Monday, June 30, 2008

Rush - Snakes & Arrows Tour

Saturday night I had the opportunity to go see Rush, one of my favorite all time rock bands, perform live at the Riverport Amphitheater. I know, it is now called the "Verizon Wireless Amphitheater", just as it was previously known as the UMB Bank Pavilion before . . But I am getting old and very slow to change so back off a bit . . . ;-)

It was my first time back to the outdoor facility to see a rock concert since the infamous Guns & Roses show I attended with my brother in July of 1992. That show was cut short, resulting in thousands of angry fanatics rioting and tearing up the place. My brother and I did the safe and smart thing . .we headed for the parking lot as fast as we could, got in the car and drove home.

Thankfully, the crowd on Saturday was not destructive and we fed on the energy from the trio of Canadian rockers as they performed the show in two sets, without a warm up band or opening act. Each half of the show could have been a standalone set. Thirty years of recording albums is a lot of material to choose from and the band chose to work extra hard on this tour to avoid cutting to much out of the show.

It was a special show because I was able to take my family with me to share the experience. My wife was a real trooper too! Her first love, when it comes to music, is country. Her previous "rock" experiences were with the likes of Elton John or Billy Joel so a hard progressive rock band like Rush was definitely a stretch outside of her comfort zone. Her only knowledge of Rush songs are from my own attempts to follow the bass patterns of the half a dozen Rush songs that I have learned to play on my own bass guitar. I had given my youngest son his own copy of "Moving Pictures" a couple of years ago (so I could get mine back) after he became fascinated with "YYZ" (after an internet video he watched with me a 100 times - My oldest son just loves being with his dad so much it did not matter who we were seeing as long as we were together.

I can remember hearing my first Rush song. I was in junior high when I heard "Fly By Night". I will never forget that classic power chord guitar intro! John Walker, Co Host and Associate Editor of Dinosaur Rock Guitar wrote “when Alex (Lifeson) comes in with his guitar it screams RUSH! every bit as characteristic as Geddy Lee's voice or Neil Peart's hyperkinetic drumming”. I would later come to love other Rush songs like "Closer to the Heart", "Lakeshore Drive", "The Trees", "Working Man" and of course, the +20 minute "2112" overture.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I was listening to both sides of the entire Rush catalogue finding the deep cuts the most interesting and thought provoking. The band seemed to just keep getting better and better every year too! The first album, "Fly By Night" & "Caress of Steel" were hard rocking albums for sure but I really enjoyed the mystical "A Farewell to Kings" and "Hemispheres". Every listen was a new experience and could be enhanced with the use of headphones. Each Rush album released up through, and including "Moving Pictures" had a long playing conception song. "2112" is perhaps the most well known piece taking the entire first side of the vinyl album with the same title.

The band seemed to really hit their stride with "Permanent Waves". I did not think it possible for that album to be improved on but to my pleasant surprise a year later they released "Moving Pictures". I saw Rush perform at the "Checkerdome" in 1981 on their "Moving Pictures" tour. The Checkerdome was also known as the "old arena" or "the barn" but It does not really matter anymore because it was torn down in February of 1999.

"Signals" (released 9/82) and "Grace Under Pressure" (released 4/84) would follow. While some Rush fans lamented the decline of the guitar dominating sound, the keyboards and synthesizers brought more musical textures to enrich the complex rhythms and lyrical thought of the social conscience issues that were being presented. I am not sure why, maybe it was just MTV, or perhaps it was the inability to deal with the reality of the subject matter, but after "Power Windows" (released 10/85), I reached terminal velocity and escaped the gravitational pull of Rush myself. . Or so I thought . . . but it seems I was like a comet that drew near and than was slung out into deep space only to reach my apogee to return.

Like the music of Rush, my life has changed so many ways in the last 30 years. Perhaps I am showing signs of 'midlife' crisis and only desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness or to recapture a bit of my past. It is possible, however, that I have grown up and matured so I can appreciate the progressive nature of this band. Either way, I have found new joy in the old, the very old, the new and the not so new music of Rush. Thank you Geddy, Alex and Neal for the "Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength" . . . For the "gift beyond price, almost free" . . . . Almost . . ;-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sailing (one of) the Seven Seas

I had been on a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas in 1982 as part of a senior trip. I do not have any particular memories from that long weekend. I do recall a long bus ride from Imperial, Missouri to Miami, Florida. I also remember the absolute hatred I have toward the song “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang which had to have been played a hundred times on the way down. It seems we spent as much time on a bus as we did on the ship. It also seemed like that bus was always stopping for some reason or another. I do not remember having the best time of my life on this particular trip. I was not a popular guy in high school by any stretch of the imagination and I am not very outgoing at all. I am a classic I-S-T-J if the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is to be trusted. I had no girl friend to speak of and the few friends that I hung out with did not go on that trip.

The 2nd Caribbean cruise promised to be different. I was going with friends for one thing. Secondly, we were going to fly. We all realized we had an opportunity to do something special. We also knew it was something we would not ever get the chance to do again. While our dreams of fun in the sun and dancing the night away with women our own age in the hope of experiencing something we had only read about in the Penthouse forum were quickly dashed before we even boarded the ship, we made it our goal to have the time of our life.

I should start by introducing three guys that were willing to spend time and money to be with me during my last days as a civilian. We had so many common life experiences growing up in our little Jefferson County community. To start, we had grown up from young elementary children to junior high teenagers together. We rode motorcycles together, entered high school together and when we were 16, we experienced the thrill of driving cars together. We suffered puberty, survived drug and alcohol abuse, and shared the constant frustration of loneliness brought about by our desire for female companionship. For better or for worse, and mostly for worse, these guys knew me about as well as anyone.

Brett was my best friend growing up and I had known him the longest. I was six years old when my mom and dad settled down in Imperial. I had started first grade in one school district and finished it in another. I would never change primary schools again and graduated from Windsor High School in 1982. Brett was the same age and his folks had a house directly across the street from our double wide trailer which was located on property owned by my aunt and uncle. If I lay claim to being ‘Tom Sawyer’, Brett would clearly be ‘Huck Finn’. We were inseparable for many years. I spent more time at his house and ate more meals with his family than I did my own. I wish time permitted me to write more about my childhood. In time, I will disclose more through these posts to share our great and not so great tales of adventure.

Monty was a good friend as well. We had a history that went back to 2nd grade when we were in Cub Scouts together. We had many things in common and became very good friends in high school and even better friends after we graduated. The third amigo was Mike. Mike was the new kid on the block. He had moved onto our street in a time when people just did not move that much, at least in our tiny community. Mike’s mom and dad bought a home up the street from where I grew up one summer in the mid 1970’s. This was right before we entered junior high school so I would guess we were around 10 or 11 years old. While I would love to write more about these guys sometime in the future, I would love even more to have dinner with them and reflect on where we are at and reminisce where we came from.

As I think about these guys, I realize how great we had it as kids. I said earlier, none of us were very popular in school. We did not need to be. We did not care what others thought all that much in those days. I knew I had the best friends and they were cool in their own way. My friends were as dependable and reliable and loyal as any a guy could hope for. I have two boys of my own, and sometimes I wonder if they will have friends like I had. God in heaven, I can only hope.

Anyway, late January of 1987 we found ourselves sailing one of the seven seas. We ate and drank more than any four human beings should. I wish I kept a journal of our day to day activities. Two decades later, I can just remember a few things: we ate, we drank, and we did not meet any single women so we just continued to eat and drink. And we slept it off so we could do it again. Oh yes, we listened to the Van Halen “5150” CD several hundred times . . like we needed the motivation to go party it up . . .

I came back from Florida and the hedonistic lifestyle (sans sex), had caused me to gain enough weight that when I went to the MEPS to ship out to Florida for boot camp a few weeks later, I was denied for “medical reasons”. In fact, I was given a stern warning. I had to lose 15 pounds in six weeks or my enlistment would be jeopardized. My dad was very confused when he came home from work that evening. He had dropped me off at 5am and 14 hours later there I was sitting in his living room watching television. Well, one advantage to being 23 years old: a pound of body fat could be lost in a single day with a 2 mile run. I quickly lost the necessary weight and on April 20, 1987 my dad took me back to the St Louis MEPS and when he came home from work that evening, I was on an airplane headed toward Orlando.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The dynamics of any change bring a fair amount of stress to life. I was being tossed to and fro by the winds of change and felt a great deal of stress and anxiety. In the fall of 1985 I had enlisted in the United States Navy and was scheduled to ship out to San Diego for boot camp within a few short weeks. I quit my job and sold my 1969 Dodge Dart. In fact, I sold or gave away just about everything I owned. I am not sure what was going on in my mind but it would be interesting study to find out if people going into the military experience suicidal tendencies. I know I did. I guess my logic going into the military went something like this:

What is the worst thing that can happen? . . . .I could die . . . So I considered myself dead . . . I did not know it at the time but it has been my continued experience in life, once the “death” issue is addressed, real living can begin. We may revisit this theme another time as it is ripe with theological and philosophical fruits!

Before I signed my first contract with the government and swore to defend the US constitution I understood there were risks involved. So while I did not specifically talk about dying, I did come to grips with the possibility. I also found myself separating from my friends, some who thought I was making a mistake by going into the military. It is quite possible that it might have had more to do with the absence of money since I quit my job and the absence of a car which left me without transportation.

It is interesting to note that during this time of my life, because I was ‘stuck’ at home during the day, I watched a lot of television with my mom. I probably bonded with my mom more during the fall of 1985 than any other period of time since I was a toddler. We watched “Days of Our Lives” together every day and that certainly was a unique experience. We also watched a ton of cooking shows on PBS. Our favorite was Jeff Smith, “The Frugal Gourmet”. We would watch him cook with wine and do the most wonderful things with ordinary foods we could buy locally. We experimented in the kitchen almost daily! We were so pleased with our accomplishments and our ‘Shop-N-Save’ cuisine! My brother, my sister and my dad . . .not so much . . . so it was not uncommon for us to make two separate meal’s, especially if we were going to use mushrooms!

Once I qualified and was accepted in the Naval Nuclear Power program, however, everything that was planned came un-done. Instead of going to San Diego in late September, I was given new orders to ship to Orlando, Florida in February of 1986. While my mom and I were getting along just fine for those few weeks it did not take long for my desire for age equivalent socialization to manifest. I missed hanging out with my friends. There was also the need for insurance so I needed money, wheels, and a job.

In 30 years I have never seen a town with more used car lots then Imperial, Missouri. There are not nearly as many now but they are still there in large number. I remember my mom and dad loaned me $600 so I could buy an old 1967 Pontiac Tempest. I was also able to get a job at Radio Shack. This would be the first time I would actually get a job based upon my technical knowledge. Unfortunately, I was not a natural salesman and the people I worked with had no desire for competition on the floor so all I was taught was how to use the time clock and the cash register. While I did not get a very good hourly wage, I did get commissions. So did my manager. So did the other employees. It was not a very friendly place to work to say the least. The Tandy 1000 was a popular and cheaper IBM PC clone and had barely been out for a year when I started working there. The commission from one PC sale was significant. I found out rather quickly, as the ‘new hire’ I did not get the chance to sell many. I remember loosing many customers to the store manager who would come out of nowhere to single me out to ring out a customer at the register. I would also be required to ask for names and addresses to complete the sale and we were always mandated to push batteries every chance we could. Some things never change. While I did not sell many computers, I was there for the holiday season and was able to do real well selling radios, telephones and remote control cars. I did so well, in fact, that three of my friends and I decided to go on a farewell cruise to the Bahamas after the first of the year.

We went through a local travel agency and received a very good deal on a four day/3 night cruise to the Bahamas. I had been to the Bahamas for my senior trip in high school. Had I really already been out of high school four years? This would be my friend’s first time out of the country. We flew down to Miami and boarded our Carnival cruise ship. Any hope of having an exotically fun time drinking and dancing the nights away with women our own age aboard ship was quickly dampened by the banner going across the gangway . . . “WELCOME GRANDMA’S & GRANDPA’S” . . . I am speaking the truth, God as my witness, we had been booked on a senior citizen cruise.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father’s Day

I was going to spend some time today talking about some of the men (dads) in my life that have made a difference, for better or for worse, in who I am today. Obviously, the one man that I owe everything to is my own father. I call him Pop. This man has given me everything and more. I should start out by saying he has given me his name; not just the surname, but his first and middle names as well! Yes, I am a ‘junior’ and that is quite a burden for the firstborn son to carry. Every son should want to be like his dad and I was no different. Growing up, however, I found my dad was a mystery to me mostly because he worked long hours and many weekends.

Only now can I begin to appreciate what I could not many years ago. My dad grew up below the poverty level. He would tell me stories of how rough he had it growing up. I remember stories that he grew up eating cornbread and beans and maybe a ham bone went into the beans on the weekend. Stories of hunting jack rabbits for meat. Stories of living without indoor plumbing or having to wear the same clothes for a year or two. Stories of taking a hard biscuit wrapped with a strip of bacon fat to school so he could have something for lunch. I look back and I am ashamed to remember, not only my disbelief, but also my indifference to his own past and ingratitude for what he did to provide for his own family so they might have it a little bit better.

My dad told me he quit school so he could go get work in the oil fields in nearby Bryson TX. When the US army offered him a way out he went in with the dream of being a helicopter pilot but an eye injury that occurred when he was a kid kept him grounded. He was able to get out of Texas and he earned his GED. He traveled around the country from post to post. While he was stationed in Virginia he was introduced to a very attractive woman from New York. He would spend time in Germany before he was discharged. After he got out of the army he married that Yankee sweetheart and took a job at a service station pumping gas and being a part time auto mechanic. Whatever his hand found to do he did with all his heart. He had a gift for mechanical things and he became a very skilled mechanic. Things in the Big Apple were foreign to this country boy from west Texas. I remember my grandfather told me that he once saw my dad stand on the subway platform and missed the train because of manners instilled in him by his upbringing. He said my dad was holding the door open to let the women in first. The car quickly filled up and he found himself still standing there waiting for the next train to arrive.

My dad was able to provide for his wife and new son. They had scrapped and saved to buy a brand new Chevrolet convertible which was stolen within the first year. A few years later another car was stolen and he decided it was time to move the family back to Texas. For better or for worse, he only made it as far as Missouri before he pitched his tent.

He put himself through diesel mechanic school and afterwards took on a job at a diesel repair shop located off Interstate 70 in Wentzville. He perfected his craft and worked as many hours as he could, ever keeping that young family of his with a roof over their head, clothed, well fed and the bills paid. If an opportunity came along to improve his lot in life, he took it. We moved many times before we settled down in a little town called Imperial.

My dad was able to get a union job as a construction mechanic. He went to more schools to learn how to work on the big heavy duty equipment. He was given his own service truck with a big boom on the back of it. I was so proud of my dad and his big truck. There is a special smell of sweat, diesel fuel, grease and Joe’s Hand cleaner that, to this day, smells like my dad’s truck. My dad worked long days and many weekends. He had tools bigger than me and I could barely lift them up. Whenever I would try there would be that “awe . . .git! you’re gonna get all full of grease Carl Junior . . .”.

My dad would work in all kinds of weather too. In the summer his wrenches would get so hot from the sun that they would burn my hand when I tried to pick one up. In the winter, his wrenches would be so cold I wondered how he could hold them without gloves. My mom made sure he had the best steel toed boots, the best coveralls, and the best thermal underwear. My dad never called in sick either. He went to work even if he had the flu. If he came home at 11pm, he was still up at 5am, and even earlier if he had a long drive. He never took vacations as he would often sell his two weeks back to the company in December so his kids would not be disappointed at Christmas. He wore one of his many company uniform shirts just about every day for as long back as I can remember. The only reprieve we had from the monotony of it was when the company changed logos, designs or color. It was not until he retired a few years ago that we were able to see him wear anything else. He did these things for his family and now I try do these things for mine.

Anyway, I was going to write about some other’s that made a difference in my life. Yes, there have been a few. But this is Father’s Day and it is only appropriate that I save those stories for another time and tell you, and remind myself, what a great dad I have.

Thanks Pop! I love you! Happy Father’s Day

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Against All Odds

There once was a young boy that grew up below the poverty line in a small town in west Texas called Jacksboro. Jacksboro was the westernmost settlement in Texas after the Civil War and was subjected to Indian raids until Fort Richardson was built in 1870. The military presence provided safety for the settlers that numbered several hundred. In the shadow and safety of the fort, the town began to grow. Additional growth occurred when the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad arrived in 1898. The Gulf, Texas, and Western railroad came through 12 years later. In 1900 the population broke 1,000 and by 1930 it had almost doubled – many people brought in by the discovery of oil in nearby Bryson and Antelope. In 1936 it grew by one . . that was the year my dad was born.

Almost four years later and 1,600 miles away, another woman in New York City would complete her family by giving birth to a daughter.

Queens NY has a lot more history than Jacksboro TX since the first settlements occurred from 1635-1643. Queens was one of the twelve original counties of New York State created in 1683. Some 300 years later the Long Island Rail Road was electrified. Transportation to and from Manhattan vastly improved when the Queensboro Bridge was completed in 1909. Other railway tunnels under the East River and other bridges were built that allowed Queens to connect with the New York City subway system and roadways as the rapid popularization and use of the automobile allowed the population of Queens to more than double to over a million people by 1930.

If ever two people were unlikely to meet and fall in love, get married and have children, these particular two certainly would not have been odds on favorites. Against all odds, they did. Sometime in the fall of 1963, human passion tempered by human love and affection, provided the biological chemistry. Almighty God was pleased to provide the spark of life to create a human soul. In the summer of 1964, 44 years ago today . . . I was born in Flushing Meadows, NY.

Thank you mom and dad! Thank you Lord God! With all my heart and soul, thank you!

For this reason, I do not concern myself with the passing of the years. I believe in a God that exists outside of the limits of time and space. I believe He created me with eternity in mind so I try not to get bogged down in the mire of the things of this temporary world that is fading like a worn out garment. I believe He will be able to resurrect the dead as easily as He gave life to begin with or as easily as He called the worlds into being and sustains them. He was doing pretty good before I was born and I suspect He will be doing just fine after I am dead and burried. For me, to get worried about getting old is like the ocean worrying about getting wet because it is raining. Besides, I figure I am probably going to die in a car wreck because someone is too busy chatting on their cell phone, or even worse, trying to text message someone else and not paying attention to the road.

I would love to stay and chat some more but the candles are melting (dang, they light up the whole living room now!)and so is the ice cream!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Sonar to Naval Nuclear Power

By the end of the summer of 1985 I was officially in the United States Navy. My contract consisted of a basic four year enlistment plus two year enlisted extension for the schools I was going to attend. They say the devil is in the details and military contracts are no different. ALL non-prior service enlistments in the United States Military will incur a total eight year service obligation. I had six years covered by active duty, but was on the hook for two additional years of ‘inactive reserve’ time. Inactive reserve members do not perform weekend drills, and they do not receive any pay, however, they can be called back into active duty in times of emergency. By signing up early, I had entered the ‘delayed entry program’ which allowed me to learn a bit more about the Navy before I went in. This time also counted toward my inactive duty time.

I was still trying to come to grips with the disappointment of missing out on an Electronics Technician (ET) billet. I was under contract to become a Sonar Technician (ST). Regardless of what the naval career counselor had told me, something just did not sit well with me about it. While we were not mandated to drill, my recruiter highly suggested that we meet regularly one night a week to prepare for military life (generally) and boot camp (specifically). It was at one of these delayed entry gatherings that my fears were confirmed. A home town boy came back on leave and happened to stop by the recruiter’s office to say hello. He told me that I was really in for a surprise going into the Navy as a Sonar technician. He said that I would be sent to a ‘sonar operator’ school and then go to the fleet as a sonar operator. He said the technical schools for repairing sonar equipment were reserved for sailors that re-enlisted. I was not sure I could endure six years so 8-10 years seemed impossible. I had not spent one day on active duty but had decided I really was not looking at making the navy a ‘career’.

I talked to the recruiter about my situation and since I had already signed contracts, it seemed pretty certain that I was going to be a Sonar Operator unless I could qualify for a higher level program. Since Officer Candidate School was out (I did not have a degree so I could not be commissioned as an officer), I was told the only way I could get the electronics program I wanted was to try to qualify for the Naval Nuclear Power Program.

So I took another battery of tests and another trip to downtown St Louis MEPS. I underwent another complete physical examination and another long day waiting to speak with a career counselor. One thing that occurred that was different than before, I was required to disclose my background with ‘recreational drug use’ in a rather detailed manner. The career counselor spoke to me candidly and I did not realize the weightiness of the matter. He asked me numerous questions about the illegal drugs I had used. When he was sure that my drug use was limited to alcohol and marijuana, he then asked for more specific information: how many times, when I used, who I was with, etc. Now asking me how many times I had smoked pot was like asking me how many beers I had drank. It was a fairly large number without any ability to quantify it precisely. He slid a pad of paper and a pen to me and told me to start writing. I was quite embarrassed by the whole thing because it seemed like ancient history to me. My pot usage was pretty much limited to a year or two before and after I graduated from high school. It turned out, it was a really big issue and they actually had to get waivers for EVERY occurrence that I listed. To this day, I wonder if they actually read what I put down . . . that New Years Eve party (Dec 31), that 4th of July BBQ (July 4), my birthday . . . etc, etc. Afterwards, I was marched up to speak with a high ranking naval officer and was verbally reprimanded for my prior experimentation of illegal drugs. I was told how unfit I was for this program and his Navy. I guess my response was one of contrition because he let up, signed some papers in my folder and released me to the Yeoman that shredded my Sonar Technician contracts and typed up a set of contracts for me to enter the Naval Nuclear Power Program.

Instead of going to San Diego, I would now go to Orlando, Florida. Instead of leaving in three weeks, I was told I would not ship out for three months. The United States Naval Nuclear Power Program, I was told, was reserved for the finest and brightest enlisted men and there was a very large cash reward for completion of the training. I was told I would qualify for $6,0000 bonus IF and when I graduated from the training program. I did not have a clue. I had visions of Star Trek . . and I already had most of that money spent . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Recruiters, Used Car Salesmen, and Politicians

Why is it that some people get paid to lie? If the politicians did not lie they probably would not be voted into office. It is obvious that if a used car salesmen did not lie, most people would not spend good money on a lemon. I suppose if the recruiters did not lie, there would be a need for a national draft.

While I did talk with the Army and Marine recruiters I could tell I was not cut out to be a soldier or a marine. They pretty much agreed and had no problem directing me across the hall to where the Navy and Air Force recruiters had set up shop as they all shared a common facility.

I went over to see the Navy Recruiter. After some friendly chit chat, he gave me some forms to fill out and I agreed to take a couple of tests. I scored very high on these examinations. My recruiter told me that I could “write my own ticket” if I joined the Navy. I explained that I was only interested in getting into the electronics field to get the experience I needed to compliment the formal training I had received at the junior college.

Little did I know, but these recruiters have quotas to meet and they were trained to spin military life as pleasant as possible. After all, what job could I ever hope for that was willing to offer me 30 days paid vacation a year? Several years later when my division officer tried to convince me to re-enlist he used the same line. My response, tempered by several years of Navy experience was polite but firm: “Sir, the Navy can keep the 30 days of paid vacation and I will choose the 52 unpaid weekends off”.

My recruiter was my liaison to the Navy. He wore the uniform, he told the sea stories, he showed the pictures of foreign ports that held untold pleasures and the promises of schools and state of the art, cutting edge technical training which the government of the USA was eager to provide its sons and daughters. He allowed me to think he personified the military but the truth was he was paid to get me into a van to be screened and processed at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

The MEPS was located in downtown St Louis. This was a unique experience in and of itself. The first time I went to the MEPS, the recruiter picked me up in the early afternoon and drove me downtown to an old hotel on the river front in downtown St Louis and dropped me off. I was given a voucher for the hotel dining facility and a key to a room that I would have to share with a complete stranger. It was late summer and I remember the St Louis Cardinals had a home game so after dinner I walked over to the ball park and purchased tickets to sit out in the bleachers to watch a ball game.

The next morning I was rudely woke up at 4am and rushed over by military shuttle to an old dark cold building and processed. I was weighed, poked, prodded, squeezed, stuck and gave samples of almost every kind of body fluid I could provide. By 10am, I was brought upstairs to a hot stuffy waiting room where sleeping was forbidden and talking above a whisper was not allowed. There were Navy clerks all over the place pounding type writers and filling manila folders with papers of every size, shape and color.

I guess it was 2 or 3 in the afternoon before I was brought into a small conference room to talk with a ‘career counselor’. Twelve hours of "hurry up and wait" after sleeping 4 hours was taking a psychological toll. The first thing he said to me, “I represent the United States Navy and I will try to fulfill your personal desires but I have specific billet quotas to fill to meet the “needs of the navy”. This was a phrase I would hear repeatedly over the next six years. “Furthermore”, he continued, “I must tell you that anything the recruiter has told you or promised you cannot be guaranteed. Do you understand what I am saying?” I had not even started boot camp and things were not looking so good. I had major league concerns and reservations about what I was doing. I was like a mouse that saw the cheese and figured he was smart enough to get what he wanted without springing the trap. Within the hour, the career counselor convinced me that Navy sonar was 'electrical' in nature and that I would still get the technical training in electronics that I desired. I signed a six year contract with the US government to enter the Navy in just a few short weeks. I would go to San Diego, California for boot camp the last week of September and then Sonar Operator school upon graduation from boot camp sometime around Christmas.

The recruiter that picked me up around 6pm to take me home was not the same recruiter either. I am convinced this was not a mere coincidence. I had many thoughts but did not speak any of them on the long quiet ride back to my mom and dad’s house in rural Jefferson County. My neck was not broke and I was not dead. The cheese was still before me but there was nowhere to go with it but sunny southern California.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Navy! It’s Not Just a Job . . .It’s an Adventure! pt1

If you can recall this recruiting slogan, it will give you an idea of when I went into the United States Navy. I could probably write for days on my experiences over six years in the Navy. Over the next several days, I will write about the early years of my Navy experience starting with recruitment, boot camp, training commands and reporting to my first boat. This will also serve as historical reference for later stories and narratives and life lessons that I have learned over the years.

Joining the Navy was a turning point in my life for many obvious reasons. First, I was (and still am) a classic underachiever. I did not have the desire to go to college but more importantly, I certainly was not disciplined enough or mature enough to complete a degree program. I was living at home driving my mom crazy with the sickly smells of debauchery following me home every night . . . or early morning, depending on which way you wanted to look at it. It seems that I am getting a little out in front here so let me back up a few years:

The year is 1981. My friends and I have just started our senior year in high school. Several of us were selected for a unique program that allowed us to go to a local community college and take college level courses for High School credit. The program also allowed us to return the following year and pick up a two year ‘Certificate of Technology”. While my friends chose real crafts like automotive repair, heating, cooling and refrigeration, and welding, the career path I chose was Communication Electronics (think TV & radio repair). So in 1982 we graduated from high school then we were able to graduate from a junior college the following year.

I put myself through school only to find I could not get a technical job without experience. I found myself driving a delivery truck before a brief career of selling auto parts came to an end. I decided to go back to another technical school to get specific training on digital electronics as the age of the Personal Computer had arrived. I had three semesters under my belt when the money ran out. Unable to get loans or grants, I was literally forced out of the school. It was then that I made a decision to join the army and learn how to work on radios or ‘walkie-talkies’ as a means to get the experience I was told I needed.

I was out of high school for three years with no real sense of direction and the words from “Time” by Pink Floyd started taking on a whole new meaning to me . . I was running to catch up with a sinking sun and falling short of breath and one day closer to death but had done nothing of significance with my life. One of my technical instructors had retired from the US Navy and told me the navy would be a far better choice for technical training than going into the army. I could actually recall going on a field trip to Ft Leonardwood when I was in high school and the thought of the one day boot camp experience we had did not give me a warm fuzzy that I was up for three months of that.

I do not recall speaking with friends or family about my decision. I do recall the state of terror I felt when I thought about six years. I started working when I was 15 and between 1980 and 1986 I literally had over a dozen jobs. I could not keep any of them for more than a year. I was a restless soul that was easily bored in a stale environment. When I thought about a six year enlistment, I honestly had no idea how I could pull that off. I had not even spoken with a recruiter, much less left for boot camp, when the seeds of failure planted by fear started to take root. Bravery, as it turns out, is not the absence of fear but the refusal to be paralyzed by it. One lazy afternoon in late summer, I managed to do a very brave thing . . . (to be con't)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A View of the World

I have been thinking about my world view. I have been thinking about it an awful lot lately. By world view, I mean the basic framework of ideas and beliefs that we all develop over the span of our lives by which we try to interpret events in our lives and in the world, interact with them, and perhaps, take action to make a difference in the actual outcome. My own world view has provided me guidance in choosing a wife, raising our children, maximizing the pleasures in life and troubled me with how I should vote this November. My worldview has gotten me in trouble with family members and co-workers that have a different world view. My worldview has endeared me to some and to others. . Not so much.

The trouble with thinking . . . well, it requires thought. After all, resolved questions often leave fragments of other questions that also beg resolution. This is a very laborious process and in so doing, we will have unwittingly entered the domain of the philosopher. This idea of the strain of mental thought being laborious was captured so well by Auguste Rodin, the French artist and sculptor, in one of his best know pieces or work called “The Thinker”.

Philosophers, as I have been told, discuss and debate the weightier matters of life and existence. They talk about “being” and “truth” and “reality”. If I should actually meet one someday, I would probably leave any participated discussion more confused for the reasons I have already spoken of. Any attempt to explain and rationalize or justify a position must be defended and debated. To be sure, this takes a certain degree of knowledge and skill. Sadly, to many times in my life, I have experienced the shear frustration of being right about something but coming across so terribly wrong. So why bother?

Trust me on this. . I am a little older and a little wiser than I use to be. . but if we take some time to learn just a little bit about anything, simple logic, and our built in BS detector called “common sense”, tempered with genuine concern and humility, can allow us to be more than conquerors on the battlefield of ideas.

If you are like me, and I suspect that you are, do you ever wonder why we are so easily entertained? Why are we creatures so bent on pleasure and self preservation? Why we long to escape, even for just a moment, an hour, a weekend? We eat (and get fat) we drink (and get drunk) and make merry (and get a shot of penicillin if we are not careful). At the core, I suspect we are longing for something that this world cannot provide. British writer and scholar CS Lewis would be quick to conclude and point out the possibility exists that we were created for a different world. I figured since we sat at the bar stool with the philosopher we might as well go for a walk up a very steep hill . . .a mountain actually . . .and as we approach the summit we see several old gentlemen with long grey beards sitting around the fire. They have been there a very long time and perhaps will be there a bit longer. While they respect the philosopher in their own way, these men are theologians. They know that the philosopher is painting in the dark; or at least painting in a dimly lit room.

If time and space permitted, I would like to share some thoughts on basic theology, anthropology, morality, metaphysics and epistemology. They are the key components to our understanding of the world around us. We live our lives and hardly ever give them a thought. I hope this blog stimulates your interest to think, to challenge your presuppositions, to open your mind to a new way of thinking. I hope the opportunity presents itself to write more on these things in the very near future.

Oh, by the way, that old question, “what came first, the chicken or the egg” . . .The chicken, of course! You see, a consistent world view can permit some of life’s archaic mysteries to be resolved.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Little Drummer Boy

I like music. I am fascinated by those that can play a musical instrument. I have always dreamed of being able to play some type of musical instrument. I remember when I was young I wanted a drum set. My mother did not want me to play the drums. I knew she was serious because she also told my grandparents that they were NOT to buy me a drum set for Christmas either. After all, grandparents have been known to please their grandchildren from time to time and mine were no different. Instead I received a toy organ which I never learned how to play.

I had a friend in 5th grade that had a drum set but his mom did not allow any of his friends to play it though. I had another friend in Junior High School that also had a drum set but he did not allow any of his friends to play it either. He played in the marching band and so I decided to join the band. Instead of getting a pair of drum sticks and snare drum or a pair of timbales or toms, I was given a trumpet. I did not last three weeks in band because I got caught blowing spit on the clarinet player that sat in front of me. I was a very mean kid and looking back drums might have been the perfect thing for me to take out my aggression on without hurting anyone’s feelings . . . well, maybe my mom’s . . .

I joined the US Navy in 1986. In 1989 I was living in Bremerton, Washington. In those days, I had a lot of friends. We were all single guys and some of them had the means to live out in town on their own and avoid the rules and regulations that those of us living in the BEQ (Bachelor Enlisted Quarters . . . barracks for short) were required to follow. One particular weekend in the summer of 1990, I was invited to a friend of a friend’s house for beer and BBQ. He had the perfect bachelor pad, at least in my eyes, because his living room was filled with amps and guitars and a small little drum kit. I remember that day well because Keith asked me if I could play. I did what any friend would do and lied through my teeth and said “of course’ because any of the guys I grew up with would tell you that I played the back seat and head rest with the best of them. I was never an ‘air guitarist’ but I would use my hands and feet and the imagination of drumming that had been in my head since I first heard “Wipeout” or “Ball Room Blitz”.

That day in Bremerton was one of the happiest of my life. Lucky for me Keith was a lover of punk music. I can still see him standing there with his Black Flag t-shirt and tore up blue jeans. Anything I played that day ‘worked’. It was raw, it was passionate, it was loud and in my ears, for someone that ‘never played’ it sounded pretty good. Did I mention that we had lots of beer? Well, the house was right there on Puget Sound so there were no neighbors to complain.
In 1991 I purchased my first drum set. It was a very old beat up Pearl 3 piece with half the hardware missing. I got it for less than $200 which I thought was a bargain. Over the weeks ahead I would buy a piece of hardware or a cymbal on payday and soon enough I had a small little kit to play around on. I played as often as I could until someone would knock on the door to ask me to stop. This happened fairly regularly but diminished as I got better at keeping time and honed my new skills.

The barracks were sized for four people but often only had 2 or 3. I eventually had to move into my own room because I was on the last nerves of my two roommates. It did not take long for me to get another roommate. My new roommate was not only a good friend but he also had taught himself how to play an electric guitar. He also had a little four track recorder that used a standard cassette tape.

We had a several year age difference between us but we found music was able to bridge that gap very well. I was able to turn him on to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and he was able to get me to listen to the Cure and the Jesus and Mary Chain. When worlds collide . . .

That year I wrote 20 songs or so and he did the same. We made our own tape with original songs and had other friends help us with the bass guitar and lead guitar tracks . . .what a cool experience that was. I still have that tape too.

I got out of the Navy in 1993. My friends all went their way and I went mine. Sometimes I wonder what it is like to pursue our dreams. I learned that I could do what I enjoy without quitting my day job.

I sold that drum set in 1995 to get the cash I needed to buy an engagement ring. Sometimes my wife wonders if I love her. I want to tell her, “Just look at your ring”. I know I gave up part of my childhood dream to pay for that ring but I do not say anything because her dreams are as precious as mine. While she may doubt my love for her from time to time I refuse to add to her angst with guilt. After all, I am not all that old . . .and there may yet be time to put together a blues band. . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Silver Dollar City - Branson, MO

My family and I just returned from our annual summer vacation to Branson, Missouri. For those that are not familiar with Branson, it is a tourist community cuddled into the Ozark mountain region in the Southwest corner of Missouri, not very far to the Arkansas border. They completed the Table Rock Dam on the White River in 1963 which allowed the formation of Table Rock Lake. Branson is a combination of Nashville, Disneyland without the characters and a family friendly Las Vegas. The city has over 50 theaters and a selection of over 100 live shows to choose from. There are numerous outlet malls, museums, golf courses (from championship links to mini-golf), and restaurants. There are other local attractions that include Celebration City, Dixie Stampede, White Water, an IMAX Theater, Big Cedar Lodge, Titanic Museum, Showboat Branson Belle, The Shepherd of the Hills, Stone Hill Winery, Ride the Ducks, the Branson Landing, Liverpool Legends and of course, no visit to Branson would be complete without spending a day or two at Silver Dollar City.

Silver Dollar City opened in 1960 as an above ground attraction at Marvel Cave. It was made up of a recreated frontier town of five shops, a church, a log cabin with actors playing out the feud between Hatfields and McCoys. In those days, SDC was free but tourists had to pay to tour the cave. Now you pay to enter SDC but the tour through Marvel Cave is free. Over the years, SDC has added numerous rides and attractions but the best experience at SDC is to watch craftsmen work their trade much the way it was done several generations ago. I enjoy watching them make items out of blown glass, or shaving wood to make a basket, or cooking down lye to make soap. The kids, of course, love to visit the taffy shop to fill a small bucket with their favorite flavors of freshly made candy. My personal favorite experience is to watch master craftsman Raymond Johnson literally forge and hammer out a knife blade out of raw stock material on his big steel anvil as he tells stories and saturates the air with his endless “encyclopedia of useless knowledge” as he calls it . . . but I say it is earthly wisdom to a generation that cannot hear it because they have their i-pod buzzing in their ears. Ray is ‘old school’ all the way and just a delight to watch and listen to. His knives are hard enough to punch a hole in a 55 gallon steel drum, strong enough to stand up in a vice and take a punch from a 5 pound sledge and sharp enough to cleanly cut through a piece of twisted manila rope with a simple downward stroke.

Like most vacation destinations, the cost of a season pass is slightly more than paying for two individual day tickets so we always opt out for the season pass. Our family has found we enjoy SDC more by visiting when they first open at 9:30am and staying until mid afternoon. We prefer to visit four (4) ½ days then for one or two long ones. This is one advantage that the season pass option allows us. It is always our goal to try to get down to SDC between Thanksgiving and Christmas for their holiday celebration which is a totally different experience.

My first trip to Branson occurred in the mid 1970’s. My dad was a heavy equipment mechanic and worked on Euclid earthmoving scrapers and dump trucks before they sold out to GM (who then sold out to Hitachi). He spent a few months working in the area and since it was summer, he took his family down to stay with him. I do not recall more than swimming in the motel pool and visiting Silver Dollar City. In those days, they only had one ride called “Fire in the Hole”. Remarkably, this ride is still in operation to this day!!

Twenty years later I would start my own family tradition by taking my wife and son to the Ozark vacation week-end get-a-way . Now we have two sons and make our annual pilgrimage as soon as the boys get out of school. Sadly, our vacation ended a few short days ago but we are building memories that we know will last a lifetime.