Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Best Enemy

They moved into our neighborhood when I was eight, a couple and four kids. Eddie was the oldest, at seven, and I immediately took a dislike to him. He was living in the house where my best friend Keith had lived until his parents decided to move to another town. Therefore, I could not like him. It didn't help that his dog would poop while running down the sidewalk.

For a couple of years, we got in the occasional wrestling match, or would simply bristle at each other, but it was never anything serious. We both tired of having each other as enemies, and started saying "hey" to each other when we passed. We started getting along, but we really didn't have much to do with each other.
One day, though, Eddie saw me in the front yard, and he wanted to talk. He talked about what he wanted to do when he grew up. I remember how excited he was, how focused, how hopeful. What I don't remember is what he'd chosen for his future career.
The next day, I yelled out a "hey" at Eddie as he rode down the street. He rode like a wild man, zigging and zagging across the street, like he was daring cars to get in his way.
An hour later, Eddie was in a coma. A car had run into him, and he smacked his head on the pavement as he went down. We didn't wear helmets back then; that would have been weird.
Later that day, Eddie died. He was ten years old, the age of my son today.
He popped into my mind this morning. I wondered what he would be doing today, where he would be living, how many kids he would have.
But for some reason, I can't remember what he'd planned to do for a living when he grew up. Maybe it doesn't matter. After all, he never grew up. He never got the chance.
Still, it bothers me that I can't remember Eddie's chosen career field.
I'm going to stop now, and watch my son sleep.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Steve Brewer: Nest is never quite empty

Steve Brewer posted this on his blog today. Geez, when I read it, I felt the need to go outside away from Dylan. As my friend Dave would say, "damn sinuses."

I was digging around in a file cabinet in my home office when I found a cowboy tucked into one corner of a drawer. He's quite the frontiersman, armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and crouched in a kneeling position perfect for sniping.
Been a long time since our sons -- ages 21 and nearly 19 -- played with little plastic cowboys. Wonder how long that cowboy has been waiting in that drawer for someone to rescue him?
You can't tell it from my stellar cellphone photography, but the cowboy is pretty detailed, with windswept bandana, fringed shirt and the words, on his base, "Made in China."
I'm keeping him on my desk, a reminder that my sons are never as far away as they seem.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heavy Light Reading

Do we really know someone we've only "met" online? Yes and no, I think. I think we know them on a different level, somehow. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
I've never met Thom Gabrukeiwicz. He's a friend and former coworker of my good friend Ian, who presides over a fun blog titled Uncle E's Musical Nightmares. They both worked at our local paper in Redding, the Record Searchlight, but they both left--along with a bunch of other senior journalists and staff--with the downturn in the paper's fortunes. Thom strikes me as someone who would make a good friend, even though he'd thoroughly piss you off now and then.
In addition to his blog, Thom has a site named Three Word Wednesday. Once a week, he offers up three words as writing prompts. Folks create poetry with the words, or short stories, or "flash fiction." Thom presides over the site like a kindly uncle, and his own submissions show how much can be conveyed with few words.
Perhaps because I'm in aviation, where divorce seems as common as the common cold, Thom's post yesterday really got to me. For National Guard and Reservist folks who've been deployed to Iran or Afghanistan, the divorce rate is strikingly high. That's probably another reason why Thom's story wrapped me up: I've heard similar stories over the intercom. I hope you'll give it a look.
Thom worked as a journalist in the midwest until recently. On his deathbed, Thom's dad encouraged him to go to New York to pursue his love of writing fiction. I wish Thom loads of luck, and I hope he'll do his best to see to it that his first novel is released on Kindle.

Monday, November 08, 2010

What Goes Around

I mentioned in a Facebook exchange with fitness writer Lou Schuler that I'd stopped watching VH-1 several years ago, after watching a string of "Behind the Music" episodes. "Behind the Music" often had a "where are they now?" theme, but heck, I'd never heard of most of the acts in the first place. And that was several years ago.

In response, Lou wrote, "It's funny to see my kids get into music that was new a decade or two before they were born. One of their Kidz Bop CDs has a cover version of "Time Warp," from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They were absolutely shocked when I not only knew the words, but vaguely remembered the dance steps. I tried to explain that it was fun to go see it at midnight when I was in college, but I didn't get far. They refuse to believe any story that involves their dad being awake past 10 p.m."
In related news, Dylan is now referring to me as a "walking fashion crime." Geez.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Dylan's Seven Line Poem

A couple of months ago, my wife, son, and I were lounging after a lazy Saturday morning breakfast. It was my first weekend at home after being away to Louisiana.
Rhonda said, "Hal, Dylan wrote a poem in school about you. You should read it." She handed it to me.
Dylan walked up and hugged me, looking somber, and said, "I love you, Dad."
I tend to get a little misty when he does that.
So I read Dylan's creation. His assignment in his fifth-grade home room was to compose a seven-line poem. Here it is, just as I read it.

Snow as white as a rabbit
It's been quite the habit
That I go sleighing on a Saturday night
I gave myself quite a fright
When I heard a deathly howl
And I realized it was my dad Hal
Getting whipped on the butt by an owl

Rhonda and Dylan were so pleased with themselves when they saw my reaction. Sheesh, what a set up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One More Gift, Wrapped in Aggravation

I've loved the Indian summers of October since I was a kid. Growing up in coastal southern California, it was often the best "summer" we had, since the marine layer would move in for much of the real summer months. I can remember going to the beach in July and not seeing the sun until mid-afternoon. The fog seemed to make a joke of summer in my growing up years.
No such thing as a marine layer up here in Shasta County. Some of our summer days get brutally hot, and many folks look forward to autumn. I know how they feel, but I always grieve a bit for the end of warm nights out on the deck, or out on the lake on a moonlit night, wearing shorts and t-shirts.
We've had a nice stretch of Indian summer here for the last few days, so a few nights ago, we took our forty-two year old patio boat out to Shasta Lake. We had a great time. The air was warm, but the water had cooled to just short of cold. Dylan and I both gasped when we jumped in, but we got used to it quickly.
I felt a little sad. The water told me that summer was over, even if the air didn't. The Indian summers have always been bittersweet for me.
We got back to the marina shortly before sundown. Rhonda walked up to back the Suburban down to the water, but soon came walking back. Dead battery.
There was nobody around to give us a jump, so I called Triple A. The phone person on the line said it would be about thirty minutes.
Two hours later, we still waited, but about the time I started betraying irritation, Rhonda said, "Yeah, but what a night to get stuck at the lake, don't you think?"

She was right. We watched a crescent moon set behind the mountains. Later, with little artificial light around, Rhonda pointed out various constellations, and we clearly saw the Milky Way overhead.
The tow truck driver showed up, finally. He apologized profusely, telling me that his company was supposed to have three drivers on duty, but he was the only one to show up that night.
I suppose he might have thought it strange had I thanked him for taking so long.

Dylan and Alice

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aggravation and Magic

We were driving back from town, and Dylan and I were talking about horses. As we got out of the car, Rhonda said, "You guys sure are talking a lot."

"Oh no," I thought. But yeah, it was seven in the evening, and I was revved up.

We'd had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Dylan loves it because of the "sushi boats" that float by, allowing the patron to pick from a wide selection of sushi and other Japanese food. After dinner, we stopped by a drive-through coffee place to get a couple of dessert coffee drinks. For Dylan and me, that is. Rhonda can't stand coffee, no matter how gussied up.

I ordered decaf versions. Dylan is ten, after all, and if I drink coffee much after noon or so, I can count on spending a good chunk of the night sleepless.

For some reason, we didn't get decaf versions of our coffees, and sheesh, those suckers were big. The guy at Dutch Brothers probably didn't hear the decaf part of my order over the music in his work area.

Rhonda went to bed around ten, and Dylan and I were still talking away. At midnight, we were still talking. That was when I started to feel really aggravated at the guy at Dutch Brothers. I was listening to Dylan, but silently calling the coffee guy a bunch of ill names.

I probably stewed at that guy for a good half hour. But then, the front porch light inside came on, and I realized that I needed to give up my rancor, and focus on the magic going on with my son.

We talked about his friends. We talked about horses. We talked about falconry. We talked about his hopes and fears for the school year. We talked about him getting back into Jiu Jitsu. We talked about our favorite music. We talked about what he would do when he grew up. We talked about the day he was born. We talked about my mom, his other grandma, the one he didn't remember because she died when he was thirteen months old. We talked about both of his grandfathers, who died many years before he was born. We talked about kindness, and toughness, and how they often belonged in the same room.

Finally, at two-thirty in the morning, I could see him start to wind down.

"Let's get you in bed," I said.
"Aw Dad, I'm not sleepy yet."
"We can keep talking."
"Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?"

So I did. His speech started to slow, and he started to talk about a time we'd gone snorkeling, but he didn't make it through the sentence before drifting to sleep. I kissed his head, then went to our bedroom, and kissed Rhonda on the cheek. She giggled.

"What time is it?" she asked.
"You don't want to know."
"Oh brother," she said, before drifting back to sleep.

It was nearly four in the morning before I even thought about trying to sleep. I wondered if those coffees had something illegal in them.

I finally started to feel myself slip, as I thought about the three of us swimming through the ocean.


About three weeks later, we went to the same Japanese restaurant, and Dylan and I once again decided on dessert coffees at Dutch Brothers. As we pulled into the drive-through lane, I could see the same young guy hanging out of the window, handing coffees to the car in front of us.

"Dylan, it's the same guy who gave us caffeine poisoning last month."
"Oh brother," Dylan said.

The caffeine poisoner shouted out a greeting, and asked us what we wanted.

"Two decaf Carmelizers, one on ice, one blended," I said.
"So that's two Carmelizers, one on ice, one blended?"

Dylan and I shouted in unison, "DECAF!"

The poor guy nearly jumped off the floor. Probably because of too much caffeine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Herding Cats

I wrote this on Facebook this morning: Sheesh. During a crew change day at work, we're at the flight line at 5 AM, and we have a lot of tasks to knock off within an hour before a flight. Why then does it seem ten times more stressful just to get my wife and son out the door on a school day? I love those two people more than life itself, but I have an idea for a new TV reality show: "Extreme Home Cat Herding."

I was pretty aggravated this morning by the time my bride and our son drove away. It was partly just me, since I'm fighting a sinus infection, and not feeling my best, and give me enough time and I'll come up with other excuses.

Part of it comes from Rhonda. Although she's one of the very kindest and loving people I've ever known, she is NOT at her best in the morning. She and Dylan seldom follow a straight-line course to anything, and if I rousted them an hour earlier every morning, they would still get out the door with about two minutes to spare.

My goodbyes were kind of curt as they got into the car. But as I stood outside, and listened to the car drive down the driveway and up the hill, I found myself wishing for a do-over.

I walked into the house and slumped into a chair, and the thought crossed my mind: "What if that goodbye was the last I ever got to say to them?" A golf ball appeared in my throat.

I thought about lesser losses, too.

One day, Dylan will be on his own. The mornings of cooking breakfast, packing a lunch, and fretting over him getting to school on time will be over.

I thought about how aggravated I was this morning.

I thought about how the day will come when I have my first cup of coffee in the morning, remembering the mornings of trying to get my wife and son out the door on time. I think about how I'll chuckle, and maybe, get a tear on my eye.

Something dawned on me anew: The cat-herding ordeals will end. Too soon.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Quran and Pastor Jones

I'm sure you've heard of Terry Jones. He's the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida. Come September 11, he plans to burn copies of the Quran in a bonfire. The White House, religious leaders, and General David Petraeus have asked him to back down.

In an email to the Associated Press, General Petraeus wrote that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

So far, Jones doesn't seem inclined to back down. I saw him on the news this morning, and when reminded that his actions could result in the deaths of more U.S. troops, his response was "that's not my problem."

I'd like to think that I understand where people like Terry Jones are coming from. After all, the battle against terrorism can be frustrating. Islamic extremist groups such as the Taliban are elusive and shadowy. When people desperately want to find a target, and that target proves exceedingly difficult to identify, the tendency--with some--is to identify a larger target. Thus, in the eyes of people like Terry Jones, Islam itself is the enemy.

A big target is oh-so-convenient. A big target quells frustration because there are many opportunities for engagement. Never mind that the target is largely a work of fiction.

I have quite a redneck lineage, and it shows at times like this. I find myself characterizing Terry Jones as an evil son of a bitch, a wannabe Hitler in the making. But the fact is that people like Pastor Jones are often the result of combining fear, ignorance, and pain in a fragile human vessel and shaking it until it bleeds hate. Terry Jones may indeed be evil personified, but chances are he's just another person harboring a wounded child within, a child who grew up with too little love. For people of that mold, hate can be strangely comforting.

But, I can only go so far with my half-baked compassion for Terry Jones. You see, I have a goodly number of friends and coworkers who serve in the National Guard or other military reserves, men and women who face their second, third, or fourth deployments to the Middle East. Terry Jones' refusal to act as a mature, reasonable human being could mean a greater chance that I'll never see some of them again.

That said, in no way am I suggesting that the right of free speech should be denied to Pastor Jones. The Constitution has been eroded too much already over the years, by both Republicans and Democrats.

So, as deplorable as I find the event planned by Terry Jones, I will defend his right to go forward.

Even as I imagine how gratifying it would be to kick him squarely in the balls.

Monday, August 30, 2010

He Gets it Off His Chest, 28 Years Later

So my friend Ron has been with PHI for 31 years, like me. We worked together at PHI's Lake Charles base back in '81 and '82. I left the Gulf of Mexico to fly in California in '82, and Ron left to work overseas and at Emergency Medical Services bases. Twenty-eight years would go by before I would see him again.

Ron decided to come back to flying in the Gulf of Mexico, so one day, we found ourselves paired as a crew. Naturally, we had lots of catching up to do.

I suppose it was around the third day we were flying together that Ron brought up something that, evidently, had been bothering him for twenty-eight years.

Ron asked, "Remember when we had that barbecue at Sid's place, and you invited Elaine?"


Elaine was one of our communications specialists. She was working in Cameron that week, south of Lake Charles, and I got the okay for her to ride on one of our helicopters that repositioned from Cameron to Lake Charles every afternoon.

Ron continued. "You remember that you were helping Sid get the food together, and you asked me to call Elaine to remind her to call you when she got in?"


"Well, I called her. Well, I thought I called her. But I didn't call her. No, my fingers dialed my house. My daughter answered. For some reason, I didn't recognize her voice.

"I said, 'Hi. Is Elaine there?'

"I heard, 'DAD?'

"I blurted out, 'SHELLY?'

"But before I could say anything else, my daughter called out, 'MOM, DAD'S ON THE PHONE, AND HE'S ASKING FOR SOME WOMAN NAMED ELAINE.'

"When I got home later, I started to explain things to my wife, but she held up her hand and said, 'Don't even bother.'

"I said, 'Honey, you can call Hal, and he'll explain it to you.'

"She said, 'Yeah, I'm sure you and Hal have your stories straight by now.'"

Ron paused, and I couldn't tell if he was smiling or grimacing.

"She never let me explain what happened that day." He looked at me pointedly. "I thought you should know."

Geez, what could I say to that? But, in a moment, I thought of something.

"You know what, Ron?"


I said, "If you had offered to help Sid with the food, you could have skipped all that relationship trauma."

Ron said, "Gee, thanks for the thoughtful feedback."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Daughter at the Wall

My flying partner for the week had flown a tour in Vietnam. Jerry happens to be one of our youngest Vietnam veterans, at fifty-nine. That's striking to me. The guys who flew in Vietnam have long been my mentors, both in the Army and with PHI, and there aren't many of them still flying with us who are under the age of sixty. What a strange thought.

But that's not what I showed up here to talk about. I came to talk about Jerry and me, two large middle-aged guys, sitting at a table in a restaurant in tears. And no, the tears weren't from laughter. The waitress approached us at one point, and, noticing our faces, backed away.

I mentioned to Jerry, when we first started eating, how my son still hugs me, and doesn't seem to mind when I kiss his head when dropping him off at school. I also mentioned that I've thought a lot lately about Dylan being ten years old, and about the autumn of his childhood, and the changes that will come.

Jerry talked about his daughter. "When she got to five years old," he said, "she decided that she was too big to be picked up in public. It seemed that one month she was asking me to pick her up all the time, and the next, she just stopped asking."

Jerry paused for a moment, and his mind seemed to go somewhere else, but he snapped back and continued.

"My wife, my daughter, and I were in Washington, D.C. At one point, my wife asked if I wanted to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I declined. She didn't ask for an explanation, and I didn't offer one."

Jerry paused again. "The reason I didn't want to visit The Wall is a whole different story."

He went on. "At one point, we were on foot, and we realized that the fastest way to walk to our destination was past the wall. My wife told me that she would get the car so we could drive, but I told her, 'No, I can do this.' So I started walking along the wall, but I resisted looking at it."

"It was getting to me anyway. I felt it, even if I wasn't looking at it. Then came a tug at my coat. I looked down, and my daughter, who was seven at the time, asked me to pick her up. I was surprised, because it had been at least two years since she'd asked me to pick her up in public. So I did."

"I held her close, and she wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed me."

"She put her mouth against my ear, and whispered, 'Daddy, I'm so glad your name isn't on that wall.'"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Victor Bloom, M.D.

I got into my half-assed writing hobby by first writing Amazon reviews, starting in 1998. Yep, Amazon reviews. Founders of a website called PearlSoup contacted me and a number of folks about submitting stories for their site. Many of the early submitters there were Amazon reviewers noted by the founders. PearlSoup led to blogging, and dabbling with helicopter magazine articles and our local news website.

PearlSoup is where I "met" Victor. One of the more colorful characters on PearlSoup, Victor could make you mad, make you think, make you laugh.

Victor turns 79 today. He wrote something interesting on Facebook about his father. His dad was 60 when Victor was born. (And I thought I was a late-in-life dad.) Victor's father was born in Minsk in 1871, the year the Royal Albert Hall opened. It was also the year when H.M. Stanley allegedly uttered, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

Victor was born in 1931. In 1931, Thomas Edison submitted his last patent application, Alka Seltzer was introduced, the "Star Spangled Banner" was named the official anthem of the U.S., and France announced that they couldn't afford to send a team to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

Happy birthday, Dr. Bloom.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Attack of the Plug Bug

I got back to the company quarters intending to take a quick shower, and venture out to find something to eat. Instead, I decided to catch up on emails. Sitting there in my uniform, I felt something inch down my back under my shirt.

Now, as far as I know, I don't have a bug phobia. But when I feel something crawling down my back where I can't see it, it creeps me out. I sprung out of the chair and frantically unbuttoned my shirt. I was halfway done when I thought, "Screw it," and pulled the shirt over my head. I could still feel the bug, and it was big! I thought that it must be a cockroach or a really big spider.

I reached down my back and caught the offender. I brought it in front of me. It was yellow. It was an earplug.

We keep earplugs on hand at the flight line. The pair I had were attached by a cord to each other. Normally, I would drape the cord around my neck with the plugs hanging down on my chest. But, during the course of the afternoon, the plugs worked themselves around to the point that one fell down my back as I sat down at the computer.

I'm glad nobody was around with a video camera as I darted around the room getting my shirt off. I can see the YouTube title now: "Who says middle-aged white guys can't dance?"

Friday, June 25, 2010


I left a comment over at Debby's blog about angry people.

I wrote, Several years ago I was talking to one of our senior lead mechanics about one pilot who would throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat. I managed to get along with the guy, largely by steering the conversation toward his grandson. That would always lighten him up.

Anyway, the guy had come close to crossing a line with me. Close enough that I felt quite in touch with my redneck lineage. I was still miffed about the exchange, and mentioned that to our lead mechanic. He paused, and then said, "We grew up in the same town, y'know. I knew his father, and if you had ever met his father, that would explain a lot." Those words stuck with me.

Some people are assholes simply because they're assholes. But then, I believe many people cling to anger because they grew up with too little love in their lives. For them, anger can be strangely comforting. Anger can fill the empty places.


I've followed Debby's blog for a while now. I read it before she learned she had breast cancer, and followed her journey through chemo and recovery. Through it all, she never stopped writing.

She recently posted this:
People have often asked how I do it. How I manage to post regularly, despite all the things going on in my life. The answer is easy. I get up early to do it. Each morning, I pad around in my bare feet and night gown making coffee. A morning without coffee would be, well, it would still be a morning, but infinitely worse. So I start my day with two cups of cappuccino from my own machine, and I bring my frothy cup into the living room, and I sit down at the computer. I take a few moments to click through the blogs, and then I quickly type up my post. It's part of my morning ritual. If I have to work or if things are especially hectic, I might not take the time to do it, but mostly I do take the time. As the coffee courses through my veins making me feel human, well, connecting with all of you, that makes me feel human too.

Steve Brewer is a novelist and humorist who stayed at home raising his sons while his wife worked as a managing editor of two different newspapers. He lives here in our northern California community of Redding. When I asked him how the heck he managed to publish seventeen books while holding down the fort as a stay-at-home dad, he answered, "I got up at three in the morning." Another writer friend, Alan Rider, is a stay-at-home dad when he isn't traveling for some writing gig, and his wife is also a career woman. When I asked him how he's done it, I pretty much got the same answer: "I get up early in the morning."

My writing output has declined in the last year, and I think it's largely because I no longer wake at four in the morning on my off days. Most of the time, I wake at the same time as the family. My couple of hours of solo time in the morning have largely evaporated. Why am I not waking "naturally" in the wee morning hours anymore? Am I getting abducted by aliens?

So there it is, doggone it. If I want to up my writing output, I'm gonna have to set a damn alarm clock on my off days. That just seems unnatural.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Marital Discourse from 1998

We'd just watched news about Bill Clinton's impeachment.

Me: "Sweetie, I'm curious about something."
Rhonda: "What's that?"
Me: "Well, if you were to learn that some woman gave me oral sex, would you be as upset as if I had full-on sexual intercourse with her?"
Rhonda: "Is there something I need to know?"
Me: "Not unless you want to count the neighbor's dog." That pooch was a crotch-hound if ever I met one.

She rolled her eyes. She thought for a moment.

Rhonda: "Well, I think I'd be upset if I learned that some woman was tooting your horn, but I don't think I'd be as upset as if you were boinking her."

My bride, bless her heart, has so much trouble expressing herself.

She looked at me. I betrayed a mischievous little smile, and raised my eyebrows.

Rhonda: "You shouldn't take my answer as ****ing permission."

Sheesh I laughed hard. I think I almost passed out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mileage Games

Okay, I admit it: I'm a frequent flyer slut. I regularly fly on United. Reach frequent flyer status with United, and you'll benefit from more legroom in the coach section, frequent upgrades to first class, and less worry about getting bumped off of a crowded, weather-delayed flight.

PHI's pilot union called for a strike in 2006. From September through the rest of that year, I wasn't flying to work. This put my exalted frequent flyer status at risk. The solution? Well, in December, United had a remarkably cheap fare to Honolulu. So, I flew to Honolulu from Sacramento. I took a taxi from the airport, and had dinner in town. I touched down in Sacramento fourteen hours after my departure. My frequent flyer status was safe for another twelve months.

My bride rolled her eyes at that one, and began referring to my sought-after mileage level as "sexual favor status." I told her that I once saw a movie at a bachelor party where that sort of stuff went on, but it had never happened to me in real life.

I feel guilty about that exchange, though. I didn't tell her the whole truth. The truth was that, although nothing physical went on, a flight attendant did once talk dirty to me. Yep. Down and dirty.

It was prior to take off, and I guess my situational awareness was lacking, because she leaned toward me and said, "Turn off your ****ing cell phone!"

Okay, I made that part up.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Geez, What a Month (or Two)

We cruise through life so much of the time, propped up by routine. But sometimes the road gets rocky.

My friend Jeff lost his wife in early April. She'd had kidney problems, but had been released to go home, and died suddenly after getting back. Jeff seldom referred to her as "my wife." Instead, she was nearly always "Cathy." It's sometimes striking how much you can read from one word. When Jeff said the word "Cathy," what I heard was, "I love her so much." Cathy was only in her fifties. It makes me sad to think that they've been denied the time to grow old together.

My coworker Shaun is one of those guys who seems in rapture over being a dad. He's mentioned the incredible feeling of having his infant son fall asleep on his chest, and of watching the little guy discover life and the world. Now his wife wants a divorce, and Shaun lives away from his son.

My coworker Tim flew regularly to the Deepwater Horizon. He knew several of the folks who worked on the rig personally. It was "his rig" so to speak; he was most often tasked for the crew change flights in and out of there. I haven't asked him if he knew any of the eleven workers presumed killed in the explosion. But, I know that it must weigh on him, knowing that he's been responsible for their safety in the past, while they were passengers on his helicopter. At around the same time as the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Tim learned that he had some major blockage of coronary arteries, and underwent the stent procedure. He'll be grounded for a minimum of six months. Tim was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while serving as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. I hope we'll see him back in the cockpit in a few months, and I hope that when he retires, it's on his terms.

Bob wrote about cars in a recent blog post. He mentioned how he's always loved driving and working on them. I've never been a big auto enthusiast, and my tastes have tended toward the practical (cheap). But, back in my Army days, I drove a fellow pilot's Corvette around when he'd had a bit too much of the happy sauce. Geez, the older Corvettes were fun to drive, and really comfortable for tall guys.
One day, when I lived in Austin in the early eighties, I found myself at a dealership haggling over the price of a new Corvette. It would have been quite a transition: Toyota Tercel to Corvette. The the price got down to something really attractive, because the dealer wanted to unload his remaining 'Vettes in the old body style to make room for the new, more European-looking model. I was really close to signing on the dotted line. But, I got cold feet at the end, for a reason probably best explained in an old joke. Surely you've heard it.
Q: What's the difference between a Corvette and a porcupine?
A: With a porcupine, the prick is on the outside.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Day for Linking

Just wanted to share some recent posts from other folks with y'all.

I love Debby's writing, whether she's relating her battle with breast cancer, or hurting her hip while dancing at a wedding.
Life's Funny Like That

My friend and former coworker Bob has a sense of "voice" in his writing that I envy. He's a kind and compassionate guy, but he doesn't really care if you think so. He lives in Florida, but he still has a good bit of the vinegary New Yorker in him. I liked this post because it reveals a bit about the life of a helicopter pilot who lives by the seasons, and how we sometimes don't realize how we've changed until well after the fact.
Helicopter Pilot

Inspiration needn't come from a grand source. It can come from the heart and the guts of a six year-old girl struggling to master the monkey bars. Read Andrew Heffernan's account of his daughter's triumph.
Male Pattern Fitness

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I was away in Louisiana for longer than usual last time. Annual recurrent training, with long, intense days in the classroom and the simulator.

It always has an affect on Dylan when I'm away for longer than usual, and this time was no different. Rhonda went to bed early, and Dylan asked me to sit next to him while we watched "Iron Man."

I thought about how long it had been since we snuggled up together to watch a movie. He's a big kid now; he'll be ten this summer. It was a tighter fit in the easy chair than last time, but we wedged in there together. We made it half way through the movie before he feel asleep against my shoulder.

Geez, I remember being in my twenties and thirties and feeling envious of women friends because they could cry. "It must feel so good," I would think, knowing how difficult it was for me to find that kind of emotional release.

Wow, things sure changed after I became a dad. I think I cried more in the first three years of Dylan's life than I had in my entire adulthood. Mostly, I weeped out of joy, but as most parents know, that joy is infused with a beautiful sadness, a sadness that comes from knowing that our times with little ones will be too short, and that one day they will fly away.

Few parents really want the kids to stay forever. We know that taking wing is evidence of a successful upbringing. We don't want them lounging on the sofa, thirty and jobless, mad because all of the potato chips are gone. And yet, some of us still dread that day when our kids leave us to make lives for themselves.

I thought about that as I looked at my son's hairy little sleeping head resting on my shoulder. But really, his head isn't so little anymore, and that's one more reminder that one day he'll fly away.

Good God, I hope I'll be ready.

Gotta go. Damn sinuses.

Friday, March 05, 2010

One Nation, with No Damned Sense of Humor

Thom G. and Bob Barbanes wrote about the JFK controller who let his nine year-old twins clear a few aircraft for takeoff.

Thom wrote, "Jebus but we've lost out way in this country. We're an angry nation. We've got everyone yelling at anyone." He continues, "There's a lot of people in this country that have lost their sense of humor. They're angry, ugly and unfunny."

I pretty much echo his sentiments. Okay, perhaps the dad suffered from a lapse in judgment. Sure. I don't know all the details of the incident, but I surmise that he let his kids play air traffic controllers during non-peak times. He told them what to say, and he was right there to correct them or take over. It wasn't as if the kids were on approach control, guiding multiple aircraft into the airport with minimum separation. The kids were clearing aircraft located on the ground for takeoff. C'mon.

We've become a country that celebrates punishing people. If the press makes a big deal out of someone's mistake, a big chunk of the public goes along with the implied we need to get that bastard sentiment.

I think the authorities should slap that air traffic controller's wrist, tell him not to do it again, and put him back to work. I think we should all hold on to a sense of humor, lest we begin to lose hold on our own sense of humanity.

I hope the controller goes back to work, and I hope his kids can quit worrying that they could have cost daddy his job.

I'm doubtful that will happen. I think too many people will want his head, because dammit, that's how we do things around here. "Forgive and forget" ain't so much in fashion nowadays.

And that's freakin' sad.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Little Man

My son Dylan is nine and a half now. Like most parents, I wonder where the time has gone. He's a healthy little dude: He weighs a bit over 100 pounds, and he's a half inch shy of five feet tall.

He was a remarkably happy baby, and he's always been a good kid. He can be trying at times, yep. I tell friends that he's a lot like his mom, which is to say that he's sweet, but hard-headed.

Lately, I find that I've been raising my voice with him more often. He's been testing his limits, and pushing the envelope with regularity. I've had to more often fight against exasperation, and I've more often reminded myself to take a couple of breaths before saying anything.

One day last week, I walked into the school grounds to pick Dylan up at the end of the day. Dylan ran up to give me a hug, followed closely by one of his schoolmates. Dylan's little friend had a silly grin on his face, and he shouted, "Mr. Johnson, Dylan gave me five dollars!" I looked at Dylan, waiting for an explanation, but he said nothing.

Driving home, I reminded Dylan that he'd been given the five bucks to pay for a couple of days of school lunches. He said, "I know, Dad. But he's been talking about a toy he wants to buy, and he never has any money."

"So you went without lunch?" I asked.
"Well, not really."
"What do you mean, 'not really'?"
He paused. "One of the other kids gave me some crackers."

Dylan's little buddy comes from a broken home. Money is tight, I gather.

I was torn. Dylan gave that money away without permission. He'd intentionally disregarded our instructions to use it to pay for school lunches.

I rehearsed it in my mind. I'd praise him for being so selfless, for going without lunch so a little friend could buy a toy he'd wanted for weeks. But then, I'd gently scold him for failing to follow instructions. I'd remind him that the money was not his to give away. I'd give him a little lecture about responsibility.

We came to a stop light. I looked in the rear-view mirror, and met his eyes. His expression told me that he knew something was coming.

A little hesitation on his part. "Yeah, Dad?"
"You want to stop and get something to eat?"

What can I say? I went with my heart. I hope my heart was right.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Not Just a Game

I took this photo earlier today. What you see is what remains of the IGA supermarket in Buras, Louisiana. There were two supermarkets in Buras, but Hurricane Katrina took them away. The folks down here in Buras, Boothville, and Venice still don't have a supermarket in the community. Instead, they must drive a half-hour north to Port Sulphur.

There are many vivid reminders of the devastation brought by Katrina to these people and their homes. They see them every day.

The Saints made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in their forty-two year history. The Aints ain't Aints anymore. That's one reason why, for folks in south Louisiana, the Super Bowl was much more than a game. But it wasn't the only reason, and I think it wasn't the most important reason.

I think for so many folks down here, the Super Bowl means that it's okay to hope again. God bless them.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Tip of the Hat to Archie Manning

For the first time in nineteen years, I'm genuinely interested in the outcome of the upcoming Super Bowl. If memory serves, the last time I watched a Super Bowl from beginning to end was in 1991. I was with my dad. Dad died later that year, in August.

I'd always found individual sports more compelling anyway. Track and field, tennis, ping pong, boxing, whatever. But watching games with Dad was always fun, and I always looked forward to them, whether as a kid, or later, as an alleged adult.

I grew up in southern California, but my favorite football team during my high school years and into my twenties? The New Orleans Saints. I'd evidently inherited my dad's trait of rooting for the underdog, and boy, were the Saints ever the perennial underdog.

The Saints were founded in 1967, and it would be twenty years before they had a winning season.

And then there was Archie Manning. Archie was an outstanding quarterback, but he just didn't have much of a team around him, and that was most evident with the Saints porous offensive line. Archie didn't have it much better in college, at Ole Miss. In 1969, he set an SEC record for total offense: 436 yards passing, 104 yard rushing. Archie's effort is still tied for the record today, and guess what? Ole Miss lost that game to Alabama.

Archie played for the Saints for ten seasons. Losing seasons. L.A. Rams defensive lineman Jack Youngblood felt bad for Archie, because Archie's offensive line left so often left him a sitting duck for players of Youngblood's caliber. Archie said, "I've got to say that Youngblood was nice enough to pick me up every time he knocked my butt off."

So now, for the first time in forty-two years, the New Orleans Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Archie's son Peyton will lead the Indianapolis Colts against the Saints. Something tells me that Archie will be pulling for Peyton. But if the Saints win, I suspect Archie will spare a smile or two.

I'll be traveling on Super Bowl Sunday. I'm not sure I'll catch the game. But I'll be thinking about Archie, and thinking about my dad.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Let's Get Out of Here Before They Call the Police

So Dylan and I are walking through the indoor mall. He says something clever and smart-alecky at my expense. I'm proud of him, but of course he has to pay, so I get him in a headlock. I give him a noogie and a light kick to the butt.

He responds with a straight right to my side. Oomph. I've always let him hit me full force in the body when we spar, but sheesh, I'm wondering how much longer that can go on. I deliver a vicious combination to his head with my fingertips, and he counters with a looping left to the body.

We pause. We drift back together, still walking, and we hug.

I hear laughter behind us. An older lady is walking behind us, watching.

"Men," she says.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Wild New Year's Eve

One day my buddy Mick the Mad Irishman and I were flying together. We landed in Morgan City just before a line of rain moved over the heliport, and we sat in the helicopter waiting it out. We chatted about this and that when Mick asked a question.

"How often do you and Rhonda get a babysitter and go out to dinner or a movie?"
"Never," I answered.
"Never," I answered again.
Mick looked a little stricken. "You've never left him with a babysitter and gone out, not once?"

He looked dumbfounded, and said nothing for a moment.

Finally, he said, "That's f***ed up."

I merely chuckled at first. Mick has never, since I've known him, had any trouble offering his opinion on something he thinks is "f***ed up." In a few moments, though, I was laughing so hard I was in tears.

Mick offered, "It's not bloody funny, it's f***ing tragic, mate." That really got me going.

Now, Mick and his wife were and are devoted parents to their two daughters. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more devoted dad than Mick. But, Mick and his wife were in their early thirties when their first daughter arrived. They needed to get out now and then.

I explained to Mick that there's a been there done that thing with older parents, and that we didn't feel we were making any real sacrifice in forgoing "dates," since we'd had plenty of time to indulge in dinners and movies before Dylan's arrival.

Mick didn't buy it. "That's f***ed up," he said, summarizing his feelings on the matter.

Last night, I had a plan to have my cake and eat it too, with Rhonda's encouragement. I planned to dash into town and catch the early set of the Jim Dyar Band, and make it home to see in the new year with Rhonda and Dylan. Jim is a friend of a friend, and I've been wanting to catch him and his band for a good while now.

I never left home, though. Part of it was that I have a cold and it was rainy last night. The other part is that I'm away from the two people I love most too much anyway. I love live music, but I just couldn't find the motivation to go away for a couple of hours.

We told Dylan that he could stay up until midnight. But, Rhonda was asleep by 10:30, and Dylan fell asleep at 11:00, leaning against my shoulder as we watched the Twilight Zone marathon on SyFy.

When the new year arrived, I kissed his hairy little head and whispered, "Happy New Year, Punkin'." (He's now demanding that I desist calling him "Punkin" in public.) I carried him to bed, and looked at him for a few minutes, wondering how nine and a half years went by so fast.

I had a wonderful New Year's Eve. I hope yours was wonderful too.