The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Invasion - Part I

Fire ants are mean little critters. I am sure they don't mean to be, that's it's just their nature to want to eat the flesh from our bones while we stand there writhing in agony. And it is kind of clever how they all wait to start sinking their mandibles into our skin until everyone is in place and ready. I realize they serve a purpose in the eco-system, consuming dead meat and all. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if I woke up tomorrow and found they had become extinct.

I didn't come to this conclusion easily. No, it took many chance encounters from my childhood right into my 50s before it really took hold. What solidified it for me was the last major incident a few years ago...

One evening, I was sitting in my second favorite chair in my living room. I was in shorts and a T-shirt with bare feet. This is, of course, the mandatory clothing of Floridians about 10 months out of the year. It might even be mandated by law... but that's not important right now. I was watching TV when a felt a sharp pain on one of my toes. I looked down and saw this little red ant right where the pain was and immediately reached down and crushed it.

One thing I have learned over the years is that there is never just one ant. There will always be more. With fire ants, many more. So I look down at the gray carpeting and sort of let my eyes fall out of focus in order to detect movement. And there they are, several of them moving about, wending there way through the fibers in search of food to bring back to the nest. Since I am in almost the middle of my house, I begin to get a little concerned. The number of ants roaming about indicate a nearby nest. Which means I have a problem.

I could have a crack in my foundation (the house, after all, sits on a large concrete pad) or I could have a nest in a wall. Neither of these scenarios pleases me. I live in Florida; bugs, ants, spiders are all part of the "joy." They get into your house from time to time. Usually, you can deal with them easily. Ant baits, roach motels ("they can check in but they never check out!"), sprays, powders, etc. Most of the time, you simply set up barriers on the outside perimeter of your house and they don't cross it... unless they can fly.

I dismiss the idea of a cracked foundation immediately. The thought of this is simply too expensive. The most logical explanation is that they have entered through the garage wall, into the kitchen area, and then worked their way to the carpeted area. If this is true, I should find a trail of them from the kitchen across some bare space between. I don't. This means they likely came in somewhere along where outside wall meets the foundation. That is not unusual, small cracks appear there and little crawling creatures often exploit them. It means there will likely be a nest just outside an outer wall. I can find the nest, treat it (a polite way of saying "mass slaughter of millions of ants"), and solve my ant problem.

Or so I thought... Drop by tomorrow for the next chapter of "The Invasion".

Friday, February 27, 2009


Marty was my best friend, you could say. We met in 5th grade and lived a few houses apart. Marty was a little crazy, I guess. He was always trying to prove himself, it seemed. He took more chances, dared me to go along, and got me into a few scrapes. Marty's parents fought, a lot, and eventually divorced with his father moving to Chicago when he was 15. He got worse after that. His mother took up with a guy who was a bit of a bully which didn't help things.

When Marty and I got arrested at age 12 for breaking into a school, both his parents and mine tried to keep us from hanging out together. Of course that didn't work. After awhile, they seemed to give up. The school burglary thing wasn't much, we found a way into a school store one Saturday afternoon and rifled through stuff. There wasn't much in there that we were interested in. The principal caught us and the police had been called. We were hauled off to the police station where we were eventually handed over to our parents. No juvenile court or anything.

When Marty was 15, he got drunk and stole a Corvette. He was bound to get caught. At 15, he looked even younger and he wasn't all that good a driver. He got caught in Greynolds Park after passing out. Since no damage was done to the car, no charges were filed. But he did spend a few days getting over the alcohol poisoning (yeah, he drank that much) and a week in juvie.

Marty managed to do the wrong thing naturally. We skipped school in the Fall of 1960 and hitchhiked down to Opa Locka where we rented Go-Karts and haunted the game at the G-Kart track. Around 3, as we started back home, Marty tried to call his mother to let her know he might be late getting home. He was trying to get a free phone call at a payphone by shorting a wire on the handset to ground when a car rolled by eying us suspiciously. When the car came back, Marty ran. The guy wasn't from the phone company but owned an ice vending machine nearby. He wanted to know who Marty was and why he ran. I played dumb. The guy said he called the cops (or would). I figured he was bluffing but it turned out I was wrong.

I found Marty a couple of blocks away and then a cop pulled up and we were whisked off to the Opa Locka police station. It took 4 hours to get things straightened out and Marty's father down to pick us up. There was no damage to the phone or anything else, we managed to slide on everything. But if Marty hadn't run, none of it would have happened. Marty wasn't stupid but there were times I wondered...

When he was 16, he took his mother's car out one evening for a little joyride while she wasn't home. When he got home, he went back in the house and watched TV. About an hour later, he took his dog for a walk and realized there was smoke coming from the car. He had thought he had tossed a cigarette out the window but it had blown back in. The rear seat was smoldering. He pulled out the seat and hosed it down then dried it as best he could and put it back. After taking the dog for his walk, he returned to find smoke again coming out of the car. It seems the carpeting had started smoldering and it ran back into the trunk. He got that out just as his mother and her boyfriend pulled into the driveway. Within a few days, Marty ran away.

He didn't run far, he stayed in houses that were empty. There were a few houses in the neighborhood that were only occupied during the winter months. I helped him out when I could, kept in touch. The cops naturally talked to me, trying to find him. I negotiated a surrender of sorts where he would be sent to live with his father in Chicago. Marty agreed. I wouldn't see him again for a couple of years.

When he returned, I had taken an entirely different direction in life. I had moved to Orlando and back, I had taken up surfing, I had cast off old friends for new ones. I had a more positive view of life. Marty had come back with a couple of acquaintances from Chicago, traveling on stolen gas credit cards. I helped him find a place to live and a job. I kept in touch but we had drifted apart. We no longer lived in the same world.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snippet of Life - Junior High

[After writing this, I wondered about posting it. You see, this was the late 50s and in a small city. We weren't poor, didn't live in a depressed neighborhood, or in tenements. We had plenty in our favor, a few of us chose to play "disaffected youth" and pretend to be "bad kids" when we had no reason to. What we did was minor, looking back, but it created an impact on our lives that some of us didn't overcome easily]

Junior high is something we don't see anymore. It disappeared in favor of something called "Middle School". The concept is similar. A transition between elementary school and high school. Junior High was grades 7, 8, and 9. Like high school, you went to different classes each hour. Unlike high school, you went as a class. That is, your entire class moved from home room through each class period. It was kind of silly. Might have been simpler to move the teachers around. Well, there were a few elective classes where you would have different classmates so that might have caused some problems, I suppose.

Junior high was supposed to prepare you for high school. How, I never quite understood. Nor did I understand why you needed to be prepared.

My brother, being two years older than me, had already paved the way at the junior high I went to. After being sent to the dean's office the first week of school, for gambling, I was asked a simple question by Dean Rubenstein. "Are you going to be a problem too?"

I answered in the negative but that turned out to be untrue. I wasn't as much of a problem as my brother but I definitely became well acquainted with the dean, the principal, and the office staff. My friends and I were basically hoodlums in training. We smoked, skipped school, and caused trouble in class and before and after. We "bummed" (extorted) money from smaller and/or younger students. We also took their desserts. Well, they "volunteered" them.

After school, we hung out at the local shopping mall. We shoplifted, we loitered, we talked girls out of soda money (that wasn't too hard), and made general nuisances of ourselves.

We hung out weeknights at the local bowling alley where we'd play the pinball machines all night on a dime. This wasn't hard to do. First, you would jack up the low end of the machine until it was just a tiny bit short of tilting. Then you'd put in a dime and catch a ball in a rollover and rack up points until you won the maximum number of games (usually 5) by gently shaking the machine to cause the rollover to repeatedly trigger. Once you have all the games it'll save, you play out the rest of the balls to end the game. Then you lower the low end enough to avoid easy tilts and make play a little challenging. You repeat this when you get down to one game in reserve. Which was rare because we were fairly good pinball players.

On occasion, we wouldn't cheat the machine but each play a game in turn. Anyone losing the last game had to pay to restart. We spent hours entertaining ourselves for a dime or two. Or until the manager tossed us out. Then we'd hang out in the parking lot.

By the time we were in 9th grade, we were drinking at unsupervised beach parties and sometimes at parties where there were no adults. If no one brought any beer, we'd raid the liquor cabinets at the house. We were never invited to these parties but word would get around at school and we'd find them. Beer and liquor was easy to get. No drugs then, just not available at the time (late 50s).

We were also taking cars for joyrides. But that was fairly rare. A little vandalism here and there. We hitchhiked most places. We'd head out to the beach on weekend evenings to pick up tourist girls. They always had extra cash and didn't seem to mind sharing. We'd gamble on pinball games or those quarter pool tables with the tourist boys. If we lost, we never paid off. We'd bluff them or fight them, but we never paid them. We knew how to break into pinball machines and most soda machines to get at the coins.

We thought we were "cool." During the summer, I would be out all night. I rarely got home before 4 AM from the time I was 13 on. I slept most of the day, getting up around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I'd be gone before supper. When school started up again, that would only happen on weekends. Weekdays, I'd get home by 11 PM.

Occasionally, a friend would get arrested and end up in juvenile court. A few spent time in juvenile hall. One or two spent a few months at the places for the more incorrigible. I managed to avoid these things. Mostly luck, I think, but I also was more careful than most of my friends. That didn't mean I wasn't picked up from time to time for curfew violations. We didn't actually have a curfew in our town but a 14 year old out at 3 in the morning was definitely suspect.

I did get in trouble for bringing a BB gun to a dance once and another time when I was caught with a starter pistol (do not ask what that was about). Confiscation of said items and turned over to my parents was all that happened. Nothing serious. I always carried a switchblade but never used it. Switchblades were common but no one wanted to actually use one. I lost a lot of them when I'd get picked up for those curfew violations.

In school, I never did any homework. I did the classwork and I always did well on tests. Sometimes I would get a girl to do some of my English homework in exchange for my checking their math homework. Still, my indifference to school showed in my grades and eventually caused me to fail the 9th grade. I wasn't alone, so did most of my friends. We were now even more in charge since we were older than everyone. And we took advantage of that. We also took advantage of the cumulative effects of school credits. In other words, we only had to pass two or three classes in order to go to tenth grade since we managed to pick up 3 or 4 in the failing year. Not a lot of incentive to turn ourselves around.

By the time, I went to high school, I wasn't about to succeed. I had already stacked the deck against myself.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoughts on Objectification

I've done a bit more thinking about the study I wrote about yesterday. The more thinking I did, the less sense the study made as useful scientific endeavor. Think about it. Very small number of test subjects, apparently only pictures of "sexy bikini-clad women" were used, and this was the basis for certain assumptions (I won't call them "conclusions" though that seemed to be what the author wanted us to infer).

The test did show that a certain part of the brain of these particular young (they were all college age) men reacted to the visual stimuli. That part of the brain is the area that goes active when a man is contemplating using some device to accomplish a task. This implies something, obviously. I think the study's author made a huge leap from that observation to a man's objectification of women. She, the author, then goes even further by saying this may be linked to behavior of some men toward women in the workplace.

I have to wonder if she might have easily proved this assumption with a simple test. Show the same men pictures of women, dressed properly for office work (for example), while watching what areas of the brain "light up" (her term). That was not done, apparently.

I thought of other tests that could have easily been run:

Show the men these pictures of bikini-clad women.

Show them these pictures.

Or this.

In fact, maybe this last picture ought to have been shown to young women college students and see what part of their brains "lights up."

I first ran into women working in a previously all male work environment when I first hired on for Southern Bell in 1970. One of the women was in her mid forties, the other in her early twenties. Neither was particularly suited to the job nor having an easy time adapting to it. The interesting thing was the reaction of the men in the office. The younger one, though not especially pretty, was helped more often than the older one. I also noticed that the younger one sought help more often and seemed more at ease doing so.

The above behavior was repeated in every office I worked in over the 34 years I spent with the Bell System and its post-Divestiture manifestation. I also observed it at other businesses I visited or worked at. The women who feels more attractive will use that to their advantage. The women who do not feel that attractive will do more on their own. The same is true of men, in my opinion. This, of course, is not a scientific observation with controls in place and is completely subjective.

Still, we do behave differently when interacting with attractive people than unattractive people. We may flirt a bit, smile more, feel a little nervous around, more shy or bold, than we do with people we see as equally attractive or less attractive than ourselves.

It's only human.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bikinis, women, and men

Women as sex objects is the title of a podcast from the Scientific American website. I found it interesting. Of course, the title alone might intrigue us but what I found interesting was a bit deeper. Not laid out in black and white was the details of the study, its methodology. This is important.

In a CNN report I found a bit more detail. What was implied in the podcast was confirmed in the CNN report: only males viewing bikini clad women were studied. This is important. You cannot make any real judgments by studying a tiny sample of any population. Well, you can, but they will be highly questionable.

There were a number of comments at the podcast site. The majority seemed to be suspicious of the study. Some thought it pointless (as in "Duh! What were you expecting??") and some saw value. I am with the majority.

Of course men will objectify women in that context (pretty and bikini clad). There's nothing surprising in that. As one commenter stated, what about the message implied by the woman posing in the bikini? Isn't there an intent to be objectified? We learn in the CNN report that Professor Fiske was looking beyond the study toward examining how this objectification in this context might spill over into, say, behavior or perception of women in the workplace.

I am reminded of all those cartoons I saw (mostly in my father's girlie magazines) of men with imagining women they see passing by as naked. Oddly, I have never done that... probably a poor graphic imagination factor in my brain. Not that I cannot conjure up such an image but that I don't do it with the random female I see, no matter how pretty. I digress... sigh.

I suppose the 21 males enjoyed themselves anyway.

I wonder if this study was done with federal grant money?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bias, Part II

Some time ago I published a piece on bias, Breaking the Mold. It listed a number of words and asked you to think of the first thing that came to your mind, to see what image the word triggered in your mind. It was simple exercise designed to make you aware of your own inherent biases; to realize you had them no matter how hard you tried to suppress them.

I recalled it during an exchange with the Logistician recently. In the exchange, I had asked how knowledge might be presented without the infusion of the bias of the presenter.The context was political sophistication but the question is broad enough for almost any context.

One of the things I do on this blog is try to induce you to think about various things, some of which might have become nothing more than background scenery in your life. I think it is important to be aware of as much as you possibly can; to consider things both in and out of context. In a sense, I am trying to do what I told the Logistician in our recent exchange was virtually impossible to do:
teach objectively.

I know I have biases which cause me to prejudge. I fight them. I feel I can fight them effectively only because I am aware of them. Without that awareness, they would easily influence me. Even with the awareness, they can still do so. It is a constant battle. It is also one I do not mind waging.

However, even as I try to teach objectively I infuse a bias into the process. In this case, the belief that everyone has them and the belief that all biases must be questioned. So, how could I teach anyone to be unbiased if I am biased myself? Where is the objective position?

The answer is there is no absolutely objective position.

Therefore, it is impossible to teach how to be unbiased. I can, however (and hopefully), teach someone to strive for objectivity. But I must do that in a context that is essentially limited in its partisanship (I use that term in a broad sense, not a political one). That is, a context that is already pretty much non-subjective.

Here's an example of a poor choice of context: Mac vs PC.
Another might be Rap Music. Or politics. Or religion.

You see, the problem lies in the fact that we are creatures who have emotions. An we attach those emotions to objects and concepts. In order to become objective, we must detach our emotions from the object or concept and view it outside of the context of ourselves.

So, how do we detach our emotions, or detach from our emotions? Just how do we step outside of ourselves so we can view something truly objectively?

I think I can do it but I am not sure how I do it. I began doing it a long time ago when I started hearing that old adage about walking "a mile in someone else's shoes." I am averse to walking a mile in my own shoes, much less in shoes that probably wouldn't fit me very well. But the concept was simply "put yourself in his place" or "see it from another's perspective."

We can't really see things from someone else's perspective, can we? To do that, we'd have to know all the life experiences of that person because these form his perspective. What we can do, though, is reject our own life experiences while examining something. To do that, you must first examine your own life and determine how those experiences influence you. Once you do that, you can ignore those influences and become relatively objective. But only relatively, you can never be free of bias entirely.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bits and Pieces

A little bit of this and that that came to mind this morning as I was sitting in an overcrowded restaurant (Sandy's on the Circle) waiting impatiently for my breakfast. I wouldn't have been there but the setting up of the new computer revealed a bad speaker system and a new one had to be purchased at the local flea market. Which led, of course, to my also dropping by the library to pick up a book for Faye. Which, in turn, meant I had to time things so I was at the library after 9:30 AM. This meant that I needed to kill time after finding the speakers at the flea market and so I ended up at Sandy's waiting on breakfast.

Our flea market doesn't actually sell any fleas. No one's does, I suppose. I always wanted to reserve a space to sell some of the multitude of things taking up space in my closets and garage and have a jar of live fleas to put on the table. I could probably collect some at the local Humane Society.

One of the things that came to mind was a comic strip called "Pickles" since I was reading the paper and that is one of my favorite sections (Okay, that is my favorite section). So it is now my "Comic Strip of the day, Week, or Whatever." I don't know if you folks pay much attention to the little things that show up on blogs but I do. Argentum's "Thomas Arcanum" and "Nether Regions of the Earth", ET AL (a little Latin there, folks) has some interesting things, for example.

I'd like to write about my opinions on abortion but I am not that stupid. Apparently, that didn't hold back a few people who wrote letters to the paper. It never ceases to amaze me how passionate people get in those letters to the editor. Or how poorly they can express themselves. The paper always claims it can (and will) edit letters for clarity but I don't think they do. They likely just laugh and print them as is.

The paper's editorial was about two things. First, the mortgage crisis. they made sense except for the fact that they had no solutions to offer. Seems a bit pointless to have an opinion that is basically "They need to fix this." Well, duh!
The second part was about capital punishment. They are against it. Not on moral grounds, mind you, but economic. OK, I am not going there either. Because, like with abortion, I am not stupid enough to start an argument.

There was a local column on technology that talked about GPS units for your car. I don't get the need for them. All you have to do it is use Mapquest or Google Maps to get turn by turn directions. Print them out and take them with you. That's what I do and then Faye tells me where to go. She's very good at that, by the way, having been doing it for twenty two years now.

The reason that Sandy's was crowded, thereby giving me too much time to think, is that it is Winter. We are in the very heart of the Great Northern Influx. Our population is a bit more than twice our permanent resident level of approximately 10,000. This puts a strain on our restaurants, stores, and auto service providers. There are lines everywhere. I get more exercise in the Winter. Since parking lots are fuller, I have to park farther away. I also have to wait in checkout lines much longer than Summertime. I get real lazy in Summer.

I have digressed enough for today. I need to read some other blogs to find out what is happening in the world and to be entertained now. You should too.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Things are running late around here today. I am finally setting up Faye's new computer. It's been sitting in the box for three weeks so I suppose it's about time.
It's not a lot of fun setting up a new computer, especially a PC. And, even more especially, when you don't want the stuff they try to get you you to buy. I am not a fan of Norton Security, nor MS Office. So these have to be removed. Then I have to download AVG Free and Open Office and set those up instead. So I am multi-tasking today.

Meanwhile, this post is about decades. You know, ten year periods of time. The 40s, the 50s, the 60s, etc. Well, that's how the media describes them. I don't. My interpretation is a little different.

Since I was born in 1946, my decades run from the 6th year of one to the 5th year of the next. My 60s is, for example, 1966 to 1975. It's how I view them, it's also how I see the "themes" of these decades.

My 50s ran from 1956 to 1965. That took me through the "cool" James Dean and do wop music into the surfer days and then into the Navy.

The 60s were free love, drugs, and experiments in music (from folk to rock to jazz and blues). The Disco Era ended them. Well, ended the music experimentation. The drugs and sex were still plentiful.

1976 to 1985 was the Disco Decade. A time of plastic, of conspicuous consumption, bell bottom Angel Flight suits, wide collars, and strobe lights. Vacuous music with a single beat played in the background. It was also the decade that saw the demise of the muscle car, along with cheap loans.
And the end of my first marriage.

1986 to 1995 saw me move twice. It also saw the beginning of a new life with a wonderful woman. It was the decade of computers. It saw the start of linking computers. First through electronic bulletin board systems and then the Internet.
Huge technology gains over that period expanded communication like never before.

1996 to 2005 is the decade of terrorism to me. Terror attacks, unrest throughout the world.

We are in the middle of another decade and I don't have a theme for it yet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Politics and Me

Some of you may wonder why I don't want to write about politics on this blog. It's pretty simple, you would all end up hating me or trying to get me elected to office. There would be no middle ground. My political viewpoints are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun's (the wuss) unless someone tugs at my heartstrings with a picture of a poor hungry waif in a slum somewhere, in which case you may call me St. Douglas the Socialist.

That's what politics is all about, isn't it? Manipulating the public's emotions in order to garner votes for a person you wouldn't allow to date your ugly step-sister? Whoops, just went sexist there for a moment. That disqualifies me already. My political opponents (of which, I am sure there would be hordes) would see to it that I was thoroughly raked over the coals for that one.

So, no political office for me. Besides, the only one that might interest me is Supreme Emperor of the World. And that doesn't exist... yet. When it does, sign me up.

It's not that I am not interested in politics. I am. I am fascinated by it. Like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I'd liken it to mud wrestling but that is less sleazy and I would be doing a disservice to the women who engage in that art form. My interest is mostly in the campaigning and other political maneuvering.

Most campaigns seem to be about telling you what the other candidate(s) will do to make your life more miserable than it already is. Each claims to be the one person who will treat your tax money like it is sacred. Which is probably an honest admission when you think about it. They all worship it.

- According to Sigmund Freud, "projection" is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one "projects" one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree.

Most campaigns are classic studies in projection. Candidate A accuses candidate B or being exactly the scoundrel that he, himself, is. Maybe it's jealousy, maybe B is just getting away with more than A is. B, in reply, accuses A of unfairly attacking him and of being a hypocrite while saying he would never accuse A of being either a pedophile or a wife beater in spite of those stories about him. The truth, as we all know, is that both candidates are probably only lying about themselves and are likely telling the truth about their opponents.

This brings me to the political "supporters". These are the people who ignore the faults of their chosen candidate while deploring the same faults in the opponent. If they are noteworthy people (celebrities, politicians not currently in a campaign, former office holders of some kind, or other political pundits) then they can be found on various political talk shows on TV telling as many lies as possible. In that sense, they are a like like athletic supporters; a necessary thing but which smells after being used.

A politician is someone who can tell lies out of both sides of his mouth and do it with flair. He can promise to lower your taxes while increasing spending. He is all things to all donors and voters. In that order, I suspect.

And, yet, we pin a lot of hopes and dreams on them. We are an odd species.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

OCD or a healthy hobby?

I sometimes feel different. That is, alien, not of this world. You see, I have had hardly any obsessions in my life. I discount a few times, of course, that might be seen as obsessive behavior... surfing when I was 18 and 19, golf the first time around, a fascination with photography that lasted almost a year... but these were minor and could be easily set aside. I am talking about real obsessions.

You know the people. They build things like the Watts Towers in Los Angeles or have an entire monastery moved, stone by stone, from Spain to Dade County, Florida . They collect figurines of some animal or other objects and place them all over their entire house. I won't get into Hearst Castle

These are the extremes, however. Most collectors are less obsessive but they are just as real. My mother had this tiny obsession with rabbits. Not live ones, fortunately, but figurines. So we had these tiny glass and ceramic rabbits here and there and everywhere while I was growing up. My father tolerated this. He wasn't obsessed with things. No, he was much more stable. Until I found he owned 7 power drills, 5 hand augers, and almost every hand tool imaginable. At least they weren't on the shelves sharing space with the rabbits. Just collecting dust in his work shop and on his "office" shelves.

When I was dating (oh, so many years ago), I would escort a young lady home to her apartment and she would show me around. Invariably, there would be stuffed animals galore, or little pillows everywhere, or a constant color in the decor, or some other evidence of obsession. More than a few of these young women seemed to collect lovers as well, though few kept more than one at a time. I suppose men are guilty of this also or there would be no little black book industry.

I am different. I have never had a collection of anything. As a surfer, I only had one surfboard at a time. I did not surf every single day. I will only admit to having a few surf posters in my bedroom and being modestly proud of my mahogany tan. When I got into golf, I never owned more than two sets of golf clubs (now I have three which makes me nervous) at a time. I do not have golf trophies and posters and such all over the house... as some I know do. During my photographer phase, I only put up about 4 of my photographs on my wall.

I never have been able to rattle off sports trivia, baseball stats, the history of the Super Bowl, music entertains me but does not drag me around the country to see the concerts of some band. I never owned more than two fishing rods and reels at a time. I do not have a collection of guns (which may put my neighbors at ease). I never got hooked on the X-Files. Though I will admit to watching all the Star Trek series.

What makes us do this? Like crows, we tend to gather shiny objects. And, unlike the crow, we want to share that obsession with others.

And why don't I have that trait? Or does blogging count?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So I get this call last night. The Caller ID comes up on the TV screen in this house and it gives me "Unknown Caller" and an 800 number. I pick up the phone, say "hello", and get a recording about accepting a collect call from an inmate. These are always interesting, of course. Not that I get them all the time, mind you, but it happens.

Anyway, the caller turns out to be a friend who works for me from time to time doing those odd jobs I dislike intensely. You know the kinds of jobs I am talking about, the ones requiring some actual physical labor. Or climbing around the attic.* Or having some clue about what I need to do to get the job done right.

Currently, he is putting in a cement pad to be used as a permanent location for my backup generator (used when we lose power during a hurricane and it appears it will be hours, days, or weeks before it is restored). He is also running a LAN cable from one side of the house to the other. Both projects are unfinished as yet.

He was supposed to drop by yesterday morning to continue work on the pad now that the cement has set. He didn't show. Now I had a good idea why.

Seems he had a little car accident where he ran off the end of a road, down into a ditch, and into a fence. This damaged the car and the fence. His OnStar failed to work and he did not have his cellphone with him. He wasn't hurt but the car was not going anywhere without a tow truck. And so he struck out on his own, finally getting a ride from someone who got him to his home.

He calls Onstar to notify them and notifies the police and calls a towing service and his insurance. And then settles down for the evening, thinking about the
new issues in his life. A couple of hours later, a couple of Sheriff's Deputies appear at his door. And arrest him for leaving the scene of an accident and for damaging private property.

Imagine his confusion. In any event, he sits in jail for a couple of days with a $4000 bail. He doesn't have it. Nor does he want to pay a bondsman $400 (nonrefundable) to get it posted that way. But some good fortune strikes and his bail is lowered at a hearing yesterday to $1000.

It is a bit later when I get that call. Apparently, he is getting desperate.

I don't often bail people out of jail. In fact, I have never done this. That means I haven't a clue what is needed. But I also don't like to know that someone I like is sitting in a cell somewhere. I know these are unpleasant places, not like a hotel rooms. Therefore I agree to come down and bail him out.

Arriving at the jail, I soon learn I cannot use a check and they don't take plastic either. Cash and Carry only. He is out of luck. I do not keep that kind of cash around. I also learn they cannot inform him that I am unable to bail him out and that I cannot "visit" him (via handset, TV camera and monitor) to tell him myself.

I go home and wait for the next "Unknown Caller" when he calls to find out why I have left him languishing in his dungeon cell.

This morning, I drop by the bank, get the cash, drive back downtown to the jail, bail him out and then drive him home. He's grateful. Imagine that.

He'd better do an awfully good job on that cement pad.

* We don't actually have an attic, we have an non-air conditioned, fiberglass insulation covered, crawl space in the area between the roof and the ceiling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The New Political Order

Let's suspend my No Politics rule for today. We can do that because this is My Blog and I Say So. What I wish to do is propose that every country get rid of all their current political parties and replace them with two I shall propose in the next paragraph. There is a reason that I only propose two but I may relent and add one other at some point.

The only two political parties should be counter points to each other. That is, they should be diametrically opposed. The average voter, even the below average voter, should be able to easily determine what each party stands for. So, I propose we establish the Chicken Little Party and the Grasshopper Party.

The Chicken Little Party stands for crises. In fact, it gets up and runs around in circles for them. It lives to find them, predict them, and create new ones through actions designed to eliminate old ones. It is a very active party. Forward thinking and full of grandiose ideas. It generally fails to provide either the relief or the bounty it promises but always has an excuse.

The Grasshopper Party is the laissez faire party. Its main purpose is to ignore crises and do nothing to correct, predict, or eliminate them. It stands for nothing. In fact, it rarely gets off its collective butt for anything other than going out to get a meal. It believes that everything will work out if we just leave it alone. Oddly, they may have been right more often than not. It's hard to say because their turns at power have always been interrupted by electoral gains by the Chicken Little Party. Party insiders say this is due to their lack of actually running decent campaigns, preferring instead to assume everything will turn out in their favor.

There is room, of course, for the Heavily Independent Personally Privileged Isolationist Elitist Party. These are known by the acronym H.I.P.P.I.E.s Their platform is basically legalize every substance known to man that muddles the brain and ignore the rest of the world. They are heavily backed by Hostess, Nabisco, and Frito-Lay.

Or everyone could just elect me Emperor of The World. You can trust me, I am honest and very good at delegating.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Weather or Not?

I am a trans-continental guy. That is, I have lived on both coasts of the US for lengthy periods in my life. I spent 20 plus years in southern California and the rest on the east coast in three different states (New York, Virginia, and Florida).

There has always seemed to be a kind of rivalry between west and east coast. I first became personally aware of it when I was 18 and got into surfing. California surfers did not think much of Florida, or east coast in general, surf. Whereas Florida surfers were both defensive and envious of California surf. I later learned there were advantages and disadvantages to each, of course.

Weather is another, more prevalent, point of contention. Especially between Floridians and southern Californians. While in Boot Camp, my company was about half Californians and have everywhere else. I was the only Floridian. Weather came up often.

Southern Californians seemed to assume they have warm weather. Well, they do have a very moderate climate. I once described San Diego to some friends in Virginia as "air conditioned". Which is true only if you limit it to a strip along te coast about 5 miles wide. It rarely got very hot or very cold. I have to admit, it was the most pleasant climate I have ever lived in. I also decribed it as "boring" but more on that later.

I recall Jay Leno being interviewed once on some talk show about his coming to Los Angeles to host the Tonight Show. He was asked about how he liked living in southern California. He said the usual pleasantries about how nice it was and how exciting Los Angeles is and all that. And then he said something along the lines of:

"We have some things here that are different than the east. We have droughts and fires, mud slides when it rains, and earthquakes. Yet, when you ask someone why they live in California they always answer 'the weather!' "

Which brings me to the point. Whenever I discussed Florida vs California with a Californian, their concern was always about hurricanes. They didn't like the idea of them. They seemed to be afraid of them. Terrible storms that blew roofs off houses and tore down trees. My counter was always that they weren't all that bad, that houses were built to withstand them, and you got warnings. That seemed better than earthquakes. Yet, earthquakes didn't bother them nearly as much. And their counter arguments were much like mine except for the warning part. Plus they argued that earthquakes that caused any significant damage were pretty rare.

After mulling over each other's arguments regarding environmental anomolies, the conversation would turn to the tornados of the midwest, blizzards and icestorms of the much of the northern half of the country, the dry blistering heat of the desert states, and so on.

After having experienced much of that weather at one time or another (I have missed, thankfully, experiencing any tornados), I came to the conclusion that we are amazingly adaptable creatures. We grow used to our immediate environment and accept its hazards easily. In fact, we seem to be proud of them in some ways.

Oh, I promised to explain that "boring" remark about San Diego, didn't I? You see, San Diego doesn't get a lot of thunderstorms. Almost none, it seemed to me. I like thunderstorms. I like the smell in the air before they break, I like the crack of lightning, I like the rumble of the thunder. And, above all, I like the freshness after they have passed. I never realized how much I liked them until I spent a few years in San Diego and then returned to south Florida.

What about yours? Have you ever considered moving to another climate, a different environment simply to escape the one you are living in?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

So, today is Valentine's Day. Well, to be proper, it's actually St. Valentine's Day though the Catholic Church doesn't seem to know much about him and doesn't seem to care much about the holiday today. They dropped this as a holiday in 1969 from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints. They haven't taken to denouncing it, though.

When I was a mere lad, we would make little Valentine's Day cards and hand them out in school. A little confusing since we had no idea what it really meant. That would happen around puberty. And then we weren't looking for romantic love but for something a bit baser.

Chaucer seems to be the man to thank (or blame, depending on your point of view) for our modern view of this day. He wrote about courtly love (though that term came into being hundreds of years later)which is the basis for Valentine's Day. It seems to mean a love that is pure or spiritual and not carnal in nature.

Valentine's Day is about romantic love, the kind that seems to impress the womenfolk. Men are a bit more practical, you might say, and we play along. Yet another difference between the sexes. Though I sometimes wonder if that isn't just cultural window dressing. It seems to have worked out okay since there are a lot of people on this planet and there's only one way for that to come about.

Most scholars tie this day to a Roman festival called Lupercalia. This festival had something to do with fertility. It seems that many festivals had to do with fertility. Humans are a randy sort, after all.

Plutarch described Lupercalia:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. [Wikipedia]

Sounds like a lot of fun to me...

In any event, it is much tamer today.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons From Boot Camp

They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is truth in that. It usually refers to political leaders and rulers of nations. But I can attest that it refers to much less lofty positions. In Navy Boot Camp, there were some recruits given positions of authority over the rest within the company.

These men were, in descending order: Recruit Chief Petty Office (RCPO), Recruit First Class Petty Officer (RPO1), Recruit Master of Arms (RMA) and Company Yeoman. They were given emblems of office. In descending order, these were: a saber, a bayonet, a baton (billy club), a clipboard.

The RCPO was a short, slightly rotund, guy who had served a hitch in the Army previously. The CC (Company Commander Mullin) chose him for the position because of that. Why not being able to function outside the military and not rising above E-4 (corporal) while in was qualification to be in charge of the company in the CC's absence escaped me but it wasn't my choice to make. He tended to strut more than march or walk. I had this image in my mind of him with epaulets on his shoulders, a crosswise hat, and an old style military jacket. Something out of the "H.M.S. Pinafore".

The RPO1 main qualification seemed to be he was a big guy. Tall, in good shape, a california boy. He was happy to be second in command. He wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, however. He was held back about 4 weeks before graduation when, after sharpening his ceremonial bayonet on the concrete steps, he got blood poisoning from cutting his finger on the newly honed edge.

The RMA was a Guamanian. Nice guy, pretty much. Apparently picked because he looked tough enough to whip anyone's butt. He probably could, too. Rang my bell once when we sparred in a slap fight. He was the stable one of the group. I liked him but he was no leader, just muscle.

The Yeoman was a smart guy with a chip on his shoulder and his nose in the air. He was picked because he had some college under his belt. His demeanor brought some Nazi bureaucrat to mind. All he needed were pince-nez glasses or a monocle instead of his horn-rimmed glasses. Tall, slender, a perpetual disdainful look on his face.

Mostly, the rest of us just ignored these guys as much as possible. Well, there were times we couldn't. Such as when they decided to drill us for a couple of hours on marching one Saturday afternoon. I ended up with swollen ankles which sent me to sick bay and gave me a few days of light duty. It also created a number of blisters on others. The CC decided they would no longer run these impromptu drills.

The real stink came when our resident Puerto Rican recruit, Julio, who spoke very little English, got sick. I mean real sick; strong fever, couldn't hold food down. He went to Herr Yeoman to request a pass for sick bay. Herr Yeoman told him he couldn't go until later, after breakfast. Julio apparently thought he would not be able to go even then, that Herr Yeoman did not think he was sick enough. So Julio took his rifle, placed his hand on the concrete step of the barracks, and slammed the butt into the fingers of his left hand.

The CC made an announcement later that morning that anyone who feels the need to go to sick bay will be allowed to. Immediately. Period.

I understood just how Julio felt. We had spent our two week "week" of mess duty (KP for you non-Navy types) in what is called the Garbage Locker. This was January and it had some cold mornings. Two of us would scrub out large serving pans using steam heated water (about 160 deg F) in large deep sinks while the two guys behind us would initially wash out the remnants of whatever had been in them using pressure hoses with not nearly so hot water. These guys sprayed the water around pretty good and managed to fill our rubber boots with water. About the time were were soaked and our faces are being steamed from the water in front of us, someone would open the big door so the garbage (slop) in the big 55 gallon drums could be rolled out to the trucks picking it up.

So, forty degree air would blow in against our very wet backs. We got sick. Quite sick. But not enough for light duty. Only enough to get APCs (aspirin) and GI Gin (cough medicine). We could trade the latter for cookies mailed to another recruit.

I'd like tell you about the seabag inspection. The seabag inspection is a sort of ritual. You lay out all your clean clothes on your bunk, in a certain order, neatly folded. Then a CPO you never saw before comes in and tosses everything on the floor as he shouts "not folded right!", "sloppy!" After he leaves, the CC announces his heartfelt disappointment and gives us a piece by piece lesson in the proper folding of each item of clothing.

First, he has us remove our jackets and fold them. He reinforces the lesson by having us execute 50 4 count jumping jacks. He then has us remove our shirts, again followed by 50 jumping jacks. We then go through each item of clothing until we are all down to our birthday suits. One last set of jumping jacks and we are permitted to get dressed. That last set was tough. It's not easy to do jumping jacks while restraining gut busting laughter.

A real male bonding incident.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Have blogs become the new conversations? I am contemplating reading Plato's "The Republic" (no, I am going to do it, not simply thinking about it*) and was reading a little online so that I might get a feel for it, to see whether it will be my usual few pages each night before sleep or a non-stop marathon (undecided so far) when I read a passage on the 3rd page where Plato speaks of gatherings for conversations. And I realized that I, we, rarely do this anymore.

I often did this with friends in my youth. Especially while in the Navy. When aboard a ship, out at sea for days or weeks, gatherings were common. Friends, both casual and close, would lounge on the fantail and chat. Most of the conversations were light, as Plato also described, and covered lies and half-truths and boasts about girls or past experiences. But some had more depth, philosophical, and covered our deep seated feelings about life. These conversations, more intimate and among close friends, are things I don't seem to do anymore.

I still chat with friends, even family, but they aren't weighty discussions about the affairs of Man or the meaning of it all. Just chats. I've had deeper conversations with my mirror.

Our conversations change over the years. When I was young, I thought and talked about all manner of things. Now, I just think about them and sometimes share these thoughts with you.

Oh, I still have conversations with my friends and associates. Mostly on the golf course. But they are shallow even though they range from politics to women. And that is a broad range indeed. Most of the conversations are actually just light banter. Or about immediate issues such as health or who recently passed away (a lot more of that lately since most of those I know around here are elder non-statesmen).

We banter mostly. Clever (we think) little insults about each other's game or weight or age. Nothing serious. Unless it concerns the weather. Weather has become a serious subject, it seems. But I digress.

I watch news shows on TV where various talking heads and pundits do more arguing without listening than anything else. Weighty discussions on PBS seem to have no give and take, all very one sided, all in some agreement or answering oh so probing questions of an interviewer who seems more enamored of the guest than knowledgeable of the subject at hand. And all of these interviews seem to be book promotions.

I miss philosophical discussions with my intellectual peers. Or with those I find to be superior intellects. The latter are different than those who think themselves to be superior intellects. I am reluctant to start such discussions. I am fearful to be thought of as a "stick in the mud". I want to be liked, to be seen as cheerful and bouyant.

Depressing, don't you think?

(* It is now a month since I wrote that and I still haven't started reading "The Republic")

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some more photos

Because I am lazy, and because I have only another piece on Boot Camp near ready to go, I thought I'd do another photo series. Just below is a photo of Faye a few months after we were introduced. It is not my favorite shot of her but I can't seem to find that one.

This shot below was taken at Del Mar race track one overcast summer day. I was using high speed B&W film from Agfa so it is a bit grainy. I was also using a 200MM lens that was doubled so that added to the graininess. If you look closely, you will realize that the horse's hooves are all off the ground.

This one was taken of an egret in Balboa Park Zoo. Even though it was developed professionally, the color has faded somewhat. Still, I like the way the light and shadow worked to enhance the soft look of the feathers.

This final one is of the National Cemetery on Pt. Loma in San Diego. It's a bit melancholy but I like its peacefulness. I liked working with B&W much more than I did with color. And, in looking over old pictures, I find the B&W shots all retained the contrasts I wanted while all the color shots faded or lost part of the spectrum. If I can play with them and bring back the color balance, I may post some of the better ones in the future. I wish I could afford a new digital SLR and some lenses, I'd like to get back into photography. I am not great at it but I do satisfy myself and that's the important thing.

As always, clicking on the picture will link you to a full size shot so you can examine all the flaws and errors I made.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Once Tried To Take Pictures

I admire Robot Nine's Blog. So much so that, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am imitating it (poorly). The following are photos I took back in the late 70s. The first three are of my son when he was about 9 years old. One of them was the result of three photos that I played with in the darkroom during a photography course. The next are shots I took around San Diego. Two of them should be recognizable to anyone familiar with the area but one may not be. I dare you to name it.

To get a full size view of any of these, simply click on it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Boot Camp - Day One Part II

We marched over over the bridge between the old side of the Naval Training Center and the new. Four columns, ten per column. Eyes ahead. There was a guy rowing a single scull across the black water on the east (I assume) side of the bridge. San Diego Bay was on the west. We were going to our home for the next few weeks.

These barracks were new. Or newer anyway. They looked like low rent apartments. They consisted of four bunk rooms, two on each floor. Between the bunk rooms were two sets of shower areas plus toilets, urinals, and sinks. In the bunk rooms were twenty bunk beds; racks, as they were called. Four groups of five. Next to each rack was a "locker". Actually, this was an open set of metal shelves with one drawer that had a lock hasp. The drawer was for our wallets, rings, and whatever would otherwise occupy a pocket. We spent the next few hours stenciling and then learning to fold the clothes we had been given and putting them in the lockers in a specific way. Jacket pockets were sewn shut to prevent the temptation.

We had three sets of washable clothes because we would be wearing one set, waiting for one set to dry after we washed them, and one in the locker. outside, in the "courtyard" of the barracks were two large concrete wash tables and two sets of clotheslines.

We had also been given a set of leggings. Canvas wraps, like spats, that we would wear with our pant legs folded just so and tucked into them. We learned to lace them properly. We were given an orientation speech by Shipfitter Mullin who addressed us as "PEE pull" and spoke at a level just above tolerable whether he was 6 feet away or 3 inches from your nose.

We were then marched to the mess hall for lunch (noon mess). I was not a milk drinker growing up. I avoided it. Boot Camp changed that. I drank 2 to 3 mugs (there are no glasses) of milk every meal. It was cold and filling. I ate everything on the tray and everything on the tray was everything offered by the mess cooks on the line. I drank all the coffee I could too. And it all was gone within 15 minutes.

After noon mess, we marched to the armory and were issued M-1 rifles. Harmless, though. The barrels were plugged and the firing pins removed. They were just for show, to be used to march with, to be used as a means of exercise (something called "The 16 Count Manual of Arms").

We also were marched to the Canteen. Like a tiny PX, or more like a bodega in a storage unit. We went in and were told to get toothpaste and toothbrushes (if needed), razors (no electric, all safety), blades, soap (Lava only), writing material (if needed) and Wisk detergent. It was put on our accounts. It would be deducted from our pay of $82 (I think) per month. There was an empty shelf location for these. We were not allowed to buy shaving cream or after shave. We would use soap and hot water. Or just hot water. We also had to buy a scrub brush each. These would be useful for scrubbing dirt from colors, necklines, and sweatbands of hats.

Nothing would be ironed. The folding would accomplish the only pressing the clothes would see.

When we returned to the barracks, we were given a 15 minute smoke break. Eventually, these would be routine breaks after each meal.

The rest of the afternoon was spent marching, learning the commands, learning to react promptly and as a unit. We were introduced to the 16 Count Manual of Arms. Then it was march to the mess hall for dinner (evening mess). Each visit to the mess hall was orderly. We would be assigned a time to be there. We would be early. We would wait, as a company, among other companies, at parade rest, as each company was called in until our turn came.

After returning from evening mess, we were free to wash clothes, smoke, and congregate. We were also assigned "watches" (sentry duty to you non-Navy types). On watch, you would march back and forth outside the courtyard area with your rifle. After taps (lights out), you would patrol the bunk area. Your primary duty was to stay awake, not sit down, wake everyone in an emergency, and wake your relief toward the end of your watch.

You would shower before taps. After taps, the only ones up and around would be the watch and anyone who needed to use the facilities. We had no trouble sleeping. We awoke around 5 AM and had maybe 15 minutes to get ready, dressed, and formed up in the courtyard.

This was the essential routine. The only variation would be classes on seamanship, Navy history, military organization, and so on. Days would drag on, nights would go fast.

Boot Camp would take 3 months. It was broken into "weeks" that might be two weeks long. There would be inoculations, trips to fire school, to the rifle range, a couple of weeks working in the mess hall, and other. The first 4 weeks were spent in the new barracks. After that, you were "rewarded" by moving over to the older section on the other side of that bridge. You then stopped wearing your ball cap and started wearing your white hat. The barracks were older, drafty, and moldy. It wasn't much of a reward. But you felt better, closer to being in The Real Navy.

There are stories within these three months. Stories of fights, of mishaps, of struggles with authority, of finding a way to become part of a unit while retaining some semblance of individuality. I'll get to them, I am sure.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Boot Camp - Day One, Part I

I have been melancholy the last several days. Trips down Memory Lane, morose commentary on Justice, even a poor attempt at humor sounded angry. And then the Sad (bad) News of my friend. Well, I have to try to change that. Get more upbeat. Perk up! After all, my sister-in-law brought home oatmeal raisin cookies for me the other night. And how can you remain melancholy when there are oatmeal raisin cookies in the house?

I'd like to take you back to a simpler time. I didn't think it was simpler, not then, it's only in hindsight that we see things clearly. It's that first day in Boot Camp. A day of apprehension, humiliation, shots, depersonalization, and resignation.

It was November 5th of 1965. I woke up on the top bunk in a WWII era wood frame barracks. It was chilly for this Florida boy, as anything under 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) is. Probably in the low 50s. I don't think there was any heat in those barracks. I am sure, now, they didn't think any was needed.

I say I woke up but that wasn't exactly true. Somebody, loud and obnoxious, came through and banged on the metal bunks and the trash can and shouted something about dropping a certain body part and grabbing your socks. It was effective. We were, collectively, awake and moving within 30 seconds. A trip to the "head" for a quick shower (at least the water was hot), a shave, brush your teeth, and scramble outside to the area we had congregated in the night before (see "An Interesting Day"). We had 10 minutes and I made it easily. It was still dark.

I looked around and recognized a few of the faces in the crowd of forty from the previous night. In a couple of hours, I would recognize no one. We double-timed (that is "jogged") to the mess hall for breakfast. We were segregated from those in uniform in a corner of the hall after getting our trays filled with what appeared to be scrambled eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns (all slightly undercooked), and coffee in mugs. Within 15 minutes we were back outside, formed up loosely, and double-timed over to another non-descript wooden building.

Let me take a moment to describe the scene. The dawn had broken while we were in the mess hall so I could now see a bit more. All the buildings seemed to be made of wood, all about the same size, and all about the same color; a sort of dull, pale, yellowish hue. The sky was overcast, gray, dreary. It would seem to stay that way the entire time I was in Boot Camp. There were a few sunny days but they seemed colder, crisper, than the more common gray ones. I could see hillside lining the base on what I thought was the north side. There were houses all over those hills. Nice houses, built on the hillside.

We were sent inside this new building in a line, peeling off jackets inside (as ordered), while men in dungarees and blue shirts sized us up. They asked us only our shoe size, wrapped a tape measure quickly around our waist and shouted the number to the next man. He handed us some dungarees, then some shirts and T-shirts, then 2 pair of shoes (dress and "boondockers") and socks. Three sets of each piece of clothing and pairs of socks, one blue "ballcap", three "white hats", and one "bluejacket" (a medium weight cotton jacket), . These were just piled in our arms. At the end of the line, we were given seabags. Heavy, canvas, olive drab, seabags. We were told to, and did, strip off our civvies, socks and shoes, and put them in the overnight totes we had arrived with. Then we stuffed the shoes, socks, shirts we had been given into the seabags, clipped on the strap, dressed in dungarees, blue chambray shirts over white T-shirts, boondockers over thin dark blue socks, and bluejackets. And went back outside through another door.

Assembly lines came to mind. Everything was done on an assembly line. We were being stripped down and rebuilt as sailors. But we still had a long way to go.

Once outside, the first thing we were told was, "Do not put your hands in your pockets!" "At no time will you put anything in any pockets!"

We then were marched over to another non-descript building where we went in like before. The barber shop. Four chairs, short wait. No smart ass remarks, no talking at all was tolerated. You went in, stood in front of a chair until the man in the chair was shorn, and then you took his place.

In about 15 minutes, we were all back outside. The only man recognizable was the guy from Puerto Rico. We all looked pretty much alike. Brown hair, blond hair, red hair, all gone. Nothing but stubble on the top of our heads which were were told to immediately cover with the now loose fitting ball caps.

We were not done yet.

We marched to another non-descript wood framed building where we formed up into four rows outside. We were told to remove our jackets, tie the arms around our waists. Then to unbutton our shirts, pull them down and off our arms, letting the shirts hang from our waists. Then to roll up the short sleeves of the T-shirts onto the shoulders. Again, we peeled off to enter. This time were were told to:

"Step inside the door and halt. Do not move once you do, look straight ahead, do not jerk away. You will then move to your left and come out the other door."

So, I stepped inside the door, and got the inoculation gun jammed into each upper arm. Bzzzt! No pain. Released, I moved to the left, to a table where I was given a small medicine cup with some orange tasting liquid to drink. Then out the other door to re-form up with the others. Once we were all out, we were told to put our shirts back on, and then our jackets.

At that point, the pain hit. Both shoulders. Pure agony. A lot of groaning from everyone. It is at this point that I became acutely aware of Shipfitter 1st Class Mullen, our Company Commander. He had introduced himself when we first formed up outside the barracks we had slept in that first night. He had been ordering us around all morning. But my focus was on other things, he was just background noise.

Until then. Until he laughed at our pain. Until he made fun of it. Until he ordered us to do 25 four count jumping jacks. Together. In unison. Which meant, we restarted if we got out of sync. It took a little while. It seemed like a long while. It seemed like a lot of jumping jacks.

And it was. The day had just started.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sad News

I just found out a friend has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It does not look good. He's not famous, or notable. He's just a man, a good man who once worked with me in San Diego. A man I was happy to call "friend" at the time and have thought of from time to time in the many years since we went our separate ways.

He's fairly young, about my age (it just dawned on me that I do not know his age). He's a Vietnam veteran. A man who was born in Mexico, who came to this country when he was about 14. A man who has had his ups and downs, his triumphs and his failures. A man who worked alongside of me, who attended company schools with me. A man with whom I argued, agreed, joked, shared meals, shared joys and heartaches.

He's a man I defended when he was unofficially, and wrongfully, accused. A man who put up with my pettiness and crankiness as I went through the misery of a failing marriage. A man who understood my happiness and my unhappiness.

A friend. One I have no way of helping in this time of his greatest need. And that is the greatest sadness of all.


The president met Friday with many families impacted by terror attacks. Some were upset by his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, some were upset by the delays in trying people involved with the 9-11-01 attacks, some upset with the decision to delay the trial of a key figure in the USS Cole bombing in 2000. Some of these did not come to the meeting. From what I can gather, most of the families invited did accept the White House invitation.

There was a lot of talk about "justice" by these people. I can definitely understand that. But I started to consider what "justice" means. No, actually, I started to wonder what it means.

Justice, according to Webster's online dictionary, means "the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments" among a few other,less applicable, things.

The definition seems to require another definition, that of just, in order to understand it. has a simpler, maybe clearer, definition: "the administering of deserved punishment or reward."

Still, I wonder about what justice really means to us as individuals. If you are the victim of a crime (or friend or family member of one), justice often means revenge. If you are the perpetrator (or his/her friend or family) then it often means lenient treatment or, perhaps, even vindication.

Justice seems to be, like beauty, one of perspective. If that is so then justice is something that can never be understood until all emotions have cooled. The Hatfields and McCoys of American folklore is an example of ongoing searches for justice tainted by emotion.

I think the Palestinian conflict has become yet another example of revenge becoming the image of justice.

There may be no real justice in the world.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Have a Problem With That

I really do. That seems to be an issue now. People keep asking me what that means. I thought that was obvious. Everybody knows that, don't they? I thought that was it but, no, apparently that is not it. I am told that was not clear.

It seems no matter what I do, I keep running into that. I need that. that is essential. Personally I happen to like that. There is little I could write about without that. I guess I don't understand that.I thought that mattered but maybe I was wrong about that.

All my life people have told me that is important. Sometimes, that was even vital. Now, we don't seem to be so sure about that. That has become a gray area. That is said to be up to the individual to decide. I have pretty much had it up to here with that.

Is that okay?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Look Back

I was looking through some old pictures and I came across this. It is the house of my early childhood. My room was on the second floor, you can see the window there on the house's right side, toward the front. The upstairs was attic, empty, when my family moved in. I am not sure when that was. I may not have been alive since I was born in a town nearby. Farmingdale did not have a hospital at the time.

My father, handy with a hammer and saw, finished the second floor. When he was done, there were three bedrooms. My brother's and sister's were on the left side of the house. There was an opening in the shared wall between them where the radiator stood. It was the only heat on that floor. The ceilings of each room followed the slant of the roof. My bed, a single, was tucked in next to the front wall under the shortest part of the ceiling. Cozy.

One of my "pop up memories" was of looking out my window toward the corner of my street, toward where the railroad tracks lay behind the houses on the next street. It was during a heavy snowstorm. Gray skies, snow swirling in the wind, pretty dark though it was mid-afternoon. The street and all the houses and lawns were covered in a thick blanket of snow.

As you can see, it was 1955 when that picture was taken. We moved to Florida the next year in the Spring. Any guesses why?

The picture doesn't show the maple tree that graced the area between the sidewalk and curb in front of the house. I spent a lot of time in that tree. The house looks small to me now. And it was, I suppose. But I was quite little and it seemed very big to me.

And a long time ago.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Few More random Thoughts

I just watched a commercial for some financial services with Dennis Hopper as the spokesman. Dennis Hopper? The dope smoking hippie of the 60s era? The guy on the motorcycle next to Peter Fonda in Easy Rider? He's an image of financial acuity? He is a font of wisdom now?

Baby Boomers are being heavily targeted by financial services companies. I could have used a bit of that targeting about 30 years ago. Nope, back then they were targeting my parents.

We, the Boomers, are the targets of all kinds of advertising. If you can believe the ads, we are having trouble with our plumbing, our abilty to, um, rise to the occasion, have porous bones, trouble breathing, and are in imminent danger of Alzheimer's.

Nothing reveals more about a family than the fighting over the estate when the parents have passed. Sadly.

It's been relatively cold here. Cold in this part of Florida is short periods of the early morning below 40 degree F. Some of you may consider this silly. But it is very serious for us. We are not used to this brutal cold. Winter is supposed be a few short periods (meaning hours) of dips into the upper 40s, followed by highs in the 70s and lows in the mid 50s. I think it's in our state constitution. well, at least for the southern half of the state. The northern half is on its own.

You might want to read the following link. I'd be interested in your thoughts, if you do. Colorado Shooting

Personally, I think it's a tragedy but that no one is to blame except a guy who couldn't turn down a drink. This guy had no friends who would take him to his home and see that he got in okay?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My, How We Change Pt II

There's only three photos today. The first is from my Reserve ID card. I was 23. I had decided to not re-enlist in the Navy. I was optimistic, obviously young, and ready for anything.

The next photo is from a couple of years later, I think. I am not sure. I am married, with a small child, and I am employed as a janitor/handyman at a drapery and window furnishings factory. I am struggling to get by. I am not so optimistic. It was a tough year for me.

The last is me about three years ago. My son is grown, I have two granddaughters, I have been divorced and remarried. I haven't struggled to get by for many, many years. I have lived in California, Florida, Virginia, and Florida again since the above picture. Traffic accidents, hurricanes, blizzards, have all taken shots at me.

We don't know where life will take us. Some of us are very good at planning it out but I think most of us just try the best we can and take what life offers, trying to pick the best of the choices along the way. I have made plenty of wrong choices but I have enjoyed life so far. It's been exciting and dull, a challenge and a snap, a joy and a misery. I've got more than a few years left though not too many before that last picture I thought it might be all over.

I sometimes wonder how I made it this far. Maybe I am being a bit egotistical but I think I have picked up some wisdom along the way. Something that I can pass on to others, to influence choices they make along the way. No one has to take it, of course, I rarely did take advantage of any I was offered. Still, I'll try because that is the way of human nature.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My, How We Change...

I've been melancholy the past few days, we'll blame that on the flu. I should be blue today, too, since it's a rainy day and I didn't get to play golf. But I'm over the flu and feeling quite chipper.
Still, a rainy day is a good one to look back over one's past. Something that I have been meaning to do.

I have been going over some old photos. Every time I do I recall an song from 1968, or thereabouts, where some old people are talking about memories and lamenting not having photos of the events or people. It might have been a Chad and Jeremy song, or maybe Simon and Garfunkel, I don't recall.

In any event, as I looked through the pictures, I realized how much I changed over the years. We all do, of course. Nothing special about that. There aren't a lot of pictures of me around. My family was never one for albums. Which means that I didn't either. Most of the pictures I took I just passed on to my mother. I don't even have any school yearbooks to look over. Though I do have a couple of Cruise books from when I was in the Navy.

Anyway, I thought I would list a few pictures and let you see my metamorphosis from a boy to an old man. Part II tomorrow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Loner

I was replying to an email this morning, asking a question concerning perceptions. The writer had made a statement I had heard before, many times in fact. But it was something I rarely questioned out loud.

I grew up pretty much an outsider. The baby brother, teased by my older siblings , not particularly adept at anything. Naturally shy, not athletically inclined, I didn't try to join into much. I pretty much went my own way in the world. As we all do, I suppose. We find a path that suits us, or we make our own.

But a lot of things influence what path we take. Ambition certainly is important. That drive to attain some goal. But also we network, we build relationships with others, we become part of communities, both small and large. The small communities are our circle of friends, and/or (later) business associates/co-workers, the larger communities might be neighborhoods, towns, or cities. They can even be large parts of the population, such as ethnic groups.

I don't want to get too far off my point here and I can't dig as deeply into this subject in the limited scope of a blog so I am going to hope you are grasping the essence of what I am going to say.

I was never really part of any community.

If you look over at my Profile (over there, on the right), you'll see my picture. Under the picture it says "A guy without a real home town." That is a very important part of my nature, of who I have become over the years. We see ourselves as a part of something. We identify as more than just a singular entity, one person. We are a part of a family, a craftsman, a writer, a sportsman, a hunter, a New Englander, a poet, a westerner... well, you get my drift; we are a member of some community.

I'm not. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am a blogger so I am part of this community. And I do have a family that I am part of. And I live in a town, I play golf with a group of men. Within that, I am a member of a regular foursome. I have friends, people I socialize with.

Throughout my life, I have been part of things, groups of friends, school activities, had roles in plays, was a member of the military, a part of a large company, part of an office staff, one of a work crew, a husband, even helped form and, later, run a BBS association.

But there is something else that I can't quite, and never have been able to, define that should be there that doesn't seem to be. It's an intangible. A nagging feeling of being that piece that doesn't seem to fit anywhere in the puzzle.

And it has always set me apart.