Friday, November 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Veterans

Many is the time when my wife and I have gotten to talking about our fathers and how interesting it would have been for the two of them to have met. One was Hispanic from Kansas and the other was a farm boy from the hills of Kentucky. Both of them were veterans. More importantly, each of them spent more than 30 years in a military career.

Carolyn’s father, Onofre “Hank” Hernandez, retired as a Master Gunny in the Marine Corps. My father, John R. Blevins, Sr., retired as a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Both of them started their service in World War II. Carolyn’s father enlisted in the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor. My father was drafted when he turned 18 in 1943. Carolyn’s dad saw multiple campaigns in the Pacific theater while my father hit the beaches at Normandy on D-Day and spent the next year and a half on the ground in Europe.

Carolyn’s father was about 12 years older than my father. He was a dirt poor underground coal miner in Kansas. In many ways his patriotic act of enlistment was his ticket out of the poverty and prejudice a Mexican man lived with in the 1930s and 40s. My father was self-described “white trash” whose family cash-rented cropland in Kentucky to raise tobacco. He was the second oldest of 11 children.

There wasn’t going to be much of a life for either of them in the environments in which they grew up. The military changed all that. It was a profession of honor and service and, yes, of risk. Carolyn’s father served in combat in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. My father was only in combat in the Army in WWII. He served throughout the Korean War and Viet Nam. My father earned a Purple Heart in WWII while Carolyn’s father was fortunate to have been in combat far more often but went unscathed.

So, this is Veteran’s Day a day when we remember and honor veterans. The military has long been a profession where men, and increasingly women, from very humble backgrounds can thrive in service to their country.

Here’s what Carolyn had to say about her father: “My dad loved this country. Maybe he didn't agree with the way it was going or its politics, but I have literally never met more of an 'American' than my dad. He believed in this country and the concepts and idelas upon which it was founded, even though - being a poor Mexican and all - they were definitely not written nor intended for the likes of him. Or maybe, in their noblest form, they actually were.”

My Dad never talked of his experiences of combat in World War II other than to say that he had never been so cold or hungry or scared in his life. That was it. It was personal and private, locked in the recesses of memory. Like many veterans he knew that combat was nothing to be bragged about like a fourth grader during “show and tell”. That’s probably something else that he and Gunny Hernandez would have understood about one another.

Carolyn and I joke from time to time about the “military-isms” we grew up with. Lessons like “clean up after yourself—leave the latrine clean for the next guy” were mantras we both heard from the time we were youngsters. In my household, shoeshines were obligatory. But, Sunday mornings sitting in the old high chair while my Dad shined my shoes for church were also times for the old man to have some one-on-one time with his son. Just like when we were throwing the baseball or fishing, they were times when the remoteness of a military father softened to just a couple of guys.

By the time I was a bit older, I was spit shining my own shoes. I remember high school classmates who thought the wing-tips I wore with my choir blazer and slacks were patent leather. Nope, they were just spit-shined in a “thoroughly military manner”.

And in a lot of ways, our respective fathers could be unreasonable hardasses. But that was just the way they were hardwired from their background and by the military.

We always talk about how they would have found that they had far more in common with one another than one would ever assume and we think their conversation would have been fascinating. Both had a background of poverty. Neither was well educated (until later in their careers) but both were articulate. And both grasped the opportunity of service and honor and discipline as a path to a career.

These men took pride in their military professionalism. They had risen much further than they ever imagined from their humble backgrounds. Both of our fathers took pride in the fact that they were in “the service”. That term has stuck with us our entire lives. They served. There is no more noble calling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cheap Bastid Chewing on "The Chew" and Blasting Yahoo

Cheap Bastid has done enough Cheap Bastidly cooking and writing by now to be entitled to express an opinion or two. So that’s what I’m going to do today.

I’m going to take a swipe at ABC’s new food show “The Chew”, a cutsey play on “The View”, and take a swipe at an insipid piece that showed up yesterday on Yahoo finance.

First, “The Chew”. This new show features Karla Hall who was a contestant on Top Chef along with Food Network Iron Chefs Mario Batalli and Michael Symon. It’s been on for a little over a month now. And it’s all right although a bit vapid. They’ve even made some efforts at showing how to cook good food fast and on a budget.

But yesterday they managed to pretty much alienate me with their snarky, almost condescending, take on “Southern Cooking”. Sure, they paid some lip service to the traditions of Southern or country cooking but they also managed to insert a recorded “Yeehaw” everytime they mentioned the theme or took a commercial break.

Hey jackasses, southern or country cooking is the epitome of making food dollars stretch. It’s not fancy but its inexpensive and filling and good and, most importantly, is usually made with more pinches of love than the paid shills manage to add.

To stand up in front of America spewing fake southern/country/Texas accents in the cause of entertainment demeans what they do and disrespects the food that they’re supposed to be extolling.

Certainly it’s entertainment but there are people from all over watching—not just foodies from the East coast. I thought it was offensive. Oh, and remember when earlier I said the show was all right? Too bad, because their audience (including me, at least for now) deserves something better than “all right”.

Now on to Yahoo. There was an article yesterday in Yahoo Finance—Financially Fit titled “How to Feed a Family on $15 a Day”. OK, not bad. It got my attention—I’m the Cheap Bastid. Fifteen bucks seems a bit generous, but it’s for a family of 4.

The article rubbed me the wrong way with its lead which said that the “average family of four” spends upwards of $1200 a month on groceries. Say what? The author was citing data from the USDA on monthly food costs—the $1200 a month comes from the column titled “Liberal Plan”. Even the “Thrifty Plan” at $615 per month struck me as high.

More particularly, the author was interviewing some expert who had “stopped by her kitchen” to share some advice. This expert, Allison Fishman, contributing editor to “Cooking Light”. Fishman was right when she said the important thing is to plan menus and plan shopping. I started doing that when my kids were little. Planning a menu prior to shopping was the key to making sure that ingredients were on hand and, even better, it had the result of significantly reducing the total grocery bill.

But Fishman was also suggesting that meat be used “almost like a condiment” rather than as the main feature of a meal. Huh? Meat, a condiment? She suggested that beef at $5.99 a pound and chicken breast at $5 per pound was out of reach for many to be able to provide other than a sampling of it in a meal.

That’s all well and good. But where the hell is she buying her boneless, skinless chicken breast? I pay $1.97 a pound for it. The same with beef. I now buy “lesser” cuts such as bottom round (London Broil). I can get ground beef for about $2.50 a pound by having my grocer’s meat department grind it for me when chuck or round is on special. And maybe Southern California (or at least my neighborhood) isn’t as expensive as someplace like New York City but it’s still plenty expensive.

The way this expert was presenting herself, I kind of got the impression that she was trying to educate the ignorant masses to eat a diet based on beans and squash and legumes along with using the same chicken bone for a couple of weeks to flavor the meager soups.

The “average family” spends far less than $1200 a month on food. The average family spends less than $600 a month on food. Who are they kidding. And this kind of advice does little, if anything, to enlighten or encourage or educate. What it does instead is frustrate and infuriate.

And Cheap Bastid sees that as a disservice not as being helpful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


A while back I wrote about one of my “big scores” at Costco—a year’s supply of Irish Spring. Now, I was going to say “dirt cheap” but that’s just too cheesy a pun to put into the context of shower soap, so I won’t say it.

Anyway, it’s been great not having to remember to put this nectar of the shower on the shopping list for months at a time knowing that I’m always going to have a goodly supply of the fresh smelling, clean feeling soap that used to be advertised as “Manly yes, but I like it too,” by a winsome young Irish lass with light red hair and freckles inhaling the aroma next to a stream on the Emerald Isle.

But I digress.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a bar of Irish Spring in the soap dish on the bathtub. If I count all the bottles, tubes, brushes and razors belonging to my wife and step-daughter in and around the edges of the tub, it numbers somewhere north of 20. It’s tough to pull back the shower curtain and step over the lip of the tub without knocking something on the floor or into the tub and have to precariously bend over, pick it up and put it somewhere where it can be found and where it no longer presents a hazard.

But I digress again.

(Note: Under of threat of punishment from my wife, I am compelled to notify the reader that this is NOT our bathtub but is one that I found on Google).

So for the last few mornings I’ve noticed that my green bar of soap is rapidly shrinking to sliver status. I’ve been telling myself for the last few days, “Self, you need to replace it.” I’ve even gone so far as to confirm that there isn’t another bar handy in the bathroom. But, by the time I think about it each morning I’m already wet in the shower and I’m not going to climb back out and open the bathroom door to go to the linen closet to retrieve a couple of bars to last me a while. So I’ve been making do with a sliver.

Besides, I keep having this mental image of me, stepping out of the shower in my birthday suit and bending over the shelf in the linen closet where we keep extra soap, room freshener, toothbrushes, etc. and have my step-daughter come out of her bedroom three feet behind me and being introduced to my “full moon”. Noooooooooo way. Carolyn would kill me.

Well, this morning the sliver disappeared in my hands. It’s no fun showering when you know you’ve got just a tiny bit of soap to wash your face and pits and between each of your toes, not to mention your rungi-schmelli and “nether regions” (that’s probably TMI but I’m sure most know the drill in the shower at least as well as I do). So, which parts do I skip? Hmmmm, well, I’m going to use deodorant so pits you just get a water scrub. And I’m going to put on clean socks, so toes I’m just going to rub you good and you’re going to be on your own.

Crap, this is just way too much decision making for early in the morning. Now, I wouldn’t have this problem is I left a bit more time each day. But, I usually head for the bathroom about 20 minutes before I have to leave for work—after 3 cups of coffee (one to function, one to wake up and one to soften things up--if you know what I mean). And after sitting and “reading” for a bit, I’m ready to hit the shower, then shave (yes, I have a beard but I still shave every morning) then clean my glasses, brush my teeth and head into the bedroom to get dressed for work.

With a “schedule” like that, there’s just no time left for Irish Spring inventory control unless I’m forced into it. So like a good boy I got done in the bathroom, went to the linen closet and took 3 fresh bars out, opened one and put it in the soap dish and put the other 2 in the drawer next to the tub. Now I’m good to go. Until the next time I run out. Damn.

There will be those who say to me “why don’t you just leave more time in the morning?” And to those I say, “Yes dear, you’re right”. But for me showering and then dressing and then heading out the door is like a matador or a knight getting ready for the bull-ring or the jousting arena. I’m transitioning from home to work and getting my “game face” on.

What ever happened to “soap on a rope” anyway? Tomorrow morning…the glory of a virgin bar of Irish Spring. I can’t wait.