VALVE OIL

As soon as I unzipped the bag, that familiar smell wafted out. It was as strong now as back in the 1960’s. I’m not sure what’s in the backpack that I carry to school, Gallatin, and any other traveling destination created the same odor. Perhaps it’s the laptop and devices that go with it. Maybe it’s the mid-morning snacks crammed into the bag.  It also might come from more than 10 years of wear from carrying this thing with me. At any rate, that smell hit me and beamed me back almost 50 years ago. What was that powerful essence that filled my nose and flooded my head with memories: valve oil. 
Ball Camp School fifth graders had the chance to join beginning band. My older brother was in the high school band, and Jim and I couldn’t wait until we also could begin playing instruments. My twin
brother started on an old clarinet that I think belonged to an older cousin. He might not have been excited to play that instrument but accepted it and set out to work conquering it.  
I wanted to play the trumpet because the screeches from a reed instrument always made me think of scratching a blackboard. Mother and Daddy traveled to Hewgley’s Music Store and purchased a coronet. It’s a shortened trumpet, and I suppose they
bought it because the thing was less expensive. I didn’t care; the horn was shiny and new. 
At first the only things I could get out of the horn were sounds that resembled wounded animals or wildlife bellowing for a mate. Charles Scott, the band director, worked with his new crop of musicians, and before long, we belted out such popular tunes as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” 
Lots of slobbering occurred as novice musicians struggled with instruments. Mr. Scott showed me where the spit valve was located and how to blow through the horn to clear the stuff from it. When a bubbly sound came when playing the horn, I knew it was time to empty it out.  
After playing the horn for a while, the valves would also become sticky. They no longer glided in the tubes in which they were housed. That meant the time had come to unscrew them, remove them from the horn, and apply a few drops of oil. Bingo! The valves once again worked perfectly. 
The downside was at the end of each class, a puddle of spit covered the floor at my feet, and the smell of the oil was trapped on my hands and in my nostrils. It never seemed to fade, and the smell oozed out of the horn case any time I opened it.  
I played that horn through my freshman year in high school. No, I wasn’t the best, but neither was I the worst. I practiced, on occasion, at home, but the music never sounded good. I wore braces at the time, and the mouthpiece pressing against that metal on my teeth proved to be uncomfortable. I had reached the pinnacle of my musical instrument abilities and decided to leave band.  
The next year, Mother sold my coronet so that she could purchase a new clarinet for Jim, who went on to become a music major and a band director. Even though the horn is gone, any time I smell anything that resembled that valve oil, plenty of good memories come back. My best friends from high school were in band also, and I enjoy seeing them and talking about those good times a half century ago. To some, valve oil reeks, but to me, that strong smell is mixed with some sweet thoughts of another time.  

DISGUSTED

In short, I'm disgusted. This piece is written straight to my website before having been published in any paper because it probably wouldn't pass muster with them. So, I'm setting forth my thoughts here. Some might be offended by what I'm about to write; others might say "hell yes." My purpose is not to influence anyone from either side. It is, instead, to express my thoughts so that I can finally put them rest and can find some peace of mind in knowing that I've done all within my power.

This week in America has been a real shit show. It began with the realization that Trump will not be impeached or held accountable for anything he has done. Monday evening featured the first step of the Democrats' race for the presidential nomination. However, due to a glitch in the app that was to be a breakthrough in quickly reporting outcomes, we're still waiting for the final total and the winner of the caucus. Tuesday night, President Trump returned to "reality tv." This time he gave a State of the Union address that featured a surprise return home of a veteran to his family that took place in the gallery; the presentation of the highest civilian award to a man who has, by his own admission, worked hard to divide the country and promote a conservative agenda that debases anyone who disagrees with it; and the awarding of a scholarship to a school to a young black girl. A heavy sprinkling of lies flavored the speech so heavily that most people found it hard to swallow.

Today, the senate will vote and will acquit Trump for wrongdoings to which he has admitted. His supporters also say the president has done wrong, but his actions don't rise to the level of impeachment. So, this president will be given carte blanche to continue abusing his power, shaking down smaller countries, and enriching himself and his family. He is now above the law, or at least that's what senate Republicans have determined.

I am disgusted with this president, his family, and his administration. All failed to uphold the principles of the U.S. Those serving in various areas of the administration have violated their oaths of office by becoming weak sycophants to a man who is a bully. To them, office, power, and personal gain are much more important than service to the country. These individuals are not statesmen; they are soldiers in the Trump Mafia.

Worse still are the similarities of this president's beginnings to Hitler's rise. Both used lies to stir up people. They criminalized and degraded an entire race to instill fear in their countries. In addition, they imprisoned those individuals and separated children from parents. They degraded journalists and banned some from the right to cover the news, and they used one media outlet as though it were the state-run media. In the end, the standing of this country in the world is the weakest it's been in modern times, and many countries worry about the lack of actions for democracy by our government.

I'm also tired of the opposing party. It offers little hope for unseating this corrupt president. Leading candidates are extremists on the other side of the spectrum. They win favor by promising everything: free healthcare, free education, debt forgiveness, $1000 a month, and increase in wages. Democrats support these "pie in the sky" salesmen and saleswomen while ignoring the facts that the majority of the country does not favor a socialist agenda, that those proposals can never be passed in congress, and that the country cannot pay for the plans, even with tax increases on the wealthiest. Supporters fail to realize that nothing is free; things come with a price, and that price is hefty tax increases in everyone's taxes.

This party appears to be incompetent to the public. Many wonder how a party can run a country when it can't even run a primary caucus. Such ineptitude plays into the hands of the opposition party and becomes fodder for campaign rallies by the president.

I hold little hope for this country right now. The Democrats appear unable to forge a coalition that produces a strong candidate who can actually beat the president. The president is unfit for office and plans to cut such things a Medicare, Social Security, and healthcare coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. The extremes of both parties have hijacked the country, and I'm not sure those of us in the middle can take it back.

The U.S. is desperate for quality leadership. We don't have it now. Can we find it from someone who can bring both sides together? If not, my concerns are for my children and grandson. They deserve better than what our so-called "leaders" are giving us.

Man or Dog--Training Is Necessary

Clips of dogs performing cute or amazing tricks or loving their owners always catch my attention on Facebook or Twitter. I’m more inclined to watch something like that instead of something from the world of sports or some “goofy” thing a person has decided to do. Most of us love our pets; only a few evil humans mistreat animals, and woe unto them if others discover their cruelty.  
I have decided that husbands are much like family dogs. We are interested primarily in eating and sleeping.
We also lovingly accept a pat on the head or a back-scratching every so often. Those aren’t the only ways in which we are similar to dogs. Ask any wife and she’ll tell you how much marriage is like pet ownership. 
Our wives accept us warts and all, and the Lord knows we men are covered in them. Deciding to marry a man must be like adopting a pet. A woman brings the man home from his home pound, usually an apartment that more resembles a pig sty. Immediately, the training begins.  
The first order of business is housebreaking a husband. One of the hardest tricks for a male to learn is raising and lowering the toilet seat. Many men declare that he will raise the lid when he uses the facility, but it should be women’s responsibilities to lower it. Spouses remind their feral husbands that they don’t have to
sit down. With a great deal of effort, some patience, and even a little anger, the wives eventually convince their mates to lower the seat.  
She also tries to teach the man to stand close enough to the commode to prevent anything from running down the front of the porcelain. Yes, it’s disgusting, but all must remember that training beasts is a, sometimes, dirty business. One of the quickest ways to break this habit involves handing the man of the house a rag and some cleaner so that he can spruce up the places that he has dirtied. In no time at all, he is a good boy who obeys. Only occasionally will the husband regress.  
Another trick for men to master is picking their “stuff” up. That includes clothing strewn about the house, empty plates, and half-consumed drinks. Additionally, all the items that a man drags into the house from the
garage or workshop must be picked up. Wives begin by gently reminding their loves that they should clean up their messes. Some men are as stubborn as dogs. In those cases, women resort to harsher tones of voice to convey the message. In extreme instances, the master must lead the male to the mess and make him clean it up or smacking him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.  
Dogs have a way of embarrassing their owners with inappropriate actions. They will walk into a crowded room, plop on the floor, raise their legs and begin cleaning themselves. Men exhibit the similar unacceptable acts. Too many wives have entered a room where a husband is sitting, and they begin to feel ill. The men might burp or
pass gas. They also display the terrible habit of scratching themselves. Some dads will have their offspring to come over and “pull my finger.”  
Wives react quickly and severely to such acts. They scream, point their fingers in intimidating ways, or, worst of all, look upon the offending spouse with a “stink eye.” Men beat a hasty retreat when the last thing occurs, and they sneak around the corner every so often to see if they are no longer in trouble.  
Husbands are good things to have around the house. We complete several chores, provide a bit of income, and, on rare occasions, perform some act of kindness that make wives remember why they married the guys. I suppose women will have to continue to train us men and realize that we sometimes falter in our behaviors. Unlike a dog who has become too unruly to train, men can’t be left at the pound. Even if we find ourselves in the “doghouse,” we continue to hope that wives will love us in spite of our lack of training.  

MEMORIES OUT WITH THE FLOOR

The week before Christmas and the one during the holiday, workers completed laying new flooring in our house. They tore up the first-generation laminate stuff and replaced it with much sturdier, prettier flooring. I watched Matthew, Randy, Tyler, and Jimmy carry armloads of the stuff and toss the scrap into the back of a
pick-up truck; it took at least three trips to haul the old flooring to the dump. I caught myself thinking about what that old covering had seen over its lifetime in our home. 
Twenty years ago, the kids were still at home. They padded around the house in socks or on bare feet. Sometimes the house almost shook when Lacey would stomp from the kitchen to her bedroom after another argument she and I had back then. The slower paced lumbering of Dallas echoed down the hall as he made his way to his bed after a baseball game or workout.  
Throughout its entire life, that floor covering felt the quick steps of my wife as she shuffled from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen each morning before leaving the house for work. It even felt the thump of my heavy feet as I made my way to the outside to leave for work or to complete a long list of tasks outside.  
The manufacturer promised that the laminate would hold up for years and wouldn’t scratch. Such are the product claims as merchandisers try to convince customers. In fact, the floor did hold up well, but across the years, it took some terrible punishment that eventually showed on the surface. For 13 years, our Jack Russell Terrier, Snoop, spent much of his time on that floor. As a pup, he would chase a ball thrown from the family room and across the living room. His attempts to come to sudden stops were never successful, and little paws failed to keep him from thumping into the wall. His claws swatted at the floor as he tried to gain traction.  
Snoop let us know when he needed to go outside. He’d bark and jump until I’d get up and let him outside. However, because the dog was a male, he had a natural instinct to mark his territory. We lifted his leg to christen table legs, the base of a couch, and corners of rooms. We always tried to find his targets, but seeing them was sometimes difficult against a light-colored floor. His offerings sometimes cause a dulling of the finish of the floor. 
I never like to leave a room in the same order for too long. Over the years, I’ve also moved my desk and belongings from one room office to another. Help wasn’t available, so the bigger items I scooted on blankets to new locations. That saved the finish of the floor, but sometimes, the weight of an item broke the laps between pieces, and that left gaps in the floor or areas where the pieces would bend.  
I’ve worked to keep the flooring as clean as possible. We installed a vacuum system several years ago, and it has helped keep dust and dog hair to a minimum. I’ve used a variety of cleaners on the surfaces as well. Most of them appear glossy until I see a certain angle that reveals spots that have been missed. Eventually, nothing would clean well enough or cover the scuff marks and scratches and years of wear. 
Our new flooring is a much heartier product. At least that’s what the experts say. I’m not sure about the claim, but the house looks so much nicer with a new floor. I hope it lasts, but I probably won’t be around for the next twenty years to see if it has been as good as the old flooring, and if I am, I won’t much care. One thing is for sure: this new stuff won’t have anywhere close to the number of tales to tell. Our family did a lot of living on the old floor.