Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas After Christmas

Early Friday morning, I drive to New Orleans airport, just as I do every four weeks. It may be three days after Christmas, but today is my Christmas Eve: I'll fly from New Orleans to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to San Francisco, then catch the commuter flight to Redding.

My flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco is delayed. My heart sinks. San Francisco doesn't meet the criteria for "simultaneous instrument approaches." Although SFO, like most big airports, has parallel runways to accommodate greater traffic, those runways aren't far enough apart to allow simultaneous approaches when the weather gets bad. I'm supposed to get home in the late afternoon, but now I just hope that I get home before my son goes to sleep.

I arrive in SFO, and thankfully, my commuter flight outbound is delayed as well. I'll be delayed by an hour instead of a few hours. I feel much better as the turboprop Brasilia lefts off. There is always the chance that Redding will be below landing minimums, but in the eight years I've been making this commute, following the close of PHI's Santa Barbara base, that's never happened.

I end up sitting across from a young guy in a Navy uniform. I ask him if he's going home for the holidays. "Yeah," he answers, "I'm heading home for the first time in a year-and-a-half. I'm really looking forward to spending nine days at home." It turns out that the young man is returning from the Middle East. I ask him what he's been doing. "Special Ops," he answers. If you've been in the military, you know that the "Special Ops" answer translates to, "I was in combat, and I can't tell you much about what I did." The guy looks young enough to be a junior in high school, except for his eyes. His eyes look much older.

He tells me that he grew up in Redding, and that when he gets out of the service, he plans to spend the rest of his life there. He plans to become a teacher, and thanks to the proliferation of non-traditional college courses, he's working on his teaching credential. He mentions his fiance'. I find myself thinking that twenty-one seems so young to get married. But then, the guy seems so grounded, so wise for his years. He and his girlfriend have been together for nine years. I find myself thinking about my friend Ren, who was a Navy Helldiver pilot near the end of World War II. He and his wife have been sweethearts since before they started high school, and they have great-grandchildren now. I smile, inwardly. "They'll make a go of it," I think to myself.

We land in Redding, disembark, and I watch as the young man's parents, girlfriend, grandparents, siblings, and cousins mob him. I walk out of the terminal with a smile on my face. At the same time, though, I feel a tinge of guilt. It's the sort of guilt I often feel after talking with military men and women returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, especially those with families. After all, I'm away for only two weeks at a time, and my wife doesn't have to worry about losing me to a bullet or a roadside bomb. When I compare my lot to those doing a tour over there, I think that I shouldn't feel sorry for myself. But as I start the car, I sweep that little feeling of guilt away. I'm going home.

The next morning, I enjoy the "real Christmas" with my wife and son. I'm touched by how Dylan is more concerned with watching me open my presents than opening his. He's getting older.

I suspect that most members of the Away-Dad Nation would admit that the first day or so at home isn't always instant nirvana. A certain reconnection process goes on between a returning dad and family. Sometimes, it's awkward, even painful. Thankfully, it doesn't last so long.

We open our gifts. Snow falls outside, but it doesn't stick for long. We decide to drive up to a higher elevation to play in the snow. We spend a couple of hours throwing snowballs and building a snowman. When we get home in the late afternoon, Dylan asks me to carry him from the car to the house, because he's taken his shoes off. I pick him up out of the car, hold him close, and kiss his head. I marvel at how heavy he's getting. I reflect that the day will come when he doesn't ask me to carry him anymore. I hug him a little tighter. He grunts. "Daddy, you're squishing me," he says.

It's been a wonderful Christmas after Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Working on Christmas Day

So here I am, on Christmas day. I'm at work, over two thousand miles from home. I'm an offshore helicopter pilot, and the oil fields out in the Gulf of Mexico operate around the clock, 365 days a year. Holidays don't shut down the oil fields. Only hurricanes do that.

The thing is, I was originally scheduled to be home for Christmas this year. I work for PHI, Inc., (formerly Petroleum Helicopters, Inc.), and for the last several years, I've been a "pool pilot." PHI has fourteen bases stretched along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Theodore, Alabama to Rockport, Texas, and we pool pilots move from one base to another according to where we're needed.

Most of our pilots are "on a job": they're assigned to fly for a particular oil company. Although the pilots are employed by PHI, some pilots will fly for several years for one customer. Before PHI's base in Santa Barbara, California closed down, I was a case in point. I flew for one particular oil company for seventeen years. I saw the kids of some of my passengers grow up.

Anyway, a few months ago, an opening came up for a particular oil company. I decided to throw my name in the hat, because this particular company is very safety conscious. They're willing to put their money where their mouths are for safety, and they treat pilots flying for them as if they're part of their team, not just hired hands. I've enjoyed the variety of the pool, but I wanted to get assigned to this company.

But then, I learned that said assignment would involve a schedule change. I'd miss being at home for Christmas this year. I decided flying for that company wasn't important enough to make the switch if Rhonda and Dylan would be upset about it. When Rhonda talked to him about it, Dylan was upset over the idea of me being away on Christmas; I've been home for Christmas every year since he was born.

But then, Dylan came to change his mind. I think a big part of it was when Rhonda told him that he would have two Christmas days: one on the actual date, and another when I got home a few days later. And then, one night while away at work, I talked to him on the phone. I explained to him why I wanted to take the position: it involved flying for an oil company that was very safety-conscious, and it would be in a town with a few places to eat, along with a gym. "You could go to the gym after work?", Dylan asked. "Yep, I sure could, Punkin'."

I guess Dylan has heard enough of Rhonda and I talking about the benefits of exercise to be a believer. He once told me, "Daddy, please keep working out, so you can still wrestle with me when I'm twenty." (The kid slays me sometimes.)

Over the phone, I heard Dylan take a deep breath. "Dylan," I said, "this isn't that important to me. If you think me being gone on Christmas day will upset you, then I won't change things." Another deep breath from Dylan, then "Well, Daddy, I'm seven now. I can deal with it." (Have I mentioned that the kid slays me sometimes?)

So, here I am, over two thousand miles from home, working on Christmas day. Our first and only flight scheduled this morning was delayed by bad weather offshore, so we sat around for a couple of hours. I gave myself permission to feel sorry for myself for having to be away from my wife and son on Christmas.

And, I did feel sorry for myself, for a little while. But, it's a strange thing, being away from home and loved ones. Yep, it sucks. Yep, it hurts. The hurt, though, is a bittersweet thing. In the midst of homesickness and yearning for the warmth of time with my family, there is a certain clarity that seems particularly present when away from the day-to-day routine of family life. And, with that clarity comes an intensity of sentiment. Dear God, I love my wife and little boy. I love our home, our silly little dog, and our pesky cat, who often wakes me at three in the morning, demanding food.

I'm thankful for my old friends, who've stayed friends despite how I often suck at staying in touch. I'm thankful for my health.

I'm thankful for a way I make my living. It involves the heartache of being away. It involves frustrations that those outside looking in can't appreciate. It involves the small but real risk that I may leave a widow and a son without a father. But it also involves moments of sheer joy, and the feeling of privilege that comes with the realization that, after nearly thirty-three years, I still have the chance to experience magic in my job.

I'm thankful for the magic that is the Christmas season. It's a magic that commercialism, political correctness, and my own homesickness can't dispel.

Merry Christmas to you all, and may God smile upon you in the coming year.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Rippin' Off Roland: Songs That'll Keep Me in the Car

In his latest blog entry, Roland wrote, "I'll bet everyone has a song or two that keeps them from getting out of the car. If you can park it in the driveway, you wait it out, but if you know the people inside will wonder what you're waiting for, you might take on extra lap around the block."

It got me thinking about those songs that have really grabbed me. Yep, those songs that'll keep me in the car until I'm finished. (Dylan usually joins me in groovin' to the tune, but Rhonda will often roll her eyes and run into the house. Then Dylan yells, "TURN IT UP!")

Actually, if you ask me next week, half of this list might change. It isn't that my tastes change so much, it's just that what springs to mind will likely rotate around. One of the small perennial frustrations of my life is the tendency to hear some great song from the past on the radio, and think, "Oh yeah, I'm gonna download that or buy the CD." But, when I'm sitting in front of the computer, will I remember to order it from Amazon or the iTunes store? Naw. I could blame it on middle age, but the fact is that I've always been that way. That's one reason, for the last twenty years or so, that I've planned to always carry a notebook around with me. When a song or a thought comes to me, I could jot it down before it percolates away from my conscious memory. Thing is, I've bought lots of little notebooks for that purpose over the years. I always forget to carry them along. If I ever become a well-known author, maybe I can sell all of my blank little notebooks on Ebay.

Anyway, here's my first list of "Songs That'll Keep Me Sitting in the Car."

"Cinnamon Girl" by Neil Young. Especially the live version from Rust Never Sleeps.
"Highland Wedding" by Steve Morse.
"Gulf Coast Highway" by Nanci Griffith.
"Willin'" by Little Feat. Especially the live version from Down Upon the Suwannee River.
Erotomania" by Dream Theater.
"Moonlight Mile" by the Rolling Stones. Video here is from a movie of the same name.
"One After 909" by the Beatles. Video here is from Let It Be, of course.
"UFO Tofu" by Bella Fleck and the Flecktones.
"You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC.
"Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle.
"Ride Captain Ride" by Blues Image.
"Jamming" by Bob Marley.
"A Long December" by Counting Crows.
"Goodbye Stranger" by Supertramp.
"The Road and the Sky" by Jackson Browne.
"Hank Senior Moment" by John Gorka.
"Black" by Pearl Jam.
"Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
"Leprechaun Promenade" by the Dixie Dregs.
"Wasted Time" by the Eagles.
"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" by Eric Clapton.
"Stay With Me" by Faces.
"If I Had a Boat" by Lyle Lovett.
"Past the Point of Rescue" by Hal Ketchum.
"I'll Stop Loving You" by Mike Reid.

And that's all I have to say about that. For now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Parking Lot Incident, Case Closed

Back in April, I wrote here about an incident at Dylan's school. To recap, Rhonda arrived at Dylan's school, and saw a man in a new BMW come to a halt behind a parked pickup. He then jumped out of his car and ran to the pickup. He jumped into the cab, knocking his son prone, then got atop him. He began pummeling the helpless kid. Rhonda ran down the stairs to the parking lot to confront the man, screaming "STOP IT! STOP IT!" The father backed out of the cab and glared at Rhonda. "He's my son. I'll do what I want." "You're committing a crime!" Rhonda yelled. After another brief exchange in which Rhonda refused to back down (don't mess with an Italian woman protecting a kid) the man jumped into his BMW and sped away.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhonda got a subpoena in the mail. It was for the man's misdemeanor trial for assault and battery. Rhonda was to testify in court as to what she saw that day.

The trial never happened. The D.A.'s office offered the father "D.A.'s Probation." What that means is that if Dear Daddy keeps his nose clean for six months, the case will be dismissed. He'll have no record. It will be as if the beating never happened.

I would have assumed that the father would have at least been required to attend anger management and/or parenting classes. Nope. Dear Daddy won't be burdened by any such requirements.

I know that he owns a yogurt shop in town, and I've heard that he owns two or three other businesses as well. I suppose that he's rather, er, connected.

Our D.A.'s office is quick to stick anyone busted for drugs with a felony, even if the only person hurt is the drug user. In the case of methamphetamine, the D.A. himself has decided that any amount of methamphetamine found on person or property will result in felony charges being filed.

Now, methamphetamine is nasty crap. But, it bothers me that certain chemical residues scattered about the bottom of someone's dresser drawer will saddle that someone with a felony, while a father can beat the stuffing out of a fourteen year-old kid and hardly get so much as a slap on the wrist.

Here, as in so many places, it seems that how a person is treated once accused of a crime has much to do with socioeconomic standing. I often wonder if, more and more, justice in these United States is more a commodity than a right.

Meanwhile, we continue to sock people away in prison who are guilty of nothing but possessing certain chemical substances. It doesn't seem to matter than the majority of them are only hurting themselves. No, that doesn't matter. The powers-that-be are mad at drug abusers because they keep using drugs after being told not to do so. Thus, the priority seems to put people in prison because "we're" mad at them, not because we're afraid of them.

I think we should save prison for people who scare us.

But then, in Shasta County, the powers-that-be seem not so afraid--or mad--at fathers who beat the crap out of their own sons in public. Especially, perhaps, if those fathers drive new BMW's.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Just a Little Rant About Donnie and Marie

So, the patriarch of the Osmond family died, I hear. Some news outlets--many those oriented toward entertainment--are treating his death as quite the tragedy. Sheesh, what bullshit. The guy was the better part of a century old. He had eighty grandchildren and great grandchildren. Where's the tragedy?

An old girlfriend lost her dad when she was six. That's a tragedy. My wife lost her dad a week before she graduated from college. That's a tragedy. My dad died several years before his only grandchild was born. That's a tragedy.

I suppose it's a bit like tilting at windmills to rant about how those who manage to stay visible in our popular culture seem to expect the rest of us to accept that their losses are more profound than those of we "everyday" people. They can kiss my ass. When Dale Earnhardt died in a racing accident, it made me sick to hear people whine and go on about it. Sure, it was a shame, and a real loss to his family, friends, and fans. I get it. But hey, Earnhardt accepted the risk he took, and he was compensated handsomely for it. He died a rich man. Days before he died, six National Guard troops died in a helicopter crash in Hawaii. Most folks who got all weepy about Earnhardt, it seems, didn't give a flying fornication about those young men and women, and a couple of them were taking on the risks inherent with serving their country while qualified for food stamps.

If you want to pour your heart out to someone facing a personal tragedy, I'd suggest just looking about your own community. Donnie and Marie have plenty of hangers-on to commiserate with.

As for Donnie and Marie, I'm sure they feel real pain over the passing of their father. Still, it makes me a little ill to see them do their crying act on TV, all the while with dry eyes. I wish they'd just go away for a while, and treat their father's passing with dignity. I think that would be the decent thing to do. Using their father's death as a lame springboard to revive long-flagging careers is just plain low-class.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Zora Folley, My Dad, and a Mysterious Death

His name was Zora Folley. Unless you're a boxing history buff, or an ESPN Classic junkie, you probably haven't heard of him, but he's considered one of the best heavyweight boxers to never win the title.

He was born in Dallas, Texas in 1932, and moved to Chandler, Arizona in 1942. Baseball became his sport of choice. He entered the U.S. Army at the age of sixteen, claiming he was eighteen. His real beginning as a boxer was probably due to a quirk of fate: He had scant boxing experience when he was asked to replace an injured contestant--his platoon sergeant, as it turned out--in a match scheduled at his base at Fort Ord, California.

The match was originally set up for the post heavyweight title, but that title was held by Folley's injured platoon sergeant. Folley lost the match, but decided to stay with boxing, becoming an absorbed student of the sport. A year later, Folley beat the man who'd beat him during his first match. Soon after, he won the 6th Army championship, then went on to win the All-Army and All-Service titles. He fought in the Korean War, earned five battle stars, and left the Army in 1953.

Folley turned pro soon after leaving the Army. He became a top contender during Floyd Patterson's reign as heavyweight champion, but never got the chance to fight Patterson for the title. That was partly because of a loss to Henry Cooper in 1958 (Folley won the rematch in 1961), but some claim that Patterson manager Cus D’Amato (who decades later would become Mike Tyson's manager) ducked Folley, considering him too great a risk to Patterson's championship.

With his hoped-for bout with Patterson never coming about, his chance at the heavyweight title came in 1967, at the age of thirty-five. His opponent was Muhammad Ali. It would be Ali's last fight before his three year ban from boxing. Despite the fact that many boxing cognoscenti considered Folley to be in the twilight of his career, Folley gave Ali one of his toughest pre-ban battles, the fact Ali knocked him out in the seventh round notwithstanding.

Ali saw Folley's son crying in the crowd after the fight. Ali sought the boy out, hugged him, and told him that no one could have beaten his dad had the fight happened years earlier, in Folley's prime.

Folley went on to fight for three more years after his defeat at the hands of Ali, although at irregular intervals. He retired after Mac Foster stopped him in the first round in 1970. His career closed out at 79 wins, 11 loses, 6 draws, and 43 knockouts.

Denied a chance at the title during his prime, Folley could have chosen to wallow in self-pity in a downward spiral toward a parody of his former self. Instead, Folley defied the stereotype of the washed-up fighter by becoming a pillar of the community in his home town of Chandler. A well-spoken, thoughtful gentleman, liked by most everyone, he was elected to the city council. In an article on the Sweet Science website, Pete Ehrmann wrote this: If he’d been the stereotypical down-and-out ex-pug, the circumstances surrounding Folley’s death probably wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. But in fact, Folley actually gilded his stature as one of Chandler’s top citizens after his retirement from boxing. Always dapper and well-spoken, he became a salesman for Rudolph Chevrolet, and when the city fathers were looking for someone to fill a vacancy on the City Council, Folley was an easy choice. The happily married father of eight was the picture of the kind of post-boxing success that eluded so many former fighters.

Sadly, Folley's squeaky-clean image was tarnished in the eyes of some by the intrigue surrounding his death, in 1972. Folley had been visiting a friend and two women in a motel in Tucson. As the story went, Folley and his friend engaged in horseplay near the pool, seeing who could throw the other in, and Folley ended up in the pool. One of the women ran to the motel office to report that Folley was badly hurt. Folley was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died about an hour after midnight. He was forty years old.

A motel clerk told a local reporter that Folley's injuries included a large bump on the forehead, a hole on top of Folley’s head, and another wound in the back on his head. People would soon question how Folley could suffer such extensive injuries by simply falling into a pool. Over the years, many theories have made the rounds as to how Folley really died, but with the autopsy and police report long lost or destroyed, it appears that the questions surrounding his death will never be put to rest.


The questions surrounding Folley's death are harbored mostly by friends of Folley's, Chandler residents, and some boxing history enthusiasts. I harbor that intrigue too, since I feel a connection to Folley, however thin.

It's a "two degrees of separation" thing: my dad, for a short time, became acquainted with Mr. Folley.

My dad was in the Army during Korea, completing his basic training at Fort Ord, California. (I was also stationed there after graduating from Army flight school, and you can read about an experience I had at one of Dad's old haunts here.) After watching him during hand-to-hand combat training, the D.I.'s decided that Dad had a talent for boxing. After he finished basic, he was selected to serve as cadre at a basic training company, with the eventual plan that he would go to Airborne training before deployment to Korea. The real reason Dad got held behind in a cadre slot was his boxing talent. Dad's company commander felt that he had the potential to excel as a light-heavyweight.

Dad, within a few months, took on several other boxers at Fort Ord, and was undefeated after a fairly concentrated string of fights. His trainers decided that he was ready to fight the post light-heavyweight champ, but they were unhappy with Dad because he didn't enthusiastically apply himself to defensive fundamentals. That is, he would rely on reflexes and quickness to evade punches, and was sloppy with his guard. They felt that a certain heavyweight on post, known for his amazing quickness and attention to fundamentals, could teach Dad a lesson or three.

That man was Zora Folley.

Although Dad's trainers called it a sparring session, there was a fairly sizable crowd at hand to see an undefeated light-heavyweight take on Folley, who was at the time either the All-Army or All-Service champ. (I can't remember, recalling Dad's accounts, which title Folley held during the "sparring session.") However, Folley knocked Dad down three times in the first round. The fight was over.

Dad was jarred by his encounter with Mr. Folley. He'd had little trouble with fellow light-heavyweights he'd faced, and was beginning to feel invincible in his weight class. He saw a 6th Army title in his future, maybe more. He didn't necessary expect to get the best of an accomplished heavyweight, but he did expect to at least give him a good fight. "I didn't see half of his punches coming," Dad told me. It was a sobering experience for a guy who'd previously relied on a defensive style perhaps best described as "Muhammad Ali Lite." Dad talked of quitting. His trainers urged otherwise. Folley himself paid a visit to the barracks to encourage Dad to continue. Although he wasn't swayed from his discouragement by Folley's visit, nor by the urging of his trainers, he was impressed by Folley the man. "He was a first-class guy," Dad said, "a real gentleman."

I've often told people that Zora Folley ended my dad's boxing career. However, I'm guilty of simplifying a bit too much. The fact is, I'll never know whether Dad would have chosen to continue with boxing (although he told me he was leaning strongly toward quitting), because soon after his fight with Folley, Dad came down with rheumatic fever. His decision was made for him, at that point.


High-profile assassinations will fascinate folks for decades. Like many people, I often wonder if there is more to the JFK, RFK, and MLK killings than meets the eye. I find myself hoping that we'll know the real truth in my lifetime.

By contrast, the death of Zora Folley isn't much mentioned in magazine articles or TV crime shows today. His death made a splash on the national news scene, but only for a short time. He may not have been the victim of foul play, and any case, I suspect that not that many people are still wondering if something nefarious happened at that Tucson motel in 1972.

I do, though. Perhaps its because of that "two degrees of separation," but for the rest of my days, I'll wonder if we'll ever learn the real truth about the death of Zora Folley, that "first-class guy" and "real gentleman," who, for a few rounds in 1967, gave Muhammad Ali a run for his money.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Victor Wooten Bass Solo

When I got home after my last hitch, Rhonda and Dylan surprised me with a ticket to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Cascade Theater in Redding. It was a school night, so Dylan didn't go, and since we don't do babysitters, Rhonda stayed home too. I'd been wanting to see those guys live for some time now, so it was a real treat. I was going to post a video by the band, but while searching for one that conveyed their essence on YouTube, I came upon this solo performance of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," played by the Flecktones' Victor Wooten on bass. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Truth, Justice, and the State of Jefferson

When I was growing up in southern California, most of my elementary school teachers mentioned that there had once been a movement in northern California to create a separate state. Not many particulars were mentioned, other than that there was a prevailing feeling that politicians in Sacramento weren't fairly representing the interests of folks living in the region. In high school, as I recall, the northern California statehood movement was never mentioned. I more or less forgot about the whole thing.

When Rhonda and I got back together about fourteen years ago, we had a big decision to make. Y'see, she lived in northern California, while I lived down in Ventura County. She loved living in Shasta County, and the housing prices there were much more reasonable than down south. I'd always liked it up there too--my dad had a high school buddy who lived there--so, I moved up north.

Rhonda would often have the stereo tuned to the local National Public Radio station, Jefferson Public Radio. The station's studios were in Ashland, Oregon, just a bit north of the California/Oregon border. (If you've heard of Ashland, it's likely because of the internationally touted Oregon Shakespeare Festival.) It was during that time that I learned, thanks to JPR, that northern Californians weren't alone in their desire to create a separate state. No, it was actually an effort made up of mostly rural northern California and southern Oregon counties. During station breaks, a recorded announcement would often air explaining the station's mission, and it mentioned the "State of Jefferson," said to be "the home of some serious, and not-so-serious, efforts to create a new state."

As I settled in to the northern California life, the "not-so-serious" side of the State of Jefferson movement seemed to hold sway. Indeed, Jefferson seemed a whimsical state of mind, sort of a collective outlook that might be labeled "Northern Exposure Lite."

The State of Jefferson movement wasn't always so whimsical. In the fall of 1941, a guy by the name of Gilbert Gable got the ball rolling in a big way. Gable was the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon. His speeches urging the establishment of a new state--formed by southern Oregon and northern California counties--were at first meant only as publicity stunts to draw attention to the poor roads of the region. Many citizens of the region, however, wanted more than just publicity: they actually wanted a new state. The feeling was that if the area was to grow economically, the poor infrastructure would need vast improvement. The legislatures in Salem and Sacramento, as the thinking went, cared little about making things better in their region.

The movement grew quickly, and in November 1941 the provisional capital of Jefferson was set up in Yreka, California. Later that month, a bunch of guys carrying hunting rifles began stopping traffic south of Yreka. They handed motorists copies of a Proclamation of Independence. The handbills stated that the state of Jefferson was engaged in "patriotic rebellion against the states of California and Oregon."

The guys with hunting rifles were probably the reason that the State of Jefferson was catapulted into the national news scene. People began to take the succession effort seriously; the movement had gone way beyond a mere publicity stunt. The rebellion soon competed on front pages with Germany's aggressions in Europe. Jefferson was big news. In fact, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanton Deleplane, wrote a series of articles on the "rebellion" that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

Hollywood newsreel companies showed up for the swearing in of the governor of Jefferson, Judge John Childs of Crescent City, California. It was a big event indeed, with parades and marching bands preceding the inauguration ceremony on the courthouse lawn. The newsreels were scheduled to show nationally during the week of December 8th.

Alas, the movement to create the new state of Jefferson got knocked on its ass, however indirectly, by the Japanese. The bombing of Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th, and overnight, the state of Jefferson vanished from the headlines, and the Jefferson inauguration newsreels were shelved. New roads were hastily built in the area to access the natural resources harbored there, which created many new jobs in the region. Many more residents joined the war effort by enlisting in the armed services, or going to work in factories. In the space of just two or three months, the Jefferson rebellion had mushroomed from a mere publicity stunt to a serious movement. With the outbreak of World War II, however, the movement, seemingly overnight, lost all the wind in its sails. There were bigger fish to fry.

And yet, the idea of Jefferson as a "state" has never died. Jefferson, today, has its own radio stations, art scene, and music scene. The people of northern California and southern Oregon have not forgotten that they have more in common with each other than their supposed brethren in Sacramento and Salem. Megan Shaw, a fifth generation Oregonian, wrote this regarding Jefferson on the website Bad Subjects: All cynicism aside, I do not believe that the United States is yet prepared to interpret a political movement that is a synthesis of rural anti-federalism and labor activism, one that in some ways is classically conservative and in other ways classically progressive (yet at the same time is not quite either). If the State of Jefferson had not removed itself to the cultural sphere, it would have risked following the route of such separatist movements as the Montana Freemen and the Republic of Texas. Those movements relied on fairly narrow bands of support that were not deeply entrenched in the culture. I support the State of Jefferson continuing to work in the long term toward greater self-definition, and towards legal separation from Oregon and California if that is the population's wish. I believe that they are entrenching their movement in the region's culture in a way that can make such a transition possible. One jazz band at a time.

Jefferson lives on in the hearts and minds of the folks living there. It may be, for the most part, merely a whimsical "state of mind." Somehow, though, I suspect that the legislatures in Sacramento and Salem are mindful that, if they screw up too much, they could awake one morning to find that it's 1941 all over again.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Seven Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

Michael tagged me for this some time ago, and I'm just now getting around to it. (See number 2.)

Okay Bob B, I'm tagging you.

1. I started dating my wife in 1973. We broke up when I went into the military following high school. We reunited and got married in 1994. Our son was born in 2000, twenty-six and a half years after our first date.

2. I'm not one to rush into things.

3. I enjoy trading emails with folks, but I'd rather take a beating than chat online.

4. I'm apparently known by friends and coworkers as an easy-going, affable guy, but I have a decided mean streak. I control it, but it's there.

5. When I was fourteen, I signed up for roller derby training school. I did it because I had a crush on one of the skaters in L.A. Her name was Peggy Fowler. I had to drop out before I even started when my parents found out I'd forged my dad's signature on the release form. Life was not pleasant for me for a while after that.

6. I took my first flying lesson in a Cessna 150 when I was thirteen. I ended up getting about fourteen hours of flight time before the money ran out. My instructor back then, a gentleman by the name of Bob Gililand, had been a nineteen year-old civilian instructor for the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying Stearmans. For years, I was the youngest student he'd ever had. During the eighties, he had a couple of eleven year-old students, so my "record" with him fell. I still hold another record with him, though. At the age of thirty, I started flying with Bob again, and seventeen years after my first lesson, I got my Private fixed-wing add-on rating. Thus, of the thousands of students he's had since World War II, I hold the record of the one who took the longest to get a rating.

7. I'm eligible to join the Sons of the American Revolution, but since I'm not planning to look for a job in D.C., I haven't.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dreams About No Smiles

I've had some funny dreams this week. One was about the guy who always worked the meat counter at Ken's Market, the place nearby our home in Oxnard where my parents would occasionally send me to pick up meat for a barbecue. The guy would never say anything more than necessary; he'd hand me the package of meat and go back to what he was doing. He never smiled. I never had a conversation with him.

I flashed from age twelve to age twenty. I was stationed at Fort Ord, and visiting my favorite place to pick up lunch, a German deli near the airfield in the town of Marina. It was run by a German couple and the wife's sister. The women were friendly and outgoing, but the husband just carved the meat and made the sandwiches. He never smiled. I never had a conversation with him either.

I was puzzled as to why I'd see those two guys again in my dreams, but then it came to me: there was magic in those places. Ken's Market had the old fashioned type of meat counter, where you'd give your order to the guy and he'd prepare it and wrap it just for you. The German Deli in Marina had the magic, as evidenced by the number of guys in military flight suits waiting in line at lunchtime. Maybe that's why those two taciturn men were featured in those dreams: it was my week to revisit magicians.

Soon after Rhonda and I got married in '94, we spent some time in Monterey, and I took her to look for the German deli. Although Fort Ord had closed down, the deli was still there. The German couple and the sister were still running the place. I told them that I hadn't set foot in their place in fifteen years, but that I'd been a regular in the late seventies. The wife smiled. "We get a lot of people coming by who were customers when stationed at the base," she said. I wasn't surprised. I took my first bite of the Reuben, and I knew the magic was still there.

The husband? He still didn't smile, but I did get a nod from him. I would never ask more of a guy who works magic.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make an eating establishment a long-running success, to be sure. But the most important ingredient, I'm convinced, is magic.

Damn, now I'm hungry. I wish it wasn't a five-hour drive to Monterey.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hurricane Dean and the Evacuation Fandango

I'm away from home again, and back at work. This is the fifth day of my hitch ("hitch" is what we pilots call our seven or fourteen-day stints at work), and a hurricane evacuation is underway, sort of. I'm half the crew of a Bell 412 that one of the major oil companies hired to help out with the evac, but for the most part, I've simply sat here at the base, waiting for the word to launch offshore. So far, that word hasn't come. As hurricane evacs go, this one has been fairly easy for most of the crews coming on this hitch. For one thing, many non-essential folks out in the Gulf of Mexico had already been evacuated from offshore facilities. That happened last week due to the formation of Tropical Storm Erin, which formed right in the Gulf, instead of moving into the Gulf from the Atlantic and Caribbean as is more the norm. For another, since the fateful storm season of 2005, the oil companies seem all the more cautious about getting people out of the offshore oil fields once a storm shows the slightest risk to the Gulf region.

The oil companies weren't always so cautious. In August 1980, I launched from Cameron, Louisiana, in a seven-seat Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger, for the waters off of Galveston, Texas. My job was to evacuate the four remaining men on an offshore jackup drilling rig as Hurricane Allen moved westward through the Gulf of Mexico. Then, as now, we had radio communications--"flight following"--while offshore. There was a key difference then, however. Now, we have remote transceivers located about the Gulf, which link to a central communications center in PHI's company headquarters in Lafayette, Louisiana. If a transceiver becomes inoperable, or we're simply going too far out for effective radio coverage, all of our larger aircraft have satellite links to the comm center; we can tell them where we're going and when we'll be there without ever using the radio, via text flight plans. Then, however, satellite links were nothing but fantasy in our aircraft, and offshore communications were provided by a real-live offshore "communications specialists" who were also certified weather observers. The problem was, our offshore comm folks had been evacuated. About sixty miles offshore from Galveston, I had no one to talk to except another pilot, in a Bell 212. His destination was about twenty miles from mine, so after landing, we'd lose contact with each other. We agreed to give each other twenty minutes after landing to load passengers, take off, then climb enough to re-establish radio contact.

It was a lonely feeling, being out there over the Gulf of Mexico--in a single engine helicopter--while a hurricane approached. I passed a production platform about 30 miles from my destination, and noted that the waves were breaking several feet over the boat landing of the platform. Most of the boat landings were about fifteen feet over the water, so that meant the seas were running about twenty feet or so. On a typical summer day, we pilots tend to view the Gulf as a big, tranquil forced landing area. But at that moment, it hit me with a wallop: if the engine failed, the inflatable floats mounted on the skids wouldn't keep the aircraft upright for long. Also, in those days, many if not most of our smaller aircraft didn't have life rafts on board. Mine didn't. If I had to ditch, I'd soon be in the water with my life vest, praying that someone could spot me as a speck in the turbulent sea.

Something else: few of our smaller aircraft had Loran C (sort of a predecessor to GPS) installed in those days. My only navigation aid was an NDB receiver (which tended to be nearly useless with lightning in the area), but the rig I was flying to didn't have a beacon installed. I was navigating by dead reckoning: hold a heading, guess the ground speed, fly that heading for a given amount of time, then look for a place to land.

Visibility had been good early in the flight, but deteriorated as I got further offshore. As I came up on the end of my dead reckoning time, it was down to about three miles. I saw nothing ahead, nothing to the right, nothing to the left. Hoping I'd underestimated the wind speed, and thus overestimated my ground speed, I decided to continue on the same heading for another five minutes. However, after only a couple of additional minutes, visibility quickly deteriorated from three miles to less than a mile. It was time to turn around, to give up, to leave those four guys on a mobile drilling rig to face the storm. But then, halfway through my 180 degree turn, a jackup rig appeared in the windshield. It was "my" rig. If I could get the helicopter on the helideck, those guys were going home.

It turned out that landing was one of those big ifs. The helideck, in terms of wind direction, was on the leeward side of the rig. The wind was whistling through the structure of the rig and the derrick, and my helicopter was getting tossed around on short final--I was making large adjustments in power just to maintain an approach path. I glanced at the airspeed indicator about 100 feet out. It was bouncing between fifty and sixty knots, and I was barely crawling toward the landing site.

I landed, and the four guys immediately started walking toward the helicopter. I shook my head, trying to convey one message: "NO!" I wanted to make sure the helicopter would stay in place on the wet deck with all of that wind. I leveled the rotor system, only to find that the aircraft began inching backward toward the edge of the helideck, and toward the ocean. I tilted the rotor system forward, essentially flying the helicopter onto the deck. I didn't dare take my hands off the controls, because I might have to take off rather than be blown into the ocean. I tried to motion with my head that the passengers should approach from the side. Instead, they took my head motion as a message to "come on," and walked toward the low part of the rotor disk. I shook my head violently, trying to convey one message: "STOP!" They continued forward, oblivious to anything I tried to convey. As they neared the rotor tip path, I partially leveled the disk. The helicopter began shuddering backward again. Once the guys moved safely inside the tip path (there's more "guaranteed" head clearance as you get closer to the helicopter), I returned to "flying" the aircraft onto the deck.

The landing had been difficult, and just short of downright scary. With the extra weight of the guys and their baggage on board, I didn't figure the takeoff would be a piece of cake. It wasn't. The aircraft lifted easily enough at first, but once I got to a couple of feet off the deck, it felt as if a giant hand was shaking the airframe. When I finally got clear of the rig and through a heavy shower in my takeoff path, my passengers actually cheered. There were only four of 'em, but it sounded like I had twenty people on board.

About three minutes after takeoff, the 212 pilot called me. Man, it was good to hear his voice. "It's getting bad out here, Hal. Let's go back to the ranch, and I'll buy you a cup of coffee." "Scott," I answered, "I could use something stronger than coffee when we get back." He chuckled over the radio. "I know what you mean."


This is the morning of my fifth day back at work, and it's been the most boring hurricane evac I've experienced. We made one flight my first day back. Then, it became apparent that Dean wouldn't likely prove a threat to the Gulf of Mexico as it took a southerly track. The oil companies put the offshore evacuations on hold for the most part. We then sat around until yesterday, when we flew our aircraft from Morgan City to Lafayette. It seems that the training department needs our aircraft to do annual training on the pilots heading down to our Antarctica operation. Last night, I had a good time dining at a local Mexican restaurant with the guys from the Antarctic crew.

Yep, it's been a boring hitch so far, but I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

S'Long, Bill

I've seen him around, now and then, for the better part of three decades. I can't claim to know him that well, but damn, I'm going to miss him anyway.

His name is Bill Uhl. He's been a helicopter mechanic with our employer, PHI, for thirty-eight years. Tomorrow is his last day at our Houma, Louisiana base. He's retiring.

I had a hellacious day out in the Gulf of Mexico today. We dodged thunderstorms and the occasional waterspout through most of our day, and when I got back this afternoon, I felt as though I'd been beaten with canes. My plan was to go back to the quarters, eat something, shower, then fall into the bed. But then, the area manager told me we were putting on a barbecue for Bill. I couldn't miss it.

Bill, for good reason, is one of those people who nearly everyone likes. He seems perpetually cheerful, conscientious, capable, and enthusiastic. He's just one of those who can walk into a room and put folks in a better mood. If you act in a bad mood around Bill, you soon feel like an asshole. I suppose that's why I'll miss him so much, even though we've only been friendly acquaintances, not friends in the true sense: people like Bill are just so valuable to a workplace, in ways both tangible and not.

Everybody wanted a piece of Bill this evening, but I was able to chat with him for a few minutes. I asked him what he first planned to do upon retirement. He answered, "Y'know, I've always been a procrastinator away from work." (That was surprising, considering his reputation as an aircraft mechanic.) "Thirty-six years ago, I started working on a rocking horse for my son. I drilled a hole in the wrong place, and I just put it away. My son found it while visiting one day, and told me what my first retirement project should be: finishing it for my two year-old grandson. So yeah, that's my first project. I'm going to finish that rocking horse for my grandson, thirty-six years after I started it."

Something about his story just hit me with a wallop. I felt a big lump forming in my throat. It was just so sad, happy, remorseful, and celebratory at the same time. It just got me. Bill won't be spending half of his time away from loved ones any more, and he's going to finish that rocking horse.

Bill, I'll miss your smiling face, your cheerful demeanor, and your unflagging patience with we sometimes trying pilots. Have a wonderful retirement, and God bless you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Last Time We Worked Together

I don't discuss religion and spirituality with many people, because it's a very personal thing, and people can get upset if presented with viewpoints contrary to theirs. That said, from an intellectual perspective, I really don't understand atheism. I can fathom where an agnostic comes from, but it almost seems that atheists have faith that there is no God. Hm. So, if we had no microscopes, would atheists have faith that amoebas didn't exist?

I feel prompted to write this because of recent blog entries by Bob and Michael. It's a bit of a departure for me, because I really don't enjoy arguing, and it seems the fastest way to get the ire up of folks is to bring up religion. (Politics, too.)

But then, there is religion, and then there is spirituality, ey?

I believe in God/The Supreme Being/A Higher Power because I've sometimes felt a certain presence in my life in profound ways. Not often, but when it's happened, the reality of it has hit me between the eyes. And, while organized religions tend to leave me with more questions than answers (not necessarily a bad thing), I believe that life goes on after we leave this earthly plane.

One day in 1991, while flying offshore in California, we were trying to get a man off of an offshore oil platform who had a family emergency. The ceiling and visibility were varying from barely at instrument approach minimums to zero-zero. We'd waited for three hours for the weather to pick up enough to allow us to legally dispatch the helicopter.

We made three missed approaches, seeing no hint of the platform through the fog at our required three-quarters of a mile. But, the weather observer informed us each time that the visibility had picked back up, thus making it legal for us to try again.

I felt a presence with me that day, and I've never flown that well in my life, before or after. I felt absolutely energized in a strange and wonderful way. I didn't feel just "in the zone." No, I felt more as if I'd entered another realm.

We had fuel for one last attempt when we made it into the platform. Roger, the guy I was flying with, could only say, "Damn, Johnson." (From him, that was praise bubbling over.) The man got on board, and we climbed back through the fog and headed toward Santa Barbara Airport.When we leveled out, that feeling of having a presence with me departed. I felt deflated, spent. Also, although I felt relieved that our sole passenger would soon reunite with his family, I felt sad.

The offshore weather observer called us while we were enroute. "Good job, guys. The weather is back to zero-zero. I can't even see the water from my office." We wouldn't make another offshore flight that day due to the weather.

When I got into the office, my mom called. My dad had died that morning, suddenly, of a heart attack.

It took less than an hour to drive from the flight line in Santa Barbara to my parents' place in Oxnard, but it seemed longer. I cried. I wasn't ready to lose my dad. Like too many fathers and sons, we'd waged a quiet war with each other during my teenage years, and while our relationship had evolved into one more harmonious, we hadn't fully made peace.

"We always got along best when we worked together." That was my last thought before walking into my parents' house.

I can't offer concrete evidence that life goes on after we "die." But, I don't just suspect that there is such a thing as a soul. Nor do I believe that there is a soul. Nor do I have faith that there is a soul.

No, I know that there is a soul. I know of it because of that particular morning in 1991, the last time I worked with Dad.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Well. . .

I may have to quit reading the blogs of Bob B., Bob D., and David. I read their blogs, and I feel prompted to go to Amazon to buy CD's. I mean, sheesh, I've just come off of being on strike for six months, and besides, I'm part Scottish.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Woe Betide the Heat Weenies

Redding, California is a nice place to live, especially if you like outdoor activities. It's no cultural hotspot, but with the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, two symphony orchestras, and the restored art deco Cascade Theater, it ain't exactly a cultural desert either.

I've enjoyed living here, but everyone choosing to live in the area pays the piper come summertime. It gets HOT. Many summer days aren't too bad--mid and high nineties--but we get perhaps 15 days per summer with temps reaching 105 or more. There is something to that "dry heat" idea; I can attest as much from my years of working in south Louisiana, where the humidity can stick to you like pancake syrup. But hey, when it gets to 105 degrees or more, it's just freakin' HOT, and that "dry heat" notion is scant comfort.

The heat here may very well be a blessing in disguise: I sometimes suspect we'd have a million people living here if not for those triple-digit days. Y'see, we have a couple of wonderful lakes here, Shasta and Whiskeytown. Mount Lassen National Park is but an hour away, as is the Mount Shasta Ski Park. (For climbers, there's also the lure of Mount Shasta itself.) You'll see fly fishermen casting along the Sacramento River right in the Redding city limits, and the nearby Russian and Trinity Alps Wildernesses beckon campers and backpackers.

If I'm sounding like a real estate agent casting about for out-of-the-area equity, stand by: no matter how much a person might feel drawn to this area's outdoor recreation opportunities, if he or she is a heat weenie, he or she ain't gonna make it.

We've already seen triple-digits, with the first day of summer still a week away. The average high for yesterday's date is 90 degrees, and the average low is 59 degrees. Yesterday, though, the temp reached 101 in Redding, and as I write this at 1:30 a.m., it's still 84 degrees in town. (It's 74 in the foothills above town where we live. Living off of the valley floor has its benefits.)

According to the Weather Channel website, the forecast is for a high of 100 degrees again tomorrow. This year, the annual heat weenie exodus may commence early.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What's Up with That?/Batting Practice

I went to the gym this morning. I've started a new routine that's kicking my butt. When I finished and walked out to the car, I sat listening to music and drinking water. I watched a young guy in a wanna-be monster truck circling around the parking lot. There were plenty of spaces where I sat, but no, the guy wanted to get closer. There's a pizza place a few doors down from my gym, and I assumed he was heading there. But no: he finally scored a more desirable parking spot, jumped out of his truck wearing workout attire, and walked into the gym.

If I find myself slipping into a bout of low self-esteem, I'll just reflect on that little moment.


I'm not a big team-sports fan. In fact, when my dad died in '91, I pretty much lost interest in pro sports.

I've been determined to avoid pushing Dylan into sports. That said, we've introduced him to gymnastic lessons, karate, and swimming, but I've sort of furtively hoped he might gain an interest in baseball. The kid has a hell of an arm on him, something we discovered when he was but six months old.

My sister-in-law's boyfriend has an acquaintance who was, for a short time, a pitcher in major league baseball. He had the guy talked into coaching Dylan when he was only four, but I nixed that idea. I don't want my son being channeled into something he's not interested in simply because he has a good arm.

Still, I confess I've been a wee bit disappointed that he's shown little interest when I've parked the TV channel on a baseball game, or when we've given him baseball gloves.

Something changed last month. Rhonda took Dylan to a sporting goods store to buy some gym shorts, and when he saw the section with baseball gloves and bats, he locked on. First she bought him a glove and a ball. Then we took him back for a bat. That was a couple of days ago, on my birthday.

For my birthday, Dylan decided that Daddy should be taken to see Shrek the Third. (He's a very considerate kid.) We had some extra time before the movie started, so we drove to an empty part of the parking lot. I asked Dylan if he wanted to try a little batting practice. He didn't take much convincing.

I helped him get the correct grip on the bat, and maneuvered him into something approximating a correct stance. Before I backed off to throw the ball, I reminded him to be patient with himself, because batting wasn't an easy thing to learn.

I threw the first ball. He hit a decent ground ball. Wow, I was surprised. I threw the ball again. He hit a line drive directly to my forehead. It hurt.

Since then, I've been a little less complacent with his batting practice.

That evening, he watched about a half-hour of a baseball game. It was his idea.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ranting Sometimes Comes with a Price

I try not to talk about people behind their backs. But sometimes, I do.

Back in the eighties, I realized that I was doing too much of that for my own sense of self-respect. So, I made a New Year's resolution: no more badmouthing people unless it was to their faces.

For about two months, I stuck faithfully to my resolution. I was proud of myself for taking such a high road. But then, I began noticing that nearly everyone was irritating the hell out of me.

So, I began allowing myself the occasional rant. Most of us, I suppose, need to vent now and then. I simply decided to be more judicious about it.

I've been feeling seriously grumpy since I've been back home from my last stint in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't know why, but it might have something to do with having to be away part of the time again.

I've felt more need to vent.

A couple of days ago, Rhonda and I went to Dylan's school to pick him up. We hung around after school so Dylan could play with some of his classmates. We were talking with one of the moms, and the subject of pushy people came up.

Since I'd been in the mood to rant for a week or so, I brought up a woman I'll call G. G worked in the same field as my wife. Upon moving to town, she decided that since they both worked in the same field, and since they were both women, they simply had to be friends.

G began calling with an itinerary for Rhonda, an itinerary with all of the activities they'd be doing together over the weekends. The itineraries didn't leave much time for Rhonda's husband. (That would be me.) In any case, Rhonda didn't feel comfortable with G from the onset, and even if she had, she wouldn't have been inclined to spend her weekends as designed by someone else.

Rhonda is too nice for her own good at times, and she tried to disengage herself gently. When G finally got the hint, she took great offense nevertheless.

So, I was just getting up a curmudgeonly head of steam about how irritating G was when I noticed a look on Rhonda's face. It was a look of disapproval. I was a little surprised, since I was trying to couch my comments about G in a humorous way. But still, there was the look. Married guys know the look.

Finally, I interrupt myself. "What?" I ask Rhonda, feeling a little irritated that I might be robbed of an opportunity to vent about someone or something other than Starbucks. "I never told you?" "No," I answered.

"G committed suicide."

Whomp. I tried to salvage the moment by making further comments about G in an overtly funny way, but they fell flat. I tried to get out of a hole by continuing to dig. Rhonda looked pained; the other mom looked decidedly uncomfortable.

For the last couple of days, I've been feeling kinda small.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Field Trip

Friday was a fun day with the Dylan and his classmates. His school had its annual “Heritage Day” field trip, dealing mostly with the mining boom days in California in the mid and late 1800’s. I didn’t get a shot of Dylan in his full western garb because the little rascal lost his hat in the first half hour. He looks pretty natural in his western boots and cowboy hat. Maybe I’ll get him to don his duds another time for a photo.

There were some reenactments and demonstrations. One of them involved a replica of a stagecoach. I was drawn to the obvious craftsmanship involved (when I pick up a wrench folks tend to flee in terror), and had a short conversation with Jack, the owner, builder, and “driver” of the stage.

He’s built five of ‘em. He started 16 years ago, when he helped a friend build one. It’s a labor of love for him; he says that he probably couldn’t sell the stage for what he his invested in it, and that’s not even counting his labor.

He also raised his mules from birth. The two girls are fifteen and sixteen, and come from a line of horses and donkeys first owned by Jack’s grandfather. I was almost as fascinated by the mules as by the stage: Mules, despite their association with comedy and such base traits as stubbornness, have always seemed almost regal when compared to horses. Jack says that they’re really not smarter, they’re just sort of different.

Dylan had a grand time. It was great to see his music teacher, Mr. Burkett, back in action following a health problem. The guy is just amazing in how he gets kids to respond, and I’m very happy to see him back.

Hm. Sometimes I’m jealous of my own kid. When I was in elementary school, field trips were never so fun.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In the Shell of Serendipity

So, my favorite coffee place in town, Serendipity, closed down last year when yet another freakin’ Starbucks moved in down the road. I liked Serendipity, with its vaguely bohemian atmosphere and mixed clientele.

I’m sitting in what was Serendipity as a write this. It’s now a Bad Ass Coffee Company store, with company headquarters allegedly based in Hawaii. They did an excellent job of obliterating the spirit of the old Serendipity; I scarcely recognize it as the same locale.

One reason I avoid Starbucks is that I refuse to join their damned culture to get a damned cup of coffee or tea. A small cup of coffee is not a “tall,” for cripe’s sake. But hey, order a “small coffee” in Starbucks, and there’s a good chance the employee, his or her mind absorbed by the Starbucks Collective, will look at you like you just pooped on the floor.

I'm a wee bit afraid to walk into a Starbucks. I'm afraid some day I'll snap. "JUST GIVE ME A SMALL COFFEE AND SPARE ME YOUR CORPORATE NEWSPEAK, ASSHOLE!" And, y'see, I just can't risk that, since I'm supposed to be so freakin' mellow.

The employees here at Bad Ass have their own irritating habit: As you walk up to the counter, they yell out “ALOHA!” Sheesh, I jump every time they do that! What the heck is that, anyway? Do they really think that my heart and soul will magically be transported to the Kona Coast because they yell out “Aloha”? Give me a freakin' break! I think the manager who mandated that greeting should be bitch-slapped by Paul Reubens.

Oh well. At least they don’t look at me like I’m a bug when I order a small cup of coffee.

I’m feelin’ grumpy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sadness 'n Me

“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.” Kahlil Gibran.

I don’t think folks who work with me would describe me as a sad person. In fact, unless people are misleading me, I’m viewed as a generally upbeat, cheerful kinda guy. That’s good. We’ve all worked around those who practice the “misery loves company” religion, and folks like that can drag a workplace down.

My wife apparently doesn’t view me as a sad-sack either. One day, after we'd been married for a couple of years, she looked at me, and out of the blue asked, “What happened to you, anyway?” “Whataya mean?” “Well, I remember you when you were seventeen. You were always so serious, so wrapped up in thought, so . . . pensive. And now. . .” She giggles. “Now, you’re such a goofball.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said, wearing my best mock "I'm offended" expression. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” she maintained. “I like it that you’re more willing to be silly.”

It’s true. As a teenager, when Rhonda got to know me, I tended to be lost in thought, brooding, and pondering all there was to feel sadness over. I didn’t smile a lot, and I tended to live inside my head.

Maybe flying for a living changed my demeanor. I dunno. My outlook on life just seemed to change as I grew older. I held to the notion that life is full of sadness, and that’s all the more reason to bask in joy, humor, and laughter when they come around.

And yet, nothing seems to stir my creative juices like sadness. I love to read sad tales, listen to sad songs, and write about sad moments. Heck, I could write blog after blog entry about homesickness, and how I miss my wife and son when I’m away. Folks kind enough to stay with me would soon no doubt think, “Geez, Hal, you have a lot to feel thankful for, so give us a break, okay?” I wouldn’t blame them.

Still, I'm drawn to the exploration of blue. George MacDonald wrote, “Beauty and sadness always go together. Nature thought beauty too rich to go forth upon the earth without a meet alloy.” That’s so true of my state of mind when I’m leaving home. I’m wrapped in sad when I leave my “real” life, and yet, that sadness grounds me in all I have to feel appreciative about, and it spotlights the beauty of the little things in my life, like listening to my wife and son laugh together.

Also, I’m afraid to leave it alone. I’m afraid that if I leave it alone, it’ll grow into a big scary monster—depression, maybe—and it’ll sneak up and bite me on the ass. Sadness needs to be aired out, in my book. Leave the door locked on sadness, and there’s a risk mold will grow.

I’ve known people who avoid sadness at any cost, or so it seems. Sometimes, I feel sorry for them. Why? Well, I can best express my feelings on that with another quote. Erich Fromm wrote, “One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.”

And hey, some goofballs want to be responsive to the world.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Sports World Death/Meeting Clint Again

In Lou Schuler's blog this morning, I read about about another alcohol-related tragedy involving a professional sports athlete. Here's an excerpt from Lou's blog.

"Late last Saturday night -- Sunday morning, if you want to be precise -- a 29-year-old relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals died in an auto accident. He plowed his rented SUV into a tow truck, which was parked in the left traffic lane, clearing up an earlier accident. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the pitcher, Josh Hancock, had been drinking heavily, according to eyewitnesses, and was on his way to do more drinking with a group of teammates. A restaurant manager had offered to call a cab for him. He'd declined."

This, following in the wake of Bob Barbanes' blog post concerning an intervention he participated in, brings to mind that old saying usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young."

Now, I'm not one to get sanctimonious about the use of alcohol. The fact is, I was somewhat of a party animal throughout my twenties and thirties. Luckily for me, I was addicted to the bars, taverns, and live music, not so much the alcohol. Still, I willingly gave into that "when in Rome" syndrome when out on the town. I felt, back then, that I needed the social lubrication adult beverages provided.

So, no, you won't see me pointing a pious finger at those who imbibe. Alcohol will likely have a place in our society for generations to come. For all of its potential evils, it's the most accepted recreational drug in our world, and we learned in the U.S. that making it illegal did nothing but make some folks rich. In moderation, it may well protect against heart disease. And, while I sometimes go weeks without touching an alcoholic beverage, I still enjoy downing a glass or two of beer or wine now and then.

But still, I can't help but ponder the costs . . .

One day in the early 90's, I was helping our swamped dispatcher manifest passengers. I was compiling names and weights for a helicopter flight to an offshore oil platform--one of mine, as it turned out--when I saw his name. I hadn't seen Clint in person since junior high school; we went to different high schools. I had seen him on TV, though, playing in the defensive backfield for USC. He would go on to play four seasons for the Minnesota Vikings.

Looking at the sign-in sheet, I expected to see something indicating Clint was an engineer or geologist. When I noted that he worked for the catering company, I assumed that he must have taken a position as a manager, and was taking a day away from his office to visit employees offshore. I looked out over the waiting room and spotted him. He was wearing a catering uniform.

I'd once watched Clint on TV, catching an interception and running it back for a touchdown. Now I was flying him out to an offshore platform to clean living quarters. His boss later told me that Clint's downfall was part of that Same Ol' Story: alcohol, drugs, gambling, and women.

The whole thing hit me surprisingly hard. I'd been in awe of the guy's athletic prowess since the second grade. He was a soft-spoken, gentle giant who we all wanted the best for--he was easy to like.

We landed on the offshore platform, and I watched him walk down the stairway. I remembered watching him dunk a basketball in the eighth grade. I remembered that as a high school freshman, he dominated senior varsity players in both basketball and football. Now he was making beds and doing laundry for a living.

It was not a good feeling.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

David's Rules

David's rules for aspiring writers. (I paraphrased from his recent blog post. Hope you don't mind, David.)

1. Write more.
2. Read more.
3. Trust yourself more.
4. Open up more.
5. Listen more.
6. Meet more people.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Update on the Parking Lot Incident

The police contacted one of the witnesses over the weekend. We know the guy personally, and he's always seemed like the model of conscientiousness. He's beside himself that he froze and left Rhonda alone to handle things. But then, so did two other grown men.

An online buddy, Algernon, questioned a comment I made on the previous post. I tend to value this guy's opinion, even when I disagree with him.

"What's this 'high-minded' and 'low-minded' concept you're carrying around? You can just feel mad at the guy. No one's going to talk you out of having your own feelings about what this man did."

I wrote back, "What it betrays, really, is a bit of self-conflict, as well as a preemptive reaction against a couple of friends who will urge me to put aside my anger and find compassion for the S.O.B. The thing is, I believe in compassion, and I believe that violence too often begets violence. But hey, for the time being, I need to fantasize about repeatedly kicking that so-called 'father' in the scrotum."

"Fair enough," Algernon answered.

I continued, "I still feel disbelief over the whole thing, too, as does Rhonda. That 'dad' didn't react with a momentary flash of anger. No, he gave his helpless son a prolonged beating. Rhonda said it looked as if he wanted to kill his son."

Algernon again: "I would be willing to bet you dinner this man was himself an abused child. In other words, he is ANOTHER abused child. And if his 14-year old son does not get access to therapy, there is an excellent chance he'll grow up to be a domestic abuser as well. This is something we know about domestic violence."

I answered, "No argument from me there. And my God, I hope that fourteen year-old does get therapy. How does one so young process the reality that his own father may have been trying to kill him?"

Algernon: "Throwing him in jail or perhaps doing worse things to him in order to "punish" him satisfies an emotional need for vengeance, because what he did revolts the conscience. We want him to pay for what he did."

I answered, "That's true, and I'll admit that that's part of my motivation. But there's more to it than that. I suspect this 'father' is a genuine threat to society, and may very well be a out-and-out sociopath. He's probably intelligent and willful enough to get through any court-mandated counseling program with his violent tendencies intact. It would be wonderful if he could be 'cured,' but I suspect the only real solution is to put him away for a good while."

I had a little fun with Rhonda a few nights ago while talking to her on the phone. I reminded her of a conversation we had back in '94, when we were getting back together. We'd talked through the night, and at one point, from out of the blue, she said, "I think I'm missing something as a woman." "How's that?" I asked. "Well, I don't think I have maternal instincts."

I started laughing. "What's so damn funny?" I just pointed to her two dogs, surely among the most pampered creatures in northern California.

When Dylan gets older, I suspect he'll find that story funny as can be. Maybe a certain fourteen year-old would as well. And, I'm hopeful that a certain sorry excuse for a father will learn a harsh lesson when he gets slam-dunked in court by my better half's testimony.