Archive for the “Storytime” Category

This storytime is  really two stories, because it’s not possible for me to split them up in my head, telling one without sharing the other. The fun story is the next one… this story is the stress machine that wound me up, so I would have something to unload in the next one.  

Cassie has told me that this part was depressing, but I don’t really see how I can help that. It’s life, it’s just where you are sometimes, especially when you are far from home and can’t affect what your family may be going through when they need you… or at least, you think they do.

So this storytime is kinda part 1, the crime, and the next storytime is part 2, the punishment… or as I like to think of it, instant karma biting me on the butt.

Ready for a bearwall?

A long time ago, in a desert not so very far away, I was a brand new noob fresh out of boot camp, and checking into my very first duty station for training after earning the title of United States Marine.

It was a time of both high excitement, and difficult stress.

Sure, you’d expect there to be some anxiety when checking into your very first duty station, but this went a little beyond the norm.

Where did this unusual (for me) stress come from? Well, therin lies the story…

You see, this is the Life of Bear, so things did not go quite as planned for my movement from Parris Island to Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

You’d think it would have been the simplest of things, wouldn’t you?

I went to boot camp in Parris Island, graduated with flying colors and not a small amount of pride, flew down South to spend a few weeks of leave visiting my parents’ home in Boca Raton, Florida, and then had to catch a big fat bird to carry my butt to my next assigned duty station on the other side of the country. 

Not so difficult, right? Millions of military personnel move from station to station every single year. Leaves are taken. Travel is arranged. Orders are cut. Ho hum, etc.

During any movement between duty stations, a little stress is involved. A risk is always being run when you travel from duty station to duty station. You MUST check in to your next duty station by the time and date specified on your orders. No exceptions. No excuses. If you fail to arrive at your next duty station by the date and time specified on your orders, you are FUBAR. Umm, I mean UA. Umm.. screw it, you be in da trouble, mon.

For a brand new Marine fresh out of boot camp, you DO NOT WANT TO STEP IN THE CACKY FIRST TIME OUT.

Did that sound like shouting? Oh good, I did manage to get across the importance of not messing up your very first assignment.

As a Marine, you’ve always got a choice. You can do it right the first time with all of your effort, or you can coast and be a screwup. It’s an ever present choice. There are no acceptable excuses in failing to get the job done. Your duty is to get the job done. Maybe shit happened, but you had your duty, and if you failed in your duty, all else is trying to excuse your failure.

Maybe you had powerful motivation to do things that resulted in failing in a duty, because after all, there are always priorities. That’s what judgment is all about. Maybe you failed to make a flight because you were rescuing a busload of nuns from a burning vehicular accident, darting in and out of the wreckage moments before an explosion, and you were treated against your will for smoke inhalation, and failed to make your flight. Whatever. 

Even in that situation, there would be an awareness that you were choosing to miss a movement, and an understanding that you would face the consequences. Maybe there wouldn’t be any consequences. Maybe they’d congratulate you and pat you on the back.

Wanna bet on it?

No big deal, just something to keep in mind, to help understand how something as simple as flying across country can become a planned movement with fallback options for the prepared mind.

“But how do you prevent accidents from happening?” I hear you ask.

Well, you hope for the best, but you plan for the worst, and make careful choices as to what is an acceptable amount of risk, and what is a reasonable amount of preparedness.

For example… my orders said I was to depart Beaufort, South Carolina, and that I had to check in by a certain date and time a few weeks hence, in 29 Palms, California. 

I made the personal choice to stop along the way to visit my parents in South Florida. I did not have to do that. I chose to do that.

I could have traveled at any time, as early as I wished, to my next duty station, checked in, and waited in temporary barracks until my official check in time came around. Some Marines did, indeed, do that. I coulda spent two weeks sitting in a barracks waiting to check in… and I wouldn’t have risked being late.

Or, I could have chosen to get in a car in South Carolina, and drive across the country, spending two weeks taking in the sights and doing the tourist thing. I could have taken a train. I could have flown to Alaska and hunted a caribou, then driven a team of huskies as far South as they would take me, then hitchhiked the rest of the way to Yucca Valley. My duty was to check in on time. How I accomplished that duty was up to me.

You eventually grow up and learn that you must make contingency plans, you arrange your life and situations in an attempt to anticipate problems and remove any obstacle that would prevent you from accomplishing your duty.

If I were to do it these days, or even a year after this story, I would have arranged my last flight schedule to give me enough extra time so that, if the plane broke down or a flight was delayed at any stage, I would have had at least an extra 24 hours to make other arrangements or layovers. I would have anticipated and planned for delays, and made sure I’d be on time anyway. So what if I lose a day of my personal leave, so long as I’m on time returning?

Sometimes, there really are unforeseen issues of such dramatic scope that you can’t get it done. But it takes something mighty special. You accomplish the mission. It’s just what you do.

So yeah, right out of boot camp I made the personal choice to take a risk, without even understanding that I was taking a risk, to visit my family for a few weeks, and then travel on to California. I had my flights arranged, knew how I was getting from here to there… but I was new enough that it had never occured to me to give myself ‘wiggle room’ if I missed a flight or if the plane broke down, or whatever. I hadn’t thought about it. I’d never traveled enough to understand just how fragile a flight itinerary could be.  So my flight out of Florida to California was really, really tight. Last minute kind of stuff.

I enjoyed my time back home. It was fun, I saw my little brother, saw my mom and dad, drove around town looking at things with a new perspective, saw a few of my friends that were going to college at Florida Atlantic University locally, and generally hung out before taking off for a year of training and oorah.

Now, my mom is an insanely cool lady. I believe I have mentioned, in a previous Storytime, the houdini escapade, her status as a firefighter and police dispatcher, her incredible motivation and drive to achieve her goals, and how much I love and respect her.

Well, she knew that I was a huge Blue Öyster Cult fan, so when I came home ffrmo boot camp, she had a special surprise lined up waiting for me.

The very night before I was due to get on that big fat bird bound for California, Blue Öyster Cult was scheduled to play in an oceanside bar in Fort Lauderdale, just 30 minutes drive South of Boca. The kind of place Hemingway would have loved, the local bikers doubtless enjoyed, and where you’d never in a million years expect your moms to go for a show. Yeah, it was a real dive.

She had gotten us two tickets, and the two of us headed down there from Boca Raton to see my favorite band tear the place apart.

Why both of us? Why, so I could drink (underage) if I desired to, and have a safe ride home.

Many drinks were indeed had, much rocking was done, the band closed the place down, and so did we.

My flight on the big fat bird was scheduled for very early the next morning… which, by the time we rolled back home, was now very early the SAME day.

The alarm I had set went off, I dragged myself outta bed on maybe two hours sleep, grabbed my pre-packed stuff, shoved it into mom’s beat up car, bustled my very little brother in there, and away we roared to the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Traffic was a lot heavier than either of us anticipated, so by the time we actually arrived at the airport, the reasonable time I expected to have for check-in and moving to the departure gate had evaporated.

We were running so late, it looked like I was going to miss my flight. It was right about at this moment in time that the consequences of missing my flight began rolling in on me. Heavy traffic… could have been avoided if we left earlier, but I thought it was safe to get some sleep.

I didn’t panic, but I began to get that “omigod” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Like I said, I didn’t understand quite yet what constituted an appropriate risk. I should’ve been to the airport plenty early, and never have gone to the show the night before. What can I say? I was an exceptional dumbass at 18.

Yes, yes, I know, how little has changed, right? Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Back then, of course, airport security was a lot more relaxed than it is now. Everyone could go with you to the actual airport departure terminal, kiss and hug and wave bye-bye, and your family could stand by the window and watch as your actual plane taxied away from the actual terminal.

So here’s the picture.

I’m running mucho late.

Mom drops me off at the front with my seabag, and heads off to park the car.

I go running in my class ‘A’ uniform up to the check-in counter, check the seabag which constitutes all the luggage I own in the world, and by the time I have my tickets in hand, mom and brother have finished parking and are waiting for me at the tunnel that leads to the departure gates.

The lady at the check-in counter has told me that if I run, I might be able to make the plane before they close. They are boarding already.

No, they did not offer to hold the plane. I did not ask. I would never have imagined asking someone else to hold up other people’s departure because I was a late dumbass. Didn’t even cross my military mind.

Away we go. I”m sprinting for the gate, and mom and little brother are sprinting right alongside me.

We hit the tunnel, and I dart through the metal detector on the way to the departure gate, almost there, mom tosses her purse on the x-ray and darts through the metal detector, my brother at her heels, I’m running, halfway down the aisle, they are literally CALLING MY FLIGHT’S LAST CALL FOR BOARDING on the loudspeaker, but I’m damn well gonna make it.

I suddenly realize I’m running down the corridor on my own.

I stop, turn around to see where mom went to, what the hold up is…

She is standing at the metal detector, a circle of airport security are around her, guns out and pointed, and she’s being handcuffed. Little brother is just watching.

Dead stop. WTF?!?

It really took a minute to process.

My mom is standing there, getting cuffed as I watch. My little brother, what was he, like 8 or so, is standing there watching. The last call for boarding my flight is going out over the loudspeaker over my head right. this. moment.

What the hell do I do? Miss a flight and be UA, or abandon my mom?

What the hell do I do?

Well, that’s an easy choice to make. My own damn fault I was running late, and I’m not about to abandon my mom.

I start running back to mom to find out what the hell is going on and to try and help straighten out whatever the blankety blank is going on. Mom is a freaking police dispatcher, I’m in Class A greens, my brother is a runt, what the blankety do they think we are, terrorists

Mom knows me very well indeed. She sees me running back, and while she is in the very act of being handcuffed, she processes the same choices I just did, knows what I’m about to do (which is basically yell and wave my arms and try to reason with people that aren’t in any rush at all to straighten things out), and yells at me to keep going, get on the plane, she’d be fine, it was just a stupid misunderstanding. She’ll be totally fine, trust her, just go. Go, go, run, don’t miss your flight! Don’t you dare miss your flight!

Oh, and I love you! Have fun in California!

Yep, that’s my mom.

So, I turned my happy ass back around and ran for the terminal. I made the flight just in time, squeaked through the door, and had the entire flight to wonder what the bloody heck had happened.

Drugs in her purse? Not bloody likely. Unpaid traffic tickets? How the hell would airport security know? A warrant for her arrest? Again, how would they know? A bomb planted by a terrorist before we entered the terminal? Not even the remotest of possibilities, we never paused once in the airport itself.

Maybe she looked like a famous terrorist. I’ve seen the movie “The Final Option”, it could happen. Mistaken identity, looked like someone else…

That was my best bet.

Now, I bet in reading that, there are folks that would have chosen differently. Wouldn’t have left, would have stayed, whatever your mom said. I understand, and maybe you’re right. This is just me sharing what happened, and that includes what I did at the time.

In retrospect, I do still feel that I did the right thing, because there really was nothing else I could have done. At the time, all I really knew was that my mom was the smartest, most reliable and responsible person I knew, and I trusted her judgment. If she told me to go, she had it, get my ass out of there, then I went, because she said she had it… and to stay behind anyway would be to tell her that I didn’t really trust her to take care of herself when she said she had it. 

That didn’t stop me from second guessing my decision during the entire flight to California, of course. :)

This was years before cell phones were widely available. I couldn’t call home until I landed, and even then I had to try and contact her using pay phones, and instead of having a number for a cell phone she’d have, I had to try numbers from my memory of places where she or a member of the family might be. 

The only number I had was of the house. So that’s the only place I could call. Nobody was answering while I tried at the terminal… but the answering machine was picking up and recording my messages, so I was losing my quarters with every try. Eventually, I had to grab my bus and head off for Yucca Valley.

For the next three days, as I checked into my new duty station and began in-processing, I tried to reach home. I tried and tried, and couldn’t get ahold of anyone back home for nearly three days. Three days of not knowing what the bloody heck happened.

It’s funny now to think how hard it was back then simply to get ahold of family members, considering everyone and your 5 year old little sister seems to have cell phones these days, or at the very least digital voice mail. At the time, nobody but drug dealers had portable phones, and if you didn’t have a tape driven phone answering machine, you didn’t get messages or a notice of a call. And even if they had an answering machine, you never knew if the tape was already full and if they really got your message or not.

Do you get the feeling I’m putting off the reveal?

Yeah, it took three days to get an answer on what happened. Whether my mom was okay, what she got busted for, if my brother was okay, the whole enchilada. 

It turned out… it turned out my mom was arrested because she smuggled a gun into the freaking airport.

No, no, now wait a minute, lemme ‘splain.

See, it’s simple. No, really, it’s very simple. It could’ve happened to anyone.

No, no I don’t really believe that. But I sure as hell can see it happening to my mom.

Quck refresher, my dad was a police officer, my mom had been a firefighter and, at the time, was a active night shift police dispatcher. I was a Marine and gun and knife hobbyist, and we’d had firearms in our house my entire life. Dad has pictures somewhere of baby Bear holding guns like baby toys… and somewhere or other are pictures taken of me at the rifle range drilling half inch groups with a .22 at about the age of 3 from the seated position, proud papa at my side.

Guns are, in the end, just inert objects that do nothing in and of themselves. If they’re not loaded, they are nothing more nor less than lumps of cold steel, plastic, resin and wood. Not even any potential energy. That’s all in the ammo. Well, if you get your thumb wedged in there when the hammer comes down, the firing pin hurts like a bastard on a revolver, but that’s a different story.

I’m sure some folks would think that having a gun around would be like having a small lump of radioactive material, glowing and constantly reminding you of it’s presence. It just isn’t like that. It’s like having a screwdriver or a hammer, but that requires special safe handling practises. Maybe it’s better to say a firearm is like having a battery operated chainsaw.

Basic firearms safety is that the firearm is never loaded. The ammo is all kept under lock and key. If a firearm comes in the house, it’s unloaded. By default. And before you handle a firearm, the first thing you do, always and without exception, is break it open to check to see if it’s loaded. Yes, even if you just cleaned it and set it on the table, went to the kitchen and got a drink, and came back to pick it up and lock it in the gun safe. You pick it up, break it open and check to make sure it’s unloaded. Again. Every time.

Now, in my house, under my dad’s rules… well, he was a lot more relaxed and careless in his firearms safety. I have a lot of “accidental discharge of a firearm” stories I could tell.

An example of a typical day in my dad’s house, when he wanted to take a pistol to the shooting range.

Dad; “Where the hell did I leave the Sig? I thought I had it at the reloading bench. John, did you see the Sig?” “Nope, where’d ya have it last?” “Damnit, I don’t remember. Did I take it fishing? I’ll check the tackle box. Nope, not there. Hmm.” He searches for a while, starting at gun safes, moving to gun boxes used to transport locked firearms from the house to the range, then on to the garage, then to various tables, desk drawers, closet shelves, bedroom dresser drawers, and even a quick trip out to the jeep to check the glove box. Finally he hits couch and chair cushions. “Hey, what the hell is it doing wrapped in a greasy newspaper in the pouch of my easy chair? Oh, right, I was cleaning it on a tray table, and then it was dinner time, so I just wrapped the newspaper around it and tucked it down out of the way. Crap.”

“Okay, now has anyone seen my holster?”

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m not like that, one accidental discharge too many, thank you. The Marines taught me to handle firearms with a little bit more respect… and with a healthy paranoia towards the inherent stupidity of other people around firearms. I expect them to be loaded and in the wrong hands, if those hands are anyone’s but mine. But that’s me, and we’re talking about my mom, having been taught firearm safety and transport rules by my father.

Kind of a “Do as I say, not as I do” thing.

This was the mid 80’s, and my dad had been worried about my mom, because she worked the night shift at the police department as a dispatcher, and he wanted to make sure she was able to defend herself… so he’d given her a little Lady Smith, and forced her to carry it in her purse. She didn’t want the damn pistol in her purse, but he insisted, and they argued about it in a general low key, stubborn as a mule way back and forth for weeks.

He finally insisted she carry the damn gun, and so she promptly stuck it in her cavernous purse, where it settled to the bottom.

There the pistol rested, ignored and unheeded (and uncleaned for months, naturally), until the day she was in a hurry at the airport to see her oldest son off to California, and tossed her purse onto an x-ray conveyor at the Fort Lauderdale Airport.

Airport security was remarkably lacking in a sense of humor about the whole thing.

When my mom waved at me to keep going, she seriously thought at the time that there was no big deal. She screwed up and forgot she had a gun in her bag, but it’s not like she had a record or anything, right? She was ‘in the life’, so to speak, with law enforcement, and had been all her life. Her husband was a police officer, and had been for over 15 years at this point.

She figured yes, it was an embarassing mistake, and she’d never ever hear the end of it, but she’d make a call from the airport security office, dad would come get her, and it would all get worked out. A few hours lost to a major annoyance, but no big deal.

Umm… so, they took her downtown, threw her butt in jail, and called dad down to pick up my brother and bail her butt outta jail. 

He got the message at work through dispatch, came down to pick up my brother, and was asked if he’d sign her out of custody.

Reportedly, he said, “Nah, let her sit in there overnight, it’ll teach her a lesson about carelessness.”

So, mom got to spend a night in jail, because she did have a pistol in her purse and they certainly didn’t like that very much.

It turned out not to be so funny after all. 

The end result of it, was that first, she was pretty pissed at my dad. Um, yeah… no, really? I can’t imagine why.

Second, she went from being gung ho about service in local law enforcement, to being fascinated in the entire legal system that she was snarled up in. I think she always expected my dad, as the experienced police officer, to be her “knight in shining armor” if something like that ever happened. Instead, her knight had feet of clay, and her attorney rode to the rescue on a white steed.

The work of her attorney in extricating her from the legal tangles got her so involved in learning more about the law, that she finally quit her job and went back to college, to begin studying to become a lawyer herself.

She’s become quite the activist, as well. Just another of the things I admire about her.

At the time, of course, I had no idea where the events would lead. All I knew was, my moms had been arrested by the five oh for carrying a concealed weapon into an airport to get me on my flight.

And while she held me absolutely blameless in what happened, she was pretty pissed at life in general, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible.

So, that’s where my head was at my first week in sunny Twenty-Nine Palms, California. That was quite fun, in addition to learning the ropes and procedures for life on an active duty base that was NOT a boot camp, which is an eye opening process all by itself, let me tell ya.

I wish I could say that the experience taught me a great deal, but I’m not that deep. All I really learned was, make sure you try and anticipate trouble and plan accordingly, something I should have already known, and don’t carry a gun in your purse, something that I didn’t figure I’d have any problem remembering.

I guess I did learn one other thing, at that.

When you hear a story about somebody doing something just incredibly stupid, it’s easy to ask yourself how anyone could ever possibly do something like that… until you run into something like this, and realize that sometimes, through a perfect storm combination of chaos, carelessness, pressure and thoughtlessness, you yourself forget one key thing that normally you’d keep at the forefront of your thoughts… and you become the story other folks chuckle over at the water cooler.

The lesson there? Don’t panic, don’t rush, and give yourself time to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

Oh, and don’t carry a gun in your damn purse at the airport. Stick it in your glove box instead!

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Despite what you may think, I don’t generally whine on the blog that much.

I bitch. There’s a difference. :)

Whining is complaining about crap ineffectually and self-pityingly, being passive and expecting someone else to come along and fix your life and problems for you.

When I bitch about stuff, it’s meant to be with a sense of humor, a feeling of sharing to pass the time, and the sure and certain knowledge that even if I’m angry, I ain’t expecting anybody to do a DAMN thing for me, I can fix whatever’s bugging me all by myself (which means with the help and support of Cassie of course), and thank you very much.

The only time I tend to talk about stress and crap is waaaay after the situation is resolved, or when I know that it is resolved. When there is a solution.

Bitching is just part of the after action report. :)

Last week was one hell of a hard, stressful time for Cassie and I, and thankfully, for us, the worst is past. For those few people that dumped extra stress on us with needless drama, and you know who you are… thank you oh so very much.

I didn’t talk about it at the time, because it was still ongoing. There wasn’t a resolution yet. Now, for us at least, things are looking much better. So now I can be cheery and start bitching about being all stressed out last week.

It’s not just me that does this, it’s a trend on my side of the family. When stuff is going wrong, when bad times have come, you go dark and run silent. The rest of the family doesn’t hear from you again, not until you’ve got positive news to report.

I KNOW we’re not the only ones that do this.

I knew my mom was going through a bad time when I didn’t hear from her, and she didn’t return phone calls, for well over a year.

When I finally DID get through to her, she regaled me with tales of job loss, impounded and busted cars she couldn’t afford to have fixed, suspended licenses, skirting the edge of jail time (for driving ON a suspended license while speeding, naturally) and problems with my little brother and sister… neither of whom are little anymore.

But those were tales of the past… because by the time she actually started answering her phone again, she had a new job, her car was working, her license was back, the house was in good shape, and my brother and sister were, if not doing well, at least not ACTUALLY in jail. At the moment, anyway.

That’s just the way it works.

Now, I am going to share with you a tale of woe. A tale from the dark side, of depression and struggle, when I was down about as far as I’ve ever been. And there IS a point to it, a reason why this is on my mind at the moment, and when we get to the end I hope it’ll become clear.

I had a stretch back many years ago, before I met my lovely wife, just after I had quit my job of cross country truck driving with the hopes of settling down and making a few friends, where I found myself a hair’s breadth from being homeless and living on the street. 

I hadn’t been totally crazy, you know. I try and make reasoned decisions. When I quit truck driving, it was to walk into a high paying Engineering job that was just waiting for me, making test stations for jet engines, test stations that the major airlines use to do their serious periodic engine maintenance.

I walked into the job, snagged a room nearby that you paid for by the week (at stupid prices, and due to my ignorance of the area, in a horrible crack house neighborhood), I didn’t have a car yet because the truck had BEEN my car, but I started saving immediately to get these things taken care of. 

I figured I needed about 3 months, max, and my foundations would be form underfeet.

The company lost their contract, and I was let go with, literally, zero warning on a Friday afternoon at the last second of the work day. I had spent all of two weeks there.

Desperation set in, and my savings vanished paying the stupidly high weekly room rent as I looked for a new job. I finally grabbed the first job I could find to get some money going, working on equipment that cut, shaped and sealed foam products.

Once I had a job, I still had no savings at all, and no car or anything else. Anything other than cheap clothing vanished as my room got repeatedly broken into while I was away at work. Crack house, remember?

I was bussing and walking, and saving every dime in the bank to fund a future job search. The job paid poorly, but just well enough I could make it work. Theoretically.

But once the room was paid, there were very few dimes left over for savings, let alone food or a car or a security deposit. Every week after rent was paid, I had just about enough left over to buy some cans of vegetables, some ramen, and a single 99 cent Whopper a day for food.

Damn, that Whopper felt like such an unnecessary luxury item. I mean, you could get three cans of corn, or two cans of tunafish, or a loaf of bread for what that one Whopper cost. It’s funny what I remember now, how guilty I felt for not saving that dollar each day for my future.

Christmas rolled around fast, and I was right on the edge… I didn’t have enough money saved to do anything yet, and some of it got spent at the Army/Navy surplus store getting cold weather gear.

Note to others… there is no finer item for cold weather comfort, than what we in the Marines in 1994 called the “poncho liner”, a soft, smooth, silky, insanely warm and comfy blanket in camouflage pattern that could be crushed and rolled up to fit in the cargo pocket of your trousers. Sucker washed and lasted forever, too. A more perfect item I have never encountered, and the procurement officer responsible for buying them for us Jarheads should be blessed. Note to self… try to find one online. I miss my poncho liner.

Anyway, Christmas was coming… and then the word came down. They were cutting back on positions because of a slow fourth quarter. People were going to be cut. And I was one of the newest employees. Everybody I worked with was sure my ass was out the door. 

I was truly looking at being homeless and unemployed on Christmas in Minnesota, and spending some time in a shelter, IF I was lucky enough to find space.

I wasn’t really worried, you understand. I was single, and a former Marine, and I knew I wouldn’t starve to death so long as a single place needed a dishwasher somewhere within a bus ride’s distance. It’s being responsible for providing a safe, secure life for the rest of your family that makes things… terribly stressful when you lose your job. So much more to lose. 

That whole period of time, not a single family member heard a peep from me. Not word one. I dropped off the planet.

Now, I did NOT get let go. It was close, but I and the rest of third shift was kept, and they let first shift people go instead.

Staying employed, I eventually saved those dimes.

Far more importantly, I found a much cheaper place to live which made a HUGE difference.

It was in a co-worker/friends’ house, where a bunch of his buddies all lived in different rooms, and while it was still a bad neighborhood, it was a far, far better situation to be in, and let me save a lot more money. I wrote about the housing arrangement in a previous storytime, I believe it was called “Look out he’s got a knife” or something like that.

Amazing how these storytime things all tie in together at some point, isn’t it?

Anyway, once I had what could be called a reasonable living situation, I was finally able to save some damn money. I invested in a computer that I put together, putting that in front of a car because my priority was finding a GOOD job.

Once I got online, I could spend my every waking hour job searching.

Searching for employment that matched my knowledge and experience, and writing my own resume, I eventually applied for a job for which I was actually qualified, and on the strength of my resume, my experience, and my interview, they turned around and offered me a better position than the one which I applied for… at a vastly bloated salary.

Seriously, we never discussed salary or compensation during any of the interviews. I met the hiring manager that I would be working for, he had me meet his shift leads and get interviewed by them, and then he had the entire team sit in and interview me as a group. Not once was salary or compensation mentioned. I had to figure that the responsibilities would translate into better pay than cutting foam, but at the very least I’d be doing what I enjoyed again.

When he did call me in to offer me the job (in person), he apologized for only being able to offer me such and such hourly pay… which was, as I remember, about $9 an hour more than what I HAD been making.

I tried very hard not to cheer. “Just stay calm, don’t let them think that their new employee is a nutter before the ink is dry on the paperwork.”

You might think this was the start of good things.

You’d be right.

It was also during that period of time, just after getting that new job but before I moved into a new apartment, that I met Cassie, the wonderful lady that would one day become my wife… and I met her online. Yes, internet, true love romances between people who meet online DO come true!

How did we meet?

Well, I had the new job, and was making a lot of money. But I was still paying tiny rent and living with the guys in their house. So, on top of being able to save up for an apartment and a car… I could afford a gym membership.

I’d been doing pushups and stuff all along and moving huge foam blocks around, but I wanted to get back in proper shape.

My first week of seriously getting back into working out, I overdid it and ripped both of my shoulder muscles out. Couldn’t even lift my arms.

The Doctor gave me these wonderful, yummy drugs that knocked me out for… oh, about 4 days. I’d wake up, go to the bathroom, drink some water, take another pill and go back to sleep for another day.

The last few days while I recovered, I was able to go online and look around, and met Cassie there. Where, amusingly enough, SHE was recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, and was bored and browsing online herself.

Obviously, there was a lot more to it. But that is how we met. We were both wounded and recovering at home, and browsing the internet when we would normally be at work.

Everything turned around, seemingly overnight. It took a few months of savings, but I was so used to living on a shoestring, the money built up quicker than you could imagine after being destitute for so damn long.

I could afford a nice apartment, in a nice neighborhood. I could get a car that was certified used and within a few years of manufacture rather than somethin on it’s very last legs. And I could buy some furniture for my new flat. 

On top of it all, I was involved in an incredible relationship with a stunning, wonderful, brilliant woman that seemed to find me not totally reprehensible.

I was able to go, within a year, from a razor’s edge distance of living homeless on the street, to becoming a productive, responsible member of society.

Well, of imitating one, anyway.

I can’t help but think of how easily it could have gone the other way. 

I could have been let go that Christmas, but I wasn’t. They let someone else go instead.

Without the kindness of the strangers that I befriended at work that invited me to come hang out at their house, finding a place to stay would have been so much harder. It would have happened, sure, but far slower. And barring any other unforeseen problems.

I might not have been nearly so fortunate in finding employment with a manager that felt that he could better use my skills at a more important, and consequently higher paying, position. Yes, I had saved up and was dedicated to a serious job search for positions I was qualified for and that I enjoyed, but without his deciding to put me in a different position, whatever I did would not have paid nearly so well for at least a year. 

And it was only because of that bump in pay that I felt I could afford a gym membership at the time.

If at any point in this incredible chain of coincidence and happenstance anything had happened differently, I never would have had a place to keep a computer without it being stolen, a computer I could use to get online and find a job, a job that paid well enough to get a gym membership, and a gym membership that encouraged my supid butt to injure myself by going overboard on the fitness thing.

All leaving me RIGHT in the right time and place, and with the free time available, to meet Cassie, the most wonderful woman in the entire universe. 

That’s how tenuous, how fragile our entire wonderful “lived happily ever after” life got it’s start. 

It’s funny, looking back on it all. How can you ever pretend to know what life has in store for you? The person I was then could never have imagined being where I am now, with a wonderful wife and amazing son that can happily come up with “the fart song” and sing it for hours.

Sure, there are always ups, there are always downs. Life is a pattern of unpredictable changes. The only thing you CAN predict is that something unexpected will happen. Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad, but change happens.

The best anyone can hope to do is try and plan for and prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and when changes come, ride them out as best you can. Maybe the change will be a gentle wave you can surf with ease, and maybe the change will be the leading edge of the hurricane, leaving you feeling lost and adrift and bound for the bottom when the next wave hits.

All you can do when that happens is paddle your happy ass for shore as hard as you can, do your best to control what you can, and pray. 

I said there was a reason why all this crap, all these beginnings were on my mind today.

This post is dedicated to my sister-in-law Jolene, who lost her job in a layoff yesterday, and to her family, whom we love. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and our worries too. 

I hope you will all spare just a moment today to think of the craziness that is your life, to try and recognize the good as well as the bad, and to spare a thought for all the people that are still struggling like hell to keep their families safe and to make ends meet.

God bless you all, and good luck.

May you all surf the curl and never wipe out.

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Once upon a time, about the time I was midway through high school, I was fascinated with the subject of magic.

I loved the idea of an entire field of serious study surrounding mystery, suspense, danger, thrills, and wonder.

I know now, of course, that there are many different ‘varieties’ of magic. From the street magician with his portable tricks, to the stage magician with his large set pieces, to the huge spectacles that amaze and delight… or did, before visual wizardry through technology made the majority of folks feel that if something is too good to be true… it’s faked.

I also know, quite well indeed, that while often mistakenly called magic, there is an entire culture that overlaps but is seperate from magic, and that is the world of the escape artist.

I learned much more about magic, later on in life. When I was in the Marines, my best friend developed his own fascination with magic, the magic of the personal, one-on-one street performer, and I spent many an hour with him watching his endless practise with cards.

I had the pleasure, once, of seeing one of his “impromptu” tricks go off flawlessly.

Now, there are no such things as impromptu tricks. Every single one is painstakingly practised until it’s flawless… and until you can perform it and make it seem as though you just pulled it out of your butt. That’s part of the amazement when a face to face performer does one of these things.

In this case, Bob “just happened to have” a deck of cards on him. We were… hmm, where the hell were we? Ah right, we were in Bardufoss, Norway, after taking part in training exercises with the Norwegian 139th Air Wing. God, this was a long time ago, if I got the unit designation wrong, please, don’t kill me.

We had set up an Air Traffic Control section for MACS-5 on top of a mountain, a mountain whose other face was also used as a ski resort, and our base camp was way down below on top of a frozen lake.

It was very heavy winter weather in Bardufoss, very heavy snows, and the road to get to the top of the mountain was more of a single lane goat path. We had some heavily loaded 5 ton trucks that were hauling equipment up and down, and we coordinated the transport with two comm section guys using PRC-77s to make sure nobody started coming down after a truck started heading up. Seriously, single lane, mountain trail, and NO guard or barrier or anything preventing a drop down the mountain, and no room at all for movement if two trucks went nose to nose halfway up.

Sure enough, the comm guys get screwed up, one truck heads down as another heads up, and they meet in the middle beneath that old Georgia pine… umm, I mean on the slick one lane goat trail.

Everything shut down, as Marines headed up and Marines headed down on foot to figure out what to do. Backing down the mountain was the obvious option, a long and nasty drive to back down, inevitably wasting a few hours.

Marines often figure, if you get enough bodies into it, and find a lever big enough and a place to stick it, you can move anything. Maybe we could figure a place to get ‘em to pass.

So there we are, a bunch of Jarheads standing halfway up a mountain on a goat trail, heavy deep snow as far as the eye could see, and two trucks nose to nose.

The view up there was beautiful, Norway rocks. Sorry, wanted to throw that in there. I’d love to go back someday… when it’s not the middle of winter.

Anyway, right as we get there, a Lieutenant that had made good time and was first on the scene ordered the driver of the downhill truck to back and scoot towards the mountain as far as he could go, and then ordered the driver of the uphill truck to squish on by.

As I’m standing there watching, the uphill truck moves over slightly next to the other truck, pulls up and onto the pack snow on the side of the road to move over… and flips over and vanishes without a trace, straight down.

It was one hell of a magic trick. *Poof!* One second there was a truck, next second nothing. Not even a puff of snow. Voila!

We ALL rush over, and there at the side of the road, in what seemed to be part of the road itself, in a piled up snowbank, was a 5 ton truck sized hole, going straight down.

It turns out that the snow was SO deep, and blown up on the side of the mountain so well, that what the Lieutenant thought was a snow bank on the side of the goat trail covering more road was really just snow on top of snow, on top of snow, over a sheer drop of more snow.

I stood there, with my buddies Kit Carson and Willie Ames standing there next to me, and we looked down the dark hole in the snow.

Somewhere down there, we were sure, was a truck. Couldn’t prove it by me.

As with any man-made military disaster, we were then treated to the sight of an ever-increasing number of Officers descending on the scene like flies to a corpse.

It seemed nobody could quite believe the reports they were getting from the team on the road, and so more Lieutenants, then a few Captains, then a Major, and it just kept going on.

Pretty soon folks from the Norwegian Air Force started showing up, And then that group grew.

While the Officers congregated, we wee NCOs had our own coffee klatch going, and we got the hoist going off the other truck, and lowered it, with a Marine hanging on, down the hole to see how deep it went, and where the hell our Marine driver went, and provide medical attention if necessary.

Turned out it wasn’t THAT far down, the winch reached far enough at maximum, and the driver was fine. We hauled him up, and everybody began contemplating how, exactly, to drag a heavily laden 5 ton truck back up to the road. I mean goat fuc… I mean, goat trail.

That was a fun hour, I tell ya. You learn a LOT about how “proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance” when you see a Lieutenant make a single snap decision, give an order, watch it get carried out, and then see everybody from the CO on down chew him a new asshole.

I’ll cut this story within a story within a story short short by telling you how we got the truck out; heavy lift helicopter.

Okay, so let’s move on from the case of the vanishing truck, and on to our other, more planned magic act, Bob and his astonishing deck of cards.

We’re at the end of the deployment, we’ve packed up all our stuff, we’re down to seabags and alice packs, and we’re in temporary quarters, real four walls and roof type barracks stuff, because the tents we’d pitched over the lake were all shipped out already.

For a change, we had 30 minutes of dead time while we awaited transport out.

People are bored. Spades games are already popping up, sleeping is going on, etc, and Bob pulls out a deck of cards and starts doing a one hand shuffle, some fanning, limbering up the wrists.

Somebody starts pressuring Bob to do a trick… real twisting of the arm there. Because it was obviously all off the spur of the moment…

He says sure, takes the deck still in his hand, shuffles holy heck out of it, fans it out and asks the guy the infamous line, “Pick a card, any card”. Dude picks a card, Bob tells him not to show it to him, just look at it and tuck it back into the deck.

Then he pulls a rubber band out of his pocket, wraps it a few times around the deck, twists the deck around at the middle so the rubber band tightens up like a spring… and with a sudden, startling motion, SLAMS the card deck underhand towards the ceiling, where it impacts with a crash, shaking the walls and making people yell and jump wondering what the heck happened.

The deck had, of course, spun in midair due to the rubber band, and cards rained down from the sky… we all looked up, and there, stuck to the ceiling, face down, was a card.

Bob says to the Marine, “So, was that your card?”

Needless to say, everybody just looked at the card stuck to the ceiling, looked at Bob, and started saying such ego-deflating things as “Holy shit! How in the hell did you do that? That’s impossible! I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life!”

What an amazing trick to pull off. I knew he spent hours working on each trick, but it was still nothing less than amazing.

So, magic.

I spent a lot of time around magic in the Marines, Bob would take me along to magic shops throughout the Southern California area, sometimes we’d eat at a very cool resteraunt in San Diego that had tableside magicians that would perform tricks for each table while they waited for their food. We went to that one often, it was very cool.

He even made me watch and got me into this old TV series “The Magician”, starring Bill Bixby, that showcased Bill Bixby as a professional magician that ended up having to solve ‘impossible’ murders by exposing the trick the murderer tried to use to get away with it. It was much like a magician version of Columbo.

But my education in the world of magic did not begin with Bob. I had gotten interested in it, as I said, as far back as High School.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to study the history of magic without hearing of, or reading about, Harry Houdini.

I have read many biographies of Harry Houdini, and I’ve read his autobiography, and of course I learned many things, such as his real name as opposed to his stage name, the amazing fact that he had a nearly lifelong close friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, along with an ongoing disagreement concerning life after death and spiritual visitations, and many other awesome things.

But the single most surprising thing I learned was that Harry Houdini wasn’t a magician at all, he was an escape artist.

It was his ability to slip bonds, traps, restraints and containment that brought him his fame, not magic tricks with card and cup and ball.

I won’t go into that any more, since I would hope that if you had any more interest in the subject, you’d go and find some books about Houdini yourself.

I’ll just say that, in High School, reading about Harry Houdini inspired me not to try to learn how to fool people with card tricks, dice and sleight of hand, but instead to slip bonds and restraints.

My father, as I may have mentioned previously, was a police officer, so one of the obvious starting points was learning all the ins and outs of handcuffs.

One of the first things I learned was that the style of Smith and Wesson handcuffs the BRPD used had a pushpin double lock. By pushing in a small pin with the top part of a handcuff key, you could prevent the cuffs from being tightened further, locking them in place… but also making it much harder to unlock them without a key. MUCH harder.

The other thing about the handcuffs, of course, was that the key hole is in the face of the cuff. And if the hole is facing your hand, why, there is plenty of opportunity to get your carefully bent and filed down paper clip into the hole and manipulate it.

If, however, the smartass turns the key hole to face your wrists, and locks the cuff very tight, you REALLY don’t have much chance to get at the keyhole at all, even with a key.

My dad had seen me reading up and practising with the cuffs, so he interfered before I had much chance to practise, and started locking me into the cuffs to “see how good I was at getting out”.

As I was also doing a lot of leatherworking with Tandy tools and dies at the time, the obvious solution was for me to stitch a hidden pocket in the middle of the back of my belt where I tucked an extra handcuff key.

He’d cuff my hands behind my back, and I’d slip the extra handcuff key out of the pocket in the belt and uncuff myself. It’s amazing how I have never had a handcuff on me, not once, in all the long years since High school. Go figure. Who said those skills don’t come in handy?

I made the mistake of being a smug smartass myself by slipping the cuffs off nearly as quick as he put them on, even double-locked… so he turned them around on me so the keyholes were at my wrists. My little concealed key didn’t do squat for me then.

So, figuring out ways to slip cuffs was fun for a while, but the best way to get out of cuffs is to control the way they will be put on or the model used… a fine idea for a stage show, not so realistic if you get cuffed and tossed in the back of a squad car.

I moved on to the next traditional escape artist situation… being all tied up with a heavily knotted, large rough rope, and then getting out of it incredibly fast moments after being out of sight behind a curtain or in a box.

Acquiring a book on rope techniques for escape artists, some rope, and some time, I set out to learn how to make an impressive escape.

Now, one of the first tricks (at least in the book I was using) was to use a tall-backed wooden chair, with narrow slats of wood as supports, with plenty of room for the rope to weave in and out.

When you are tied to such a chair, it looks very impressive, the rope weaving in and out of the chair, many knots and coils and loops clearly restraining the person so there is hardly room for him to breathe, let alone wiggle free.

The key there is that there are many knots. And what is knotted isn’t the rope to the person, but the rope to the chair. The knots look real impressive, but when done right they are designed to act almost as a vest or harness, letting the person be coiled up and restrained and tied in dozens of places, but all of those coils meet at knots that are accessible and cascade down. You undo one key knot and that frees one section, letting you quickly get to the next section. Once free, you retie the knots in the correct order, and it looks as though you vanished, and the ropes fell in place behind you.

A wonderful plan. It sounded very cool. I could totally do that.

One key element I had not taken into account was that most of the tricks required a skilled accomplice to tie you up just right, and of course to assist in the case of any problems.

Problems? What possible problems could there be? I’m INVINCIBLE!

Moving right along…

I practised tying and untying knots for a while, making my rope harness built on the framework of the chair good and solid, slipping it on and slipping it off, and making sure I understand the order of untying and that I can actually reach all the knots once this thing is on.

Then, with nobody home of course, I place my artfully roped up chair in the center of my bedroom, with the door shut, and nobody at home. I might be banging around this first try, and don’t want to alert anybody that something’s up.

After all, this is all a secret. The handcuff thing showed me that, if you reveal your plans before YOU are ready, other people love to get in the middle and screw it all up.

Much better to work in secret, get the trick just NAILED, and then have an amazing escape to perform.

I sit down, get my ankles, legs and waist properly tied in, working my way up the knots until I’m twisting to get the last few tied up all the way back to my wrists.

Woot! I am now all tied up like a freaking mummy to a high backed wooden chair, and it is clearly impossible that anyone could escape from such a fiendish trap.

I calm myself and get ready to do the internal count, pretending that my lovely assistant had JUST slipped the curtain over my closet so that I was concealed from view.

The test was to see how quickly I could untie myself, stand up in a minimum of space (as if I was in that concealed closet) and then tie the harness back up behind me.

How long was it going to take me? What time would I have to work at beating? The longer it takes, the less impressive the whole thing would be.

I run through the steps in my head, and begin the count. I twist and squirm to reach the first knot… and realize that, once I had actually tied the knot, my loops were just slack enough behind my back that it dropped out of reach after I finished. I couldn’t reach the first knot.

Oh, hell no. This is NOT happening. Nope. I will be smashing the chair to splinters before somebody catches me tied to a damn chair in my bedroom. Kiss my white ass.

But really, there has got to be a way to reach that damn knot. This is the real world, this crap doesn’t happen in the real world.

Stretching to reach it succeeded only in tightening the whole damn thing. Surprise! The knots were designed to slide. And slide they did… they got a little tighter. Yay. Smooth move.

Okay, how about gravity. My hands are up here, the knot fell down there. If I rock forward, let the chair fall to where I am on my knees… my face will hit the hardwood floor. Okay, let’s rethink that plan just a bit.

If I fall backwards, I’ll land ON my hands… and the knot will not fall UPWARDS towards my hands anyway.

Hmmm, ropes actually suck pretty bad, don’t they? I never quite realized that heavy rope left such interesting burns on skin, either.

Okay, so. How about if I inhale deeply, putting tension on the ropes, so that they stay put. Then, I carefully undulate my body to make the ropes move gradually up towards my hands. A little squirming, a little twisting, a little scraping against the wall…

No, no that’s not working. The damn chair frame is preventing any actual control of the ropes.

Fine. Screw it. I’ll have to buy my dad a new f’ing chair out of the pittance I make at my after school jobs, because this freaking chair is getting smashed.

JUST like the guys in the movies do it. You make the chair fall over, and the weight of your body smashes the wood all up, relieving the tension on the ropes.

So I lean the chair back on the back legs, and start bouncing to get the legs to break off.

Did I mention that the floor was hardwood? Nice, smooth hardwood?

You know that feeling you get, when you are sitting in the chair at the back of the class, leaning back, and you lean just a little too far and you, the chair, the whole shebang goes ass over teakettle backwards, and you can’t stop it?

Yeah, it’s worse when you’re tied to the chair. With your hands and arms behind the frame.

F’ing chair didn’t break, either, the sturdy piece of shit.

Who the hell makes these things, anyway? Don’t they know the damn things are supposed to break at the slightest sign of stress?

Fine. Now I’m down on the floor, still tied to a chair, a chair which, I might add, is quite intact… and I hear the front door open.

Oh, son of a….

Hmmm. If I remain very, very quiet, maybe they will go away.

I hear my step-moms’ voice call out from the living room downstairs, “John? Are you home?”

Wisely, I remain quiet.

“John?”

Footsteps coming up the stairs.

I’m not answering, so why, dear lord why, in the name of all that is holy and just in the world, why is she coming to look? There was no answer, if I was here, I would answer, wouldn’t I?

Well… I would, if I didn’t spend all my time listening to Dead Kennedys, The Clash, Rush, Styx, Pink Floyd and Shadowfax on headphones in my room.

Loud.

Oh, crap.

The sound of footsteps come the rest of the way upstairs, and stop, of course, outside my door.

My closed door.

I am a teenager. My door is closed. Please, dear lord, please assume I am jacking off and do not open that door.

She opened the f’ing door.

And behold! There before her wondering eyes, for her consideration, the following tableau;

Her son, fully dressed (thank god), tied oh-so-tightly to a chair from ankles to neck, cocooned like a mummy in bright, BRIGHT yellow rope, fallen to the floor in the middle of his room. Nobody else present. Front and back doors securely locked.

She looked at me.

I turned my head and looked at her.

Now, my dad was a police officer of many years, so as you might imagine he had, quite literally, seen it all. But my step-mother, god bless her, was not only one of, if not THE first female fire fighter in the state of Florida (I really have to check that statistic someday) but worked at the time as the night shift 911 fire dispatcher.

And in Boca Raton, at that time, she was the ONLY night dispatcher.

You would be surprised at the kind of batshit insane trouble calls she would get from people, that would have absolutely nothing to do with fires.

She was just as jaded as my dad. And of course, they liked to compare notes on what crazy shit was the latest crazy shit in the city, to top each others’ stories.

She opened her mouth to say something, but I’ll never know what it was going to be.

Because I cut her off and said, with quite a bit of dignity I thought, “Please get me loose of these f’ing ropes. And not one word to dad. Not one word.”

You know your mom is a treasure when, 24 years later, you have still never, ever heard a single word, ever, about the day you were found tied to a chair in your bedroom. From anyone.

The moral of the story is… magic is pretty cool, escape artists are very trusting souls, and if somebody ever were to ask me if I was interested in bondage, the answer is GET THE F^(# AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT G#))&MN ROPE!

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Storytime! Just a teeny one, though.

I’m at home, it’s the evening, and it is time for a treat.

Our tasty treat of choice? Ice cream. In Cassie’s case, a vanilla float. In mine, a little plain vanilla in a bowl.

Cassie has already scooped her ice cream up out of the family sized gallon tub, and waggles the scooper at me in an inquisitive way.

“Why, certainly, I’d be happy to have some ice cream!”

I take the scooper gently from her hand, snag a bowl from the cupboard, and proceed to dig into the frozen confection.

As I dig into the ice cream distractedly, I continue talking with Cassie about our upcoming raid schedule, and my recent attempts to set a consistent reliable schedule of raids so people can plan on things in advance. We’re also searching for a raid leader within the guild to supplement Cassie, Fal and I.

So I’m chatting, distracted, not paying attention to what my hands are doing, and so allow my superhuman strength free reign.

I dig the scoop into the ice cream, meet resistance, and apply so much force I snap the metal scoop in half, and rip the back of my knuckles open on the metal remains wedged firmly in the ice cream.

Whoops! That got my attention!

So I look at the ice cream tub. Yep, that’s one half of a scoop. Sure ’nuff.

I look at the handle in my hand. Yep, that’s the other half of the scoop. Congratulations Sherlock, you have discovered the murder weapon!

I gaze at the back of my hand. Yep, that there is raw skin and torn flesh, and there will be quite a bit of blood running in just a sec. Best get some cold water to slow the circulation and then get some direct pressure from a soft cloth.

I move to the sink. As I do so, Cassie begins laughing at me.

I broke the scoop. What kind of idiot breaks the scoop? And I hurt myself scooping ice cream into a bowl? Are you kidding me?

So, she’s laughing. It’s not like I’m crying or screaming or whatever people do when they freak out at the idea that their precious skin got mussed. I tore up my knuckles, better treat ‘em quick. Whatever.

And it’s not being macho, pain hurts me the same as anyone else, it’s just that what’s done is done, and once it’s over it’s not like yelling and screaming actually does any good… unless you’re slammed with adrenaline and have tons of nervous energy to burn off. I’m just looking at my hand and thinking, “Ah, crap. Not again.”

It was ice cream. I hurt myself getting ice cream? Who in the hell hurts themselves getting ice cream? Oh for the love of…

She’s amused at my idiocy, and then moves on about her business. I wash my hands, rinse off my knuckles, grab a paper towel, wet it, and go downstairs. As the blood begins to seep out, I mop it up. No worries. In my experience, air drying and mopping up the welling blood on a superficial wound like this helps encourage clotting.

So, I go downstairs, load up the game and start playing. As my fingers get too red I mop it up.

Cassie comes downstairs to say something, sees all the blood, and NOW she’s sorry for me.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were actually hurt for a change, you big crybaby.”

Sigh.

So, go to work the next day, no problem. And as luck would have it, there are far more equipment breakdowns than usual, two of my three maintenance team members are off this week, and it’s just me and my one remaining employee to handle everything. I assign him priority one, I take number two, and start cranking with the tools on the linkages of a rotary die swap out.

I have a lot of balls I juggle in the course of a day, and just because I’m fixing stuff on the floor doesn’t mean everybody else takes a break. I gotta keep on top of my contractors, meetings, follow ups on parts orders and status updates for the planning staff.

So I’m hustling back and forth through the plant quite a bit.

As I’m walking through the offices in the afternoon, our HR representative stops me and asks me if I know who is bleeding in the office.

Umm, what?

Yes, she tells me someone is bleeding, there are spatters of blood drying on the formica floor outside my office.

Ahhh, crap.

I lift my right hand, look at it, and sure enough I’m bleeding profusely. I hadn’t noticed it get all ripped open again.

So I look at her and tell her I found the culprit! It was a hard search, but no criminal can get away once bloodhound bear is on the trail!

I thank her kindly for letting me know, I go clean my hand up, get the bleeding stopped, and then grab a gallon of bleach from the shop and start cleaning up the floor.

As I’m cleaning the blood stains with bleach, our HR rep comes up to me and tells me I need to remember to fill out an accident report.

Oh, shit. This is gonna be a good one.

Umm… I tell her I don’t need to fill one out, because this didn’t happen in the plant. It happened at home.

She seems… a little doubtful. Not that she’s saying she thinks I’m a liar, but… “yeah, right”.

“No really, I did this at home” I tell her.

“How did you do that?” she asks.

And of course, I have to tell her the whole story. Yes, I did it by getting ice cream. No, no I didn’t actually bleed IN the ice cream, but thank you for asking.

So, one stupid mistake, and now I’m embarassed twice. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

I got to work this morning, looked at the blog page and figured… hey, why not go for the hat trick?

You all take care, see you later with the winning results! Cassie already read them all and tabulated her opinions, now it’s on me to finish!

Oh, and watch out for those ice cream tubs, those damn things are dangerous!

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That’s right, it’s that time again!

Buckle up, buttercup, we’re going for a ride!

For those of you new to this game, Storytime is where I relate something true that happened in my life that popped to mind recently, because I’m an old fart living in the past. And since this is my blog, and I’m waxing nostalgic, I’m taking you all with me!

Oh, and I’m a huge Jethro Tull fan. I can’t use the phrase ‘living in the past’ in a sentence without hearing Ian Anderson actually proclaim in my head, “Living… in… The Past!” Just an FYI.

So, back in the glorious heyday of my youth, we return once more to Beaufort, South Carolina, scene of many of my previous escapades. Ah, the trouble you get into when you are young, single, Enlisted without being an NCO just yet, and have no bills and lots of disposable income.

Ah, youth. How the hell do we live through those years? Seriously?

At any rate…

I was stationed there in lovely Beaufort, SC, but my parent’s home was in far away Boca Raton, Florida.

I had some income, certainly… but not the kind of cash to dump on a plane ticket to go home to visit the folks and my old school friends whenever I got a three or four day pass.

So what I did, was I bought a motorcycle from a fellow Jarhead taht was having divorce issues and needed the money.

It was a Yamaha Maxim 550, used of course, with a whole heck of a lot of miles on it. It may have looked a little rough, but I loved that bike.

Here’s a photo so you can see the body style, this ain’t the actual bike, just the closest thing I could find to a pic of what my bike looked like.

maxim550.JPG

Even the tank color is right.

So, I had never ridden a motorcycle before, and now I owned one. And anyone that lives on base can tell you, getting a bike registered, licensed, insured and getting your own MC DL are all required before you get to actually ride the damn thing around.

So for a month or so, I left it out at my friends’ place, and he would drive me out there weeknights or weekends, where I would hop on, crank it up, and go driving around the backroads of Beaufort, teaching myself to ride.

You gotta love the South. I mean, really.

The gas stations I would stop at had the usual pumps… but they also had one pump that would be listed as “Racing Fuel – 99 octane”.

Racing Fuel, of course, is designed to burn faster, so more of it’s energy is released before  going further than about 20° past Top Dead Center… and I just realized I have no intention of explaining that.

Ummm… Racing Fuel packs more of a kick. Corrodes normal engines, though. At least the old stuff used to. 

Anyway, yeah, the regular Unleaded was pretty expensive back then going for around .88¢ a gallon… but I always splurged and went with the Racing Fuel at $1.02, and to heck with the expense! Go crazy with that money! Get the GOOD stuff!

Ah, the joys of tearing around on your own motorcycle… I loved it. I truly did.

So, after a month or two, I went and took my test and got my license, yadda yadda, and started tooling around town. All the joys life off-base had for a single Marine were now open to me. Meaning, mostly, the movie theater, McDonalds, and video rentals.

A few months later, we had a 4 day weekend coming up. I called home and proudly let my mom and dad know that I was coming home to visit.

This being South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,  the route wasn’t the most difficult in the world. You get on I-95 Southbound, and you stay there. When you need gas, you pull over. Repeat as needed.

On the day of the trip, I stuffed a seabag full of clothes, bungie-corded it onto the back of the bike (where it actually provided a comfy back rest to lean against) and headed on out.

I always wore a helmet, and on the ride down I had on jeans, combat boots and my field jacket.

Why?

Because it was a kind of rainy day. And rain or no rain, I said I was coming, so I was coming. 

I had never before ridden farther than Savannah, Georgia on the bike, and then it had been the summer. I had attended St Patricks’ Day at River Street (awesome, bigtime), and done a lot of tooling up and down the roads, but never before had I gone for a long, long run.

Looking at Mapquest, it’s about 480 miles, and they say it should take about 7 hours. I have no idea what speeds they are talking about, though.

What I do know is, I was excited. I was stoked. (Remember when it was okay to say stoked? Yeah, those were a happy 5 minutes.)

Screw the rain, I was going to know the freedom of the open road, the wind roaring around me, the pedal to the metal, blue sky and hard asphalt and the dreams of a free country everywhere around me.

Okay, no blue sky. But it can’t rain all the time!

Damn, was I excited.

Visions of Vanishing Point stuffed in my head, I WAS Kowalski, one man and the loneliness of the open road.

Yes, I know. You’re shocked. What can I say, I wasn’t BORN bitter, after all. :)

So I hit the road. Hard. I nailed 80 mph out the gate, and stuck it there as much as possible. I only left the road when gas got very, very low, and some of the stretches of Interstate highway left me feeling it might be a while until I saw another offramp.

And yes, it can in fact rain all the time. You’d think, after three states, at some point you would get out from under it.

Along the way, I learned many valuable lessons about riding a motorcycle on long journeys.

Some lessons I learned fast, and others took a while to sink in.

First and foremost, I learned that a lot of people in cars and trucks will actually swerve towards you, trying to force you off the road and off the shoulder, in the hopes of seeing you lose control, and die.

Yes, I’m serious. If you’re young and thinking about getting a bike, keep that in mind. Watch your ass, all the time. Check your mirrors, and maintain your spatial awareness. Do not give them a chance to block you, and keep an eye for escape routes, such as simply being ready to take the grassy median, or being prepared to accelerate or brake if you see an attempted swerve.

I don’t think it has to do with people in cars hating motorcyclists, either.

I think it has more to do with some people seeing someone else in a potentially dangerous, vulnerable situation, traveling at high speeds without a steel cocoon to protect them, and either they are on an open stretch of road, or in a heavy rain where visibility and identification are hindered, and they get the sudden urge to inflict hate and suffering on someone else just because they can. And I truly think they feel that they’ll easily get away with it, free and clear.

Kind of the road version of John Gabriels’ Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

I also learned that, to a motorcyclist, a large 18-wheeled tractor-trailer combo barrelling along at 75mph – 80mph sucks a massive windstorm in it’s wake and all around it, and it WILL cause you to concentrate all your energies just on control as it passes you, or you pass it, because you get the feeling your tires may very well lose traction on the slick roads, and you wonder if you’ll get sucked under the semi’s wheels if you’re not careful.

I learned that when they cordoroy, or roughen, the road with those lengthwise grooves when preparing for road work, it channels narrow bike tires and makes it difficult to safely control your bike during lane changes.

I learned that steel grate bridges like the ones in Jacksonville at the time are horrible.

I learned that a LOT of cars leak a LOT of oil, right down the middle of the road, which turns nice and slick in the rain. How slick? Why, much like an oil slick, I would say. And if you are on a motorcycle, the temptation is to ride down the center of the road where the bulk of the oil is.

And finally, I learned that bugs suck.

Especially clouds of those tiny little f’ing gnats. But I learned that lesson later.

For the moment, however, the sky was full of rain, the wind was a steady blur of icy needles in my exposed flesh, chilling and stinging me hour after hour, but the the roar of the road was in my veins, and I was free to ride.

I blasted on through, on the solo road trip of a lifetime.

It was awesome.

When I finally pulled on into the parent’s place in Boca Raton, I was bone tired.

But I was also exhilirated, and felt like I was riding a massive endorphin rush. NO energy, but no pain at all, and no stiffness either.

I was chilled bone deep, and soaking wet, but I was way past caring at this point. I was just exhilirated that the ride down was done, and in a thunderstorm from hell at the end of it. 

I stumbled on in, dumped my wet seabag on the floor, yelled “High Ma” as nonchalantly as I possibly could, as though I take three-state road trips all the time, no big deal, and then went back out to the bike.

You see, I had ridden that sucker hard for hours.

And when you run an engine that hard, you can’t just dump it on a driveway in the icy rain to sit, and instantly cool, and expect it to be fine.

You kind of need to ease it down gentle. Let the temperature cool gradually, let the oil circulate a little as it runs easy. Idle it a bit. A block or two is fine, maybe a mile if that, just puttering along. Don’t let a super hot, expanded-metal engine get chilled, it will only cause problems down the road.

So I went on out into the rain, hopped right back on the bike, backed it out and started her up again.

I puttered gently down the half a block to the corner, and eased into the left hand turn.

And as I turned left, the engine roared instantly into life, accelerating to the max the gear ratio could handle, and slamming me full tilt into the stop sign on the corner.

….

I was pinned under the bike, and I could tell my ankle was not doing very well. I shifted a bit, got under and hefted the bike up off me, and using it to lift myself off the grass, I gently propped it on it’s kickstand. I say gently, when what I really wanted to do was kick the hell out of it.

I had jumped the curb before I nailed the stop sign, and came to rest on the grass, so I didn’t have any road rash. The bike frame still looked straight, and the only visible damage was the right front turn signal was dangling by the wiring.

And yes, my right ankle was at least sprained.

Son of a…

Well, first thing I did was ruefully acknowledge that God has a fine sense of humor.

On the one hand, if you’re going to have an accident, it sure is nice to be able to walk away from it in one piece, and be able to hop a half a block home.

On the other hand, I was 480 miles from my duty station, my only mode of transport just tried to kill me out of the blue, and my right foot, my braking foot, was all messed up. If my foot didn’t get better fast, I was going to be relying strictly on the front wheel hand brake, which is a terribly unsafe, stupid thing to attempt. 

And I had three days to fix it all before I had to make the journey home. During a holiday weekend.

I pushed the bike the half block back to the house in the rain, limped on inside, and acknowledged that yes, it was mildly amusing that I drove 480 miles just to have an accident a half a block from the house. Thank you very much. Yes, I thought so too.

Now, I could say that the rest of the weekend was spent staying off my foot in the hopes it would heal, packing it with ice.

And I could relate the fun of finding a mechanic willing to do a rush repair on a motorcycle over a holiday weekend so I could ride back on Sunday. Eventually my dad found a Porsche mechanic friend willing to do a personal favor for me.

I could tell you of my annoyance at finding out the reason I crashed was not my own stupidity, but was instead that the accelerator cable got pinched in the sleeve, and as I turned the corner, it pulled the cable hard and fast, just as though I had redlined the engine intentionally. A simple problem that probably would have happened anyway, from prior abuse of the bike, but might have been prevented had I used a graphite lubricant in the sleeves of the cables as some preventive maintenance.

I could tell you how, nursing a tightly wrapped and unusable right foot, I made the return trip on my repaired bike, and this time the sun was high in the sky, the birds were singing, the wind was warm and delightful, and I had a picture-perfect, gorgeous ride back, wearing helmet, jeans and a tank top on the entire run, basking in the sun and the wind. And how the experience was severely lessened by my stress at not being able to use the foot brake.

Seriously, only having the front wheel hand brake is a horribly dangerous  way to ride.

I could tell you of the triumph of making it back to base just in time late on a Sunday night, using only the hand brake, fighting a fogged-over faceshield in the delightful late evening fog and humidity of South Carolina for the last hour in the dark along the coastal roads.

I could even tell you of my joy at discovering, the very next day, that when you ride with a tank top in the sun in 80mph winds for 6 to 7 hours straight, the combination of sunburn and windburn feel simply delightful. I highly recommend it.

Oh yeah, and pure Aloe gel is awesome.

But I think I’ll simply end with this thought, for all my friends;

Clouds of small bugs really suck. I am totally not kidding.

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