Thursday, July 28, 2011

Everyone Talks About the Weather, Really They Do - 7/27/2011

I am not an unfriendly person. In fact my daughter, Carly, calls me a line talker. I like to converse and I can carry on a conversation about almost anything, if it interests me. I enjoy making smart-ass remarks and appreciate intelligent repartee. But the older I get, the less I can participate in small-talk.

The truth is that I am not a good listener. That might be why I failed miserably as a counselor and wasted my time getting that degree. As soon as I lose interest in a conversation, I tune out. I may appear to be paying attention, but I am not. I can maintain eye contact. I can even watch your lips move, but my mind has moved on without you. I had a tolerance for small talk when I was younger and if it was a woman that I was interested in. That is where I learned to maintain eye contact, although sometimes that focus wandered south.

I live in a condo where most of the residents are even older than I am. I can usually avoid these people, but sometimes the door doesn’t close fast enough and I share the elevator with one of them. I do my best to avoid eye contact and try to actually become invisible. This is difficult as I am 6’1” and weigh about the same as a side of beef. It is hard to hide in a 5X5 enclosure. I do not believe that just because two people occupy the same space that a conversation has to ensue. A simple polite nod or “hello” is sufficient for me if I have blown my cover. Even a “wassup” from a younger person, is acceptable, though not preferred. I have pretended to be engaged in a conversation on the cell phone, only to have it ring. So a verbal exchange is often inevitable.

Why do people when they reach a certain age all become meteorologists? They fixate on the weather like red neck on a bowl of grits. If I am stuck with a super senior, I can guarantee I will receive a weather report before I can get out of that confinement. “It sure is a hot one.” I nod but what I really want to say is “it is July in South Carolina, what the fuck do you expect, a blue northern?” Even if it had rained for six solid hours and the elevator is taking in water: “we sure needed that rain.” Are we now farmers here at Captain’s Harbour? Do we have crops to irrigate? I really don’t NEED any rain, ever. I have lived here for eight years and every time I turn the tap, water comes out. Even during the longest of droughts. When all I get from my sink is mud or dust, I will worry about precipitation.

If a person that hasn’t yet reached the age of mandatory weather reporting is trapped with me for the seemingly endless ride, the discussion will center on my dog, Skooter: “Is that a Beagle?” Again a nod but inside my brain is dying to respond: “nope, he is a Great Dane. He has a potassium deficiency.” Or: “My uncle had a Beagle.” Nod, thinking: “Where the hell is he? I want to party with him. Maybe we could become blood brothers.”
I don't wish to be an unfriendly neighbor. I wave like a sonofabitch when I
drive by these people or if I am on the balcony and they see me before I can duck down. And I will talk to them if I have anything important to say. For instance, if I see flames coming from their unit or someone is stealing their car. I totally agree with Robert Frost but unfortunately condos don’t have fences.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Friendly Fire - 7/5/2011

When I was stationed at RAF Bentwaters, United Kingdom, in the early 80s, an incident occurred that I felt I should chronicle. I am certain that this event wasn’t widely publicized, and was not funny at the time, but in retrospect………….

I will give a back-story, hopefully without boring my readers to tears, but some background is necessary to relate the story. RAF Bentwaters was home to the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, lovingly called the Warthog. It is essentially a flying tank. The A-10 is heavily armored, with incredible anti-tank weaponry. Among that hardware is a 30MM Gatling gun, mounted in the nose. I will not bore you with specifics about this amazing weapon but will provide a link here if you desire more information. Suffice to say, it is a big-ass projectile.

The event that I am recounting involves this aircraft and this particular weapon. A young airman was attempting to remove a single jammed round from the 30MM Gatling gun on an aircraft parked in a hardened shelter. He was using an unauthorized, but very popular, method of prying the round out with a screwdriver. The round fired, shooting off across the airfield. You can see where this might be a problem.

Since the firing was both highly unexpected and incredibly loud (particularly in the confined space), the young airman was not able to report what had happened. Instead, he was wandering aimlessly inside the structure, dazed and confused, probably with blood running out of his ears.

If you are still with me, you are probably wondering where the projectile ended up. That is a very important part of the story.

RAF Bentwaters maintained a stockpile of “special” weapons to support fighter aircraft that would deploy there from the United States in case the shit hit the fan. The A-10 is much too slow and short-ranged to deliver this type of bomb and not be vaporized. As you can imagine, such a storage facility is heavily secured. So where do you suppose would be the absolute worst place for this projectile to terminate its short journey? Yep, it blew the door off of the security office of the weapon’s storage area. Fortunately, no one was walking in or out of that door at the time. Even more fortunately, it was not a high explosive anti-tank round, or the building would have been reduced to rubble.

The missile shop, in which I worked, was co-located with the weapon’s storage area. This event was immediately reported as a rocket attack on the “special” weapons area. As you can imagine, that situation was taken very seriously. We went on high alert. All personnel were immediately armed (against what, I had no idea). M-16s are normally not effective against rockets.

Fortunately, before any of our crack team of pseudo-combatants had blindly opened fire on the invisible attacking forces, someone found the incoherent specialist, determined what had actually happened, and we stood down. In my 20 year Air Force career that was the one and only time I had been fired upon. I still have no idea why I did not receive a medal for that incident.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ghost of 4th of July Past - 7/4/2011

Today, we journey back to the 4th of July of 1972. My last as a teenager and a civilian. It was also my last before becoming a father, but none of this has anything to do with this story. My then-wife and her family were celebrating Independence Day as a last hurrah before my upcoming departure to Air Force basic training. I am certain they were hoping that Ho Chi Minh would soon be wearing my ears on a necklace. This trip was a temporary detente between me and that awful family. Again, not part of this story.

We were camping at the Bumblebee Campground on Bumblebee Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in northern Idaho. At that time, Coeur d’Alene was the only French I spoke. Come to think of it, I don’t speak much more than that now.

It is no secret that I love to fish. In those days, Bumblebee Creek, though a small stream, was a great source of brook trout and one of my favorite places to fish. Not just because of my dislike for the other males in our party, I took my fishing gear upstream, alone. I love to fish alone as it is a great opportunity to reflect and hear only the babbling of a brook and not that of people.

The brush was so thick on the creek banks that the only way to walk upstream was to actually wade. Even in July, the water was ice cold, but after a while, numbness replaces the bitter chill. The creek bed is composed entirely of rocks, slippery, often moss covered, rocks. This dicey surface combined with my maladroitness was a recipe for disaster. You only think you know where this story is going.

I had extracted several nice fish from pools along my route, upstream, when I encountered a particularly swift and deep stretch of water. As you would expect, I slipped and fell down. Valuing my catch and gear more than my well-being, I fell pretty hard, but was able to right myself and continue on.

I came upon a culvert that was built to channel water from a gulch under a forest service road into the main creek. At the dumping point of the duct formed a large pool that I believed would be home to some nice brookies. I climbed up and sat on the edge of the corrugated pipe so I could fish down into the pond. I could see several nice fish, but before I had baited up the pool became cloudy. I soon realized that it was blood fouling the water. My first thought was that a bear or mountain lion upstream was feasting on something and the blood was washing downstream. That was not an unreasonable assumption.

Then the reality that the blood was running off of the culvert changed my thought process. The blood was coming from me. But how? I was experiencing no pain. I stood up and performed a self-exam. The source of the blood was from the area of my right, rear pocket, where I had stored a jar of salmon eggs (a favorite trout bait of mine). When I had fallen, the jar had shattered and a large piece of glass was now part of my buttocks. There had been no pain, since the ice-cold water had numbed me. Evidently there are no major arteries in the buttocks, so though I was bleeding quite heavily, I was apparently not bleeding out. That fact did not ease my panic. Does panic increase blood flow? Oh crap.

Since at this point I had lost all interest in fishing, I did not need to wade back to camp; I could walk the forest service road. Actually, I made it back to camp in record time. Someone else went back later for my gear and fish, which I had also lost interest in. They could follow the blood trail.

Then came the most embarrassing part of the ordeal, I had to ask my hated father-in-law to pull the shard of glass out of my, now not so numb, ass, with a pair of pliers. Actually shard is not an adequate word. This was more of a hunk of glass. I am sure he was less gentle than he could have been. After all, I had knocked up his daughter.

We did have a first aid kit, but some of it had been expended earlier in the camp-out, when one of my in-laws had stepped into a frying pan containing hot grease. Obviously, this was not as successful of a camping trip as we had hoped.

The consensus was that I should be immediately taken to the hospital, as it appeared I required stitches. The only dissenting vote was the only one that mattered……mine. There was no way in hell I was going to be someone’s emergency room story. After everyone had a look at it, they bandaged it up as best they could and I had a lie-down. As a reminder of that 4th of July, I have a permanent scar that few have ever, or will ever, see.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stupid Human Tricks - 7/2/2011

When I was in high school, my dad bought a brand new 1968 Mercury Montego MX Brougham. It was bright orange with a black vinyl top. It was very sleek and sporty, very out of character for my dad, who was a pick-up man. On rare occasions, I was allowed to drive it to school. I had a 55 Chevy, but by then, it was pretty much a rust-bucket that spewed smoke and backfired at the most inappropriate time. I ended up driving it, unsuccessfully, in the demolition derby. The Montego was way cool. With anyone else behind the wheel, it would have been a babe magnet. For me, not so much.

When I drove to school (about 3 miles), I would wait until the school bus had entered Interstate 90 and whiz by it at a high rate of speed, honking my horn like a moron (actually, exactly like a moron). This maneuver was designed to impress a girl that I had a huge crush on, but whose parents, wisely, did not allow to ride to school with a miscreant such as me. Actually, I paraphrased. I am pretty sure the word miscreant has never been uttered in Smelterville, Idaho. I should add here that this particular girl was so far out of my league that she didn’t even know my league existed. That did not stop the ever-hopeful me from the futility of trying. Her parental excuse was just to spare my feelings, she would not have ridden with me if I had duct tape and chloroform.

I usually had a couple of fellow miscreants riding with me, even though my parents had strictly forbidden me from “running up and down the road” wasting nineteen cent per gallon gas. I was supposed to drive straight to and from school. In retrospect, I am sure that my dad realized that was never going to happen. On those days when I had the Montego, lunchtime was miscreant cruise time, sans girls. It was not like the lousy schools now with their closed campuses, metal detectors, and armed security. About the only controls put on us were that the teachers took roll sometimes.

One cold Idaho winter morning I set off chasing the school bus. Just as I accelerated past it I hit a patch of black ice. Many southern readers (as if I have many readers from any region)probably have no idea what the heck that is. Let me just say that once you have experienced it, you will never forget. A few hundred yards in front of the bus, I went into a flat spin. I did several 360s and miraculously stayed on the Interstate without hitting anything or rolling over. It was totally luck, as at 16, I had zero driving skills under normal conditions, let alone careening down the highway at 80 MPH, with two caterwauling passengers. Luckily there was no traffic other than the school bus.

When I had spun to a complete stop, so did the school bus. It had to stop relatively short in order to avoid t-boning me, as I was sideways in the road. There were 55 faces staring straight at me. I don’t think the girl was impressed, nor was the bus driver, who happened to be someone that knew both me and my parents well. Needless to say, I rode the bus every day for the rest of the school year.
The race-car driver of the day was a guy named Parnelli Jones, who had just won the Indianapolis 500. This was back when the Indy 500 was a big deal and everyone knew who won it (and could pronounce their names). I know it is hard for young people to believe, but once upon a time the Indy 500 was bigger than NASCAR. Now I am not even sure if it is televised. My reason for this diversion is that calling a driver Parnelli was like calling a total moron, Einstein. It was not a compliment. That was my moniker until the event was forgotten and I earned more permanent and vile nicknames, based on other stupid things I did later in my high school career.