Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Here’s a random memory that popped into my head as I was taking out the trash:

I used to work with a woman I’ll call Lilly, for the purposes of respecting her privacy. We worked together while I was stationed at RAF Chicksands in central England and, coincidentally, we both went to language school in San Antonio at about the same time. I didn’t know her well, so my impression of her may have been wrong, but she seemed like a rather quiet person with a disposition on the sunny side. I never saw her angry, until one night at Chicksands.

Our jobs at Chix seemed really super-cool at the time, mostly because we weren’t allowed to tell anyone about it. I’m still not allowed to tell you about the details, but there is one aspect of the job that’s important to this story: We banged out a lot of text on teletype machines, which are a kind of electric typewriter. They printed all this text on that old computer paper with the holes along the sides that came out the back of the machine in one long ribbon of paper that never seemed to end.

The text was considered classified material, so after it was no longer needed, the paper had to be destroyed. The military preferred to destroy classified paper by shredding it, and at a station like Chix there was a lot of material to destroy, so they built some impressively huge shredders to do the job. Unfortunately, Chix didn’t have one of these monster shredders. They had a furnace at the back of the building in a dirty, stinking room called the burn room. Nobody wasted a moment’s imagination naming that room because it didn’t deserve it.

At the end of every shift, we collected all the paper in bags, labeled the bags so we knew where they came from, and piled the bags in the burn room. A couple times a week, two or three airmen were given the responsibility of firing up the furnace and burning as much paper as they could, a dirty job made even dirtier because they had to break open every bag and sort the paper from the garbage. It was strictly verboten to put garbage in the burn bags, but people did it anyway, and nothing but paper could go in the furnace, so all that garbage had to be picked out by hand.

I’m pretty sure it was a swing shift or mid shift when I found out how much Lilly hated being on the burn detail. I was sitting at the far end of the aisle I worked in — and let me back up to describe the aisle for you: We worked on what was called the operations floor, an open room filled by rows of tall gray steel cabinets. There was a gap between each cabinet big enough for one of the teletype machines to sit on a shelf. We sat in the aisles between the rows of cabinets, facing the teletypes. Our seats were in an aisle wide enough for us to sit back-to-back with room behind us for one person to walk.

The cabinets were chock-full of electronic equipment that hummed and buzzed and clicked. All that electronic equipment generated a lot of heat, so the room was kept very cold by refrigeration units blowing cold air up through vents in the floor. We wore headphones while we worked, and between the noise coming the headphones, the chatter of the teletype machines, and the rush of air blowing through the ventilation system, it was pretty easy to sneak up on us.

Enter Lilly. Did I mention she was a tall woman? At least as tall as I am, maybe even an inch taller. Dressed in green fatigues, covered in soot, dripping sweat, and face as red with rage as her hair, she seemed to appear in the blink of an eye. One moment we were all concentrating on our work, and the next minute this red-haired fury was in our midst. She held a torn-open burn bag in one hand and bellowed, so we could all hear her: “I AM SICK OF PICKING YOUR GARBAGE OUT OF THE BURN BAGS!” Then she swung the burn bag over her head, smashing it against the floor like the hammer of Thor, where it burst open, scattering paper, orange peels, apple cores, and paper cups dribbling coffee everywhere.

We were caught dead to rights. Written across both sides of the bag was our address and the date it had been sealed up. I don’t recall if that fixed the problem or not, but I will never forget the way Lilly glared at us with disgust before stalking away.

And I never saw her angry again. Maybe she got it all out that one night.

trash talk | 10:42 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I recently went to a meeting with my supervisor, who was busily working up an e-mail or a memo or something as I walked in. “Give me just a minute,” she said, banging away at the keyboard in a most determined way and I answered, “No problem,” and waited while she finished her thought.

When she hit the final full stop and turned from her keyboard, I made an offhand remark like, “Are they keeping you busy much?” She took a deep breath, let it out and said, and I wish I could quote her verbatim but it was something like, “Oh, it’s been one of those days, but I guess none of us has ever had a job that we looked forward to every day,” by which I’m sure she meant only that there are good days and there are bad days, not that she wasn’t happy in her job. But her comment made me perk right up and blurt, “That’s not true!” It was out of my mouth almost before I realized I’d said it.

That stopped her dead in her tracks. She looked puzzled, then asked, “You had a job that you looked forward to every day?” as if she didn’t quite believe it. And then she had to ask, “Well, what was it?”

So I proceeded to tell her about when I was a resource manager, programming the work schedule at a military facility just outside of Denver, Colorado. I know it sounds lethally boring and I wish I could tell you exactly what made it so enjoyable that I looked forward to it every day, but I can’t because I’ve been sworn to secrecy about it, not in the cool I’ll-have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you way but in a mundane, we’ll-both-go-to-jail-if-I-tell-you way. Think Edward Snowden instead of James Bond.

But I can tell you that I was part of a small, specialized team of people whose work made it possible for dozens of other people to get their work done. Without our team, everybody else would have been sitting on their hands a lot of the time and billions of dollars worth of hardware would have sat idle. The team I was on found where those idle spots were most likely to be and reassigned the hardware.

It was entirely different work from anything else I had done before that, so I had to learn it from scratch, mostly by sitting next to the inestimable Chad Burlingame for a few weeks as he explained how things worked, talked me through what he was doing, then moved aside to let me sit in his seat and nervously try to mimic what I’d seem him do. I listened carefully as he patiently correct the thousand and one mistakes I made, and eventually he let me do the job on my own, so I must have learned it well enough.

I did that job for three or four years (I forget exactly), and loved it from beginning to end. There were probably a few off days, but I don’t remember them and I never got tired of the job. I would’ve done it for as long as the Air Force let me stay there.

happy in this job | 3:25 pm CST
Category: coworkers, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Thirteen years ago today I was one of the newbies on Misawa Air Base. By this time in November I’d been there a little over ten weeks and I’d gone to more mandatory formations in that time than in the rest of my military service. In the Air Force, we called any meeting a ‘formation.’ Mass formations were held at the base theater because they could cram a lot of us in there, checking the box on a whole lot of forms at one sitting.

They briefed us on everything that happened at Misawa, but they were especially thorough about briefing us on winter. Thorough, as in they talked a lot about it, but the briefing was dumbed down to the point that it was inane. Sitting through it I would think, Do people really have to be told this?

It gets really, really cold in winter. Don’t get frostbite. And we get so much snow here that people have heart attacks shoveling it, so don’t keel over and die while you’re shoveling your sidewalks. Now, in our own special way, let us try to scare you out of doing something stupid by showing you gruesome photos of frostbitten toes and hands that got mangled in snow blowers. Thank-you for your time and don’t forget to sign the attendance roster on the way out or you’ll have to come back and do this all over again tomorrow.

I’m not kidding. They really did make us watch a slide show of hands mangled by snow blowers, projected onto a screen twenty feet high and thirty feet wide, apparently in the belief that even the dopier specimens among us would stop and think about what we were doing the next time a snow blower bogged down. And yet, every year, the clinic supplied the people doing the brief with new photos of some dummy’s hand after he stuck it into a snowblower. So, yeah, people need to be told this.

briefings | 4:20 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Just outside the schoolhouse on the Air Force base where I learned how to do all sorts of technical things there was a fenced-in break area with a soda machine and maybe a couple picnic tables. I think we got one break in the morning and one in the afternoon when we would all go bunch up in the break area; those who smoked would smoke as furiously as they could in the ten minutes or so before we had to go back in. Those who didn’t smoke drank soda or just stood around gabbing.

On one particular day we went out there to find a guy loading the soda machine. He was good enough to stop what he was doing and pass out cans of soda to us so we wouldn’t have to miss out before going back to class. As he was passing out the cans he bobbled one of them, and when it hit the ground it must have caught a stone just right because as it rolled across the concrete floor of the break area it sprayed a geyser of brown caramel soda pop into the air each time it rolled over.

I had never seen panic and mayhem in a crowd setting before. Turns out that kids wearing clean blue uniforms will climb over one another to get away from a rogue soda can.

let us spray | 7:03 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Monday, April 28th, 2014

England memories:

When Tim heard that we were moving into a house on RAF Digby with an upper floor, he asked right away if it had stairs. His eyes lit up like Christmas when I told him it did. “Cool!” he said. I enjoyed his exuberance even though I didn’t fully understand it until the day we moved in. I was downstairs when I heard what sounded like a god’s knuckles dragged along a washboard. Looking for the source of the noise, I found Tim at the top of the stairs on his belly looking down at me. “Watch what I can do!” he commanded before launching himself downward, arms outstretched like Superman, going flup flup flup flup all the way to the bottom. Made my knees hurt just watching (he was using his as brakes).

superman | 8:29 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, T-Dawg
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Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I suffered the biggest culture shock of my life when the Air Force transferred me from the peace and quiet of RAF Digby in northern England to the ear-shattering jet noise and chaos of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The culture of the Air Force in the two places, and the culture of the host countries, were so completely different from one another I was nearly catatonic.

There were about a half-dozen Air Force goobers stationed at Digby, most of them airmen. I was a technical sergeant. But the station and the base were so quiet, dare I say even sleepy, that I didn’t have much to do in the way of supervising anybody, as tech sergeants are expected to do in other places. I supervised a staff sergeant, and he supervised the airmen. Two years of that left me fat, dumb and happy, if a six-foot-tall guy who weighs 155 can even metaphorically be described as “fat.” (Sadly, there’s no question about the “fat” part.)

I don’t know how many Air Force goobers there were at Misawa but I was immediately put in a position where I was responsible for about two dozen of them, and by “responsible” I mean that I was the person whom the mission superintendent yelled at when one of my minions screwed up. My duties, I soon learned, were to then go and find out who screwed up and yell at him or her or them. The mission supe, you see, was too high up the food chain to yell at the underlings directly. It was a game of monkey in the middle, and I got to be the monkey. Also, I got to write everybody’s performance reports. Every single goddamn one. The sergeants who were supposed to do it couldn’t write a bathroom-stall limerick to save their lives, or so they said, and backed it up by not doing it.

And that was just the change in Air Force culture. Going from England, where I could read and write and speak to the local people, to Japan, where I couldn’t do any of that, very nearly drove me crazy. I was literally walking around in a daze for I don’t know how long. I’d been stationed before in foreign lands where I couldn’t speak the language, but I’d always been able to read. Give me a dictionary and I could figure things out. Being stationed in Japan, though, was the first time I’d been plopped down in a country where I couldn’t read. It was like being an infant again.

Culture shock | 5:59 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, travel, work | Tags: ,
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Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Ten years ago:

I got a new computer at my desk. This happened in a really weird way. I was using the old computer a couple days ago when I reached across the desk and spilled a Styrofoam cup of hot tea on the keyboard, which stopped it dead. This was not entirely a bad thing, so far as I could see, because the old computer sucked, but unfortunately for me and anybody else who was a mission supe, we had to have that computer to do our work. I had to ask for a new keyboard, which meant that I had to explain why it wasn’t working, and they wrote up a memo for record and all.

Two hours later, another guy brought out the new computer, a sleek, black Dell with all the bells and whistles. Everybody stopped at my desk to oooh and ahhh over it. The lieutenant was so jealous. “Master Sergeant,” he commanded, “I want you to go get another cup of tea and dump it on my keyboard.” His computer sucked, too.

 
I was stationed overseas at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan from 2001 until 2005, where I did a brief stint as a mission superintendent. It’s almost impossible for me to believe that was ten years ago.
 

We had Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. Each family brought a dish or two and made a pot luck out of it. When the meal was ready, we made a long line that kept circulating through the kitchen as people came back to load up for seconds and thirds.

After supper, we got together in the living room to sing karaoke. Summarizing generally, the Americans sucked, but the Japanese were great at it.  The Japanese sergeant they called Chi-chi had a beautiful voice, but he sang only one song, so we mostly had to listen to the Americans butcher pop tunes from the 80s and 90s. 

Sean probably had the most fun of anybody; karaoke is his calling, I think.  He said later that it was the most fun he’s ever had.  Go figure.

 

Thanksgiving | 3:22 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, story time, work | Tags:
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

On my emergency trip across the Atlantic during the Thanksgiving weekend I’d had to suffer two broken ATMs to make sure I had no money in my pocket, a lack of places to eat in O’Hare airport except for a tavern serving cold sandwiches, a seat with no floor space next to a guy who liked to talk with his elbows (and it was a pretty boring conversation; all he could say was, “Back off!”); a minor malfunction of the airplane’s control systems requiring a special procedure that was in no way an emergency even though the flight controllers at Heathrow cleared all the other planes from our flight path and reserved an entire runway for us to set down on, and finally an uncomfortable moment at the customs gate as I tried to explain why I had left the country and was trying to get back in without proper leave papers.

But all that was over. At long last, I was back. There was no more welcome sight I could imagine than My Darling B’s glowing face at the baggage claim. After all the weirdness I’d been through, I didn’t even care if my bags showed up on the carousel or not. B greeted me with hugs and kisses and other happiness, then listened as I told her about the non-emergency that delayed our flight while we waited for my suitcases to be vomited up by the stainless steel baggage mangler. We scooped them up the moment they appeared and bolted for the door. The claim area was surprisingly close to the parking garage and B had even managed to snag a spot on the bottom floor. And luckily for me, she agreed to take the wheel for the first leg of the drive out from London. My brains were still woolly from jet lag and sleep deprivation. I never could manage to sleep on a plane, only jerk and snort through periodic dozing that’s a lot of fun to watch when other people do it, but agony when it’s happening to me.

Dusk was falling as we left Heathrow but the airport, urban London and the six-lane M25 motorway were all brightly lit by a tall picket line of sodium lights bathing everything on the road in sepia tones. We turned off the M25 to the M1 and followed it north until we hooked up with the A1, also a well-lit highway. It probably wasn’t until we were in the neighborhood of Alconbury, were we knew the back roads well enough to make a few short cuts along country roads, that I noticed how difficult it became to see the road when B dimmed the headlights.

“Does it look to you as if one of the headlights could be burned out?” I tentatively asked B.

She flicked the lights from bright to dim a couple times. The high beams were fine, but when she switched back and forth it became obvious that the low beam on the driver’s side was out. That whole side of the road disappeared from view each time she flicked the switch.

“How about that?” B said, not at all as amazed as I was that another mechanical gremlin was messing around with me. “It worked fine yesterday.”

And the little bugger was just getting started. As B steered the car through a roundabout, she ran over something in the road. The sharp turn around the island, together with the blind spot she had to deal with while she used the low beam through the busy intersection, made it impossible for her to see whatever the piece of discarded junk was until she was almost on top of it, way too late to avoid it. She swerved in the hopes of maybe straddling it, but a telltale bump-clunk under the car announced she hadn’t quite managed a clean miss.

Right after that, our engine exploded, or sounded like it, anyway. If you’ve never heard a car that’s lost its muffler, that’s exactly what it sounds like. My Darling B looked at me with terror in her eyes. I looked right back at her with “I can’t believe this is happening to me” in my eyes. The roar was so deafening that I leaned over to make sure B would hear me when I shouted, “We lost the muffler!”

“Should we stop?” she shouted back.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” I answered. “Keep on going!” She didn’t appear to be very happy with that answer, but there really wasn’t anything we could do about it. There was no chance we would find a garage anywhere along our route that would be open at such a late hour, and I would never have dreamed of attempting a roadside repair, which would have required lying on my back in the gravel while trying to fit together the hot exhaust pipes by touch as cars and trucks roared past us on the highway. The only thing to do was grin and bear it, which wasn’t too difficult for me at that point. All I wanted was to get home, pop open a beer, slouch back in a chair and flip the bird at the angry gods when this trip was finally over. No way the gods were going to let me off that easy.

On a stretch of back road that was just a half-hour’s drive from our house we came to a full stop behind a queue of three or four cars waiting at a signal light. Just beyond the light the opposite lane ended and an impressively deep trench took its place, snaking out of sight around a sharp corner. Road crews often dug up stretches of country roads this way and, when they knocked off at the end of the day, they left automatic signal lights standing sentinel over the yawning holes. The light would change in a few minutes and we’d be on our way.

B glanced into her rear-view mirror as a car slowed to a stop behind us, and again as the headlights of the next approaching car appeared in the distance. She didn’t look away from him, though, because he didn’t slow down at all until he was way too close to stop safely. I missed all of this, of course, and she had no time to warn me except to say, “Oh, shit,” as she fumbled for the gearshift.

I perked up. “What?”

She turned around just in time to see the oncoming car swerve into the open lane, the one that was dug up, trying to avoid the line of cars we were in. When he saw the yawning hole ahead of him he swerved back again, and somehow he missed us. The car that had stopped in line behind us left just enough room for his car to slip between our bumpers and, against all odds, he did exactly that. Not only did he manage to not hit us, his car didn’t even give our car a peck on the cheek as it went by, and to make it even more jaw-droppingly amazing, he even missed the car behind us. If you had seen it in a movie, you wouldn’t have believed it.

After making sure that Barb was all right I jumped out to see if I could help. So did almost everybody else waiting in line, and we all stared open-mouthed along the side of the road as the driver climbed out through the window of his overturned car, stood beside it for a moment with his hands on his hips, and looked over the situation wearing an expression that said, “Well, dammit! Now how am I going to get home?” Then he dug his cell phone out of his pocket, dialed a number, and held the phone to his ear as he climbed up the side of the ditch to get to the road.

Our small crowd gathered around, repeatedly asking if he he was okay and watching him to see if he would collapse in a heap, felled by an aortic aneurysm or, at the very lease, nervous exhaustion. He seemed a little shaken but there wasn’t a cut or bruise visible anywhere on him. In between dialing numbers on his cell phone he kept assuring us he was all right, and eventually the crowd broke up and drifted away when it became apparent he wasn’t going to topple over and die.

His cell phone appeared to be giving him quite a bit of trouble, though. “The battery’s going,” he said to no one in particular, sounding a bit lost.

B had joined us in the road by this time. “Here, use mine,” she said, digging her phone out of her purse.

“It’s a long-distance call,” he apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, then turned and held the car keys out to me. She was looking a lot more shaken than he was. “Would you mind driving home from here?” she asked.

We waited by the side of the road for the driver’s friend to pick him up, making small talk as he chain-smoked. When his friend arrived he thanked us again for the use of our cell phone, then we climbed into our respective cars and drove off, his friend’s car purring quietly, ours rumbling like a dragster. We were less than a thirty-minute drive from home at that point and there was no chance I would fall asleep. I wasn’t even worried about jinxing myself by saying that aloud. At that point, so many other shoes had been dropped that the most outrageous thing I could think of that could have happened to us was, we would get home without another incident. And as crazy as it sounds, that’s just what happened.

heading home #3 | 2:15 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, travel, work | Tags:
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Saturday, May 21st, 2011

A transatlantic flight in coach class has to be one of the most miserable ways to travel even under the best of circumstances. I count myself as damn lucky when I can wangle a seat on the aisle so I can hang over the edge a little bit to get some breathing room, and the few times I’ve been given the option of a seat at the very front of the coach section where my knees weren’t pressed against the back of a seat in front of mine, I’ve been as close to happy as I could ever hope to be on a commercial airliner.

But on this particular flight I didn’t find myself in either of those circumstances. I was stuck in the tail of the plane with Mister Pushy McElbows in the aisle seat making sure I stayed plastered up against the inner wall of the fuselage, which curved far enough into the cabin that it ate up most of the floor space under my seat, forcing me to sit crosslegged like a pretzel for twelve hours. I wouldn’t claim it was the very worst of circumstances – certainly somebody out there can come up with a story of a trip that was worse – but I will go so far as to claim that, when the engines began to wind down and my ears clogged up, signaling our descent as we crossed over the coast of the United Kingdom, I heaved a sigh of relief strong enough to muss the hair of people sitting in the first row.

Then the public address system switched on with a hollow pop and the captain made his “Welcome to England” announcement, with a few added comments that made my relief so short-lived it was over before I could finish that sigh.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please, ” he said. “As we begin our descent over the Welsh countryside, I’d like to take ten minutes of your time to inform you of a few special procedures we’ll be using for today’s landing at Heathrow.”

Special procedures? Yes, do go on, please.

“But before I say any more, I want you to know that we are not using these special procedures because of a state of emergency,” he continued, very casually, no emphasis at all on any word. It was almost as if he meant to imply that what he wanted to tell us was all in the way of making time-filling conversation, the way he would if he were pointing out a landmark we happened to be passing: “And if you can look out the left side of the plane you’ll see the Tower Bridge,” or somesuch. Instead, he was talking about special procedures and how they very definitely did not have anything to do with an emergency, or were unusual in any way at all, even though the fact that he even mentioned them was really pretty unusual.

“Shortly after we departed Chicago,” he went on, slowly, casually, “we detected a leak in one of the hydraulic systems. After an exhaustive analysis of the situation we were able to determine that, because the loss of fluid didn’t affect our ability to control plane, we could safely continue our journey.”

Oh. We sprang a leak. In the hydraulic system. But it was a small leak. So tiny that the flight crew, all experienced professionals with thousands of hours of flying time between them, and keenly aware that the lives of three hundred passengers were in their hands, found after reviewing the data that the leak was so insignificant as to make turning back unnecessary. Surely that’s what the captain was saying.

“The leak occurred in the hydraulic system that raises and lowers the main landing gear,” he went on, “and even though all the hydraulic fluid has been drained from the system, we will still be able to extend our landing gear by simply opening the doors that hold them in. The wheels will drop out under their own weight, and we’ll make sure they’re locked into place by rocking the wings just a bit. I’ll try to keep it to a gentle roll.”

Wait – all the hydraulic fluid leaked out? All of it? And the work-around for a jet that pees away all its hydraulic fluid is to let the landing gear fall out of the fuselage and trust that everything will get stuck in the down position? That works? Really?

But wait! There’s more! “The affected hydraulic system is also used to extend the flaps,” the captain went on, “but each one of them has an electric motor, to be used in situations just like this. The electric motors can only extend the flaps, though. After we put them down, we’ll be committed to making a landing because we can’t fly a circle around the airport with the flaps extended. So, to make sure we can land on the very first try, the flight controllers at Heathrow have closed a runway to every approaching plane but ours, and they’ve cleared all traffic from the air corridor we’re going to use on our approach to land.”

Like getting a pass to use the HOV lane on the highway through Chicago, we would have nobody in our way until we got to Heathrow! The pilot would take us straight in and ease us down to a smooth landing. It was almost enough to convince me that, for a no-fuss landing, losing all the hydraulic fluid was the best thing that could have happened to us.

There was just one more thing:

“The loss of this hydraulic system also affected our ability to steer the nose wheel and apply the brakes. After we touch down, we’ll keep on rolling straight ahead until we lose all our momentum and come to a stop, probably somewhere near the end of the runway. It’s miles long, so we’re in no danger of running off the end. A tug will be waiting there to tow us to the terminal.”

This far down the laundry list of broken things on our jumbo jet, adding “no steering” and “no brakes” didn’t make enough of a difference to worry me much.

The wheels came down with the usual bump-clunk and, just as he promised, the pilot did a slow, lazy wing-waggle, rolling the plane first to one side, then to the other. He must have been satisfied that the wheels were locked in place because he flew rock steady and straight as an arrow for miles and miles after that. There was no turbulence that I remember. I could hardly tell we were descending until the flaps whined down into place, causing the plane to nose over a bit.

Touchdown was smooth as silk. The plane’s wheels kissed the concrete so gently and with the tiniest of squeeks that I wasn’t sure when it had happened or even that we were on the ground until the rumble of the tires along the runway confirmed it. And, even after the thrust reversers kicked in, the plane didn’t go through the usual buck and weave it would have if he’d been able to jam on the brakes because, hey, no brakes!

After a long roll-out we came to a gentle stop near the end of the runway, where we added one more glitch to our list: The tug waiting for us had the wrong kind of hitch to pull our particular model 747. We had to hang out there for half an hour or so while a replacement tug was called up and it raced out to drag us off the runway. By that time it was too late to take our plane to its assigned gate. We’d lost our turn and had to be towed to a parking spot far off in a corner of the airfield where we were transferred to buses that converged on our plane to ferry us to the terminal.

They were the kind of buses that rose up on stilts and kissed the door of the plane so we could walk aboard. Each one was standing room only; there were no seats, only those floor-to-ceiling stainless steel poles you find on subway trains. I thought it would be a fairly short trip to the terminal – I could see it out the window – and yet somehow the ride went on forever. Honestly, I can’t remember that I’ve ever been on a bus ride between two places I could always see that lasted so long. And it wasn’t like the driver was taking his time, either. As he ducked through one darkened tunnel after another, arched over bridges and jackknifed around hairpin corners, he seemed to be living a roller-coaster fantasy. When we finally made it to the terminal I noticed I wasn’t the only one in hurry to get out the doors as soon as they opened.

We stepped off the bus into a high-ceilinged waiting area roughly as big as an elementary school gym. A row of chest-high desks, each with a uniformed customs official standing behind it, made a barrier along the far wall between me and the exit. Behind me, passengers were arriving in waves as one bus after another came to the door. And somewhere in Heathrow airport my darling wife was waiting for me – and had been waiting for hours longer than she expected to be.

I could only guess that she had been watching the arrivals board the whole time, only to see my arrival time delayed again and again, but I would have laid odds she would not have known anything about the reasons for my delay. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing they would announce to the crowds waiting to get aboard their long-distance flights. So she would have been sitting there, waiting, checking, sitting some more, checking again, waiting still longer, and on and on ad nauseum. There is no way to sit in an airport doing nothing for hours without getting tired, then desperately bored and finally cranky enough to want to kill somebody. And I would likely be the first person she spoke to.

It seemed vitally important that I call her right away to tell her what happened, to let her know I was off the plane and headed her way, and to arrange for a place to meet. As soon as I stepped off the bus into the customs area I headed straight for a payphone, dialed her number, then stood there counting the people who got off each bus as they came to the door. And holy cheese, there were a lot of people getting off thoses buses! How many people were on that plane, anyway?

Thankfully, she answered my call after just a couple rings. “Where are you?” she asked as soon as I said hi.

“Customs,” I told her, and gave her the short version of the leak and the landing and the wait and the roller coaster ride. “I’ve got to get in line before another bus pulls up,” I warned her, watching the stream of passengers queueing up to have their passports inspected and stamped. After we arranged a place to meet and a hurried good-bye, I sprinted away from the payphone to begin the hour-long snake-dance through the maze of ropes in the center of the room until I finally stood at the front of the line for the next uniformed officer who waved at me.

“Welcome to the U.K.,” he greeted me brightly. “Passport, please?” I slipped it across the desk. “Thank you. You’re on active duty?” he asked, when he saw my military ID sticking out of the centerfold.

“That’s right,” I nodded.

“May I see a copy of your orders, please?” he asked, and I slipped him a copy of my permanent party orders, but when he saw that the date of my assignment was months ago he asked, “You’re on leave, then?”

“Emergency leave, yes.”

“May I see your leave papers?”

“I don’t actually have any leave papers,” I confessed, and quickly tap-danced my way through the tune of trying to arrange emergency leave right before a significant American holiday that most British had never heard of. He seemed to understand my predicament but was unsure what do do about my lack of documentation and called his supervisor over so I could do my tap dance again for him, too. Then they had a short conference in hushed tones during which I tried not to look nervous at all about the fact that they still had my passport, ID and papers and I had no excuse at all for being out of the country without leave papers, other than an airman in the orderly room whose name I couldn’t remember said it would be okay. If I’d been in their shoes, I’m not sure I would have let me in, but for whatever reason they decided I was worth the risk, stamped my passport and sent me on my way.

heading home #2 | 10:29 pm CST
Category: My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, travel, work | Tags:
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Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The longest journey ever made in the history of humankind was a trip I took from the small town in Wisconsin where my mother lived to the small town in England where I lived with my family. It wasn’t the longest trip if it were measured in ordinary miles or hours, as most normal trips would be, but I don’t take “normal” trips and have consequently never been able to measure trips that way. For longer than I care to remember, I’ve measured trips using a Bizzare-O-Tron, a clever device of my own invention that registers every coincidence, catastrophe and just plain weird occurrence and calculates a Weirdness Rating between one and eleven. The Bizarre-O-Tron doesn’t have a zero, because that would imply I could take a trip on which nothing untoward would occur, and that simply never happens, so I didn’t even bother with zero. And the meter doesn’t stop at ten because there will, someday, be trip that will bury the needle, and I want to be ready for it. This particular trip came so very close. It could have been weirder only if Steve Martin and John Candy were in every scene.

It started with the timing: Just before the Thanksgiving Day weekend I found out my grandfather had passed away, so I calling around to see what I would have to do to take a few days’ leave to attend the funeral. I was an enlisted man in the Air Force at the time, and under normal circumstances I would report to the orderly room to see the first sergeant, who would give the thumbs-up to the commander, who would sign my leave papers and I’d be on my way. The post I was stationed at, though, was a very small unit, just ten or twelve guys maintaining some equipment out in the boonies. I had to drive an hour and a half just to visit the orderly room to get the ball rolling. This being the Thanksgiving weekend, the orderly room was virtually deserted when I got there. I found one lone airman to help process my papers, and there was no commander, or anybody with any rank at all, to sign them.

“Leave these with me,” the airman said nonchalantly, gathering up the leave forms. “I’ll get the commander to sign them as soon as he comes back, and I’ll forward a copy to you.”

That right there bumped the Bizarre-O-Tron up a notch, which was a faulty reading, now that I think about it. Coiled, robotic arms should have come shooting out both sides and an alarmed voice shouting, “Warning! Warning” was supposed to make me back away and think long and hard about the trapdoor I was about to fall through, but I wasn’t hit by the full impact of this weirdness until later. I guess I was in too much of a hurry. Instead, I only asked, “How am I supposed to travel without leave papers?”

“Just show them your ID when you get back,” he said. “As long as you’re permanent party there’ll be no problem.”

He meant that, because I was stationed in the U.K. the customs agent would let me just waltz in and out of the country by showing him my military ID card, and for some reason I bought that, even though I’d never done it that way before. It seems like such an obvious red flag now, but as I said, I was in a hurry and there was still a lot I had to do.

The trip to the States was mostly benign, probably because of the Thanksgiving weekend rush. My Darling B drove me to Heathrow where I boarded a jumbo jet for a transatlanic flight that went by in a blur. Everybody from the ground up worked feverishly to get passengers through the gate, loaded on to the plane, unloaded and back out the gate. Time passed in the usual mind-numbing way.

The details of the trip back, though – those are burned into my memory forever. For starters, by the time I got through security and into the terminal it was way past supper time and my stomach was growling. With a few hours to go before my flight started boarding, I figured I’d grab a bite in one of the many restaurants in the terminal, but first I had to find an ATM so I could reload my wallet with a few twenties. The first machine I found was broken; probably still reeling from the assault of hundreds of holiday travelers. No problem, I was in O’Hare airport, the largest, sprawlingest airport in the midwest. I should be able to find another machine in no time, right? But no. No matter how many times I walked the length of the terminal, I could find only one other ATM, and it was out of cash. Two machines in a terminal big enough to be its own country. Who thought that was a good idea?

By scrounging through every pocket in my jacket and carry-on bag, I managed to put together just enough loose change to buy a sandwich at one of the few taverns still open. That was another peg up on the Bizzarre-O-Tron. On the one holiday that’s legendary for the huge number of travelers jetting from Atlantic to Pacific and back, in an airport terminal where most of those travelers will find themselves waiting for many, many hours for a connecting flight, there were no restaurants open for dinner, just a couple taverns serving hot sandwiches and other bar food. I guess all the waiters went home for Thanksgiving, too.

My flight went non-stop from Chicago to London Heathrow, a leg that typically lasts a numbingly long twelve hours, so I usually try to snag an aisle seat or, better yet, a place by the bulkhead where I can stretch my legs. No such luck on this trip, though. I got herded so far back into the tail of the plane that the seat they shoehorned me into didn’t have a floor under it. The inner wall of the fuselage curled in under my feet. Honestly. There was just enough room for me to plant my right foot flat on a sliver of level carpeting, but my left foot had to either ride on the curve of the wall, or I could cross it over my knee. Or, I guess, I could have asked the steward to lend me a steak knife from the galley, sawed my left leg off, and stuffed it into the overhead bin. Would’ve been about as comfortable as the other two options.

But the crazy geometry of the seating arrangement became even more awkward when Mister Passive-Aggressive plunked himself in the aisle seat next to me. If you’ve ever flown coach, or ridden a Greyhound bus, you’ve sat beside this guy. Before we even pulled back from the gate he staked his claim on what he thought was his personal space by digging an issue of the Wall Street Journal out of his bag and holding it wide open in front of him, elbows out. There was no doubt in my mind that he stopped at a newsstand in the terminal just before he boarded the plane just so he could buy the biggest newspaper in the pile for this very purpose.

Supper time was more of the same: Fork in one hand, knife in the other, elbows out. When he started sawing pieces off his beef cutlet his arms flapped like a Canadian goose trying to get enough lift for takeoff. And when he wasn’t eating or reading, he had his laptop out and was pounding on the keys with the ferocity of a blacksmith forging a weapon of war. The only notice he took of me from the beginning to the end of the flight was to mutter “Excuse me” each time his elbow jabbed me in the ribs to remind me he was still there.

To this day, that one leg of the trip ranks as the longest transatlantic flight of my life.

heading home #1 | 8:37 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, travel, work | Tags:
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Friday, April 29th, 2011

Speaking of birth certificates, did I ever tell you that our youngest, T-Dawg, was very nearly born in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin? It’s true. He very nearly was.

We lived in an apartment in Zehlendorf on the southern edge of the city, right next to the Berlin wall, and when I say “right next to,” I mean we were right next to it! Keep going down the street past our apartment about a hundred yards and you were in a wooded park looking through barbed wire across a kill zone at the wall on the eastern side.

The wooded park ran all along that part of the wall, and on the inside of it there was a footpath called Koenigsweg that went from Duppel all the way out to Potsdam, I think. It was a very popular place to go walking just about any time of day, but especially in the evening.

My Darling B and I were expecting Timbers in August. As a matter of fact, when B started having strong, regular contractions on the eve of our anniversary, she was pretty sure he’d be born on the same day we were married, but sometime during the night the little bugger changed his mind. B was sorely disappointed, but she couldn’t convince him to come out that day, not for nothing.

But that afternoon she felt the contractions coming on again. After last night’s false alarm, though, she played them down. “It’s probably nothing again, I’m okay,” she kept saying, even after a contraction was strong enough to make her sit down and suck in a whole lot of air for a few minutes.

This went on for a couple hours, and the contractions didn’t seem to be going away. If anything, they seemed to be getting stronger, but B continued to downplay them. “Really, I’m all right,” she insisted, even while she sat slumped over, her head practically between her knees.

After a couple hours of that, B’s back was killing her. She wanted to try to walk it off, but I didn’t want to get too far from a phone, so I agreed to walk her up and down the street in front of the apartment. While we were out there, though, she wanted to keep walking down to the footpath through the woods. “Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine,” she assured me, even while she was still sucking wind. Since I wasn’t the one having contractions, and because she’d just been through a long night of them with no result, I reluctantly took her at her word, and off to the forest we went.

It was slow going. She would shuffle a dozen or so steps with one hand pressed against the small of her back, stop and make a this-is-killing-me face, then double over forward with her hands on her knees and take deep breaths for a minute or two before straightening up again and assuring me, “I’m fine, I’m okay.”

And I’d keep asking her, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, uh-huh,” she’d say, and for some weird reason I’d believe her.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“I’m okay, let’s keep going.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah, uh-huh.”

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

We did that over and over again until we were about a half-mile down the footpath, which was strangely empty for once. There we were, in the woods, far away from any telephone, and neither one of us knew how to say, “Take me to a hospital, I’m about to have a baby,” in German. Boy, were we stupid.

Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle, this-is-killing-me, huff-huff-huff.

“Uh, I think we’d better get to the hospital.”

“What!”

“Yeah. I think we’d better head back and get to the hospital.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to hurry a very pregnant woman to the hospital when the only hurrying she can do is a very slow shuffle. I know she was in a lot of pain just then, but I was primed and ready to literally explode. I have never been so juiced up with adrenaline in my life, yet there was nothing I could do. With that much nervous energy banging on every one of my muscle fibers I should’ve been able to scoop her up in my arms and jump to the hospital in a single bound, but that’s Superman’s gig and I couldn’t get in on it. Talk about frustrating. What good does it do to get such a charge built up if you can’t do anything with it?

I was sure I’d have to deliver my own baby boy myself right there in the road in the middle of the forest, but somehow B found the strength to hold him back until we shuffled all the way to our apartment, where I phoned a friend who gave us a ride to the hospital. Only a little more than an hour after we got there, Tim popped out.

Certified | 3:09 am CST
Category: My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, work | Tags:
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Saturday, April 16th, 2011

I drove a little Datsun coupe while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. I didn’t intend to get a car but, when I got the chance to move out of the dorms after living there a year I took it, and I would have to buy a car to commute. Riding the bus wasn’t an option; the base was way out in the countryside and the bus ran by it infrequently. So I found my little Datsun at a garage just down the road and paid about $750 for it.

They say you get what you pay for, but that little Datsun was worth way more than $750. I drove it all over England, and the guy I sold it to drove it even more. It never gave me any trouble at all, except for one night on the commute either to or from work, I’m not sure. It was late at night, that I can remember for sure. I was tooling down the road at fifty or sixty miles per, and even with loud music coming out of the cassette player I heard a bang! under the hood. That, and the fact that every warning light on the dashboard lit up made me quickly take the car out of gear and coast to a stop alongside the road. I even managed to make it as far as the intersection with a side road so I could pull off the main road a bit.

When the car came to a stop, smoke came billowing out from under the hood and around the fenders, not a good sign at all. I jumped out and waited a minute or two for the car to burst into flame, but when it didn’t I walked slowly around the front and popped the hood. The smoke turned out to be steam hissing from gashes slashed into the back of the radiator when the fan blades cut into it. When I had more light in the morning I could see that a bearing in the water pump had failed spectacularly, giving the fan enough of a wobble that the ends of the blades could chomp pieces out of the radiator big enough to spray coolant all over the engine block.

I couldn’t drive it without any coolant in the engine, so I had to either call a tow truck to have it taken back to a garage, or try to fix it myself by the side of the road. It seems outrageous to me now that I decided to fix it myself. I had a simple tool kit in the car and a bare minimum of experience fixing cars. At one point, after unbolting the water pump from the engine, I resorted to whacking it with a brick I found by the side of the road when it wouldn’t come unstuck any other way. My tool kit didn’t include a hammer, for some reason. I guess I didn’t think I’d be needing a hammer to work on a car. Why would I, right? Well, here’s why.

I bought a new water pump in town because I had to, but I found a garage that would patch up the radiator on the cheap, a stroke of luck except when I went back to pick it up it no longer had a radiator cap. Jumping off the bus at the edge of town, I walked through the front door of the auto parts store with a radiator under one arm. When the guy behind the counter looked up at me and asked, “How can I help you?” I couldn’t stop myself from holding up the radiator and asking, “Have you got a Datsun that would fit this radiator?” He didn’t think that was funny at all. I think I had to apologize to him before asking help to find a cap.

Back out on the B-road now with a patched radiator and a new water pump, I set to work with only the fuzziest idea how to fix this thing. The mechanic at the garage helped me out a bit: He made sure I had a clean gasket for the pump and a tube of sealant for the gasket, and gave me a big plastic jug full of water to pour into the radiator in the somewhat unlikely event that I should be able to patch the thing together and get it going again.

But you know what? I did it. the water pump was bolted to the engine in just three places. I was very careful to clean off all the gunk, slather lots of sealant on the gasket and turn the bolts tight but not too tight. The radiator was easy to mount and even easier to connect to the hoses. The fan blades were nicked up but still in good shape. After it was all put back together and the radiator was filled up, I took a deep breath and started the engine, ready to shut it town the minute it didn’t sound right or I saw smoke or steam or anything go wrong.

Nothing went wrong. It purred like a kitten and kept on purring. I drove back, stopping off at the garage to drop off the water jug and have the mechanic look over my handiwork, but he found nothing to fault me on, and that little Datsun and I traveled all over England in the year ahead without another hitch. Well, except for one, but that was pretty minor, an oil cap that popped off in the middle of a long trip to York and let the engine burp oil up all over itself. Makes lots of smoke, does no real damage. Not to the car, anyway. Sure frazzled my nerves, though.

Wait, two. Yeah. Just two. But that’s another story.

My Little Datsun | 5:33 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, The O-Mobile, travel, work | Tags:
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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Every so often I like to reach for a volume of the printed-out version of this drivel that I keep on a bookshelf over my desk and flip back to see what I was doing on today’s date five, ten, fifteen years ago. Sometimes it’s worth a laugh, sometimes I gain a little perspective, sometimes it’s just drivel and I don’t get anything out of it at all.

Come along with me, why don’t you, on today’s journey into my past:

Five years ago I was babbling about the virtues of my Volkswagen bug, so that hasn’t changed:

“I would definitely call my battleship the Crushasaurus,” T informed me the other day. He wants a battleship of his very own, at least as much as he wants a car and probably more so, and he’s monumentally bummed nobody makes them any more. It’s sort of the same way I feel about the Volkswagen Beetle, except that his desires work on a much grander scale; money’s no object.

Those new ones are cute, but they’re not the same as the trusty old cans that Volkswagen used to be most well-known for. I was the owner of three different vans, myself, but I bought a bug to drive to work when we returned to the States from Germany, married just three years and so poor we only had one ‘o’ to spell it with. The front fenders were rusting off and the engine hatch was stove-in from when the car had been rear-ended, so the owner let me have it for four hundred bucks.

The gate guard at Buckley air base shook his head when he saw it and told me, “I thought I had the junkiest vee-double-you in the state, but yours beats mine, hands-down!”

It may have been a rolling junk heap, but that bug made it through the worst snow storms Colorado could throw at me. One morning after work, after the snow plows had done their darndest to block all the side roads, I gunned the engine and the beetle nosed up and over every single drift; it was so short from front to back that it never hung up on a snowbank, just tipped right over and kept on going, easily sailing over the deep snow on the unplowed back streets like a skiff over the surface of a calm lake. It was almost magical.

Tim still remembers it as “the blue bug.” He was all of two or three years old and used to ride in a second-hand child seat in the back, but he can easily describe all the goofy rubber monster heads a previous owner had installed over the knobs on the dashboard, and the fossil I found tucked behind an armrest, so he must have been at least as taken with it as I was. Kids love go-karts, and a bug is like the best go-cart ever made. Too bad our roads are just too fast and our cars too big for them any more.

Ten years ago I didn’t have a blog. Instead, I sent an e-mail to a list of about two-dozen people. On this day in 2001 I used it to inform everyone I knew that we would be leaving Digby, England to transfer to Misawa, Japan:

To all relatives and ships at sea:

I’ve been assigned to the 301st Intel Squadron at Misawa, Japan, to report no later than October. Just thought you’d want to know. This finally unties the knot that got all tangled up last October when I tried to start the assignment process by volunteering for a slot at a station in Yorkshire. That got yanked from me almost immediately and I’ve been traveling down one blind alley after another ever since. I was about to start this week a poke and a jab at another sleeping giant, asking for help, when my commander called me to tell me that my rip had just come in. It’s not chisled in stone, but it’s closer than I’ve been in a while. Now we get to start the fun of sorting through all our stuff to find out what we keep, what we sell, and what we just plain trash, working toward the day that it all goes into great big boxes so the movers can bash it into little pieces. Moving is so much fun.

And fifteen years ago I was so wound up about some car trouble that I went on and on forever about it. The car was a Dodge Colt. I remember that, when we took it for a test drive, B didn’t like it. I did and bought it anyway. This was before I knew she was usually right and I should always listen to her:

I’m in a mood, so let’s cut to the chase: car problems suck. They don’t get better, they get worse. You can throw piles & piles of money at your car, but if the car sucks, it only continues to suck, and if your car’s pretty good, it still sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as a car that sucks a lot. Sucking sucky suck-suck cars. Christ, I hate car problems.

So I already ran down what sucked about the last problem: it wouldn’t run because of a busted wire and a bad sensor in the fuel injection system, but of course it waited until I was two friggin blocks from the shop to stop working altogether, so not only did the shop charge me a pound of flesh, but I had to tow it two friggin sucky blocks and friggin pay the sucking tow friggin truck. Then, to add insult to injury to another injury, or something like that, the mech who got the car running again found a leak in the transmission casing – the “nosecone,” he called it. My transmission has a “nosecone.” It was the mech’s opinion that, when the guys at the other garage installed the rebuilt engine, they shoved the transmission’s nosecone about an inch forward so that it rubbed against the chassis hard enough and long enough to drill a hole or crack it or do something that leaked transmission fluid all over the garage floor. Now my car needs a new nosecone.

In other news, I took my tech test this morning, so that’s over with. I can’t reveal the actual test questions to you, because it’s punishable by having your toes cut off, but a question that could’ve been on the test might’ve sounded like this: “How many total steps are there on the north side of the headquarters building on Randolph AFB, Texas?” The questions were about that trivial. I’m so glad my career hangs on questions like that.

Well, there you go. A reminiscence, a major life change, and a lot of bitching about car trouble. It’s a pretty mixed bag and I’m not sure it showed me anything except tempus fugit with a vengeance.

Time Flies Like An Arrow | 5:30 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, T-Dawg, The O-Mobile, work | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

My favorite language school story:

As you may or may not know, I learned to speak, read and write Russian at the hands of some pretty ruthless teachers hired by the military to make me learn it or die trying. Or maybe it’s not entirely fair to call them “ruthless.” My teachers were pretty wonderful. I still remember Mister and Missus Makarovski with a fondness so warm that it would melt the ice sheet covering Greenland. But they had just fifty-four weeks to teach us a language most of us had never seen before except maybe in comic strips, so they had to improvise some pretty drastic weeding techniques. After twenty weeks or so the size of our class was cut almost in half, but that was about par for every class. And all that is way too much explanation as to why I used the word “ruthless,” but I felt I had to. Okay, that’s done.

By the time we were settled in and learning how to actually read and write so that we understood it, we had a routine, and part of that routine was the weekly quiz. Thursday or Friday was quiz day, I can’t remember which. Probably Thursday, so we could get the results before the weekend left us hanging. So let’s say that every Monday we started a new chapter with forty or fifty new words to add to our vocabulary, Tuesday and Wednesday were the days that we practiced using the new words and grammar rules, Thursday was quiz day and Friday was our day to depressurize. Maybe I’ll tell some stories about depressurizing later, but I doubt it.

On the particular quiz day that my favorite language school story takes place, one of the questions was obviously supposed to make use of the words that translated as “member of government,” which in Russian would be – if memory serves – “chlen gosudarstva.” These quizzes were all fill-in-the-blanks, and on this particular quiz the first blank was very long and the second blank was very short, instead of a very short blank followed by a very long blank, if the answer was what I thought it ought to be. Odd.

We had practiced the phrase many times in class, so I knew it should be “chlen gosudarstva,” but it wasn’t unusual for them to do something unusual in a quiz to zing us, and I was feeling especially inventive that day, so instead I rendered the phrase as “gosudarstvenny chlen,” which I thought would be a perfectly acceptable way of saying, “governmental member.”

Which it most certainly was not. When Missus M returned the quizzes to us later that afternoon everybody got lots of kudos and good-on-yas – except me! She made a special point of stopping when she got to me, then glaring icily as she slapped my quiz on my desk. “Dayfit!” she snapped my name out in the Slavic manner I normally adored, “why do you write this on your quiz?”

I glanced down at the paper and saw that she had circled “gosudarstvenny chlen” several times in red pen.

I looked helplessly back up at her. “It’s not right?”

“Of course it’s not right! Why do you talk like this?” And then she stalked back to her desk huffily, not waiting for my answer. Nobody else knew exactly what was wrong, but they knew I was in truh-bull!

Later that day, Mister M came in for the hour or two when he taught a lesson we normally really liked because we usually learned a dirty word or joke or something like that. He wanted to go over the results of the test almost right away, and in particular the results of my test: “Mister O,” he began, “why do you write on your test the words ‘government prick?’”

I raised my eyebrows and shot back, “I beg your pardon?”

“‘Gosudarstvenny chlen’ means ‘government prick.’ You didn’t know?”

*sound of nickel dropping* Ah!

Dickishness | 7:50 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, work
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Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A story about patience and civility:

While I was living in Bedford, England, about a million years ago, I used to take the train to London just about every chance I got and wander around because, you know, cool! Why wouldn’t I, right? I mean, when was I ever going to get the chance to go to London again? So that’s what I did. And it was dead simple because a major train line ran through Bedford, and the train station was about a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment.

But one day I took the train from Hitchin instead. I don’t remember why. Maybe I missed the last train of the morning commuter rush and I didn’t want to wait for the next one. In any case, I hopped into my little Datsun coupe and drove down to Hitchin, parked in the lot, rode the train down and spent all day wandering in and out of record stores, second-hand clothing shops, probably watched a movie, I don’t know what all. I didn’t come back until very late in the evening, well after dark.

One of the tricks my Datsun coupe could do that made me very proud was get into parking spots so tight that watching me do it would make your eyes cross. The parking lot at the Hitchin train station was full of cars but I’d managed to find one little sliver of space left in a corner and very smugly wedged my Datsun into it. As I was walking back to my car late that evening I noticed what appeared to be a young lady in a business suit sitting on the hood of my car, and I was going to be very cross with her until I got close enough to realize that she was sitting on the hood to her car, which was parked into the corner by my car.

She didn’t tear into me, didn’t scream about how long she’d been waiting, didn’t say a single word until I unlocked the door of my car, whereupon she slid down off the hood of her car and, before turning away, asked me ever so politely, “In future, would you mind not parking so close?”

“Sure,” I answered her, “sorry about that.”

“’S all right,” she said, got into her car, and waited for me to back out of her way. I waited until she was well down the road before I put my car in drive.

In Future | 7:09 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, story time, The O-Mobile, work | Tags:
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Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Grant Barrett started off this morning’s episode of A Way With Words with a tribute to train conductors and the singsong way they rounded up passengers lingering on the platform by calling out the names of the stops along the way, something like, “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu-ca-monga!” wrapping it up with the still-familiar, “bo-AAAAHHHd!” Grant likened the exaggerated pronunciation their speech to the wordplay of voice caricaturist Mel Blanc.

(This was a replay of a show broadcast on November 9, 2009, so you won’t see it on the home page of the show’s web site, but I found it in the discussion forums.)

Cohost Martha Barnette gave a similar example of a train conductor in New York State reeling off the names, “OSS in ing, poh KIPP see,” and so on with the New York twang I love so much, and they both gushed over the elision of “all aboard” into a single-syllable “BOAR!”

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a train conductor do this, except in movies. I was, however, once on a train waiting to leave London from Saint Pancras Station when a teenager opened the door to the compartment, stuck his head in and asked me, in his best clipped Cockney, “ask USE me mite, duh CYST rain GOAT uh PUTT uh SPA?” The translation circuits in my brain came to within milliseconds of a truly spectacular blowout before the nickel dropped and I realized he’d asked me if the train stopped at Potter’s Bar, a town along the route.

The only other thing I can compare this with is calling out commands to march troops in formation, something I’ve been trained to do by a professional, believe it or not. It’s supposed to be a bonding experience for airmen in leadership school, but to me it was mostly a glaring reminder of my limitations. As much as I loved to do it, I never could quite get the hang of it.

We were to divide commands into two distinctly separate portions: A preparatory command, and a command of execution. The preparatory command was the verbal wake-up that warned the airmen that we were about to order them to do something. The command of execution told them when to do it.

To make each command as easy to recognize as possible, we were to make them as different from each other as we could. The most common way to do this was to boil each word down to a single, explosive syllable.

A formation of airman is called a flight, and to call them to attention we were supposed to shout, “FLIGHT!” This was both a preparatory command and a command of execution wrapped up in one word, like “At ease.” We barked it out, and a split-second later the airmen did it without any further prompting.

But we were given to understand that correctly pronouncing the word flight or any other word as a command was really very uncool. The closest I could get to the sound that came out of our instructor’s mouth was something like, “FLYeee!” I say it was closest because he didn’t like the way I did it, demonstrating several times. He very definitely didn’t want me to pronounce the “T” on the end, and he seemed to be lengthening the vowel sound while keeping it in the back of his throat, but no matter how many times I tried to imitate his example, I never got it to sound the way he said it should. Eventually I gave up and just shouted, “FLIGHT!” It may not have been right, but it was certainly distinctive, because nobody else was saying it that way.

To get them moving, we commanded, “Forward, march!” Barking it out in single syllables, the preparatory command, forward, reduced it to something that resembled “foe-ODD!” And the command of execution ended up somewhere between “HARCH” and “HOTCH.” Getting it exactly right was really an art. Some guys could affect a very cool, Chuck Yaegerish drawl that sounded just like sergeants in the movies. The rest of us had to make do with a clunky imitation. Even a simple cadence, the “hut, too, tree, far.” we were all familiar with, was quite a trick to pull off well.

I suspect it’s the same with railroad conductors. There are probably some who make it look and sound so easy, and there are quite a few who are, and always will be working on their style but will never quite be able to pull it off.

foe ODD, HOTCH! | 10:58 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
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Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I spent most of My Glorious Air Force Career overseas, but I was stationed Stateside twice, both times in Denver, for a total of about nine years, some of the best years of my career because, among other things, I met My Darling B while I was stationed in Denver. Also, I was part of a crack team that protected the United States against imminent nuclear destruction. Your city is not a smoking crater because we were on the job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week … not continuously, you dweeb. We worked in shifts. We worked for twelve hours during the day, went home and slept for a while, then watched television for a while before we worked another twelve hour day watch, and so on until we had a break before they switched the schedule around on us and we had to work mid watches for a while.

Mid watches started at six in the evening and didn’t end until six in the morning. The first four hours or so were fairly tolerable. We had plenty of energy and there was always something going on somewhere that focused our energy on the task at hand. The last four hours were completely intolerable because by that time we were so utterly and completely tired it was all but impossible to focus on anything. I have literally fallen asleep standing up, or in the middle of typing a sentence at the end of really bad mid watches. Several times I kept on typing after falling asleep. Didn’t make sense when I tried to read it later, but I could type a whole line up to the point the bell went ding and woke me up. (For those of you who have never typed on anything that went ding at then end of the line, shut up.)

The middle four hours of a mid watch were a strange netherworld, a cross between having plenty of energy to do something while at the same time having practically nothing to do. There was usually some kind of make work, mostly housekeeping, they made us do in an attempt to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, but after we finished that and they couldn’t think of anything else they let us do whatever we wanted so long as we were back in time to perform the next scheduled task. And that’s how we came up with chair racing.

The room we worked in had a central dais with a desk on it where the guy in charge sat, exactly like a crazed megalomaniac. I shit you not. Surrounded by computer keyboards and screens he might have looked impressive, if he weren’t a plain old enlisted joe like the rest of us. And mostly all he had to do was watch us work. It must have been painfully boring.

The rest of us worked in front of long racks loaded up with computerized gadgets that looked eye-poppingly impressive at first glance, but a closer inspection would quickly tell you it was all hopelessly obsolete. Seriously, a lot of it dated back to the 1950s and I think the only reason they kept it around was it was too complicated to replace. There were so many gadgets to work on in each one of these racks that we sat in front of them on office chairs and propelled ourselves from one end to the other by kicking off the corner of the end rack and catching the other end as we went by. We got so good at it that we could make adjustments to the complicated instruments, punching buttons and turning dials, as we coasted past them.

Once the work was done and we had some time to kill, we sometimes kept on kicking off the racks to play bumper cars in the aisles, and then one night we hit on the idea of racing all the way around the raised dias. The aisle wasn’t wide enough for us to race side-by-side so we had to play a game that was a combination of bumper cars and chair racing, sort of a demolition derby played by office workers. Yes, this was the scene in the heart of the electronic nerve center that was protecting your ass from nuclear annihilation night after night. But really, that was nothing.

The place where we worked was at the back of a spectacularly enormous office building, the result of years of adding on to the original building by simply erecting another building right next to the old one and connecting the corridors. By the time we worked there the building had been added to five or six times, and the three corridors that ran the length from one end to the other were hundreds of feet long. And as we were strolling to work one night, during a lull in the conversation, one of the guys said, while staring at the well-waxed linoleum floor beneath our feet, “Man, I’ll bet you could get one of those office chairs going really fast down these hallways.”

We all chuckled agreement, then stopped and stared at each other: Chair Race!

So some time after midnight that night, during a break in the serious work, two or three of us (maybe, I don’t know exactly, and don’t ask me for names, I’ll never tell) wandered nonchalantly out the door, each trailing an office chair behind us, to take up positions in the hallway. On the count of three, we kicked off as hard as we could from the back wall and kept on kicking, and DANG! Dude was right! You get those office chairs going supersonic when you’ve got a long, clear shot and a bare floor to roll on! We could have made it more exciting with rockets, or machine guns or something, but for a while there the middle of a mid watch wasn’t so bad any more.

Chair Races | 10:30 pm CST
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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Let the four-day weekend begin!

Oh, wait … I’m unemployed, so it’s really more like an indefinite weekend.

Well, whatever.

I applied for unemployment first thing yesterday morning … or rather, it was first thing after doinking around on the internet for an hour, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it until after nine o’clock, which is a really stupid reason for waiting until nine o’clock when you factor in that I applied on-line. You can do anything on the internet these days!

So at nine-thirty promptly …

What? Okay, so I doinked around a little longer than I said I would. It’s the internet! It’s not my fault! The internet forces us all to think non-linearly! Our minds are being scrambled by the internet! I couldn’t help it! You know it’s true! Just look it up! On the internet!

Besides, there was this killer John Stewart video I had to watch before I did anything else, such as provide for my family.

Anyway, after a quick google search and a couple of mouse clicks, my application for unemployment benefits was complete. Took me all of five minutes. Easy-peasy.

What did I do with the rest of my day? Oh, not much. It being my first officially unemployed day, I decided to celebrate with brunch at Lazy Jane’s, so I tucked a book into my backpack, jumped on my trusty Trek bicycle and rode into town. It’s about four or five miles from Our Humble O’Bode to our favorite Willy Street restaurant, so I worked up just enough of an appetite to want their half-sandwich and soup special.

That and a bottomless cup of coffee made me want to hang around just long enough to read through a couple of chapters of A Woman In Berlin, the book that’s on the arm of my easy chair this week. It’s a cheery little tale about the Russian liberation of Berlin in the final days of World War Two, as recorded in the diary of a journalist who was gang-raped by just about every Russian soldier who marched through her neighborhood. I’d have to recommend it because it’s so well-written, but I’d also have to include the warning that it’ll make you want to drink yourself unconscious. Enjoy!

image of shadow box

After a few good, deep burps loud enough to rattle the windows of passing cars, and a long, leisurely ride home (can’t exactly sprint on a full stomach), I spent the rest of the afternoon piddling around in our basement work shop trying to put my shadow box back together. I didn’t get a gold watch when I retired, but they did give me a going-away ceremony and a shadow box filled with medals (yes, mine) and a folded flag. Pretty nice, but they mounted all the little bits of bling with some kind of goop that wasn’t quite sticky enough to hold everything in place for very long. Five years later, all the medals and collar brass were lying in a sticky pile at the bottom of the box. (Senco members, take note.)

I made a few changes. Not that I didn’t like the original shadow box, but I wanted to include some of the patches I kept as mementos of the places I was stationed. I also wanted to arrange the ribbons, badges and name tag the way they usually appear over the pocket of a blue uniform jacket, and I wanted to hang my dog tags in there, too. So I pretty much changed it completely, okay, that’s true, but it was a great shadow box in the first place, honestly. I loved it and wouldn’t have changed it at all if it hadn’t fallen apart.

I made just one other teeny-weeny little change and that was changing the fabric on the backboard. It used to be a single piece of blue felt. I thought the patches and the dog tags would look a little out of place against that background, so I split it in half. On the left, I used a panel of woodland camouflage fabric I cut out of the back of an old BDU shirt I still had hanging in the closet. On the right, I replaced the blue felt with a panel of Air Force blue fabric cut from an old polyester Class-A jacket that I would never ever wear again in a million years, not because I’m anti-support-our-troops but because the polyester jacket sucked great big unlubricated bowling balls. I’ve still got my poly-wool jacket with all the ribbons and bling attached, so if I had to suit up again, I could wear that. Heaven help us all if Uncle Sam is ever desperate enough to ask me to suit up again.

To make sure the little bits and bobs didn’t fall off the backboard again, I hot-glued the shit out of every single thing in there. Hot glue two things together and they stay together. Gravity as a force is lame-o compared to hot glue. I hot-glued the fabric to the backboard, then I hot-glued the patches and ribbons, badges and other bling to the fabric. Hurricane Katrina could not tear this thing apart now.

The only thing left is to figure out where to mount it. There’s precious little wall space in my basement lair, at least for right now. I want to re-arrange things down there anyway, so maybe this is the time. See, this is how little things, like fixing up a busted shadow box, turn into big things, like rearranging my basement lair. I’ll probably still be feeling the aftershocks of this project twelve months from now.

The rest of the evening was pretty typical: Pick up My Darling B from work, sit down to a pleasant dinner, then hit the floorboards for a dance lesson that I had a hard time absorbing for some reason, probably because I didn’t do much all day and was almost too relaxed.

Let The Unemployment Begin! | 9:32 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, bicycling, books, coffee, daily drivel, dance, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
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Monday, June 21st, 2010

Today is the first day of my last week at the bank! I’m still debating myself as to whether that’s a good thing or a very, very bad thing.

When I reminisce about the adventure we went on after I retired from the Air Force (exactly five years ago at the end of this month!) and came back to the States, the excitement of those days is still fresh in my mind. There was quite a lot of uncertainty in it, so much that I lay awake on more than a few nights wondering how we were going to get by, but I’m wired for worry. It comes naturally to me. After sun-up we were on the move, heading to the local branch of the library, where we had time reserved on their computers to submit the applications we’d prepared the day before, then used the rest of our time to search for new vacancies. I didn’t have time to be worried then, and the thrill of doing something completely new was just amazing. That’s when it seems like a good thing.

But there are still those nights … I’m wired for worry, remember? … if I spend any time thinking about what a stinkhole the economy’s still in, I get into a deeply-worn rut wondering if the excitement of this job search is going to be anywhere near as amazing, or just plain terrifying instead.

I’m hoping to secure employment somewhere outside the world of finance, by the way. I think I’ve neglected to mention that. My bad, sorry. The banking gig was enough of a challenge to be fun while it lasted, but I’m looking for something completely different this time. My goal is a career change so complete it will utterly eclipse the last one, the one where I retired from a life-long career as a non-commissioned officer in one of the most powerful military organizations on the planet to become an administrator and troubleshooter in the cubicle maze of a basement office.

I’ll let you know how that works out. Watch this space.

countdown | 9:12 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Munich TDYOne of the really great things about my job in the military was that they sent me back to tech school every once in a while, which might sound like a drag to you, but I promise it’s not. Here, for instance, is a photo from the first time they sent me to tech school. I was stationed in England and the tech school was in Munich, Germany. Pretty awesome, no?

I don’t remember who snapped this photo or how it came into my possession, but I remember that it was an an icebreaker during the first week we were at school. The students lived in apartments that had the look of what might have been two-bedroom married quarters with a full kitchen, bath and living area. After this night we would gather weekly in somebody apartment to party, because in Germany they would deliver beer to your doorstep the way milk was once delivered here in the States. When you’re young and out in the great big world on your own, what more encouragement do you need?

The guy in the middle, believe it or not, is yours truly. There really was a time, about 4.5 million years ago according to the latest carbon dating techniques, when I was that young. It still amazes me.

The guy on the far left is Bob Brandriff. This was a guy who liked to party as much as anything else. That’s not a criticism, that’s praise. He knew what he liked, and he did it. And I admired him for it, because I hoped that one day I would unclench my butt and be as easygoing as he was. It could happen. I’m still hoping.

I forget the name of the guy tugging on Bob’s ear. I believe he was a squid, but that’s all I can dredge up from my feeble memory about him. “Squid” is what we used to call Navy guys. They called us “wingnuts.”
I had a huge crush on the girl who appears to be checking out my neck and tried everything I could think of to make my lips say anything to her more intelligible that “beweeble babble dooble bee,” but I couldn’t do it. I can’t remember her name now.

The guy on the far right is Seth Cochran. Several years later I ran into him again in Denver, Colorado, or thought I did. After working one or two nights with a guy who looked an awful lot like him I asked if he’d ever been to the tech school in Munich. He said no, but his twin brother had been. It’s a small world sometimes, but that’s positively microscopic.

wingnut | 3:33 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, work
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Thursday, January 17th, 2002

Today will mark one full set of day watches with the new LT. It’s been a baptism by fire.

We started out with the fiasco of Airman Woods, an uncertified op, training Airman Pedersen; then we had the fiasco when SN Judd’s records hit the front office with no training documented. We’re still getting fallout from the explosion that the Morse aisle set off when they vaulted into 1st place in the Stats Wars. And yesterday I watched him [the LT] fight off SMSgt Holland on the subject of Bennett’s EPR.

Even with flames up his backside, Lt Griffin’s a very cool customer. Not very happy with the fiascos, but very cool. Getting an LT who was prior enlisted can be a plus or a minus; I’m sure Lt Griffin has his minuses, but to date he’s been careful to show us only his pluses.

[11/30/14: In the short time that Second Lieutenant Griffin was Dawg’s watch officer, we got quite a few messes cleaned up. If only he’d stuck around a little longer before he left for a day shop desk.]

Days with LT Griffin | 11:43 am CST
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Sunday, January 13th, 2002

Seaman Judd pointed out to me that, because she’s on the First Aid Team, she’s carried on the rolls as “SN Judd, FAT.” She added that, at her last station, she was on the first aid team for the stern section, so she was “SN Judd, FAT STERN.” She figures it’s only a matter of time before some wag figures out a way to expand ASS to a usable acronym.

FAT | 7:55 am CST
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Friday, January 11th, 2002

I’m rapidly approaching the time when I dread reporting to work while the day shop is in. One more example of little to no documentation in training records landed us all in the shitter again today. They say it rolls downhill, so I set fire to every block controller’s ass. It’ll take weeks to shake everybody into line on this, though. I may be alcoholic by then.

(“Do you drink?” Godwin asked me, during one of our meetings. I shook my head. “I give you six months; you’ll be drinking heavily.” Very encouraging.)

six months | 7:53 am CST
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Tuesday, January 8th, 2002

Shoddy training records … uncertified ops signing for JQS items … no certified ops in the section … and the Superintendent of J34 calling the Watch Officer into her office, as well as the Mission Soup, the CHFS and anybody else worthy of a good ass-chewing. I’ve had better days.

better days | 10:49 am CST
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Monday, January 7th, 2002

The Morse aisle has managed not only to boost their stats to their highest levels in 16 months, but they’ve managed to take first place over three other flights, also the first time in over a year. To celebrate, day workers from all offices came out to clap Mark Ursich on the back and offer other congratulations. Also asked how he cheated to do it.

I’ve never liked the shift-worker/day-shop rivalry that existed at every single site I’ve been stationed. It always seemed to be a counter-productive negativism that was easily overcome with just a little understanding. I’m starting to think, however, that this place may surpass my ability to understand.

[11/30/14: There was a day shop with the job of tracking everything we did, then presenting the statistics every Monday morning to the commander. The operators on all four flights knew every trick to inflate their statistics, but on Dawg flight we didn’t resort to tricks, we just did the job. Unsurprisingly, Dawg did not do very well in what were called the “stats wars.” But during this one set of watches, Mark Ursich did such a savvy job of managing his team that they were out in front of all the others. To recognize his leadership, he was half-jokingly accused by almost everyone in day shop of gaming the system. And that’s why I was so puzzled.]

stats wars | 11:48 am CST
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Friday, January 4th, 2002

I’ve probably mentioned to you that I work in poorly-heated rooms. Turns out I was wrong. The place where I work doesn’t, in fact, have any heat at all. None. The building was designed back when computing equipment generated so much heat you could barbecue ribs over them, so the builders installed Godzilla-sized air-conditioning units that ran full-blast, day and night, even in the winter. Now all of that equipment has been replaced by desk-top computers, which are warm, but not nearly warm enough to thaw your fingers after they’ve gone blue and numb, something that happens to me regularly at work.

In every refrigerated place I’ve worked, we’ve complained about the cold, not necessarily because the kind of people I work with are complainers – they are, but it’s more because we’re expected to type a lot, which gets hard to do when you can’t feel your fingertips. The complaints start out as grumbles at first, but by mid-winter we’re openly bitching to whoever will listen. Shortly after that, The Powers That Be whip out the thermometers. It always turns out to be about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds like a balmy spring day, but even though everybody realizes that we don’t work out in the sunshine, The Powers That Be seem to be using a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “32 is freezing. 64 is twice that number! Heck, that’s practically hot!”

I’m very protective of my body heat. It’s a safe bet you probably don’t want to hear about my underwear, but I’m going to mention that, even though I pad my clothes with several layers of polypropylene and wool, it’s barely enough to keep my blood circulating. I was talking to Richard Bennett and mentioned that after I get home from working a mid, I stand in a hot shower for about twenty minutes or I don’t feel human. “But what’s that got to do with the heat?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.

hvac | 7:33 pm CST
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Saturday, December 29th, 2001

The Air Force gave me an official e-mail account so it could send me pictures of horribly mutilated and dead people. Used to be, I would’ve had to go to war to see disfigured corpses smeared with gore; now, I can study them over a cup of tea from the comfort of my desk. Thank goodness for technology.

The question you’re naturally asking yourself now, presuming you have the stomach to keep reading this not-very-funny drivel, is: Why would the Air Force send me pictures of bloody death? Am I engaged in some new study of battlefield action? No, this has nothing to do with the Air Force’s official business of blowing up stuff with big bombs. Last night’s e-mail, filled with distressingly detailed close-ups of children horribly injured in road accidents, was sent to everybody at work in the hope that it would somehow discourage excessive drinking over the holidays. I may be wrong, but I suspect those pictures will instead make many people want to drink a whole lot more than usual. I know after seeing them, I sure want to.

This is the fourth time in four months that somebody working for an Air Force safety office has sent me photos like this in the name of making the world better for all of us, bless their hearts. Shortly after arriving here, I had to sit through a safety briefing that bored me numb, then ended with a short film clip of a pedestrian hit by one car, then another, as he crossed the road. The moral of the story, which my mother taught me years ago, was “Look both ways.” If memory serves, Mom somehow got the same message across without the scared-straight video.

A winter safety brief featured pictures of people’s mutilated limbs, blackened by gangrene from frostbite, or chopped into little pieces after operating a snow blower without reading the operator’s manual. So the message I’m getting from the Air Force, over and over ad nauseum, is that people are stupid. Or have misinterpreted?

ad nauseum | 7:17 pm CST
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Thursday, December 27th, 2001

I had to take the DLPT this morning. It was Test C, the one I always seem to get, and by this time I can answer about a dozen of the questions without hearing the audio or reading the text. For about a dozen more, I have to listen or skim for key words. If I’d studied, I probably would’ve kicked ass, but I have to admit I’ve been very bad, so I probably won’t be getting much FLPP this year, if at all.

[11/26/14: DLPT was the “Defense Language Proficiency Test,” a yearly test that was supposed to determine how well I understood the Russian language. There were three or four versions of the test, hence “Test C.” All three or four versions were written maybe a decade or two before I joined the Air Force and never changed; by 2001 I had most of the questions memorized, but not all the answers. FLPP was “Foreign Language Proficiency Pay,” a monthly stipend awarded to anyone who did well on the test. I think I got about fifty bucks a month for knowing the test as well as I did.]

flip | 5:48 am CST
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Monday, December 24th, 2001

Today’s that magical day – yes, it’s the day we start a new work cycle, our first mid. For the next two weeks I’ll become a completely different person, working all night, sleeping all day. For several days at a stretch, I won’t see some of my family for more than fifteen minutes, and some of them I won’t see at all for days. Mids get pretty surreal sometimes.

Dawg flight relieved Charlie for the Christmas mid watch, and after SSgt Baker gave me the pass-down, we settled into the usual small talk: how’d the break go, what’s up with the family, that kind of thing. As the conversation fell into a lull and he seemed ready to put on his coat and go, I said something like, “Better get on home, sleep well,” the usual things I say to let somebody go, then I just barely remember to add, “Merry Christmas.” He settled back into his seat and said, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.”

It was a funny thing to say because I’d been feeling the same way for a while. I know it’s been said plenty already, but the holiday season starts way too darned soon. I had to buy a Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving or do without one, so the poor thing was a dead twig by Christmas eve. Then all through the build-up, hardly anybody seemed to be in the mood. It was a surprise to me whenever I heard, “Merry Christmas,” which wasn’t often.

Then on Christmas eve, My Darling B made the same remark: “Christmas doesn’t feel the same this year.” Maybe that was the essence of it, that it did feel like Christmas, but the way Christmas feels had changed, like so many other feelings, in the last six months.

un-Christmas | 6:33 am CST
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2001

B said a funny thing to me the other night – I don’t remember it verbatim, or even how it came up, but she said something about “when I’m the first sergeant.”

“Now what is that supposed to mean?” I asked her. “You want me to be a first sergeant?”

“I didn’t say I wanted that,” she answered.

“You know I’ve thought about it, but geeze, the crud a shirt’s got to put up with …”

“There’s good stuff, too,” she pointed out. “And you could be the one who makes a difference in an airman’s career.”

We didn’t say much more about it than that, but it stuck in my mind because she brought it up; I hadn’t even thought about it for weeks, maybe months – certainly not since I took a crash-dive into the pleasures of being a supervisor over just three airmen. The one airman and the several trips I’ve made to take care of her infractions on my days off have made me think hard about whether or not the game is worth the candle. On the other hand, I have been able to do some pretty cool stuff for the other airmen – nothing super-cool yet, but stuff that made me feel as though I was accomplishing something.

I’ve thought of asking to see the shirt to talk to him about this. Trouble with putting a bug in somebody’s ear over something like this, is that once you’ve mentioned it, there’s no going back. It could happen that I’d end up being a shirt with dizzying speed. There’s also PCS to look at: Shirts go away to a training school, and some of them change station more often than they change underwear. Moves are becoming harder for me to deal with, not easier.

shirt | 7:12 pm CST
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Thursday, December 13th, 2001

I ran two and a half miles at PT this morning and my ankle hardly hurts at all. When we started doing mando PT three times a week, I had tendonitis around my left ankle something horrible – ankle was swollen, hard to walk up the stairs, gulped aspirin to kill the pain & keep the swelling down. Four weeks later, I stretch a little before I get on the treadmill, run thirty minutes, and I’m good to go. All they require is that we do thirty minutes of aerobic activity, so they get thirty minutes from me. Not thirty-one. Working out at the gym bores my ass off. I usually spend the whole time making a mental list of all the things I’d rather be doing, and the list gets pretty long in thirty minutes.

tendonitis | 7:03 am CST
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My Darling B and I had a pretty good time at the Christmas party last night. The dinner was so-so, the games were kinda fun – but listen to this: While we were waiting at the bar to get some drinks, Senior Master Sergeant Gorrell stepped up, introduced himself to B, and made a little small talk. Nice of him. After he left, B and I stood around for a while, trying to figure out where to sit. A table in the front corner was wide open, nobody else sitting there, so we moved in on two good seats and sat down with our drinks. Who should come over and ask to sit down but SMSgt Gorrell? Of course we’re going to say okay. After he’d been sitting a while, Lieutenant Colonel Burns, commanding officer of my squadron, comes over to say hi to us, then asks if he could sit with us, too. Just FYI, SMSgt Gorrell works in LtCol Burns’ office. Can’t say no to the colonel. Then along comes Chief Master Sergeant Gething and his wife; the Chief works in the orderly room, although to be honest, I don’t know what his job is. They sit down just before the 1st Sergeant, SMSgt Johnson, and his wife come over. So now B and I are seated at a table with all the senior NCOs of the unit and the commander of the 301st Intel Squadron, and I’m thinking I’ll probably have to listen to shit all week about what a brown-noser I am.

Christmas party | 7:01 am CST
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Friday, December 7th, 2001

I work with a guy, Mark Ursich, who has three small kids. The other day he was complaining to MSgt Godwin about how much time he had to spend keeping them from fighting and looking after them, and said something like, “At least you’ve got teenagers; they pretty much take care of themselves.” Godwin and I looked at each other and just about busted a gut laughing. Ursich didn’t get it. When we could draw breath again, we tried to explain that, if he thinks his teenaged kids will take care of themselves, he’s a guy who’s setting himself up for a big disappointment. About the last thing kids learn to do for themselves is wipe their butts; after that, their IQ seems to actually diminish. My oldest boy follows people around the house turning off lamps as they leave the room, on the theory that saving so little as a watt of electricity will benefit the world, but he’ll leave the front door open in the middle of winter while he takes out the trash. And just try to get a teenager to wash dishes or clothes. Might as well wait for bags of money to fall from the sky.

bubble popped | 6:50 am CST
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Saturday, December 1st, 2001

If I never mentioned my job here, it’s because I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it. The past couple months have been like a crash course in what supervising’s all about. They put me on a flight that’s had a lot of trouble pulling together in the past, and is still having some trouble, but there’s been a huge turnover in personnel this season. I’m not the only newbie on flight by a long shot – the Mission Soup[1] is new, one of the block controllers[2] is new, and about two-thirds of the ops[3] are new. Senior leadership has sort of handed it to us to remake Dawg flight,[4] even while we remain the butt of jokes.

I’m the only TSgt on the operations floor, so I picked up three troops to supervise right off the bat. One of them’s a hard-charging Levitow award winner,[5] one of them’s mediocre, and one is considered by just about everybody with more than five stripes to be a ‘problem child.’ I think her biggest problem has been bad supervision and a tendency to procrastinate; I know she’s smart and can do better. Trouble is, she’s determined to get out in twelve short months. I’d like to leave her with a better impression of the Air Force than she has now. The Levitow winner is a challenge equally as huge – how do I make sure he gets everything he deserves from his career? I worry about dropping the ball.

Because I’m a TSgt, the Mission Soup put me in a management slot, overseeing the HF floor.[6] I not only had a big job to take on, I had to learn just what the heck it was my own darned self, because my trainer, the previous Chief HFS, thought that the job was mostly about socializing and taking CBT courses during duty hours instead of showing me what to do.[7] I’m sure I still don’t know half the ins and outs. I’ve supervised an ops floor on a smaller scale, but that was a while ago and, as I remember (maybe my memory is going), it wasn’t anything like this. This job moves at a mile a minute; there’s never a dull moment.[8]

Where am I going with this? I really don’t know. The largest part of my job seems to be putting out fires, and that comes right after trying to plan ahead so the fires never get started in the first place (Don’t laugh. I can dream). After that, I’m just trying to take care of people, and that’s damn near impossible, too. Only a few of the supervisors are taking the job seriously; too many good airmen are falling through the cracks, so on top of trying to make sure the mission gets done, I get to try to straighten that out, too.[9]

[10/22/2014: Time for some boring details:

I worked in an office that operated round-the-clock. I call it an “office” because it was indoors. Our work unit was really many units that worked together.

1. The Mission Superintendent was called “mission soup” – that’s just how it was pronounced; it was not meant as a slam against his character. At least not that I know of. The Mission Superintendent made sure everybody did what they were supposed to do; he (or she) was a non-commissioned officer. At Misawa, the mission soup was a USAF Master Sergeant or a Navy Chief Petty Officer. There were no Army Mission Superintendents while I was there.

2. The operations floor was divided into work units called “blocks,” and a non-commissioned officer, usually a Staff Sergeant, was put in charge of each block. They were known as a block controllers.

3. The airman who worked in each block were referred to as operators, or “ops.”

4. A squadron is made up of two or more flights. Instead of being numbered, they were named A, B, C or D. I have never heard of a squadron with more than four flights. When I was in the Air Force, they were still using the old phonetic alphabet to refer to flights, so they were called Able, Baker, Charlie and Dawg.

5. John Levitow was the youngest non-commissioned officer in the USAF to be awarded the medal of honor. The Levitow Award is given to one person in each class in leadership development school.

6. “The HF floor” was four blocks working together.

7. Not exaggerating even a little bit here. My predecessor spend her time during duty hours finishing her on-line college courses and gossiping with her friends.

8. I remembered that wrong. My previous job supervising an ops floor was in Denver. Compared to Misawa, that was like supervising the demigods from Mount Olympus.

9. I think this was originally written as a letter to somebody, maybe my brother, and then expanded on when I wrote it as a blog post.

Footnotes. Really. In a blog. How pretentious.]

footnotes | 4:04 pm CST
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Friday, November 30th, 2001

373rd IG held a monthly promotion ceremony this afternoon. I’ve never been to one like this before. Actually, the only promotion ceremony I’ve ever been to was one for a co-worker who pinned on major; I’ve never seen promotions for airmen and NCOs celebrated like this, which is another crying shame.

Once again, the turnout was great. I don’t know if that’s because it was “highly encouraged,” or because of genuine interest, but I was in the back with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd. Once again, the ceremony was mostly formal and quiet until the promotees rose to accept their new stripes. I say “mostly formal” because LtCol Burns was asked to make a few remarks and ended up telling stories about each of his troops, and when Chief Gething came forward to administer the NCO oath to the SSgt-selects, he livened up what some people make out to be a dull chore by ensuring the selects spoke with a purpose. After they timidly responded to “I, state your name,” the Chief turned to the crowd and asked, “Can you hear them?” “NO!” the crowd shouted back. They did better.

Then they marched to the front of the room one by one to get their stripes tacked on. This is going by the wayside in so many corners of the military because apparently many people think it’s cruel, but I noticed nobody raised an objection today. In fact, I noticed the SSgts all asked their friends and supervisors to tack on their stripes, and so far as I could tell, every NCO relished getting tacked on, even the poor girl who could barely raise her arm to salute the colonel afterwards. Several would have gotten away with just a tap when their children or their spouses tacked their stripes on, but Chief Gething and Chief Lucero called the biggest NCOs out of the audience to make sure it was done right.

I had mixed feelings about the ceremony; it was quite a morale boost, but SrA Ball was supposed to be there to get her stripe, and was not. LtCol Burns decided to withhold her stripe until he can see that she has straightened up and will fly right. I went to his office at oh-dark-thirty this morning to hear his decision, then returned at nine to be there when he told SrA Ball. It was a very formal meeting; she took it very professionally, then we went to an outer office where she struggled over an emotionally rocky meeting with the Shirt. After he left, I stayed behind to talk with her until she composed herself to leave. On the good side, she seemed genuinely remorseful, and worried that she’d disappointed the colonel. I was just a tad worried that she might cop an attitude and walk away huffy.

[11/22/14: Getting stripes “tacked on” is one of those weird military traditions that borders on abuse. If I were promoted to Staff Sergeant, anybody in my unit who outranked me could “tack on” my stripes by punching them, usually in a buddy-buddy kind of way, but in every unit there were assholes you never saw before who showed up to punch you as hard as they could. At promotion ceremonies, sometimes the two most senior enlisted people would tack on stripes; sometimes the commander would take part; and sometimes the whole damned squadron would line up to tack on stripes.

Some of the people who were promoted at the ceremony I described above asked if they could have their wives and children tack on their stripes, and the commander allowed that, but then the senior enlisted people lined up to tack them on, too, and the newly-promoted could hardly say no.

I gained quite a bit of respect for Airman Ball after the commander held back her stripe. She pulled herself together and was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the next cycle.]

promotion ceremony | 12:57 pm CST
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Thursday, November 29th, 2001

I went to the Airman Leadership School graduation in the evening, a lot more fun that the Air Force Ball, but then about anything short of a root canal would have been, so I could have phrased it better.

The 373rd IG was there in force, and it seemed like just about every one of us was very, ah, enthusiastic about being there. Colonel Mitzell later characterized us as “obnoxious, but damned proud of who we are,” and he got applause for that.

Everything was formal and quiet during the social hour and through the dinner. Then it came time to hand out the diplomas. Each time a 373rd student was called to the stage, he was met by a thunder of spoons clattering on tables; F-16s taking off from the flight line next door would have been drowned out. After they received their diplomas and walked off the stage, Col Mitzell called out in a lusty baritone, “373rd IG!” and all the guests from the group would holler back, “IN THE FIGHT!” – the colonel’s pet phrase.

This rousing display of esprit de corps completely baffled the A1Cs and SrAs I was sitting with; they hardly knew what to think. They’d obviously never seen anything like it at an Air Force function, a crying shame, if you ask me. Looks like it’s about time this unit had a combat dining-in.

in the fight | 12:30 pm CST
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Tuesday, November 27th, 2001

Here’s a quick catch-up, to answer any questions you might have on what’s up with the O-Folk: We’re living on base in a pretty nice place, very new, lots of room, warm and dry. What more could a family want? I’ve got a job yelling at airmen, which keeps me pretty busy coz lots of them need yelling at. I’m also still working shift, which is not so bad in some ways, but when I’m on mids I hardly see my family and by the end of the mids rotation I have to carry cue cards so I remember names and birth dates. The good thing is when I get time off with the clan, it’s usually a good, long time and we can go to a couple different things, a festival and a trip to the coast, for instance. B’s doing everything else. She’s taking a class in Japanese at University of Maryland; she’s coaching soccer; she’s helping part-time at the post office; and she still does odd jobs around the house, cooking meals and helping the kids with homework, that kind of thing. Tim and Sean are plugging away in school, and doing pretty well. Tim helps out at the animal shelter on base, and just about all Sean’s spare time is spent at wrestling practice. He made junior varsity this week, and this weekend they go to Yakota or Iwakuni or some place hell and gone from here on a road trip. We’re all healthy and pretty happy and adjusting to life on a military post in a place where we’re so utterly different from the local population that answering yes or no to a simple question is an exhaustingly diplomatic exercise, or at least it is for me. B’s just about got it down cold.

November Wrap-Up | 10:20 am CST
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I did my PT this morning after the mid watch, and it sucked every bit as much as I thought it would. Mid watches are at least thirteen hours for me, because senior supervisors have to stay behind to brief the commander; rank hath its privileges.

Everybody’s supposed to get flu shots today, but it would’ve required me to drive back to Security Hill on icy roads through snow flurries after I’d been awake for more than thirty hours, so I opted for the safety of my bed.

commander’s call | 10:19 am CST
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Petty Officer Franklin is an op on my crew who works eight-hour nights because she’s pregnant, so on mids she’ll mosey over to my desk at about two in the morning to tell me she’s going home for the night. Last night, though, she came over about ten-thirty.

“Sgt O, if it’s all right with you, I’m going home at midnight,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty bad.”

I asked her if she was going to the hospital, by which I meant sick call.

“No, they just send you home if the contractions are more than five minutes apart, and mine are seven, but they’re starting to hurt pretty bad.”

I said something like, “You’re having CONTRACTIONS?” and I may have broken a sweat.

It somehow turned out that Petty Officer Moran, pregnant as well, was also experiencing labor pains about seven minutes apart. All this in the middle of the first snow flurries of the season, making roads to Security Hill slippery. I could just see ambulances sliding across icy roads into the ditch, and panicky airmen (that includes me) trying to deliver babies on the operations floor with a first-aid kit and my wits.

contractions | 10:17 am CST
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MSgt Godwin came in with a big grump on tonight. SSgt Ursich is pretty good at reading his moods, and gave me the heads-up as soon as he saw Godwin. “Here he comes,” he said under his breath, “he’s got his hands on his hips and that look on his face.” Sure enough, we got chewed because nobody responded to the call for the snow removal team, and then he called us over for a powwow at his desk because nobody had submitted award write-ups on their subordinates.

To be fair to Godwin, he’s not a grump; he likes to joke and grab-ass as much as any of the airmen, and he genuinely wants to be your friend but, unless I’ve misjudged him – and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that, would it? – he’s a sergeant of the old school who expects things to get done when he says, “do it!” His favorite phrase, in fact, is, “make that happen,” and if you don’t, he gets understandably miffed. His temper is perhaps on a hair trigger, but so far I like and respect him.

[11/22/14: Reading this again, I can see Godwin standing hands on hips, head tilted forward so he could properly scowl at us from under his eyebrows as he chewed us out in short-clipped phrases. He could do almost everything right about ass-chewing, but he wore a Charlie Chaplin moustache that only got more comical-looking as he got angrier. It kinda worked against him in that one particular situation.]

hands on hips | 10:01 am CST
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Thursday, November 22nd, 2001

It’s funny, and reassuring in a traditional way, that Thanksgiving is the one holiday that the government hasn’t fudged around. On holidays like this one, the operations floor usually goes to minimum manning, keeping just a skeleton crew. I slept in this morning by arrangement, and when I got in at about noon, Shawn Bryant, the guy who sat in my spot, went home to his family.

The place was nearly deserted when I got there. We were supposed to have a pig-in, so I was carrying a casserole, even though I figured there wouldn’t be anybody to eat it and besides, we were all going home to eat dinner that evening, anyway. Who’d want to stuff themselves at work, then go home to eat more?

Wow, did I figure that wrong. MSgt Godwin brought in a 30 lb. turkey, somebody else brought in a baked ham, and with my casserole there were about a half-dozen home-cooked items on the table. The Dawgs tore through them like they’d just been released from six months in a prison camp, leaving overturned bowls, crumbs and greasy smears behind on the table.

Our dinner at home was wonderful. Barb fixed a fairly simple dinner this time, with a big turkey, baked potatoes, rice, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. We have that last one every year for the same reason that my Mom cuts the ends off the roast: Because we’ve always done it that way. We ate by candle light and had a long, relaxed meal, knowing that we could all stay up late because none of us had to get up early in the morning.

Thanksgiving | 5:41 am CST
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Wednesday, November 21st, 2001

Rode the bus to work this morning. The base runs two bus routes up to the north area and back which almost nobody uses. I don’t use it much, but when I do, I’m usually the only one on it. The drivers are usually Japanese. They must think that’s one lunatic job, driving an empty bus round and round the base all day.

[10/20/2014: The “north area” of Misawa Air Base was anything north of the runway: a housing area, a gym, a store, and just about all of the Japanese air force’s stuff. We lived in the housing area on the south side of the base which, if memory serves, was called simply “main base.” I worked in an entirely different part of the base that was off on a spit of land to the west. The only way to get to it was to drive about five miles around the end of the runway, through a forest and across a causeway. We had just one car at first, so on days when B needed the car to go somewhere, I took one of the two buses that ran circles around the base, and they were almost always empty. I’m not kidding. I was very often the only guy on a sixty-passenger bus. The white-gloved Japanese drivers spoke no English, not that that was a problem: all drivers pulled over at every bus stop and opened the door, whether somebody was waiting there or not. Most often not. They would wait a couple beats, then close the door and drive away. This made a trip to work – normally a ten-minute drive – drag out over a half-hour. I usually brought a book, or napped.]

base bus | 5:24 am CST
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Tuesday, November 20th, 2001

A day off? How’d that happen?

I checked out the Base Honor Guard this morning during their weekly practice, to see what the entrance requirements were and how often they performed. Honor Guard is something I’ve always wanted to take part in, but I’m thinking this is the wrong time for it. Besides the weekly mandatory practice sessions, they sometimes perform several times a week. I’m a fast-moving target right now trying to keep up with work, supervising, PT and keeping in touch with my family. I can’t see shoehorning one more activity into my regular schedule and keeping it all balanced. Think I’ll have to put this on the back burner and get to it later, if I can get to it at all.

Then I went to PT. This is becoming bad for the tendon over my left ankle, which is swollen and painful; must have tendonitis from pounding the treadmill and cranking the stationary bike. Think I’ll spend the next two days sitting at my desk on my narrow butt, gulping aspirin.

But for the rest of the day, even though I had errands to run, I tried not to do a whole lot. I took the library books back and got the mail, but I turned that into a reason to stroll in the crisp autumn air. I did the crossword and the cryptoquip while washing the clothes. I fixed a door, but that was pretty much mindless work, which is a pleasure after the brain-crunching of writing an EPR. I made calzones for dinner. I’ll probably spend the rest of the week farting the cheese out of my system, but what the hell, sometimes you gotta satisfy your lust.

a day off | 5:06 am CST
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Monday, November 19th, 2001

Got hailed at the Dawg flight Hail & Farewell, where I sat all night NOT drinking beer. Wasn’t thinking ahead when I volunteered to be a designated driver. Like the Air Force Ball, this get-together was a bit of a disappointment for me, but this time mostly because I’m the new guy. Without any common ground, it’s hard to stay with the conversation; not for the first time in my life, I’ve thought that I may have to take up football or baseball just so I can do something other than sit there like a slack-jawed ignoramus when somebody tries to jump-start the conversation by asking me, “Did you see the game last night?” I get such a kick out of the way the game is automatically about football. If I started talking sumo or rugby, somehow I’d be the weirdo.

[11/21/14: A guy at the hail & farewell introduced himself to My Darling B, said they used to work together up on the hill. “Remember me?” he kept on asking, but no matter how many different ways he tried to remind her of where they worked and what they did, she could not get the neurons to fire so that she could recall who this guy was. He left us utterly deflated. Weirdly, this same scene would play out the other way around when B and I went to her favorite noodle shop and the owner, who she seemed to remember as a good friend, had no idea who she was.]

hail & farewell | 4:44 am CST
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And I was having such a good day today.

It started off with PT, which is boring but not too bad, and I had to go in to work right after that, but I went in happily because I was writing up a letter of appreciation for a troop who was doing such uncommonly good work on duty that it was a crime not to recognize him by giving him a one-day pass. I finished by visiting a few office heads to tie up some loose ends, then set off to pick up B from school. I was already light of heart, but seeing her smiling face somehow lifted me even higher.

After we came home from the commissary, I went straight into the house to answer the ringing telephone and, in an almost magical moment, that is to say a moment afflicted by a curse, my hand paused over the receiver and I said out loud to myself, “Do I really want to answer this?” But, shaking off the fear as irrational and stupid, I picked up the phone and said hello to the NCOIC of Operations, SMSgt Holland, who was looking for SrA Ball’s supervisor. Lucky me. SMSgt Holland had a few curt words to say about SrA Ball’s conduct and then left the matter for me to resolve immediately.

I supervise just three people, which means that I’m supposed to look after them personally and professionally; not just write regular evaluations, but provide them insights to military life that will lead to their appreciation of the Air Force. I’m supposed to ensure the good ones to stick to their standards, and to encourage the not-so-good ones to do better.

I have to encourage SrA Ball. This is challenging in so many ways, first and foremost because she, like many airmen new to military culture, has a tendency toward flippant familiarity bordering on insubordination, which is not a bad thing if it can be controlled and used to foster positive traits such as self-determination.

Communication is also a problem, because it’s nearly always a one-way stream of almost nothing but self-criticism, and wow, the girl can talk. Weapons experts the world over can only dream of delivering the kind of rapid fire SrA Ball routinely uses. I have to forcibly break in to every conversation I have with her to get any kind of message across, and I feel pretty rude about doing it, but unless I do, little communication takes place, if any at all.

Probably the next biggest challenge is representing her to command staff – well, to anybody above me, really. From what I can tell, she’s alienated just about everybody on site with four stripes or more. I don’t know what to do about SrA Ball except just keep listening to her stories, and keep documenting every incident she gets involved in.

[11/20/14: Somehow, I left out the best part of this day, the phone conversation I had with airman Ball immediately after the NCOIC of Ops directed me in no uncertain terms to straighten her shit out. Her infraction this time, as best as I can remember it, was a string of parking tickets she had put off paying for a leetle bit too long.

Ball was attending Airman Leadership School at the time and it must have stressed her out a bit more than usual, although almost everything stressed out airman Ball. She was in class when I called the school, so I left a message and when she called me back she was apoplectic with rage when she found out why I was calling, and I mean she was screaming into the receiver so loudly that she probably didn’t need a telephone to get her message across. If I’d stood at my open front door, I might have heard what she was saying from the other side of the base.

When she was done venting, and it took a while, I directed her to pay the parking tickets, then report to me at work that evening with a copy of the receipt in hand. I tried to keep it brief because I was speaking through clenched teeth and didn’t trust myself to say much else. If I recall correctly, she did manage to take care of the tickets the same day, and I think she even apologized to me later for blowing up on the phone. Oh, the joys of supervising.]

joys of supervising | 4:38 am CST
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Sunday, November 18th, 2001

I may be wrong, but I think the Dawgies are starting to settle down to work.

I expected a bit more rowdiness over weekend day watches, when there wasn’t as much to do and everybody was in that weekend mood. Not much trouble at all, though, and in fact several of the ops are doing outstanding work.

After the watch, Mark Ursich told me a bunch of Dawgs were going to get together at Viking for a bite. Viking is an all-you-can-eat place, where you pick out what you want from prepared food and cook the meats back at your table on a gas grill. I tried salmon sushi (okay, so you don’t cook that), marinated lamb, some kind of beef strip, and the usual Japanese stuff I love like gyoza and miso.

I love eating at Japanese restaurants, but there was one hitch to eating at Viking. It had what I guess you’d call a traditional dining area, where you sat on the floor at short tables. I had to take off my shoes when I entered the dining area, and though the restaurant provided slippers to put on when I went to get more food, the biggest slippers they had are comically small on me. They went as far as the balls of my feet, and I had to shuffle across the floor with my toes clenched to keep them from falling off.

Dawgie chow | 4:34 am CST
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Saturday, November 17th, 2001

Shawn Bryant sat CHFS for me so I could leave about eleven o’clock to get ready for the Air Force Ball, my first chance to wear my mess dress here, and B’s first chance to go get her hair done again, and goodness, did they do her do. I knew she’d be in the beauty shop so I went straight from work down to the mall (yep, we’ve got a mall) and hung around waiting for her so she wouldn’t have to walk home in the rain. When she finally came out of there, two flippin’ hours later, her hair was piled in a curly coif that took her an hour to undo. Now she’s talking about a short-haired perm, not that I blame her.

800 people showed up for the ball, and from what I could tell, it was just another night at the club, except that we dressed up for it. Well, some of us did. Some of the prom dresses that the wives wore made the night almost interesting; Barb and I spent most of the night wandering from room to room, pointing out fashion crimes and trying to decide how to describe them. Lots of tattoos on parade. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but a women who has a blue rose the size of a cantaloupe tattooed on her breast should probably rethink her decision to buy, let alone wear, a low-cut ball gown, and women with unidentifiable winged things tattooed across the backs of their necks probably shouldn’t go out.

[11/20/14: My goodness, I was an opinionated son of a bitch back then, wasn’t I? It’s like I didn’t know that people could get a tattoo if they wanted. But I wasn’t the only one in the Air Force with a stick up his butt: This year or the next, the higher-ups would enact new regulations that would prohibit airmen from displaying tattoos. They could get tattoos, but they had to be in places where they would be covered up while on duty. But that’s not why I dissed people with tattoos; it was most likely because I was an being an asshole. At Misawa, there were a lot of people from the generation that was starting to get tattooed. I was meeting them and their tattoos for the first time, and I didn’t know how to react. That’s typically when my assholishness tends to rise to the surface of my personality. Change does not come easily to me.]

a night at the ball | 4:23 am CST
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Friday, November 16th, 2001

I’m a certified Chief of HF Systems now. That means if anything goes wrong on the ops floor, the Mission Soup chews my ass first, which happens more often than you might think. The Soup, MSgt Godwin, is a teensy bit excitable; tends to go off like a hatful of nitroglycerine at the slightest provocation, scuttle back and forth across the ops floor, spewing expletives, until he gets it all out of his system. Giving him the chance to vent is written into my job description. When he’s not wound up, though, he’s a decent guy, and seems genuinely interested in making Dawg flight a good place to work.

[10/20/14: I’m not sure why I cut this so short. Godwin was a good guy. Gave me rides to work and back home all the time, told me stories on the way about his days as a crew member on a tanker or a cargo plane, one or the other. Tried his best to mentor me in The Ways Of The Air Force. I did not always take to his lessons, but looking back I can plainly see that I shoulda listened.]

scuttle? | 9:53 pm CST
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Wednesday, November 14th, 2001

First day of break between day watches, sort of. The flight’s PT-ing together now, which means that everybody on flight has to trudge over to the gym at least three times a week and sign in with the duty sergeant, go do something aerobic like play basketball or run on a treadmill, and then sign out. Most of the airmen don’t so much as try to pretend to work out; they get on a bike, for instance – if it’s broke, that’s perfect, but if it’s not, they put it on its lowest setting and pedal as slowly as they can for thirty minutes or so while they watch television. Sometimes they get off the bike after ten minutes or so and wander around as if they’re looking for something else to do. Airmen are so good at this that it should probably be considered an aerobic activity, although I rarely see many of them break a sweat. I get to be the duty sergeant next week, by the way.

There’s a definite nip in the air now, and not a friendly, bracing chill, more like a threat, really. We had our first snow of the season today. Barb says it snowed yesterday, but I didn’t see it and it didn’t stick, so I figure it doesn’t count. The world was white this morning and it came down on and off through the day, even though a lot of the stuff on the ground melted by afternoon.

break broken brunk | 5:55 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, November 13th, 2001

I don’t think I’ve said a word to you yet about my new diet, and this is as good a time as any.

I went to the doctor a few weeks because I get a lot of congestion in my head. The little gears turned in his witch doctor’s mind and he diagnosed me with some kind of twitching nasty that’s apparently caused by a reaction to corn and corn products. Doesn’t that just figure? So now I have to read every damn word on every ingredient label because nearly every processed food on your supermarket shelf has some kind of corn product in it. Go pick up a can of anything in your kitchen cupboard right now, and if it isn’t loaded with high fructose corn syrup, I’ll stand on my head in the center of town and sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. Ditto for dextrose, which is corn sugar. I’m used to simply buying what tastes good. Now I have to pay attention to what I’m eating. It’s almost like being a health nut.

soup to nuts | 5:51 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: ,
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