Friday, April 25, 2008

Gas prices, Spring, eBay, and good friends...

The news is good here this week in Camp Connell, as it always is, though the economic indicators are somewhat less certain. Here are some items to consider:

-- Gas prices hit $4.05 9/10 this past week at the local general store because the tanker arrived.

It appears that the big oil companies, Chevron in this case, set the price at the pump based on some mysterious formula and tell the local sales folks what to charge. Folks at the store this evening tell me they've seen prices as high at $4.29 in the San Francisco area, and the ski resort up the mountain charges more than our local store.
The price of gas doesn't seem like much of a big deal until you consider a long road trip. It was cheaper for Pat and me to fly to and from Mexico, even adding in the cost of an airport motel, than to drive. Next year we are hoping to go to Alaska, but driving seems a unlikely option.

--Weather report: the snow is melting in our front yard.

-- Today (Friday) was my last ski day of this season. The resort up the hill will be open two more days but we will be busy and it really isn't worth it as conditions are not great. The window for decent skiing is so small now, as the sun turns the icy snow into slush by noon, I'm starting to think about hiking at a lower altitude.
One act of faith: I purchased a season ski pass for next year.

-- Spring is officially here at Camp Connell. We have Crocus blooming, dozens of other bulbs fighting their way up into the sunshine -- some coming through patches of snow.
The other sure sign of Spring is that the work has resumed on the garage we were having built for last winter, but didn't quite make it. The site has been cleared of snow and tree debris, and the inspector came by yesterday and gave the go-ahead for pouring concrete on Monday to finish the slab. Then, if rafters and lumber can be found, the walls should start to go up.

Next week I have to arrange to have the snow tires removed from the Subaru. These are REAL snow tires, not your wimpy East Coast type that can stay on the car all summer.

And baseball season is underway for my 11-year-old granddaughter Delaney.

(UPDATE: The forecast calls for some rain mixed with snow in the middle of the week. No matter. It is still Spring.)

-- We have rented our former home in Sacramento after trying unsuccessfully to sell it for four months. As part of the cleaning out, I have vowed to sell off a bunch of small stuff on eBay. Made my first sale this week: a pair of commemorative drinking glasses with Apollo 13 designs. Sold for $1.29 (shipping was over $8, but the buyer in Iowa paid for that). The buyer sent me an email that said, "Say, are you the same LaMont that used to work for the TODAY newspaper in Florida?" Turns out he read the newspaper as a youth, and has been a space buff ever since.

-- Pat and I are back in school now, training the be docents at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The park is only two miles away, and has over a thousand Sequoia trees, giant redwoods, big trees or -- if you are British -- wellingtonian.. Technically,they are Sequoiadendron Giganteum, and that's the sort of thing we are learning along with how to deal with drunken and rowdy campers (call the ranger). Should be fun this summer.

-- Coincidence, or not? I had a telephone call from Stan Rodimon this past week. Stan was a classmate at Marion Military Institute from 1957-1960, the school I wrote about recently, and then at the University of Alabama where we both graduated before going off into the Army and losing track of each other. He and his wife Linda were struggling married students when we last got together 46 years ago. They were good friends and interesting people. They promise to come see us this summer so we can do a bit of catching up. What a treat!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The old school ties... class of '58

Fifty years ago my family gathered to celebrate my high school graduation in the tiny town of Marion, Alabama at an historic but little-known private military school named Marion Military Institute.

Marion, or MMI as we called it, was the kind of Southern military prep school parodied in books and movies as a place where abusive older cadets and uncaring staff mistreated younger students. Sorta like Pat Conroy's "The Lords of Discipline."
The reality was different.
Most students were there to get a better education than public schools offered. Some had been encouraged to go to military school as a final option by their local sheriff. Others hoped to earn an appointment to West Point or the Naval Academy, or had been dumped by unsuccessful or uninterested parents. I'll let you guess which categories I fell into.
Most of us came from Southern states, the exceptions being what we called the "sons of South American dictators," an unfair label we liked for the Latin American students.

The staff was a mix, like most schools. Some were great, and challenged us, and others were duller than dishwater. The staff member responsible for discipline was dumber than a post. He kept pictures of naked women under his desk blotter, and was rumored to have three testicles. We doubted it did him any good.
A history teacher was the dullest man alive, but was related to someone important.
My English teacher was brilliant, and wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post as a sideline.
My math teacher and tennis coach used to do back flips off his desk to get our attention, and we learned math from him.
The "barracks" where I lived was a dormitory with small rooms that housed two students, a bunk bed, footlockers and two desks. It had indeed been used as a hospital in the Civil War. The marble steps were worn into gentle curves by the thousands of feet of 100 years of teenage boys coming and going. The building is still there, but the steps have been moved to the side as sort of a monument to all those polished shoes running off to class or drill.
The corps of cadets really did march off to stop the invading Yankees in the 1860s, only to be run back home to their mamas in short order. But they still brag about it.

Since then the school has survived good and bad administrations, the Viet Nam War and anti-military sentiment which reduced enrollment dramatically, the collapse of the local town economy, and a host of other problems. It remains proudly military, with state support, and is fully integrated and coed and modern these days, as it should be.

But back in May of 1958 we were not concerned with history. We wanted to survive, and move on with our lives.
We were living in post-war world where right and wrong were clearly laid out by our parents, adolescent boys talked about sex but knew nothing about it, and television was not allowed. All white. All male. All straight, so far as anyone knew.
We all expected to serve in the military, so most of us volunteered when the time came.
We all smoked and cussed with competence and wore crew cuts. Very simple.

We attended classes six days a week, were restricted to our rooms and desks six nights a week as "study time," and were not allowed to leave campus except for Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon. We marched to church services on Sunday (there was a Jewish exemption -- those students were driven to temple in the city of Selma on Saturdays-- a popular religious choice), and were allowed to go to church on Sunday nights if our grades were good enough.
There was one movie theater, one pool hall and one cafe and a Baptist girl's college (not "women's college") for entertainment.

No cards. No booze. No drugs. No sex.

We couldn't wait to move on to a real college.

It wasn't all work, of course.
Every year we would load up the band and drill team on the school's aging bus and go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans for several days. We always made it on time to the big Rex parade every year, but more than one cadet was sidetracked briefly by the B Girls on Canal Street. If you were tall enough to put money on the bar, you were welcome. Almost all of us discovered we could actually drink all night and march in a long parade in the next day's heat. Being New Orleans, sympathetic parade watchers would hand us a cold beer once in a while as we marched by.
We even learned the location of the jail nearest the French Quarter, which appropriately enough, was on Basin Street.
It was all quite educational.

No one was ever brutalized or murdered or raped while I was there at school. Most cadets adjusted pretty well no matter what our reasons for attending.

No matter who you were you had to make good grades, or you were gone. And if you seriously broke the rules more than once, you were gone.

I got caught gambling once (just as I won my first big pot at the poker table) and spent several hours of graduation weekend marching around a square -- we called it "penalty tours" -- with full combat gear on and a rifle in the 90 degree heat.
But I survived, it only happened once, and I graduated on time.
That weekend a group of us, including some liberated female students from the Baptist college, managed to sneak off to a cocktail lounge 30 miles away (Marion was in a "dry" county) for a night of breaking the rules.

On graduation Sunday approximately 50 of us sharply polished red-eyed 17 and 18-year-olds marched up to the stage set up on the lawn near the campus snack bar in our "summer" khaki uniforms and accepted diplomas, along with an earnest speech to go out and change the world for the better.

Few of the class of 1958 have changed the world at all. Several died trying in Viet Nam.

We all tried to do our best, I am sure, but the long-term impact will have to be measured later, and so far it doesn't look like the class of 1958 will make many history books.

Most of us went on to graduate from four-year colleges. Most went into the military, as volunteers in the 1960s.

Most of us survived.


My memories of that particular graduation day details are still a bit fuzzy.

There's a picture somewhere taken on the lawn of the only Marion motel where my family stayed. My older sister, my biggest booster, wore a gigantic floppy pink hat to match her pink outfit and smile; my mother and stepfather dressed up appropriately for the solemn occasion; and my new brother-in-law, grinning because he skipped all the parades and stuff and stayed at the motel to drink beer and play pop music on my Stromberg-Carlson hi fi.
My aunt showed up with one of her husbands or boyfriends, and let me drive her 1956 Chevrolet Impala sometime during the weekend.
My date for the big graduation dance was a pretty girl from Mobile, my home town at the time. We attended the well-chaperoned dance, which probably ended around 11 p.m. so we could make church and graduation on Sunday.
The band was Johnny Horton, whose one hit was "The Battle of New Orleans," and they were great.
I spent that summer working briefly in construction, then boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia at the Infantry School, where those of us almost through with ROTC learned how to scrub garbage cans, shoot a rifle and other interesting stuff. I still enjoy camping out.

I am glad I was there, and happily recommend the school to those who are interested -- almost no one I know.

I learned a lot that served me well. I got a decent education. College was never really hard after that, and the discipline didn't hurt.

And I can still take apart and reassemble a 30 caliber machine gun with a blindfold on if needed. Fortunately, there's not a lot of call for that these days.

Note: I'm not going back for the reunion. Too much to do right here.