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December 28, 2009

A Christmas Story?


A Christmas Story?

Grandpa watched year-old “Jackson” scoot across the dark wood, dusty floor, anxious to grab bright green and red lights off the Christmas tree, to climb the stairs – spurts of activity, a magnet drawn to things new, different.

Jackson’s nearby parents a security blanket, watchful eyes and hands scooping him up and away from hot lights, steep stairs, the unknown, unpredictable aspects of life.

xmas09.dad.josh.kids.jpgJackson seemed not to recognize the old man in the red sweater; not part of his circle of faces and voices.

He stared with set lips, unsmiling eyes at Grandpa’s funny face efforts, bursting out a single sob when the old man laughed, talked too loud.

“Is this kid intelligent beyond his years, or what?  Look at those eyes,” Grandpa said to his son, Joshua, Jackson’s 30-year old father.

Joshua said nothing; nodding a small acknowledgement, turning back to fast-thumb his Blackberry keyboard, checking emails, Facebook, and the day’s sport scores.

Grandpa took it in, thinking of links between ages and generations, between grandson and characters in a book he was reading…a biography of Charles Schulz, cartoonist and creator of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Schroeder and Pigpen.

Cartoon characters based on youngsters like Jackson?, he reflected. 

No, Charlie Brown and Lucy may have looked like small children, but were insecure and neurotic as most teenagers and adults, and why PEANUTS was the top cartoon strip for decades before Schulz’s death in 2000.

“My contract says when I die, Peanuts dies,” Schulz would say about his comic strip, which made him a billionaire.

An unhappy, lonely man, Schulz kept an emotional wall between himself and his children – thinking the barrier protected his creativity as a cartoonist. Charlie Brown and Snoopy on newspaper print were more important than family distractions. “I put all of me in my characters,” he’d tell anyone who asked.

Then Schulz grew old and fragile in the late ‘90s, with cancer, and strokes: He changed -- physically and emotionally clinging to family, tears welling up in his eyes and down his cheek, when they sought to leave, to be with their own children, in their own homes.


Grandpa drove home from the Christmas gathering, thinking Jackson was fortunate to have his  parents, who put arms around him, protected against hot lights and steep stairs;  thankful the little boy was no, not, Charlie Brown, or Linus, or  Schroeder.

Pulling into the driveway, he thought,   

We’re born in extreme weakness.

We die in extreme weakness.  

And, in between?

Admit your mistakes.

Live in the day.

Remember only people are important.

Try not to trip on the stairs.   Or fall on the ice.

Let Lucy keep the football.




November 20, 2009

F-Laws, Russell Ackoff, and 'Moving The Ball Down The Field'

F-Laws, Russell Ackoff, and 'Moving The Ball Down the Field'


I have a long time, good friend, Steve, who talks about 'moving the ball forward,' in life. He means he has a predisposition, a preference for action over inaction, for commission over omission.

A modest, quiet guy, he's nevertheless been very successful -- by almost any measurement one cares to use in life.

If like me, chances are you know more people who're not like Steve -- who'd rather work their mouths than work their brains, or their arms; and who'll criticize others'  work or action, while avoiding it themselves.

That may sound a bit harsh and negative. But modern society -- modern business -- does not generally reward risk takers.

Yet, people and organizations learn, change and grow by errors of commission -- by our efforts, and from our failures. 95 percent of what we know and retain, we have learned on the job or in life. Not in school or in a Harvard MBA program. (Typically, we retain only about 5 percent of what we read.)

We suffer, we fail, in life and in business by errors of omission. By fear.  By inactivity.  By doing nothing.  Or too little.

Russell Ackoff, world renowned guru in operational theory and research (who recently died), published his F-Laws, a laundry list of the crazy rules that make life, leadership and business failure/success often problematic and frustrating because of our aversion to action and risk taking in life and in our relationships.

For a reprint/audio copy of a BBC interview with Ackoff shortly before he died, go to:

November 03, 2009

Your (Un)friendly Secretary of State Office

Your (Un)Friendly Secretary of State Office


"You’ll  have to wait outside! We have to get to the machine! Our staff must get through!," the grumpy gal in gray sweater said to me, and about 6 others crammed into the 4x5 entranceway to the Secretary of State office on SW Capital at 8:45 am yesterday, all of us waiting to get a number and then get car title, license or plate.

We'd had a "cozy" little get-acquainted chat...bantering about giving each other Swine Flu, the Lions Loss, etc, until the gray sweater gal (turned out she was the SOS BRANCH MANAGER) pushed open the Door.

NO matter the self service "machine" she was sooo worried about had a big "out of service" sign on it.


No matter it was raining outside.


No matter HER employees had all been NICE to us when THEY came thru the same door earlier.

I told my new found compatriots: "Something in her wakeup must of been wrong.  She doesn't need take it out on us. We're the customers. We're the taxpayers. We're her boss."


Rapid bobbing of heads in agreement. 


Ah, I thought, we have the beginning of a modest taxpayer’s revolt here.

We rushed into get our number slips, and the solidarity slipped away. Every man, woman and child for themselves.  And ready, eager smiles of supplication for the gray sweater lady.


It’s how wars are lost.  And won.

November 01, 2009

Asher, Sullivan Are Real "Change Candidates"

Color.jpgAsher, Sullivan Are Real ‘Change Candidates”

Next Tuesday, a small number of City voters can make a huge difference in Battle Creek's future.

The recent City Commission's difficulty in dealing with financial cutbacks and future directions reflects how important it is for City voters to....vote.....
And in doing so, I urge my friends and associates to consider voting "yes" for Ward 3 candidate Laurie Sullivan, and Ward 4 candidate Chuck Asher.

 Photo: City Commission Candidate Laurie Sullivan (left) with Steve and Linda H. at their Elizabeth Street home.  (Photo by Jim Richmond)

Both are nonencumbents... challengers...part of the nonpartisan "Candidates for Change" that hope to bring fresh ideas and commitment as new City Commissioners.

Laurie -- as many of you know from her on Facebook -- has been an oustanding and outspoken civic and neighborhood leader on BC's north side for more than a decade.

She and her husband bought an empty house -- which had no heat or electricity...and turned it into a gemstone of a place, while Laurie worked with the BCPD to push the crack pushers and addicts out of the neighborhood ..and through her leadership and collaborative style and ability with other Northside residents brought new energy to code enforcement and historic preservation discussions on the Northside and downtown area.

She is a strong leader...who will devote the time and the brainpower to helping build a better Battle Creek.


Photo: Chuck Asher at one of his "50 Stops a Day, 50 Days," at a near southside residence.

Chuck Asher is a retired BC Fire Department Lt., who has knocked on "50 Doors (each of) 50 Days" talking with near-southside residents about City issues, their views and concerns.

Asher is committed to making public services like police, fire and street repairs real priorities.

Both of these people LISTEN as well as they TALK.

So, on Tuesday, if you're in Battle Creek’s Ward 3 or 4....hope you'll think SULLIVAN....ASHER.


October 19, 2009

Jackie Pieper Died This Past Week

Jackie Pieper Taught "Lessons" in Teaching and in Life


Pieper.jpg"Miss Pieper's Boys" are boys no longer.

And Jackie Pieper, 84, admits her own life is no longer what it was before Feb. 22, 2003, when she suffered a fall in her home.

It was an accident -- like those experienced by many elderly Americans -- that wiped out her independence. For her there was no more living in her own home, driving her car, shopping and coffee with retired colleagues and regular church attendance.

But, according to a friend, Pieper always has lived by the motto "Turn life's losses into life's gains." She has shared that philosophy -- and much more -- with dozens of "kids-heading-for-nowhere" that she taught in the Lakeview School District for 22 years.

And "Miss Pieper's Boys" have not forgotten the lesson, or their teacher.

Pieper was born in 1919, the only child of John and Nelle Pieper, both teachers in Urbana, Ill. Her father, a professor of agriculture at the University of Illinois, suffered a heart attack and died at age 53 in 1939. Jackie said it was from her mother, a country-school teacher, that she acquired her "zero tolerance for errors." "My mother used to say: 'There is no excuse for meaning well and doing badly.'"

Pieper never meant to be a teacher, in spite of her parents' strong career example.

She earned university degrees in speech and industrial design and for 12 years designed the exteriors of everything from washing machines and furniture to children's toys and outboard motors at a company in Chicago.

Pieper attended summer workshops on Mackinac Island of the Moral Rearmament Movement, and "I learned that God could guide you in life -- that I could go anywhere and do anything."

Pieper went back and got a master's degree in speech and language, became certified to teach and ended up applying for a teaching position in Battle Creek, "where I didn't know a soul, but knew that I belonged, and that I would spend my life teaching kids here."

For more than two decades, she was part of a small group of "migrant" teachers in the Lakeview School District.

"We went from school to school, working with kids who had language difficulties," she said.

Pieper never married but would end up with a huge "family."

Over the years, she also became what she called "a gap filler" for poor kids, often from broken homes, where there was a gap between government assistance and what the family needed to survive.

One of those families included Gary Nash, who described himself as "a kid heading for nowhere" when he met Jackie Pieper.

"With six children, our family was so poor all we ever ate was commodity food. My dad died when I was really young. And at age 8, I had a profound stuttering problem."

Pieper worked with Nash to overcome the stuttering, and he became one of "Miss Pieper's Boys" -- disadvantaged youngsters she ensured got dental care, new clothes for starting school in the fall and even Christmas presents to give to other family members.

She filled the basement of her house on South Moreland Drive with new clothing, purchased with her own money and donations from others, that she'd give to kids and their families.

Nash, now executive director of the YMCA in Escanaba, also remembers all the trips he and other "carloads of kids" would take with Pieper to basketball games, musical and theatrical productions, the zoo or a movie.

"What I didn't know then was that each of these trips was a 'teachable moment' for us kids, as far as Jackie was concerned. We'd go to a basketball game, and then over a nice dinner, Jackie would talk and question us about how the team never gave up and what might that mean for our own lives and futures."

Pieper also followed the life paths of her former students; was known to quietly help kids pay for their college tuition. She would even let some of them stay in the basement of her home while attending college classes to save money.

"I'm a weed puller, not a flower planter," she said, referring to helping kids and families with immediate needs. "I've always been interested more in righting today's wrongs than in starting up something new."

The past year, since her fall, has been a roller coaster of "in and out of hospitals, nursing homes, getting better, and then getting other health problems," Pieper said.

She now has a small, comfortable unit in the Heritage Assistance Living Center on Helmer Road.

"It was a shock for me, the prospect of having to sell my home and move in here," she said during a recent interview. "But the day I arrived, all the pictures, all the furniture, all the things I loved from my home had been brought here by my great and good friends. It was almost like going home again."

Today, whenever Jackie Pieper needs something, her many friends and now adult "Miss Pieper's Boys" are there for her. Little wonder why.

"She was just like an aunt or second mother to dozens of us kids," Nash said. "There was never a lot of 'gray' in Jackie Pieper's world. She taught and showed us that there's a lot you can and should do in life. And some things you shouldn't do. I've never met a more honest person, in each and every aspect of her life. She set standards for integrity, moral courage and selflessness."

Nash said he is "trying to pass along" these same values to his own four children.

And while Jackie Pieper might still consider herself a reformer, a "weed puller," it's obvious she's planted plenty of flowers during her lifetime.

Jim Richmond lives in Battle Creek, and is past vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and president of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.  His column  first appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer newspaper.

October 13, 2009

At Large City Candidates' Forum: The Winner Is....

At Large, City Candidates' Forum: The Winner is....
There were almost as many  candidates (9) on the stage at Burnham Brooke Community Center last night as people in the audience (40).

My Grades/Notes on the Group:

Ryan Hersha, A+: appears  head and shoulders above this crowd...articulate, thoughtful, informed, people and community oriented and centered.

Carlton Lartigue, B+: talks the talk, but can he walk the walk?

Susan Baldwin, B: seems informed, dedicated ..   but several troubling votes as an incumbent about NIBC, etc.  and a bit brittle in  attitude.

Jason Pancost, C+: this red cheeked, cherub-faced kid has some good ideas.  Wore a suit and tie.  His mama raised him right.  Good luck.

Beverli Carpenter-Hunter, C:  very engaging ... retired Detroit cop... she and Hersha only ones to work the crowd...hey its an election, these hardy, late-night folks vote!

Steve Bessony, C: personalized t-shirt guy, "My name is b-e-s-s-o-n-y, glib ... may be a light weight.

Johnny Cash, C-: like his public safety emphasis, but would you want him representing you every week?

Ebony Thorpe, D- : clueless  ... lost inside her head and with the facts.

Bill Morris, F:  Mr. Economic Development can't squirm away from his checked past and unpaid tax bills.....  affirms why not to vote for him.

Diane Thompson:  absent, but with a  good, written excuse from home.


September 25, 2009

Donorcycles, Punkmobiles and Women Drivers

Donorcycles, Punkmobiles and Women Drivers

“How do you like riding that donorcycle?”  a friend said to me, with a smile and chuckle,  the other day.

It took me a while to get it: motorcycle or bicycle riding + frequent use= traffic accident, and opportunity to donate heart, lung, kidney or liver (or all of them).

After about two months of riding a bicycle to work at 5:30 a.m. and normal daylight hours, I have G-O-T the message.  You can watch the track, the traffic and your back, wear helmets and leather pants until the cows come home.

You’re still gonna get whacked on that two-wheeler.  It’s just a matter of time and distance, the law of gravity, and female driving habits.

Evil.motorcycle.jpgA couple weeks ago, a guy I know and his new, young squeeze were on their Honda or Harley, stopped at the light on Columbia, in front of the Michigan State Police headquarters.  A woman in a car came up right behind and hit them…..the couple was thrown over the top of the cycle; they survived; the cycle did not. “I never saw them!  I never saw them!,” the woman driver exclaimed to onlookers and the State Police bluecoaters.

The basic problem is that two wheelers are invisible to everyone else on the road.


(ABOVE) Photo Caption: Don't do Evel on your motorcycle.

You are SMALL.  Vulnerable. 

Some motorists get a perverse thrill out of intimidating and scaring road runners and two-wheelers.  They drive up next to you in their punkmobiles, and yell “FUC* YOU!!!!!” in your ear, laughing as pee runs down your leg and into your tennis shoe.

Two-wheelers LEARN to WATCH drivers’ EYES.  You can tell whether the driver is paying attention to driving, the traffic, and sees you. 

Doesn’t matter if you’re peddling in one of those supposedly secure and safe, white striped “bicycle lanes.”  That white stripe could be yellow, because it runs right up your back, as you peddle along, and proclaims:  “Road Kill!! Hit me!”

The biggest threat to all of us on donorcycles:  WOMEN CAR DRIVERS.

They are not mean.  

They don't yell obscenities at you.  Women drivers  almost always grin abashedly, and mouth the words: “I’M SORRY,” after they’ve pushed the bicyclist off the road.  Or flying into a ditch.

Women are compulsive multi-taskers, when behind the wheel of a car.

She is bopping to Bon Jovi on the CD.  With her left hand, she is talking to her boyfriend on the cell phone, plucking eyebrows with tweezers in the mirror, taking a drag off a cigarette and balancing a hot cup of coffee.  With her right hand, she is applying lipstick and combing her hair.   Occasionally, she nudges the steering wheel with free elbow, to keep the car heading in generally the right direction.

So it ain’t no joke:  Stay off bicycles and motorcycles, unless you want to die young or have a death wish.

 chairs_edithann2.jpgAs Edith Ann used to say on Laugh-In: “And that’s the truth.”




August 30, 2009

'First Wes' Sunday Service a Pleasant Surprise

Author’s Note: This is second is a series of “Church Visit” profiles to appear here.

For last week’s visit to, and profile of, Dexter Lake Church go to: http://ragstorichmond.blogspirit.com/archive/2009/08/23/c...

Next Sunday: First Christian Church.  On 8.13.09: Ft. Custer Chapel  (former military base chapel, now operated as a nondenominational church.).  8.20.09: Southwind Community Church (Lakeview). 8:30.09: Salvation Army (Battle Creek).  For later fall: Battle Creek's high roller, downtown churches.


‘First Wes’ Sunday Service a Pleasant Surprise




I was prepared to not particularly like First Wes Church today. Albeit a good friend is a Church member. My prior impressions of First Wes were as this huge, quasi mega, impersonal church (for Battle Creek’s size) more about growth than agape.

Turned out I was wrong.  On several  scores.

The Church's Senior Pastor spoke on “The Real Thing,” agape love vs. Eros or physical love.  I’d give him a grade of B+ on the sermon.  Sort of a laid back style, combining bits of Deback Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Tony Campolo. His sermon was reasoned; perhaps a bit too secular in tone and delivery:  “Real love is a choice, not a feeling. If we have real faith in the Lord, that faith leads to real love.  Real love is choosing to love those you’d rather not love.  Real love pulls us out of fear of life and others.”

He used PowerPoint slides, a giant screen with an amusing video with skits about how wearing your Christianity on your sleeve, chest or car bumper doesn’t mean you’re A Good Christian, or a very loving person.

Along with than the sermon, I was impressed with the music and the musicians:  five or six musicians that sounded like 12.  Three great lead singers, solid instrumental accompaniment.  The contemporary religious songs were well chosen (love themes, like the sermon).  It would be hard for Pontius Pilate to sit at First Wes and not stand up, and get caught up in the Christian music.  And the music left me with a spiritual connectedness that lasted through the day.

One of the male vocalists is evidently head of Church music.  Good voice.  But, I kept hoping the female vocalist would sing solo again – a white Mavis Staples.  “Wow, is she good,” I leaned over and said to my friend and Church host.  “Yes, sings a lot of jazz, too” my friend commented.

At the end of his sermon, The Pastor, in what seemed like a somewhat awkward, halting statement about recent  Church growth and adding another pastor (they have 3 or 4 for various functions ... big church) showed a video of the new assistant minister – growing up in Battle Creek, swimming in a Lakeview H.S. meet, later with his motorcycle, and a solitary baby picture of his wife (I think.  Or was it his child?  Hard to tell from the video's audio track). 

The congregation didn’t seem to know whether to shout out  welcome and amen, or laugh, uncomfortably, at what they thought -- but were not sure -- was self depreciating humor in the video.  I hoped the New Guy would come up next to the Senior Pastor on stage.  He didn't.

I stopped at the Information Desk before the service and got a purple plastic bag with First Wes welcome items.  “You want a First Wes coffee mug or water bottle?” the friendly Welcome Desk volunteer asked me.  (I took the purple water bottle.)  Lots of good printed Church material in the bag. Turned out the volunteer was the sister of a mutual friend, I’d worked with, long ago in Battle Creek.

Resting for a minute in the atrium’s “First Wes” Café after the service, with lines of folks getting cappuccino, coffee and sweets, I glanced through the Sunday’s bulletin:  1,924 attended last week’s three services and donated $28,772.  Pretty impressive when there was no offertory or basket passing at the service, just the opportunity to leave an offering or tithe envelope at the door.

“We exist to reach the lost and broken in the region and to bring them into a fully devoted relationship with Christ,” is the proclaimed, printed mission of First Wes Church.  (Some may be lost and broken, but the Sunday congregation looked pretty put together and middle class to me.)

First Wes makes up for its size, by having active church missions and programs for youth, adults, men, women, singles, and almost any other small group interest possible within its congregation.

Overall, a nice, low key and inspirational  Sunday morning of reflection.  

I like First Wes and will go back.  If they let me in the parking lot and the door. 

But then that's what agape is all about.


For more information on the Church and its many programs and services, go to: firstwes.org.

August 23, 2009

Dexter Lake Church

Church of the Nice and Easy

I went to the Dexter Lake Church today; that used to have this huge congregation, but is going thru some life changes and hard times; as we all do.

The old minister left; the new one is young, long winded, the congregation has shrunk,  and the remainder seem a bit testy.  (Something like, I guess, what's happened since Donnie Swaggart took over from Dad Jimmy.)

It's one of those....well the word escapes me.... (pentacostal?) churches where most everyone stands throughout the service, people say "Amen!" to ever 3rd word uttered by the preacher, and rock and sway back and forth like they've had a few too many... waving their arms in motion to the music and the minister's words.....their eyes gradually starting to roll back into the top of their heads ... where there's a giant stage, musical instruments like an iterant 70s rock band might have, and a HUGE rear screen that flashes pictures -- reminded me of Fillmore West in SF in 69, except I looked all around and couldn't see any tie-dyed t-shirts,  Bill Graham, Grace Slick, Big Brother and the Holding Company, County Joe, or Janis Joplin in the church audience.

The screen didn't changes images, but had something like: "Dexter Lake Church" -- Experience it. Believe it. (Or something like that, I hadn't brought a pencil or notepad with me.)

Now, that should have been more than a WARNING, since I'm a fallen-away-Catholic, a borderline agnostic...questioning most everything......searching for faith, and thus Sunday church hopping.

Right then, I thought "Nope, this ain't my cup of tea."

But I got a ride over with a friend.

I wanted to be nice.

Most of all, I didn't want to walk the 4 miles back to my own car.

So I sat and listened to the preacher...and tried to concentrate on what he was yelling about ... something to do with a half full clay jar of olive oil, and then he went and actually got a clay jar off the stage, as a prop I guess, and he'd wave the jar in the air while he preached, and I kept hoping he wouldn't spill the olive oil. 

          He was starting to sway and roll on the balls of his feet ... breathing heavy....wiping sweat from forehead with a white hanky ... alternating cadence of loud breathing and pauses.....that reminded me a bit of foreplay and that nasty Tina Turner rift ("We only do it nice...and easy").

I looked around and realized I was probably the only one not getting it ...  and not getting into the spirit of the occasion.

So, I kept day dreaming....checking out people in the other pews.....

A few rows up and to the right were five churchgoers together ...in profile.....two men...three women....and I think they were related. They were all chewing gum (most of the people in the church seemed to be chewing gum). But these five were chewing gum in sync, like the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th violin chairs in the Battle Creek Symphony orchestra. Or The Beastie Boys. Or the Spice girls. Or The Temptations.

"How do they do that?," I wondered to myself.

After about 40 minutes of this, I excused myself from my friend, and went out to the car....and started reading the last chapters of THE ODESSA FILE.

Next Sunday I'll try a bit more mainstream church....

And I won't write about the experience here.

Or will I?

August 20, 2009

Lius Live Life of Hard Work, Family Values



Lius Live Life of Hard Work, Family Values


by Jim Richmond


It’s been 36 years, since Tony Liu swam for six hours in shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean, escaping the Communist China mainland and reaching freedom in Hong Kong, and eventually the United States.100_0175 copy copy.jpg


Tony said he longed to live in America, learn English, open a Chinese restaurant, raise a family, and most of all, to become a U.S. citizen.  Goals he’s since achieved.


For most of those years, Tony and his vivacious wife, Lisa, (a native of Hong Kong) have owned and operated Chinese restaurants in Battle Creek, first in the downtown, and for the past 20 years on Columbia Avenue. 


Their “Tony’s Hong Kong Restaurant” is not the biggest Chinese restaurant in Battle Creek, but many area residents think it has among the best food, service and most authentic décor. 


“Our buffet is not the largest (in variety of offerings among  area restaurants), but our food is very high quality,” Tony commented one recent afternoon, sitting  at a table, during a lull in the restaurant’s business, talking about why his restaurant have been successful in an increasingly competitive local market.                             

Tony and Lisa Liu, with daughter Melissa. (Photo by Jim Richmond)


While he’s proud of the buffet, Tony encourages guests to consider ordering from the menu, which features a much larger variety of speciality dishes. 


He gives a tour of the spotlessly clean kitchen area of the restaurant, and the large sign that reminds him and  employees: “Quality Food.  Good Service.  Clean  Restaurant.”


Since arriving in Battle Creek 31 years ago, the Lius have devoted long hours, usually seven days a week to their business, while raising their family of four children, Roger, 27, Daniel, 25, Waiman, 19 and Melissa, 16. 


Roger and Daniel are both University of Michigan graduates; now computer engineers  for the Intel Corporation. Waiman attends the University; and Melissa is a junior at Lakeview High School and attends the Science and Math Center.


Tony and Lisa also have developed a personal and family philosophy over the years that can be summarized: ‘Work hard. Get an education. Take care of family. Appreciate what you have.’


Their children worked weekends, for no pay, at the family restaurant during high school and college days while they were living at home.  And daughter Melissa was working at the restaurant during the recent interview with her parents.


Melissa said she sometimes misses not going with friends to weekend parties or a football game, “But I learned to realize my parents are working hard for us. That they’ve sacrificed a lot for us, and for the family,” she said.  “It doesn’t hurt me to sacrifice a little (by working at the restaurant weekends).”


Tony’s Hong Kong Restaurant is located at 174 East Columbia Avenue in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA.






August 04, 2009

Bottlecap Blues

Bottlecap Blues


In the 1950s, soft drinks came in glass bottles with strong, clawlike steel caps that had to be pried open and off.  And the pointed edges of the caps were sharp…sharp as nails, a razor blade.

A bottlecap was a strange weapon of torture…especially to use on a child.

But he did it.

“He” was a full Professor of History at the regional university in Kansas City.  The Professor, a normally meek, mild mannered, tiny, timid sort of a man with bow tie and thick glasses, lived next door for several years on Coleman Road.  With Shelly, his 4-year old daughter. (Twin brother Johnny and I were about 7 at the time.)

Shelly was as loud, outgoing and captivating as her pedantic pop was scholarly and nondescript.180px-Bottle_cap_special.jpg

While The Professor seemed very bright, he did not own or drive a car.

Many days, my Dad would take The Professor, and Shelly, to the grocery store, or the library or the doctor’s office, in our 1948 dark blue, four-door Plymouth.

Johnny rode one backseat, shotgun window.  I the other. 

In between would sit The Professor, and Shelly.

As regular as rain, or a sunset, The Professor would tightly hold one of Shelly’s hands whenever in the car.

 Shelly would jabber on.  Like a typical, somewhat hyperactive child. 

Until she would let out a muffled wimper, and contort her arms and torso as if undergoing electric shock treatment.

She struggled desperately to roll off the car seat, away from her father, and onto the floor.

Trying,  most of all, to pull hand from her father’s death grip.

Seems The Professor secretly carried a sharpened bottlecap, and he pressed the cap into the soft palmed flesh of his lovely daughter’s hand.

When she 'misbehaved.'

When my Dad found out, car rides for The Professor, were over.


June 23, 2009

WWII ‘Old Salt’ Worries ‘Luck May Be Running Out’

WWII ‘Old Salt’ Worries ‘Luck May Be Running Out’



Frank Price says he’s been lucky in war and in love, serving and surviving on the battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) during World War II, when the ship suffered 42 hits during just one of its engagements with Japanese warships and fighter planes.

Price, 88, talks knowledgeably about the ship’s bloody WWII conflicts, battles with famous names like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Tinian and Truk. He served on the USS South Dakota for nearly five years, achieving the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.

But his real luck in life has less to do with making it through World War II, than meeting and marrying Margaret Marie (Lennon), his wife of 64 years, Price said.

The two grew up on neighboring farms near Bellevue, Michigan, but didn’t start dating until after Price returned from Navy service.

“I didn’t get serious with any girls before I got out of the (military) service,” he recalled.  “Because I didn’t know if I’d make it back home alive.”

He remembered Margaret. “I walked over to the Lennon family farm and asked her mom if I could ask Margaret out on a date,” Price recalled.  Six months later, they married.

Price returned to work at Post Foods, where he was employed 45 years. 

After raising seven children, Margaret then worked 20 years at the Battle Creek Federal Center.

Following retirement, the Prices relocated to Sarasota, Florida; but returned to Battle Creek to be closer to family and for medical reasons, he said.

About a year ago, they moved into the Care Community assisted living facility, located on General Avenue in the Ft. Custer area of Battle Creek. 

After a fall and a hospital stay, Margaret was transferred by her physician and family to a long term care facility.

Each morning, Frank gets a ride from Care Community to visit his wife for two or three hours.

“I’ve been lucky to have Margaret all these years.  But, maybe my luck’s running out.  I miss her so, so much,” he said.

n  30 –


USSSDakota.jpgPhoto Caption: Frank Price served as a Chief Warrant Officer for nearly five years aboard the USS South Dakota (BB 57), during some of the battleship’s most fearsome fights with the Japanese in World War II. (US Navy Photo).

June 07, 2009

These Cemeteries Worth A Visit


"These Cemeteries Worth A Visit"

Two of my favorite places for walks, and just quiet bench time, are historic Oak Hill Cemetery, where everyone from Ellen White, C.W. Post, W. K. Kellogg to Junior Walker ("Junior Walker and The All Stars -- "Shotgun!" fame) are buried, and the relatively new Ft. Custer National Cemetery off Dickman Road in nearby Augusta, Michigan.

There is a German POW memorial and grave(s) site at the national cemetery. A line of German POW graves. German soldiers were prisoners at Ft. Custer in WWII from 1943 to 1946.  More than half of the 26 buried here, were killed on Oct. 31, 1945 when the truck they were riding in....to do farm work...was hit by a train.

Across the cemetery road are more U.S. military graves, and a single bench near the tree line, that provides a wonderful spot for thinking or reading, or saying a prayer of thanks to our US soliders buried here.

I stop at the bench often on my walks....but also slowly meander among the U.S. graves...mostly from WWI, Korea and Vietnam......quite a few of the Vietnam vets buried here are younger than me. (Perhaps, one day, I will join my Vietnam Vet brethern in this ground. Not an unpleasant thought.)

But I wonder about all of them....their military service in the various wars. Their families. Their lives.

Capt. U.S. Army
48th MASH
January 17, 1928 - July 20,2002.
"We Love You Mom"

Capt. Burley served as a nurse in one of the MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals) units, forward deployed during the Korean Conflict -- the same hospitals that the TV series and movie were based on.

There are so many told and untold stories in the two cemeteries.

But the national cemetery, and our US soldiers buried there, are special.

And, yes, "We Love You Mom."


 Actual MASH unit, unloading wounded US soliders, Korea, early 1950s.

June 05, 2009

Postcard to George Bush in Texas

Postcard to George blog post photo                                     

Hi, George.

By now you and Laura are settled back in Texas.

Sorry I missed your spine-tingling speech the other day at the SW Michigan Economic Club – whooooohaaaaa!  Bet that was a perky group.  Understand it was only the second public speech you’ve made since departing the White House.  You wanted to be around friends, right? Not worry about protesters or placards.

Take your time to adjust.

Even for a guy with your gumba, it must be a change, a shock!

Hope you're sleeping in a bit late.

Giving Laura more hugs.

Back out there biking with Lance Armstrong in the mornings.

You deserve it!

Pretty rough eight years, right, pardner? Like fallin off a buckin Texas longhorn in the last 60 seconds of a two-minute ride.

Left you with a few bruises, we bet?

But then you left us in a pile of steer shit, too, if you'd pardon my language.

Decided what you're gonna do now?

Build that new presidential library to house papers about your eight years of Presidential "successes"?

Maybe your library can rewrite history. So there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So you tracked down Osama. So you tightened rathered than loosened regulatory rules on the Wall Street speculators. Reformed social security and national health care. Got us started down the free-from-foreign-oil road. 

While you wait for that library, just lean back, chill out,  mi amigo!

You could buy another baseball team.
Join Rush on radio in the morning.

We could use you, Cowboy!!!!
Bang, bang. Bang, bang. In my cold, dead hand..and all that.  Especially now that Charlton is pushing up daisies instead of fighting gladiators in The Coliseum.

Me? Gosh, buddy, I'm lost for words, M-I-S-S-I-N you so!

As I said, Amerika has been in a pile of deep do-do long before your departure. 

Same with our family, Mr. P.

Mary lost her job.  Has breast cancer; which has spread. We've spent all our money saved for retirement, so we could pay her hospital bills.

I'm on unemployment, too.

Can’t sell the house.  And the kids can't find work; except at McDonald's or Wal-Mart.

But, don't worry about us.

We'll get by.... Always do.

And like most folks in Amerika, we're trying hard to stay positive,  but to clean up after your eight-year Texas Chainsaw Massacre, know what I mean?

Maybe not.

You always said you didn't give a damn what people thought about you as President...that history would decide.

I think you're soooooo right. It's being written right now.

Say "hey," to Laura for us.

Kick that coon dog for me, hear? :-)

May 31, 2009

"I'm his live-in girlfriend! You little prick!"

"I'm his live-in girlfriend! You little prick!!"

The Felpausch grocery store on Columbia Avenue was like a Strasberg acting class yesterday – but the ‘student’ performing got an ‘F” grade from her audience.

The checkout lines were long.  So we all had time for the show. Right behind me is a woman, chatting away on her "two-way" cell.

"That son of a bitch came to my door last night," she two-ways to someone. "I told him:'I gave up that crack candy FOUR weeks ago!  And my old man is upstairs, and he'll come down and beat your ass!'"

I listen and linger to watch her, and a kid who looked about 3, with filthy clothes, try to pay for their groceries with a check.  And then have a problem.

“I’m his live-in girlfriend!,” she screams at this young male clerk, staffing the customer service/blooze/cigarette/lottery desk in front of checkout lines.

Thirty or so of us in four lines are all eyes and ears.

Young clerk goes on autopilot.  He pastes a half smile on his face, his eyes go blank, as he repeatedly lifts up a microphone and pleads: “Manager to customer service.  Manager to customer service, please."

Having my four items checked, and being a nosey old man, I walk over and stand in line behind lady in shorts; like I’m waiting to buy a carton of KOOLS or a fifth of STOLI.  I wanna hear it all.

“We can’t cash the check, ma’m.  You signed it but your name isn't on the account,” clerkboy repeats, batting the virtual ball back and for to the woman’s side of the net.

But she has a vicious serve, a relentless backhand, and a trash mouth.

“I signed that fu*ckin thing, because I’M HIS LIVE-IN GIRLFRIEND! SOOOO, you’d rather just lose a good customer?  You, you........ little PRICK!”

She repeats her mantra, in a loud voice, as  “manager” finally shows up. 

And when their brief conversation is over, she follows manager to the back of the store, a pit bull waiting to take a bite out of his ass or ankles, at first misstep.

Walking to the parking lot, I thought  how times have changed.

It used to be if you were someone’s ‘live-in girlfriend,’ you didn’t publicize the fact. 

To say nothing about signing the guy’s personal checks, because you happened to be pulling his chain,  after midnight.

And to think a lot of this crazy stuff started with Lee Marvin and palimony.

I'd better go take my spoonful of Geritol.


May 30, 2009

Lowered Expectations Club

OK, so we find out that A-Rod was on steroids, about the same time he was using his rod on Madonna.

Welcome to the Barry Bonds/George Bush/Michael Phelps/Kobe Bryant/Tom Daschle/Tom Cruise/Britany Spears/Notre Dame/University of Michigan football LOWERED EXPECTATIONS CLUB.

In these difficult times, I say we just lower our general expectations about such things as politics, sports teams, the size of a McDonald's Sausage Biscuit.....and people outside our circle of community, church, family and friends.

Might as well, don't you think?

Chill out.

Count our real blessings.

Just Twelve-Step-it for awhile.
Expect less of others.  And perhaps more of ourselves?

It don't have to be a downer. Check out Ms. Swan at:

May 25, 2009

The Wrong Side of 31st Street

The Wrong Side of 31st Street

We lived on the "right side," of 31st Street. And didn't cross 31st Street very often.

The Street runs east to west, in the '50s dividing two distinct neighborhoods and urban Kansas City,  like a long, ragged scar.

Our address was 3140 Coleman Road, south of 31st..

Oak tree boulevards and streets of handsome middle class, stone homes....Redemptorist Parish.

Below 31st, , small wood framed houses crammed on small lots with Hispanics and poor whites.

The two parish teams competed in basketball; but rarely went  into the other’s church, school or  neighborhood, unless invited.

Much, I can’t remember from the early '50s.   Good thing my twin brother recalls everything:

* Obscure kids who lived and went to school with us for a couple years. 

* Particulars about the hot girls in junior high.

"Tell him Linda Cole is on the phone,"  I hear my Bro' say to his secretary with a laugh,  calling to chat before the Christmas holidays.

* Details on the two distinct routes we traveled to and from School each day. 

One we labeled "The Campbell Soup Trail," and the other, "The Rainbow Trail." Neither was a trail...but a 1.3 mile walk  through urban streets..... We covered the "trails" up to 4 times a day.... to serve Mass at 6 a.m…..to School …..home for lunch ….and home at night. 

Always tussling, pushing, shadow boxing with each other ... exploring alleyways and trash bins..... Stopping along Southwest Trafficway at  Stack’s Drugs for a cherry Coke...the Candy Store for jugeabees...or to knock on the glass and startle Red the Barber, asleep in his chair.

A large hill, rock quarry and dump separated the two neighborhoods.  

We'd roam the quarry and woods;  a bit uneasy over who or what we'd find.

* Lots of summer afternoons spent in the rock quarry  ….tadpoles….. exploring the holes and caves, where dynamite had been used for mining….not so long ago.

It was inner city, but not inner city.  Urban life but not urban life.

And…in the quarry…. the two came together unpredictably and sometimes dangerously.

There would be the sudden appearance of kids from ‘the other side,” wild deer and rabbits, old men looking for empty bottles or the chance to bluff kids out of their Ice Cream Truck  money....

and  then the hot afternoon, when we were twelve or so….

A group of kids, stumbling over the body of Sister J.B.'s (our Catholic Grade School principal) old Irish immigrant father. Who had suffered from dementia, lost his way, fallen and died in the quarry.  

Large black flies swirled around his head, maggots crawled from his distended mouth.

After that, I thought Sister J.B. looked at us with an edge and different attitude, in 7th grade class.  Did we remind her of her father and what happened? 

Or, more likely, something else, like our poor grades. :-)

Sister is gone, of course.

But some days -- while thousands of miles and light years  away from 3140 Coleman Road -- I have a hard time leaving the neighborhood.

At least in my mind.


For a very different slant on these years, read my blog, "Growing Up Catholic" at




February 16, 2009

A Note To W.K. Kellogg About His Charitable Foundation

BATTLE CREEK, Michigan. -- Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your foresight in establishing your charitable foundation with much of your personal wealth 76 years ago.  So, so many good things have been accomplished worldwide because you cared -- and cared especially about Battle Creek.

images.jpgWe read with thankfulness about the continued, quite remarkable record of recent Foundation grantmaking, coverered in yesterday's Battle Creek Enquirer.  And while its portfolio is diversifed today, God Bless Kellogg Company's values, drive and creativity ---all your own personal qualities -- which have sustained and grown the Company and its stock value, and thus much of the Foundation's work. 


Mr. Kellogg, I  suspect -- if you were alive today -- you'd have a few questions about the Foundation that bears your name.


The Good Lord knows it’s a REAL struggle dealing wholistically  with social problems in any community.  So messy.  So unpredictable.  Involving so many people who'se ideas and lives don't match each other.

In its new printed annual report, The Kellogg Foundation announces its focusing future grantmaking around an exclusive  effort to address problems of “vulnerable children” – in select areas worldwide – through hundreds of millions of grant money each year. 


There are lots of “vulnerable children” in Calhoun County – they are poor, they are black, they are white, they come from broken homes where alcoholic parents beat their spouses, have forced sex with their 10-year old daughters, where there are single parents with no jobs and no futures.  Where teenage pregnancy is rampant.


At the risk of you going 'thumbs down' on the next grant application, would it be alright to suggest, after reading your annual report, that the Kellogg Foundation might take a look at its own grantmaking in Battle Creek?

So many good projects -- over those decades: Kellogg Auditorium, Kellogg Arena, Kellogg Community College programs and facilities, The Linear Park, Binder Park Zoo, Math and Science Center. North Pointe Woods,  The Rink, Alano Club facility and services, "Yes, We Can"  initiative, Battle Creek Health System, downtown revitalization, Urban League programs, Neighborhoods, Inc.

But with your "new" focus on vulnerable children, perhaps it would be helpful to "turn the clock back" in terms of both Foundation programming and geographic focus.

 Nearly 70 years ago, you and your new foundation funded the "Michigan Community Health Project," that comprehensive effort to bring together citizens, educators, doctors and physicians TO WORK together -- at the community level -- to change the lives and health of children......all children, in select Michigan towns.

Not too a bad place for your Foundation people to "start again" with vulnerable children, do you think, Mr. Kellogg? Getting the community involved in helping to shape and deliver Foundation strategies and services that relate to children.

Perhaps that is being done today.

Thanks so much for listening, Mr. Kellogg.

-- Jim Richmond

Errata:  several observations about the Kellogg Foundation today:

  • Mr. Kellogg would probably be surprised at how few of the Foundations's senior staff actually LIVE in Battle Creek. From cross referencing an old staff listing over “Google,” it appeared several years ago about 65 percent or so of Foundation program and executive  staff live(d) not in Battle Creek – but in Chicago, Washington, Ann Arbor, Aida, San Francisco, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Portage, Mexico City, South Africa, etc.   The Kalamazoo airport probably loves these folks. 
  • Mr. Kellogg might wonder why only one of his Foundation’s current Board Members/Trustees lives in Battle Creek.   
  • And why so few of the Kellogg Foundation employees seem visibly engaged in volunteer leadership positions with Battle Creek organizations. 

All of these relative changes of the past 10 years seem different from the philosophy, commitment and actions of prior Kellogg Foundation leaders -- when there was an expectation and a commitment that Foundation staff give back personal and job-release time to the community – this community that Mr. Kellogg loved. 

Life moves on.  People and organizations change.  So do needs.

But, the Foundation might be a bit different today…if Mr. Kellogg was alive….and actually sitting at his old desk…..now just on historic display in the Foundation lobby.


February 10, 2009

When Pigs Fly

blog post photo


I'm glad President Obama is getting out of the White House...to places like South Africa, and likely, soon again, to his home turf in the great State of Hawaii

Not long ago, the History Channel has a special on Air Force One, the President's airplane.

There is Air Force One. There is Air Force Two. What I didn't know is that every time Air Force One flies, Air Force Two (and a huge redundant logistics and plane crew) also is in the air.  Just in case.


Along with additional planes, and loads of newspaper reporters, wanna-bees and hangers-on.

The costs for the two Air Force planes (plus 5 Marine One Helicopters) and thousands of people assigned to them....ought to be looked at.

I know.... we Americans stil LIKE to see that HUGE white and blue 747 landing on the tarmac -- especially other people's tarmac.  

The Chinese may have a 9 percent annual economic growth rate, but Americans know how to travel in style.  

It costs about $180,000 an hour to operate Air Force One.


And, reportedly, the plane is almost every new President's favorite White House Toy.

Still, at $180,000 an hour to operate Air Force One, President Obama could cut back a bit, don't you think?  Set a  good example.

He and Michele could book a couple of First Class seats on US Air.  Get one of those full reclining seats, have a nice fillet mignon and Cabarnet Savignon. 


He could ask Joe to maybe ride back in coach, with the other pretzel and pop people.  Or even take the Greyhound. At a minimum,  Joe could leave his own  Air Force Two back home in the White House hanger at Andrews..

Chump change savings, perhaps, when you have a $17 trillion national debt that will jump by $700 billion before the end of this month.



January 29, 2009

"I want mine."

"I want mine."

Looks like President Obama's 'economic salvation' package of some $800 billion and change is going to be approved by both House and Senate.

Not long after Bush and his Band of Brothers dropped $750 billion on the banks without telling them: 1) they had to use it to make l-o-a-n-s; and 2) no, it would not be allright to use the federal dollars for the banks' "performance" bonuses to top management.

But, most of us are already lining up to get our piece of the new pie.

The government has announced new restrictions on direct lobbying for the money. That won't work. For long.

Congressman Mark Schauer is surely getting a deluge of project ideas; and his phone ringing off the wall or desk.

After all, if we're gonna give out cash like drunken sailors payin their bar bill, why not some for me?

Why Benton Harbor and not Battle Creek?

Be fair. Be square.

Gimmme mine.

We got ourselves into this financial mess over the past 20 or so years. It was all of us; and none of us. Banks. Wall Street. Real Estate people.  Consumers. All of us living beyond our means or with no means....and thinking the piper would never call.

And while it's not a popular view, or grounded in the reality of the moment, the 'economic salvation' or bailout is a terrible idea...at least as I read and try to understand the problem.

The real problem is no one understands the financial problem, or has much of an idea about a solution.

If you know anything about 12-step recovery programs (yes, dopers and druggers), one of the first steps toward sustained recovery is taking personal inventory and responsibility for one's actions.

I've come to believe in that...the hard way.

What we need not do is spend more money we don't have; lets suck it in and suck it up, individually and collectively, and reorient, recreate our lives and reorder our civic priorities in the United States.

About as much chance as me fitting in my '68 Navy uniform again.

My concern is not so much a personal one. I'll probably get by; eat at least a meal or 2 a day; likely have a roof over my head somewhere and somehow until I die.

But I worry about our children and grandchildren....and the baggage and the nation we leave for them.

It's all about money; and nothing about money.

Scarey as h*ll for most of us. Isn't it?

Here's an interesting perspective:



January 02, 2009

First Impressions

First Impressions


I swear to God it’s a lot easier to misread people’s looks, gestures, comments and emails…than it is to get them correct.

Researchers say most people make up their minds about someone NEW within the first five seconds they see or hear the person speak.

And that first impressions are lasting.

One of my problems is that I fall in love with most every woman I meet – within the first five seconds.   If you got an Olympic Gold Medal for every failed marriage or relationship, I’d be on the cover of Wheaties, instead of Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz or that new swimmer-guy from Ann Arbor.

Anyway, first impressions may be lasting, but they are usually dead W-R-O-N-G.

For years, I wrote a weekly newspaper column about people – and before and after that, held jobs requiring the ability to listen to people, synthesize their views, their skills and potential – and then make judgments about giving away money or hiring them.

No wonder I had trouble holding a job.

 I’d been better off – have a better track record today – from a career reading tarot cards, performing brain surgery blind, or running the Federal Reserve System.

First impressions suck. 

The smartest, most charitable person I've known in my life walks around in old clothes, and likes to muck out horse stalls.

I’ve learned that people are almost ALWAYS much deeper, much more interesting in their views, much better human beings than I first think….

Which says more about what I think of myself, perhaps, than of them.

Or as my Dad would say, looking over at the decked-out, pious dude in the pew across from us at Sunday Mass many years ago, “Jimmy, don’t judge the book by its cover.”

You got that right, Dad.

December 31, 2008

My Cold, Dead Hand


“My Cold, Dead Hand"

“Hello, this is the Compaq Service Center.”

“Yah, see, I bought this Compaq laptop from Office Max six weeks ago.  Along with a four-year extended warranty.  Last night, the hard drive on the computer failed.”

“Did you call Office Max?”

“Yes, three times.  They told me to call you. This 800 number.”

“OK, please give me the computer’s serial number and……”

PHONE goes dead.Dialing. Redialing.  Busy signals.  Redials.

“Hello, this is the Compaq Service Center.”

“OK, someone there just hung up on me.  (Repeats story.)”

“Let’s see how we can help you.  Now from what you say, your Compaq laptop  is on warranty.”

“Warranty?  The thing’s six weeks old!  I have a four-year service agreement.  I HOPE it’s on warranty!”

“Well, just give me those computer serial numbers again, Sir, and your credit card number. It’s simply and easy: You take out the defective hard drive.  Send to us.  And we’ll send you a new hard drive in the mail.

How’s that?”

“What da ya want my credit card number for?”

“For the ‘hold.’”

“’Hold? You wanna put a ‘hold’ on my credit card?  For what?  How much?”

“Just to be sure you send us that old hard drive.”

“How much is the hold?”

“Hmmmmm.  I’d don’t know.  Can you hold two minutes?  Thank you.”

(18 MINUTES LATER, cell phone against my ear; probably getting ear and brain cancer from the radiation.”

“Hello?  Hello?  Yes, sir, that hold on your credit card will be for $299.95.”

“Compaq man.   That’s almost more than I PAID for the laptop.  You’ll have to pry that credit card out of my cold, dead hand.”

"Well, we wouldn't want to haf ta' do that, ha. ha, now would we, Sir?  Didn't work for Charlton Heston."

December 22, 2008


WanderWoman and ‘Starting Over’


I write another blog...on a newspaper site.

And the site "posts" a photo that runs with all your entries. 

I started using the following photo as I.D. awhile back.  Not sure why.  It's nearly 40 years old....found in a box of photographs, rummaging through the closet recently. 

Bloggers started asking me questions about the photo.  Who’s the woman?  When was the photo taken? Am I wearing a Navy uniform? Why do we look so sad?, one asked. 


blog post photo

(Photo, San  Francisco airport. June of 1969. )

       Anne (woman in the photo) and I had been college sweethearts.  And I got leave from the Navy – before heading for Vietnam – to go back home to Kansas City for a few days, so Anne and I could get married.

Which we did.

Through Anne’s brother, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area, we’d arranged to rent an apartment in an old hillside house not far from Twin Peaks…and half a block up the street from where Janis Joplin lived and caroused.  (Which is another story).

Having almost no money, Anne and I could not afford a U-Haul type rental truck to drive and move from Kansas  City to San Francisco. 

So we gave furniture to relatives and most of our clothes, and packed up the remainder in about 8 large boxes; shipping them cheap as “excess baggage” on our flight to the West Coast.

This photo was taken by a passerby in the SF airport.  Shortly after the plane landed and we’d collected our 8 boxes of clothes, books, records, dishes, pots and pans.

If I look upset (which bloggers tell me I do), and we both look tired…for good reason.

For starters, the San Francisco airport was not a very "friendly" place for people wearing military uniforms in 1969.  Everyone under 30 who walked by made a point of giving us The Peace Sign. 

And here we were: in the airport.  

With all the boxes. 

Moving into an apartment. 

Only 5 days before I would leave for Vietnam. 

And the Car Rental Agency at the airport would not rent us a car because I did not possess “a major gas company credit card.”  (Other ones.  But not a major one.)

So we were wondering what in the hell to do, when this photo was taken.

After about 4 hours, one of the Car Rental Agency people, who got tired of us sitting in the nearby baggage claim area, took pity on us.  And rented us the car to transport all the stuff.

We made it to the apartment. I made it to my ship. 

Anne soon got a job in a medical laboratory.  And we had many good times over the next three years, in Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco,  when I was home on leave.

Returning to San Francisco from a final Tonkin Gulf deployment,  Anne meet me at the Naval Air Station Alameda pier when the aircraft carrier came in.

I got off the carrier.  Hugged her.  And she broke the news.

"Jim, we need to talk.  I want you to meet the love of my life," Anne said, gesturing to the young woman standing next to her.

All in all, a rather strange homecoming from the military service.

Anne and I soon divorced. 

She eventually moved back to Kansas City. 

And my career took me many places, eventually to Battle Creek.

But we would see each other for coffee, when I came to Kansas City to visit my parents.

In 2003,  I was in Kansas City to attend my Mom's funeral.  After the service and cemetery, I sat in my car on a bitterly cold morning; waiting for my car to warm and the drive back to Michigan.

Suddenly, Anne tapped my driver's side window.  And asked if we could talk for a few minutes.

We sat in the car and she explained that she'd "changed lifestyles" and that "perhaps we could start all over."

We had a nice chat.  But, I said it seemed a little late for starting over.....

In 2005, I tried to call Anne in Kansas City.  Her sister, Deborah, answered the phone. 

"Sorry, Jim. Anne died two days ago of breast cancer," Deborah said.


December 21, 2008

Playing for Change

Playing for Change: 'Stand By Me'


Turn your speakers up, and enjoy. 

And the lyrics are true, aren't they?


Merry Christmas everyone.

-- Jim

December 06, 2008

When Choices Suck

Ok.  All this doom and gloom stuff sucks.  

 Washington sucks.

Wall Street sucks.

 My last hair cut sucked.

 My bank account sucks. 

So, why not take a deep breath about Detroit's Big Three,  have a laugh, and move forward, I say?

For that laugh, watch this classic, "Loafing" by Abbott and Costello:


And Listen to The Parodox of Choice, why our phone number has seven digits, and a reminder that having too much can sometimes be, too much. 


December 03, 2008



The past few weeks, I've been driving a friend's ancient Ford F-150 truck.

Its speedometer has rolled over the max mileage at least once; because if this four-wheel banger and belcher has only 16,000 miles on it, well, I'm Donald Trump's best buddy and heir apparent.

My friend is an Ironworker.  He's about 6'7....and you wouldn't want to fool with him.  Nice guy, or no nice guy.

His talents as an Ironworker, and all round handyman, are also evident with the truck.  He's welded patches, here and there, like a quilt across the truck's body -- giving it an electic, but also, 'don't screw with me' look.

So, here I am.... 5'6" on a good day, driving this big, semibad a*s truck.

Now the wife or girlfriend might pat you on the head or rub your shoulder, as you sit on the edge of the bed in the morning, and reflect "Oh, sweetie.  If it was good for you, it was good for me.  You know SIZE doesn't matter."

But let me tell you.

Truck size matters on the road.

And I like the feeling.

All the AngerManagement Class flunkees STAY out of the way, far away from F-150 BlackTruck. 

No turning in front of it or me. 

No honking when I sit thru a yellow light.

No tail gating when I go 35 in a 35 zone.


I may be a truck guy, after all.

November 30, 2008

Girlfriends, Cousins and Warren Buffett's Sex Life

I’ve been lookin for a girlfriend….it’s been about five years.  So I was laying awake this morning and wondering about my situation. 

While it's been a pretty rocky time in my life,  today, I was thinking attributes,  positive.

I’m getting older, right?  Yes.   But I still have some hair.  Yes.  Not ugly. No. Not fat.  No. Enjoy life.  Yes. Like books, people, conversation. Yes.

Some would tell you I’m not exactly The Bachelor; and that my track record at The Altar has been…well nothing for the Kentucky Derby bookmakers

But this BCE blogpost isn’t about my girlfriend problem....well sort of.

It’s about my British cousin.  And about Warren Buffet’s sex life.

Bet you know the type of cousin I mean.  A bit stuffy.  Self satisfied.  Dislikes most things about your lifestyle.  Self assured. Well read, thorough and with a wicked sense of humor.

My British cousin is BBC World Radio Service.  We visit every night and all night (no girlfriend, remember?  J) from his Bush House home in London.

And this morning, as I lay awake at 4 a.m., he was rattling on about EVERYTHING and nothing…..as usual.

·         Science story about the possibilities of reversing genes to not only make us live longer; but actually be younger.  So, I’d still be 64, but have a body of a 32 year old…if I wanted one?   Hmmm…, I think, while they're at it,  could they adjust my younger body parts for me?  Make some bigger, some smaller?  "Ok, Doc., while you're adjusting my youth genes. I'd like four inches more there; and four inches less there.  And while you're at it, give me Kirk Douglas' chin."

·         Hard news coverage about how the “normal” financial relationships and contracting of capitalism are, permanently, broken.  No $700 billion bailout will do.  And we’re in store for a new social and economic paradigm.

·         Feature interview with a little girl in Nigeria who sold herself into prostitution in order to feed her parents and seven siblings.  Now that’s a thanksgiving story for America.

·         Long feature on the social impact of Narcoeconomics in Mexico

·         Story on legalization of heroin in Switzerland and its positive impact on crime.

·         Review of the Warren Buffett biography.  Buffett who is curious about everything and everyone, with concern about the human condition, reserved with his trust of others, who tells his kids to “go get a loan at a bank” when they want to borrow money from him; emotionally needy, and who has lived two separate distinct, simultaneous private lives with two women, in different cities.

I’m getting up.  Turning my cousin off.

Going to McDonald’s for coffee and a sausage biscuit. 

Want to come along?

November 27, 2008

The Best Things In Life Aren't Things

I was driving near downtown after lunch yesterday, when I noticed St. Phil Catholic High School students putting out signs reading something like: "The Best Things In Life Aren't Things" Day.

Boy, if that isn't true.

The best things in life are family, friends, faith, community, commitment, loyalty, love, passing 'things' along and forward.

Yesterday, cereal maker Kellogg Company also announced it was going to spend $86 million (or so) to expand its corporate headquarters in our small town of Battle Creek, Michigan, USA; and to help with educational and downtown redevelopment needs.

The announcement brought out a legion of bloggers on our local newspaper’s website.

The same old tired suspects, with the same old tired complaints about corporate influence and control; loss of union jobs; small town Battle Creek generally.

It's hard for me to imagine how ANYONE could not be thankful and excited for Kellogg's decision.

It's not about corporate benefit.  Not even about downtown.

It's about a corporation STAYING in small town America; and making a commitment to the community's future.

The best things in life aren't things.

The best things in life are those that no one can take away from you, when life and times get rough.

So, right on, St. Phil students.

And, thank you, Kellogg.

October 19, 2008

Jelly Roll Blues

Sometimes you get an early warning things

aren't gonna go so well.

Like the time I knew somehow that my twin brother

had fallen through a store's plate glass front window,

and was in serious condition in a far away hospital,

even though no one had told me yet.

I had that feeling when I woke up yesterday.

It was mostly a feeling about my favorite baseball

and college football teams.

On Friday, I'd tried to be positive, chatty with my son

and my friends, about the MSU Spartans,

Mizzo Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays.

But it didn't feel right.

And then Saturday morning, the nude fat lady shows up.

I was sitting at my computer terminal about 10 a.m,

bored, struggling to do Internet research for a client,

and spending more time just looking out

the window to the front yard.

When, about 3 feet before my eyes, this

Amazonian woman, about 6 ft, 300 pounds,

blocks out the sunlight from the window.

She is outside.

She knocks on my window.

She is nude.

I pick up my cell phone, dial 911 as

I open the front door, walk out, trying

to move us as far away from the door as possible.

(And I'm thinking to myself, 'Glad those

jelly rolls hide the merchandise.")

"Are you OK?," I ask the woman.

She mumbles something.

Turns, lumbers across Druid Street, and

into a house.

Two cop cars show up. Go in the house.

Leave 10 minutes later.

I think: "What did they do to help the lady?"

I go back to the computer

and the Internet research.

Thirty minutes later, the sun

disappears again.

SHE IS BACK at my window.

So, to shorten this story,

let me say this time 3 police cars;

two ambulances and a set of clothing

show up for the lady.

Which brings me to the subject of sports teams.

As strange as this may seem, I believe

the nude fat lady was trying to give

me some bad news about the Spartans,

Tigers and Rays' yesterday.

Because when she left, gloom set in.

I knew they were going to lose.

Just hope she doesn't come back this morning.

Tonight is game 7.

September 29, 2008

"Honey, the Chinese Shrunk My Pants!"

"Honey, the Chinese shrunk my pants!'


No, you haven’t put on 2 inches around the waist.

  And your arms aren’t suddenly 3 inches longer.

Yup. It’s those darn Chinese again.

I was sitting in a bar in Shenzhen, China with

 Dave Church’s son. (Some of you in

Battle Creek, Michigan USA may remember Dave’s auto repair business on

 Northeast Capital Avenue and wife Sally’s place

 in the Festival Marketplace downtown.)

Their son was working in Shenzhen for U.S. manufacturers

.  His job was to do spot checks, quality control,  on Chinese

 apparel before loaded on cargo ships to America.

He  was talking about how large U.S. companies, like WalMart, 

have  strict SPC (statistical process control) benchmarks on 

Chinese goods; and station their own people in China to 

inspect shirts, pants, shoes, etc.  in manufacturing plants all across China.

“What about places like Family Dollar, Big Lots and others

 that import Chinese products and sell  in the U.S.?,” I asked him.

“Buyer beware,” he replied.

My Chinese family’s favorite weekend car ride was to the

 huge open air market, next to the bus and train station in

 downtown Shenzhen.  Where you could buy aa "Rollex"

watch for $30; and a "Polo" sports shirt for $5.  And they

 looked just f-i-n-e. Until you get them home and put them on.

A  lot of Chinese manufactured products are still a scam in

 terms of labels, materials and accurate sizing.

If the price is low, and you’re buying the item in a deep 

discount store, look at the “manufactured in” label. 

 Insist on trying the item on; or getting a receipt to return it.

Chinese manufacturers routinely put the wrong size on clothing.

  An adult XL can really be a M.  An adult S might fit you 5 year old.

It’s not because of a language difficulty.

The Chinese do it because they save 10 to 20 percent 

on fabrics by mislabeling the  finished items. 

So, you're saying to yourself,  this isn't a problem ranking

 up there with the end of Moore's Law.

But  I want my pants to fit.

I have enough problems with the aftermath of Twinkies

 and Double Whoppers, to worry more about those darn Chinese.