RISE and FALL

RISE AND FALL

On August 24, 2015, a man by the name of Ryan McDowell tagged me this photo on Facebook. The focus of the photo is the fading sign on the side of 1226 Military Avenue, Baxter Springs, Kansas. I once owned that building and it was home to my Body Art Studio, Skin Art Creations Tattoo Emporium. Ryan attached this caption to the photo: “There isn’t much left of the sign, but it still shows were Baxter started to fall. When the sign was new the town was growing but as it decays so does the town.”
My business was in Baxter Springs from 1990 to 2012. When I first opened on Military Avenue (downtown), the business district was all but dead. Very little retail, a few service businesses and a couple of restaurants. For the most part most business buildings sat empty. At that time the city of Baxter Springs had been operating in the red for several years. Within two years of opening Skin Art Creations Tattoo Emporium every business building along Military Avenue was occupied and the city was operating in the black.
Business for me had been good as I was the only Body Art studio in the region. I gave back to the community by having charity drives and heading the Chamber of Commerce joint Historical and Beautification Committee. I promoted the first ever Tattoo Show in Kansas and donated artwork to raise money for flood victims. I created a moral studio with high standards and integrity. I became a proud member of the community.
The sign on the side of the building had been my billboard along Interstate 44 right before exit one in Missouri, the Baxter Springs exit. When the contract on the sign expired the sign company let me have it and I mounted it on the side of the building. The sign proudly stated; “WORLD FAMOUS, AWARD WINNING, SKIN ART CREATIONS TATTOO EMPORIUM – ON ROUTE 66 BAXTER SPRINGS, KANSAS – (316) 856-5938 – WWW.UBTAT2D.COM
In 2000 I decided to expand upon my business enterprises. After an expensive remodel I moved the studio to the 2nd floor of my building and opened a small, friendly Beer Bar. SPUNKY’S TAVERN – WHERE YOU CAN HAVE A DOG GONE GOOD TIME. Opened in January of 2001. The tavern, named after a beloved pet, that had passed, was an immediate success. We served light food, beer and music on Saturday nights. Three TV’s supplied sports entertainment on Sunday’s. We had $1 FUBAR (For U Beers Are Reasonable), Monday’s. Dart Tournaments on Tuesdays. Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament on Wednesdays. We had two pool tables with tournaments on Thursday nights. Karaoke on Friday nights finished out the week.
We purchased the building next door, 1228 Military Avenue and began renovations. The apartments upstairs were offered to our employees and the downstairs was converted to an entertainment venue. We had plans for weekly concerts but alas that only happened one time.
We went to great lengths to make sure that Spunky’s was family friendly and We did not tolerate drunks. We would cut people off that had too much and that was the beginning of the end.
One Saturday night a gentleman that had too much to drink and who we had cut off threw a beer bottle at a waitress. When I escorted him out of the building, he tried to force his way back in. We had to call the police. His friend, a local newspaper reporter, begged us not to call the police but we had been left with no choice. The police showed up and told the reporter to take his friend home. The drunk swung at the officer and said F*** You. He was arrested.
Monday’s newspaper contained an article written by the reporter that claimed that the police chief said that the police were called to the tavern every night. When I talked to the chief he was highly upset as he had never said that, just the opposite. He had said that we handled situations well and that they were seldom called. The article also stated that the Presbyterian Minister, whose church parking lot was across the alley from Spunky’s, had to chase drunk people out of her parking lot every night.
I went to the church to talk to the minister, but she was on vacation and not expected back until the next day; she had never talked to the reporter. I went to the newspaper office and demanded a retraction and the Editor refused stating, “My reporter doesn’t have to tell the truth he just needs to tell the story he wants to tell. I don’t care what he says as long as it sells papers.” I went to city hall and requested to be put on Tuesday’s agenda; I was going to demand a public retraction and apology from the newspaper.
Tuesday afternoon I talked to the minister and showed her the newspaper article. She was upset and said she was going to go to the newspaper office and give them a piece of her mind. She also said she would be at the city council meeting that night to set the record straight. That night when I stood before city council the chambers were packed. Word had gotten out.
The police chief spoke first and verified that what the paper had reported was not true. He told the council what he had actually said. It was then my turn to speak. I told what had actually happened which was verified by the arresting officer. I then demanded the retraction and apology from the Editor and he refused. It was then the Presbyterian Minister’s turn. She cleared her throat and said, “People like the George’s are responsible for teenage pregnancy, unwed mothers, the assassination of JFK and the crucifixion of Christ.” With that one sentence she destroyed all I had worked for in my business wiped out all the community involvement and good I had done. She continued to rant and rave about how our establishment was the devils playground and how it should be destroyed immediately.
Now I could tell you about all that happened over the next year after that city council meeting. I could tell you about how the minister filed charges of verbal abuse against one of her parishioners because he said, “If you think you accomplished something you are crazy.” I could tell you about how the minister got the local council of churches in an uproar and how they were preaching sermons against me on Sundays. I could relate stories of people that left those sermons disgusted or of the teenage girl that lost the right to babysit children at her churches nursery because she waxed our floors once a week. I could tell you how the city turned against us and tried to pull our business license and the state of Kansas had to send a representative down, twice to tell the city to cease and desist. Or maybe I could tell you about the city attorney with the conflict of interest because he was also the local ACLU attorney. He was the one who tried to pull our licenses. I guess I could relate how the attack on our small quiet tavern made national news, but you get the picture.
By the end of 2002 I had enough. I had fought hard, but I was tired and I had become a pariah. It all rested in the lap of a lying reporter, an unethical newspaper editor, a city council run by good ol’ boys and a mentally unstable and hypocritical Presbyterian Minister. The reporter lost his job when the editor sold the newspaper. The city council was re-elected and showed no signs of changing. The minister had been dis-ordained by the Presbyterian Council for “actions adverse against the George family and actions affecting the integrity of the church and the congregation within the community.’ A small victory but one that came to late. I was done!
On a November Tuesday night in 2002 I appeared for the next to the last time before the Baxter Springs, Kansas City Council. I stood at the podium and attempted eye contact with the council. Not one of them connected with me. “I will be closing my businesses here, selling my tavern equipment and listing my properties for sale” I began. “I will be moving my tattoo studio to Independence, Kansas. The powers that be there have indicated that we will be a welcome addition to their community.” I paused. “You think that my little tattoo studio makes no difference to the economy of this community; you are wrong! When I opened here 12 years ago military avenue was dead. You were operating in the red. Two years later you are operating in the black. Did you ever stop to ask yourselves why? Well, I can tell you.” I looked at the council then turned and looked at the filled to capacity city council chambers.
“It was because of my little tattoo studio. Shortly after I opened people started coming to me wanting to know how my business was doing. They talked to me about businesses they wanted to open and asked my opinion. I urged them to take the leap and they did. Some succeeded, some failed but Military Avenue filled up and you started collecting taxes off of those businesses.” I stopped to let that sink in.
“I tattoo over 1,200 people per year. Over half of those are return clientele. From that half two thirds of them come from all across the United Sates and other countries. They rent motel rooms when they are here, they eat in the restaurants they shop in the stores. Four hundred plus people that would never come to this community otherwise come here to see me, spend their money in the community and increase the tax base. That is not even to mention the other 800 people that come to see me that shop and eat here. You don’t think my studio makes that big a difference to the economy of this community? That only goes to show how little you know.” I let that sink in for a moment.
I cleared my throat and looked around the room one last time. “I have a prediction for you. One year from now Military Avenue will be just as empty as it was when I came here in 1990 and the City of Baxter Springs will be operating in the red.” I turned and walked out.
I opened the studio in Independence, Kansas and business was good. Almost a year to the day I received a phone call from my former next-door neighbor. He informed me that a newspaper article had come out the day before stating that for the first time in twelve years Baxter Springs was operating in the red. He went on to tell me that the business district was all but empty, even losing it’s two restaurants. I hung up the phone and called Baxter Springs City Hall and requested to get on the agenda.
I stood, for the last time before the Baxter Springs City Council. Just like when I had been there a year previous the chambers were packed with people wanting to see what I had to say. The council members looked down and did not make eye contact with me. I let the silence hang in the air for a moment then said, “I told you so!” Without another word I turned and left the building never looking back.
In 2004 I received a phone call from the new mayor of Baxter Springs. She told me that the good ol’ boy network of the city council had been totally replaced by all women. She asked if I would consider bringing my business back to Baxter Springs. I said, “No! Once bitten, twice learned. Baxter has a bad habit of cutting off it’s nose to spite its face. I wish you luck but you will have to find your way without me.” She said she understood and thanked me for all I had done when I had been a resident there. I wished her luck.
Baxter Springs, Kansas has a long history of hurting itself economically. From turning back cattle herds from the railheads because of a unfounded fear of hoof and mouth disease. Being too overconfident and allowing Columbus to get to Topeka first to file for county seat. Turning away Sooners and sending them west. Not embracing Route 66 and creating stops. Allowing its Mayor to give permission for US 400 to bypass the community because “It won’t hurt my business.” To what they did to me and my business.
I do not wish Baxter Springs ill; Just the opposite. I sincerely hope that the new generation that is there will continue to revitalize the community, learn from the mistakes of the past and move towards a brighter future. Only time will tell.
 
-The GYPSY-
www.ubtat2d.com
August 24, 2021

LAST RESPECTS AND BURNING QUESTIONS

LAST RESPECTS AND BURNING QUESTIONS
I had rode my motorcycle into Rochester Cemetery only once before today. It was on July 26, 2013 when I came to lay my mothers ashes to rest between the graves of her parents. Rochester Cemetery sits on a hill on Menninger Road on the northwest outskirts of Topeka, Kansas. The cemetery was chartered in 1850 and is the final resting place of Kansans, not Kansans and everyone else in between. It is also the final resting place of 14 members of my family. Someday my earthly remains will rest within the grounds of Rochester Cemetery.
As I maneuvered the big Harley Ultra Classic up the steep drive and into the cemetery I wondered if the thump, thump, thump of the big V-Twin was disturbing the dead. Silver Streak, the name I christened my motorcycle with, navigated the tight, thin roads of the cemetery. “C’mon Silver, I urged the bike, let’s find Stanley.
Stanley is a large memorial stone on a family grave plot. The white stone features a palm leaf and the word Stanley carved beneath the leaf. Stanley has been the marker I have used since a child to locate the graves of my grandparents and now my mother. Stanley is directly across the road from their resting places and without him I would have a harder time of finding them within the maze of cemetery roads. We located Stanley and I saluted the stone, “Thank You Stanley.”
As I shut off Silver Streak the tick, tick, tick of the cooling engine replaced the sound of the crickets that would normally be heard in the cemetery during the summer months. But on this early day in March the children of crickets past were sleeping below the ground within their tiny eggs. I dismounted the bike and headed across the road towards my mother and grandparents graves.
As I approached the graves I was pleased to see that the marker I had set for my mother had weathered the rough winter well. It made me feel good that even if I was never able to afford the marker she had dreamed of at least my humble effort would endure for years to come. I knelt down and placed my right hand on the marker and my left hand on the spot on the ground where my mothers ashes lay beneath. I knelt in silence trying to calm my heart which was in turmoil. I had come to the cemetery that day to seek advice from my ancestors. I had things in my life that were troubling me and I needed their wisdom.
There are those who will say, “The dead do not speak.” But they would be wrong. The dead speak loudly if you just take the time to listen. I spoke my concerns to my grandfather and grandmother and while waiting for their response I turned to my mother. I leaned on her cross and looked up to the sky. “Mom, I really do not know why I am asking your advice. You usually get sidetracked when faced with a hard subject and never give a straight answer. But I am going to assume that once you got to heaven they fixed that flaw and you can listen and give straight answers.” I told my mother what was on my mind.
I knelt with my head down in silence. The cemetery was still, not even the sound of an early Robin chirp broke that silence. After long moments I looked up and around. My eyes wandered down the hill towards the low area of the cemetery. In all the years I had visited here I had never been down the hill to the tree line beyond the graves. I stood up and I wandered in that direction.
Walking through the gaps between the numerous graves I crossed the lower road and winding my way through a small section of graves I found myself at the tree line. Through the trees I could see a small pond. Walking through the trees and down the embankment I stood on the edge of the pond. It was obvious that it had been constructed as a runoff for the cemetery. How long in the past the pond had been made only the spirits of the cemetery knew. Towards the south end of the pond was a drive. A large pile of gravel and raw dirt rested there. On the north end of the pond a large tree had fallen across the expanse somewhere in the past. Woodpeckers had pocked its surface and its branches that reached into the pond no doubt created a haven for small aquatic creatures; salamanders, frogs, insects and maybe even minnows.
I stood and looked at the still waters of the pond and the tree. This simple pond next to a cemetery was a symbolic example of the circle of life. Life sprung forth then death came. From death came life which thrived and eventually died giving life to a new generation; a never ending and vital circle. A bright red Cardinal landed on the dead tree and cocked its small pointed head at me as if to put a punctuation mark on my thoughts. The small bird took one hop towards me and then flew away to signal that it was time for me to move away from the pond.
I headed back up the embankment and wound my way through the graves. I paused a moment at my mother and grandparents graves. I touched my mothers cross marker and smiled. I liked the marker, Though just a couple of feet high it resembled the type of stone markers that you would find on ancient graves in Europe. My family had migrated from Germany to America so this cross marking the grave of a Hummel seemed appropriate and right. I said, “Bye Mom, Bye Grandpa, Bye Grandma. Wish I could have known you Grandpa. Miss you Grandma, Miss you Mom. Love you all.” I moved away and returned to the road. I still did not have the answer to my questions and I had other ancestors to visit.
As I walked up the road I passed the graves of Samuel and Amanda Dykes. I stopped and said hello to Grandma and Grandpa Dykes. Sam and Amanda are the parents of my Aunt Patricia, the wife of my Uncle Karl. Karl Hummel is my mothers brother and passed in April of 2020 after a long fight with cancer. Though the Dykes were not blood they were still family and out of respect I was taught when a child to call them Grandma and Grandpa. The house they once owned sits just a couple of blocks from my home. I have found memories of stopping by that house to visit with them. But what I remember most was Sam’s Harmonica playing.
Samuel Dykes carried a briefcase with his various harmonica’s inside. A couple of times a month Sam was asked to come forward to the church podium and play a hymn on his harmonica. Angels could not have sang those hymns more beautifully than Samuel Dykes played them on his harmonicas. Sam passed away suddenly in 1964 and left many people grieving his loss, myself included. I was just 8 years old at the time and the passing of Samuel Dykes was the first time I had to deal with the loss of someone I cared about.
I noticed that Sam’s Birthday was on March 4th. Today was March 2nd and I would not be back in the cemetery to wish him a Happy Birthday on the 4th so I said, “Happy Birthday Grandpa Dykes.” I bid him and Grandma Dykes farewell and moved on up the road. As I walked away I smiled; I like to imagine that God calls Sam up to the podium every Sunday to play a hymn and show the Angels how their voices should sound.
I stopped at the graves of my Great Aunt Harriet and my Great Uncle Karl Hummel, my Uncle Karl’s namesake. Next to them is the grave of Lucien Vick. He is a relative but how I do not know. My Great Aunt Harriet was the first woman ever stationed at the Kodiak Base Naval Station on Kodiak Island in Alaska. My Great Uncle Karl was a singer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I paid my respects and moved off to visit the gravesites of their parents, my Great Grandparents, Walter and Priscilla Hummel.
I stood at the graves of my Great Grandparents and my head bowed. Walter had been the first Livery and Tack maker in Topeka making mule harnesses for the 7th Calvary. Priscilla had been a devoted wife and mother giving birth to Harriet, Lucius, Karl, Ralph and Oscar, my Grandfather. I spoke my questions to them then remained silent, listening. In a few moments my head turned and I looked towards the gravesite of my Great Uncle Ralph Hummel and his wife Buena Vista, the namesake of Buena Vista, Arkansas.
Between the graves of my Great Grandparents and the Graves of my Great Uncle are two empty spots. Someday those spots will not be empty, they will be where me and my wife Raychel will be laid to rest. As I looked at the empty spots the answers to the questions that had been troubling me suddenly flooded into my head. I now knew that my ancestors had spoken to me and had answered my questions. Now with those answers my turbulent mind and heart knew peace. I sighed and said, “Thank you, I knew you would help.”
I believe strongly in the power of prayer and I believe God answers prayer. I also believe that he sends his Angels to help us in our time of turmoil. The Angels he sent this day were the ones that were responsible for giving me my life. Life sprung forth then death came. From death came life which thrived and eventually died giving life to a new generation; a never ending and vital circle. I had one more stop to make before leaving Rochester Cemetery.
I stood in front of the grave graves of my Uncle Karl Lennox Hummel and my cousin Deanna Hummel. My cousin Deanna had been a police officer in Shawnee Mission, Kansas and had been murdered by a drunk driver while on duty. My Uncle Karl having succumbed to the cancer on April 28, 2020 had been laid to rest next to his daughter with no memorial service.
The Coronavirus Pandemic robbed many families of their chance to say goodbye to loved ones. I shook my head feeling a mixed emotion of sadness and anger at those that deny the Pandemic. They claim the virus is not real, they refuse to practice social distancing and refuse to wear masks. Many are refusing to take the vaccine. They wallow in their ignorance and inconsideration of others shouting, “We are exercising our rights”, while violating the rights of others. Here before me was a victim of the Pandemic. It is true that my Uncle died from cancer but he was denied his right to have his family come together and say goodbye because of the Pandemic. How many more must suffer this indignity because people refuse to do the right thing?
I knelt down and placed my hand on the long flat stone that bore the names of Karl, Deanna and Patricia Hummel. My Aunt Pat is not here yet and hopefully it will be a long time before she is. But her spot is waiting for her next to her husband. Karl, Deanna and my cousin Lenny who passed away during a bicycle race years ago when a car ran him off the road and over a cliff will be waiting for her at Heaven’s gate. My Aunt Pat shares a birthday with my sister thus being my sister Patricia’s namesake.
I was happy that I was finally able to pay my respects to my Uncle Karl. He loomed large in my life when I was a child. Partial owner of a bicycle shop, he gave me my first bicycle, a Huffy. He also made an 8’ by 4’ board into the home of a Lionel Train set for me on my 7th Christmas. Family gatherings featured my Uncle Karl and Aunt Pat along with their seven children, my cousins. My cousins and I spent many a summer afternoon in a field near their home on Massachusetts street collecting grasshoppers and fireflies in jars. Uncle Karl and Aunt Pat had offered to raise me because of my mothers mental condition but she refused. I have often wondered who I would have become if I had been raised in that family. Yet I realize that I am exactly who I am meant to be.
I last saw my Uncle Karl on July 26, 2013 when I laid my mother to rest. He stood by me at the graveside as we sang Amazing Grace which my Mom had requested. We spoke and caught up with each other before he left me to say my final goodbyes to my mother, his sister. When I left Texas and moved back to Topeka in November 2013 I thought several times about contacting him and my Aunt Pat. But somehow I felt like I would be an intrusion because of the years that had passed between us. I never contacted them instead keeping track of their lives through my cousin Scott and my Aunt pat’s Facebook page. In 2015 I led the team that restored Animal Land in Gage park. My Aunt Pat sent me a short message that simply stated, “Your Uncle Karl is proud of you.” That meant a lot to me.
I rose from the grave and said, “Well Uncle Karl, looks like I have to buy more flowers from now on.” I had made a vow years ago that as long as I was alive my relatives, buried in Rochester Cemetery would have flowers on their graves. I place flowers on my grandparents and mothers graves. Flowers are laid on the graves of Grandma and Grandpa Dykes. I place flowers on the graves of Lucien Vick, Great Aunt Harriet and Great Uncle Karl. My great Grandparents get flowers as does Ralph, Buena Vista and Lucius Hummel. I have always left flowers at Deanna’s grave and now I will leave them at Uncle Karl’s grave. I wonder if anyone will ever lay flowers at my grave.
I returned to Silver Streak filled with a mixture of melancholia and joy. I had finally had the answers to my burning questions and I had finally had a chance to pay my respects to my Uncle Karl. As I put back on my riding gear I surveyed the cemetery. Rochester is an odd mixture of an old peaceful cemetery and a dark gothic burial ground. There are portions of the cemetery whose serenity gives way to a place where the living dead would be at home. I like the feel, I like the contrast. It feels like life not death.
As I mounted the big Harley and prepared to start it a Robin alighted on top of Stanley’s Stone and sang to me. “Ah, there you are.” I said. I started the bike and the Robin watched me ride away and out of this hallowed ground. I left with the knowledge that love is eternal.
-The GYPSY- March 8, 2021

HI-YO SILVER AWAY

HI-YO SILVER AWAY

There are times when you walk into history. There are times when history walks into you. Then there are times when you fall face first into history and history comes crashing down on top of you. Today was such a day for me. As I pulled myself out from under the weight of the history that fell on me I knew I would need to share the moment with you dear reader.

My wife Raychel and I decided to spend the day doing some random shopping in Lawrence. If you want to do random shopping Lawrence, Kansas is about as random as it gets, especially on Massachusetts Street. Downtown Lawrence is peppered with a wide range of random shops selling an eclectic mix of random items.

The eateries on Massachusetts Street are just as random. If you cannot find something to your taste in downtown Lawrence then you weren’t really hungry to begin with. Raychel and I were hungry and something to our taste was The Mad Greek.

I am not ashamed to admit that The Mad Greek is our favorite eatery in Lawrence. I am also not ashamed to admit that we happily devoured Gyros and Chicken Provolone washed down with ice cold beer.

We sat, talked and enjoyed each other’s company as we let our feast settle. Then we found our way across the street to The Toy Store. As we walked through the doors our inner child found its way out of our psyche. I threatened to buy Kazoos and start my own Kazoo blues band. Raychel bought a whirly gig throw off to occupy her very active mind.

We left The Toy Store and headed down the street to Love Garden. No it is not another restaurant. If you guessed that it is a floral shop you would be wrong. No it is not a bordello and it is not a Hippy Head Shop. However if you said music store full of vintage vinyl record albums then you would be correct. It was in this magical place that History jumped on me and beat me to the floor.

I browsed the thousands of albums not 100% sure what I was looking for. I have been trying to replace albums I sold or gave away a long time ago. I also keep my eyes open for albums my mother once had. I grew up listening to her albums so for me it is a matter of nostalgia. I also am a sucker for strange and unusual albums.

I found two Uriah Heep albums; Magicians Birthday and Wonderland. Uriah Heep is one of my favorite groups and if I would have left after finding those albums it still would have been a good find and a good day. But my day was about to get even better.

As Raychel held the Uriah Heep albums I flipped through the one dollar bin. Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Ventures and Henry Mancini all made it onto the stack in Raychel’s hands. I got excited when I found the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the soundtrack album to the movie The Great Escape. Then it happened, I took the first step into the attack on my person by history.

As I flipped through the one dollar rack my hand fell on a four album set. On the front of the box were two familiar figures; Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Emblazoned across the top of the box were those magical, heroic words, “The Lone Ranger”.  My mind instantly took a trip back to those golden days of yesteryear.

The year was 1989 and I was driving a big truck over the road coast to coast. I pulled into a truck stop near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border on the Arkansas side. I pulled into a space next to a big silver Peterbilt Truck.

As I walked around the nose of the truck a movement caught my eye. There, clinging to the truck’s grill was a tiny brown bat. Horrified, I started looking for a stick to remove the little bat from the grill. While looking for a stick a man walked up and asked me what I was doing. I showed him the bat and said I was looking for a stick to remove it so it wouldn’t be injured.

The man pulled a pen from his pocket and carefully removed the bat. He carried the bat over to a nearby tree where the bat quickly transferred itself from the pen to the tree. The man said he was glad I had seen the bat as it was his truck and he would not want to pull out and hurt the little guy. I agreed. I told the man how I had once been a Zookeeper and how I had an affinity for animals, especially Bats.

As we stood there talking I could not shake the feeling that I knew this man. I finally asked, “Do I know you? Have we met before?” The man laughed, “In a way we probably have met.” His voice was familiar and mysterious.. “What do you mean, in a way?” The man laughed again and said, “Hold on this may help.”

The man opened the door of his big silver truck and reached inside. When he turned back around he was wearing a large pair of black Foster Grant sunglasses and a white cowboy hat. I looked at him, silver truck, white cowbo… “Dear God, you are Clayton Moore! The Lone Ranger!” He laughed, “So I guess you do know me.”

Mr. Moore offered to buy me a cup of coffee and I took him up on it. As we drank coffee and ate pie he told me how he had come to drive a big rig.

He said that he had signed a contract that had made it so that he could never make a public appearance without the mask. “It killed my film career but I receive a very nice pension and get paid for personal appearances; those are not as numerous as they once were.” 

Mr. Moore told me that the ranch where the series had been filmed had been given to him as part of the deal. He was bitter about the lawsuit that had forced him to remove his mask. “I am grateful that Foster Grant made it possible for me, in a way, to keep the mask. I am glad that awful movie failed.”

I asked him why he was driving a truck. His answer was simple and straight to the point; “I get bored. I have everything I want but having everything comes with a price. Before I was a successful actor I made ends meet by driving a truck. Seemed a logical way to ease my occasional boredom.”

All too soon it was time for us to go our separate ways. I headed for the eastern horizon while he drove his mighty truck into the western sunset. Who was that sunglassed man? Pretty sure I know and he left me with a silver memory.

Bringing myself back into the present I placed the Lone Ranger box set on top of the other albums in Raychels arms.

When we returned home to Topeka I immediately started checking the albums. Repairs to covers and checking for any scratches that might have to be dealt with. I saved my treasure, The Lone Ranger box set, for last. I opened the box and pulled the first album from its sleeve; perfect condition. I set it to one side and picked up the second album. It was at this point that the history I had taken a step into when I found the cherished set tripped me and fell on me with the force of a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’.

Resting on top of the 3rd album was a greeting card size envelope. The postmark on the Twentynine cent stamp showed 12 December 1994. The envelope was addressed to Wayne Glenn at KTXR in Springfield, Missouri. The return address showed the card had come from Fred W. Foy in Reading, Massachusetts. 

Inside the envelope was a homemade Christmas card. The front had a deep green design of a stylistically drawn Christmas tree. Inside the tree were a pair of cowboy boots and intertwined in the boots were FWF in a Saloon font. Above the design was written ‘Merry Christmas’ in the same Saloon font.

The inside of the card featured a red horseshoe design. Above the horseshoe was written in the familiar Saloon font ‘…And A Hearty…’. Inside the top of the horseshoe the Saloon font proclaimed, ‘Happy New Year’. Between the two legs of the horseshoe was the name, ‘Fred Foy’. Opposite from the greeting was a date stamp, ‘Received Dec. 15, 1994 KTXR’.

The card felt like something important. I sent up an entreaty to the Google Search God and its Keeper of Fates the Mighty Wikipedia answered my call.

Wayne Glenn is known as the “Old Record Collector”. He had a weekly show on KTXR in Springfield, Missouri from 1977 to his semi-retirement in 2019. Mr. Glenn has more than 15,000 albums. He had 2,139 episodes of his “Remember When” radio program. The show ran for 7 hours on Saturday mornings and 3 hours on Sunday evening. On August 10, 2019 he scaled back to a one hour show on KTXR. 

Wayne Glenn has written 13 books on Ozark history. With 42 years as a radio show host and accomplished author Wayne Glenn has a lot to be proud of and has made his mark on broadcast history.. 

Fred W. Foy had felt that Mr. Glenn was worthy of receiving a Christmas Card and I needed to know who Fred W. Foy was. What I found was way beyond anything I could have ever expected or imagined.

Frederick William Foy (March 27, 1921 – December 22, 2010) was an American radio and television announcer and actor, who used Fred Foy as his professional name. Radio historian Jim Harmon described Foy as “the announcer, perhaps the greatest announcer-narrator in the history of radio drama.”

Fred Foy was a Corporal during World War II and did World Series play by plays for the GI’s. He was an accomplished radio announcer and pitchman doing narrations for shows such as The Green Hornet and Challenge of the Yukon. In 1948 he first uttered the words that would become the most recognized opening in radio and television history:

“Hi-Yo, Silver! A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty “Hi-Yo Silver”… The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!”

And there I sat, holding a Christmas card in my hand sent to one of greatest record collectors in America, Wayne Glenn, from one of the greatest radio and television narrators and announcers in American History, Fred Foy.

How this box set of the greatest hits of “The Lone Ranger” radio program, that had apparently belonged to Wayne Glenn at one time, ended up in a $1.00 bin in a Lawrence, Kansas bookstore is anyone’s guess. How the Christmas card from Fred Foy found it’s way tucked neatly between two albums in the box set is also anyone’s guess. What isn’t anyone’s guess is that this Historic piece of American Radio and Television History now rests in the hands of someone who will protect and preserve it.

Yes history fell on top of me and this was an important tale to be told. With that thought in mind I would like to leave you with this seldom heard song that played on The Lone Ranger syndicated television series in the 1970’s. It was heard just before the Fred Foy opening was played and featured edited scenes from the color pilot episode of The Lone Ranger from 1955 which retold the Masked Man of The Plains origin story:

“Six Texas Rangers (Hi-yo, hi-yo) rode in the sun (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Six men of justice rode into an ambush, and all were killed but one.

One lone survivor (Hi-yo, hi-yo) lay on the trail (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Found there by Tonto, the brave Indian Tonto, he lived to tell the tale.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away!)

His wounds quickly mended (Hi-yo, hi-yo) and there in the night (Hi-yo, hi-yo),

Six graves were put there to hide from the outlaws that one man lived to fight.

He chose silver bullets (Hi-yo, hi-yo) the sign of his name (Hi-yo, hi-yo); A mask to disguise him, a great silver stallion, and thus began his fame.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! THE LONE RANGER IS HIS NAME!) 

-The GYPSY-

THE MIGHTY WURLITZER

Growing up in the 1960’s was amazing for a child, especially me. As the 1960’s was ushered in I was 3 years old. By the time 1969 gave way to 1970 I was an oversize 13-year-old on the verge of manhood with more testosterone than sense. But oh, those years in between.
I have so many stories of my childhood in the 1960’s that I could write everyday between now and when I take my final breath that I could never get to all of them. Today however I have time to share with you my tale of several Christmas’ where The Mighty Wurlitzer was the star of the season.
I always looked forward to Christmas time. From Thanksgiving Day until New Years Day my life was filled with wonderful surprises and amazing experiences. Several of those experiences took place at Pelletier’s Department Store in downtown Topeka, Kansas.
I spent a lot of time at Pelletier’s growing up. My Mother was Manager of the Toy Department. My Grandmother was Manager of the Children’s Department and the stores lead buyer. I could be found several times a week in the store but never quite as much as during the Holiday Season where I could be found in the Toy Department every day.
Coming in from the cold December air and into the warmth of the main floor of Pelletier’s my senses were always assailed by the sights, smell and sound of the season. Christmas lights and decorations from floor to ceiling. Chocolate cooking and candy being made behind the candy counter. The sound of The Mighty Wurlitzer filling the air with every Christmas Carol and Song known to man.
The Mighty Wurlitzer was an Organ but not just any Organ it was “The Organ”! The Mighty Wurlitzer was a pipe organ manufactured by the Rudolph Wurlitzer company from 1914 to 1943. These pipe organs were mostly used in theatres, churches, homes and other venues. One of these other venues was Pelletier’s Department Store. The Mighty Wurlitzer sat on the north end of the mezzanine and the Organist commanded the beautiful white and gold giant to bring forth tunes that reached down into every fiber of your being.
I have always loved organ music. I do not know what it is, but it touches something deep in my soul, I can feel every melodic note course through my body. I can hear each instrument that it imitates. The vibrations of its percussion thrill my heart. The music of the organ lifts my spirit and reminds me that the world is truly a beautiful place. You just need to stop for a minute and breath it in to be reminded of its beauty. The music from an organ will let you do just that; see the world as a beautiful place.
Christmas music played on an organ brings back memories of Christmas past. It stirs the air and produces visions of what Christmas is and what it promises to be. No organ never played Christmas Music fuller or more fulfilling than The Mighty Wurlitzer.
My child’s mind would fantasize about stepping up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sitting down and playing music that would make Angels weep with joy. But alas, God had other plans for me. My hands manipulate, pencils, paint brushes and tattoo machine, not keyboards.
Memories of the Heavenly Christmas Music of The Mighty Wurlitzer at Pelletier’s Department Store have always stayed within my heart and soul. To this day I hear organ music and I smile as my spirit is once more lifted.
Imagine then my surprise when, while driving to the tattoo studio one December morning, I spied an organ sitting in front of a secondhand store. I asked my wife, “Did you see that?” She said she did and we both wondered why it was sitting outside like that. We finally concluded that they had probably just gotten it in and just had not moved it inside yet. That was until it was in the same spot the next day and the day after and the day after that.
This started causing me some concern. Several years previously my sister had left my mothers upright piano out on her patio and the weather had destroyed it. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the piano had come from the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. It was a loss that always haunted me. Now I had visions of this organ sitting out in the weather and being destroyed.
Now some may ask, “What is it to you if the organ get’s ruined, it isn’t yours.” That is true it is not mine but the music that it can produce belongs to everyone including me. A musical instrument is a work of art that creates art. As an Artist I cannot bear the thought of art lost. So, I went by the secondhand store to ask if the organ was for sale.
There was a sign in the window of the store indicating that the store is closed on Tuesdays and as luck would have it this was Tuesday. Next to the disheartening sign was another sign that invited the viewer to, “Visit Us On Facebook” so I did.
I found the secondhand stores Facebook Page and sent a message: “Is the organ in front of your store for sale?” A couple of minutes later they messaged back: “Its Free”. I immediately message back: “I’ll pick it up shortly.” Their response was: “Ok Cool. Thank You!!!” My response: “No Thank You.”
I was at God’s Storehouse, another secondhand store, dropping off a donation when I got the message. I rushed home, hooked up my utility trailer, grabbed a furniture dolly and headed over to the secondhand store.
I pulled up in front and got out to take my first good look at the organ. The bottom was wrapped in plastic wrap but that would do little to keep out bad weather. We had a light rain a few days before and I was concerned with the condition of the organ, but my initial inspection found no damage.
I tested the weight of it. It was heavy but nothing that I did not feel like I could not handle. I worked in a furniture warehouse when I was younger and worked at an appliance store years later. Though I am 64 years old I am in good physical shape and extraordinarily strong. Moving heavy objects has never been a problem for me and I was prepared to tackle this one.
There were 3 concrete stairs going up to the porch the organ sat on. I positioned the trailer so that I could drop the gate on the second stair. I maneuvered the organ into a position where I could get the dolly under the back. I strapped the dolly to the organ, leaned back and slowly lowered the organ off the top step, onto the tailgate and into the trailer. I strapped everything down and headed home.
After I got the trailer unhitched from the car I went inside and hooked up an extension cord to run out to the trailer and plugged in the organ.
The organ is a 1978 Baldwin Fanfare Deluxe #2167. It was sold for $5,350.00 in Flagstaff, Arizona by the Douseman Music Company on 20 September 1979.
I turned on the organ and hit a key. My heart soared, it worked. I unplugged it and got it covered with a heavy-duty tarp. Our home is small, and some rearrangement will have to be done to get it inside. But until that happens it is safe and secure on my utility trailer.
I did some research online and discovered that in 1971 the Baldwin Company purchased Wurlitzer. I also discovered that for whatever reason people practically give these organs away. I must wonder why. Is the art of organ playing a thing of the past? Do people do not want to take the time to learn this instrument? Is the video game, social media or regurgitated television more important than beautiful music? I do not know the answer. What I do know is we now have a Mighty Wurlitzer. It may say Baldwin on the label, but it is our Mighty Wurlitzer just the same. I now have a desire to step up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sit down and play music that would make Angels weep with joy.
Yes, The Mighty Wurlitzer during the Holiday Season was a big part of my childhood and 60 years later it has once more become a big part of my Holiday Season.
-The GYPSY: December 14, 2020-

THE LAST GIANT

THE LAST GIANT By: J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY 

His name was Matthew Dillon Ceratotherium Simum. We just called him Matt and he was just 15 years old when he died. Matt was also the last of his kind. Matt was the last wild caught Southern White Rhino and he was my friend.

Matt stood 6’ at the shoulder and weighed in at around 5,000 pounds. Captured in southern Africa when he was just a year-old. Matt was shipped to the United States to the San Diego Zoo in California as part of a conservation of species program. After his capture international restrictions were implemented that kept any more Southern White Rhinos to be exported from Africa.

Matt eventually was loaned out to El Paso Zoological Park in El Paso, Texas. The hope was that Matt, whose bloodline was unique and not found in any other Southern White Rhinoceros in North America, would breed with the two female Southern White Rhinos also on loan from San Diego. The Two Females were Miss Kitty, a 17-year-old female who stood 5’ 6” at her shoulder and weighed in at around 3,500 pounds and Daisy May. Daisy was a young and vibrant 10 years old and weighed in at a trim 3,000 pounds and was a petite 5’ at her shoulder. Of the 3 loaned Rhinos Daisy was the most social. But Matt was King.

I received my introduction to my 3 charges when I became lead Keeper of the Hoof stock area in June of 1983. I was used to dealing with small and large species alike. Having come from Abilene Zoological Gardens in Abilene, Texas I had helped birth a Giraffe that was born breach. I had assisted the Herpetologist in getting the 10’ Alligator Humpy back into his enclosure numerous times. Humpy had a Gypsy Soul and liked to wander. My life had been saved by an Asian Elephant 9a story for another day), and I had assisted walking 3-year-old African Elephants around the Zoo Grounds. There are numerous more examples I could give of my work with large species, but you get the idea.

Yet when I was first introduced to these 3 giants, Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy, I do not think that I was prepared for the welcome I received. The Zoo’s Vet Tech, Claudia Newman, did the introductions. As we walked up the long drive to the central Hoof Stock barn, I could see the 3 Rhinos watching us from their enclosure to our left. This enclosure was large. It swooped down from the central barn towards a lower gutter that sat at the base of a 10’ concrete retaining wall. At the top of this wall and protected from the edge by a short fence and planter that surrounded the hoof stock exhibits the public could look down into the Rhinos curved 100’ x 50’ x 30’ exhibit.

The exhibits substrate was caliche dirt, commonly called desert concrete. This dirt was ideal for Rhino’s with one exception. Miss Kitty was allergic to the dust from this dirt.

As we entered the hoof stock barn the 3 Rhinos rushed up to the stockade fence. This fence was made from concrete anchored wooden utility poles. The poles showed wear from the Rhinos need, like overgrown cats, to rub against them. In this stockade barrier there was a cutaway that was 4’ high and just wide enough for two Rhino heads and that is what greeted us as we walked up to the opening, two Rhino heads belonging to Miss Kitty and Daisy.

Looking at Rhinos from a distance is not like being a foot away from them. It is a little disconcerting at first being nose to nose with a head that is almost as large as your entire body. Claudia made the introductions; This is Miss Kitty, and this is Daisy. Both animals snorted at the sound of their names. That, she indicated the large male Rhino standing back away from the females is Matt. I laughed, “Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Daisy?” Claudia nodded, “Yep, the saloon girl.” We laughed and it seemed as if the Rhino’s laughed with us.

Claudia showed me how to apply the Hydrocortisone cream around Miss Kitty’s eyes to help with her allergies. Miss Kitty was used to this routine and stood still as the cream was applied. Daisy nudged her big square upper lip against my forearm. “She wants you to scratch her nose.” I scratched her nose and she purred. I gave Claudia a look. “They are as intelligent as dogs but have many mannerisms like a cat.” She pointed at their wallow, a pit containing their urine and feces in the middle of the exhibit. “They always do their business in the same spot. They rub on things to scratch and leave a scent. They purr and…” Claudia scratched Miss Kitty behind the ear. “They love to be scratched behind the ear.” Miss Kitty half closed her eyes and purred.

Suddenly Matt moved forward and shoved the two females out of the way. His mass made Miss Kitty and Daisy look small. He laid his head on the fence and snorted stamping a rear foot once. “He let’s the females get attention first but when it comes to who eats first the Marshall of Dodge City is first up to the table.’ I laughed and said, “Being from Kansas and being a fan of Gunsmoke I can totally understand the Marshall exercising his rights.” Matt seemed to like the statement as he turned his head towards me and snorted.

Claudia handed me a bucket of sweet horse and mule feed and I held it for Matt as he happily chowed down. When he had enough, I repeated the scenario with Miss Kitty and then Daisy. The hierarchy was obvious, and it would be a scenario that was repeated twice a day in the upcoming months. We took a bale of alfalfa hay from the large stack in the center of the barn, broke it apart and threw it into the exhibit. Claudia said, “Time for the shit cart.”

We rolled the large metal cart into the exhibit and down to the wallow. Using pitch forks we began cleaning out the feces and throwing it into the cart. (I bet you thought a Zookeepers life was all glamour and playing with animals.) At one-point Matt approached us snorting and stomping. Claudia picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at Matt hitting his thick hide on the shoulder. The dirt clod exploded in a rain of dust and Matt ran back up to where Miss Kitty and Daisy were enjoying their breakfast. “Sometimes he likes to show his dominance, but dirt clods shake him up and put him back in his place. He is really a gentle giant” Claudia explained. “Let’s hope I never run out of dirt clods.” I said.

We dumped the Shit Cart in the Zoo’s large dumpster, hosed it out, put up our tools and moved on to care for the next animals; White Tail Deer, North American Bison, Dromedary Camel, Nilgai Antelope and Ostrich. This was my morning routine everyday but twice a day I got to spend quality time with the Rhino’s, and we became close.

June turned to July. July turned to August and August turned to September. Matt and I became close. He started liking the type of attention Miss Kitty and Daisy craved. I no longer had to use dirt clods to spook him; I had learned his language. When he challenged me, I challenged back. I stomped my foot and snorted. I commanded him, “Matt, Get Back!” He would turn and retreat. I had exercised my dominance. Matt was King when I wasn’t around, but I was King when present. But it was more than that. I had developed a deep respect for Matt and the females. I believe with all my heart that respect was returned in kind. In short, we liked each other.

Now do not misunderstand what I am saying. Rhinos are wild animals, and it should never be assumed that they are domesticated in any way. There is an old Zookeeper saying, “Never Turn Your Spine On A Bovine.” In other words, never let your guard down and I never did. One day Matt became agitated because of some unruly children in the public viewing area. His agitation was beyond my control to spook him back. I had to run up the 10’ retaining wall, a trick I had learned as a way to save my life long before parkour was a part of the English language. This skill would again come in handy at a critical time in the relationship between me and Matt.

It was shortly after Labor Day of 1983 that Robert Fulton, the Zoo’s Director, called me to his office. I had been at the Zoo for 3 months and was enjoying every day. I prayed that I was not in trouble. When I entered his office David Benavidez, the Zoo’s Foreman and Claudia were already seated. Mr. Fulton invited me to have a seat and I inquired as to what was happening.

“San Diego wants the Rhinos back.” I was stunned. “What? Why?” Mr. Fulton sighed. “As you know Matts bloodline is unique. We have been unsuccessful in our breeding program. San Diego is upping their program and they want them back. We must send them; they belong to San Diego.” I was stunned. The thought that I would ever lose my friends had never crossed my mind. Rhinos have a lifespan of up to 50 years in captivity and at the time I thought we would all grow old together.

Mr. Fulton informed me that 3 Rhino sized crates were being delivered the next day from Grand Prairie Animal Park. They would be lowered into the exhibit by crane and it would be my job between then and October 10th to get them accustomed to the crates.

So, the daily routine changed. They no longer got their sweet horse and mule feed at the stockade cutaway. Instead, I would pour the feed on the floor right inside the crate. Miss Kitty and Daisy would follow me and had no problem eating their feed in a new way. Matt was more wary. He would snort and stomp and wanted no part of these new arrangements. He missed eating from the bucket in my hand. But even with the trust that had developed between us I could not risk getting up close and personal with him without a barrier. So, I came up with a plan.

The crates had a double layer of bars at the back. There was enough room between these bars for a man to stand. Also, a man could get in between the bars but a Rhino could not. The reason for the spaced bars was to give a animal handler a means of escape or to give a vet safe access to the animal once they were crated. I started standing at the backside of the crate in between the bars and feeding Matt from that side. After a tedious week of on again, off again trust in these new arrangements Matt trusted me and easily came to the bars for his feed.

Since Matt was now use to the crate, I began introducing the feed into the crate. I started at the process at the open end of the crate and day by day moved the feed in deeper. I did this for all 3 animals, and it worked. Soon they were stepping into the crates to get their horse and mule feed.

October 10th came sooner than I wanted it to. The day broke bright and sunny. Fall in the high desert brings a mix of warm and cool breezes intermixed with each other and this morning was no different. The Zoo was closed until all 3 animals could be captured and loaded. Only 3 people were allowed in that end of the Zoo that morning; me, the transport driver and the Veterinarian sent from Grand Prairie Animal Park. The vet’s job would be to administer a tranquilizer if needed and to be with the Rhinos on the long trip to San Diego.

Zoo Staff mingled, anxious outside the zoo’s commissary. They could see down the driveway where the flat bed truck and crane that would load the crates sat. The transport driver had positioned himself on top of one of the crates. He was laying flat, out of sight of the Rhino’s, ready to drop the bar in place after a Rhino entered the crate. The Vet sat on the wall with a dart gun ready to tranquilize if needed. I stood in the driveway, a bucket of Horse and Mule in hand, ready to betray my friends. A mix of feelings filled me, nervousness, anxiety and fear. But mostly my heart was filled with sadness. I steeled myself and entered the exhibit.

Miss Kitty was first. I had treated her eye earlier and I had felt bad that I had not been able to feed her or the other two. They had been fasted since the night before so that they would be hungry and hopefully move into the crates quickly to be fed. I walked backward into the crate with Miss Kitty following me in her big square mouth trying to get the bucket of feed. I stepped between the bars, dumped the feed and as Miss Kitty lowered her head and started to eat the transport driver dropped the bar in place, I exited out the back and tossed a bale of alfalfa into the crate as the transport driver secured the crate.

Daisy and Matt watched with curiosity. Who were these strange people in their home? Why was Miss Kitty sealed in that box? Daisy was a little more wary when it came to her turn, but she entered the crate and was secured. I cannot tell you the feeling of being in a confined space with an animal that could stomp you like a bug or crush your internal organs with the hairy horn on their snout. The saving grace is that within the crate they cannot charge and if spooked they are more likely to back out than lunge forward. So it was with Matt.

As Matt entered the crate, he became anxious. He looked at me, he snorted his anger at being betrayed and backed out as the transport driver tried to drop the bar. Matt ran out into the exhibit and stood snorting and stomping. As I exited the crate Matt charged and I ran, right up the 10’ foot wall. I yelled at the transport driver to stay put and he gave me a thumbs up.

Mr. Fulton came down to see what had happened. We conferred with the Vet and decided we would wait a half hour and try again. We took a break to give Matt a chance to calm down. However, the second attempt to lure him into the crate was just as unsuccessful as the first.

The decision was made to tranquilize him. The idea was to give Matt just enough sedative to make him groggy then the Vet and I would use cattle prods to guide him into the crate. I exited the exhibit as the vet took aim and fired. Twenty minutes later Matt was still not showing any effects from the tranquilizer. He was stomping around the exhibit and letting me know that he was incredibly angry with me and the current situation. The decision was made to administer a second dose. The sound of the air rifle echoed off the steel beams of the barn as the dart entered Matts gray right shoulder just above the first dart.

The effect was almost immediate, and Matt started staggering around the exhibit. The Veterinarian and I entered the exhibit with our cattle prods. The Vet on one side and me on the other we goaded Matt into the crate. All the while I talked to Matt telling him how sorry I was that it had gone this way. The bar was dropped into place and Matt was crated. The Vet entered the backside of the crate where the double bars were located and administered an antidote. I threw a bale of alfalfa into the crate then I kneeled in front of the collapsed Matt.

I was crying and I asked Matt to forgive me for being his Judas. Now before you say that I was being too hard on myself please consider this; I had just broken the trust and respect I had built up with these animals. They had no way of knowing that we were not harming them. They did not know that they were being transported to the home they had once been at with others of their kind. They had no idea that they were going to live their lives under the best care any animal could ask for. They did not even care that they were possibly one of the pieces of the puzzle for the survival of their species. All they knew was that their trusted human had betrayed them. I had turned Judas for the 64 coins I earned daily for my pay.

I said goodbye to Matt, Daisy and Miss Kitty in turn. And as I cried my friends were craned onto the flat bed, secured and made ready for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Fulton stood next to me as we watched this final ceremony in the time that these magnificent creatures had spent at the El Paso Zoo. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home.” I did not argue. I walked up to the commissary, clocked out and mounted my motorcycle but I did not go home.

I followed the transport and its 3 crates of precious cargo to the New Mexico border 20 miles away. At the sign that stated, “Welcome To New Mexico Land of Enchantment” I pulled over and watch my 3 friends disappear towards the horizon on Interstate 10 that would carry them to California. When I could see them no longer, I said, “our time together was enchanting, and I will miss you. I then turned my motorcycle towards the upper Rio Grande Valley and spent the rest of the day riding the sadness away.

I arrived at work early on October 13, 1983 to a gray day. A rare desert storm was threatening to hit, and I wanted to get my outside duties done quickly before it rained. It had been 3 days since I had said goodbye to Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy. I thought about them often and knew I had to finish the clean up of their former exhibit and get it ready for whoever the next occupant would be. I had been putting it off because it pained me to look at it. I could see the indentations of the crates and though the wallow was cleaned out and dry it would need to be filled with dirt. Looking at these things brought an overwhelming sadness to me, but I knew it must be done.

I had finished my morning duties and had just hauled the first wheelbarrow full of dirt down to the wallow when Mr. Fulton appeared at the gate. The usually jovial Director was sober and serious as he asked me to step out and talk with him.

“I just received a call from San Diego. Miss Kitty and Daisy arrived safely and are being acclimated.” I suddenly felt my chest tighten. “What about Matt?” Mr. Fulton lowered his head looking at the asphalt floor of the barn. “Matt died in route, right outside San Diego.” I sat down hard on a hay bale and started to cry. “No! What? How?” Mr. Fulton ignoring the crisp freshness of his three-piece suit sat down beside me. “The Vet only administered enough antidote for one tranquilizer. Matt never recovered from the second dose.” I jumped up and looked at Mr. Fulton, “So they killed him?” The Zoo Director stood up brushing off his slacks. “It was an accident.” I was furious. “An accident? How do you accidently forget to give enough antidote? Bull Shit!”

Mr. Fulton acknowledged that it would seem to be neglect. He told me that San Diego was not happy and launching an investigation. “They are not happy?” I shot back. “I am not happy but what good does that do poor Matt?” I started crying again. There was silence in the barn. After a few moments Mr. Fulton cleared his throat and said, “For whatever this is worth San Diego sent a team of Vets out to the transport which was stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. They harvested Matts testicles while they were still viable. Matt may be gone but his legacy will live on through his offspring.” I looked up at Mr. Fulton and said, “But they are not Matt.”

Mr. Fulton said that he understood how I was feeling and suggested I take the rest of the day off. I said, “I have work to do.” I grabbed the wheelbarrow and went for another load of dirt. Mr. Fulton left leaving me to my work, thoughts and sorrow. As the rain started to fall and I wiped away all traces of my friend it was hard to tell whether my face was wet from the storm or the memory of my lost friend.


You have just read the story of one of the hardest moments of my life. It has been over 37 years since those events took place. Now here we are in 2020. A horrendous year where so many have died so needlessly just like Matt died needlessly. Human or Animal a needless death is still a needless death. It causes us to reflect on mortality, that of ourselves and others.

As 2020 was ending and the last week approached, I was trying to decide on a final painting for this year; a painting that would sum up what this year has meant for me and others. I was coming up short for a subject matter and so likewise was my time coming up short to do a painting before 2021 arrived. With only 4 days to go I saw a photograph by National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale. She has traveled the world over to show us not only violence and conflict but also the beauty and humanity of the natural world.

The photograph that I saw that Vitale took on March 19, of 2018 was of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino left on earth. The photo was taken at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Northern Kenya, the emotional photograph shows Joseph Wachira, Sudan’s friend and keeper comforting The Last Giant moments before he passed away. It is not hard to imagine the impact this photograph had on me. Grabbing my canvas, paint and brushes I set to work.

Some of you have seen the photographs of my dog Kato Kite watching me work on this painting that is not only a statement on 2020 but also a tribute to Sudan and my friend Matt. It seemed fitting that I have a current animal friend with me as I remembered another animal friend from long ago.

I am an interpretive artist. I do not do photo realism. Though I can see the realistic aspects in a photograph that may serve as my inspiration I paint from the heart. I may overemphasize certain aspects of reality to bring forth the emotion I am feeling or trying to convey. Though my paintings have a base in reality, emotion is the base of my paintings. I could bore you by relating the creation process, but I won’t. What I will tell you is this; as the clock counted down to midnight on New Years Eve and the 1963 Classic Comedy Movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” played on the television I signed the finished painting.

I generally will allow the viewer of my work to interpret the painting in their own way. But in this case, I want to explain its motivation. This past year, 2020 caused a lot of pain and sorrow for so many. Such as the pain and sorrow me and Joseph Wachira experienced at the passing of our friends. Both animals were the last of their kind; one the last wild caught the other the last on earth. Both passing’s were traumatic and an immeasurable loss. Yet just as Matts testicles were harvested so that new generations of Southern White Rhinoceros may once again populate the earth so too was Sudan’s testicles harvested so that the great Northern White Rhinoceros may, hopefully, once more roam the earth.

The story of these two Last Giants so far apart yet so intricately linked together can serve as a lesson for mankind. From the travesty and traumatic crisis, the year 2020 has been we can harvest from it hope for a new beginning for future generations. All we must do is harvest the lessons we have learned and push forward into the future. From our pain joy can take root and grow.

I envy Joseph Wachira. He was able to be there in Sudan’s last moments and say goodbye. I could not be there in Matt’s last moments to say goodbye. I have however given Matt a proper send off by sharing with you his story. May this tribute to The Last Giant serve as my goodbye to 2020 and the hope for a brighter better future for us all.

-The GYPSY-

 

 

 

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE DAY

I Firmly Believe That Gypsies and Native American’s Sprung From The Same Well Source; One Going East The Other Going West. With That In Mind I Would Like To Recognize…

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE DAY

Thank you to our Indigenous communities and their ancestors. Without them and their rich heritage and contributions, there would truly be no America. Let’s celebrate them as the proud, noble people they are.

Historically and Archeologically it is believed that around 12 thousand years ago the people that would become the Native Americans started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed east through Eastern Asia, across the Bearing Straight and into North, Central and South America.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take my wife for instance: She is Inuit (Eskimo), she has certain traits that are shared not only with southern and eastern Asian people. Most notably almond shaped eyes and dark Corse hair. She has light cooper colored skin but being Inuit when she is separated from the sun her skin pales and takes on a light amber tone.

Because the America’s were basically isolated the people, as they bred with each other started developing what we recognize today as Native American Features. The Native Americans eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes and subtribes. Some of them were migratory.

My wife also has Potawatomi blood and there are several subtribes of the “People of the Fire”. Her tribe is the Citizen Band Potawatomi.

Around 9 to 10 thousand years ago the people that would become the Romany started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed west through central Asia, into the middle east and into North, Central, western, eastern and southern Europe.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take me for instance: I am Sinti Romani and I have certain traits that are shared with southern and western European people. Most notably hazel eyes and dark hair that was thick in my younger days and thinned as I got older. I also have the stout frame and muscular build of the Germanic people. My skin is perpetually Olive toned in color and I share the hairiness of the southern Asia people.

Historically and Archeologically it is believed that around 12 thousand years ago the people that would become the Native Americans started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed east through Eastern Asia, across the Bearing Straight and into North, Central and South America.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take my wife for instance: She is Inuit (Eskimo), she has certain traits that are shared not only with southern and eastern Asian people. Most notably almond shaped eyes and dark Corse hair. She has light cooper colored skin but being Inuit when she is separated from the sun her skin pales and takes on a light amber tone.

Because the America’s were basically isolated the people, as they bred with each other started developing what we recognize today as Native American Features. The Native Americans eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes and subtribes. Some of them were migratory.

My wife also has Potawatomi blood and there are several subtribes of the “People of the Fire”. Her tribe is the Citizen Band Potawatomi.

Around 9 to 10 thousand years ago the people that would become the Romany started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed west through central Asia, into the middle east and into North, Central, western, eastern and southern Europe.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take me for instance: I am Sinti Romani and I have certain traits that are shared with southern and western European people. Most notably hazel eyes and dark hair that was thick in my younger days and thinned as I got older. I also have the stout frame and muscular build of the Germanic people. My skin is perpetually Olive toned in color and I share the hairiness of the southern Asia people.

Because Asia, Europe, Africa and the middle east were not as isolated as the America’s we were not an isolated people. However, we started to isolate ourselves in some instances and bred with each other. We started developing what we recognize today as Romani Features.

We eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes. Some of them were migratory (not all Gypsies are migratory despite popular belief). My main Tribe who I identify with is Hummel, The Bee. George and Clang also run in my blood.

One of the most interesting things that the Romani and Native American’s share with their very distant Southern Asian relatives is all are Artisans, Craftsmen and Artists. You might say it runs in the blood.

-The GYPSY: 27 November 2020-

YOU CANNOT BE CALLED GYPSY

The following is an actual complaint that I made with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in 2012. The complaint was for racism and discrimination.

LEGAL STATEMENT OF FACT

My name is James Alan George. I am an American Romani. My legal residence is Clyde, Texas 79510. I was employed as a Delivery Driver from March 21, 2011 to September 21, 2012 for Lowes Home Improvement Store #2719 1634 Musgrave Blvd., Abilene, Texas 79601.

1. Sometime around the first of August, 2012 I was in the Lowes I was employed at on my day off. As I entered the store I noticed the receiving manager Brian Smith speaking with an employee I had never seen in the store before by the appliance department. I assumed that the person that Mr. Smith was speaking with was our new Human Resources Manager Ben White. I approached, held out my hand and introduced myself;

        ME: Hi, My name is Jim, I am one of the Delivery Drivers, most   people call me Gypsy.

        Ben White: I’ll call you Jim, Gypsy is a racist term.

        ME: But I am a Gypsy, that’s how I got the nickname, it’s who    and what I am.

        Ben White: Oh, well we’ll have to see about that but I’ll still call   you Jim.

Mr. White then turned and walked away. Mr. Smith quipped that it was his favorite awkward moment of the year.

2. The next time I was scheduled to work Mr. White approached me as I finished clocking in and said, “I have been telling everyone not to call you Gypsy.” I asked him why he was doing that. He responded with, “because it is a racist term.” The following conversation then took place.

        ME: Ben, no it isn’t, my people refer to themselves as Gypsy, I   have carried that nickname since I was in high school.

        Ben White: It is a derogatory term.

        ME: No it isn’t, my people have called themselves that since the beginning of time. I do not mind being called Gypsy, it is who I     am.

        Ben White: I mind and I am letting people know that they should not call you that.

3. A couple of days later Mr. White approached me as I was talking with cashier Samantha Harris, and the following conversation took place;

        Ben White: How’s it going Mr. Romani?

        ME: What?”

        Ben White: How’s it going Mr. Romani?

        ME: That’s not my name.

        Ben White: Do you know how the Romani got the slang term of   their name?

        ME: What slang term?

        Ben White: You probably know. Your people don’t like that term.

        ME: Ben you know nothing about my people. They call       themselves Gypsy, they are proud to be called Gypsy.

        Ben White: No they don’t like it.

        ME: I have to go to work.

I then left and went back to the receiving area. Later that day he called me Mr. Romani twice more. Once in front of Driver Manager Larry Kimbrough and once in front of employees Mario Nabarrette and Charlie Cruz.

4. The next day Mr. White walked into the employee break room where I and other employees were discussing the Colorado shootings and James Holmes. Mr. White blurted out, “We are Texas, we execute the retarded.” He laughed at his joke but when no one else did he left.

5. Approximately one week later head cashier Nichole Tumey Strait received a call from a customer that I had been trying to contact about a delivery. Mrs. Strait paged me by saying; “Gypsy, you have a call holding on 6100. Gypsy please pick up 6100.” Mr. White came out of his office and informed Mrs. Strait that she was not to page me by the name Gypsy again. He informed her that it was racist and she could not use that term over the PA because it would offend others. The next day he told Mrs. Strait that another employee came to him offended that she had paged me by the name Gypsy. In the 16 months prior to Mr. White coming to the store no one had ever reported being offended by my nickname. During this same conversation Mr. White referred to Mrs. Strait as a “Ginger” and told her she had no soul.

6. Every Tuesday there is a Managers meeting at the store. This meeting is an opportunity for the Store Manager, the Assistant Store Manager, the Zone Managers and the Department Managers to get together discuss issues, changes and operations within the store.

I came back from my deliveries one Tuesday and was approached by several Department Managers who informed me that Human Resource Manager Ben White had just had a 2 hour discussion in the Managers meeting as to why no one in the store should call me Gypsy. Some of the managers that told me about the meeting were Daniel Whitworth, Phillip Beard, Phil Stone, Anne Taylor, Kevin Silvestri and Ed McMahan.

Mr. McMahan said that Mr. White would not come right out and say the word Gypsy. Mr. McMahan asked Mr. White who he was referring to and Mr. White kept telling Mr. McMahan that he could not say the word because it is racist. Mr. McMahan said, “Are you talking about Gypsy?” Mr. White said, “You can’t say that.” Mr. McMahan said, “Why? It’s his name. It’s what we all call him.” Mr. White said, “You can’t call him that.”

7. The day after the Managers meeting I walked into the employees break room where I discovered Mr. White talking to several employees. One of the employees said, “speak of the devil.” I asked, “What’s going on?” Employee Megan Herweck said, “Ben was just telling us why we shouldn’t call you Gypsy.” The following conversation took place;

        Ben White: The Romani do not like to be called Gypsy.

        ME: I do not know where you got that.

        Ben White: I was in the Army and it is a racist term.

        ME: In the Army it is a racist term?

        Ben White: Yes and you cannot use that name.

        ME: Ben, do you understand that my people do not mind being   called Gypsy, they are proud of the name.

        Ben White: No they not.

        ME: Ben, I have been called Gypsy since I was 16. I have used   the name publicly, privately and professionally. I have used the        name for 40 years and that is what people know me by and will        continue to call me.

        Megan Herweck: Face it Ben, this is an argument you can’t win.

        ME: Ben, I honestly do not know why you won’t let this go but    Gypsy is who I am.

        Ben White: Lowes has a policy against nicknames.

        ME: Really? You mean employees cannot call people by their      nicknames?

        Ben White: That’s right.

        ME: Ben, there are only a couple of terms that you could use on me concerning my race that would offend me and Gypsy is not        one of them.

        Ben White: It is the same as when Rappers use the N word to     describe themselves.

        ME: No it isn’t. Rappers are not the N Word. I AM the G word.

        Megan Herweck: Ben, It’s not the same.

At this point Mr. White exited the break room. One of the employees, Carra Doyle, asked me what words would offend me. I told her the term Gadjo which is Romani for anyone who is not Gypsy. I explained that for a Gypsy to refer to someone that is not Gypsy as a Gadjo is not an insult but to use that term on someone that is a Gypsy is a tremendous insult. I also explained most Romani do not like the term Gypo or Gyppy but the word Gypsy is not derogatory. I said, “The point is Ben is trying to make something bad out of something that isn’t.”

I had been trying to figure out where Mr. White was getting his info. That evening when I returned home from work I did a Google search using some of the statements that Mr. White had made. I discovered that most of his info was gleaned from message boards like straight talk.com and websites such as wikipedia.org.

8. Upon hearing what had happened in the break room employee Karen Cockrell, a part time employee, told my wife, whom Ms. Cockrell works with at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, that another employee, Ebony Nichole McGhee, might be using a nickname and not her real name. Not liking rumors I asked Miss McGhee if her real name was Ebony. She told me that it was. She also told me that she had heard the rumor and she thought it was funny. She said that she knew what Ben White had been saying about me and she thought it was ridicules.

A couple of days later Miss McGhee told me that Mr. White had called her to his office and asked her if I had asked her if Ebony was her real name. She told him that I had and that she had not minded me asking. She told him that people ask her that all the time. She then told me that Mr. White then said, “Ebony is another word for black but you are African-American.”  Miss McGhee got offended and told him, “I was not born in Africa, I was born in America, I am Black.”

9. On September 7, 2012 receiving employee Charlie Cruz asked me if I would draw a cartoon of a Dallas Cowboy molesting a Seattle Seahawk. I asked him why. He said that a lot of the guys had been talking and they wanted to tease Dave Reynolds, who is a Seattle Seahawks fan about the upcoming Cowboys / Seahawks game on September 16. Knowing that Dave Reynolds is a good sport with a sense of humor and also knowing that he would not be offended but would find it funny I agreed to do the drawing.

I brought the drawing, concealed, to work on Monday morning, September 10, 2012 and handed it over to Charlie Cruz who had asked for it. Mr. Cruz found it extremely funny and showed it to the other guys who had talked about teasing Dave Reynolds with a drawing. Several of the employees took the drawing and made copies of it as they too found it amusing. Among the employees who made copies were Charlie Cruz, Jo-Al (last name unknown) and Ed McMahan. I had not made a copy of the drawing for myself so I did, folded it and placed it in my pocket.

Approximately 30 minutes later I was walking to the front of the store and was stopped by Install sales associate Jocelyn (last name unknown). She was laughing and said that Ed McMahan had just showed her the drawing and she found it very funny. As I approached the customer service desk I saw Ed McMahan showing the drawing to one of the cashiers. Store Manager Robert Gonzales was on the far side of the desk and asked what Mr. McMahan had. I said, “Robert, I don’t think you want to see it.” Mr. Gonzales said, “Yes I do, I’d like to see it.” Ed McMahan, believing that Mr. Gonzales, who is a Dallas Cowboys fan, would find the humor in it showed the print to him. Mr. Gonzales looked at the photo copy of the cartoon and said, “Good Drawing.”

Later Charlie Cruz showed me an envelope that had Dave Reynolds name on it. He told me that he was going to put it under Dave Reynolds door to his office. He said the cartoon was inside.

I left and made my deliveries. I returned around four in the afternoon and saw Dave Reynolds. When he saw me he started laughing. He was leaning on the customer service desk and said, “Hey Crash!” (his nickname for me) He then flipped me the finger. I laughed and said, “Poor Seahawks.” Mr. Reynolds laughed and said, “We’ll see who’s riding who on Sunday.”

At this point I thought nothing else about the drawing that a friend had asked me to make to tease another friend.

10. Later in the day on September 7, 2012 my Supervisor, Driver Manager Ed McMahan came to me and said that Ben White had called him to his office. He said that Mr. White had him write a statement about the drawing I had made. Mr. McMahan took full responsibility for the drawing claiming on his statement that he had asked me to draw it. The way this was perceived by Mr. McMahan was that he had been in the group that had conceived the joke. Even though Charlie Cruz asked me to draw the cartoon it was Mr. McMahan’s idea. Mr. McMahan said that Ben White wanted to see me.

When I arrived at Mr. White’s office he asked me to fill out a statement concerning the drawing. The following is what I wrote:

“An employee asked me to draw a cartoon of a Dallas Cowboy and Seahawk. It was to poke fun at a fellow employee and friend who is a Seahawk fan. I gave it to the requesting party (who is also a friend). What became of it after that was not my business. To my knowledge no one involved was offended by the drawing.”

After I handed Mr. White my statement I turned to leave, stopped and came back. I said, “Ben, if you are going to write Ed up for showing that cartoon to people you should write me up too. It’s only right.” Mr. White’s response was, “Well, yeah, um, we’ll see.” I said, “Right is right Ben.” I then left and went back to work.

Upon hearing that an issue was being made out of the cartoon, Charlie Cruz went up to Ben White’s office and demanded to fill out a statement. Mr. Cruz told Mr. White that if Mr. McMahan and myself were going to be wrote up that he should be wrote up too. He told Mr. White that he had asked me to make the drawing and that he had been the one to make the copies.

11. On September 11, 2012 Cashier Carra Doyle, told me that Ben White had said to her that there was another Romani in the store and that they were offended by the term Gypsy and that is why he has been making sure no one calls me Gypsy. I said, “That’s bull! I have worked in this store for 18 months and if there was another Romani here I would know.” Miss Doyle said, “He is just trying to justify.” I said, “It’s strange, no one had a problem with my name until Ben came here.” Miss Doyle said, “I’ll keep calling you Gypsy and so will everyone else.”

I  decided that I would try to figure out who Ben White was referring to and ask that person if they had Romani blood. There were only two people in the store that had features that could be considered “Romani” and I decided that at my next opportunity I would speak with them.

Later that day I saw one of the people I thought Mr. White was referring to, cashier Ashley (last name unknown), who was a new hire. I asked her what her heritage was and if she had any Romani blood. She told me no that her family was from Czechoslovakia. I said, “Ah, eastern Europe, that explains your features. My family is from Germany.” I then told her the reason why I had asked. She said that she didn’t understand why “Ben” was bothered by my name.

12. On September 13, 2012 Ed McMahan came to me and said that Ben White wanted to see me in his office. He said that Mr. White had him fill out another statement. Mr. McMahan said that his second statement wasn’t any different than his first statement.

When I arrived at Mr. Whites office I asked what he wanted. He handed me a blank statement and said, “I need you to write down a description of what you drew.” I handed him back the form and said, “Ben, I have wrote everything about this I am going to write. I told you everything in the statement I wrote the other day. I do not understand why you are making such a big deal out of this. You are new here and do not understand our sense of humor. We joke with one another all the time. We are not just co-workers, we are friends. The person that the cartoon was aimed at is not offended so none of us understand why you are keeping on this.” Mr. White said, “So you are not going to write anything else?” I said, “No, I told you I have already told you everything and if you are wanting me to throw someone under the bus I am not going to do that either. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go back to work.” Mr. White then gave me permission to leave.

13. On September 16, 2012 the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Seattle Seahawks. Fair is fair so I drew a cartoon of a Seattle Seahawk hammering a football into a Dallas Cowboy’s derrière. This cartoon was intended for Dave Reynolds who I had drew the cartoon to tease the week before.

14. On September 17, 2012 I took the original cartoon to work with me but left it in the saddle bag of my motorcycle. Considering the overreaction to the cartoon the week before I figured it would be a good idea just to let Dave Reynolds know where it was so he could retrieve it at his leisure. I made a copy of the cartoon, folded it up and put it into my pocket so I could show Mr. Reynolds what I had drawn without bringing the original into the store.

When I got back to the receiving department Mr. Reynolds was waiting there for me to give me a hard time about the Seahawks Win over the Cowboys. Employees Brian Smith, Kim Delgado, Mario Nabarrette, Charlie Cruz and Ed McMahan were also there. I gave Mr. Reynolds the photo copy and said, “Fair is fair Dave so I made this drawing for you. The original is in my right saddle bag.” Mr. Reynolds said, “Probably a good idea to leave it there.” He then showed everyone present the photo copy and all had a good laugh over it.

15. Later in the day on September 17, 2012 I was returning to the store after finishing my days deliveries. I cut through the Garden Center when I reentered the store and encountered cashier Trina Cook. Ms. Cook was the other employee that I felt had features that could be mistaken for Romani. I asked Ms. Cook if she minded if I asked her what her heritage was. She said, “Latino and Italian.” She then asked me why I had wanted to know. I explained to her what Mr. White had said to cashier Carra Doyle about how there was another Romani in the store that was offended by the term “Gypsy”. The following conversation between Ms. Cook and I then took place:

        Ms. Cook: That explains it!

        ME: What are you talking about?

        Ms. Cook: A few days ago Ben came to me and said, “I have       taken care of the racist problem. If you have anymore problems    with that just come to me.”

        ME: Where did he come up with that one?

        Ms. Cook: I have no idea.

        ME: He racially profiled you and then made this scenario in his    head that he was protecting you.

        Ms. Cook: From what? I’m Latino and Italian!

        ME: I know that but he don’t. He looked at you, assumed you     were Romani and got it into his head he was protecting you from racism somehow.

        Ms. Cook: But he’s the racist!

        ME: I know that and you know that but he doesn’t know that.

Ms. Cook said that she was going to have a talk with Ben White   next time she saw him and set him straight. She said that she felt he was being ridicules.

Later I found out that after Mr. White had made his remark to Ms. Cook that Ms. Cook went to her Department Manager Phillip Beard and said (in reference to the remark), “What the F*** was that all about?” Also around this same time period Mr. White referred to Trina Cook as “Fat” in a conversation with receiving clerk Kim Delgado. Ms. Delgado reprimanded him saying, “You can’t do that.” Mr. White said, “But I’m fat!” Ms. Delgado said, “I don’t care, you can’t say that.”

16. I came into work on September 18, 2012 not feeling well. I told my Supervisor Ed McMahan that I was not feeling well and asked him if I could take off early that day after I finished my deliveries. He said that I could but just be sure that I let a Manager on Duty or Robert Gonzales know before I left as he would not be there.

When I got back to the store I found Zone Managers Steve Allen, Shawn Sanders and Tom Southard in a meeting with store Manager Robert Gonzales and HR Manager Ben White in the training room. I knocked on the door and asked to enter. Mr. Gonzales motioned me in. I told him that I was not feeling well and that I had asked Ed McMahan if I could go home and he had said yes. Mr. Gonzales asked what was wrong and I explained that my stomach was in a knot. Mr. Gonzales joked that maybe I had the same thing as Steve Allen. Mr. Allen said that he had an upset stomach all day long. I said, “Mine just feels knotted up and it is not making me feel real well.” Mr. Gonzales said, “Go on home and I hope you get to feeling better.” I said, “I have the next two days off and I am going to take it easy.” I then left the store and went home.

17. On September 21, 2012 I clocked in just as I always did and went back to receiving to meet with my Supervisor Ed McMahan and see what deliveries he had scheduled for me that day. Acting Assistant Store Manager Shawn Sanders came back to receiving and asked if he could talk to me. I said, “Sure, what’s up?” He said that I was wanted in the front office. I told him OK and headed that direction. He walked beside me but never said anything. He had a slight smirk which led me to believe that I was probably going to finally get wrote up for the drawing. I thought to myself; Finally, now we can move on.

When I got to the Store Managers office Robert Gonzales invited me to come in and have a seat. HR Manager Ben White was sitting at the back of the office. Mr. Gonzales smiled and asked how I was and I indicated that I was fine. He then flipped over a piece of paper on his desk and said, “We are here today to talk about your termination.” The following conversation then took place:

        ME: What? Why?

        Robert Gonzales:  Distribution of Offensive Material.

        ME: I didn’t distribute anything.

        Robert Gonzales: You brought that drawing into the store.

        ME: And I gave it only to the person that asked me to draw it     for him.

        Robert Gonzales: But you brought that drawing into my store     and handed out copies.

        ME: No I didn’t hand out copies.

        Robert Gonzales: You brought it into my store…

        ME: Yes, to give it to the guy that asked me to draw it for him. I didn’t distribute anything.

        Robert Gonzales: I have talked to my Managers and they agree   with this decision.

        ME: You talked to 2 managers that do not like me to make your decision? That’s fair.

(Shawn Sanders does not like me because I lodged several verbal complaints against him for his approach and the way he would talk to me when giving me an assignment. Tom Southard does not like me because I lodged a written complaint against him for lying to a customer and telling her that I did not do my job and that was the reason she was not getting her delivery. The truth was it had been he that had bumped her delivery for an unscheduled delivery)

        Robert Gonzales: There is a place there (indicating the       termination form) where you can write a comment.

        ME: So that’s it? I don’t get a write up just a termination? What about the other people involved? Are they getting terminated?

        Robert Gonzales: I won’t have that type of behavior in my store.

        ME: What behavior? It was a drawing I did for a guy that I gave to the guy that asked me for it. I did not distribute anything, I did nothing wrong. You two are new here, do you have any idea   how much of myself I have given to this company? How hard I        have worked? And now you just kick me to the curb, over a        drawing!?

        Robert Gonzales: When you finish your comment sign at the       bottom.

        I wrote my statement and then said;

        ME: You know, it’s funny, a while back I filed a written       complaint against one of your managers that did something a    lot worse than this and nothing was ever done to him.

        Robert Gonzales: We are not talking about the past we are         talking about the future and I will not have things like this in         my store. Do you have anything in your locker?

        ME: I have my knap sack in back and some stuff in my locker.

        Robert Gonzales: Ben will accompany you to get your stuff.

I then left his office with Ben White escorting me. In the store it is known as the “Walk of Shame.” When I reached receiving I recovered my knap sack and said to the employees there; “I’ll see you all again someday, maybe.” As I walked to the employees break room at the front of the store I said, “Ben, you know this is not right.” Mr. White said, “The decision wasn’t mine.” Shawn Sanders fell in to step on the other side of me smirking.

As I cleared out my locker I said again, “This isn’t right. A write up maybe but termination over something like this? I’m a good employee and a hard worker. This isn’t right!” Mr. White nor Mr. Sanders said anything. After I exited the store I called my wife at her place of employment to come pick me up. As I waited for her out in front of the store Shawn Sanders stood right inside the door. I figure that this was to keep me from reentering the store, which I had no intention of doing at that time.

As I was waiting I realized that Ben White had not given me a copy of my termination so I called the store and asked him to run a copy and bring it out. A few minutes later Mr. White came out of the store and informed me that he had called Sonia (the district HR Manager) and she had said that the Termination form was Lowes property and I could not have a copy.

After my wife picked me up and I took her back to her job  I headed down to the Texas Workforce Office. I told the lady at the front desk what had happened. She agreed with me that Ben Whites actions appeared to be racist. She gave me some phone numbers to call and suggested that I contact the Texas Department of Labor and the EEOC. She also said that I had a right to the form I had signed. She said that the company may elect not to give it to me but that I had a right to it.

When I left the Texas Workforce Office I called Ben White and told him what the lady had told me about my right to a copy of the form. I told Mr. White that I wanted a copy of the form. My signature was on it and I had a right to a copy of the form. Mr. White said he would talk to Texas Workforce. He phoned me a few minutes later and said he had talked to Texas Workforce and that they had told him that he didn’t have to give me a copy of the form and he wasn’t going to give me one. I said, “Then I guess you will have to talk to my attorney about that.” (I had at this point decided that I might need legal representation) Mr. White said, “Have a good day Jim.” Then hung up.

As I was driving home Ed McMahan phoned me and asked me to come to his home, he said he needed to talk to me. I told him I would meet him there. When Mr. McMahan arrived at his home he was crying. He kept apologizing over and over to me saying that he was sorry he had cost me my job. Mr. McMahan knows I have large medical bills from a motorcycle accident last year and that I needed my job. I kept assuring Mr. McMahan that it wasn’t his fault. I told him there was something deeper going on here. Mr. McMahan told me that he had gone to Robert Gonzales office after they walked me out of the store and asked him why I had been fired. Mr. McMahan said that Mr. Gonzales told him the same thing he had told me; Distribution of Offensive Material. Mr. McMahan told Mr. Gonzales that I did not distribute the drawing. He said that I only gave it to the person that asked for it. Mr. Gonzales said that he didn’t care, that Lowes had fed and clothed his family for 30 years and he wasn’t giving that up for anyone. Mr. McMahan said that Mr. Gonzales also said that he would go on from here and not think about it again and that he (Ed McMahan) should do the same. Mr. McMahan said, “How can I go on and pretend this didn’t happen? Gypsy is my friend, how am I suppose to face him?” Mr. Gonzales indicated that it wasn’t his problem and told Mr. McMahan he should forget about it. Mr. McMahan asked what was going to happen to him. Mr. Gonzales said, “We are having this conversation.” Mr. McMahan said, “I am not being wrote up or terminated?” Mr. Gonzales said, “We are having this conversation.” Mr. McMahan said, “But you terminated him for nothing and you are not doing anything to me.” Mr. Gonzales said, “We are having this conversation and when you leave this office there will be no more talk of this.”

Mr. McMahan also told me that word had spread through the store pretty quick and that most of the employees were upset over what they had done to me. He also told me that during a training session he had been present at Ben White had made a comment about “African Babies”. Mr. McMahan had been at the meeting but said he had not caught all that had been said. Mr. McMahan also said that during a Voice Team Meeting on September 20, 2012 that Mr. White had made some very off colored sexually related remarks about a penis

Mr. McMahan apologized to me again and I once more reassured him that it was not his fault that this had happened.

18. On September 22, 2012 I returned a Lowes Vest I had taken home to launder to the Lowes store I had been employed at. I gave it to Nichole Tumey Strait and asked her to give it to Ben White. I then asked her to recover a pair of gloves, two water bottles and an ice pack I had left in the employees break room. I purchased some weed eater line then I stopped and talked to Nichole Tumey Strait, Karen Cockrell and Cindy (last name unknown). They expressed their dismay and sympathy over my termination. I told them that I was now a customer and I had nothing to be ashamed of. I said, “I have done nothing wrong and I will not hide nor disappear.” Karen said, “Good for you.”

Since my termination I have been in Lowes #2719 to pick up supplies and paint. I have handed out to employees who are friends my card so that they may stay in touch with me. Ben White has witnessed me giving my card to some people and has called these people to his office demanding to know what is on the card I handed them. Among these people are Appliance Specialist Mellissa Tate and Head Cashier Nichole Tumey Strait.

IN CONCLUSION:

I feel like, based on the facts I have given, that I have been the victim of racism and discrimination. Until Ben White came to Lowes #2719 no one had a problem with my heritage nor my nickname. I feel like he has been on a campaign since the moment I first met him to not only prove that my name and the heritage attached to it are a bad thing but that he must also prove he is right no matter the cost to others. I believe that my termination is a direct result of Mr. White wanting to remove me from the equation so that he no longer had to prove he was right and I was wrong. The situation he used to instigate my termination could have been kept in house yet he escalated it to corporate to get the end result he desired. I find his remarks and actions to be racist and discriminatory. The sad thing is I do not think he realizes it.

As for Robert Gonzales, by his own admission he found the drawing to be “Good”. He also requested to see the drawing even after I warned him against it. Yet I am terminated on a false accusation of distribution. Why were no other employees disciplined or called to task on their usage of Lowes Company equipment to copy the drawing and pass it around? I had done the drawing on my own time at home and given the drawing to a single person who had requested it, not a group of people. I truly do not want to see anyone in trouble over such a petty thing. In my opinion there should have been no more than a verbal warning for all, myself included. Mr. Gonzales action was discriminatory and overkill to say the least and the true reason why still remains a mystery to me. However, Mr. Gonzales knew of Mr. Whites campaign against me and in many ways condoned his actions by not putting a stop to them. I believe he used the described situation as an excuse to get rid of me, the object of Ben Whites obsession. 

In my opinion Mr. Gonzales nor Mr. White have been at Lowes #2719 long enough to know the employees nor to learn what a close knit group they are. Both are recent hires at the store. Both have talked about how they want us to be one big happy family yet through their actions they are driving wedges between people they claim they wish to unite through discriminatory and racist acts and remarks.

I truly do not know why I was singled out for this type of treatment from these two individuals after being a good and reliable employee for 18 months but the mental, emotional and financial stress I and my wife have suffered over their actions is significantly damaging.

James A. George                         Monday, September 25, 2012

POST NOTE:

The EEOC found against me and in favor of Lowe’s stating; “There is no discrimination as “Gypsies” are not a race, they are a culture.

Thirty days after I was terminated HR Manager Ben White was terminated for sexual harassment of a cashier.

I no longer live in Texas and now call Kansas home.

I find it difficult to shop at Lowes.

OFF ON A NEW ADVENTURE

Yesterday Morning I finished reading “The Borrowers”. I was saddened that the adventures of the Clock Family ended where it did. Yet I was heartened by the fact that there are still 4 more books in the series for me to continue the adventure with these little people.
Today I made my way out the back door, up the drainage gutter, across the small wooden bridge and up the brick path towards the pool. Skirting the pool on the stone paver’s I finally arrived at the patio and nestled into my favorite chair. With coffee in one hand and book in the other I sat down and breathed in the cool, fresh morning air.
Taking a sip of my coffee I set the cup on the table. As the sounds of the birds, small mammals and insects that live in the thicket that surround my patio sang their sweet music into my ears I opened my book; “The Wind In The Willows” By Kenneth Graham. I read the wonderful introduction by Winnie The Pooh creator A.A. Milne which included a copy of a letter by President Theodore Roosevelt praising the book. I then turned to Chapter One to begin a grand adventure with Mole, River Rat, Badger and of course that grand adventure and irresponsible flighty Mr. Toad.
Ah what adventures await me over the next two weeks as I sip my morning brew and flip the pages. With wonderful pen and ink and watercolor illustrations by Alice In Wonderland illustrator Arthur Rackham I am sure to have a grand time with the grand denizens of the river.
This book, more so than any other I have ever read, so fully encompasses the spirit and the life of the Gypsy. Kenneth Graham may have not been Romani but the Banker turned story teller had the heart and soul of one. As Water Rat so adeptly put it, “It’s my world and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.”

-The GYPSY-
August 20, 2020
Topeka, Kansas

ENOUGH

I don’t know what did it. I don’t know if it was the Orange Man’s daily wiping of his butt with our Constitution that did it. Maybe it was his attacks on our election process or was it all the illegal acts he has done while in office. Was it the Orange Man’s vile , racist and un-Christian divisive rhetoric that made me turn off the morning news? I really don’t know what did it but what I do know is that one day I decided that I would not fill up my mornings with Orange Man TV any longer; I’m done. Oh I will probably continue to watch Comedy Centrals Daily Show and I will watch the Sunday morning news programs just to stay caught up. But daily viewing of the individual that wants to rip our country, environment and constitution to shreds has ended.
I now spend my mornings sitting on my patio by the pool surrounded by trees sipping my morning coffee and revisiting books that I have loved in my life. I am currently reading “The Borrowers” and next will be “Wind In The Willows”. “Once and Future King” is on that list as well as “The Book of Merlin” and “Charlotte’s Web”. There is a very long list of my favorite novels and I will spend at least an hour a day (if not more), falling into those worlds and words between the pages.
The other morning as I finished a chapter of “The Borrowers” and placed the book on the patio table a female Thrush landed on the three lamp post and greeted me with a shrill weeee-eeee.
“Well Good Morning Mrs. Thrush” I said tipping my head towards her. “Weeee?” she asked. “Why I am just sitting here reading my book and drinking my coffee”. She cocked her head and said “Weeee -eeee.” I laughed. “I quite a agree, it is a good morning for finding grubs.” She jumped over to another lamp and said, “Weeee.” I shook my head, “No I haven’t seen your husband but maybe he went back into the thicket.” She looked towards the thicket and bobbing her head she bid me a good day with a weeee-eeee that preceded her flight away. “You have a good day also Mrs. Thrush” I said waving good bye.
Within a few minutes the Crickets and Cicadas were asking if Mrs. Thrush was gone and if it was safe for them to sing again. I assured them it was. “Mrs. Thrush is looking for Grubs and her wayward husband this morning, I don’t think you need to worry about being eaten.” I finished my coffee and headed inside to begin my daily duties as an adult and responsible business owner.
I really don’t know what did it but what I do know is that one day I decided that I would not fill up my mornings with Orange Man TV any longer. I will fill my mornings with coffee, books and the creatures that live in the thicket around my patio. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel will be up to tomorrow morning.
-The GYPSY-
Topeka, Kansas
14 August 2020