Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cork from a Pig's Ass

Today’s economic crisis is old hat for me; I have lived it all before. Wife Anne and I suffered financially for ten long years after our oil company failed in the eighties. We somehow managed to pay our bills, mainly because we pared our lifestyle down significantly. We went to the movies and out to eat once a week, and spent only cash because we had no credit cards.

Despite our spare existence, money was tight, hardly anyone drilling for oil or natural gas, or buying prospects from an independent geologist. We did not have much in the way of assets, just a huge glass piggy bank filled with coins from years of collecting.

“We won’t raid the piggy bank until we just have to,” Anne said. “I know there is at least a thousand dollars there and it will last us a while if we need it.”

Things grew tight many times but years passed without the necessity of breaking the piggy bank. Finally, the fateful day arrived. The big glass pig had a large cork in its rear. We removed it and poured the coins into a pillowcase.

We had no bank account because we had legal judgments against us as principles in the failed oil company. If we had maintained an account, one of our creditors would have garnished the proceeds and taken them. Because of this, we simply picked a bank at random, walked in with our booty-filled pillowcase and asked a hapless cashier to convert the coins to bills for us.

There was not, much to our dismay, anywhere near a thousand dollars in the pillowcase. The cashier showed us the printout from the coin counter and handed us two-hundred-fifty-two-dollars and fifty-two cents. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut and Anne almost started crying as the cashier counted out the money.

We had no health insurance for years and could not afford to go to the dentist. If we had a toothache, we just suffered. It was not that we weren’t making money. When I was lucky enough to sell a prospect, we were the recipients of lots of money. Problem is, you never knew how long you had to make it last. Still, we always seemed to do better than minimum wage.

After finally cracking the piggy bank, Anne told me we both needed to get real jobs. “Except for oil and gas, you’re not qualified to do anything except maybe teach. If we don’t sell a prospect in the next ten days, we need to find a job, even if it’s sacking groceries.”

There was a joke going around at the time that went something like this: When a petroleum geologist applies for a job at McDonald’s, the manager rejects him because, “All our geologists have Master’s degrees.”

I have no regrets toiling in the oil and gas profession. Oil, quite simply, is the most important commodity, with the possible exception of water, on the face of the earth. Life as we know it would shut completely down if we had to rely on wind, solar, water or nuclear energy, even for a single day. Yes, burning oil pollutes the atmosphere and we should stop. We have better uses for the oil anyway – drugs, plastics and so many other things without which we cannot endure. Problem is, there is no substitute now.

People that rail against the oil industry are like vegetarians that wear leather belts and shoes. Do you want to stop destroying the ozone? Quit driving your car. As a person that has worked in the energy business all his life, I feel much maligned, and think of an eighties bumper sticker that said, Please do not tell my mother I work in the oil business. She thinks I am a piano player in a whorehouse.

I was not looking forward to the possibility of having to swallow what was left of my pride and take a minimum wage job, but I was prepared to do so. I did not, as luck would have it, because an oil company in Illinois (go figure) called. Someone we both knew had recommended me for a position as geological consultant. The little company gave me two-thousand dollars a month as a retainer and we settled on a fair figure that they would pay me if they purchased one of my prospects.

Two-thousand dollars a month does not sound like much, but our overhead was low and it was just enough to pay our bills and leave a little extra for unexpected needs. We even had enough for Anne to finish her business degree, and then to enter law school. We were also able to purchase health insurance and get our teeth fixed.

Things were not all rosy. Anne’s teeth, according to our dentist, were “toast,” and she would eventually have to have them all pulled. For Anne, a person that brushed and flossed at least twice daily this was a heartbreaker. That day never arrived because her health was already failing. She first suffered a heart attack and we later learned that she had lung cancer.

Today, as I read the newspapers and scan the internet, I feel the financial pain the people of the world are experiencing. We are all close to the end of our rope, and the President, like Anne and me so many years ago, has already popped the cork from the pig’s ass.

One thing I know for sure - stress can kill you as sure as a bullet through the heart, but you do not have to let it. What do we do? My east Texas grandmother had a saying – “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Black Panther in Bones of Skeleton Creek

A mysterious black panther is a principal element in my new novel in progress, Bones of Skeleton Creek. It seems impossible that a large black cat, an animal not native to North America, is prowling rural Logan County, Oklahoma. Buck McDivit learns the impossible is true, and that the supernatural may be involved. Here is a short, largely unedited excerpt from murder mystery Bones of Skeleton Creek.

By now, the rain and wind had reached storm levels. If Buck could have found a way through the fence to the lease line road, he would have taken it back to Clayton’s ranch. He could not. His only recourse was to find shelter beneath the leafy overhang that roofed Skeleton Creek.

Central Oklahoma soils that provide such firm footing when the weather is dry quickly become treacherously slick when rains begin. Buck realized as much as he started the ATV and tracked his path back to Skeleton Creek. The creek’s formerly gentle flow had riverted to a swirling torrent of rushing water. Only a few feet of earth remained above the flow on either side of water turned suddenly violent.

ATVs are sure-footed vehicles, the one Buck drove no exception. Still, when he pointed the front wheels down the slope, he knew instantly that he had made a mistake. The front end slipped sideways, out of control, then flipped over, dumping Buck unceremoniously into the slick mud.

The work someone had done to lessen the slope into the creek had also compromised its integrity. Water poured down the opening, washing away any traction that may have existed. For Buck, it didn’t matter as he tumbled toward roaring water, the heavy ATV tumbling on top of him.

The weight of the ATV carried him into the roaring waters of Skeleton Creek, its rushing force propelling Buck rapidly downstream. He had swallowed lots of water and his muscles felt like warm putty when he finally grabbed a log, lodged against the bank, and pull himself up the slippery slope and out of the water.

Rain continued but the brunt of the rapidly moving storm had already passed over. Buck lay in the mud for a while, spitting up water and trying to catch his breath. When some of his strength finely returned, he found he had another problem.

Mud was so slick that it sucked one of his boots right off of his foot. When he tried to stand, his feet came out from under him and he plunged back into the muck.

Buck’s struggle continued for the better part of an hour. When he finally reached the relative stability of a red sandstone boulder, he stretched out on his back and drew an exhausted breath.

Rain had finally ceased but now it was replaced by darkness, the creek bed almost like the inside of a cave. Using roots and rock, he finally managed to work himself above the rushing water. What he found was a game trail, established by decades, maybe centuries, of wild animals.

Supported by rock and roots, the narrow pathway provided Buck’s first sure footing since he exited the oil lease. Still, all was not well. He was drenched, his cap gone, along with one of his favorite boots, and he had to pick his way along the trail because it was too dark to see. He also had the uneasy feeling that something was tracking him.

Eric's Website

Thursday, April 09, 2009

End of the World - Oklahoma Burning

My business partner Ray and I had a meeting today with a law firm that does oil and gas work for us. They have a new (at least to them) two-story office building in a part of downtown Oklahoma City known as the Deep Deuce.

In years past, mostly black Americans populated the “Deuce” and it was a business and cultural center. Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, wrote a poem about the Deep Deuce titled Deep Two. It was also the purview of legendary musician Charlie Christian.

The area fell into disarray in the sixties, remaining that way until a decade or so ago when the advent of Oklahoma City’s Bricktown returned the area to prominence. Our attorney’s building is a beautifully restored brick structure that exudes history. As Ray and I left the law office and headed north on the Broadway Extension, we both noticed the gray haze of the sky.

“It’s probably airborne dirt from the plowed fields,” Ray said.

Winds blowing and swirling at high speeds caused our vehicle to sway as we proceeded on our course. I worried about Marilyn, on her way to Ardmore to pick up daughter Katelyn for the weekend. She called, telling me that a fire in the Arbuckle Mountains had shut down traffic on I-35 and she was detoured down Highway 77, through the little town of Davis.

Ron, my son-in-law’s plane, coming in from Kansas City, could not land at Will Rogers Airport because of strong crosswinds. He is spending the night in Dallas. Flames raked Stepson Shane’s farm near Wellston. His horses and dogs survived, the grass on his property cut low, but his wooden fences burned.

I soon learned that the gray sky was not the result of blowing dirt. It was smoke. As I pen this story, fires are burning all over Oklahoma, stoked by high gusting winds. I could not even call Marilyn, or she me because cell phones do not work in smoke so thick. Once again, Oklahoma is burning and it reminded me of the Deep Deuce.

Three years ago, I was writing about Oklahoma burning. The persistent drought ended abruptly with two years of the most rainfall in recorded history for this state. The Deep Deuce fell into disarray but now encompasses some to the most desirable real estate in Oklahoma City. Drought that had plagued Oklahoma for years and that seemed doomed by months of ever-increasing rain has returned.

The scenario reminded me that no matter how fast things change, they are cyclical. Like the rest of the world, we are destined to experience highs and lows, and peaks and valleys. Fortunately, the bads and the goods never seem to happen at the same time. If they ever do, I suppose that would be the end of the world.

Eric's Website

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Collective Consciousness, Subconscience and Cosmic Coincidences

A few nights ago, I strolled into the backyard with my two pugs, Princess and Scooter, and noticed a reddish star in the northeastern sky. At least I thought it was a star at first. The more I stared at it, the less I was sure.

The object seemed too big to be a star and appeared to be wiggling around in the sky as I focused my attention on it. Maybe it is a distant plane, I thought. It wasn’t, but I had it framed by the branches of a tree and my vision told me that it was moving.

It was dark, my eyes probably playing tricks on me. Still, it caused me to think about how our minds perceive what our eyes see. Tonight in the kitchen, I saw a shadow move across the opposite wall and immediately thought that it was my shadow. It was not in the correct spot to be my shadow and when I moved around, trying to duplicate it, I could not.

Going through a box of my Mother’s possessions a few days ago, I found a pillowcase embroidered with the emblem of the 8th Army Division, my Father’s division. My brother Jack visited today. When he saw the pillowcase, he commented that the 8th was the same division that he had served in when he was in the Army, a fact that I had not known.

“Dad’s last days in Germany were probably spent in the same town that I spent my first days in.”

“Funny,” I said. “My lottery number for Vietnam was thirty-eight, the same lottery number Dad had when he was drafted into the Army during World War II.”

The strange things I had recently experienced, and the coincidences reminded me of a review I just read of a book by Diane Hennacy Powell called The ESP Enigma. Far from a tarot card reader, Powell is a Johns Hopkins trained neuropsychiatrist. Rather than pooh-poohing psychic phenomena, Powell documents many stories that defy scientific explanation. The book sounds fascinating and I have ordered a copy.

French social theorist Emile Durkheim used the term “collective consciousness” to explain why societies maintain analogous, if not the exact same beliefs. Carl Jung had a similar, although slightly different concept – the “collective subconscious” that considers all humanity, our minds and memories hardwire into a common collective into which we all tap.

Perhaps they were both right. Maybe the strange things we cannot explain and the cosmic coincidences we all experience are simply a peek into a netherworld that few of us will ever understand.

Eric's Website