Howard Lewis Hinterthuer, Featured Contributor September 2008

When writing for magazines I have always used my family name, “Hinterthuer.” The only exception has been ghost-written stories in which my name doesn’t appear. None appear here. Ghost-written stories have tended to be created on behalf of engineers or physicians. The professional journals in which the features appear specified the stories needed to be authored by a licensed engineer or the doctor who did the research. I am asked to write the stories because I can do so in half the time it would take them to accomplish the same task, plus I minimize the typical “geek-speak.”

“Howard Lewis” is my musical persona. Show-biz-wise it is important that fans can easily pronounce my name. “Lewis” is my real middle name, so I’m not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. A stage name just makes everything easier.

Brief Bio Sketch

My experience with Milwaukee goes back to the Gertie the Duck era.

I have been a freelance writer since 1982, doing feature stories for
publications like Retail Store Image, Corrections Today, Iron and Steel
Engineer, “M” Magazine (used to be Northshore Lifestyle), Exclusively Yours,
Wisconsin Trails, Rehabilitation Management, Foundry Management and
Technology, Living Church, and on and on and on and on.

I have been a singer/songwriter since 1972.

My band, Embedded Reporter, is squarely in the tradition of traveling minstrels, who
moved from village to village carrying the news. They were a communication
link in much the same way as milwaukeerenaissance.com

My politics skew left, although I am in fact an independent voter. I
believe that partisan behavior is a disservice to everyone. Issues should
be decided on merit.

A Vietnam vet. I was a medic (Clinical Specialist) assigned to the
101st Airborne Division Artillery near Phu Bai (Camp Eagle) from 12/69 ‘til
12/70ish. I don’t actually remember if I came home in December or November.
If it was November it was very near the end of the typical year-long tour of duty.

I have lived in a bunch of places and traveled quite a bit. Those
experiences have shaped who I am and how I see the world.

I served on the Cedarburg School Board for nine years and as President for
the last five of them. The experience gave me insight into public service
and the sure knowledge that most people have strong opinions while few have
actual information. The cynic in me insists it is this dynamic that has shaped
our current national character and politics. However I choose not to write
with the voice of a cynic. It would feel like “piling on”—plus I think it
gets old really fast. Also, I am encouraged that change is afoot, particularly
with the election of Obama.

So I try to keep it upbeat and “reasoned.”

Song Lyrics

AN ANGEL APPEARED

by Howard Lewis

I was playing guitar on a soft summer night

Down at the harbor in the fading twilight

Singing of love, singing of loss,

Singing about all of the miles I have crossed

When an angel in linen and fine Belgian lace

Entered my bubble of personal space

“Will you sing me a song,” she asked straight away

Without hesitation I started to play.



Over the Rainbow came tumbling out

And all of the while she was looking about

As if searching for something long gone astray

Looking for someone far far away



“He’s been gone a long time,” she said at the end.

“A fisherman,” she added, “And my very best friend.”

“I’ve lived in this village for seventy years,

Now I’m ninety years old,” she said through her tears.



(chorus)

I could promise to love you ‘til we’re old and we’re grey

I could promise you laughter at the end of the day

But one will go first and the other will stay

So the best I can do is to love you today



“Do you accept tips?” she frankly seemed moved

To ask me, and of course I approved

She slipped me a five then wandered away

Some people go, some people stay.



(chorus)

I could promise to love you ‘til we’re old and we’re grey

I could promise you laughter at the end of the day

But one will go first and the other will stay

So the best I can do is to love you today



Count me among those who remain

Who know the truth in this poignant refrain

“If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow why-o-why can’t I?”



Interlude to Over the Rainbow


Somewhere Over the Rainbow, way up high . . . . etc.
Back to top

PRACTICAL MAN

by Howard Lewis

We sailed from St. Thomas on a ship of the main

With a cargo of gold we wrested from Spain

Our fortune ‘twas certain, likewise our renown

(All) Should we safely deliver this gold to the Crown



We had lost sight of land at ten or half past

When our lookout cried, “I’ve spotted a mast!

She’s gaining on us, a swift little dodger,

And she’s boastfully flying a black Jolly Roger.”



“Cabin Boy,” said the Captain to me,

“Get my red shirt. It’s easy to see

They may overtake us sometime around dawn

When they strike I’ll be having my battle shirt on.”

(All) When they strike he’ll be having his battle shirt on.”



Well the captain was right, they hit us at dawn

He bravely led us, repelling the throng.

When the battle subsided, he said straight away,

“Cabin Boy, please put my red shirt away.”

(All) Put it away. Put it away.

At midday three masts swung into view

Chasing and posing a challenge anew

As they closed in upon us, their intention shown clear

Please,” said the Captain, “bring my battle shirt here.”

(All) Put it on! Put it on!



Once again we prevailed and sent the rogues packing.

Our Captain had cheered us when courage was lacking.

Charging into the fray, our battle shirt bearer

Dissected the foe and filled them with terror.

(All) He filled them with terror.



“My Captain,” I asked, “Why the red shirt?”

“I wear it,” he said, “in case I get hurt.

It won’t show the blood,” he whispered this part.

“When the men see I’m wounded they tend to lose heart.”

(All) (Losing heart noises)



(chorus)(All)

O Captain, my Captain, he does what he can

More than just cunning, he’s a Practical Man.




The very next morning an armada appeared

Eight-hundred pirates most mightily feared.

“Shall I fetch your red shirt?”

“No thanks,” he replied.

“But bring my brown britches,” he wistfully cried.

(All) “Bring our brown britches,” all of us cried.



(chorus)(All)

O Captain, my Captain, he does what he can

More than just cunning, he’s a Practical Man

So load up the canon, drink a tankard of rum (a tempo)

(All) And be certain brown britches are covering your bum.

(All) And be certain brown britches are covering your bum.
Back to top

DAFFODILS

by Howard Lewis



You gave me daffodils on Sunday,

Full of promise, full of joy

The first one opened Monday,

Others followed by and by



They were beautiful by Wednesday,

Glorious on Thursday too

Smiling like the sunshine,

Spectacular like you.



But time is unrelenting,

Nothing seems to stay

By Friday they were wilting,

They began to fade away.



You said, “Their time is over,

They’ve seen a better day.”

But my heart cried out, “They came from you.

How can I throw them away?”



(Musical interlude)



But time is unrelenting,

Nothing seems to stay

By Friday they were wilting,

They began to fade away.



You said, “Their time is over,

They’ve seen a better day.”

But my heart cried out, “They came from you.

How can I throw them away?”
Back to top

THE MIGHTY UNKNOWN

by Howard Lewis



Columbus sailed west toward the mighty unknown,

Taking a chance he’d never get home.

Driven to show that the world was round

Thinking there might be new lands to be found.



Lewis and Clark travelled upstream

To find the Pacific, accomplish the dream

Of charting a course ‘cross the mighty frontier,

An easier way to get there from here.



Some dreams can be hard, some of them cruel

They challenge or break a conventional rule

But those are the ones too big to ignore

Those are the dreams we’re bound to explore.



Marco Polo set out on a trip to the East

Crossed mountains and deserts on a caravan beast

Down the silk road ‘til he landed in China

And stayed there for years, waiting to find a

Reason to leave, to return to the West,

To tell the known world what he’d seen of the rest.



I’ll conquer an ocean, I’ll challenge the sea

I’ll find a safe harbor, be waiting for thee

I’ll set out alone through a forest unknown,

To find a green meadow and build a new home

For you . . . . . For you.



(chorus)

So cross the deep ocean, sail the dark sea,

Follow your heart, come looking for me.

I’ll put a lamp in the window, keep a fire burning bright,

And pray for your journey all through the night.



Some dreams can be hard, some of them cruel

They challenge or break a conventional rule

But those are the ones too big to ignore

Those are the dreams we’re bound to explore.



(chorus) (repeat ad lib)

So cross the deep ocean, sail the dark sea,

Follow your heart, come looking for me.

I’ll put a lamp in the window, keep a fire burning bright,

And pray for your journey all through the night.
Back to top

SHED MY SKIN

by Howard Lewis



(Intro—Native American Prayer – Spoken)

“Spirit Who Comes From Out of the East

Come to me with the power of the rising sun

Let there be light in my word

Let there be light on the path that I walk

Never let me be burdened with sorrow by not starting over”



I walked out on a rocky ledge

A river looped below

I teetered on the jagged edge

To watch the river flow



A trail descended from the bluff

Then meandered through a wood

Where pine and larch, the mighty fir,

And giant redwood stood



A blue jay paused to laugh at me

A comic sideshow fool

But I moved on around a bend

Toward a quiet forest pool



A trout swam up and looked at me

As if to say hello

He kissed the sky then flipped his tail

And disappeared below



I shed my skin, and jumped straight in

It seemed the perfect way

To lose my pain and misery

And wash my sins away



(Interlude)


I shed my skin, and jumped straight in

It seemed the perfect way

To lose my pain and misery

And wash my sins away



I shed my skin, and jumped straight in

It seemed the perfect way

To lose my pain and misery

And wash my sins away

And wash my sins away




Epilogue — “Everybody needs beauty . . . places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

— Voice for the Wilderness, John Muir, 1902
Back to top

THE SWALLOW

by Howard Lewis



I saw a bird in a lifeless tree

A swallow gazing down at me

Looking bedraggled and clearly forlorn

Her feathers decidedly tattered and torn



Prairie surrounded the moldering tree

Spreading as far as the eye could see

“You’re looking exhausted,” I said to the swallow,

“What brought you to this, what path did you follow?”



“I don’t know,” said the bird, “I feel hopelessly lost

Must have made a wrong turn in the last state I crossed.

I’m not good at directions, I can’t read a map,

Don’t know which way is forward or which way is back.”



“Well jump on my shoulder,” I said to the bird,

“My back is strong and so is my word,

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

Where gentle ocean breezes blow.

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

To a sunny place where swallows go

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

To a sunny place where swallows go



(Interlude)



Well I offered my hand to the shivering bird

“Come with me,” I said, but I don’t think she heard

She unfolded her wings and fluttered away

To weak to go, to frightened to stay



“Jump on my shoulder,” I called to the bird,

“My back is strong and so is my word.

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

Where gentle ocean breezes blow

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

To a sunny place where swallows go

I’ll carry you down to Mexico

To a sunny place where swallows go.
Back to top

THREE JACKS

by Howard Lewis

I was dealing the cards and drinking a beer

With Harding and Goff, and Sergeant Lazier

Two cherries had joined us, all skittish and whiney

With brand new fatigues, their boots were still shiny

I was holding three jacks when a rocket screamed past

Right over our heads, and it wasn’t the last

Each in turn hit ninety meters down range

When the sirens went off, things really got strange

The cherries both bolted, scattered like quail

Running for cover, they quickly hightailed

But the rest asked for cards and drew three or four

With three lovely jacks, I didn’t need more

I’ll see your five hundred and bump it a grand.

We can run for the bunker when we finish this hand.

Well the four of us sat there ‘til the betting was done

Could-a’ dropped a small fortune, but this time I won!

If your life has turned crazy with danger and fear

It helps to remember, as long as you’re here

Why bother with worry, it’s as simple as this

The bad guys may get you, but mostly they miss!
Back to top

China Reports 2016

One: Oscar Scams the Security Guard

by Howard Hinterthuer

Always look both ways while crossing the street in China. I mean before you step onto the sidewalk next to the street. There may be a motor scooter, bicycle, or car using it for reasons known only to the driver. They will try to avoid you, but it is best to make certain they have looked or are looking your way. If you succeed in getting to the curb, it is best to pause and do a reassessment before venturing across the street. The same perils exist in the road, but you also must account for buses and trucks. Also sprinkle-in the occasional Chinese person on a bike or on foot who is in the road going the wrong direction. They have been doing it for decades, and it hasn’t occurred to them it may be time to make a change. Luddites are a world-wide phenomenon.

Think of safe travel in China in the same way you would traverse a crowded mall. Try to carry yourself and your packages so as not to bump into others. It is the same strategy the Chinese have been using for a thousand years. They are actually quite good at it, all things considered.

Thirteen years ago, when I first visited China, my initial impression was, traffic-wise, the Chinese (and therefore me) were living (and dying) in chaos. There was no ingrained automotive culture. Nearly everyone was a brand new driver. Traveling in the mountains west of Chengdu in a brand new Toyota SUV, the driver seemed to enjoy passing slower moving vehicles on blind curves while simultaneously trying to wipe fog from the inside of the windshield with an oily rag. I provided remedial training in how to use the AC to defog a windshield. As to passing on blind curves in the mountains, there seemed to be little I could teach him. In the end, I decided it was self-limiting behavior. I consoled myself with the thought that I had faced obliteration previously on many occasions, and if things went horribly wrong this time, at lease someone would find the remains.

Things have changed. China is into cars. My apartment complex is replete with several long black Mercedes, five and six series Bemmers, a giant Land Rover, and a 180 mph Maserati. I am reminded on a daily basis that nearly everything I have assumed to be true about China does not apply. Forget it. Leave your preconceived notions at home, wherever home may be.

Trust me. There are a gazillion motor scooters in Jiangmen. I am convinced spiked-heel shoes were invented so young Chinese women’s legs will reach the ground at stoplights. Without the benefit of spiked heel riders, the scooters would halt then immediately flop over, setting off the internal motion detector alarm. The alarms have a hair trigger. If you come across a gaggle of parked scooters, at any given moment ten percent of the alarms are going off for no apparent reason. It’s just part of the background noise in a city of five-million people. It is the predictability and repetition of the scooter alarm noise that is key to this story. You may have been wondering what it is about?

Scooters come and go from my apartment complex, but they are closely screened by the security guards who attend the main gate. Some of the residents have scooters, but they are typically shunted to the underground parking garage. Those entering the central drive and courtyard are generally on temporary business, daytime only. One never sees them parked above ground at night. There is too much likelihood someone may sneeze and set off a scooter alarm disturbing the Mercedes people, for example.

I have been withholding introduction of our protagonist. His name is “Oscar.” I reside on the 9th floor. My balcony is one of forty or so overlooking the central courtyard, including the pool, playground and lush vegetation. Looking down, one sees palms, mangos, azaleas, bamboo, luxurious flower beds replete with tropical flowers, and Oscar’s cage on a second floor balcony just across the way. Oscar is an Africa Grey Parrot, who speaks at least three languages, plus he possesses an extreme talent for onomatopoeia, including the sounds of running water, barking dogs, jungle fauna and (you guessed it) motor scooter alarms.

I am an early riser, especially in China. My alarm is set for 6:00 a.m., but I am often up and about before it goes off. I like the stillness of the early hours, before the city starts to bustle. Two days ago I stepped out on my balcony to stretch. I could hear Oscar muttering from below. I knew his owner, Vahid, was in Guangzhou. Vahid had been there for a day or two and wasn’t expected to return for another day at least. Oscar was cranky. He does some of his best talking when he’s cranky and bored. He tried his “barking dog” act, but no one seemed to notice or care.

Then Oscar did his best scooter alarm imitation; just two quick chirps. A security guard emerged from the guard station next to Oscar’s building. He walked out into the courtyard and scanned the area for a motor scooter. Seeing none, he repeated the scan then walked back to the guardhouse shaking his head.

“A coincidence,” you might wonder?

I think not. Oscar waited a few minutes, just long enough for the security guard to regain his comfortable seat, and Oscar did it again. This time four chirps. The guard came out running, clearly concerned that he would have to answer irate questions about the disturbance at “this hour of the morning.”

After that, Oscar stopped. I like to think he is saving the scam for another day; perhaps many days? But who can tell what or how he thinks? It could be he heard my laughter from above and decided he had company after all? “Birds of a feather . . .”

Two: Kindred Spirits and Noodle Talk

On Monday I was out with Dave (aka “Son Howard David”) and Esme (aka Daughter-in-
Law) eating noodles at our favorite noodle place. Seated behind me was an age 30-ish
couple (she looked Chinese, he looked Chinese and possibly something else) with a
vigorous little boy (approx. age one) who was clearly well-nourished and happy in his
own skin. He seemed to see us as kindred spirits and wanted to play with me. His
parents were the “not nervous” sort, so it turned into fun for all.

Soon the parents were chatting-up Dave and Esme, talking one-year- olds and world
citizenship. Dad and Mom had just returned to China after living in Brazil (Rio) for
seven years. The conversation bounced between Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese and
English. Meanwhile the little guy and I relied upon babble and sight gags, which work
swell across the globe.

We left the restaurant first and walked up the street toward the “cupcake” bank, stopping at a department store along the way. Esme found striped pants for Noura, and I selected a new arm extender for hanging my wash on the balcony. It’s high nickel stainless steel. Nice!

Then we bumped into the lunch family who were on a hunt for baby wipes. Dad had the
little guy slung in a “Meh,” which is a textile baby carrier (front or back) of a simple but elegant design. It’s the sort of tool that may have been in use for centuries. The conversation resumed in the midst of my laundry hanger, the striped pants, a baby slungin a Meh, and “Uptown Funk” playing on the department store sound system. That’s China.

Three: Balcony Song in F#m

by Howard Hinterthuer

Friday I awoke to the sound of a flute noodling in a minor pentatonic mode. It’s a tonal relationship that sounds “Chinese.” It can also sound like Slow Blues or Gershwin, or both. Think “Summertime,” as in “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’and the cotton is high . . .” The difference is simply a matter of what chords accompany the modal scale. I dashed to my balcony and quickly scanned eighty-eight balconies on the other side of the courtyard. I spied a few people in their pajamas hanging laundry, and a few old guys smoking and/or doing T’ai Chi, but not a flute in sight. The sound seemed to be launched from my side and reflected by the buildings across the way. They are fairly close. It’s a bit like the set of “Rear Window,” the Hitchcock masterpiece. I can get this I thought while extracting my guitar from its case. I managed to maneuver the guitar and a straight backed chair onto the balcony where I plunked myself down and began hunting for the key. Finding the root on the “E” string at the second fret, I quickly ran through an F#m pentatonic scale and didn’t bump into any clinkers. But the flutist apparently heard me and stopped, perhaps to try and figure out if he was catching his own echo, being randomly assaulted by someone’s pop radio, or if he had inspired Oscar the I decided to wait in silence. Curiosity is a powerful and compelling drug. I figured the flutist would try an experiment to see if the weird echo would repeat itself. Within
seconds, he launched again. In a recording session, I would likely begin by trying to play in the gaps. But in this instance I didn’t know where the gaps were, so I chased the flute’s phrases instead. Sometimes chasing phrases yields inadvertent harmonies, especially when locked in a mode.

Unfortunately I think I spooked him. Perhaps improvisation is out of his comfort zone? I suppose it is also possible he was playing classical Chinese repertoire, and I was somewhere in right field with the rest of the Capitalist dogs? Who knows? But he sort of faded away, and I briefly felt like a dirt bag. However, within minutes I discovered that, when combined with F#m pentatonic, a “D major” chord introduces an entirely new dimension of musical ecstasy. Hitchcock would dig it! Maybe Grace Kelly too? I’m guessing the Gershwin boys have already been there.

Four: Waiters and Culture

Warning: This is a story about language and culture. No waiters (who didn’t deserve it) were actually harmed during the following incident.

I planned a quiet night alone, but I bumped into Vahid.

“Will you come to dinner with us?” he asked.

By “us” he meant himself, Vahid Selowarajoo, born in Sri Lanka, raised in Malaysia, teacher of English in China, speaker of Hindi, Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, plus who knows what else, and his wife Winnie who speaks Mandarin, English and Cantonese, her native tongue. Daughter Isabela, age ten, also speaks those three languages, while Vahid’s mom and sister (the “Doc.”) switch between Hindi, Tamil, and English. Then there’s me. I do English and “music,” but music doesn’t count for much in this tale. Let’s refer to this group as “Dinner Party of Six.”

Winnie drove the car, a lovely Honda Station Wagon, a model not seen by me in the U.S. Winnie is an excellent driver despite input from passengers one and all, except me. I know when to keep my mouth shut, generally, plus I was riding shotgun and, seeing Winnie’s face, I sensed the helpful comments were a source of irritation. For one thing, instructions were flying at her in English and Cantonese, while simultaneous conversations were going on in other tongues.

Our first dinner destination was closed; a bad omen. Following a few minutes of wrangling and gnashing of teeth, Vahid decided we would drive to a nearby mega mall with a substantive food court. I’m not talking “fast food” here. The food court is more like and entire wing of sit-down restaurants with uniformed wait-staff and chefs with white hats.

Winnie found a parking space despite conflicting instructions from the back seats, and we all road the escalators to level four. “Dinner Party of Six” seemed to be a curiosity for the generic residents of Guangdong Provence. Vahid, Isabela, mom, and sister, would “blend in” in India or Malaysia. Winnie is gracefully Chinese. I am 6 ft. 1 in. tall with white curly hair on my head, chin, eyebrows, arms, legs, and everywhere else. Think of Albert Einstein with the body of a retired linebacker. In China I am typically the tallest person in the room, plus Westerners are rare in Jiangmen when compared to many other parts of China.

“Dinner Party of Six” stopped-in the first place that had the potential to pass muster, but Vahid had concerns with the menu. He also embarked on a tour with us in tow, but the hostess led us back to the door and seemed to encourage us to seek our supper elsewhere.

“They don’t have a table big enough,” said Vahid.

So we wandered farther afield, checking menus, trying to reach a consensus regarding rice or noodles, while accommodating the vegetarians (Mom and Doc) and my personal aversion to “HOT” spices. I have always said, “I don’t like things too spicy,” but it tends to throw an Indian into severe emotional conflict. To them, food without fire is like kissing one’s sister. But Indian’s also have an intense desire “not to offend,” so you can imagine the dilemma I cause.

Eventually we decided upon the place that had shown us the door. We camped out on the doorstep until a large corner table became available. All slid around the circular bench with Winnie taking the “Riverboat Gambler” position in the corner. I plunked myself down on a chair in the overflow position at the end of the horseshoe. The waiter handed Winnie a simple two-sided menu. As a native Cantonese speaker, Winnie was the obvious choice to deal with the waiter. After all, leadership should be task oriented.

At first Vahid advocated for “each person ordering for him/herself.” But the opinion quickly shifted to “let’s get six things and share.” Winnie had the only menu. There had been another on the table, but it was already folded into a paper airplane by Isabela. “Dinner Party for Six” eventually negotiated six items. Winnie checked them off on the menu and handed it to the waiter who spun on his heel and ventured off to the kitchen.

He was back in a minute, apparently listing several choices that were no longer available. Oddly, he seemed to take special delight in so doing.

Winnie asked a few questions then like a good soldier set about reconfiguring our dinner choices, a task complicated by the questions, concerns and opinions of others. Clearly no one was having fun, except the waiter.

At this point, a plate was served to the table across from us. It caught Winnie’s attention. “Those look like the noodles I just ordered,” she said.

“Ask him,” suggested Vahid.

Winnie questioned the waiter who insisted they were another variety, naming them specifically. Winnie then told us what he had said, and asked him in Cantonese why the noodles he mentioned weren’t on the menu? She seemed to be at a tipping point.

This is going badly, I thought to myself. I spoke to the waiter, “Young man, do you realize that just last month a waiter was rude to this woman, and she responded by breaking both of his knees. He’s still in the hospital in traction, and will be for another month.”

“Dinner Party of Six” erupted into laughter. The waiter squealed for help. Several staff came to his rescue, one a young woman looking very concerned. The waiter pointed her in my direction.

In English she asked, “He says you said something to him. What did you say?”

I considered repeating my original comment, but decided it wouldn’t serve the current need. Instead I replied, “I was trying to tell him that we were here two weeks ago, had excellent service and were treated with great kindness. But tonight we just can’t seem to have any luck with this waiter.”

“Dinner Party of Six” laughed spectacularly once again. The restaurant staff all appeared puzzled. They consulted briefly, reassigned the young man to another table, and the English-speaking waitress took over, handing Winnie the “big menu,” the one with color photos and all of the good stuff. The chefs were able to make everything we ordered.

We had fun after that. Dinner was great. I picked up the tab, but only after a brief intense negotiation; the last one of the evening.

That’s it,
Ho

Last edited by Godsil. Based on work by Howard Ho Lewis, TeganDowling, Tyler Schuster, Howard HInterthuer, tyler schuster, Nick and Olde.  Page last modified on June 14, 2016

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