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?"