Monday, November 30, 2009

A Serious Question

My oldest, who is a junior in high school this year, wants to spend a few weeks next summer in Australia and New Zealand, with perhaps a little Fiji or other South Pacific island thrown in. (While Australia is his first choice, he also has some interest in Costa Rica as a back-up plan.) Needless to say, I'm not invited. In fact nobody from our family is invited. He'd be going on his own, or more precisely, in some sort of organized peer group with adults in charge.

We're looking for something with an educational or cultural or service component; something fun, but more than just a few weeks of sitting on a beach. although a little of that would be okay. I've looked at Travel for Teens and West Coast Connection. Do any Friends of Befouled have suggestions for a program or school that does a nice job with this sort of thing?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


When they talk about class acts? They're talking about Joe. Just ask my kid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movin' On Up

A slightly better class of duvet the next few days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Melting Pot

Blue Girl's post about her conversation with a friend reminded me of a discussion I once had with a female co-worker.

"What do you and your friend R. do when you take the kids to the cabin?" she asked me.

"We fish and yell at the kids and build a bonfire and drink beer."

"That's it?"

"What else would we do?"

"When I go out of town with my friends we like to talk about things."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Our hopes and dreams. What worries us and what makes us laugh."

"Huh," I said.

"Don't you do anything like that?" she asked.

"One time we tried to melt a beer can in the fire," I said.

Movies I Never Hated - Part 1

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Sound

"I'm so great, I'm so great, I'm the best father ever."

I was singing to the tune of "Edelweiss" as I filled the dishwasher this evening.

"Shut up," the middle boy yelled from downstairs. "I'm trying to watch TV."

I sang louder. The youngest grimaced and tried to concentrate on his Facebook page.

"Shut up!" the middle boy shrieked.

I sang even louder.

"Are you going to help me with my homework?" asked my oldest.

The last homework I helped him with was the Cretaceous Period clay diorama he made in first grade. It was beautiful. He got an E in that class.

Anyway, that was a long time ago and he's done just fine since then without my help. He's in a literature course now, though, and he recognizes my enthusiasm for the subject even if he doesn't understand it.

"Of course I'll help," I said. "What do you need to do?"

"Annotate this essay."

"Let me see it," I said. "Oh, Annie Dillard. She's great. Are you going to read 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek?'"

"I hope not."

"You should. It's remarkable. And you should read Sigurd Olson and Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold. I've got their books downstairs somewhere."

"Can you just help me with the homework?"

"Okay. Here's what you want to do." We worked through Dillard's "The Death of a Moth," talking about decay and artistic passion and rebirth.

"Does that make sense?" I asked him after we'd talked for a while.

"Yeah, sure," he said, eager to finish this assignment so he could get back to his chemistry. When he needs help with science the Lovely Bride is able to provide it, and with much less wild-eyed enthusiasm than I bring to literature.

"God, I love this stuff," I said to myself after the oldest went back to the study.

"What?" asked the youngest.

"Edelweiss!" I sang.

"Be quiet!" the middle child yelled.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Bravest Man I Ever Met

Roy P. Benavidez, Recipient Of Medal of Honor, Dies at 63
Friday, December 4, 1998

Roy P. Benavidez, a former Green Beret sergeant who received the Medal of Honor from President Ronald Reagan for heroism while wounded in the Vietnam War, then fought to keep the Government from cutting off his disability payments, died on Sunday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He was 63.

Mr. Benavidez, who lived in El Campo, Tex., suffered respiratory failure, the hospital said. His right leg was amputated in October because of complications of diabetes.

On the morning of May 2, 1968, Mr. Benavidez, a staff sergeant with the Army's Special Forces, the Green Berets, heard the cry ''get us out of here'' over his unit's radio while at his base in Loc Ninh, South Vietnam. He also heard ''so much shooting, it sounded like a popcorn machine.''

The call for aid came from a 12-man Special Forces team -- 3 Green Berets and 9 Montagnard tribesmen -- that had been ambushed by North Vietnamese troops at a jungle site a few miles inside Cambodia.

Sergeant Benavidez jumped aboard an evacuation helicopter that flew to the scene. ''When I got on that copter, little did I know we were going to spend six hours in hell,'' he later recalled.

After leaping off the helicopter, Sergeant Benavidez was shot in the face, head and right leg, but he ran toward his fellow troops, finding four dead and the others wounded.

He dragged survivors aboard the helicopter, but its pilot was killed by enemy fire as he tried to take off, and the helicopter crashed and burned. Sergeant Benavidez got the troops off the helicopter, and over the next six hours, he organized return fire, called in air strikes, administered morphine and recovered classified documents, although he got shot in the stomach and thigh and hit in the back by grenade fragments.

He was bayoneted by a North Vietnamese soldier, whom he killed with a knife. Finally, he shot two enemy soldiers as he dragged the survivors aboard another evacuation helicopter.

When he arrived at Loc Ninh, Sergeant Benavidez was unable to move or speak. Just as he was about to be placed into a body bag, he spit into a doctor's face to signal that he was still alive and was evacuated for surgery in Saigon.

Sergeant Benavidez was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1968, but a subsequent recommendation from his commanding officer that he receive the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor, could not be approved until a witness confirmed his deeds.

That happened in 1980, when Brian O'Connor, the Green Beret who had radioed the frantic message seeking evacuation, was found in the Fiji Islands. Mr. O'Connor told how Mr. Benavidez had rescued eight members of his patrol despite being wounded repeatedly.

President Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to Mr. Benavidez at the Pentagon on Feb. 24, 1981.

Shortly before Memorial Day 1983, Mr. Benavidez came forward to say that the Social Security Administration planned to cut off disability payments he had been receiving since he retired from the Army as a master sergeant in 1976. He still had two pieces of shrapnel in his heart and a punctured lung and was in constant pain from his wounds.

The Government, as part of a cost-cutting review that had led to the termination of disability assistance to 350,000 people over the preceding two years, had decided that Mr. Benavidez could find employment.

''It seems like they want to open up your wounds and pour a little salt in,'' Mr. Benavidez said. ''I don't like to use my Medal of Honor for political purposes or personal gain, but if they can do this to me, what will they do to all the others?''

A White House spokesman said President Reagan was ''personally concerned'' about Mr. Benavidez's situation, and 10 days later the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Margaret M. Heckler, said the disability reviews would become more ''humane and compassionate.''

Soon afterward, wearing his Medal of Honor, Mr. Benavidez told the House Select Committee on Aging that ''the Administration that put this medal around my neck is curtailing my benefits.''

Mr. Benavidez appealed the termination of assistance to an administrative law judge, who ruled in July 1983 that he should continue receiving payments.

When President Reagan presented Mr. Benavidez with the Medal of Honor, he asked the former sergeant to speak to young people. Mr. Benavidez did, visiting schools to stress the need for the education he never had.

Born in South Texas, the son of a sharecopper, Mr. Benavidez was orphaned as a youngster. He went to live with an uncle, but dropped out of middle school because he was needed to pick sugar beets and cotton. He joined the Army at 19, went to airborne school, then was injured by a land mine in South Vietnam in 1964. Doctors feared he would never walk again, but he recovered and became a Green Beret. He was on his second Vietnam tour when he carried out his rescue mission.

Mr. Benavidez is survived by his wife, Hilaria; a son, Noel; two daughters, Yvette Garcia and Denise Prochazka; a brother, Roger; five stepbrothers, Mike, Eugene, Frank, Nick and Juquin Benavidez; four sisters, Mary Martinez, Lupe Chavez, Helene Vallejo and Eva Campos, and three grandchildren.

Over the years, fellow Texans paid tribute to Mr. Benavidez. Several schools, a National Guard armory and an Army Reserve center were named for him.

But he did not regard himself as someone special.

''The real heroes are the ones who gave their lives for their country,'' Mr. Benavidez once said. ''I don't like to be called a hero. I just did what I was trained to do.''

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Electrolyte In Blue

My youngest's basketball team played its first tournament of the year last weekend. It was ugly, even leaving aside the ambulance ride one of his teammates got, courtesy of a collision between head and floor that fortunately turned out to have caused no lasting harm.

After the game, I was standing in the hall near the coach.

"You're not going to be my first parent complaint, are you?" he asked.

"The only complaint I have is that my kid isn't crying after a game like that" I said. "Hell, I'm crying. Other than that, I've got nothing."


"Why do you think there's going to be a complaint?"

"I told one of the kids to get his head out his ass."


"No. Another one."

"You should have told mine that. I'll tell him on the way home."

"I'm more worried about your kid's eyesight," said the coach. "He seems to have trouble distinguishing between our red uniforms and the other team's blue uniforms when he's passing the ball."

"I'll buy him a color wheel," I said.

"Shut up," muttered my son, who'd been listening to the conversation.

"Do you want to go visit your friend at the hospital?" I asked.

"No," said my kid.

"Then don't tell me to shut up again."

"Can we go home now?" asked my kid.

"Yes. Daddy needs to medicate his pain."

"Does that mean we have to stop at the liquor store on the way?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Will you buy me a Powerade before we leave?"

"Sure. What color do you like, red or blue?"


"See," I told the coach. "There's your problem."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Virtual Vacation

I was on vacation last week. It was like being at work, with less commuting and more housework. I dream, though, and here are ten of my favorite songs about places. Old school. Mostly.

1. San Franciscan Nights - Eric Burdon and the Animals

2. New York, New York - Frank Sinatra

3. London's Calling - The Clash

4. L.A. Woman - The Doors

5. 8 Mile - Eminem

6. China Grove - Doobie Brothers

7. California Stars - Wilco

8. Midnight Train to Georgia - Gladys Knight & the Pips

9. Luckenbach, Texas - Waylon Jennings

And for a staycation:

10. SHHH - Atmosphere

Homeward Bound

A couple of weekends ago, my friend G. and I went out of town for a few days. We did it last year and it was such a success, at least in terms of liquor consumption, that we decided to do it again.

"What time are you getting back tomorrow?" the Lovely Bride asked me the Friday we were leaving.

"I'm not. We're coming back Sunday."


"Sunday. I told you that."

"You're going to G.'s house for three days?"

"No. We're going to Madison."


"Madison. I told you that too."

The Lovely Bride gave me a flat stare. "When did you tell me this?"

"I don't know. A few weeks ago."

"Was I asleep?"

"No. I don't know. Maybe."

There was a pause while she mentally ran through her options. "Do the boys need to be anywhere this weekend?" she finally asked.

"No, and G.'s driving so our oldest can use my car in a pinch."

"I guess we won't miss you, then," she said.

"I'll miss you, snookums," I said, trying to smooch the side of her face.

"Isn't it time for you to leave?" she asked, pushing me away.

G. soon arrived and I threw my stuff in his car. It took us less than ten minutes to start bickering over music.

"We're not going to listen to that singer-songwriter crap the whole way there, are we?" I asked.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I didn't have my estrogen shot this week," I said.

"It's better than your stuff," said G. "Just because music's free doesn't mean it's good."

"That's an anti-Semitic remark," I told him.

"Your heritage is fine. It's your taste in music that's questionable."

After a bit more squabbling we compromised on Frightened Rabbit.

"This is really a boring drive," I said.

"True, but there's whiskey at the end of it," G. reminded me.

"Hey look, a game farm!" I said, pointing at a billboard.

"We don't hunt," G. reminded me.

"I do, sometimes."


"Okay, it's been a few years."

"We don't have any guns with us anyway," G. said.

"Maybe they'd let us kick a bird instead," I said.

We stopped twice, once for lunch in Eau Claire. There's nothing like a beer before noon to confirm I'm on vacation. The second time we stopped was at a gas station near Tomah.

"I'm hungry," I whined, poking through the snacks near the cash register.

"Jesus, you just had chili and a sandwich an hour ago," G. said.

"I have a high metabolism."

"Yeah, and you're big boned," said G.

"Screw you," I suggested.

"Anyway, you're not eating landjäger in my car."

"It's Wisconsin," I reminded him. "We're required to have sausage on us at all times."

Soon enough we arrived in Madison. We parked, checked in at our hotel near the statehouse, and went exploring. That is, drinking.

After a while the landjäger wore off and I insisted on dinner. With my superior sense of direction it only took forty-five minutes of aimless wandering through residential neighborhoods to find a restaurant located three blocks from our hotel.

There are a lot of bars in Madison, many of them within walking distance of the place we stayed. At one point we ended up back at our hotel on the way to somewhere else.

"Can you call us a cab?" G. asked the concierge.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked.

"I don't know," said G.

"A cab can't take you there," the concierge said.

"What the hell," said G., throwing up his hands and stalking away.

"Sorry, he's been drinking," I apologized.

I wouldn't have guessed," said the concierge.

Saturday was perhaps understandably slow to get going. Eventually we made our way toward the campus, walking through blocks of interesting old houses.

"What kind of stupid city gets built on hills?" I panted at one point.

"Rome," said G. "Seattle."

"I hate them both," I said.

"Stop complaining."

"Screw you," I reminded him.

The campus was as nice as I remembered. Pretty much what you'd want a Midwestern land grant university to be.

"I wish I could go back to college," I told G.

"I wish I could go back to elementary school," he replied.

After some more walking it was time for lunch. We settled on a Laotian place. One in a long line of decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

"You're awfully pale. Are you going to make it?" G. asked.

"I hope not," I said, guzzling a glass of water and poking dispiritedly at the gray chicken on my plate.

Fortunately, we were right around the corner from the Plaza Tavern, with its charming ambiance and medicinal ales. After a few minutes of watching a college football game on TV, G. challenged me to a game of Big Buck Safari.

"You shot a cow!" the machine announced when I pulled the trigger a little quickly, canceling the rest of my round.

"Screw you too," I told it.

By midafternoon we had seen all the bookstores we wanted and arrived at the convention center. My mother and a friend who'd served on the Dane County planning staff had both recommended we visit. After confirming it was indeed a Frank Lloyd Wright slab of concrete, we started looking around for a place to have dinner.

"How about here?" I suggested as we passed a steakhouse.

"Alright," said G. He made reservations for later that night and we continued down the block.

"Hey, a New Orleans bar!" he said. "I'm thirsty!"

We went in and sat down, the only ones there. The waitress came over.

"What can I get you?" she asked.

"I'll have an Abita," I said.

"Do you have anything brown and kind of textured?" asked G.

She looked at him blankly and shook her head.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said defensively. "Fine, I'll just have an Abita too."

Before long we'd talked ourselves into Hurricanes, the perfect drink for a nice cold day. Before too much longer, G. had talked himself into bourbon.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked the waitress, who had gotten past her initial suspicion we were creepy old men and had come to view us as vaguely entertaining, in a sad way.

"Bourbon's always a good idea," said G.

"He's very conscientious about his health," I said. "He used to be a firefighter. Bring us some shrimp and jambalaya too, please. And I'll have another Abita."

The waitress left to place our order.

"We're not going to the steakhouse, are we?" asked G.

"It seems like a lot of work," I said. "Let's just stay here."

Which we did. The shrimp was good and the jambalaya even better. Night came and the bar filled up. We ended up talking to the bartender, who'd just been dumped by her boyfriend. She made a couple of batches of some sour apple drink, drank some of it herself and snuck the rest to us, and from there on out things are a little hazy.

The drive home on Sunday seemed to take a lot longer than the drive there. Even so, I was home well before dinner. The Lovely Bride was working at the kitchen table.

"I missed you," I said, giving her a smooch on the top of her head.

"We missed you too," she said.

"No we didn't," said my oldest.

"I did," said the Lovely Bride.

"That's all that matters," I said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Star Is Born

"Do you want to be in a commercial?" my friend R. asked me.

"For what?"


"Of course," I said. "What do I have to do?"

"Drink beer and act like you enjoy it."

"That'll be a stretch," I said. "What should I wear?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Do I have to wear pants?"

"I don't care," said R. "We're filming it at the art director's house, though, and he's kind of fussy about his furniture."

"Pants it is," I said. "What are my lines?"

"It's a man in the street sort of thing. Just talk about why you like beer."

"Because it helps me forget my kids?" I suggested.

"You and me both," said R. "Unfortunately, that sort of honesty doesn't play well with focus groups."

"I bet it does with our demographic," I said.

"Probably. But we already buy beer."

"And bourbon," I noted.

"Your point?" asked R.

"I have options besides beer."

"This is local beer. It's not only tasty, it supports the economy."

"Why do I care about the economy?"

"So our kids have somewhere to work when they drop out of school," said R.

"I'll be dead by then," I said.

"You wish."

"My family will kill me before my liver does," I said.

"I can get a tagline out of that," said R.