Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Our oldest son, Sean, was such a dedicated bookworm when he was a lad. When Sean’s nose was in a book, he was not very easily distracted from it. It’s not a stretch to say that you could drop a grand piano from a great height to crash land on the pavement right in front of him and the odds were pretty even he might not notice.

Or, to be a little less hyperbolic: Once Sean asked me for a ride, then very nearly got left standing on the curb when he failed to notice me shouting and waving at him, even though I was close enough to hit with the proverbial dead cat. (Is it still a proverb? I just realized I haven’t heard anyone say that in ages.)

We were living on an air force base in northern Japan at the time. The O-mobile was a Mitsubishi minivan, which is not as small as the work “mini” implies. It had room to seat six grown adults in spacious comfort and a four wheel drive gearbox that we put to use to climb mountain roads with some regularity. It was a vehicle that was not easily missed when it drove by, is what I’m getting at.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I saw there was a parking space at the end of the row, right across from the entrance where Sean was standing by the curb waiting. Score! I pulled in, parked, and looked across the road expectantly at Sean. He did not look up from the book he was reading.

I’m an easily-distracted person. When a moving object crosses my peripheral vision, I look up to see what it is. I’m fully aware this makes me look like a walking nervous tick but I can’t help myself. Whatever makes me do that, though, Sean is full of the antidote for it. The arrival of a big, dark, growling vehicle virtually within arm’s reach did not register at all on his radar.

Which I was used to so, after chuckling to myself, I leaned out the window and said his name, just loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the engine but not so loudly that I might startle him. He was that close. But, apparently, not close enough. I repeated his name, a bit louder this time. Still no response, so I shouted his name, thumping the side of the van with the flat of my hand to give it a little added oomph.

Still oblivious. Wow.

Running out of noise-making options, I laid on the horn, which jolted him out of his reverie so suddenly he almost jumped out of his shoes. Seemed just a trifle annoyed at having been beeped at, too. I explained to him that I’d tried just about everything else but I seem to recall he wasn’t mollified and I had to just let it go.

book meet nose | 8:39 pm CST
Category: damn kids!, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, Seanster, story time | Tags: ,
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Friday, January 18th, 2002

It’s 6:30 in the morning – let the pandemonium begin!

Sean didn’t wake up to his alarm, so I knocked on his door until I heard him bustle around and grumble something that sounded like “drat!” He’ll be in a mood all morning; he has to be at school by 7:20, and if he doesn’t have at least an hour and a half to get ready (thirty minutes of that goes to wolfing down three bowls of cereal), he feels rushed.

Tim gets up with the rest of us. Don’t know why. He doesn’t have to be at school until around 8:20, but he still drags himself out of bed and goes to work scattering little reminders of his presence everywhere. By the time he leaves, for instance, there will be at least three books lying open through the house, one on the breakfast table (usually Calvin & Hobbes), one on the living room floor (he’s re-reading a Harry Potter for the 97th time), and one will be a surprise.

My Darling B still gets up when the boys get up, but she doesn’t have to make lunch any more – they do that for themselves now – so she just looks pretty. In another week or so she’ll have to start going to school again, though, so she’ll be getting ready with the rest of them.

morning routine | 3:41 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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I’m on break. There’s always something on my to-do list, but I won’t have to go work a day watch, won’t have day weenies stirring up trouble in my ops area. I’d much rather shovel snow, or fix the balky toilet float, and when I get a minute when nobody’s looking, I’ll sneak upstairs and play with my toys. If it’s a really good day, I’ll get a bowl of hot miso shrimp ramen at Familiar Noodle House.

Nobody knows what the Familiar Noodle House is actually called. Most restaurants have a flag that hangs over the front door when they’re open, and theirs says “Familiar Noodle House” on it in Kanji and English, so that’s what we call it, but most people call it Cheese Roll Noodle, because that’s what’s on the window. Actually, what’s on the window is “Cheese Rool Noodle Hendemade”, which I like a lot. So far, the only other shop sign I like as much is “Cow Beer Staek.”

wildcard | 3:39 pm CST
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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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Tuesday, January 15th, 2002

Here in the great white north of Japan, you might think these folks would be prepared to deal with lots of snow. How very wrong you’d be, you weeniehead. The motorists of Misawa have never seen a snow plow, or any evidence of one. The Japanese are great at digging up roads and repairing them again, but it has apparently never, ever crossed their minds to plow the snow off their streets. They just drive over the snow until it becomes ice, and they drive slower and slower as potholes the size of Montana open up through the ice. The manhole covers are the worst. Whatever goes on beneath manhole covers is warm enough to melt the ice to slush. It gets pushed to the sides, where it freezes into a solid ring of ice around the edges of the manhole, so that you get a kidney-punching jolt every time you drive over one. There are lots of manholes in the streets of Misawa. No wonder everybody has 4-wheel drive cars.

snow plow NOT | 7:57 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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Wednesday, January 9th, 2002

I went back to the ski slopes again! A couple guys as work, Romeo Bautista and Dave Christy, were headed for Makado, up north by Mutsu Bay, and asked me if I wanted to come along. I probably shouldn’t have; my legs were still sore and tight from skiing at Moya, but I couldn’t say no. For one thing, I needed a little stress relief.

I should’ve know by the end of the first run that I’d be in trouble; my turns were sloppy and my knees hurt, but I figured once I warmed up, I’d be okay. I was wrong. For one thing, I just wasn’t flexible enough; the muscles of my calves and thighs were like cold taffy. For another thing, the slopes were slick with ice; my skis kept going out from under me faster than I could say “ouch!” I tried the fastest slope and ended up going splat five or six times.

Finally, there was no way for me to stay warm. I was plenty warm at Moya in my bibs and jacket, with a t-shirt underneath. For Makado, I put on a thermal undershirt, but seriously misjudged how much colder the wind would make things – and there was lots of wind pushing lots of snow around. I was never uncomfortably cold, except on the long chairlift, but I never got warm all the way through until we went inside at lunch time, where I curled myself around a great big bowl of miso ramen to soak up the heat.

I felt much better after I had a belly full of hot ramen in me. When we got back out onto the slopes, I also had much less trouble making the turns without going splat, which makes the day out so much more enjoyable. We stayed until about three in the afternoon, when the wind got really crazy and the snow started coming down so hard that, on my last run of the day, I might as well have shut my eyes all the way back down the slope.

Makado | 7:44 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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Saturday, January 5th, 2002

Some people can strap on a pair of skis and learn to shuss down a hill with only a few minor spills that everybody can sit around and joke about later. Tim’s one of those people. He got on a snowboard and was shooting down the steeper slopes by mid-afternoon. My Darling B, I suspect, is not one of those people, although I feel it’s largely my fault. I said I’d help her learn, but I’m not a ski instructor, not by a long shot.

B hadn’t been skiing since the last time she was here, back in 1985 or something like that. She went with John and some of his buddies; their method of instruction was to take her to the top of the mountain and leave her to make her way down. I guess some people can learn like that; what B learned was that she didn’t want to ski with John and his buddies any more.

I wanted more than anything for her to enjoy it this time. We went to Moya, a resort about two hours from Misawa. It was our first family ski trip, and our first with the Mogul Mashers, a club on base. The trip started with bagels, doughnuts and juice on the bus ride out, and after a day on the slopes we had a wine and cheese party in the lodge. On the way home, we stopped at a local hot bath to clean up and soak. Pretty nice.

B and I started out on the bunny slope, which is where I found out that, while I can sort of figure out what to do by watching other people, and conduct experiments on myself, I’m not very good at explaining any of what little I’ve learned. I could explain how to snowplow, but she pretty much had to figure out the rest for herself. By about eleven thirty she had built up enough self-confidence to try the shortest, easiest run. The results were spectacular. She tumbled like a dervish, skis and poles flying everywhere.

I spent the early afternoon with Tim and Sean on the hills, and checked back with B on the bunny hill between runs. She was doing so well that she went back up the lift for another try at the hills, and ended up walking part of the way back down after her skis popped off again.

Sean has a snow board, and he won’t hesitate to tell you every one of the million reasons he think it’s the very best way to travel downhill on snow. We were thinking that, because he had so much praise for snowboards, he would have plenty to teach Tim, but Tim picked it up on his own while Sean was trying to get his gloves on just right. When it comes to snowboarding, Sean’s long on theory, but short on practice.

I haven’t been skiing since I went to Keystone in Colorado many, many moons ago with some guys from work, and that was only the second time in my life. It’s a good thing I spent so much time on the bunny hill with B in the morning this time around; if I’d gone straight up the slopes, I’m pretty sure I would’ve killed myself. The next day my muscles were aching in places where I didn’t have muscles.

The onsen is a Japanese tradition, a bath house where we went to clean up and relax after skiing. There was a big communal hot tub in a steamy room, and all around the wall there were wash basins and stools where we could scrub ourselves to get good and clean. The water was so hot I couldn’t stay in too long; a friend of mine told me to put a cool washrag on my head so I could stay in longer, so there I sat with a folded washcloth plopped on my head. I think all it did was keep me in the water long enough to get hard-boiled, and provide comic relief for the rest of the bathers.

I know you’re going to ask, so I’d point out that the women’s baths are separated from the men’s by a wall high enough for privacy. No peeking at the women at all, unless you count the little girl one of the guys brought in with him. Now there’s something you wouldn’t see anywhere in America.

shuss | 7:37 pm 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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Thursday, January 3rd, 2002

Just don’t even try to get Sean’s attention when his nose is in a book. He was at the kitchen table the other morning, devouring breakfast and a political treatise on the after-effects of fascism in Europe, or similar light reading. Outside, My Darling B, a load of groceries in her arms, tried to get him to open the patio door by rapping sharply on the glass three times. He didn’t even twitch. She rapped a couple more times; no response. She tried shouting, with similar results. It wasn’t until she gave the door a good, solid pounding, swinging her bent arm high over her head, that Sean finally looked around, as if he’d become dimly aware that someone, in a voice on the edge of hearing, was calling his name.

I ran into the same problem when I went to pick up Sean and B and the commissary. Sean was standing out front, because he was supposed to be watching for me, but when I caught sight of him I noticed he stood hunched over a magazine, deep in thought. Uh-oh, I said to myself. I tooted the horn as I drove up, but I should’ve known better. Luck was with me, though, in the form of a parking space close by, so I tooted again as I pulled in. He actually looked up this time, but in the entirely wrong direction, then quickly returned to his magazine.

Honk. Honk. Honk.

I was starting to piss off the other people in the parking lot, so I instead of the horn, I opened my door and shouted his name over the top of the van as loud as I could. His expression was puzzled as he looked around, then changed to recognition when he finally caught sight of me hanging out the side of the van, waving my arms. What I need is a howitzer, or some kind of remotely-controlled live wire down his shorts.

in the zone | 7:30 pm CST
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Wednesday, January 2nd, 2002

Spent the morning shoring up shelving in a storage shed the Air Force built onto our quarters. The shed is five feet square and about ten feet high, with bare, poured concrete walls up the sides, no shelves, and no way to attach any. How useful is that? It wasn’t hard to fix up, but took a couple hours, after which we piled into the car in search of ramen. The place we usually haunt wasn’t open, so we tried another shop we see every time we go to Shimoda; B usually says, “We ought to try that place some time,” so we finally did. It was a roadside diner kind of place in a porta-kabin, where you belly up to a counter and order one of five or six items. I was so hungry I ordered the large bowl of ramen; the guy served it to me in a bath tub.

ramen | 7:28 pm CST
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Tuesday, January 1st, 2002

I spent a few hours in the kitchen this afternoon, studying for promotion, glancing over my shoulder out the patio door every so often. We have a visitor. Sometimes the boys drop cereal when they take the trash out to the cans on the patio, and a small black-and-white bird, at little larger than a chickadee, comes to peck it up. He’s the only one that’s found the food so far, and we’ve been dropping bread crumbs on purpose these last few days. When B came home from the movies with Tim, they had a huge bucket of bird seed and a feeder, so I helped B figure out how to hang it for our little friend.

The neighborhood was dead quiet at 11:00 this morning when I went out to shovel the walks clear of about two inches of fluffy, new-fallen snow. Was everybody sleeping off the effects of the night before? When I went out again at about two in the afternoon, quite a few more people had come out to shovel their cars out of the snow.

visitor | 7:26 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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Friday, December 28th, 2001

The whole family trooped down to outdoor rec to get fitted for ski gear. Lots of fun watching the kids clomp around in ski boots. We’re supposed to go skiing next weekend, so we thought we’d better get off our lazy duffs and get ready for it. B bought a set of ski clothes already; I sure hope she likes skiing enough to get plenty of use out of them.

outfitted | 7:15 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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Tim and I went sledding today. Last time we went, we drove out to the “ski hill” on the other side of the base, but this time we tromped a block up the road where, it turns out, there’s a great sledding hill right next to one of the tower apartment blocks. The best run looks like instant suicide when you’re standing at the top, but once you’re shooting down the inside of that first turn, you’re having the time of your life.

And what better way to enjoy a great sledding hill than on a saucer? Santa found one somewhere and left it under our tree, so I had a go and they’re every bit as much fun as I remember them. Right out of the gates I was going sideways, then backwards, and on my third or fourth run I just about flattened a kid. It was dead easy; he wasn’t even looking. I screamed “Heads up!” over and over, but he was too busy yelling at one of his buddies to pay any attention, so I put up my arm to shield my head from what looked like was going to be a whopping body slam, but just brushed him on the way past. Drat.

flying saucer | 5:44 am CST
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Not that I think I’m Alan Greenspan or anything, but I may have a good idea why the Japanese economy is in such piss-poor shape: They’ve got, like, no clue when it comes to using credit cards.

It began to dawn on me the first time I went looking for an ATM. I couldn’t do it to save my life. I’m pretty sure there are more ATMs on this base than there are in all of Misawa city. I think I’ve seen one outside a bank, but in all the other places I’m used to seeing them – gas stations, convenience stores, shopping centers (shopping centers!) – just forget it.

So instead I’ve tried to pay for something with plastic. No, just forget that, too. Everybody wants cash. In the few stores that take a card, I had to go to the customer service counter in a back corner of the store, where they have a single card reader and one of those clunky things with the roller that makes an impression of the card on carbon paper. Unfortunately for me, I went through all that without making sure that what I was buying with plastic was something I wanted to keep forever. That’s very important, because getting a refund credited to a card is like asking the clerk to do algebra – he may have learned how to do it many moons ago, but hasn’t solved for x in years.

The one time I’ve asked for a refund, the ordeal lasted more than a half-hour. First, the clerk had to stare at the receipt for five or ten minutes, thoughtfully scratching his head. Then he ran my card through the machine, blooped a few buttons, made what looked like an exact copy of the receipt, and stared at them both. After about five minutes of that, he made a couple phone calls. A second clerk appeared. They both stared hard at the receipts for at least five minutes, saying nothing, before they decided to run my card through the machine again. This time, they made two or three more copies, and compared them all, with much discussion. Eventually they decided one of them looked right, and they gave that one to me with lots of apologies. Barb tried to return something at another store, and had the same experience.

Whenever that happens, I go to the BX and buy a packet of chewing gum or a spiral notebook, and pay for it with my Visa. Takes thirty seconds.

they don’t take plastic | 5:42 am CST
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Tuesday, December 25th, 2001

To celebrate Christmas this year, I hung the mid watch from the night before, if you can call staying awake an hour or so longer than usual “hanging the mid.” Most people call that “wussing out,” though. I came through the front door at about seven in the morning to find Barb and Sean still asleep! But Tim was wide awake and waiting for me at the top of the stairs. We woke up the sleepyheads and trooped down to the living room to see what Santa had brought us. It was a remarkably relaxed Christmas morning, which didn’t help me stay awake. I hung on long enough to see everybody open their presents; in some cases, I saw people open the same present twice when my eyes were crossing. Finally, when I couldn’t focus at all, I plodded upstairs and crawled into bed.

The boys got bicycles they couldn’t go out and ride, although I’m pretty sure Tim would’ve tried if we’d let him. Might’ve been pretty comical.

They each got plenty of books, too. I mentioned to somebody at work that the boys were getting lots of books, and she screwed up her face and said something like, “Books? How do you get them to read books?” Pretty simple, really, and here’s the secret in case you want to pass it along: You read to them every day when they’re young, starting as soon as they can hear your voice, and you teach them to read as soon as they show any kind of aptitude for it. You spend all your lunch money and pocket change on books, and keep them stacked everywhere in the house. You read good books whenever you can, and never discourage them from reading, even when they pick up the book you’re trying to finish. I can’t stop my kids from reading books, and we’ve never in my memory hesitated from buying books because we couldn’t afford it; if credit is good for anything, it’s got to be good for buying books you can’t pay for yet.

Speaking of which, I’d forgotten that being in the military is good for 10% off all the books in the BX book store. Yes!

[11/25/14: “Hanging a mid:” When we worked mid watches in my younger years, we would sometimes “hang” the last mid by staying awake all day, then go to bed at a normal time that evening. In theory, this would reset our biological clocks. In practice, we did it mostly as an excuse to hang out together at the club all day and drink beer.]

buy books | 9:08 pm 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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The headlights on the car stopped working. When I drove to work in the evening, the car was working normally. Can’t have that, especially on Christmas Eve, the start of a holiday season that closes every service for a week. When I drove out of the parking lot to drive home that night, the low beam lamps wouldn’t come on, and I noticed later that the buzzer that warns you that you left the lights on wasn’t working, either. Checked all the fuses, but they were all fine. Couldn’t figure out how to get at the bulbs, although I don’t know how they would both burn out at the same time. The next evening I drove to work by the light of the fog lamps. On the way home in the middle of the night for my holiday hit, I noticed the lamplight flicker, but thought it was just the fog lamps bouncing from a pothole in the road. Once I was parked at home, I turned off the fog lamps and voila! The headlights were working again.

headlights | 6:20 am CST
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Sunday, December 23rd, 2001

This morning I opened the curtains and found myself looking at seven and a half inches of new snow under a clear, sunny sky and temps well below freezing. I spent a half hour or so digging the walks and the car out of the snow; there were cars in the street that needed an hour of digging just to make them visible.

The kids will remember this forever as their first snowy Christmas. They’ve seen snow before, even seen lots of it, but they’ve never seen snow that lay on the ground for more than a month, and never this deep, except in the mountains, which were a novelty themselves. They’re already sick of shoveling, did I tell you that? Getting them to go out there to keep up with the falling snow is more work than doing it myself. Then, while I’m hunched over a shovel, I get a head popped out the door saying, “I’ll do that, dad.” I never know what to say to that, so I just snarl over my shoulder and they disappear.

Got a bit of a scratchy throat this morning, probably coming down with the same hacking crud that everybody else has had in the last week or so. Hope I don’t give it to Barb. We did a little cuddling last night, after she dragged me away from the biography I’m reading on Teddy Roosevelt, “unless you’re more interested in Teddy,” she said. “When I’m more interested in Teddy, you might as well shoot me,” I told her.

seven | 6:30 am CST
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Saturday, December 22nd, 2001

Washed up after PT, then took B to the post office so she could put in her hours for the volunteer service she does there. She says the post office is feeling the big crush now, getting truckloads of packages many times a day. When I picked her up in the afternoon, they’d just received 400 pieces, some pieces being bags filled with packages.

During PT, I was thinking of something I wanted to search the internet for; even had the search strategy planned in my head, but because I was running the treadmill and didn’t have a pencil and paper handy, couldn’t write it down. Think I can remember a bit of it now? Can’t even recall the vaguest notion of what it was I was going to search for. In the march toward drooling senility, I’m just one step closer.

Japanese workers have begun to put steel shutters around the TOW housing across the street in preparation for demolition; B’s old house is already behind the barrier, almost completely out of sight. Might never see it again.

B’s about a gnat’s whisker from cooking up ramen the way they make it in town. She sorta just threw together a bunch of stuff that looked right – chunks of chicken breast, carrot shavings, diced onion, and some bean sprouts – and what do you know, it tasted pretty good!

Finally received some snow worth bragging about. It was coming down this morning when we first went out, and was still coming down, even heavier, this evening as we were sitting down to supper, only to stop shortly after. We must’ve got at least 4-6 inches, although it sure seemed like a lot more when I was shoveling it off the walk ways over and over again.

[11/24/14: “TOW housing” is what they called the wooden houses built on the hill across the street from our house. The only explanation I heard for this was that “TOW” stood for “termination of war,” the time period when the houses were built. They looked to be about fifty years old, so that explanation is probably as good as any.]

jumble | 6:18 am CST
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Friday, December 21st, 2001

Took one last trip with B to the mall at Shimoda to see if we needed any last-minute Christmas gifts; turned out I did pick up one or two things, and so did Barb. We started with a noodle lunch at a fast-food place; wasn’t too bad, but didn’t hold a candle to a steaming bowl of miso ramen at the Familiar Noodle House.

Went to Miyaki’s for dinner with B. It’s another one of the restaurants right outside the main gate that she used to run to for take-out. Doesn’t look to me like the place has changed much in fifteen years, either. The food was pretty good, although just a bit too greasy for me. Finished it all, though. The portions were generous enough that we both felt like beach balls as we waddled down the street back to the car.

Learned another important lesson about going out into Japan: Don’t assume you can park your car in just any lot that doesn’t have a “No Parking” sign. Because there are plenty of stupid Americans motoring about, the Japanese post lots of “No Parking” signs in English, but the lot I used didn’t have any. Didn’t have to walk home, though. The entrance to the lot was blocked by a padlocked chain, but there was a back way out the lot to an alley, pretty lucky for us. Would’ve been a long, cold walk home.

[11/24/14: If I recall, our dinner was at “New” Miyaki’s, a couple blocks down the street if you turn south west out the main gate and go down White Pole Road. From what I can tell by looking at Misawa on Google Maps, that part of town has been completely rebuilt now.]

Miyaki’s | 5:47 am CST
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Wednesday, December 19th, 2001

The day watches are over! Not that I honestly think I’ll catch a moment’s rest in the few days that remain before I have to return to mid watches on Christmas eve, but it’s nice to dream.

momentous | 5:40 am CST
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2001

The Christmas tree’s starting to look pretty brown. We had to buy it several weeks ago because about the only place to get a real Christmas tree around here is from the Boy Scout lot, and they get one shipment of trees at about Thanksgiving. I’m all for being prepared, but that’s a little too prepared for me. Dunno if we’ll be getting a real tree next year. There’s still a week to go before Christmas and this one’s so tinder-dry that we’re afraid to turn the lights on at night for fear that it’ll go up like a match head.

Sean played in the holiday concert tonight. There was a pretty long program, but I got Tim to go see at least the first half of it, and the intermediate band played within the first hour. Then we slipped out so Tim could “finish his homework;” it turned out that he had about five minutes’ worth.

Barb went to Aomori in the afternoon to see the Leningrad Ballet do The Nutcracker. She didn’t want to miss the concert, but she didn’t know there was going to be a concert when she signed up, and she loves The Nutcracker, so she bought tickets the minute she saw them on sale.

Christmas treats | 7:12 pm CST
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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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Monday, December 17th, 2001

B and I have been trying for weeks to put up some shelves in the storage shed. It’s not actually a shed; it’s a little concrete blockhouse just off the patio that’s about five and one-half feet square and ten feet high. We’d like to park our bikes in it, but that takes up the whole space, unless we dump everything else on top of the bikes, and we can’t ride the bikes very easily when there’s a ton of crap piled on top of them in the storage shed. (This is getting way more complicated than it has to be, right?)

I’ve been checking out shelves, and they’re stupidly expensive. Almost every storage option is. When I took Barb to the store to show her what I wanted to do, her eye fell on a plastic storage thing-o with sliding doors that we could park on the patio and lock everything but the bikes in. I didn’t have to build or install shelves, so it sounded great to me, but when we went to buy it, we ran up against that language barrier. It’s hard to be sure, but the explanation we got was that they were either out of stock, or we weren’t allowed to buy one.

On sort of a related note, one of our neighbors keeps his bike on his back porch, where dripping water from the eaves overhead have turned it into a lump of ice that’s frozen solid to the ground, so he won’t be riding that sucker until April or May.

Did I mention that Sean quit the wrestling team? He’s been putting in all his evenings at practice, and he’s been to two meets in Yakota, and he feels it’s eating up way too much of his time. I can see that; practice alone eats up all his time until seven or eight o’clock in the evening, and the trips to Yakota, a base in Tokyo, left here on Thursday night and didn’t come back until Sunday morning. And he went all the way to Tokyo but never got time off to see anything in the city. (Last time they went, they did head into Tokyo – to eat at McDonald’s! Now there’s a cultural experience you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting a foreign country!) So last week he told Coach April that he wanted to spend more time with his family and couldn’t see how to do that and keep on wrestling, so he was quitting the team. And he stuck to his guns, didn’t let the coach out-argue him.

B’s soccer kids played their last game tonight, and it’s a good thing, too, because the coaches and parents were starting to get pretty ugly.

shed shed shed I just like saying shed | 7:04 pm CST
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Sunday, December 16th, 2001

Now this is winter!

Snow’s been on the ground for weeks, it’s cold enough to freeze farts, and the wind’s blowing hard enough to dry your eyeballs into shriveled raisins. Still nothing to brag about, the way they do here. The kids sure like it, though. They go outside just as soon as everyone’s done shoveling the walks and have a snowball fight that lasts for hours and spreads the snow around evenly.

One of the side effects of winter here is the icicles. The houses are insulated for shit, so as soon as we get a heavy snowfall, it all immediately starts to melt, and every building on base is left hanging with icicles as big as telegraph poles. Then the clouds break for a day and the icicles weaken at the eaves and they come crashing down so that it sounds like sex-starved elephants are mating with the side of your house. That can go on all day.

We have to make sure the sidewalks in front of our quarters are cleared before eight in the morning, so these last few day watches I’ve had the pleasure not only of getting out of bed at quarter to five, but adding a brisk morning shovel fest to my list of chores to do before the sun comes up. Snow in these amounts is such a novel thing to him that Tim still thinks shoveling it off the walks is great fun, does it with a smile. Works for me.

I’ve been on day watches for the last three days, so I’ve seen very little of the snow except for when I have to drive through it on the way to work. If the Japanese speed limits are good for anything, they keep people driving at a sane speed when the road is a sheet of ice. Top speed allowed on the road up to work: 36 mph on the home stretch. Most other places it’s 20. Drives most people nuts, but I’m in no hurry to end up in the ditch.

I also get to tromp through it on the way from the car into the building, and that’s the last I see of snow until I leave at night. We do mobilize a snow removal detail at work that goes out with snow blowers and shovels to clear the walks around the buildings, but I’m not allowed to do that because I’ve got too much rank. Any other place I’ve been stationed and had to pull scut-work details like that, I would’ve killed to ride a snow blower around; now they won’t let me. Figures.

Dave Arnzen replied: First of all there’s never too much rank, except for maybe during any war tribunals in which you ended up picking the wrong side. Second, think back, when you were an airman, the MSgt’s and TSgt’s didn’t have to pull any details either, but that sure didn’t stop them from grabbing the paint brush out of my hands, painting “This Stinks” on the wall that I was working on and say, “Better cover that up Airman before the Commander sees it!” … likewise, grab a snow blower, say they missed a spot, take it for a ride, cover the flt. cc’s [flight commander’s] car in a mountain of snow, park the blower out front, then let the detail get yelled at by facilities for leaving it out. TA DA !

never too much | 4:17 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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We’re going on a ski trip in January to Moya with the Mogul Mashers, a ski club here on Misawa Air Base. Another organization called Outdoor Recreation also sponsors ski trips, and we’re going to try them too, so we have some basis for comparison. Outdoor Rec will bus us to the site and back, and supply all the ski equipment, for a bargain-basement price. The Mogul Mashers don’t provide equipment, but will provide insurance, transportation to and from, breakfast on the bus outbound, wine & cheese on the return trip, and a stop at an onsen, or hot bath, after skiing. Sounds pretty spiffy. The price is a little steep but, as I say, I wanted to try it for comparison, so I figured we’d splurge on the membership and a couple trips with the Mogul Mashers this year and see how it works out.

We’ve still got snow here, although quite a bit has melted away by now. The weather squadron is saying we should get another big storm this weekend, but they’re always saying that. An interesting side-effect of the heavy snow is that all the buildings on base are so poorly insulated that the snow on the roof melts away instantly and icicles as big as telegraph poles come crashing down off the eaves. Our quarters have an overhang in back that the icicles hit so hard it sounds like a freeway accident involving lots of trucks carrying empty garbage cans.

skiing | 6:59 am CST
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Saturday, December 8th, 2001

With about six inches of fluffy snow on the ground, Tim and I had to try out the sledding hill north of main base. It’s not too bad, but it’d be better if it were steeper, or if we had a couple saucers to get going really fast. Remember saucers, the most insanely suicidal thing ever made to travel on snow? Couldn’t steer them, couldn’t even be sure if you were going to face forward, but you knew for damn sure you were going to reach speeds that would get you airborne if only you had wings, and sometimes you didn’t need wings. I don’t see them for sale here, so I’m guessing that lawsuits have finally eliminated them from the face of the earth.

Something else the sledding hill could use that has probably disappeared because it makes insurance companies pee their pants: a tow rope. Back in the snow-covered wastelands of Wisconsin where I froze solid many times, you could sometimes find a sledding hill where somebody had jerry-rigged a rope they’d wound around the wheel rim of an old tractor parked at the top of the hill. The rope was a big loop that hung over old tire rims on telephone poles on the way down, and dragged along the ground on the way back up. All you had to do to get back to the top was lie on your sled and grab the rope. You had to know how to ride it; if you didn’t grab it just right, it’d rip your arms out of their sockets, and you had to pay attention on the way up or you’d get dragged into the telephone poles. In a lot of ways, it was a more exciting ride on the way up than down.

Funny how all these things come back to you. I remember going about a hundred miles an hour, screaming my lungs out all the way down the hill, which Tim did this time, except that we were going about walking speed because the snow was so thick and hadn’t been properly packed down for speed. Somebody built up a ramp, which Tim managed to hit two or three times; that really made his day. He’s got a small ramp built right outside our front door, and he can shoot across the yard standing on his sled. There are quite a few other hills right in the neighborhood that are probably good for sledding, and I imagine he’ll find them all; he’s pretty crazy for the snow.

crazy for snow | 6:53 am CST
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Friday, December 7th, 2001

More snow today, and the weather squadron expected it to keep coming down all weekend, with temps just below freezing. By Sunday morning we might even have enough to build a decent snow man.

decent snow man | 6:50 am CST
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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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Thursday, December 6th, 2001

I woke from sleep after a mid to a sound I remember hearing a long, long time ago: a snow shovel scraping across concrete. Popped out of bed expecting to see another light dusting and instead was pleasantly surprised by about four inches on the ground and more coming down fast. (When I say things like “pleasantly surprised” about a lot of snow, you can tell I’ve been here only four months, can’t you?) Now this was a respectable amount of snow – nothing that lives up to all the bragging they do around here, you’d have to cover Japan in a sheet of ice a mile thick to come close to that. This had a lot of potential, though: fluffy wet flakes about the size of softballs that make for back-breaking shoveling, but easily pack together into killer snowballs. If it keeps up, we’ll be sledding by the weekend. I’m pretty sure Tim will just about demand it.

shoveling | 6:48 am CST
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Monday, December 3rd, 2001

An earthquake! We had a real earthquake last night that went BOOM! and made the building rock back and forth just like a boat on rough water. Buildings aren’t supposed to do that, y’know, which is I guess why my brain sort of short-circuited and went south for a little while, leaving me feeling a little punch-drunk, like I needed help falling down just then. I had to bend my knees and ride the floor like a surf board just to stay upright. It was a 6.5, centered underground south of here a ways. No damage that I heard of; B says one or two things fell down at home, and the food in the freezer shifted so that the door swung open in the middle of the night and everything in there thawed. Calamity!

And there was snow on the ground when I woke up in the afternoon. (I was sleeping off a mid.) Not a lot, sort of a pitiful amount, really, but snow on the ground nevertheless, which you really should have by December if you’re going to brag about it, which they do here all the time. The 1st Sergeant asked me, “Have you heard how bad the winters are here?” I said yes. “Well, it’s not true. They’re much, much worse.” I’ve heard that last year they got two feet of snow before Thanksgiving and they never got rid of it until spring. I’ve heard a lot of things, but this winter is pretty disappointing so far, to nobody more so than Tim, who has big plans for igloos and snow forts and tunnel systems that reach from here over the north pole to Canada. He waits by the front door every day with shovel in hand.

B’s a holiday helper at the base’s post office, which makes me a teensy bit apprehensive. The other day I was in line at the counter to mail a package. One of the counter workers stepped out and, through the open door, we could all clearly see two people in the back putting on those bright blue moon suits that biowarfare reaction teams wear when they have to go clean up anthrax or nuclear spills. Everybody in the lobby sucked air through their teeth before they realized it was an exercise.

[11/23/14: The earthquake hit while I was at work. I was walking across the operations floor when I heard the BOOM! Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked around at one another. The building seemed to jump into the air; maybe it actually did, or maybe that was just something I associated with the sound. Then it started to slide back and forth; that’s something it actually did. I learned later that the foundations of earthquake-resistant buildings are standing on cement pilings that are driven deep into the ground, and there’s a thick layer of rubber between the foundations and the pilings. The energy of the earthquake is gently transmitted to the building through the rubber pads, “gently” being a relative term in this case. Then the energy is slowly dissipated as the building rocks back and forth. It’s a big building, so it rocks for a long time, maybe five or ten minutes. It’s a very sickening feeling to stand on what had been the rock-solid floor of a building that is now swinging and swaying. Your brain doesn’t want to accept that that’s possible.

I’d been working a mid, hence the reference to sleeping it off. I think mid watches ended at six in the morning. I usually went straight to bed when I got home and slept for as long as I could, usually until about an hour before or after lunch time.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the mild winter. We got hardly any snow the first year we were in Misawa; again, “hardly any” is a relative term here. We got enough that I would have to shovel, but everybody kept bragging about how we were going to get buried in snow. I didn’t believe them until the next winter, when we got buried. In fact, every winter after that first winter, we got buried in snow. The first one was a freak, apparently.

Speaking of getting buried, every December the post office put out a call for volunteers to help keep up with the huge volume of Christmas packages that were shipped to the base from the States. My Darling B volunteered for several years, but that first year, remember, was the crazy year when nutjobs were mailing envelopes filled with anthrax to various people in the government. We never got any at Misawa that I know of, but people were still pretty nervous about it, me no less than anyone else.]

1 down, 1 to go | 6:10 am CST
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Sunday, December 2nd, 2001

Sean squeaked through the door just before I did this morning, back from his trip to Yakota with the wresting team. He’s talking about quitting the team. I can’t say I blame him. He puts in long hours at practice, usually doesn’t get home until after 7:00 pm, and after supper he has to spend the rest of his evening finishing his homework before he turns in about 10:00. When they go to an away game like this one, he leaves on Thursday and doesn’t get home until Sunday. Fellah wants a break. He’s been talking about it for a while now, and I think the only thing holding him back from quitting right now is, he’s been trying to figure out a way to tell his coach, who’s all ate up about wrestling. She wouldn’t be doing her best if she didn’t try to argue him into staying on the team; I think maybe Sean’s worried about losing that argument.

wrestlemania | 6:08 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

Snow flurry tonight, hardly a dusting that didn’t stick. Roads were slick with snow that had melted and re-frozen.

weather report | 1:37 pm CST
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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

B and I went down to Familiar Noodle House at lunch time for big, steaming bowls of ramen. I get the idea that “Familiar Noodle House” lost a little in the translation, don’t you? But it’s right there on the flag over the counter, in English and katakana.

When we came back, we got stopped at the gate, where the guards searched our car. They pick cars at random and go through all the compartments. They never say what they’re looking for, and I never ask; they’re just doing their job, and I’m absolutely certain they catch a lot of crap for it. The airman who brought our license and registration back to us said we were the nicest people they’d had all day. Gosh.

Familiar Noodle | 12:50 pm CST
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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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Saturday, November 24th, 2001

We had another beautiful day today, although it did cloud over and get slightly cooler in the afternoon. It was also a day in which none of us had to rush off to an appointment or meeting or run a million errands and drop exhausted on the sofa when we came home late in the afternoon. Each of us moseyed through the day with our own particular plans for doing nothing, and it was wonderful.

and now, time for the weather | 9:49 am CST
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