March 07, 2005

Air Force Blue - Part 16

I almost titled this one "Martha of the D'Iberville".

This will be another one of those rambling posts about my military days, this time a very special time that happened around 1980-81. For those coming in late to the story, I was a military policeman in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Frozen blue. I was getting near enough the end of my first tour to think about what to do next. Being one of the Strategic Air Command's finest, I thought I'd be a natural for law enforcement. Problem was, all the queries I'd sent out came back saying that I was overqualified for regular police duty, and they weren't looking for SWAT at the moment, thanks for asking.

It was looking like I had a fine future in the pizza delivery field or as an armed receptionist. Plan B was needing to be implemented, and plan B was to cross-train and reenlist.

The Air Force has this nifty program where you can pick another career field and they'll train you for it, and all you have to do is promise them a few extra years of your life. I did a little research and figured that computers were the way to go. I decided that I wanted to become a computer programmer, because that sounded more interesting than computer operator, plus it had a bigger bonus. That's right, Uncle Sam would pay me some serious bucks, plus train me in a new field, if I stayed in.

Only problem was, everyone wanted to become a computer programmer. I knew of four of us cops who applied, one the week before me and two the week after. I lucked into an open slot and got what I wanted while the other three got orders to computer operator school.

I'd be travelling to Biloxi, Mississippi for my training. It was a condensed twelve weeks of insanely intense pressure, at the end of which we'd be real live gen-u-wine computer programmers. Boy howdy. I might have told you this before, but I once met another AF programmer who decided to get a head start by taking a semester of "Introduction to Computers" at a community college before reporting for tech school. At the end of the first day, she called her husband in tears because they'd covered everything in that semester before lunch. We're talking seriously condensed, to the point that those twelve weeks gave me almost a year of college credit.

Intense. Spending all day in classes, after classes in smaller groups getting tutoring for the concepts you didn't pick up during the day (the instructors were the best I've ever had, and incredibly generous with their time - they understood what kind of pressure cooker environment it was). Most nights were spent at the computer lab, punching card decks (yep, the good ol' days), debugging programs, and helping each other by looking over output listings.

At the end of each block was a test. Pass the test, you move on to the next block. Fail it, and you 'wash back' into the following class to take the block again. Two wash backs and you were out. I think only about 40% of our class made it all the way through without a wash back, and probably 20% didn't make it at all.

Of course, there were moments of surreal. One lady in our class was having a horrible time with her program logic, so a group of us sat down with her to go over her listing and figure out what the problem was. The first problem was obvious, every single variable and data name was in French! We couldn't make heads or tails of the code because of it. Byeeeeeeeeeee. She washed back. I hope she learned that lesson.

One day I was called in to see the Superintendent. Seems he had a problem with my headgear, because I was still wearing my blue beret. This was before *everyone* in the Air Force wore the beret, it was a cop thing and I was proud of it. The conversation went something like this (civilianized version):

Sup: You can't wear the beret, you aren't a cop anymore.

Ted: What is my specialty code?

Sup: Cop.

Ted: When does it change to Computer Programmer?

Sup: When you graduate.

Ted: When do I graduate?

Sup: In six weeks.

Ted: So I'm still a cop for six more weeks.

We compromised, and I wore the beret for another three weeks. I was right, but he had the stripes. It evens out.

But Ted, I can hear you saying, you were in a military training town! Tell us about the strippers and hookers and bars and stuff!

I never met Christopher Walken.

I went to the strip joints one night early on, and they were lame. Biloxi was trying to clean up their act, figuring that the only way they'd manage legalized gambling was to be squeaky clean first. It worked. Biloxi is now the Atlantic City of the gulf coast, for whatever that's worth.

Hookers? Never saw one that I know of.

We did go to an adult theater one night, and that's a tale worth telling, but there's a little setup needed first. Remember those block tests I told you about earlier? Well, my normal celebration for passing those consisted of getting a couple of six packs of malt liquor and getting thoroughly smashed by dinner time. That way I could pass out and still be sober enough for class the following morning.

One night after a block test, several buddies came to my room. I had a car, they wanted to go to an adult theater. They bundled my extremely inebriated self into the back seat and off we went. At the ticket counter one of my friends had to pull out my wallet and pay for my ticket, because I couldn't figure out how to work my pocket.

Once in the door, I leaned against something to steady myself and a whole rack of skin flicks crashed to the floor. My friends parked me in a seat at the back of the theater, and all I remember was staggering back and forth to the bathroom a dozen times over the next couple of hours. Beer does that to me.

Ok, so maybe that wasn't a tale worth telling.

But that brings us to "our" bar. On one of our first nights out, four of us kind of wound up together in a group that stuck together throughout the course of the classes. And that first night, we stopped in at one of the fancier hotels along the beach, the D'Iberville.

We sat down, ordered drinks, and started listening to the band. It wasn't half bad for what you'd expect in a hotel band. I still remember their name: Dave Dudley and Breezin'. Cheesy, in a good kind of way, and a nice change from the slime pits we'd just come from (those strip joints).

Our drinks arrived, and mine was wrong (Dewars scotch on the rocks). Hell, three out of the four were wrong. We flagged down our waitress and tried again. This time only mine was wrong, but one was completely missing. Another try and we finally settled in with our glasses.

After ordering the second round, we discovered that this wasn't an isolated incident. Our waitress (barmaid?), who's name was Martha, just couldn't get it straight. By the end of the evening, we'd adopted her as *our* waitress and looked forward to whatever liquid randomness she might deliver next. Not that we drank whatever she brought, we'd just keep sending 'em back until she got it right.

The following Friday we decided that the D'Iberville was the place to be. Relaxed and mellow without being boring, after our stressful week we needed that. When we entered, we immediately asked to be seated at one of Martha's tables, and Dave Dudley and Breezin' had undergone a roster change. The bass player was missing, and for the rest of our almost three months there, the bass parts were handled by the capable left hand of the keyboard player, who also managed most of the singing (I don't remember if he was Dave himself, but it seems likely).

Martha completely screwed up our first drink order.
Martha got half of our second order wrong.

Well, you get the idea. She wasn't killer cute or anything either, kinda plain actually, but she tried hard and that was enough. A simple "Er, Martha? This scotch has soda in it." worked well, and she'd look embarrassed and go make it right.

By the fourth week, she was getting the drink orders straight. Actually, I think the bartender recognized us coming in, and since we always ordered the same thing, he started ignoring what Martha asked for and just poured from memory.

Like most of these stories, this one just peters out without a real ending. We eventually graduated and went on to our next assignments. I heard from those three guys a time or two and then we lost touch again.

My wife and I visited Biloxi several years later and I just had to visit the D'Iberville again. Dave Dudley was long gone, the bar had been redecorated, and there was no sign of Martha. In short, it sucked.

For a short time though, it was the most perfect bar in the world to me.

Posted by Ted at 04:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

One ringy-dingy... two ringy-dingy...

We had to buy new phones for the house, and it got me to thinking about phones and how they've changed over my lifetime. The set we bought (yep, a whole set) consists of four cordless handsets with intercom capability between them, a "base station" with four built in voice mail boxes and caller ID, and associated charging cradles and such. We didn't go for super quality this time around (for a very specific reason that I won't go into here), and I'll be happy if they last a couple three years.

Four handsets? Well, there's one for the basement where my workshop and computer are. One for the main floor, and two for upstairs (master bedroom and Mookie's room). The intercom feature will be a welcome feature.

Are you old enough to remember when you didn't even own your telephone? Growing up, I recall the telephone man showing up to install your phone, and hearing mom complain when the phone was broken and having to wait for the repairman to show up. It was a big deal in those days deciding where to put the phone too. We always had ours hanging on a wall in the kitchen. And then we had a second phone put into the master bedroom after someone tried to break into the house one night (Dad worked nights). But those weren't our phones, they belonged to the phone company.

When Liz and I got married, things were just switching over to where you actually bought your own phone (some 25 years ago... wow, it just hit me that I've been married for a quarter of a century). We went to the "phone store" and looked around at all different models, and it was amazing because suddenly it wasn't just colors you could choose from (I'm guessing maybe six colors on three or four models), but all kinds of choices were available. And man, did you pay premium prices for your phone. Our first telephone was kind of fancy looking because my attitude was that we might as well spend extra up front for something we liked instead of paying all over again later to upgrade. I mean, why would you ever buy another phone? This one ought to last forever.

It had a rotary dial. Oh yeah, my crystal ball was clear as mud on that one.

Then phone stores disappeared and the market was flooded with hundreds of models from who knows how many brand names. You could buy a telephone in almost any store, and most of them were incredibly cheap. As in crap. There was a little slide switch on the side of most of them, so you could make the push-button phone act like a rotary dial, because not all phone systems could handle digital. Remember flip-phones? Forerunner to the cell phone, before cordless was available. And the era was you bought new telephones on a regular basis, maybe because the last POS fell apart or quit working, or you wanted the latest in technology (ooooo, light-up buttons!). Two line phones! Whoa.

Car phones. Still had a cord and you looked like you were talking into a beige brick. Then cordless came along, for a price (naturally) and you could walk around free talking into your beige brick.

I remember borrowing a cell phone at a picnic to make an emergency call (I was getting ready to get in the car to drive to a pay phone when he offered), and I hurried through the call knowing that every second was costing big money. I'll never forget what the owner of the phone told me: "It's an expensive luxury". I still think that's true, and I wish more people would remember that. Not that I mind paying for my wife and daughters to carry one at all times (I still don't have one though).

When we were stationed in Germany (late 80's), they still operated the phone system the old-fashioned (to us) way. Maybe they still do, I dunno. Everything had that odd European styling that I could never get used to, including the phone. Our phone was pumpkin orange, because that's what it was when we moved in, and getting it changed meant a wait measured in months and a hefty service charge. Screw that. The phone was also in it's own little alcove in the hallway, on a short short cord so you were leashed to the spot whenever you used the phone.

There was a counter on the phone, which is how you paid for your phone service. For every call, the counter would click over during your conversation, and the farther away the other party was the faster the counter turned over. Call your bud on the next block? Tick... tick... tick... Call Mom back in the States? Tickticktickticktick, fast enough to make the numbers blur.

It seems like every new cell phone today has a camera built in. It also seems like every day you hear about some place forbidding the use of cell phones with built-in cameras. The US Department of State has a new directive out saying you can't have them on premises (or maybe "use" them, I'll have to check again).

Anyways, I have a new phone setup at home, with a whole bunch of buttons I'll never use and would probably never miss.

Posted by Ted at 11:58 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Cooking with dog

Or more properly, cooking with the dog.

It doesn't matter what I'm making, the dogs love to be in the kitchen when I cook. They have several routines that they alternate between, trying to find one that might lead to treats being distributed. Outright begging isn't allowed, so they try the "I'm so cute" look or the "poor starving puppy" routine or my favorite, the "how can I help, Dad?" look. Sam actually smiles, showing front teeth like a people in his effort to be helpful. Trix is like that painfully earnest child who tries too hard.

Get past the attempted persuasion though, and I think I've got them figured out. They always have two suggestions for every recipe.

1. More hamburger.
2. Needs gravy.

Posted by Ted at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Air Force Blue - part 15

A friend had to go fill the little cup as part of getting fitted for a new workplace, and it reminded me of my military days.

As Security Policemen, and especially since we worked around nuclear weapons, we were regularly tested for drugs. Later in my career, after transferring into computers, they went to more of a lottery system. Every month they would draw 1 or 2 or 3 numbers randomly, and anyone who's social security number ended with that number went in for the ol' golden flow. They claimed it was random, but the same 'suspected' people were tested pretty much continuously. A friend and I volunteered to help out at the Special Olympics one year and got really nice event t-shirts. We tie-dyed them and wore them to a unit picnic, after which we were immediately called in for urinalysis.

Rumor had it that there were certain "signs" to look for to uncover the dopers. Among them were hippy clothes (tie-dye, peace signs, Grateful Dead shirts, etc), and hair parted in the middle. Seriously. Seriously stupid.

Anyways, as a cop we were required to show up for work at least a half hour early to draw our weapons and gear. A few carried .38 revolvers (this was pre-9mm days), a few lugged around the M60 machine gun or the M203 grenade launcher/M16 combo, but most of us carried the regular M16. So we'd draw weapons and ammo and get ready for our inspection before going on duty, called "guardmount".

Usually, guardmount was held in a small room right next to the armory. We'd get the daily passwords, any special notices and news to be aware of, changes in assignments, plus an inspection of our bad little selves. Hair, uniform, equipment, etc. You've seen similar on television on most every cop show from Hill Street Blues to Reno 911.

If there was to be a larger formation or if the higher ups wanted to talk to us, then we'd have to trudge across the street to the cop headquarters building. They had a larger guardmount room there.

One morning, after working a midnight shift, we were told to report across the street for formation. This news was met with boos and grumbling, because we just wanted to turn in our shit and go home.

A lot of cops (me included) made a quick pit stop before heading over for the formation. You can see where this is going, right?

Yep. We lined up and they informed us that it was time for a surprise urinalysis test. They were lucky that we'd already turned in our weapons, because there was murder in our eyes. We couldn't leave until we peed, and many of us had just gone a few minutes before.

Tired and irate, that described us. When we railed at them for not giving us 10 minutes warning, they suggested that we drink water and/or lots of coffee. That was reasonable, but screw that, if they didn't want to be reasonable, we weren't going to be either. It didn't take long to realize that they couldn't leave until we all took the test too. A lot of us refused to drink anything (we had to go to bed, who wanted to be up running to the bathroom every half hour?). It finally devolved into them waking us up every half hour to ask us if we were ready, and gradually our numbers thinned out as nature took its course. Four hours later the last cop filled his little plastic cup, snapped the lid on and handed it over. We never had another "surprise" inspection like that again.

Posted by Ted at 06:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2004

A simple gold band

I lost my wedding ring last monday afternoon. In all the fuss about the trip to the dentist, I'd forgotten about that. Fortunately, I found it again. With the cooler weather coming on, and the weight I've lost this year, my fingers are thinner and it just slipped off when I was putting something into my briefcase. A few discreet wraps of tape and that won't happen again.

I'm on my second ring because the first one wore out. I wear it constantly, except for when I'm working on my car. I've witnessed ugly things happen to people who wear rings while playing mechanic. I've no desire to personally experience them myself.

I lost the first ring too once, and then found it again. Back when Liz was in a wheelchair, we went to a restaurant and while we were sitting there I realized my ring was missing. I freaked. I had no idea when I'd last noticed it, and by the end of the meal Liz had calmed me down enough to just accept that sometimes crap like that happens.

After dinner, I helped Liz into the car then took the chair around back to load it up (we used a bike rack to carry it). I got her chair folded and secured, and for some reason I looked down and there at my feet was the ring. Major relief!

When we were first engaged, I told Liz to get whatever ring she wanted (we were living in different states at the time), and to get me a plain gold band. No engraving, no markings, just simple gold a little over 1/8" wide.

Anything bigger than that and you could do yourself damage...

I'm going to tell this story exactly like I've told it to Liz. I'm careful never to change it or embellish it, or she'd know it's bull. It's not... sorta. Or maybe it is. I've never confirmed or denied it, I just tell the story as is and let everyone make up their own mind. To this day, Liz still isn't sure if I'm pulling her leg about this.

Liz was out with a bunch of girlfriends at a bachelorette party. She wasn't driving, so I expected her to stagger through the door in the wee hours, drunk and disorderly.

A couple of my friends had come over to the house, and we weren't doing much of anything when the phone rang. It was the girls, asking us if wanted to join them at the bar for the party. Their real motivation was that even the designated drivers were hammered, and they needed rides home.

We drove over, it wasn't far, and went inside. It was kind of fun to be the only three guys partying with more than a dozen drunk women. We were having a good time, and then for reasons I'll never fathom I did the single stupidest thing I've ever done in my life.

I decided to recreate that scene in Officer and a Gentleman where Patrick Swayzie swallows an engagement ring. Of course, I didn't actually swallow it, I tucked it under my tongue before taking the drink. Of course, nobody believed that I'd actually swallowed it, and a few minutes later it miraculously reappeared on my finger, to no one's suprise.

Someone mentioned it though at the other table and soon a whole new batch of drunk ladies wanted to see it. Remember that scene?

Open mouth, stick out tongue, place ring carefully on tongue. Take looong drink and open mouth. Viola! No ring. Of course, I wasn't going to continue the scene and go hang myself in the bathroom. There's limits to what I'll do for my art.

Except that, to my horror, the damn ring somehow slipped to the back of my throat and I involuntarily swallowed it.

There's a reason we chew our food. The throat isn't all that big around, and although there's some flexibility, it's not built to deal with things like a ring of metal. The ring got stuck. I wasn't choking on it, but it was too far down to discreetly cough up. The look on my face instantly gave it away, and of course everyone knew I was bullshitting them. It became a game, where did Ted hide his ring. The women searched my mouth, my hands, my pockets, and I could have really enjoyed it all if not for the fact that I'd swallowed my freaking wedding band. I finally decided that "this too, shall pass" and instead of bringing it up, I'd swallow it down and bide my time for its reappearance. I took several large drinks and tried to work the ol' swallow magic. No joy. Not coming up, not going down.

A few minutes later, I'm outside in the parking lot with a good friend. He's holding a huge glass of water that he got from inside, even though he's convinced that I'm faking it and laughing his ass off at everyone else's reaction. He chattering away while I'm trying to redefine "productive cough". All I could think of is Liz being pissed off at me for being an idiot and the stories that the ER staff would be telling about me in the morning. Finally, in desperation I stuck my finger down my throat and managed to throw up on the hood of a Corvette.

Eureka! I gingerly pluck my ring from the puddle of yick and rinse it off with that glass of water. I put it back on my finger, poured the rest of the water on the 'vette to wash off my mess, and headed back inside. I felt stoopid, to say the least. I was amazed to find out that most of the folks thought I was full of crap when I told them what happened, even with my friend's eyewitness account. It was so confused that to this day Liz isn't certain about the actual events.

I'm not that damn stupid. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by Ted at 05:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 23, 2004


I was bartending at a dinner theater one night for a special event. It was Secretary Appreciation Week (this was back in the early 80's), and the whole place was full to the brim with secretaries, courtesy of thankful bosses and the local Chamber of Commerce.

It was an open bar, and some of them were taking full advantage and getting pretty well lit. There were no wait staff either, so the ladies had to come to the bar to order. During an intermission, I'm hustling along trying to keep up with the orders coming fast and furious. One very drunk lady made it to the front of the bar, propped up on either side by two slightly less drunk collegues, and says loudly, "I'll have a rum and cock."

After a split-second of silence, everyone cracked up. In her foggy state, it took her a moment to realize what she'd said, and she managed to correct herself, "I mean, I'd like a rum and coke."

Still pouring and mixing as fast as I could, I said with a smile, "Make up your mind, so I know what to stir it with."

Posted by Ted at 08:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 18, 2004

Throbbing, but not in a good way

I hate breaking in a new dentist.

I had an appointment today to take care of a molar that had cracked. It was hurting a little bit occasionally, but nothing that a couple of tylenol wouldn't take care of. Last week my wife was going to see the dentist, so I had her make me an appointment while she was there. It was time to take care of this before it became a real problem.

It turns out that my regular dentist is on maternity leave, so I had to see one of her 'associates'. I'm not the best patient in the world ('baby' would be a good description), so I was already a little shook up by this revelation. Dammit, I was used to my regular dentist. The receptionist told me to take a seat, but I was too nervous to sit.

When they called my name, I could tell right away that it was going to be a bumpy ride. Like any medical professional, this guy wants to do his own x-rays and exam and then talk to me about what needs doing. I understand that, except that I'd already been through all of this with my regular dentist and we'd already decided what the plan was. But fine, whatever. I was determined to be reasonable and at least listen to what he had to say, because I certainly don't want to have him pissed off at me before he starts in with the needles and what not. So he buzzed my head with radiation and began explaining the options. I calmly let him know what we'd had planned, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear, so we waited for the films to come back.

Turns out that I was right, and the best course of action was what we'd already decided on. Step one was extracting that tooth. Cool, let's get it done.

Dentistry has made amazing progress during my lifetime. With the right dentist, "pain free" has become truth in advertising. But I still hate the shots. Maybe it's the growing up I've done, or maybe I'm tougher, or maybe the needles are sharper, but the shots don't hurt nearly as much as they used to. Doesn't matter though, because my hands go into a white-knuckle clench and my whole body gets trip-wire tense as they shoot me up.

A few minutes later, he does a few test pokes. He's got the sucky-thingee hanging out of my mouth, plus what feels like his arm elbow-deep, not to mention whatever ancient torture devices he's wielding in there, and he's asking me questions. My regular dentist has the decency to remove her hand before expecting me to answer, but this guy wants to carry on a conversation.

"You jumped. Was that pain?"


"Pain? Or Pressure?"


So we go for round two with the needle. Actually, we got to round three in short order, and it's still hurting like hell every time he does whatever he's doing. We play 20 questions: yes, it's pain. No, it's not just pressure. Yes, I'm numb. Yes, the tongue too. I'm telling him it's deep pain, not around the gumline, and then he mentions that there's an infection down there. Wonderful.

We give it one more try, and I almost end up on the floor when he grabs the tooth. I'm bathed in cold sweat and I've got a headache from the tension in my neck muscles, and finally I have to ask him if it would be better to take an antibiotic to knock out the infection and try again in a week or two. He agrees, and then looks me in the eye and tells me straight up:

"I'm going to give you a prescription for codeine, because you're going to be in a lot of pain when the numb wears off."

Oh. Crap.

We head out to the front desk, me on weak knees, still mopping flop sweat from my face and neck. My jaw is throbbing, and as I walk out to the waiting room there are two young kids sitting there. Both of them are staring at me wide-eyed. I knew that I hadn't been silent during our little adventure, but there's no reason these kids should be afraid of the dentist, so I smiled at them and said "Man, I hate getting my haircut!"

They laughed, which is what I was going for.

The dentist is a nice enough guy, and I'm (reasonably) sure he's competent, but he hurt me and now I don't trust the sonuvabitch. I'm a little concerned about the infection thing, I mean I shouldn't have been the first one to mention antibiotics. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, and at that moment I brought it up more in self-defense than anything.

I drove home and Liz ran to the store to get my prescriptions filled. Now I'm sitting here feeling fortunate that tomorrow is going to be a light day at work. My tooth is letting me know that it's not happy, but it's tolerable.


Posted by Ted at 08:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 23, 2004

No Particular Place To Go

That was a Chuck Berry song, wasn't it?

Yesterday morning, I'm flying down the interstate on my way to work - and believe me, at 5:15am there ain't no traffic and you fly! - and I've got Chicago II cranked on the CD player. And Hello Sunshine came on, triggering a whole rush of memories.

I was in the Guinness Book of World Records once, for one edition. Actually, it was my entire high school band, and we held the record for longest continuous performance, which at the time was something like 80 or 90 hours.

I believe we started on a Friday morning, and played straight through until Monday afternoon. One five-minute break every hour, and fifteen minutes every six hours for food. We turned it into a big fund-raiser, and local restaurants donated food and drinks to keep us going.

Things got silly as we got more and more tired, and after a while you get loopy. Not to mention the swelling. You want to know what bee-stung lips are? Try playing the trombone for four freakin' days. The whole bottom part of my face was numb for a week.

And parents would show up in the middle of the night to cheer us on, and donate money for requests. And every couple of hours, we'd play a medley by Chicago that always got us fired up again. It started with Hello Sunshine, and we'd stand up in the back row and just let it ring.

The school was heavily into music of all types. Band, orchestra, jazz band, chorus - both men and women, mixed choir, plus various small combos and groups, our school was known for it's music program. And the band was dominated by the trombone section.

I was playing fourth trombone that year, all by myself. I'd transferred in as a sophomore from another school, and rather than futz with the dynamics of the section, I just took the bottom end and enjoyed myself. There were three seniors playing first part that year, and they were all very good. Next year, I'd take over first chair, so I could afford to be patient. Besides, we all got along just fine, so there was no jealousy or looking down on anyone.

I may have told this part before, but on my first day at the school, in the first band class, all the new people had to introduce themselves. All freshmen, and me. The band teacher explained that I was transferring from the east side, and you could hear the collective 'ooooo' at that. The east side was the 'bad' side of town, and I'm sure they thought I'd pull a switchblade on someone eventually. So after the introductions were made, all the freshmen had to play the school fight song together. They'd gotten the music the year before and practiced all summer for this moment. I just stood there, because I didn't know the song. When they got done, someone said I should play something, so I did.

My first performance at school was the Budweiser theme song. Remember that one? "When you say Bud..." Perfect music for trombone, and I really got into it.

Back to the band marathon. We loved to play anything brass: Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Average White Band, Wild Cherry, Ohio Players, plus the standard classical and folk tunes included in the curriculum. And when one of 'our' songs came on, we'd drag ourselves out of our comfy chairs (we'd brought beanbags and other seating rather than spend days on those metal folding chairs), and be energized for an hour afterwards.

We also traded instruments, and it was the first time I'd gotten up the nerve to talk to the owner of the finest ass I've ever seen in my life. To this day, I measure all female tushie against hers, and have yet to find her equal, although some have come close. She was Japanese, she played the flute, and she sat right in front of me in the front row (three rows, I was in the far back). For an hour she sat by me and showed me some flute basics, and I helped her play a little trombone. I was in heaven.

So we set the record, and made lots of money for new band uniforms, and got into the Book, and lost the record to another school a few months later. Que sera sera.

"...with no particular place to go..."

Posted by Ted at 06:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 09, 2004


Got my hair cut yesterday, which isn’t a big deal, but it got me to thinking about barber shops and haircuts.

(in the extended entry)

As a young kid, we’d visit the local barbershop every couple of weeks (I’m guessing here, because preschoolers don’t have a real sense of time). Mom would take us and we always had the same couple of barbers. My brother’s barber was a guy named Casper, and I don’t quite remember what my barber’s name was (it might have been Ted too). Conversely, I can clearly picture my barber’s face, but only have the vaguest recollection of what Casper looked like.

My first buzz cut courtesy of Uncle Sam doesn’t register, probably unremarkable because I’d been expecting it. I do remember how difficult it was to recognize all my fellow enlistees without hair, and it surprised me how the lack of hair made us all pretty anonymous.

The next truly memorable haircut I can remember happened in Mississippi, years later in the Air Force, and it wasn’t the end result that sticks in my mind, it was the process. I badly needed the haircut and went to the on-base barber shop. There were probably a dozen barbers, and twice that many waiting customers. While you’re sitting there, you watch everyone working and form your opinions on which ones are ok and which ones are hacks. Sometimes you play a little game where you try to guess which barber you’ll wind up with. Eventually my number was called and I wound up – as I’d feared – with the scariest barber I’ve ever seen.

This guy was ancient, tiny and hunched over and withered, but the most frightening part is that he shook like an epileptic poodle. That was the longest haircut of my life, in every sense. Each scissoring took seconds as he worked the comb just so, then a careful, gradual move with the scissors before he made the snip. It took forever, but he wasn’t a butcher about it, and he did a good enough job, albeit in slow motion.

I almost wet myself when he went for the heated shaving cream. My heart was pounding as he applied it to my neck and around the ears. My heart stopped when he managed to smear some inside my ear, and across my cheek. I barely managed to not scream when he started wiping the back of my collar with a towel, trying to clean up the shaving cream he’d managed to miss my neck with. And I witnessed a miracle when he picked up the straight razor. His arm became rock steady, but the rest of him seemed to shake even more, as if trying to take up the slack. He was quick and firm and confident with that razor, and I checked for blood and ear loss afterwards, but he did just fine. I don’t win lotteries or raffles, there’s just not that much karmic luck in my life, so I went off-base after that for haircuts. No sense tempting fate.

Very soon after that, I was in Maryland, preparing to get married. Staying at my future in-laws place, I went to the local barber shop and had the absolute best haircut of my life. This haircut took a long time too, but for a completely different reason. The barber wasn’t in a hurry. He wasn’t slow or lazy, he just took his time. It was an old fashioned neighborhood barber shop, where the old men hung around to socialize and kill time, and a radio always played in the background. The barber was a youngish guy, and I think he’d inherited the business from his dad. We talked about the Orioles and the Military and my upcoming wedding, and when I left there a couple of hours later I felt like I’d made friends for life.

Over the years, barbers have changed. There was a day when a woman barber was something you just didn’t see. Nowadays, it’s common to walk into a barber shop full of small oriental women cutting hair. I got used to it in the military, but since rejoining the civilian world I’ve noticed it more and more as well.

A few years ago I let my hair grow long for no good reason, I just didn’t get it cut for a couple of years. One day, again for no particular reason, I stopped in at a new “Barber Salon” in the area. Slick chrome and leather furniture, a huge wide-screen TV in the corner playing action movies, and three young and very good looking ladies cutting hair. I sat down, pulled the pony free (get your mind out of the gutter), and told her I wanted it cut short. She really didn’t want to. She was afraid that I’d change my mind and get mad at her. At this point, my hair was halfway down my back, and finally I convinced her that it was what I really wanted. She did a nice job on the haircut, but I never went back because the place reminded me more of a singles bar than a barber shop.

I’ve also gotten a few haircuts in whatever salon is attached to the WalMart. Nothing particularly bad about the experience, but nothing special either. I missed the barber shops of old, so I started looking for alternatives.

A place opened up nearby that bills itself as an “old fashioned barber shop”, so I had to give it a try. Once. The haircut was fine – can you tell I’m not terribly picky about that part? – but the barber talked my ear off. I don’t mind a little conversation, but this sunuvabitch never shut up. I got all his political views, his lottery history, details about his son and the worthless bitch he married and on and on and on. I was wishing he’d just jam his scissors into my temple and put me out of my misery.

Since then, I’ve found a nice place. It’s not traditional, but it’s not too far out either. Filled with small oriental women, they chat if you want to talk, and shut up if you don’t feel like conversation. They don’t jabber at each other in Vietnamese either as they cut your hair – I really hate that. The first time I went, the cutie who cut my hair apologized for ten minutes when I said she’d cut it shorter than I’d wanted. She even got the manager so he could apologize for a while. It was a casual comment, because hair grows out and it was actually a very good cut.

For fifteen bucks (and that includes a generous tip), I get a haircut, head, neck and shoulders massage, hot towel, razor shave, and a little pampering while being surrounded by nice looking ladies.

I’ve found my barber shop.

Posted by Ted at 10:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 14)

I once worked in an office with an evil copier machine. I’m not saying that it was cantankerous and seldom worked right, like jamming beyond hope when you most needed it or randomly crumpling and shredding your only original. I mean this thing exerted an evil influence on people who used it. We’re talking Stephen King storytime stuff. I’ve thought about this over the years, and it’s the only explanation that makes sense, because I’ve known other copiers and never… well, read on.

Ramstein, Germany. I’d been assigned there for a year or so, and without changing desks I’d worked for the Electronic Information Systems Division (EISD), then the Computer Systems Organization (CSO), then the Information Systems Services Office (ISSO), and rumors were flying that yet another name change was in the works.* Our mission hadn’t changed one bit, just the hats we wore and how we answered the phones. It got so silly that I came up with a new name for us: the European Integrated Electronic Information Organization. Yepper, E-I-E-I-O.

My first memorable encounter with the copier was when I was standing around it with another NCO and our section leader. Our section leader was a newly promoted Captain, and (rightfully) proud as a peacock about his new rank. As we were talking, I said something about the “Lieutenant” out of habit. He immediately interrupted me and, pointing to the bars on his shoulder, reminded me of his new status. Instead of apologizing or just acknowledging him and getting on with it, the evil influence of the copier took hold of me and I heard myself say:

“Well Sir, you’ll always be a Lieutenant in my heart.”

You can imagine how well that went over. But you can see what I mean about the evil copier, right?

Our organization was a tiny part of the Communications Squadron, and we were attached to the comm guys not because we fit in there, but because we fit in even less anywhere else. The comm folks hated us because we were computer pukes, not communications, and both sides were quick to make the distinction. Mostly, we went our way and did our thing and the less we had to deal with the rest of the squadron the better we liked it.

Which worked great until we got the idea to form an office softball team for the base league. We talked about it and decided to do it for fun – no serious win-at-all-cost attitudes for us. And then word came down from on high that the squadron already had a team, and that we were invited to try out for it, and they might send their ‘leftover’ players to our team, but we could not be in the league independently. Screw that, we entered anyways, under an assumed (organizational) name: E-I-E-I-O. Had shirts and hats made and everything, and caught major hell halfway through the season when we showed up to play our parent squadron in a scheduled game.

Back to the copier. Like most small office photocopiers, probably more unofficial stuff was copied than real work-related documents. The Air Force decided to combat the waste by placing a tiny transparent sticker to the underside of the glass, so that every Xeroxed page was marked in the upper corner with a letter and number code showing what copier reproduced it. Every copier on Ramstein had it’s own tiny little ID code.

Most of us ignored it and went on using it anyways. One weekend I went into the office for something and found the NCOIC (my boss) at the copier, making stacks of personal copies. Yet another clue about the evil influence of the machine. Well, maybe not, because the NCOIC then showed me that by unscrewing this and this and this you could lift the glass out, rotate it 180 degrees and the sticker wouldn’t show up anymore! Wow, my boss showing me how to circumvent the system for personal reasons. Evil copier.

About the time we were getting our stern talking-to about our unauthorized softball team, a group of us were sitting around drinking and bullshitting, when inspiration struck. I can’t claim credit for the idea, because I honestly don’t remember who thought of it. Like I said, we were drinking.

But I absolutely am responsible for the implementation, because when it comes right down to it, what good is a stupid idea if you don’t have the balls to make it happen, eh? So early Monday morning, my partner in white-collar crime and I lifted the glass on the Xerox machine, turned it over, and by carefully scraping with a knife blade, we removed the letter/number code and replaced it with rub-on letters that spelled out EIEIO. It was a near perfect match, and because the mark showed up on every copy (and had for months), nobody even paid attention to them any more.

A couple of weeks later, we realized that it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out who was responsible for the symbolic ‘bird’ we were sending out with every copy, so we changed the decal again. Who knows what possessed us to do this? Wait, it was the copier!!! I tell you, that thing was evil.

This time we changed the copier code to read “FOAD”.

For the innocent, that stands for “F__k Off And Die”. It’s also a valid hexadecimal number (make the ‘oh’ a zero) if you’re a real computer nerd, which is interesting but hardly relevant.

We held our breath, and waited for the shit to hit the fan. And waited. And waited. And it didn’t, because nobody noticed.

Several months later, my compadre and I were called into the Captain’s office. He “knew” we had changed the sticker, but he couldn’t prove it. He was throwing a fit because copies from our machine were headed out all over Europe, and each and every one had a cheerful little “FOAD” in the corner. We played appropriately dumb, but I did admit that I’d noticed the sticker before. He almost stroked out when I told him I assumed it meant “For Official Authorized Duplication”. I was full of shit, and he knew it, and he knew I knew he knew it (and so on), but there wasn’t much he could do about it other than to suggest that the problem better be taken care of. Sometime in the next few days, someone mysteriously changed the label again by scraping it clean and from then on our photocopier was the only Air Force copier in Europe without it’s own little number of the beast.

* I know for a fact that ‘EISD’ is correct, but the others might not be spot-on. If nothing else, they give you an idea of the acronym-hell that the Air Force can be.

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 13)

Welcome to another boring story about my days in the United States Air Force. These are in no particular order, and this one takes place about midway through my twelve year stretch. My first four years were spent as Security Police, and then I cross-trained into Computer Programming.

I’d been stationed at Gunter Air Force Station in Montgomery, Alabama for a few years. Gunter was home of the AF Data Systems Design Center, where many of the standard Air Force computer systems used around the world were developed and maintained. Ever do a DITY (do-it-yourself) move? I wrote that one, way back when.

But this story isn’t about computers and programming, it’s about an extra duty I picked up – “supply guy”. I’m sure there was an official name for it, but I don’t remember what it was. Basically, when someone in our unit needed some equipment or supplies, they’d come to me and I handled the paperwork and legwork needed to get it done. There was nobody to teach me how to do the job, so I spent a lot of time on the phone asking the base supply unit lots of questions, and I visited with them quite a bit, building a relationship (because everything goes easier for a friend) and asking more questions. The supply people saw I wasn’t trying to get around the system, I just wanted to make sure I did things right the first time, which would save me time and frustration, as well as make folks in my unit happy (and less likely to bitch).

The Design Center was a unique military environment because there was a large civilian component. These weren’t contractors – although there were a few of those – they were federal employees who provided the long-term stability to the place. The military folks would get rotated out periodically, but the civilians were there forever.

One of the ranking civilians in my unit was tasked to set up a new branch, and he got to work. Besides figuring out how many new people he would need, he made arrangements for new office space and then came to me. We went through his requirements and put together an order for desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and all the other bits of furniture you need for offices.

Contrary to popular belief, the military doesn’t waste tons of money (notice the average age of our bomber and fighter aircraft for instance). One of the things I had to do as supply guy was to make a visit to the warehouse where used but usable furniture was stored. When someone wanted new stuff, we were required to go to the warehouse and see if we could find serviceable things instead of buying new.

I wandered through the stacks – the place was huge – picking out the best available. There was nothing wrong with the furniture I selected, other than it wasn’t new, and I even went to extra trouble to make sure partitions matched and such. And because it was a rush job, I set it all up to be delivered via flatbed truck during the following week, even though I’d be on leave.

The civilian big-boss wasn’t happy. Like most people, he wanted brand new furniture and raised hell with me and my supervisor, but there wasn’t much he could do. I'm not a big fan of 'by the book', but in this case the rules made sense and I had no reason not to follow them.

Two weeks later, back at work after my leave, I got a phone call from the supply folks. Seems that they had a requisition to order new furniture and nobody had done the ‘used furniture’ check first. I arranged to go down there that afternoon, and went to find out what was going on.

Turned out that when the flatbed of furniture showed up, Mr. big-shot Civilian refused delivery of the entire load. Then he submitted paperwork to buy everything brand new. And he did all this knowing I was on leave, hoping to get it processed before I got back.

That afternoon at the warehouse I found a nice pile of used furniture that hadn’t yet been re-sorted into it’s various areas, and – wonder of wonders – it exactly matched what big-boss needed. I wonder where it could have come from? Heh.

Two weeks later I got another phone call. A delivery flatbed was out back, full of furniture. I called big-boss and let him know it was here, and he was tickled pink, thinking that he’d pulled a fast one on me.

Imagine the look on his face as the forklift started unloading his ‘new’ office furniture. I even included some horrible framed “art” for the walls of his new offices. These were my little revenge, because I only had one requirement for those: heart-stoppingly ugly. Anything that also had a shitty frame was especially welcomed to the pile.

He didn’t speak to me for a long time after that. As for the “art”, I later found where he’d hidden those and personally hung them up for him one evening.

Posted by Ted at 11:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 27, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 12)

With all the current hoopla over military medals, I thought I’d pass on a couple of quickie stories about awards and decorations. It involves a little tooting of my own horn, so just pretend I’m suitably modest.

The first medal I ever received was for marksmanship. It was entirely expected since I was Security Police, and we practiced a lot. After qualifying ‘expert’ for the M16 rifle, I got the little doohickey for shooting ‘expert’ with the .38 pistol (standard SP sidearm of the day). The doohickey are called devices and you get them to indicate subsequent awards. For instance, when you get the Good Conduct medal you wear the plain ribbon, and after that each time you get it again you add a little bronze leaf to the ribbon. Back to the story, about 10 years later I got an ‘awards review’ printout listing all my known information, and looking it over I noticed that my marksman device wasn’t listed. I dug out my ancient range card showing the expert box was checked for both and took it in. The personnel people were kind of amazed that I had kept that card for that long. I never threw anything away in the military, and it saved my butt more than once.

Ok, so that one lived up to the category 'boring stories'. In the Air Force at the time, you got the Good Conduct medal every three years, assuming you didn’t totally screw up. Believe me, you had to really try not to get the GC, because it was pretty much automatic. My first tour was... eventful. So when it was announced that I was getting the Good Conduct medal I was surprised and pleased. The shift commander came down the line, handing out the little medal cases and shaking hands, and when I got mine I opened it up and burst out laughing. The medallion part of my medal was broken. The shift commander said he’d replace it, but there was no way I was giving it up. It was mine and it was perfect, almost custom made.

When we were transferred to Germany, I had been a computer programmer for five years. The very last project I’d been involved in before getting orders was a high-pressure, high-profile job that we’d busted our collective asses to accomplish. One guy had been hospitalized for exhaustion, and it was touch-and-go as to whether any of our marriages were going to survive. No exaggeration there, the hours and schedule had been that crazy for almost an entire year.

So at my new assignment, my first Commander’s Call (a monthly briefing), all the new people get introduced to the unit. When they got around to the awards and recognition portion of the brief, the usual letters of appreciation and commendation were read and handed out. Unexpectedly, the Colonel called me up and started to read a ‘thank you’ note to me for all the hard work our team had done on the last project. That was from the Captain who was our project leader. Next was a letter from the Colonel who commanded my last unit. After that were three letters from Generals, one was the Commander of Communications Command and two were from Generals in the Pentagon. The final letter was from an Undersecretary of Defense. These were totally unexpected and just those simple letters meant so much to me. It was kind of funny too, because everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of freak. They didn’t know me from Adam, and I received all these letters of appreciation from insanely high level people.

A couple of years later a friend of ours (Dave) was going to get a Good Conduct medal. The commander at this time would hold a little ceremony in his office, and they’d have a photographer and the recipient could invite a few friends and family. Being in Germany, we were the closest to family Dave had and my wife Liz and I were happy to be there for him.

We drove over to the commander’s office, and my wife was uncomfortable because it was hot and muggy and she was very pregnant. The commander ushered us all in and we lined the walls of his office, with Dave front and center and Liz and then I next to him. The ceremony began and as the Colonel was speaking it dawned on me that he thought Liz was Dave’s wife! This amused me no end, and when the Colonel said “and we’re so glad to share this proud moment with Mrs. M---“, I almost laughed out loud.

Dave hadn’t caught on before that, but when he realized what the Colonel had just said he blurted out “Sir, that isn’t my wife.” The Colonel stammered in confusion for a moment, and then I helpfully announced “But we thought it was important for the baby to see his daddy get a medal.”

Things went to hell in a hurry. The commander managed to make it through the rest of his presentation. Afterwards he apologized repeatedly to Liz and Dave and I, and we all just laughed it off as an honest mistake. I did get called in to my supervisor’s office later for an official ass-chewing for my smart-mouth comment.

About a month later, after Mookie was born, the Colonel’s wife stopped by the house to welcome the new baby. She told Liz about her husband’s reaction when he got home after the ceremony. The Colonel was so embarrassed by that little mix-up, and they had a good laugh together. He was definitely one of the better commanders I’d served under.

Posted by Ted at 07:41 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 11)

When I was stationed in Germany, my unit shared a building with several other units and the community latrines were out back on the loading dock. The bathroom walls were always an entertaining read, especially since names were named fairly often in regards to some perceived injustice.

Things took a turn for the surreal when some wag assumed an alternate identity as "The Hammer" (those quotes are a sign of respect, because there could only ever be one, and MC ain't it). "The Hammer" began regaling us with lurid descriptions of his sex life, always accompanied with a crude anatomical drawing designed to make a stallion feel inadaquate. I particularly remember one wall-spanning diagram with the caption "The Hammer punishes women!"

The leadership used the same facilities, and we heard often about how embarrassing it would be if some visiting VIP used the latrine and saw it all. Someone decided that the bathrooms should be painted over to get rid of the various scribbles.

"The Hammer" was inspired anew by the fresh canvas thus presented. At infrequent and unpredictable intervals word would go around that "The Hammer" had struck again. A real fuss was raised when "The Hammer" made an entry in the Ladies bathroom, but subsequent investigation by the leadership determined that it was a copycat crime. That worried them because now they had to consider that "The Hammer" might have a female assistant.

Meanwhile, the rest of us mostly laughed at the whole situation. After more than a year without being caught, "The Hammer" suddenly ceased his work. There was much speculation on who it might've been, but we never did discover who "The Hammer" was. I wish I knew, because I'd buy him a beer.

Posted by Ted at 07:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 10, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 10)

Other bits and pieces of my life can be found under the Boring Stories and Seriously categories.

I don’t remember exactly how we got invited to the party, but it was some sort of semi-official function. There were four Canadian exchange officers there, and one of them was in full piper kit. Since I love the bagpipes, I got to talking to them, and we all hit it off pretty well. Being young and enlisted, my roommate and I drank way more than we should have, and the Canucks matched us drink for drink. We got a lot of disapproving stares from the other guests because other than us, it was a rather reserved crowd.

It was around midnight when we left the party. My roommate and I went to the Visiting Officers Quarters (VOQ) with the Canadians and we continued the party there. They broke out bottles of Meyer’s Spiced Rum and we kept right on drinking. Sometime after 1am we got thrown out of VOQ for marching up and down the hallway singing filthy drinking songs and being generally disruptive.

Since the night was still young, the Canucks accompanied us to our dorm, and that’s when things got really fun. We got there, and suddenly our new friends got wildly enthusiastic, because we had a pool table. They started to tell us about a game they played called Crud.

Between the rum and the fact that this all happened some 20 years ago, I’ll try to describe the game. It was fun as hell, but that may just be because we were all drunk.

Ok, first off, to play Crud you only use two of the balls: the cue ball and the 8-ball. Cue sticks are not used. So far, so good.

The object is to use the cue ball to knock the 8-ball into a pocket. That scores a point. Likewise, if the 8-ball stops moving before you hit it with the cue ball, the other team scores a point. The main rule is that the 8-ball cannot stop rolling. You hit the 8-ball with the cue ball (trying to get it into the pocket), and then the other team has to grab the cue ball and they have to hit the 8-ball, then it’s your teammate’s turn, followed by the other team’s second player, and so on. And that brings up the other main rule, the so-called “ball” line. One end of the table is where all cue balls have to be rolled from, but only after your balls (testicles) are behind that end of the table.

Body blocks are allowed, but only by putting both hands on the table and sticking your ass out there. It’s not considered sporting to trip someone.

Sounds pretty sedate, huh? There is no ‘scratch’. If the cue ball leaves the table, you have to run and fetch it, then get back behind the “ball” line before you can take your turn, and all before the 8-ball stops rolling. What happens in practice is that quite often you’re snagging the cue on the bounce, then diving back across the line while sidearming that cue ball back at the table.

That’s how we wound up putting the cue ball through the front of the coke machine. Twice. No bones were broken, but there were plenty of bruises administered, and around 4am someone called the base cops on us, and our evening ended.

I never did get to play Crud again because it was specifically banned in the dorm. Supposedly, there were Crud tables in Winnipeg bars, complete with chicken wire enclosures. I never saw any, but when we went to Winnipeg, it was for CFL games (go Blue Bombers!) and horse racing at Assiniboia Downs, so we didn’t do much bar-hopping in Manitoba.

Posted by Ted at 04:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 28, 2004

Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Volkswagen in a Pear Tree

I grew up in rural San Jose, California, back when it was still getting used to the idea that it had become a small city and was no longer the farm community it once was. In those pre-silicon valley days, San Jose was figuring itself out, not wanting to be like it's snooty neighbor San Fransisco, and secretly worried that it might turn out to be like thuggish Oakland.

Out where we lived, it was as rural as was left in that part of the bay area. We lived in a newish trailer park (did you know that mobile homes appreciate in value in California?), in a big brand-new double-wide. The park was as far on the outskirts as possible while still being part of San Jose. We were isolated, at the very end of First Street (at that time the longest 'main street' in the US).

The park was situated at the end of a half-mile long stretch of raised blacktop off of First Street. The most remarkable thing about the road was a humungous drainage dip about 3/4 of the way to the park. Take it at speed, and you would be airborn. Nowadays kids would think of it as a near perfect half-pipe, at least a beginners version. The rest of the road sat about six feet higher than the land on either side.

Bordering the park on the back side was Agnew State Mental Institution (West Wing), where the safe crazy's lived. They farmed for therapy and sold produce at a roadside stand. Loony as all git out, but harmless. The violent and scary ones lived about a mile away at the East Wing, where the fences were topped with razor wire and inmates getting a little fresh air were chained to the benches. Every six hours, a siren would wail at one wing, and the other would answer, letting folks know that all was safe in the land of the normal. I've got some loony stories, but those are for another time.

So we've got the mental hospital on one side, and an interstate on another, with a big field between us and the highway. In season the field would be full of migrants, picking lettuce or onions or whatever was growing.

On the third side was a cactus farm, with big glassy greenhouses and complete with scary-assed watchdogs. You didn't mess around there.

But on the fourth side, where the road connected to First Street, was pear orchard. Across First Street was pear orchard. Acres and acres of orchards. Beyond the cactus farm was another onion field, and then more orchards. All those orchards were our playground. In the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, Calvin used to go into the woods to get away and play. We had the orchard.

Because of our relative isolation, as kids all we had were each other. Galapagos Finches. We had few outside friends, because we were bussed across town to school (we passed at least three high schools on the way to our school). It was an interesting environment to grow up in, and we did have our occasional Lord of the Flies moment, but we mostly got along.

One friday night I was walking around looking for something to do, when I came across Moby and Mac (names changed to protect the stupid). Moby was as tall and bumbling as could be, and the closest thing to a stoner that we had in our little circle. Mac was the middle brother of three, and somehow he'd managed to get drunk. Moby was leading him around the park, trying to sober him up before taking him home.

I started walking along with them, and at one point Moby randomly complained about his mom being out on a date, and being bored. His mom drove an old blue VW bug, and it seemed like a good idea to go for a spin. We headed over to his house, and Moby searched for her keys. No joy.

I said we could hotwire it, and showed them how. More by luck than skill we got it started. I climbed in the back seat, while Moby took the wheel and Mac rode shotgun. We buzzed around the park for a while, and mostly I held on to Mac's belt to keep him from falling out the window as he leaned out and drunkenly hollered at signs and trees.

We made two or three runs down the main road to First Street, but since none of us had a drivers license, we weren't brave enough to actually leave the park property. So we'd go like a bat out of hell granny's VW down the straightaway, then turn around at the end and head back.

On one of those runs, Mac yelled something about hitting an animal and grabbed the steering wheel. We made a sharp right turn, straight off the edge of the road and headed into the pear orchard.

Remember the scene in Blair Witch Project where they're running through the pitch dark woods in black and white? Exactly.

When I came to my senses, my head was hurting. I think I hit it on the roof as we bounced through the field. The car was at an odd angle, up against a tree. The lights were on, the engine was running, the radio was playing, both doors were open, and the front seats were empty.

I looked out the back window and saw Moby and Mac scrambling towards the road. All I could think of was that the car must've been on fire and I didn't want to be in it when it blew up.

I caught up to them on the road. Moby was crying, mostly because he knew his ass was grass. Mac was laughing like a maniac, mostly at Moby. Me, I was already setting up my alibi. Going through the timeline out loud, making sure I was covered and completely unconnected with it all. Getting everybody's story straight.

When I got home later, I calmly said goodnight to my folks and went to bed. The next morning, I mentioned that it had been a while since we'd been to Confession.

That afternoon, we were sitting in the family room, and I remember my aunt and uncle being there. The phone rang and my mom answered. She listened for a moment, not saying much at all, and then handed the phone to my dad. Mom got up, walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, and started to beat me. It went like this:

"How" {SMACK} "Dare" {SMACK} "You" {SMACK} "Steal" {SMACK} "A" {SMACK} "Car" {SMACK} "And" {SMACK}...

Well, you get the idea. I was curled up, arms over my head protecting myself while mom wailed away and my relatives looked on with stunned expressions.

My dad hung up the phone and walked up behind mom and stopped her from hitting me any more. She hadn't done any real damage, she was too mad to do more than flail away, but I'd have some bruises on my arms for sure. Mom actually said to my dad "You hit him, my arms are tired."

Dad gathered me up and we walked down to Moby's house. The beetle sat in their driveway, looking beat to hell. Windsheild smashed, fender torn off, dented and scraped up pretty good. My dad talked to Moby's mom, and they agreed that I would buy a new windsheild and get a fender and put it on. The rest would be up to the other boys.

I found out later that Moby called his mom when he got home and told her the car was stolen. When the cops found it - not hard at night with the lights still on - they supposedly dusted it for prints and found ours. I still think Moby just guilted himself into ratting us out.

The phone call. When my mom answered the phone, Moby's mom said "Mrs. Phipps? Last night your son and two other boys stole my car and wrecked it in the pear orchard." Not once did she ever tell my parents that her son was one of the "two other boys".

I got a sunset curfew for a year, and my folks enforced it. Dad and I made a trip to the junkyard. I dipped into my savings and bought a windsheild and fender, and my dad helped me attach the fender. He was pretty pissed off when he found out the other two got zero punishment for our stunt, and we never did finish the glass.

My brother wrecked our family car in the same orchard a few years later after I'd left home. Drag racing or something equally stupid. Almost a family tradition.

And that's the story of #5 on my list.

Posted by Ted at 01:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 9)

I'm going to backtrack a little bit, back to Security Police training (talked about it here and here). The last part was Air Base Ground Defense, where we threw grenades and patrolled and set ambushes and all that army-man stuff. Big fun. Really. Like playing as kids, except we had real M16's full of blanks.

So one day towards the end of our ABGD training, our job as a unit was to attack and secure a mock weapons storage area. It had a fence around it, and real bunkers and a tower, but the 'buildings' were mostly plywood boxes with door and window openings. Nothing too permanent.

So we attacked, and overran the base, and secured it. And after all this running around, the fire team I was attached to - four of us - were sitting in this corrugated tin shed that was used as the Entry Control Point for the area.

It was cool and dark inside, and we leaned back against the walls catching our breath, when one of the guys pulls out this little bottle from his shirt pocket. I had no idea what it was, being the naive youngster that I was then. It was a bottle of what he called "Locker Room" or some such, and I think they also called it a popper. The basic idea being you inhaled and it gave you a massive head rush and you got really dizzy for a moment and pretended it was like being high.

So the guy hits it, and for some reason reached for his weapon leaning against the wall. He manages to grab it by the trigger guard, and inexplicably his weapon wasn't on safe, it was on full auto. The fool accidentally machine guns a full 20-round magazine of blanks at the ceiling.

Remember now, we're in a tin shed.

The noise was deafening. We were writhing around on the floor, holding our ears. After a few seconds someone realized that we were being called on the radio, wondering what we were shooting at. There was only one thing to do.

We ran out of the shed, flopped to the ground, and started shooting into the treeline across the road. Soon every trainee in our unit is blazing away at that poor innocent clump of trees. Eventually we all ran out of ammo and the firing trickled off. We later got an 'attaboy' for detecting the attack, and our prompt action prevented the enemy from conducting the attack, forcing them to withdraw after surprise was lost. Uh-huh.

My ears rang for hours. The three of us beat the crap out of popper-boy later that evening.

Posted by Ted at 03:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 08, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 8)

It was the meanest practical joke I was ever involved in. Not the funniest and certainly not the most fun, but unsurpassed for pure mean...

I'm going to change enough details here to make the victim anonymous, because you could Google his name and find out all kinds of things about him. I know it because I did just that.

He was a nice enough guy, if a little naive. He and his wife were newlyweds, devoted to each other, and devout. His name was Jerry P (changed), and his family was famous in certain circles. Jerry was a proud family name, so much so that his twin brother shared the same first name. Jerry's brother Jerry went into the Marine Corps at about the same time our Jerry joined the Air Force.

And that's everything you need to know as setup to this practical joke.

It wasn't my idea, and I don't know who first thought of it. The only reason I was involved at all was because the luck of the duty roster put me on a post with a phone that night. But I went along wholeheartedly, because the plan was brilliant.

It was well after dark on swing shift, during that evening lull after dinner, and a few hours away from the midnight shift relief. The phone at my post rang, and when I answered a friend told me about this joke being set up on Jerry. I was to monitor my radio and be ready to pick up the phone and listen quietly.

This was the security phone system, not connected to the civilian world, but we could do things like set up party lines and such.

In a while Jerry P was paged on the radio and given a telephone number to call. He had to phone Central Security first (they were in on the joke), and asked them to transfer the call outside our network.

While the phone was ringing, cops all over the base were quietly picking up their phones to listen in.

A doctor answered the phone. The 'doctor' was actually another cop that Jerry P didn't know. The doctor verified personal information (social security number, etc) with Jerry P to convince him that the call was legit. Then came the joke.

"Airman Jerry, you have a brother in the Marine Corps, correct?"

"Yes sir."

"And he has the same first and last name as you, correct?"

"Yes sir."

"Well, we have an unfortunate mixup here then. As part of standard procedure, everybody going through basic training is tested for various things, including venereal disease. Your brother tested positive and has been undergoing treatment for syphilis for the past month, but we've discovered a mistake in our records, and, well, this is difficult to say..."

(confused) "What do you mean?"

"Unfortunately Airman Jerry P, your brother doesn't have syphilis, you do."

I will never know how we all managed to keep quiet. I was bent over, holding the phone and my stomach, desperately trying not to laugh out loud.

It took a moment for Jerry P to respond, and at first he was sure it was a mistake. It had to be. The doctor kept insisting that Jerry P stay calm and report the next day to the base hospital. Jerry P kept getting more and more agitated, and that's when he dropped the bomb.


He was in tears, and suddenly it wasn't funny anymore. Jerry thought he had VD, and since he'd been a virgin when he got married, the only way he could have gotten it was from his wife. His newlywed wife.

And he was on duty, and had a gun.

I heard a quiet call on the radio, sending someone over to Jerry's post ASAP. Hopefully to disarm him before he did something stupid. Then someone on the party line snickered loud enough to be heard, and we were busted.

Oh man, he was righteously pissed. Couldn't blame the guy one bit either, talk about a roller coaster of emotions we'd put him through. He didn't shoot himself, but he was close to shooting the supervisor who went over to take his rifle away until he calmed down. Calming down took several hours, and it was a week or more before he would talk to anyone. Eventually we could kid him again, though not about that. The joke was never ever mentioned. I don't know about the other people eavesdropping that night, but I always felt major guilt over that practical joke.

I still think it was brilliant though.

Posted by Ted at 06:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 05, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 7)

This story is about an odd little incident that happened to me one day on duty. I'm going to relate it exactly as it happened, but there are a few not-quite-right details that I'll mention at the end.

I wasn't wearing a parka that day, which means that it was sometime in August in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was also working Six-Charlie. Some cops loved working Six-Charlie, some hated it. I was an in-betweener, as it was a nice change occasionally, but it could also be a royal pain.

In those days Grand Forks had five B-52's on alert at all times. Fully fueled and loaded with nukes, crews close at hand on standby, they could take off with five minutes notice (click the pic for a real appreciation of the size of the B-52). As you can imagine, there were cops all over the place in that area, guarding and protecting things.

"The Pad" was where the spare aircraft were kept. Most of the time, the pad was patrolled by one cop in a pickup truck (Six-Charlie), while the majority of security was provided by the maintenance crews and flight personnel that swarmed the area. A lot of times, it was a sleepy backwater.

I was just cruising slowly around the area when I got the call on the radio. An unidentified aircraft was on approach, and not answering radio calls. I turned on the lights and stomped the accelerator and raced to the end of the runway.

We had standard procedures for this. It wasn't common, but occasionally some poor flight student doing a solo would mistake our runway for the one at Grand Forks International, ten miles east of us. The runways were oriented the same way, and an inexperienced or nervous pilot might not notice details like the airbase, especially from the direction this one was coming. That's if they could see the base at all, for the day was far from clear. The clouds were low and thick, it was rainforest muggy, and it felt like a good thunderstorm could happen at any moment.

I positioned myself at the edge of the end of the runway and watched the clouds. As soon as the tower gave the word I'd drive alongside the runway, and when the plane landed I'd lead it to a holding area where the pilot would be detained. Most of the time, we felt sorry for them, because they'd be all kinds of embarrassed for their mistake.

The tower called go, and I started rolling down the edge of the runway, picking up speed. I was expecting a little Piper Cub or something similar. Instead, this huge and wicked looking jet materialized out of the bottom of the cloud deck, startling the bejeebers out of me. I frantically looked for markings, trying to figure out what it was as it roared by.

As the jet passed me and touched down, I called the tower and let them know that it was a Canadian RF-101 Voodoo. I could tell it was the reconnasance version from the long boxy nose that housed the cameras. In those days I was an aircraft geek, since I worked around them every day.

As the Voodoo slowed down to below 90mph, I managed to pull up alongside and signalled to the crew (twin seater) to follow me. They acknowleged and I concentrated on not wrecking the rattletrap I was driving as we continued to slow down.

They followed my truck to the holding point, and as they shut down the aircraft I got out and, weapon at the ready, waited for them to climb out. The pilot started talking to me from the cockpit but I couldn't understand a word because it was in french. I gestured that they should come down, and finally they climbed out of the aircraft. More hand signals, and they put their hands up in the air. Every time they tried to drop their arms I raised my rifle and their arms went back up. They both wore smiles and chattered at me in french, I assumed they were cursing me out.

Within a minute or two backup arrived. Fifteen more cops, armed to the teeth, and one of them spoke french. My part done, I went back to my interupted patrolling.

That's basically it. I found out later that their base had been closed by bad weather, and they didn't have enough fuel to go anywhere else, so they flew to Grand Forks unannounced. I always thought english was the international flight language, so at least one of those two should have been able to speak at least a little. I also never heard why they wouldn't communicate with the tower on the emergency frequencies, instead of coming in dumb and silent.

Thinking back on it, they could've been surrendering Montreal to me.

Also, it's mildly interesting (to me, anyway) that the Voodoo was retired from active USAF duty in 1971. This story took place in probably 1979 or 1980.

Posted by Ted at 07:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 03, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 6)

Last time I talked about my very first day in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and my up-close and personal encounter with a military police dog. Ahhhhh, memories, eh?

This story needs a little set-up. Working around the nukes (which besides the actual weapons themselves includes the bombers, missile fields, maintenance shops, and storage areas), you are held to a higher standard. Quite rightly so, in my opinion. In those days, it was called the Personal Reliability Program (PRP), or maybe it was “Personnel”… doesn’t matter. The point being that you not only had to be a good guy to work those jobs, you had to be constantly monitored to make sure you were trustworthy around such important things. Even something like prescription medications could knock you temporarily off the PRP, and you’d be assigned to a less-sensitive job for a while. Getting into certain kinds of trouble was definitely a no-no…

“Airman Phipps, Grand Forks Security. State your location.”

“Grand Forks Security, this is Airman Phipps. I’m at one-Juliette.”

Long pause.

“One-Juliette, Grand Forks Security. Wait one.”


I’d been waiting for that call all morning. I could imagine the shit hitting the fan right then.

I was sitting in the Weapons Storage Area, near the bunkers where they keep the extra big-glowing-hole-in-the-ground devices, armed with my trusty M16 and 120 rounds of ammo.

I had been busted for drugs the night before.

There was no way I should have been issued a weapon and put on post. I figured I’d be steering a floor buffer for at least a few days while things got straightened out. So I sat there for a few minutes, until the Area Supervisor drove up in his truck. I was relieved of my weapon, read my rights (again), and transported to Central Security Control. Before too long, I was standing before the squadron First Sergeant. He asked me what the story was.

The night before I’d been laying in my bunk reading a book when someone knocked on the door, and then the door opened immediately. I looked up and saw a cop dog-handler, his K9 bud and the dorm chief.

Our dorm had two-man rooms with common latrines down the hall. My roomie wasn’t there that night, I don’t remember where he was. It wasn’t uncommon for the squadron to run the drug-dogs through the dorms.

The cop told me that the dog alerted on our door, and that he was going to search the room.

“Knock yourself out.” I really wasn’t worried. When I got this roommate I had been very clear about one thing: no drugs in the room. I couldn’t have cared less about what he did elsewhere, but don’t bring it to the room. Ever.

So I lay there reading my book. The dog alerted on one wall locker, and I unlocked it so they could search it. As I expected, the dog had smelled a loaf of bread in there and went right for it. They emptied the locker anyway. Nothing.

“Ah ha! Look what I found!”

That was an instant attention-getter. As I got up from my bunk, I was already mentally calculating how long I could keep my roomie alive while I killed him. The phrase “burnt beyond recognition” came to mind.

Over by the desk, the cop stood there with a triumphant look on his face, pointing into the pencil drawer. I looked inside and stifled a laugh. Forgetting that he had two weapons, the pistol on his hip and that dog, I made my first mistake.

“Are you an idiot?”

Not very diplomatic, and precisely the wrong thing to say. At that point I was busted, no matter what else was said. I could see that much in his eyes.

I looked back down at his ‘discovery’. It was a small plastic packet of pizza seasonings. At that time, one of the frozen pizza brands had a gimmick where you got a little bag of oregano and other herbs, mixed with some garlic salt and such. It was included in the box, and you sprinkled it on your pizza before popping it into the oven. The packet was about two inches square.

“Do you really think drug dealers are going to heat-seal that little baggie closed?” I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing, which just pissed off the cop even more.

As I laughed, I noticed the dorm chief was looking pretty doubtful about this bust. I tried to explain about the pizza thing, but the cop ignored that, read me my rights, and put the suspicious ‘dope’ into an evidence bag. He then searched the dressers, mostly by emptying drawers onto the floor. He did that last just to get even for me laughing at him. The dog was bored, mostly just staring wistfully at the locker containing the bread.

After they left, I wondered why they didn’t arrest me. Something wasn’t quite right about the whole thing. Still chuckling about the ‘dope’, I cleaned up the room and went to bed. The next morning I went to work as usual, which is when they had called me.

At this point the First Sergeant sent me out into the hall to wait while he called in the K9 handler, I assume to hear his story. The cop glared at me as we passed, I just smiled back. I stood there for awhile, and wondered how bad the chewing-out was going to be for screwing up my arrest. Someone would catch big-time hell for me being issued a weapon and put on post, I was just glad that it wouldn’t be me.

A few minutes later, I got called in again. Standing at attention before the First Sergeant’s desk (K9 cop beside me), he told us that the lab results had come back on the evidence. Looking at his notes, he read it to us.

“Oregano… Parsley… Garlic… Onion…”

I managed to keep a straight face. Inside I was more than a little relieved, and made a mental note to let my roomie know just how close to death he had come. Just in case he needed reminding.

I was dismissed, and the First Sergeant told the K9 troop to stay for a little talking to.

That wasn’t quite the end of it though.

I didn’t keep the story quiet, it was too funny not to share. I’m sure it got back to the K9 cop, which must have been pretty embarrassing for him. I had no hard feelings, because he was young and inexperienced. He, on the other hand, was holding a grudge, as I was to find out.

A few weeks later, I got called in to see the First Sergeant. Never a good thing, I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong this time. I knocked, presented myself, and waited at attention.

“Airman Phipps, we have a report that you had your personal vehicle checked by a drug dog on (some date I don’t remember). Any comment?”

Oh jeez. “Yes sir. I bought a used car, and figured it would be smart to have it checked right away. I went over to the kennels and asked a friend to run a dog through the car as a favor. It was clean, sir.”

“Why would you do that?”

I reminded the First Sergeant about another Airman who bought a used car and got busted at the main gate when a drug dog alerted on it. As far as I knew, that person didn’t smoke dope, so whatever was found was probably there when she bought the car. He knew who I was talking about, and knew she was a good cop too, so what I had done made sense in that light.

I did ask where the First Sergeant got that report, but he wouldn’t tell me. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out though.

Not long after I had another direct confrontation with doggie-cop. I was on duty with my team, and we had just come out of the chow hall. At the street, I turned right to go drop a letter into the mailbox, while the rest of the team continued on towards our truck.

A police car was parked at the curb, and just as I walked by the driver’s door opened and K9 cop stepped out and glared at me. I just kept walking towards the mailbox.

“You! Halt!”

I turned around slowly, and sure enough, the nitwit was pointing at me, he also had one hand on his sidearm.

“My dog alerted on you! Halt right where you are!”

“Your dog alerted on me? You’re kidding, right?”

“There are drugs in that envelope. Freeze!”

I’d had enough of this stupidity.

“You’re dog alerted on me. From inside a car with the windows rolled up. As I walked by. Because I have drugs in a sealed envelope. Go to hell, you idiot.” And with that I turned around, took the final few steps and dropped the letter in the mailbox. When I turned around, K9 cop had his weapon out and was shaking because he was so pissed off.

Since his weapon was drawn, I didn’t argue any more. Hell, my team was witnessing the whole thing. He disarmed me (M16, I was on duty), put me on my face spread eagle (for being ‘belligerent’), and we waited for backup. I snickered when my team was called to attend the situation. Fastest response ever.

I stayed calm until I saw the First Sergeant again, then lost it a little bit. Apparently he agreed with me this time, because I didn’t get into any trouble (not that I had done anything wrong, which didn’t always mean you weren’t punished), and I never saw that K9 cop again.

Posted by Ted at 09:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 20, 2004

Says it all

When my wife was rid of her wheelchair and allowed to drive again, this is the custom license plate I put on her car (extended entry):


Thanks to the ACME License Plate Maker.

Posted by Ted at 05:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 5)

Spoiler Alert – This includes the story of how I wound up on my back, being read my rights, with a police dog standing on my chest (#45 on my Cornucopia of Ted list).

After collectively graduating from our police "tech school" training, we were presented with our dark blue berets and given our orders for assignment. In the Air Force, you keep a form on file commonly referred to as your "dream sheet" which lists the top ten places you'd like to be assigned. Theoretically, when it comes time to send you to your next assignment, they start with your first choice and see if there’s an opening there for your specialty and rank, and if not they go to your second choice, and so on.

The main thing about my dream sheet was that California didn’t appear on it at all. I didn’t want to go back home, I wanted to see some of the world – well, some of the US anyway. I wasn’t ready for overseas yet.

I can guarantee you one thing though - Minot, North Dakota was not even remotely on my list of places to go. Maybe you’ve heard the standard joke: “Why not, Minot? Freezin’s the reason.” Uh huh, exactly.

Now the Air Force does something kinda cool at this point. In this room of brand new and entirely interchangeable newbies, you can trade assignments with someone instantly. Just find some sucker one else willing to do it, and it happens. Of course, nobody is going to trade for Minot, because the only people who want to go have already put it on their dream sheet, and you can bet that those people get their wish.

So I’m standing there with my orders, wondering where Minot is (and for that matter, where exactly is North Dakota?), when another guy comes up looking to trade. See, his girlfriend is going to Minot, and he’s going to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and he wanted to know if I would trade orders with him? Sure, what the heck. North Dakota is North Dakota. This turned out to be a huge decision, since I met my wife in Grand Forks, and the guy I traded with broke up with his girlfriend within a month.

Before traveling to the Great White North, I went home for leave, my first Christmas as a military man.

December 26th, 1977. Nice day in northern California, temperature in the 50’s, chilly enough to need a heavy windbreaker. At the airport Mom cried, Dad was proud, and Ted is off to live his life. I don’t remember much of the flight, but as we were descending into Grand Forks that night, the pilot mentioned that the ride was bumpy because of the blizzard just kicking up, and that we were lucky we hadn’t been diverted. I found out later that we were the last plane to land for almost three days.

In those days, Grand Forks International Airport earned it’s name from the thrice-weekly flights to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Hey, it was ‘International’, how small could it be? As the plane stopped, the stewardess stood at the front of the plane and told everyone that once the door was opened, we should all closely follow in single file to the terminal, because visibility was really bad and they didn’t want anyone getting lost in the blizzard. Huh? What about rolling the little accordian thingie up to the door and walking down the ramp into the terminal? Yeah, right.

We filed off, struggling with our carry-ons into the wind and blowing snow (and I’m in a windbreaker!), and my mind is running a mantra, “…what the hell did I get myself into?… what the hell did I get myself into?…”, over and over again. Out of the darkness loomed a one-story building – the terminal. We hustled inside and stood around shaking the snow out of our hair and stamping our shoes (sneakers in my case) and trying to warm up. An announcement was made that our luggage would be coming in at the baggage claim at Gate 2 (there were only two).

We all shuffled over to Gate 2, and suddenly a big garage-type door rolled up and the blizzard was inside with us. Through the blowing snow you could make out two guys frantically heaving suitcases and whatnot through the opening in the wall, trying to get done as quickly as possible. Then the door slammed down and shut and everyone started rooting through the pile to find their luggage.

“…what the hell did I get myself into?… what the hell did I get myself into?…”

Half in shock, I located my stuff (everything I owned), and dragged it over to a chair. Now I needed to find a ride to the base, but for this I was prepared. Hell, they even had a courtesy phone on the wall to call the base taxi. Five minutes later I slouched back in the chair, totally dejected and resigned to spending at least the night in the terminal. It was going to be a cold hungry stretch, because the vending machines were all empty, not that I had change anyways. Concessions? Yeah, right.

Some guy, who’s name I don’t remember but who shall always be my hero, walked up and asked if I needed a ride to the base. Seems the person he was there to pick up didn’t make it (connecting flight grounded), so if I needed a ride…

This guy went above and beyond, and I later realized he was more than a little crazy. See, Grand Forks International is located almost exactly halfway between the city of Grand Forks, and Grand Forks AFB. Ten miles in either direction on US Interstate 2. So this good Samaritan, in what was working up to be a whopper of a blizzard, gave me the grand tour of the city first (not that I could see anything at all, let alone make sense of it – I remember him showing me the college campus), before driving back twenty miles to the base.

I told him I was a cop, so he took me to the ‘cop barracks’ so I could get a room. I unloaded my stuff from his car and thanked him with all my heart (and never saw him again) and went into the barracks. It was now about 11pm.

I found the day room where a bunch of guys were playing pool and watching TV. One of them was the Dorm Chief, and when I talked to him and showed him my orders his response was “I ain’t got no room.”

At this point, Leavenworth wasn’t looking half bad. I argued with him for a few minutes, and finally one of the guys playing pool told the Chief to put me in with him, since he didn’t have a roommate. Done.

I walked up to the 3rd floor with my new roomie, dumped my crap in the corner and crawled into bed. It had been a long, bad day, and I needed some serious down time. Suicide was not considered, desertion was…

Dog-breath. In my face, panting hot like a bellows. Opening my eyes, I stayed otherwise still and looked into a mouth full of yellow teeth. The teeth were obviously attached to a dog, but why was a German Shepherd in my room? In North Dakota, I remembered. And why was the dog standing on my chest? I realized there were words being spoken:

“…if you refuse this right anything you say can and will be used against you…”

And at this point I noticed an Air Force policeman attached to the dog by a leash, and as he read me my rights, the dog stood over me, breathing into my face.

My new roomie (forever blessed as well, but I’m not giving his name here although I do remember it), called out from his rack across the room, “Any drugs you find in the room are mine, he just got here!”

Whatta pal.

The cops tore the room apart while searching it. No drugs were found. My roomie was busted for having a sugar dispenser he stole from the chow hall. Roomie was trying to get out of the Air Force, and it was not an amicable parting. The dog probably never alerted on the room door like they claimed, the cops were just hoping to get lucky and find some drugs on him. I just happened to be there, they had no idea who I was.

That was my first day in tropical Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Posted by Ted at 05:28 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 08, 2004

Squirrels and the bird feeder

I'm seriously tempted to buy one of these.

We keep a stocked bird feeder in our back yard, and there's nothing more relaxing than sitting quietly on the swing and watching the birds come and go. We bought a book on birds of the mid-Atlantic states so we could identify our little friends, and we now recognize almost two dozen regular visitors.

Of course, the squirrels and I match wits constantly, and I often win. They destroyed one feeder by gnawing through the line holding it up in the tree, so I replaced it with another hung with plastic-coated braided wire. That was fun to watch, because they chewed through the plastic, then figured out it hurt to bite the wire.

When I moved the feeder to a pole away from the tree, they learned to make dive-bomber leaps from overhanging branches, grabbing at the feeder as they hurtled by. With practice, they've improved their accuracy and success rate, but it has to hurt when they miss.

Up to now, common practice has been to hang on to the feeder and rake the seed to the ground below, searching for the occasional sunflower seed like a kid going for the peanuts in a box of cracker-jacks.

But now, one of them has accidentally stumbled upon the secret of the new feeder, and they've learned how to hit the jackpot at will.

I hate being bested by a rodent. I don't even have the blessings of the Dalai Lama going for me.

Posted by Ted at 07:36 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 05, 2004

Theatrical Review

(Ha! Now I’m a theatre critic, eh?)

Last night I attended the Cardinal District Theatre Festival. This is what Mookie has been so swamped with lately, on top of regular schoolwork and the spring production of Midsummer’s Night Dream.

The festival is a competition where various schools put on one-act plays before judges and audience. They get constructive criticism from theatrically-trained people, which helps them put on better shows in the future. Each play must run less than 35 minutes or be disqualified. The top two schools from each district move on to regionals, and from there on to state-level competition.

If you care, the rest is in the extended entry.

Last night featured performances from four schools in our local school district, and was hosted at Mookie’s school. A nice home-field advantage, but not as much as you might think because of the minimalist nature of one-acts.

I’m going to review each play, mainly because I think it’s important to support the arts in schools, and I expect one or two friends of Mookie may drop by. If you haven’t been to a local production (even if you don’t have a kid going), then you’re really missing out on something special. I’ll save the “proud papa” crap for the end, where I’ll brag on Mookie, etc.

One nice thing about all of these were that they’re not the usual stuff you see in high school level productions. I think yet another version of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” or “Our Town” might make me ready for work at the post office. The most memorable show I was involved with in my high school days (yeah, when dinosaurs ruled the earth), was when we did Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. No local school had ever attempted an operetta, and it was a huge hit (I was in the orchestra in case nobody wondered). Of course, we were blessed with enough good voices that year to pull it off, but I think too many programs play it safe and stay with the tried and true plays that have been done to death.

Here are the plays presented last night, in order of perfomance:

Final Dress Rehearsal – Hylton Senior High School

This was the most conventional of the four productions, and also the weakest. It had some funny moments, but all in all the acting was pretty poor. Timing and tempo were uneven, I'm guessing that they needed more rehearsal time. Mookie mentioned that instead of having lighting cues, their director handed a script to the lighting techs and showed them where different things were supposed to happen. Overall, not up to normal high school standards.

The Complete History of America, Abridged, Part 1 – Gar-Field Senior High School

Choreographed insanity. This was a half hour of action and dialogue delivered machine-gun style. Original and inventive staging, and when they say ‘complete’, they mean complete, going back to the first inhabitants of North America making their way across the Bering land bridge (“sometime around the birth of Bob Dole”). Columbus is mentioned, but Amerigo Vesuspici gets teased about his habit of naming everyplace he’d been after himself. The bit about the American Revolution hilariously points out our ongoing problem with literacy, and delivers one of the more over-the-top lines: “The Minute Men were better lovers than you might expect.” Nothing is sacred (“But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”) and the pace is frantic and nonstop. Unlike movie trailers, I haven’t even begun to describe the great lines and action, so if you get a chance to see this one, do yourself a favor and take it! Ok, enough gushing about the play itself, let’s get critical. Like most productions, there’s always one or two actors who just don’t have that ‘stage’ voice and you have trouble hearing them. Because of the speed things are happening, a couple of times lines were read so quickly that they became unintelligible. On the plus side, there were several lines read en masse (a cast of nineteen!) and they were dead on the mark together. In fact, their timing was incredibly good – Mookie told me later that it was the best they’d ever done – and you never were sure where the next line would come from. There were no supporting actors here, they were a true ensemble cast. They also neatly managed the difficult and sometimes subtle choreography needed, there were usually two or more things happening at once on stage. By far, the best high school production I’ve ever seen (not being biased here, really!)

Graceland – Woodbridge Senior High School

Woodbridge changed things up with this one-act. This drama has a cast consisting of just three actors, one of which is a radio announcer who’s not heard after the first minute of the play. The story is about two women who both want to be first to enter Graceland when it opens to the public for the first time. The set was defined by the actresses, a folding chair, pillow and small brown paper bag. Very good performances, although one of the leads suffered, once again, from a lack of projection in her voice. I liked this one a lot.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged – Forest Park Senior High School

This is another inspired comedy from the folks who wrote The Complete History of America, Abridged, Part 1. More energy, more innovative choreography and staging, more laugh-out-loud bits including Hamlet in fast forward and reverse!. During a scene where a ‘wedding orgy’ was to take place, an actor walks across the stage holding up a sign that says “This is a high school play, use your imagination.” The total set consisted of three or four swords, a king’s crown and a laurel wreath placed strategically onstage. Very nicely done, although they didn’t have the precision of timing that Gar-Field displayed during the group lines, which resulted in some muddy and unintelligible dialog. They also relied heavily on three main actors, with the rest of the company mere bit players. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it stood out in contrast to the Gar-Field ensemble. Wonderful costumes. Overall, I ranked this the third best of the night.

Gar-Field was judged as first place (Yay!) and Forest Park was awarded second and will move on to regionals. I don’t know the details of the judging criteria, so I don’t know what aspects scored or how it was weighted. Two things I can think of that might have sunk Woodbridge was the small size of their cast, and possibly the fact that one character repeatedly used the line “What the hell are you talking about?” The first time was kind of surprising considering the milieu, but after the first four or five times it just got annoying.

The kids were bouncing off the walls waiting for the judge’s decision. Mookie couldn’t sit still, and it was comical watching the entire crew sitting together sharing a nervous hand holding clench.

[proud papa mode on]
Rachael (aka Mookie) was given major billing as one of two Stage Managers for the entire evening. She also spent quite a bit of time setting up the lighting and is being groomed for her directorial debut as a senior (she’s a sophomore now). Next year, she’ll be in charge of the entire Stage Crew, this year she’s head of the construction gang and responsible for building the props and sets. She also had a speaking line last night (from the audience) and got cast billing too.
[proud papa mode off]

It was almost 11pm before we got home, and I know the kids were too hyper to go right to bed. I feel sorry for the teachers that have to deal with them today.

Posted by Ted at 11:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 04, 2004

Dealing with a bully at school

Michele is going through it. Paul is too. Some kid at school is picking on your kid, and how do you handle it if the teacher/principal/school system won't?

My solution was simple, although it took a long time before I finally implemented it. I tried the reasonable parent approach, talking to the various authority figures involved and giving the system time to work.

It didn't work.

One afternoon I got a call from the principal. She was a nice lady and we got along well enough, although in this matter she'd been ineffective. I'll never forget her first words:

"You can't teach your child that!"

I knew exactly what I she was talking about. She was upset. My son had informed his 3rd grade teacher that his new policy was "massive retaliation". When the startled teacher asked what he meant, TJ gave her the whole littany that I'd drilled into his head over the weekend.

"The next time (bully) picks on me, I'm going to hurt him. I will kick him in the groin. I will hit him with a book, or I will hit him with a chair. I will hit him with anything I can find. And I will keep hitting him until a teacher pulls me off of him."

The teacher was horrified and immediately called the principal. TJ repeated it to her, and that's when she called me. I also let her know that it applied to my daughters as well. If any of my children witnessed a sib having trouble, they were to immediately jump in with "massive retaliation". The crap was going to stop, once and for all. I figured once or twice would be all it took. It worked even better than that, because the school staff decided to do what should have happend in the first place, namely deal with the bully instead of blaming the victim.

Interestingly enough, a year later my son did get into a fight with a different kid that cut into line ahead of him. The kid outweighed my son by 30 lbs, but was so surprised when TJ fought back that it never happened again. They all thought my son was crazy.

Posted by Ted at 07:33 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 26, 2004

Mean-assed Bird

My wife called me at work.

"Ted, there's a woodpecker out back. He's tearing up the wood around the tomatoes."

"Chase him away."

"No. I'm afraid of it."

We had just gotten back from Germany, and were renting a house in Maryland. Nice place on a large lot, with a fair sized garden patch lined with telephone pole sized timbers.

Liz gave me more details, and the more she told me, the less plausible it all sounded. I told her that I'd take care of things when I got home in a few hours.

Oh. My. God. She wasn't exaggerating a bit. Examining the aftermath, the timbers looked like someone had machine gunned it. Foot-long splinters were everywhere, and the wood was peppered with holes big enough to poke your finger into. The wood was shredded. Our landlord was a jerk, and he was going to be pissed for sure.

Later, as we ate dinner we heard the woodpecker again. I went out on the deck and I swear this sonuvabitch was the size of a chicken. Once again he was attacking the timbers around the garden, and the splinters were flying. He flew off when I approached him, but reluctantly. I had an uncomfortable flashback to Hitchcock's The Birds.

He returned a few more times over the next few days, and on the weekend I threw rocks at him when he went after the wood siding under the eaves of the house. He finally did leave, never to return again.

Good riddance.

Posted by Ted at 08:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 23, 2004


I don't talk a whole lot about work. Let me just say for the record that this week was the culmination of literally years of effort (and millions of taxpayer dollars), and I am so freaking glad it's almost over.

I've come in early every day and I've worked through lunch every day. My 'office' is a refrigerator, and I don't mean I'm chilly, I mean it's damn cold in here.

My big accomplishment this week is arranging 17 years worth of data into useful form and then putting it out there for other folks to upload into a brand new computer system due to roll over like a dead dog come online monday. Well, almost all of the data. It turns out that we're going to be short some .8 million records because we're running out of time. And I'm not coming in to work this weekend. Screw it, I was all set and ready to go, but some genius had to make unneccessary last minute changes that destroyed our carefully planned schedule.

Enough whining. They can get it monday.

Posted by Ted at 02:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

Where were you when...

Some folks will never forget where they were when they heard that JFK had been shot. I remember every second of my morning at work when the shuttle Challenger tragedy happened. I also vividly recall where I was when I found out that John Belushi had died. Everyone has different events that touched them in deeply personal ways.

This story is about my most memorable 'where were you' moment. It actually has a happy ending, although it was by no means a sure thing at the time.

It was the early 1980's, and my best friend Paul and I were on leave from the Air Force. We'd gone to his hometown in southeastern Minnesota - near Mankato, Little House on the Prairie country - for R&R. We'd spent this particular day road drinking, at least that's what I call it. Basically, we were out running around to all the various small towns dotting the area, visiting his old friends and stopping for a beer at every bar we happened across.

In one town (Blue Earth? Good Thunder?), we stopped at this little hole-in-the-wall biker bar, obvious from the line of dusty Harley's parked out front. We walked in and went to the bar and ordered beer. There were 8 or 10 people in the place, and they all looked like stereotypical bikers. We were getting a pretty good looking over because, well, with our military haircuts we didn't exactly blend in. Drinking our beer, I glanced up at the TV going in the corner and asked the bartender to turn it up.

President Reagan had been shot. Attempted assassination. He was conscious, and was heading into surgery.

Paul and I bought a round for the whole bar, and as all these bikers came up to see what was going on, Paul lifted his shot and said "To the President". I echoed him, and then so did every biker.

I'll never forget that moment.

Posted by Ted at 07:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 19, 2004

Published writer

Yep, that's me. Honesty compels me to admit that I did once have a letter published in Penthouse. Because of the younger and/or more sensitive folks who visit and read, I've put the text of my letter into the extended entry.

Dear Sirs,
I eagerly look forward to every new issue, and the first thing I turn to is the Penthouse Letters so I can marvel at the exploits of your readers. Someday I myself hope to have sex.

Thank you,

Posted by Ted at 01:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

1/5 of the Friday Five

I know lots of people do the Friday Five. This week I saw (among others) Tink and Dawn answer, and one question in particular jumped out at me.

4. Have you received any gifts with messages engraved upon them? What did the inscription say?

When I was stationed in Germany, I was in charge of a wonderful group of people. These men and women were the type you could give instructions to, then leave alone knowing that they would get the job done. I was very protective of them because they made me look good.

Occasionally, one of my people would be on the phone getting frustrated with a nitwit-du-jour, and because of the nature of our work, it was usually someone of higher rank. If it went far enough that I needed to get involved, I'd say "Let me talk to that twinkie."

When I left that assignment, my people gave me a beautiful plaque (it's hanging above my desk right now) that has this inscription:

"Good Luck and Don't Let the Twinkies Get You"

Posted by Ted at 07:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 17, 2004

Personal questions

Last week I had to do the interview for my security clearance update, which is routinely done every five years or so. The Special Agent came to my place of work at the time agreed on, and we sat down so she could conduct the interview.

These interviews start off with about five minutes of "Privacy Act..." and "Civil Code..." and "You can..." and "If you so desire...", accompanied by much form signing and reading of paperwork.

Then comes the personal questions. Most of it is just verifying that what you told them on your paperwork is correct, and asking for certain amplifications to an answer here and there. It's the price you pay for the clearance, and in this neck of the woods, the clearance is worth extra bucks on your resume.

After a standard series of questions about "illegal substance" use, I asked the agent whether anyone still answered with "I didn't inhale". She laughed and said that she had never had anyone use that line.

I told her about my last interview, when asked if I ever smoked marijuana that I had replied "I suppose the politically correct answer is: I didn't inhale". That agent wasn't amused, so I quickly revised my answer to a simple 'no'.

The interview was easy, because I'm boring. The agent said that for this purpose, that's a good thing.

In the next month or two, the neighbors will tell me about being visited by an agent asking questions about me. Personal privacy is a relative thing.

Posted by Ted at 08:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 10, 2004

They don't even try anymore

The Weekly World News doesn't even pretend to be serious anymore. This week's headline sums it up: Bat Boy Led Our Troops to Saddam's Hole!

I miss the good ol' days, when you knew they were full of crap, but they didn't serve it up with a big ol' wink.

When I was stationed in Germany, in our office we had this big bulletin board. On it were various stories from the tabloids, by category. Bigfoot story, UFO story, and so on. Every week, we'd pick up a copy of each of the tabloids, cut out the best stories, and put them up as well. Then everyone would vote on the 'best' for each type of story. That one stayed up and the loser was removed. It was entertaining, and we kept up with the important news.

Totally unrelated. My wife hates going to the grocery store with me, because in line at the register I'll track down a copy of the Weekly World News and read it out loud to her. I make sure everyone can hear me. My favorite parts are Dear Dottie and Ed Anger. Are they even still around? It's been awhile.

Changing gears again, my 'brush with fame' bit for the tabloids involves a WWN story from a few years ago, about a possessed dishwasher in Italy and the priest who performed the exorcism on it. The 'priest' in the photo was a co-worker of mine, the 'owner' of Satan's appliance was his girlfriend, and the Italian kitchen was located all of about two miles from my house. I don't care though, it's still all true.

Posted by Ted at 07:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2004


If you live in a neighborhood under the control of a Homeowners Association (HOA), then it's quite possible that you've had a run-in or two with some power-mad board member who acts like he has more authority than he really does.

I've had a few encounters with my HOA over the years, and for the most part they've learned to leave me alone. I know the rules better than they do, and refuse to let them push me around.

The last bit of fun I had with the HOA was when they announced that nobody was allowed to have satellite dishes on their roofs for aesthetic reasons. I threatened to install a dish on my roof and disguise it with one of these fake rocks. I'd make that sucker look like a meteor crashed right through my roof, but the dish would be hidden.

Not surprisingly, they dropped their objections.

Posted by Ted at 09:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 09, 2003

Uh oh moment

A few months ago, we had one of our periodic weekend 'disaster recovery' exercises. Our part is simple, we just make sure that our system works like normal even though it's connected to a backup mainframe in another state. I'm the primary point of contact, so on friday afternoon I reminded everyone about it one last time and went home for the weekend.

On sunday morning the phone rings and my wife answered it. She handed the phone to me and said "It's your boss".

"Oh Shit! I'm supposed to be at work!!!" Telling my wife to let 'em know that I'm on the way, I jumped up and started getting ready as quickly as I could. I was already a half-hour late.

I blasted out the front door in record time, and as I ran down the front walk towards my truck, my daughters stood on the porch and hollered "Run Forrest run! Run Forrest run!"

Posted by Ted at 07:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Air Force Blue (part 4)

Parts one, two, and three.

Last time, I talked about the serious side of Camp Bullis, Texas, which is where Air Force Security Policemen get sent to be trained in Air Base Ground Defense. They tried to keep you as busy as possible because there wasn’t a whole lot to do with the inevitable spare time. This go-round I’ll tell you about the trouble we got into fun we had.

The days and weeks spent at Camp Bullis ran together, so the bits and pieces recounted here are in some vague chronological order. The time frame is autumn, just when it starts getting really cold at night, especially in the Texas foothills around San Antonio. This all happened in the late 70’s, so if I get details wrong it’s not in exaggeration, it’s just fuzzy memory.

There were twelve of us assigned to the tent. I won’t use names, partly because I don’t remember them all, and partly because someone may contemplate running for public office some day. We were an eclectic mix of big and small, white and ethnic, country and city, rich and poor, even an honest-to-God Devil worshipper for our devout Christians to interact with. Among us, we had one thing in common, our surnames all fell in the range of starting with ‘P’ to starting with ‘S’, which is how we came together as a squad. Three ‘fire teams’ of four, and it was drilled into our heads constantly that your squad is your family. You can mentally insert your favorite dysfunctional family here, we sure as hell weren’t the Waltons.

Camp Bullis itself wasn’t small. Besides the huge acreage that we played Army in, the base camp proper consisted of five or six dirt ‘streets’ of tents laid out in parallel rows. At the head was the chow tent which was more like a huge circus canopy, and the classroom building which was a permanent structure. Up the hill to the left was a tiny Base Exchange store, the ‘BX’. As small as it was (the average 7-11 is bigger), it sold all the essentials like uniform parts and beer and long underwear and beer and snack foods and beer. At the other end of the rows of tents was the aforementioned latrine, with seating for plenty, and showers. Each ‘street’ of tents were populated by a class going through the course, a class graduated every week. The course was five weeks long, and the sixth row was for officers. The officers were a mix of brand new ‘butterbars’ (second looies) who were getting their first taste of combat command, and more experienced officers headed overseas who needed refresher training. There were also more senior sergeants in each class (same refresher training – same reason) who were grouped together in a tent or two at one end of your ‘street’.

The tents themselves were fairly big, holding six sets of bunkbeds (three to each side), associated gear for twelve, along with two card tables and folding chairs, and a kerosene stove in the middle. There was a wooden floor underfoot, and a real wooden door at either end of the tent. Add in the electric lighting and it still wasn’t home, but it wasn’t bad.

We settled in that first week, getting to know each other. Things looked like they were going to go smoothly for us, because we didn’t have any obvious assholes in the group. One neighboring tent had already collectively beat the shit out of one of their bunkies because he’d sneak around and try to catch the guys jerking off at night. I couldn’t see the point myself (beating off, not sneaking around), because I was too damn tired and I shared a room with eleven other guys. Live and let live, and don’t rattle the bunk enough to wake me up dammit.

We also met our – I don’t remember his exact title – primary instructor. He was a short skinny guy who was the military equivalent of a yappy little dog. He was constantly in your face, trying to prove how intimidating he was and failing miserably. We nicknamed him “Billy Badass”.

An aside: Being tiny does not automatically render you non-frightening. I spent one memorable (miserable? It was both.) day paying for the sin of laughing out loud while being chewed out by a Technical Instructor in basic training. This little cannonball of a Mexican sergeant, wearing his Smokey-the-Bear hat stood toe to toe with me and screamed at me about the shine on my shoes. Since I was supposed to be staring straight ahead, all I could see of him was the emblem on the front of his hat, the brim at about my lip level hid his face. He yelled at my throat. That wasn’t was got me though, it was when he said this (it helps a lot if you say it out loud):

Your choos! What’s wrong wit chore choos! Dey look like chit! How come your choos look like chit? I want to see a chine on your choos! I want your choos to chine like mee-ors! Do you hear me? Chine like mee-ors!”

I couldn’t help it. That was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, and to this day I can’t help but laugh when I think about it. What happened afterwards was not funny, nor fun. Damn, that sonuvabitch was mean! If you were paying taxes back then, you were getting your money’s worth out of him.

Back to Camp Bullis. By day, we’d bust our asses doing training. After chow, we’d take care of personal business and play Spades until lights out. There was always a game going on (this is where I learned the game), and if you weren’t writing letters or visiting with friends in another tent, you were either playing or bullshitting with the guys that were.

On weekends, we’d make a run to the BX for beer. Usually three or four of us would go and we’d haul cases of it back to the tent. We weren’t alone either, there were plenty of other squads doing the same thing. Then we’d drink beer and play Spades.

On the Friday leading into our third weekend, things started going to hell. We’d gotten real close as a squad, and we were all comfortable joking and messing with each other. After a long day working, we quickly got cleaned up and fed, and the beer run was accomplished. Much drinking was being done, and cards played. When it started to get chilly, it was time to light the stove.

The guy closest to the stove said “uh oh”, which got everyone’s attention. We looked at him, and he was examining the stove. Now these looked like smallish pot-bellied stoves, made out of rusty-colored iron (I’m guessing), and you slid a circular lid on a pivot at the top to light it. At the base was a small valve that you used to turn the flow of kerosene on and off. Someone had forgotten to shut off the kerosene flow this morning when they put out the stove. There was about a two-inch deep lake of fuel in the bottom of this thing.

Only one thing to do. We cut cards, and the loser had to light the stove (you dropped a match into it from the top). The rest of us collected up the beer and stood outside the door to watch.

FWOOF! Well, that was anti-climactic. He closed the lid and we returned to beer and cards. Maybe a half hour later, we started to sweat, because that damn thing was throwing off some heat! We moved the table a little farther away and kept on playing and drinking. By now, we’re all about half lit anyways.

Suddenly the door flies open and the ‘Officer of the Day’ is standing there, wide eyed and hyper as hell. He’s actually just another troop like us, but he gets to wear an ‘OD’ armband and white helmet. His main job is to run for help if the shit really hits the fan. He points to our stove and his lips are moving, but no words come out. It’s glowing that dull cherry red that’s almost subliminal. No wonder we were hot.

He finally points up and then back at the stove, and after a few repetitions we think we’ve got him figured out. We stumble outside in a group and sure enough, the spark arrestor at the top of our stove pipe is shooting flames out of it. No doubt about it, we have to put it out.

OD has a fire extinguisher that he’d brought along, so we cut cards again. Loser plays fireman, the rest of us gather the beer and stand in the street to watch and see what happens. The lid gets slid aside (wire coat hanger tool we’d had) and our friend sticks the nozzle into the hatch and pulls the trigger.

There’s a huge hiss and that’s about it. The fire is out, and it stinks to high heaven as the foam evaporates from the heat. We opened both doors to air the tent out, and wandered around talking to friends (we were celebrities!) for a while.

An hour later we’re back into the cards and beer. It’s still cold outside, so after checking the stove again (about ½” left in the bottom) we once again cut cards. Being conscientious young men, we grabbed the beer and stepped outside. Another FWOOF! and it’s back to the game.

It wasn’t too much longer before the OD was back, this time with a real instructor who read us the riot act. By this time, the last of the excess kerosene was burnt off and the stove became nothing more than a heater again. The flames stopped coming out of the chimney, and it wasn’t hot enough to use as a crematoria.

Later that night, we all gathered around and watched as an officer tent burnt half to the ground. Great merriment was had as we realized that even drunk we weren’t as dumb as they were sober.

So ended Friday, and our weekend was just beginning.

Posted by Ted at 01:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

Air Force Blue (part 3)

Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Camp Bullis was an interesting environment all right. It was more Army than Air Force, with luxurious 12-man tents and eating C-rations and hot meals served in your mess kit instead of on plates. Not to mention the community latrine, where you and twenty of your closest friends could all perform your morning sit down together, sans stalls or walls or any semblance of privacy. It was like Boy Scout camp, except we got yelled at a lot and got to play with lots of neat things that went boom and ka-pow!

We were there to learn Air Base Ground Defense, which was cool because the Air Force believes that the best defense is a good offense. Most people don't realize that the Air Force Security Police (SP's) were collectively one of the most effective and efficient units in Vietnam. They didn't get that by sitting inside the perimeter fence and waiting for the bad guys, the SP's went out and found the bad guys first. We were being taught the agressive techniques that were learned by hard experience in southeast asia. We learned to set up ambushes of various types, long-range patrol, map reading and basic artillery spotting. The ways of camouflage, cover and concealment, and search techniques for areas, buildings, and persons. We learned how to shoot well with a variety of weapons in a variety of positions and situations - both right and left handed. Combined with plenty of classroom time on theory and tactics, it was pretty intense.

Among the most vivid memories I have of Camp Bullis is the morning ritual of attaching the blank suppressors. This was before the neat little laser-tag type simulators, where if you get 'hit' you beep (the link goes to a nifty page describing the system and other simulation aids). Back in the late 70's we used a little red metal box that screwed over your M16 flash suppressor, and 'judges' pointed out who was dead or alive during firefights.

The agressors (instructors) never seemed to die, and those bastards had ground burst simulators (on the link, scroll down to see figure 5-5, right above the M-80's which seem puny in comparison). The M115A2 was thrown around to simulate grenades and mortar fire. The instructors would pull a cord to light the fuse and throw it, and before it exploded the simulator gave this piercing whistle. And these weren't harmless either, they packed a punch when they went off. Nothing was scarier than setting up in the perfect camouflaged position, face painted in black and greens, and during the confusion of the ambush an instructor didn't see you there and tossed one of them directly at you (they supposedly weren't trying to kill you). Your ears would be ringing for a while, and I swear the concussion would lift you off the ground a little bit - probably not, but it seemed like it.

Since it was just training, we were constantly reminded to pay attention to where we dropped. In combat, you stop and drop instantly. In training, you took a quick split-second to make sure you weren't falling onto a pile of rocks containing a snake, scorpion, or centipede. Getting bit or stung by any of these little beasties was cause for disciplinary action, on top of hurting like hell for some time.

And then of course, there were the C-rations, affectionately known as C-rats. Despite the horror stories, and I have a few of my own, they really weren't that bad. It was a little disconcerting though, opening and eating a can of apricots that had been packed the year before you were born. I've had MRE's too, and for my money, C-rats were way better. Well, except for the scrambled eggs or the 'ham and muthers' (lima beans), and the only way to deal with them was to give them to the truly disturbed individual in your unit who actually liked them. There was always one.

How many vets carried the legendary P38 (aka 'John Wayne') can opener on your keychain? I did for years, wrapped in a piece of masking tape, and still wore many a hole in pants pockets.

Chris Hall not-so-fondly remembered chukka boots in my comments. These low-cut abominations were probably the worst footwear ever designed, and very few people wore them, let alone liked them. These were the first thing everyone ditched first chance you got.

Also remembering basic, do you remember the dreaded 'herpes folliculitis' lecture and shaving waivers? We had one poor guy in basic who had the worst acne I've ever seen in my life, and every time he shaved his shirt would just become a blood-soaked mess. They finally got him a shaving waiver. Poor guy desperately wanted to be in the military too. I don't recall what happened to him, but every morning we were convinced he was going to bleed to death right there in front of the mirror.

Posted by Ted at 06:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2003

Small town in the big city

All right, 'big city' is kind of a misnomer. I live in the burbs, one of those areas that started as a small town and grew up and filled in to become part of the endless sprawl around metro areas. Even so, if you look carefully you can still find the small town it used to be. I was reminded of that tuesday.

We live in a townhouse that's almost 40 years old, so when something breaks we have two options. Option one is replacing the item, which means heading out to HardwareChain to buy a new one. Option two is repairing the item, in which case I head to our local old-timey hardware store. I could spend hours there, browsing and talking to the employees, many of whom have been there for years. They stock all the specific parts for the houses that were built in our area, so if I need a left-threaded twaddle-stomper they probably have it, whereas at the HardwareChain they'd look confused and call the manager, who would tell me that everyone uses right-threaded twaddle-stompers now and I need to buy a whole new thing. Yeah, it costs more at the old-timey place, but I consider it money well spent.

Thanks to the magic of digital cameras, I didn't have to dismantle the entire bathroom fixture and take it with me. I went in and met Roy (who probably did the original plumbing at Montecello), and we started looking for the needed replacement parts. We found them, I paid and headed home.

Wrong parts. Looked the same as the picture, but the internals were completely different once disassembled. So I headed back to the hardware store, this time with the original in hand.

My blood went cold when Roy looked at the part and said "I've never seen anything like this before." In my mind I'm hearing cha-chings and wondering how much a complete replacement is going to cost. Then Roy tells me to call Carter's Plumbing and see if they sell this brand of stuff, if so they're worth checking with first.

He also told me to take the incorrect part to the register and just tell them that 'Roy said to accept it' and they did - refunding my money with no problems on a package already opened, just because Roy said so.

Back home again, I looked up Carter's and gave them a call. First things first, yes they do carry that brand, and second, "where are you located?" I knew the general vicinity, and it was one of those streets that progress bypasses, close to everything, but unnoticed smack in between major roads and shopping centers.

I found the place with no problem and walked in. Obviously a family business, because the girl behind the register would've been in high school on non-holiday tuesdays. When I mentioned what I was looking for she went back and got her mom.

Mom looked at the part and immediately knew who made it, what it was for and how it worked. She also knew that Roy had mis-identified the manufacturer and showed me why, comparing it to a similar item. Lo and behold - they had two hanging on the wall. Maybe the last two on earth, because the company went out of business some time ago. I bought 'em both. She even showed me how to fix them, laughing that she shouldn't do that because it was probably costing her a service call.

We talked for about a half-hour about this and that. They've been at that same address for 34 years. She knew Roy, they'd worked together for a long time. And next year when I do a complete remodel on the bathroom, I'll probably call Carter's for at least part of the work, just because they were kind enough to treat me like an individual and a friend and not just another customer.

Posted by Ted at 06:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

I am da bomb!

Almost literally.

Yesterday I needed to take care of some emergency plumbing in the house. One thing you need for that is one of those little propane torches, which is cool, because it's an excuse to buy another toy. :)

I remembered that my father-in-law had given me a torch kit years ago, one that he had owned forever. All it needed was the torch propane tank, and I knew the hardware store had those. So I bought one while I was there getting plumbing parts.

Turns out I didn't need the torch since no copper pipes were involved. So after repairs were complete, I pulled out the torch kit and looked it over. It needed some cleanup, which I did, and it was time to try it out. I went out into the backyard and screwed on the nozzle and attached the whole thing to the tank. At the base of the torch part, near the top of the tank, is a wheel you turn to open and close the tank. So far, so good.

I turned the wheel and heard the hiss of propane. I tried the little scratch-sparker but it wasn't working right, so I reached for plan B, which was my long fireplace lighter. One click of that and *fwoof*, I had torch!

Well, not exactly. The nozzle assembly was so old that it leaked from every crack and crevice and opening, so what I was holding was a giant fireball. I stood there holding this thing while my hand singed, wondering how I could reach into the flames to shut off the propane again. I was holding a pressurized tank of propane that was enveloped in fire. Oh boy.

I threw it. Not far, just about 10 feet into a bare patch of dirt where the garden used to be. I immediately closed the back door, because even a glass door is better than nothing when the damn thing explodes, plus I didn't want the dogs to come out just then. I knew that if I went to call the fire department, it would take way too long. Thank God I had raked leaves a couple of days ago.

Finally I did the only thing I could think of, I got the garden hose (it was right there) and turned the water on full. I didn't know if I could put the torch out, but maybe I could keep the tank cool enough to keep from exploding. I imagined standing there like a fireman for hours, waiting for a neighbor to come out into their back yard or a kid to wander by out back that I could flag down. I wondered how long it would take for the tank to empty.

No worries. After a bit I managed to drown the entire flame. Another minute of spray to cool everything down, and then I turned the propane off, disconnected everything and threw that torch kit in the trash. It wasn't my father-in-law's fault. And now I get to buy a brand new torch. :D

Mmmmm, hardware store...

Posted by Ted at 05:37 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 11, 2003

Air Force Blue (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

Spork wants to hear about me losing my first 341 in basic training. For those who don’t know what he’s talking about, ‘341’ is the form number for a little slip of paper that all trainees are required to carry around and present on demand. They’re used to document minor offences and unmilitary stupidities committed by said winghead. When I went through basic, it was highly recommended that we carry two of them at all times, along with a pen. Not having the 341 or pen was itself punishable. Lose enough 341’s and the TI’s would whack your pee-pee or take away your birthday or something.

Sorry amigo, but I never lost a 341, a fact that I’m rather proud of. Unfortunately, my originals were ruined when a whole bunch of us went into the water during the confidence course. This isn’t to say that I was the perfect little recruit, because I did manage to get confined to the barracks during liberty weekend, as well as having one ‘conversation’ (translation: I got yelled at while I stood at attention) with the section superintendent. I just never did anything trivial enough to warrant a 341.

Instead, I present the continuing story of Airman Basic R T Phipps.

I survived basic training and moved on to the next phase of my training. My selected (not by me) career field was Security Police. Yep, Ted was gonna be a cop. SP’s do important work, and many of them are intelligent and dedicated. I hold all SP’s in high esteem because they do their thankless jobs in extreme conditions.

But to give you an idea of what it takes to be an Air Force Security Policeman, if you can’t make it through ‘cook’ school, they make you a cop. Too dumb to be a truck driver? Cop. I think you get the point. SP’s are the ‘grunts’ of the Air Force – cannon fodder infantry in blue.

So we did cop school, doing classroom work and learning cop things like riot control and search procedures and lots and lots of shooting of weapons (.38 pistol, M16, M204 grenade launcher and M60 machine gun), as well as more military things like the UCMJ. This part of training happened at the same base as basic training: Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.

Part two of cop training was conducted at Camp Bullis, located in the hills overlooking San Antone. From civilization to Boy Scout camp - with automatic weapons. We lived in 12 man tents and ate C-rations and tromped through the hills and learned the skills called Air Base Ground Defense. More about that in another story.

To celebrate something (probably Friday), a whole bunch of us took the bus back to Lackland for an evening of drinking and hellraising. Once there, we went to a bar that someone knew of right outside one of the gates, and we settled in. I don’t remember much of the time at the bar, except for much flirting with the waitress and an unknown number of pitchers of beer.

This was my first real drunk. I’d been buzzed before, but remember I had turned 18 years old not long before this in basic training, so my opportunities had been limited.

I remember having some vague plan about spending the night on base in our old cop barracks, because the bus back to Camp Bullis didn’t run until the following day. I also remember leaving the bar with my buddies, and all of us staggering across an empty field (parade ground? football field?), falling-down drunk and singing loudly, all the while holding hands so nobody got lost.

I got lost.

At one point that night, I got pulled over by the base police. No surprise, since I could barely stay on the sidewalk, let alone walk a straight line. They asked to see my ID card, and after a minute of trying to figure out how my wallet worked, I just handed them the wallet and told them to pull it out themselves. No go. Another minute or two and I got it figured out and my ID card was handed over. One of the cops was a female, and she told me that there had been a rape (or rapes?) on base. I asked if she was accusing me or worried about me, which I thought was funny as hell. They asked where I was going and I told them I had a room that I was headed for, just down the road. They told me to be careful and drove off. I had no idea where I was nor where my room was.

I woke up under a tree next to the base swimming pool. The sun was up, and my eyes opened. I looked up into the branches of a tree, and I was lying on grass. Just realizing this much felt like a victory.

Some time later, it may have been minutes or weeks, I sat up and took stock. Alive? Check. Dressed? Check, sorta. I was in baby step mode. First things first, where were my shoes and socks? Looking around I realized that my glasses were gone. Shit. At least my jacket was there, I’d been using it as a pillow.

Under another tree I found my shoes, neatly placed side by side, with my socks stuffed inside. A third tree must have been my designated closet, because here I found the contents of my pockets including my wallet, a bag from the BX with some pictures I’d had developed and picked up the day before, and my glasses, all in a neat and orderly stack.

It took me about an hour to gather everything up and walk the block or two to the bus stop. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so slowly in my life. When I got there, I sat on the bench and took forever trying to put on my shoes. I still had a long wait for the bus, so I decided I should probably get some food. Coffee and breakfast passed in slooooow motion. Back at the bus stop, the other guys showed up and we exchanged stories. Only two guys actually found our room for the night, another guy also slept under the trees. I don’t remember what everyone else did.

I found out later that I’d asked the waitress for a date, and she’d accepted. I had absolutely no recollection of it, in fact I thought the guys were screwing with me. But I called her at work, we talked and I did take her out. We had a good time, but it was just one date.

Camp Bullis turned out to be a very interesting environment.

Posted by Ted at 04:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 03, 2003

Air Force Blue

Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas. San Antonio in August. Hell with an accent.

For some strange reason, our 'flight' of recruits was almost evenly divided between New Yorkers and Californians. There may have been a few other states in there, but not many. The Californians (including yours truly) took one bay of the barracks, and the Noo Yawkahs took the other.

We had arrived on a friday, and official training didn't start until monday, which meant that our TI (training instructor, as opposed to drill instructor) had the whole weekend to fuck with us to his hearts content. And he did.

He began by running our asses ragged all day long. Mostly by announcing fire drills one after another which caused us to hustle down three flights of steps and across the street into a field where we tried to get into some sort of formation, and then we'd take verbal abuse until the TI and his assistants got thirsty from yelling. Then we'd return to our barracks ("Double-time Hollywood! Hup hup!") and do it all over again in 10 minutes. We were hot, sticky, tired and generally pissed off. A little scared too because this neckless dude with the big voice and little smokey-the-bear hat suddenly had supreme power over our lives.

Finally we were told to grab showers before evening chow. As seventy teenagers gratefully (and wearily) stripped down, we heard the TI's voice ring out, making our blood run cold.

"Holy Shit!!! Will you take a look at this?"

Most of us knew better than to look at him, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. We'd learned that much already.

"All of you, strip to your skivvies! Then get to attention at your bunks."

Oh crap, this couldn't be good. He walked over to the other bay to give them the same directions, the east coast boys were being watched over by the assistant TI. We could here whoops and hollers from the two sergeants. We finished undressing and stood there at something resembling attention, wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

I feared another fire drill.

Then the bay was filled with the rest of the flight as the guys from the other bay hurried in, being verbally herded by the TI's. They fell in between us, filling the ranks.

The kid directly across from me was buck naked. The TI called for everyone without underwear to take a step forward (I have no idea how many there were), and he read them the riot act for free-balling it. Many dire warnings about what constituted proper and complete military uniforms were issued, along with a promise of random, frequent checks to ensure compliance.

Next the TI walked down the line and pointed at various people as they walked by. "You... you... no... you... no..." We held our breath and prayed that we weren't singled out. Those selected were told to take a step forward.

Suddenly there were more smokey-the-bear hats in the room. I'm guessing that the assistant TI called the other sergeants up for the fun and games. Six or eight of them I think.

It was a fashion show. Many of the California boys were wearing, uh... unusual underwear. Various bikini styles. We were all reminded that Uncle Sam issued us six pairs of white boxers or briefs, and that's all we'd better be wearing during Basic Training.

As the troops marched up and down the aisle of the barracks, the TI's made comments. Nobody else laughed or even smirked, that was a sure way to catch personalized hell.

Afterwards, assignments were handed out for Flight Leader, Squad Leaders, Guide-on, road guards and so on. These were temporary, and could (and would) be pulled immediately upon screwup. The TI's voted and gave the jobs out based on the best underwear.

I became (temporarily) a squad leader.

Posted by Ted at 03:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

Perfection interupted

Last night was one of those perfect sleeping nights. The window was wide open to hear the slow steady rain. The temperature was chilly enough to appreciate the pile of blankets on the bed, plus the wife cuddled up beside me, not to mention the small fuzzy blanket stealer snuggled in behind my knees. But not so cold as to go into thermal shock when I had to crawl out from under the covers. It was one of those nights when you sleep so well that you feel really good when the alarm goes off, and you don't have any trouble getting up, although you'd really rather stay in bed for another four hours.

Too, too rare.

Posted by Ted at 10:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 25, 2003

A gift from my Uncle Art

My Uncle Art loved baseball, and he passed that passion on to me. He'd take me to the schoolyard and hit grounders and fly balls for hours. On my birthday he'd take me to see the Giants or A's play. He had a small collection of world series games on cassette tapes that he'd made and let me listen to them. I loved going to his place, because he had his own copy of the Unabridged Baseball Encyclopedia, with the stats of every single player ever to play the game.

Once, he took me aside and told me that the next time my family went to visit Grandma and Grandpa (halfway across the country), that I should go look in the old barn. He described a spot on one wall and told me that whatever was there was mine if I wanted.

A year or so later, we made the long trip during the summer. We always drove, stopping in Reno and Cheyanne and Laramie, taking forever to cross the salt flats in Utah, and finally reaching the home stretch around Omaha, Nebraska. Then it was a whirlwind week of visiting Aunts and Uncles and cousins, catching fireflys, playing badminton and shooting BB rifles and playing in the same places my mom and dad did as kids.

One free afternoon I went out to the barn. It wasn't your classic barn structure, although it originally served the same purpose. Over the years it had become a garage and storage shed, and you could almost read the life story of my grandparents by sorting through the antique treasures inside. I opened the big sliding door and went in, picked my way along towards the spot my uncle had told me about, and there, next to a dusty window, I found them.

On the wall were baseball cards, tacked up years before by my uncle, almost like a little shrine to his favorite players and stars of the day. He had told me that if I wanted them that they were mine, and I did want them. But at the same time I kinda wanted to leave them there forever, to not disturb them for another who-knows-how-long, for another young baseball fan to find them and appreciate them. This was long before baseball cards became collectables and kids became investors who knew the difference between 'mint' and 'very good'.

Their value (or potential value) meant even less to the generation before mine. They were for collecting - for fun - and trading and sometimes clipping to your bike frame with a clothespin so they clattered in the spokes of the wheel as you rode along.

I knew most of the names, at least in passing. Harvey Kuenn and Rocky Colavito and Early Wynn, Ken Boyer (brother of Clete) and Carl Furillo and Al Kaline. There were more, eighteen in all.

I carefully took them down, and did the least damage I could doing so. But these cards were nailed up by a kid and the nails were rusty and the cards mere cardboard, so there was damage done. Once, out of curiousity, I showed them to a card collector, and he was actually angry at the condition of the cards. They were worthless, he told me.

He was full of shit.

Maybe to a collector they're worthless, but to me they're priceless. These were a gift from one generation of baseball fan to the next. They were a gift from my uncle, who I loved very much (he passed away, much too young, a few years ago). I appreciate them, not because they're rare or perfect, but because they are.

I'll post a few pictures of these cards in the next few days. I've got them in plastic sleeves, which makes it hard to take a good picture without glare. For now, there's a couple in the extended entry.



Both of these are 1957 Topps.

Posted by Ted at 04:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 19, 2003

Positive ID

You guys are awesome! Victor commented about being called ‘sir’ the very first time, at the Bull and Finch in Boston (the television show ‘Cheers’ was based on this bar, but it really didn’t look anything like it). Truly inspirational, and it reminds me of another story. Like the druid tale, it meanders a bit, so once again I ask your indulgence...

In 1978, the legal drinking age in North Dakota was 18. The legal drinking age in Minnesota was 21. This wasn’t a problem as long as I stayed on my side of the state line. It became a problem because the best bars were on the Minnesota side of the line. In Grand Forks, North Dakota you had the Mr. Spud disco and that was about it. In East Grand Forks, Minnesota there were several nicer non-disco places to drink and meet girls. ‘Nicer’ is a relative term here, because it's not the cultural center of the universe. The NoDaks weren’t too fond of us basers either.

I was an Air Force Security Policeman, and as the old military saying goes, “young, dumb, and full of cum”. Definite emphasis on ‘dumb’, although the others certainly applied. Knowing that I’d get carded across the river, I needed some form of identification that would pass muster. I don’t remember exactly when I got the idea, but less than a minute’s work with an x-acto knife, and the date of birth on my California drivers license changed from 1959 to 1956. Score!

I used my altered license as ID for almost four years without problem, even having to hand it over to a Canadian policeman once when pulled over for speeding in Manitoba. One night my best friend and I went to buy beer, and out of habit I used my drivers license when carded. Things quickly went to hell when the world’s most observant 7-11 clerk detected my handiwork and called the cops. The true bitch of it was that I was 22 by this time and didn’t even think about the license anymore.

Finally the policeman arrived, checked out the license, and invited me to get into his car. He asked me if I worked at the base (as if the haircut didn’t give it away). “Yeah,” I replied.

“What do you do at the base?”

Head hanging low, “I’m a cop.”

“Do you know Sgt. Thomas?”

I was a little puzzled by this question, but I admitted that yes, I knew Sgt. Thomas.

“So what do you think he’d say about this?”

Huh? Why would Sgt. Thomas care at all... and it dawned on me that his Sgt. Thomas isn’t the same Sgt. Thomas I knew. Something like one in three people at the base were cops of one type or another, and Thomas isn’t an uncommon name. My answer was obvious.

“He would be very disappointed, officer.”

So I got a stern talking to, and he confiscated my drivers license. That wasn’t a major problem, because I was of legal age and my military ID sufficed. In other words, I didn’t bother to get another license for about 6 months. Then I got orders to report to Mississippi for computer school. Driving across country (in the short direction) without a license wouldn’t do, so I went down and applied for a new North Dakota license. They got a kick out of California boy missing every ‘winter’ question on the test, but I did well enough to pass. Piece of paper in hand, the new license would be coming in the mail in a week or so.

Except it didn’t. I was ok for the trip because of my DMV paper, and I figured that the license was in the mail somewhere catching up to my change of address. One day I got a notice telling me that I could stop by the DMV to get my picture taken, but the appointment was for about a week previous. I wrote back and explained that I was in Mississippi and couldn’t come in for a picture. They sent back a nice letter apologizing for the short notice last time and scheduled me for another picture appointment, this time about a month ahead. It was comical. Once again I wrote back and informed them that I wasn’t going to return to North Dakota. Since I’d already paid for my license, I asked them to refund my money and I’d go ahead and get a Mississippi license.

Two weeks later I got my North Dakota license, and man it was a beauty! Heavily laminated (tamper-proof), there was big bold lettering on the front where the picture would normally be that said ‘VALID WITHOUT PHOTO OR SIGNATURE”. The back had a big banner stating “90 Day Temporary License”, which wasn’t entirely accurate. North Dakota law says that military personnel can use a temporary license until they return to the state to get their permanent version.

I used my 90-day temporary license (without photo or signature) for nine years as valid ID. Most people would do a double-take, but accept it, and very occasionally I would be asked for a second ID, which is when I would produce my military ID card. It took a while to get my new Maryland license when I got out of the military because I no longer had a military ID, and the only things I could show was my North Dakota license and my European drivers license, neither of which had photo or signature. Both valid and perfectly good while managing to be utterly worthless as positive ID.

Back to the Bull and Finch. We were in Boston for a week of training, and we wanted to do some sightseeing, including the ‘Cheers’ bar. When we tried to get in, the bouncer wouldn’t let me enter because I didn’t have a picture on my license, and he wouldn’t accept our Military ID’s as valid. He wanted to see drivers licenses and that was all he’d take (time to make the donuts). We finally raised so much hell at the entrance that nobody could get in or out and they threatened to call the cops. I wanted that too, until the manager came out and pulled the bouncer’s head out of his ass.

The bar was a huge letdown. Sgt. Thomas would have been very disappointed.

Posted by Ted at 08:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 14, 2003

Silver sickles and Mistletoe

The flea talks about the Salisbury plain, home of Stonehenge, Avebury and other ancient wonders. I’ve had a fascination with this area ever since discovering a copy of Stonehenge Decoded on my uncle’s bookshelf as a youngster. Too young to understand most of it at first, I could nevertheless sense the romantic mystery of the region. Over the years, I read and reread that book countless times, and checked out everything I could find on Stonehenge in the library.

Common knowledge holds that the druids were the builders of Stonehenge, who held blood soaked rituals involving human sacrifice on the site. As usual, common knowledge has it completely wrong.

Stonehenge as we know it is merely the remnants of a construction that evolved over a long period of time, and was added to, subtracted from, and heavily modified by various peoples along the way. Although the best known of the features in that region today, the entire Salisbury plain is positively littered with archeological treasures and mysteries.

As for the druids, they weren’t so much a civilization as a sort of combination civil service and learned class, performing functions as healers, spiritual guides, accountants and judges. There is absolutely no evidence that they performed human sacrifice. Stonehenge also predates the druids by several centuries.

My long interest in Stonehenge led to my ‘fifteen minutes of fame’, and since the story also involves Halloween, it seems a good time to tell the tale. It requires some setup and meanders a little along the way, so bear with me.

In the late seventies, I was stationed in Grand Forks, North Dakota, serving as an Air Force Security Policeman. The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, and rumors were running wild that Uncle Sam was going to get involved. After work one day a clipboard was handed around and we were told to list our personal information for dog tags. Name, serial number, date of birth, blood type, and the last column listed “BAP” by the first several guys to fill out the roster. Thinking it meant ‘baptized’, I just put the little ditto marks under the ones above and forgot about it.

When the dog tags arrived, I learned that my religion was listed as Baptist (you saw that coming, didn’t you?). Any inaccuracies were to be reported, so I told my Sergeant that they had the religion wrong. I didn’t tell him that I was an idiot. When he asked what religion I wanted listed, I told him ‘nothing’. He asked me to reconsider, his reasoning being that having a religion listed could conceivably be a good thing if worse came to worse. I didn’t agree, but not wanting to argue the point I told the sergeant to put down the first thing that came to my mind - druid.

It became a pretty good conversation starter, being an official druid. Official, as far as Uncle Sam was concerned. Over the next several years, I would get the occasional survey form (this was the early days of ‘diversity awareness’), apparently looking for the druid viewpoint on issues. I assume Devil worshippers, Wiccans, animists and other pagans all got the same mailings. Since I wore the tag, I did some reading and learned a bit about what druidry was and is.

My next assignment was Montgomery, Alabama – heart of the Bible (thumping) Belt. I’d since acquired cross-training into the computer career field and a wife (I still have both as a matter of fact). Working at my desk one October morning, I was listening to a local radio station where the DJ was taking callers, most of who were rabidly anti-Halloween because of its ‘devil worshipping’ connotations.

Finally one caller managed to push my buttons. Among the yadda yadda about paganism and Halloween, he claimed that Great Britain was collectively going to hell because they weren’t Christian (read ‘Baptist’) and that Druids sacrificed humans at Stonehenge.

I called the radio station and talked to the DJ. Not a local boy, he was loving the nuts calling in for their comedic value. I gave him my rebuttal about druids and Stonehenge, and he asked me if I would go on air with it. I agreed and did my thing, staying on the line afterwards at the request of the DJ. Talk about stuff hitting the fan! For the next two hours, I became a most inexpert on-air expert, arguing my points after every four of five callers screaming for my sacrilegious hide. Eventually word got around at work that I was on the radio, and people started coming by to see me. When my commander dropped in, I wrapped it up and got back to work.

I consider myself a lapsed druid nowadays.

Posted by Ted at 05:35 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Spider update

I've added a couple of pictures in the extended entry to "Sometimes words just aren't enough".

Posted by Ted at 01:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Sometimes words just aren't enough

(Serenity - warning, paooki story)

This morning we did fall cleaning on the bedrooms, and all the pillows and bed linens and rugs were hauled downstairs for washing, which is my job.

Mookie came upstairs at one point and mentioned a "big ol' giant" spider hanging from the ceiling in the basement. I was busy doing something at the time and it didn't really register.

I made a couple of trips downstairs to rotate the washer and dryer without even thinking about the "big ol' giant" spider. Then, coming out of the basement with a stack of folded blankets, I finally saw Mookie's spider. I almost swallowed my tongue and dropped the laundry when I noticed it, because it was indeed hanging from the ceiling. Specifically, it was sitting in the middle of a web about two feet across stretched between a chair and the ceiling, about four feet off the floor.

I've admitted that I'm extremely arachnophobic, and Mookie is probably almost as bad. That's why I'm impressed with her description of "big ol' giant" spider, which showed great restraint and maturity. In contrast, my description was loud, obscene, contained many more words (several which rhymed somewhat with 'truck') and was accompanied by a cry of fright. Yeah, I screamed like a girl.

Let me describe the spider. This wasn't one of those bulky hairy things that look like an overdeveloped weightlifter denizen of spider-hell. Nope, this was one of those alien hard-shelled beasties with little a huge bloated abdomen and long slender legs. Did I mention that this paook's body was an inch across, and the legs added another inch all around. This was one huge freaking spider!

Ok, now I'm bigger, smarter, and in my instant adrenalin rush (flee or fight) I realize that I have access to a basement full of household chemicals. After making sure that the spider wasn't going anywhere, I retreated to find something that the military would describe as 'nerve-agent, aerosol'.

Selecting a nice spray can of gloss-coat (he died, but had a beautiful finish - old joke) and a piece of cardboard to catch the overspray, I sealed that paook with a nice long burst. Then I reversed the cardboard and spraycan and did his other side, just for good measure. The spider curled up a little bit and tried to retreat but was rather quickly overcome. Because of the glossy spray, I could see just how extensive (and beautiful) the web really was. I went for a broom and swept up the web and spider, and took it out back to get rid of it.

I wasn't ready for the little ReAnimator moment that came next. This spider came back to life and scrambled up the fence, startling me all over again. Then it crawled into a crack and disappeared. I gave the crack a shot of clearcoat, more for myself than for him.

Update: The extended entry now has two pictures of the paook taken before I sprayed it. I wasn't sure if they would come out, so I didn't mention them before. The first is a closeup, the second is farther away to give some context to the size of it and its web (the paooki is just low right of center, the web stretches beyond the top of the picture if you look closely).

Hug me, I'm cute!

rhymes with truck

Posted by Ted at 05:12 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 03, 2003

Friday Drinking Stories

Bill, Paul, BlackFive and others have been talking about drinking stories. Thanks for the inspiration guys, here’s my take on it.

Got a favorite drinking game? Quarters comes immediately to mind for a lot of people, and there was a board game whose name I’ve forgotten. It was in a bright pink Monopoly-sized box, and it seems that everyone bought it at Spencers in the mall.

Then there were the group participation games, keyed to a television show or movie. A local favorite was Chug Boat, where each player took a Love Boat character and each time your character appeared on screen you took a drink of your beer. When three or more characters appeared together, those players had to chug the remainder of their beers, and when the whole crew showed up together, everyone chugged a full beer. A variation was "Oh, Bob" using the Bob Newhart Show.

For those living at 78rpm in a 33 1/3 world, try the same game watching the movie Clue.

Nothing like a game of Guts Checkers to get roasted in a hurry. Each checker is a shot glass, dark liquor on one side, light on the other. Twelve shots if you clear the board. Being a wuss (highly recommended) meant you used mixed drinks instead of straight shots. This had the advantage of letting you play more than one game before the world went away. Screwdrivers vs. Vodka Sevens works well, but any contrasting drinks will do.

Feeling cerebral? Try Shot Glass Chess. Many suggested variations too.

Up in the Great White North, where winter runs from September to June, drinking is practiced often and continuously. The drinking game of choice is Chug Hockey, played with a deck of cards. Chug Hockey is the penultimate drinking game because it’s simple and quick playing. Hands last all of about, oh, thirty seconds, and the loser of a hand immediately downs a shot. Two people will get thoroughly trashed in twenty minutes on as little as two six-packs, and have fun doing it.

Here’s the rules. Deal three cards to each player, stack the rest of the deck in the middle of the table. Turn over the first card from the stack. Players take turns laying down their cards and add the numbers to the total. So, for instance, a five is showing and you lay down a seven, you call ‘twelve’. The next player lays down a queen, calling ‘twenty two’, and so on. You take another card from the stack so that you always have three cards in your hand (and if you forget, oh well). The idea is to stay under 99. Simple, eh? Suits don’t matter, and aces are ‘1’. There are a few special cards. A ‘4’ reverses the order of who plays. A ‘9’ is a free card and doesn’t add to the total. A ‘10’ subtracts ten from the total. And finally, the King means the total is automatically 99. That’s it!

If more than two people are playing you can go quite a while without having to drink, which occasionally leads you to intentionally losing just so you can wet your whistle. It also leads into a drinking story.

My wife and I once had the best babysitter in the world. One night we had a party at our place, and our babysitter was invited to, well, babysit while the adults partied. She brought along her new boyfriend, a young military kid full of attitude and the ability to make people immediately dislike him.

We decided to play some Chug Hockey. There were eight of us sitting around the table to play, including boyfriend. We explained the rules and he understood them soon enough. It’s wasn’t long before the babysitter came in and saw what was going on. She just rolled her eyes and walked back out, because we’d already told her that her boyfriend was a dick, and she knew what was coming.

It didn’t take long before he was buzzed enough to be distracted (here, have another shot). A short time later we were stacking the deck right in front of him before we dealt (wow, another shot for loser boy). When he was almost comatose, we decided to add insult to injury and played three hands in a row where the loser had to eat a raw egg. Wanna guess who got ‘em all? When he passed out, we dragged him outside and let him sleep it off on the grass. We had a great babysitter, but she had lousy taste in boyfriends.

Posted by Ted at 08:38 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 28, 2003

Losing a limb

I was the first one home friday, so I went out to clean up the backyard. I had just finished raking leaves when Mookie got home from school, so I had her throw something into the oven for dinner. Meanwhile I was checking out the tomato plants. It's been a real disappointing year for tomatoes, but we've got several little ones started. This late into the season, what these guys need is plenty of sunlight. One thing our backyard doesn't have is plenty of sunlight.

I'd been putting it off, but I was on a roll so I decided to to take down a big limb in the maple tree to open up the yard to late afternoon light. There are only two problems. First, this limb was waaaay up there, and second, it hung over the fence into the neighbors yard. I could care less about the neighbors yard, but I did not want to drop this massive limb on the fence that I paid for.

Mookie was in her room which looks out over the back yard, so I moved under her window to holler up and noticed a humongous spider seemingly hanging in mid-air right outside her window. Perfect. [evil grin]

Rachael poked her head out the window when I yelled and I asked her to come down and give me a hand. As an afterthought I told her to look to her left and she almost decapitated herself pulling her head back inside. Down below I'm laughing like a madman.

Together we moved the bench swing out from underneath the limb. I pulled out my 'high limb cutter'. What this is is a chainsaw blade strung between two long pieces of rope. You toss the rope over the limb, use the ropes to position the blade to cut, and then pull back and forth on the ropes to saw through the limb. Simple and effective.

Wonder of wonders, I tossed the rope over the correct limb on the very first try. Mookie is impressed. Now I did have a plan in mind, I'm hoping to saw through the limb about 4 feet out from the trunk, and let it splinter off so that it pivots down and misses the fence when it falls. Later I can saw the rest of the limb off cleanly close to the trunk.

Worked like a champ. Sorta. The limb began to break, swung down and missed the fence, but it didn't break completely free. Next I grabbed my pole saw (one of the neatest tools ever invented by man) and started hacking smaller branches off of the limb. Once I've cleared a path for the ropes again (which are still around the limb), I moved into a better position for leverage - and out from underneath - and started to saw away again. In moments the limb fell.

Now up to this point, everything went as planned, which gave me a false sense of competence.

Next comes the classic 'uh oh' moment. The limb dropped vertically, hit the ground and started to fall directly towards me. I'm up against the fence, in between the compost bin and a pile of bricks, so there's nowhere for me to go. In the blink of an eye, the splintered end of the limb crashed to the ground in front of me. How close was it? Lets just say that I'm glad I wasn't aroused. Now it's Mookie's turn to laugh hysterically, and she claims it's cosmic payback for the Paooki prank.

Once my heart started again, we cut up the limb into manageable pieces and finished cleaning up. I don't even like tomatoes.

Posted by Ted at 07:39 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 23, 2003

My Y2K Story

Airplanes falling from the sky, microwaves working at half-power, medical machines going haywire, all civilization crumbles. All because of an event given a catchy little name (that’s what we demand in today’s world). “Year Two Thousand” just doesn’t ring in the ears like “Y2K”. A high-tech abbreviation to describe the real-life situation caused by another (necessary) high-tech abbreviation years before.

For the most part, Y2K was a letdown. Unheralded hundreds of thousands of people worked untold millions of hours to make it so. I was one of those folks, but my Y2K wasn’t quite the non-event that most of us had.

I am a mainframe programmer. I started out by punching IBM cards and stacking them together into ‘program decks’. No, I’m not that old, it’s just that the military is always a little behind the times. Proven technology is preferred over cutting-edge stuff that might not work when you most need it. Thinking about it just now, that punch card technology was still heavily used just 20 years ago.

In 1994, I was working as a civilian consultant to the U.S. Government. My partner and I (we were a two person contract) were discussing the upcoming ‘2000 situation’ and what we would need to worry about to prevent problems with our systems. This was even before the phrase “Y2K” was coined.

One day, we mentioned it to our client (the big boss) and she told us not to worry about it, because our systems were going to be replaced long before 2000. Part of what we get paid for is to anticipate problems and devise possible solutions to things that might not even happen. Knowing that replacing computer systems is a complex job, we weren’t nearly as confident as she was that it would happen before 2000, so we quietly did some preliminary analysis and wrote up some specs and notes.

Two years later, I’m sitting in my office and we get the official word that we have to convert our systems to be ‘Y2K compliant’. By now, the other guy has left for another project, and the staff consists of me, myself, and I.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I lived and breathed Y2K for the next four and a half years. Our systems contain over 2,000 separate programs and our data files maintain almost 10,000,000 (yep, million) records, and it’s all real-time. We – the government folks I worked with and I – busted our asses and got it done ahead of time and under budget.

So I was feeling pretty good about things.

My wife and I didn’t have any plans for December 31, 1999. We were just going to relax at home and have a quiet evening. Sometime after dinner, I mentioned to my wife that it felt like I’d just had a shot of Novocain and that my jaw felt funny. Within an hour, the numbness spread to the whole right side of my face and, after talking to the HMO duty-nurse, we were on the way to the emergency room.

They did a CAT scan, which told us that I hadn’t had a stroke (and that thought had never crossed my mind before that). In fact, the doctor came into the room and announced that ‘they looked at his entire head and didn’t find anything’, which cracked my wife up.

By now the entire right side of my face was paralyzed; can’t blink, can’t move my lips, nothing. The doctor tells me that I’ve got Bell’s Palsy. It’s an inflamation of the cranio-facial nerve (the third, in my case), and they don’t know what causes it. What happens is that the nerve runs through this little tiny tunnel in your skull, and when it gets inflamed, it pinches itself against the bone and gets damaged. They gave me steroids, which medical logic says will help, but they admitted that they almost never do. The nerve grows back ever so gradually, over the course of months.

Other than that, they just taught me some things I needed to be aware of. For instance, because I couldn’t blink my right eye anymore, I had to tape it shut before I went to bed so that it wouldn’t dry out. I had drops I had to put in my eye to keep it moist during the day. I figured out early on that I wasn’t the world’s best dinner partner, because food kept falling out of that side of my mouth. I drooled too. It was actually kind of funny, but I’d never laugh at anyone else who had it.

Probably the worst part was my sense of taste. It’s rare, but y’all know I’m special, so it was inevitable I guess. I completely lost the taste of sweet. Eating a cookie was like eating cardboard. Ranch dressing tasted like rancid buttermilk (to this day I can’t stand it). Think about your favorite foods, and imagine no sweetness at all in the flavor. Not fun.

My recovery was about 85% complete in the next year. Most people can’t even tell, but I can. I still slur the occasional word, and my right eye droops when I get tired. My sense of taste returned, thank God.

We were checking out of the ER that New Years Eve of Y2K, just about an hour before midnight. It suddenly struck me - I did all that work getting my computer systems ready to go, and it turned out that half my face was non-compliant. I told my wife that and laughed like a madman. She threatened to make me walk home.

Posted by Ted at 07:32 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 20, 2003

Quality time

Mookie got grounded today. The details aren't important, suffice it to say that she did a half-assed job on one of her chores, and it caused some problems.

She tends to get moody in these situations, but the wife and I make it a point to get on her case about accepting the consequences and moving on. After dinner we went out back and threw a log into the firepit. The swing is still soaking wet from Isabel so we pulled up chairs and just sat and talked for a couple of hours. School, friends, world events, religion, favorite books, the conversation took some very interesting turns. It was a nice evening.

Posted by Ted at 11:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003


I just wrote a long vitriolic rant about being sick and hating things in general, then deleted it before posting because I just needed to vent. Instead, here's the short version.

Today I'm going to see the dentist again to ask about getting my antibiotics changed. I think whatever infection I have is resistant to Amoxicillin (sp?), because the swelling isn't going down. If anything it's getting worse. I'm starting to have pain in my ear now, which makes me not want to drive in case my inner-ear is affected. It's starting to really annoy me. In addition, I have to have my wife call my client to explain why I'm not coming into work again, and my home office to let them know what's going on. My voice has gotten worse every day; I now sound like a cross between Elmer Fudd and a stuttering Sri Lankan schoolteacher trying to take class attendance. Damn near unintelligable. Oh yeah, Isabel is coming straight towards us again.

Wow. I just rewrote that rant... whattayaknow.

Update (to the update): I talked to my dentist - she answers her own phone! - and she immediately agreed to change my antibiotic and called it in to the pharmacy. My wife will be picking it up before noon. I admit it ladies, we guys would be lost without y'all sometimes. And as soon as I feel better, I'll deny ever saying such a silly thing.

Posted by Ted at 07:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2003

Life Lessons

My aunt passed away yesterday. She battled leukemia for several years, visited with her brothers and sisters within the last month or so, was surrounded by her family, was at peace with the world and ready to go. The only thing she didn’t manage was her very last goal, which was to make it to her next birthday. She and I shared our birthdays. She would have been 87 on Monday.

I just spent a few hours alone out in the backyard. I built a fire and just sat there our swing, thinking and watching the flames.

The last time I had done that was with my best friend Paul. We’re closer than brothers; he was best man at my wedding, and we’re godfather to each other’s sons. And yet as alike as we are, we’ve led two totally different lives. I got married and settled down, while he just kept running full speed at life. We’ve talked about it, and we’re both a little jealous of the other sometimes. Paul has seen the Taj Mahal, and slept under the Eiffel Tower, and spent time living in the Ukraine and the Philippines. His first wife was killed in an auto accident, and I was the first person he called. His son, my godson, was killed in another car wreck. He found out by being paged at an airport in Japan as he was making a connecting flight.

Despite it all, he’s still happy. He’s satisfied with his life, even after all the pain he’s endured. He has a wonderful wife and daughter, who calls me Uncle Ted. I love them all, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.

Part of the reason I went out and built a fire was because after reading this idiot, I needed to calm down and regain my composure. To Stump, all I can say is that you are an asshole with no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t act and believe exactly like yourself. You think that the value of life is measured by how long it lasts, and I’m telling you that you are so very wrong. Even after reading that vile piece of hateful garbage you wrote, I hope that you live a long life anyway, since that is apparently all you treasure. If there is one thing that Paul has taught me, it’s that life is too short and too uncertain to hold grudges, especially against a fool like yourself.

Posted by Ted at 10:05 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Young and impressionable

“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“That’s how Jean Luc Picard would order it,” the little yuppie thing gushed.


“Oh,” and I turned back to the counter to pay for my tea.

In that {pause} I’d considered and rejected many responses, including the devastating ‘who?’, which would have gone right over her head, and worse, would have invited her to explain who Jean Luc Picard is. I didn’t think I could've handled it right then, especially carrying a piping hot cup of shut-the-hell-up that I just paid for.

With the wisdom of whatever race is wisest in the universe of Captain Kirk meets Jason and Freddie, she let it go, probably feeling pity for one misguided soul who didn’t share her obvious passion for The Next Generation.

I’ve watched every episode of the original Star Trek, and love them all. Hell, for a while there it was like M*A*S*H; on so many channels that you could usually decide which episode to watch at that moment. I also have a guilty secret – I love reading the Star Trek paperbacks. Sometimes it’s just comforting to pick up a book and not have to work too hard at reading it, because you know what each character is going to do in any given situation.

I’ve seen at least a few episodes of every variation of Star Trek since then, and none ever held my interest like the original series did. Deep Space Nine had promise, but didn’t pan out. I had high hopes for Voyager, but after an episode where they come across an entire planet of supreme hedonists, instead of getting naked and giving her all to save her crew, Captain Janeway feeds their leader pecan pie and turns him down. Pecan freakin’ pie!!! C’mon.

And that points up the reason why no one will ever be as cool as Captain Kirk. He taught an impressionable generation of young men that you can accomplish anything in this universe if you are smart, brave, and horny.

He wasn’t tall. He wasn’t built like Atlas. He wasn’t even that great at following orders. But he solved any situation with his head, with his heart, and with the occasional full spread of photon torpedoes. And he proved that there was plenty of galaxy-class tail out there, just waiting for a human who was smart, brave, and horny.

Look at the main protagonist of The Next Generation: Q. Huh? Ooooo, in one episode he shows up and ruins a wedding between his mother and some other guy. Again, huh? What kind of stupidity is that? When Kirk had to take Spock back to his planet for a wedding, it was because Spock had to get laid or die. How cool is that?

Jean Luc Picard is Colin Powell. He wants to talk everything over. He needs his ‘councilor’ to tell him how he feels. Kirk is the 82nd Airborne Division. He drops on you like a ton of bricks, kicks your ass with massive firepower, and you can bet that none of your women are safe when he’s around.

I still drink Earl Grey tea. Been drinking it for years. I like to think that somewhere, somehow, Gene Roddenberry was standing in line behind me when I ordered a cup. He took my simple preference and added that genius that was his and came up with “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” Then he completely ruined it by giving the line to that patina-pated uber-wussy Picard.

I drank it first, dammit.

Posted by Ted at 10:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 04, 2003

All God’s Creatures

A few days ago I wrote about finding some newborn residents in the space under my backyard shed. I did say that it was going to bother me, and it has.

In an effort to score some cosmic karma points, I’ll tell you about some other encounters I’ve had with local fauna.

About three years ago we had a bat get into the house somehow. It finally flew into our bedroom, and I closed the door on it while sending the girls into the basement to fetch badminton racquets. No, I wasn’t planning to half-volley the terrified (and terrifying) little beastie into a wall, I wanted something I could catch it with. Armed with racquets, we entered the room and proceeded to poke around behind curtains and furniture trying to find his hiding place. Oldest daughter indicated that she’d spotted him by screaming at the top of her lungs in a most helpful way (Karen Kinmont eat your heart out), and eventually the bat landed on the carpet. At this point I placed the racquet gently over the top of the bat, and then with even more care I slipped the other racquet under him, sandwiching him between the two sets of strings. This gave us a chance to take a close look at our visitor, before taking him outside and releasing him. I hope he lived a long and happy life, eating his weight in insects each night.

Now the rest of these stories need some background. We live in a townhouse, and for several years the house next door has been owned by what can only be called a slumlord. The backyard was overgrown with weeds and trash, and the single mom who rented it was nice enough, but never went into the backyard, nor did she allow her kids back there (wisely I might add). With her permission, twice a year I would toss a few rat-baits over the fence into her yard to keep the rodent population down. She wouldn’t do it, and her landlord certainly wouldn’t do it. Even so, we’d spot an occasional mouse coming through the fence between our yards, usually to snack on birdseed at the base of our feeder. My response was more rat-bait.

Last fall, I was in the downstairs and heard some rustling sounds in the room. We had had a problem earlier in the year where squirrels discovered our birdseed stash and decided to help themselves. To prevent that, the birdseed is now kept in a plastic bin with a locking lid. I figured that the squirrels were back, looking for a meal. I never saw any evidence of unwanted guests, but kept hearing that rustling sound on occasion over the next day or two. One day one of our dogs was downstairs and started ‘hunting’. That was it, we were going to get rid of the visitor. I placed the girls – once again armed with racquets – at the foot of the stairs leading up to the main floor, and in the doorway to the rest of the basement. Next I opened wide the back door (walk-out basement). I started moving furniture, and looking through boxes until I found it. It was a rat who had decided to nest in a box of sewing fabric that my wife had. The side of the cardboard box was chewed through, and this rat was turning it into a comfy little home. Not a cute little field mouse from the meadow behind the house, but a rat. It immediately made a beeline for the door and ran out and under the fence next door. Obviously it had come through the doggie door, and had no fear of our dogs. The only thing I could think of to do was to close the doggie door off and toss more rat-bait over the fence.

For the next couple of evenings, I’d look out the back door glass and this little bastard would be sniffing at the door, looking for a way back inside. He’d run off when he saw me, and I just didn’t know what else to do. I was waiting for him to die from eating the rat-bait, because it can take several days. I don’t know if he ever did or not, but we’ve not had that problem this year, and the doggie door is open again.

One huge improvement was our new neighbors. They have kids, and wanted to reclaim the backyard. Early this spring they started hauling the crap and junk out of their yard. I pulled on my gloves and pitched in, because it could only help the situation. At one point, we were moving a pile of lumber, and I stopped everyone to point out a copperhead snake we’d uncovered. Mom was freaking out, and the boys thought it was cool (they didn’t know it was poisonous). I went to my place and got a bucket and a hockey stick. The snake was pretty groggy from the coolness of the season, so I pushed it into the bucket with no problems and we took it down to the creek to release it.

They’ve really kept their backyard nice since then, especially when I told mom that the snakes loved the tall grass in the yards. Another time I had to go over there because they’d found a common garden snake under a wheelbarrow, and her son was trying to kill it with an axe. I was afraid the kid was going to kill himself swinging that stupid thing, so once again I grabbed my trusty bucket and hockey stick. It was full summer, and this snake was active and pissed off. He was striking at my hockey stick, doing his damndest to bite and refusing to get into the bucket. I eventually managed to steer him towards the gate, and he slithered off into the meadow.

I’ve also rescued a bird or two in distress. We keep a feeder full of seed year round, and have a couple of birdbaths full of fresh water. Several years ago, I had to remove the tree limb where our birdhouse hung. The birdhouse was pretty cool, because the kids and I built it using two sides of clear plexiglass and you could watch what was happening inside (the birds are ok with this). After an unfortunate incident where I waited too long to clean out the previous years’ nest and accidentally destroyed two newly laid eggs inside, the birdhouse was ever after referred to as the “birdhouse of doom”. The girls really know how to rub it in.

So basically I have a clear conscience about those newborn rodents, because I have a pretty good record when it comes to the animals I share this neighborhood with. Yes, what I did bothered me, but it was the right thing to do, if not the quickest way. I couldn’t bring myself to end it quickly, preferring the cowards way of ‘letting nature take its course’.

Posted by Ted at 07:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 29, 2003

Just like people

Jeff of Alphecca fame has written an amazing post about his pets. After reading that, I’m inspired to write about some cats I used to know.

We’re not cat people, although we did own a cat once, for about a month. She was a declawed stray that we picked up at the shelter. The whole family sat around the table discussing names, but we couldn’t reach a consensus so I finally just opened the newspaper and put my finger down at random. Our new pet was named Porsche.

I wound up taking Porsche back to the shelter, and happily she spent all of four hours there before another family adopted her. I know this because I talked to her new owners on the phone while they decided to adopt her. She was a good cat, it just wasn’t a good match with our family.

I like other people’s cats. My best friend Paul grew up on a farm, and always had cats and dogs (emphasis on the plural) of each. I’m going to tell you about two of his cats who were among the most unique souls I’ve ever met in this life.

His name was Slick. He was a big damn cat, and solid as a rock. His fur was that odd orange color that some cats wear. Slick barely had any ears, he'd been found as a kitten suffering severe frostbite, and the fleshy part turned black and mostly fell off. Slick also had an enormous head. Considering everything, this was one weird looking cat. But Slick was more than just a pretty face, he was that proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Slick would go out and wouldn’t come back for days. When he did show up at the door, he’d be covered with blood, sometimes his own. Scratches, gouges and chunks of flesh missing from his ornery hide were the usual. Once he came home with a broken front leg.

And that’s where the gentle side of Slick shone through. Paul’s little girl wasn’t walking yet, but could sure get around crawling. One day as Slick was nursing his battered body, just lazing around the house, that little girl crawled up to him, coo’d and petted him, and then grabbed hold of that broken leg. Slick stood up and gingerly retrieved his limb, then calmly limped behind the couch so he was out of reach. No hissing, no screeching or scratching. I can’t imagine what it felt like, but Slick knew that the baby didn’t mean to hurt him.

Slick had one other endearing trait, something I’ve never seen in another cat. Slick loved to be scratched, it made him purr like an outboard motor. And when Slick purred, he drooled. Remember, this was a big cat, so when I say he drooled, I mean he droooooled. Disgusting. Like I said, endearing.

The other cat I remember never grew up. I mean, it was a freakin’ midget cat! I don’t even recall it’s name, but this little sonuvabitch was the most gleefully evil little beast to ever stalk the earth. When you were at Paul’s house, you always checked the curtains before you sat on the couch, because this mini-satan would sit on top of the valence and wait for his next victim. Some poor fool who forgot to check – or didn’t know, which was even better – would sit on the couch, and within seconds a spitting, clawing fuzzball would drop down on top of said victim. The rest of us would laugh our asses off while watching the cat scramble back up the curtains to wait for his next chance. God, that cat could be mean.

Two memorable cats, and one I barely got to know. One of these days, I’ll tell you about my dogs...

Posted by Ted at 07:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

No real point to this

Today I’m taking my traditional half-day off. I’ve taken leave on the afternoon of every 3-day weekend Friday for almost 15 years now. I don’t even have to mention it anymore, the people here just automatically put it into their schedules. I do this for one simple reason. Traffic. I hate holiday traffic with a passion, and like any major metropolitan area, this one is a choke point for all the traffic headed north and south along the eastern seaboard. I call ‘em foreigners, all these travelers with the funny license plates who don’t know how to drive in rush-hour traffic. It makes me crazy because they all want to ride in the middle lane and leave car-lengths worth of space in front of them in bumper-to-bumper traffic and they don’t know how to use a merge lane properly and they refuse to believe that the next exit is on the left side of the interstate until the last minute even though every sign for the last 5 miles has said so.

There. All better now.

Posted by Ted at 07:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2003

Bobby Bonds

Ok, I'm doing this from memory, so if I get something wrong...

Bobby Bonds in left, Willie Mays in center, Jim Ray Hart in right field.

Willie McCovey at first (Orlando Cepeda had been traded to the Cardinals a couple of years before), Tito Fuentes playing his rookie season at second, Hal Lanier at shortstop, and Ron Hunt - king of hit-by-pitch - at third.

Dick Dietz behind the plate. He had one spectacular year, but this one isn't it. He's only an average catcher. On the mound is Juan Marachal, Gaylord Perry, and in relief is ancient Don McMahon. The 'closer' doesn't exist yet.

In those days, I live and breathe Giants baseball. I loathe the Dodgers. American league? Ha, might as well be double-A, for all I care about them. Except for a mild interest in the A's in Oakland. I'm an avid collector of baseball cards, and my uncle taught me a game he made up using dice and baseball cards, like an early low-tech rotisserie league. I'm a stat-junkie, back before every waking moment of a players life became statisticized. Imagine my surprise years later when I come back from overseas and discover that these little rectangles of cardboard are worth big money! "Hello mom? What did you ever do with my old baseball cards? Really? Would you send them to me? Thanks!" I went to just one card show, and the family had a very nice dinner one evening thanks to a Reggie Jackson rookie card in 'good' condition.

On my birthday, my uncle takes me to see the Giants or the A's, depending on who's in town. We usually go two or three times a year, and the ultimate was a double-header at Candlestick under the lights. Cold as hell, and eating ballpark hotdogs (before Candlestick concessionaires got weird with the menu's).

Closer to home, we usually saw one or two minor league games a year with the Cub Scouts. The local team is the San Jose Bees. Kansas City Royals single-A farm team I think. They used to hold promotions like the fastest guy on the team racing a horse or something.

Closest to home, we played baseball constantly in season. My hero - always and forever - is Willie Mays. I wasn't fast enough to play center. Hell, to be honest I sucked as an outfielder. Not enough arm for pitcher (good control, lousy velocity), but good enough at third or first base. So I usually played second base. I always thought playing catcher would be cool, except that catcher was where you put the kid who was picked last. Like right field, except if you didn't have enough players for two teams you played 'no right field' and you were out if you hit the ball into right.

As a hitter, I had no real power, but I could hit to the opposite field when the situation called for it. Which was usually good for extra bases because of the normal quality of our pickup-game right fielders. I was also the best bunter in the neighborhood, which did me no good at all because I was too slow to take advantage of it.

To my horror, it turned out that I was one helluva fast-pitch softball pitcher. Now in those days, softball was what you played in PE because they wouldn't let you play 'real' baseball. Girls played softball for chrissake!

Everyone had their own glove and bat, and the bats were wood. Your favorite bat was always owned by someone else. All was right in the world when dad would take you out to buy a new glove. You'd been griping for month that your old glove was shot. You'd been saving every cent you had to help pay for it, not because your limited income allowed you to contribute any real money, but to show your sincerity. And when you get to the store, the baseball glove aisle stretches for miles and you spent an hour in heaven trying on glove after glove. Finally you decided on two, the one you couldn't afford (hope springs eternal) and the glove you could settle for. You also bought a brand new baseball. Your old one would be ruined because you'd heavily oil your glove and then tuck the ball into the pocket and slip it between the mattresses on your bed. This is how you broke it in. Your hands ached all day from constantly massaging the stiff leather, and you'd sleep on and around this uncomfortable lump in your bed. You wore that glove everywhere, playing catch with yourself if no one else was around. Your friends all ooohd and aaahd over your new glove. Your hand smelled like sweat and leather and glove oil for weeks. Painstakingly, carefully writing your name on your new glove, so that no one would rip it off. Your name would become part of the glove forever, so getting it right was critical. Laughing your ass off when someone screwed up their name, like running out of room and having to squeeze the last 's' in all weird.

Baseballs. For some reason, our neighborhood tended towards rubber-coated baseballs. Which were ok, except when they got waterlogged (like from playing on a rain-wet field) became permanently rock-hard. I'm sorry, 'rock-hard' doesn't begin to convey the degree of hardness. If you needed diamond dust, and all you had was your wifes wedding ring, soak a rubber-coated baseball in the sink overnight, then use it to pulverize the diamond. I mean, these things were lethal hard. Regular baseballs were more expensive, but much more highly prized. And of course, your name was prominently written on it. Not some fancy players-autograph style either, you wrote your name in big block letters on the ball. On each leather panel too, so you could see the name no matter how you held it.

I hate what baseball has become. But I loved it then, and when I think of baseball today, I tend to remember it that way, back in the sixties. Watching Bobby Bonds and the Say Hey Kid. That impossibly high leg kick that Marachal did each and every windup - that none of us could ever duplicate, though lord knows we all tried. Taking your heavy windbreaker to Candlestick, because you knew that when the sun went down it would get cold.

Thank you Bobby Bonds for everything you gave to me as a kid. You had a rich but troubled life and I hope you've found peace. I hope you find also that you were fully and completely appreciated - if by nobody else than at least by a little white kid who so desperately wanted to be a big leaguer, but knew there was never ever a chance. You helped me love the game I could never be great at.

Posted by Ted at 04:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 17, 2003

Bonding With The Boys

Someone posted this story to the rocket newsgroup a few years ago. I have no further information about where it came from or who originally wrote it, but I still laugh every time I read it.

Bonding With The Boys

About 2 weeks ago, I was looking around the Web for the BIGGEST sky rocket that I could get shipped to me via common freight carrier.

I located a fireworks importer in Wisconsin who had this mondo sky rocket -- biggest thing I had ever seen -- called a SkyDragon. These things are 48 inches tall and are mounted on a 1/2-inch wooden dowel.

Pure aerospace engineering. I plopped down a bunch of money and had him send me two cases of these things. They arrived at the freight dock a few days ago and I had to drive the van over to pick them up. Two boxes each 2 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet in size containing 80 rockets each. The 'Class 4 Explosives' sticker on the side of each box was a real bonus. I am gonna have to save them for the scrapbook.

That night, me and the kiddos had a gen-u-ine rocket launch ceremony. I placed one of these beauties in a liter-size glass bottle and the bottle fell over. Hmmmm-- this thing was waaay too big. I looked around the shop for a pipe to set it in, but realized that the only dirt I could drive the pipe into was in plain sight of my neighbor's house. I knew he was a cool guy, but I didn't want him to call the cops. You see -- 'projectile-type' fireworks are totally illegal in this county. I was surprised that the Buncombe County Sheriff Department wasn't waiting for me at the loading dock when I picked these things up.

Anyhow, I finally rigged a launch pad by prying up one of the driveway drain grates with a crowbar and sitting the stick into the deep pit. Looked sorta like an ICBM silo with its hardened lid slid aside. I asked which of my three kids wanted to light the fuse, but all took a few steps back and politely declined. Chicken-shits. Kids just aren't made the same nowadays. They fulfill their danger quotient by shooting bad guys in video games. About as far from real danger as you can get, if you ask me. I told the little weenies to stand back as I bent to light the device with a Bic lighter. The lady at the fireworks importer promised me that these things would NOT make any noise. I told her that they HAD to be relatively quiet so I could shoot them off in my neighborhood without causing "undue alarm". She said I wouldn't have any problem. I emphasized the particular legal problems I would have if there were any type of loud report at apogee. I emphasized the fact that I lived right next to a National Park and that any type of firework that was discharged or assumed to be discharged on that property would get me sent before a FEDERAL judge right before I got sent to the COUNTY judge She again assured me I would have no problem.

That lying bitch. That rocket engine had a burn time about as long as any I had EVER seen, and the ascent echoed off the surrounding trees. Diamond shock pattern extended from the back end. It kept going and going and going. When it hit apogee at about 1000 feet, the rocket disintegrated into a huge shower of silent red sparks. Pretty cool, I thought... until the shower of sparks burned out and suddenly transformed into a cloud of EXTREMELY bright and loud explosions. The kids scrambled into the back door "Three Stooges" style (ie: where all three try to get through the same closed door at once) and left me standing in the smoking haze waiting for the cops to arrive. The dogs that live along our street were all barking their heads off at the apparition they had just witnessed in the night sky. That ended the fireworks test for the night.

The next day, my oldest son Doug and I decided we were gonna "neuter" one of the rockets so it wouldn't make any noise. I took him into the closet where I store the gardening tools and he saw these two huge cases of fireworks standing there. The kid went nuts. He wanted to open BOTH boxes so he could see what all 159 rockets looked like lined up next to each other. This kid has promise. I told him: "Since mom only thinks I have a few of these things lying around, maybe that wasn't such a good idea." He mulled that over for a few seconds, then gave me a real big smile in agreement. We pulled one of the rockets out of the box and re-locked the closet door. He and I both sat down on the driveway and proceeded to take it apart.

It was a standard issue big-ass Chinese sky rocket. I bet they used these to kill people 500 years ago. As I sat there taking layer after layer of paper off, his brain was filling with the details of construction. Tissue, cardboard, plastic, fuses...etc. Realizing that he was mentally storing the design for some future project sorta made me shudder. All I was thinking was the fact that this thing was probably put together by a political prisoner in a hellhole somewhere who is probably gonna get "executed" so they can sell his internal organs on the transplant market. Probably not too far from the facts, but I managed to do a bit of explaining to him from the standpoint of aerospace engineering regarding how the thing worked.

Doug is probably the only 4th grader in the U.S. who can now describe the principle of thrust using a control volume model. The rocket was pretty simple. It had a very large booster engine topped with a warhead that contained the red sparkly things that exploded. Removing the warhead was as simple as giving a quick twist, and I assumed the neutered rocket would fly higher without the payload. I was correct. Doug and I did a daylight "stealth" test and were able to add about 50% to the altitude attained the previous night. We decided to modify four more rockets and put them aside in the closet for easy access. When this was done, Doug had a jar full of stuff that came out of the warheads including: 12 fuses about 3-inches long each, some paper, 4 plastic nosecones and a big handful of these little black balls about the size of 12-gauge buckshot that turned out to be the 'red sparkly popper things'.

It appeared that the outer layer was a simple gun powder coating designed to quickly burn off as red shower of sparks. I surmised that the inner core had some kind of magnesium thermite that gave off an intense white light and a loud bang. Pretty cool if you ask me. Lots of energy packed into one teeny little ball. I didn't want to see the popper thingies go to waste, so I told Doug we were gonna put them in a hole in the ground and set them off. He gave me another big smile. It's amazing how kids think alike... even when separated by 30 years. As I was digging a shallow hole with my hand, Doug asked if it would be alright to put an army man next to these things so that "When they go off, it would look like he was getting shot with a machine gun". Dang.... exactly what I was thinking. I agreed and he ran off to his room to dig something out of the mess.

He returned in about 3 seconds, out of breath and holding a cheap plastic imitation of Robert E. Lee on horseback and a Civil War cannon. I pointed out that they didn't have true machine guns in the Civil War, but we would overlook this for the purpose of the demonstration. He handed me the action figure and I placed it and the cannon next to a rather large pile of black beads from which a few of the fuses extended. I figured that three inches of fuse would take 2 seconds to burn, so I had at least that amount of time to stand up and take a few steps back. I neglected to recount the night before... when the warhead ignited IMMEDIATELY upon reaching apogee. Tricky Chinese. They had installed extremely fast-burning fuse in these things and that fact totally escaped me.

I squatted next to Robert Lee and gave a short eulogy. Doug laughed. I took the trusty Bic lighter and placed it next to the fuse. One flick got the lighter going and THIS IMAGE IS ONE I WILL REMEMBER FOR A LONG TIME. My hand holding a lighter next to a pile of explosives. There is usually a short but noticeable mental pause that occurs immediately before something bad or really stupid happens. It is where that little voice in your head says: "You dumbass."

The fuse burn time was in the 1/1000ths of a second range. The pile of little popper thingy's immediately ignited into a tremendously brilliant ball of fire. All I could think was "" Unfortunately, when they are viewed at ground level, these little popper thingies become REALLY BIG POPPER THINGIES and have a tendency to jump up to
15-feet in every direction from their point of ignition. I instantaneously became engulfed in a ball of fire that sounded a lot like being in a half-done bag of Orville Reddenbacher's popcorn. It was all over about as fast as I could snap my fingers.

After the smoke cleared, Doug started laughing his butt off. That meant I was still in one piece. Doug does not laugh at dismembered limbs. He said I jumped about 10-feet, an action that I do not remember. I checked my clothes for burn marks, and found none. He checked my back to make sure it was not on fire. No combustion there. The driveway was peppered with black holes where the concrete had been scarred from these things. A close one. Another REAL close one. My mind ran the tapes again to re-hash what it had seen. All I remembered was being inside something akin to a 30-foot diameter ...... flaming dandelion. Whew.

We examined Ol' Robert E. at ground-zero. Instead of a machine-gun peppering, he got nuked. He and the horse he rode in on... and his cannon too. One side was untouched, but the other side was arc-welded. Real warfare. Doug examined it real quiet-like and then started laughing again. I assume he will remember the finer points of the lesson as he grows older. When I now speak of "almost being burned beyond recognition" he will have a slightly better understanding of what I mean. I hope that this vivid image tempers the knowledge he now has regarding rocket construction. Oh well.

After all, if your dad isn't gonna teach you how to get your ass blown off, who will?

Posted by Ted at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2003

Alone again, naturally

The ladies are gone for the weekend, trekking to the Great White North to deliver oldest daughter to the liberal mind-control masters of higher education. Fortunately, we've trained her since birth to be skeptical and cynical, so I think she'll survive the experience. A prof or two might have a rough time of it though. One can only hope.

So it's me and the boys. Two male dogs and yours truly, for a change the house reeks of testosterone instead of estrogen. Ahhhhhhh. So what's on the agenda you might ask. Non-stop porn? High-carb beers and corn flakes for dinner? A reenactment of my bachelor party?

Nay, dammit. Those all sound wonderful except this morning something happened to me that makes Freddy vs. Jason look like a Lifetime movie.

Kidney stone.

If you're on the ground, curled up in a fetal position, then you've had the experience. If not, then I sincerely hope you never do. Mine are the minor 'grain-of-sand' variety, and it's nature's way of telling me to drink more water. A lot more. So I've spent the day chugging cranberry juice (acid is good for it's disolving effects) and water and tea and anything else liquid, and running to the bathroom every ten minutes. The worst is over, I'm past the screaming and dread phase, and I'll be fine by monday.

Figures the girls are gone. No one here to 'aw poor baby' and listen to me whine. The damn dogs just sleep and do other dog things like lick themselves. Right now, I'm not even jealous of them. It's a karma thing I'm sure, because I couldn't score any new porn last week at work, and the only thing in the house are 3 ancient tapes that would probably disintigrate in the VCR. Not that I need them, I could probably recite the dialog on them from memory.

You know what? Even in the present circumstances, I have the house to myself for 2 more days. It's still a good weekend.

Posted by Ted at 02:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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