Gum Behind the Ear. . . .

When I was a kid, I would chew gum on the way to school.  Upon entering class, I would stick the gum behind my right ear.   Just behind the lobe.  At recess, I’d pull out the gum and start chewing.  I was reasonably efficient in this task as I could probably nurse a one penny piece of Double Bubble Chewing Gum for the entire day.   Ear.  Mouth.  Ear.  Mouth.  And so on.  I do recall that by the end of the day, the gum was always a little grittier – and saltier – than in the morning.  But hey — it was good chewing gum. 

Fast forward to last year.  I’m sitting on the train.  Reading.  And a couple gets on the train and plops down in front of me.  Probably in their late 50’s.   My gaze sharpens.  At first, it looks like the guy has a large and ugly mole on the back of his ear.   Just behind the lobe.   But then it comes to me . . . . oh my socks and shoes – this guy has a piece of gum behind his ear!   Now mind you I haven’t put a piece of gum behind my ear since last October (YES I’M KIDDING) and I haven’t thought about the subject for about fifty years.  But wow!  It all came roaring back.  And I couldn’t resist. . . . click on the pic below and enlarge. . . . .  By the way, when the guy heard the distinctive “click” he turned slightly, took the gum and put it in his mouth.  Scout’s Honor. . . .

Gum behind the ear


In 1964 I was in my first year of college. Two afternoons a week, I worked as a lifeguard at a local YMCA (thanks to my Lifesaving Merit Badge). One day after work, I noticed that a new movie was playing at the theater across the street. “Zulu.”  I had time. I had interest. So I went in.  Alone. To watch “Zulu.”  WOW! 

The movie “Zulu” came out in 1964 and it was Michael Caine’s first starring role. He played Lt. Gonville Bromhead – one of two commanding officers (with Lt. John Chard) of the small garrison that defended Rorke’s Drift.   None other than Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former Prime Minister of Zululand and noted South African politician, played King Cetshwayo — the leader of the Zulu nation in 1879.  The scene opens with Zulus walking through the battlefield of Isandlwana.  And then the scene shifts to Rorke’s Drift. 

Names and characters are based on actual participants in the battle.  While the movie is historically accurate, there are some Hollywoodizations — limited pretty much to personalities and not events.  There was no “singing” and some of the characters are incorrectly portrayed (like “Hook” who was actually a model soldier).    Nonetheless, “Zulu” is probably the best action movie I have ever seen.   In 2008, while in South Africa, I couldn’t resist.  I chartered a 4-seater and flew to Isandlwana and walked the battlefield.   Barren, remote and silent — except for lonely white stone cairns scattered over the landscape where the 1,500 lay buried.  I then went to Rorke’s Drift.  The interesting thing?  There was hardly a soul at either place.  A Zulu guide spoke eloquently of the British defense at Rorke’s Drift.  But he spoke more eloquently of the Zulu courage — and military savvy — that nearly drove the British from South Africa.      

Rorke’s Drift

Following the dreadful defeat of British troops at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, a small British outpost/hospital called “Rorke’s Drift” – a bare dozen miles from the site of the massacre – quickly mobilized.  They hastily built walls and fortifications with mealie bags between a series of buildings and a cattle kraal.   The 150 defenders settled down to wait.   They didn’t wait long.  By late afternoon, about 4,000 Zulus fresh from The Washing of the Spears (from the title of the magnificent book by Donald R. Morris on the history of the Zulu campaign) descended on the small outpost.  And attacked.  

As at the Battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus configured their attack like the head of a water buffalo — the horns surrounding the enemy and the head and chest crushing forward.  The battle raged through the night and into the morning.  The defenders fell back into smaller and smaller redoubts.  The 150 defenders poured a withering fire at the Zulus a bare foot or two beneath the mealie bag walls. 

 By morning, the small garrison still held – suffering a few score of casualties.  Zulu casualties ran into the hundreds.  And the Zulus fell back as reinforcements were detected in the distance.  The defenders – the 24th Foot Regiment – succeeded in winning more Victoria Crosses (11) than any other regiment in British military history.  And 85 years later, a Hollywood offering captured with historic accuracy this pivotal battle.  The movie “Zulu.”      



January 22, 1879, was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British and the Zulu kingdom in South Africa.  The battle took place in a remote area of the Natal province called “Isandlwana.”  Isandlwana is remembered as the worst single defeat in British military history in terms of percentage.  Surrounded and attacked by nearly 20,000 Zulu warriors, nearly all of the 1,800 British defenders were massacred.   Armed mainly with assegais (the Zulu short stabbing spear), the Zulus literally overwhelmed the Britsh.   The reasons for defeat?  The British – led by the inept Lord Chelmsford – upon arrival at Isandlwana with about 10,000 troops – refused to “laager” (circle the wagons) or entrench (as was normally required).  Why?  Chelmsford severely underestimated Zulu capabilities. 

Shortly after arrival at Isandlwana, Chelmsford marched off with nearly all of his troop “looking for Zulus.”    Meanwhile, the entire Zulu nation was just over a hill.  Waiting.   Watching.  Chelmsford left the similarly inept Col Anthony Durnford in charge of the remaining soliders.  Durnford – with a bare 1,800 men – set a sparsley-defended perimeter nearly a mile out from the camp.  And when the 20,000 Zulus attacked, they quickly knifed through the perimeter and set upon the camp.  Durnford never gave the order to “strike the tents” (in other words, pull down the center pole of the hundreds of tents so that clear vision of the terrain could be had).  Thus the battle raged around canvas tents.  And there is rumor that a curmudgeonly quartermaster refused to pass out ammunition (“I have no orders to give out ammunition“) even though the Zulus were pouring through the lines and the encampment. 

It is clear that the British underestimated the Zulu capabilities.   And this gave rise to the major military disaster where only a hundred or so British soldiers barely escaped with their lives.   The few who escaped raced in all directions.  Many raced in the direction of Rorke’s Drift. . . . . 


Every day when I walk to work, there is a gentleman standing on the street in front of the Corner Bakery across from my building.  He sells Streetwise — a weekly publication.  Manuel uses crutches to walk but he stands guard outside the CB from early morning until about noon.    Rain or shine.  I often stop and exchange a few words with him and ask him how he’s doing.  And I normally buy a copy of Streetwise once a week.    Streetwise sells for two dollars.

Streetwise was started in Chicago in 1992 by Chicago lawyer Judd Lofchie   The mission of Streetwise is to assist Chicago area men and women, who are facing homelessness, achieve personal stability by providing them with a combination of supportive social services and immediate access to gainful employment.  Streetwise vendors are usually trying to make a go of it.  They are not to be confused with panhandlers. 

In my post of July 11, 2012, I wrote about Henry Nouwen – the great religious/spiritual writer.  Henry Nouwen in his treatise Out of Solitude wrote “The temptation is that we use our expertise to keep a safe distance from that which really matters and forget that, in the long run, cure without care is more harmful than helpful.”   Streetwise seems to be on the right track — offering cure . . . . and the all-important care — and compassion.   

Our Neighbor’s Faith

When Donna and I joined a Lutheran Church in Northfield in 1977, the Pastor asked if I would help coordinate and present the adult forum for the coming year (which up to that point had been a Bible study – averaging a few people each Sunday).  I reluctantly agreed — on the condition that I decide on the program.  The Pastor reluctantly agreed on the condition that he know what kind of program I contemplated . . . . .

For the ensuing September – May, the adult forum series of our Church was titled “Our Neighbor’s Faith.”  Each week (or two) we would focus on a different religious faith (Donna spoke on being an Episcopalian).  I had two Mormon couples, a Jewish rabbi, a Jesuit priest, two Jehovah’s Witnesses couples, a Salvation Army officer and so on.  By the time the year ended, average weekly attendance was 30 to 40 people.  Talk about interesting!  An abbondonza of questions, comments and and pointed observations.   For some of the visitors, I had to draw the line between proselytizing and informing.  I declined to take on the following year and the Church got a professor from the Lutheran School of Theology to present for the year.   “Our Neighbor’s Faith” was a tough show to top.  🙂    I continue to be interested (“fascinated” is a better word) in religion since it continues to unite — and divide — so many of us. 

The Wedding Ring

I find things.  As a kid I found Indian artifacts and detritus on Civil War battlefields (see post of 2/12/12).  Today, I find wallets, money, cell phones and jewelry (see post of 8/1/12).  Just by being observant. 

A few weeks ago, I was at O’Hare Field with my family.  Terminal 3 American Airlines.  Standing in front of a self-service check-in thingee.  Going through the ritual.  And I look down.  There is this circular object on the floor.  At first it looks like a small bare key ring.   My gaze sharpens a bit.  I bend down and pick it up.  It’s a wedding ring.   A man’s wedding ring.  I look around then squint at the inside.  There’s an inscription – a date in 2002 and the name “Rosa.”  I raise my voice inquiringly to those nearby — “Rosa”?   The only looks I get are the curious — not the that’s me or someone I know look.   I padded over to one of the AA stations (no. 39 as I recall) and I told the woman behind the counter that I’d found a wedding ring and that the inscription said “Rosa.”  I did not share the date.  I asked if she could make an announcement.  And she did.  Inside the entire terminal.  “Anyone losing an item that relates to Rosa please report to station thirty-nine.”   Now I had to catch a plane so I gave the woman my card and a few details on the ring and went on my way.   Ring in my left pocket.  As we walked, I heard the announcement a second – then third – time. 

Since then I’ve heard nothing.  I called the TSA and AA Lost & Found stations.  They have the details.   I sent an email to AA execs suggesting a post on Facebook about the ring.  But there’s been only silence. 

I have the ring on my desk at home.  Waiting.  In the bowl where I keep “found” money – and things.  I’d like to get a call.   I’m sure Rosa is standing there, arms akimbo, asking her hubby “where did you leave your wedding ring” and the poor soul is going “duhhh I dunno.”  If you have any ideas on how to get Rosa’s hubby out of big trouble, let me know.