Friday, May 30, 2008

Loose Ends

I've been home for a couple of extra days due to a sinus infection. The bad thing about delaying the departure on a "cheap seat" ticket is that you can really get hosed on change fees and additional fares. In the case of this weekend, my ticket price would've nearly tripled had I stayed with my original departure of Redding. So, this morning I'm going by the airport to pick up a rental car (cheaper than paying for two weeks of parking), and early tomorrow morning, I'll drive the nearly four hours to Oakland. From there, I'll fly to Denver, then on to New Orleans.

A couple of days ago, I did some parent volunteer time in Dylan's math class. I love his math teacher. She's also an R.N. with current credentials, so she could be making a lot more money in her other profession, but she seems utterly devoted to teaching. Thank God for people like her.

I wrote here about a boy in Dylan's math class. His dad died on Super Bowl day. That second grade kid called 911 while his mom tried to revive Dad. When you're eight years old, how do you make sense of life when your dad is there one day and gone the next?

I've hung out in Dylan's math class a good bit. The boy has seemed stoic since losing his dad; he's engaging and often smiling, and he's a whiz at math. But when I was in the class two days ago, the teacher caught my eye and mouthed the words, "comfort him." The little guy sat weeping in his chair. Apparently, while I'd been busy helping the kids at another table, the kids at his table were making fun of him for getting an answer wrong.

I went to the little guy and asked him to come to the back of the class with me. I wrapped my arms around him and tried to come up with something comforting to say. It seemed to help, and we sat in the back of the class together and worked on his math problems. Dylan got up and walked to us. I felt a little irritated, and I thought to myself, "C'mon, Dylan. The kid's dad died. This is no time to act possessive." Dylan simply walked up to me, gave me a hug, and sat back down. He looked back at me, smiled, and gave me a thumbs up.

I wonder how a classroom full of kids would have reacted if a six-five, middle-aged dad started bawling and blubbering like a baby? Because, sheesh, when Dylan gave me a thumbs up, and that smile, it was all I could do to hold it all in. I was so damned proud of him that it hurt.

As the kids exited at the end of the class, I ruffled the dadless kid's hair. "My dad died," he said. I replied, "I know, and I'm so sorry." I felt lame at that moment, but the kid seemed to take my reply in a good spirit.

I gave Dylan a hug before he ran off for recess. I said, "Dylan, I'm so proud of you for being such a grownup." He said, "No problem Dad. He needed a daddy." Aw hell, that almost turned me into a blubbering mass of jello all over again.

I made my way to the parking lot, and my car. I sat there for several minutes, praying for the kid and his mom. Then, I gave a prayer of thanks for the time I've had, and the time I have left.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dad in the Doghouse?

So, one unseasonably warm October day, Mom and Son are exiting the supermarket. A little girl sits outside the door holding a limp kitten. She locks eyes with Mom. "Would you give this kitten a home? My mom won't let me keep her." The kitten looks barely alive. She's panting, and her tongue is hanging out. The little girl goes on to tell how she found the kitten in a pile of discarded tires. Her eyes plead with Mom. Mom looks at Son. Son just says, "Please, Mom." Mom is toast.

Mom and son get in the car with the kitten. The kitten feebly licks water from the cap of a bottle of water. By bedtime, however, the kitten is looking and acting better.

A couple of months go by, and Dad volunteers as to how it would be a good idea to get the kitten spayed. Mom says it's too early. Dad brings up the subject a couple of months later, and Mom agrees that yes, it would be good to get the new cat spayed.

Mom foolishly assumes that Dad will actually follow up on his offer to take the kitten to the vet. Dad, however, procrastinates.

Some time goes by, and the "kitten" begins to look, er, wider. Soon, there is no mistaking that the little girl cat is going to be a mother.

Mom gives Dad some "uh huh" looks. Dad doesn't like getting those "uh huh" looks. Dad, after all, is a quite sensitive new millennium sort of fellow, and thus is subject to persistent emotional trauma when faced with the mere notion that Mom might be disappointed in his actions or lack thereof. Dad also wishes that if Mom must express her disapproval, that she avoid doing so while he is trying to watch Ultimate Fighting.

Dad is in the doghouse for a while, but when five new kittens are born, the "uh huh" looks cease as Mom gets her heart reeled in by scenes such as these:

Dad is no longer in the doghouse. However, Dad worries about whether he can convince Mom and Son to keep just one of the kittens. Mom and Son seem to have their hearts set on keeping all five. Dad never patronized cat houses as a single man, and yet now he faces living in one.

Wish Dad luck.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Weird Weather

When I arrived at Redding airport several days ago, following my stint at work, I walked the quarter mile to my car with the temperature at 104 degrees. The next four days would set records for high temperatures in Redding. Normally, the daytime highs in Redding are in the low eighties in mid-May.

Today is expected to set another record, for the lowest daytime high for the date. Sheesh, the temp isn't even expected to break seventy degrees! Also, it's raining outside. I'm kind of glad I procrastinated on moving the wood for the wood stove off of the porch.

Meanwhile, hurricane activity for the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be above normal this summer. For we offshore helicopter pilots, it's a heck of a way to gain job security.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One Danged Classy Antidote for the Blues

I spent my last stint at work at my employer's Boothville, Louisiana base. Boothville is very near where Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005. The buildings at our base were among the few that remained standing after Katrina. The few homes that survived had water up to the rooftops.

It was the first time that I'd driven back to Boothville since that fateful storm season of 2005. Although perhaps 70 percent of the pre-Katrina residents have moved back to Plaquemines Parish in the last couple of years, the business infrastructure is still skimpy. It's sad to see ruins of houses and businesses and realize that those buildings in many cases represented the hopes and dreams of an entire family.

All of our local employees at the Boothville base lost their homes. That's why I try not to whine over losing a mere automobile. (We pilots had time to evacuate the helicopters, but not our cars.) It was sad to note that some of the local folks never came back, and that I might never see them again.

One night, I got a bad case of cabin fever after work. I didn't feel like cooking for myself, and I just wanted to get away. I got in my car and drove the hour and ten minutes north to Belle Chasse.

I drove along Highway 23 with the window open, Steppenwolf blasting from the speakers. Then, a strange thing happened: sadness jumped me and bit me squarely on the ass.

Now, I've never been one to shy away from sadness. In fact, when I know it's there, I tend to confront it and explore it. But I'd been ambushed. I felt utterly unprepared for the onslaught of blue.

Looking back, I shouldn't have been surprised. I'd been feeling more homesick than normal, which perhaps was prompted by the fact that Dylan and Rhonda both seemed to have a harder time than normal with me going away. There was the quasi-ghost town feel of Boothville and the surrounding communities. And then, within weeks of each other, two of my coworkers had died.

Jim was in his late forties. I'd been somewhat of mentor to him as he moved into our larger aircraft and the IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) program. He was a big, gregarious guy, quick to laugh, and quick to tell a story. He died of complications of colon cancer.

Bill was in his late fifties. I didn't know anyone who didn't like him. If I could have flown with him every day, I might have volunteered for a pay cut: he was that good, and that likable. He died of leukemia.

Both of the guys occupied that strange netherworld between acquaintance and friend. It's a realm, I suppose, so often occupied by coworkers we like but don't see on our time off.

All I knew at that moment was that I'd miss them.

I ejected the CD, and drove the rest of the way with no sound other than that of the road meeting the tires. I had dinner in Belle Chasse. I left half of it on the plate. I didn't have much appetite. I went to a supermarket to buy provisions for my remaining days at work. As I ambled through the aisles, I began to notice that people seemed intimidated by me.

That's not usually the case. Although I'm just shy of six-five, and I weigh in at 240, I've always considered it a responsibility to avoid intimidating people. I try to come across as a friendly guy. I hate bullies, and I sure as hell don't want to come across as one. Besides, when you're a big guy, folks are quicker to pull a weapon.

I came to a display of sunglasses, and looked at my face in a mirror. I nearly stepped back. I looked like a guy who hated the whole world. No wonder people were shying away from me.

I loaded the groceries in the car, and began the drive south on Highway 23 to Boothville. I pushed the Steppenwolf CD back into the player. Two minutes later, I ejected it again.

Twenty minutes into the drive, my mood was still in the cellar. Then, I came upon a pickup, driving below the speed limit. A light came on in the cab, and I saw a woman hold a map up to the driver, a man. They both laughed and squeezed each other's arms for a moment. They were married, no doubt about it.

I held on to the laughter and the warmth I'd seen between them. It made me feel a little better. I pulled into the left lane to pass, and as I neared their rear bumper, I spotted a sticker. It said:


At first, I just chuckled. I thought about those words a little more, and soon, I was convulsed with laughter. Tears flowed too. Maybe they were coming from a different place than the laughter, but I didn't care. It all felt good, and it all felt right.

After I collected myself, I turned the air conditioner off, rolled down the windows, and pushed the Steppenwolf CD back into the player. Every few minutes, I'd think about that bumper sticker, and laugh again.

A juvenile sense of humor can be just the emotional balm a guy needs.

Pets and Babies

Algernon posted a short, funny piece to his blog today:

We brought Gabriel home tonight.


Does anybody know how to get a cat off the ceiling?

It made me laugh, and caused me to reminisce about the day we brought Dylan home from the hospital.

It can be quite a transition when a new little human mixes in with the home fray. Rhonda and I had heard some horror stories about little dogs getting jealous of the new baby, so we were wary.

The biggest of our two dogs was largely indifferent, if occasionally curious about the tiny human. The smallest of the two, Gomez, is half Chihuahua and half Miniature Doberman. He was intensely curious about Dylan from the get-go, and as I came to find out, quite protective.

I learned about Gomez's protective nature while burping Dylan one morning. Gomez watched, looking very concerned. Worried, really. Soon, he started whining. "Gomez, I'm not hurting him." Gomez wasn't buying it. Soon, he started with a chortled yelping. "Gomez, I'm not hurting him." Gomez wasn't buying it. He started growling. "Gomez, I'm NOT HURTING HIM." Gomez wasn't buying it. He started pulling on my pajama leg with his teeth. I decided to ignore Gomez until I got the desired response from Dylan. When I gave Dylan back to Rhonda, I looked down to discover that Gomez had chewed a hole in the bottom of one of my pajama legs.

Oh well, what the heck. It was still summertime, so I just wore shorts in the morning instead of pajamas. Fortunately, Gomez never tried to chew a hole in my ankle.

Gomez is still protective of Dylan. When we wrestle in the living room, Dylan can wail on me and use me as a human trampoline, and Gomez will scarcely notice. But, the moment he suspects I'm getting the least bit rough on Dylan, he's on me like a duck on a June bug, barking, growling, and pulling on a pants leg or a sleeve.

I'll tell ya, sometimes life just ain't fair.

Then again, there's little doubt in my mind that Gomez would give his life for Dylan. With that in mind, I suppose I can't complain too much about sacrificing the occasional article of clothing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Makes a Friend?/Papa A

My friend Michael writes a blog named Megaloi. He wrote a post on religion and spirituality recently that really gave me pause. Here's a excerpt from the post:

"Here's a weird story to start things off. Hal Johnson has a blog and makes comments here regularly. He's a guy I only know online, so our friendship is 100% virtual, in a sense. Yet I've been able to meet some of my internet friends in real life and it's always a seamless transition, so at the same time I realize that my friendship with Hal is 100% real, even if we've never shaken hands or eaten a meal together."

A few years ago, I might have disagreed with Michael on that friendship point. I tended to take the position that to really know someone, personal contact was vital. Writing, talking on the phone, and smoke signals just didn't cut it.

I've come around to Michael's way of thinking on friendship, and part of the reason I've come around is because of the only two bloggers on my list that I know in "real life."

Bob is a fellow helicopter pilot. For thirteen years, he worked for my current employer, PHI Inc. (Formerly Petroleum Helicopters, Inc.) I knew him only well enough to say "hello" for a good while, but I ended up having a long conversation with him during a dinner gathering of pilots and wives one evening. A few years would pass before I discovered his blog, his talent as a writer, and the richness of his life experiences.

Uncle E has a daughter who attends school with my son. I first got to know him at a campout, when we discovered a mutual fondness for Mexican beer. We've been planning to have a "dude happy hour," but life tends to get in the way of such plans, especially for two guys who actually enjoy being with their families.

And yeah, I suppose I know those guys in a way that I don't know my strictly online friends. Yet, I've also grown to know them in a fuller, different way than if I'd never discovered their writings.

So, I've come to think of my "100% virtual" friends as quite real. Different folks have different ideas as to what constitutes friendship, so they may not feel the same. That's okay.
One of my longest-term online friends is Algernon, who writes a blog titled Notes from a Burning House. I got to know him through a website named PearlSoup, which, as I've mentioned before, served as sort of a prelude to blogging for me.

Alg has written in the past that he didn't think he'd ever become a father, for several reasons. I inferred that those reasons had mostly to do with the state of the world. Still, when he announced on PearlSoup a few months back that Sarah was expecting, I wasn't exactly shocked. As John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." I did manage to avoid writing him to say "I told you so," if for no other reason than I'd never written that "I told you so" in the first place. I was pleased to read the news, because I think Alg has a lot to offer as a dad.

Alg wrote a post back in January titled, "What Do You Want to Be Called by Your Son?" I was quick with my opinion, and quick to post it as a comment: "Oh for heaven's sake, A. You're Italian, after all. Isn't it some sort of cosmic rule that you must be 'Papa'?"

Little Gabriel was born last night, shortly before midnight. I've never met Algernon in person. I've never shared a beer, a cup of coffee, or dinner with him. Yet, when I saw the photo of little Gabriel on Papa A's blog, tears came to my eyes. I guess that's because, yeah, I think of Algernon as a friend.

And because he's a friend, it makes me happy that little Gabriel is in the world.

Congratulations to Sarah and Papa A. You're gonna be exhausted for a while, but it's the magic that you'll remember.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Nod

On my blog list you'll see Debby's Life's Funny Like That. I love her writing and her ability to relate the richness of everyday moments, as well as those not-so-everyday moments. I also enjoy her "dependability." She's probably the most frequent poster on my list.

She recently added a music feature to her blog that plays a personal playlist when her blog is loaded. I really enjoyed the selections she chose, so I added Playlist to my blog. I hope other folks on my blog list will add the feature, since I'm pretty danged nosy, and I want to see what music you put up.

Thanks for the idea, Debby.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Eulogy from BawBaw

First of all, I've just stumped myself with a grammar question. We use "an" instead of "a" when it precedes a word starting with a vowel, right? So, I'd write, "Hal had to make an effort to answer that grammar question," or "Hal had to ask an uncle to answer that grammar question." But to my mind's ear, that doesn't sound right in the case of the word "eulogy." A eulogy sounds right; an eulogy sounds wrong. Is there anyone out there who's aware of some rule that covers this pairing of words, or is it just one of those maddening exceptions to English grammar rules? Or, have I just not had enough caffeine this morning?
I've belonged to a website called PearlSoup since 2001. For me and a bunch of other folks, it was sort of a predecessor to a blog. This morning, I read a eulogy posted by a member who calls herself BawBaw. The eulogy was written for one of her best friends, a woman BawBaw calls a "Warrior Goddess."
You should really read the post here, but I wanted to share a line that really struck me, because I thought it was one of the best encapsulations of a person's character I've ever read, touching and funny at once: No one but Ellen could utter the word "bitch" and have it resonate as "I love you."
We should all be remembered so fondly.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Nanci Griffith Performance

Back in the late eighties, I went to see John Prine in a solo performance at the Ventura Theater in southern California. A lady by the name of Nanci Griffith opened for him. I'd never heard of her at that point, and neither had my friends. She was utterly captivating, standing up there on the stage with only her guitar for accompaniment. And wow, what a songwriter. This video is from a BBC performance of her "Love at the Five and Dime."

Trout Fishing in America in Lima, Ohio

I wrote about the musical duo/group Trout Fishing in America here. They usually play their kids' concerts as a duo, but from time to time they'll put a band together. They're getting older, and they should probably quit wearing shorts on stage, but the guys still know how to put down the boogie.