May 31, 2008

Dad

Last month Liz and I flew out to Arizona to visit my Dad and his girlfriend, Beverly (more about that in a later post).  Now, just a few months ago we got a call from Bev letting us know that Dad was in the ICU and the doctors didn't expect him to make it.  I started to make plans to go and then, hours later, Bev called back and said Dad was out of the woods and would be fine.  I called Dad a little after that and he sounded amazingly good.  Good enough that we decided that I could wait until our already scheduled vacation.  He was going to need dialysis for a short while (everyone hoped), but other than that and the usual "old people" problems he was gonna be fine.

I prepared myself for the worst when we saw him.

I come from tough stock!  His kidneys had gotten going again almost immediately, so no more dialysis.  I knew he used a breathing machine, but didn't know it was only at night because of his sleep apnea.  He used a walker, but only when he was really tired and he never did during the week we were there (nor did I ever think he needed it).

In fact, he was the same old Dad.  We moved furniture from their old house to the new one, including a massive metal workbench that weighed a ton.  We hung two flat-panel TV's on wall mounts.  We put up a new television antenna on the roof, and ran the wire inside.  He showed me the extension he built to his workshop.  It was just like old times.

At one point, we were working on two different projects right near each other, and I told him that he was working too hard.  His reply caught me by surprise:

I don't work hard.  I work steady.


And it's true.  Dad gets more done than most people half his age, and he does it by methodically taking it a step at a time.  There are no frantic bursts of energy, no show-stopping surprises in mid-project, he just thinks things through and then follows his plan.  Give the man a hammer and a two-by-four and he'll build you a spiral staircase.  He's amazing that way, and his secret is as simple as "don't work hard, work steady."

I've been going through some fundamental changes in my personal life over the last year or so.  Call it a midlife crisis (like Liz does) or just finding myself (whatever that means), I've done a lot of thinking about and tinkering around the edges of my life.  Examining everything closely and figuring out what I really want and how I can change things to make it better.  That's part of what the new "Lifetoys" category is about, where you're gonna see some of the things I've looked at and experimented with.

Those five words, distilled down to their perfect essence, explain perfectly a huge part of what I've been trying to do.

Thanks Dad.

Posted by: Ted at 06:04 PM | category: Lifetoys
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June 02, 2006

Goes Around Comes Around

Daughter Mookie, my wife and I went to the eye doctor last night for exams.
Rachael and I both got dilated and checked out, but Liz got there late after work so she didn't want the dilation. I mean, she *really* didn't want the dilation. I helpfully volunteered to bring her in one evening after work so that she could get dilated and I could drive her home safely. Ooooo, she wasn't happy with me.

I owed her, and payback is a bitch. See, Liz went to the doctor last week for her regular visit, and while she was there she set up an appointment for my annual physical (of which the last one was two years ago and 15 years before that). For some reason - Liz claims that it's love and concern for my health, I call bullshit - she pointed out to the doctor that I'm overdue for a colonoscopy. In fact, I've never had one. It's freakin' duly noted in my records now.

Dilation vs. colonoscopy. I still think she's getting the better of the deal. Being the lemon/lemonaid kinda guy that I am, I was looking for the silver lining here and I think that, just maybe, if you ask nicely I might live-blog the colonoscopy. Won't that be fun?

Posted by: Ted at 05:50 AM | category: Boring Stories
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December 07, 2005

Chip, chip

There's plenty going on right now in life, and as Murphy surmised, fate is always happy to add a cherry on top of everything else to be dealt with. In my case, my pickup truck decided that it was the perfect time to develop problems. Yay!

I dropped the truck off for a quick checkup over the weekend, and they confirmed what I'd suspected, it was the transmission. The mechanic (who I trust) told me that a complete diagnosis would involve pulling the transmission from the vehicle and disassembling it to discover exactly what needed to be replaced.

In other words, $800 just to find out how many more thousands I'd be forking over.

I thanked him and let him know that I'd be picking up my truck that afternoon. When he asked why I wasn't going to get the work done, I told him that it made more sense to just trade it in.

This truck is in great shape (except for the transmission). I've never had a bit of trouble from it before, but it's a 1998 and getting close to the magic 100,000 mile mark, so it was time. In fact, the original plan was to trade it in come springtime.

So we advanced the timetable forward a few months. When I started working at my current jobsite, my commute doubled from what it was before, so I wanted a little economy car. Something basic that would get good gas milage back and forth to work. Since we'd be losing the hauling capacity of the truck, my wife would trade in her big car for a minivan, and in a perfect world, we'd do it all in one swell foop.

Last night we hopped into Liz's car and headed to our local car dealer. We have a particular favorite - we'd bought three cars from them - and they have always been fair and above board with us. Armed with a printout from their website, we went browsing for used cars. After a while, we let one of the sales guys know that I was ready to do more than wander the lot and freeze. I had one requirement, I had to be able to fit inside and drive the darn thing. I'm a little taller than average, and quite a bit rounder, so I pointed to a couple of models and asked to sit inside. The salesman started talking test drive and options, but at this point, I just needed to know if I'd be eliminating them from consideration.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only could I drive it, but it was comfortable and even roomy. They had plenty to choose from, so it was on to stage 2 - Liz's van.

We looked at several vans, and a few smaller SUV's, and after a little discussion we decided on a van that we both liked. That told me how much I could afford on my little pocket rocket.

While making my choice, I was flipping through the printouts and noticed something. I told the salesman that the price listed online was a grand cheaper than the sticker. Without hesitation, he said "ok". I tell you, these people are easy to deal with.

We went inside to warm up and work the numbers. They took Liz's car for an inspection and decided that they'd just work my truck trade sight unseen, based on my answers to a checklist they had. I didn't mention the transmission, because a seven year old truck was a throw-in for this deal as far as I was concerned. We soon realized that it just wasn't adding up for us. We switched focus to just getting me the little commuter, using my truck for trade, and I started feeling guilty about it.

The guy came back and gave me their best offer: $2500 bucks for the truck (that they'd never seen). That was quite a bit more than I expected, but I couldn't take it. I told the guy that the truck might have some transmission problems and that he was offering too much. He thanked me for being a sucker honest and offered $1800. I jumped at that.

This morning, I drove my new (to me) 2004 Hyundai Accent to work. This afternoon, I'll take my truck over to the dealer and drop it off, saying goodbye to a great vehicle. Yep, they still haven't seen the truck.

There's still a lot going on that I have to deal with, but this went better than I could have hoped. They'll get my business again for sure, and I feel good about not ripping them off after they trusted me. A little bit of that weight-of-the-world has been chipped away from my shoulders. Feels good.

Posted by: Ted at 12:07 PM | category: Boring Stories
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July 04, 2005

A first impression is a terrible thing to waste

We delivered Mookie to Governor's School yesterday, making the drive down to Richmond in good time. She's at the University of Richmond campus, which is absolutely beautiful. I wonder how long it's been there, because it's like it was set down into the middle of an old-growth forest, and you can seldom see more than one building at a time for the trees and hills.

So we get there, she checked in, and there was a note next to her name saying she needed to report to the nurse's office. We figured it was for her prescription medication, because she's mildly allergic to insect bites, and she'd OD on OTC Benadryl before it did her any good.

After hauling one load of her stuff to her room, we were headed back down the stairs, following about a half-flight behind a mom and her daughter. I said to Rachael, loud enough to be heard, "The nurse wants to see you before the opening ceremony, so let's go now. As long as you take your medication every day, you won't be a danger to any of the other children."

The mom in front of us spun around and looked at us, and I swear I've never seen a more horrified look on a person's face. Those wide-eye'd cartoon double-takes? Yep, like that.

She went through a door on the next landing, while Rachael and I continued down the stairs, me laughing like a maniac and Mookie hitting me and telling me to behave. She was giggling too though.

Later, we were bringing the last of her stuff up, which was a couple cases of bottled water and Rachael was telling me that Mom got her a bunch of those single bottle lemonade mixes. Mookie is a lemonade fiend, so she was very appreciative. Walking past a line of students and parents waiting to check in, I told her that making her happy was the second best thing about being a parent. Not seeing it coming, Mookie asked what the first best thing was.

"Telling you 'no'."

That got quite a few laughs too, but I'd bet it was all from the grups.

Posted by: Ted at 05:44 AM | category: Boring Stories
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June 19, 2005

Questions of my Childhood

Amy tagged me with this meme and went to the trouble of emailing me to let me know (and throwing in a little ego-stroking as well). Since I'm a sucker for flattery...

Five Things I Miss From My Childhood

1. The toys. We'd spend hours outside playing with G.I. Joes, and not those wussified later versions either with the lame-ass "real" hair and beard, or kung-fu grip, or even later those dwarf-i-fied posers. I'm talking real freakin' G.I. Joes, with miniature versions of actual machine guns and grenades and bayonettes instead of made-up "cool" weapons. We didn't have any stupid nicknames either, like "Cobra" or "Streetsweeper". No secret fortress or fancy basecamps, we'd dig actual trenches and ambush pits with twig and grass covers, and someone's Mom would make us little canvas ponchos and squares that we'd turn into tents. Each of us had one or maybe two Joe's, a rifle for each and maybe a pistol and a few grenades. Then there were the Erector sets. I had three or four of them, huge metal boxes stuffed full of metal girders and plates and L-beams and pulleys and hundreds of stripped little screws and nuts. Mine all came from the flea market, where my folks would run across them on someone's table and buy it for me. They weren't complete sets, just lots of random pieces thrown together for sale secondhand. That was ok though, and I would spend hours building giant cranes and cars, and every "new" box of parts was like Christmas. For a while, my brother and I were into Hot Wheels. When we finally talked our parents into getting us a set, I specifically asked for a Camaro. I was so disappointed when we opened the set and pulled out the two included cars, because one was a Camaro. Turns out that what I really wanted was a Corvette, and my parents achieved deification when they handed each of us an extra car and mine was the Corvette I so desperately wanted! I remember my brother's first car was the Hot Wheels version of the Beatnik Bandit in bright metallic green. We collected a couple dozen cars apiece and never went beyond a fairly basic track setup, although my folks bought us a pair of high-banked turns one year for Christmas. There's so much more... Lego, back when you had to use your imagination when building things with them, and your whole collection of parts consisted of red and white bricks with maybe a few clear plastic and the rare yellow, black or blue brick. I've posted before about the Secret Sam briefcase. We had a closet in the old house that was full of board games. The contents of that closet could become a post of its own, maybe for a rainy day, that seems appropriate.

2. Orchards
. I grew up on the outskirts of San Jose, California (before it became the Silicon Valley) and our playgrounds were fruit orchards. We spent the days running around and playing in them, we camped in them at night, and often we earned a little pocket money in them during the summer by cutting apricots for drying. Later we moved to the opposite end of the city and instead of apricots and cherries we had miles and miles of pear orchards. All summer long we feasted on pears picked right from the trees and towards fall had huge battles where the ammo was overripe fruit. At the end of the day we'd head home bathed in a sickly-sweet miasma from the smooshed fruit that we'd been splatted with.

3. Rainy days.
I still love rainy days, but when I was young my Dad built a patio cover made of corrugated aluminum. Next best thing to a tin roof, believe me. I loved playing outside even when it rained, and at night the best lullaby ever was the sound of the drops dancing and drumming outside the window.

4. Fishing with my Dad. For one stretch, my Dad worked nights. During the summer he would come home before dawn and get my brother and I up to go fishing. He'd send the dog in to wake us up while he brewed up a thermos of coffee for himself, and sometimes he brought a bag of donuts for breakfast. We'd quickly get dressed and grab our poles and tackle boxes and head for one of the local reservoirs. We had lots of choices in our area, but I remember going to Coyote and Lake Anderson most of the time. When we got there, we'd bait up with earthworms (sometimes with salmon eggs just for a change) and toss our lines in from the bank. We caught mostly crappie and bluegill, occasionally a small bass and even more occasionally a catfish. If someone was nearby we'd offer them our fish, if not we'd release them. After a couple of hours the sun would be fully up and the fish would quit biting so we'd head home. Dad would go to bed and we'd head outside to play all day.

5. Mom's Goulash. "Goulash" is what my Mom called it, although I know now that it was nothing like the real thing. I remember it had chunks of tomato and hamburger and maccaroni in it and I absolutely loved it. We didn't have it often because my Dad hated it, and I learned something valuable from him. As my kids were growing up we'd sometimes have something that I hated, but I ate it anyway because they liked it. And since I would do that, they learned that sometimes you do something you would really rather not just because it makes someone else happy. I asked my Mom for the recipe a couple of times before she died, but she never got around to giving it to me, if she even had it written down anywhere. I'll never try to make it from memory, because I remember it as being perfect, and I don't want to disappoint myself.

So that's my five. Thanks Amy, this one was fun!

The rules:

Remove the #1 item from the following list, bump everyone up one place and add your blog’s name in the #5 spot. You need to actually link to each of the blogs for the link-whorage aspect of this fiendish meme to kick in.

margi lowry *dot* com
Note-It Posts
Eat The Lettuce
Prochein Amy
Rocket Jones

Next, select four unsuspecting victims, list and link to them.

SilverBlue
Son of Cheese
Dusting My Brain
Oorgo Blog

Posted by: Ted at 10:56 AM | category: Boring Stories
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June 18, 2005

The things (insane) parents do for their children

Yesterday was the last day of school here in Prince William County, and I had agreed to chaparone a party for my daughter Rachael. We rented a pavillion at a local park, bought lots of food to feed dozens of newly-liberated teenagers, and I had agreed to chaparone a party for my daughter Rachael.

Most of the parents I met as they dropped off sons and daughters called me a brave man (translation: fool) because I had agreed to chaparone a party for my daughter Rachael.

But really, it wasn't that bad. In fact, the party was a huge success.

Mookie and I got to the park a little after 1pm, and kids started showing up around 2pm. All told, there were 45 people there and most stayed until almost 8pm when I called it over (the park closes at sunset). Unfortunately, two of her best friends couldn't make it because one had to work and the other moved earlier this week about 3 hours south. On the other hand, two other good friends made the trip up from downstate with boyfriends in tow.

I cooked burgers and hot dogs for 4 hours, and at the end of the day, only one uneaten dog got thrown away. We did run out of ice and drinks though, but still had plenty of cups for water.

Rachael had declared this a masquerade/costume party and had made masks for a couple of her friends. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at how many of the kids showed up in costume and masked.

I was also struck by how diverse her circle of friends is. The youngest there was a freshman boy who swears Mookie helped him pass Construction class this year. The oldest was a girl who graduated the year Rachael was a freshman. A lot of these kids she knows from drama and theater, so they're an outgoing group. They hug a lot. Their standard parting is "I love you". They're mentally unstable, but polite. I got lots of thank you's for cooking and chaparoning.

Forty three minutes after the start of the party, I heard the first mention of water balloons.

Shortly after that, the first one was thrown. At that point, I made the only rule I needed all day: No water in the pavillion. There were too many cell phones and cameras laying around on the picnic tables. All water fights stayed outside the covered area after that. One great thing about the park is that it's a cell phone dead zone. It's almost impossible to get a signal, so the phones don't ring and there weren't a dozen teens constantly on their phones.

Back to the water fights. Another group of friends showed up with super soakers, and soon enough it devolved into cups of water, 2-liter soda bottles filled at the faucet and a few cleverly hoarded balloons. I fully expected the kids to just start dragging victims into the bathrooms one at a time for drowning in the toilets. Lots of very very wet teenagers running around.

And of course, the entire time they're in ever-changing little groups playing on the playground equipment, kicking around a hacky sack and soccer ball, and plotting the next liquid ambush.

Finally, most everyone drifted over to the soccer field where the athletically inclined played an actual game, and the rest of the kids all made up intentionally obnoxious and politically correct "positive reinforcement" cheers and planned an actual halftime show. Drama kids. They're all showoffs.

And then it was getting late. Everyone helped pick up around the area, including bits of exploded balloon, and parents were called for pickup (the few kids with working cell phones shared theirs out). Many more hugs and "I love you's" were exchanged along with lots of "great idea, Rachael!" comments.

And Mookie was positively glowing, which made it all so worth it to me.

Posted by: Ted at 07:45 AM | category: Boring Stories
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June 11, 2005

My wife is really annoyed with me right now

I started wearing glasses sometime around the 5th grade I think, and my wife started wearing hers in elementary school as well. My wife's eyes are constantly changing, and there have been times when she's gotten a brand new prescription twice in one year. Me, I tend to wear out glasses. Not from rough handling, but from age, because my prescription has changed very little over the years. I'll wear a pair of glasses until they're practically falling apart before getting a new pair, and most of the time the prescription stays the same or doesn't change enough to bother with.

I should mention here that my wife is a few years younger than I am. That matters because she's a practical woman, yet she has her little vanities like the rest of us. I wouldn't say she was devastated when she found out last year that she needed bifocals, but she certainly wasn't happy about it. Thank goodness for the "no-line" style that's available now. She took great solace in the fact that I'm older and therefore would be likely to need bifocals myself the next time I got my head eyes examined. You may recall that she used to manage an optometrist office, so she knows how to work most of the toys and equipment, and she knows of which she speaks.

On Thursday Robyn, Rachael and I went to the eye doctor for our checkup. The good news is that we all have fine healthy eyes. Glaucoma testing showed excellent pressure levels for each of us, and we got nutrition advice to help ward off Macular Degeneration, which runs in my side of the family (green leafy veggies and zinc). Rachael finally got glasses (she's been borderline for quite a while), while Robyn's eyes are perfect.

The bad news is that my eyes are indeed changing as I grow older. I'll order a new pair of glasses in the next month or so because mine are pretty rickety after three years. Same prescription, because that didn't change enough to matter.

Per doctor's orders, I'm supposed to take my glasses off from now on when I read. Yep, Liz is *really* annoyed with me right now.

Posted by: Ted at 08:07 AM | category: Boring Stories
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March 07, 2005

Air Force Blue - Part 16

I almost titled this one "Martha of the D'Iberville".

This will be another one of those rambling posts about my military days, this time a very special time that happened around 1980-81. For those coming in late to the story, I was a military policeman in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Frozen blue. I was getting near enough the end of my first tour to think about what to do next. Being one of the Strategic Air Command's finest, I thought I'd be a natural for law enforcement. Problem was, all the queries I'd sent out came back saying that I was overqualified for regular police duty, and they weren't looking for SWAT at the moment, thanks for asking.

It was looking like I had a fine future in the pizza delivery field or as an armed receptionist. Plan B was needing to be implemented, and plan B was to cross-train and reenlist.

The Air Force has this nifty program where you can pick another career field and they'll train you for it, and all you have to do is promise them a few extra years of your life. I did a little research and figured that computers were the way to go. I decided that I wanted to become a computer programmer, because that sounded more interesting than computer operator, plus it had a bigger bonus. That's right, Uncle Sam would pay me some serious bucks, plus train me in a new field, if I stayed in.

Only problem was, everyone wanted to become a computer programmer. I knew of four of us cops who applied, one the week before me and two the week after. I lucked into an open slot and got what I wanted while the other three got orders to computer operator school.

I'd be travelling to Biloxi, Mississippi for my training. It was a condensed twelve weeks of insanely intense pressure, at the end of which we'd be real live gen-u-wine computer programmers. Boy howdy. I might have told you this before, but I once met another AF programmer who decided to get a head start by taking a semester of "Introduction to Computers" at a community college before reporting for tech school. At the end of the first day, she called her husband in tears because they'd covered everything in that semester before lunch. We're talking seriously condensed, to the point that those twelve weeks gave me almost a year of college credit.

Intense. Spending all day in classes, after classes in smaller groups getting tutoring for the concepts you didn't pick up during the day (the instructors were the best I've ever had, and incredibly generous with their time - they understood what kind of pressure cooker environment it was). Most nights were spent at the computer lab, punching card decks (yep, the good ol' days), debugging programs, and helping each other by looking over output listings.

At the end of each block was a test. Pass the test, you move on to the next block. Fail it, and you 'wash back' into the following class to take the block again. Two wash backs and you were out. I think only about 40% of our class made it all the way through without a wash back, and probably 20% didn't make it at all.

Of course, there were moments of surreal. One lady in our class was having a horrible time with her program logic, so a group of us sat down with her to go over her listing and figure out what the problem was. The first problem was obvious, every single variable and data name was in French! We couldn't make heads or tails of the code because of it. Byeeeeeeeeeee. She washed back. I hope she learned that lesson.

One day I was called in to see the Superintendent. Seems he had a problem with my headgear, because I was still wearing my blue beret. This was before *everyone* in the Air Force wore the beret, it was a cop thing and I was proud of it. The conversation went something like this (civilianized version):

Sup: You can't wear the beret, you aren't a cop anymore.

Ted: What is my specialty code?

Sup: Cop.

Ted: When does it change to Computer Programmer?

Sup: When you graduate.

Ted: When do I graduate?

Sup: In six weeks.

Ted: So I'm still a cop for six more weeks.

We compromised, and I wore the beret for another three weeks. I was right, but he had the stripes. It evens out.

But Ted, I can hear you saying, you were in a military training town! Tell us about the strippers and hookers and bars and stuff!

I never met Christopher Walken.

I went to the strip joints one night early on, and they were lame. Biloxi was trying to clean up their act, figuring that the only way they'd manage legalized gambling was to be squeaky clean first. It worked. Biloxi is now the Atlantic City of the gulf coast, for whatever that's worth.

Hookers? Never saw one that I know of.

We did go to an adult theater one night, and that's a tale worth telling, but there's a little setup needed first. Remember those block tests I told you about earlier? Well, my normal celebration for passing those consisted of getting a couple of six packs of malt liquor and getting thoroughly smashed by dinner time. That way I could pass out and still be sober enough for class the following morning.

One night after a block test, several buddies came to my room. I had a car, they wanted to go to an adult theater. They bundled my extremely inebriated self into the back seat and off we went. At the ticket counter one of my friends had to pull out my wallet and pay for my ticket, because I couldn't figure out how to work my pocket.

Once in the door, I leaned against something to steady myself and a whole rack of skin flicks crashed to the floor. My friends parked me in a seat at the back of the theater, and all I remember was staggering back and forth to the bathroom a dozen times over the next couple of hours. Beer does that to me.

Ok, so maybe that wasn't a tale worth telling.

But that brings us to "our" bar. On one of our first nights out, four of us kind of wound up together in a group that stuck together throughout the course of the classes. And that first night, we stopped in at one of the fancier hotels along the beach, the D'Iberville.

We sat down, ordered drinks, and started listening to the band. It wasn't half bad for what you'd expect in a hotel band. I still remember their name: Dave Dudley and Breezin'. Cheesy, in a good kind of way, and a nice change from the slime pits we'd just come from (those strip joints).

Our drinks arrived, and mine was wrong (Dewars scotch on the rocks). Hell, three out of the four were wrong. We flagged down our waitress and tried again. This time only mine was wrong, but one was completely missing. Another try and we finally settled in with our glasses.

After ordering the second round, we discovered that this wasn't an isolated incident. Our waitress (barmaid?), who's name was Martha, just couldn't get it straight. By the end of the evening, we'd adopted her as *our* waitress and looked forward to whatever liquid randomness she might deliver next. Not that we drank whatever she brought, we'd just keep sending 'em back until she got it right.

The following Friday we decided that the D'Iberville was the place to be. Relaxed and mellow without being boring, after our stressful week we needed that. When we entered, we immediately asked to be seated at one of Martha's tables, and Dave Dudley and Breezin' had undergone a roster change. The bass player was missing, and for the rest of our almost three months there, the bass parts were handled by the capable left hand of the keyboard player, who also managed most of the singing (I don't remember if he was Dave himself, but it seems likely).

Martha completely screwed up our first drink order.
Martha got half of our second order wrong.

Well, you get the idea. She wasn't killer cute or anything either, kinda plain actually, but she tried hard and that was enough. A simple "Er, Martha? This scotch has soda in it." worked well, and she'd look embarrassed and go make it right.

By the fourth week, she was getting the drink orders straight. Actually, I think the bartender recognized us coming in, and since we always ordered the same thing, he started ignoring what Martha asked for and just poured from memory.

Like most of these stories, this one just peters out without a real ending. We eventually graduated and went on to our next assignments. I heard from those three guys a time or two and then we lost touch again.

My wife and I visited Biloxi several years later and I just had to visit the D'Iberville again. Dave Dudley was long gone, the bar had been redecorated, and there was no sign of Martha. In short, it sucked.

For a short time though, it was the most perfect bar in the world to me.

Posted by: Ted at 04:58 PM | category: Boring Stories
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March 03, 2005

One ringy-dingy... two ringy-dingy...

We had to buy new phones for the house, and it got me to thinking about phones and how they've changed over my lifetime. The set we bought (yep, a whole set) consists of four cordless handsets with intercom capability between them, a "base station" with four built in voice mail boxes and caller ID, and associated charging cradles and such. We didn't go for super quality this time around (for a very specific reason that I won't go into here), and I'll be happy if they last a couple three years.

Four handsets? Well, there's one for the basement where my workshop and computer are. One for the main floor, and two for upstairs (master bedroom and Mookie's room). The intercom feature will be a welcome feature.

Are you old enough to remember when you didn't even own your telephone? Growing up, I recall the telephone man showing up to install your phone, and hearing mom complain when the phone was broken and having to wait for the repairman to show up. It was a big deal in those days deciding where to put the phone too. We always had ours hanging on a wall in the kitchen. And then we had a second phone put into the master bedroom after someone tried to break into the house one night (Dad worked nights). But those weren't our phones, they belonged to the phone company.

When Liz and I got married, things were just switching over to where you actually bought your own phone (some 25 years ago... wow, it just hit me that I've been married for a quarter of a century). We went to the "phone store" and looked around at all different models, and it was amazing because suddenly it wasn't just colors you could choose from (I'm guessing maybe six colors on three or four models), but all kinds of choices were available. And man, did you pay premium prices for your phone. Our first telephone was kind of fancy looking because my attitude was that we might as well spend extra up front for something we liked instead of paying all over again later to upgrade. I mean, why would you ever buy another phone? This one ought to last forever.

It had a rotary dial. Oh yeah, my crystal ball was clear as mud on that one.

Then phone stores disappeared and the market was flooded with hundreds of models from who knows how many brand names. You could buy a telephone in almost any store, and most of them were incredibly cheap. As in crap. There was a little slide switch on the side of most of them, so you could make the push-button phone act like a rotary dial, because not all phone systems could handle digital. Remember flip-phones? Forerunner to the cell phone, before cordless was available. And the era was you bought new telephones on a regular basis, maybe because the last POS fell apart or quit working, or you wanted the latest in technology (ooooo, light-up buttons!). Two line phones! Whoa.

Car phones. Still had a cord and you looked like you were talking into a beige brick. Then cordless came along, for a price (naturally) and you could walk around free talking into your beige brick.

I remember borrowing a cell phone at a picnic to make an emergency call (I was getting ready to get in the car to drive to a pay phone when he offered), and I hurried through the call knowing that every second was costing big money. I'll never forget what the owner of the phone told me: "It's an expensive luxury". I still think that's true, and I wish more people would remember that. Not that I mind paying for my wife and daughters to carry one at all times (I still don't have one though).

When we were stationed in Germany (late 80's), they still operated the phone system the old-fashioned (to us) way. Maybe they still do, I dunno. Everything had that odd European styling that I could never get used to, including the phone. Our phone was pumpkin orange, because that's what it was when we moved in, and getting it changed meant a wait measured in months and a hefty service charge. Screw that. The phone was also in it's own little alcove in the hallway, on a short short cord so you were leashed to the spot whenever you used the phone.

There was a counter on the phone, which is how you paid for your phone service. For every call, the counter would click over during your conversation, and the farther away the other party was the faster the counter turned over. Call your bud on the next block? Tick... tick... tick... Call Mom back in the States? Tickticktickticktick, fast enough to make the numbers blur.

It seems like every new cell phone today has a camera built in. It also seems like every day you hear about some place forbidding the use of cell phones with built-in cameras. The US Department of State has a new directive out saying you can't have them on premises (or maybe "use" them, I'll have to check again).

Anyways, I have a new phone setup at home, with a whole bunch of buttons I'll never use and would probably never miss.

Posted by: Ted at 11:58 AM | category: Boring Stories
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January 14, 2005

Cooking with dog

Or more properly, cooking with the dog.

It doesn't matter what I'm making, the dogs love to be in the kitchen when I cook. They have several routines that they alternate between, trying to find one that might lead to treats being distributed. Outright begging isn't allowed, so they try the "I'm so cute" look or the "poor starving puppy" routine or my favorite, the "how can I help, Dad?" look. Sam actually smiles, showing front teeth like a people in his effort to be helpful. Trix is like that painfully earnest child who tries too hard.

Get past the attempted persuasion though, and I think I've got them figured out. They always have two suggestions for every recipe.

1. More hamburger.
2. Needs gravy.

Posted by: Ted at 12:24 PM | category: Boring Stories
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January 11, 2005

Air Force Blue - part 15

A friend had to go fill the little cup as part of getting fitted for a new workplace, and it reminded me of my military days.

As Security Policemen, and especially since we worked around nuclear weapons, we were regularly tested for drugs. Later in my career, after transferring into computers, they went to more of a lottery system. Every month they would draw 1 or 2 or 3 numbers randomly, and anyone who's social security number ended with that number went in for the ol' golden flow. They claimed it was random, but the same 'suspected' people were tested pretty much continuously. A friend and I volunteered to help out at the Special Olympics one year and got really nice event t-shirts. We tie-dyed them and wore them to a unit picnic, after which we were immediately called in for urinalysis.

Rumor had it that there were certain "signs" to look for to uncover the dopers. Among them were hippy clothes (tie-dye, peace signs, Grateful Dead shirts, etc), and hair parted in the middle. Seriously. Seriously stupid.

Anyways, as a cop we were required to show up for work at least a half hour early to draw our weapons and gear. A few carried .38 revolvers (this was pre-9mm days), a few lugged around the M60 machine gun or the M203 grenade launcher/M16 combo, but most of us carried the regular M16. So we'd draw weapons and ammo and get ready for our inspection before going on duty, called "guardmount".

Usually, guardmount was held in a small room right next to the armory. We'd get the daily passwords, any special notices and news to be aware of, changes in assignments, plus an inspection of our bad little selves. Hair, uniform, equipment, etc. You've seen similar on television on most every cop show from Hill Street Blues to Reno 911.

If there was to be a larger formation or if the higher ups wanted to talk to us, then we'd have to trudge across the street to the cop headquarters building. They had a larger guardmount room there.

One morning, after working a midnight shift, we were told to report across the street for formation. This news was met with boos and grumbling, because we just wanted to turn in our shit and go home.

A lot of cops (me included) made a quick pit stop before heading over for the formation. You can see where this is going, right?

Yep. We lined up and they informed us that it was time for a surprise urinalysis test. They were lucky that we'd already turned in our weapons, because there was murder in our eyes. We couldn't leave until we peed, and many of us had just gone a few minutes before.

Tired and irate, that described us. When we railed at them for not giving us 10 minutes warning, they suggested that we drink water and/or lots of coffee. That was reasonable, but screw that, if they didn't want to be reasonable, we weren't going to be either. It didn't take long to realize that they couldn't leave until we all took the test too. A lot of us refused to drink anything (we had to go to bed, who wanted to be up running to the bathroom every half hour?). It finally devolved into them waking us up every half hour to ask us if we were ready, and gradually our numbers thinned out as nature took its course. Four hours later the last cop filled his little plastic cup, snapped the lid on and handed it over. We never had another "surprise" inspection like that again.

Posted by: Ted at 06:04 AM | category: Boring Stories
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October 25, 2004

A simple gold band

I lost my wedding ring last monday afternoon. In all the fuss about the trip to the dentist, I'd forgotten about that. Fortunately, I found it again. With the cooler weather coming on, and the weight I've lost this year, my fingers are thinner and it just slipped off when I was putting something into my briefcase. A few discreet wraps of tape and that won't happen again.

I'm on my second ring because the first one wore out. I wear it constantly, except for when I'm working on my car. I've witnessed ugly things happen to people who wear rings while playing mechanic. I've no desire to personally experience them myself.

I lost the first ring too once, and then found it again. Back when Liz was in a wheelchair, we went to a restaurant and while we were sitting there I realized my ring was missing. I freaked. I had no idea when I'd last noticed it, and by the end of the meal Liz had calmed me down enough to just accept that sometimes crap like that happens.

After dinner, I helped Liz into the car then took the chair around back to load it up (we used a bike rack to carry it). I got her chair folded and secured, and for some reason I looked down and there at my feet was the ring. Major relief!

When we were first engaged, I told Liz to get whatever ring she wanted (we were living in different states at the time), and to get me a plain gold band. No engraving, no markings, just simple gold a little over 1/8" wide.

Anything bigger than that and you could do yourself damage...

I'm going to tell this story exactly like I've told it to Liz. I'm careful never to change it or embellish it, or she'd know it's bull. It's not... sorta. Or maybe it is. I've never confirmed or denied it, I just tell the story as is and let everyone make up their own mind. To this day, Liz still isn't sure if I'm pulling her leg about this.

Liz was out with a bunch of girlfriends at a bachelorette party. She wasn't driving, so I expected her to stagger through the door in the wee hours, drunk and disorderly.

A couple of my friends had come over to the house, and we weren't doing much of anything when the phone rang. It was the girls, asking us if wanted to join them at the bar for the party. Their real motivation was that even the designated drivers were hammered, and they needed rides home.

We drove over, it wasn't far, and went inside. It was kind of fun to be the only three guys partying with more than a dozen drunk women. We were having a good time, and then for reasons I'll never fathom I did the single stupidest thing I've ever done in my life.

I decided to recreate that scene in Officer and a Gentleman where Patrick Swayzie swallows an engagement ring. Of course, I didn't actually swallow it, I tucked it under my tongue before taking the drink. Of course, nobody believed that I'd actually swallowed it, and a few minutes later it miraculously reappeared on my finger, to no one's suprise.

Someone mentioned it though at the other table and soon a whole new batch of drunk ladies wanted to see it. Remember that scene?

Open mouth, stick out tongue, place ring carefully on tongue. Take looong drink and open mouth. Viola! No ring. Of course, I wasn't going to continue the scene and go hang myself in the bathroom. There's limits to what I'll do for my art.

Except that, to my horror, the damn ring somehow slipped to the back of my throat and I involuntarily swallowed it.

There's a reason we chew our food. The throat isn't all that big around, and although there's some flexibility, it's not built to deal with things like a ring of metal. The ring got stuck. I wasn't choking on it, but it was too far down to discreetly cough up. The look on my face instantly gave it away, and of course everyone knew I was bullshitting them. It became a game, where did Ted hide his ring. The women searched my mouth, my hands, my pockets, and I could have really enjoyed it all if not for the fact that I'd swallowed my freaking wedding band. I finally decided that "this too, shall pass" and instead of bringing it up, I'd swallow it down and bide my time for its reappearance. I took several large drinks and tried to work the ol' swallow magic. No joy. Not coming up, not going down.

A few minutes later, I'm outside in the parking lot with a good friend. He's holding a huge glass of water that he got from inside, even though he's convinced that I'm faking it and laughing his ass off at everyone else's reaction. He chattering away while I'm trying to redefine "productive cough". All I could think of is Liz being pissed off at me for being an idiot and the stories that the ER staff would be telling about me in the morning. Finally, in desperation I stuck my finger down my throat and managed to throw up on the hood of a Corvette.

Eureka! I gingerly pluck my ring from the puddle of yick and rinse it off with that glass of water. I put it back on my finger, poured the rest of the water on the 'vette to wash off my mess, and headed back inside. I felt stoopid, to say the least. I was amazed to find out that most of the folks thought I was full of crap when I told them what happened, even with my friend's eyewitness account. It was so confused that to this day Liz isn't certain about the actual events.

I'm not that damn stupid. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by: Ted at 05:22 AM | category: Boring Stories
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October 23, 2004

True

I was bartending at a dinner theater one night for a special event. It was Secretary Appreciation Week (this was back in the early 80's), and the whole place was full to the brim with secretaries, courtesy of thankful bosses and the local Chamber of Commerce.

It was an open bar, and some of them were taking full advantage and getting pretty well lit. There were no wait staff either, so the ladies had to come to the bar to order. During an intermission, I'm hustling along trying to keep up with the orders coming fast and furious. One very drunk lady made it to the front of the bar, propped up on either side by two slightly less drunk collegues, and says loudly, "I'll have a rum and cock."

After a split-second of silence, everyone cracked up. In her foggy state, it took her a moment to realize what she'd said, and she managed to correct herself, "I mean, I'd like a rum and coke."

Still pouring and mixing as fast as I could, I said with a smile, "Make up your mind, so I know what to stir it with."

Posted by: Ted at 08:08 PM | category: Boring Stories
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October 18, 2004

Throbbing, but not in a good way

I hate breaking in a new dentist.

I had an appointment today to take care of a molar that had cracked. It was hurting a little bit occasionally, but nothing that a couple of tylenol wouldn't take care of. Last week my wife was going to see the dentist, so I had her make me an appointment while she was there. It was time to take care of this before it became a real problem.

It turns out that my regular dentist is on maternity leave, so I had to see one of her 'associates'. I'm not the best patient in the world ('baby' would be a good description), so I was already a little shook up by this revelation. Dammit, I was used to my regular dentist. The receptionist told me to take a seat, but I was too nervous to sit.

When they called my name, I could tell right away that it was going to be a bumpy ride. Like any medical professional, this guy wants to do his own x-rays and exam and then talk to me about what needs doing. I understand that, except that I'd already been through all of this with my regular dentist and we'd already decided what the plan was. But fine, whatever. I was determined to be reasonable and at least listen to what he had to say, because I certainly don't want to have him pissed off at me before he starts in with the needles and what not. So he buzzed my head with radiation and began explaining the options. I calmly let him know what we'd had planned, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear, so we waited for the films to come back.

Turns out that I was right, and the best course of action was what we'd already decided on. Step one was extracting that tooth. Cool, let's get it done.

Dentistry has made amazing progress during my lifetime. With the right dentist, "pain free" has become truth in advertising. But I still hate the shots. Maybe it's the growing up I've done, or maybe I'm tougher, or maybe the needles are sharper, but the shots don't hurt nearly as much as they used to. Doesn't matter though, because my hands go into a white-knuckle clench and my whole body gets trip-wire tense as they shoot me up.

A few minutes later, he does a few test pokes. He's got the sucky-thingee hanging out of my mouth, plus what feels like his arm elbow-deep, not to mention whatever ancient torture devices he's wielding in there, and he's asking me questions. My regular dentist has the decency to remove her hand before expecting me to answer, but this guy wants to carry on a conversation.

"You jumped. Was that pain?"

"Uuuuuuuhhhuhhhhh!"

"Pain? Or Pressure?"

"Uuuuuuuh!"

So we go for round two with the needle. Actually, we got to round three in short order, and it's still hurting like hell every time he does whatever he's doing. We play 20 questions: yes, it's pain. No, it's not just pressure. Yes, I'm numb. Yes, the tongue too. I'm telling him it's deep pain, not around the gumline, and then he mentions that there's an infection down there. Wonderful.

We give it one more try, and I almost end up on the floor when he grabs the tooth. I'm bathed in cold sweat and I've got a headache from the tension in my neck muscles, and finally I have to ask him if it would be better to take an antibiotic to knock out the infection and try again in a week or two. He agrees, and then looks me in the eye and tells me straight up:

"I'm going to give you a prescription for codeine, because you're going to be in a lot of pain when the numb wears off."

Oh. Crap.

We head out to the front desk, me on weak knees, still mopping flop sweat from my face and neck. My jaw is throbbing, and as I walk out to the waiting room there are two young kids sitting there. Both of them are staring at me wide-eyed. I knew that I hadn't been silent during our little adventure, but there's no reason these kids should be afraid of the dentist, so I smiled at them and said "Man, I hate getting my haircut!"

They laughed, which is what I was going for.

The dentist is a nice enough guy, and I'm (reasonably) sure he's competent, but he hurt me and now I don't trust the sonuvabitch. I'm a little concerned about the infection thing, I mean I shouldn't have been the first one to mention antibiotics. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, and at that moment I brought it up more in self-defense than anything.

I drove home and Liz ran to the store to get my prescriptions filled. Now I'm sitting here feeling fortunate that tomorrow is going to be a light day at work. My tooth is letting me know that it's not happy, but it's tolerable.

Buzzzzzzzzz.

Posted by: Ted at 08:59 PM | category: Boring Stories
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July 23, 2004

No Particular Place To Go

That was a Chuck Berry song, wasn't it?

Yesterday morning, I'm flying down the interstate on my way to work - and believe me, at 5:15am there ain't no traffic and you fly! - and I've got Chicago II cranked on the CD player. And Hello Sunshine came on, triggering a whole rush of memories.

I was in the Guinness Book of World Records once, for one edition. Actually, it was my entire high school band, and we held the record for longest continuous performance, which at the time was something like 80 or 90 hours.

I believe we started on a Friday morning, and played straight through until Monday afternoon. One five-minute break every hour, and fifteen minutes every six hours for food. We turned it into a big fund-raiser, and local restaurants donated food and drinks to keep us going.

Things got silly as we got more and more tired, and after a while you get loopy. Not to mention the swelling. You want to know what bee-stung lips are? Try playing the trombone for four freakin' days. The whole bottom part of my face was numb for a week.

And parents would show up in the middle of the night to cheer us on, and donate money for requests. And every couple of hours, we'd play a medley by Chicago that always got us fired up again. It started with Hello Sunshine, and we'd stand up in the back row and just let it ring.

The school was heavily into music of all types. Band, orchestra, jazz band, chorus - both men and women, mixed choir, plus various small combos and groups, our school was known for it's music program. And the band was dominated by the trombone section.

I was playing fourth trombone that year, all by myself. I'd transferred in as a sophomore from another school, and rather than futz with the dynamics of the section, I just took the bottom end and enjoyed myself. There were three seniors playing first part that year, and they were all very good. Next year, I'd take over first chair, so I could afford to be patient. Besides, we all got along just fine, so there was no jealousy or looking down on anyone.

I may have told this part before, but on my first day at the school, in the first band class, all the new people had to introduce themselves. All freshmen, and me. The band teacher explained that I was transferring from the east side, and you could hear the collective 'ooooo' at that. The east side was the 'bad' side of town, and I'm sure they thought I'd pull a switchblade on someone eventually. So after the introductions were made, all the freshmen had to play the school fight song together. They'd gotten the music the year before and practiced all summer for this moment. I just stood there, because I didn't know the song. When they got done, someone said I should play something, so I did.

My first performance at school was the Budweiser theme song. Remember that one? "When you say Bud..." Perfect music for trombone, and I really got into it.

Back to the band marathon. We loved to play anything brass: Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Average White Band, Wild Cherry, Ohio Players, plus the standard classical and folk tunes included in the curriculum. And when one of 'our' songs came on, we'd drag ourselves out of our comfy chairs (we'd brought beanbags and other seating rather than spend days on those metal folding chairs), and be energized for an hour afterwards.

We also traded instruments, and it was the first time I'd gotten up the nerve to talk to the owner of the finest ass I've ever seen in my life. To this day, I measure all female tushie against hers, and have yet to find her equal, although some have come close. She was Japanese, she played the flute, and she sat right in front of me in the front row (three rows, I was in the far back). For an hour she sat by me and showed me some flute basics, and I helped her play a little trombone. I was in heaven.

So we set the record, and made lots of money for new band uniforms, and got into the Book, and lost the record to another school a few months later. Que sera sera.

"...with no particular place to go..."

Posted by: Ted at 06:03 AM | category: Boring Stories
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June 09, 2004

Haircut

Got my hair cut yesterday, which isn’t a big deal, but it got me to thinking about barber shops and haircuts.

(in the extended entry) more...

Posted by: Ted at 10:20 AM | category: Boring Stories
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June 02, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 14)

I once worked in an office with an evil copier machine. I’m not saying that it was cantankerous and seldom worked right, like jamming beyond hope when you most needed it or randomly crumpling and shredding your only original. I mean this thing exerted an evil influence on people who used it. We’re talking Stephen King storytime stuff. I’ve thought about this over the years, and it’s the only explanation that makes sense, because I’ve known other copiers and never… well, read on.

Ramstein, Germany. I’d been assigned there for a year or so, and without changing desks I’d worked for the Electronic Information Systems Division (EISD), then the Computer Systems Organization (CSO), then the Information Systems Services Office (ISSO), and rumors were flying that yet another name change was in the works.* Our mission hadn’t changed one bit, just the hats we wore and how we answered the phones. It got so silly that I came up with a new name for us: the European Integrated Electronic Information Organization. Yepper, E-I-E-I-O.

My first memorable encounter with the copier was when I was standing around it with another NCO and our section leader. Our section leader was a newly promoted Captain, and (rightfully) proud as a peacock about his new rank. As we were talking, I said something about the “Lieutenant” out of habit. He immediately interrupted me and, pointing to the bars on his shoulder, reminded me of his new status. Instead of apologizing or just acknowledging him and getting on with it, the evil influence of the copier took hold of me and I heard myself say:

“Well Sir, you’ll always be a Lieutenant in my heart.”

You can imagine how well that went over. But you can see what I mean about the evil copier, right?

Our organization was a tiny part of the Communications Squadron, and we were attached to the comm guys not because we fit in there, but because we fit in even less anywhere else. The comm folks hated us because we were computer pukes, not communications, and both sides were quick to make the distinction. Mostly, we went our way and did our thing and the less we had to deal with the rest of the squadron the better we liked it.

Which worked great until we got the idea to form an office softball team for the base league. We talked about it and decided to do it for fun – no serious win-at-all-cost attitudes for us. And then word came down from on high that the squadron already had a team, and that we were invited to try out for it, and they might send their ‘leftover’ players to our team, but we could not be in the league independently. Screw that, we entered anyways, under an assumed (organizational) name: E-I-E-I-O. Had shirts and hats made and everything, and caught major hell halfway through the season when we showed up to play our parent squadron in a scheduled game.

Back to the copier. Like most small office photocopiers, probably more unofficial stuff was copied than real work-related documents. The Air Force decided to combat the waste by placing a tiny transparent sticker to the underside of the glass, so that every Xeroxed page was marked in the upper corner with a letter and number code showing what copier reproduced it. Every copier on Ramstein had it’s own tiny little ID code.

Most of us ignored it and went on using it anyways. One weekend I went into the office for something and found the NCOIC (my boss) at the copier, making stacks of personal copies. Yet another clue about the evil influence of the machine. Well, maybe not, because the NCOIC then showed me that by unscrewing this and this and this you could lift the glass out, rotate it 180 degrees and the sticker wouldn’t show up anymore! Wow, my boss showing me how to circumvent the system for personal reasons. Evil copier.

About the time we were getting our stern talking-to about our unauthorized softball team, a group of us were sitting around drinking and bullshitting, when inspiration struck. I can’t claim credit for the idea, because I honestly don’t remember who thought of it. Like I said, we were drinking.

But I absolutely am responsible for the implementation, because when it comes right down to it, what good is a stupid idea if you don’t have the balls to make it happen, eh? So early Monday morning, my partner in white-collar crime and I lifted the glass on the Xerox machine, turned it over, and by carefully scraping with a knife blade, we removed the letter/number code and replaced it with rub-on letters that spelled out EIEIO. It was a near perfect match, and because the mark showed up on every copy (and had for months), nobody even paid attention to them any more.

A couple of weeks later, we realized that it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out who was responsible for the symbolic ‘bird’ we were sending out with every copy, so we changed the decal again. Who knows what possessed us to do this? Wait, it was the copier!!! I tell you, that thing was evil.

This time we changed the copier code to read “FOAD”.

For the innocent, that stands for “F__k Off And Die”. It’s also a valid hexadecimal number (make the ‘oh’ a zero) if you’re a real computer nerd, which is interesting but hardly relevant.

We held our breath, and waited for the shit to hit the fan. And waited. And waited. And it didn’t, because nobody noticed.

Several months later, my compadre and I were called into the Captain’s office. He “knew” we had changed the sticker, but he couldn’t prove it. He was throwing a fit because copies from our machine were headed out all over Europe, and each and every one had a cheerful little “FOAD” in the corner. We played appropriately dumb, but I did admit that I’d noticed the sticker before. He almost stroked out when I told him I assumed it meant “For Official Authorized Duplication”. I was full of shit, and he knew it, and he knew I knew he knew it (and so on), but there wasn’t much he could do about it other than to suggest that the problem better be taken care of. Sometime in the next few days, someone mysteriously changed the label again by scraping it clean and from then on our photocopier was the only Air Force copier in Europe without it’s own little number of the beast.

* I know for a fact that ‘EISD’ is correct, but the others might not be spot-on. If nothing else, they give you an idea of the acronym-hell that the Air Force can be.

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May 20, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 13)

Welcome to another boring story about my days in the United States Air Force. These are in no particular order, and this one takes place about midway through my twelve year stretch. My first four years were spent as Security Police, and then I cross-trained into Computer Programming.

I’d been stationed at Gunter Air Force Station in Montgomery, Alabama for a few years. Gunter was home of the AF Data Systems Design Center, where many of the standard Air Force computer systems used around the world were developed and maintained. Ever do a DITY (do-it-yourself) move? I wrote that one, way back when.

But this story isn’t about computers and programming, it’s about an extra duty I picked up – “supply guy”. I’m sure there was an official name for it, but I don’t remember what it was. Basically, when someone in our unit needed some equipment or supplies, they’d come to me and I handled the paperwork and legwork needed to get it done. There was nobody to teach me how to do the job, so I spent a lot of time on the phone asking the base supply unit lots of questions, and I visited with them quite a bit, building a relationship (because everything goes easier for a friend) and asking more questions. The supply people saw I wasn’t trying to get around the system, I just wanted to make sure I did things right the first time, which would save me time and frustration, as well as make folks in my unit happy (and less likely to bitch).

The Design Center was a unique military environment because there was a large civilian component. These weren’t contractors – although there were a few of those – they were federal employees who provided the long-term stability to the place. The military folks would get rotated out periodically, but the civilians were there forever.

One of the ranking civilians in my unit was tasked to set up a new branch, and he got to work. Besides figuring out how many new people he would need, he made arrangements for new office space and then came to me. We went through his requirements and put together an order for desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and all the other bits of furniture you need for offices.

Contrary to popular belief, the military doesn’t waste tons of money (notice the average age of our bomber and fighter aircraft for instance). One of the things I had to do as supply guy was to make a visit to the warehouse where used but usable furniture was stored. When someone wanted new stuff, we were required to go to the warehouse and see if we could find serviceable things instead of buying new.

I wandered through the stacks – the place was huge – picking out the best available. There was nothing wrong with the furniture I selected, other than it wasn’t new, and I even went to extra trouble to make sure partitions matched and such. And because it was a rush job, I set it all up to be delivered via flatbed truck during the following week, even though I’d be on leave.

The civilian big-boss wasn’t happy. Like most people, he wanted brand new furniture and raised hell with me and my supervisor, but there wasn’t much he could do. I'm not a big fan of 'by the book', but in this case the rules made sense and I had no reason not to follow them.

Two weeks later, back at work after my leave, I got a phone call from the supply folks. Seems that they had a requisition to order new furniture and nobody had done the ‘used furniture’ check first. I arranged to go down there that afternoon, and went to find out what was going on.

Turned out that when the flatbed of furniture showed up, Mr. big-shot Civilian refused delivery of the entire load. Then he submitted paperwork to buy everything brand new. And he did all this knowing I was on leave, hoping to get it processed before I got back.

That afternoon at the warehouse I found a nice pile of used furniture that hadn’t yet been re-sorted into it’s various areas, and – wonder of wonders – it exactly matched what big-boss needed. I wonder where it could have come from? Heh.

Two weeks later I got another phone call. A delivery flatbed was out back, full of furniture. I called big-boss and let him know it was here, and he was tickled pink, thinking that he’d pulled a fast one on me.

Imagine the look on his face as the forklift started unloading his ‘new’ office furniture. I even included some horrible framed “art” for the walls of his new offices. These were my little revenge, because I only had one requirement for those: heart-stoppingly ugly. Anything that also had a shitty frame was especially welcomed to the pile.

He didn’t speak to me for a long time after that. As for the “art”, I later found where he’d hidden those and personally hung them up for him one evening.

Posted by: Ted at 11:37 AM | category: Boring Stories
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April 27, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 12)

With all the current hoopla over military medals, I thought I’d pass on a couple of quickie stories about awards and decorations. It involves a little tooting of my own horn, so just pretend I’m suitably modest.

The first medal I ever received was for marksmanship. It was entirely expected since I was Security Police, and we practiced a lot. After qualifying ‘expert’ for the M16 rifle, I got the little doohickey for shooting ‘expert’ with the .38 pistol (standard SP sidearm of the day). The doohickey are called devices and you get them to indicate subsequent awards. For instance, when you get the Good Conduct medal you wear the plain ribbon, and after that each time you get it again you add a little bronze leaf to the ribbon. Back to the story, about 10 years later I got an ‘awards review’ printout listing all my known information, and looking it over I noticed that my marksman device wasn’t listed. I dug out my ancient range card showing the expert box was checked for both and took it in. The personnel people were kind of amazed that I had kept that card for that long. I never threw anything away in the military, and it saved my butt more than once.

Ok, so that one lived up to the category 'boring stories'. In the Air Force at the time, you got the Good Conduct medal every three years, assuming you didn’t totally screw up. Believe me, you had to really try not to get the GC, because it was pretty much automatic. My first tour was... eventful. So when it was announced that I was getting the Good Conduct medal I was surprised and pleased. The shift commander came down the line, handing out the little medal cases and shaking hands, and when I got mine I opened it up and burst out laughing. The medallion part of my medal was broken. The shift commander said he’d replace it, but there was no way I was giving it up. It was mine and it was perfect, almost custom made.

When we were transferred to Germany, I had been a computer programmer for five years. The very last project I’d been involved in before getting orders was a high-pressure, high-profile job that we’d busted our collective asses to accomplish. One guy had been hospitalized for exhaustion, and it was touch-and-go as to whether any of our marriages were going to survive. No exaggeration there, the hours and schedule had been that crazy for almost an entire year.

So at my new assignment, my first Commander’s Call (a monthly briefing), all the new people get introduced to the unit. When they got around to the awards and recognition portion of the brief, the usual letters of appreciation and commendation were read and handed out. Unexpectedly, the Colonel called me up and started to read a ‘thank you’ note to me for all the hard work our team had done on the last project. That was from the Captain who was our project leader. Next was a letter from the Colonel who commanded my last unit. After that were three letters from Generals, one was the Commander of Communications Command and two were from Generals in the Pentagon. The final letter was from an Undersecretary of Defense. These were totally unexpected and just those simple letters meant so much to me. It was kind of funny too, because everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of freak. They didn’t know me from Adam, and I received all these letters of appreciation from insanely high level people.

A couple of years later a friend of ours (Dave) was going to get a Good Conduct medal. The commander at this time would hold a little ceremony in his office, and they’d have a photographer and the recipient could invite a few friends and family. Being in Germany, we were the closest to family Dave had and my wife Liz and I were happy to be there for him.

We drove over to the commander’s office, and my wife was uncomfortable because it was hot and muggy and she was very pregnant. The commander ushered us all in and we lined the walls of his office, with Dave front and center and Liz and then I next to him. The ceremony began and as the Colonel was speaking it dawned on me that he thought Liz was Dave’s wife! This amused me no end, and when the Colonel said “and we’re so glad to share this proud moment with Mrs. M---“, I almost laughed out loud.

Dave hadn’t caught on before that, but when he realized what the Colonel had just said he blurted out “Sir, that isn’t my wife.” The Colonel stammered in confusion for a moment, and then I helpfully announced “But we thought it was important for the baby to see his daddy get a medal.”

Things went to hell in a hurry. The commander managed to make it through the rest of his presentation. Afterwards he apologized repeatedly to Liz and Dave and I, and we all just laughed it off as an honest mistake. I did get called in to my supervisor’s office later for an official ass-chewing for my smart-mouth comment.

About a month later, after Mookie was born, the Colonel’s wife stopped by the house to welcome the new baby. She told Liz about her husband’s reaction when he got home after the ceremony. The Colonel was so embarrassed by that little mix-up, and they had a good laugh together. He was definitely one of the better commanders I’d served under.

Posted by: Ted at 07:41 AM | category: Boring Stories
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April 17, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 11)

When I was stationed in Germany, my unit shared a building with several other units and the community latrines were out back on the loading dock. The bathroom walls were always an entertaining read, especially since names were named fairly often in regards to some perceived injustice.

Things took a turn for the surreal when some wag assumed an alternate identity as "The Hammer" (those quotes are a sign of respect, because there could only ever be one, and MC ain't it). "The Hammer" began regaling us with lurid descriptions of his sex life, always accompanied with a crude anatomical drawing designed to make a stallion feel inadaquate. I particularly remember one wall-spanning diagram with the caption "The Hammer punishes women!"

The leadership used the same facilities, and we heard often about how embarrassing it would be if some visiting VIP used the latrine and saw it all. Someone decided that the bathrooms should be painted over to get rid of the various scribbles.

"The Hammer" was inspired anew by the fresh canvas thus presented. At infrequent and unpredictable intervals word would go around that "The Hammer" had struck again. A real fuss was raised when "The Hammer" made an entry in the Ladies bathroom, but subsequent investigation by the leadership determined that it was a copycat crime. That worried them because now they had to consider that "The Hammer" might have a female assistant.

Meanwhile, the rest of us mostly laughed at the whole situation. After more than a year without being caught, "The Hammer" suddenly ceased his work. There was much speculation on who it might've been, but we never did discover who "The Hammer" was. I wish I knew, because I'd buy him a beer.

Posted by: Ted at 07:49 PM | category: Boring Stories
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