Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Girls Allowed


One of the three categories for my blog is, “When I was a kid.”  I’ve written relatively few things that fall in this category, so I thought you might enjoy a story that goes far back in the history of mankind.  Back to the early ‘50s, back when I was a kid. 


This story was taken from my book, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s.”  If you’ve read that book this will be a repeat, but if not, you may enjoy a tale of fort-building and a prank perpetrated on my poor brother by my good friend, Dick Whitaker and me back when we were kids.  Most, or “some” of this is true, but I’ll admit that I sometimes exaggerate a little bit.  It’s called, “artistic license.”

*   *   *

Dick and I had a fort at one end of a large field behind my house and my brother Tom, seeking to emulate his older brother, built a fort at the opposite corner of the large open field.  I have to admit that Tom was a better builder of forts than either Dick or I were and Tom also had the advantage of having a girlfriend with whom to share his hidden castle.  He hadn’t yet grasped the concept that forts were for boys only.  In fact, he hadn’t even grasped the concept that girls weren’t boys.

Tom smiling at our pet duck, Donald,
        who fooled us by laying an egg.
Girls should not be allowed in a boy’s fort.  Everyone knew that.  But my little brother was actually a step ahead, despite the three-year age difference between us.  He had a girlfriend, although he didn’t know it.  But ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Neither Dick nor I were particularly pleased with that development.  We didn’t have girl friends and we knew they were different from boys.  We may not have been clear on exactly what the difference was, but we knew there was a difference.  All we knew was that we didn’t want them hanging around our forts.

This was long before the hormones kicked in and boys just didn’t play with girls...yet.  But Tom thought the neighbor girl was just another boy with long hair and a high voice who giggled and ran funny.  I think he figured it all out in his third year of college, but by then his fort was gone and the little neighborhood girl had married a guy who built bomb shelters.

So to express our displeasure with Tom and his girlfriend, Dick and I lit Tom’s fort on fire while he and the little girl were inside playing doctor.  I never thought to ask him what they were doing in there, because it was just too much fun watching them clambering out of the smoke into the sunlight and fresh air, coughing, spitting and blinking their eyes.

Tom tripped over his stethoscope while stumbling out.  That was a dead give-away.  If we had given him another ten minutes to complete his exam, he may have resolved some of the questions that haunted him for so many years.

Tom gave Dick his stethoscope and gave up on the idea of becoming a doctor when he failed to bring his pet turtle back to life.  The fact that the turtle had been buried for three weeks may have been a factor in Tom’s failure to resuscitate the unfortunate critter.

 Meanwhile Dick proudly wore the stethoscope around his neck until his senior year in high school.  Dick’s medical practice seemed to gain traction after he learned to precede his exams by stating reassuringly, “It’s okay. I’m a doctor.”

*   *   *

            I want to add that the kid staring happily at the duck gave up fort-building to become a highly respected airline Captain with TWA.  I’m obviously very proud of my brother.  (But don’t believe the stethoscope stuff.)





Friday, August 24, 2012

Ruminations


            What do I write about when my mind is a blank?  Maybe just a quick review of the past week.  Maybe I’ll just do my “unhinged” thing and ramble about nothing.

Friedrich Nietzsche said that “if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you.”  To put it into context, his preceding statement was, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster.”  Maybe it’s a warning to not become that very thing we struggle against.   I think I’ve been staring into the political abyss too much lately.  Gayle hides in the back bedroom when I start yelling at the TV, so maybe it’s time for some nonsense.

As you know, Gayle and I live in a hollow log here in the forest.  I remember staring into a crevasse when walking my dog and seeing two eyes staring back at me.  I wasn’t sure if it was a forest gnome or the abyss itself staring back at me.  Turns out it was a ground squirrel.  That’s about as philosophical as I’m going to get today.
            Actually Greenhorn Ranch is certainly far from the “Deliverance” archetype, but life is simple and basic here.  For example, it’s always special to roast a road-killed possum over the fire, but last Monday Gayle and I left our hideaway and celebrated our 20th anniversary. 

We went to our favorite restaurant, which happens to be hidden deep in the forest at the end of a long dirt road.  Some of you have been there with us.  It’s called Firewoods at the Gray Eagle Lodge. It’s a large log building that sits on the edge of a river with small cabins running up to a picturesque waterfall.  Great ambience and equally good food.

                                                                                           Our fish pond 
         Things have been quiet on the western front, with the exception of massive fires.  For several days the smoke was so thick we couldn’t see the tops of the pine trees that surround our home.  Fire is the primary concern in the mountains.  As of today the fires are still not under control.  Other than that, we’ve had a number of bear and mountain lion sightings on our road.  The bears are attracted to the ranch and the scraps left in garbage cans after the outdoor barbeques. The lions are a greater threat.

Since I take my dog up in the hills every day and let him run and explore, I’m concerned enough    about his safety that I sometimes carry one of those horrible, sinful, tools that makes a loud “bang” and puts holes in things. 

I remember the admonition by one of our great government intellects, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who proposed the development of “safer bullets.”  Since I never understood her meaning, I use the old fashioned ones.   

There are other things I’m aware of when hiking with my buddy, Dakota.  There is a horse trail behind our property that is used to run the horses from the guest ranch, just a city block from us, into the woods where they are kept during the summer.  The wranglers drive the horses down that trail at a full gallop, but fortunately you can hear them coming.
                                            
                                   The stampede

This past week my dog and I were walking the trail when I heard a commotion at the ranch and suspected that the stampede may be coming in our direction. I picked up the pace and found a place to get off the trail with my dog. I could hear the herd coming full bore.  Less than five seconds after my dog and I ducked under a fence, fifty or more horses raced a few feet past us at an all-out run.  That was close, but I love it.  

If you’re my age you will remember the William Tell Overture followed by the “Thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver.”  If you don’t remember the Lone Ranger you may not relate to the thrill and power of those of the equine persuasion. 

            I’m rambling in my attempt to avoid interjecting political punches as we approach a turning point in the American way of life.  All that aside, I think Gayle and I are fortunate to be able to walk to the guest ranch, watch the city slickers learn how to ride a horse, stop at the ranch house for a red beer, and basically get back home in time to listen to the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, and The Shadow on the radio.   



Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Granite Veil

            You may think that my blog has turned into a “book selling” venture. It hasn’t, but I do have some of my books that I will introduce from time to time.  It’s a way to add variety to the blog.  At least that’s my excuse. But if you enjoy my blog, I think you will enjoy my novel, Granite Veil

            Granite Veil is the story of Steve Sanford, a Los Gatos real estate entrepreneur, and his quest for vengeance after the brutal murder of his wife.  The story winds through a series of violent encounters that are presented in juxtaposition with Steve’s profound spiritual journey.  Steve ends up in Folsom Prison with plenty of time to think.

The book is 310 pages of thought-provoking philosophical and theological debates carried through the story on the back of a murder mystery.  Granite Veil is a metaphorical reference to the fact that it was inside the gray granite walls of Folsom Prison that Steve was able to see through his intellectual preconceptions and find truth.  But Steve’s quest for retribution lands him in Folsom Prison, where he is the target of a hit put on him by someone on the outside.

The scenes inside the prison are authentic.  The California Department of Corrections provided me with a personal guided tour of Folsom for the novel, so my descriptions of activities, cell blocks, and procedures are accurate.  For example, I can confirm that hands holding mirrors pop out of the bars as you walk through cell blocks and prisoners really do make license plates.

Here’s what the back cover of the books says:

·        How did Steve end up in Folsom Prison during the most violent decade in the prison’s history and what are his chances for survival?
·        What is the true identity of the prison’s biggest, strongest, and most feared inmate and why is he focused so intently on Steve?
·        Who is the stunningly beautiful woman working to free Steve?
·        What is the surprising secret of Cell Block #5, which so dramatically catalyzed Steve’s philosophical search for truth?
·        Finally, can black and white truth exist in a world of gray?

Most of the folks who have read the book liked it.  A few disagreed with my premise, 
but very few.  I tried to cast doubt on some widely held beliefs, which can be uncomfortable for some.  Other readers were unable to put the books down, which is what I like to hear. 

            This novel can be purchased on Amazon for over $20.00 plus shipping and handling.   I have it for sale on my website for $13.95 plus $4.00 s/h.  Since those who put up with reading my blog deserve compensation, the novel is available to you for $8.95 plus $4.00 s/h. 

So for $12.95 I’ll send you signed copy of Granite Veil.  That’s getting close to my publishing cost and it’s a good deal.  Shipping costs are for domestic sales only.  If you are out of the country, which many of you are, let me know and I’ll check on shipping costs for you.

            To avoid confusion with Amazon and others, please reference my blog in a request by email (higgins@digitalpath.net).  Or you can send a check for $12.95 to: Ralph Higgins, 2252 Greenhorn Ranch Rd, Quincy, CA 95971 with your return address.

            Many of my books are available on my website (ralphhiggins.com), however most of the roughly 80 books I’ve done were with major publishers and I don’t have the rights to sell them.  I can only sell the books where I own the copyright.

            Okay.  That’s it for the sales pitch.  But I know that you’ll enjoy Granite Veil.  Until next week…
           

           

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The World's Greatest Athletes


      Gayle and I continue to watch the Olympics in the evening. The world’s greatest athletes are on display as a means to make people like me feel decrepit.  It works.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate the skill of the young athletes performing at the highest levels of athleticism.

            Speaking of young…I think if the women gymnasts get much younger, the athletes will perform in diapers.  There’s one little Chinese gymnast that looks to be seven years old, but I think she’s listed as 16 years old.  I don’t believe it, but what I do believe is that she’s an unbelievable performer.  But all the women gymnasts look like children – not “women.”  They trigger my “fatherly” nature and I feel badly when they lose.  I’m sure it’s because I have two daughters.

            And how do these girl gymnasts get to be so small?  I don’t know much about gold fish, but I’ve heard that if you keep a goldfish in a small bowl, it will stay small.  But if you turn it loose in a large pond it will become a golden orca.  I think they must raise these “women” gymnasts in a shoe box.  And how can these little girls pack so much power and skill in such small bodies?  It boggles the mind.

            The so-called Fab Five are fantastic.  I’m a fan.  Little Gabby Douglas had some profound disappointments, but her skill and great smile will take her far. Her gold in the “All Around” exercise says it all. All five of these girls are world class winners and will appear on cereal boxes and in ads in the future.

            Then there is Aly Raisman, the gold winner on the floor exercise.  To watch her leap 20,000 feet in the air, spinning like a top, makes me ashamed that I can’t jump.  The last time I jumped I was trying to clear the sensor that closes my garage door.  I ran from the back of the garage and jumped the beam, but I was too slow. The garage door came down and I ran into it head on.  Pathetic.  Gayle is still laughing.

            Aly got short-changed on her vault routine last night and missed out on a medal, but a hero stepped in to save the day.  The famous coach, Bela Karolyi stood up and demanded that Aly’s coach appeal the score.  Aly’s personal coach, Mihai Brestyan had the appeal form in his briefcase, but didn’t have time to fetch it.  Someone handed him a blank form and he quickly and nervously scribbled whatever was necessary for an appeal and, after review by the judges, Aly got the bronze.  Based on the difficulty of her routine, there is no doubt that she earned that medal.

            I’m fascinated by the men and women’s gymnastics, but I also enjoy watching Misty May and Kerri Walsh in women’s beach volleyball.  My wife thinks it’s because of the “uniforms” the girls wear. There may be a little tiny kernel of truth there, but if there is it stems back to my high school days.

            There is a nudist resort in the hills above Los Gatos and the word around the boy’s gym in high school was that girls played volleyball on sunny days.  Several of us decided to take a scholastic “field trip” to ascertain the veracity of this hypothesis.  It was all in the name of education and science. 

            We were successful in climbing through the brush to a position where we had a good view of the recreation area at the nudist resort.  The problem was that we weren’t the only ones with a good view.  They must have had a guard on the grounds, because the next thing we heard were gunshots aimed in our direction.  We could have all medaled in the 100 meter that day.   

            Another inspiring Olympic moment came when the great sprinter, Usain Bolt, was being interviewed after one of his races.  During the interview the American National Anthem began playing in the background for an American winner.  Bolt stopped the TV interviewer in midsentence to acknowledge the anthem.  He did this out of respect for a fellow athlete and the country represented.  I thought that was a class act, since Bolt represents Jamaica.  Many Americans wouldn’t have done that.

            Usain Bolt joins Carl Lewis as the only sprinters to win 3 golds in 3 events, setting world records in each.  He’s the man to watch, but there are other great sprinters, including Americans, that will be strong competitors.

            It’s a lot of fun to sit on the couch, sip an adult beverage, and identify vicariously with athletes who can do things athletically that I couldn’t come close to even when I was young.  A “man’s got to know his limitations,” as Clint said.  I know mine.  My last hope for a high hurdle gold was dashed when I hit the garage door in mid-air.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Fab Five


     When I was a kid my buddies and I would bring a bag of marbles to an improvised battle zone off the pavement.  One kid would draw a circle in the dirt with his finger and we would each drop an equal number of marbles inside that circle.  It's not easy to remember, but I think we would “lag” to establish the order of shooters and the first kid would  take his favorite marble, called his “shooter,” set the knuckle of his index finger just outside the circle and, with his skilled thumb, shoot at one or more marbles inside the circle.

            If he was able to knock a marble or two out of the circle, they were now his marbles.  And if he were lucky enough that his shooter would “stick,” i.e. remain inside the circle; he would get another shot with the advantage of being closer to his prey.  It was fun to clean out the circle and leave the game with “all the marbles.”  Maybe you’ve heard that expression.

            There were a lot of games to play back then.  I remember a “hi-tech” game with a small box that had a glass top and a cardboard bottom with small circular indentations or holes in it.  The number of indentations was equal to the number of rolling BBs.  The idea was to tip the little box and put each BB in an indentation in the cardboard.  Man – what an innovation.

            Gayle and I have watched our four grandsons hold a complicated, futuristic device in their hands and manipulate an animated alter ego on a TV screen.  The characters in these games are so realistic that I almost attacked the TV screen with my fist when my grandson missed his shot.  These characters leap from building to building, climb walls, and splatter blood all over the screen with ray guns.  They do things that are obviously physically impossible for a human being to do.

            All this is to lead up to the Olympic Games.  We’ve been watching the Olympics until the wee hours lately and to watch the gymnastic teams perform provides the closest thing I can imagine to those weird little dudes my grandkids make jump around on TV.

            These gymnasts are not human. Someone in a control booth is working one of those hand-held devices and making them fly through the air, flip around, and defy the laws of physics.  Have you seen the “Fab Five?”  These little girls are considered the greatest women’s gymnastics team in U.S. Olympic history.  They are amazing!

            While they are in fact the “women’s” team, they all look like little girls to me, but the things they can do physically and mentally is beyond belief.  Yesterday they won the gold and left little doubt that they are indeed the greatest in their sport.

            Michael Phelps has won more medals than anyone and is perhaps the world’s best swimmer, but some have said he is the best Olympic athlete.  He is the best swimmer, but not the best athlete.  I don’t believe there are better athletes than gymnasts. (I should add that the earphones Michael wears are top-of-the-line and were designed by our former son-in-law.)

            I’m a football fan and to me the athleticism of pro players is almost an art form.  Basketball players have such a variety of athletic moves that they are right up there in terms of athleticism,  but the strength of a gymnast relative to body weight, their flexibility, body control, and mental discipline is unmatched by any other sport.  They are the ultimate athlete, in my opinion.

            But I’m still in the game.   I take pride in my ability to hold a screwdriver in my teeth and a hammer in one hand, while simultaneously climbing a ladder while my pants slip down my rear end.  It takes years to develop the skill and balance to let go of the ladder with your free hand, pull up your pants, and then get your hand back on the ladder without a point deduction by the judges. In addition, you’re required to smile at the audience without dropping the screwdriver from your teeth.  Now there’s a potential Olympic event.