Celine

Celine

Back when I had hair and two good knees, and the moon over Alabama ignored Daylight Savings Time, Celine Dion came into my life and into the life of my wife, Pat. Celine was set to appear at the 17,000 seat Civic Center in Birmingham. Pat did her usual end run around the throng fast breaking for tickets at Ticket Master and secured terrific seats close to the stage. There is something divine about the way Pat calmly stiff arms the competition for tickets. She learned these tricks while attending mandatory Chapel as an undergraduate at Samford University.

The date arrived for the concert and we had visions of Celine’s Titanic soundtrack soaring in our heads. Pat dressed for comfort but still looked sharp and chic. Me? No one looks at me when Pat  is on my arm. I happily feel like the dude in pairs figure skating.

It was time to leave for the evening concert and we were stoked. We drove downtown and parked in a lot near the Civic Center. Much to Pat’s dismay, I motor to football games and concerts far ahead of kick offs and stage lights coming to life. We parked and waltzed into the Civic Center with a light crowd and eagerly presented our tickets. The clerk looked down at the tickets, blinked,  looked again and came up for air. “You’re early,” she said, not quite stifling a laugh. Pat and I looked at our watches. “What do you mean?” “Celine does not appear until a year from now.” Pat stared at her ticket. I stared at my ticket. We were exactly 12 months early. Not ready to surrender, I asked, “Well, what’s going on tonight?”  “Monster trucks,” the clerk said. “Monster trucks.”

Before you judge, remember this. Pat is married to me. Nothing is without challenge. We saw, and loved, Celine a year later to the hour. What a country.

My First FBI Speech

My First FBI Speech

I have always been lucky, lived an “Every Day is Friday Night” kind of life. A four leaf clover guards my shoulder. For example, the FBI, under the leadership of Director J. Edgar Hoover, hired 1000 new agents beginning June, 1969, the month that I graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law. I had already been accepted into the Bureau and took my seat in New Agents Class #17, June 23, for 4 months of training in Washington and at Quantico, Virginia.

After training, my first field assignment was Denver, another stroke of good fortune. I had never been to Denver or even Colorado and was eager to get there. I drove to Denver with relish, joining experienced agents and several dozen other bushy tailed first office agents to begin my career in earnest. My wife and two sons joined me for the year I would be in Denver.

A Denver FBI tradition was to have rookie agents serve as guides for public groups touring the office. My turn came and I reported to the reception room to give a short speech to a bright eyed group of about 20 adults before the tour began. I had mostly avoided giving speeches during college or  law school, and was nervous.  However, I was an FBI agent feeling my oats and fearlessly plunged ahead. “The Director of the  FBI is HERBERT HOOVER,” I said with gusto, thereby bringing back to life the 31st President of the United States.

Oblivious and clueless,  I charged the next hill in my speech. “FBI HQ is the central SUPPOSITORY for all fingerprint records in the U.S,” I beamed. Thus ending the very first and the very last public speech of my career in the Denver FBI.

 

Calling the FBI

Calling the FBI

My middle son, Duane Robert Owens, is a 28 year veteran of the FBI. I’m most proud of him for many, many reasons. His sense of humor is renown, a treat for all of us since he was a wee lad and burst forth with spontaneous jokes, impersonations, and hilarious stories.  If he had so desired, I’m confident that Duane would have landed on the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. He is the most loving, selfless, and  giving person I know, a gentle Teddy Bear adored by his wife, two daughters, extensive  family, colleagues and friends. I marvel that I have such a son.

Duane has served in three FBI field offices. He exudes a smiling self confidence with a bubbly, endearing personality, and thoroughly enjoys the night action in the Bureau, the vigils of manning the communication centers in a field office, the radio traffic from  agents out in FBI vehicles, and the many and varied telephone calls, many of which regularly come from the same persons who feel the need to reach out to the FBI at night with, at times, bizarre stories. Duane has compassion for these apparently lonely people and knows their voices.

One night, early in Duane’s Bureau career, he had an idea. When a regular called in, followed immediately by another regular, Duane “patched” the two calls together and let them talk to each other alone. They talked and talked while Duane handled other business. After the patched lines went dark, one of them called back.  “Who was that guy I was talking to?” he asked Duane. “He’s crazier than hell.”

The FBI Shoots the Chattooga

The FBI Shoots the Chattooga

Spring, 1984. The Birmingham FBI SWAT team joined teams from around the southeast to spend a week shooting rapids on the Chattooga River in northwest Georgia, the river where the movie “Deliverance” was filmed. Think banjos and ….never mind. This was my first experience in rapids. My SWAT partner was  Ashley Curry, who would one day be elected mayor of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and who had no rapids experience either.

Ashley and I were first paired in a canoe, then later in rafts that held six agents for the class 4 rapids.

I did not wear my glasses, fearing I might lose them in the river. We agreed that I would be seated in the front of the canoe, Ashley steering with his paddle in the back.

Ashley and I paddled our way through the first sets of uncomplicated rapids, gaining confidence and bravado. After lunch we were cruising and cocky when I heard a roar up ahead that grew louder by the second. Squinting, I hollered back to Ashley, “I hear something.”

“What is it?” he shouted. “Sounds like a falls,” I yelled.

I did not hear Ashley’s reply as our canoe suddenly went over a screaming water fall and dropped 10 feet into the river. Ashley and I were thrown out of the canoe into the cold water. I experienced loss of control of my body in water for the first time in my life. I fought to gain a foothold to stop my rush into oblivion. I grabbed a large rock and held on for life, seeing through my myopically blurred eyes the future major of Vestavia Hills swiftly spin by me down the rapids choked Chattooga River.

 

Bible Verses

Bible Verses

Leon Sizemore has been my friend and FBI colleague for decades. We were on the Birmingham FBI SWAT team together and partnered on many arrests. He saved me from being bitten by a snake during SWAT training in the dense woods and tank dirt trails on  Marine Corps Base, Quantico. I knew that Leon had my back if I was ever again attacked by a rooster.

I admire Leon for many reasons, one being his genuine devotion to his Christian faith. He is a biblical scholar.

Leon’s sense of humor is ever present. He once invited me to a prayer breakfast during which everyone was asked to recite a Bible verse, going around the room. As I awaited my turn, I was dismayed to hear my choices being taken by others. I panicked and leaned into Leon for help. “Jesus wept,” he whispered.

Leon and I were sitting together and he spoke right before me. “Jesus wept,” he said, his mischievous smile widening. All eyes turned to me. I drew a blank.

Damn you Leon.

 

Parking Lots

Parking Lots

Not all outdoor parking lots are created equal. Some are more fun than others. The Piggly Wiggly lot in Homewood is presided over by a giant, benevolent head of a Pig erected on a sign atop the building. Conversely, the public parking space servicing a wealthy suburban village is so jammed with mammoth SUV’s parked every which way and moving in all directions at once, that you pray in two languages before entering.

There are rules regardless of your taste in parking. Rule #1, you must shove your vehicle into the space closest to the entrance of your destination since exercise is harmful to body and soul, and if closest to the entrance is occupied,  you must circle until that space presents itself. If avoiding exercise is not your concern, then you must follow Rule #2, requiring you to stuff your vehicle into the next open place closest to your destination, smack dab next to another car, or better yet, between two vehicles regardless of the availability of an acre of open spaces just yards away, squeezing in where you can barely open your door, but by golly, you followed Rule #2. Congratulations. When you return, check your  vehicle for dents and war damage to your paint.

I recently discovered Rule #3. While parked in a neatly landscaped and expansive office outdoor parking lot, I smugly watched rules #1 and #2 robotically followed to the T.  Which made me feel superior since I ALWAYS park as far away from other vehicles as I can. Sitting there feeling my oats, the sprinkling system came on out of the blue, gushing through my open windows into the car and onto me, an unsettling drenching. Rule #3, don’t park next to grass with your windows down. More ominously, there have been recent sightings of  rabid roosters flying in formation through open car windows.

What’s In A Name?

My younger brother was Bob Owens. I admired him for many reasons, one being his simple, easy to spell name. Unlike mine, Jack Owens.

When I made my first all star baseball team in West Chester, Pennsylvania, playing first base in my teens, I was introduced over the PA system as Bill Owens. Adding further intrigue, the league itself was named the Midget League. I was Bill Owens  in the Midget League.

In the back of my senior yearbook at American University, where accomplishments were listed, my name shone forth as Hack Owens. From that time forward, over beers and grab butt, my brother called me Hack.

I took a slew of photographs of my 6 children when they were glowing up. I was always getting film developed. Remember film? Once, dropping off a role at a lab, a smiling, nice lady said, “Name please?” “Jack Owens,” I replied, clearly. “Thank you Mr. Morgan,” she said.

Unlike my brother, who never had his name mangled or dropped into the abyss, I experienced a bevy of names over the decades. Picking up a prescription, the pharmacist could not locate my envelop. Finally, after looking through dozens, he triumphantly proclaimed, “Here, I’ve found it Mr. Jackos.”

Collecting concert tickets at will call, I became Mr. Orange. I have been drop kicked as the following persons at various venues:  Jack Klieg, Mr. Hans, Jack Alleno, Jack Zees, and Jackowens.

When I retired from the FBI after 30 years as an agent, I was not worried about a bureaucratic snafu in the paper work until I noted the name on the retirement documents:  Jack Owens.  Jack Owens?  Who in the heck is he?