Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Anti-Foodie: Boise, ID

One evening when our friends Steven and Joanne were over for dinner, comments were being made about David's many food issues.  In an effort to semi-defend him I said, "He's just not a foodie".  Steven said, "Yes he is.  He would drive his motorcycle all the way to Boise just to eat at Popeye's Chicken."  And I immediately realized Steven was right.  David is a foodie.  A Crap Foodie!  Or as I now think of it, an Anti-Foodie, like the Anti-Christ only with food.  He stands for everything that is the opposite of what traditional foodies stand for.

In my mind foodies are interested in quality ingredients, whole, organic food and they are open to trying a lot of different things - squid and brains and quinoa.  For David, it is the opposite.  The Dollar Menu?  Absolutely.  Pesticides?  Bring them on.  And there is a long list of things he will not eat.  Like onions in any form, cooked or not.  Lettuce, forget it and if it even so much as touches anything he is going to eat, it is over.  Almost all vegetables are out of the question.  Strawberries or anything strawberry flavored.  He will eat spinach from a can but not raw or when I wilt it from scratch. He is more interested in Pop-Tarts and Spam.  Hot and Spicy Pork Rinds.  Frozen Pizza and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Ranch Style Beans with cut up Earl Campbell's Hot Links is a staple when I am out of town.

And he WAS planning a trip to Boise.  He had brought it up more than a few times.  Boise happens to be the nearest city that has a Popeye's Chicken.  One of the main things he misses about living in the Dallas area is proximity to restaurants and in particular, fast food.  Popeye's is at the top of his list along with Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic and Whataburger, all places we do not have here.  To drive home how much he misses it...Boise is SEVEN  HOURS away.

So with his 50th birthday approaching and my general aversion to purchasing gifts for people who aren't lacking anything, I wanted to do something different.  I decided to drive him to Boise for chicken.  I started looking at what there is to do in Boise, as it is so far that we will have to stay overnight, and saw that The Zac Brown Band was going to be at the University there so I bought us tickets.  They also have an Escape Game.  I enjoyed that so much in Nashville and thought it would be right up his alley so I booked that too.

When I told him that for his birthday we were going to Boise and presented him with our travel itinerary and tickets (including the address for Popeye's), he was very excited we would be there more than one day.

I don't hear anything but David swears he hears angels singing.

He tells me before we leave that he plans to eat there 3 times.  Once on Friday night, the day we arrive, once on Saturday, before the Escape Game, and lunch on Sunday before we go home.  I inform him that I don't plan to eat there even one time but as it turned out, it didn't work out for either one of us.  We arrive in Boise and check in to our hotel and have just over an hour to get to the concert.  Popeye's is across town.  By the time we get there we really don't have time to go to a second place for me so, trying to be the good wife and considering this is his birthday trip, I suck it up and we go in.

David orders his favorite chicken strips.  He is almost giddy.  I try not to eat meat other than fish and fortunately they offer both shrimp and catfish.  However, I am weird about the possibility of food poisoning, something I have had multiple times, and it takes me a bit to weigh the options.  I go with the shrimp. Fingers crossed.

This photo is blurry because I am laughing.  Eating with David is a lot like eating with a small child.  He can watch me take food out of the oven or off the stove and put it on a plate and he will immediately try to eat it and burn his mouth.  Every. Time.

See?  It has been "SO LONG".  He couldn't wait.

My shrimp is terrible.  I ate about half only because my expectations for options at the concert are low.  In my mind, the first stages of imminent, unavoidable food poisoning have begun.  David ordered a 5 piece but they gave him 7.  He ate them all.  In the car on the way to the concert, he is regretting that decision.  "They were just so good," he says.  But he is miserable.  He's lucky I have Tums in my purse.

We never ate at Popeye's again.  He said the 7 pieces were the amount he might have expected to eat over the whole 3 days so he got it out of the way all at once.  We did make the pilgrimage to Sonic and Jack-in-the-Box, both for breakfast.  And we did find one other place he was quite happy with on a side trip, more on that next time. 
We Escaped at the Escape Game (with 30 seconds to spare in a 2 person team, something the worker said is very hard to do) and I thankfully escaped another trip to Popeye's.  Two wins in one day. 

If you are ever in the Salt Lake City airport Terminal B, you can swing by Popeye's.  Maybe you will see me there trying go soak up the smell for when I get home.  It's better than any perfume I could buy as far as David is concerned.  But soaking up the smell is all I will be doing.  I definitely won't be eating.  Even if you are buying.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment: Washington, DC

David has always been slightly disconcerted by my interest in crime.  Like a lot of people, I like shows that deal with crime like Law & Order (Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt and Angie Harmon episodes are my favorite) and Criminal Minds (Penelope and Dr. Reid).  But I really prefer true crime shows like American Justice, Deadly Women, Forensic Files or Snapped.  I have tried to explain that I like the part where they show how they solved the crime but he isn't buying it.  He thinks I am trying to get away with it someday when I decide to off him.  I will say I have learned a thing or two from these shows that might help in that event:
  1. Leave your cell phone at home.  So many people get busted when they call someone or they say they were home but their phone says otherwise.
  2. Poison is hard to detect and hard to prove if you do it right, also it is the preferred method for women killers.
  3. Get your story straight and stick to it at all costs.  Changing your story never works in your favor.
  4. Ask for an attorney.  Do not talk to the police.  I saw a show once where a young man was convicted of murdering a woman based on the fact that his bedroom window overlooked the dump site (at a great distance) and he had some drawings that "resembled" the crime scene.  He spent a LONG time in prison before they caught the real killer.  I always thought if you didn't have anything to hide, you didn't need an attorney, that show changed my mind forever.
I first became interested in this topic when I was a senior in high school and my government teacher, Mrs. Campbell, assigned a book report on a true crime novel.  I picked The Stranger Beside Me by Anne Rule.  Anne Rule has written a lot of crime books but this one is unique in that she personally knew the criminal, serial killer Ted Bundy.  They had worked on a suicide hotline together, as ironic as that is.

The first thing we see in the museum?  Ted Bundy's Volkswagen.  Whoever thought of using the handcuffs on the stanchions is brilliant.

This museum has an audio tour option.  It looks a little like a remote control but it has a speaker at the top you put to your ear like a phone.  When you come to a handcuff with a number in it, you punch in the number and it plays.  I paid the extra couple of bucks to do this mainly because the narrator is Bill Kurtis (narrator of American Justice and other crime shows).  I would listen to Bill Kurtis talk about earwax.  I love his voice.

I thought this museum would be mainly serial killers and big names in crime, which it did have, but there is a lot more than that.  It starts in the middle ages and goes from there.  There is a lot of information on various punishments and torture devices making me really glad I didn't live in the middle ages.

Even being a baker was dangerous.  There were other displays on things like the Iron Maiden, being drawn & quartered and placed on The Rack.  All very unpleasant.

From there you move into the age of Pirates and then the Old West.  On to the Mob and Bonnie & Clyde.

I don't think this was the real Bonnie & Clyde car, I think it was from the movie but I am not sure.  Like at the other places we visited in DC, people were sometimes a problem.

Hey, I was reading that.

And that.

Ugh, more teenagers.  I won't get to try my hand at safe cracking as Waldo and his friends are going to be there a while and there is a long line.

As expected there are sections for famous criminals, even a board of celebrity mug shots.  My fellow Montanan, Ted Kaczynski graces one wall.  Susan Smith another.  There is a display on the assassinated Presidents.  You can look at, but not sit in, a real electric chair, a guillotine, a gas chamber, a gurney setup for lethal injection.  

And you learn that my old home state of Texas is far and away the worst place to be on Death Row.  They have executed a lot more prisoners than any other state.

But like the show Law & Order, this museum is only partly about the crime.  About half of the museum is dedicated to law enforcement.  There are displays on famous lawmen like Eliot Ness and J Edgar Hoover and the creation of the FBI.  

That's me on the bottom monitor, learning about facial recognition.

You can learn about fingerprinting and get an electronic picture of your prints.  I didn't do this because I have done this for real.  I was fingerprinted when I went to work at a bank years ago and there was that time I was arrested...

You can do a lie detector test on yourself.  Those bars show I am lying.  This is really sad as I am the only person around so I am lying to myself.

I am going to memorize these and start using them when we play cards with our friend Steven, a former policeman.  I think I may need 10-30 fairly often.

 The answer is no.  I can do the push-ups and sit-ups but thankfully there is no one around to see that I can't do the one pull-up on the bar they have there.  They also have a shoot/don't shoot simulator and a car chase simulator but I can't do either one as no one is around to supervise. 

There is a computer where you can look up officers killed in the line of duty.  It wasn't easy to work with even though there were search options.  I hung with it and located one of David's great grandfathers, Dallas County (TX) Constable W. Riley Burnett.

They have a crime lab, that guy getting ready for his autopsy.  They also have a full room set up as a crime scene and a video you can watch to see how your eyewitness skills are.  I got 4 out of 6 answers correct.  I know this is not a realistic simulation since I have been an eyewitness and was terrible.  It isn't the same when guns are being fired in your direction as when you are standing in the relative safety of a museum watching a video that you can stand and look at as long as you need.

They also have a forensic lab where they offer classes in things like autopsy and blood spatter.  I think Kawiana (who is my only companion on this trip and who I lost way back in the Middle Ages) is as disappointed as I am that there are no classes available during our entire stay in DC.  They also have a walking tour that covers the Presidential assassinations but it was only on the weekend.

The museum has a temporary exhibit on animal poaching and what the ramifications to the animals and the environment are.  They had items made from animals like ivory statues, snakeskin boots and a horrific looking alligator purse complete with the whole head.

The final section was a room devoted to counterfeiting, the "victimless" crime.  If you are buying knockoff handbags and clothes or pirating DVDs, shame on you.

I liked this museum a lot better than The Spy Museum from the day before.   I really wish the forensic lab had been an option, if I am ever back in DC I would definitely check into that.  As with all museums, this one had a gift shop and this time I didn't buy anything for David.  

But I almost bought this for me.  I might have told David it was "for him" as a joke.  
I don't think he would have laughed.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Washington, DC

While purchasing gas, a couple of young teenage girls approached me asking if they could clean my already clean windshield for a donation.  They were collecting for a school trip in 2016 to Washington DC.  I gave her a $20 bill - the only cash I had.  Her eyes got really big so I assume that no one else was giving that kind of donation.  And I didn't make her clean the windshield. 

If I had known then when I know now, I might not have donated at all.

School groups were pervasive in DC.  Everywhere you go, there they are.  Observing them you know they are only there because 1) They can be so why not? 2) They get to stay in a hotel with their friends and without their parents 3) It provides an opportunity to hook up with someone, to goof off, act a fool and do all of the things teenagers do when they are away from constant supervision.  I know there are some exceptions but most of them do not care about the history of this country.

I know there are chaperones but let's be realistic...1 adult per 10 or more kids is not enough.  I know from experience.  When I was 15 my softball team went to Durant, OK for a tournament.  There were about 13-14 of us girls - all between 14-16 years old - and 3 adults.  We were traveling in 2 vans.  One of the vans had mechanical problems just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border.  Two of the adults had to go into a nearby town to get parts leaving all of us girls there with our coach Roy.  Someone, I don't remember who but certainly not me, convinced my friend Kim to moon the next person driving by.  So me and another girl stood between Kim and the coach and she did it.  The man stopped.  We went and hid in the van while Roy dealt with the irate man.  We also threw ice in the elevator at a hotel in Houston when the doors opened and then we ran away.  So again, I am not guessing.

Back in DC, they are everywhere and there are a lot of them around The Wall when we arrive.  The Wall was #1 on my list of things to see in DC.  I "know" someone listed on there.

Panel 12E, Line 18, first name on the line:  Thomas L Blackman.

Tommy was my mother's husband.  He was not my father and he died before I was born but he was a presence in the house I grew up in all the same.

Tommy was 21 when he died on November 4, 1966.  He and my mother had been married a short 15 months.  His son, my half brother, was 6 months old.  He was killed in a non-combat related fire, along with 7 other sailors, aboard the USS Franklin D Roosevelt "in South Asian Waters".  

I have been thinking about this time in my parent's lives more than usual and have been interviewing them about various details.  I always knew about Tommy.  My brother was never adopted by my father and he always carried the Blackman name.  I have seen Tommy's picture.  The flag from his coffin is still in my mother's house.  I have read the telegram they delivered when she was notified of his death and the one that was delivered to Tommy when his son was born.  I spent more than a few weekend days playing in Tommy's parents backyard so my brother could visit his grandparents and his cousins.  I attended Tommy's parents funerals when they died.  I have been to Tommy's grave more times than I can count.

I had never been to The Wall in DC.  I had been to a replica in Pensacola but the size isn't the same.  And maybe because I have been talking to mom about this more lately than I ever have before, it felt different.  My colleagues promised not to make fun of me if I cried and they even hung back and gave me a little space once we got there.  I told my mom I was going and she said, "touch his name for me" but I couldn't.  It is too high.

The Wall is higher in the middle and then tapers down to a few inches off the ground on either end.  Just like this boy who is taking a rubbing, someone would have had to sit on my shoulders to get to Tommy's name.  The park service said they have ladders they can get out during the day when it isn't crowded but I never had the opportunity to do that.

After being at the panel with Tommy's name for a little while, I walked down to the east end of the memorial and waited on my colleagues to catch up.  I am trying not to cry (at The Wall and also right now) but am failing (at both).  Two older teenage boys approach me and say, "What is this called again?"  I couldn't believe it.  There are signs all over the place that tell you what each thing is.  The Wall is right by the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Korean War Memorial.  Apparently, reading isn't being taught in high school anymore.  Or maybe it is common sense they are missing.

But more than that it strikes me that this memorial means so little to them, nothing really, that they don't even know what it is.  They weren't born during Vietnam.  At their age if they had a relative on the wall it would be a grandfather or great uncle.  But this Wall means everything to some people, like my mother.  But maybe you don't understand why my mother's husband's name on here would have an impact on me at all when he wasn't my father.

For me, the hard reality is that other people come here and mourn the loss of a loved one, someone they miss every single day.  But in my case, if Tommy's name isn't on that wall, I would never have been born. That is very difficult to reconcile.  I cannot even imagine how horrible that time was for my mother.  Her high school sweetheart was taken from her.  The father of her child.  She was 18 years old  when he died.  But if she had never gone through that awful time, I would not exist.

I know she can't choose between two lives but I can't help but wonder if she could, what would she choose.  And mom, if you are reading this, I know there is no right answer.  But I still wonder.  How could she not want Tommy to live?  Knowing that if he did, I wouldn't.  My younger brother wouldn't.  Our children wouldn't.  

We have all heard someone say that they believe there is only one right person out there for them but I don't believe that.  I can't.  If I believed that what would that say about my mother's feelings for my dad?  Or for Tommy?  My mother and father met not quite a year after Tommy's death and were married soon after.  They are still married today.  I know my mother loves my father but I also know she loved Tommy.  Still does.  Always will.

I know there are others out there like me.  People who would not exist if war didn't exist.  What does that mean?  Does it mean anything at all?  It is still happening now, today, will likely always be happening.  The answer for me is yes, it means something.  Something I cannot adequately explain.

On this memorial alone there are 58,272 names.

My father went to Vietnam when my mother was pregnant with me.  Once again, I can't even imagine how my mother felt during that time (or my dad either).  For a second time, she is pregnant and the father of her child is called away to Vietnam.  The stress must have been nearly unbearable this second time.  

This statue of 3 soldiers (the other is behind these two, this is the best angle I could get for this photo because of the massive herd of teenagers standing around it) was created to honor those that came back.  People like my dad who returned when I was 2 months old.

These 3 soldiers face The Wall, I assume as a tribute to those that didn't return.  Like these 3 my dad always has and to this day continues to honor Tommy.  He even cleans his headstone whenever they visit the cemetery.

I am not sure I can ever fully have peace in the knowledge that for me to live, my mother, Tommy's parents and siblings and others that knew and loved him had to live through so much pain.  When Tommy's father died some of us walked down to Tommy's grave which is nearby and my older brother, Tommy's son, was standing there looking at the headstone.  Even though I had been there lots of times before it never really felt the way it did that day to watch him looking down at that stone knowing his father was down there.  Someone he has no memory of.  Maybe it is even harder to consider since my dad is one of my favorite people on this earth.

So I visited the wall to pay tribute to a man I never knew.  To think about what his name, and all of the others here, mean to me.  To all of us.  May his memory live on in those who loved and knew him and maybe even a little in some of us who never had the opportunity.

Rest in Peace
Thomas Lee Blackman
February 10, 1945-November 4, 1966