When I was in third grade I remember doing duck-and-cover drills.
No, I'm not old enough to have gone to elementary school in the 1950s. My dad worked at the nearby air force base, where the government was busy realizing Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" if you were a kid like me and keyed into anything on the six o'clock news. Working for Martin Marietta at the time, I believe, my dad and the whole base in Southern California were nose to the grindstone on the MX missile program. Conservatively dubbed "The Peacemaker," the MX was capable of delivering ten 300 kilton warheads (each alone with twenty times the power of Hiroshima). While I don't really know if the many MX test shots from the base had live nuclear payloads, I think it's unlikely (the internet probably knows, but it wasn't readily available on Wikipedia).
In addition to playing host to the MX program, the base also routinely launched Delta rockets carrying all manner of military payload. In 1986 there were two failed Delta launches from Vandenberg, that base where my dad worked so diligently to do his part in our global pissing contest. The first in late August of 1985 and the second in mid-April of that next year. I don't know which one I remember so vividly, but I'm fairly certain it was the more dramatic of the two: the 1986 explosion of a Delta 34D, which happened only nine seconds after liftoff and was therefore right there in terms of the experience of those nearby. I was one of those nearby.
We were out at recess at the time. The base itself couldn't have been more than ten miles from our school, and I'm not sure how far the SLC-4E site was inside base lines - but from the playground that morning I remember thinking it looked like a huge orange mushroom cloud. A massive rumbling followed by a huge orange-red cloud blooming from the ground in the distance. The yard duties blew their whistles and all us kids were ushered back into our classrooms. The teachers instructed us all to climb under our desks and put our hands behind our heads. I'm sure this is something they were instructed to have us do, but I've thought since then how it must have seemed eerily full-circle to the Cold War alums that were the thirty-something teachers of the day.
I can remember one kid cursing "Libya," likely owed to the bombing operations the US had carried out there just three days prior and which had been all over the news. But for the most part we kids had no idea what was going on. We sat like that for maybe an hour, it seemed forever in memory, and then an "all clear" message was broadcast over the PA system and it was all over. From then out out, however, we were subject as a class to regular duck-and-cover drills in preparation for a worse accident. An accident that never came, thankfully.
And that's why, when all the old folks are talking about hiding under desks in gradeschool, I can join in the conversation.
Once the Party was all we had and it was so bloody good to belong. The party was it man! The party was de rigueur! You and me and everyone we knew, like a fraternity. Why fear affiliation? Time was there was naught but affiliation. Time was, but time's gone.
The landscape changed around us and we got pulled along. No, willingly we went along. Forsook our allegiances, let the Party and the idea of the Party slip. Bit by bit we changed alongside each other, moss growing around the wheels and fog rolling in drifts to obscure. Even me, as staunch a Party guy as there ever was! A Party straight-man and poster-kid! Even I welcomed it. Headlong into assimilation! And why not? It has so many wonderfully appealing aspects.
O' but it's still there! Buried; deep. Party's still in you; Party's still in me. Isn't it? Isn't it?! I see it when we sit close, in your eyes when I look beyond the shiny. You got the Party in you! You and me, maybe driven underground, maybe so - but I haven't forgotten the secret handshake. You didn't either, did you? Oh, oh I see it in the bend of your wrist and along the lengths of your fingers! Somewhere in there you remember the Party and our time-in. I can't be imagining, right? With the Party so long-dormant maybe I'm looking too hard, but I swear I hear it in your voice and see it in your face and in the way you carry yourself alongside me. Careful though; Party's not so popular as it once was...
You trying to resurrect the Party? Kindle from the cold, wet and dry and wet and dry again ashes? Pssssh... good luck. But... what if!? Secret handshakes and pig-latin and morse code eyeblinks and underhanded semaphores! You stretch out that hand and you offer that secret shake and turn your head just so, just so. Would we welcome it back? The Party; back?
Bah!! Party's over. Party may still be in you; Party may still be in me - but the days of the Party-in-power are gone.
One of the most memorable things I've done in my thus-far far-too-short life was a thirty-six hour Greyhound bus trip from Florida to the hill country of Texas. You wanted adventure, you got adventure.
Maybe not adventure like Bond would find in Monte Carlo, but adventure sort of what like Sal and Dean found on the road. OK maybe thirty-six hours can't compare, but there were some real now etched-in-stone moments for me during that trip. When I visualize the time in my head I see that famous ending shot of Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo and I hear the Simon & Garfunkel song, "America." I know, you'd expect Nilsson, but Simon's bus-ride anthem lines about, "Michigan feels like a dream to me now," and, "We smoked the last pack an hour ago," seem to fit so perfectly.
In Defuniak Springs Florida a young overweight guy took the seat next to me. I didn't really want to talk, but he did. I can't remember his name, but whatever it was it should've rightly been Bubba. Bubba was leaving his dad's house in Florida and heading to his Mom's somewhere I can't remember. Once there he was going to finish one more year of school and join the military. His innocent eyes gleamed with the recruiter's details: A career, authority, fat pockets and world travels. On the bus in the first place to go visit my buddy in the Air Force and not wanting to knock the military, for there really is no reason to do so just because it's not your chosen path, I played it non-committal and agreeable. Turns out Bubba was a downright nice guy, like nearly every person I met on the bus, actually. I saw him off somewhere in Alabama or something.
Somewhere, still in Florida, I decided to take up smoking for the rest of the ride. The knot of folks gathered as they indulged at each stop was what convinced me; it was where the socializing happened. I bought a pack (one of probably a handful I've ever bought in my entire life) and joined them astride the coach to talk about whatever bus-folks talk about in the middle of the night while they share cigarettes. I didn't even think about eating, they never stopped long enough to consume anything proper. When hunger started to kick in I bought a family-size bag of potato chips and one of those pre-made sandwiches from a gas station. In thirty-six hours that and a bottle of water and a pack of cigarettes were my sustenance.
That night a dirty skinny dude got on from the middle of nowhere Louisiana, likely going nowhere to boot. Guy had the shakes, DTs, white-horse jazz-step, whatever you want to call it. He sat a couple rows behind me, bopping and scratching and mumbling. Made everyone around pretty uncomfortable with his retching sounds and junk-sick ticks. Somewhere near the Texas border, in the middle of the damn night, the driver stopped the rig and actually put the sad sucker out, said something short like, "It's my bus and you're not on it anymore." Right out onto the road into the middle of nowhere from whence he came. I remember feeling so bad for the character, turned out into the dark with only whatever hooch or scag he had in his backpack to last until those shakes and visions came back. Hope he got where he was going.
The time I spent in Texas was awesome, one day I'll write more about it (I've done a little already, again from the tobacco angle), but this was about the bus.
My bus back left Dallas on New Year's day. The station was absolutely packed to the gills and every single bus was running late. I couldn't find a place to set up camp inside so I wandered out into the pull-through area where there were already several groups of folks sitting around on the concrete. I settled down near a group of not-yet-old black guys who were sitting atop their suitcases and duffle bags, situated in a circle tossing dice, smoking, and seemingly having a grand old time. After a while the asked me to join them and I enthusiastically accepted. By this point the whole trip had me pretending I was some windblown road-dog character from a novel, out cutting his teeth on the world or something. I had a great time playing some Dallas bus-stop variation of Gin with the guys, smoking menthols and swapping stories. When it got late (or early, maybe) I excused myself to curl up and sleep. The guys gave me a tip before they wished me well, "Better sleep on yo suitcase 'round here; else it might not be there when you wake up." Good advice, and I did.
When I did wake my new friends were gone and my bus was still not in from wherever it was. It was going on first light now and I wanted to get out of Dallas. I saw folks climbing aboard a bus marked for Atlanta, which seemed a heck of a lot closer to Florida than Dallas. I walked up like I belonged, handed my suitcase to the porter and watched him stow it below the bus, and walked aboard. When the driver walked the aisle to do his ticket-check, I feigned sleep. Soon I was Georgia bound, and it all felt even more romantic, breaking the rules and all.
In Atlanta I played dumb, pretended I had no idea how I'd got on the wrong bus, things were crazy in Dallas, all messed-up, I'd said. The agent took pity on my ignorance and told me she could get me as far as Tallahassee. Better, but not home yet. In Tallahassee things went much the same as Atlanta, but this time I was only looking to go another few hours. After a short terminal nap I lucked into another bus headed further south. Before I left I called Sharaun from a payphone (no mobiles in those days, my friends) and told her I was five or so hours away. In the end I beat the bus I was booked on by three hours, not bad for freeloading.
Man that was a fun trip. Never again.
Tonight was fun.
OK so I guess it's still early. But my evening thus far has been quite nice. Work this week is at a new level, but I feel my execution has risen accordingly. The amount of things I'm able to get done in each day is a source of pride. Because of that busyness I've not been home until after six or so (I know, not late hours at all by most standards), and tonight was no different. Sharaun has a "girls night out" party where here and a gaggle of females put on pajamas eat sweets and dance with that new Xbox Kinect thing. This means it was Keaton and Cohen and I around the homestead.
Since it was already past seven by the time I'd steamed my tamale dinner (Keaton had eaten at a friend's house), and I'd gotten Cohen down early, she and I decided to spend the next hour or so before her bedtime watching some cartoons. In this case, I let her handpick from a bunch of classic Looney Tunes episodes. She's familiarizing herself with Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and the others (can you believe her least favorite is the Roadrunner and Coyote?). She sat on my lap and asked me if I'd seen the episodes as she paged through their thumbnails on the screen. Have I seen them... man, I've seen every single one.
Sidenote: Ever since I was a kid I've found it strange that some cartoon characters used the seemingly well-known phrase, "Don't you believe it!" Bugs Bunny said it tonight. Tom the cat says it in at least a couple Tom & Jerry shorts (more mysteriously, when he does, it's said in a heavily-echoed voice like he's at the bottom of a big tin can). Apparently I'm not the only one who's ever wondered about this phrase. Most folks think it's from an old radio show, but so far no one has been able to come up with an actual reference. I have no idea why things like this interest me so much.
Tomorrow is my last day at work before vacation. I am planning on sitting down at my desk before 6am to try and get more hours of the day. I will work hard on a variety of things, although there's no way I'll get everything done that needs doing. This means that, on at least one or two days during our holiday in Florida I'll have to drive myself to bust out the computer and actually do stuff. That makes me sad, but it may have to happen.
There were practice fields at the high school, with dugouts and everything. Maybe they used to play real games there before my time.
The fields were at an end of the campus I spent little time in; places to practice sports, the auto-shop bays, and the ROTC range. No surprise then, that I was only ever in the dugout once in my life. We were both supposed to be in class by the time you showed up. I was waiting nervously, I'd had to sneak through a chained gate to get onto the field and was worried we'd be seen. I knew you had to sneak past the same security and liked imagining you sharing the butterflies in my belly.
The longhairs used to play hookey and smoke cigarettes in the dugouts, the reason for the chained gate and butts on the ground. Neither of us had any cigarettes, but you had a flower-print bra with thick straps and I had a teenage curiosity. You with your shirt off, outside and all... sun on forbidden skin is really something. So what if we only had five minutes before the "good kid" in each of us kicked-in, pulling us both back to class after hands came above waistbands, buttons buttoned, and hair straightened.
Amazing what kids can do with a few minutes between classes; the magic of equal parts fifteen, ideas, means, and gumption.
A thorough retrospective.
In the late 1940s, an Alabama-native named Anne met and wed man named Wesley. A religious man, Wesley introduced Anne to his church - one of the many smaller arms of the protestant Christian faith which sprung from the Restoration Movement of the 1800s. Soon, Anne found herself "born again." Wesley and Anne moved to Florida in the mid-1950s, soon after the birth of their middle child, a daughter, Gail. Gail inherited her parents' faith, and after marrying and having her first child, a daughter, my wife, raised her in the church.
Sharaun, that daughter, my wife, grew up in that Southern conservative Christian tradition. When she turned nine, that daughter sought special permission to go to "Bible camp" a year before she should've been allowed to. For those, like me, who didn't grow up in the Bible Belt, the notion of a "Bible camp" may sound odd (as it did to me). But, it's really just a week-long summer camp with a healthy dose of Jesus. Sharaun, my wife, Gail's daughter, Anne's grand-daughter, loved Bible camp. She looked forward to it all year long, and went every year without fail - although they made her be a counselor instead of camper sometime around twenty years old.
It was at that Bible camp, about seventeen years ago, when Sharaun was a sophomore in highschool, she met a girl named Melissa when the two shared a cabin. Over the next few summers, Sharaun and Melissa would be yearly reunited at Bible camp. Around the very same time, although definitely not at Bible camp, Sharaun and I started dating. We'd met five years before that when we were in the sixth grade, but I'd fallen hard for her during that same summer she first met Melissa at Bible camp. I courted her during those months, eventually won a boyfriend audition as we started dating as we went into our junior year. The summer before our senior year, Sharaun brought me into the church in much the same way her grandfather did her grandmother.
Three years later, after a couple years of junior college for Sharaun, she and Melissa again shared a cabin at summer Bible camp and discovered that they were planning to attend the same state University. As it happened, I was also packing bags after two years of junior college and was bound for those same hallowed halls. Sharaun and I, while not having been together the entire time, had been dating for almost four years when all three of us - Melissa, Sharaun, and myself - converged on that university town to earn our degrees. The three of us spent three years together being educated, and I got to know Melissa as Sharaun did.
Sharaun and I got engaged in 1999. That next year we graduated, got married, and moved across the United States, to California, where I'd accepted a job offer. We kept in touch with Melissa and that first year we were here I surprised Sharaun by inviting her out for Christmas (we were poor beyond belief, using credit card cash advances to pay the rent month to month, and couldn't go back to Florida as we'd wanted). Four years later, Melissa decided she wanted a change of scene and uprooted herself from Florida to move to Northern California. She'd consulted with Sharaun and I on the move, saying she wanted "something different" and taking advantage of an internal transfer through her employer. She showed up sometime in 2003 (her name is still on the mailbox).
Getting acclimated and looking for a place to stay, Melissa bunked in our guest room for her first month or two in California. Being co-located, our paths remained intertwined over the years and we stayed close. Ultimately, she'd end up buying a house just a stone's throw from our place.
A few years ago Melissa walked up to a hulking man in a dive bar in the city and, boldly out of character, kissed him flush on the lips. A South African native, Charl was introduced to us as Melissa's boyfriend a few months later. Charl, now Melissa's fiancée, is a beast of man; larger than life, sometimes even intimidating in his ebullience. Charl is also bald, having begun shaving his head back in college when he discovered his hairline was no longer going to behave. Like he is with most everything, Charl is passionate about his baldness; and ever since I've known him he's been working on converting me, proselytizing the bald lifestyle and all its associated merits. Hearing my woe over my thinning crown, he'd urge me to let him bring me into the fold. I like Charl, and have grown somewhat closer to him too.
Sometime in Spring this year, after a year or more humoring Charl about one day letting him shave my head, I relented and went through with it. It was after a few beers at an evening barbecue in our backyard. Fifteen minutes of buzzing and bic'ing and it was done.
Turns out Charl was right; I love being bald. Now that I'm hairless (at least on top), I'd not have it any other way. I shave every other day (with a razor, not electric); takes me about ten minutes extra in the shower.
And that's the story of how I came to shave my head.
Goodnight, and thanks Mimi.
Turned out to be a pretty strange, loosely-connected deal today friends. Came easy though so let’s run with it.
When I was a tween I was big into all things occult. Not to say I was a practicing version of anything, rather that I was just intrigued by the mystical and magical and unexplained. I’ve written about this before, I think.
I sat riveted to television shows about ghosts and UFOs and cults and other manner of unexplained phenomenon. Which, at that time, before the great “paranormal bastardization” of cable channels like TLC, Discovery, and the History Channel, were a more rare occurrence on television. I checked out and devoured books from the local library on psychic phenomenon, spontaneous human combustion, witchcraft, Stonehenge, Bigfoot, and the like. I don’t know what drew me so to this kind of stuff, which then seemed supremely interesting and truly mysterious and now seems just so many folks talking through their hats and is interesting mostly as a curious aspect of human nature. Anyway, I loved the stuff.
You can imagine, then, how awesome it was when I somehow convinced my folks to spring for a series of Time-Life books called Mysteries of the Unknown that I’d seen advertised on television. Looking back, I can’t imaging these were cheap, and I wonder at my parents’ willingness to purchase them on my behalf. There were thirty-three volumes in the set, and they’d send you a new one every month or so (remember when book-series’ like this were the rage?). Each volume focused on one of those so-loved “mysterious” pursuits of mine.
Holy crap I loved those books. And while I didn’t quite take them as gospel (the skeptic was strong in me, even then), I did at least ascribe them some credence. I remember vividly closing myself in my closet with my copy of Psychic Voyages, following to a tee the step-by-step instructions required for one to achieve “astral projection,” where the consciousness leaves the body and can travel seeing through the physical world. I was going to astral-project myself down the street, into the cul-de-sac, and into Mary’s bedroom if I had to try all damn afternoon. I never was able to have that out-of-body experience; never set foot in Mary’s room either (although I guess I could look for pictures of the modern-day version now that Sharaun is friends with her on the Facebook, if I really wanted to).
It was in these books somewhere that I learned that, in “the old days,” they used to hang bells above-ground with strings running down into the coffins of the newly-interred deceased. The idea being that, as death was more then often mispronounced for things like coma or other catatonic state, these poor buried-alive souls could then signal the world that they there were merely resting, not in final repose, but instead now awake and quite ready to be un-buried.
I don’t know why but that image concept really stuck with me as a kid, and I still use it as a powerful mental image for the intense fear that comes with utter helplessness. Even today, when that everyday entropy begins to weigh and I get the itch to “run away,” I see a mental image of a man furiously pulling a string he hopes is attached to a bell he can neither see nor hear. It’s a pretty striking picture of being “stuck” and wanting to change one’s present situation.
Later in life I had a brief obsession with one the series’ covered topics, alchemy. In my late twenties I got interested in the history and thought processes of the ancient physical alchemist, and subsequently the grafting of those physical precepts onto the field of psychology by Mr. Carl Jung. I wrote about that a little at some point too, I think over here. But for the most part I left the “mysteries of the unknown” for the tweenage me to ponder… and grew up into a mostly practical adult (who’s just a little given to whimsy).
What the heck am I talking about? Goodnight.
PS - Kristina, if you're out there, you still have some of my books. Love you.