The Tarantula Story

Another normal day broke in Kingman and I packed Lisa’s lunch – kissed her on the forehead – told her to be good and work hard and drove her off to another day looking at hearts and saving people. Ho-hum.

When I got back to our campground  – I decided to take a morning ride since the winds were relatively calm (which is unusual) and headed out on my “grandpa” bicycle complete with one gear (slow) and coaster brake.  As I turned to pass the campground pool and activity room I heard a voice yell for me.

“Steve!”

I turned and noticed it was Carol, one of our RV neighbors, with her grandson, Luke.  The two were standing outside the game room and she asked if I could give them a hand with something.

“Sure!” I responded.  “What’s up?”

“Luke said he saw a spider in the game room and he wants to play but we can’t tell if its real or fake.  Can you look and see what you think?”

“No problem” – and I headed into the room thinking it probably was just a dime or maybe even quarter size spider – much like I had seen and killed numerous times back home in Kentucky.  I am the resident critter killer and it is not unusual for Lisa to yell, “Steve!” at any point in time for me to go rescue her from the killer tick or pin size spider.  So I walked into the game room thinking – no big deal.

My first thought as I spotted the enormous black thing sitting on the tile floor was that it had to be fake.  Carol and Luke thought the same thing.  But I was very – very unsure.  If this spider is real, I thought, it is the biggest spider I have ever seen not inside a glass case.

I inched a little forward and looked at it as close as my courage would allow me to go.  It had not moved and again I questioned if it was real.  I took a few more steps and was almost over the top of it – ready to jump out of my skin or soil myself (or both) if the thing made a move toward me.  Still it did not move.

Suddenly I noticed a leg move as if stretching in boredom or loosening up ready to attack the shivering sissy boy hovering nearby. Carol handed me a broom and a plastic container.  I thought – what do you want me to do with this?  Kill it or keep it?

Finally I took the container and again began inching toward this salad plate sized spider thinking I might be able to cover him (or her) with it.  After that I was not so sure.  I would have the beast covered and contained – but did not know what I could do with it.  Maybe I could slide it out the door and run over it with my truck.  I continued to inch forward thinking through my plan should the thing come toward me.  I wondered how fast this monster could move and imagined that if it did come toward me – I would probably tear my ACL or dislocate something trying to get out.  So – I backed away and told Carol we needed a new idea.  I wondered if her husband had a shotgun.

As Carol, Luke and I continued to work up a plan – Mark, one of the campground employees, walked through the door and saw what was happening.

“Oh, it’s a tarantula.  Glad you didn’t kill it.  It won’t hurt you.”  And then he took my little bucket and broom and calmly swept the thing in and let it go somewhere outside.  No big deal.

So now here in Arizona we have seen jack rabbits, lizards, little desert rodents, squirrels and now a tarantula.  We have not seen a snake or scorpion.  We have also seen people riding horses, golf carts and four-wheelers down the main streets of town (they are all street legal here).  It is life in a small, desert town.

If I see another tarantula – I may not be as freaked out as I was this morning.  But I will never get use to seeing those things.  And if Lisa sees one – her resignation will be mailed to the hospital immediately and we will be hooked up and gone.  If she sees one in our RV – the RV will just stay here and we will transfer it to whoever or whatever takes up residence.

Geez!

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These Are Some Ugly People

Time for a little ranting.

I’m sick and tired of telling people I’m from Kentucky and having some snide comment like, “Do they wear shoes in Kentucky” or mockingly repeat, “Did you say, Kantuky?”  Okay we may talk funny and I know there are poor, toothless people there but – come on?  Let me tell you this – Arizona ain’t got nuthin on them people back in Kantuky.  They some ugly people out here – I’m just sayin.

Now don’t take all this the wrong way.  People here are nice, hard working, good people.  At least that is the impression Lisa and I have of the place.  But never say Kentucky has the corner on ugly or ignorance.  I’m telling you all the places we have lived so far have their share of “Bubbas” and bad tattoos.  Speaking of tattoos – I once believed Kentucky must have had a corner on the market.  In fact, I have the firm belief that people going to “Holiday World” (an amusement park in southern Indiana very near our home in western Kentucky) receive an admission discount for every visible tattoo though I have not been able to confirm this. But, apparently, Arizona provides some sort of tax break for bad tattoos.  I saw a lady that had to be 106 the other day with a tramp stamp tattooed on her backside that looked like a hummingbird.  As I got closer I realized it was wrinkled up bald eagle.  If you don’t have a tattoo in Kingman – you ain’t nothin.  Look – I don’t mean to say everybody has one – but I saw a nun here the other day with a tat of the Pope.

So there are ugly – tattooed, toothless people everywhere and not just in Kentucky.  For all our friends back home who are proud of their bluegrass heritage – Lisa and I want you to know – you are not abnormally stupid, ugly or overly tattooed.

Either those types are everywhere or all our distant cousins moved to Arizona.

Looking the other way,

Steve and Lisa

So this is Las Vegas

Lisa and I do not agree on everything.  Granted we do have enough in common to keep us together enjoying most of what we experience.  We have loved traveling with her job, meeting new people and seeing new places.  But one thing we have discovered that we do not agree on is Las Vegas.  Lisa loves it – I hate it.

My first trip to Vegas was this past December traveling out to Loma Linda, California for her assignment at their hospital.  That was a whirlwind trip and my mind (and I’m sure hers) was more on getting to our new apartment and adjusting to southern California. We stayed at the “Vdara” resort and it was very, very nice.  But beyond that – I don’t really remember much.  This past weekend we returned during Lisa’s seven days off work and I was better able to assess the place and take it all in and, boy, there is a lot to take in.  I should also say that we were there celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

Vegas in the summer is hot.  So hot, in fact, some of the friends we have made here at the Kingman campground are from Vegas and come here to avoid the heat.  To put that in perspective – Kingman averages about 98 degrees in the summer.  So let me repeat – they come here to Kingman where it is cooler.  It can get up to 120 degrees in Vegas and stays in the 110 – 115 range all summer.  Last weekend it was actually cooler than usual but humid.  No wonder people sit and play slot machines for long periods of time – they aren’t addicted to gambling – they’re just so damn hot they have no where else to go.

We stayed at the “Aria” resort –  one of the myriad of huge, overstated hotels that line the sidewalks and scrape the desert sky as far as the eye can see.  Opulent seems to be an appropriate description for most of what Vegas appears to be.  But underneath all the glitz – I found a great deal of misery.  Never before in my life have I encountered more pan-handlers, beggars and homeless street people.  In one instance I was looking at billion dollar casinos and the next vision is a dirty beggar holding a sign that he needs food to eat.  It is all very strange – almost surreal.

We spent the early part of the evening walking through the “Venetian Resort” trying to find a particular restaurant we really liked during our trip in December.  After three trips around the place and growing weaker and weaker for lack of food – we finally decided on “Trattoria Reggiano” which was also fantastic.  Quality of food is certainly not lacking anywhere.  Lisa wanted me to experience the lights of the old downtown Vegas and we caught a cab after dinner.  The cab drove about four miles and the trip to and from was $50.  You would think the driver would have at least had a slot machine in the back of the seat for us to play what money we had left – at least give us a chance to win a little back.  Talk about a “Cash Cab” – this is it.

Downtown Vegas has many of the familiar iconic places I remember seeing on television.  But where the newer Vegas “strip” is posh with lots of “new money”, downtown seemed a bit “seedier”.  Walking from one end to the other I imagined I was experiencing Dante’s nine circles of hell.  The heat, the homeless people, the scantily clad ladies (at least most seemed to be female – some I was unsure), was almost more than I could take.  We finally settled for something to drink and sat and listened to a really bad 90s band.  I just wanted to get back to our resort and shower.

We finished our evening playing penny slot machines and I managed to double my twenty-dollar investment while Lisa was not so lucky.  You will be glad to know that we are not big spenders – did not have to pawn away any jewelry or sell a kidney.  We lost more on the cab ride downtown than we did the slot machines.  I found myself playing one slot machine for quite a while.  I would win some – then lose – then win – then lose.  It kept me entertained (maybe mesmerized is a better description) for at least an hour and I found myself thinking – “If I just keep playing this machine – I will eventually hit it big”.  It dawned on me during that experience that probably a lot of slot machine players think that way.  Finally I pulled myself away and was relieved to collect my forty dollars.  I can now see how gambling can be addictive.

I have mentioned J.C. in a previous blog.  He and his wife Carol are camping here in Kingman and we have enjoyed getting to know them.  J.C. and I have started playing golf together once a week.  J.C., as I told before, retired as a “craps” dealer in Vegas about ten years ago.  He told me a story about a couple who came every weekend to the casino where he worked and played the same slot machines every time.  Their goal was to hit it big on a mega prize machine that required a double bet.  I suppose at that time they were still using coins because two coins were necessary to win the seven million dollar prize.  One night J.C. overheard the husband tell his wife to play while he went to the restroom and he reminded her to put two coins in the machine so they could win the seven million.  When he left – she continued to play and happened to hit the jackpot.  However, she only put one coin in.  J.C. said when the husband returned and realized what happened he began to choke her and tried to kill her right there in the casino.  Security came and saved the wife and hauled him off to jail.  That story is funny to me – but very sad.  Las Vegas does strange things to people.

So – this is Vegas.  Kingman is one hundred miles from “sin city” and I am sure we will venture there again and deposit a little more money.  Apparently Vegas is in need of cash – the cab driver told us the resorts must make at least two million dollars an hour to keep up with expenses.

I think Lisa and I may have paid for three seconds.

Viva!

A Painful Day and a Future Glory

July 23rd was once a day I would never have really thought much about.  It was just another summer day to be played out as a child or one worked through as an adult.  That all changed for me in 1987.  This is a story not easy to tell – but it is time to honor the memory of a brother God took far sooner than anyone ever expected.

Gary Lea McFarland was born three years before me in 1956 and he and I would be the only children of Tom Lea and Jean McFarland.  All the experiences of his life were lived out in a sort of prelude for me.  He entered Longfellow Elementary School three years before me and was there holding my hand and explaining all I would need to know to survive my first day of school.  He walked the halls of Southern Junior High and then Owensboro High School and prepared me for the experiences of middle and high school.  He did all the things big brothers were suppose to do for their younger brother.

Aside from our school experiences, Gary and I had very little in common.  As children I was interested in just one thing – sports.  When I was hanging out at Rash Stadium watching high school football practices and dreaming of being a Owensboro Red Devil someday – Gary was probably at the library studying history or reading.  We were so different in fact that as we got older we became somewhat estranged from one another.  He went to Western Kentucky University and I went to vocational school.  He went to church and I did not.

When I was a senior in high school – I decided to turn my life around and found God to be a very real need in my life and all the years growing up in church began to pay off for me in an hour of need and my life changed forever.  Gary had much to do with that.  For years we all were convinced that Gary would end up in some sort of Christian ministry vocation.  He even announced that desire to our home church on an Easter Sunday while he was still in high school.  But that never happened.

Our lives continued to take different paths – my working as a machinist before finally deciding to go to college while he finished up his college degree.  After he graduated Gary moved away to Frankfort, KY to work as a tour guide for the Kentucky Historic Society.  Lisa and I were married in 1983 and Justin came along in 1986.  No one in our family was more excited about Justin than Gary.  He adored that little boy and Lisa and I spent a weekend with him in Frankfort so he could show Justin off to all his co-workers.  He was a very proud uncle.

But something was not right.  Over the course of many events I began to suspect that Gary was living a secret life.  Eventually I deduced that Gary was, in fact, a homosexual and in 1987 when the AIDS scare was at its zenith with little acceptance or understanding I was forced to confront him about his lifestyle.  My fear was that he was carrying the AIDS virus and as a father – I felt it necessary to protect my child.  It was the most painful and uncomfortable conversation I ever had.  As expected Gary denied my suspicions but I was able to say to him that it was alright either way because I would love him no matter what.  I think he was relieved to hear that.

In early July of 1987 Gary came home for the last time.  My mom would later say that he looked bad – frail, pale, weak and had a cough that she questioned him about.  He kept saying he was fine but my mom found it odd that he kept hanging around on that last day – as if he did not want to go back to Frankfort – as if he wanted to tell someone he was sick – but did not know how.  I believe he knew it would be his last day in Owensboro.

On July 23rd I was at my desk at the old Goodloe School building that housed my office where I worked for Green River Comprehensive Care Center.  At 10:00 that morning a call came through to me and it would change my life and my parents lives forever.  The call came from one of Gary’s co-workers and she said she had bad news.  As she explained it – Gary had been sick and had missed that last few days of work.  He always called in to tell his co-workers he would not be at work – but that morning he did not.  Someone from their office went to his apartment and the lady told me they had found him dead.

Time stood still.  I had no idea Gary was that sick.  I had not said good-bye.  My only brother was gone and it was now up to me to go tell my parents.  I remember running from my office and driving like a mad man across town.  My only thought was that I needed to get word to my parents before someone else did.  I ran into their house – gathered them together and told them their oldest son, Gary – had died.

The devastation of that event – for all practical purposes – was the beginning of the end for both my mom and dad.  They never recovered from that horror of losing their oldest son.  How many times I hear of parents losing a child and I think of them and I know the pain – I have seen it – first hand.  My dad was never the same and he passed away just sixteen months later.  My grandmother – so strong for my mom during the funeral – went back home and fell into such a depression that she never really recovered.  My mom lived for another nineteen years – but the sadness of losing Gary stayed with her like a wound that never healed. She never found real happiness after that day.

And as for me – July 23rd has now come and gone twenty-six times since that horrible day. I think about the events of that moment – but more than that I think about Gary.  He was a man conflicted with his sexuality – probably ashamed of what and who he was.  So ashamed, in fact, that he refused to reveal his sickness to anyone and when he died – he died alone.  Lisa and I took the long painful trip to Frankfort to gather his things (he did not have much) and load them into a borrowed van to bring home.  I will never forget walking into that apartment.  The coffee table had been moved away from the couch where he died – moved to allow the gurney room to collect his emaciated body.  I remember the coroner calling me and asking if he was homosexual and my saying for the first time to anybody – “Yes”.

We would learn in the days following his death that on his way back to Frankfort, his car had broken down and was towed away.  He did not have the money for its repair and he worked out a deal with the tow company to take the vehicle to cover the charge of the tow and drive him back to his apartment.  For the last week of his life – he had no vehicle to drive and no way to get to a hospital.  And because Gary never wanted to shame his family with his lifestyle secret – he chose to die alone in a one bedroom apartment in Frankfort, Ky.  How many times I have thought about what must have been a hellish last night he suffered through and how much I wish I could have been there.  No one should ever die alone.

Knowing all this about his final days – inspired me to have engraved on his headstone a scripture verse from 1st Corinthians 16: 13-14 – “Be men of courage, be strong – do everything in love.”  Gary was the most courageous person I have ever known and he chose to die painfully alone to protect his family – to protect me.

But one thing more I know.  Gary died on that day knowing his Lord.  The God he served and loved was a God of forgiveness and grace.  I believe he knew that and I believe that God welcomed him as a person whose sins were hidden in the finished work of Jesus.  When Gary left this earth – he was welcomed into heaven by a God who saw – not a sin sick soul, diseased and unworthy.  God saw Gary hidden in the holiness of Jesus Christ.

Some will say that the sins of a homosexual are unforgivable.  I disagree and someday  when the glory of the moment finally comes – when I can embrace and thank Gary for the courage he displayed for his little brother those many years ago – the grace that not only saved him but is what I rely on as well – will be celebrated.

I miss you Gary – but I will see you again!

Peace!

Steve

By the power vested in me…,

It is going to be a November Disney World wedding for our son, Justin and his bride to be, Lori Johnson.  Lisa and I have been working as best we can to provide assistance for them even though we are 1700 miles away sweating it out in Arizona.  A “destination” wedding has its challenges but for Lori – a self-proclaimed Disney nut – it has been her dream to be married near the “happiest place on earth” and so we are going to make that happen.

One of the challenges has been trying to secure not only the wedding location and hotel rooms, but also trying to navigate all the legal matters of being married in Florida.  Licenses must be obtained beforehand and a person qualified to perform the wedding must also be secured.  Recently a good friend of ours managed to obtain the qualifications necessary to perform a wedding ceremony for a family member and it interested me that I may be able to do the same for Justin and Lori.  I have spoken at funerals and other venues but never at a wedding – I figure it can’t be too tough.

The internet is ripe with places wanting to get your money and “ordain” or “qualify” you to perform weddings.  It unnerved me a little seeing the different religion affiliations associated with many of these web sites and I could never bring myself to “submit” my information.  Finally I decided to check the Florida laws and found an interesting statement regarding wedding officiating.  In their state statutes there is a statement regarding the qualifications.  They include: a notary public, certain court officials, ordained ministers and “an elder of a church”.

Out of curiosity I contacted the county clerk offices in both Orange and Osceola Counties in Orlando and Kissimmee, Florida.  It so happens that I am an ordained deacon in a southern Baptist church and I was hoping that would be enough to qualify me.  Guess what?  It does.  The lady I spoke to actually said all I have to do is sign the page attached to their marriage license with an explanation of my ordination and the church I am associated with.  If Bellevue Baptist Church has not excommunicated me yet – we should be good to go.  She went on to say they never check or verify those qualifications because of the volume of marriages happening in that area.  They simply don’t have time to check if the ministers are legit or not.

So – apparently anyone can perform weddings at Disney World as long as your qualifications sound legit. “Minister of Cornhole Tournament Church in Waco, TX.”; “Ordained deacon of the 1st Church of the Big Blue Nation;” and my favorite – “The High Reverend of the Barney Fife Bud Nippers” – any of those ought to do it.

I’m starting to feel the power vested in me…,

See Ya!

Steve and Lisa

What Country Are You From?

I have often thought that it must be strange being from a foreign country and flying to Disney World for your first American experience.  Many, I am sure, fly to our country directly into Orlando – spend time at “The Happiest Place on Earth” and then fly home.  What in the world must they think about us with that as their only impression?

But in other ways it has amazed me the number of foreigners that arrive in my hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky to vacation.  What in the world are they there for – to see the world’s largest sassafras tree?  I know my hometown enjoys bluegrass music and is one of probably nine hundred “Bar B-Q Capitals of the World”.  But it still seems strange for people wanting to actually visit there.  In talking to people in places where we have traveled, I have learned that others feel the same way about their communities. They love it – but can’t understand why people visit it.  Even in Gettysburg where historic events happened in every nook and cranny – the locals seem confused as to what all the hubbub was about.  I was amazed to hear adults tell me who went to school in Gettysburg that they never visited the battlefield.  Seriously?

So the biggest surprise for Lisa and I (by far) is the number of foreigners who camp here at the Kingman KOA.  I’m talking – almost every one of the single day campers are from another country.  We have met people from Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan and Italy.  The big thing is to rent an RV upon arriving in the country and traveling around the west visiting places in California and then, of course, The Grand Canyon.  It is very unusual to strike up a conversation in the swimming pool with someone who speaks English.

I am glad that people have a different impression of America than simply that of it being like Disney World.  Arizona has an unusual beauty and I am glad people from other countries are discovering that.  Lisa and I had never traveled to the west until she was assigned to Loma Linda, California last December.  My fear is that many Americans are staying away in droves.  I have to wonder if the days are gone with the wind when families loaded up in their cars and drove west to see the natural beauty of places like Yosemite, the canyons, the mountains, the desert, and western rivers they find along the way.  Admittedly – I am guilty of loving Disney World and certain places (Florida beaches, for example) enough to take vacations there over and over and over.  In so doing – we never experienced the beauty of the west until this past year.  I encourage anyone reading this to plan a trip west and see this place – at least once.  You will love it!

And it will be nice to be able to talk to people in the pool.

See Ya!

Steve and Lisa

Let’s Go Bucs!

I grew up in western Kentucky where you find mostly Cincinnati Reds or St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans.  For me – those teams were never an option.  My dad lived for a time in his life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was an avid Pirates and Steelers fan.  I grew up watching him get excited following Pirates like (the great) Roberto Clemente and slugger Willie Stargell.  I was twelve years old when the Pirates won the World Series in 1971 with Stargell and Clemente leading the way and watched my dad (literally) jump up and down in our TV room and shout and cry as the Pirates celebrated.  I was so taken by his enthusiasm for them that my loyalty to the Bucs was forever established and have followed the up and down (mostly down) baseball fortunes of the Pirates ever since.

In 1972 my dad and I traveled to Cincinnati to see the Pirates and Reds play and he took me down to the Pirate dugout to try and get some autographs.  I don’t remember what Pirate did this – but one of the players took my pen and scorecard into the dugout and had many of the Pirates sign it for me.  Those autographs included: Bill Mazeroski, Dock Ellis, Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson, Al Oliver, Danny Murtaugh (manager) Willie Stargell and (the most prized of all) Roberto Clemente (who would die just three months later in a plane crash).  In one of the most painful turn of events in my life – I, unfortunately, lost that scorecard and those prized autographs.  But I never lost my love for the Pirates.

That McFarland Pirate tradition has now been passed on to my son, Justin.  I am almost sorry to have saddled him with following the Pirates since they have been the most hapless professional sports franchise in history (twenty consecutive losing seasons).  In that twenty year period – I watched the Pirates play a few times in either St. Louis or Cincinnati.  They never won.  Once during a game in Cincinnati I witnessed a Pirate base runner pass another Pirate base runner while trying to get to third base.  It has been an embarrassing ride.

After my dad passed away in 1988 the Pirates enjoyed some outstanding seasons with great teams and players.  He would have loved watching Barry Bonds (pre-steroid days), Jay Bell, Andy Van Slyke and the other Pirates but like me would have certainly cried real tears watching former Pirate Sid Bream slide into home plate and knock the Pirates out of the playoffs on October 15, 1992 in Atlanta.  That date lives in infamy for Pirate fans as it marked the beginning of the long slide into futility.  There was even talk during that time of the Pirates folding as the fans refused to support a team digging holes in the cellar.

But then something strange and wonderful happened to me as a Pirate fan.  I found myself becoming a bigger fan the more they lost and the more people laughed at me for my loyalty.  It became for me a badge of honor to stick with them and the glory days of Stargell and Clemente became even more glorious and it all – somehow – kept me connected to the memory of my father.  He would have been proud that I never jumped ship – I will forever be my dad’s son and a Pirate fan. Most of the teams I cheer for in other sports have a long history of winning and I have been able to cheer on victory after victory.  But not the Pirates.

Up until a few years ago – I had never been to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play.  One day my son and I loaded up our tent and camped out along a journey that took us to Canton, Ohio to see the NFL Hall of Fame and then on to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at PNC Park.  Walking around the stadium before the game I could not shake the smile on my face as we crossed the “Roberto Clemente Bridge” and I am not ashamed to say I cried standing for pictures next to Clemente and Stargell’s statues outside the stadium.  A few years later Justin and I returned to Pittsburgh and journeyed to the University of Pittsburgh campus where the old Pirate stadium, Forbes Field, once stood.  A portion of the outfield wall still stands and it was there that Bill Mazoroski’s famous home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series defeated Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees.  I think I cried there too. When it comes to the Pirates – I tend to cry a lot.  I failed to mention that in those two trips we watched the Pirates play three games and they lost all three.

Now it all brings us to 2013.  The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of ending (finally) that embarrassing losing streak.  Over the next two months Justin and I will be watching every development as they try to end the season with more wins than losses.  They came close last year only to fall apart after the All-Star break and I am sure most Pirate fans are holding their breath in hopes that does not happen again.  Trust me when I say I could not care less if they make the play-offs.  The magic number is eighty-two wins and as of today (7/20/13) they need twenty-six more to reach that number.  Just twenty-six – that is not too much to ask, is it?

As Lisa and I continue our time here in Kingman, Arizona – I manage to follow the Bucs through the internet and may convince her to go to San Diego (four hours from here) to see the Pirates play the Padres there in August.  It just so happens the game will be during her seven days off and I’ve heard San Diego is lovely this time of year.

Justin called me earlier this morning saying he was on his way to Cincinnati to see the Pirates play the Reds.  Here is hoping after today the magic number is twenty-five.

Lets Go Bucs!

Steve