Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cats & Dogs

    Gayle likes cats more than dogs.  She loves Dakota, but doesn’t like him staring at her for approval . It’s funny to watch her avoid eye contact with Dakota when he stares at her. 

            Dakota is a Miniature Australian Shepherd and they stare a lot.  They also like to herd other creatures. My brother had a dog that couldn’t resist herding anything “herdable.”   Tom has a pond on his property and it’s loaded with ducks and fish of all sizes.  His dog would swim in the pond herding the ducks.  When the ducks got tired of being herded, they would leave and the dog would resort to herding schools of small fish.

            Dogs look to their masters for approval and affection.  I think that’s one reason men like dogs.  Maybe it’s why men like women. 

            Cats don’t seem to need much of anything. They can take you or leave you.  They’re an independent lot. Maybe that’s why women like cats …and men. 

            Cats think they own you.  The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats and the cats loved it and took advantage of it. Those ancient cats passed this mindset down through the generations by word of mouth.

A cat will come to you, but on its own terms and in its own time.  I have a cat that actually comes when I call her. But only when she wants to climb on my lap or get a snack. I like that cat.  You can find me with my dog on one side and my cat on the other.  They stare at each other.  Have you ever tried to stare down a cat?  Those little suckers look right through you and never blink.  I think our cat can hypnotize our dog.

            Cats are not pack animals.  In nature they hunt alone and are not found in packs like wolves, coyotes, and other canines.  African lions are different.  Lions in Africa are unusually social.  They live in “prides” or small groups with lots of lionesses.  That keeps them home a lot.  But that’s not typical of cats generally. Most tomcats are of the “hit and run” persuasion.

            We have large cats here in the mountains.  Mountain lions have become a problem and have been killing goats, sheep, dogs and other animals in the area. These are 200 pounders.  A mountain lion grabbed my neighbor’s cat twenty feet from him and was gone before he could react.  This was just across the street from us.  

My little cat tried to kill me once.  She wasn’t hungry and I don’t look at all like Bambi, so it wasn’t pre-meditated, as far as I can tell. 

            We were in the process of moving to Quincy and had cleaned out our house in Discovery Bay.  The truck was loaded, but I couldn’t catch the cat. At one point I had the cat cornered and grabbed her.  She broke loose and I grabbed her tail.  That was a big mistake.  She spun around and bit my hand right to the bone. I finally caught her and we drove the four or five hours to Quincy

            By the time I got to Quincy my hand looked like a football. I was talked into going to the hospital, where they gave me penicillin shots, an I V, and far too much sympathy.  Evidently cat bites are not a good thing. 

            Aside from being the victim of an attempted homicide by a member of my own household, I have a soft spot for animals that seems to grow the older I get. 

            Sorry - I have to end this article. My dog is staring at me and I have to figure out what he wants.   Uh oh…My wife is staring at me too.  I think I’m about to be “herded.”  Gotta go.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What's Missing ?

     Since I know many of my readers personally and based on emails I receive, I know that most of you share my concern for the direction our country is taking. I think you’ll agree with me on what I see as the basic problem. I want to be clear that I’m addressing our culture generally.  Not you and I as individuals.  Most of us would fall into the category of the “resistance.”

            We’ve all seen pictures of men standing in soup lines during the Great Depression.   People lined up for rations to feed their families.  Some tried to get menial work.  Anything to provide for their families.  My dad told me his family made soup out of chicken feet.

            What can we expect to happen in our cities if we had a depression today?  Would people sell an apple, eat a chicken foot, or would the “uncivilized” element go on a looting rampage?  Remember the rioting in Los Angeles in 1992 and the post Katrina riots and looting in New Orleans? What has changed since the Great Depression? 

            Japan went through a tsunami with devastation beyond belief and there wasn’t a single report of looting, killing, riots…nothing.  Why?

            Do we have such a thin veneer of civilization in this country that a brief loss of electricity, a flood, or a trial verdict, for example, can provide a catalyst for the savages among us to plunder, rape, and kill? What does Japan have that we no longer have?  

            Are we as civilized as we pretend to be?  Are white collar crimes or government malfeasance different than looting from a moral perspective?  Could this relate to the lack of a commonly agreed upon moral code?  Japan has its problems, but evidently they agree on a moral standard of some kind.

            I’ve come to believe that the basis of every problem in our modern culture is based on moral ambiguity.  That belief is reinforced daily by what I see happening in this country. 

            The concept of moral relativism and the rejection of any authority higher than man could result in nothing less than confusion and a “disconnect” from a moral standard based on something outside of one’s own personal design.  By definition, morals are standards outside of ourselves that we believe in and strive to live by.  Personal opinions don’t count.

            Back when I was a kid in the ‘50s we knew what was right and what was wrong.  The fact that we chose “wrong” didn’t make it “right” and we knew it.  That moral gyroscope might have failed to inhibit us on many occasions, but it functioned as an essential guide and still does for many of us. 

            If you take every aspect of our culture, from economics and social issues to politics and the media, at the root of any problem you will find a missing or compromised moral imperative.  Something has changed.  We are not Japan.  But are we still America?

            Now that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of “that old time religion,” God, and any accountability to a higher authority, we are free to set our own rules.  Fyoder Dostoevsky said, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” 

            Law has replaced our former moral underpinnings.  If it’s legal, it must be moral. Legality equals morality to many.  Abortion may be legal, but is it moral?  And laws can always be changed to be more accommodating. 

            Morality restrains us from inside.  The law restrains us from outside.  In other words, if there is no internal moral restraint, the law will apply controls externally. 

            We have a culture that has filled our vacuous morality with flexible legality.

            In short, we have managed to destroy America’s primary moral construct. As John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  In my opinion, that’s why we are where we are.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Species

New Species Discovered

They are referred to as “homo slackass-erectus” created by natural genetic downward evolution through constant spineless posturing and spasmatic upper limb gestures, which new research has shown to cause shorter legs and an inability to ambulate other than in an awkward shuffling gait. The "drag-crotch" shape also seems to affect brain function.  Expect no eye contact or intelligent verbal communication. History shows that this species mostly voted for Obama and receives food stamps and full government care. Unfortunately most are highly fertile.

*   *   * 
            This piece was passed around the internet.  You may have seen it.  I didn’t write any of that caption, but I can think of a few things I might have added if I had written it.  But it helps me understand why the pants on this group of bipeds manage to stay on.  I have a couple of grandsons who seem to be evolving in this direction. 

            This “beltless” thing originated in prisons, where prisoners aren’t allowed to wear belts.  Being an “ex-con” is a status symbol for gangbangers, so the affliction seems to have spread to teenagers everywhere.  The same with shoes minus shoe strings.

            Even back in the ‘50s a lot of boys wore their pants low, but they became easy targets to be “pantsed” by other guys.  It was easy.  You snuck up behind one of these low-riders and used their pockets to drop their pants to their shoes.  It was fun watching them hop around, trying to pull their pants back up while girls giggled and boys laughed.  But today, pants are sometimes worn below the butt. I don’t want to speculate on the pathology of that particular aberration.  

            Then there are the tattoos…When I was in the army, guys would get tattoos, usually related to their military unit, a girlfriend’s name, or maybe a small cross.  Pretty innocuous stuff.  If I had come home with a tattoo on my arm my dad would have cut my arm off and my mother would have had the church women pray for me.  (I had the world’s greatest parents so that’s obviously not true, but I know they wouldn’t have been happy.)

            Today, even women look like walking comic strips in full color.  Here in Quincy, when the sun finally comes out and clothes come off, it’s more fun looking at the colorful pictures on a female body than the Inquirer and other rags on the rack in the check-out line.  Of course, it depends on the body.  Some bodies are best not looked at regardless of the colorful pictures.

            If I had the skill, I’d go into the tattoo removal business.  In a few years, when a man’s chest tattoo begins to fold in on itself and a woman’s breast tattoo of a cute little red rose begins to look like a nuclear explosion and heads for her navel, I think the removal business will boom. Actually, after that description, I think I’ll pass on the tattoo removal business.

            I must admit that my arms look like I’ve had a series of tattoos by Picasso, but these are just a result of bumping into things while on an aspirin regime.  Some of these transitory bruises look like the old Rorschach ink blot tests - you can see whatever you can imagine in the shapes.  One guy looked at my arm in shock, blessed me, and tried to pin money on me because he thought one of my bruises looked like the Virgin Mary.  Now I wear long-sleeved shirts.

            I’m doing my best to adjust to the brave new world around me, but the truth is that I feel like my passport ran out sometime in the ‘50s or ‘60s and I’m in an airport in a foreign country, smiling in feigned acceptance of their bizarre cultural traditions.  The sad part is that it’s too late to catch a flight back to the sanity of the ‘50s.  I think I’ll get an “I Like Ike” tattoo, a Lone Ranger mask, and a Green Hornet decoder ring. Those ancient esoteric symbols and artifacts might be considered "hip" - an archaic word which could be translated into today's vernacular as "cool", "awesome", "that be bad", or "whatever."

Thursday, January 10, 2013


     There have been many, many interesting people in my life, so I thought that once in a while I would feature some of these individuals.

            Sometimes you run into someone who inspires you in a profound way.  If you’ve never read about or seen Nick Vujicic, please take the time to look him up online.  Nick is an amazing young man who has inspired people worldwide.  I’ve mentioned him before with great admiration.  He was born without arms and legs, yet he lives to inspire others.  He sure inspired me. Check out nickvujicic.com.  This guy will amaze you.        

            When I was in college, I met a kid who was born with only one leg.  Some of you will know exactly who I am featuring here.  I’ll use a false name and refer to him as “Jimmy.”  Jimmy was younger than I was and I didn’t know him very well, but I remember talking to him on several occasions and I enjoyed his stories.  He too was inspiring.  And very funny.

            Jimmy didn’t consider his missing leg a handicap.  He was a popular kid and could do almost anything anyone else could do.  He was an outstanding swimmer and I can still picture him hopping around the pool on one leg, diving in, and swimming like a fish. He had a great attitude and had fun playing tricks on people with his artificial leg. 

            The first time I met Jimmy, he was at my door with another friend and I immediately noticed something different about him.  One of his feet was facing backward.  At that point I didn’t know him well enough to grasp his sense of humor and wasn’t sure how to respond.

            But during the time I knew him, Jimmy had me in stitches telling me some of the pranks he pulled using a wooden leg.  Here are a couple of stories he told me.  These are true.

            Jimmy was sitting in his doctor’s waiting room with a crowd of other people, who were reading magazines or staring at the floor.  Waiting rooms are quiet places where no one talks. Patients have been known to inadvertently hold magazines upside down simply to avoid eye contact by pretending to read. They're also afraid someone will breathe on them.

            In this story, Jimmy pulled a large knife out of his pocket and began cleaning his fingernails, making sure that the “clicks” from his knife and nails began to draw the attention of the others in the room.  When he knew everyone was watching, he violently stabbed the knife into his wooden leg.  With the vibrating knife sticking out of his leg, he continued to examine his fingernails as though nothing happened.  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome immediately hit some in his audience, who were rushed in early for their doctor’s appointment.

            It was common practice for Jimmy to turn his leg around backwards while standing in line at a fast food place.  After leaving, he and his friends would turn around and laugh as other young guys would be stumbling around, trying to turn their feet backwards like they had seen him do.

            One time he and some buddies had a plan to freak out members of his church congregation just prior to the start of the service. Jimmy sat alone while his friends came down the isle and tried to convince him to leave before the service began.  An argument ensued and one of his buddies grabbed his leg and began to pull and twist it while Jimmy held onto the back of the pew.

            Jimmy had used scotch tape to connect the false leg, so the twisting and pulling made sounds like bones cracking.  Suddenly the leg was ripped off and Jimmy’s friends ran out of the church carrying his leg.  There is no record on the number of people who passed out that day, but watching this unfortunate victim hopping out of church on one leg is a scene I’m sure they never forgot.

            Jimmy would occasionally let a car run over his leg, scream and hop around while the hapless driver would stare in terror at the leg stuck under his tire.  He had all kinds of tricks like that and he thoroughly enjoy shocking people. 

            I’ll never forget that kid and his great attitude and sense of humor.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy New Year

I’m back.  I did seriously plan to end my blog . . . and it was not a ploy to get reactions.  Seriously.  But I did get more reactions via email than I expected and evidently there are some loyal friends and readers out there who enjoy my ruminations and want me to keep going.  So here we go.

*   *   *

            The internet is full of jokes about the “joys” of getting old, but I like to make up my own.  Faced with the option of shoveling snow or dashing off some spontaneous nonsense, here are a few that I just made up while watching the snow fall. 

You know you’re getting old if:

  • You don’t know what day it is until you check your pill box for empties.

  • You moved from shoe laces to Velcro straps on your tennis shoes.

  • You set off airport screening devices due to metal replacement parts.

  • You use shopping carts for support while shopping, but still try to look cool.

  • You call your doctor by his first name, because he looks like he’s 12 years old.

  • You can’t slide into your car without bumping your head.

  • Your arms begin to look like you spent an unsuccessful career disarming bombs.

  • You’re proud if you can see your belt buckle without using a mirror.

  • You consider the remote control the greatest invention since long-handled shoehorns.

  • You think you’re being followed, but it’s just your artificial knee clicking.

  • People who look to be your own age refer to you as “mam” or “sir.”

  • You’re so bald that you can put your glasses on backwards and terrify people behind you.

  • You now have fewer body organs and more replacement parts than an old Chevy.

  • Strangers hold doors open for you and you smile and let them.

  • Your leg scar is a status symbol and proof of membership in the heart bi-pass club.

  • Attractive women are only flirtatious because they know you can’t catch them.

  • You think your grandkids are demon possessed because of their speed-texting thumbs.

  • You think the nurse who says, “And how are we today?” has formed a bond with you.

  • Knowing the bathroom location is a priority on your first visit anywhere. 

  • You’re not sure if your wife loves you or pities you.

  • At class reunions, you are convinced that you don’t look as old as your friends.

  • You’re afraid to call people in your phone book, since so many are now gone.

  • You learn ingenious ways to avoid introductions, since you can’t remember names.

  • You don’t worry about carrying heavy things. Some young guy will offer to help.

  • You can avoid embarrassing situations by acting confused. 

  • You also avoid difficult tasks, like installing snow chains, by using the same ploy.

  • An open fly with your shirt sticking out is acceptable and considered informal attire.

  • You need a second pair of glasses to find your first pair, which are on your head.

  • You consider kids with baseball hats on backwards to be morons.

  • You see no reason to be in a hurry anymore.

  • You wear white socks with black pants as a secret signal to other senior insurgents.

  • If you’re a man, you view proctologists with nervous suspicion and try not to smile.

  • And you never, ever use a proctologist within 50 miles of San Francisco.

  • You’re expected to drive with your left turn blinker on at all times.

  • Your mouth pops open involuntarily the moment the dentist enters the room.

  • A firemen unrolling the fire hose is a terrifying reminder of your last colonoscopy.

  • You have the time to enjoy the little things that you missed in your rush to get nowhere.

  • The smell of a broiling steak, a light snowfall, and a football game on TV is excitement.

These are just a few thoughts that popped into my mind as I avoid my chores.  Writing is another ploy I use to make Gayle think I’m working.