The Logo

I taught graphic design for many years, and I always mentioned the two projects that professional designers dreamed about. The first would be designing a typeface that becomes popular. This is not only financially rewarding, but it is amazing to see the impact on the world.

Typography is now a lost art, primarily through the glut of available typefaces. When fonts were formed in lead with matrix molds, the choices were less. When fonts were designed in postscript, the choices were almost endless.

I was sucked into that designers dream when the first typographic app came out. A designer could load the font into each character, and at the end you could upload the font to your computer and type with it. Of course it was much more than upper and lower case alphabet stuff. It was special characters, punctuation, numbers, super script, etc.

I only got the upper and lower case finished. What I did was upload my favorite five fonts, convert them into postscript outlines, then I averaged them all together to create a blend.

The final project was unique to my selections and had many of the qualities that I admired. I typed a few sentences, then forgot about going further.

The second dream of designers is to make a lasting logo. A logo for the ages that becomes representational, a short cut of identity. Fortunately, I not only taught graphic design, but I was the institutional designer for the college.

I’m not certain that I was asked to make a logo. I was just aware that a design had not been decided, because I saw that there were several different ways that the college presented itself in print.

There was a letterhead that spelled out the college name in Copperplate, a popular typeface in the late 1800s. This typeface did not have lowercase letters, it just used smaller capital letters instead. It was remarkable because it had very small, sharp serifs… almost like thorns, on a mostly standard sans serif body style.

This worked well with the college name because there was the letter “g” that had a descender sticking down below the base line. In Copperplate there were no ascenders or descenders.

Then someone tried using just the four first letters to make a textual logo. I mention four because the official name was “Contra Costa Community College”.

The end result was that it looked like four horse shoe prints, or a long broken chain. It was better to drop the “community”. Three “C”s was enough.

I worked on three different designs. The first was different ways to present three “C”s, some based on type, some based on art. One that appeared interesting was three curved, swooping shapes. This was before Nike’s logo. It was promising.

The next idea was based on a Japanese style circular “chop”. I once saw a rendition of Mt. Fuji surrounded by a circular band. When I was walking the college upper road, I could see Mt. Tamalpais and the bay quite clearly.

I did a quick sketch of Mt. Tam with the bay below, and I made three choppy “C”s in the bay water. Like waves. Then, I placed a circular ring around it all, broken only by the water.

The third idea was slightly improving the old Copperplate idea.

I placed all three projects in a folder and present them to the President of the college. I wasn’t sure he had the authority, considering there was the chancellor of the district. He liked the “swoop” logo, but said he would take the projects to a district meeting. He came back with the Mt. Tam “chop” idea. Although he thought it was Mt. Diablo.

I almost said that we can’t see Mt. Diablo from our campus, but then I realized that the district office can’t see Mt. Tamalpais. I said nothing. I changed the mountain slightly.

The round logo lasted seven or eight years, from 1977 to 1985. In 1984 the college hired a new president, and as some presidents do, changes were made. In 1985 I was asked to “improve” the logo.

I replaced the circular band with a horizontal double oval. I also removed one line of the waves in the bay, and changed the “choppy” three “C”s with a more typographic look. I used a typeface with a slightly round serif similar to CocaCola’s typeface. Lastly, I was asked to make the mountain more similar to Mt. Diablo. I never said that it was Mt. Tam. I changed the mountain again.

For the last thirty-eight years it has remained the same, with eleven different presidents. It can be seen from space because it is in the middle of the football field. It is chiseled in stone on several signs on campus, and of course it is on every piece of letterhead.

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I Heard the News Today…

Oh Boy…

It wasn’t the lyrics of a classic song, it was the announced death of a person I’ve known for forty years.

Relationships made at work are in a peculiar box. Often they are simply “associates”, people that are known, people that share a building or office, people that work together on projects… but often they never enter in to your private life.

‘Associate” does not necessarily mean being a friend. In academia, relationships have another label- colleague, another person at the “college”. Again, friendship is not implied, but the relationship is deeper on many levels. More complex, more commitment.

It’s stranger still when the individual should be a “friend”, but has never quite transitioned to that close circle. It is always a missed opportunity. I received a death notice of a person that should have been my friend, but remained my colleague. We smiled in hallways. We brought joy to each other in the passing. We loved the same things in the world. We taught things of passion.

And somehow we never had the time for “friendship”. that was an error on my part. I should have reached out more because I appreciated his “being”. But I think he knew that, so maybe it was the same for him.

The college asked for comments, I sent the following.


He was/is the purist definition of a colleague. We shared in teaching disciplines that did not directly lead to successful careers, yet we believed the disciplines were essential to being a successful individual. We shared being part-time instructors in the decades when part-time did not have the respect of others. We shared the challenge of being academic chairs when budgets were contracting every year. We shared the joy of loving the community of the college above all else. But he was kinder, wiser, and more gentle.

I will miss my rare colleague, as he continues to lead the way.

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My Dad’s Dad

Frederick Wilhelm Diestler was born on May 6, 1860 in Lansing, Allamakee Countyt, Iowa. The new Republican Party had nominated Abraham Lincoln for the November election in 1860, and he won!

In the months before the election the country was defining issues issues with sharp edges, and the election of Lincoln was felt by some people in the South as the last straw. In Iowa they celebrated!

Frederick’s father, John Frederick, was an immigrant from Prussia. He was born in Gross Fahlenwerder, Soldin county. Over one hundred colonists had moved there from the Pfalz area near France, because of the threat of war, and constant French raids.

The colonists at first wanted to go to the United States, like their Hessian neighbors. But the Emperor had at first refused to let them go, asking them to consider going to some new lands east of Berlin. They spoke German there, and he promised not to draft their sons for war.

John Frederick was born in Gross Fahlenwerder, but as a teenager, he was one of the first that independently decided to move to America.

I’m not certain in what year he first came to the US. I found a record of him coming over when he was in his early twenties, but the oral history was that he was a teenager. I have found several instances where individuals came over to check things out, then went back to escort family and friends to the new world. In 1857 John zfrederick came by ship with a neighbor, Karl Berkeley.

John Frederick came to Iowa via the Great Lakes to Green Bay. From there he followed the portage trail through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. I believe he stopped briefly to marry a distant cousin, Julia, at his father-in-law’s farm in Lansing , Minn. They stayed there for almost two years, and their first child died there in childbirth.

In a pattern that has repeated several times, after the death, they decide to move back to Wisconsin. This time there went to a sunburn of Milwaukee and lived on a small farm near Pewaukee. Julia was pregnant with Anna, and after the birth they went back to Langsing, Iowa. It’s possible that Julia’s father had helped, or knew, that a farm was for sale nearby, or perhaps they rented.

John Frederick had remember the area and decided to go to the neighboring farm, and Frederick William was born there as the oldest son.

Frederick William had 14 siblings,

1859- Anna, Pewaukee, Wis Julia, 23

1860- Frederick, Lansing, Iowa- Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 24

1861- William, Iowa, later Ackley, Iowa

1862- John, Iowa City, Iowa Julia- 25

1864- Herman, Dover, Iowa- hospital birth? Julia- 27

1867- Lydia, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 30

1868- Sarah, Village Creek, Iowa- near Lansing Julia- 31

1869- Lewis, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 32

1872- Francisca, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 35

1873- Aaron, Quincy, Iowa Julia- 36

1875- Ida, Dover, Iowa- hospital birth

1877- Emma, Quincy, Iowa, Julia- 40

1879- Rosa, Dover, Iowa- Quincy Julia- 42

1882- Cora, Quincy, Iowa- Julia- 45

It seems possible that Lansing was the place to go for births until 1873, when John Frederick purchased the Quincy Township farm. It was very isolated, no commercial buildings. The nearest hospital was in Dover, so perhaps that’s why several children had Dover listed as place of birth.

It looks like Anna and William had left the Quincy farm by the 1880 census. The unresolved mystery is where was Frederick William during the 1870 census. He was only ten years old, but he not listed in the family.

Perhaps this is part of the family lore… that Frederick William was often called “Wild Bill”. He was John Fredericks oldest son, but it appears that he and several of his brothers were not expected to take over the family farm when John Frederick lost his leg. Herman was given the responsibility, but even he gave up pretty quickly. John Frederick sold the farm in the Quincy Township, and brought a small house in the city of Nora Springs, Iowa.

As far as I can tell, Frederick William moved around Iowa, perhaps learning the trade of making rope for the farmers. Most farms had a patch of hemp growing, to use in the seasonal rope making.

Frederick did not get married early, he was 34 when he married Amelia Mary Louise Markmann Korth, on March 14, 1894. The oral story was that Amelia was a mail order bride, arranged through a German language newspaper. The surprise was that when Amelia arrived she was already pregnant with William Diestler, born September 21, 1893, in Fingal, ND.

The records show that she arrived in 1891, when she was 15 years old, she married Frederick William in 1894, when she was 18. Apparently she had been in the country for three years. Perhaps there was a previous mail order situation that didn’t work out, but she was already pregnant when Frederick decided it was time to get married.

His father, John Frederick was miles away in Iowa. His uncles and aunt were in Wisconsin, even further away. For some reason Frederick decided to raise horses in the plains near Fingal, ND, a town founded in 1891, by some Canadians, The nearest city was Fargo, ND and that was pretty small at the time. He purchased a ranch in 1893.

In 1876 the population of Fargo was only 600. By 1893 it had grown to nearly 8,000 people, then disaster struck on June 7, 1893. A fire swept through 33 blocks of the city, destroying nearly 300 buildings. The city responded by rebuilding within a year, and by 1894 most of the buildings were brand new, still standing today.

Frederick William was still living in Fingal, ND. From 1893-1912, he raised horses and slowly gained a measure of wealth. In 1912 he built an 18 room ranch house that was the largest in the local area. Then the winter of 1920 hit.

Frederick William had 160 acres about 2 miles east of Fingal. The blizzard killed over 200,000 head of cattle in ND. It wiped out 90% of the horses on the ranch. Only Ben and a couple of his sisters could help Frederick William. They had a half dozen horses left, which they quickly sold.

They have to sell the ranch at a great loss. The ranch house was moved by the new owner a few miles away. There was nothing left of the ranch.

The family spent the rest of the winter/spring in a stone silo that a neighbor rented to them. They picked the grains of wheat from the cracks in the walls, and parched them on the stove to make a decaf coffee. It was hard times. Most of the girls found jobs cleaning, washing clothes, doing house chores. The boys did the best they could but there was no steady work.

The economic pressure took a toll on the relation between Frederick and Amelia and they divorced in 1926. At the time Fargo was known as the divorce capital of the Midwest.

Amelia moved to the town of Fargo, and the older children found relationships and some work. For the next twenty years Amelia relied on support from the children in some fashion.

Frederick William was traveling throughout the Midwest with his rope making business. Frederick died in 1926, pretty much a broken man.

It was said that he mistrusted banks, but he didn’t put his money in his mattress. Since he traveled a lot, he sewed his money in the seams of his clothes.

He also was very talented with a pocket knife. He would often whittle a chain out of a two by four, complete with a box at the end that contained a small ball. He would do this often in one day.

‘Wild Bill” had many disappointments, and his life was hard. His true wealth was in the amount of his children.

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AI Review

I’m not saying that I’m completely knowledgeable on image making AI, but I have tested most of the commonly popular software, and some of the not so common. The trouble with reviews is that the software generally doesn’t get worse, it tends to correct itself and gets better.

For now, the best part of portrait AI is the backgrounds, the clothes, the hair, the skin tones, and the general placement of the facial features. Artistic styles can be fun to look at, but twenty anime portraits seems a bit much.

The spookiest feature is the ability to turn the head to a 3/4 shot from a full on frontal, or the ability to automatically animate the image.

Right now the easiest “tell” for an AI generated image is the pupil of the eye. The correct size, the correct highlight from eye to eye, and the general construction of the iris. The very last trial I made had nearly corrected this flaw, so it probably will disappear in the next few versions.

The text based AI is already scary, the image based AI will change forever our ability to trust photographic images.

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My brother died

Me and Bob

I recently wrote about him on occasion of his birthday in January. He was 91, and I wished for him that 2023 would be a great year. He was still mobile a week before he died. Not mobile enough to go for a stroll, but he could get a snack from the refrigerator.

I don’t think he found much relief from the dementia caused by the mini-strokes from a few years ago. It’s been bad for his loved ones.

My middle brother would call him every month or so, and talk for hours. He hasn’t been able to handle phone calls for about a year. I would write him an e-mail periodically, and his daughter would read it to him. Later, he would tell her that I had called, and he would share the news. It’s been over a year since I last wrote. I just finished my 20th letter to him.


So, I’ve been told that you died. I saw on my phone that your daughter Sheila was calling me in the afternoon on Wednesday. It’s funny how fast the brain takes in information, and projects the possible outcomes. I knew that you had gone before answering. It didn’t help.

It’s been a few days now. A roller coaster of emotions, a Ferris wheel of departures. My car is now closer to the exit.

“Bob Stories” are on my mind. You certainly generated tons of memories. And naturally, that generates many questions that I never asked, and I couldn’t expect an answer from you for the last few years.

You were my connection to Gayle, though you never said much about her. Even when you were lucid, I never remembered to ask about her. I was always waiting for the right time. The same waiting time I had with our parents.

You were so much older than I, and you became somewhat mythical. You would visit on leave from the army, and there was always gear left behind. Web belts, canteens, pouches, even a training dummy M1 rifle. I always had the best stuff in the neighborhood to play army.

Weirdly, the one thing that stands out were the “white” Mickey Mouse boots. They were issued to you when you received advanced training for crashing helicopters in the snow. I think it was Mt. Rainier where you built snow caves, and wore insulated white rubber boots. They actually had a built in release valve to deflate the pressure built up when flying at height in the helicopter.

Obviously I had to wear a dozen socks to put on the boots, but I clumped around feeling pretty important for years. Then on another visit, you reclaimed them.

One year you left scuba diving equipment. I immediately drained the tank while sitting in the bottom of my friend’s pool. I didn’t swim, I just sat there, breathing underwater. Then I felt bad that I had used all the air. I did use the fins to learn to swim while camping. They were so much netter than the crummy cheap kids fins.

For years I spent more time with the objects that you left, and very little time talking with you. Later, when I was older we didn’t have much in common.

Then I was in the army and we shared ideas about weapons and things that were sharp. I think you were impressed when I brought up the black powder rifle that I had built. At least you enjoyed shooting it in the woods.

When visiting your house, I always asked, “How many weapons do you have within reach, as you sit in your Lazy-Boy?” If your answer was less than a dozen I would wonder what was wrong.

I am now sitting in my own Lazy Boy. I count ten, three of them Norwegian bearded axes. I’m a work in progress.

I’ll end this last letter knowing that I’ll still be talking to you, and remembering. You lead the way, my brother. I loved, and love you always.


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The Shroud of Turin

A medieval Greek word meaning “made without hand”. I suppose that would be all objects of nature. In the art world it would be all “found art” that didn’t include manmade objects. But this Greek word was primarily used in the world of iconology. It was used for Christian relics with images. The most famous being the “Shroud of Turin”.

What I have found recently is that many scholars are now calling it the “Man in the Shroud”. This is the result of trying to describe what it “is”, instead of what it might be. It is the most tested relic in the world, but it is easier to say what it isn’t, rather than what it is.

Compiling the most conservative descriptions I’ve found…

1. The shroud is made of flax linen, in a herringbone weave, measuring approx 14.5 ft by 3.7 ft.

2. There is a frontal image of a man on the left side of the rectangle, with the head near the center, then a dorsal image of the same man on the right side of the rectangle. The suggestion is that the shroud was laid flat, the man was placed on the right half with the feet near the right edge. Then the rest of the shroud was drawn over the body, with the left side pulled to match the right edge. Essentially the shroud was folded in half, with the body inside, and the head near the fold.

3. The image is only on one side of the linen material, and is only barely on the surface, less than a quarter of a hair’s thickness. It doesn’t penetrate through, it doesn’t have directional brush stokes, it doesn’t appear to be pigment or dye.

4. There are many areas of blood stains, which do penetrate through the linen. The blood stains are constant with wounds created by the result of being crucified.

5. In addition there are blood stains on the head and face, and from “scurging” of the body.

6. Finally, there are blood stains on the feet, wrists, and the left side of the chest.

There is agreement that the shroud has been positively known from at least 1354. During a public viewing in 1898 it was finally photographed by Secondo Pia.

It wasn’t until then that the original image was discovered to be a negative. When the photographic negative was developed it showed that the man’s image was a positive with many details now being visible.

The fine details in a normal photograph were still unresolved because of the fibers of the flax linen.

During the 1500s there was a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was stored. It was folded several times and just the edges of the folded material were burned. It was fortunate that one of the image was damaged, but several holes were charred and burned through. Local nuns sewed patches on the holes, and sewed a linen backing cloth, completely covering the backside of the shroud.

In 1988 there was an agreement with the owner of the shroud that carbon 14 testing may be done on some samples that didn’t disturb the image. Unfortunately, carbon 14 testing requires the sample to be completely destroyed in the test. The sample was taken from an 8 centimeter strip of the edge of the shroud. Samples were given off to three different labs around the world. All of them came to the same conclusion. The flax was harvested in the range between 1290 – 1350. The shroud was made in medieval times. The findings were combined and published by an independent scientific organization.

Later, scholars discovered that sometime in the 1600s, some of the edges of the shroud were patched with 1600s linen material with a “French invisible weave”. The 8 centimeter strip sample was part of that weave. So, the sample had original linen material and 16th century linen material mixed in the carbon 14 results. This meant that the average of the two resulted in the dates provided in the report. The same organization gave a second report that they could not very the dates of the contaminated samples. It was back to square one, nothing proved, nothing disproved.

In 2002, a restoration was made on the shroud. The patches were removed, the charred material was cut away and stored, and a new backing cloth was sewn in place of the old. This was done in secret without consulting dozens of shroud scholars. Some have said that important data is now lost forever.

Some say the the removed material could have been used for a new carbon 14 test, but now it’s been removed and can’t be validated. Other material has been micro-vacuumed from the shroud with consulting experts. ‘Sticky tape’ has been pressed on the exposed backside with some force to collect dust and pollen samples. Wrinkles may have been “steamed” in order for the shroud to lay flat, with lead weights attach to stretch the material.

Lots of opinions written by many people, but what has been done, is done. And nothing has been proven.

The shroud exists, the image exists. The age is unknown, the method making the image is unknown.

In the late 1300s it was declared a forgery. An artist made the image, intending it to represent Jesus in his burial cloth, showing signs of the crucified body.

Hundreds of facts and details have since made that very hard to believe. The idea that the image was made by the body being reincarnated is also very difficult to believe.

It wasn’t until 1988 that the ownership went to the Catholic Church.

It is still the most researched relic in the world.

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This word has been bouncing around in my grey matter for a few weeks. Not because I self identify, but more that I’ve read the word in several different sources.

Most recently in an article in “The Atlantic Monthly”, by Agnes Callard. She is probably someone that I should know, or at least heard of, but I’m clueless. Agnes’s article was titled, “A Philosopher Gets Fed Up With Profundity, There are better ways to communicate.” The graphic was three repeating words, chiseled in stone…”Yada, Yada, Yada”

I think for most people it was a quick way of dismissing something that was said or written. A sarcastic response to wordy communication perhaps. I don’t know if many people would know that “Yada” is Hebrew, meaning “to know.”

So that “Yada, Yada, Yada” might still be sarcastic, but more pointedly, suggesting that you might “know too much”. Interestingly, the Hebrew could also imply that Yada is to know carnally.

The article begins with a warning from her Phd. advisor to not call herself a philosopher once she receives her doctorate. Better that she identifies herself as someone who reads philosophy. The reasoning is that she might be expected to be profound!

Apparently there had been a profile of Agnes that was based upon an interview, and not upon her written perceptions of philosophy. The reviewers of the profile responded that she was boring, banal, and unremarkable. And certainly not profound!

The expectation of profundity from a philosopher was not met.

I am not a philosopher, although I have been philosophical at times. For many years I was paid to profess. The teachers Union actually pushed a policy allowing the college district to call us “professors” without the usual requirement of the rigorous academic structure.

The problem with titles is that sometimes it is just a title, without the reenforcing background.

Most of the reenforcing background is actual work, and work that is decades long. Being “philosophical” on a lost summer day in 1969, does not qualify a person as a philosopher. It takes time and effort. Calling oneself a professor because of a labor policy is problematic.

How to be profound. It does not come with a title. It comes from the opinion of others, and not self identification. Multiple opinions of others, over a period of time. In addition, the opinions are from individuals that have a solid understanding of what “profound” means. A steep requirement.

Should one even desire to be profound? In one sense it is a label that establishes a “distance”. You can’t be close to a profound person. You might ask them for an opinion, you might sit quietly in a garden with them. It might be dangerous to be close to a profound person, they might parse your soul, judge you, and find you wanting.

I like the idea of “occasional profundity”. It would be every now and then, and definitely not on call. There’s a dramatic quality of not being able to be profound consistently.

I’m waiting…

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Pondering Choices

Funny thing about choices and decisions. On the surface it would seem that the big choices are issues of light or dark. And yet, as humans we screw that up so often it’s ridiculous. A selfish, or mean spirited decision can never be a good choice.

The real difficulty in choice, is one between a great path, and a wonderful path. Neither path is perfect, both will have hardships. The problem is that the choice will give tremendous joy and direction, but will also remove other specific joys and directions because that path wasn’t chosen.

I used to sail, there were four cardinal points of direction, north, east, south, and west. I picked north and all of my future experiences were based upon my northern route. They were good, I was challenged, I met the challenge, I basked in the sun, and I made safe harbor. But I could have sailed West.

For a time I traveled by thumb, meaning I caught a ride with a car or truck that was already heading for a destination. I was willing to go along with the ride. Often I would be let off when the driver left the more traveled road, with the understanding that I had a direction but not a destination.

I was once let off in the desert on Highway 80. My ride was taking a sharp left turn into a dusty ranch house. I was grateful for the miles. As I put out my thumb again I noticed that I was almost a quarter mile past a fork in the road. Maybe a hundred cars were going east on 80, but maybe 25 cars were taking the right fork to go east on Highway 50.

My decision to stay where I was meant that I would never have the choice to take Highway 50. I was already past that exit. My entire future was going down Highway 80. As the morning sun became the afternoon sun, I was aware of dozens of cars that could never pick me up because they had turned off to go on Highway 50.

Then I thought that I didn’t make the choice of where I was, I was just left off because my driver had reached his destination. I could choose to walk back, past the fork in the road. I could then put out my thumb that would include all those cars that would end up going on Highway 50.

I was still true to my general direction, but now I could allow my destiny to make the choice. Perhaps Highway 50, or maybe Highway 80. A car going on to Highway 50 could stop, but there might be dozens of empty beer bottles rattling on the floor. I could refuse the ride. I still had choices of light or dark.

After I walked back, it turned out the next ride was continuing on Highway 80, but it was in a sportscar with two people in the front, and I had to crawl up on the uncomfortable back shelf. But there were no rattling beer bottles.

And eventually, almost fifty years later I am here in my recliner, having lived everything in between.

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Yep, that fluid stuff under your skin. Tricky stuff, half of it is blue, until it hits the air, then it turns red, the other half is red already.

Apparently its like oil in an engine. If it gets low things go bad. If oil shows up where it is not supposed to, then something should be done. The driveway is generally a good place to check for your engine maintenance.

If it’s your body, then perhaps the bathroom. Color is important in the bathroom. Unusual color is often from blood, unless asparagus/beets are involved. Although I have had several incidents when instead of urine, it was a stream of bright thick red blood.

That is so unusual that alarms go off. The first time it happened I thought I only had minutes left on this earth. It seemed like a pint each time I went to the bathroom. Not good for an engine to lose that much oil, really not good for a body either.

After much worry, my urologist cleared the issue up. Five years earlier I had successful radiation treatment on my prostrate. There was some scar tissue and now that had caused the bleeding. It would clear up in a few days.

It was still not pleasant to see a specific kind of fluid appear where it wasn’t supposed to, but it did clear up. Why wasn’t I told that this could happen five years ago? I could have had a heart attack! It happened again two years later, it was still shocking, but not a big deal.

So this week was another “fluid event”. This was concerning “sputum”, “phlegm”, or “mucus”. All disgusting words to describe a disgusting but normal object. And color is also important.

If the color is clear or white, things may be normal. If the color is yellow or greenish then perhaps a few alarms will go off. If the color is brown, leaning to red, then lots of alarms. Bleeding in the lungs is always serious, and sometimes deathly serious.

So I spent part of this month coughing. A lot of coughing, not from COVID or flu, just coughing. Then for a week it was brownish, then really brown. Alarms went off, things had to be done, experts had to be contacted. Oil was dripping on my driveway again.

There is a saying, that mostly, “things are simple.” I must admit I go there a lot, particularly when something happens to me that is brand new. It doesn’t have to be tuberculosis, or lung cancer, it could be an irritation or a slight case of pneumonia. I’ve never had pneumonia, so what do I know?

Now I know, and for a week I have two more pills to take everyday. The brown mucus has faded, the oil in the driveway has disappeared.

Now I just have to watch the amount of sugar in my oil.

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New Knowledge

Lee Miller tribute

I’m writing about something unknown becoming known. I’m a sucker for this. If I stumbling upon a website, or blog, that promises five new facts about a person or place, then I’m there. I usually bypass the preceding paragraphs to get to the numbered lists, then often enough I’ve already heard about most of them. Sometimes I’m even knowledgeable enough to know they are false.

I’m not particularly intelligent, it just that I have a lot of experience digging after trivia. Very wide knowledge base, but only about two inches deep. I do have some pride in a few areas where it is deeper than two inches.

I taught in college level art areas for about forty years. The history of photography is one area where I go fairly deep. I also taught a general course for non-art majors for 4 or 5 years. Admittedly it ranged from cave art to modern art in 18 weeks, so we couldn’t get very deep on any decade, but we touched on the major art movements.

Naturally I spent a little more time on the movements where I had a personal interest. Impressionism, surrealism, and photography were in my wheelhouse. Did I know well every artist? Of course not, but I would have bet that very few had escaped being read about.

So, naturally, last year I was dumbfounded when Alice Neel, the great portrait artist, was a new discovery. How did that happen? Did a chapter fall out of the book I was reading? Did I miss the room in the museum I was visiting? (Well, that’s probably true!)

Fortunately I was able to get to know Alice’s work all at once, and coming late in life, I enjoyed it even more.

This should have prepared me for more surprises, but it didn’t. My daughter emailed a question for me, “What did I know about Man Ray, and Lee Miller?”

Ha, well… very early on I read about Man Ray. I mean they very name demanded attention. To find out that his medium included photography and that his work is classified largely as “surreal” meant that I had background knowledge.

However, with more thought I realized that as an artist I had about two inches deep on his life, and maybe 4 or 5 specific images. Mostly I remembered his work in solarized photographs, not even knowing that he popularized the technique.

And about Lee Miller? I replied to my daughter that I didn’t know a thing about him.

12 hours later I knew a few things about her. And mostly I knew how embarrassed I was that I was so ignorant.

Lee Miller, (1907-1977), born in NY, became a fashion model in the 1920s. Interested in getting behind the camera. She went unannounced to Man Ray’s studio in Paris, saying that, “you must study with the best,” so she became his model and intern, regardless of his opinion.

She became a fashion photographer, after years of being in front of the lens. She also had several shows of her surrealistic photographs. Man Ray introduced her to everyone in Paris. With the coming of the war, she went to London and worked for Vogue Magazine. She became one of five women that were war correspondents.

Lee Miller was at the D-Day landings, and took photographs all the way through the liberation of Europe. She also photographed the line ration of the concentration camps. She witnessed horror, and was deeply affected by it.

It turns out that I did know about her. I had seen some of her photographs, I just didn’t take the time to find out the photographer’s name. The sad truth is that when a painting or sculpture is viewed you natural want to know about the artist. When you are impressed with a book, you want to know about the author. When I see an interesting photograph, I don’t always think about the photographer. I want to change that.

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My War

We lined up in irregular fashion. What did we know, our only experience in line was at the movies, or at the local fast food. Most of us were unaware of exactly when our drill sergeant appeared, he just appeared dead center of our milling mass, and said in a clear voice, “Attention”.

Looking back at it now, I can see how this might have been misinterpreted. About half of the 60 civilian-soon-to-be-soldiers stopped talking and respectfully turned their heads towards the drill sergeant. The other half tried to line up, with chest out, chin tucked, and arms ridgedly to their sides. Their thumbs were not aligned to the seams of their pant legs, but that would come later.

Seen from above it must have been a confused image of a partial organized group of young men, some eagerly awaiting some news about their status, because someone had just announced “Attention”. Others, those that had seen a few war movies, were standing stock still, following their first “order”. I honestly don’t remember which group I was in. What I do remember is that the drill sergeant was unimpressed, and that in the next three seconds, all of us were on our bellies, trying to do the first of 30 push-ups.

This was the introduction to my first day in the Army. In summary, I was in constant fear that I did not know what was expected of me, and that a sure and just punishment was coming soon after my confusion. I remained mostly confused for the next year and a half.

A “cattle-truck” soon appeared, an aluminum trailer towed by an Army vehicle that looked suspiciously like the vehicles that transported livestock. It was completely enclosed but with generous slots to let air flow through, but not large enough to allow anyone to escape. It was also very easy to power wash, in case anyone had upset or nervous stomachs, which everyone certainly had.

Within a fifteen minute ride we were at a long and low depot building with a loading dock, and a double door entrance. Our drill sergeant ordered us out with no regard to structure, speed was the only command. This was confusing because while we literally fell over each other in getting out of the “cattle-car trailer”, we were then expected to line up in alphabetical order before entering the depot.

A few minutes later each of use had drawn the full measure of our Army issued material, quickly shoved into our sturdy duffel bags. Standing outside in clumps of three or four we wondered what our next hour was going to bring. Where was our barracks? What about our haircuts? When can we get our first leave? I’m hungry, when is chow?

Before any of those questions were answered, the “cattle-car trailer” arrived. We were now trained that speed was expected, so everybody was inside within a minute or two. This was complicated in that everyone now had a very large packed duffel bag that was very nearly the same size and weight of the average soldier. With our drill sergeant screaming at our efforts we were back inside in record time.

A few of us laughed how crazy that had been, and that it was sort of fun, piling in, one on top of another. Others looked a bit ashen, as this was a pretty good example of what the next few months were going to look like.

Our next stop was another depot like building where we were to take off all civilian clothes and get dressed in our issued uniform. At this point we kept our glasses, watches, and any personal jewelry. They would disappear later.

We were an odd looking bunch, all dressed in crisp, but also baggy, army green, shiny new boots; still sporting our full beards, ponytails, and civilian attitudes. With an hour all of us were again waiting outside for transportation, clean shaven, and mostly very white, nearly bald skulls. If you looked closely you could see several young men rubbing their heads, wondering where their hair had gone.

Collectively we looked very much like concentration camp inmates with better clothes, and not so emaciated.

Our transportation arrived and we responded this time with little encouragement from our drill sergeant. Within hours we had been trained in this particular military duty. About thirty minutes later we arrived at our home away from home, the B-1-1 barracks at North Fort, Ft. Lewis, WA. A two story wooden structure that could burn to the ground in less than five minutes. We were told this to impress the need for “Cigarette Patrol” at night, and it was backed up by actual test fires. It seems that every barracks had at least fifty coats of very flammable lead-based paint.

Our day was close to ending, we were told to hit the chow hall in fifteen minutes, and then straight to our bunks, and lights out. I looked around in the dimly lit barracks and wondered exactly how am I going to get through this. Here and there I saw a few guys sitting on their bunks, (something they would later learn never to do) quietly rubbing their shaved heads. A stark reminder that they were not in their home towns any longer. I reached up and rubbed my own head. I immediately was shocked by the almost electric experience. There was a tingly feeling, very sensual, maybe even exciting. These people weren’t bemoaning their lost locks, they were rubbing their heads to feel better, to feel different, to feel that somehow they could escape the fear and monotony of what the army was bringing. I must admit I joined them for a few blissful moments.

It took several days for the “head rub” feeling to wear off. Probably wore off faster for those who abused the experience.

The next morning (morning?) at 4:30 am we were brought awake by our drill sergeant beating a garbage can with a small bat. He had the look of a man that could easily shift his purpose to beating a sleepy soldier to attention.

We fell out of our banks and tried to stand erect.

The first problem was that we were standing wherever we landed when we evacuated our warm beds. Some of use ended up standing in the wide center aisle of our barracks.

The barracks layout was basically a long rectangle with the common bathroom at one end, a flight of stairs leading to the second floor, then two rows of bunk beds along the side walls leaving a generous center aisle. There was a very small aisle between the bunk beds and the windowed wall but so narrow that you had to pass sideways if you encountered anyone standing in the way.

That first morning, in the dark, we learned that no one, unless they were operating a buffing machine, was allowed to walk, crawl, or lay upon the center aisle. The few soldiers that were found in the aisle that morning were soon crawling on their belly outside in the mist, going several times around our barracks in nothing but their long johns.

I should say that this was Washington state weather at the end of November. While it hadn’t snowed yet, it was very rainy and damp. Later that December it snowed more than it had in forty years. A record amount of snow.

After the lesson learned concerning the center aisle, we were told that we were going to do PT before going to breakfast. PT was physical training while standing in formation in front of the barracks. We ran through the complete menu of exercises that we hadn’t done since high school PE class, only this time we did them three times as long. In addition we discovered that the Army had designed a half dozen new exercises to torture our muscles even further.

Finally, finishing the formation exercises, we started our morning run, three miles around the company area. After all that, we were just starting our training.

The very few people who actually followed the drill sergeant all the way to the dining hall, and hadn’t fallen in the mud, retching and foaming at the mouth, they were stymied by yet another obstacle.

In order to enter the hall, a soldier had to swing from rung to ring across a twelve foot muddy swamp directly in front of the door. The ladder-like device was ten feet off the ground with two or three steps leading up to the jumping off point.

With rubber legs from the three mile run, it was nearly impossible to keep standing erect should you slip off the rungs. We were doomed, maybe three people made it to the door without falling.

Breakfast was a very muddy affair which required us to clean and mop as soon as we were done. Correction, as soon as the drill sergeants were done!

Later that day, I was given corporal stripes and told that I was first squad leader. I was the second oldest in the platoon. The oldest by a year or so was platoon leader. Leadership based upon age, not merit.

I was somewhat comforted that it was a simple arm band, not stripes that I had to actually sew on. A leadership change would simply be swapping an arm band, not standing in formation while the drill sergeant rips your rank in front of the platoon. Later, I would find out that indeed my “stripes” could be ripped from my arm and thrown in my face. Oh well.

A mid morning meeting was called to define the rolls of platoon guide and squad leaders. Should the platoon guide be killed, the first squad leader will take his place. That would be me! All duty assignments will be made by squad leaders. Should anyone fail in their duties, it will be reported by squad leaders, and then squad leaders will complete the mission, or delegate someone else to complete the mission. Yeah, like that would work. So, in essence, I had to do my personal work, then double check my squad and do any work that they had failed.

The only benefit I could see is that I had a single bunk, not bunk beds, and I didn’t have to stand “cigarette watch”. Well, that was fair, I didn’t smoke, so why should I have to interrupt my sleep to stand fire watch?

I almost asked why did non-smokers had to stand butt patrol every morning because smokers tossed and crushed their butts on the road in front of our barracks. That would not have been a good question to ask our smoking drill sergeant.

Later that afternoon, after some grueling PT, and the usual swinging like apes to get lunch, we marched to another large depot like building. We were joined by the other four platoons in our company, and perhaps at least four companies of the battalion. There were a lot of new soldiers milling about, all waiting to take their turn in this gymnasium sized building. A classic example of hurry up and wait.

When our turn came up I could see that we were to enter a dozen checkout lines, similar to what you might find at a supermarket. Upon entering you were supposed to hand a soldier (clerk) a piece of paper that had been given to you. The paper had your name, social security, your blood type and a blank where you were to enter your religion (or keep blank for no preference).

I looked at the blank and then I was directed to the back wall of the gym, where every possible religion was there with a special shorten acronym that could easily fit on a dog tag. Yes, this was the place where I would be issued two dog tags, two special rubber bumpers to deaden the noise of them clanging together, and finally, a beefy chain to fit every around your neck.

Fulfilling my role as squad leader I was trying to help my twelve men to navigate the big wall and find every obscure denomination available. I had no atheists, and only two Roman Catholics, so the process took quite awhile and I had little time to ponder my own form. Suddenly, I was at the clerk while he was pounding out the information on those metal tags. When he got to religion he saw that it was blank so he asked me my choice.

I considered myself a Christian but I really didn’t have a church or a denomination. I had heard of non-denominations, but that required a choice and some thought. After a thirty second pause he typed “No pref”, and said “Next!”

I found myself shoved out into the drizzle, pondering what was now typed on my dog tags. We had been told that it was very important to always have both dog tags around your neck.

The rubber bumper was to silence the jingle because Viet Cong snipers were trained to fire at the sound of dog tags tinkling. Gruesome thought! Even more gruesome is that we were ordered to pull off the dog tags of our fellow soldiers when they were killed. Then we should put one in our pocket, and place the other dog tag between the front teeth of our casualty, and then kick them in the jaw. That would guarantee that the body would be marked for later. “Don’t leave your buddies behind without a tag jammed in their teeth!”

This was way more information then I wanted..
My current problem was that if these tags were ever used, I would be laying there with “No pref” between my teeth. Providing I had teeth, or a jaw. Time to get serious!

Just about then my drill sergeant came by to rip me a new one and get me in formation. I may have failed to describe this fireplug of a man, wider than he was tall, loud, black, and a part-time Southern baptist minister. I’m not sure how we knew all this about him, but we did. He asked me what was my problem, and I quickly replied that I was a Christian but my tag said “No Pref”.

He immediately saw the problem and was dragging me back to the clerk for a correction. The clerk withstood the barrage from the drill sergeant and explained that I hadn’t picked from the wall behind him. At that point the glare from the drill sergeant was on me. Somehow I managed to mutter that my choice wasn’t there, I was simply a Christian. The glare softened and then shifted back to the clerk, “Type it!”

As I pondered the potential tag between my teeth, I knew I was identified as the only “Christian” in the Army. Then I reread the entire dog tag, it had my name, my social security, then my blood type (should I need blood). The last two lines read…

” A Neg Christian”

I still hope this is not true.

Ps. I lost my last original dog tag somewhere in a London cab about twenty years ago. I have since reordered my exact dog tags, although I no longer fear Viet Cong snipers so I don’t have the rubber bumpers, and they periodically tinkle.

That evening at chow, after the monkey bars, I began to notice that there might be a reason to why we all shouted just before being served. As soon as you grabbed your tray for your meal, you were to shout in a clear loud voice “US”. The letter “U”, then the letter “S”. We all did, and it was kind of fun, competing to be the loudest. But that evening we had a visiting squad from the next company and about half of them shouted “RA”. I noticed the difference, “RA” got almost twice the food. A little later someone yelled “NG” and they got about half of what “US” did, and no dessert. “US” was draftees, “RA” was regular army, and “NG” was National Guard. Everyone thought National Guards were cowards, good for hurricanes, and shooting protesting students.

No food for you.

Before lights out we talked about the mess hall and we realized there was only one very young man who had actually joined the Army. All of us were draftees, and he didn’t want to be different so he shouted “US” like the rest of us. Someone had the idea of collecting our draft cards, and we lit them with cigarettes and placed the ashes in the various butt cans (painted bright red install throughout the barracks. It was meant almost as an act of cleansing, like burning sage to sanctify a space.

The next day, after PT, after monkey bar, after shouting “US”, after eating SOS for breakfast ( shorthand for something on a shingle), we were marched to yet another even larger gymnasium.

As we lined up inside, we saw thousands of military job specialties, called MOS, and then the schools that taught the specialty, and then how many weeks the schools were. I thought, wow, here is my chance to work the system. Pick a field that won’t go to Viet Nam, and find something that won’t shoot someone else.

My hopes were dashed almost immediately because it was announced that this was only for soldiers who had enlisted for three years. The draftees were only to serve for two years, and they were told to go to the next building to get tested in order to place them in the MOS of the Army’s choosing.

We were all draftees except one, so I thought we we would all leave in order to take tests. At that point an officer asked if anyone wanted to get discharged, and then re-enlist as a regular soldier, then you could either pick a country or an MOS. Your choice!

I noticed several of the brighter members of my platoon remained sitting. They were considering enlisting. I wanted to be bright, so I remained as well. I sat next to my platoon guide, Carl. He was a year older, already had a BA, and he didn’t have a death wish. I asked what he planned to do. He replied that an extra year might not be too bad if it was spent in school, learning something useful, and brand new. I agreed, and I looked to see literally hundreds of electronic schools, many of them six or seven months long.

Then I saw one 56 weeks long, Fixed Ciphony Repair, 32F20. What about that one?

I also noticed that more than half the job titles had the word “Tactical” somewhere in the title. That can’t be good. I politely asked the officer what “Fixed” meant. He looked at the board and suggested that it probably meant a building, and if it was electronics, it probably meant air-conditioned. Well, that was certainly good news, an extra year spent in air-conditioned building doing some repair to “Ciphony”. “Sign me up!”

I had no idea what Ciphony was and neither did Carl, but we both signed on the dotted line. Later we were told it was a secret and more information would be coming as you needed to know. The main thing was to pass the basic electronic school for eight weeks, then qualify for all the security clearances necessary. Fail at any of these and we would be in the infantry for the next three years. But since we had prior service for two weeks, we had higher pay, and we would be considered professional soldiers once out of school. Hmmm. Now I could shout “RA” at mess.

I continued to learn my role as a help to my men. I desperately wanted them to learn how to make “hospital corners” on their bunks. Their foot lockers had to be exactly the same as everyone else. Not that there was a standard to meet, we just had to be identical. The first thing was to get them awake before the drill sergeant showed, and have them working before he entered the building. That always made the day a little easier.

One morning the drill sergeant failed to show at 4:30, 5:30, and not even 6:30 when breakfast began. Our platoon guide took it upon himself to start PT for us, and then start the morning run.

We were up to five miles every morning. I think that day we only did two laps around the compound, just in case someone was watching. And the benefit was that almost everyone made it across the monkey bars for chow.

It was about that moment that we learned we had been assigned a new drill sergeant. Between bites and an open mouth, we met Drill Sergeant Fagan. He was an ex-marine door gunner, with two tours in Viet Nam, an ex Marine Drill Sergeant, an ex Army Drill Sergeant Instructor of drill sergeants. He had trained other soldier’s how to motivate boots. New soldiers were called boots.

Things quickly went down hill because we should still have been in our barracks awaiting the new drill instructor. Mess hall was only a few minutes march from our barracks, but it was considerable longer in time if your were crawling on your belly.

Thirty minutes later we officially became acquainted, well, not exactly introduced, but we were told exactly who we were, and then exactly who he was. We were maggots, and he crushed maggots as foul vermin. Our worst nightmare!

I’m not sure I can fully relate how awful Drill Sergeant Fagan acted. I wanted to believe it was all training in order to keep us alive. That may have actually happened, but he was still a demon straight from… He had rotten teeth, visibly snaggly, rotten teeth. His breath was almost stupefying, and there were many examples of him yelling loudly, within inches of your face. He was viciously impish, he was full of contradictions, and he was just plain mean. And he just might have saved my life.

Within the first week of this new drill sergeant, he had us out in the field, establishing a perimeter to defend against the encroaching enemy. I had positioned my men in over lapping fields of fire, and I had taken the center swing position for my fire team. I was the first squad leader of the Fire Team. It was getting dark and we were starting to get nervous, when a distinct odor assaulted my nose. Then magically I heard Drill Sergeant Fagan whispering in my ear. “I known you, Diestler. You’re one of those California hippies drafted to fight in this illegal, awful war. You are a pacifist but too much of a coward to declare it, so you are a fraud, sitting out here with a weapon in your hands. You’ve already made the decision to give up your life before you take another. You have ethical standards! You won’t kill, oh, you will shoot, but it will be over their heads or off to the side. I known you Diestler!”, he hissed.

The whispering stopped for a dramatic pause. I was still trying to figure out how he had slipped in behind me without me knowing. “But I’ll tell you something Diestler. You know that guy behind us, your best friend, the guy that wants to go home to his girlfriend? Well, he thinks your are going to take care of business. He thinks you are going to kill everyone who comes up this hill, so that he will have that chance to go home.

Boy, is he going to be surprised when he gets shot in the back, because you would rather die than kill. Maybe you should go warn him?” And then he was gone. I never heard him speak like that, I wondered if he was reading from a script, something a brighter officer had given him for these cases.

I’m not sure, but that might have been when I first started to be a soldier. The seriousness of what I was going to experience began to cause me to wonder if I had made the right decisions. I had re-enlisted to try to avoid Viet Nam. I could now shout “RA” and I was no longer hungry. I had allowed myself to be drafted because a had a free ticket to go home. I didn’t want to “draft dodge” because I had first hand knowledge that it didn’t work, and I was unwilling to pay the penalty. All I had to do was to fake a disabling pain in my right leg. Not all at once, but slowly, and steadily.

Before the Army, I had a gun accident, I had shot myself in the leg and the bullet fragments were still in there. The Army doctor said it was probably okay, so he didn’t make me 4-F, but if I was bothered then they would turn my loose.

I would be sent home, and if I timed it right I would even have Veteran’s Benefits, something to help my family’s health and my future educational plans. It was a well thought out plan. Sign up, show them that I really wanted to serve, and then unfortunately the pain was just too much.

Why should there be pain in my leg, my right thigh in particular? Well, I had x-Rays proving that there were about five bullet fragments spread over six inches, and laying very close to the bone. Using surgery to remove them would cause far more injury to the muscle. They had been there for several years. No one could prove that there wasn’t pain, and there was good evidence that something was there that shouldn’t be. I just had to be patient and wait, and then probably lie.

My endgame was to avoid being shot or in the position of shooting at people. Either experience was potential death for me. Being shot was not wanted, possible physical death. Shooting someone not wanted, almost certainly a spiritual death. Particularly after I realized that I most certainly would shoot to kill.

Everything would be solved if I planned it well enough, I could fake the pain long before finding out that Viet Nam might occur. Delay it long enough to learn something new, and get the time necessary to receive Veteran’s Benefits. If actors could fake a limp for years, then so could I. “Mr. Dillion, Mr. Dillion”, whined Chester.

It was now a waiting game. After a few weeks there were some people that actually planned to go AWOL. Slip out at night, jump the fence, then hitch hike down to California. Disappearing in the unwashed mob of student protestors might actually work for a time. Several people talked very excitedly about this, particularly after receiving orders from Drill Sergeant Fagan that could easily be seen as insane.

In the same way that we entertained bolting, some of us started seeing some positive things about the Army. We were developing a sense of pride and teamwork. Most of us entered the Army as very selfish, spoiled, and privileged youth. Yes, we might be poor, and some did struggle because of that. But we were also very much individuals with little thought for others, and no sense of sacrifice.

I couldn’t see it at the time, but there changes afoot. I was learning how to lead without ordering. I was committing without the expectation of returns. And most importantly I was learning a new language. The language of being a soldier.

Being the second person in charge saved me from relating to Drill Sergeant Fagan, but periodically I would have to interact. There was something I remember about a locked shed where the floor buffer resided. The middle aisle that no one walked on became a monument to Drill Sergeant Fagan. The shine on that floor, the fine layers of wax, the thousands of layers of wax, had created a stunning, untrodden, jewel of a floor. The buffer that was necessary to produce this was locked up, and the key was missing. Someone had accidentally pocketed the key, and I was unable to get it unlocked.

The floor had remained unbuffed for that morning. In truth, no one could tell, we had run a damp mop for any dust and the floor looked magnificent. Who could tell? Well, apparently Drill Sergeant Fagan could tell. Once, during inspection, he demanded my belt to be removed so that he could inspect my brass buckle. What he didn’t know was that I had used an entire can of Brasso on that belt buckle. It is a fact that when brass is over polished it no longer looks brassy. It looks like 24 karat gold. It doesn’t last long, but for a few days it is amazing.

When I handed the belt over he barely looked at the buckle, instead he asked “Did you completely polish this buckle?” To which I replied “Yes, Drill Sergeant!”. This is always the correct answer. Then he continued, “Even the inside?” What? What did he ask? The inside, what crazy person would spend time polishing the inside of a belt buckle? It was always covered by the belt! Doesn’t he know that?

Fortunately I didn’t actually voice that aloud. Drill Sergeant Fagan knew about belt buckles, and even the insides of belt buckles, and my silence to his question about polishing the inside was a clear guilty statement. I spent the next hour outside, crawling on my belly.

And now Drill Sergeant Fagan was asking if the floor had been buffed. Could I lie? Were there cameras to let him know that there was no buffer. Did he have spies reporting on what was going on when he wasn’t there? Did he have the ability to see that another layer of wax had not been buffed upon? I took the cowards way and attempted to explain why I didn’t have the key, and that no buffer had been used.

And that was that. I learned the rule of “no excuses”. I had failed in my mission. I could have broken the lock, used brute force. I could have stolen another buffer. I could have done a dozen things, but finding an excuse was not acceptable.

At morning formation I was called out in front of the platoon. It was right out of a British war movie. I took severals steps, right and left turns, I positioned myself in front of my squad and my platoon. Drill Sergeant Fagan approached formally, with his own series of steps, right turns and left turns, then suddenly he was directly facing me. Just as suddenly his arm raised, his hand grabbed my stripes, ripped them off, and then they were flung in my face. He then did an about face, took another arm band out of his pocket, and marched over to my assistant squad leader and formally presented it to him with an outstretched arm.

I was completely torn. Part of me was laughing at how silly it all must look, and part of me deeply felt the rejection. Maybe that’s actually true most of the time..

It took a week before I got my stripes back. They were tossed to me while was in the latrine polishing our garbage can. No ceremony, no statement, not even a word.

I had spent the entire week with three or four cans of Brasso metal polish and the galvanized garbage can that the drill sergeant sometimes used as an alarm clock. Out of consideration, my former assistant had left me alone after I did minimum general duties around the barracks. I could see that he had plenty to do, so I polished the garbage can, over and over.

It turns out that galvanized steel can be polished enough to look like silver. We may have had the only silver garbage can in the army.

Getting back into leadership duties was pretty simple, I filled out duty rosters, made pre-inspections, and generally woke them up everyday. Private Avila was my only failure. Avila would not wake up to any screaming or nudging that I could muster. Finally I had enough, Avila had the top bunk, so I just lifted his mattress up and he tumbled to the floor. Sometimes he actually landed on his feet. The only down side became clear late one night. It was probably three o’clock in the morning and Avila was on butt patrol for an hour. I woke with Avila whispering to me at about four inches from my ear. “Diestler, I think it is only fair to warn you. Someday in the far distant future I’m going to hunt you down and cut you for every wake-up that you gave me. Years from now you should watch the dark corners, because I will be there!”

Then he disappeared. I took him for his word, and I would not be surprised to see him again.

The training that we were going through started to make clear connections to life saving situations should we face combat. Weapons cleaning focused on speed and accuracy. Most of us could field strip our rifles within minutes.

The daily weapon inspection may have been tedious, but necessary. Drill Sergeant Fagan loved formal weapon inspections. It went something like this… we were all standing at attention with our rifles at the shoulder. As the drill sergeant marched in front of us, we prepared, if he was to stop, to move our rifles to the “present arms” position, this was basically holding the rifle vertically, one hand on the fore stock and one hand near the pistol grip. The drill sergeant spun on his heals, “Shouted “Present Arms” to the individual, then like lightning he would snake an arm out, grab the rifle and jerk it from your hands. In most cases he would drag you off of your mark because you had held on too long.

I saw this first hand with my platoon leader, Carl. The drill sergeant also flung him to the ground while grabbing his rifle. After declaring it filthy, Carl was doing fifty push ups in the mud next to me. Then the drill sergeant did a smart right turn and approached me. I determined that the second I felt his touch on my rifle, that I would drop my arms to the attention stance, with my thumbs flush along the seams of my pants.

The drill sergeant made his move, but I was a little faster. Unfortunately he hadn’t quite got a grip on the weapon. I think his plan was to slap it out of my possession. Instead, it was cartwheeling several times to my right. Barrel in the mud, stock in the mud, barrel in the mud, stock in the mud. No one said a word or moved an inch.

Finally, the drill sergeant told me to retrieve my weapon. This time he firmly grabbed it, my arms dropped, and then he proceeded to open the bolt to inspect the cleaning of the barrel. He said, “Excellent”, then moved to the next soldier.

At the end of inspection, I looked at my weapon. The truth was that I hadn’t cleaned it for several days. I was too busy making sure that the rest of my men had clean weapon. So I looked down the barrel of my M-16. It was totally clogged with mud so nothing could be seen. I had to remove about a five inch mud plug before I could start my weapon cleaning that night.

The center aisle gleamed, the foot lockers were completely identical, and the laundry bags had exactly the same knot. and position on our beds. We were getting pretty good at this, but today Drill Sergeant had yet another pet peeve. He didn’t like our straps hanging loose. There were several straps on our rucksacks that had to be adjusted, then the reminder simply hung down, ready to be loosened. The drill sergeant said fix it. Several squad leaders tried various rubber bands or knots. Nothing looked very neat. Then I tried rolling the excess into little canvas buns, tucked into the buckles at the end.

The drill sergeant loved the idea, so everyone now had to learn how to roll the straps before marching. The problem was that I was doing most of the rolling. It was a never ending useless job.

We had been there long enough that some odd conditions no longer seemed odd, there were just normal. About half the platoon limped, not only from stiff boots and blisters, but also from something called Achilles tendonitis. The backs of the upper part of the boots were touching the Achilles’ tendon, causing it irritation and much pain. There was no cure, we just limped along until we got used to it.

Most of us were passing an obnoxious chest cold back and forth. 75% of my men had a fever in the morning, but going to the medic was out of the question. First, they did nothing but bed rest, and if you got bed rest you missed training and you would have to stay longer in order to repeat it. No one wanted this experience to extend another second let alone a week. So, we were blowing our noses and limping like bow legged Cowboys. Not a pretty sight.

One of the more radical changes was concerning the latrine. When we first got to the barracks we went on a small tour. Everyone, I mean everyone, noted the latrine. There were plenty of individual sinks, maybe enough for half the men, so we all had to take turns shaving in the morning. The urinals were two stainless units along one wall, not separate units, but large enough for eight men to stand shoulder to shoulder. The showers were at the end, on three walls with a couple of drains in the middle. Pretty much it looked like a typical high gym bathroom. Except for the commodes. There were about twelve commodes parked side by side, no partitions. Just naked commodes open to the general room. I remained in the latrine, and I watched each soldier’s eyes widen just a little as they took it all in.

During my rotation of being in charge of the latrine I never saw anyone using the commodes for the first few weeks. I know they were used, but it must have been very quickly and under the cover of night. But now things were different. People were sitting and chatting in the morning, soldiers were shaving and showering as well. I suppose it was great training for the day when, slit trenches and other basic toiletry practices would be required.

Basic training was exactly just that. It was eight weeks of the training necessary to turn a civilian into a soldier. Eight weeks of hard PT to build strength and physical stamina, eight weeks of drilling Army procedure and the basic rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It was a shock to find out that several rights guaranteed by the constitution were no longer available.

Eight weeks of the Army tearing down and then building you up into a lean mean fighting machine. It was just a little problem that not everybody got on board at the same time. There began to be grumbling in the ranks. Random talk about jumping the wire and disguising yourself in order to make it to the highway.

The most significant problem was the haircut. At other times, a close cropped skull would not draw attention, today there is complete freedom to have long or short hair. But this was 1970 and just two years previously one of the more popular musicals was “Hair” with verses extolling the abundance of long hair, and growing it as long as possible.

It’s true that not all young men had pony-tails, but nearly all had hair that they could comb. Wandering around in the world with a “skin-head” meant that you were either a convict, crazy person, or a soldier. And if you were announced as missing, the authorities certainly knew where to find you.

The most serious plans included wearing a wig and beat up shoes. Later on, after basic training, it was the lack of hair and the boots, or army dress shoes, that gave it away, we were soldiers on leave. Very detailed plans that rivaled moments of “the Great Escape” we’re being hatched late in the night. In retrospect it probably would have been easier to pretend to be a graduating soldier in full dress uniform. Who was going to stop you and ask for papers? You could probably get to the airport and fly anywhere you wanted. I think part of the attraction of the “breakout” plans was the drama of the whole thing.

It was at this point where the training got serious, they marched us to a large hanger where several companies could squeeze into the space and watch a demonstration. One of the real benefits of being a platoon guide or squad leader was that you were always available as “demonstrators. “ I fired anti-tank recoil-less rifles, LAW anti-tank missiles, 50 caliber machine guns and even .45 caliber pistols. Of course I was also thrown in judo moves, and had knife attacks from the rear.

This time the platoon next to us volunteered their squad leaders as “prisoners of war”. They were told not to reveal anything but their name, rank, and identification number. Each one was brought before three drill sergeants, and questioned before the entire gathering. Bright lights kept them from seeing the audience or even the drill sergeants. After not responding to the slaps and shoves, the squad leaders were told to strip to their skivvies, then they were tied to several vertical racks. That could have been me up there.

Picking out the strongest and most hard core squad leader was an easy task. Everyone in the audience knew that it was the first squad leader that was following the procedures of not talking.

One of the drill sergeants produced a long wand from a box on the floor. When he pulled the trigger there was a blue spark and the smell of ozone. I believe it was an electric cattle prod.

Everyone’s eyes widened quite a bit. Certainly this was torture, and we weren’t going to torture our own men for the sake of training? Apparently the answer was yes. At first there were just jabs to the legs, shoulders and thighs. The squad leader held up and volunteered very little.

The drill sergeants began asking more personal questions and the squad leader started answering them because he felt the answers couldn’t hurt, they certainly hurt far less than the electric shocks. The setting on the wand wasn’t even tasor level shocks. Then the drill sergeants started asking, unit strength questions, deployment questions, questions that the enemy would certainly want to know.

The squad leader was mute to these questions until the cattle prod slipped under the waist band of his Army shorts. Then the squad leader broken down and told them everything that he knew.

The training was that if you were captured, you will eventual spill your guts. That was a given, and you shouldn’t be ashamed. Your job was to delay this as long as possible. I looked at the squad leader and I saw the look of a broken man. I don’t know what happened to him later, but I thanked God that my platoon wasn’t selected for the demo, and that I wasn’t on that stage in my underwear.

I also noticed that the late night discussions of going AWOL tapered off after that day. The Army was not fooling around, and took this job seriously, and so should the “boots”.

This did not mean that we saw the light and became soldiers. It was only that we resigned to becoming “prisoners” of the system. We obeyed orders, we formed lines, we waited for hours at different locations, and we didn’t complain. Resignation is a sad thing to witness, and even sadder to experience. All this was four to five weeks into the training.

After resignation came the awareness that this would all end in time, and if we qualified in the various requirements. Not qualifying meant that we would repeat that portion over until we did qualify. I don’t know how many times that they would force you to repeat, but I wasn’t going to find out.

I threw myself into making sure that I passed each step. I had forgotten about my plan to fake pain in my leg in order to go back home. I just couldn’t do that right now. My men needed me, who would check it their straps were rolled like little canvas cinnamon buns?

I could get out, but they had to stay. Somehow something had clicked and I couldn’t find a way to leave people behind. We were not able to communicate to family except by writing letters, and I couldn’t find away to explain this to my wife and family. Also, I didn’t trust that our letters weren’t read before they were sent. The Army seemed to know everything. We did hear of a soldier that tried going AWOL. He got his friends to mail a wig to him, and he was trying to get to the airport, and he mailed a friend to pick him up at a set time and place. Instead, the MPs showed up, and was facing charges.

So on my own I decided to delay the faking of a limp, and I focused on the bullseye on the rifle range. Surprisingly I was doing really well. I was the best in my squadron, and then I ended up best in the platoon. At the end of M-16 training I was best in the company, shooting expert and competing for the top shot in the battalion. My drill sergeant was almost impressed, he still hit me in the head when I broke one of the firing range rules.

One of the most serious breeches was bringing back live ammo, or even the empty shell cases. The live ammo part I understood, but the empty brass rule was a little confusing but what the heck. At the end of the day, all the used ammo was distributed to the squad leaders and we would shoot down range until everything was gone.

I think the extra time shooting help my overall qualification. We were even allowed to go full “rock and roll”, flipping the switch to automatic and emptying a clip in a matter of seconds. Our weapons were certainly dirtier than everyone else but we had a lot of fun.

Finally we would all line up in two rows and present ourselves individually to two drill sergeants of the firing range. We were to open the breech of our weapons, show them to the drill sergeant, and scream “No BRASS, no AMMO”. Then we could march home to the barracks, or march to the cattle cars.

Every now and then we could hear laughter and for some reason a boot was crawling around in the dirt. Either he actually had ammo, or brass, we didn’t know. I found out that brass was a possibility because one of my men shot left handed, and the ejected shells could actual fly from the rifle and go down your shirt. You could accidentally take some brass back to the barracks. But why the laughter?

When it was my turn to present my weapon, and shout my phrase, I heard my drill sergeant muttering next to me, “No ASS, no BRAMO”.

Even now after forty years I am unsure if this happened to me, or I just witnessed it. Someone screamed that phrase at the top of their voice. I don’t know how often that worked, but it worked often enough that I saw many troops dropping to the deck while drill sergeants laughed.

I ended up shooting third in the battalion, the top two slots went to brothers, twins, who had lived on a farm and were raised with rifles. They were amazing, we were head to head until the long range tracer fire. I tried to use my sights and elevation. They trusted the tracers to let them know where the rounds were landing. They hosed the targets and I’m not sure who pulled ahead, but they must have been very close. I waisted a full clip before I turned to the fire hose technique of using the tracers to guide my rounds, so I was a full sixteen rounds behind in third place. 

Another weapon qualification was the bayonet. It basically had two modes, one where it was affixed to the M-16, making it a very short spear, and the other mode, which was as a hand held knife. The training consisted of running through a sequence of straw filled dummies, thrusting and slicing while screaming “Die!”. I did pretty well at this.

Apparently I was among the last boots to be trained at this, because within a year it was removed from the sequence and replaced by more field medical techniques. Someone thought that having the New Army screaming die, while stabbing dummies was just a little too vicious. I don’t agree, and I thought we should have spent more time training for those moments when you ran out of ammo.

Fighting hand to hand with a knife was more of a special forces type of training, but I enjoyed it. Having a knife seemed natural to me. A spear was even better.

Qualifying in tear gas operations was essential. We all carried masks on every march, and learning to use them was important. The first training was taking the platoon into a field where we were surrounded by tripwire about eighteen inches high on all four sides. We were to lay down on our bellies in the center of this square. Smoke was then floated over us, plain smoke. At some point the smoke was mixed with tear gas, and as soon as one trooper smelled the gas we were all to turn over on our backs, remove the mask from the pouch, and place it over our head. This didn’t occur all at once, because there was some delay before hearing the shout “gas”. I was on the other side so I was among the last to roll over to get my mask.

Just at the moment that my mask was held above my head, someone came running and stumbling towards me. Their mask had not sealed well, and the gas caused the soldier to panic, so he jumped up and ran. When he got to me, his right foot punted my mask about thirty feet away, while continued stumbling towards the trip wire. He hit the wire and went flying through the air. It worked just as it was supposed to work. Meanwhile I had no mask and the tear gas hit me.

It was pretty bad, choking throat, burning lungs, and snot flowing from my nose. Well, the snot wasn’t much different than the everyday experience of having the flu, but it was heavier and constant.

So I simply stood up a walked over to my mask, picked it up, cleared the gas, and went back to my spot and laid down. I don’t think anyone saw me because there was so much smoke. I could hear the collective screaming of the drill sergeants towards the punter of my mask. I think he was crying for several reasons.

The next thing was for us to file into a closed tent without our masks. Tear gas was then introduced into the smoke and we were to make our way out of a maze into the fresh air. This was bad, but not as bad as I thought. When I realized that I was missing two of my squad, I went back in and lead them out. While I did react to the tear gas, it wasn’t nearly as bad as for some. Fortunately no drill sergeant noticed so I was not volunteered to demonstrate tear gas avoidance.

Collier was my road guard. First squad had two soldiers designated to act as road guards when we were crossing intersections. Collier was my number one.

To look at him, you’d think there was nothing particularly unusual about Collier. He was just an average guy, though uncommonly nice. It’s true that he couldn’t quite roll his pack straps into tight spirals. The drill sergeant liked all of his troops to wind the excess of the pack straps into compact bundles, like little brown curls, or so many canvas cinnamon rolls. Collier couldn’t quite do that. Not in his background. Not his forte. As squad leader, it fell to me to make sure all straps were tight and wound. I saw to all the last-minute details: cleaning a forgotten weapon, arranging the sock display, tying a proper laundry sack knot, tying up loose ends on all the tedious details of life in boot camp.

Some of the members in my squad could handle the requirements. Others, like Collier, always seemed to be slightly behind, one step off cadence. Still, he was a helluva nice guy.

Domingo was a different sort altogether. He needed to be wakened every morning, and he wasn’t nice about it at all. He was such a heavy sleeper, the only way I could wake him up was to flip him off of his mattress. Making matters more difficult for both of us, he had a top bunk. Every morning it was the same thing: I’d flip him, and Domingo, from the cold floor of the barracks bay, would curse me in Spanish, vowing to end my life in some dark, distant alley in our mutual future. I believed him then, and I pass through alleys with trepidation even now.

But like I said, Collier was different. He was always apologetic about whatever problem he was facing, and truly thankful for any help received. When he came to my bunk that evening, I was aware by his body language that something was amiss.

“John, we have to qualify in grenade toss, don’t we?”, Collier said in an earnest whisper.

The barracks were very still and Collier was on butt patrol. The barracks were so old and had been painted so many times that the combustibility factor was extremely high. On one intentionally set fire, a similar barracks burned to the ground in five minutes. Having one squad member on cigarette butt patrol every night allowed everyone to sleep a little better.

“Yes, Tim. I believe that’s right,” I replied. “Can we talk tomorrow?” I’m not my best at three in the morning.”

“Yeah, sure. It’s just that I, well…I mean I can’t, uhhh…That is to say, I won’t be able to…At least, I don’t think…” Collier was more than just a little concerned.

What on earth are you talking about?!” I fumed. “It’s three in the morning and you are keeping me from my sleep. Spit it out, man!” I was harsh with him, I admit it.

“Yeah, well, it’s just that I… I can’t throw. I mean, if I have to throw a live grenade, well, I just haven’t been able to throw very far. How far do you have to throw them anyway?

Now, this was a new thought. How far did you have to chuck the deadly little things? I really didn’t know. I considered that I myself wasn’t able to throw home from center field. Hell, I had a hard time throwing from third to first base.

“Don’t worry about it, Tim. I’ll work with you and together we’ll build up some arm strength,” I said in my most reassuring, fatherly overtones. “It’ll be fine. Finish your watch and get some sleep. We’ll start tomorrow. G’nite.”

“Thanks, John. I really appreciate it.” And he did, too. He was always such a nice guy.

The next day I arranged a half hour of special training for Collier and me. Actually, it was time stolen from the weekly squad leader’s meeting, but they managed to carry on without me. I had smuggled a dummy grenade from the training room, and my idea was to get an advance look at Collier’s throwing problem. At the same time I would chuck one or two for myself to answer my own doubts.

Shaped in the familiar but now obsolete pineapple pattern, the dummy grenade was quite heavy, I thought. I could see that the charge had been removed and the cavity filled with some sort of epoxy. It felt like 100-percent lead, but was close in weight to the real McCoy. I balanced myself and assumed the stance recommended by the Army. Admonishing Tim to watch me closely, I stretched my arm back, whipped the grenade over my shoulder and let it go. Not a great throw, but a sound throw. A respectable throw; a throw long enough so that I’d live through the explosion. At least, I hoped so.

Tim ran after the grenade and brought it back, ready to hand it to me for a second toss.
“No, no, just back up a bit and we’ll toss it back and forth for a while,” I told him. “It’ll be good to warm up.” Tim looked a little troubled by that, but then again, he hadn’t looked very positive about anything all morning.

“Come on, just toss it lightly,” I said. “Just a big looping throw. Don’t put any heat on it. I don’t exactly have a catcher’s mitt.” All I had for protection were standard Army-issue leather gloves, plenty adequate for the light warm-up activity I had in mind. Collier just stood there looking poleaxed. I was about to yell at him to get a move on, when he… How should I put this? I was going to say, “when he moved of his own accord,” but that wouldn’t be accurate. Doesn’t do justice. Fails to convey.

In a herky-jerky, arm-flailing two-step, his limbs at war with the rest of his body, Collier was apparently propelled according to the physics of some alternative universe. Somewhere in the middle of this convulsive dance, Collier released the grenade, sending it sailing upward about twenty feet in an oblong arc that ended with a plop ten feet to the left of us.

“Collier, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I had some more devastating rounds chambered for delivery, but when I glanced at his face I realized he wasn’t goofing around. His eyes told his story in painful detail. Tim not only had difficulty throwing far, he couldn’t throw at all.

In that brief scan of his stricken eyes I knew everything. He didn’t know how to throw. He had never known how to throw. In school he was the last picked to be on any team. He got clobbered in neighborhood snowball fights. He never played catch with his dad. One by one, these scarred thoughts flew across my mind like some sort of awful teletype.

Tim couldn’t throw- at all. “How have you gotten by? How hard have you tried to learn?” I said, throwing up both my arms in incredulity. “I mean, how is it possible that…? I stopped myself. “I’m sorry, but I just…I’m having a hard time…” I took a long breath and lowered my voice. . “You’re not fooling about this, are you?”.

“No, I’m dead serious,” Collier said. “I can’t throw. Never been able to.”

I looked at him with what must have been an expression of slack wonderment.

“I had asthma when I was a kid and I could mostly avoid the problem,” he said. “And when I couldn’t, well, kids were cruel, but eventually I grew up. I haven’t had to worry about it for years now.” Collier rolled his eyes up and away, then back to me. “I mean, as an adult you don’t regularly have to throw things, right?,”. His voice angled off at an imploring incline. I declined to reply.

Tim spoke quietly to the floor. “I just didn’t think the problem was going to come up.”
I leaned down to intercept his gaze. “The grenades!” I hissed, rather explosively.

“Yeah, right. Exactly. What am I going to do? I mean, I can live with being embarrassed, but I don’t want to kill anyone.”

I had heard how people can hide their illiteracy, pretending to read newspapers, while getting all their news from radio and television. I knew it was hard but at least possible to survive and not knowing how to read. But not being able to throw? How do you compensate for that?

Observing his body movements, I actually thought for a brief moment that Tim might be a born left-hander, trapped in a right-dominant society. We tested this hypothesis and utterly demolished it. If he was herky-jerky as a rightie, Collier as a leftie was reduced to spastic fits. However, in his left-handed conniptions, Collier did manage to shot-put the grenade a little farther.

The disconcerting thing was that a grenade in Collier’s hands seemed to acquire ballistic autonomy. In twenty minutes of successive throws, the grenade never landed in the same vicinity twice. Collier was even able to throw it backwards a few yards. Time and gravity seemed to unwind in floating slow motion, as again, and again, Collier flailed, and flung, with the grenade spiraling lazily upward, drifting, then falling with a disconcerting plop a few feet away. Not one toss in ten landed farther than fifteen feet from us, and that was with his best left-handed effort.

“Collier, you’re a dead man!” I freely advised… and immediately wished I hadn’t. Tim looked thoroughly beaten and hopeless.

“Listen, let’s work on it,” I said briskly. We’ve got a week before grenade training, and two weeks before the live grenade toss. It’ll be okay, I’ll help.” I hoped, for Tim’s sake, that I had managed to sound convincing. The truth was I didn’t have a clue what to do. Tossing the dummy grenade with Tim was like peeing into the wind.

For the next week, Collier and I tossed a variety of objects back and forth. Our most successful trials were with balled-up socks. These carried pretty far, and resulted in the least amount of damage from uncontrolled flights. By the end of the week, Tim was showing vast (for him) improvement, so that maybe only one in ten throws veered off wildly and the rest were okay. It turned out that Tim had some measure of control with his underhand. I thought if the rangemaster would allow him to toss underhand, Collier just might throw far enough to qualify.

We also tried working on a “push” launch, which improved Tim’s accuracy, but we couldn’t get the distance. The real problems arose when Tim threw overhand. We managed to work some of the herky-jerky out of his body motion, but we couldn’t eliminate the bizarre one-throw-in-ten trajectories that defied the known laws of motion.

The drill sergeant blew his whistle, summoning us for dummy grenade drill on the parade ground in five minutes. Collier and I looked at each other, and he smiled. I tried to smile in return. Fortunately he had already turned to gather his gear. As we marched to the field I tried to console myself with the thought that we had done everything we could possibly do to prepare. Or at least, I had done everything I could possibly do… except throw the damn thing for him.

The procedure for dummy grenade tossing was pretty straightforward. We had about forty men in the company, so we had six lines with five or six men per line, and then about forty yards away the drill sergeant had five more men retrieving the thrown grenades and rolling them back to the throwing line. The drill sergeant made it extremely clear that the throwing would be in one direction only. The five men downfield were to roll the dummy grenades back to us, then exchange places with five others so they could have their turn tossing grenades from the throwing line.

The drill went smoothly, except that we had to be careful where we planted our feet because the ground was puddled and slippery from the previous evening’s rain. Some of the grenades went plop when they landed, while others went splat. Waiting for my turn to throw, I was thinking how the expected range of forty yards was doable. I felt confident I could reach that distance, and that with enormous luck and a strong tailwind, maybe Collier could too.

I was standing in line right behind Collier, coaching him on his practice throw.

Suddenly it was his turn and as he bent to pick up the grenade rolling toward him, I flashed him a thumbs up, and he smiled back. The drill sergeant was standing just to Collier’s left, overseeing the entire throwing line. Collier stepped up and let the first one go. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was luck, but the grenade sailed in a tight spiral nearly to the forty-yard mark.

Collier turned to me and beamed, full of pride and confidence. He bent for the second rolling grenade, took the stance, and let go with his second throw. This one went even farther than the first. Unfortunately it went straight up. I believe I was the only one who correctly tracked its launch path. Even Collier thought the grenade was heading downfield.

The men on the other five lines were also throwing at the same time so it was hard to tell which plop came from what grenade. I only wished that somehow the grenade I saw go straight up would just keep on going until it achieved escape velocity and entered orbit. But it didn’t. It came down with a splut in a mud puddle not two feet from the pressed, starched, and up until that instant, immaculate field pants of our drill sergeant.

The drill sergeant bolted into the air like he’d been lit up by an RPG. He looked down at his pants, then glared blazes at the five men downfield rolling grenades back to the line and stormed off in their direction with the accelerating rumble of an angry rhino. We couldn’t hear all that was said, but the wind carried some of the higher-pitched Saxon syllables back to us.

When not one of the hapless five would admit to having thrown a grenade at him, the drill sergeant made them all low-crawl in the mud for the fifteen minutes it took him to cool down. I felt badly about the unfairness of their punishment, but as enlisted men, we were inured to military justice by now. The sad fact was, it was simply their turn. Collier and I said nothing.

The rest of the week went well. Collier didn’t throw many grenades, but they all went in the right direction, no one was injured, and there were no sucker pitches arriving from downfield.

On Monday the company marched to the live grenade range where each man would throw three live grenades to qualify. Qualifying meant that you progressed to the next phase in your Army career. Basically it meant getting out of boot camp. Not qualifying meant repeating the hellish eight weeks until you did qualify. My plan was to qualify in everything at the earliest opportunity.

Boot camp wasn’t all bad. As a squad leader, I enjoyed certain perks in partial compensation for rolling up loose pack straps and what all. When we went to the firing range for automatic weapons training, we squad leaders always shot last as a group. This worked out nicely because we got to shoot up all the ammunition the rest of the troops had not used.

Enlisted men were not allowed to bring live ammo back from the firing ranges. As we lined up to leave, each one of us would have to individually attest to the rangemaster, “No brass, no ammo, Sir!”. This meant no brass shell casings and no live ammo were on our persons. Invariably there would be one raw and addled recruit who would pipe up in tongue-twisted confusion, “No ass, No bramo, Sir!”

Invariably the rangemaster was unamused whenever this happened. Everyone feared screwing up, but worrying about it didn’t seem to help, because even the most experienced recruit slipped his clutch now and then. We squad leaders enjoyed a measure of immunity from this humiliation. We’d be shooting up the excess ammunition while everyone else was screaming “No ass, no bramo, Sir!” Rank has its privileges.

I was just thinking about the excess grenades I would be throwing, when our company was called to throwing line.

There were about ten grenade pits, each one a three-sided enclosure built of fifteen-inch re-enforced concrete, with an open back end. The walls were only three feet high, allowing us a clear view over the front wall as we threw our grenades as far downrange as possible.

Pummeled by years of grenade tossing, the range below looked like no-man’s-land, bleak and blasted.

The rangemaster was giving us the rundown on the operation and what he expected from us. There would be ten grenade pits, with one man in each pit, each man throwing three grenades, one at a time. Meanwhile, the rest of us would be lying on our bellies listening to distant explosions. As soon as a grenade left his hand, a trooper was supposed to drop and flatten onto the concrete pad inside the pit. Standing around the grenade pits, we could see trenches eight inches wide wrapping along the base of all three sides of each mini-parapet. The rangemaster’s warning came loud and clear. “If any of you drop a live grenade, you are to kick it into the closest trench and then immediately lay in the center of the concrete pad. It will be loud, but you should be safe.”

In addition to the rangemaster’s instructions, I had something else to think about. I knew that one of the ten men throwing would be Collier, and no one on the line would be safe if something went wrong. My guess was that Domingo would be right next to Collier if the drill went in alphabetical order. It briefly crossed my mind I’d have less to worry about in the future should Domingo meet his demise on this drill, but I quickly extinguished such thoughts as unworthy. Besides, the possibility of a loose, live grenade bouncing around in one of those concrete cubicles was too cruel a fate for anyone, even Domingo. Thankful that I was a squadleader and would be tossing cleanup, I wished all the best to those who would be on line with Collier.

The rangemaster began calling out names, and right away I knew something was wrong. He called for Bloomquist. Bloomquist was a squad leader. My blood began to chill. He’s mixing squad leaders with the rest of the company! Apparently there weren’t going to be any excess grenades requiring disposal. The rangemaster called Collier, then Diestler.

I was positioned right next to Collier, ten feet directly to his left, precisely in the target zone for one of Collier’s most characteristic throws: his inimitable drill sergeant splut. This can’t be happening, I thought, dragging my feet like a condemned man to the gallows, calculating my mortal odds. One out of ten throws, and Collier has three live grenades. Hmm. Those might seem like pretty good odds, but I was not persuaded.

I lay on my belly, centered on my protective pad, scanning the trenches all around me. If Collier’s grenade fell in here, how much time would I have to scoop it into a trench? Depends on how high he throws it and how long it takes to come down. I realized the grenade could explode in a miniature airburst inches before hitting the ground. In that case the concrete walls around me would acquire a provocative new Jackson Pollock look, and not a lot of me would be left on the pad.

Kabloom! The first man was already throwing, and I was considering throwing up. I wanted to raise my hand for permission to go to the latrine, anything to get away from there. Kabloom!

Good throws, followed by faraway blasts, but the ground still shook smartly when they went off.
Kabloom! It would be Collier’s turn soon. What if somehow the grenade landed on my back and got tangled in my field gear, making it impossible to throw into the trench? Kabloom! What could tangle on those little beasts? They were round, they were smooth, they were deadly. What could tangle? Kabloom!

“Collier, stand up. Get ready to throw.” I couldn’t see him, but I could hear the drill sergeant order Collier into the throwing stance. I imagined Tim hooking the three grenades on his web belt and assuming the ordained posture though it contravened every skeletomuscular impulse in his being. In my mind I could see Collier’s left arm outstretched, the grenade rising up behind his head, the release of the overhand throw. No, not the overhand throw! Please,please, let him throw underhand! The next thing I heard was the drill sergeant’s order to throw. The last thing I heard was the drill sergeant saying, “Oh my God! Hit the dirt!”

Time can be our ally in moments of crisis. Things slow down, way down, and despite the shortage of supportive evidence, I felt there was a pretty good chance I could get the grenade into the trench in time. So, where was it? I waited. Time adjusted his shorts and filed his nails. I was still waiting. I thought I heard a plop, but that couldn’t be right, could it? Because everything around me was concrete, and concrete goes clink. Could Collier have thrown directly into a trench? Could I possibly be so lucky?

Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. Not the Kabloom of downrange detonations, but more like KAROOMA!!!, maybe. Comic books do not have a word for it. Then I was flying. I had the distinct sensation that the force of the earth’s recoil had popped me up from the pad, so that I was levitated nearly a foot off the concrete.

When I landed, I split my chin and had the wind knocked out of me. Just when I thought it was safe to look up, a wheelbarrow-load of topsoil landed in my pit. I was shaken, bruised, bleeding, and nearly buried, but I was alive. Apparently, Collier’s grenade had landed about two feet directly in front of my cubicle, its fifteen-inch-thick margin of safety now considerably reduced. I heard the drill sergeant yell, “Get this maniac out of my sight!”

Then Collier disappeared and the drill sergeant was at my cubicle, ordering me to my feet and demanding to know if I was all right, to which I responded with the standard-issue reply: “Yes, drill sergeant!” I don’t believe I ever heard “No, drill sergeant!” the whole time I was in boot camp.

Still shaking from my near-death experience, blood buzzing with adrenaline, I was handed my three grenades and ordered to throw the first one. I cocked it behind my head and let it fly. I believe it took wing. It went so far that neither the drill sergeant nor I ducked behind the wall. We stood and watched in stunned admiration while the grenade devastated an old oil drum on the other end of the range. As the smoke cloud dissipated I could hear the drill sergeant’s whispered growl in my ear, “Nice throw. Next time get your ass flat on the deck.”
“Yes, drill sergeant!”

To put it kindly, Collier failed to qualify in grenade toss. He finished the rest of the training cycle with us, but when we graduated, he was sent back to another grenade training platoon. The rest of us had our orders for advanced training, sending us to more than a dozen different posts around the country. I think most of us felt a mixture of excitement and loss, knowing we would never see each other again.

I lost contact with Collier. I know that he was only in for two years, so at the very worst he could only cycle 13 times through basic training. Odds are he eventually qualified in grenade before his hitch ran out. At least I hope so. He was a helluva nice guy.

We were now down to just weeks left. For the draftees there was the mystery of where they were going, and what they were going to do. No one expected to be infantry, and no one expected to be assigned to Viet Nam. For the Regular Army enlisted, we knew where we were going for Advanced Individual Training, but we didn’t know what state our post was in, and most of us were uncertain how long it was going to take. They were uncertain because it wasn’t that important when they signed up. Carl and I knew exactly how long. We had eight more weeks of basic electronics training and then 48 weeks of equipment training. There was a lot ahead of us, if we could just get through the next few weeks. 

Our physical training was beginning to have effect. We were no longer limping, and we could march for ten, fifteen, even twenty miles with full packs. Around the barracks we could march in precision. At one point we could a single boot heel hitting the ground. Fifty plus men marching in time, with one sound. I remember marching past a ranger barracks where they actually came out to watch us pass. It was pretty impressive.

We became somewhat cocky in our procedures. Someone suggested that we could get twice as much done, or at least faster, if we had the possession of two buffers. Not having the ability to buy one, we resorted to theft. The same intricate planning that went into the going AWOL was now used to raid another barracks at some distance, then drag the buffer back for our use. We even planned for a successful hiding spot not far from or barracks.

The planned night raid came and we greased up in non-reflective paint, and headed off into the cold. Dodging street lights and night cigarette patrols we found a platoon at least four companies away. Carrying the buffer back took at least an hour, and three men carrying in rotation. The next morning our drill sergeant became aware of the extra buffer, but said nothing except a small distortion of his face, which might have been a smile. No one could tell.

Later that day we did see our drill sergeant listening to another drill sergeant yelling at him. “I know your people stole it because you are a thief yourself and a complete waste of skin.” It went on like that for several minutes. The things that a practiced drill sergeant could scream in an argument are legion. Our drill sergeant was puffing on a cigarette, and sipping from a cup of coffee. At the end he declared he knew nothing about it and suggested that the captain should be told.

The other drill sergeant marched off knowing that resorting to an officer to resolve a problem was the worst thing ever. So I knew then that very night there would be another squad of sleuth solders, creeping in the night, looking for an easy pick concerning an available buffer. And so it would go until we all graduated.

One of our last field exercises was several miles away, camped in the snow overnight, armed with BB guns, fully loaded, and expecting to be attacked, captured and then tortured. The training of a few weeks before was fresh in our minds. We had several weeks of learning to be accurate with the BB gun.

At first we were shooting at coffee can lids thrown in the air, then we moved down in size until most of us could hit a bottle cap tossed ten in front of us, from the hip!

That night we knew the attack would come when we were least prepared, so we actually slept early, so we would all be awake when the enemy came. The enemy was a company of infantry taking advanced training, several months ahead of us. We waited in the cold, trying not to let our breath give away our positions. The attack came around 4:00 am. We were all awake and we pumped thousands of BBs into the attacking force. The judges declared a few deaths but the force was too large and too quick to be stopped. My entire squad was captured, and we were quickly led off the battle field. We could hears the screams of people being hit by BBs amid the screams of warning and encouragement. 

We were being marched in single file downhill and through a thicket. There came a bend where the rear guard couldn’t see what the front of the line was doing. Three of us diverted to the right and hid. As the rear guard passed, we jumped them and took their weapons. I was only missing two of my men so we thought to lay an ambush to see if any more captured would pass this way. Besides, we weren’t sure which direct our lines were.

We managed not to leave anyone behind and we freed several men from other squads. We gambled in the direction taken and actually made it back in time for breakfast.

It was a very sobering two days, terrifying in parts, cold, miserable, and yet very morale boosting. We could survive and even succeed in not being tortured. Actually nobody was tortured, even the prisoners were given breakfast before being returned. Several of us had nasty welts from the BBs, I don’t think we qualified for Purple Hearts.

The last combat training was during the worst snow storm of the season. We were dressed in full weather gear, including insulated boots. Over our layered, quilted clothing, we had an overall of pure white. We were extra large snowmen on a snow field, firing live rounds just over the heads of our men as we advanced up the hill. We would move forward until we had cover, then the next behind us would pass us to the next cover.

It would have been impressive if it wasn’t snowing, and if we didn’t look like Pillsbury Dough Boys, or the Michlin Man. At times when we were advancing our legs moved like windup toys but we remained in place. The slippery ice and gravity worked against us. Several times it took a drill sergeant to shove us off the spot, to keep us moving.

The last week was spent taking photos of each other, telling stories of our survival, and several quick walks with our boots on, down the sacred center aisle of the barracks. People at home were wondering why so many photos were taken while their soldier was standing all by himself in the middle of the barracks.

Orders were coming from the orderly room, clumps of soldiers pouring over the lists to find out information. There was some relief, and some fist pumping. No one was directly sent to Viet Nam, but there were a few that felt the next set of orders would send them into combat. Not for me though, I was going to still be in school for the next year. I was grinning the grin of a winner. Then somebody mentioned that I would still be a boot for another year, a full forty-eight weeks longer than the average soldier. Then my smile disappeared.

Carl, my platoon guide, and I were told that we would be going to Fort Monmouth, a Signal School in New Jersey. We were headed to the shore, on the East Coast. Things can’t be all bad, how difficult is it to learn basic electronics? And what the heck, if it’s bad I could still lie about my leg, and still get Veterans Benefits.

Looking around, all of us could see that we would not likely to be together after graduating. We had a weeks leave to go home, then we were to report to our next post, missing a movement was one of the major No-Nos, it could be punished by a fine or brig time. Or both! 

The military provide airplane tickets, or bus tickets from Ft. Lewis to where ever we were headed. If we chose to go home, then fine, but we had to return to get our free tickets. Some of us went to the Bay Area only to have to return to get a bus ticket to send them back down to Fort Ord in Monterey. It seemed crazy, but it was the Army way.

I don’t remember who received advanced combat training. Maybe I didn’t want to know because then it was very possible that they would end up in Vietnam. I was too tied up in my own plans, none of which actually included completing my service. I was getting out early but exactly how early was dependent upon unknown factors.

It was good to learn something new. Learning electronics could be a very good thing for my future, maybe even a better part-time job while working my way through college. Helpful even if I was getting Veterans Benefits.

I had actually experienced what it meant to be sacrificial. I had found the value of leadership and teamwork, but it hadn’t stuck. I was still committed to finding a way out of the Army, and doing it anyway possible, even if it was unethical. I had made the decision to not leave my men, because they couldn’t leave with me, but that was temporary, or specific to the example. If the situation was right I was convinced that I could lie and not feel any guilt.

The Army was wrong, the Army shouldn’t have drafted me and forced me to enlist. My oath meant nothing, and the war was wrong, and illegal. Just ask all of my friends back home!

Something else I noticed. The photographs that were taken were often in the latrine. It was better light there. In most albums they were several photos of smiling men, some standing near the sinks, and some smiling and waving from the commodes. We no longer understood social norms. We were soldiers.

We had one last night before heading home on leave, and then coming back to Ft. Lewis, only to ship out to our next post. The majority of us were leaving in the morning for the Bay Area. There were a few that were actually catching a red eye to the East Coast so they were heading to the airport this evening, right after chow.

This evening we actually were allowed to go to the PX. We couldn’t stroll over though, we still had to march over, and back in groups of four or five. I’m not sure that we really needed anything for the trip, we just went because we were finally allowed. At chow we didn’t have to do the monkey bars, but we still shouted “US”, “RA”, and “NG”. We hated the NGs a little less now. They were still soldiers of a sort.

For Carl and I, and a few others, we still had to file papers for our first security clearance. It wasn’t too difficult. It was actually a series of forms, filling in blanks, and then almost automatically a Secret clearance was issued. I noticed it was some communications people like Carl and I, then there was some clerks and headquarters folk. Apparently you didn’t need a secret clearance to shoot people. 

We also had to turn in our weapons and field gear. I pity the next recruit that had to be issued the squad leaders M-16s because I believe we collectively shot more rounds than a combat soldier. Everything was so worn that the rifle rattled a bit and the bore grooves seemed a little thin. I would have liked to have kept my helmet and web gear, I had broken them in so well.

The two weeks leave coincided with Christmas so it was great to have family and friends around. One of the main discussions with my friends was how long was I going to stay in the Army. They all knew that I had planned to use “the Limp” as an excuse to get out. They were a bit shocked when I told them that I had actually signed up for another year. It did make sense that I was guaranteeing another year stateside, and that I was making a bit more than I was before.

However, my pay with the raise, was about $88.00 a month, with a $125.00 stipend for housing. At this point in time a married soldier qualified for food stamps. And when we got to New Jersey, we applied and received a nice welfare bonus each month.

The first week in January I had to fly to Ft. Lewis, then pickup my travel orders for the East Coast. I thought I would be back at the airport and maybe pickup a commercial flight from United. I was a little surprised to find that the Army had chartered a private plane, that meant that we were going to fly out of McChord Air Force Base which was right next door to Ft. Lewis. Instead of a cattle-car trailer, an actual bus showed up and we road the ten miles to the airport.

Everyone was either a military person or part of a military family. It was a full plane, but not a jet. It was a prop job, a Constellation from the late fifties, very noisy and extremely slow. I think it took about twelve hours, with one quick stop in Chicago, to get to New York City. And then it was two hours in a bus to get us to Fort Monmouth Signal School in New Jersey, where we were to study basic electronics.

Carl had come early and rented an apartment in the beachside town of Long Branch. He was already set up with his wife, and he suggested that I do the same. I had to save a little more money so i thought it would take another six weeks before I had my own place off-post. My wife was four months pregnant so traveling was going to be a little difficult. Another good reason to delay the “Limp” was to use the benefits for delivering a baby. I didn’t know much it would cost, but I knew I didn’t have a job, and I certainly didn’t have medical coverage. Staying in at least until the baby was delivered made sense. All I had to do was pay attention in electronics school and not flunk out.

Basic electronics was eight weeks long, and I had the intention to stay in the barracks for six weeks. I thought I could use the extra study time. I was dead wrong. Barracks life is miserable on several counts. First, the day starts very early with details, formation, chow call, then final formation to march to the classrooms. Then it is marching back to barracks, afternoon formation and details, then chow call, then barracks details, and then two hours of free time before lights out. Free time in the barracks is noisy, raucous, and filled with high school pranks and constant hazing of someone or another. I managed to shave two weeks off my plan by selling our car. I would only have to spend four weeks in the barracks.

The first serious mistake in trying to out-fox the Army was thinking that a long advanced training school was a good thing. The pecking order in the army is first of all rank. However, the time that you are in basic training, and the time that you are in advanced training means that you aren’t really a soldier, and you get no respect. Plus for the first six months you look like a boot, your uniform is too new and your haircut too fresh. And rank? You haven’t done anything to deserve rank so you are a private, not even a first class private. 

Only two things stand out from my time in the barracks at Fort Monmouth. The first is some problem seen by the company sergeant that was resolved by twelve boots scrubbing the latrine floor and ceramics with toothbrushes. This never happened in basic training, even with Drill Sergeant Fagan. Although I must say that toothbrushes do a great job in the latrine. 

The other memory is about the Colonel’s objection to yellow flowers mixed in with the green grass. They were called dandelions, and he didn’t like them. We weren’t allowed to pull the plant, we were only allowed to pick the yellow flowers. If we were to pull the plant then generations of boots behind us would not have the experience of pulling flowers. 

One of our men decided that if he could prove that he enjoyed the flower picking, then he would be excused from this particular duty. It made sense in a twisted sort of way. So he made it a habit to make a joyful noise every time he found an earthworm, then he would flip it in the air, catch it in his mouth, and suck it down with smacking lips. It made everyone else sick, but did nothing to release hm from the duty.

I could avoid a lot of this if I could just get off-post. I finally found a two room apartment, bath down the hall, in an older Queen Anne two blocks from the ocean. It was very different, sharing a shower with two other renters, but at least it wasn’t in the barracks, and at night I could come home to my family. 

I remember early morning runs on the beach, and after Matt was born, I would tuck him inside my down jacket as I did my morning walk. 

My training took on a serious tone as I was not quite understanding some basic electronic theories. It’s one thing to study Ohm’s Law quietly in the library, it’s quite another thing to be screamed at by a drill sergeant with his lips three inches from your ear. I wasn’t getting it, and it was becoming obvious that I was heading to the infantry real soon. 

Then something happened, it just sorta clicked, almost an audible sound going off in my cerebral cortex. I got it, I understand electronic flow. Electronics was simply a series of valves or spigots. Small flow, opening a valve for larger flow looks like amplification, it isn’t, but that’s what it looks like. I might not get everything but I had a good grip on the basics.

Once we finished our basic electronics we had a small ceremony before we were introduced to our first machine. We had to move from the classroom into the secure training center. We had to line up and present ourselves at attention with our identity card square under our chin, then one at a time we passed into the secure building. 

We were then issued schematics for the first machine that we studied. I think we studied four machines in all, and the procedure was exactly the same. We were given most of the test equipment, we were issued the schematics, and we could use our own hand tools. 

At the end of the day we counted all the electronic cards that were classified, then we counted every page of every booklet of schematics that had been checked out.

Counted and signed by at least two people. It was a very serious business. I remember that an electronic card went missing and we were all locked in for hours. I was told that the Canadian border was contacted to watch for anything suspicious. After five or six hours the card was found in a classroom, hidden in a strange spot. They released us but everyone in that classroom was under double scrutiny. 

The lockdown incident had a huge impact on me. We were in process of applying for a top secret clearance so that we could move on to the next machine. Suddenly it was no longer a game of when I was going to stunt the army. Now I was concerned that the Army was going to stunt me. They were sending agents to talk to my friends and my enemy’s. Was someone going to tell that I was planning to get out soon? How much do they know?

At one interview they were very concerned that every job I ever had had gone out of business or had moved to a different location. I had no idea that I was that hard to find. In trying to do background checks they couldn’t locate any of my supervisors. Even my high school had been torn down. 

Then they asked if I had left the country at any of the times that I didn’t have an address. Didn’t have an address? Apparently they saw that I didn’t pay gas and electric for three months, every year for three years. 

So, where was I, and what was I doing? Hiking in the Rockies on a bum leg that you are going to use as an excuse to get out of the Army. We know better, we know about “the Limp”, and we are going to nail you as soon as you try to use it. Dereliction of duty in time of war, is treason!

Okay, so maybe they didn’t think that yet. But it is entirely possible that it could be thought. I was terrified by what I didn’t know, and getting a little paranoid about things that I did know.

I was born and raised on the West Coast, I knew nothing about seasonal living. For the next year I would be living in New Jersey within a mile of the Atlantic Ocean and I fully expected to experience the complete range of seasons and weather that came along with it. I arrived in winter and I would be departing in winter next year. While I didn’t have a car, I thought about driving everyday in this stuff and I wondered how I would manage. 

Ft. Lewis experienced the most snow in twenty years, but it wasn’t like New Jersey. There was snow in drifts!  

In late April my son was born. It was remarkable, and my lack of detail here does not diminish its importance. This is my recollection of my military experience. I do remember the fear of understanding and being able to repair each separate gear. I also remember the stress of not being able to study at home, because everything was top secret. The stress of being a new parent, the loss of sleep, everything conspired towards failure. 

I was also convinced that the security investigated has uncovered my plot to fake “my limp” so that plan was no longer active. I just had to tough it out and pray that I would be assigned anywhere but a combat zone. We got used to the shower down the hall and the tiny kitchen.

The apartment was on the second floor and we rarely heard the neighbors. The winter turned to spring, I was doing well in my training, parenting was starting to be easier. Matt was sleeping through the night and in the belly spinning stage. He moved around a lot, but he didn’t go anywhere. 

One minor difficultly was the introduction to cicadas. The telephone pole was directly across from out second story window. All the wires for the neighborhood came to that pole. Apparently at least one cicada decided to take residence right at that junction. So for the next six months he rubbed his legs or wings together about 8 feet from my open window. Shutting the window would only muffle the sound slightly.

It was deafening, monotonous, and crazy making. I would have bought a BB gun to shoot him to the sidewalk but I could never tell exactly where the sound was coming from. 

Maybe if I had grown up with it, I was never bothered by frogs croaking or crickets, but this was far too much. 

Spring also brought a little savings so we considered the purchase of a vehicle. We finally bought a 1967 Chevy Bel Aire, a stripped down brute of a car. I think it crossed the country three times, lived through several blizzards, and a half dozen snow tires. It was monster purchased from an old school mafia chop-shop. At least that was my impression then.

The real challenge was trying to figure out how to afford insurance and gas. Just about then congress decided to give a pay raise, almost doubling my salary after also getting a promotion. I was now a private first class and we no longer qualified for food stamps.

Sometime in the middle of summer, I was sitting by the open window, again trying to a determine the location of my noisy cicada, when I happened to hear an operatic line or two. I was confused because it was lovely but not from the radio, and the only logical source was my 88 year old landlord puttering around in the garden below.

Wait! It was Mr. Carlo Ponti, and he had a great voice. I went downstairs to talk to him. I asked if he had ever sung professionally and he replied that he had been with the Metropolitan Opera in NYC for twenty years, from 1920-1940. I was surprised, not because of any lack of skill. I was surprised because I might actually know someone that he sang with.

While I was a student at Contra Costa College I actually declared my major to be philosophy because of one man. I became a fan and registered for all of his classes, semester after semester. What I did not know was that Pasquale Anania was not well liked by most of the faculty. I thought that perhaps they were jealous because he had three doctorates, two in the hard sciences. That still may have been a reason, but mostly he was disliked because he was perceived as a blowhard and a liar.

He had said that during WWII that he was shipwrecked on an island, that he was a speechwriter for Truman’s Last Campaign Train, that he dated several Hollywood starlets including Marilyn, oh, and Shirley Temple was a teenage tramp. There were so many things that were so unbelievable that it stretched the imagination. He was a very good philosophy teacher.

He had also mentioned that his mother, Maria Ponti was a star of the Metropolitan Opera. I don’t know why I remembered that, but here I had an opportunity to prove the liar.

I asked Mr. Ponti if he remembered a female singer with the last name Anania. He, replied “Maria?, sure I sang with her lots of times, very beautiful. I would sing with her and sometimes babysit her little Pasquale while she rehearsed.”

Okay, so he didn’t lie. Maybe he never lied and he just had a remarkable life.

I was nearly finished with my training and feeling a little cocky. There was this hunk of steel, transistors, nor gates, or gates, and power supplies. The training Sargents would solder a single small wire between two contacts on one of the two dozen boards, breaking the machine. I could find it within thirty minutes. Every time.

I celebrated my expertise in a monumentally stupid way. Somehow I acquired a Soviet silver ruple. It looked like a silver dollar, it had that same sound when you flipped it. Between classes I would lean in the hall and flip my ruple.

It was like dancing at the edge of the roof of a very tall building.

It was getting close to the end of my training. I had tested out of the four major pieces of equipment and survived a grueling written test. I had about a month left and I was wondering why we were still in class. Most of us had received top secret crypto clearances and I thought what next?

Well, since at least two different machines were installed in combination locked safes, the Army thought we should be trained in how to crack a safe, either by a light touch, by a 35lb. Pick axe, or by a sheet of thermite that would melt it into a pool of hot steel. So the last month of training was simply a lot of fun, wrecking things, picking locks, or setting fires.

Winter came along with my orders. I wasn’t going to Vietnam, I wasn’t going to Germany, like my friend Carl. I was going to a secret site in Pennsylvania, I was staying stateside with my family. I couldn’t believe it. All my planning, worry, and paranoia was for nothing. I was going to be safe, in the United States, not being shot at, and not shooting at others.

After the graduation ceremony I drove all night to arrive late at the trailer that we had rented. The next morning I woke up to a blizzard that had sealed us in the trailer for the next four days..

It was snowing pretty steady when we drove up to the trailer late at night. I had rented it sight unseen but the photos showed that it was in the backyard of a local home. The most important thing was it came with a full oil tank for the furnace. As it turned out that was extremely necessary.

It was nice and toasty the next morning and I was planning to retrieve another suitcase from the trunk of the car. My problem was that I couldn’t open the front door. Looking out the window I could see that a snow drift had blocked the door. I also could see that I couldn’t see the car.

The trailer was raised about four feet off the ground so with the three feet on the porch there appeared to be seven feet of snow drifting into this spot. I couldn’t see the car because it was completely buried.

In general, there was about three feet of snow laying on the ground. We had not stopped for provisions on the way in, so I had to walk the three miles to a general store. I hoped that the main road had been plowed. 

I set off wearing my backpacking waterproof gaiters but that was useless, they only came up to my knees. The snow was often waist deep, powdery, and soft. 

It took nearly three hours to get to the store, and then another fours hours to get back to the trailer carrying only two bags of essentials, with lots of rest along the way. 

I had five days before I had to report to my new post. The snow plows came on the fourth day.

My papers didn’t say much about the new post, something about StratCom and then Ft. Ritchie, MD. I was living in Pennsylvania, but the roads twisted north and south several times within a couple miles. Waynesboro was the largest town nearby, and it was one of the towns in Pennsylvania that General Lee had invaded on the way to Gettysburg.

I reported to the small post at Ft. Ritchie expecting that it was the upper level to a secret shaft or old coal mine, it was a variety of older stone buildings surrounded by two golf courses. I had heard that Ft Ritchie had twice as many officers as enlisted men so I was expecting to salute a lot. Apparently the officers didn’t have to wait long for tee times. 

Headquarters informed me right away to not look for secret entrances, the actual worksite was miles away. For the first week all I had to do was work KP in the Mess Hall while I waited for my clearances to come through, then I would be allowed to ride the bus to the site. The week went pretty fast as the entire Mess Hall was pretty automated. Most of my job consisted of filling the milk machine. They drank a lot of milk. 

About a week went by and I was ordered to the front desk where I received my pass and orders to report to “crypto”. Unfortunately the early morning bus had just left so I was given the option of driving or waiting for noon. I wanted to report as soon as possible so I waited for driving instructions or maybe a map. 

I should have realized that they didn’t have a map to the most top secret underground facility in the Western world. In the week that I was there, I learned that Ft. Ritchie hosted Site R, or Raven Rock, generally considered the underground Pentagon. It was capable to withstand dozens of direct hits, allowing WWIII to be safely directed and controlled deep with the hard rock mountain in Pennsylvania.

It was somewhere down the road towards Gettysburg, and not far from Camp David, the presidential retreat. Suddenly I realized that every time I heard that the President was going to Camp David I should be considering if he was planning to duck into his hidyhole. What else was going on in the world?

The first sergeant didn’t give me a map, he directed me to the highway to Gettysburg and told me to watch my speedometer, and when mile sixteen flipped I should then look for a small green sign, three inches by three inches, placed on the telephone pole, near the upper crosstree.

That sounded pretty weird but I said nothing. I was supposed to turn right on the next legal roadway, until I saw a sign for a dairy farm. I was to turn left at that sign and proceed until stopped by MPs. There was no dairy farm.

The MPs would check my identification and they told me not to stop, and to roll up my windows as guard dogs were patrolling. I guess I looked nervous because the next set of MPs asked if I was told about ravenous guard dogs. I said that I was warned and one of the MPs pointed to a small graveyard with little tombstones. He said the last guard dogs died in the sixties. The other MP pointed to the parking lot and where the bus would take me into the mountain. Or I could choose to walk. 

Walking two miles into the cave seemed exciting, except it was also a two lane highway. It actually looked like a typical highway tunnel with a small sidewalk on the right. 

I started out a little deflated, it looked far less dramatic than I expected. Then suddenly it took a turn for the better. The road bent so it was darker, and the smooth walls disappeared, leaving raw rugged rock exposed. This was looking up. There might even be bats. I continued down the roadway until I saw a single lamp over what appeared to be a buzzer. There was only a small sign that said something like “Prepare to show ID”. So I pull out my card and pushed the button. 

I didn’t realize that I was standing just to the right of a large door. As it started to open I could see that it was at least eight feet high and maybe slightly wider. What was really amazing was the thickness of the door. Every time I expected to see the opening it swung a few more inches. 

Finally after almost two feet of steel I saw a hunched over MP pushing the door open manually. I presented myself at attention with my ID under my chin. He seemed bored and waved me in while he struggled to stop the outward motion of the door. Reversing direction he finally shut the door and spun the bank vault like wheel to lock us in. 

We were now in a forty foot long inner tunnel with exactly the same size doors at both ends. So we walked to the far end where the process repeated. It was obvious that they were blast doors, expected to be closed, and if they were opened, only one at a time was allowed.

The next area appeared to be a clothing disposal area and large public showers, apparently to wash away radioactive dust. Continuing on there was a uniform distribution area, from underwater to boots. There must have been thousands of sets available. No need for a shower, no need for a uniform, so I simply walked forward into a two lane road that went to my left and to my right. Later I would find out that there were storage food lined up in the tunnel, and perhaps mining gear in order to dig us out should there be a collapse. Oh yeah, there was a lake on one end, with a rowboat on it. Everything was two miles below the surface of the mountain. 

The roadway also accessed what looked to be five buildings each four or five stories tall, and each set inside their own tunnels with some interconnections. My new home was somewhere in one of the buildings. Someone came down to escort me to the crypto repair unit, and I’m not sure, but there were at least four key pads with codes. Apparently I had to memorize a lot of codes just to go to work. 

I was told by the escorting technician that the codes were changed every time someone left for another assignment, which was at least every week. So the first thing to learn was how to crack the access pads. Way to many codes to memorize. 

I can’t quite explain the vastness of what the underground site was like. There were hundreds of personnel staffing the place 24/7, but there were miles of corridors of empty offices and empty barracks. It was, after all, the underground Pentagon, but only in an emergency. The real Pentagon was in DC and the largest building on earth. I don’t think everyone could fit here, and I know that the cabinet officers, and the Whitehouse staff also had suites. I spent a few weeks on detail, going from apartment to apartment making sure that the secure phone systems were working in all of the empty living quarters.

One sobering thought was that all the generals, all the cabinet members, the President and his family were all going to be safe in an emergency. But when the sirens went off, I would leave my family in our trailer, travel to the tunnel and hopefully make it in before the doors were sealed. It was an inside joke that if we were late and still in the tunnel, that the blast of a missile going off at the entrance would send a thousand mile an hour wave of energy that would cause us to fly like a spit wad, down the tunnel turning towards the exit on the other side, where we would exit flying across the valley above the Gettysburg Battlefield. Of course by that time we would be mostly radioactive ash. It was suggested to get out of the tunnel within fifteen minutes, as that was the warning from missiles coming over the Arctic Circle. 

There were periodic alerts that went off, testing our ability to get in the tunnel. Each time I knew it was a test, but each time I looked skyward to see if there were missile contrails. I’m safe, but my family is vaporized.

I tried to think of it as just another job. But it wasn’t, it was way too real, and several dramatic layers of bizarre.

Just because we could sleep inside the mountain, it doesn’t mean that we lived like moles. We had a ten hour day six days a week, two days off, then we shift to swings for six days, then two days off, then we would go six days of graveyard, two days off, then start the cycle all over. 

We also had practice or exercises where the military stayed underground for a full six days. The civilians went home as usual. This happened twice to me. Once when I was on Graveyard shift, and once while I was on swing shift.

The actual effect was almost like continuous jet lag, with a bonus that you only had a normal like shift every three weeks. For two weeks there were no officers, no one looking over your shoulder, and the site was pretty empty. 

One of my random readings were books by Mervyn Peake, an English writer who was friends with J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. All three had created fantasy worlds with castles and epic battles. Peake’s world was a castle called Gormenghast. It was a castle so large and vast that no one really knew the end. Hall after empty hall went on for days. There was an active living part that was known but it was a very small part considering the vast size of the castle. 

It remains one of my favorite books. So much so that I googled any mention of Gormenghast in order to read other reviews. I found a letter written on a veterans website. It was comparing Site R to Gormenghast! I just had to write to this person. How many people have read Gormenghast and also served at Site R?

It took a few weeks and several emails, but another personal mystery had been solved. There was a continuous maintenance log of equipment that demanded attention, but in general that took about two hours of each day. The remainder of the day was playing pinnacle or reading. While I did both, I also tried to be productive.

I found that there were great schematics for the machines, but very little information of the wiring throughout the site. People knew where the phones were, but didn’t really know how they got there and where the conduits were.

I started a very long project to map out all the wiring in the cave. Various people knew parts, so I collected the known data and at one point I asked where it went from there. The sergeant point his finger up. I was already on the Fifth floor so I asked what he meant. “Up, on the roof”.

Now I knew we were in a building with ceilings, I guess I never considered that we would also have a roof. It was a building in a cave by itself so I suppose it made sense it had a roof. It took several days to locate the access ladder. I popped the hatch and immediately saw several dim lamps showing the raw rock roof of the cave arch over a mostly flat roof of the building. It’s true, the building was in its own cave. I could walk upright in the center, but if I were to look over the edge of the building I could see five floors down. 

After looking around, I found the conduit I was chasing, and I was following it down to the next dimly lit spotlight. Then I saw a remarkable thing. There was a chair placed right at the ridge of the roof. A wooden ladder back kitchen chair all by itself. I went over to examine it, then I sat down. The view wasn’t remarkable, it was just the roof and the cave. I was trying to figure out the purpose of the chair, when suddenly two hatches exploded open, both of them filled with several MPs who had trained their weapons on me. Everyone yelled freeze! I would have yelled freeze as well if I knew that was the word, instead I just yelled. 

It turns out that I had unknowingly walked over the Joint Chiefs War Room and I had set off some motion sensors. I knew the War Room was on the fifth floor but it didn’t register. I was in the War Room everyday on my rounds. Most of the MPs knew me very well so they didn’t shoot me. One if them said he should have shot me because he knew me. 

I walked a bit shakily back to my shop. Years later I talked to the writer about Gormenghast. He said that he was at Site R about ten years before I was, and that he was an MP. I immediately thought about the guards pushing the doors open. Yes, he had done that. Then I told him about my rooftop experience with the MPs. He then asked me if his chair was still there? What!? His chair??

Apparent he was detailed to watch for Russian spies who were crawling up the walls in the cave, so he brought up a chair to sit and wait for them. That was in 1963, and my guess is that it is still there. 

Even my normal duty time had its surreal moments. I noticed one day that a call had come into the shop. Someone’s secure phone didn’t work. I watched the order tag bounce around from person to person. Actually, always going down to the lowest rank. After six bounces it was given to me. Okay, as usual, everyone was too busy playing pinnacle. I got my toolkit and headed to the staff living quarters area. That was odd, no one usually stayed there. 

I met an MP who ushered me into an inner office. The nameplate said General Westmoreland. That was the name of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hmm, he was sitting at a desk with a telephone in his hand, my telephone. He said it didn’t work and he had to make an urgent call. 

Okay, this was an officer, the highest officer in charge except for the president. I didn’t salute because we were inside, but I did get a little panicky. I went to the large grey box that held the electronics. I had an idea the some capacitance had built up because of not being used. Basically my plan was first to unplug and then reset all the circuit cards. If that didn’t work then I would really panic. 

The first problem was to open the combination safe in order to get at the electronics. I had the combination in my logbook. I hadn’t been here in several weeks but I knew the combination hadn’t changed. I tried it the first time. No luck! I tried the second time much slower. No luck! By the third time I was starting to sweat and the General started to watch me closely. The fourth time I collected my breath, I readjusted my body to block anyone from observing the numbers, as I was trained, and magically the safe opened. I heard a small chuckle as I think the General found it humorous that I was concerned that he might see the combination. I can’t believe I did that!

Anyway, I slammed the cards home, reset, and the general made his call. Some years later at a job interview someone asked me if I could work under pressure. I said that I had been in the Army, hoping that would be enough. 

I had gotten used to the routine, the weekends were rarely the normal weekends, because of the six day work week and the two days off, but because of the rotating shifts, every three weeks we got off at midnight Friday and didn’t have to report until 4:00 pm on Monday. Almost a three day weekend every three weeks. 

I mentioned that there were at least three civilians that did exactly the same job that we had. I got the feeling that this was almost like a job, except we wore a uniform. We didn’t have to blouse our pants, nor did we have to starch our uniforms, a real blessing! There were times in New Jersey that my uniform stood in the corner, pants standing empty and my shirt propped on top, almost like a suit of armor without a stand on the inside. Now my uniform was soft and I could have one hand in my pocket. In fact, while working you had to have one hand in your pocket to avoid the shock of electricity from going through your heart. With one hand in your pocket it would just go down your leg to the ground. 

At some point I was telling my trick chief that this was a pretty good gig, almost like a civilian job. He responded with a nod, but then asked me to go on a break with him. 

Over coffee he asked what my primary job was. After I replied installing and repairing fixed crypto equipment, he again nodded, but added, that was my secondary mission. My first mission was to be a soldier and to succeed in every aspect of what that meant. After that, I could go on to do my secondary mission. 

A few weeks earlier we had had a formal ceremony where everyone had to wear their class A uniform. I stood there with my brass, my rank, my qualifying medals, and my ribbons. In my case, my ribbons consisted of one ribbon. I hadn’t done anything and I hadn’t been anywhere. There was a very large blank hole on my uniform chest. 

My trick chief had been in the Army almost twenty years. Because of the number of professional officers and enlisted men, I had started to recognize the different ribbons that had been awarded. My trick chief had a combat infantry badge, he also had a Purple Heart, a European theatre badge, dozens of random ribbons, and paratroopers wings. He had so much “salad” in ribbons it was a visual feast. It was obvious that he hadn’t always been an electronic repair person. He had been a combat infantryman at dozens of places around the world.

I was introduced to the concept that I was a soldier first, and that I was trained to run to the sound of battle. That I was to use issued weapons to stop the enemy from their mission. And if that failed I was to create any weapon that would help me complete my mission. Also, I was not expected to die for my country, but I was expected to cause the enemy to die while I defended the Constitution. This was serious business. Providing that the perimeter was safe, then I was required to do my specialty, to provide secure communication in time of war and in time of peace. 

I started hanging out in the various war rooms on my daily route. The officers were in casual dress but usually wore their ribbons. When I ran across one I didn’t know, I politely asked what it was for, and it generally initiated an interesting conversation about life and death in the military. It was a sobering thought, and it came more clear when I was invited to weapons qualification in order to maintain skills in marksmanship. I had shot expert in basic, and now I was invited to go up against Site R MPs. I thought perhaps it was best to keep my expert badge, rather than to try to win another one.

After several months getting to know the various War Room officers, I became convinced of their sense of dedication and honor. They were well read, intelligent, genuine, and full-on warriors. For the first time I began to understand how enlistedmen could, and would, follow officers up hill against all odds. These officers were to unleash all of the nation’s nuclear capability if necessary. They would receive the order, and then they would act and commit the weapons. My role was to make sure that the secure communication existed. I was only a specialist E-4, but I was respected as part of the essential team.

Dying for my country? I dunno. Dying for Colonel Smith? Bring it on. Wait a minute, I didn’t want to die, I was doing everything to put me in a position not to die. But here I was, buried a mile and a half under a mountain, and I was considering that I was a soldier first. This awareness came slowly.

On graveyard shift there were only a few officers on duty in the Joint Chiefs War Room, and they were in the outer office. I would go into the amphitheater to check my phones. It was a room that may have held two hundred people, the Army in that section, the Navy on the left, Marines next to them, and so forth. Dozens of clocks were on the wall, telling the actual time everywhere in the world. Something I had seen in airports, but it seemed ominous here. On the back wall, one flight above, there was the president’s box, large enough for his military advisors, and one big presidential swivel chair in the middle. That box was also my responsibility so I climbed the spiral staircase once a week, and entered the box with its bulletproof viewing glass. 

The glass was also slightly tinted so no one had a good view of what was going on in the box. Nearly every time I entered I was alone, and every time I entered, I sat in the president’s chair and surveyed the desks and chairs, the clocks, and the maps on the wall that constantly updated our readiness. This was the real throne of power. I had read of the Peacock Throne of Crete, later I saw the throne of England and Scotland. Of course I never sat on them, but here I sat… well, sometimes I even lounged. I knew that should this room ever be used, that war would come from that chair. That death and destruction would rain upon the earth, and it would come from the telephone on the arm, and the buttons on the armrest. It was the ultimate throne of power. And it was pretty darn comfy at three o’clock in the morning.

After I had been at the post just over a year, I was in the Joint Chiefs War Room again, I hadn’t made my way up to the throne, but delayed a little at one of my phones sitting on a desk in the middle of the room. I’m not sure if was Army or Navy, it was just one of the dozens of phones scattered here and there. For some reason, I thought to do a little extra field maintenance. I lifted the receiver, turned the phone over and loosened the cover on the main body. All it took was one screw and a quarter, pretty much the same thing on civilian desk phones. I did a quick visual inspection and was planning to replace the cover when I looked at the reed switch under a clear plastic cover. I thought I saw a bit of lint on the switch so I popped the plastic cover, then I removed the symmetrical piece of plastic that caused the reed switch to activate when the handset was lifted. It was a simple piece of plastic that pulled some contacts apart, and allowed others to connect. Simple piece, doing a complex job.

I cleaned the contacts and reinserted the plastic part. It was only then that I noticed that the piece wasn’t completely symmetrical. I was a little baffled, but then I realized that if I put it in wrong, then it wouldn’t work, and then I would flip it so that it would work. No harm, no foul. I tested the phone, and all the features, and it worked perfectly. I had a 50 percent chance and I guessed right. I told my other two guys to polish the plastic and to sterilize the mouthpieces. I then went into a secure side room that had a secure extension of the phone I was working on.

Before I could even lift the receiver for cleaning I could hear quite clearly the conversation of my fellow techs in the War Room. I stared at the phone with some confusion. Apparently the microphone had turned on in the War Room without the handset being lifted. Not only that, when the phone in the secure room was lifted, the light on the War Room phone did not light. Normally if an extension was being used, the main phone would light, showing that the extension was in use. The War Room phone was dark, and it was broadcasting clear audio to the side room without anyone’s knowledge. It was a bug in the most secure room in the country.

Other civilian technicians had the job of “sweeping” for electronic bugs in all areas that were meant to be secure. They swept the War Room but did not find extra electronics. All this was simply a flipped piece of plastic that could be accomplished in less than a minute with no special tools. Then flipped back again after it was used. A non-electronic bug, built into the machine.

I sat there a little stunned. I verified that I could flip the plastic tree to work as a bug, and I could flip it back again to make it normal. The same switch was designed into every phone that had an extension to another office. It worked quickly, and the quality was astonishing. It was a bug, but it was a bug designed by Bell Telephone, it was designed into the phone by designers at the factory. Was it used by foreign agents? Or was it used by our own agencies, listening to our own services? Or was it just an accident discovered by a not so careful crypto technician?

I did what I was trained to do, I reported it to my trick chief, then all hell broke loose. The “suits” descended into the shop. Men in black from the CIA or NSA were all over the place, I was interviewed three or four times and told to go to the cafeteria for the rest of the shift. I am certain if my men in black had a device to remove my memory, that I would have been zapped by every one of them.

A couple of days later everything was back to normal. We were told not to speak of it, that it was a design flaw, and that there will be a new switch installed shortly.

About a week later I was told to add a modification to six different machines. All I had to do was solder a resistor and capacitor to an existing circuit board and all would be well. I didn’t realize that the six machines weren’t functioning, they seemed fine. But periodically the designers found that “mods” improved performance, even if it was a few simple parts. I could have purchased the six resistors and the six capacitors at the local Radio a Shack if I had been allowed. It probably would have costa less than $5.00. Instead I had to order the parts from the Army’s Supply catalog. Everything was in there, including the $700 toilet seat covers and the $200 hammer that everyone has heard about. I don’t know if the $5 cost rose to $500, but I would not be surprised.

I didn’t care about the cost, whatever I ordered I got. Site R was the most important post in the Army. If we needed it, then fifty plus generals agreed that the order would go through. I filled out the form and waited for my parts- six resistors and six capacitors.

Some time passed, maybe a week or so, and then I got a call from the front gate. Part of my order had arrived, but I should come down to pick up the first of the six. I really didn’t understand why it didn’t come through the regular parts channel. Why did I have to come down to the gate? The sergeant in charge told me that one of my diesel locomotives had arrived and that five more were on their way. Diesel locomotive switch engines! And five more are coming? Again, I couldn’t believe it, but there was my order form, there was my signature, and the authorizing signatures of trick chief, warrant officer in charge of crypto, captain of supply, and post commander. 

Everyone had said that it was unnecessary to have six locomotives and six resistors in order to improve the performance of my six machines.

My trick chief had the sense of humor to suggest that I should make it work by finding the right capacitance on the railroad engine.

Obviously, the five locomotives had been cancelled, and the one at the gate was returned within days, but there was an extensive investigation. 

I was told that I had reversed two of the numbers in the official parts list, and that I would be held accountable in my next promotion review. I realized then that I was not likely to make sergeant. Just a couple days later I was given orders to pack up, I was being reassigned to the Republic of Korea. Apparently I was needed overseas.

In reflection, I don’t know which incident caused my move to Korea. Maybe it was both, or maybe it was neither. I thought that a soldier needed at least 13 months left in active duty to be ordered overseas. I only had eight months left in the Army. They gave me two weeks leave, and I had to fly out of San Francisco during the first week of January. 1973. Christmas at home, and then I would be overseas in someplace called Chunchon, Korea. 

It is only now that I have considered that perhaps I hadn’t switched the numbers. Perhaps it wouldn’t look good to punish the person who found a security breach, instead, create a railroad engine boondoggle. I never really checked on the actual numbers, and I never checked that the “mod” was installed on other machines.

At least I wasn’t sent to Vietnam.

I had questions about why I was being sent to Korea. I truly thought I was making progress in becoming a professional soldier. I thought I was beginning to understand what my role was and how I fit in. I was not in combat, but I was supporting combat.

I was also a very good technician in my specialty. I could fix things under pressure, I could crack safes, destroy them if necessary. I could maintain hundreds of machines and keep up with the dozens of “mods” that came down the pike. I was creating the very first wiring schematic of the entire command center. There was that little dust-up on the roof of the Joint Chief War Room, but that was forgotten. I thought I was doing very well.

I was heading to Chunchon because the Army said I was needed there. Well, I thought, “Where else would they get a proven technician? Why trust someone straight out of school, why not tap an experienced technician from the most important post in the Army?” Well, okay, maybe I go and do my last months in Korea. At least it’s not Vietnam.

I said this to myself several times a day for the next two weeks.

I then drove non-stop across country in that brute of a black Chevy Biscayne. My wife, my son, we were headed back to California. My wife thought I should protest, that I should fake my limp, that I should try everything until my oversea orders were cancelled. Clearly this was a mistake. I was thinking that I was not wanted at Site R for several reasons that could not be addressed. I did not protest, I thought it was better to go along for now.

That decision of mine had a very bad impact on my family. Within months my wife left, with my son, to live in another state. The marriage was in ruins and the relationship and mutual trust was harmed. I asked from Korea if everything was okay. My wife said that everything was fine. But I also got anonymous letters saying everything was not fine. It was a little crazy making.

One of the first bizarre things was finding out that I was sent to care for one machine. A machine that had a stellar record, never needing repair. I took care of hundreds of machines at Site R, here in Korea, I had one machine in the crypto room. And to take the cake, there was already a technician here that was very jealous of his machine. I had rank, and I had professional status because I had re-enlisted, so the Army couldn’t tell me to do another job. I compromised and “managed” the technician, and took responsibility for the off hours, the swing and grave shifts.

I soon discovered that Camp Page, Chunchon, Korea was not at all like Site R in Pennsylvania. If Site R was the most important post, then Camp Page was among the least important. It really was going from the best, to the worst. The stories that were told to me would have been funny, straight out of MASH on the television. Except it wasn’t television, it was Korea. And when my pay came in I realized I had landed in a combat zone. I was getting pro-pay and I was getting a combat pay bump. I was assigned to a post that maintained a field presence on the DMZ with North Korea.

The very thing I had tried to avoid had come true. It wasn’t Vietnam, but bullets came my way, and I eventually sent a few bullets their way. The full armistice was never signed, this was just a long lull in the ongoing war with North Korea. We were in harm’s way.

We lived in Quonset huts, they looked like large barrels cut in half then laid on the ground. Not insulated, and bad ventilation, and I believe it was a pounded earth floor. I say that because I don’t ever remember using water to clean the floor and there was also a lot of dust and sweeping. There were two oil-drum space heaters that produced tons of smoke and soot. The ceiling had never been cleaned or painted, it was a dingy, dusty, hellhole of a living space.

And it was cold, very cold. The latrine was several buildings away and the night trip to the urinal was usually cut short with several piles of yellowish ice mounds found in the morning.

When it was very cold, urine would freeze before hitting the ground, giving new meaning to the word tinkling. It was very cold a lot.

I had drawn several new additions to my clothing. Padded inserts for my field jacket, and padded insulation for my field pants. The really great addition was a wolf fur lined hoody that you attached to the field jacket. It had a wire at the edge so that you could bend the hood closed completely around your face for warmth.

The wolf-fur would not freeze. The moisture on your mustache would freeze and if you weren’t careful it would break off. Morning showers could wet your hair, and it could freeze and break off. It was very cold.

The physical nature was different and extreme, but it was possible to have a dedicated rational Army post at Camp Page. Within days I realized that Camp Page had the worst morale, the worst of Army leadership, and I’m sad to say the worst grunts the Army could produce. The situation was complete FUBAR. It all comes crashing down, there is no honor, the was no professionalism, there was only FUBAR.

It was the opposite of Site R. The Army was incompetent, heartless and without honor or deserving of respect. Except that I knew it was different where I came from, and perhaps different everywhere else. It was Camp Page that was broken, bent, and whack. I was sent here to suffer. So I asked about the history of Camp Page.

They’re just a few stories that speak of the character of Camp Page. The first two stories were about the annual Focus Lens Exercise. I’m not sure of the timing, I think it may be in the Fall because I never experienced Focus Lens and I never experienced Korea in the Fall. Focus Lens was a military exercise that moved units to the DMZ and positioned a mobile Honest John missile close to the coast near the China Sea.

The intention was to pretend that North Korea was not north, but east, somewhere out in the China Sea, and our 4th Missile Command would launch a missile without atomic warhead, to show our readiness and capability. I have these stories from troops that were there and bore witness.

At one of the launches, the missile flew true, heading towards Japan, but would safely end its flight long before reaching the shore. The target was about fifty miles due east of launch.

Suddenly the missile lurched and changed direction. The controllers tried correct the flight back to heading towards Japan. Unfortunately the missile was now heading directly north, getting very close to crossing over to North Korean airspace. Considering that the North Koreans had already threatened war because of the troop exercises near the DMZ, there was a decision to detonate the missile. Some felt that the sight of an incoming missile that detonates at the border would still cause World War III. The decision stood that it would at least be better than the missile actually crossing the border.

The order to detonate was given but the missile failed to blow up and continued towards North Korean. Jets were scrambled to shoot the missile out of the sky. Some said that it didn’t look good to the North Koreans to have a missile and several jets heading towards their country. 

Suddenly, everything was mute because the missile burped again, and changed direction towards Japan, then south towards Taiwan, then east again towards Japan.

All the while technicians were pounding on circuitry that was supposed to cause the missile to blow up, they had long given up on trying to issue course directions. The missile then turned towards the sun, ran out of fuel, and fell into the waters of the China Sea, very near to the original target zone. No one found out that what the problem was.

The very next year was another Focus Lens and another missile was on the launch trailer, pointed east towards the China Sea. The launch code was given, people crossed fingers and prepared to hit the destruct button should anything go wrong. It was a good thing that the destruct button wasn’t pushed because the missile ignited, but failed to leave the launch trailer.

Someone had forgotten to unbolt the travel locks from the time when the launch trailer was driven to the site. Hitting the destruct could injure or kill hundreds of troops. The decision was to allow the rocket driven launch trailer to travel several hundred yards down range where it crashed harmlessly into a small hill.

The Camp Page history was very spotty.

There was the time when the Colonel was away and during morning formation a North Korean armed MIG came zipping over the horizon until he reached our camp. Instead of unloading his rockets, he fired his cameras then turned back north to his home. This went on for days. When the colonel came back to the camp he was in rage. He ordered every trooper to stand in formation fully armed with heavy weapons, every third round being a tracer. At a given order, after spotting the MiG heading south, were all to shoot directly up, creating a wall of lead and red tracer rounds for him to fly through if he wanted. He did not want and flipped the MiG over to make the sharpest turn north, and he never came back.

Not all was good though. Because whatever goes up, must come down. For several minutes rounds fell to the earth while troops ran for cover. Spent bullets pelted the Quonset huts, tearing holes in sheet metal. Several thousand rounds fell on the city of Chunchon. The colonel did not get his next promotion. He wasn’t getting it anyway, because he was sent to Camp Page in the first place.

Then there was the time that we were on maneuvers during the Spring, near the DMZ. We got a little lost and we were traveling south following a dry river bed. At dusk the decision was to make camp, get some hot chow, then turn in for the night. I got my food then I asked the captain if I could set up my sleeping area up on top of a small hill next to the river. At first the captain said no, then changed his mind saying that the hill was rocky but go ahead.

At first I was all alone for several hours, then the lightning started up in North Korea, some people thought it was the usual dynamite that the North Koreans liked to set off. But I smelled rain so I dug in a little more.

One by one I saw my fellow troops carry up their bags. When the light rain fell we set up shelter halves on the hill. Down in the dry river bed the rest of the troops crawled further under the six or seven vehicles that we were using.

When the heavy rains came those troops barely got out with their boots on because the water rose so fast. We watched from the hill when three of the seven vehicles were swept down stream. The rest were deeply mired in the rocky bed of the river. The rains stopped, the river bed was again dry and we had only one truck to get us back to base in shifts. It took a long time, but at least we weren’t carrying missiles.

So now I knew the dark side of the Army, the source of the movie MASH and

Catch 22. Writers wrote about this, even Tim O’Brian wrote about it. If I had gone from basic training directly to Korea then I would have had a very cynical view of the Army, and the social value. Instead I experienced eight times the training experience that most soldiers had. I experienced more than a year at the most important and most secure post in the military. It was a huge contrast to what I experienced in Korea.

What over shadowed the physical elements was the emotional issues created by leaving my family. If I tried using “I’m doing thus to protect my family at home,” then what happens when the Korean service destroys your family at home? If you are serving for the honor, and discipline, then what happens when you see incompetence and sloth? Korea brought everything back to the ultimate basic, live to survive.

While we were in a combat zone, and we received combat pay, it wasn’t nearly the action that Vietnam grunts were receiving. Although, maybe the percentages were closer than we thought. At one time there was well over a million men serving in country, yet the weekly casualties were in the thousands. In Korea we had about 30,000 men, and the worst casualties were only a hand full.  Yet, everyone in Korea knew of the last incursion, everyone knew of the last infiltrator’s kill. Except me!

Several weeks after arriving I got bored sitting in the Comm Center with nothing to do. They didn’t need my technical skills and I couldn’t be reassigned. So I did the very thing that my bones knew I shouldn’t do, I volunteered.

I volunteered to ride shotgun on the courier run to Seoul. It was an eight hour round trip run down to Seoul and back, following the Han River most of the way. It also paralleled the entire DMZ so that we were constantly under the watch of young South Korean soldiers, who followed our every movement with twin .50 caliber machine guns. I hoped the trigger safety was on.

The driver of the jeep, Wade, was from Texas and had a simple and direct way of speaking. I noticed that the accelerator was floored the whole time, the jeep’s engine was “floating”, running as fast as it could, red lining the whole time. It was Wade’s personal desire to blow-up as many jeeps as possible, he was now on his ninth and he had a few months left. After a while, I asked what had happened to his previous guard. Did he rotate home? Or did he get reassigned?  “Nope, got a head shot, and some of his brains hit me in the shoulder.”  

Wow, okay. The guy that used to sit in my seat got hit by a sniper. I asked if it was North or South Korean, Wade just laughed and said, “infiltrators”.

Over the next few months I would learn a lot about “infiltrators”. We were called out several times because someone saw a person or persons coming over or under the wire. We grabbed weapons from the armory, and unloaded on sections of the fence.

A dozen rounds would come in our direction, 25,000 rounds would go in their direction. There were times when the chain link fence actually disappeared. We hardly ever found bodies. They were never in uniform so we don’t know if they were poor South Koreans looking to steal and sell on the Black Market, or maybe they were die hard crazy North Koreans. 

I began thinking about ways to get out of this hellhole. Death and disaster was getting too close. Soon after I was sent to pull bodies out of the river due to a helicopter accident I began to seriously think how I could get back to the states.

I finally decided that if I could get back, then even if I was locked up, it might be worth it. I had taken quite a few MAC flights to various places in Asia. They were free flights, based upon space availability. If I could get leave papers with my home address on them, I might be able to get on a plane.  I wouldn’t have the proper papers to leave my theatre of operations but that wouldn’t be found out until I landed at Travis Air Force base in California.  I just had to get leave, but I had used up my leave before I came to Korea.

Meanwhile, the alcohol flowed for the older sergeants, and the marihuana smoked for everyone else. My life until then was mostly drug free. I avoided it when I could, I never hitchhiked with drugs because I feared jail, I never had drugs in training because they tested regularly.

In Korea they didn’t test, they just tried to catch you.  Papers were not allowed, if you said that you rolled your own cigarettes they said tough, threw you a pack and confiscated the rolling papers. No one was fool enough to put weed in their lockers, it was in paper bags on top of the lockers, in public space. No one would steal it because it was five dollars for a pound, and twenty-five dollars for a duffel bag.

With no papers available, the only thing left was a hidden pipe, or grabbing double hand fulls to throw on the space heaters. In just a few minutes the entire hut was filled with dense smoke to the knees. We didn’t call it “hot boxing”, but that’s what it was. I did my best to avoid all this but there were many weeks I woke up stoned because of the “hot box” or squad members blowing smoke in my face as I slept.

I finally used my skill at making disguised pipes to convince people that it was in their best interest to keep me from being stoned.

Unfortunately the drug issues were escalating. More and more grunts were tearing up the local villages from alcohol or drugs, or a combination, we had an influx of Vietnam vets that hadn’t completed their overseas hitch, an they were causing problems. I knew all this because I has in the Comm Center, and I saw the request for help, for drug sniffing dogs, and I knew when they were coming and where they were going to hit. It would be a big sweep and the users and maybe non-users would all spend some time in the brig.

I warned my barracks that we were to be targeted. The leaders got together and decided to boil three or four pounds of weed, until it was a thick brown soup. They then took the soup, and just hours before the dogs arrived, they poured a trail outside our hut, down the sidewalk to our alcoholic first sergeant’s hut where he lived with his girlfriend in drunken stupor most of the time.

The sergeant had the whole hut to himself and anyone he would invite. The dogs came, they sniffed and raced to the sergeant’s hut, circled barking, then fell down. Apparently the smell was so strong that it ruined the dogs for several weeks.  I remember walking out of our hut, looking left to see our first sergeant standing there in a flowered dressing robe, talking to the MPs. They were no doubt asking why this woman was living in his quarters.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I would do something foolish, or that I would be court martialed for some insane act.

Just weeks earlier I was sound asleep in the outer room of the Comm Center. I had been up for more than twenty hours so I stretched out on a couple of chairs. I had three guys in the Center taking care of the messages and doing maintenance. I deserved a nap. 

I woke up to someone pounding on our outer security door. Since it was reinforced metal straps the pounding was quite loud. I went to the security peep hole and I saw an American artillery captain with a disgusted look on his face. I inquired what was the matter. He replied, “Open up, I smell dope coming out of your bathroom vent pipe.”

This was a lot of information to process. As far as opening up, well, he was most certainly not on the entry list. Even if he was a captain. Concerning the smelling of dope coming out of the vent? Well, I knew the vent was on the roof, and he probably didn’t climb the roof. Maybe he smelled something, then saw smoke coming out of the vent.  Was it possible that my guys were in the bathroom smoking weed while I was napping in the chairs?  Well, yes, that was certainly possible, in fact, knowing my guys, it was almost certainly true.

“Sorry Sir, I can’t let you in, you are not on my entry list.”, I ventured.

“You better damn well let me in, that is an order soldier.”, he yelled.

I didn’t want the whole post to be a part of this discussion so I considered letting him in to the outer room, while I retreated to the inner battle door. The outer room was designed to be a kill zone where intruders could breach the outer door and be trapped by the inner battle door where heavy weaponry was easily within reach. I removed the door bolt and stepped back behind the battle door. The captain charged in, but stepping almost in West Point style. Very curious.

He had never been in the Comm Center, so he was a bit baffled by not yet being in the Comm Center. He now restated that he wanted to be let it, except that he was let in. So then he asked, “Are you guys smoking dope on duty?”  

Technically, I was one of the guys, and I was not smoking dope, so I said, “No, sir”.  That was not the answer he wanted so he demanded to be allowed further inside. I said again that he wasn’t on my entry list and that he could go see my commanding office to clarify things. That only made him madder and he proceeded to shoulder the battle door open.

That’s when I reached for the shotgun behind the door, and then poked him in the chest with the barrel. There was a moment of quiet when everyone had a chance to assess where the next few moments were going.

On his part, it went to controlled rage. An enlisted man had threaten him with bodily harm to protect his dope smoking buddies. He viewed this as a terrible bluff, an insulting bluff. He responded with the typical boot camp idiom, “Never point a weapon unless you are going to use it.”

I replied by pumping the shotgun quickly and flipping the safety off. Then I told him, “Back away, Sir”,  “You are not on my list!”,

Another set of seconds slipped away. Was I crazy, would I shoot? How far does this go? By this time, my dope smoking troops had flushed the joints, and had called the commanding officer to come running, “Diestler is fixing to shoot a captain, please come fast.”

Things pretty much remained in a frozen position until the CO came. He calmly talked to the captain, the captain’s eyes never leaving my face. On my part, the only movement was to engage the trigger safety. No point in killing the captain and my CO.

Minutes later, the CO entered the outer room without the captain. He ordered me to remount the shotgun and step in the outer room. He said nothing about the dope smoke. He said that he was considering courts martial for me.

I had disregarded a special order and had let a person in to a secure facility. He asked if I had anything to say in my defense. I said that I was guilty but I had made a judgement call to bring the dispute inside, instead of out in the street. Besides, he did not enter the significant secure area, and that the outer room provided a kill zone that would reduce the potential of innocent victims being harmed.

He thought for a while, then said carry on, but consider that this was a warning, you are to shoot intruders.

I stepped back in to the main Comm Center where my guys where sheepishly hanging their heads. I told them that the next time I will shoot the captain, but I won’t stop there. I will clear the room until every one is taken out. Everyone got the message.

Knowing that I had started collecting many more enemies than the current group of North Koreans across the DMZ, I approached my lieutenant and opened up. I needed to go home or something awful was going to occur. It wasn’t a threat, and he didn’t take it as such. He asked what was it that he could do? I said to give me advanced leave, and to put my home address on the leave papers. He explained that wasn’t going to work, and I said good, then he wasn’t really helping me, and he wouldn’t get in trouble.

I had part of the necessary papers, I went backed to the hut and packed a duffle bag to head to the airport. I told my closest friends that this was one-way, and I probably wasn’t coming back, unless they arrest me.

It was an underhanded way to leave, no party, no parade. I only said goodbye to a very few people. I went to Seoul and jumped on the first MAC flight to California. Went I landed at Travis I thought I just might sneak through if I got in the middle of everyone being processed. Things were looked good until the MP asked for my travel papers. I knew I was missing a few but what the heck, I was going to be in the brig in California. Then the MP saw my address, “Hey, did you go to Richmond High? I graduated from DeAnza in ’68. Did you know Shelley? She was hot, she went Richmond”.  He went on for five minutes, he never looked for my missing papers. He just stamped everything and said good luck.

I spent the next few days trying to see where my marriage had ended. Well, it was more like when it had ended. She finally told me that things were not good but she didn’t want to send me a Dear John letter. Then there was the immediate problem of our son. She had a job offer that she needed to check out, so maybe I could take care of my son while she set up an apartment and so on. I asked how long and she said a couple of weeks. I didn’t  have a couple of weeks. 

Short story is that I turned myself in to the Presidio at the end of my leave. I still had custody of my son and I wasn’t certain of when she was coming back. I was told this was a scam to keep me in the states. I said no, I had other scams, but I wasn’t using them, this was real.  I placed my son in child care, and reported for duty. They didn’t trust me, and besides my security clearance hadn’t come through. They asked if I didn’t mind working in the forms warehouse.  Fine with me.

Several weeks passed, I still had my son, but my wife said any day now. While I was pulling forms from requests all around the western U.S. I found a form that requested an early ETS (separation) due to education. I was getting out in November. School starts in September. I could get an early out if I applied. So I sent the form in and I waited, it was now July, 1973.  My wife had picked up my son and I was alone. I reported every day. My first sergeant got tired of me and told me I could call in until the form came back.  In August I got a job, I was still in the Army but now I was just calling in. Then, I got the call to show up in uniform to the Oakland Army terminal. I was processed out in time to register for college in September.

As dramatic as my entry into the service, it was exactly the opposite when I left. I slid out unnoticed and forgotten. 


So what did I learn from 1970 through 1973?  I think the first thing I learned was not to think of it a lot. I told stories to some of my family and some of my friends, but pretty much I just tried to reinsert my self into the life I had. Things had moved on and the change was obvious, but I was changed as well.

I went back to the community college where life was familiar. I signed up for electronics because I knew nothing about tubes, and I couldn’t get hired anyway. Nobody was looking for safe crackers or crypto guys.

No one wanted anything to do with veterans that had lost a war, and killed thousands of innocent villagers. Don’t talk, just keep your head down and find your life if possible.

I had lost my day to day family, I was a single father with my child living in another state, but not necessarily stable. She moved to Hawaii, she moved to Alaska, she moved to Utah, she even moved to Connecticut for a time. Finally she moved to Oregon, but for how long? I remained a distant father, trying to be stable in California.

I took a job with the college as a student, that turned into an hourly temporary worker, that turned into a full-time classified staff, that turned into a graphic design slot, that turned into part time teaching graphics, that turned into full time teaching graphics, and that turned into art department chairman.

Forty years of work, forty years of not thinking about my time in the Army. But during that passage my attitudes changed. I didn’t remember how much I hated being in the army. I didn’t remember how much I wanted out. I remember thinking that it was hard, but that I was glad to serve, and proud of my time.

How did that change over the years? Selective memory? Revisionist personal history? All I know is that I volunteered to be part of the college’s Big Read program. I read Tim O’Brian’s “the Things They Carried”, and I suffered a kind of shock. I remembered things, I dreamed dreams. I read the book a second time and I was faced with who I was, who I wanted to be, and who I had become.

I saw war for what it was. I feared death, I feared being killed, I feared killing others. I knew that I was being sucked into a maelstrom that would shape me in ways I could not guess and could not control. I knew the war in Vietnam was managed wrong for the wrong reasons. I knew I wanted to be a patriot but I had to voice my objections and I had to place my body in physical objection. I could not go along and be silent, I had to protest.

I knew nothing about belonging, I knew nothing about sacrifice, I was a selfish idealist.

After, and maybe during the military, I learned about discipline. I learned about brotherhood and honor. I learned that there are times when people give everything of themselves.

Perhaps they give their lives, more often they become living sacrifices. The act of being a soldier takes priority over individuality. Choosing to place yourself in harm’s way is not natural and you cannot live a natural life afterwards. It’s a good life but it’s not the life you imagined. 

I am committed to being the point of the spear, the edge of the blade. I will defend the Constitution, my life is not my own. I sacrifice the normal life so that others can be normal.

I sacrifice the life of the individual thinker, so that others can think, so that others can protest. I sacrifice my freedom, so that I embrace discipline, so that others can be free.

I am the point of the spear, I am the edge of the blade. And I can’t turn it off, even if I wanted to.

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Life with Leonard

So, I get up this morning, make tea, eat a hard boiled egg, let Tyson out, and then he barks as the garbage pickup comes.

I let him in and he continues to bark, then the Ring doorbell chimes. I look out the window and the garbage truck is in front of our driveway. So I think that something evil is in the trash, and he won’t take it away.

I go down to the door and he is walking down the driveway to the truck, and he hollers, “it’s on the chair behind you”. I turn around and it’s not evil, on the chair is my wallet.

It’s cold and damp, being in the street all night. I yell, “Thank you so much!” And he heads off.

I was thankful for so many things. Thankful that I didn’t notice it last night, thankful I wasn’t searching for hours, not sleeping, and never looking down by the garbage.

Thankful that I didn’t have to replace all my plastic, my driver’s license, and my Veteran’s ID. All that miserable time lost!

Most thankful for the verse by Leonard Cohen- heroes among the “garbage and the flowers!”

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I almost bought a new violin today, and it really sounded good!

I am not parting with my old one though, which also sounds good, and I’m happy knowing that it would sound even better in more skillful hands.

Years ago, my wife, Joanne, found this old Stradivarius copy at a garage sale, and brought it home to me. The back edge of the violin was crushed a little due to someone over-tightening the chin rest. I put new strings on it, and was really surprised at how well the damaged instrument played.

It sounded so good, that I thought, “this fiddle deserves to be restored”; so I went to a luthier and got an estimate for the repair. The cost was doable, but after playing that violin for several years, and staring at the damaged back every time I picked it up, I began to appreciate it just the way it was.  

It was flawed, but I was still able to draw out sounds that we’re pleasing to me, notwithstanding my occasional wrong note.

The old fiddle eventually became kind of a frequent visual reminder to me of our own imperfect nature — that was once so finely crafted, but now flawed.

I’ve come to appreciate the symbolism of Joanne’s gift, so I’ve decided to just touch up a few of the cosmetic imperfections, and play it just as it is . .

. . .the way it was given to me.

A guest blog from my brother!

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I’ve Been Thinking

Oh no, this could be bad!

I’ve been thinking about decisions. I wonder how many decisions that I make in a week, in a month? It would seem that most are mundane, barely even noticed as a decision. Others are profoundly important, even life changing.

It’s interesting that there is a process to follow when building things. You make a decision about a certain part, then you decide where to put it, after a while the thing is built! So simple!

It doesn’t seem to go that way when you are building your life. Very few decisions are made just once. I’ve been known to quote Joshua, “Choose you this day whom you will serve?” Joshua makes it obvious that the “choice” can’t be made just once, it must be reaffirmed each day.

It is required that I must eat. Not only that, I must eat regularly. And each time I eat I need to eat wisely. How many times have I eaten unwisely in my life?

Let’s go back to the “building an object” example of decision making. If by chance that you make a bad decision, and the object breaks, then you make a better decision and fix it. Then you make the object again, as many times as you want, the decisions are already made!

I was thinking about the movie “The Graduate”, the quick summary is focused on all the decisions that the characters made. Some were silly, but the important ones were epic, very important, life changing.

At the end of the movie there was a moment when the couple looked at each other, almost knowing that this decision was not “over, and done.” It was just the first on a path that was different from their parents, but they will be a lifetime of decisions to maintain the new direction.

Maybe that’s why I like books, stories. The beginnings, the middles, and the endings are fixed. The decisions are once made. At times I may disagree, at other times I am cheered. But it’s the same each time that I read it.

I have the sense that my life is not that fixed. In addition to all the other fears, there is the sense that everything is “fungiable”, and the end result is “depending.” Yes, I want my decisions to be right, maybe even righteous… but more importantly I want them to be consistently righteous.

And it would be nice to eat healthy just once.

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Brother Ed

Brother Ed

Where to start? I have two brothers, the eldest, Bob, is about 17 years older, so he wasn’t around daily. He was alwanys in the military when I was young, so visits were infrequent. But I was the most popular kid on the block because I always had a surplus of actual Army gear. I had web belts, canteens, helmets, bayonets, even a dummy M1 rifle!

My other brother was just seven years older. Young enough to share a room for ten years, old enough to be a different generation. Yes, my father introduced me to some life-long activities. And my older brother was almost mythical. But Cork shaped me in ways that are incalculable.

He taught me the basics of printing, years later I turned those few months into a nearly professional experience. Hey, in a country of blind men, the man with one eye is highly respected!

I have been so inspired by his faith, his inventiveness, and his ability to make images. I have almost forty years of being paid to assess talent, Cork has 5 times the talent in almost every media. I am in awe of his abilities. Plus, he taught himself the fiddle. A Diestler with musical ability!

The three sons were different in many ways, but we shared a strange affliction. We suffered from embarrassing middle name syndrome. Bob had it worse. His middle name was Carroll. He did not find the song “A Boy Named Sue” comforting.

Ed’s middle name was my mother’s maiden name. That could be cool, if the name was cool, but it wasn’t. Edwin Elgin always brought a chuckle. He was apparently named after a watch.

My middle name was actually my first name for several days. My mother got the document and switched the names because she didn’t like the sound of “Milton John”. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the name in either position. Years later I pretended I was named after the blind English poet “John Milton.”

The naming situation was solved by my mother. For years she would call us by our nicknames. To come to dinner she would repeat all our names in the proper age order. It didn’t matter that Bob had moved out years ago. Even when I was the only one living at home I would hear, “Bobby, Corky, Johnny, dinner is ready!”

Our nicknames simply added a “y” to the end. Only two people (and their children) still call me Johnny.

Wait… What happened to Edwin Elgin? Well, TV happened. There was a television show. I think a Western, that had a child actor who looked like Edwin, and his name in the show was Corky.

I am the only person that still calls him “Cork”. Sometimes Bob still calls him Corky, but not generally to his face.

Cork is now approaching 80, and I want to put down some things about him, things that I remember.

He was born in 1943, during World War II. It was a difficult time for our family. We didn’t own a home, and lived with relatives. My father had gone to the Bay Area to build Victory ships, and my mother was left in Fargo, ND with three kids, one of them a baby.

My dad had quite a few sisters, but none were well off. The Depression was still strongly felt in the Northern Midwest. My grandmother Kari, my mother’s mom, was still alive, and my Mother was very attached to her. Unfortunately, Kari was not in a good place either. Her first husband had simply disappeared, her second husband died in a winter accident, and she never remarried after that.

Rumors about men that went off to war, or went to work in distant factories were very painful, and relationships suffered.

The final straw was when the only girl, my sister Gayle, contracted Scarlet Fever. In some cases it was just a bad sore throat, in others, it was a killer. Cork was only a year old when Gayle died, so he never really knew her, but Gayle was Bob’s well loved little sister. My mother was devastated.

The events around Gayle’s death was the final straw for my mother. She packed up Bobby and little Edwin, and took a train to the West Coast.

My father found a two bedroom apartment in the Wartime Housing Authority, and moved everybody to Richmond, CA.

Growing up in the “housing” was similar to some inner city neighborhoods in the east. Each building had four apartments, accessed by one porch, or stoop. Two apartment next to each other, and two apartments on the second floor.

It was very much a “mixed” neighborhood, with families coming from all across the country. Henry Kaiser had made dozens of trips to convince workers to move to the coasts in order to build ships for the war effort, and he had also build accommodations for them to live.

On the East coast the apartments were generally older, with many problems. These apartments were brand new, small, but with very nice oak floors, and solid construction. They were so nice that we were the last ones to leave in 1954!

Cork was just one of the gang of kids that lived in the housing complex. Each building had four families, and there were dozens of buildings in the neighborhood. Between the buildings, in the back, there were simple play structures, swings, slides, and sand enclosures.

Cork had become one of the dozens of marble players. There were “purées”, “cat’s eyes”, opaque glass, and “steelies”. They carried their marbles in cloth bags, or folded western neck scarves.

A circle was drawn in the sand, and everyone who was playing shot an “ante” into the circle. The “ante” was supposed to be a valued marble, but often it was a sacrificed double in your selection. Then each player placed a “shooter” marble in his fist, and with a thumb flick aimed to knock out of the ring the “ante”. The “ante” was now yours, and if you were lucky the shooter marble didn’t stay in the ring.

There were lots of local rules, how close you could get, the size of the shooter marble, etc. Fights often occurred because rules changed from neighborhood to neighborhood. And there were traveling “marble sharks” that were so good they would “take all the marbles”.

When you were bored with marbles, you took out your “tops”. Flung by a wound string, you would try to destroy the other tops with the metal spike on the bottom.

The biggest thing was to play was Cowboys and Indians. No political correctness in this decade. Roles were reversed several times in the day. The play was to chase each other, shoot, and then die very dramatically. Television was brand new and lots of Hapalong Cassidy type of shows were regular.

Merchandise marketers were just getting started, so “branded” Pearl handled pistol sets from several different shows appeared on the belts of backyard cowboys.

We didn’t have much but Cork had a vest, a hat, and twin cap guns on his hips. A roll of caps was a great toy, small bits of powder embedded in paper roll. If you had some surplus rolls, and you were brave… you could always put the roll on the sidewalk and hit it with a hammer. The whole roll would explode with a much louder noise, sometimes in a cloud of smoke with shredded paper.

And this was when Edwin Elgin became Corky, then I was born.

Naturally, with all those kids in the neighborhood there were a few that were not so nice. In fact, some were downright terrifying. There was one slightly older kid, that was called “Icky”, not to his face, but everyone knew him as Icky. Even his mother used it sometimes.

Icky often had a kitchen butcher knive tucked in his belt as he terrorized the neighborhood, broke up marble games, yelled and chased kids to their homes.

He chased Cork home one day, holding a Red Ryder BB gun. At the last few steps he aimed, and fired it at Cork, and it hit him in the back of his earlobe. Shot in the ear by Icky! Shot in the back by Icky! How low can you get?

I believe the police was called, and they knew about Icky. I have this memory of me being old enough to watch through the front window as I pulled the curtain to the side. People were standing on the stoop and in the front yard. I don’t know if Icky was there. I had drunk half of my glass of milk. Left it there on the window sill, then I went out on the stoop to see better. The curtain returned to its normal position, hiding the half drunk glass of milk.

The memory might have disappeared if that was all that happened. Several weeks, or maybe even months later, I happened to move the curtains to look out the window. There was my glass from the day of Icky, and there was this “icky” blob of dried milk in the bottom of the glass. I had no idea that milk would do that over time. It smelled bad, and looked worse. I was afraid that I would get in trouble so I took it outside and threw it in the trash. We had one less glass in the kitchen, no one noticed.

Dodging the bad guys in the neighbor was easier if the mothers weren’t friends. One of my Mom’s friends was Trixie and she had several kids, with near the same age as Cork.

Unfortunately this child was Public Enemy Number One as far as Cork was concerned. I asked him once, “What was the scariest event in your childhood?” He said, “Being chased by BJ. I knew that if I was caught that I would suffer a terrible beating. My only hope was to get to my stoop, get through the screen door into the safety of the living room.

“BJ was on my heels, I was just inches from out-stretched arms, grasping fingers… I vaulted sidewalks, plants, I think I even vaulted the three steps of the stoop to get to the screen door.”

“Locking the screen door, I turned to see BJ’s face pressed up against the screen. A wild animal sneer on her lips, like some lion at the zoo, pressing against her cage. Barbara Jean showed her real colors that day.”

Cork went to Nystrom Elementary, and Roosevelt Junior high, had lots of friends, but was always short of funds.

There was always the option of collecting empty soda bottles, on serious days you could fill a wagon with empties. As he got a little older he could work in the bowling alleys as a “pin-boy”. Bowling was still not fully automated, so it was perfect for small young kids to put the fallen pins in the rack, ready for the next ball.

Serious money could be made at almost any time that was available. At one time, Richmond had almost a dozen bowling alleys, many within walking distance of the housing complex. Cork was not afraid of work. He owned three different print shops in his life.

Cork was not always upfront with his purchases. He had his own money, so he bought what he wanted without asking permission. For awhile he was focused on something called a “doodle-bug”. It was basically a tiny frame, simple fork handlebar, and a lawnmower engine to give it power. It was not a street machine, no license plate.

Fortunately our neighborhood had a network of back alleys behind the houses. One could get pretty much anywhere with only periodically getting on the street. The doodle-bug sounded like an angry bee, but all you found see was a head and shoulders on the other side of the back fence. And maybe a little dust from the six inch tires. It was a very small scooter.

Cork could not keep it at home so he left it at at a friend’s, a pattern he repeated when he bought his first car for $50. I’m not sure how many cars he purchased before he could actually park it in front of the house.

About this time Cork joined the ranks of “diddy-boppers”, young men with chino pants. “knobby” shoes, and a unique “waterfall”/“ducktail” hair style.

I’m not sure how it got started, but I think it began with the “flattop”. This was a close cut around the sides, but the top of the head was combed straight up for about an inch, then carefully cut as flat as possible.

So if you start with a flattop, then keep growing the sides, combing it back to a ducktail at the back of the neck, pretty soon you had the waterfall. You made the waterfall by taking two fingers and pulling down the hair above your forehead, “Elvis Presley” style.

Cork looked very sharp, but had to use almost a jar of Dixie Peach Pomade once a week. Sometimes on Thursday night you would get your hair “conked” for the weekend, but you would have to wear a “doo-rag” on your head to protect the style. My mother started crocheting “doilies” for the furniture, to protect them from the grease.

One of my memories is of Cork getting up in the morning without a “do-rag”. The top of his head had the greasy flat-top, but the hair at his temples were normally greased back to his neck. In the morning the hair stiffly came straight out above his ears and drooped to his jawline. He looked a little like a greasy clown. I wanted to be just like him.

I wouldn’t say that he was a full fledged delinquent, but he did run with a bad crowd. Sometimes he had to babysit me, so I got to know a lot of them by name. Not their real names, only their nicknames.

Unfortunately you didn’t get to pick your nickname, it was given to you. Some were cool, most were cruel. Cork didn’t go by Cork, or Ed, or even Eddie. He was known as “the Deacon”, or “Deke”. That was one of the cool ones. “Piggy” was not cool, nor was Alfred E. Newman.

Growing up in the 50s was filled with massive social changes. Television became a centerpiece in homes. The icebox turned into a refrigerator. We even had a freezer program where we bought three months of food packed into a huge coffin-like freezer. Every teenager wanted a transistor radio. Fat-tired bicycles were out, narrow English racers were in.

Cork led the way for me to enter the 60s, then he left, and joined the Army. He married just before he got out of the Army, and I had to figure out high school by myself.

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Murder Most Foul

So, I’ve played with AI visually. I’ve now found an app that will write poetry based upon a title that is typed in the box. I choose the simple “Murder Most Foul”. I tried it 3 or 4 times, different poem each time. I’ve provided the first two.


Murder is most foul when death is done. Taken in vain, no life has won

Stealing from families so carefully made. Hearts of stone, a person is laid,

Cold blood trickles from gaping wounds. No one near, no one to help soothe. A crime so vile, so raw and real.

A premeditated gruesome fate to seal. Shock, misery, a feeling of dread.

The fate of these, who’s hearts would soon be bled.

Did the accused commit such a deliction. Or just a victim of false conviction?

Not all murder is done with a knife, some are done with a hand that deceives.

So many innocent victims suffer today. Nothing can replace what they’ve lost along the way.

May their life stories be told, May their loved ones embrace and hold.

For justice must be done and right must reign, or murder most foul will harshly reign.


Murder most foul, a tragedy of sadness, blank stares, disbelief

and sorrow, a heart that despairs, souls in sadness, the life taken, a young man tomorrow gone.

The anguish of truth and fiction conjoined, the cruel quality of life, unfounded, a deep outrage, pure hate unconfined for a victim, never more to be found.

Mourning in drapes of black coats, love and justice, a blooming rose for a departed.

In cradles unite, as family and friends forever repose, Murder most foul, a heart’s creed

I dunno, not great poetry, but passable. I would not want to be teaching today!

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A Political Plan

I’m a politician and I want to do something. I want to have as much support as I can get, in order to handle any negative issues about my actions.

I can’t ask for blind support, as this will stiffen the opposition. It is a very polarized political situation.

I will not do what I want, so that the opposition begins to demand that I do, what I really want to do, even if they don’t know that I want to do it.

I do not act, or respond, for over a week to an event. I let the opposition form opinions about my inaction. My inaction creates no real danger, but the rhetoric builds.

Then, at the very next event that is remotely similar, I can reverse myself, and act without danger. I can do what I wanted to do in the first place, not only once, but as often as once a day for three days, without opposition.

Yep, that’s a plan.

I have a “fall guy” to confuse things. I have multiple statements from the opposition to validate my actions. If there was a mistake, I can shift the blame.

Never pull a weapon unless you are prepared to use it. Never use it unless you know exactly what you are using it against, unless you have a plan for that.

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A Bright Light

I saw a notice in our neighborhood blog about a noise, and a bright light at 12:00 am. The neighbor wanted to know if anyone else had seen it. Dozens of people responded that they had, and suggested that it was fireworks.

Sixty years ago, my close friend said that he had discovered the formula for gunpowder, he didn’t do this by trial and error, he found the proportions listed in some old textbook. He then told me that it was some common chemicals, that were easily obtainable. The hardest to find could actually be purchased at the local drugstore. We enlisted a friend to buy some, and we bought the rest.

What trouble could three teenagers get into with a pound of homemade gunpowder? Our first idea was to buy a pound of caramel chews, melt them in a pan, replacing the sugar in the formula. We could then pour the liquid it into a tube, let it cool to a solid, then we would have a solid fuel rocket… if we added wings.

One of us, with more safety consciousness, said that it probably wasn’t safe to have gunpowder around a flame. We agreed to mix the ingredients dry. All we had was the large coffee can, from my father’s morning brew, Folgers.

It was all about proportions, one half of this, one third of that, etc. by some miracle we added every thing and it filled the can to the brim. We put the lid on it, taped it shut, grabbed some matches, some sparklers, and waited till dark.

The sun was down but we had a problem, at first we thought we would set it off in the alley behind our houses. But we weren’t sure about the end result. It could be a flare, it could be an explosion. We didn’t want to blow up our neighborhood, plus we would certainly be found to have been the ones buying chemicals from the drugstore.

There was the asphalt field at the junior high, but it was ringed by houses, so that was out. We didn’t want to use our bikes to go out into the country. We were lazy, and didn’t want to start a fire. We settled on the local high school football field, 50 yard line, on the school logo.

We had been there before, so we knew it was surrounded by a high chain link fence. I mean very high, three times the height near the stands, and twice the height near the end zones. We quietly climbed the three story fence near the stands.

We managed to carry over the coffee can, the matches, and a few sparklers we had from July 4th to act as a fuse. It was very dark, which was good for us, but we had to take a few moments to find centerfield. We placed the can on the logo, took the lid off, and prepared to light the sparklers.

We first thought to light the sparklers, then toss them into the can from several yards away. We didn’t get remotely close enough. Then we thought about dropping it in as we ran fast beside it. We didn’t even try that. We ended up lighting the sparkler near the can, dropping it in, then running to a safe distance.

I don’t know how we knew a safe distance for one pound of gunpowder. Was it ten yards, fifteen yards? I think we opted for twenty yards. We looked back into the darkness and we could barely see the faint flicker of the sparkler inside the can. It hadn’t ignited. We waited a full five minutes until the sparkler was nearly out, then there was a whoosh!

It wasn’t a bang, it didn’t explode. If it had, I probably wouldn’t be able to write about it sixty years later. The whoosh came from gases being thrown out of the can into the dark sky. From my memory it was as if a moon rocket had buried it self into the earth, with flames going thirty to forty feet into the air. It was so amazing that it didn’t explode, and that we were safe and watching this wonderful light. I could see the laughter of my friends, I could see every freckle on their faces. It was so bright!

We were at least 60 yards from the closest fence, it was like daylight everywhere on the football field. We stood out so plainly that everyone could see what color of clothes we were wearing.

It wasn’t going to be long before neighbors were going to ask questions. It wasn’t going to be long before the police would be looking for us.

It took so long to get to the fence that I thought we would be caught coming down the other side. It was quiet here and some trees had hid the light so that neighbors were not standing it the street wondering.

We hid in some bushes to formulate a plan. Something that we hadn’t conceived earlier. We thought about splitting up and going three different ways on the five block run to our homes.

We didn’t like that, the odds were that at least one of us would be caught and tortured. So we kept together, sending one person out to find the next hiding spot. We took at least two hours leap frogging from one spot into the next. We got home safe.

The following day we heard about a bright light on the football field. They said it was fireworks.

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The Vandal

Genseric “the Lame”, king of the Vandals. He was my 42nd great grandfather, he ruled over the Germanic tribe of the Vandals for over fifty years, from approximately 425 to January 25, 477.

He was born in Pannonia, which is now in Hungary, and died in Carthage, Zeugitana, which is now in Tunesia, North Africa. How that happened is one of the strangest stories in history.

Rome was still the premiere civilized country during the 400s. Earlier on the descendants of the Phoenicians had built a decent empire around the city of Carthage in North African. The Romans didn’t like that, and a series of wars occurred. It wasn’t all a Roman victory, the Punic Wars were back and forth, and a Carthaginian general named Hannibal nearly destroyed Rome.

In the end, the Romans vanquished Carthage, but feared that it would return, so they did something unusual for even Rome. They carted hundreds of wagons of salt, to spread over the city, and its fields for miles around. They wanted the city to starve and never be able to grow crops again.

Then Rome went on it’s way to conquer the world. They were stopped in a few places, the Medes and the Parthians caused some trouble, but they were so far East that it was another world.

The main problem for Rome was up north. The Germanic tribes lived in a dark forest, and resisted being civilized. And they fought like wild men.

Eventually the Romans stopped trying to make the north into provinces, and used the rivers as a natural border. Keep them on the other side, and we can trade with them now and again.

The Romans didn’t know what was on the other side of the Germans, and that was a problem. The Romans had gone to Gaul (France), and even up to Belgium and Britain, but they kept the Germans in their dark forests.

In the Germanic East the forest thinned to fertile grasslands. The Germanic tribes that were there enjoyed good farming, with rich harvests. The rich harvests attracted tribes that were even farther East. The Hunnish invaders made regular incursions, and some brought horses and carts with the intention to stay. They were fierce fighters, so the Germanic tribes were being pushed to the West.

The problem was the the West already had people living there, and they didn’t want to be replaced. It wasn’t going to be a domino game. The Ostrogoths and the Visigoth tribes decided to keep together and move as a unit through the Eastern part of Germany, or Allemania as it was called.

When they came to a border with Rome, there was conflict, so they continued West. The Visigoths ended up all the way in Spain. The Ostrogoths moved from Romania to Northern Italy and Switzerland. The Vandals were relatives to the Visigoths so the went to Spain as well.

The Vandals were good fighters but everybody was on the move, and they needed to change in order to find their “place”. When they got to the end of the road in Spain, they could see Africa beyond the Gibraltar Strait. They could see the water.

The tribal leaders said, “Let us became sailors, it can’t be that hard!”

Maybe no one said it, but that is what happened. The German tribe called the Vandals, left the plains and the forests, and they became fighters in boats, cruising the shore that was mostly desert.

There had always been pirates, but they were individual thieves sneaking up on travelers or cities. Thousands of years ago there were the “Sea Peoples”, that bought an end to the Bronze Age, but nothing since. This was a tribe, an entire nation that changed there lifestyle. They were very successful.

They continued going East, hugging the coast of Africa until they hit a very attractive area that had harbors and some small villages. It was the ancient site of Carthage. It had recovered to some extent, and the Romans had left it alone for centuries, Spain and Egypt were the breadbaskets.

Using Carthage as a base the Vandals traveled everywhere in the Mediterranean, and they kept bumping into the Romans. By now they knew a little history, and they even knew how Attila the Hun was pressing down from the north.

Rome had even hired German generals to fight back the Germans. A select few tribes were invite to live on the Roman side of the river, to act as a buffer. Some tribes even joined the Roman army.

The Vandals attacked and conquered nearly all the islands off the coast of Europe. The Mediterranean was their lake, Sardinia, Sicily and the Baleric islands were their empire.

From bases in Sardinia and Sicily it was easy to an attack on The City of Rome. Thirty years earlier it was beaten by Alaric and his Ostrogoths.

Genseric threatened Rome but the Emperor Valentinian III had offered his daughter in marriage to Genseric’s son. This was a typical royal bribe with a bride.

Rome had remembered the horror of Alaric breaching the walls of Rome, but they had a Roman general Aetius that was very good about keeping the Germans off guard, and away from Rome.

The Senate grew afraid, with many senators making plans to flee Rone with their wealth, one Senate leader thought that he would be a better Emperorand used his money to buy influence.

Petronius Maximus knew that he could never remove Valentinian as long as Aetius was around, so he made a plan to get rid of Aetius.

At every opportunity he whispered to Emperor Valentinian that Aetius was getting too popular. The Army followed him, the people cheered his victories. Even the Senate had shown extreme thanks.

After months, it finally worked. Aetius had a meeting with Valentinian to discuss the budget for the military, when Valentinian drew a sword and hit the unarmed Aetius in the head. For weeks he bragged that he had killed the “traitor” Aetius.

One senator remarked, “Yes, the Emperor had used his left hand, to cut off his right hand.” Without Aetius, the tribes attacked the border. Without Aetius, the Army was leaderless. More Senators fled the city.

Eventually Valentinian planned to leave the city as well. His personal guards were two centurions that had served with Aetius. The Emperor Valentinian III was killed as he left the city.

Petronius Maximus was thrilled, he immediately made himself Emperor and started his plan to control the country. Petronius Maximus married the Emperor’s widow Licinia, then he cancelled the wedding of the daughter of to Genseric’s son, and made her marry his own son.

This was the last straw for Genseric so he attacked Rome, broke through the walls and the Vandals sacked the City for two weeks. In the end we still remember this when we use the term “vandalized”.

Petronius Maximus fled as the Vandals arrived, became detached from his retinue and bodyguard in the confusion, and was killed.

After the two weeks, Genseric left with the Empress Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters Placidia and Eudocia.

Eudocia did marry Genseric’s son after all.

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My Father

He was born Jan. 7, 1909. He died on April 27, 1998 of respiratory failure due to a cerbravascular accident, and had asbestos related lung disease. Today he would have been 114 years old.

My father had no official birth certificate. On June 15, 1942 he self applied for a delayed registration birth certificate, signed by his mother and filed with the District Court, Cass County, ND.

The certificate states that Edwin Robert Diesler was born in Bingham Township, Barnes County, ND. on January 7, 1909. She states she does not remember the doctor or his address. The reason for the delayed request is that Edwin wish to work for a construction company in South Dakota.

Edwin started first grade at Wilson house in Fingal, ND. Second grade in Jamestown, ND. 4th grade in Fargo, 10 years old. His father was not stable and often drank too much. One time he chased Ed around the house until Ed jumped in the flour barrel to hide. Frederick and Amelia divorced that summer. Amelia lived with Mr. Busch in 1920. Edwin was 12 years old and said “Busch or me”, in the house on First Street. Amelia said “Busch”. Edwin left for his sister Girlie’s house in Fargo.

Edwin traveled with his father Frederick that summer, making rope for various farms, came back and moved in with Lyle & Girlie Davis on Seventh and First Street (upstairs). Then after Busch and Amelia moved to Northside, the Davis’s and Ed moved into the First Street house. Stayed there till Ed moved to Indiana in 1926.

Ola, Esther and Bill Bannock (Esther’s husband) were in South Bend, Indiana. Edwin went to Detroit (Jack Ostrom, had friends there) with Ben and Ethel, but couldn’t find work, so Ben and Ed continued to Indiana. The move to Indiana was the result of a lack of money, Ed had a hard time making it for junior year (16 years old). Esther, Ola, and Ed spent the winter of 1926 in Indiana. Edwin went back to Fargo early 1927, as his father Frederick had died. Ed & Girlie, made the service despite the winter storms

Edwin moved back with Lyle & Girlie Davis to finish spring term of senior year in 1927. He worked at the Park board then finished senior year at the Fall term 1927, graduating at 19 in January, 1928. He worked in the Park service after graduating.

Edwin met Billie Elgin that summer in 1928, on the bridge between Fargo and Moorhead (Front Street). He married Billie in June, 1929. Census of 1930 only records Edwin as lodger at the Davis’. Where was Billie? His son Bob was born in 1931. Ed worked at Park board for three years.

West Fargo Packing house offered a pitching job (baseball) and he made more money than his regular truck driving park service job. Ed was offered a full time job (that way he could pitch for them for free). 100 hours of work for $24. .25¢ an hour for the first thirty days. Ed quit.

The supervisor found him walking home, and convinced him to come back. Offered .35¢. No! .45¢. Yes! The baseball team was semi-pro, Ed played against Satchel Page for three games in pitcher duels, he actually won one game.

1932-39. He was on the Ice gang, killing floor, loading floor, loading 30,000 lbs. , scaler, the security job came with new manager. Replaced Earl (Groucho) Marx, West Fargo Armour Chief of Police, Ed was effectively the police for civilians in West Fargo. He rose to Chief of police. His daughter Gayle was born in 1936.

He performed as watchman to making rounds, looking for fire and stealing out of the pens, and general supplies. Left Armour after two years.

Edwin tended bar, substituted for Fargo police June Sept 1940. That winter/summer he sold Lennox furnices. Winter of 1940 tried out being a plumber’s helper. Spring/summer of 1941 he worked at Black Hills Ordinance as part of pre-war work, in the fall he worked in Wyoming, near Scotts Bluff.

Winter of 1941-42 did nothing. In December the war started. Obviously, things were getting bad. Spring 1942 Kaiser advertised for ship builders, and Ed went to California. He went to Minneapolis, and saw his brother Bill on the way to sign up. The train left there to go to California.

Ed asked to be a assist shipfitter, C 4’s, in Basin 5 in Richmond, Ca. Kaiser Shipyards 1942-1945. For the first two years he was alone on the west coast, sending money back to Fargo. In 1943 his second son Edwin was born in Fargo.

While he was still building ships, his daughter Gayle came down with a sore throat. Very quickly it became serious because it was actually Scarlet Fever, but he could come home, Gayle died three days before her 8th birthday.

After the war ended, he spent three months picking tomatoes and grapes. Standard Oil was hiring in 1946, he joined the labor gang, within a month he got into the boilershop. Ed & Billie had their third son in 1949. Ed retired in 1970.

Ed loved car camping, he spent every weekend in the summer, driving old logging roads to find the perfect campsite. He also spent some time in camping resorts, like Snug Harbor, but he preferred the wild spots.

He was not generally a hunter, but he loved fishing. And if we weren’t camping them we were somewhere on the Bay shore, fishing for strippers.

For several years he sailed a small Norwegian dinghy in the Bay, or lakes when camping. Ed also loved bowling and in some years he even bowled in three different leagues.

One winter he purchased an unfinished bow, he started shaving it down, and he got into archery in a big way.

When relaxing, he enjoyed reading western novels, or crime dramas. In between he would play solitaire. He liked one deck of cards so well that he kept playing with long after the ink had worn off. He could only faintly see what they had once been.

The couple moved to Tacoma, Wash. In retirement Ed and Billie enjoying eating out, and going to “the woods.” The woods was ten acres of land just north of Mt. St. Helens. They had a one room cabin, with the kitchen outside under a tree. Both of them were there when the mountain blew up, and they spent several hours getting out, under lots of ash, with zero visability.

In 1995 he sent this to his high school newspaper: PROBING THE PAST, By Edwin Diestler, class of ’28, Tacoma, Washington

(From Spring 1995 Cynosure)

The last four issues of the Cynosure have had no input from the class of 1928, and sad to say the only place I’ve seen their names is in the obits. Have the others gone?

I still probe my past and here are some of my reflections:

Favorite teachers: 1. Mary Fowler – very dedicated! 2. Norma Gooden – supervisor of our class play, “Pals First.” 3. Grant Sifritt gave me a 99 in Trigonometry, and when asked why it wasn’t a hundred, he replied, “No one’s perfect!” 4. Ina Johnson – very strict, very warm and a wonderful teacher.

Sports memories: 1. Jimmie O’Connor jumping over high hurdles set up in the hallway getting his legs in shape to jump center. 2. Bud Bristol – speedy forward of the Midgets basketball team coached by Mr. Kimball – the team that lost the National Championship to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. 3. Breaking my ankle in football practice and having movie star to be, Virginia Bruce, carrying my books to my morning classes as I hobbled along on crutches.


By Edwin Diestler, ’28, Tacoma, Washington

When I played on the football team, we practiced in the old Fargo College stadium (below what is now Western States Life Insurance Company office building). I played left end and was the lightest man on the line which included the Folendorf twins, Walter Shamp, and Claude Miller.

We scrimmaged against Concordia and Moorhead State Teachers college in 60 minute games and beat them both by two touchdowns.

Bob Lowe was the coach, and he was really enthused about our chances for a winning season. And as it came to pass, he was right. The Midgets were undefeated that year-but without me! It happened at practice early in the season. I jumped up to catch a pass, and when I came down, I shattered my ankle.

For two and half months I hobbled around on crutches-a very disappointed “left-out” end.

The bright spot in the crutch-walking days was a pretty young girl named Virginia Briggs. Every morning Virginia carried my books to morning classes for me. Not every guy in Central High could tell his friends later in life that a real live movie star toted his books every day.

For you youngsters, Virginia Briggs was later a big Hollywood star named Virginia Bruce.

Later in life, when his wife was Ill with cancer, Billie was hospitalized, Ed went every day to sit with her, sometimes just sitting in the chair dozing. Nursing staff called him “Old Faithful.” He was quite proud of that.

Ed moved into a care facility near People’s Church, Tacoma. Two years after the death of Billie, Ed collapsed at the table in the dining area.

Recovering briefly at the hospital, he died peacefully in the presence of his granddaughter, Sheila.

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We crossed waves upon waves, as seen from the air, and time passed, compressing the experience to a dozen uncomfortable hours, instead of months of sea and sun.

Land down under our intention, Playing music our desire.

Steam and sulfur greeted us, from Stygian depths. Welcoming threats, with extended tongues, and rolling eyes, A forever Māori bond.

Land down under our intention, Playing music our desire.

Green fields and Wooly shapes, Forced into paths by a crouch, and in ever smaller circles.

Dogs that leap from back to back, As stoic sheep chew and ponder… The audience.

Land down under our intention, Playing music our desire.


Palms that wave, the royal wave that comes from years of training.

An extended frond that slowly turns in the wind, greeting and beckoning, with grace and noble beating.

I have this multiple vision, of a flat horizontal sea, framed by palms, and the net of a swinging hammock. I must be on vacation.


Today I stepped on new earth that rose from magma deep. mother giving birth to child, as unlovely to look at as can be imagined.

Yet time will pass, and the child will develop, and gain the raiments of forest and grass, while we scamper on the surface like sand mites, barely aware of our host, and the time it takes to get here.

Today I stepped upon new earth, vaguely aware of our parasitic nature.

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Kids in the 1950s

“The Games We Played”

(From an email by my brother Ed}

As you say, there were different rules in different neighborhoods that people played by. These are the rules that we played by on 15th street.

The marbles were purées, cat eyes, aggies, opaque colored glass, and steelies.The common marbles were mostly of a uniform size. They were mostly common cat’s-eyes and the white opaque marbles with opaque colored swirls. These were the common marbles that you gambled with, or (anteed up) put in the “pot” just as you would ante money in a poker game before the deal. 

These marbles that you put in the pot we’re often called “dates”.  I don’t really know why, but, when a game started, someone would say something like, “Okay, everybody ante up 5, “if you want to play, throw your “dates” in!

The ante could vary, but it was usually 5 or 10 marbles per player. A ten ante game, with five players, added up to a nice 50 marble pot.

Then there were marbles we called “shooters”. They were bigger than the ante marbles, and they could be of any type from cat eye to steelies.  

We called them “half-sizers“ because were “half again” the size of a regular marble.  The added weight of these half-sizers would help to knock the smaller sized marbles out of the ring.  In many games, half-sizer steelies were not allowed because they just gave the shooter too much advantage with their weight.

In all neighborhoods, these “shooter” marbles were revered by the players and would never be put into the “pot”, but sometimes they would be traded for a certain agreed number of common marbles. The “shooter” marbles were of a higher quality that we all recognized.  Today, some of the marbles that we played with are worth many hundreds of dollars each to collectors. The one bad thing with shooter marbles is that they would eventually get all chipped up from hitting the other marbles so often. It might be chipped and scratched and no longer pretty, or in collecting condition, but it still could be your favorite “shooter”.

Your “kid wealth” seemed to be determined by the amount of marbles that you owned.  

I once went over to a kid’s house, and he pulled out a big full-sized cardboard carton that was full up to 3 or 4 inches from the top with purées, aggies, commons, and “shooters.”  That box had to have marbles numbered in the thousands!  I just looked at the sheer number of marbles with speechless awe — I had never seen such wealth!  It was as if he had just pulled from the closet, a pirate’s treasure chest full of gold, silver, and precious jewels.  

Another game we played were spinning tops. The idea was to hit another player’s spinning top with your spinning top.  You would throw your top down hard on someone’s spinning top in order to break it, or split it in two. 

The only gain here was the sheer satisfaction of destroying your opponent’s top.  There was usually four or five guys playing, so it could become quite a fast moving action free-for-all.

Lagging baseball cards was another favorite. Usually played after school, we would all line up and each take a turn to toss our card — trying to land our card closest to the school building wall. Any tossed card that was a “leaner”, that is, one that leaned against the wall, won everything. When you won, it was quite exhilarating to pick up and add all the losing player’s cards to your stack.

Sometimes there would be ten or more kids throwing, and destroying some baseball cards that would come to be worth hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars today.

(We also destroyed many valuable cards by attaching them to our bicycle wheel’s spokes to simulate a motorcycle motor as the spokes would go around and hit the cards)

Marbles, Card Tossing, and Throwing Tops were kid’s neighborhood gambling games, but they all required some level of skill to consistently win. Being addicted, I played whenever any game popped up, but I never seemed to come out big winners — so I was always buying new marbles.

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An “Icky” Day

There were dozens of kids living in the Wartime Housing Authority in the 1950s.

Naturally, with all those kids in the neighborhood there were a few that were not so nice. In fact, some were downright terrifying. There was one slightly older kid, that was called “Icky”, but not to his face, everyone knew him as Icky. Even his mother used it sometimes.

Icky often had a kitchen butcher knive tucked in his belt as he terrorized the neighborhood, broke up marble games, yelled and chased kids to their homes.

He chased my brother Cork home one day, holding a Daisy Winchester BB gun. At the last few steps he aimed, and fired it at Cork, and it hit him in back of his ear. Shot in the ear by Icky! Back shot by Icky! How low can you get?

I believe the police was called, and they knew about Icky. I have this memory of me being old enough to watch through the front window as I pulled the curtain to the side. People were standing on the stoop and in the front yard. I don’t know if Icky was there. I had drunk half of my glass of milk. Left it there on the window sill, then I went out on the stoop to see better. The curtain returned to its normal position, hiding the half drunk glass of milk.

The memory might have disappeared if that was all that happened. Several weeks, or maybe even months later, I happened to move the curtains to look out the window. There was my glass from the day of Icky, and there was this “icky” blob of dried milk in the bottom of the glass. I had no idea that milk would do that over time. It smelled bad, and looked worse. I was afraid that I would get in trouble so I took it outside and threw it in the trash. We had one less glass in the kitchen, no one noticed.

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Brother Bob

89, I think
8 or 9

I am not my brother’s biographer by any means, but on his 91 birthday I feel it necessary to celebrate his life just a little bit. If I do not have things exactly right, I apologize.

He was born at a tough time in history, the Great Depression still held the country in a cold grip. Our mother was young in age, and even younger in spirit. Bob often said that Mom grew up with him. Economics made growing up tough, and relationships were not smooth.

The war came, and the family physically split as my father traveled to the West coast to build ships, leaving Bob as the man of the house at 12 or 13 years old.

Disaster struck as our sister Gayle contracted Scarlet Fever. At that time there was no effective cure. Penicillin was known, but only available for the military. Gayle died in 1944, three days short of her eighth birthday.

Mom had given birth to Edwin Elgin a year before, and Dad still had to work in the shipyards, but Mom was determined to bring the family together, and moved West.

Bob enrolled in Richmond schools, I believe he went to Longfellow Junior High, then he went to Richmond Union High School, class of 1949. I think my mother missed the graduation ceremony because she was in the hospital giving me birth.

The family was still living in wartime housing and Bob had several jobs while still in high school. I know that he worked in the Ford Motor plant for a time, and then he worked at Felice and Pirelli, the F&P cannery in Richmond.

Bob met Dorothy Carraher, and married her in 1950, and had Robbie in 1951. I was an uncle at two years old.

At that time Bob was living in San Diego near the beach. My brother Ed when down to stay with them several different times, nearly drowned, and had many adventures. I missed out!.

The marriage relationship had problems, and I’m unsure if the Army was involved. In any case, Bob signed up for a hitch in the Army, to become a paratrooper. The Korean War was over but the Cold War was just starting.

After basic training Bob was sent to Germany to prepare to defend the Fulda Gap. According to documents discovered later on, the Soviets had thousands of tanks prepared to push though the Fulda Gap at any time. Some reports say that hundreds of tanks were started, and at idle, waiting for orders to go to war.

Bob finished his time in Germany and went back to the his post in Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne. I know this because he had given me a shoulder patch of the Screaming Eagle, which I promptly sewed on to my motorcycle styled hat. Bob had also purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle like many veterans, and rode it cross country several times.

On one visit he left me the black cloth, white vinyl, visored hat that I wore nearly everyday. And the hat was even cooler with the Screaming Eagle patch sewn on above the visor. Thanks Bob!

I suppose it was possible that Bob would only do one three year hitch, then get out, but then another life changing event happened.

Bob went to a local bar near the post with several friends. A fight broke out between the locals and the soldiers. Fists were thrown, chairs were thrown. Bob stepped up to stop a chair being thrown at his friend. I believe it was the bartender that fired a .45 at Bob’s stomach, and he went down.

Obviously a family crisis, my mother had never flown in a plane, but she went to Kentucky to be by his side. Bob pulled through, the bullet lodged in his spine, and it wasn’t removed. His days as a paratrooper ended, they wouldn’t allow him to jump with the bullet still in him, and he shifted his Army training to helicopter maintenance. He also decided to stay in as a “lifer”.

Eventually he became an instructor in the helicopter maintenance program and was stationed in Virginia. He moonlighted as a cab driver, decided to buy a Norwegian built, 10ft sailing dinghy, to sail on Chesapeake Bay.

He eventually shipped that dinghy to my father, and that’s how I learned to sail.

Somewhere about that time Bob went to Korea for a year. My other brother, Ed, had also joined the Army and was stationed in Korea. They managed to meet up for a small family reunion.

After coming back to the states, Bob was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington and continued working in helicopter maintenance. For a time he entered civilian life and worked at Boeing Aircraft while maintaining his Army reserve status. He also started a family with Peggy, had two daughters and bought a home in Tacoma.

Then he joined the National Guard full-time and ended his career in the service as a top sergeant, the highest enlisted rank.

By this time the Viet Nam War was raging. Bob had tried several times to get released to go over, but he was refused as the service needed him stateside.

I was playing the odds. How likely would I be drafted when both of my brothers had served in the Army, and one was still in the service? I was drafted.

I was also sent for basic training to Ft. Lewis, the same post where my brother was assigned. On one weekend he came to visit me. I had decided to reenlist for a three year hitch and Bob gave me some advice.

I was just a private, not even a Private First Class, I had no rank, no service medals, I was just a boot with green fatigues. And I was in meeting with a “lifer”, with more stripes than all my drill sergeants put together, and more time in the service than any of my officers. It was pretty special!

Retirement did not slow Bob down. He continued to read volumes of books on everything, he took his truck on dumpster runs, and he bought ten acres of woods near Mt St. Helens.

Going to the woods was his favorite thing. He built a two story cabin with found materials from the dumpsters, and filled his house with “hidden treasures”. All the while developing his skill at creating jigsaw art.

He has slowed down in the last years, he doesn’t race dragon boats in the bay of Tacoma anymore, and he hasn’t played pickle-ball in years, but he does walk the neighborhood under watchful eyes. And he is wonderfully loved and admired, full of wit an humor.

I am in awe of my older brother, and I wish him a great year in 2023.

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Sherry Avatars

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This is a story from my older brother.

We lived in what was called the Wartime Housing Authority. Dozens of buildings built on vacant land to house the workers who were building Victory ships only miles away. They were cheap rent for two bedroom apartments, with excellent oak floors. The war was over, but we were still there renting.

Money was tight, not as bad as during the war, but there was still not a lot of money for extras. Even .50 cents went a long way to buy food.

At the local Golden Rule Market there was the twice a week shopping trip with Mother. Naturally I spent some time on the aisles that featured toys. I had fixed my attention on a package that contained a balsa airplane. It was a long flat package with some red plastic parts, and some wooden balsa parts that had Air Force markings painted on the wings. It had a price tag of .50 cents.

Each succeeding week I asked my mother if she could buy it. Priorities required that hamburger, pork chops, bread, milk and vegetables were handled first. There wasn’t much left in the budget for tiny aviation.

Then one week, it suddenly appeared at the checkout, and I took it home! I carefully opened the package to take out the various parts. The plastic pieces needed to break loose from the plastic tree. The wooden pieces needed to be punched loose from the die cut balsa.

The directions were simple, it had a nose piece that slipped over the front of a foot long plank that acted as the planes fuselage, there were blue plastic pieces glued to the side of the plank were the wings were slid into a curved groove. The wings were maybe 8 inches long, with the Air Force symbols painted on, and the blue plastic clip made the wings curve slightly to create lift for flying.

There were more balsa pieces for the tail structure that were placed in tight fitting slots in the “fuselage”. There was also two black plastic wheels on wires that were fitted on a bracket beneath the wings as landing gear.

Finally the was the large red plastic propellor fitted to the nose piece and a rubber band hooked to the tail of the fuselage.

The secret was to wind the propellor in the right direction until the rubber band developed “knots”. Then keep winding until the knots went the complete distance. If you were brave, and the rubber band was new, you could get a triple row of knots for a longer flight time.

With a triple wound rubber band the plane could take off from the ground with a standing start. For even more excitement you could launch the plane while standing up with just a little arm motion. If thrown too hard you risked dislodging the balsa wings stuck in their slots.

I had a great hour or two flying the plane from different positions, in different directions. Then I had the idea of launching it from the porch of the apartment in order to get more height. The plane was triple knotted so it climbed quickly and did a slow banking turn to come back towards the apartment. Unfortunately it veered to the side and hit the very tall bush growing next to building, near the top.

It was a dense bush, impossible to climb, very thick, and it was only with difficulty that I could where it was. I knew it was there because upon landing the bush had dislodged a wing from the groove, and it was now laying on the ground in front of me.

This was a disaster, unreachable plane, no more fun. And I had to tell Mom.

There were many options of the best attitude to solve this problem. The attitude I choose was for Mother to immediately get ready to go to the Golden Rule Market to purchase another plane. I probably would have been wiser to use a pleading voice, but somehow it came out as a pouting demanding voice. My mother was not amused.

She did go out to see if she reach the plane, she couldn’t. Then she calmly said that I should have been more careful, and “I’m not buying another”. I repeated my demand several times, my mother continued cooking in the kitchen.

Finally I sat on the couch within her sight, holding the wing in my hands, thinking about my next move. Slowly I turned the wing over and over, then I snapped the tip off with my right hand. Maybe the sound alerted my mother, in any case, she turned her head from the stove to watch me snap another piece, to fall,on the floor in front of me. “Stop that, you are just doing that to make me mad.”

Snap, again and again. The mound of balsa at my feet was growing larger. “I’m not going to buy you another one.”, she repeated. I snapped the last few bits of the wing, then went out on to the front porch.

I wasn’t crying, I’m not sure what I felt, but it wasn’t normal. I looked over the neighborhood remember how wonderful it was to fly my plane. The wind took it higher than I had ever gone. Even now the wind hit my face to remind me of what it was like for my plane.

The bush was also hit by the wind, and it brushed on the building also like a broom sweeping. I noticed movement to my left. I saw the rest of my plane being dislodged, floatng to the ground, the propellor still turning from the last few knots in the rubber band. It lay there upright, on it’s landing gear, perfect… except missing a right wing.

That was 72 years ago, and I remember it like yesterday.

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Complete Avatars
John’s Complete Avatars
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More AI Portraits

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AI Portraits

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Artificial Intelligence

Portrait from AI

Whoa, I’m stepping into my own world of ignorance. I certainly can use the words, spell them correctly, and add the two dictionary meanings to define the field, but I’m pretty sure I don’t know a thing.

I’m now commenting on it because recently the phrase has been attached to several fields of art, where I spend a great deal of time.

The first connection is with photography. I suppose that anything powered by a battery could “loosely” be called “artificial intelligence”, but we photographers allowed it as “automatic” features. We could do it the action, but it was faster to put the camera in “A”, instead of “M”.

Big deal… we would manually select the f-stop, and the battery would power the camera to select the shutter speed.

I remember the days when the battery only powered the light meter. If the battery went dead you could still shoot pictures if you remembered the basic daylight rule.

Now, with the battery in charge of the shutter, your camera was dead as soon as the battery was dead. Within a few years the “auto” function took charge of the shutter, the f-stop, and the focusing. Of course the manual option was available, but only if the battery was charged. Hmm, that’s a clue. Manual operation needed a battery?

The last few years, especially with digital cameras, it was obvious that “artificial intelligence” was alive and well in photography, but we didn’t really call it that.

Last month I purchased a unit that attaches to my camera with a cord, then sends data to my iPad/iPhone in order to control the action of the camera. It could be called a remote controller, but it does so much more. It takes multiple shots at different settings, then blends them into a final product. It truly makes quick decisions to make a very complex photograph. It deserves the title “artificial intellence”, because it goes beyond my ability to duplicate the process.

I paid good money to get images that I could not generate with the normal skills that I have. My control of the machine is minimal, but the images are breathtaking. Question: Are they mine? Just because I paid for it, and hit the start button?

So now I jump to digital art. I’m very much beyond the arguments that define “what is art?” DuChamp settled that decades ago. Digital art just uses digital tools. If the tool is a stylus or a mouse it is still art. If the computer use a data program, it still has a programmer. Or does it?

There are programs that make fractal based designs that are spontaneous. Not common, but they exist. There was a time when “computer art” was seen as very “unartistic”, but that has disappeared for awhile now.

Naturally the argument reoccurs with AI for art programs. The typical program begins with digital images uploaded into memory, and after a few minutes an image pops out that is almost entirely created by the machine.

True the facial features may resemble the image uploaded, but the colors, the background, and the clothing may be completely different. Is it better? Is it the artist’s?

In some regards it’s just a filter. Digital artists have learned how to make filters for years, and recently even free programs make use of filters, and using them is second nature in order to get the desired results. You pick and choose the results that are revealed. You could make them yourself, but it’s easier to use a program. It’s still very custom, and tightly controlled.

This is a new AI program is not the same. If you input a portrait that is full face, straight on- it may give you a version that is a three quarter turn, because it placed markers on the original image, and calculated the turn, and filled in the data to make it right. The program is judged by the amount of correct decisions made.

The program also has gigabytes of memory for models and backgrounds of all sorts. So, the question is not whether it is art, but rather, who is the artist? In order to use the program you must be connected to a remote server to access the computing power. It takes a small fee to generate 100 different images.

I’ve spent about $50 to generate thousands of images. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I haven’t taken ownership of any of them, even if they did use my art in the initial upload.

I do upload my digital files to a company that prints the files on canvas. I sometimes send files to get images printed on metallic media. I have ownership for these files, so why not AI? And I really like the images too.

I need to ponder this…

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The Voice

Sometime last summer, I briefly caught a story about a pilot of a small plane becoming unconscious, and the passenger was forced to take control.

The dramatic part of the story is that the passenger had absolutely no piloting experience. The West Palm Beach flight tower made contact with the plane, found out the model of the cockpit, then gently talked the passenger to land the plane safely. End of story! Maybe.

I think I read the story in those short little news bits with no credits. But apparently it did happen, and several other news agencies had picked it up. Some stories focused on the pilot, some stories on the passengers, some stories focused on the control tower.

I believe Shannon Marshal heard about the story in May of 2022, then wrote his own version in July of 2022.

This time it wasn’t in Florida. It was in Alaska, and it concerned two lawyers trying to get Anchorage, then getting connecting flights to the states. The two lawyers had tickets to Anchorage, but for some reason a local small plane pilot, who was also a pastor, had approached them with an invitation to fly with him immediately to Anchorage. It’s possible that it could have been a longer wait for the commercial flight, but the lawyers changed their plans and went with the small plane.

I was not reading this account, although I found the print version later. I was watching/listening to a very nice YouTube production. The strange acceptance was not the first clue that this was a modified work of fiction. One of the lawyers was sitting up front next to the pilot, and was narrating the story. His voice was a mixture of Barry White, James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman. It was very compelling. The Voice could have been a lawyer, and I would have loved to be a juror.

The second clue in the story is that the pilot calmly mentioned that he had a problem with flying in clouds. He said that the disorientation was so great that he often passes out. As a pilot, he would have checked the weather to Anchorage, and he would have known that the ceiling was 10 feet or less all the way, with thunder and lightning in addition. But he went to the plane anyway, and didn’t tell his passengers about his fainting until just before entering the clouds.

Normally I would have clicked out of the video, but I was fascinated with his voice, and the next literary take in the story. Marshall writes that they both took turns pressing buttons on the microphone while saying “Hello, hello?”. That sounded remarkably real.

And he made mention that someone responded with the question, “Why aren’t you using normal protocol?”. It was a cargo plane passing close enough to relieve the call for help. As the lawyers explained the situation, the cargo plane turned to fly in a circle in order to stay in range. That also sounded real, and I don’t remember any mention of that in the Florida article.

The cargo plane then contacted the Anchorage Control Tower ro take over communications. No mention of how this was accomplished. Again, I was about to change channels once again, but then a remarkable analogy was about to take place.

The Tower told the passenger pilot that the Tower could see him, even if the passenger could not see the Tower. And the passenger could hear his Voice, and he must trust, and obey his Voice in doing whatever he says. Or bad things will happen.

Suddenly, the light clicked on and I wanted to listen to the rest of the story. It was a great analogy, even to the extent that the passengers were not to look out the windows to view the storm. They were to only listen to the Voice and do what it tells them, and when it tells them.

Several times I teared up as I listened. It was a good production. As a believer in Christ I liked the clear analogy. Only one problem…

There was never an indication that this was fiction, based loosely on a real story. Were there clues that this wasn’t real? Certainly, but the story was so exciting, engaging, and maybe even “Hey, I think I just heard something about this…” and both Voices were so compelling.

There was no mention of Shannon Marshall in the YouTube so maybe he doesn’t exist. Even the print version of the story was a guest entry in a community blog.

Does it matter that it might not be real?

Good stories are good!! Truth is better.

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Jack, every image that you make will be seen
from the perspective that you take.

I’ve taught various levels of photography to college students for about 35 years before retiring. I had several moments of “flash” awareness, where a basic concept grabbed me, and I understood some of the nuances.

My favorite moments were the “double meaning” concepts like “focus”, “contrast”, “depth”, and my favorite, “perspective”.

With a camera, the words can be used in several different ways, and all the ways are important to master. Some people only pay attention to a single definition, because it takes less time, and the moment is fleeting.

One can look at the viewfinder and think “perspective”, so you check for railroad tracks disappearing into the distance, or fence posts receding over the hill. It’s much harder to realize that the view is seen from your standing height. What is the view from kneeling, or laying down? We generally don’t know because we are trapped by time.

It’s a good idea to first become a master of time, before we become a master photographer. The captured image is a “frozen moment in time” even if we are caught up in the frenzy just before the click of the shutter.

With some manipulation of controls you can stop the action as if there is no movement. Or you can follow the action for sharp detail, leaving the background in a slight blur. This takes a lot of practice to decide how to handle the image desired.

The finer points of perspective takes even more practice and more time. Every image that you make will be seen from the perspective that you take. That’s a truth that should be tattooed on the finger that pushes the shutter.

Expanding that concept to communication with others is a worthwhile exercise. Every point that you speak, comes from a perspective that you take. We can rightfully ask, “Where are you coming from?” Are you standing solid, or on shifting sand? Are you looking down from a distant, safe, high point, or are you on the same level? Are you looking up from a hole in the earth, and everyone seems to be striding like giants above you?

The concepts of photography extend to real world “perspectives” if you allow it.

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And don’t forget his sword.

The Greeks and their wonderful myths. A little like the Peanuts cartoon with the character always being followed around with a rain cloud above his head, we have Damocles with a sword above his head, held suspended by a single thin thread.

We don’t know much about Damocles. It appears that he was a courtier during the reign of King Dionysius of Sicily, approx. 400 bc. At one of the many banquets, Damocles was going on and on, about the virtues, power, and magnificence of the King. At some point even suggesting that he wished he could change places with him for just an hour. The King finally had enough of the talk, and had Damocles approach him.

He gave him the robes, the crown, and the scepter, and sat him on the throne. “Here you go, Damocles”, we exchange places!” But the last thing the King did was to pull a single hair from a horse’s tail, and tie it to the pommel of a great sword, and suspend the sword directly above the head of Damocles while he sat on the throne.

Cicero used a version of this story to teach that to have virtue is more enough for a complete life. I think that storyline has gotten a little lost. Today, we just think of the impending doom of having the thread break, and a great sword crashing through our skull. The problem with painting a great scene is that it is hard not to focus on it.

We all walk around with the certain knowledge of our impending doom. It’s all in the timing, and the strength of the thread.

Damocles didn’t last very long in the story, he asked the King to reconsider, he didn’t realize that there might be consequences to power.

King Dionysus removed the physical sword, but Damocles still was under a sword that could take his life at any moment, it can be called the “circle of life.” We are here for a time, then we are not.

As I get older, and I go down this road a little further, I plan to write of the journey. Let us both hope the thread continues.

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The Eagle

Castle Hill, Tutbury, Staffordshire, England

Fulbert de Beine de l’Aigle, 1st baron de l’Aigle, the founder of the castle and dynasty of l’AIGLE.

So this story is about a family that was on the edge of history. Fulbert was a common name in Normandy. There have been a number of attempts to research back beyond 1000 AD.

We know that a castle was built in l’Aigle, around this time, as well as a church. No trace of the castle, but some of the early church can still be seen in the bell tower. Most of the church was built in 1500s.

The reason for the castle appears to be in controlling the traffic on three rivers that are nearby. Why the area was known as “the eagle”, is unknown.

William, the illegitimate son of Robert I, of Normandy was considering a bid to assume the crown of England. It was widely known that a successor was not firmly in place.

The Danes had ruled England for almost fifty years, and Edward the Confessor had brought the House of Wessex back to the throne. King Harald of Norway thought that he should be king. King Harold Godwinson actually took the crown for a few weeks. Harold fought Harald, killed him, then had to go fight William at Hastings.

William had the disadvantage of invading by sea. If Harold could get the upper hand, he could push William into the Channel. The problem is that Harold had just marched his men down from York, where 2/3rds of his best “housecarls” had died fighting Harald at Stamford Bridge.

Considering everything, King Harold might still have won, except for an arrow in the eye. The rest of the Anglo-Saxon army collapsed and ran to their homes. Several Saxon lords had gambled on William winning, even helping him with river crossings, so they were left alone.

Fulbert’s son Engenulphe, was a leader in William’s army, and he died chasing the fleeing Saxon’s after Harold’s death. Fulbert had also died in 1066, but not in the battle. He had stayed in Normandy, sending his son to fight.

So now Engenulphe had a daughter named Bertha. She was born in the newly built castle in Normandy, the daughter and granddaughter of the Lord of Normandy. She probably could have stayed there- after all, her father had died chasing the enemy near Hastings. Instead, she came to England, the daughter of a heroic Norman. She was 26 years old in 1066. She was going to part of the new ruling class.

She met Henry de Ferrieres in England. She may have known of him from Normandy, he was four years older. Henry had made the decision that if they won the battle, he would stay in England. Henry just had to ask William what part of the country would he be allowed to rule. Most of the country was available to be seized, only a few Saxon lords kept their land.

In Tutbury, Staffordshire, there is a ruin called Castle Hill that is most likely the castle that Henry built, and he died there in 1101. Bertha lived almost another thirty years and died in nearby Darley, known today as Derby.

Bertha’s son and grandsons continued building Norman Castles throughout England. Through marriage and alliances, the family spread through England. Oakham Castle in Rutland, Arundel Castle in Sussex, Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, and Appleby Castle in Westmorland, to name a few, were all homes to the descendants of Fulbert de Beine de l’Aigle.

Fulbert de Beine de l’Aigle is the 32nd great grandfather of my grandkids Isaiah, Abby, and Noa.

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I am African

My paternal haplogroup is Haplogroup A, which was centered in and around Kenya about 250,000 years ago, at least this is what the science of DNA tells me. Sometime around 76,000 my ancestors moved north near the Horn of Africa as the haplogroup DE-M145.

Something dramatic must have happened because 3,000 years later my halogroup changed to E-M96. There is one theory that some folks crossed over to Asia for awhile, then decided it was too tough and came back home to Africa.

E-M96 morphed into E-M78 and around 23,000 years ago they left Africa and started heading up the east coast of the Mediterranean to Bulgaria. It is also possible that some E-M78s came directly from a North Africa as Pre-Sea Peoples, invading Europe by boats.

Finally around 11,000 years ago, the haplogroup morphed into my current E-V13 group.

My maternal haplogroup was similar. In and around Kenya, 160,000 years ago I was haplogroup L. Then in upper Egypt, around 65,000 years ago it was L3. Then it was N in Saudi’s Arabia 59,000 years ago. About this time we went back to Africa.

57,000 years ago we left Africa for the last time and went to the Mid-east as haplogroup R. We stayed there quite awhile. Somewhere about this time a few of my mothers were Neanderthals. I have 3 to 4% Neanderthal markers.

Around 18,000 years ago the maternal haplogroup morphed into H in the Caucasian mountains, and then as Aryans went to India and Europe. I suppose going to Europe through the Balkans they met my paternal haplogroup E-V13. Haha!

Here is what I believe, we probably went west, following the edge of the retreating glaciers into Europe, as Hunter gatherers. Our primary hunting style came from Africa. We were not fast, but we were steady. Nearly all of our game could not sweat. They could run faster, but we could track them and keep up the hunt because while we ran we could cool down by sweating. They could not! Eventually they would lay down exhausted and we could dispatch them with a rock if necessary. Of course we also developed sharp sticks with flakes of stone.

It’s also possible that the women who stopped in the Fertile Crescent for thousands of years had picked up the concept of farming, and we should thank them.

Farming, led to cities, cities led to storage silos, silos led to writing systems and defensive walls. Defensive walls led times of peace to make art, write poetry.

On and on…

But it all started in Africa!

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I’m a little stunned

Yes, sure… I understand the internet. At one point in time I even taught the basic history in a few of my classes.

I didn’t know at the time, but I even lived the prehistory of the internet.

War is a curious thing, yes it is bloody, scary, and full of mayhem. But it is also the cause of much of our art, literature, and things that we cherish as a civilization. For example, in the US we have something called the Interstate highway system. Designed freeways that links both coasts, which are thousands of miles from each other.

One might think it was designed for trade, and yes, it is used for trade. One might also think it is used to take families on vacations to other states. It is used for that as well.

But in the designs for lane widths, and overpasses, it is designed to handle Sherman tanks on a trailer. President Eisenhower had intimate knowledge of the German Autobans and he felt the need to protect his country with the same type of system, and when he became President he helped to create the interstate highways that we use today. It doesn’t matter that we now have airports.

In the same way we captured some Nazi scientists that experimented in rocket design. Sending the first inter-continental rocket/missile to our enemies (Soviets) was an important objective. At first we had the idea that Virginia or maybe Maine was a good launch base, but then Soviet subs could knock them out.

So add a little more fuel and the missile silos could all be in the mid-west under the corn and wheat fields. Once that was done, the Soviets had their own inter-continental missiles that could target our silos. Someone looked at the map and realized that if the missiles were launched it would cut our country in half. The West coast would not be able to communicate to the East coast. Since we were talking about land lines, the decision was made to install hundreds of switches behind “node” or hubs of communication connections. Looking from above it looked like a puzzle, or a “web” of connections. If a missile blew up this part, the signal would wrap around and go through another node. More missiles? More nodes!

This system was Arpanet, and in the Army I used it everyday for cryptographic communication. The Pentagon realized that putting a node at all the universities around the nation was an easy way spend defense money. Time went on, satellites went up.

Soon, the Pentagon realized that the satellites duplicated the ground system with better technology. So they gave the Arpanet system to the education systems where the most “nodes” were. For a few years they had fun sending messages from one .edu to another .edu with green blinking cursors. Then suddenly, other .orgs showed up, the “Internet” on the “web” got larger. There was nearly a riot when the first “.coms” appeared. How dare they pollute the system with crass profit makers?

Okay, enough, we know what happened next. All I’m saying is that we don’t realize how important building a good defense, creates the opportunity for a renaissance.

Today I pondered my weeks email. I’ve been writing to Magnus who lives on Faroe Islands, off the coast of Scotland. His family has lived there on and off since the 1500s.

Hare Krishna has liked my blog for years, he lives in New Delhi. While I don’t know much about him. He has read hundreds of my thoughts.

Manfred has just retired in Germany. He loves to sail and travel with his family. We share several letters a month.

I’ve just started a communication with Johan in South Africa. His family has been there well over two hundred years. I love the way he thinks.

I understand the internet, but sometimes it just shocks me anew.


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It Was Years Ago

I was single again, newly discharged from the Army. It had seemed to be a good idea to purchase some sort of transportation device. When I was in high school there was a daily newspaper column in the classified want-ads. A free listing for things under $50. Sometimes a running car was listed there.

I was dirt poor, going to college, waiting for my veteran’s benefits to kick in. 50% of my food was eaten out of my Victory Garden. My parent’s always had a small Victory Garden during the war, and they had kept it up for years afterwards. They had moved up to Tacoma, WA and I had taken their duplex for a small monthly rent, until I got on my feet. And I ate out of an ever decreasing Victory Garden.

The choices for transportation remained very slim, no cars under $50 that ran. My best friend had gotten married, and he had a 450cc Honda motorcycle that he needed gone. I bought it for $50 down payment, and something each month until it was entirely paid. It took months and months.

It was my 100% transportation so I put a lot of miles on it pretty quickly. Not a lot of interstate travel, it was a little too light for road-trips, but it was a great commuter, and local ride. I think I rode three years, or 12 seasons. Lots of cold, rain, blazing heat and everything in between.

I had dropped out of college to take a temporary one year position at the college, with no heath benefits. It was a time to save money in order to transfer to a four year school. My plans came to a crashing halt, when I crashed and was crushed by a car that “t-boned” me. I was broken, my motor was broken, and someone stole my wreck while I was in the hospital.

It was the end of my riding days. Although I did remember them fondly every time a decent bike would pull up beside me, and thunder ahead on the road.

I had a 40 minute commute on a slightly twisting two lane road that paralleled a beautiful reservoir. I used to ride my Honda on this same road. I lived in a nice apartment looking over the Bay, but I met a young lady that lived in the Valley. This two lane country road was the best way to go see her.

This was fine for the first month, but as the weeks went by, I began to get uneasy. I had a foreboding that the road was going to be my end. Some horrible accident was heading my way, a deer crossing, slipping on water, head-on with a truck, or just not making a corner with too much speed.

So I faced a few choices. I could buy a safer vehicle, I could move closer to the girlfriend, or I could end the relationship. I chose to end the relationship. I really liked the motorcycle.

A few months later I had my accident on the way home to my apartment, miles from that two lane road.

Fast forward ten years…

I’m back on that same two lane road, commuting on it twice a day in a safe vehicle. Periodically I’m behind a motorcycle for a few miles, but they eventually move ahead because they corner faster. I remember my days riding the same curves and I smile to myself.

This day was in the early winter, there was a brisk cold wind from the north. I had my heater on, and I was comfortable. The rider had a warm leather jacket, boots, gloves, and helmet. He looked well equipped. He also had a long warm scarf wrapped around his neck. He was in the weather, but he looked comfortable.

As I watched him tilt, side to side while taking the curves, I remember again the same movements. Just before he disappeared I saw that his scarf had unwrapped a turn, so it looked like a flag flying behind him, or maybe a WWI fighter pilots scarf. It was cool!

Then I thought I saw the scarf get longer. I was ill-at-ease, so I accelerated to see better. It was hard to catch-up. He cornered much faster, but I was faster in the straight portions. Finally I could see that the scarf was now flopping around almost above the rear wheel. It was a very long, flopping flag.

The dance at the end of the scarf went side to side, then it went up and down. When he slowed for the corners, it fell to the rear seat. Then it got a few inches longer. Now it was possible that it could caught on the chain.

It hit me so quickly that it took my breath away for a few seconds. I had read about the death of Isidora Duncan, I might be behind a future decapitation, unless I could get him to stop.

I raced ahead, honking my horn repeatedly. That only caused him to go faster in the straightaways. It made it worse. I stopped honking and focused on pulling along side of him, except he was generally much faster, so I had to be unsafe to catch up.

Maybe he was tracking me in his mirrors, because he wouldn’t let me pass him, or let me come alongside. I was almost on two wheels coming around the corners, and the thought occurred that this road was going to be my death in a car, not on a motorcycle.

The last long straightaway was coming up, I knew the road well. I floored the gas while coming out of the turn and went in the oncoming lane to pull up beside him. I honked my horn, then made choking gestures after pointing to his scarf.

It was like a game of Charades. Confusion in his eyes, then a sudden awareness, almost a smile, then terrible fear. There was a curve coming up, he was slowing down, the scarf was falling to his chain, but he was also pulling it back to the front.

Meanwhile I was still in the oncoming lane, a car might be coming around the corner, and I was still going far too fast.

Nothing happened… it wasn’t meant to be. I hope he had a future, a life, and a family. He waved goodbye, I continued my commute, and I think about it every few years, thankfully.

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The Smallest is the Greatest

It has been awhile since my last ponder. I’ve been struck by things a lot, but when it comes to wrestling to put it into words, then comes the judgement. “It’s not really that interesting”, “It’s more like a Seinfeld rant, like the show about nothing”, and worse yet, “I’ve bored myself before I finished writing.”

The problem with judging myself is that I don’t play fair. I use every flaw that I have to point out why I should stop. And at some point Lao Tze is remembered, “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.”

Okay, I’m going to push through this by admitting up front that I do not know a thing.

But I have the “feeling” of knowing sometimes. Not a lot, not volumes… and certainly much less “knowing” is felt now that I’m older. I knew so much more, when I was younger. Obnoxious, pretentious, so filled with myself because I was certain. I took the “feeling” of knowing something to the extreme.

Yes, I had that “feeling” then, as I do now. I just did different things with it.

Take the title of this ponder, “The Smallest is the Greatest”, I have the “feeling” of truth behind this, but it is not obvious. It sounds a bit like scripture, and I think some of the best scripture is experiential. That’s why parables are so powerful. Sounding like scripture is very convincing. the question I have is how “time” changes truth.

We have atoms frozen in time as a small particle. Atoms combine with other atoms, molecules build upon molecules… add time and we get everything that we see, everything that we can measure. The the statement “smallest is the greatest” becomes a fact.

Add even more time, and the greatest becomes the smallest because of entropy. Everything is changing in a wave, building and breaking down. The “feeling” of truth is based upon a “window of time.” So I’m left with the question, “Some truth is impacted by entropy, but does that mean all truth is impacted by entropy?

I believe in the “feeling” of truth about eternity. Does entropy effect truth, like a basketball dribbling unaided in an empty gymnasium?

A person close to me dies. For weeks or months I have “the feeling” that their eternal spirit surrounds me, but then entropy occurs, and something that was eternal is not so much? And I no longer feel the presence of my friend or relative. Or is it just because I’m flawed and I forget?

Here’s a thought, eternity excludes entropy. Entropy exists, but it doesn’t exist everywhere. My son reminded me that I once had a sister that died before I was born. But I’ve always felt her presence. Entropy has not impacted her eternity. And since that is true, then all those that have recently died are not impacted as well. By extension, all those that are eternal beings still exist, and they are not impacted by entropy.

Genealogy has more meaning.

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Managing The Number

I remember when I was first accused of “feebleness”.  It was every week when my golfing friends would say, “OK, we’ve got Ed now, his legs are just about gone”. 

It would always be on the second nine holes, when they felt the need to joyfully verbalize their observation. As for me, I had no idea that I was running out of gas until they would faithfully remind me every week.  At first, I thought it was just our usual friendly competitive harassment, but eventually, I came to realize that it was TRUE!, my legs were going fast! Me-O-MY, what am I going to do??  I remembered some words from a song 🎵 “They say that I am feeble with age, Maggie, . . my steps aren’t as spritely as then.”🎵   I needed to correct this fast, so do I need to see a doctor?  

Well, the solution to this health problem turned out to be simple and quick — I began to rent an electric golf cart for the second nine holes.  Leg problem?, what leg problem?

Then there was the time when I first noticed that people were starting to call me “sir”.  This was not a bunch of young people addressing me as sir because of good manners. No Sir!, these were people of all ages calling me Sir!!  Now, I understand military “sir”, and southern manners “sir”, but WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME HERE?  

Then one day, about ten years ago, I finally got it; I was 70, and was fishing on a dock, and talking some fishing to a guy that I had just met. When we were finished talking, he whirled around, and said, “Well, I’ll see you around, old timer”.   Huh??  As he walked away, I looked back over my shoulders, and sure enough, I was the only guy there — he was actually talking to me!, . . calling ME an old-timer!  I felt like saying, “Hey, dude, You talkin’ to me?”  

When I was about 40, my optometrist said, “Yep, you’ve got 40 year-old eyes alright”.  We’ll, yeah,. . but, I really would have been ok with just, “Everything looks great, Ed”.  When I received my heart stent, the blood and oxygen began to flow normally again, but my mind was already healthy, filled with good memories, and my mostly always present rock n‘ roll mental vitality. 

So yeah, being called an “old timer” for the first time in my life was rather shocking; I can’t believe this is actually happening to me!  And it’s happening just when I oftentimes enjoy self-identifying as a teenager!  These people need to get a clue; they should know that when I get up in the morning, a little after my first Aleve tablet kicks in, I can still break into a painless arthritic happy-dance!

Maybe it was my walk; did I suddenly adopt the “old man walk”?, duck waddling from side-to-side?  Nope, I checked it, my gait was straight, albeit slightly stooped at times.  I don’t know exactly what is happening, but all my doctors stubbornly insist on measuring my height at 5’ 7”, when my driver’s license has always plainly shown the truth to be 5’ 8”.  They all must be talking to one another to get their stories straight.

Now, in these times, everyone is saying that “Age is just a number”, well of course that’s true, it is just a number, but the whole truth is that sometimes the “number” can turn out to be a not-so-good one, so I’m just trying to manage the number the best I can, and as we age, that’s about all we can do.  

My wife, Joanne, always managed her number well, and when she was struggling with late stage Parkinson’s, I used to sing her the words of a song, in my out-of-tune voice;

🎵 To me you’re as fair, as you were Maggie, . . when you, and I, were young. 🎵 

(Another guest blog from my brother Ed.)

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Soir Bleu

Edward Hopper, 1914

The following aricle was written by ZUZANNA STAŃSKA 14 OCTOBER 2018, in www.daily art magazine .com.

“Edward Hopper, July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967, Soir Bleu, 1914, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY[/caption] It’s an ambitious but inert picture, so heavy-handed in its allegory of detachement. The lack of connection is not however right into the viewer’s face, as it might have been done by an ironist or an expressionist. It just is everywhere.

Hopper is a painter without any sense of humour, he paints without wit, without self-awareness. His clown just couldn’t be happy. We may have to accept the fact that Hopper painted the sad clown smoking a cigarette in a café because he felt it to be a poignant scene. Soir Bleu is a vivid and monumental work painted in New York in 1914, almost four years after Hopper’s last travel to Paris.

He created this allegory of melancholy from reminiscences and the huge scale of the painting is proof of how strong an impression Parisian life had made on the young Hopper. The painting is a synthesis of many trends in French art of the end of the nineteenth century, especially in its focus on café and street culture popularized by Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, both artists Hopper deeply admired. Not long after its completion, he showed it along a painting of a New York street.

Critics were generally positive about the New York painting, but they were less enthusiastic about Soir Bleu. This was the reason why Hopper rolled the painting up and put it in storage. It wasn’t seen again until long after his death. After Soir Bleu, Hopper focused almost exclusively on American subjects.”

Wow, he rolled the painting up for almost fifty years?. He was serious about rejection and loneliness. I’ve been reading about his personal life, he was married a very long time, but not happily. He wasn’t easy to live with. His wife Josephine document all his work, and was an accomplished artist herself. He spent many hours degrading her work. He was not a nice man, but I have always loved his work.

Unfortunately, he is another artist where the work is great, but the person is not. Caravaggio, Egon Schiele, Gauguin, and now Edward Hopper. Troubled souls.

I decide to have some fun with a few of Hopper’s paintings,

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My tribute version

Painted in NYC in 1942, by Edward Hopper, the year after Pearl Harbor.

At the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue South, 1926.
Preliminary sketch
From Google Earth

Not absolute proof, but it fits the composition.

A lot of critics have written about Nighthawks, many have mention that it is the most recognized American painting of the last century. But why? It’s probably not because of what is there, it’s what is not there!

It’s a long rectangle that seems too long, in fact, most people only see a cropped version, because the editors of newspapers, magazine, television, are uncomfortable with the real proportions. The painting is complete, there is stuff going on, but the sense of meaningless emptiness is disconcerting, hence the crop. And the crop is usually around the three people, why include the fourth person? His back is to us, there’s no need to give him space. Why include the sidewalk, no one is walking there.

Hopper’s intention was to paint the loneliness of the big city, eyes that don’t meet, and hands that don’t touch.

In my tribute version I wanted to focus on the light reaching out to the sidewalk and to the buildings across the street. The diner was acting like a lighthouse, to bring safety and direction to ships in the night, like birds in flight, like nighthawks.

Original version…

Even this wiki version is cropped on both ends.

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Belle Epoch

All this research about Sarah Bernhardt has lead me to rediscover what is called the Belle Epoch, or Beautiful Age. We recently used the label Beautiful People on some of the standouts of the 60s and 70s. Apparently we have always had Beautiful People, it’s just that we didn’t have a lot of photos to prove it.

It certainly became a thing in the 1870s, 1880s, and right up to the 1930s. It does seem that the Hollywood starlets pushed the Belle Epoch folks off the newsprint,

I have collected nearly one hundred images. Here are a few of my favorates.

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Lessons of Brats & Mustard

Several weeks ago, I watched a YouTube fishing video where the User’s I.D. happened to be Brats&Mustard. The video was all about fishing, but as I watched the video, I just kept thinking about Brats&Mustard — was it only because I am half German?

All day long, thoughts of Brats & Mustard crept into my consciousness. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. While watching TV, I thought of Brats & Mustard — while washing the dishes, Brats & Mustard —vacuuming, Brats & Mustard. Then sauerkraut popped into my mind — I wanted that too. Now, I like sauerkraut, but I can’t remember ever having eaten Brats & Mustard; today I vowed that I will have it with some sauerkraut.

So, I sat down to a lunch of Brats & Mustard, with sauerkraut, and beer. Then, I made the regrettable mistake of devouring it all, very quickly, without the slightest thought of savoring even one bite. Like so many other things in life, I kind of messed up my meal — I could have enjoyed it so much more, by just chewing and swallowing slower, by letting the taste linger. In life, I know there are no do-overs, but there are start-overs — so I thought, I’ll do better next time.

Now and then, I still crave Brats & Mustard, and after learning of the great health benefits of sauerkraut, I always include it.

So the words Brats&Mustard, and one German surname are few — but they had quite a bit of power.

Uncle Ed

Periodically I have guest posts, this is from my older brother!

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Monet, Manet, What’s the Dif?

“Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”, or “Lunch on the Grass”.

In addition to the different vowel, there is a world of difference. While they are technically contemporaries, Edouard Manet is eight years older, and painted in an entirely different style. Manet is a modernist/romantic painter, and Claude Monet is the father of the Impressionists. It has been said that the Impressionists were more concerned with rendering light, sacrificing detail in the process. I think that is a fair description.

Monet was eight years younger but lived almost forty years after Manet’s death in 1884.

The title Impressionism was actually a critics slam, Louis Leroy, who was trying to criticize Monet’s works at the Exhibition Of The Impressionists. He called the painting an “impression” because he thought that the works looked incomplete,” he said upon viewing “Impression, Sunrise, 1872.”

Both painters had a massive impact upon Western Art. Manet pushed directly against the accepted standards of the times in composition, and came from a very influential family. In fact, Manet’s father was the Chief Justice of the French Court. It was perfectly okay to paint nudes so long as they were mythical or Ancient Greek or Roman, but Manet painted contemporary nudes of women. In fact, one critic said that Manet did not paint “nude” women, he painted “naked” women.

Manet was famous for the painting of “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”, or “Lunch on the Grass”. It was rejected by the Annual Salon of 1863, and caused quite a stir because of the content. Two typical art students (modeled by Manet’s two brothers), accompanied by two women in different states of nudity, in public. The fully nude model was the famous model, Victorine Meurent.

My personal favorite is the painting, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere”, 1882. I have studied, sketched, and repainted this piece several times. Manet was in the final stage of syphilis during the painting and died two years later in 1884, but had won the “Legion d’Honneur” for his artistic work in 1883.

My tribute version of Manet’s study of “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere”

Manet had also painted, “Madame Manet in the Conservatory”, in 1879. This was a classic Modernist composition done with great skill. Manet apparently saw the painting done by Monet, “Camile Monet on a Garden Bench, 1873” and was inspired to paint his own version.

My tribute version of “Madame Manet in the Conservatory”, 1879
My tribute to “Camile Monet on the Garden Bench” 1873

Monet’s father was a middle-class merchant and wanted Claude to follow in the family business. His mother was a singer and encouraged his artistic development, unfortunately she died when he was sixteen.

Monet was following his studies of light. His painting “Impression: Sunrise, 1872” gave the name to the painting style. He also painted a series of haystacks in 1890-91, exploring the quality of atmospheric light. He had been introduced to “plein air” by Eugène Boudin In 1856 when he was just starting to paint, and most of his paintings were done outside, and not in the studio.

‘Impression, Sunrise”

During the last thirty years of his life he painted over 250 separate paintings of lily pads. It is said that during these last years he was suffering from cataracts.

In 1923, Monet underwent cataract surgery on his right eye; he refused, however, to have his left eye operated on. As a result, he could see violets and blues through his right eye but not his left. It is also believed that due to the removal of the lens, which filters out ultraviolet wavelengths, Monet began to perceive—and paint— a spectrum of color typically unseen by the human eye.

His impact on painting was so significant that many art historians label him as the greatest artist of all time.

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Best of the Wedding Images

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The Wedding

I’ve taken my time to ponder this last event, partly because of circumstances, mostly because of jumbled thoughts.

The next day, after the wedding, there was a picnic luncheon, very informal. Someone asked me what my thoughts were… I went with the immediate, the first on the tip of my mind. I replied, “I once rode a roller coaster, I didn’t know that it would be the last time.”

Of course that isn’t an absolute fact. I’m still breathing and a roller coaster is available after a two hour drive. But because of time passing, and the cost/benefit analysis, I have determined not to ride roller coasters, I just didn’t noticed that the last time was the last time.

The list of potential “last time” things is getting larger. I don’t think about it much until just before something might happen. Most is based upon age and time, but the last child getting married is pretty much the last marriage. I least I hope so.

This was the longest “distance” wedding in our family, apart from a nephew’s in Panama and another nephew in Hawaii. Upper state NY, was not familiar to me, I know a little more now. I’ve been told that experiencing a winter there will give a fuller picture. I’m not sure I want a fuller picture. It was simply perfect in the summer.

I have lived back East during the winter. It’s not bad for the first few months, but then the “slush” months arrive and the spring seems so far away. My daughter and new son-in-law are staying there for awhile. Good for them!

I suppose the daughter’s bedroom can be neutralized, obviously they can stay there when visiting, but now the “individual” can be changed to “guest”. That will be a big change. Too soon?

Moving would solve most of these issues. But it would generate lots of stress, and lots of new problems. Better to recover a awhile. … I’m avoiding my thoughts.

The Ceremony

The light is special. It has taken nearly eight minutes to get to this exact spot from 93 million miles away. It has fused with the earth’s magnetic fields, filtered through the atmosphere, and is hitting the leaves above our heads. The effect is called “dappling”, painters apply pigments in quick small daubs to give this effect.

I am bathed in daubs of dappled light when I hear a voice asking, “and who gives this bride?” I stumble my response, “her mother and I”.

How do we give what has been given to us?

In the same way that we have received, with love and grace.

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I’ve worn my hair long for 59 years

Crakows or Poulaines

Okay, minus the three years that I was in the army.

Why is this significant? Possibly it is just as ridiculous as the fad of long pointed shoes in European royal courts. Oh, yes, that was a thing.

It got so bad that strings were applied to the tips in order to pull them up so that the person could walk.

They were called poulaines, or Crakows, for the reason that the style may have started in Poland. They were banned in England in 1465. It may have been a class statement, one couldn’t walk very far in poulaines, and you certainly couldn’t do manual labor. It was something rich people wore- the richer, the longer and pointy-er.

In the Sixties there was a fashion push that first started in England. The Beatles were a rock and roll band from Liverpool that at first simply combed their hair differently. Eventually they had their hair cut in the “bowl” style. It went along with the Nehru collar, tight tapered slacks, and pointed Demi boots with an inside the ankle zipper. It was an entire look copied by thousands of fans worldwide.

As the English invasion widened, the American rockers lost their Pomade and their flat-top ducktails, with the waterfall front, and went to a softer forehead sweep that was popular with California surfers. Still short in the back though.

So was it the music that drove the style? Yes, and no.

Wearing longer hair was a statement that signified certain ideas that were non-conformist, even if most people couldn’t articulate this.

I wish it was so clear and highly ethical. I believe though personal experience that the hair was perfect for the eruption of teenage forehead acne.

Sure, it may appear on the nose, cheek, or chin, but the forehead was one thing that could be covered.

The other thing is Alfred E. Neumann was very popular. It was a teenage comic book called “Mad Magazine”, with Alfred as the star, with his gap toothed smile, his freckles and his portruding ears. Big dumbo ears.

The hair didn’t have to be too long, just long enough to fill the gap between the skull and the ear.

It was an attempt to look better, it was as basic as how to attract girls, without knowing exactly what to do with them if it worked.

Not cutting hair also spread your allowance farther. I got $5.00 every two weeks for hair cuts. I kept the money but didn’t get the hair cut.

So why did it get to be such a big thing that it went to the Supreme Court several times?

I think there were influencers that saw this fad as a label for newly plowed ground. Teachers could suggest “Animal Farm” or “Fahrenheit 451”, cranky uncles could talk about mountain men and pirates.

Weirdly, classical music was often called “long-haired” music, but rarely listened by long hairs

This blog is an attempt to defeat a sort of blackmail. Over forty years ago, my wife and I thought it would be a good thing to record our thoughts about the world because we were expecting our first child. I had been a parent before but tens years had passed and there were a lot of changes. Plus, I thought I was pretty wise at the age of 30.

Maybe it was the wine or just inflated ego, but I went on a rant about the longhairs, the jocks, the nerds, and the thugs. Of course this was in high school so there was always conflict, and a well defined pecking order. In the early years no one exactly noticed, but by 1965, it was clear that the long-hairs were fair game. Even the nerds gave us the cold shoulder.

Apparently the tape is hilarious and damning at the same time. My daughter has the only copy and threatens to play it at family gatherings. I’m not sure what I said, so I can’t refute anything, but I’m assuming that I simply told the truth as I saw it, and still see it now.

Writing this out takes away the power of a surprised playing of the tape.

Long hair may have started as a fad, but it was found useful to coverup some of the anxieties of young men. It also acted like a badge or uniform, so that like-minded folks could gather together.

Unfortunately I did not find that some of the assumed likemindedness was real or helpful. Marijuana wasn’t very popular yet, it wasn’t even called weed. Normally it was a joint or “Mary Jane”. As if that was a code that Narcs couldn’t figure out. Oh yeah, and paranoia was rampant, but the few users were mostly long-hairs. I didn’t smoke, so I must have been a Narc. High school is filled with drama.

Day to day living was a lot like combat, long hours of tedious guard duty, with spurts of violence, and running. No knives, no guns, just kicks and punches. I once got hit so hard that a molar cut the inside of my cheek. For months I had a purple knot as if I was sucking on a jawbreaker.

To make this all stop, all I had to do is get a haircut. It was a great disappointment to my father, he asked, and even tried to bribe me, but I stood firm. Then something happened with him. We had gone on a long family vacation to his hometown in the Midwest. The first day we drove downtown for a walking tour. He pointed out the movie theatre, and the malt shop. And we spent some time looking in at the Bakery where the best apple pie was sold.

Continuing the walk towards the city park we witnessed an accident. Well, it wasn’t an accident yet, but there was screeching tires and blue smoke. Behind the blue smoke there were three pairs of arms, maybe more, all with index fingers pointing at me as if had just landed from Mars. Not a lot of words, just open mouths. My father asked if this kind of thing happened often? I said no, “they usually just jump out and start running at me”.

He never asked me to cut my hair again.

I will say that opportunities came, and some never showed. I couldn’t get a normal teenage job. I couldn’t be seen by the public and I couldn’t even be trusted by the public. Dope crazed hippies was soon a label that the media adopted. Herb Caen, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had coined the label “Beatniks” for the Beat Culture of the 1950s, and in the late 1960s he coined the term “Hippie” for the long-haired hipsters. We hated it, we didn’t use it, and we even had a funeral service where we buried the last hippie (a bearded manakin) in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

So that meant I didn’t have the rewards of a solid work ethic. I never got the chance. I was encouraged to read the Beat Poets, but not Robert Frost. I didn’t read Hemingway, but got immersed in Henry Miller. I hitch-hiked around the country with either “The Way of Zen”, or Kerouac’s “On the Road”, sticking out of my back pocket. In later years it was Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. You are what you read!

It’s true that anyone could read these, but they were defined as “hip” by some.

Was this some sort of nefarious plot? To ruin young Americans with drugs, offending books, and political riots? There are people on both sides who see this possibility. I’m certain about the pimples and the big ears.

And of course in 1969 there was the musical “Hair”, and here are the lyrics of the title song…

She asks him why

“Why I’m a hairy guy?”

I’m hairy noon and nighty-night night

My hair is a fright

I’m hairy high and low

But don’t ask me why

‘Cause he don’t know

It’s not for lack of bread

Like the Grateful Dead


Gimme a head with hair

Long, beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming

Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there (Hair!)

Shoulder length or longer hair (Hair!)

Here baby, there mama

Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I let it fly in the breeze

And get caught in the trees

Give a home for the fleas in my hair

A home for fleas

A hive for the buzzin’ bees (buzzin’ beeeeeeeesssss)

A nest for birds

There ain’t no words

For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder

Of my…

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy

Snaggy, shaggy, ratsy, matsy

Oily, greasy, fleecy

Shining, gleaming, streaming

Flaxen, waxen

Knotted, polka-dotted

Twisted, beaded, braided

Powdered, flowered, and confettied

Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!

Oh say can you see

My eyes if you can

Then my hair’s too short

Down to here

Down to there

Down to there?

Down to where?

It stops by itself

Don’t never have to cut it

‘Cause it stops by itself

Oh give me a head with hair

Long, beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming

Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Won’t you gimme it down to there (Hair!)

Shoulder length or longer (Hair!)

Here baby, there mama

Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it

Show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it

Show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)


Such a long and tedious song.

As I said, from 1970 to 1971 I had a buzz-cut, just stubble where my hair should have been. We called it high and tight. From 1971 to 1973 I had a regular hair cut, like a regular guy. And yet, as soon as I left the military, “I let my freak flag fly”.

I did my diligence to do the best research possible. I found two articles that were interesting, and focused on the impact of long hair of young men in high school.

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources. It is freely accessed and very useful.

The two articles are…

“The High School Hair Wars of the 1960s” by Matthew Wills, March 10, 2018, JSTOR Daily

“Flaunting the Freak Flag: Karr v. Schmidt and the Great Hair Debate in American High Schools, 1965-1975” by Gael Graham, Sept., 2004, The Journal of American History, Vol. 91, No. 2

While both articles are well written, well researched, they read to me as detached history. The difference of reporting on D-Day, and experiencing Utah Beach.

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A Good Man

George Eskridge, was a good man, it can be said that he always looked on the bright side of things. When he was just ten years old in Wales, he was kidnapped, and shipped off to a foreign country. His new master was kind enough to the boy, and year after year promoted him in various jobs, and even gave him a small wage. After eight years, George had saved enough to get back home. Once he was back, with the support of his family, he entered college, got a classic education, and a law degree. No one could recall him complaining about his decades of servitude.

Within a few years he had saved enough money for his next adventure. He went back to Virginia, where he was indentured, and bought 12,000 acres in Westmoreland County. He had learned every aspect of farming, harvesting, and the legal aspects of the farming business. This was in 1696.

George married a widow with 5 children, and enjoyed fatherhood to such an extent that he had three more children. No one could tell that his was a blended family. He treated all his children with the loving care that they deserved. He was a fair man in business, and a fair man in the community. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in Virginia for ten years.

His neighbors all thought the best of him, and he thought the best of them, and was ready to help when there was trouble. One couple had a modest farm next to his plantation. The husband got sick and died before his harvest was in. The wife, with a small daughter, was at a loss. George solved the problem by sending his men directly over to their farm after his harvest was done. This he continued to do year after year. The relationship grew so close that George became the young girl’s godfather.

A few years passed and the mother of the young girl got sick and died. She had previously arranged that George would be her daughter’s guardian. This meant that the small farm would remain the girl’s property, and she had security while considering marriage.

George had moved Mary Ball (the young girl’s name) into his large family home. He was already arranging marriages for his 8 children, adding one more to the list would not be a problem. Eventually a local suitor was found and George gave away the bride in a wedding at his home. George remained a good friend to the young couple for years afterwards. When Augustine and Mary Washington became pregnant, the first son was named after George.

George was a good man, and his god-daughter gave birth to a good son, a great general, and a great President.

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Night Sounds

We have arrived at our rental home in the Finger Lakes in upper New York State. It was many hours in a cramped airplane, and almost as many hours in a small rental car, driving up from JFK airport. We saved a $1,000 dollars from another flight from NY to Syracuse, but it was another four hour ride up the Hudson River.

My brother and I were soon out of the busy city, and the outskirts faded away. We made one short stop at the 24 hour tire store, weirdly placed exactly where we needed to check our tire pressure. Everything was fine, and we drove on the ribbon that twisted through the valleys, following the upper Delaware River. Our niece was getting married in upper New York State, after years of living in California. We were happy for her.

The trees here were dense, and the foliage came down close to the ground, creating a green wall along side the roadway. It was so different from the forests of the High Sierra. The trails here would be ancient, blazed over hundreds of years by the native Algonquin peoples. It was vaguely intimidating.

Arriving at the Finger Lakes region for the “distance wedding” was also a much needed vacation, and the end result of a full month of research. We wanted enough bedrooms for the multiple families that would join us. We wanted it near to a town, but not too near. We did have some friends that were local, so being near to them would be nice. And a pool, we needed to have a pool. The lake was near, but it was cold, so a pool in the sweltering summer was a must.

We did find a house that was perfect, it was on a bluff that gave us a great view of the lake on one side, and we butted up against that Great Green Wall of a forest on the other side. Looking West was the water, the pool, and the lake. Looking East was darkness. I noticed that the house was situated so that all the rooms were facing the water. Great views of the lake. The forest was to our back, it was undiscovered, almost ignored, or purposely avoided.

Two weeks to undo old habits, and two weeks to acquire new ones. And the first thing to address was the sleeping arrangements.

We have been traveling together for years, and during that time we have slept in cars, tents, cabins, boats… we have always adjusted. We were only two years apart, so we were each other’s best friend. Sharing the same room on our travels is mostly managed around the light sleeping habits of my younger brother. It is very hard for him to get to sleep, and very easy for him to wake up, then remain awake for hours. So the bedroom had to became a very dark place, shutters and curtains. In most hotels and motels this was no problem. Here it was an issue because the large bay windows only had light silk curtains. The lights on the lake were easy to see, but fortunately it was a new moon. For me it was usually hard to tell if my eyes were open or shut. This place wasn’t that bad.

As I’ve got older I’ve developed a need to get up several times a night. It became a long and tedious journey from the bed to the bathroom. Shuffling along the floor, fearful of taking a step because I couldn’t see what I was about to step on. The only light coming from the faint glow of my smart watch. The phone light was far too bright and might wake him.

Then of course, there was my snoring in combination of apnea. Strange combination of a sawmill, then a spastic jerking to regain breathing. Still, we managed through elbow pokes and thrown shoes, to be in the same room. The big change was my heart attack. Adjusting for health concerns can be massive. But between two aging brothers we made it work.

Sleeping in another room, sleeping at an angle, because laying flat was impossible. Sleeping on my side was no longer possible, because having your sternum sawed open made it painful. So many adjustments! Still, we worked it out. Even on our yearly backpacking trip, spending a week in a small tent, wasn’t bad. We found things worked out.

This currently was going to be a little longer than a weekend, but I had gathered enough pillows to make a proper wedge to cut down my snoring, and to help me to breathe. It was a large room with two double beds, but there was plenty of walking room. The bedroom didn’t have heavy curtains, but it was a new moon, so the night was pretty dark, and I still had my smart watch for a little light. Things worked out.

Somehow during the last year, the snoring became an issue. Not mine, because living alone made it a non issue. Sharing sleeping quarters was different. My brother in early years had barely made a sound all night. I often had to check the rise and fall of his shoulders to know that he was still breathing. There was some unexplained coughing recently, so maybe allergies have become an issue for him. Now he has started to snore.

His snoring wasn’t close to my epic sawmill, but it was a constant low rattle. It was one of those sounds that penetrates any attempt to ignore it. It was not a choice to use the poking in the ribs, he needed his rest. I found that my earplugs plugged in to a restful playlist was the perfect answer. I did have to edit my playlist considerably because often my dreams act out what I’m hearing, but it eventually worked out.

The one thing that was different is that I was taken out of the environment. With earplugs in, I couldn’t hear the creaks of the house, or the wind in the trees. I felt vulnerable, not that it was a big deal. It was just different. It was certainly safe.

Okay… new house, new neighborhood. I knew nothing about the history, the wildlife, or patterns of nature. Maybe this wasn’t the safest time to isolate myself in a bubble of music.

I decided to unplug one earbud, the one farthest from the snoring, just as a test. I was the eldest and I always took the lead in issues of safety. I tried to listen to the base sounds, the normal creaks and wind through the trees. It was a little different from expected, a newer house, different species of trees created different sounds, but I soon had a good solid baseline.

Then something different occurred. It was like a switch was turned off, except it wasn’t light, it was sound. All I could hear was the soft steady snoring on the other side of the room. Outside it was dead silence. Then there was a rustling at a distance, and it was coming towards the house. Almost like a car coming from a distance. Soon the sound was in the trees in the back of the house, then it passed over, heading down to the lake. I could actually hear it leaving.

In its wake was the dead silence outside, as before, but now I could tell that my brother’s snoring was slightly different. I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was at first, but now, I wouldn’t call it soft. There was a harsh emphasis, so much so that I felt the need to plug in the earbud in order to drown it out. But now I was back in the “bubble”.

In the quiet parts of the music I could still hear the snoring, and it still continued to change slightly, more fierce, with more volume. Then suddenly he choked, or maybe he just cleared hi throat. There was a moment when I thought he was shaking his head, then it was back to that hard snore, but now almost a growl.

I was propped up on my wedge of pillows, and I needed to make an adjustment, so I leaned forward a little and I used my left hand to pull the pillow to a better spot. The movement activated the smart watch and the dial illuminated a small area in the direction of the snoring for a portion of a second.

Being lit from below changes the normal shadows, but there was more than different shadows. It was a different face. The snoring was definitely now a full growl, the lips were pulled back into a wide slit, with flecks of drool in each corner, the brow was knitted above eyes that were unnaturally round, with pupils surrounded by white. My brother had crossed the room and was now standing hunched over me. Before the light faded I could sense that both of his hands were clawing the open air in time with his growls.

This was seen almost like in the flash of lightning, the light of the watch went out , and all was darkness. I was frozen in place, barely breathing, totally alert to any movement…

Then and old word came coursing up from my memory, windigo… windigo!

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People Moving

You take the time to venture into new lands, you cross two or three rivers, maybe a mountain range or two. You travel light, make no noise, you leave no trace. In some ways you would be labeled “a spy”. Within your spirit you called yourself “just a scout”.

The real test is when you find something wonderful, and you make the commitment to move “in strength”. If you don’t, you risk being stopped, defeated, killed, or enslaved. Certain;y this has been true in history, but it could also be true in modern times.

The lone spy in ancient times tried hard to be unseen, and if found out, it may have been difficult to survive. If he had recognizable skill sets, he might have been allowed transition to the new culture. The likelihood is that he would always be suspect, and seen as an outsider. The result would be lack of freedom, low pay, and no future. Parts of this is still true today.

If a scout successfully returns and convinces several families, or even a whole tribe to move to a new area, then the same rules apply. You may be stopped, or permitted to establish a new neighborhood, but the edges will likely have friction, and the more powerful group will determine the solution to troubles. True in the past, still true today.

When the cycle of scouts, spies, the random family unit and whole tribes have moved, then it can be when nations that confront nations. Usually we call this war, with the addition of “invasion”.

Certainly numbers count, and in most cases, the issue is decided by numbers. But there are other factors; cultural advantage’s, technological advantage’s, and perhaps even a “conquering spirit” advantage. Sometimes numbers do not count so much.

This was evident in history and it doesn’t require a lot of proof. It’s harder to find examples of entire nations on the move in present history. There are theories of intentional “replacement” plans, where socio-economic groups are “replaced”. It was definitely true in the past, but they used techniques that if used today would seem draconian. There are some people that study the changes around the world, and see that it might not be entirely accidental.

I want to isolate three examples from history that may clarify three different approaches to the successful movement of people. 1) the juggernaut of the Horde, 2) the Mighty, 3) open borders

In all cases the deciding factor is strength. We have one source that is unusually well documented. It started with one person, Temujin. He may have come from a tribal leadership background, but that is not where he ended.

(1) He was exiled from the surviving members of his tribe. They were absorbed by a more powerful tribe, with some that were killed, some that were enslaved, and some that were allowed to exist at the “edges” of their culture. The result of the powerful subjugating the weak. Temujin was reduced to the loneliest number, just one person, on the outside, living by stealing scraps. He could have stayed there until he died, which might have been until the weather changed.

But Temujin had a plan, if he could find a small group of people, he could challenge the leader in a “do or die” fight, then he might have a rather small tribe, with food, shelter, and a small future. He found the small group, he won, and he immediately searched for another group that was larger, but no too large. That was his secret plan for the rest of his life.

He repeated this over and over, and within a few short years he was renamed “Genghis Khan”, leader of the largest Empire in the history of the world. He never lost a battle that resulted in stopping his movement forward. He might have been delayed a few times, but dozens of empires fell, and the Mongolian people were free to live as nomads anywhere on the Steppes of Asia or Europe, and the world was changed forever.

To be sure there were other factors in play. The courage of their warriors, the structure of their army, the reliance on tough ponies and excellent archery on horseback, their method of leaving local governance in place for a price, and the shear terror of death and destruction for anyone who stood in their way.

Marco Polo traveled the entire width of Asia in complete safety, with the possession of the Khan’s passport.

Genghis used the same strategy in attacking other nations. He targeted nations that were slightly less powerful. When he won, there was no one that the smaller nations could turn to for help. He attacked in winter, because he could easily cross frozen river’s with his horses. He avoided fighting in rainy weather because the water had a damaging effect on the powerful laminated bows.

(2) Another example of movement through strength is the Nordic expansion into the Ukraine during the 700s. These “Pre-Vikings” came from the very cold North. They were fighting farmers and pastoralists, perfect for the steppes of Russia and the Ukraine. They used their well designed longboats to move thousands of men quietly down the river. Near Kyiv, they established a land base, and plowed their fields, and built a walled city.

Technically, they were a small army with no one to fight. They were skilled fighters, so they offered the neighboring towns and villages “protection” from being attacked. This is much like the gangs in the inner city today. Asking for money so that shops aren’t vandalized. (Side note: the Vandals were a people that lived as nomads on the steppes of Russia, then moved into Europe to confront the Romans, then moved to Spain, not satisfied, they became sailors and moved to Ancient Carthage, and became successful pirates in the Mediterranean. No wonder the world accepts the term “vandalism “ from their tribe.)

This “protection” racket kept the gold flowing into the city’s coffers and they became quite wealthy.

Sometimes they had to fight bandits, sometimes they had to fight cities that refused to pay…but if they won, they created a destination for more to com and settle. The tribe that Rurik brought to Kyiv became known as “the Rus”, and some say that is the source for “Russia”.

(3) The last theory is the open border concept. Today it is a political term, but essentially it is a organic term. It is a slow moving process, taking several generations. If there are no walls, or borders then people will fill the empty space in a random fashion, filling the well watered plains, leaving the mountain tops to loners. When the good lands are filled, you move on to the next rich valley. Some call it “the ooze factor”.

But if you were there first, and put up a fence, you might be a bit disturbed. There was once the example of a sleepy California town where a large tract of land was purchased by a group of people called “the Moonies”, they were followers of Rev. Moon. Soon, the town was exploding with new citizens from around the world. It didn’t last long, thirty years later it is back to being even sleepier, but it was very different for a while.

I know of dozens of examples, some based on religion, some based on politics. Some have faded away, some are still slowly growing. It is like being invaded in slow motion. By the time you recognize the change, it is far to late to do anything about it. Because of this it has been embraced as “the natural process”.

The world is such a wonderful place because all three methods are occurring at the same time.

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I live in earthquake country, but I don’t have a lot of earthquake stories. Maybe that’s a good thing. Nothing gory, or heartbreaking. Just a lot of dish rattling, and a few pictures bouncing off the walls. The television always has a number of the worst case scenarios, broken wine bottles at stores, collapsed ceiling tiles, and a few chimneys toppled in the neighborhood. Fortunately it is very rare that lives are lost.

I do have one earthquake story that I would like to tell before it is lost forever. For a time I lived in Point Richmond, which is a small residential area in the low hills directly across the bay from San Francisco. Nearly every home has a wonderful view of the evening sunset across the Bay, and the lights of the City.

Many of the homes were built in the early 1900s when the first population boom encouraged lots to be purchased, and individualized homes built. It continues today, with any open lot that has been left. The effect is that there is a range of architectural styles, and age, throughout the neighborhood. Stately Victorians, next to 1950s, next to Post Modern homes.

On one particular street where I walked, there was an older, one story Victorian, facing the setting sun with no houses on the other side of the street. This was a ridge road that led to a popular vista point. Well, popular to the locals who knew how to get through the maze of streets.

On my way walking to the vista point I noticed an older gentleman sitting in a chair, taking in the afternoon sun. He was still there when I came back, so I stopped to say hello. After a few pleasantries, we began talking about the view that he had everyday, and how special it was.

He related that he was ninety-two years old and had been born in this house, so he had seen quite a few remarkable sunsets. I asked him if there was one that stood out in his memory, and he quickly replied that there was one.

He was about eight years old and it was a day after the big quake. Nothing much happened in the neighborhood, some bookshelves fell over, and some dishes broke. It shook for a long time, but the house just flexed a bit. Across the bay the brick buildings had broke, and some fires had started. That evening he stayed up and watched San Francisco burn. It was April 18, 1906.

As horrible as it was to see, the thing that struck him was what he saw the next morning. He got up early and walked across the street to still see some fires burning, and billowing clouds of smoke. There on the grass all around him were some of the ashes that had traveled all the way across the Bay, riding the prevailing winds.

Something caught his eye, it was the front page of one of the City’s newspapers, laying draped on a rose bush. The thing about it was, that the paper was completely burnt a dark black, but the ink was white! It was like a negative, but still very readable. The fact that it stayed in one piece all the way across the Bay, and then was so readable, draped on the bush, was amazing. He tried to pick it up to show his parents, or perhaps save it in some way, but it crumbled in his hand.

All he had was the story of the wind delivering the morning paper, as readable ash. And he told it for eighty years.

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She had her morning coffee on her balcony, and I walked underneath on my way to school. She had unnaturally black hair, or maybe it was just her pale face. I tried to walk without moving up and down, conscious that the wind was moving my hair over my face.

She was going to work in a few minutes, but took the time to come out on her second floor balcony, to watch the world go by. I had a thirty minute walk to my senior year in high school, so I was like clockwork.

After a month, I noticed that she watched me, not noticed me, she watched me pass. I started to watch back. She had probably just graduated, got her first apartment, her first real job, and she was not used to being alone.

After two months she said “Hello!”. I was stunned, but managed a smooth reply, “Hello!” After that we just nodded knowingly.

Three months, she asked if I liked music, I nodded. She suggested that I stop by sometime to listen. I hadn’t stopped walking so I turned my head backwards and nodded.

A few days later she said that she would be home in the afternoon, if I want to stop by. It was less awkward that she didn’t say, “stop by after school.” At this point I had only vocalized one “Hello!”, and dozens of knowing nods. I wondered what a conversation would be like with a woman, alone, in her own apartment. So I replied, “I’ll see you then.”

Later that day, after finding my way to her front door (a guess), I knocked, instead of ringing the bell. It seemed more manly, but I intentionally didn’t apply any rhythm.

She answered the door, dressed in black, holding a wine glass, wine matching the red of her lipstick. The impact of her blue eyes, dark eye-shadow, black pageboy hair, black blouse, and turquoise stone necklace was startling. I was way out of my comfort zone, with my Madras shirt, brown baggy cords, and Thom McCann sandals. She said come in.

It was a one bedroom apartment, with the bedroom hidden somewhere, but I saw the bathroom, kitchen, living room, and the door to the balcony. There was a small sofa with pillows, and a plush chair. She said have a seat. With my brain working fast enough to create some beads of sweat, I chose the plush chair. Best not to assume anything.

She had a record player on a small table. It wasn’t part of a stereo system, it wasn’t even a stereo. I had one like it for about four years. I got a subscription from Columbia records, and my mother bought me a “Hifi”, short for “high fidelity”. Apparently her salary didn’t allow her to purchase the newly available stereos.

I looked at the small stack of albums, I didn’t see any 45s. We called the albums LPs because they were “long playing”. The one on top looked like it was used a lot. It was Sam the Sham. and the Pharaohs. All of the albums were by Sam the Sham, and the Pharraohs. I wasn’t aware that they had that many albums.

“Do you like Sam the Sham? I really love them!” And the first record went on the record player. “Would you like a glass of wine?” “Ahm, sure!” Man, woman, music and wine. It was almost a script to a movie, except I missed rehearsals, and didn’t know what to say. I did bring my notebooks, with my rants, scribbles, and bad haikus. I was terrified that I would have to share them, considering that I was mostly mute.

The first song was finished, we had said nothing beyond the greeting at the door. So I told her my name, she smiled, and replied with her name. And the second song finished.

I figured a natural break would come when the sixth song was done, and the record was turned over to play the B-side. Then another break would occur when the album was changed. I did the math, it looks like we have about three hours of listening, and about 12 breaks. I could be home by dinner.

Unfortunately she was very practiced with the album flip to the backside. Not enough time to ask a question, or to make a statement. She did ask if it was loud enough, and I nodded.

Someone was in charge of what was happening, and it wasn’t me. My wine was untouched, and hers was half done. I studied the room, and when she was intent on the music, her eyes shut, and I studied her. She had clear skin, with fine lines around her eyes, she didn’t blend the makeup onto her throat, so her face was several shades lighter than her neck. Her lipstick was left on the wineglass, and slightly removed from her upper and lower lips, making it almost two-toned.

There was a brass camel on her bookshelf. The books were few, and looked to be from the Reader’s Digest collection. Kitchen counters clean, and stark. Everything in their space, and hidden behind doors, and in drawers. A small B&W TV with rabbit ears next to a rack of TV trays. It could have been my mother’s house.

Then things got ugly. If her flipping the album was fast, the changing of albums was just slightly slower. The new album was pulled from the cover, the old album was popped off, and for a moment there were two disks being juggled (only touching the labels of each record. The new album was on, with the record arm placed on the first song. Then old album was momentarily placed in the wrong cover.

Frustrated, she shook the record out, and it took flight directly at my wine glass. The glass tipped over on the table, splashing my cords, her couch, and the rug below. Oh yeah, the red lake on the table also soaked my notebooks.

It took less than 15 seconds, but we stared without saying anything for at least 30 more seconds. She took several hops to get paper towels, and a wet dishrag. All the while, she was muttering something. I could only hear part, “at least he could have drunk some of it.”

She blotted and wiped everything, but my cords and my notebooks. I wrapped the notebooks in paper towels, but decided not to blot my pants. I left her standing there with red stained hands, saying that I had better get home to change clothes.

When I got home I opened my notebooks, there were places where the ink ran, and wine left blots, like psychology tests. All in all, the notebooks had more physical character than content character.

The next morning, she was not on her balcony. I never saw her again. For some reason, I remembered 56 years ago, and wrote the following

I once knew the killer of poems,

She lay on pillows of satin red,

Because they didn’t show the stains of words.

I was young and foolish,

I thought that smoke didn’t mean fire,

I thought whispers made mysteries.

I was lost in a desert of comfort,

The ghost that was me, pale and silent,

Looking at notebooks soaked in wine,

Ink swirling in burgundy.


I dunno, a little wine could improve it.

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My Parents

I was thinking about my parents recently. I was thinking about the depth of our relationships, and the trials and tribulations of growing up in their household. Make no mistake, it was their household. It wasn’t as if it was declared every morning, but it was implied frequently.

I had a great childhood, a few bits of drama here and there. And my experience was quite different than my brothers, as they were seven and seventeen years older. That makes a difference, but we were different people as well, and buttons that were pushed were different. I can only state what I felt by the relationship, based upon the events of my life.

From my father I think I got intense focus, a love of reading, independence, a love for the outdoors…he introduced me to archery, sailing, camping, many things that remained most of my life. We didn’t talk much about deeper things. He never tried, and when I did, he just nodded, and blinked. I think he was uncomfortable.

My mother was the perfect example of motherly love, always supportive, always quick with a smile, hug, kiss. She was independent as well, and had a variety of interests, good with her hands, loved pets, plants, and the care of the same.

The point is that the core of my being was shaped by these people, like it or not. Yes, certain teachers had an impact, a favorite relative or two, my brothers for example. Also, the books that I read, they had a final shaping.

And later on my marriage had shaping and polish! For me, my family had much more impact on the person that I am. I realize that this is not true for many people. But is it usually true? Or are we mostly raised by ourselves, and perhaps wolves?

I think this might be a question worthy to ponder for most people, because it can have a huge impact on cascading influences. Is there generational impact? A popular thought is that each generation is slightly better than the previous one. I think this is skewed by increased technology. If you believe this principle, then going back dozens of generations would reveal that we had the practice of eating our children, and that would have ended the line.

Some genealogists have talked about cycles, or waves. Some have postulated that we are pretty much fixed to our DNA, and we have been the same, plus or minus, for eons.

I don’t know about the long term effects, but I’m fairly certain that my short term effects are cascading. In other words, what I feel is what my parents felt about their parents. I did not know any of my grandparents as an adult, and only one was alive when I was very young, but the possibility is that a pattern was fairly consistent for at least three generations. What about the next three generations? And the next three generations after that?

There is no proof, I haven’t found a detailed written document that wrote about this concept. I know their names, dates of birth, and places of birth, but I don’t know how they thought. History can be accurate about some facts, less so on meaning and content.

The point of this thread is that I feel something unique when I discover a brand new great grandfather, or pair of great grandparents. It’s the factual unbroken line of DNA, close or far. The possibility that my 30th great grandfather thought pretty the same as I do now. I find that important, particularly if there are stories written about that individual.

So that partly explains my passion about genealogy. The next reason is not as clear, or even reasonable. I got the sense that they have been forgotten. I know this because they have been forgotten! Their children didn’t forget, and maybe even their grandchildren, but eventually their descendants became completely unaware that they have lived. Well, I suppose we all know they must be back there somewhere, but not as individuals. When I look through the various lines, I pause my finger on the names, and I try to pronounce them aloud. After generations of silence, I speak their names. They are once again remembered.

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Great Grandfather Leonidas

I haven’t written about my great great grandparents for a while. I would like to tell about the common stories told around their dinner table, but no one recorded them, so they ate lost to history. I know that some of them lived in challenging times, in challenging places. But without recorded history it’s just a good guess. So I suppose I will have to settle for those ancestors that actually made the history books, or a combination of history books and Wikipedia.

So let me tell you about my 52nd great grandfather. Kind of an interesting guy, lots written about him from widely different sources, so you can parse together a certain truth. There have even been a few movies! My 52nd great grandmother has also found history kindly, and portrayed by an accomplished actor. She even gets a great quote to remember her by… “Come back with your shield, or on it!”.

Yes, my 52nd great grandfather is none other than Leonidas, King of Sparta.

Well, why not! He had kids, and his kids had kids. Someone gets to be related eventually.

I don’t think we get to know the Queen’s name in the movie, but apparently it was Gorgo, and they had one son, his name was Pleistarchus, not a name that rolls off your tongue. By the way, he grew up to be no slouch himself. He was very active in Greek politics and wars, and found himself on the winning side due to his skills.

Eventually he met a young lady from the island of Thera, the famous one that blew-up in pre-history. Removed from the mainland they were on the edge of civilization for centuries. They eventually embraced the Roman culture, even while Alexander was making his run for history. For the most part they stay rooted on Thera and kept their family records like good Roman citizens.

I’ve alway said that genealogy can really be trusted if you can get into royal records. They were fanatics about accurate family history and employed court scribes to write it all down. The other fanatic group was the Romans. So if you are lucky to find a lowly count or Duke, then ride the information until some barbarian royalty marries into a Roman family, then you have decades of records. In this case a Greek family that embraced the practice of Roman culture.

So Pleistarchus’s son lived on Thera and took a Greek/Roman name, Aulus Plotius Leonides. Kind of a nod to his grandfather.

The big improvement is when they married into the House of Burgundy around 1000. Everybody wanted to marry into the Burgundian’s, the Mauvoisins, the Bethencourts, the Bracquemont, the Grainvilles, the Meluns, and the Hammersteins.

They apparently stayed on the island for about seven generations, then moved to Rome itself for a couple of generations, finally they moved to the edges of the Roman Empire in France. They became a minor royal family in Brittany for seven of eight generations, and began moving up in power and wealth, though talent and marriages.

The Hammersteins are important because it was a family going in the wrong direction, not richer and more powerful, but poorer and not “land owners”. Sometime in the 1400s there was a great movement to trim the royal families. There were too many of them, seeking privileges without the ability to pay taxes. The wiser families married into the richer commoners. Ha! Some of my German peasants married ex-royalty… So I get to claim a micro connection to Leonidas!

Do I trust the information? The Roman and European lines have been checked and triple checked for generations. The poor German fathers have had records digitized by and that is vastly improved from a few years ago when the data was barely on microfilm. I still don’t know where my grandfather died, he left and just disappeared, so nothing is absolutely known, just a pretty good guess for recent history, but better when it got written down.

So, back to Leonidas, what do we know? Well, he appears to be a badass. He led a core group of personally chosen Spartans, he gathered 300 men for the battle. Not necessarily the best fighters, but older and courageous. He made it attractive for other men from other cities to join him at Thermopylae, “the Hot Gates”. At the start of the battle he had maybe 5 or 6 thousand Greeks, fighting against 200 to 300 thousand Persians. The battlefield was narrow so very few men fought at one time. The Greeks created mounds of dead Persians. He delayed the Persian army for maybe a week, giving the main Greek army time to organize. He didn’t come back from the battle, not even on his shield. It is written that the survivors tried to bring his body back, but the Persians wouldn’t allow it, and then mutilated Leonidas. His head was put on a stake, and his body was crucified at the battle site.

In 1955 a statue was erected at Thermopylae with the words: “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and take them”). This was Leonidas’ answer to the Persian demand to drop your weapons. Yep, badass, was my 52nd great grandfather.

Leonidas, King of Sparta

Death: 19 September 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae
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What Do Dead People Know?

First, as an instructor, I would always remind the class, “There are no silly questions, there are just questions.”

I just watched a rented Google movie, “Emily, @ the Edge of Chaos”. It was a remarkable movie, perhaps touching at the edges of the most important parts of the known universe. How’s that for a recommendation? It introduced me to Emily Levine.

And quite appropriately, as this is the source of the title for this rant. I’m sorry to say that if this movie is the first you have known about Emily Levine, then you will be sad to know that within a few short years, she died of cancer. There is a hint of her lack of the fear of death in this movie, and in a TedTalk video, she announced her Stage Four prognosis, which came to the conclusion within a year.

So, the question still is, how much do dead people know? The answer is blunt, and perhaps obvious. How much did they know when they were alive? The secondary qualifier is, what was the measuring technology of his/her life?

Did they live in a small tribal community that was mostly preliterate, primarily oral? In that case, the dead person’s knowledge lasted as long as the collective survivor’s memory. The accuracy of that knowledge is highly subjective.

Did the dead person write things down, or did someone with personal knowledge write things down for them? In that case the knowledge is passed through the decades, as long as the transmission medium survives, or is copied for another cycle. The accuracy is again subjective, but can be more accurate with multiple copies to use as comparison.

What about Emily Levine’s knowledge? We have her books, blogs, and videos. And we have her film. The knowledge is fixed, her death stops any new knowledge that can be fixed to her life. But knowledge that is based upon ideas that she proposed… well! , that might fall in the joint ownership category. The Great Shared Knowledge of the universe. That place is filled with the knowledge of dead people. Unfortunately all of it is dependent upon some sort of successful storage medium. I do not mistrust oral history as a medium, although there is a difference depending upon decades. Older appears to be more accurate than newer. And of course copies can be edited. Video and film can also be modified but it is much more difficult. Talk to any professional editor of film and you will find out that context can still be changed dramatically.

Emily Levine died, she reminded us that we shall also die. How can we live with death? Because life is death, Emily said this. I think she was/is right. I few years ago I had a significant heart attack. I learned a few things. I did not have pain in my right arm. It turns out that women do not generally have a right arm pain either.

I had a golf ball knot in my back, like a pulled muscle. Good to know, I could sit or sleep wrong, or I could be having a heart attack. I could clean the garage, and later feel muscle tension, or I could be hours from major heart failure. I love the dilemma.

It does generate some thought to some sort of existence after death. On a spiritual level I’m pretty good, on a worldly level I ponder how it works out. I’m not famous, nor am I widely published. I have some parts of my existence saved in the digital world, and less recorded on canvas or paper. How much will be seen or read? Will there be knowledge shared? Will someone, at sometime, find anything important in my participation of “shared knowledge”?

I’m not even sure that I will know about it, even if my existence changes in the future. Clearly I’m investing in the possibility that I might contribute, less clearly that it matters. I will say this, I’m very glad that Emily Levine took the time to save bits of herself on a medium that I could access. I an better for it.

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Pharoah’s Dream

According to the biblical story, Pharoah had a dream that no one could interpret for him. His chief cupbearer then remembered that Joseph had interpreted a dream for him when he was in prison two years earlier. So, Joseph was “brought from the dungeon” and shaved and changed his clothes. He then came before Pharoah and told him that his dream meant there would be seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommended that “a discerning and wise man” be put in charge and that food should be collected in the good years and stored for use during the famine. This seemed like a good idea to Pharaoh and Joseph ended up with the job (Genesis 41).

Okay, so let us look at the actual verses. I’m using the Hebrew translation as it is probably closer to the original.

1 It happened at the end of two full years, that Pharoah dreamed: and behold, he stood by the river. 2 Behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, sleek and fat, and they fed in the marsh grass. 3 Behold, seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin, and stood by the other cattle on the brink of the river. 4 The ugly and thin cattle ate up the seven sleek and fat cattle. So Paroh awoke. 5 He slept and dreamed a second time: and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, healthy and good. 6 Behold, seven heads of grain, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears. Pharoah awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

I want to pay particular attention to the central premise of the verses, and it isn’t about cows of ears of corn. “a dream that no one could interpret for him”. What? Let us be perfectly clear, the government of Pharoah was extremely well organized, with thousands of specialized jobs. All kinds of job, people watching the calendar, teams of people for each god (and they had hundreds of gods}, cupbearers (wine tasters), chefs, secretaries, poet laureates, musicians, I could go on and on, the point being is that Pharoah had well paid “dream interpreters” whose job it was to tell Pharoah the meaning of the dreams that he had.

Now, I do believe that sometimes God creeps in and gives a dream that is more of a prophecy, and maybe it doesn’t come from Pharoah’s subconscious. Given that this can be true, would God go through all that trouble to make it a total mystery that no one can interpret?

Let’s look at the two separate dreams using common logic. Both use a common number 7. Seven cows, seven ears of corn, both are food items. In fact, the lean cows eat the fat cows, and the lean ears of corn eat the fat corn. I’m not sure that follows logic, but you can get the idea that we are left with hungry cows, and hungry corn. Even if they had just eaten their friends.

So, what does the seven mean. The common choices are seven days, seven weeks, seven months, or seven years. Growing cycles for planted food is usually marked in years to get the full seasonal impact. Even cattle are measured in years in order to accommodate the birth cycles.

So logic tells us there will be seven good years for food, and then seven bad years of famine. Joseph tells Pharoah to prepare for the coming famine by forming a storage facility, and most importantly to convince the people to put work twice as hard, once for the normal good times, then once again the store for the bad times.

That really wasn’t that hard. If God gave the Pharoah that dream, he made it very easy to work it out. If Pharoah made up that dream it was that hard either. Using logic it is obvious that the most intense dream a Pharoah could have is one that would negatively impact his people. Realistically, the Pharoah would never suffer a famine.

So the real question is why did the “dream interpreters” say they couldn’t figure it out. Indeed, why did Pharoah say to himself, “I can’t understand this. Let’s listen to the cupbearer (who will probably get poisoned soon), and let him bring that slave up from the dungeon, in order to see what he says.

Someone has to take the blame for the plan. Certainly if it doesn’t work, but more importantly if it does work. Convincing people in the midst of prosperity to work twice as hard will not make anyone popular. The Pharoah wanted no part of this, he punted. And the Dream Interpreters also saw the dilemma, so they agreed, get the slave from the dungeon to enforce the plan. And until the famine hit, the people probably griped a great deal.

This is part plan of an overall plan to take all of the miracles out of the Bible. I know this is popular for some people. This was never in the “miracle bag”, but it has been glossed over without looking at why everyone feigned ignorance, when the answer was obvious. To me, this is evidence that the Bible relates events that were true!

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Three Times

I’m a believer in three. Two times, well that’s not quite the same as three. It you are driving down the road and you see a parked yellow Volkswagen with a flat tire, you might notice it. If another mile goes by and you see another Volkswagen with a flat tire, you may grip the wheel a little tighter, but you still drive on.

If another mile goes by, and another Volkswagen is stopped with a flat tire, I will do more than just notice. I will stop my car and check to see if my tires are okay. I’m a believer in threes.

So today, my pastor called me to see if I could find the time to come to the church and pray for an hour or so, in preparation for the coming Easter. I had already said that I thought it was a good idea. So I told him I could do a Mondays from 9-10. He said that would be great, and he said he would send me a guide.

My first thought is that i’m pretty sure I know where the church is… I’ve been going there for more than thirty years.

Ten minutes later im checking Facebook and see a message from I friend that tells me about their upcoming birthday on Sunday, and that they are now old enough not to care about anybody’s ideas or bucket list suggestions. My first thought was to be helpful as I can.

My suggestion was to not have birthdays anymore because while it is nice to have one day where people are nice to you, and there might be presents, and maybe a celebratory dinner. Look at the cost! You are older, and you will just keep getting older. I thought I was addressing the problem logically.

The finally there is the Jeep, the third thing of my trilogy. My daughter had borrowed my Jeep for about a month while she was in the area. I wasn’t using it and she is very familiar with the weight and size of the vehicle. Being the person she is, she returned it cleaned up, oil changed and filled with gas. But she couldn’t fix one of the problems she noticed. According to her the fabric top had shrunk and now the top was letting the wind whistle through the cabin and soon the rain would follow.

I went outside to verify, and I could immediately see what she meant. Either the top had shrunk, or the Jeep had gotten fat, and a little muffin top was showing. I had to make a choice. Shrunk or Fat?

I’ve had the vehicle for more than ten years, what would cause it to do either thing in the last month?

My solution was obvious, I bought a brand new fabric top. If it fit perfectly then the Jeep didn’t get fat, the roof shrunk. If it didn’t fit, then the Jeep somehow expanded in the last month when I wasn’t driving it.

I brought the fabric top and tried to replace the old one. It didn’t fit. I thought about returning it and getting one size larger. I got it through Amazon, so I could return it like the pants I mistakenly purchased.

The problem was that I didn’t use the handout that came with the replacement top. So I read that, and watched a few YouTube tutorials. In the afternoon I backed up to the point of removing 32 screws for the header. It took three hours and I actually had the roof on all the way to the back. Unfortunately there were several inches right next to the windschield that would let wind and rain come flooding in. Apparently the Jeep was fat.

I slept on it. There was someone wrong with my logic. In the morning I again went backwards removing 32 screws, laying the roof upside down on the hood, tightening the screws and folding the fabric the header. This time, three hours later, the rooftop was tightly stretched, and it fit perfectly. The Jeep was not fat. It’s a good thing because tomorrow it is expected to rain.

It took the third instance to point out the fallacy of my logic. Perhaps birthdays don’t create age, it just marks the time.

Perhaps there won’t be someone in a raccoon cap and buckskins that will guide me to the church.

A warning… the power of three is for all of you!

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A little self promotion

I’ve tried organizing some of my work. I haven’t removed anything that is already here, but most of the latest stuff needed a home, so I created a new blog, with a new address.

If you are interested in seeing the artwork I’ve done for the “Sarah” musical project then go to this new blog… I don’t know how to make it active, so copy/paste or type.

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A Little Brain Surgery

I have a daughter that will soon undergo a little brain surgery. What am I saying?!? How little can brain surgery be???

I mean, she was walking by a local health care facility, so she walked in to inquire about a possible elective brain surgery. After all, she had a few weeks open in her calendar.

Obviously that didn’t happen, and the complex formula of “cost analysis” is not the point here. She, and the doctors, agree that this “little brain surgery” is important.

So two things come to mind right away. One, we live in remarkable times. Developments in medicine are remarkable. Things unheard of just a few years ago are now commonplace with great success. But that reality is slow in our collective minds. A “little brain surgery” is more accurate than we know.

Two. Still, for those of us that fear root canals, this is a big deal.

It does take faith, confidence, and tons of bravery. I remember as a child watching TVs Ben Casey, neuro-surgeon. I remember the end of the introduction, when the older doctor draws the chalk symbol of infinity. It was so graphic and mysterious.

We challenge the small definition of infinity when we are brave. There is a longer view, not only for the immediate success, but the longer success of adding knowledge for future success.

Sure, I worry. Sure, I cover in prayer. But I applaud in the selfless commitment to the future. I love you Nikki.

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The Brown Van

The are a few family legends, most of them about our family characters. Some of them are about our family characters that are not alive and never had been.

I’m speaking of our brown Chevy van. I can’t remember the year, but it had that 350hp engine that ran forever. It was an automatic, but somehow the lug that put it in reverse had sheared off, so technically it was Park, Neutral and Drive only.

I drove it to work daily, the kids called it the “kidnap van” because it had no windows in back. On one rainy Halloween night, I had all the kids in the back, driving very slow in the street with the sliding door wide open. There were no seats in the back, just some side benches. The kids just jumped out at every stop to beg for candy, and then jumped back in the van. They still talk about that Halloween.

It was brown, a very soft brown, a very “oxidized” soft brown, kind of mottled in parts. I once drove to a vendor friend of mine, and we spoke for a few minutes in the parking lot while he leaned on the van. The next day he called me and asked why I had poisoned him. He developed a very bad rash where his skin had contact with the van.

So now I had two issues, I never drove into a spot that required me to use reverse to get out, and I tried not to park where someone would touch the paint.

Actually, I did keep a large screwdriver in the glove compartment. When I absolutely needed reverse, I would put it in neutral, set the emergency brake, them pop the hood. With the hood up I could use the screwdriver to pry the transmission into reverse. It would take a minute to overpower the emergency brake so I had time to shut the hood and get into the drivers seat. Most times… eventually it was moving while I was swinging my but into the seat. Fortunately I still used the reverse to get out of the position, the van was too heavy to push. My best trick was to use gravity to back myself out of danger.

It had character, that brown van. It ran forever, but the rest of the vehicle just fell apart. I gave it to my son and he tried to clean it up, but too much was wrong, so for safety sake we got rid of it. It’s engine is probably still running.

It joins the list of other vehicle characters, like the Jeep Wagoneer that never backfired unless we were in a underpass. This was where the sound was magnified. There were dozens of Vietnam veterans that had hit the sidewalk with PTSD. I waved an apology but it was hard for them to see me from the ground.

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My Friend

I have a friend that I have known for 67 years. We been close, and we have drifted. In some of the most important parts of our lives we never spoke. We had families that never met, yet now we still meet periodically and have coffee.

We lived next door to each other from 1st grade through 10th grade. Volatile years, filled with close companionship and banishment. We were radically different, Jack was athletic, I was not. I had official Army gear from my brother, Jack did not. We were both interested in blowing things up.

We had heard a rumor that wooden kitchen matches could be a source of pyrotechnics. Sitting on my garage floor, we made a pile of matchheads as we clipped off the striking heads of two full boxes. The rumor suggested that we fill the space between two bottle caps.

We went scrounging the local mom&pop stores. There were three of them with bottle openers nailed to the outside walls. There were folks that even then collected various beer and soda bottle caps. In a short time we had collected a bag full. Screw caps did not yet exist, they were all the crimped kind, with a thin cork disk lightly glued to the inside to help seal. Out process was to remove the cork.

Taking two bottle caps we carefully scooped into the mountain of matchheads, lightly twisting until the space was completely filled. The rumor did not specify how the caps were secured together. We had tape, lots of types of tape.

We had Scotch tape, we had masking tape, we had electrical tape, and we had plumber’s tape. We didn’t know which was best so we made a half-dozen of each type.

We loaded our pockets with our taped experiments, not considering that any one of them could explode and set fire to our pants. Safety was rarely considered.

We got to the junior high school playground, a vast area of asphalt covering almost a square block. The rumor had it that all you needed to do was throw the bottle caps. When they landed the caps would bend and compress the matchheads. The matchheads would rub one another and combust. The entire collection of matchheads would light in an instant. What happened next was not known, but we would find out.

It turns out that the tape and type of tape was important. Too much tape would cushion the blow and the matchheads would not light. Too little tape would cause the caps to separate and scatter unlit matchheads on the asphalt.

The perfect tape wrap caused a fiery explosion! The paper based masking tape blew apart, and there was a fiery, smoky cloud filled with flaming matchheads, scattering in a circle about ten feet wide. Marvelous!

The cloth or plastic tape did not separate, but the gasses inside the bottle caps had to escape, so the caps went spinning away with a shriek, and lots of smoke.

It was a great success, with the two of us throwing a half dozen at the same time. It looked, and sounded like a WWII battlefield, with smoke, shrapnel, and flames.

That Friday we made dozens of the little bombs, in order to chuck them at the opposing crowds at our weekly football games. I think we threw two, them ran away in terror.

On July 4th we had fireworks, but for us it was little black snakes, and sparklers. The grownups had wisely banned bottle-rockets. Sparklers were approved, we could light them, wave them, stick them in the grass, and toss them lightly in the air. They lasted about a minute.

Back in the garage we hit them with hammers, and broke them off of their metal wires. Soon we had a pile of sparkler chunks, and we ground that into a fine dust. We knew that bottle caps would not set it on fire. We suspected that it would burn a lot faster as ground sparkler dust. We would find a small container and jam a sparkler in as a fuse.

We found several empty CO2 green containers. We drilled out the bottoms and filled the containers with dust and a regular sparkler jammed in opening. We could light the sparkler, stick it in the ground, and wait for the explosion. We never thought about the shrapnel.

The sparkler lit the dust, the dust burned super quick and sent the CO2 cartridge high in the air with a trail of sparkler smoke. It may have gone 500 to 600 feet in the air. It landed on the neighbors roof across the street. We tested several more, until it landed in our own yard.

We thought that if we could place it in a tube, like a bazooka, then we could aim it. And if we could fill a larger CO2 cylinder we could perhaps aim it to the junior high school asphalt yard, a few blocks away. Jack offered to be the bazooka man.

Before we fired the bigger container we thought to test it one more time. We propped it up in a garbage can but it leaned over, and it hard to light the sparkler fuse. So we nailed the tube to a 2×4 placed it acrossed the can. The tube pointed straight up. We lit the fused a stepped a few feet back, feeling that the metal garbage can provided some shrapnel protection. At the last second we additional ducked behind the corner of the backyard shed.

Seconds later there was a huge explosion and lots of smoke. When the smoke cleared we checked out the garbage can. It looked like a giant colander, peppered with hundreds of tiny holes, with larger ones here and there. We looked at the fence right next to our hiding spot an found a twistedbazook piece of metal with sharp spikes firmly embedded in the fence.

Jack was planning o hold that tube next to his head as he aimed the “bazooka”.

Somehow we survived, later I went hitchhiking around the country, Jack went to college. We both went into the Army. Jack was an MP and I was a technician. Later, I became a graphic designer, and Jack joined the Oakland police force. We both survived.

Now years later, we drink coffee and talk about our dangerous times. Not about our careers, not about our “Wartime” experience. We talk about making homemade gunpowder and sparkler dust rockets.

We also talk about watching our volcano with binoculars, waiting with several buckets of water to put out the fires. It turns out that Mt. Tamalpais is not a volcano.

When Jack retired he took up a hobby of flying ultralights. Not satisfied he bought plans to build his own airplane. It took almost two years. On the day of the first test flight, he took it on to the runway and went to the field gas pump to fill the tank, and then take off. Something happened, a spark occurred. The flames engulfed the plane and everything was consumed, but Jack was safe.

To compensate, Jack brought a Shelby Cobra sports car and refurbished it. It was beautiful. So beautiful, that he bought another in kit form and built from the ground up another Shelby. Now he was has two. Neither one has burned to the ground

Happy birthday, my friend.

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I’ve lost a very dear friend and member of my family. I first met Joanne Townsend sometime in late 1962. I’m not sure how long it took for my brother to introduce her to the family.

He had met her on 23rd street, in Richmond, nearly in front of Richmond Union High School. Those were the days when young adults “cruised the main”, in order to see, and be seen, even during the late afternoon.

Joanne was with a girl-friend in her pristine black Ford Fairlane, called “a two door hardtop convertible”, not the one that stored the hard-top in the trunk, but something similar. It was a busy time on 23rd street, lots of stopping and going.

My brother Eddie (I called him Cork), was also on 23rd Street, but for different reasons. He was helping a friend drive a racing motorcycle from somewhere in the South Bay, all the way to San Pablo. He was nearly home, only a few blocks away. It was only a remarkable trip because the motorcycle had no brakes. It was a racing machine. If you wanted to slow down, you just down-shifted. Why have the extra weight of brakes?

So naturally, there was an accident, but Cork didn’t crash into a delivery truck, or a beat-up clunker driven by an underage ditty-bopper. He was behind a beautiful blonde in a black Ford Fairlane. And she suddenly stopped.

Joanne would say later that she briefly saw him in the mirror before impact, and then he disappeared. She thought that perhaps he slid under the car, but then after a second she heard a crunch on the roof, then silence. After some moments passed she saw a person roll off the roof, onto the right fender, then land in the street. Certain that he was dead, she did not immediately open the door. Her friend was crying!

Finally Joanne rolled down her window, and he asked if everyone was all right. They nodded, and they asked if he was all right. He didn’t know it at the time but his wrist was fractured. He was still in the Army, so he would have some explaining to do when he came back from leave, Then he asked for her number, told her he would pay next week, and ran off, leaving her in shock in the middle of the street. I think she would have called him, “Gink!”

He had to make right the dent in her rear bumper. He left so quickly because didn’t want the police or insurance to be involved. I suspect it was issues with the motorcycle’s registration, or the lack of it. It was only for racing, not riding on the street. The Ford was so badly damaged, the bumper and trunk had a big “V” dent, as if hit by a ship.

So that’s how they met, and within weeks of contacting her for the repairs, they were dating. It took Joanne’s father several years to trust Cork entirely. He was a crusty character in any case.

It wasn’t long before they were married, and Cork still had a few months left in the Army. Joanne and I bonded quite a bit, while she waited for Cork to become a civilian. Later, I babysat their baby boy Robert John (Bob) in their rented house on Burbeck Street. Strange house, everything painted the same grey color.

Later on, when Bob was in school, my mom and Joanne started a business, a second hand store on 23rd Street. I went down to help out. Most of the time Joanne and I would play cards, games, and just laugh a lot. Eventually, I graduated from high school and started my independent life. Joanne was always there to support me when I circled back “home”. My parents had moved to Tacoma, WA, but Cork and Joanne maintained a local residence when I had none, and all the while that I was in the military.

We even shared the duplex for a time when I got out.

It’s true that we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. My life spun wildly for some time. But we did not drift apart. As I settled with my family, we always had Uncle Cork and Aunt Joanne in our lives, and our children become close to both of them.

Joanne had so many gifts, as a great wife, homemaker, mother. We will share stories about her for years. But there is one thing I would like to share now. She was known far and wide, as the “Knowledge”. In London, it is said that you can’t be a taxi-cab driver without the “Knowledge”. In the Bay Area, you can’t make money finding treasures in garage sales or thrift stores without the “Knowledge”.

Venders and garage sale pros were in awe of Joanne’s abilities. Some would even give up if Joanne had beat them to a sale. They knew there would be nothing of value after she had gone through the items. Second hand store employees all knew her by name, and asked her opinion on suspicious items: “Was this a fake or knock-off?”. If it wasn’t a fake, then she would have already had it in her cart, ha!

Joanne would often bring the employees small jewelry gifts, or donuts, and they would save items for her that they thought she would like.

For the last five year’s, Parkinson’s has taken a deep toll on Joanne’s health, despite her courageous patience and perseverance, and it has brought out Cork’s ability to be a caretaker. An entire book can be written on the inventions that he came up with in order to make her life better. He never rested, or waivered

As Cork said, “… she grew weaker, and I grew stronger.”
That was her gift, and she shared it with everyone. I loved her so much as did our entire family.

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Refrigerator Story Update

Well, it’s Christmas Eve’s eve, and we have a refrigerator. And it came it the most unexpected way. Sherry got a call from an unknown number, and wisely ignored it. We were not expecting a call.

The second time they called, she did answer, and our refrigerator spoke, and said it wanted to come home. Actually it was the delivery company. Weirdly, it came out of the blue. We had been trained that they call the day before to see if we will be home, then they tell us the three hour window when we should be there. There is a process. It takes two weeks to just get in line.

But this was different, the voice asked if we were home to get the refrigerator, Sherry said “yes, when can we expect you?” The voice said they were thirty minutes away. Less than an hour to get all that food out of the old refrigerator and into boxes and cold bins. Sheesh!

Frantically we dumped years of frozen food, and possibly years of normally refrigerated food. The mounds grew higher, the kitchen counter space disappeared, we went to the pool table, we went to any available horizontal space. As the last bag of four year old frozen peas was removed, I heard a truck stop in front of the house.

Just two guys with belts came into the kitchen. Four minutes later the old refrigerator was gone. They carried it out!

Ten minutes later the new refrigerator was settled into the little alcove and humming very quietly. The long ordeal was over.

In the process there was a lot of conversation. This team was the elite “fixer” team, sent out to resolve problems. No one ever even suggested there was a fix-it team. They were employees of the big box store, something the last person told me was impossible. They were polite, very professional, and we thanked them.

We have had the refrigerator for three or four days, and the only problem is that some vagrants have moved in and made it difficult to open the door. As soon as the door is opened, they freeze, and look at me with some distain. I wish they would move on.

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The Refrigerator Story

It was on a whim. Buying a refrigerator on a whim is never a good thing.

We went to a “big box” store to buy tile for our bathroom. We entered and found the signage helpful. From several aisles away we could see that aisle 7 was the place to go to find tile. We went, we saw, we decided. But we could find anyone to help us. We did find someone in an apron, but he was from gardening and didn’t have any knowledge of tile. He called for help. Help never came.

Finally, in a fit of independence, I went for a cart. It would be self service. If I can’t reach it, I could steady my smallish wife, standing in the shopping cart, while she nudges it to the edge of the shelf. Tile and bullnose edging is conquered and in the cart.

No problem finding checkers, they are everywhere!

Our contractor says we didn’t buy enough tile. In a panic, a quick search of the internet for the other “big box” stores nearby. All post that they can order it, but that there is none at hand. I think that perhaps someone has an open box, selling the tile we need one at a time. The internet is silent on this.

We determine to visit the store again, and we find an open box and purchase five individual tiles. Success… until we get to the checkout. The clerk insists that the bill is well over $200 dollars. She believes that each tile has the same inventory number as a box of twenty tiles. It takes a longtime to show the error of her calculation. Maybe the store isn’t even self-serve.

We need to search someplace else for vanities. We try a competing “big box” store. I know where one is, and we drive in intense traffic to get there. I was wrong, it is across town, and probably another 40 minutes of traffic. We end up at the nightmare of the same “big box” store. Drawn like moths to a flame. We calm ourselves, and resolve that we will just look, decide on what we like, then buy somewhere else.

The same helpful signs direct us to bathroom vanities. Then it is only a few more aisles, and we are looking at kitchen cabinets. I don’t know why, we are fine in the kitchen.

Another aisle and we are surrounded by appliances, in particular, refrigerators. Our refrigerator works but several of the drawers have issues, we could see what a replacement might offer, then buy somewhere else. We have always bought our appliances from another local appliance store.

We found a reasonable refrigerator for $1500. There was an appliance salesperson right there. He was charming, he shared his personal story. He was a veteran. For all these reasons and more, we bought the refrigerator. That was Nov. 12th. It is now Dec. 11th, and we still have not seen our refrigerator.

According the the paperwork we were given, the refrigerator was to be shipped to our home on Nov. 24th. Twelve days seemed like a long time, very close to Thanksgiving, and slightly inconvenient, but it is what it is. According to the policy, they will call on the day to arrange to deliver the new, and pickup the old. It will be nice to have a brand new refrigerator for the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Nov. 24th comes and goes, no refrigerator. We call the phone number for troubleshooting. The person contacts the delivery people, they say that they called, but no one answers. They did send us e-mail a few days before they were supposed to come, but no email that they couldn’t find us. Then the truck driver says that they came to the door, and no one answered. Okay, now that was a lie. We were home waiting all day. We were told by email that they were coming.

I explained this to the person, and I might have used an unfriendly tone. I did not swear, but I did take umbrage to the statement that I wasn’t home. I think I told them that I had ordered a $3.50 vacuum cleaner belt from Amazon, they delivered two days later and took a photo proving that they were there. The person on the phone said they had a photo, but it was dark and they couldn’t tell if it was a house or just a bunch of trees. They didn’t share the photo with me.

I suggested that perhaps they should refund my purchase price. They said they can’t do that, I would have to come into the store where there was a register. I said that they must certainly have a way to handle this, and asked for a supervisor. She said she was the supervisor. I asked for the supervisor’s supervisor. She said it doesn’t matter, policy is policy and I would have to come in to a store to get my refund. I said if the vice-president of your “big box” store needed a refund I bet he wouldn’t have to come in, she assured me that he would. I threatened to cancel my credit purchase if they couldn’t delivery the refrigerator by Saturday. She asked if I would like a Saturday delivery? Yes, I would like the refrigerator that I bought. She then hung up.

Apparently she wrote a long electronic note that used some unfortunate language, not necessarily towards me, but towards the whole mix-up. I know this because I had to call again when the Saturday delivery failed to show up, II and I had to call the hotline once more.

The next agent I talked to was Justin. Justin was amazed about what the notes related. It took a few minutes to read them all. Justin mentioned that there was a $430 refund coming my way, and that he could arrange to have the refrigerator delivered on Dec. 10th. I thanked him for his diligence, and asked to speak to his supervisor. I was passed to Jason and I told him how wonderful Justin was, and how he tried to resolve my problems.

I was surprised about the $430 refund so I asked if that was a discount for Black Friday. Jason told me that Justin had set that up because I was inconvenienced. That was another surprise, Justin took no credit for that. Suddenly I was rooting for the “big box” store to succeed. All I had to do was to wait for Friday, Dec. 10.

On late Thursday I had not heard anything about specific times. I had another e-mail affirming the Dec. 10th delivery but not the time. I called the hotline once more. An agent took my call, read the notes, then called the warehouse. She said the refrigerator was lost, not only that, but in her experience, a refrigerator lost for this long was most likely scratched or dented by the time it was found. So she offered a total refund, and I need not come in to the store.

An earring can slip into a crack, or drop into a random box. A hair dryer can get reshelved in a strange place. But a six foot tall, three foot wide refrigerator can’t sprout legs and run away. I wanted my refrigerator.

I found out the I didn’t use my credit card, I had used my debt card. They took my money immediately, but I didn’t get my refrigerator. They had kidnapped it, they. We’re holding it hostage somewhere. At two different times it was on the truck, then it went back to the warehouse, shoved into some dark corner. A warehouse supervisor physically walked in a “dock search” looking for my wandering refrigerator. She was supposed to call me when she found it. She never called.

Another agent by the name of “Princess”, gave me another $150 refund. It will come to me by mail, 4 weeks from now. I still haven’t seen the first refund.

Princess tells me that the “notes” have been edited, or modified, but it still reads like a novel. I just want my refrigerator.

I have a vision of a 25 cubic ft. appliance, hitch-hiking east on Interstate 80, looking for America. I hope it turns around and finds my kitchen by Christmas.

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Sarah Bernhardt

A few years ago I decided that I didn’t know enough about color. I knew the color wheel. I knew the different levels of complimentary, colors and I even had a good idea of color frequencies. Basically I knew the graphic design elements of color, the Pantone system for printers. I hadn’t developed a painterly palette.

So I thought, what better way to learn than to colorize some old black and white photos, not in a Ted Turner movie fashion, but in a more artistic impression. I started with my own archive of black and whites. The trouble was that the people were generally way too small, and by the time I enlarged the image I was getting too low of a resolution.

So I began to look to the internet for high quality black and whites. I found the great collections of early movie stars. For about a year, on and off, I played around with some classic “stars”. I learned a lot, most of them were familiar, some were very familiar. A few I only knew by name. One of them was Sarah Bernhardt. I really did know the name, but that was it. The image that I choose to colorize was this one…

The odd thing was that it reminded me of one of my favorite portraits that had just worked on as a tribute to Edouard Manet of Berthe Morisot…

Magnet’s Berthe Morisot

Okay, this was odd. The Manet was painted in 1872. Certainly Sarah wasn’t from 1872? Or was she? Then I realized I didn’t know much about her, apart from her name. Was she French, and not English? Was she from Paris, and not NYC?

I must admit I was not particularly interested in the image, or the person behind the image. I finished it and went on to colorize Audrey Hepburn, and I promptly forgot about my questions on Sarah.

A few years later, a good friend sent me a wonderful email, as is her habit. And she included her signature “last sentence” in the paragraph, about something entirely different, knowing that it would interest me. June wrote, “After nearly fifty years, I’m finally considering to finish that play I wrote on Sarah Bernhardt.” WTF?

I hadn’t the slightest idea that she had started to write a play on Sarah. Naturally I knew Sarah, I had made an image of her with the Hollywood crowd. I looked at my source. Sarah Bernhardt had a star on the Boulevard of Stars, she made movies, she has the earliest birthdate of anyone on the Boulevard. She was born in 1844 and died in 1923. What the hell? 1844? And she was French! And mostly a stage actress, although she made some of the first movies. And she sang, she sang remarkably, she was the “Golden Voice”.

Okay, time to learn some more about Sarah.

The best thing occurred, I got a copy of the original script written years ago, by June. She had made this after years of researching Sarah. She was going to update it with current information, but it was a wonderful summary of what was generally known.

At the end of Act I I knew hundreds of things, at the end of Act II, I was completely sold out on Sarah, and yearned to know more. June had once again deployed the “famous last line in the paragraph.”

So, for the last few months I have made several dozen images from sketches of artists, faded photos on cabinet cards, and a few great photographs from excellent photographers. It is safe to say that there are at least a dozen different looks of Sarah, as she had her image captured at least once a month for about sixty years. Yes, she did age, but it wasn’t just age, and it wasn’t the costumes or make-up. She just projected different images!

I recall reading about her performance in “Joan of Arc”, when she was 65. She had a line in the script where she had to state to her interrogators her characters age. The line she said was, “I’m nineteen!” At 65 she was was playing a 19 year old! Successfully!

It was not lost on the audience, because they consistently broke out in applause after she said her line.

I am by no means an expert on her life. There is so much that can’t be known. In some cases there is a void… in most cases there are multiple conflicting stories. My favorite is that she is actually French Canadian, and she moved to Iowa as a child, then to Paris, to enter the theatre. What was the source of this? As near as I can tell it is based on three things. 1) America is the greatest, so she must be American. 2) She had nine different tours of America in her lifetime. 3) And someone wrote once that she spoke French with an American accent. Hahaha!

It’s safe to say that she was French, and always performed in French wherever she traveled.

The following images are some of the favorites that I’ve done…

From a sketch by Mucha

I am so excited for the play to be finished.

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The Beginnings of Cancel Culture

According to one Wikipedia article, “the Concord Spirit Poles were a controversial public art project installed in the Bay Area city of Concord, California in 1989, at the direction of artist Gary Rieveschl, at a cost of approximately $100,000. They stretched along the median near downtown on Concord Ave. Rieveschl has said that the poles signify “our increasing interdependence in an electronic age of digitized information.” The 91 pointed aluminum rods ranged from 8 to 50 feet in height and weighed as much as 100 pounds each, prompting residents of the suburban bedroom community to object to their harsh appearance. The city used the poles to hang banners and flags in an unsuccessful attempt to soften the sculpture’s look. The Spirit Poles ultimately became unstable and cracked, with one toppling during a windstorm. The Concord City Council voted in 1999 to remove the Spirit Poles.

At least that is part of the story.

Ordinances had been adopted that required 1 to 2 percent of new building projects to have a budget for public art. Building office complexes had art, traffic circles had art, even paving streets had artistic manhole covers. concords medians had Spirit Poles.

This wasn’t a direct gift to artists, there was a selection process, there was a proposal, there were conceptual drawings, there was a presentation, and there was a budget. The committee apparently had no difficulty with the selection, no one remembers the other presentations, and soon enough the installation took place. There was something called “the Heritage Park Project” that was budgeted for $400,000, and the Spirit Poles were just a part of that. Perhaps that’s why it had an easy pass through committee. Installation for the poles went forward in 1989. That’s when opinions came pouring in.

In either case, for the general public they missed the artist’s intention, and called for their removal. It was public art, paid for by the public, and they felt they had the right of an opinion.

Unfortunately the contract was negotiated by a representative for the public, and the contract had a clause against the removal except for safety reasons.

The public was outraged, as more and more people offered their opinions. As for the falling spirit pole, I have not found proof that any pole fell during a wind storm.

Finally, a enterprising city inspector looked at the base of a few of the “pointed aluminum” poles, and found some suggestion of aluminum “corrosion”. With the remote possibility of one or more poles falling onto the roadway, all the poles were removed and placed into storage, until a plan to fix the problem appeared. No plan appeared, it was never assigned, the contract didn’t allow the city to recycle them. They remained in storage for years. In 2001, the artist was paid $75,000 and he released any claim for the art. They were cut up and recycled. Perhaps you have had a beer, or soda, from the recycled aluminum poles.

The end result was so concerning that Concord repealed the two ordinances for public art, instead of fixing the process of selection.

So how did the “cancel culture” begin? The internet was too new to be involved, so it was the traditional media: letters to the editor, talk radio, media outlets. They took up the banner and found that the public wanted more of the story. The National Enquirer called them “the ugliest publicly funded sculpture in America.” What gave the National Enquirer the skill to critique public art? No one asked. Everybody can have an opinion, and anyone can shape further public opinion.

Gary Rieveschl was a respected visual artist specializing in “landform” installations. Working with earthmounds and flowers, he has art installed throughout the Midwest and Europe. He actually had a small book published on his installations from 1973-1987. It’s curious that I haven’t found anything that he has done since the Spirit Poles. He is now 79, and living in Indiana.

I did find an article from Cincinnati, that mentions another work of his, “Autooasis”, that was a 1973 Chevy with doors, trunk, and hood open, filled with growing vegetation. It was a vehicle as a potted plant. Eventually it was evicted from its space and crunched as scrap metal.

They most common photo of his art was one from Germany of a bank of earth, and a weaving “snake” of daffodils. Perhaps it’s gone as well.

Interesting fact, Gary’s father, George Rieveschl, invented Benadryl, and this helped Gary by having the financial support to send him to Harvard and MIT. Maybe he wasn’t cancelled, maybe he inherited.

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Further thoughts on time.

Are thoughts granular? If so, then what is the space called between thoughts? Also, if thoughts are granular, do they have hard edges, or soft, squishy edges that are sticky? Are thoughts in three dimensional clumps? Are they linear? Or they only appear linear from the thinker’s perspective? Is there any other perspective possible?

If thoughts are electrical firing of synapses, do they flow, like electricity? Electrons being “excited”, bouncing around, exciting their neighbors, not actually moving like water molecules flow, but the “excitement moves from one regional synapse to another. Cascading like billiard balls on a table.

Watching television, I see movement. An actor walks across the screen. Being interested, I get closer. It’s harder to see the actor because I’m beginning to see the dots of the actor. The actor is made of thousands and thousands of dots in a rosette of red, green, and blue, against a dark background. The actor continues to move, and I get closer.

The dots don’t move, they just change color. There is no movement. The actor moves because the dots change color. Our eyes follow the changing color and interprets this as movement. Is it movement because I see it as movement? The actor on television is an image. It is only two dimensional, but when the actor turns it appears three dimensional. If the image was a photograph, the actor would get distorted as he turned, eventual he would disappear as a two dimensional figure on edge. The actor doesn’t turn, the dots simply change color. The turn is not real, it simulates a turn. There is no movement.

Images are not the actual object. Even the projected image on the back of our retina is not the object. Objects exist, but we only see shadows of the object, full color shadows… an image, not the real thing. Things do not have resolution, they have edges. Images are dependent upon resolution, edges depend on resolution.

Finding the edges of things determines the shape. Recognizing shapes is rewarded in the Cave of Socrates. Mere shadows, but real rewards.

This is what happens when the mind wanders.

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Time 3

“This glass is empty”, yet filled with air. Unless it is in space, when it is filled with… space?

The edge of a cloud exists at a distance, but slowly disappears the closer you get. In fact, there is no edge, only the appearance of one.

The distance around the island of England is infinite, unless you take the short cuts, and avoid the fractals.

So… I finished all three sections of Rovelli’s “The Order of Time.” I know less now then when I started. I’m not sure that I understand “when”. I’m certain that I don’t understand “now”.

Strangely enough, I had three separate thoughts while finishing the reading, each one more disconnected. The first thought was directly related to a phrase in the text, “glass half-full”. The then thought was tangentially connected to a statement of clouds, the third thought was a distant memory of “infinite” fractals of a natural seashore. I don’t know why it came up.

I’m not sure I enjoyed the book. If I reread it, will I know even less. If I keep rereading it, will I eventually disappear?

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Time 2

I have previously written about time, well… I wrote about my reaction to a summary of the current ideas of time, set out by physicists. To their credit I agreed with a number of their statements. How can I disagree you might ask? What degrees do I currently hold in physics?

My disagreements are based upon the fact that I am human, and I don’t let my lack of knowledge hinder my opinions. Basically, my disagreements were based in the absolute statements made. We can’t measure yet… not that we can’t measure. No evidence yet… not that the lack of evidence is absolute. It’s a clever way to disagree without understanding the salient points.

I have a good friend that suggested a book by Carlos Rovelli, “The Order of Time”. According to the reviews, this book gives a very good summary of the current views concerning time. The author suggests that his book is in thirds. The first third is a very simple explaination, the middle third gives a little more detail, and the last third is a wild ride through the cosmos.

I may have made that up because I forgot the details of the last third, but you get the idea. I am barely through the first third. So far I’m wondering where the simple is… I know that it is there, because the illustrations include characters from the Smurfs. I can see the smiles from the copyright lawyers. A book about time written by a leading physicist wants to use Smurfs to illustrate his points.

I’m a little stuck on the first point. Time is slower at my feet, and faster at my head, compared to a reference at my navel. Hmmm. Second point, time is slower if I live on a beach versus living on a mountaintop. Time is slower if you don’t move, time is faster if you run around. Time requires heat. Heat only goes towards cold, never cold to heat. Time only goes forward. I think I listed a few more points in this simple chapter, each with Smurf explainations.

Oh yeah, time is slower if you move the watch faster, like on an airplane, so speed can make time slower and faster… depending.

I can’t wait until I get through the middle part of the book.

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Maybe he liked blueberries, or more likely, he had poor dental hygiene and his front teeth had died at the roots. In any case, history now knows Harald Gormsson, king of Norway in 895, as “Bluetooth”. This becomes important to us because the inventors of the technology to connect devices to computers, named their product “Bluetooth”, and even used the Nordic runes to create their logo. They could have given a nod to Hedy Lamar for her contribution, but an early medieval Norse king was chosen.

Millions of devices use “Bluetooth”, from speakers to microphones, earbuds, printers, and headsets. It’s the most popular wireless conn ection. With clever renaming, a new device was named “Blueteeth”, referring to a pair of glasses that acted as a “heads up display”.

Several attempts had been made by different tech companies to create monitor glasses, but this one had great promise. Heavily mirrored from the outside, it was almost impossible to tell if they were projecting an image or just acting as sunglasses. The technology was so small that the frames easily concealed all electronics, using common hearing aid batteries. The glasses were designed to blend in as just another pair of sunglasses.

The user had a finger ring as a controller, to scroll through and select menus that were on screen. There were several choices of transparency from complete opacity to a faint display. The practical theory is that using close focus you saw the information on the glasses, and the distant focus saw straight through information to the outside world. When the opacity increased it was like putting on blinders with two tiny monitors in front of each eye.

No one studied how this might affect normal vision. Produce a thousand units, test them, and then see how it goes,- that was the manufacturer’s concept.

Most people used a smart phone for the computing source, but that was somewhat limited; a powerful laptop or tablet was a better connection. The best connection was an even more powerful desktop unit. Of course the ability to be mobile was a huge attraction, so text based information was optimal for use and battery life. Apps on the phone made this an easy choice. Full blown color animation and movies were still best by using desktop or gaming units.

Wallace was one of only six beta testers for the device. He was given a Series 2 device, by a separate company that hired screened users, and had applicants sign a non-disclosure agreements, and also have a security background check. Wallace was someone to be trusted, and would use the device in normal, and unusual approved tests. Wallace never asked what happened to Series One, it could have caused brain cancer but, he didn’t ask. Wallace accepted the technology, and immediately focused on the mobile text based apps, and then took the glasses on a tour through the city.

The GPS apps made navigating a breeze. It did take a few trips around the parking lot to get used to the switching focus, but after a few minutes it was very natural, and Wallace thought that even the state police would approve, so long as only the GPS was used. Connecting to social media while driving was probably not a good idea. Wallace made a few connections but didn’t tell anyone how he was connecting. Typing using the finger ring was tedious, but he was getting faster, better than his one finger hunt and peck, and the built in AI helped with auto-correct.

After a while, Wallace parked his car and went for a walk. He stopped at a sidewalk vendor and bought a latte, then strolled along the waterfront. He was scrolling through the menu choices when he approached some steps. He switched hands to grab the handrail, and the latte splashed a little though the hole in the lid. Wallace didn’t notice that the latte splash had hit his finger ring. The display blinked a few times then settled. The menu options seemed longer, then it blinked some more. Wallace walked on, but the finger ring no longer seemed to change the menus, and suddenly there were different text messages being displayed.

Wallace read with interest, then the message disappeared before he could finish reading. At first he thought some friend was texting him, but he was getting both sides of the conversation.

He was eavesdropping! The conversation disappeared as he walked away from one of the sources. Wallace looked around at the other people nearby. Someone appeared to be texting a little further ahead. It should have been impossible because he hadn’t “paired” with any device. Somehow his glasses were allowing his phone to connect to nearby Bluetooth transmissions.

In another minute or so Wallace was near enough and the text came through, he could actually scroll up to see the messages he had missed. The messages were directions to a local coffee shop that he could see directly ahead. Before he had gone too far the messages disappeared as a man crossed his path with an angry expression, and a finger jabbing at his phone.

The message came through to Wallace immediately. The man was angry with Alice and demanded that she stop seeing Stephen. Alice did not respond. Wallace could see that there was much more jabbing at the phone, and the indicator was telling him that the man, his name was Sam, was typing. It was a long paragraph, Wallace had kept walking and was soon out of range.

Was it the latte that caused this to happen? Or, did the device have a setting to piggyback on Bluetooth pairing? Wallace decided to sit on a bench and scroll through the various menus. The finger ring didn’t appear to be permanently damaged by the splash of latte. The messages had disappeared. Maybe this was just a one-time glitch, something worth a paragraph in his report to the company? He accessed the notepad through the glasses, and wrote a brief summary of his encounters, planning to expand it later.

“There was a brief flicker, and it appears that the device can pickup nearby Bluetooth based messages. It’s probably something that should be checked as a simple security update. It isn’t steady, and has disappeared, but should be checked out.” Wallace had dozens of security updates on his phone system.

Wallace thought about the potential problems of this type of security leak. Eavesdropping might be an interesting past-time for jealous partners, but the hard-core gamers that wanted this device, wouldn’t be interested in that feature. He thought the commuters would be the biggest market, checking stock prices, catching the latest news, maybe even watching music videos. It was the same activities that occur now, just with a better monitoring device. We get security notices all the time, no big deal. What reason would cause it to be intentional?

Wallace thought he would take a short train ride to the civic center, and headed to the station. While adjusting the finger ring there seemed to be a spot where the screen flickered once again. And the messages came back! Different messages kept appearing, and quickly disappearing, as more powerful signals shoved their way through. Wallace could not read them completely. There were dozens of people on the platform with their phones out, and busy jabbing fingers. Wallace caught one message, “Authorized to clean it up…” then it disappeared, replaced by a recipe for tuna salad. Then someone wanted to meet for a hotdog and beer at 5:00 pm. Finally,a cryptic message “…make it look like an accident.”

Wallace noticed the train coming, and the sign blinking for the civic center destination. He moved to the marked area where the train doors were to open. He barely felt the hand between his shoulder blades, as the train approached. Then he was flying towards the tracks.

The station was closed, it was arranged for buses to take passengers to the next station. Emergency services were still working on the tracks to clear the remains. One of the EMTs spotted the broken sunglasses, and said, “This might explain everything. I’m surprised that he could see anything with these on, they’re so dark!”

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You Are Not Supposed to Be Here!

My mother on her boyfriend’s motorcycle

So… I’m coming back from my physical therapy in Berkeley, I could take the freeway, but instead I like to take the “back way” on city streets. It’s a tangled process to climb up to the Caldecott Tunnel, two lanes merge into one, right only lanes peel off into neighborhoods. You have to choose when to be in the “right” lane in order to avoid stopping at all the lights. A novice might add ten minutes to their travel time by the wrong choice.

I am making all the right moves, legal moves, choosing the left lane at times, avoiding the right turn only lanes… I notice a motorcycle to my right. We are stopped at the light, but her lane will turn into a right only lane once we get across the intersection. Not many people use that lane so I expect that the motorcycle will cut over in front of me, so I move carefully when the light turns green. To my surprise the motorcycle stays in the right lane all the way to the point where you must turn right, but then it cuts over to my lane. Very unexpected. Very illegal!

I was planning to let the motorcycle go in front of me, now it is seven cars in front of me. In terms of the cycle of traffic lights, it is now fives minutes in front of me. In terms of “the plan”, the driver, through force of will, is not where it’s supposed to be. It’s five minutes sooner!

I thought about this, and just yesterday I was behind a slow truck. I was heading to the same tunnel and I didn’t want to breathe diesel fumes in the tunnel, so I made several legal lane changes to put myself at a distance ahead of the truck. After the tunnel there was some sort of a traffic jam that slowed my progress. I again shifted a few lanes and got myself clear, only to find that I was once again behind that diesel truck.

Temporarily I was ahead of myself by five minutes, then I was back in sync behind the truck until my freeway exit. I hit the downtown at exactly 10:15, the roads were clear, I made it to my driveway safely about ten minutes later. I wonder what I would have encountered if I was five minutes earlier? I wonder if the motorcycle made it to the destination safely? Or is she now hours ahead of herself?

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Backyard History

Flexy, 1950s

It was probably 1960, I was about ten or eleven years old. Old enough to collect rocks, I even had a geological sample as a toy. It was a 12×6 inch piece of blue cardboard, with a couple of dozen rocks glued on it, and descriptions printed beneath. Over the years more and more rocks were torn off, leaving jagged patterns of white where the rocks had been. The sample of obsideon lasted for many years. I loved the smooth green stone, glass-like.

Two houses away in my neighborhood there was an empty lot. It was a corner lot so maybe it wasn’t as attractive for speculators to build on. It was part of the level flood plain near the two creeks that were a few miles north. Nothing but Spanish cattle roamed here for years, and before that it might have been on the coastal trail for migratory Costanoan Indians.

There were four or five kids that were roughly the same age, children of the post-war generation that settled into homes after building Victory ships in the local shipyards. The empty lot was a perfect neutral meeting place where parents weren’t always looking over things.

We had cleared an area of weeds in order to use the flat ground as a playing field for our purees and cat’s eyes. Marbles! The only problem was this small rock that protruded about an inch from the surface. A couple of kicks should have dislodged it, but it stood steadfast.

Someone produced a pocket knife and we dug around the edges to loosen it. We went several inches and we discovered that the small rock was looking more like an iceberg, much larger below the ground than above. There was a moment when I thought we were looking at the top of an undiscovered future mountain. I thought maybe it was best just to break off the top and level the surface with dirt. I went home to get the sledge hammer out of my garage.

With the heavy hammer over my head, I came down hard on the left side of the peak. Perhaps hundreds of kids had tripped over that peak, but now it was going to be history. Smack! A sizable piece went flying off. It worked!

Then I examined the piece and found it was smooth, and shiny green. Obsidian! It was a giant iceberg of obsidian. A few of the other kids recognized it as well. We talked about it awhile, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the top of a granite mountain, nor was it a house sized boulder. Obsidian was generally smaller. Perhaps we could actually dig it out. We each went back to our garages to bring back tools.

After several hours of excavating, we had a good sized boulder laying in a pit. I estimated it was about the size of a large pumpkin, about 70 lbs worth. It took all of us to roll it out of the pit. I think we just set it aside, in order to fill in the pit, level it, and get on with our game of marbles.

This morning I woke with a question. “Where did it come from?”

Sixty years later I asked the question that was unasked at the time of the obsidian iceberg. In fairness, all rocks come from the dirt so I simply accepted that at the time. Later I took a college class in geology, and I learned obsidian was volcanic. There were no volcanos nearby that corner lot. Mt. Diablo was twenty miles away, but the same college class told me that Mt. Diablo was not a dormant volcano. It was once a pimple, an island in the inland sea of California. There is even a ridge of shellfish fossils near the mountain.

The nearest active volcano is Mt. Lassen in Northern California, 240 miles away! That’s a long ways to eject a boulder. i know that the last eruption of Mt. Lassen was in 1915, and that a cabin sized boulder, called ‘Hot Rock” was ejected and ended up five miles away. It was still sizzling three days later. If the obsidian came from Lassen, it was carried to that empty lot.

It’s possible that someone found it on vacation. Then brought it home in the trunk of a 1954 Plymouth, eventually cleaning the garage out by dropping it off in the lot. People do that. But I was thinking that this was a Neolithic treasure. Something that the local tribes had traded for, chipping off sharp edged tools anytime there wished. Arrowheads, spear points, skinning knives. It may have come all the way down from the Cascades in Oregon, traded from on tribe to another, incredibly valuable until it came in close contact with a culture that had iron and steel.

In the flat tidelands of San Pablo, near Wildcat creek, there was a small settlement near the Rancho San Pablo Abode. A few buildings were there, a hotel, a few saloons, the Catholic Church. The local Natives passed by, no official reservations. If they stopped, it would have been aways off to eliminate trouble, perhaps to lighten their load by discarding things that were no longer necessary.

The obsidian came from somewhere, for a time it was treasured and valued. It ended up in a neighbor where it was dug up by children. I know for a fact that is was loaded into a toy wagon, or on top of a deadly vehicle called a “Flexy”, brought to a garage, and then hit with a sledge hammer until it was in dozens of hand sized pieces. I know this because I held the hammer. And I gave the pieces to my friends..

Always follow through with a morning question.

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Nest of Teeth

This topic is one of those things that just makes you wonder. Is this the best way?

We have the phrase “Bite your tongue”, we say this to suggest that it might be best to stop talking. It makes sense because a bitten tongue is very painful and sometimes it is very difficult to speak after accidentally biting your tongue. Of course, it is almost impossible to intentionally bite your tongue, so the phrase isn’t very practical.

Since all bitten tongues are accidental, you might want to spend some time thinking about how to reduce the accidents. I tried to look up the accident rate of biting your ear. There isn’t any. There are some rates of biting other’s ears, but nothing on biting your own ears. The reason there are rates of biting your tongue is obvious. It is almost completely based upon the close proximity of tongue and teeth. In fact, the tongue is nearly completely surrounded by gnashing incisors and grinding molars. The tongue is in a nest of teeth!

This makes perfect sense if you think of the tongue only as a tool to position food for chewing and digestion. I suppose if we didn’t have a tongue we would use our fingers, but that would be unsightly at the dinner table. And we would still have a few accidentally bitten fingers. We need our fingers for other more important jobs.

This brings up the dilemma, our tongues also has other uses. Speaking and singing have brought our species into better communication. It would be safe to say that speaking led to writing, and writing led to civilization, so the tongue is possibly, (next to the brain), the most valuable organ of our existence.

(The brain is mostly safe, it has natural shock absorbers, it is almost completely enclosed in armor, the cranium. It is thoughtfully designed. The tongue, however, sleeps in a bed surrounded by knives and hammers.)

I’m writing this because I have recently been diagnosed with “geographic tongue”, where the surface of the tongue is slightly debrided, which irritates the tongue, causing it to swell slightly. I now have “Fat tongue”, which means the tongue does not sleep completely in “the nest”, and accidentally biting the tongue causes even more swelling, so it is an endless dilemma.

It would not be that important if I didn’t have to use my tongue to communicate. I’m taking this whole thing ae a lesson of sorts, I’m trying to listen more and speak less.

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The Cherry on Top

The ice cream sundae, a split banana, three scoops of ice cream, whipped cream topping, and a special cherry on top. It is a dessert like no other. In some way the cherry on top makes it special.

Have you ever had”fruit cocktail”? For some folks it is the best way to enjoy fruit. I do not have that opinion. For three different seasons I worked in a cannery owned by F&P. They canned fruit. The first season I was on the clean-up crew. I sprayed the machines, the belts, and swept the floors with live steam. I also wore a rubber suit while doing this. I had a hot steam hose in my hand, and I had two quarts of body sweat in my boots every night.

The second season I was hired to put the lids on canned peaches. I sat by a machine loaded with the lids that I maintained, sitting between a cooker of peaches in cans without lids, then my machine, and right behind me a cooker for peaches in cans with lids. Hundreds of thousands of cooked canned peaches.

I always looked at the lines of workers that sorted the peaches. As long as they had peaches on the conveyor belts, then I had to load lids in my machine. When the peaches stopped, then my day was over.

I watched the peaches get sorted with interest. Periodically a peach would come by with a spot of rot. The worker would dig into the peach with a coring knife and pop out the rot. The peach would then be tossed on a different conveyor belt. Peaches that fell on the floor would be sprayed with water and then go on that same belt. Only pristine peaches would stay on the belt heading to my cooker and lid machine.

Where did the other conveyor belt go, with the diseased and rejected peaches? On a break I followed the conveyor belt to another room in the cannery. It went into the Fruit Cocktail Room, where the rejected peaches were joined with the rejected pears, where both were chopped into bite-sized pieces, then grapes were added, and finally, nine cherry halves per can (depending on the size of the can). Then the can was filled with a syrup before going into the cooker.

Fruit cocktail was once rejected fruit, (except for the grapes and the cherries).

Later that week I made a plan to visit the fruit cocktail room to bag some samples. I headed straight for the cherry station. No one was around, so I got a paper cup and dipped into the 55 gallon barrel of cherries, making sure to include a little syrup with the full cup of cherries. As I turned down a secluded alley between the steam cookers, I took a big gulp of the paper cup. The first thing I noticed is that the syrup was nasty, tasteless water. The second thing was that the mouthful of cherries was completely tasteless, not even a shred of the expected taste of cherries. What a shock! I had to spit the half-chewed cherries into the nearest garbage can.

Somehow the cherries absorbed the syrup favor after the steam cooking, but the fruit itself had all the cherry flavor removed before being added to the can. That was a serious life lesson for me, and my opinion of “the cherry on top” changed after that.

The third season I was placed in charge of the machine that put nine half-cherries per can. The cans were empty in the machine, they were tipped to their side at the right position, and a narrow conveyor belt with a line of cherries riding on top would then be aimed at the empty can. Like a machine gun, you could hear nine half cherries hit the bottom of the can, and then the can would tip right side up, while another can behind it would be shot with another nine half-cherries. The cans would then go to the next station and receive a load of grapes before getting the rejected fruit and syrup.

My job was to keep the funnel full of cherries. I had a very heavy 55 gallon barrel of cherries to keep the funnel filled. It just so happened that I ended my time in the cannery because of the cherries. I was moving a barrel of cherries into position when I slipped slightly, and the handle of the moving dolly jabbed my right side with some force. Later that night I passed out from a swollen appendix.

The next day I made the local hospital famous for removing the largest infected appendix without having it burst. My appendix lived in a jar in the basement of the hospital for years afterwards. And after recovery, I never went back to the cannery.

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The Last Sentence in a Note

The note is consequential, not tremendously important, but at least relevant. The note was written for a reason, and it met all of the requirements. Except for the last sentence.

I have a friend who specializes in the twist of the last sentence. I need more instruction from her, but so far it appears to follow a pattern. Write a note that responds to my note, give responses to the salient points to show that you are tracking, add a few personal references to show that you are not a robot or clever app. Then, at the very last, add a sentence about something intriguing, something that you would really rather write about, but haven’t quite worked out how to introduce it. It’s masterful!

This last sentence in a note was…

“In the meantime check out Alice Neel’s brilliant exhibition at the met.”

Okay, I’m assuming “the Met” is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. And Alice Neel had an exhibition there. Hmm, so who is Alice Neel? If she was an unknown my friend would have added a short description. She didn’t. Alice Neel is a person that she assumed that I’ve known, or that I should have known. But I’m totally clueless… writer, poet, artist, sculptor painter, dead or alive. Never heard of her.

This is the “tipping point”. Do I follow up with a quick Google search, then be able to return a pithy statement on a return note? Or do I shelve it in the mental drawer of “things that I’ll get to someday”? The third possibility is that it will be a crack in my “wall of known things”. Whenever that happens I’m thrilled but also sad, because I always feel that it would have been better to know this 10, 20, 40 years ago.

Alice Neel, 1900-1984, American portrait painter.

I spent the next three days finding everything she had drawn or painted, and she painted every day of her life. It was a lot of stuff. But she found her niche quite early and found that portraits was her thing. I really loved them.

So I began to redraw the ones I liked best. I wanted to experience her creation. Thank you June, for your last sentence

Tribute to Alice Neel, Helen Merrell Lynd, 1969
Tribute to Alice Neel, The Soyer Brothers , 1973
Tribute to Alice Neel, Roberta Johnson Roensch. 1946
Tribute to Alice Neel, Abdul Rahman, 1964.
Tribute to Alice Neel, Josephine Garwood, 1946
Tribute to Alice Neel, Unknown
Alice Neel
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Gunther, of the Borderlands

Gunther, King of the Burgundian, was a Frankish leader, born in approx. 385 and died in 437. He was my 31st great grandfather,

The Roman Empire was now in the first stages of decline. It is said that the armies were less Roman and more full of mercenaries, and in general the leadership was less than exemplary. For hundreds of years the Empire relied on it’s natural borders, the Mediterranean, and the Adriatic on the West, South and East, and the two great river systems in the North, the Rhine and the Danube.

On the west side of the Rhine was the conquered territory of Gaul, rich with resources, settled towns, farms, and Legionnaires. Great Britain was also well settled, with retired Legionnaires. The border was the great river system, on the other side were barbarians, dense dark forests, and terror. Even today, the sense of foreboding that comes from the edge of a forest comes from that time. Of course people lived there, but they weren’t civilized. For hundreds of years there was a status quo.

While the barbarians were happy to trade with the “civilized’ Romans on their Western border, their Eastern borders were in flux. A continuous push of Huns from the steppes made life hard, and there was a domino effect. Sometimes the Huns pushed right on through, and came up to the Rhine and Danube.

The Frankish and Germanic tribes pleaded with the Romans to be allowed to cross the rivers to safety. Mostly they refused. Then the Romans allowed one or two tribes to come across, as a political favor for military aid, but it did not go well. They were seen and treated as barbarians.

Finally on Dec. 31, 406, thousands of barbarians crossed the Rhine with the quasi approval of Rome. Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians, Alemanni and the armies of the Pannonians, slipped across both rivers, and the Northern border of the Roman Empire vanished.

Also, about this time there was a leadership conflict, a Roman general in Britain had his men proclaim him Emperor. Several Germanic kingdoms still on the eastern side of the rivers, backed Jovinus of Britain, instead of Honorius of Rome. For a few years it looked as if Jovinus had won. King Gunther and his Burgundians were invited to the West Bank of the Rhine near Worms, but then called Borbetomagus. Worms is easier to say.

Within a few years Gunther wanted to expand Burgundy and attacked his neighbor. The Roman leadership issue changed and Jovinus was out, and the Emperor Honorius attacked and devastated the Kingdom of Burgandy. The Romans couldn’t field an army of native Legionnaires, so they hired an army of mercenaries made up of Huns.

So Gunther fled to the safety of Rome, and was killed defending his city of Borbetomagus by Huns hired by Rome. So ended my 31st great grandfather.

By the way, Jovinus and his brother Sebastianus were captured in Narbonne where they lost their heads. The heads were then sent to decorate the walls in Ravenna, where the Emperor Honorius lived. Then after a few years they were sent to Carthage, where four other heads of usurpers were already mounted. The Romans were fond of putting heads on walls.

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Krum, the Great Khan of Bulgaria (756-814

Khan Krum

Otherwise known as the Fearsome Krum, or Krum the Horrible, depending upon who you were talking to. He was born in Pliska, Bulgaria, and his father was Kardam of the Bulgars. The Bulgars may have come from Central Asia and they have appeared in Chinese texts. The Old Greater Bulgarian Empire was in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This empire fell in the 600s and the Bulgars migrated west into the Byzantine Empire occupying Thrace and parts of Macedonia. This was the Second Bulgarian Empire with many conflicts with the Byzantine Empire. The capital city was Pliska, where my 43rd great grandfather, Krum, was born.

Krum led many raids into the Byzantine Empire, slowly adding villages to the expanding Bulgar Empire. This led the Byzantine Empire to refer to him as Krum the Horrible. The Emperor decided enough was enough and led a great army all the way to Pliska, and ravaged the land. At one point killing the children of Pliska in the capital’s town square.

In response, Krum gathered troops and fought the Byzantines, decimated the army, and killed the Emperor Nikephoros. The Bulgars started referring to him as “the Fearsome“. The replacement Emperor was wounded and died a few years later. The next Emperor was also defeated and forced to become a monk.

Krum is known as a strict, but fair ruler, who brought laws to the Bulgarians and protection for the poor and elderly.

Eventually his descendants moved further west, married into Hungarian royalty, then Frankish royalty. I was happy to find him as my 43rd great grandfather because I thought his name was awesome.

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Out of Fish Sauce

This afternoon I tried to put my favorite condiment on my sandwich. No luck, none in the refrigerator, none in the pantry. I was doomed to a bland sandwich. It was my own fault. I had been purchasing the giant size bottle, where you stored it upside down so you could easily see how much was left.

Not like the old days with the narrow necked bottle that allowed the sauce to cake up the narrow opening, disguising how much was left. The art of getting the sauce to flow was to hit the bottom with the heel of the other hand, then perfect spurts would be perfectly placed. Sometimes this was tried with a full bottle, but only the “masters” of this technique could make it work. The rest of us would jam a butter knife to slide up the narrow neck and break the “log jam”, to allow the sauce to flow. Half the time half the bottle would drench the plate. Yech!

As soon as I could read, I was in confusion. Sometimes the sauce label was “Ketchup”, sometimes it was “Catsup”. I couldn’t really tell if there was a difference. Like some tribes where people were given baby food in labeled jars, I feared the contents of the sauce. Perhaps they had discovered a way to process dead cats as an ingredient, so they changed the label to “Catsup”. At least it wasn’t ground up cherubic grinning babies.

Much later I learned that Catsup came from the popular pickled fish with herbs sauce, called “ketsiap”. Wait… fish sauce? When did the fish turn into tomatoes? Apparently around the early 1800s.

How lucky for me that it wasn’t cucumbers, or yams. Catsup doesn’t have a thing to do with tomatoes, neither does ketchup. So, when the recipe changed it could been been anything…Locusts, or grasshoppers, or pickled grapes!

A little Google research suggests that Catsup is more popular in the South. I’m not sure that is true. I know soft drinks are more often called “pop” instead of “soda”.

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Who are You?

Facebook is sometimes useful because it can sometimes bring you YouTube videos that you don’t even know that you wanted to see. Okay, maybe that isn’t always useful.

Today was useful, I saw a video clip of a new talk show that had an interesting “hook”. The host of the show is a nationally known comedian, but only in a small niche. She is also somewhat famous for not being aware of television or movie talent. The premise of the show is to bring on a famous guest, but not one that is known by the host. Of course the success of the show is based upon the lack of common knowledge of the host. This is probably the first warning of something wrong.

Way back in the day, when there was only three commercial channels and one public television channel, there were a few daytime shows that were successful but with questionable concepts. One that I remember was “Queen for a Day”. The premise was to interview 5 or 6 suburban moms, who detailed a variety of problems in life. The stories were sad and unfortunate. Somehow, one woman was selected and she was given a Scarlett robe to wear, a crown (not a tiara), and a scepter. The prize she was given varied. Sometimes it was a vacuum cleaner, sometimes a washing machine, and sometimes an oven. Appliances were heavily represented.

One would have thought that “Queen for a Day” would have a bigger budget. Perhaps later it changed, but I remember even then that it didn’t take much to become a Queen.

There was another popular show called “What’s My Line?” It was about a panel that had to guess the occupation of a guess, based upon asking pointed questions. Generally the occupations were unusual. Sometimes famous people came on, but the panel had to wear blindfolds in case they recognized them.

So this new show was like the old “What’s My Line?”, except that the host was sadly unknowing. What a strange premise! Why would I care about the level of ignorance? The host wasn’t even blind folded, this famous person sat three feet from her, but she had no idea who they were.

I’m thinking of a possible new show. A show that opens it up to everyone. Have a guest show up that was just a normal individual. Have the host try to figure out who the person is. Not famous, nor have an unusual job. No one will ever be found out, but it could be fun, depending upon the questions, and the answers.

Whoops, the show is probably on now!

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Queen Nana of Iberia

Nana was the daughter of Oligotus, which could have been a corruption of Aurelius Valerius Sogus Olympianus, a Roman governor of Theodosia. Or he could have been a younger daughter of Theothorses, a Bosporan king. Either way she seems to have a Greek heritage from the area of the Bosporus.

At the greatest, the Kingdom of Bosporus ringed the Black (or Euxine) Sea, centered around the north eastern shore. Later it was also known as the Kingdom of Pontus.

Nana seems to have been a pagan who was staunchly opposed to Christianity. But then she contracted a mysterious disease, and was cured by a captive Christian slave. She immediately asked to be baptized. Her husband Miriam was a Zoroastrian from Iran. Historically they were contemporaries of Emperor Constantine who was thrilled to have another Christian on a nearby throne.

Nana and Mirian are traditionally considered to have been buried at the Samtavro convent in Mtskheta, where their tombs are still shown.

Iberia was a neighboring kingdom north of Armenia and together they are often called the Georgian kingdoms, along with Circassian and Colchis. Colchis was thought to be the place where the Golden Fleece was found, and the destination of Jason and the Argonauts. Today it is generally called the Caucasus Region.

Curiously, two areas, Iberia and Albania are better known as countries in Europe, Albania in the Balkans, and Iberia which is Spain. There is no known connection between the countries. Early Visigoths from the Steppes May have brought the word Albania to the Balkans, but Strabo seems to have used Iberia for the area that became Spain. And the Romans had changed it to Hibernian.

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On my birthday we played a game which included guessing what “Dad” would say. One question was “What irritates Dad?” The winning answer was, “Dad hates to be told what to do or think!” But that’s not entirely true. I hate being manipulated. A clear order can be ignored, dismissed, or agreed. A question posed like, “Do you want to go to the store and pick up a few things?” What am I to do with that? I haven’t been sitting there considering my desires, especially the one where I want to go to the store for something unnamed. And of course I want to be helpful… so, my answer must be yes! And I end up shopping for female sanitary items without knowing that I’ve been thinking about that for several hours.

The phrase “Do you want…” sends me into a deep personal search of my feelings, and whether or not I have been signaling my desires to those around me. Almost like when I was a child, and I was jiggling around in my chair, “Do you want to get down? Do you want to go to the bathroom?” It takes a few moments to run through the analysis, so I never respond quickly. Often I simply respond honestly, “No, I haven’t thought about that, but if you need something I’d be happy to go get it.”

The clerk at the counter asks, “Can you give me your birthdate?”, I say, “Yes, I can!” Trying to be helpful, and proving that I have the ability. Then I realize they actually want me to verbalize it. That wasn’t the question!

I’m bothered by the lazy choice of similar words. Well, they may seem similar but actually at their core they are vastly different, yet they are used as if they are interchangeable.

The first pair is “to yield” and “to surrender”. Both are often used in reference to combat. Surrender has by far the greatest use. It generally means giving up, I am ceasing my action against something. I am surrendering my arms, my army, or my nation. Often the word is accompanied by the modifier “unconditional”. Although I’m at a loss to find a surrender that had conditions, but perhaps there were a few in history. Some armies were allowed to keep their arms, some cities were allowed to vacate citizens. I’m not sure how often these were in the demands of the defeated, but more often were granted by the victors to encourage the surrender. To surrender is to truly give up, but not necessarily as a choice.

To yield is something different, to yield is a choice. Go to any traffic circle and you can see people who choose to yield and some who don’t, even though the sign tells you to yield. Yielding comes from a position of strength and thinking. You could fight on, but something has factored a different decision, so you yield. I love yielding, it isn’t done enough.

Dislike and hatred is a classic parenting mantra. You are constantly telling your kids to not “hate” something, but instead you say you “dislike” it. It’s tough to hate broccoli, or Lima beans. They are innocent victims of emotion. You are even told to hate the sin, but not the sinner. So there are some things to hate, but not as many as we verbalize.. I remember the most impactful understanding I had as a child. I was reading a Superman comic book, and Lex Luther, the arch villain, was addressing Superman, he said “I don’t hate you Superman!”. Good, he was going to slip in a much better, “ I dislike you”, his mother would have been pleased. But then Luther took a turn, “I don’t hate you, Superman, I loath you!” Wow, there is another category I had never heard of. I wondered what things I loathed? Perhaps Lima beans?

Systemic and systematic is a current favorite and misused on a regular basis. Systemic is all pervasive, worthy of completely destroying, no redemption. No matter where you turn the evil pops up, it has surrounded you, and the only option is complete eradication. This is rarely the truth or the only solution. Mote likely is that something is systematically pervasive.

You can impact the specific system. A person has cancer, you attack the cancer, defeat it, and the person lives. A nation has systematic slavery, you have a civil war to end the system of slavery. It still surfaces in sneaky ways. You attack the systems until it’s gone, but you don’t destroy the nation. Instead you realize that the nation is systemically opposed to slavery.

Looking and seeing is all about the awareness factor. Looking at something is a positive step, much better than ignoring. But if you don’t see it after looking at it then nothing is accomplished. There are too many witnesses that rest on the laurels of looking at a problem. You have to see a problem in order to fix a problem.

Listening and hearing is another issue that is the same as looking and seeing. A microphone listens, a person hears and hopefully takes action.

Speaking and talking is all about intent. Weirdly I’ve never heard a person say, “I was just speaking to myself”. Too much talk, not enough speak.

Wishing and hoping is a great line in an old song, and it even reverses the words, implying that it still makes sense. I get “hope”, it is constantly with us. Wishing is much more fuzzy. I’m not sure that wishing is helpful.

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Art Filtering

This is a 11 minute video on how you can use standard filters to get a custom effect. I have tried filtering everything.

I have filtered great photos into different great photos. I have filtered medium to bad photos into better images. I have even filtered sketches into interesting blended works. I am not a purist. I want the image that I want.

I love all the filtering programs that automatically do what took me hours to master in Photoshop. Generally these programs are automatic and you must accept the entire filtering of your image. This isn’t acceptable to me, sometimes I want only a part of the files with a specific filter effect.

I found Sketchbook, a free program that has layers like PhotoShop, and the ability to erase parts of the layer. So basically I start a file in Sketchbook and populate it with dozens of filtered layers. You can reduce the transparency of one layer then merge it down to the next layer. Or you can merge it down with darken, screen, overlay, etc. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In the end the image is closer to the idea that you want, it isn’t necessarily better than the photograph, but it stands unique. I encourage all image makers to play with the concept.

I remember going to an art festival where the booth had a sign “No PhotoShop Here”. How sad to not use a useful tool. Perhaps the owner thought this guaranteed that his/her work was of better quality. It’s true that awful images can be made with PhotoShop. Awful images can also be made with cameras.

Some people avoid filters because it may make images that “pretend” to be canvas prints. Shame on you if you use technology for fraudulent art. That does not give you an excuse to ignore some wonderful techniques. Digital Art is Art!

Seek the image that you desire!

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

No, not the 1966 classic Western movie. I’m thinking about the problems of history. I am by no means an expert on how we must understand history. I do declare my love for the subject, and I have collected an eclectic library of historical events. I do not have advanced academic degrees in history, and my written opinions will not shape the opinions of future historians. And yet, I do have opinions, and I am witness to a number of changes that are dramatic, and in some ways refreshing, and in other ways very problematic.

It is quite possible that some of the changes will become an academic standard, and history books will become completely useless, until new books are written with more accurate presentations.

There is a cultural “sea change” in our social fabric. Views that were once on the edge of social acceptance have morphed into center stage opinions. Some of this is based upon the increased concerns of “social justice” in response to events that have become important to current culture.

It is true that some of these events are the end result of many years of beliefs that are basically flawed. Beliefs that have grown from insignificant errors, that have found fertile ground in thoughts, or ideas that have major social errors.

Unfortunately, there are other problems in history that have always been there, or at least obviously apparent from the earliest written records. As historians we try to read these things in context, with the caveat that society had not developed the finer points of civilization. I disagree, I think that much of our problematic history was a societal choice, and that other more ethical choices were available, but rejected.

So now what can we do with the factual history we are left with? For me it will be a constant search for the truth. In most cases it will be a mixture of realities from different parties. The old adage of ‘history is written by the victors’ is something to consider. Another is ‘history is written by the literate at the expense of the illiterate’. Another is ‘history is written by the side that benefits the most from the narrative that is presented’.

It is difficult, but we can research most of these points. It is more difficult to research the opposing sides. In some cases the victors made considerable effort to destroy all records that existed in the defeated culture. This creates the historical problem of “omission”. Often our guesses create a higher standard of ethical positions that are not merited by the actual truth. Historians should not guess.

I’m writing this because I believe humans will always have a choice of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” And the problem is that all three are subjective and open to debate, and criticism.

One would think that “the good” is a safe bet. What could be wrong in writing about “the good”. This is probably the most dangerous area in history. There are few “good” absolutes. Some folks even say there are none! I’m not that cynical, but I do agree that universal agreement on “good” has a long way to go. Our worst historical events are based upon a disagreement upon what is best, and for who it is best.

The “bad” is actually much easier to isolate and write about accurately, even if technically “bad” is also subjective. There hasn’t been too many cultures where deceit, murder and theft were the highest societal standards. In some cases it may have been okay to treat strangers, or foreigners, as sub species, but not generally.

The “ugly” is where most reasonable histories are found. The higher standards are articulated, and the failures are documented. In general, that creates an “ugly” written account. It is very hard to be proud of the most ugly events. Even the best of the “ugly” is embarrassing, and it seems so unnecessary.

Considering that a lot of history comes from the actions of humans, we have a responsibility to modified our actions, creating more good than bad, and making the “ugly” more beautiful. That does take a stand on moral absolutes, but I’m okay with that, providing there is tremendous effort taken on both sides.

In the meantime, I try not to get trapped in the dungeon of “bad history”, or to ‘cancel our history’ because it is “ugly”. Going down that road is living with opinion makers who create narratives for their own agendas. History is living, history is exciting, and history is always surprising.

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No, not the mechanical flying kind. They are cool, but I’m thinking about the worker bees, or the mass of individuals in the ant hills. The drones maintain the structure of their societies. It’s imperative that the drones exist, even if they are sometimes sacrificed for the sake of their communities.

First, it might be useful to look at the YouTube video at the following link…

It’s a TedTalk link of Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of “Do schools kill creativity?” He doesn’t ask a question unless he already believes he has the answer. It’s a very funny, yet sad, 20 minute talk. He really believes that even the best art colleges failed at fostering creativity, and the reason has everything to do with how the schools are funded, and the strings that are attached to that funding.

I’ve dedicated 40+ years of my life to higher education and I must agree with his statements. Colleges are successful, but only if you look at completion rates, and job placements. Colleges have morphed into institutions that provide society with workers, but not necessarily educated citizens.

Our understanding of the definition of “being educated” has not kept up with the changes that our colleges have faced. Most of our classic novels mentions “going to college” for different reasons that are currently used. In fact, the first universities in Bologna, Italy and Paris, France are vastly different today than what was stated in their first charters.

Being educated for nearly a thousand years meant that you studied under a “master” teacher, well schooled in the classic disciplines. And the purpose of the education was to create citizens that appreciated art, science, history and languages , and that reflected the growth of mankind, “the rebirth of our humanity.” It is not an accident that the Renaissance came soon after the creation of universities.

Robinson makes the