I turned 53 the day after Christmas. The mob went to dinner with me - and I selected Benihana for lunch, followed up at Muldoon's Irish Pub for a dessert of trifle (one of my very favorites). It may sound like a strange combo for a meal, but I'm not exactly "normal", so it's ok.
I know it's a motley looking crew...and it took some effort to eat more on the day AFTER Christmas, but they managed to make it happen.
'Twas the night before Kwanza, and all through the slum,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a bum.
The children had braided their cornrows with care,
In the hope that Saint Malcom soon would be there.
The Crips and the Bloods made their holiday peace;
The protesters protested: "Fuck da po-lice!"
The Jews and Koreans hid unter their beds,
While visions of rioters danced in their heads.
In a crackhouse, some pipeheads were lighting a rock,
When all of a sudden there came a loud knock.
And what to their wondering eyes did appear,
But Orange County's finest in full riot gear!
Boards fell from the doorway and crashed to the floor,
And landed in front of a twelve year old whore.
The cops went to work with their nightsticks in hand,
Swinging their sticks as the Africans ran.
A beating ensued as they tried to escape,
But nobody got it on videotape.
As they jumped over fences they heard the men say,
"Merry Christmas, you punks, from OCDA!"
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I had a contract set up with Goldman Sachs to represent them in China when the market failed. I was set up to work in Germany with Leopard (the company that makes German main battle tanks) on a consulting basis and a few other things when the market crashed and all my little consulting jobs fell apart like a house of cards.
The work for Pirelli may be coming back. The VP/Chief Legal Officer told me they miss me and he also told another friend (an Italian) that they're trying to get me back. It would be welcome work both because I enjoyed working for and with Pirelli and because the income would be helpful.
With unemployment climbing and every business cutting back, consultants are the first (and easiest) people to be let go.
My daughter, Amanda, had her baby shower on Saturday. The atmosphere was laced with estrogen, the games played du jour, the food - well the left overs tasted pretty good. Once the place was set up, I bobbed, weaved, avoided and left the house innocuously to await the departure of guests who hadn't arrived yet.
That event passed and we are ramping up for the Christmas event sans lights and outside displays, rotating Santas and creche scenes. Most of the other neighbors put up lights. I valiantly resist. The wind blows them down every year and the neighbors do damage control as best they can. I don't worry because there's nothing to control. The gardeners don't mow over power cables and the trees are barren of bulbs, wozzles and fizbins.
Inside the house it's a different matter and the traditional stuff is carted from the garage where the boxes have become dusty from their positions on the highest shelves. The plastic Costco tree is faithfully assembled and draped with garlands, ornaments are hooked, and a variety of elves, gnomes and angels from years past are set on the branches to preside over Christmas.
Occasionally I envy Rip VanWinkle, who legend holds, slept through this (and other) season(s). Note that I don't envy Santa Clause one little bit. The bright ray of hope is that next Christmas there will be two grandchildren to spoil. I'm sure that will put a different spin on the silly season.
There are times in life when you can hang back and watch the world spin under your feet.
There are other times when you have to jump off into deep water with bullets slapping around you in the surf.
Timing is important in life and I think its that innate sense of timing that differentiates the lucky from the unlucky. That's not to say you don't have to swing at the odd curve ball from time to time.
It's also important not either read, save, or listen to your own press. All glory is fleeting (sic transit gloria mundi) and living on past glory is as destructive as seeking glory in the present or the future. Glory is an illusion just as success and failure are two sides of the same coin. I'm happy to have lived long enough to appreciate the truth in what I just wrote.
Today a guy asked me whether or not I was bothered about becoming a grandfather. I replied, "Are you kidding, I'm ecstatic!" There is a peculiar joy I feel when I see my girls growing up around me, making adult decisions, doing the right thing and learning from the wrong thing.
Not many people read my blog but everyone who does, is counted dear to me. There is a great deal that I have to be thankful for. The things are nice, the things make life easier, but the people are what count to me. Not all that can be counted, counts.
The older I get, the more cherished my friendships are. I don't have a lot of friends. I don't want an entourage. So --- Thanks to my family and friends.
Now on to business: This year I had my big chance to do the traditional thing of shooting my own turkey for Thanksgiving -- you should have seen the people in the meat department scatter...
What did the mama turkey say to her naughty son?
If your papa could see you now, he'd turn over in his gravy!
This comes from a physician who advocates a new way of looking at health.
Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?
A: Your heart is good for so many beats and that's it. Don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer. That's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.
Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. What are they? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetables). A pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: Not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more goodness that way. Beer is also made from grain. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I handle my body fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your ratio is 1:1. If you have two bodies, the ratio is 2:1.
Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: You're not listening. Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. in fact, they're permeated in it. How could be getting more vegetables be bad for you?
Usually when a new president (even one as lame as Jimmy Carter or Barack Hussein Obama) are elected, the stock market climbs.
In the week since B. Hussein Obama was elected, the market has lost a staggering 16% of its equity. It's down again today at 11am Eastern. There has been no discernible profit taking. I find it depressing. Maybe the day will end "flat" without another loss to the index.
"When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you - when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - you may know that your society is doomed." -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
The recession/depression that has hit the US will be felt harder and longer in Europe, Asia and Latin America than it will here. America's problem is a liquidity freeze that is thawing.
East Asia is bracing for the hit they've already begun to feel and the Chinese are concerned.
Ultimately it will mean a stronger dollar over the next couple of years.
But it doesn't end there since there is pressure coming primarily from Europe to promote an international body that will oversee US financial systems (quas-Brussles style) which would keep this sort of disaster from happening again.
The Europeans want to see a shift in the world of economic and financial trade from the current program to one where oversight by Europeans will guarantee that the current crisis is not repeated. How will the US respond? I don't think we'll know until the next president is elected and takes office. They're pinning their hopes on an Obama-nation because he's already sold the store.
"Greedo" is an Anna's Hummingbird who spent the summer in my back yard. He dutifully guarded the hummingbird feeder and did his best to defend it from other hummingbirds. I called him Greedo because he was as big as a sparrow, having feasted on nectar until he was large (and slow).
Now he's gone south for the winter and the hummingbirds who are visiting are not the local bunch I got to know. They're in transit themselves.
I hoped that Greedo would stay through the winter with an inexhaustible supply of nectar in the feeder, but nature calls and that's just how it goes. Maybe Greedo will return in the spring, maybe not.
I'm indulging myself in a bout of selfish musing - grief if you will - for my sister, Catherine, who just turned 49, passed away. I learned about it yesterday but she died the evening before.
She lives on a farm in Central Oregon with her husband, Willy, a retired Los Angeles Firefighter. Her two children, Lee and Laurel are in college. She and Willy were sitting in the parlor and he went out to get some wood for the fireplace. When he returned, she was dead. It happened that quickly. She had not been ill.
Tempus fugit - time flies. Things happen and somehow I feel strangely disconnected - yet profoundly moved by her death. I recall the little girl, the little sister who looked up to her oldest brother.
I recall the young lady, the time when camping in very cold weather on the north branch of the Kern River, she was in an inferior tent and an inferior sleeping bag. It was Catherine, my brother Jim (who died in an automobile accident thereafter) and me. She said that her feet were very cold, I asked to take a look and immediately thought that her feet were "frozen" because of the color of her toenails - She painted them black, they weren't frozen.
I think of the innocent child with the face of an angel who shoplifted popsicles because we didn't have money for them and we children all wanted some.
My youngest sister, Paris, has been hit the hardest by her death. Paris's oldest son, Jon died six weeks ago. Death is with us always. I know that. Grief doesn't address the loss. It's simply the process by which we cope.
And I am awake when I should be asleep, blogging because I don't know what else to do to cope with my sister's death.
The Pink Coral Sands. The sand is pink as coral, it's very fine, makes for slow and difficult going, but it's beautiful.
A picture of my destination.
I have lots of favorite places to take my Toyota FJ Cruiser. The twenty-mile trip from the Pink Coral Sands State Park near Kanab, Utah - through Elephant Hill Pass and down into the Virgin River Gorge which is also called Paranuweap is one of my favorites. It's an area I have not fully explored, the wilderness study area to the south and east of Zion's National Park. It's wild country where the roads are treacherous.
If Vince Peterson (right) waited another ten feet to slide in the sand, he'd have gone over the edge of the canyon and would have dropped about 200' [living by chance].
I wonder if my friend, Jack, who reads this blog thinks I'm nuts for taking my truck into places like this. Truth be told, I'm clearly crazy by most people's standards - read my blog - however, places like this, Paranuweap, are some of the only places where I feel alive. There is a liberating feeling places like this impart.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is just under two-million square acres of remote land in the southeast corner of Utah.
It's one of those places where you can get lost in nature because the deep portion of the Grand Staircase - the portion where few people travel because the roads are "impassable" or just plain rough - is very remote.
A drive into this part of America feels very much like a trip back in time. There are still undiscovered fo
ssil beds and I watched Peregrine Falcons swoop
from the ridges onto their prey below.
You can spend many weeks here and never cover the same ground twice. However it's never a bad idea to have a winch and full range of recovery gear onboard because you'll inevitably need it when (not really "if") you get stuck.
There is a sense that comes with true isolation of
kinship with the world that surrounds you. Coyotes call in the night and the stars are so bright and vivid in the dry night air free of light pollution that you can almost reach out and touch them. Food tastes
better. Water tastes sweeter and all senses resort to the primeval.
Grosvenor Arch (right) is on the edge, the borderline of the monument and you can get there without much trouble. Even so, it's worth a visit - worth a moment in a life - to sit, and look at as clouds drift overhead against the cerulean sky.
I'm not very pleased by the education system. Maybe it's a reflection of me as a father and teacher. Maybe the failure is mine. The secondary education my children received (living in the nicest part of the Southern California County and having the attend the highest-rated school) was/is disappointing.
The school administrative staff requires stiff prods to get anywhere.
1.1 Student has a problem
1.2 Call the school counselor (my first point of contact)
1.2.1 Call the counselor (no response)
1.2.2 Call the counselor (no response)
1.3 Go to the school and ask to speak to the counselor.
1.4 The counselor is out.
1.5 I'll wait.
1.6 The counselor won't be back until tomorrow (it's 2pm)
1.7 I arrive at 0730. The counselor arrives at 0800. I wait until 0930 to be ushered into the presence of the counselor. A uniformed security guard is standing by.
1.7.1 I suggest that the guard leave us to discuss a student's problem.
1.7.2 The counselor suggests that the guard is there for her safety.
1.7.3 I suggest that if I wanted to do anything, there is precious little the guard could do to stop me (guard is an aging black lady who is exceptionally overweight).
1.7.4 Guard leaves of her own accord.
1.8 I discuss the problem with the counselor and she signs all the paperwork necessary to address the problem - to get me out of the office.
2.0 Then I had to go to the Superintendent of schools and things got even more complicated, requiring another run-in with incompetent security staff, etc. Finally a discussion with the Superintendent and a resolution arrived at.
The problem was solved through being a jerk. Being nice means that they treat you like every other pathetic victim that is trying to get a fair shake for their kid(s). I started by being nice. I ended up by being Scary Larry, but I hate it when things degrade to that point.
The economy has been rough on my consulting business - the Olympics has been rougher still, and while work does continue to roll slowly in (as recently as last week), I thought I'd look around at other options and opportunities.
I found several responses remarkable. While not specifically stated, the portion of my resume (deliberately understated) that dealt with military service was viewed with a negative eye. One large corporate recruiter all but told me that it smacked of a potential for violence. I (quoting Forrest Gump loosely) said that violence is as violence does. They didn't want that potential in an employee. I did not suggest that they seek employees in
the ranks of eunuchs but I'm convinced they'd be happier with that class of man. Truth be told, I wouldn't be happy working with or for people like that.
All in all, I found it sobering.
And Kiplings words rolled in. I won't quote TOMMY in its entirety here, but it bears reading.
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.
Piero's Italian Restaurant, the evening after Oscar B. Goodman is elected to his first term of office as the mayor of the City of Las Vegas, Nevada.
There are no short pours in tumblers and the food flows from the kitchen as if it was intended for the table of a Turkish Bey. The gathering includes Goodman's inner circle and all of his living clients. It's no secret that Goodman represented reputed members of Italian Organized Crime. The toasts begin. "F-the FBI"! "F-the IRS!" and then one old pezzonovante lifts his glass, a splash of hundred year-old Scotch sloshing down his shirt sleeve and shouts, "F-the CIA".
Goodman pales briefly and says, "no, no, we cant toast like that." He stands, looks at the corner at two men who have been silent and who have not taken part in any of the toasting or back slapping. He says, "to the CIA!" Confused but following his lead the labor leaders, pension fun managers and goombas toast and drink.
The two men, one wearing a silk Breoni suit and the other wearing a more subdued Armani, smile, and walk out of the restaurant where the valet has their car waiting. They drive to the Mandalay Bay hotel and take the elevator to the Foundation Room where they have a private conversation. Eventually, business concluded, they are approached by a Black Rap Star, dripping in gold chains, accompanied by several attractive models and half a dozen bodyguards. The Rap Star admires one of the men's hat, a Borsalino, hand-stitched Italian job. The story continues, but it's not for this blog.
I love freshly made, hot, home made cookies -- I just do.
I don't know which I like more, peanut butter or oatmeal raisin. I like them both. Making a decision between the two is not dissimilar to sitting at a museum where the two famous Gainsborough masterpieces "Pinky" and "Blue Boy" hang together and deciding to which you will fix your gaze.
Just before Memorial Day this year, some of the neighborhood boys came by the house. They wanted to look at the framed photos on my office wall and hoped for a war story, a homily on military service. Some of the same boys came by again yesterday. Because I wrote the story in a journal I keep, on 5-24-08, I thought I'd trot it out for the blog.
I keep telling them, "It's not the way you think it will be."
It's impossible to communicate the nature of physical exhaustion to those who haven't experienced it. Training attempts to prepare you for it, but it doesn't come close. I was with two friends who are dead today. We were sitting in the mud, eating small baby water snakes, squirming through the ooze by the hundreds and washing them down with polluted water from our canteens. We had not eaten or slept for four days. We were in a state of starvation-enhanced exhaustion that caused us to have vivid dreams that we experienced while wide awake. The snakes broke the hunger until the stomach acid finished them off.
So I told the boys that when you hear the pitiful screams of the wounded and dying, smell the butcher-house odors of feces and blood, roasted flesh, rotting and decay, the detritus of the battlefield, and feel the last shiver of life ebb as a friend dies in your arms and you look into his eyes and see the pupils dilate in death, you'll wish that you were never there.
The boys didn't hear a word I said. They urged me to tell them a war story. I told them that I just did.
Yesterday they came by to look at the wall, they asked some questions, and re-energized, they left. They thanked me when they left, but I don't think that I did them any favors.
And for their sakes primarily, I sacrificed and worked for a living doing interesting things, but not wild things. We all have to balance the desire for what we want with what is best for the greater good. Was it worth it? Yeah. I think so.
Emilie - Fossil hunting Some people see the vastness emptiness of the desert as threatening, but I find it an intoxicating place. It's far more interesting to me than any city on Earth (with the possible exception of Hong Kong) and provides endless opportunities to explore.
Whether it's the Latham Shale, hunting for trilobite fossils from the Cambrian Period, 500,000 years ago or discovering an indian well, surrounded by rock writing and hieroglyphic explanations of what those ancients saw and experienced, the desert keeps its secrets for those intrepid enough to seek them out.
Even though my daughter, Emilie (right) is a city girl at heart, she likes finding fossils every bit as much as anyone else would. It's much like opening a Christmas present when you chip a piece of shale and find the skeletal remains of a fish or creature who lived on the planet half a billion years ago. The scope of the reality of time, the light and space of the desert, and the fact you are there puts a whole new spin on life and on living.
It's one thing to scale a mountain, ford a swiftly moving river or cross a barren desert. The memories are lasting and will be treasured. However those journeys which are shared are often the best.
My daughter, Emilie, now 17 years old, has been my trail companion for many of the overland journeys I've undertaken over the past couple of years. Her discoveries along the trail have allowed me to see things through the eyes of a younger person with all of the wonder and joy of exploration and revelation that I found many years ago on my own. When you experience things through the eyes of another person, it's like seeing them for the first time.
In the high country, west of Teluride, Colorado, at the foot of the 13,000 ft. Palmyra Peaks and Silver Mountain, the Alta mine complex provided millions of dollars in precious metal at the turn of the (previous) century. The mining business is all but passed, however the lakes stand at over 11,000 ft.
My Toyota (left) and a buddy's to the right felt right at home in the mountain fastness. There are hungry trout in all three Alta Lakes. The best lake of the three (also the highest) requires a hike. But it's worth the journey.
When we reflect on where we've been, the path that led us to a particular spot at a particular time is always just about as interesting as the event itself.
In this photo, I'm suspended near the conning tower of the USS Cavalla (SSN 684) while working with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One on DDS training in the Sea of Cortez. Cavalla is a Sturgeon Class boat that was and apparently still is being used for a wide variety of special operations programs. She was the first of the Navy's boats to be fitted with a dry dock shelter for the Mark 8 SEAL Delivery Vehicle or "SDV".
SDV's are miserable contraptions to ride in for a number of reasons I won't go into here. Suffice to say that path, that journey, is in my past and while a cherished memory, was a pain-in-the-neck at the time.
The Top-Of-The-World isn't the actual top. I guess that the Roof-of-the-World will always be the Himalayas. However, the character of this place is unique to me as so many other places have left their stamp on my psyche. In this photo, I'm a dot standing next to my rig. For some reason, it would seem wrong to appear large in a place like this.
Even the lizards bring an exotic aspect to the experience of exploring this country.
The Kokopelli Trail stretches across the desert from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah. It's 142 miles of spectacular wilderness. In the three day trip, our small group of 6 trucks didn't encounter another human being. In our world, solitude can be difficult to find but once discovered and recalled, it has a delicious character all its own.
Sometimes solitude can be shared. In the absence of outside influences, the company you keep provides a more profound level of interaction than it does in the distracting world of cell phone, advertisement and modern detritus.
Our modern world is somewhat of a Potemkin Village since the facade of safe and ordered society is alien to the nature of man, who lived under the stars much longer than in the city's light pollution that obscures the lights that guard the night. At night I lay on a rock overhang at the Top-Of-The-World. On one side of me was a 2000 foot drop. Above me were stars that I felt I could reach out and touch. The wind that blew along the summit was cool and refreshing even though the desert had been hot that day. I was curiously alive. I hadn't felt alive in that way for a very long time.
In cold weather, things don't work the same as they do in warm weather. Adhesives don't usually stick and everything becomes more difficult to manipulate.
I was young and it was very cold. I was setting military demolitions to blow an object of interest. We swam to the location wearing heated dry suits and surfaced in very cold air with a strong wind blowing surface snow even though the weather was clear. It was winter and the sun hadn't broached the horizon.
There were four of us and this particular operation came as a surprise - as a response to tasking that came to the Navy. It needed to be done quickly and the materials at hand were deemed by command authority to be good enough.
We had 40 pound cratering charges that were going to be initiated by electric blasting cap, backed up with a det-cord uli-knot (creates directed force by wrapping, not unlike a hangman's noose made of det cord). We also brought M-183 satchel charges because they were available.
The heated dry suits were inadequate for the outside temperature and working fast was the only option. Because of the operational environment, three members of the team provided security with silenced MP-5's and the other handled the demo. Blowing snow meant that nobody could see well. Snow goggles weren't available so the dive masks had to suffice.
Demolition (det) cord becomes stiff and very hard to bend at low temperatures and so it's difficult to knot. A couple of us tried but the cord was too stiff. We wore heated dive mitten dive gloves and Uli-knots couldn't be tied.
BANG - the team member handling the demolition goes down. He's screaming, there's blood on his chest where he's holding it and the only thing we want to know is where "they" are. Where did the shot come from? Inching back to help a wounded colleague, the blood wasn't from a chest wound. The electric blasting cap detonated as soon as the ends were un-shunted. The blowing snow must have created a static electrical charge. His dive mitten was shredded and he was missing meat from the top of his hand and his thumb was dangling (he had been holding the blasting cap properly, hot end facing away from him). Fortunately the blood froze almost immediately.
What to do? Nobody wanted to unwrap another electric blasting cap. Once it was in the cratering charge there was concern that it would detonate prematurely, ruining everyone's day.
Somebody said something in a class some time before about removing the booster end of the priming assembly of a satchel charge to detonate a heavier charge. So we took off the booster and tried to attache it to the blasting cap tunnel in the cratering charge. Tape is the universal solution but it wouldn't stick. It was also frozen. So we spat on the charge and used "arctic glue" -frozen spit- to attach the priming portion of the satchel charge to the cratering charge. We weren't sure, given the failure of the electric blasting cap, whether the times fuse would actually work. The 10 pounds of C-4 from the satchel charge was placed in front of the cratering charge, which would deliver sufficient shock to the C-4 to detonate it as well.
What do do to replace the ripped dive glove? His hand was freezing and immersion in the water would finish the job. Parachute cord wrapped tightly around a collapsed (so there wasn't much air in it) waterproof bag did the trick.
-The thumb was saved
-The explosive detonated
-Sometimes a cold war is hot and other times a cold war is cold.
This blog has many elements and depending on your interests, may pique your imagination...or not. I urge you to be unreasonable. Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. The unreasonable persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves, therefore all progress depends on unreasonable people. The more unreasonable you are, the more likely you are to enjoy this blog. All men dream, but not equally.
If you're a socialist or a Marxist, you'll find that I poke fun at your absurd notions of "good government" on a regular basis. So you might not wish to follow this blog because you'll be offended.
John Locke said, "One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant." I like what Locke said. We can't theorize without adequate information because when we do we inevitably twist facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts. In this blog and in my life, I try to maintain this perspective.
Either you believe in our essential spark of shared divinity, or you succumb to our human insecurity. Either way your conscience lets you slice it, the main thing is to earnestly do what is right at the time.
Today, I balance work and play as much as anyone can. All things remaining equal, play is more important. Life is short - it's important to make every day count for something, if only to yourself.
I'm a former tinker/tailor/soldier/sailor who has now decided that maybe it really wasn't all done for nothing.