Saturday, 27 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES---LOOK WHO CAME TO TOWN

I continue my report on my sentimental journey to my hometown.

#37 A VERY CLEVER CON MAN
     He stopped his 18 wheeler --tire delivery truck--at my father's service station---said he delivered tires all over Louisiana---had competitive  prices on most brands---BUT SUPER PRICES ON BLEMS. (tires with some slight defect) ---had only two samples with him which he would sell for one fourth their regular price--- they had only the tiniest defect---   My father bought those two and was promised more on the next load.  The trucker called a week later asking how many my father wanted---guaranteeing he could reject any blem he didn't like---but they must be paid for before leaving the factory.  Daddy ordered a hundred ---the check was cashed and the tires never delivered.
We went to Chicago to the "factory" and discovered a boarded up warehouse.  I can still see my father looking through a dusty window into a vacant room----silently accepting that he had been conned.  No doubt he was one of many station owners ripped off.  He was embarrassed--all I ever heard from him was a single guttural groan.

#38 GAINES FLORENCE STOPS A CON
     Gaines ran my father's station.  Guy buys a pack of cigarettes---lays down a $10 bill. As change is being made the guy says wait---I have the correct amount and begins a complicated money entanglement that ends up with a $5 profit to the purchaser and a confused clerk.  We learned later that this scam was done at two more stores in town.  But when Gaines got confused---he said WAIT A MINUTE---LET'S START OVER---and then he step by step completed the sale without losing any money.

#40 ALABAMA RAY'S FREE SHOW
      Big 18 wheeler truck rolls into town---the above message on its side. flyers posted around town promised an exciting,  free-- one night only stage performance. The stage was created by lowering one wall of the trailer.  A mixed audience of about a hundred--blacks and whites-- stood to watch the show.  The MC invited 3 kids on the stage for a whistle contest.  The first to make a whistle sound won a box of candy.  The catch was that first you had to eat three crackers.  Of course I put all three crackers in my mouth and found that I didn't have the saliva to get them down.  The audience laughed at my pitiful effort to whistle with a mouth full of crackers.  My cousin just nibbled away at his crackers and soon whistled to win the prize.
     Next up was a humorous ghost story drama---stopped at intermission to sell us boxes of candy for fifty cents.  Some boxes had tickets inside for prizes attached to the rear wall of the truck.  The MC said that if all the candy was sold then all the prizes not claimed would be just thrown out into the audience.  A lot of candy was sold--- a few prizes given then the drama completed,  Next morning the truck and trailer were gone.  This has long served as a model for me of one perfect lifestyle.  More significantly it was a rare time when the races stood together--intermixed.

#41 SATURDAY NIGHT TENT SHOW
     In the vacant lot beside my father's bar they erected the tent ----about 30 ft by 40 ft---all us kids pitched in---two sets of "seats" set up---a colored side and a white side---each had 3 stringers, anchored at the front and  held up  by A-frame supports--tall medium short toward the front for a stadium effect.  The seats consisted of planks across these stringers---no back support.  The entertainment was mostly westerns but some comedies.  Also an adventure serial  that strung us along for months with cliff-hanger endings.  (I remember the Clyde Beatty one)  The cost was fifty cents--I think---because my family never had to pay---that was the rent for using our land.  Midway, the movie would stop to change reels.
     One night someone on the white side kept lobbing rocks over to the colored side--eventually some rocks came lobbing back. More and more came both ways---both sides were getting mad.  Etched in my mind is the scary climax:  As the movie ended---in the projector's bright light I saw a hail of rocks flying in both directions----things were getting very serious---and then when the interior lights came on---it suddenly stopped.  Both sides realizing the dangers of an all out race war.

#42 A CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
      Hard to believe---but true---a real circus---albeit a small one---came to town and set up for one night.  I was very young and barely remember a few of the acts.  I'm embarrassed to tell you that my most vivid memory was being part of the tightly pressed crowd and a lovely black girl's breast against my arm.  I savored the moment.

#43 A CARNIVAL COMES TO TOWN--LEAVES SOMETHING GOOD.
      It had most of the conventional carnival features----savory food smells---try your luck booths---a small Ferris wheel and most significantly a swing ride where you would be snapped into a seat suspended from a tall rotating metal structure.  Once in motion it swung us high and wide for a thrilling ride. 
     Soon the carnival left town and AMAZINGLY-----LEFT THE SWING RIDE BEHIND.  And there it stood for a year or two---without it's motor.  You'd think the town would activate it---but no one did---and finally people scavenged the metal and chains till one day it was all gone.

#44 MAN WITH CROOKED DICE
     He joined a crap game in the side room of my father's bar and damn near got away with everyone's money-----making 7 straight passes.  Then my brother picked up the dice and noticed that they only had 2,4 and 6 on them----impossible to lose with them.
Amazingly, when cornered--the guy said to my brother:  You're not going to make me give the money back are you?  Bud Foster spoke up and said ---of course you'll give it back if you expect to leave this room in one piece.  He gave it back.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I have more Sondheimer stories but the end is in sight.  I'm beginning to get the grand overall vision about the meaning of it all.  I hope next time to share some of my glory moments and some shameful ones that no doubt shaped the style and attitude of the person writing this. After that I will take a break and share an interview with a local boy who made good---built a farming empire and told me the surprising secret.

UPDATE:  People have joined and departed our little cluster of friends in the forest.

This view out my door shows the monsoon rains that arrive every day about noon.
 
CB rolls in from Albuquerque
 
And promptly gets stuck
All us guys ponder the situation. 4 guys have 4 different theories on the best way to get it loose:  1. Momentum 2. digging out  3. Getting grip for the wheels and 4. Towing.
Because we are open minded, we tried all 4. 
 
Towing plus the other three finally succeeded.  What a joy it is to have a problem to solve.
 
 
 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES---AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

I recently took a sentimental Journey home to Sondheimer, La to renew old memories.
At the end of these stories, I will show you what's happening here in the forest.

#33 JACKIE MOVES AWAY
MY BEST FRIENDS: JACKIE WARD, JERRY GREER
 Jackie Ward, Jerry Wayne Greer and I were a daily triad---adventuring in a hundred ways. Jackie's father ran the stave mill---walked with a limp.  In grade school Jackie won the girl I wanted--Jean Williams---I ached for her for years-- was jealous of his success---glad when they moved away in the 10th grade----managed one date with Jean---did not charm her---feel the loss to this day.  Read the book: LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA--About a guy who works 60 years to win his childhood sweetheart----considered finding her and taking another shot---even now. Naaaaw
I'm not that obsessed---just a thought.
At our 25th reunion--I learned that Jackie had died---no details.

#34:  JERRY WAYNE'S TERRIBLE ENDING
     We went off to college together----roomed together in the dorms----both of us got thrown out for a firecracker incident----I went off to another college---Jerry started work on a pipeline---began to carouse with a rough crowd---became the toughest of a tough bunch---feared for his barroom brawls---few would dare cross him---became huffy and temperamental---married---got fiercely upset with his wife and father---in a fit of rage he killed them both with a shotgun then killed himself in 1974.

#35 THE BEASLEY FAMILY ----CLAN IN THE HINTERLANDS
     There were 10 of them---tenant farming for the Parker plantation----living about a mile from town-- down a muddy road.  I went home with Elvis once and was entertained by the family.  They would put a bottle on a pole and everybody would throw rocks at it----celebrating the one that finally hit it.  The Mother's bedroom was strewn with movie magazines.  I ate with all of  them around an 8 ft wooden table with benches.  We had fried salt meat ---biscuits, syrup and gravy.  One of the little ones fell asleep at the table and fell face first into his plate of syrup and biscuit.  An older brother grasped his hair--- raised his head---someone wiped his face with a dishcloth and sent him to bed.
I walked home by flashlight---somewhat enamored by their tribal ways.
Elvis was an iffy friend---a bit too easily offended.  About age 20 he left home and began drinking---on a binge night in Tallulah he drank enough to stop his heart---is buried in the cemetery there. Two of the family went on to normal lives---Christine and Pascal.

#36 MARY FRANKLIN BUILDS A SECOND LIFE
      She lived with her husband Dee in a shack on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I visited once when their house was surrounded by water.  it would squish up the floor cracks when you walked around inside.  I was perhaps 5 years old and had great fun paddling around on a large plank.  Dee earned a living servicing the river lights that guided barge traffic at night--he took me with him once---a very long day upstream putting kerosene in the lights.  Later, he died when his clothing got caught in the drive shaft.  Mary moved to Sondheimer---worked in my Father's drugstore/cafĂ©. She chose as her best friends---US KIDS.  In her Jeep she would take us swimming---on picnics--and one by one taught us to drive her Jeep.  I won't forget her indulging me one night going with me under the iron bridge to try and catch a sleeping bird.

     She was attractive and suitors came calling.  Once she lamented to me that all the men wanted her to be a wife to them before they were married.  I lost track of her for many years---then visited her in a nursing home to reminisce.  She died soon after and I went to her funeral----was saddened that the presiding preacher only talked about sin.  I wished I had stood and spoke of her virtues----thenceforth I did--at my father's funeral and at my mother's.   

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  Slowly I'm beginning to see the big picture story I went home to get.  All these stories mean something.  Bear with me for a few more stories and I will share it.

UPDATE:

The monsoons have come---with a vengeance--This is the view from my front window.  (Laurie's rig)  We all love the rain.
 
Almost every morning we walk together--this is our current group.
We walk about a mile to this historic spot.  Could you possibly guess what this was.  It is old route 66.  When I was a boy of 5--my mother drove us down this very road.
My current campsite---that's Laurie's rig to the right.  We are in the Kaibab National Forest---elevation 7,000 ft
 
 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES-----TOWN CHARACTERS PART 2

Sondheimer was an unincorporated town with two mills---a stave mill and a lumber mill.  It had no government--no mayor--no police--no fire department---no water department---no sewage treatment plant---no garbage service.  And yet we managed----everybody just managed on their own.  Dogs ran free---got run over frequently.  People made their own wells---some caught rainwater off their roofs---burned their trash in barrels----built makeshift septic tanks or pit toilets.  When a house caught fire---it just burned down---I've seen 5 of them turned to ashes.  What the town lacked in services it gained in freedom.  With no zoning laws people just built whatever---wherever they wished.  I built a tree house that the Swiss Family Robinson's would respect.  40 feet in a pecan tree.  Here's more town characters:

#29 Bob Branch's Quirk
     A one-armed black man who gained some status in the community by gathering around him a group of blacks who worked together as a team chopping cotton. (young cotton plants must be thinned else they won't thrive)  Bob acted as an informal union leader---negotiating wages and work schedule.  Despite his one arm, he would chop cotton with the others.  Locally his team was known as the Bob Branch Bunch.

Bob knew that collectively his group could get a better wage than individually---and that white farmers liked the convenience of dealing with just one person.  Bob understood and accepted white dominance and even developed a very quirky way of making himself "harmless" ---non threating---approachable by the whites.

I can't imagine how it started but I've seen it acted out many times.  My father loved to demonstrate the quirk in front of an audience.  He would grab Bob's stub of an arm and say something ridiculous---like:  "I ain't no good for nothing"----Bob then would repeat the sentence: "I ain't no good for nothing"---as though it were a compulsion he couldn't resist.  Then he would laugh--saying:  "Oh lawdy mr Roy---why you make me say such things."  Then everybody would have a good laugh.  I've seen my father do a series of these jokes with Bob when he had an audience. 

Even now I don't quite understand this strange game.  Perhaps It served as way for aliens to connect without jeopardizing the power structure.

Once, I tried the trick out myself---to experience the power.  Sure enough, he repeated the sentence---then said:  Oh lawdy mister  Poppy---why you do me like yo daddy.
I sensed  there was something wrong about what I had done. That it was a POWER demonstration----I was ashamed ---didn't do it again!

#30 Macho Bruce gets himself killed
     The first dead person I ever saw.  He was handsome and lively---a take-charge--macho--log truck driver.  That fateful day he was unloading his logs when they got stuck on the truck bed.  Normally they tumble off on their own when the straps are released.  This day Bruce had an audience---and when his helper balked because of the danger---Bruce took the peavey (steel tipped sharpened pole with a hook attached for rolling logs) and hooked the blocking log--giving it a hefty roll.  It lurched and rolled down on him before Bruce could dodge.  Bystanders got the log off him quickly but he lay perfectly still--never moving.  We all gathered round--helpless.  The sudden stark tragedy of death stunned us kids to speechlessness.  He lay in the mill yard more than an hour before the doctor/coroner arrived.  We learned later that his instant death was caused by a broken rib puncturing his heart.

#31 Betty Hatfield's short marriage
     ----was a pretty and sexy teenager with many boyfriends.  Billy Dunn--somewhat shy local farm boy was smitten with her----offered marriage---she accepted---moved in with the Dunn family---2 miles out of town.  Soon she got bored with farm life and began sneaking off to see her old boyfriends.  The marriage lasted all of one month.

#32 Mister Hatfield: Scary little man
    .  Perhaps he was related to the infamous Hatfields---because he was a fierce little man.  The first adult fight I ever witnessed was this little man savagely  beating a much larger man with a flashlight.  I was horrified at the brutality and raging anger of mister Hatfield----afraid he would kill the bigger man.  I can still remember the smash to the face as they fought in the rain.  I think the bigger man had insulted Hatfield's daughter Betty.  Bystanders dragged the barely conscious victim from a puddle of water.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I lived 17 years in Sondheimer---returning for the summers for 2 more.  It seems  those years have been far more influential in shaping my character and destiny that subsequent years.  Perhaps this is true of you also.  There is something simmering in me that wants to be said ---and I can't quite get out with it.  So I will continue telling Sondheimer stories till clarity comes.

UPDATE:  Still with my friends in the Forest near Williams, Az.  The Monsoon rains have come---nearly every afternoon---they are cool,delicious and welcome. Yesterday was one of the heaviest downpours I have ever experienced.  Loved it! (lit my heater last night) I'm reading FIFTY SHADES OF GREY--upgrading my sexual IQ.

Monday, 15 July 2013

WHAT TRAYVON MARTIN AND I HAVE IN COMMON

I THINK I'M  IN A UNIQUE  POSITION TO COMMENT ON THE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN ACQUITTAL----BECAUSE I HAVE FACED A VERY SIMILAR SITUATION------AND SURVIVED.

I was in my late thirties---traveling the Eastern US alone --living in my tiny black ford falcon van.  Late one night I found myself near the exact spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware.  Despite the hour, I wanted to visit the spot.  So I drove into the park and was about to get out.

From out of nowhere a cop car raced up and an armed officer got out and began yelling at me:  WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?

MY ANGER SURGED----(I WILL NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO TALK TO ME IN THAT TONE.)  IN A GREAT FURY, I GOT OUT OF MY TRUCK AND WENT AT THE OFFICER YELLING:  "GODDAMMIT I'M HERE TO VISIT THE CROSSING SPOT AND NOBODY CAN GET AWAY WITH TALKING TO ME THAT WAY".  And in my fury I walked menacingly toward the officer.  He pulled his gun and said to me "Whoa there son---you're about to get killed."

That sobered me and I stopped!  But continued to rage at him for his manners.

To my utter amazement---HE APOLOGIZED.  Said that I had spoiled a drug stakeout.  Said that I could file a complaint with his captain if I wished.

I calmed down and began to realize how close I had just come to getting shot.  MY ANGER HAD NEARLY GOT ME KILLED.  

Do you see the similarities to the Trayvon Martin /George Zimmerman case.  Trayvon no doubt felt the rage of being unfairly targeted----AND THEN CHARGED AND ATTACKED ZIMMERMAN.   He was not as lucky as I ---his anger did in fact get him killed. 

That is why I think the verdict of not guilty was fair.  Whatever bad judgments and actions Zimmerman made CANNOT JUSTIFY TRAYVON'S ATTACK. 

Oppressed people everywhere are obliged to intelligently deal with their anger or pay a terrible price.  Trayvon Martin chose the path of violence and paid with his life.

Friday, 12 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES----TOWN CHARACTERS


For those just tuning in---this is a series of stories from my hometown--Sondheimer, La.  I recently returned after a long absence to catch the flavor of my boyhood and share some of it.

#22 ELLEN----CONSENSUAL ADULTERY
     Friday's----Ellen would drive through town en route to Tallulah to meet her lover. She was married to another but her affair was an open  secret she did not try to hide.  When my mother questioned her conduct, Ellen said that her aging,impotent husband had given his permission.
When one of Ellen's children drowned in a ditch---I heard my mother speculate that maybe God was trying to wake up Ellen to her immorality. (that was not my mother's finest hour)

#23 MINOLA AND OLD DAD
     Minola was a lovely black woman who supplemented her domestic earnings by selling favors to old Dad (he really was old and he was my best colored friend) One day I opened old Dad's door---excited to tell him something---and discovered Minola sitting on his lap.  It was an instant education in value exchange---for I knew that old Dad's check had come that day.

#24 BABY SISTER
     Was Minola's beautiful daughter----maybe 18 at the time of this incident.  She was fiesty and oh so sexy. I was about 15 and I propositioned her.  Her answer stunned me:  Uh Uh she said---shaking her head----I'M DOING THAT WITH YOUR DADDY.  Later on Baby Sister burned down two of my father's houses and went away.

#25 BILL FREEMAN---HIRED HAND
     He worked for my father for 40 years---was always a part of our family.  We built a room on the side of our house for him.  Whatever my father was into---Bill learned to do it: farming, bulldozing, sawmilling, dragline operator, trucker, cattle raising etc.  He would do the damned-est things for me:  Once set me adrift  on a giant stump floating down the Mississippi river because I wanted to experience it.  He would lift me high into the air on  dragline cables and swing me about with me just holding on to the logging hooks.
He got drunk most weekends and often gambled.  When he won he would hurry over to my mother's store and buy a big box of frozen shrimp----which mother would boil and the two of them would eat it all.
Once, he told me straight faced that masturbation would cause blindness. (I do need glasses to read)
Bill continued to work for my father into old age----even saved up a fair bit of money.  Finally could work no more---his son came for him.  He died shortly afterward.  

#26 JAMES WHITSEY----BLACKSMITH / ARTIST
     ---Was Sondheimer's blacksmith for many years---hammered plows sharp etc for the farming community.  But there was more to him than shaping hot iron----he had the soul of an artist---and he dared to show that side of himself.  He made---gave away--- and occasionally wore fancy rings and jewelry.  When he came to town on Saturdays---he created a sensation with his marvelous walking cane.  I cannot do it justice---but will draw a crude picture to suggest it.  It had a tiny plastic cannon mounted on it's front---made of toothbrush handles somehow fused and molded colorfully together--the top had a glittering jewel and the length of it was inlaid with  iridescent diamond shapes.  (abalone?) People would crowd around to see it--he said he might patent it.
     He let me putter in his shop---taught me to make a ring from a quarter. (gently tap it all round on a firm surface with a hammer till it flares out--then drill its center out--then polish)  I made one for Buela Nugent and she wore it for years. When he sold his shop James moved to town into one of Daddy's shotgun houses---- remodeled the front of it as I have pictured---building two imposing--plantation style--white columns.
I hope someone will remember Whitsey's columns and write in to confirm my memory.

And I would love to know what became of his wondrous walking cane 

#27 A BROTHER FROM THE BLUE
     Here's how it happened:  I came home one weekend from college and a strapping, familiar looking stranger, about my own age was in our living room.  My father said to me: "Poppy"--(remember that's my name back home)  MEET YOUR BROTHER JOHN.  Sure enough I had a brother I was seeing for the first time---a product of one of my dad's sensual adventures.  He had found him--brought him to Sondheimer--legally adopted him.  The new brother and I got on well over lots of years---UNTIL INHERITANCE TIME.  Untangling a rightful distribution of the estate was a matter of some tension--till we sat down one day and came to an agreement---(saving a lot of legal fees) He lives in Sondheimer to this day---is currently a prison guard.  One day John gave me one more surprise:  I HAVE A SISTER SOMEWHERE  that I have never seen.  (Sis: If you see this contact me---we share blood and ought to know one another)

#28 BILL KILLS
     He was an arrogant driver----I have been with him as he sped through stop signs---explaining to me that he had super peripheral vision--didn't need to stop and look.  Furthermore he claimed to have super night vision---and would drive without lights to prove it.  AND THEN ONE NIGHT --two miles south of Sondheimer---a group of kids were skating in the highway just when Bill was proving his excellence of night vision.  He ran over Billy Anderson---a boy of about 12---killing him instantly.  Bill insisted that his lights were on and somehow escaped punishment.

UPDATE
I'm still in the forest near Flagstaff, camped with about 10 friends.

We walk twice daily and live our separate lives between walks.  Perfect!

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I have more Sondheimer stories to share--think it's doing something good to me to dredge up the memories.  Hope I'm proving that every town and every place HAS THE FULL DRAMA OF HUMAN EXISTENCE IN IT.  To reap the benefits of the drama one merely has to NOTICE IT.  Its lessons flow effortlessly into us and makes us wiser.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Google Logic: Why Google Does the Things it Does

“What does Google want?”

A favorite pastime among people who watch the tech industry is trying to figure out why Google does things. The Verge was downright plaintive about it the other day (link), and I get the question frequently from financial analysts and reporters. But the topic also comes up regularly in conversations with my Silicon Valley friends.

It’s a puzzle because Google doesn’t seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment. Google’s behavior drives customers and partners nuts, but is especially troubling to financial analysts who have to tell people whether or not to buy Google’s stock. Every time Google has a less than stellar quarter, the issue surges up again.

As I wrote recently when discussing Dell (link), it’s a mistake to assume there’s a logical reason for everything a company does. Sometimes managers act out of fear or ignorance or just plain stupidity, and trying to retrofit logic onto their actions is as pointless as a primitive shaman using goat entrails to explain a volcano.

But in Google’s case, I think its actions do make sense – even the deeply weird stuff like the purchase of Motorola. The issue, I believe, is that Google follows a different set of rules than most other companies. Apple uses “Think Different” as its slogan, but in many ways Google is the company that truly thinks differently. It’s not just marching to a different drummer; sometimes I think it hears an entirely different orchestra.

Google’s orchestra is unique because of three factors: corporate culture, governance, and personal politics. Let’s start with the culture.


Google culture: You are what you do

The strategic thinking of most companies is shaped by the way they do business. For example, a farmer thinks in terms of annual seasons and crops; everything revolves around that yearly cycle. Manufacturing companies, the traditional foundation of a 20th century economy, plan in terms of big projects that take a long time to implement and require a lot of preparation. If you’re building a car or a plane or even a smartphone, you have to plan its features well in advance, drive hardware and software to completion at the same time, and arrange manufacturing and distribution long before you actually build anything. The companies that build complex physical things naturally plan their products in terms of lifecycles lasting at least 12 to 24 months, and sometimes much longer.

That long planning cycle dominated big companies in the 20th century, and was driven into all our heads through generations of business books and business school classes. It’s how most of our brains were formatted.

An internet company, like Google, works at a fundamentally different pace. Web software changes continuously. You don’t plan it rigidly; you evolve it day by day in response to the behavior of customers. The faster and more flexibly you evolve, the more successful your products will be.

This evolutionary approach, and the Agile design processes that support it, is built into the fiber and psyche of web companies. They don’t think in terms of long-term detailed plans; they think in terms of stimulus and response.

This is a dramatic change in the history of business. In the past, the nimble companies were always the little ones. The larger your company, the more it valued planning and the long-term view. Google is one of the first very large tech companies ever to pride itself on rapid response rather than rigid planning.

On top of this quick-turn bias there’s the cultural training of Google’s senior management. Most big companies end up being run by professional managers who came up through business school or finance, where they get trained in the rhythms and personality of traditional big business. They learn a shared vocabulary and set of values that are very familiar and comfortable to investors. By contrast, Google is completely controlled by engineering PhDs. They speak the language of science rather than business, and they’re contemptuous of the vague directional platitudes and reassuring noises made by modern finance and marketing.

I think most reporters and analysts don’t understand how fundamentally different the engineering mindset is from traditional business thinking. It’s a very distinct paradigm, unfamiliar to most people who haven’t studied science (link).

One key element of the engineering mindset is the use of scientific method: you encourage a Darwinian marketplace of ideas, you test those ideas through controlled experiments, and you make decisions based on experimental data.

In its behavior and vocabulary, Google oozes scientific method. A couple of times recently I’ve heard Google executives say in public, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” (link). It's an old quote, dating back at least to Lord Kelvin in the 1800s. It's also a subtle twist on the traditional mantra used in web design: “that which you measure, you can improve.” The web design version says you should measure everything you can; the Google executive version implies that nothing really matters unless you can measure it.

That’s a very scientific, rational point of view, but I couldn’t help thinking that if you had said something like that to Steve Jobs, he would have taken your head off with a dull knife. The whole idea of vision at a place like Apple is that you pursue things you can’t fully quantify or measure; that great product design is an art, and the most important changes are the ones you intuit rather than prove in advance.

But engineers are trained not to act on intuition. You are allowed to have intuition, of course, but you use it to make hypotheses, which you then test. You act on the results of those tests.

There have been other big companies run by engineers, of course. HP in its glory days was a great example. But those companies were almost always wedded to traditional long-term planning cycles. What makes Google unusual is its combination of an engineer’s love of scientific method with the web’s rapid iterative development. Put those two characteristics together, and Google often behaves like a big bundle of short-term science experiments.

Why did you kill my favorite product? Take Google’s bizarre practice of publicly killing products. To most companies, killing a product is a shameful thing. It disappoints customers, and it hurts your own ego because it’s an admission that you failed. Most companies hide their product cancellations: they try to disguise them as a “reallocation” or “new focus” or some other doublespeak.

Google does the exact opposite – a couple of times a year it trumpets to the world that it’s terminating products and services that millions of people love and rely on. Google isn’t merely up front about these cancellations; it’s downright cheerful, as if turning off Google Reader or Google Desktop is an accomplishment to be proud of.

And to Google, maybe it is. If you look at the world through the eyes of the scientific method, every Google project is an experiment, and experiments must be periodically reviewed. When an experiment is completed, you either choose to follow up on it, or you terminate it and move on to something else. A scientist doesn’t get emotional about this; it’s the way the system works, and everyone knows that it’s all for the best.

By announcing its terminated experiments, I think Google isn’t admitting failure, it’s proudly demonstrating that scientific principles are in use. I think Google’s management views the cancellations as proof that it’s being focused and logical.


Google management: Who’s in charge here?


The second unusual aspect of Google is its ownership structure. Never forget: Google is not really a public company. Sure, it has stock and all the other attributes of a normal public company, but 56.7% of Google’s voting shares are held by cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page (link). As long as they remain friends, they can do whatever they want with the company, and they cannot be fired.

I don’t have a problem with that. Google has always been up front about it, and besides I’ve seen many large public companies manage themselves into ruin in pursuit of quarterly returns. It’s refreshing to see a big company that doesn’t enslave itself to the quarterly report. As Page put it in 2004, “by investing in Google, you are placing an unusual long term bet on the team, especially Sergey and me” (link).

How long term is that bet? I’m not sure Google’s senior management even thinks in terms of annual returns, let alone quarterly. Brin and Page are both about 40 years old as of 2013. They have a life expectancy of about 38 more years, to about 2050, and I have no reason to think that they plan to work anywhere else in their lives. So I think Google’s planning horizon goes to at least the year 2050. Page himself likes to talk about his 50-year planning horizon, so he may well be thinking out to the 2060s.

To put that in context, some scientists predict that we’ll achieve superhuman machine intelligence well before 2050 (link). I’m not endorsing that timeline, by the way; I think it may be optimistic. But my point is, Google could be planning almost anything.

Combine the first two unique things about Google and you get an interesting picture. Most companies have a long, detailed planning cycle in pursuit of quarterly goals. That often makes them very predictable. It also makes it hard for them to get anything done – when your planning cycle is longer than your goal cycle, you’ll often change goals faster than you can achieve any of them.

Google does just the opposite. It has a short, unpredictable planning cycle in pursuit of very long-term objectives. It’s likely to pursue those objectives relentlessly, but its near term actions will look random, because they’re just Darwinian experiments along the way.

In other words, there is probably a method to Google’s madness, but they’re not going to tell you what it is.

But there’s one more factor about Google that we need to consider: it’s run by human beings. Larry Page is not Spock. No matter how logical and dispassionate he tries to be, he and the rest of Google’s managers have psychological needs and reactions that they cannot transcend. That means Google has corporate politics.


Google politics: The coming-out party of Larry Page

I don’t think you can fully explain Google’s behavior over the last several years without looking at the relationship between its CEOs during that time, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page. Google’s first CEO, in its very early days, was Page. Investors convinced Page and Brin that they needed to bring in professional management to organize the company. Reluctantly they agreed, and supposedly Steve Jobs was at the top of their wish list. That raises some fascinating what-if scenarios, but Jobs was already occupied, and eventually they settled on Eric Schmidt, formerly of Sun.

A video of Page from 2000 gives an interesting insight into his thinking at the time. It was recorded a year before Schmidt joined Google. A nonprofit called the Academy of Achievement recorded video interviews with Page and Brin. The videos are a fascinating window into the early thinking of both men. In one clip, Page is asked about the challenges of being a CEO at age 27 (link). He replies:
"If you manage people for 20 years, or something like that, you pick up things. So I certainly lack experience there, and that's an issue. But I sort of make up for that, I think, in terms of understanding where things are going to go, having a vision about the future, and really understanding the industry I am in, and what the company does."

So Page acknowledged his need for tutoring in management, but at the same time he went out of his way to call himself a visionary. I haven’t met Larry Page, but there’s one thing I know for sure: anyone who calls himself a visionary at age 27 does not lack for confidence.

Schmidt arrived soon after, and for the next ten years Page served a kind of management apprenticeship under him. I don’t want to overstate Schmidt’s role; even then, Page and Brin had control of the company, and could have ousted Schmidt if they really wanted to. But even if Page agreed that working for Schmidt was necessary, it can’t have been easy.
   
Early in Schmidt’s tenure, he and Page appeared together to address students at Stanford. The session was recorded on video, and Stanford posted it online here (link). The whole video is worth watching, but the segment I’ve embedded below is especially interesting because it shows the sometimes awkward interaction between Schmidt and Page.


Schmidt is the more articulate of the two. He interrupts to preface things before Page can make a comment, and sometimes comes back afterward to put a different spin on something Page said. In this clip, watch Page’s face when Schmidt interrupts him to deliver the punchline at the end. You should judge it for yourself, but to me Schmidt and Page look like one of those married couples who value each other but also get on each-other’s nerves.

No matter how much Page appreciated Schmidt’s wisdom, no matter how fruitful their collaboration, it can’t have been easy for Page to be mentored like this for ten years. If I were in his shoes, I’d have compiled a long list of things I wanted to change as soon as I was in charge.

That time came in 2011, when Page returned as CEO and Schmidt was kicked upstairs to be Google’s Chairman and chief explainer (link).

Page acted quickly, reorganizing the company and accelerating the termination of projects (link). I think that helped reinforce the use of the scientific method. It also helped Page assert his authority.

Then Page bought Motorola Mobility for over $12 billion. I don’t think you can understand the Motorola deal without taking into account the management change at Google. It was Page’s first major business deal as CEO, a chance to finally spread his wings and put his distinctive stamp on the company. Any human being with Page’s experience and ego would want to do something like that. So I believe ego played a role in the Motorola deal. But I don’t think that was the only motivation.


My take on why Google bought Motorola

Remember Google’s business situation in 2011. It still had huge economic resources, but it was no longer the dynamic new kid in the industry. That crown had fallen to Facebook, which was growing like a weed and which was not Google’s friend. At the time, Google was kicking itself for failing to recognize the threat earlier, and for responding to it so ineptly. I’m sure Page was adamant that he didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Like social networking, mobile was a critical growth area for Google. The threat in mobile was Apple, which was doing a great job of integrating hardware and software to produce superior products. Many people at the time felt Google was destined to play second fiddle to Apple in mobile forever.

Then the opportunity came along to buy Motorola. Here’s how I think that parsed to Google:

—If people are right about Apple’s power in system design, we may need to move much more aggressively into mobile hardware than we have to date. If that happens, owning Motorola gives us a head start.
—Even if we don’t end up needing Motorola’s hardware business, we’ll learn an enormous amount from managing the company. Those skills and insights will help us manage our other hardware licensees.
—We’re going to pay a bunch of money for the patents anyway, so why not buy the whole thing? We might end up writing off most of the purchase, but who cares about annual returns? It’s better to have a bad year than take the risk of being blind-sided the way we were by Facebook.
   
I think the Motorola deal wasn’t just about the patents or about making a profit in device sales. It was about buying insurance against a surprise from mobile device manufacturers, especially Apple. If you think of Google as a company that sets long-term objectives and then runs experiments in pursuit of them, the Motorola deal is just an unusually large experiment along the road to mobile.

Add to that chain of logic Page’s natural desire to exercise his new powers, and the Motorola deal starts to look very understandable to me.

So was the deal worth the money? It’s too early to tell, but I doubt Larry Page is even asking that question. As long as Google learns from the purchase and doesn’t get blindsided in hardware, the deal served its purpose.
   

What happens next?

If you’re an investor, you should expect more off-the-wall acquisitions and product cancellations from Google. They’re built into the system. But I think Google’s unusual culture and management structure give it some other fairly predictable weaknesses. Those are potential opportunities for competitors, vulnerabilities for Google to guard against, and issues for investors to consider.

Weakness #1: Wandering vision. Google’s iterative development approach is very effective for pursuing a long-term goal when the company has a clear idea of its destination. The company’s development of self-driving cars is a good example: by relentlessly testing and tweaking the design, they’ve made much more progress than I believed was possible. Like most people in Silicon Valley, I’ve had the experience of driving on the freeway alongside those Google cars, and it’s very impressive (except for the fact that they adhere rigidly to the speed limit, but that’s a subject for a different post).

Google is much less effective when its original goal in a market changes. Because of its quick-reaction nature, Google frequently launches projects that seem very important at the time, but later turn out to be not so critical after all. The market evolves, priorities change, maybe a competitor becomes less prominent. When that happens, the Google projects are in danger of cancellation, and nobody likes working on a canceled project. So the teams frequently start iterating on their goals the same way they would on their features. Usually they end up chasing the latest trendy issue in search of a revenue stream and continued existence.

That’s usually the road to hell. Once a project starts changing goals, it’s almost impossible to diagnose the cause of any problems it has with market acceptance. Did we choose the wrong goal, or did we execute poorly?  It’s usually impossible to tell.

To put it in scientific terms, it’s like running an experiment in which you have several independent variables. Good luck interpreting your results.

Google Docs is a great example. It was launched to undercut Microsoft’s Office franchise. Over time as Microsoft became weaker, that was no longer a compelling reason for existence, and Docs was merged into Drive and repurposed as a competitor to the newly-trendy Dropbox. Feature evolution in the core applications moved at a crawl.

Now there are two new challenges to Drive/Docs: Apple is turning iWork into a cross-platform web app, and Flickr has upped the stakes in the free storage race to a terabyte (yes, I know Flickr is photos only, but you don’t really think Yahoo will stop there, do you?) Which threat will the Drive team respond to? I don’t know, but because of the way they’ve been wandering there’s a very good chance they’ll end up below critical mass against all of their chosen competitors.

Weakness #2: Poor external communication. Scientists aren’t generally knows as great public communicators, and there’s a reason for that. PR is the art of telling a story in a way that people are open to hearing. To the scientific mindset, that comes across like dishonesty and manipulation. A scientist wants people to believe things because they make logical sense, not because their emotions are engaged.

Adding to that challenge, Google is very bad at anticipating how people and companies will react to its initiatives. Time and again, Google has taken actions that it tried earnestly to explain logically, and been surprised and hurt when people didn’t understand. I think Google views itself as a highly principled company pursuing the good of humanity; it expects people to give it the benefit of the doubt when there’s confusion, and to understand the good intent behind its actions.  Google’s management doesn’t seem to understand that a hyper-rich company whose founders have private jumbo jets is automatically an object of jealousy and suspicion. Or if they do understand it, they aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to counter it.
   
One prominent example of Google’s communication problem was book digitization. Google was trying to make out-of-print books more available to the public, a noble goal by almost anyone’s standards. But Google handled the process so clumsily and arrogantly that it frightened authors into allying with publishers, an outcome equivalent to getting wild cats and dogs to sit down together for tea.

A second example was the backlash from the purchase of Motorola. It’s hard to overstate what a profound shock the Motorola deal was to Google’s Android licensees. Before the deal, the handset companies and operators viewed Google as a benign giant who could be trusted to champion mobile data without preying on its licensees. After the deal, they viewed Google as a villain little different from Microsoft.

The irony of the deal is that the threat from Apple has receded somewhat, so the Motorola experiment probably wasn’t needed. The rising challenge to Google now is that an increasingly feisty Samsung has too much market power in the Android space, and there’s a rising Amazon-inspired movement to fork Android and take control of it away from Google. The Motorola acquisition made companies like Samsung much more likely to cooperate with a non-Google OS. In trying to prevent a Facebook-style breakout in mobile, Google actually weakened its position in the mobile market.

Even casual public comments can create trouble for Google. In response to a question at the Google IO conference in 2013, Larry Page said of Oracle: “We’ve had a difficult relationship with Oracle.... money is probably more important to them than having any kind of collaboration.” (link)

There are several problems with this statement. First, if you want a cooperative relationship with Oracle, calling them a bunch of greedy bastards isn’t the way to get it. Second, public companies are supposed to put making money ahead of collaboration. That’s what their shareholders expect. This is a good example of how Google’s thinking is out of step with typical corporate governance.

The third problem is that Page’s comments came across to some people as hypocrisy:

Om Malik: “I think Larry (and all other technology industry leaders) should actually practice what they preach.” (link)

Slate: “Page criticized Microsoft for treating Google as a rival, blasted Oracle for caring too much about money, and then whined about everyone being so negative. Heck, if it weren’t for those other companies standing in the way, Google would have probably already solved world hunger. Well, except for all the laws and bureaucrats and journalists who are also standing in the way.” (link)

John Gruber: “Google is a hyper-competitive company, and they repeatedly enter markets that already exist and crush competitors. Nothing wrong with that. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, and Google’s successes are admirable. But there’s nothing stupid about seeing Google being pitted “versus” other companies. They want everything; their ambition is boundless.” (link)

Gruber’s comments show the trouble that Google gets itself into when poor communication combines with its wandering product goals. Google doesn’t see itself as a predator eating tech startups, but when its internal projects start iterating on their goals, they inevitably target successful startups because that seems like the logical thing to do. The behavior is a natural outcome of the way the company works. Larry Page says he’s all about cooperation and I think he means it, but his product teams relentlessly stalk the latest hot startup. The result is a company that talks like a charitable foundation but acts like a pack of wolves.

No wonder he gets labeled a hypocrite.

Google’s trouble communicating its own intentions, and the mismatch between its words and behavior, becomes a serious problem whenever the company has to deal with big political or PR battles. Google’s competitors are often better at courting public opinion, and that opinion often drives the outcome of political processes. If you want an example, watch Google struggle with European Union regulators.

Weakness #3: Science vs. art in product management. Google’s strength in science and quick response makes it very fast at incrementally improving the performance and reliability of its products. But that same process makes it almost impossible for Google to lead in features or product ideas that can’t be proved or verified through research. That’s why Google struggles in user experience, creating new product categories, and fitting its products to the latent needs of users: all of those are intuition-led activities in which it’s very hard to prove ahead of time what’s right or wrong. Even if there are people within Google who have extraordinary taste and vision, it’s very hard for them to drive action because their ideas can’t pass the science-style review process that Google uses for decision-making.

That puts Google at a disadvantage when competing with vision-led companies. The most obvious example of this is Google vs. Apple. When Apple is implementing its strategy properly, it comes up with new product categories faster than Google can co-opt them, and executes them with more taste and usability. As long as Apple can keep moving the bar, Google is forced to play catch-up to Apple’s leadership.

(The big question post-Steve is whether Apple can continue to move the bar. But that’s another topic for a separate article.)

The exception to normal Google decision-making is the special projects run by Sergey Brin. In those projects, Google chooses a few long-term product goals that can’t necessarily be justified logically, but that look possible and would have a big impact if they succeeded. It’s a logical way for an analytical company to try to inject some vision into its business.

What we don’t know yet about those special projects is whether Google can apply the smaller dashes of intuition that are needed throughout the development process to pioneer a new product category. The iPod wasn’t just a good idea, it was a long series of clever decisions that Apple made in the design of the device, software, store, and ecosystem. They all fit together to make a great music management system. Can Google make a similar series of great, coordinated decisions to create a compelling user need for Glass, or will its glasses just be a technophile toy? I don’t think we’ve seen the answer yet. Until we do, there’s a strong danger that Google is just doing the advanced R&D that some other company will use to make a successful wearable computing device.


Should Google try to change?

Every successful company has weaknesses. The strengths that make it powerful always create corresponding blind spots and vulnerabilities. Google’s strengths are unusually well suited to its core business of search advertising. The Internet is so big that you have to use some sort of algorithmic process to organize it, and it takes a vast series of logical experiments to gradually tune search results and the delivery of advertising around them.

The question for investors is if or when Google will run out of room to grow in the search advertising market. At that time, to maintain its growth (and stock value), it’ll need other substantial sources of profit. Can Google find other businesses in which its analytical, experimental culture will produce winners? Or can it adapt its culture to the needs of other markets?

So far, the signs aren’t promising. Google is very good at giving away technology (Android, for example), but not very effective at making large amounts of money from it. Google’s product experiments have produced many failures and a few popular services, but very little in terms of major incremental profit. In fact, some financial analysts refer to two Googles – the search engine company that makes all the profit, and the other Google that sucks away some of that profit.

It’s easy for someone like me to say that Google should change its culture to give it a better chance of success in other markets, but in the real world those culture-changing experiments often fail catastrophically. You end up destroying the source of your previous success, without successfully transitioning to a new winning culture. In that vein, I worry that even the Motorola deal is a risk for Google, as it brought into the company a huge number of employees trained in a very different, famously dysfunctional culture.

For now, the search business is so strong that I don’t think Google is likely to make major changes in the way it works. Companies rarely change until they have to. Until and unless that happens, Google is likely to continue its scientific management, and competitors are likely to continue countering it through vision, public communication, and product management.

If you’re a Google investor, I think the situation is still the same as it was at Google's IPO: You’ve made an unusual long-term bet on Page and Brin and their scientific approach to running a tech company. It’s quirky and it’s different from the way most other companies operate, but it does make its own logical sense, if you look at the world through the eyes of an engineer.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

DISCOVERING THE GOOD IN GOOD-BYE


OUR CARAVAN ROLLED INTO THE FOREST NEAR FLAGSTAFF TO JOIN BOB WELLS RUBBER TRAMP RENDEZVOUS.  We spent a delightful two weeks with that tribe of kindred spirits----doing the fun things I've detailed in previous blogs.

As we said our good-byes this time---I began to reflect on a years worth of goodbyes we have said as friends have engaged and disengaged with us in our travels----and I ask myself:  PRECISELY WHAT IS THE GOOD IN GOOD-BYE?

I think our good-bye's mark the moment we take possession of the gifts that association with  another personality has offered us.  For when we engage another at the level of authenticity (sharing what we really feel, think, want, have done) we see qualities in the other that we admire----AND ABSORB--into ourselves.  Bit by bit---consciously and unconsciously we absorb the qualities we admire and they become a permanent part of us---enhancing our character. 

Here's a prime example:

One morning as our time at A-1 Mountain was drawing to a close while Laurie and I were sharing eggs and sausage that she had NOT burned, Kyndal dropped by my rig to give me a lovely gift of dried fruit for our decadent oatmeal breakfasts.

Seeing that Laurie was with me, she said she had a gift for Laurie as well and would like to share it with her now,  knowing that I would also enjoy witnessing the gift since I am a poet.

She prefaced by saying she had not written a poem in over 16 years though she was inspired to do so to share her feelings about how her connection with Laurie had enhanced her life.

As she enthusiastically shared her thoughts and feelings with much laughter and delight as she recited her 'gift of love', I was so moved by what she unabashedly revealed that I later asked her if she would be comfortable if I shared her poem on
my blog because I feel it fundamentally illustrates better than any photo could the genuine impact we can have on each other when we choose to open our hearts, minds and lives to share them authentically with one another.

Good-bye Poem for Laurie from Kyndal

What had started out as some small chitter-chatter
has turned into something amazing,
something that truly matters.

Passing here & there, random words
and some funny stories
I never knew I'd meet a lifelong soul sister
with a hot chick named Laurie!

The few hours that we have spent
laughing, cuddling and crying.
I know NEVER to tell her a non-truth
for she can always tell when I'm lying.

This woman that I now call my true sister and friend,
has forever changed my world.
For there is no better morning than sharing
decadent oatmeal with lots of cherry swirl!

A smile is brought to my face due to the connection we now hold.
This love you have touched me with is so warm, yet so bold.
There will be moments that will remind me of you
and rather than crying, this is what I'll do:

I'll look at our pictures,
I'll listen to songs.
Maybe if I feel good enough
I'll dance in my thong!

Maybe a phone call or a get together,
even miles apart we're forever tethered.
I'll remember your laughter as we stood in the rain.
I'm pretty stoked you're NO plain Jane!

I'll hold every moment close to my heart.
For we will never truly be apart.
I'm not sure how I'm lucky enough to have you in my life.
But now that I do I see a closer end to certain strife.
This sisterhood we have will always be alive
For Laurie is truly what makes 'Love Rise'!

Personal message from Kyndal- Laurie you're more than an
inspiration, you're my friend! You have opened my eyes,
my mind and my heart and I can't thank you enough. I'm
super stoked we're connected and Always in All ways forever will be.
I love you. Love Kyndal

As I watched Laurie's eyes swell with tears, I could tell she had also been irrevocably touched by her heart connection with Kyndal. I felt humbled to witness their tangible affection as they shared a warm embrace once their tears subsided.

I realized that our intentions for creating "The Quest for Community Caravan were being made manifest before my very eyes. By simply having the willingness to take to the road to create a mobile community of kindred spirits on wheels we were creating life changing opportunities to live our best lives now as we navigate the frontier of the heart, mind and spirit boldly embracing the 'Heroes Journey' with other adventurers on this life enhancing expedition.
 
 


Laurie bid her good-byes to the RTR gathering by sharing a song at the final group 'stone soup' meal that was originally inspired by her Soul Sister Ginger Lauss who traveled with us last summer and was now dedicating it to the entire group in appreciation of all the lessons and blessings we shared at the summer RTR in Flagstaff for she does wholeheartedly believe 'a gift of song is a gift of love'.

As a special tribute to this summers RTR gathering Laurie created a Youtube video where you can hear her soulfully sing the 'So this is good-bye' song while viewing many of the people who have connected and engaged with the Quest for Community
Caravan and shared the joy of living, loving and learning with us as we traveled during this past year.

As her poignant song reminds us 'all that we've shared is stored deep inside the treasure chest of our minds...there for our heart's to find'. I palpably feel each individual we have connected with during this year is 'still with us' and their legacy of love remains and we will forever benefit from the ripples of this 'bonus of human association' as they echo thru time. Click here to watch



Once Kyndal and her husband James were packed up to take to the road with California being their next destination, I witnessed one of the most life affirming, love filled and celebratory good-byes of my life when James pulled their rig up
to Laurie's Casbah while blasting Kyndal and Laurie's song 'If I had a million dollars' by the Bare Naked Ladies.

Then Laurie and Kyndal broke out their 'Bubble Wand Sabers' and danced and leaped wildly in the forest while casting bubbles in the air as their side splitting laughter and joy rang through the trees as they frolicked and dueled with bubbles as James and I captured photographically what surely will become miraculous memories of them making the final moments of their fond farewell momentous!

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Signed sealed and delivered----lots of good in this goodbye!

James, Kyndal, the RTR tribe and many others who have connected with our caravan are now gone --but not really---as I trust I have illustrated.

Postscript: We enjoyed our connections with the RTR folks here so immensely that we have decided to postpone our good-bye and camp with them in Belmont.  Next we will journey to the Grand Canyon for a few weeks. If you find yourself in the area, you are welcome to join us!

Click on Comments to view Laurie's heartfelt response to Kyndal's poem after she discovered this post!

Friday, 5 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES----MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

TO ME!!  ( after many years absence I returned to my hometown---a sentimental journey to let it speak to me---stir whatever memories.  Here's more of them:)

#19 HE TIPPED HIS HAT TO ME
     I was a boy of about 12---walking down the road.  He was a well dressed colored man walking in the opposite direction.  As we were passing, he made a small bow-- tipped his hat to me and said "mister".  I puzzled over this. Then one day many years later -I  understood:   THIS WAS A SERVANTS GESTURE----a residue of slavery days--a status acknowledgement----BUT THERE WAS MORE---HE ENJOYED DOING IT.  He got a spasm of SURRENDER HAPPINESS. I have felt it myself when I declared my love to a lady.  I saw it on a massive scale in Antelope, Oregon when the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh drove through town in his Rolls Royce past unctuous bowing crowds of his red-shirted followers.

#20 A KNIFE IN THE BACK
     I saw it happen----a black lady---annoyed by a drunk---pulled a knife---he turned to run---but in a flashing instant--she stabbed him anyway--in the upper shoulder. And there the knife stayed--protruding from his back.  He couldn't reach it and began to ask bystanders to pull it out.  None would do it.  He walked outside the bar and several more refused to pull it out. My courage failed me too.   My brother stepped forward and pulled it out---slowly. (I can still see it coming out---not much blood) He gave it to the guy who folded it and put it in his pocket----said "thank you Mr. Charles"---and walked away.  It was a living moment of deadly anger  and failed courage--I've not forgotten.

#21 THE LAST BLACK BEAR
     I was exploring a remote old barn----heard voices---went out back and there were 3 men--I knew them all---skinning a black bear hanging on a rope.  They told me not to tell anyone---and I didn't---until now.  I believe it was the final black bear in our region.  Never heard of another---to this day.

#22 THE WOLF MAN
     He was just passing through town----a very scary man to look at---more than heavily bearded---the hair was all over his face.  He sorely needed rest because he climbed into an abandoned school bus and lay down on the back seat.  Friends came and I told the story.  They needed proof so I threw a stone against the bus and the creature reared his head----sure enough---a wolf man--my friends agreed.  Word spread--more stones against the bus--he raised up twice more--then gave up an went on his way.  But oooohh sweet people----heed my sad tale----the wheel of consequence rolls round.  Here:  I've put the message in rhyme.


Karmic Precision



A hobo passing through our town

Took refuge in an old bus.

He needed rest and would have got it,

Were it not for us.



Bobby said he looked like a werewolf,

And we all wanted to see.

So I threw a stone against the bus.

He rose to look at me.



Sure enough, it seemed a savage,

Who gazed a weary stare.

Above his brow, a matted mane,

His face a mask of hair.



Again and again, we banged the bus.

The hobo, increasingly distraught,

Finally gave up and shuffled away;

We gave him no more thought.



Forty years pass and now I wander

Deep in rural Mexico,

Traveling and sleeping in my car

Near the village of Cerrito.



In the night an alarming thump

Batters against my car.

Dazed and shocked, I rise to see

Who my attackers are.



They are children of the village,

Who laugh, reach down and throw

Clods of dirt to rouse me up

To look at the strange gringo.



Instantly flashing in my mind,

From forty years ago,

As clear as if I saw it now,

The face of that weary hobo.



Oh, my chickens come home to roost–

For sins, I pay the price.

I take my whipping and marvel that

My Karma’s so precise.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

SONDHEIMER STORIES-----WIERD THINGS MY FATHER DID FOR MONEY

I continue with my Sondheimer stories.


18. For many years  I didn't know what my father did for money. He and my Mother had separate financial lives.  She fed and clothed us with income from her grocery store.. On one occasion she purchased lumber from his sawmill to improve our house.

  He would be gone for long periods and I didn't know where.  But when I was about 10 he took me on a trip to Oklahoma in a cargo van. In that state he took a series of back roads to a very remote shack, alone on the prairie. Two guys met us and unloaded the van.  I saw that it was liquor being unloaded---many cases of it.  He was bootlegging alcohol into a dry state.  Some time later he was caught, fined heavily and lost his citizenship for a few years.

He had two bars in Sondheimer---each with a colored and a white side---didn't work in either of them---hired people.

He operated a sawmill for some years---in the summertime---and built rent houses all around Sondheimer---perhaps 8 of them.

He leased an entire Island which the Missisippi river created by changing its course and leaving an oxbow lake.  Then he put cattle on it and left them for a year.  Then we would round them up and sell the survivors and their calves.  He bought a LST landing craft after the war to transport them across the river.

He noticed that sick and injured cattle were super cheap at auction---so he began to buy truckloads of them.  I remember being embarrassed as those pathetic creatures were unloaded from the trucks.  We loaded them in the landing craft and took them to the island.  Those that survived were marketable---and many had calves.

One year there was a drought in Texas and he sent a fleet of trucks to buy hundreds of distressed sheep at give-a-way prices.  We put them on the Island and let them feed on the willows along the river.  Many died but enough survived to have a roundup. On the bank of the river he built corrals and hired some Australian sheep men to shear them.

He tried to make a hunting club on the Island but had trouble with the legalities.

He built a country Bar just outside a dry parish (West Carroll) to service those who wanted to drink.

He leased a huge nightclub outside lake Providence---hired a band. (The Cotton Club)
I've forgotten what happened to that enterprise.

He bought two used draglines and began to dig ditches for the surrounding parishes.
He bought two Caterpillars and cleared land.

He won the contract for the waste food from Ft Gordon, Ga---bought a piece of local land and started a pig farm.

He won the contract to remove used oil and fuel from another army base in La and sold it to re-refiners.

He built a service station in Sondheimer---sold tires etc.

He bought the Monticello School building---demolished it-hired people to clean the bricks---used them to build his service station--sold some.

Got fascinated with army surplus---was his last great passion----for 20 years.  Made a decent amount of money----Left a bit of it to me.

And many other enterprises---was elected Police Juror (county commissioner) for a term.
 His chief financial backer was a Chinese businessman from Tallulah named George Wall.  Once I watched as he chided my father (seeking another loan)---saying: "Roy, you are all over the map---Why don't you find a business you like and stick with it".

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I'm proud of my father!  For a lifetime---he did things that interested him----never got rich---but never got bored--- Said he chose Sondheimer because he'd rather be a big fish in a small pond.----told me not to leave home without money in my pocket and not to be an ingrate---said he made a life for himself and recommended that I do the same.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

SONDHEIMER SHORT STORIES

Sondheime, La  was my hometown and I went back on a sentimental journey to remember such as this:

12. UNCLE JOE AND MISS BARKER GET MARRIED
    He was an old man with a small pension.  She was much younger but very homely--alone and adrift in the world.  Somehow they connected---lived together--but never married----UNTIL MY MOTHER TOOK ACTION.  Perhaps she empathized with Miss Barker's situation---the indignity of illegitimacy.  I heard her tell Uncle Joe that "things aren't right".  You need to marry that lady.  He said he wanted to do the right thing but didn't know anything about that "legal stuff'".  Mother said she would handle all that---and she did.  I remember the touching moment when Mother and I drove them to the preacher's house and there in his living room they said their vows.  Uncle Joe awkwardly kissed his bride when directed by the preacher.  It may well have been their first kiss.

13. THE MORGAN FAMILY MOVES TO TOWN
     They lived on the banks of the Mississippi River---a family of 6 ---in a shack the father built on public land.  I visited once and was made shy by the sheer joy of that household.  They dazzled me with attention as though I were a celebrity.  Then one day the river rose and they moved to Sondheimer----erected an Army mess- tent on company land and settled into it.  All us kids were envious of their cool house.  They brought their aliveness to town---I can see in my mind Wimpy Morgan (yes that's what everyone called him) with a long stick and string attached to a toy boat he had carved---pulling it along in the ditch---it made a beautiful pattern.  I think the family lived in town thereafter---till the kids moved away.

14. BUDDY M-- LEAVES SONDHEIMER
    Said he hated this hick town---would not spend his life picking cotton--was going to go out west and find a better life----And so he left---went to Arizona ----was gone about a month----suddenly---HE WAS BACK----LOOKING SHEEPISH.  When finally he told the story---said the only work he could find was PICKING COTTON.  He worked just long enough to earn bus fare home.

15. BUDDY WINTERS COMES HOME.
     His father, Tom Winters was killed by lightening--(my brother found the body).  Buddy worked for my father, lumbering---married Betty May--had kids--moved to Dallas Texas---had a career as a garbage collector---retired---somehow lost his wife and kids----came back to Sondheimer to die.

16. PEACH LIQUOR DANCES.
     Everyone called him Peach Liquor because that was his favorite drink.  On Saturday's I tended the Colored side of my Father's bar and would see Peach Liquor get liquored up.  Always, Always--when he drank---his friends would insist that he dance.  Everyone knew that Peach Liquor had been a showman/dancer in the famous Rabbit foot Minstrel Show. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rabbit's_Foot_Company ---Eventually he would go to the middle of the room---everyone would clear a circle---this was a thing to see---AND HE WOULD DANCE----just like bo Jangles in the song---he would dance.  I only saw the full performance once--it was unforgettable. He would indeed "Jump so high--he'd jump so high--then he'd lightly touch down"  He would whirl and slide--stop suddenly--grin at his audience---then begin to tap dance.  His audience went wild---he was a hero---and all the ladies wanted to drink with him at his table.

17. THE PERSIMMON WOOD MAN
     I've forgotten his name---he came to Sondheimer to harvest persimmon wood---said they make weaving shuttles out of them. http://www.alamohardwoods.com/persimmon-hardwood-lumber.  He rented a small piece of land--put up a small sawmill and began to pay premium prices for persimmon logs.  Hiring local labor they would cut the logs into small billets perhaps 4 inches square and 2 feet long. ( Junior cut off his thumb doing this work.)  Thousands of these blocks of wood were shipped out by railroad to a finishing mill somewhere.  AND THEN ONE DAY THERE WERE NO MORE PERSIMMON LOGS.  AND TO THIS DAY NO MORE PERSIMMON TREES.  The mill and the man disappeared--- All the sweet fruits nature had supplied were gone.  No more sweet surprises in the woods in  autumn. The town had a few dollars for a few days.  I wonder if I'm the only one who misses the persimmons.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:   here's the larger point I am trying to make with all this Sondheimer stuff:
EVERY TOWN IS AS INTERESTING AS MY TOWN.  THE FULL DRAMA OF LIFE IS BEING PLAYED OUT EVERYWHERE.  It only requires NOTICING to be appreciated.  I have lots more Sondheimer stories and it is doing something good for me to tell them---will continue till I think it's time to quit. I have contacted friends and acquaintances across the nation to confirm my memory---and that has been a joy.  I don't know how much dabbling in the past is useful.

Update:  Yesterday our whole RTR bunch shifted to a new and equally beautiful forest a few miles away.