," he said. "I ran back into the newsroom and yelled at Zabel not to let anyone run water down that sink. And then I drove home and got some tools."
Reedy was back in a flash with everything he'd need from a pipe wrench to a plumber's grin. He unhooked the elbow pipe from under the sink and there was Aloyishous, swimming calmly in the bottom of the elbow.
"He was a little worse for wear," Reedy said. "His fins were a little ruffled. But other than that, he was fine. I saved him! I put him back in the vase and you never knew."
Actually, I did know, I told him, watching his face fall as expectant giggles rounded the room.
"Aloyishous told me on Monday," I jibbed. "And by the way, he said you're a lousy kisser."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I always keep a promise. Bet on that.
In early December I took a river cruise up the Rhine River on Viking Cruise lines. It was touted as 8 days, one each coming and going and the rest onboard the boat. But two days before our flight was scheduled to leave we learned that three days of our "cruise" was actually going to be a bus trip because the Rhine River was low on one end and the boat couldn't get that far.
Now this didn't happen two days before we were supposed to leave. It happened five MONTHS before we were supposed to leave. Viking didn't bother to tell us until it was too late to back out.
So I sent them the following letter:

Stephanie Maldonado

Viking River Cruise, Inc.

January 4, 2012

Dear Ms. Maldonado, 

My name is Donna Fielder. My friend Sherry DeBorde and I were customers on your Viking Rhine River Getaway cruise Dec. 3-11. 
The cruise was supposed to run from Basel to Amsterdam. We signed up five months ahead of time.
Two days before we were to fly out of DFW Airport in Dallas to Basel, we received e-mails from our travel agent notifying us that the cruise would be shortened by three nights because of low water on the Rhine. Instead we would be put up at hotels and bused to land sights that did not include some of the boat landings.
At that time we were offered our money back. Or, we were told, we would have E77 each to spend on the boat plus a 30 percent discount on a future cruise.
We did not feel we could change our plans at that late date. Our bags were packed, time off from work had been scheduled, we had bought warmer clothing for the trip than we need in Texas, and I had made arrangements for a house sitter. It was simply too late at that point to back out.
We asked at that time about different reimbursement and were told no. We were told we could take the trip and then if we were not satisfied we could ask again. That is the course we elected to take.
And for the most part we enjoyed ourselves. Once we arrived on the boat the room was nice, the food was excellent, the service was good.
But our land experience was not so wonderful. The rooms in Basel and Strasbourg were fine. But the hotel food was awful. Some of the worst I’ve ever had placed before me. It was not a difference in culture; we are talking bacon and eggs here.
Even though someone carted our bags to the buses, we still had to pack and unpack and get them outside our rooms in the early morning hours. By 6 a.m.
The credit on the boat was difficult to spend. We could buy alcohol in addition to the wine that comes with dinner. Otherwise we could buy cheap Viking souvenirs with it. Men’s golf shirts, caps, scarves and Christmas trinkets were the scope.
So any supposed reimbursement was not satisfactory. For people like us, that was a trip of a lifetime. We will not be taking advantage of any 30 percent discounts, which by the way didn’t seem so generous in the light of us having taken that trip at a supposed 50 percent discount that was simply a marketing device. I learned today that my credit will be $617. Since my cost was $3,000, I’m confused at the math used to come to this figure.
The bottom line is, a three-day bus trip is not three days of a cruise. We lost a lot of what we paid for in those three days. We lost destinations we didn’t get to visit. We passed the mid-Rhine castles just after dawn and missed half of them because we were still in bed and couldn’t get up to the deck to see both sides. We lost the much-touted ease of unpacking once and having a base to come back to. We lost the ambience of boat life, and that was the point of taking a cruise.
I researched after we returned home and learned that there were actually news stories about the low water situation on the Rhine that mentioned Viking in particular seven months earlier. Two months before we booked our cruise! You knew all along that you would not be able to keep the promise made in the advertisements and you withheld that information until two days before our flight left.
Your vague disclaimer in the back of our trip brochure may or may not be a legal out for you but ethically, you breached our contract.I believe you owe us some recompense for that.  If our disappointment was worth 30 percent of a future trip to you then it should be worth that much cash to us.
Before the advent of social media, it would not be very much of a problem for you if we told all our friends about our displeasure with your company. But since we have Facebook, Twitter, UTube and blogging, that represent a substantial number of people who will learn that you failed to make good on your promise to us, and that we are disappointed with Viking cruises. We both have social media contacts all over the world including most states, England, Japan, Baghdad and China.
Please rethink your decision and provide us a compensation that will show your good faith and honest business tactics to prospective clients.

Donna Fielder

The answer was, essentially, sorry. No.

I won't be using their cruise line again, even though the boat was great. They let us down and they knew the river was too low when they took our money. That's not the kind of company I want to do business with.
Just keeping my promise to them by letting your know.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It has been a while since I posted to this blog. It could be that I have had no moments of lucidity since the last time. Or that I'm busy or lazy or uninspired.
It is all of the above, I'm afraid.
I could have blogged endlessly about my trip up the Rhine River in early December. Great trip with lots of wonderful stories.
I could have blogged about Christmas with all the family stories that are true insights in the human experience.
This last week I backed off from my real life and concentrated on a book that needed editing. The truth is, I needed the backing away more than I needed the editing.
Sometimes, in order to have those moments of lucidity, it is necessary to have moments of silence, moments of calm, moments of self-reflection. That is what I needed, and to some extent, that is what I did.
No great truths came from the week away. No epithemys. No "ah-ha" moments.
But at this moment I am serene, and ready to go back. To pick up my pad and pen and start recording the tragedy and pain the real world dishes out to everyone at one time or another. It is my job to absorb all that, translate it into something someone else can use, and get it in a clear, organized style that anyone can understand.
Sometimes all that uses me up.
But again, I'm ready.