Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Well, I've been tagged...

So you know what's comin'. Anyway, this one sounds fun and interesting on its face, but the grit is in the details. Mrs. Phlemmy...

(Not really her, but I think it captures her spirit excellently) over at Fatal Abstraction has tagged me to go to this site and check out the top-40 tunes of the year I turned 18, pick five of those tunes and then tell you how they effected my life.

Sounds fun and easy on the face of it, till you look at the list from 1978. Jesus, it's almost NOTHING but disco, dance drivel. So embarrassing.

So, I've devised a variation, in defense of the graduating class of 1979; A list of the five top-40 "hits" that I can hold my nose and admit to have actually liked, and also a list of the other music most of us really listened to on great "album rock" stations like KZEW, "The Zoo", back in those better, more innocent days in Ft. Worth.

~~~~The Zoo freaks live on baby!~~~~

After all that, I've got to tag five more suckers...
so live in fear.

So here we go.

1. How Deep Is Your Love, by the Bee Gees. You know, as much as I love to run down the whole disco era, I friggin' LOVE the Bee Gees. I started listening to them in England in the late 1960s, when they were the Brothers Gibb, and put out excellent hits like "Gotta Get A Message To You", and "Massachusetts". Love that early stuff. The disco/Saturday Night Fever stuff is excellent as well, but a guilty pleasure.

At the time, the rockers and disco kids were at odds, and I found myself somewhere in the middle. I mostly listened to KVIL in those days, which played all sorts of soft rock, soul and some dance music, as well as older stuff like Simon and Garfunkle. I was socially inept, having missed out on whatever stage of socialization it is where you learned how to get along with others and talk to girls, and make your way into adulthood, and the thought of dancing in public made me ill. Still does. Meanwhile, the "cool" kids were sitting in big circles out in the fields behind the high school and passing joints around, among other things.

I wasn't interested in that ether. My older sister did all the chemical experimentation in the family, hers and my share, and then some. Growing up between the two domineering personalities of dad and big sis, both insisting that their way was the only way, I found that if I wanted to be myself and not end up feeling like I was living in someone else's shadow, I had to do my own thing. I did, but it didn't make me popular. Ended up with a very small circle of friends, mostly other nerds. You've all heard it before. Anyway...

2. If I Can't Have You, by Yvonne Elliman. Again, this is a great little disco number, and another guilty pleasure. First fell for her in the movie "Jesus Christ Superstar", when she played Mary Magdalene and belted out some great songs, like "Everything's Alright" and "I Don't Know How To Love Him". My sister took me to see that flick when I was 12 (same year she took me to see The Exocist - the bitch), and the music still thrills me. Loved that stuff. Yep, I'm into show tunes. There, I said it. God, this is embarrassing.

3. Miss You, by the Rolling Stones. Now HERE's something I can be proud to tell you about, another bloody disco record, this time by the Rolling Stones! What the hell? Yep, that's a disco beat, from the drugged out old farts who gave us "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", like 15 years earlier. It's no wonder buddy, puttin' crap like that out.

Otherwise, I loved that album, "Some Girls". My favorite cut from the album was definitely "Beast of Burden", and
I even loved the hell out of "Shattered". Not to be accused of being one dimensional, the Stones even put a country song on the album. Zip down to track number six next time you have the CD out and enjoy "Far away Eyes". Tong-in-cheek, but that shit is wonderful, seriously.

4. Baby Come Back, by Player. OK, this one I don't feel guilty about at all. Excellent soft rock tune by a band that was easily akin to
folks like Atlanta Rhythm Section, Hall and Oats, or the softer stuff put out by the Pure Prairie League or the Eagles. This is the sort of stuff I spent a lot of time listenin' to back then. Lots of spin time on KVIL, along with the likes of Roger Whittaker, ABBA, Barry Manilow, and Kenny Rogers. Eeeeh, I just had a shiver run through me. Jesus, have I become a snob or what? What the hell, I love that sweet old shit. Anyway...

Saved perhaps the most humiliating for last. It's 1978, I think it was the Grammy Awards, Barbra Streisand walks out of the curtain and there's applause, and then Neil Diamond walked out on the other end of the stage, and the place went nuts. They knew what they were in for. Here it is. Check it out for yourself.

5. You Don't Bring Me Flowers, by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. I know, she's a total asshole, but come on guys, she sings her ass off. And ya gotta love Neil Diamond. How cool was he? What a great duo this was. Yep, I love the hell out of it. Hell, I even loved Yentl, but don't ask me to take her politics seriously. Friggin' singers should stick to what they do best. Why do so many of them think that the rest of us are gonna give a damn what they think about politics just because they're famous for being able to keep a tune?

So, now that you've seen what the top-40 had to offer, the question is, what were we actually listening to back in 1978? Think back...

ELO had released "Out Of The Blue" in '77, with a whole slew of excellent tunes on it like "It's Over", "Mr. Blue Sky', and "Wild West Hero", not to mention the cool instrumental "The Whale". Wore that 8-track out in the old AMC Hornet! Neil Young had released a double greatest tunes (not hits) album called "Decade" in '77. I used to put that on the stereo and let it run over and over. He also released "Comes A Time" in '78, featuring the excellent tune of the same name. The Eagles were in the midst of a dry spell/break up. They'd put out "Hotel California" in '76, and it was still in regular circulation on the album rock stations. "Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air"... Sis had to clue me in to what the hell that stuff was. I guess I missed out on somethin' there, but what the hell. You can't go back.

Pink Floyd had released "Animals" in '77, Which I love, but we were all still obsessed with "Dark Side of the Moon". "The Wall" wouldn't come out till '79. Fleetwood Mac had released their classic album "Rumours" in '77, and the radio stations were still wearin' that one out in '78. Led Zeppelin was in the midst of a long dry spell. They'd put out the mostly unsatisfying album "Presence" in "76, with the excellent track "Achilles Last Stand", but The Zoo, our local album rock station (God Bless 'em) was still giving much more air time to their earlier stuff, like favorites "Black Dog", "Whole Lotta Love", and "Stairway To Heaven". The Band released the Martin Scorsese film "The Last Waltz" in '78, with a corresponding album set. Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, et al. I still can't get enough of that stuff. Check out the DVD if you've never seen it. Pure bliss.

Journey released their excellent album "Infinity" in '78, and Boston released their less than excellent, but still heavily listened to album "Don't Look Back". Thing is, groups like Journey and Boston were great in their time, but they were increasingly being left in the dust by new, harder, edgier sounds that were sneaking into our consciousness. I'll never forget, goin to see Journey in concert in '78 and being totally blown away by their lead up band, AC-DC. Those guys, with their original singer, rocked the place so hard we were ready to go home after thirty minutes. Unbelievable, and just a taste of what was to come later.

The Sex Pistols were churnin' things up in England in '77, and came to The States for an explosive tour through the south (cheeky of them) in early '78. They played a gig in Dallas, and I think another at Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth. They didn't survive the tour though. The lead singer heralded the end of the band at their last gig by asking the audience "D'you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?", and then dropping the mike and walking off stage. Wanker! Another group of Brits, Queen, had put out "News of the World" in '77, with the transcendent duo of "We Will Rock You - We Are The Champions". I'll never forget hearing that drum beat for the first time coming out of the 8-track system in my buddy's Pinto. They put out "Jazz" in '78, with the tune "Fat Bottomed Girls". Love the hell outa that one.

The Cars
released their self titled debut album in '78, with amazing stuff like "Good Times Roll", "My Best Friends Girl", "Just What I Needed", and my personal favorite at the time, "Moving in Stereo". These guys were labeled "New Wave", but they rocked like nothing else. I guess New Wave was packaged Punk, only the musicians actually knew what the hell to do with their instruments. The Police put out their first Punk/New Wave/ Reggae record "Outlando's D'Amour" in '78, with the amazing song "Roxanne". Blondie put out "Parallel lines" in '78, with the tune "Heart of Glass".

So, there was some great shit on the radio, and blarin' through the headphones and the 8-track back in 1978. Don't let that top-40 dance crud fool ya.

So, who do I tag with this little baby? Yea, you thought I'd forgot didn't ya? Well, Mushy's a huge music guy. Should be interesting. lets go with the Goddess. I bet she's got interesting stuff to say. Lets lay it on the Hammer, when he gets back, and Kevin over at the Brown Valley . They're both always interesting. And finally , last but never least, lets tag the Shrink-wrapped screamer. Those last two should give
us the British take on things. There, we should have an interesting mix of eras and influences there.

Well, that's enough of that, by God. Sheesh, I'm outa here. I've got Zep blarin' on the speakers and it's air guitar time. You'll have to excuse me. Later.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I finally figured out how to get the pictures off my phone and on to my hard drive,

so I can show you more pictures of mom's chicken and ice cream. I know, here we go again. Hey, it's an institution OK. Ya can't argue with an institution. Actually, I went over there tonight to have Memorial Day dinner with the folks, and forgot my camera, so I had to take these shots with the razor. I touched them up a bit, but I can't believe this phone can actually take nice shots. So, if you're not familiar with the ritual, Mom cooks the chicken...

And makes sure the ice cream mix is ready when I get there. My job is to arrive on time with a big bag of ice, set the ice cream container with the mix inside into bucket, fill it with Ice and get the thing going.

You pour the ice into the thing on each side and add salt periodically. All very complicated and technical. Here's a shot of mom adding a bit of salt after I got the thing going.

You've got to watch the thing to make sure it stays full of ice, and see to it that the water doesn't overflow into the ice cream mix. Eventually the ice cream thickens and the motor winds down till it automatically shuts off. Then, take the motor off the top, pull the ice cream container out of the ice, and pop the tip.

The end result is well worth the effort. I know, you've seen it all before. That's OK, You don't need to eat any of this. VERY fattening. Really bad for ya. That's OK, I'll take your share.

Ha! You know, as much as I go on and on about this stuff, you'd think we have it all the time, but we really don't. Only about five or six times a year. There's always a lot left over. Too bad you guys couldn't be there. OK, I'll stop.

As far as the other shots off the phone are concerned...

Here's a great shot of dad and their new little yippy dog. Total lap schnauzer. The pooch ran away from the neighbors across the street and my folks took her in. The neighbors are cool with it. Not a Pug, but she's a sweetie.

Here's a shot of dad at the Chinese food place we go to every Friday. Now that I know how to use this thing, I'll be able to post all sorts of things off the cuff. Should be fun. You'll get to see actually how boring and predictable my life has become.

New classes begin tomorrow, and I'll be busy again, but no early mornings for a while. Can't wait. Love the job. A whole new batch of young minds to corrupt. It's a living. Well, I hope everyone had a great weekend. Cheers.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm finally off from school for a few days, gettin' ready for a new semester to start on Tuesday.

And it's Friday again, and I've got to go get a haircut and take dad to our regular big Friday feed. The kids I've been teaching down in Florence graduate tonight from High School, and I guess I'll try to be there. They've taken my classes for two years, half their high school life. Amazing to me that it's been that long since I started down there. Time flies.

I've been stayin' up late recently, scannin' old pictures from old times. It's been fun to go through these old shots and find stuff I haven't seen in a while. Here's a shot of me, happy as a clam, Christmas morning, Wichita Falls, Texas, about 1966, covered in pug puppies from our dogs second litter. They used to have a hell of a time keepin' me away from these babies.

Mom and Dad sold all of them eventually to people in the neighborhood, and that always made me mad. Some people didn't treat dogs the way we did, as if they were part of our family. One guy down the block bought one we named Brutus, and used to tie him up in the front yard. I'd ride my bike around and play with him when I could, but the folks there didn't like it. I have a vivid memory of riding by on the street and seeing Brutus just inside their screened-in front door. When he saw me he jumped up and started scratching at the door, trying to get to me.

We soon moved away again, to England, and mom and dad decided not to let Missy have any more pups till they were ready to keep them. When we went to England, Missy had to do a few months in the slammer, fulfilling their rules about quarantine. We'd drive over and visit her every weekend till we could finally bring her home. Here's a shot of Mom and I visiting.

You can sure see the love in my eyes. We kept her last litter , and when Missy died, in about 1971, Prissy and Wrinkles became my best friends. Here's my buddy Wrinkles, sitting on my bed in Kansas City, Missouri, where we moved to after leaving England in 1970.

They were both born in this house, in a cardboard box in the basement. Those were always wonderful times. Magical to me. Wrinkles and I used to tromp through the woods together, running through the creek that ran behind our house. He was my best buddy, at a time when I didn't have many others. There's NOTHING like the bond between a boy and his dog, even if the dog isn't a breed that people would associate with movies like Lassy or Old Yeller.

I'll never forget one day in Missouri, towards afternoon, we were standing out on the porch overlooking our back yard. The yard was huge, with about twelve trees on it, the grass stretching down to the creek and the woods beyond. Missy and her to pups were there, when all of a sudden a pack of dogs came running out of the woods and into our yard. At least a few of them were German Sheppards and there were a few other big dogs. Before we could stop them, the three of these little dogs took out after this pack of bug bruisers, and to our amazement and amusement, they ran those mutts out of the yard and down the creek, before trotting back, a look of happy satisfaction on all their little faces.

Both Wrinkles and Prissy died in the early 1980s, and it was ten years before the grief would allow us to think seriously about going out and getting another Pug. Finally, around 1990, dad and I took a trip to the east side of Arlington, to check out a huge flea market called Traders Village. I'd been there many times with friends, and had always seen lots of people selling golf clubs. I told dad he needed to check them out (he was a huge golfer back then). Never had I seen one pug there for sale. To my amazement we got there and found several people selling Pug puppies. It was like the stars had aligned there just for us.

We looked through several litters in several places, and dad picked one out while I went to the ATM to get the money. By the time I returned he'd put that first one down and picked out another, who we eventually named Rascal. Here's an early shot of Dad and Rascal in out back yard in Ft. Worth.

That's a golf ball he's playin' with. Our cat, Charley, can be seen surveying the situation, in the garden right in front of the Bike tire. Eventually these two became fast friends, and would lay around the house or yard chewing on one another playfully.

Most of this relationship developed while I was a way on ships. I'd come home and Rascal would have grown bigger, and the play time between he and Charley would have grown more hilarious.

Rascal was really dad's dog while I was away, and we think that their relationship, and the daily walks with both the dog and cat, helped my dad get over a jolt of open heart surgery that he'd had just before we got the dog. That's right, the cat would go on walks with them. People in the neighborhood were always amazed to see this old man, his dog on a leash, and a yellow cat following along. We've got it on video. One of these days I'll have it converted to digital and post it.

Eventually I stoped going out on the ships, and Raz became more my dog, as I spent more and more time playing with him. He was a great friend. Here's a shot ow us playing with his squeaky toy. He's trying to get it from me and I'm trying not to lose an eye as he comes at me with those paws. Fun times.

Anyway, inevitably, Rascal got older as time went by, and his health declined. We eventually realized that he was going deaf, and was slowly loosing the use of his back legs. I resisted the inevitable, wanting to try to get him some of those wheels that you see dogs using, but mom and dad made the call. It was time.

I knew from the memories of handing Wrinkles off to a vet, and the look on his face, watching me as he was walked away, that this time I'd hold Raz myself while these strangers gave him the shot. He was old and arthritic by then, but as he slipped away, all the tension in his body was lifted from him and he was the same old boy that he'd been years before. I stood there for a while, talking to him and petting him, and then mom and I walked away. I didn't erupt into tears till we were driving back in the car. I can't imagine a greater grief, probably because I still have both my parents with me.

I've got a house full of cats now, picked up while I lived in the cliff dwellings (apartments) before buying this house. I wake up on a bed full of pooties every day.

Love them to death, but there's nothing like the love of a dog. I'll have one again some day, and it'll be another pug. Part of me wants a big dog, but I think you need a big yard to really give a dog like that the life it deserves. Maybe one day I'll build a place out on my property, seventeen acres, and turn into one of those old guys with a huge pack of critters. Can't imagine a better way to go.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I went ahead and got an upgrade at FlickR, and I'm uploading more pictures and sets there...

So, If you enjoy them, go over and check them out. I'll be uploading a lot more shots from the days when I was floating around with the navy, as I cull and scan them. Hope you dig them. Here's a taste.

This was taken a few days after the Gulf War ended, 1991, just before we boarded a C-2 transport to fly to Fijaira, and then on to Diego Garcia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and back to the states. Getting launched off the carrier was a huge blast, as you might imagine, but that plane was gut wrenching. Was VERY glad to get off it.

Here's a nice bach shot, Rotnest Island, Western Australia. You'd think I was payin' that woman to pose there. Beutiful, cool, clear water. If you EVER get the chance, take it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another little musical interlude.

Got out of class last night at about 8:30PM and got in the car to drive home. Started rollin' out of the parking lot and the CD player kicked in with Dogs, from Animals, and I was hit by a shot of realization of what I was missing over in Hotlanta. "That son of a bitch", I grumbled to myself, and repeated it a few more times as I drove home and thought about it a bit more.

So I went home to draft a final exam, and ended up surfin' through about %90 of the latest Roger Waters concert on YouTube. It's 3am now, the exam is mostly done and I need to clear my head, so here's some Jethro Tull for ya. Here's hopin' ol' Mushy had a great time, and that his drunk ass didn't get rolled on the way through the parking lot after the gig. I'm betting good money he got "thick as a brick" before the night was over.

And while were here, why the hell not pull out the big guns?

Shit, I thought they were forced to take all the Zep off YouTube? Cool! Oh well, Fuck it, and fuck Roger Waters for not comin' to Texas, or at least closer that Atlanta or fuckin' Mexico City with this latest show. Oh well, there'll be another day. Maybe next time he tours he won't be so pissed at the president and decide to take it out on us like this, the prick.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another little musical interlude.

It's after 2am. I'm up averaging grades, surfin' YouTube for tunes, and I find this awesome bit of bliss. Dave Mathews and Warren Haynes doing a great old Neil Young tune called Cortez The Killer. You'd better crank this one. Enjoy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not much to say on this Friday.

Gettin' ready to go over to Temple to get dad, to take him to our regular feed. All of us went down to Austin yesterday to eat at Papasito's, so this will be our second big feed in as many days. Probably take him to the drivin' range after, and let him give me some tips.

been stayin' up late recently scannin' old pictures and storin' then away. Here's an old one to give you somethin' to look at.

That's my great grandfather on the far left. He's the guy who came to Texas from Alabama after the Civil War. The others are his sons and daughters. My grandfather is the guy, fourth from the right, with his hat off. This old man W.S.S., was a Bastard and a half, or at least that's the story my dad tells me. He'd come to Texas in the 1870s and made good money, somehow, so that when this picture was taken he was a big land owner with lots of sharecroppers working his property. When his first wife died (my great grandmother), he married another woman. When he died, she was set up to get all his property. She sold it all and took the cash to California. My Grandfather got $200. He could have taken care of everyone, but in stead he treated them like crap and they all ended up becoming sharecroppers. He's buried in a cemetery in Salado, next to his first wife, but none of the other family is buried with him. So here's how my dad grew up...

Poor as hell, picking cotton on land my Grandfather farmed for another man (Dad is the kid in the middle). My Grandfather didn't have his own place till my dad started to send his salary home from the Army, so they could start making payments. Thank God for the Second World War, is all I can say, and the opportunities it brought to guys like my dad to build a better life.

Update: Talked to dad on the way to the feed last night. He confirmed that I'd gotten a figure wrong. He said that his folks had gotten $500 from granddad Wilson's estate after his death. His dad and uncles had worked their fathers land for years as sharecroppers, and thought they'd get a share of the land when he died. The second wife liquidated the property, shared out the money to the family, and then took the lions share of it and split to California. Dad said he remembered seeing his father crying over the issue after the fact, and his mom consoling him, telling him that $500 was better than $400. So my Grandfather went to work as a 'cropper for a man named Holland, at a place called Summers Mill, which is where my father grew up. It's a beautiful place. One of these days I'll go over and take pictures of it and show them to you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brace yourself, I finally went out and got a scanner.

So now I can post a shit load of cool pictures from to old days, when I traveled a lot with that old black, easy to tote, slip in yer pocket and forget, Olympus stylus. Damn, I loved that camera.

First, here's a cool old shot of a Deer camp in Texas the 1920s.

My great grandfather is in this shot somewhere, maybe the guy that's looking at the camera, behind the guy that's directly in line with the tree trunk on the left. Dig those leggings on the guy in front. Cool! Also note the two Black guys brought along to do all the cooking and cleaning, and skinning the deer. Obviously, a different time. Someone was lynched about every 2 1/2 days in America in the 1920s, making sure that White privilege like this was maintained. The history teacher in me can't help but see this in the picture, but the outdoorsman in me loves the shot for the feelings of camaraderie that are evident. Different times, but some things don't change. The woods still bring my buddies together for great times.

Remember the post a while back about the trip to Europe in 1970? Well....

Here's a few shots of the tour to Pompeii. This place blew my mind. An actual Roman city, buried by a volcano 2000 years ago, and then uncovered so that it's secrets could be revealed.

And here are a few pictures from 1990, when I got back to Pompeii on the first teaching gig with the navy.

I was on the USS Thorn, a destroyer parked in the bay of Naples. I only had 4 1/2 weeks to teach a semester, so I had to teach every day but Sunday. The first Sunday that came along, I became a tour guide, taking my room mates to see the stuff I remembered from before.

Here's the shot of me, standing in front of the statue I talked about in that other post. I'd seen this statue of an archer, I think Diana, when I was a kid. It was quite cool to find it again. Later, on another Sunday, I took them to the other famous city buried by Vesuvius in 79AD, called Herculaneum.

Here's a shot of me standing on the road going down into the part of the city that is exposed. If you get a chance to go, Herculaneum, which is under the modern city of Herculano, is much easier to see than Pompeii. It's much smaller, and you can easily see it all in an afternoon.

One of the last tours we did on that trip was to Rome for a huge audience with the Pope, John Pail 2. He spoke for an hour or so, and then walked up and down the isles to let people get close to him. I got close enough to take this shot.

I always liked this guy. He and Reagan and Thatcher were the team that drove the Soviet Union into the dirt, and ended the repression in Eastern Europe. The Wall had only fallen 6 months earlier, so it was a heady time. After the audience, we walked over through the Forum, and over to the Colosseum, only to find it closed (always closed on Wednesdays).

I found out later that if you wanted to get in to the Colosseum, you had to take the regular tour to Rome. It takes you everywhere for 10 minutes, and then leaves you off in the Forum, so you can walk through it and then visit the Colosseum. I remembered that on later trips, and acted as a tour guide for the guys on those occasions. Love the hell out of this place. Really thrills me to be there. I've been very lucky to get to go back so many times.

After I got back from that first trip, in the spring of 1990, I went on a canoe trip to the Buffalo National River. Here's a shot from that trip of me runnin' one of the best stretches of rapids on that river, affectionately called Hells Half Acre.

That's me in the back, steerin'. Thing is, the water was so high that spring, the rocks were mostly covered up. In earlier years, and with lower water levels, the current would have been taking us into the rock that the guy was standing on to take this picture. I used to have dreams about that rock. Nightmares. Very scary when I was just starting out. By this time I was a pro, and this kid had begged me to let him sit in my front seat, knowing that I knew what I was doing and probably wouldn't get him wet. I'm still pretty good at keepin' folks dry, but shit does happen. Huge fun. Beautiful days.

Here's a similar shot from about '93, taken in the same rapids, only with lower water, with the rocks exposed.

I think I'm sayin' somethin' like "Yeeeee Hawwww!" The rapids are caused by a few rock shelves that stretch across the river, like steps in a set of stairs. The river falls over them, and if the water isn't high enough, your ass will get stuck, turn sideways, and fill with water... and it's COLD water. Happened to me the very first time I floated the river. Was in an aluminium canoe, and it was raining. Can't think of a time that was more fun.

We got stuck and filled with water and had to drag the canoe to the bank and bail. Scared the piss out of me at the time, but I'd do anything to get a chance to go back and do it again. Nothing like the first time. The older guy in the front above was also supposed to stay dry on the trip, but it didn't work out for him. Later on we hit a tree trunk in the river head on. I stayed in the boat and kept it steady as we slid up on the trunk, but this guy lost his balance and slid ass over heals backwards into the water. When he came up out of the water and looked at me, still in my seat, I asked him "What the hell are you doin?" Good times.

After I went on another cruise, back to the Mediterranean, I came home and in October I went on a backpacking trip to Devil's Den state park in Arkansas.

Damn, I was skinny back then. Lots of time on a stair machine and navy food (not that that's a bad thing), and no snacking for month's at a time. I should go back to that diet.

Well, That's enough for now. More to come later. It's 330 and I have to get up to go to work at 630. Be seein' ya. Hope you enjoyed em.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Got a surprising email today.

An old friend of mine, Al Witt just had a bad scare. His son was in a bad accident about a week ago, but it turns out he wasn't seriously hurt, or I don't think he was at this point. What a horrific story! Too bad for the other guy and his family. Your heart goes out to them all. I've known Al off and on for 27 years, and even though we're not really close friends, we've been through a lot of good times together.

As I think I've said before, when I was starting out in college, at the South Campus of Tarrant County Community College (now Tarrant County College), I took an intramural PE class called Camping and Canoing. I loved it from the beginning, having never done anything like that before, and Al was one of the people I met there. He was older, in his mid 20s, and had been through the class several years before me. When I was there, he was basically tagging along and helping the coach teach the kids. This is a role I took up years later, after I'd gone through the class a few times and grown a bit older. That coach managed to gather several of us guys, sort of surrogate sons, who continued to show up and help him run the class for years, until he retired a few years ago.

At some point shortly after I met him, Al met a girl on one of the canoe trips and things got serious. They got married and she gave him a son. The marriage didn't last though, so before long he was single again, and bringing girlfriends on the trips. To my younger eyes he was a very cool guy. He'd spent a few years in the Air Force in the mid-to-late 70s, and was then working as a ground crewman for the Bass Family, taking care of their private aircraft. Later, apparently thinking well of him, they put him through flight school, and when I came back to the canoe trips years later, after I'd finished my Masters, he was piloting their private planes, flying them all over the world and having a great time.

I never heard much about his private life, and his son, until a little later. They were having all the typical issues that seem to arise from divorce. The boy was screwing up in school, and Al was trying to get more time with him from his ex. When we met up on canoe trips, he always wowed us with stories about the places he'd been, flying the Bass family to and from exotic vacations and business trips. He told me once that he'd seen Pink Floyd in Venice, sitting in a gondola with a lady and a bottle of wine. Another time, the Basses were going to Alaska on vacation. Al loaded his canoe on the plane (he's always had the coolest gear), and while the family was vacationing in some resort, he was being flown into the deep woods by a bush pilot and paddling out again.

Here's a shot of him, on the left, taken from the Goat Trail, or Big Bluff, overlooking the Buffalo National River. These bluffs are the highest points on the Ozarks, and a trip up from the river is a regular hike on that canoe trip.

This was taken in 2004, on one of the last school sponsored trips we were all able to go on. The guy on the right is another great friend of mine, probably my best friend. We met on one of these canoe trips in about '89, when I had returned after school and before I'd started teaching. We hit it off and have been best friends ever since. If you click over to the Flickr site on the left, you can see more of these shots from the Buffalo, and some of the shots of us rafting the Colorado River with his wife and a bunch of other folks.

Here's what it looks like looking down from about midway up the trail. The coach is the guy on the left, Al on the right, and the kid in the middle is the coach's son.

We've all watched this kid grow up, and he's a great guy. One year early on, when I was taking the class and he was about 10, he rode up to the Buffalo from Ft. Worth on the hump in the middle of the back seat of my '79 Firebird . We laugh about that to this day. Well, I laugh. I don't know if he remembers it as fondly. He knew I'd have the best music, so he did what he had to do. It was ether my car and that hump, listening to The Wall over and over again and Led Zeppelin full blast on the 8-Track, or some whiny country music in his dad's cool old Bronco.

Anyway, as far as I see things, Al has always been a real man's man. Lots of confidence. Lots of girlfriends. A cool job. Lots of cool gear, and a great life in the outdoors. I always used to watch him when I was younger, wondering if I'd ever be able to measure up to his example. I do that to myself a lot, latching on to older guys who seem to be cool somehow, or who seem to have figured something out, trying to learn or absorb some kind of knowledge about who I should be, or how to live my life. You ever see a kid without a dad, attaching himself to what seems like a happy family in a playground? What I can I say.

Don't know why I've spent my life doing that, but I'm mostly over it now. I've learned to be a lot more comfortable in my own skin in the last 15 years or so, to trust my own feelings about a lot of things. I guess I grew up a bit and found a way to be myself, and feel good about it. When you try to win some sort of approval from enough people, many of whom then turn out to be assholes, I guess you learn to appreciate who you are and the things that made you an individual. If people have a problem with who I've turned out to be, that's perfectly fine. I say live and let live, or fuck 'em if they don't like it.

Back in the late '80s, I used to look up at planes that were passing by, heading to or from DFW airport, and wonder what the folks on those planes were doing and where they were going. My life seemed to be on hold, and there didn't seem to be any odds of that changing. Then Central Texas College called, responding to a resume I'd sent them, and the next thing I knew I was being flown to Naples, Italy to start my first teaching gig on a Navy ship. After four years of those gigs, and a lot of exotic and exciting times, I stopped wondering about those airplane passengers. I knew all too well what they were going through. I remember distinctly sitting in my parents back yard in Ft. Worth in about 1993, seeing one of those planes and noticing that I didn't have that longing any more. In stead, I was thinking "You poor bastards. How much longer are you gonna be stuck on that thing?"

When I could, I always tried to schedule my teaching gigs between canoe trips in the spring and summer (ya gotta have your priorities). So, for a time, when Al and I managed to meet up on trips now and then, we'd always compare stories. His were always cool, but so were mine back then. It was fun, and we both always got a good kick out of impressing the young kids who were taking the class. We'd put some rookie in the front seat and make sure they had fun, and got a good ride in the rapids. Smooth operator that he is, somehow Al always managed to get some hot babe in his front seat. Meanwhile I always seemed to get assigned some kid or another, sometimes an older person, or , on one occasion, a girl who'd apparently just taken a Woman's Studies class and didn't think there was anything a man could teach her. Again, what can you do? I've always been happy if they just put the paddle in the water now and then and didn't grab a tree limb just before we went through a rapid. Hands and feet in the boat, if you please.

Eventually I stopped going out on the ships, and started working down here on the base. The canoe trips would come along a few times a year, but Al and I seemed to get together on fewer and fewer occasions. Our schedules always seemed to conflict. Of course, as we all got older, we all spent more and more time on our careers and families. Eventually, inevitably, the coach retired from teaching the class, and the old convenient access to the colleges canoes and gear went away. Most of us have our own gear now, but still the trips have became more infrequent. We saw each other last year for a spring time trip that was a lot of fun. Al was there, organizing the trip, and he had a new lady friend tagging along. Very nice, but the word was that his son was still screwin' around. So I was surprised to read the attached article, about the accident, and learn that the boy, now a man, had gotten a job driving big rigs.

Earlier this year there were rumors of an April trip to the Buffalo that Al that tried to schedule, but the weather didn't cooperate. Then there was an email from the coach a few weeks ago saying that the annual father/son trip scheduled for this summer had been called off. The old coach has had to go in to have back surgery, and he can't be paddling and twisting in a canoe so soon after that. Now I'm sitting here getting ancy, looking at 5 days off coming up over this next Memorial Day weekend. My buddy and I are thinkin' were gonna try to go, and ask Al and any of the old regulars if they want to make it like old times. We'll see what happens.

The times I shared with these folks have been some of the happiest in my life. They're like my family, and like most families we seem to have drifted over the years. Here's hopin' that we can coordinate our various schedules and get a trip goin', and that there's about 15 inches of air under the Ponca bridge when we get there. Anyway, anybody who thinks they might want to try it out, you're welcome to join us (that's if the weather is right and the trip actually happens). It's a huge load of fun, and not too dangerous the way we do it. Anyway, If we go, I'll bring back more cool pictures and share them with ya. If you want to go on your own, check out this site. These folks will take care of everything you need, for a price. They'll tell you about all the official hiking trails and scenic points in the area. Go to their site and click on "Things To Do" and it'll direct you to all the best trails and sights. This site also has great shots of the trails and river sites.

Here's a parting shot of me, leaning on a buzzard roost on the Goat Trail, a few days into a 3 day river funk, knee pads to cushion the aging joints in the rapids, when you have to brace yourself on your knees, and one of my favorite t-shirts. Nice view, eh?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oooooo, this is cool.

Cats Eye nebula, 3000 light-years from earth. This is what it looks like when a star explodes. Click to enlarge it.

Inside stuff from the History gig: Why the biz is getting more superficial, and maybe why the kids seem to be getting more illiterate all the time.

An old friend of mine from Grad School days recently sent me an email pointing out an article in the New Republic, talking about how the study of military history is loosing ground these days. This is something that we've seen coming on for a while, knowing as we do that, for years, decades, the schools have been pushing social history over just about everything else. Women's studies programs don't usually produce long tracts on the use of the English longbow at Crecy. The article tried to look for a cause:

How can we explain the academy's odd neglect? One frequently mentioned reason is that few contemporary historians have any personal experience of the military. Today, a historian has to be in his mid-fifties (and male) ever to have faced the possibility of the draft, and most American historians come from the privileged strata of society that managed to avoid military service during Vietnam. But this answer doesn't really work. Historians routinely teach and write about a great many subjects absent from their own experience: slavery, plague, feudalism, industrial labor, human sacrifice. Why should war be different?

Another frequently given reason is that historians tend heavily toward pacifism, and this is probably true to some extent. For one thing, repeated surveys have shown that historians' political beliefs skew considerably to the left of the general electorate's. And, just this winter, the membership of the American Historical Association passed, by a three-to-one margin, a resolution urging historians "to do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion." But this explanation, too, is unsatisfactory, since historians routinely write and teach about many phenomena they detest.

A more important reason, I would argue, can be found in the development of the modern social sciences. As sociologists like Hans Joas and Michael Mann have observed, the origins of these sciences lie in liberal, Enlightenment-era thinking that dismissed war as primitive, irrational, and alien to modern civilization. Canonical thinkers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as Montesquieu and Benjamin Constant, believed fervently that, as human societies grew more rational, and as commerce bound nations closer together, war would disappear. "We have reached the age of commerce, which must necessarily replace the age of war," Constant wrote in 1813.

When I was an undergrad at UTA, back in the early 1980s, I signed up for a class on The Second World War. When I signed up, I thought I'd be spending my time looking at why the war happened, relating it back to World War One, and then getting insights on the war itself that I couldn't get from popular history. I was disappointed when the professor walked in the first day and told the class that we wouldn't be talking about battles and strategies. Several students openly expressed their relief, and I sat there wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into.

We spent the next 16 weeks looking at how the war had effected Women and various minority groups, and looking at how horrible the allied bombing was on German and Japanese civilians, and other such liberal drivel. I never took a class from that dude again (He now heads the History program at a big college in Arkansas). That was the standard situation back then. Most of my profs back then were New Left liberals who'd done their Grad school work in the '60s and early '70s, and whose attitudes were dictated by those times. Most of them hated presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, and Nixon, and loved FDR and Kennedy, and couched their lectures to impart those attitudes to their students. It seemed at the time that the study of history was basically designed to instill a huge guilt trip in the mostly white, middle class student body. It was amazing that I was able to wade through all that crud and eventually graduate.

I continued to read about the things that interested me after college, and when I went to grad school, I found that there was a much better environment. Still, not a lot of military topics came up, but I was used to it by then. I read lots of social history, but also some interesting stuff on other conventional topics. I was amazed, and originally horrified, at the number of people in my classes who, when asked by the prof, wanted to write their semester papers on religious topics. I walked out of my first grad school seminar lecture thinking I'd mistakenly signed up to a seminary school. Funny though, by the end of the semester, most of those folks had shifted their topics to more conventional things, on the margins of their original themes, and I was feeling a lot more at home. It turned out to be a huge amount of fun, and a time I miss sometimes. I think my thesis (as half assed as it was), was about the only one I was hearing about at the time that had any military aspect to it.

I still enjoy reading military history from time to time, and watch the History channel whenever they're not going on and on about UFOs, Bigfoot, and the da Vinci Code. There are some very interesting folks out there doing interesting things in Military history. One guy that I like a lot is Victor Davis Hanson, who tends to look at military history in the classical era (ancient Greece) and project it's lessons forward to our own time. I've always said that if we can't learn something that informs us about our own times, the study of History is wasted.

Another guy that I think a lot of is John Keegan. I read a book of his back in grad school, called Faces of Battle, that blew me away. He writes in a way that brings the history to life, which most history writers can't do. He also wrote maybe the definitive history of WW2, which I also have. Excellent stuff, if you're into it. There's a lot of this sort of stuff out there. As the article states, there's no shortage of popular history on military topics, but if scholars are staying away from it, and not looking at the lessons of the past, how will that effect the next generations ability to make the decisions they need to make in the world? I mean, if we're gonna be in the middle of everyone's shit, we should probably study plumbing, right?


And here's another interesting thing to know. A buddy of mine who teaches at Austin Community College, tells us that there is a move on down there to "update" all the social sciences, to make them more interesting to Black and Latino students, who apparently are not passing ACC or UT history classes at the same rate as White students. The full time profs are supposedly horrified, but the administrative pols are determined to do it. Any institution that gets government money will use the new books and curricula. My buddy points out that they don't have too many minority students at ACC, so they are very sensitive to charges that they are not teaching courses that these students can pass. But we have a huge number of minority students at CTC and particularly on Ft. Hood, due to the army, and they do as well as anyone else.

The only problems I have are a few Asians, Latinos, and a few others who have issues some with the Kings English. Hell, most of my students, regardless of ethnicity, need to have a few longer words explained to them. Shit, that's my job. I'm there to challenge them and teach them. Most of them figure out a way to make it. I had a Korean student this time, wife of a soldier, who agonised over words on the exams and needed to get a Korean language history book to help her study. She worked her ass off, and used to go into fits when she made anything less than a perfect grade. She took both of my history classes at the same time, and made an A in both.

So, when I hear how hard it is for people to make a decent grade, and they were born here and speak the language fluently, I really don't have an easy time working up a lot of sympathy. The people who came here from somewhere else, work their asses off, and end up being you best students, those are the students I live for. They make you feel like you're doing a good job. It seems like the dumbing down that they've been seeing at the lower levels (like standardized testing in grade school) is finally spreading to the colleges.

Well, I won't stop talking about dead White guys. I think we owe them a lot, and we owe these kids a decent education. They can send me whatever book they want, but they can't control what I talk about in class. Eventually they'll force us to adopt standardized pretests and post tests, to test whether or not we are teaching the correct curriculum. They already want us to do this, allowing us to make them out ourselves, but most of us ignore it. So, I'll keep taking two and a half weeks to cover the Second World War, with pictures of planes and tanks included, and at least my students will know a thing or two in the end.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Jesus, I've been tagged again.

Usually I find these things a bit silly, girlish, like something silly teenage girls do in class when they're supposed to be sitting quietly while I fucking lecture! Ok, I needed that release. It's been a long day.

Anyway, old Mushy has tagged me to lay it all out and tell everyone how I keep this girlish figure. What are my favorite places to eat? I'm thinking... sitting in front of the computer, sitting on the couch, laying on the bed? Ok, not what he means.

What are my five favorite restaurants? And there are rules? Shit, there's always rules.

First, link to the dude that tagged you, and show a goofy assed picture of him again, just to fuck with his head. Covered. Ain't he purdy?

SUCH a whore!

Anyway, list the five best places you like to eat, then tag five more chumps. Hehehehehe! I'm feeling naughty.

Here we go...

1. Ok, OBVIOUSLY, my favorite place to eat is, and has been for 46 years, my mom's house. Best restaurant in town, whatever town we were livin' in at the time. You've all seen the fried chicken and peach ice cream posts, so I don't think I even need to go there. But here's a few pictures, just to set the mood...

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Yummy.

That's right, its GOOOOOOD. How the hell do you think I got this way? I'm not a fat hairy bastard for nothing.

Fried chicken and Ice cream are her most famous creations, but other famous dishes from moms place include; Spaghetti, chili with beans, chicken enchiladas, steak and french fries, and when she's takin' it easy, she whips up a tamale casserole, or chili dogs. Mmmm, Mmmm. Oh shit, and did I tell ya that she makes the best scrambled eggs, mixing cream cheese in the eggs as she's whipping them. Damn! Ok, I'm getting dizzy.

She also surprises me some times with a dozen or so little pigs in a blanket. She takes a roll of Pillsbury croissants, cuts each croissant triangle in half, and rolls them over Jimmy Dean, hot, precooked sausages, also cut in half. Just out of the oven (15 minutes at 375), there isn't anything better.

2. Hmmm, my next choice is probably Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, in Temple. This is where my dad and I will be eating again tonight, as we do every Friday night. The folks there are great to dad. When he hobbles in they sit him down and rush off to get his regular plate of fried shrimp and red sauce, even while I'm still parkin' my car. I tip them well, and have grown to love their food. It's a buffet, and as I've found, the food is much better if you show up in a busy time when the food is fresh and hot. We've been going to this place for decades, and it's always been the place we went with my cousins and aunts. Thing is, I really didn't start loving their food till dad and I started going. They do amazing things with General Tso's chicken, which is my favorite thing to eat, outside mom's house. They also make a wonderful shrimp fried rice, with big fat shrimp and eggs and veggies. I hate it when a Chinese food place scrimps on the shrimp, giving you pissy little salad shrimp in the rice. What the fuck is the point of that? You can't even taste the bastards.

3. About once a month, the folks and sis and I pile into the folks big boat, the Grand Marquis, and roll down to Austin to enjoy a gluttonous feed at the local Pappasito's Cantina. Excellent Mexican food, specializing in chicken or beef fajitas, and more succulent shrimp (you're beginning to notice a pattern?). They make great queso dip, with ground beef mixed in it, and their own fresh chips and picante sauce. We usually go through about two bowls of chips before the main meal gets there. The best thing they make, In our opinion, is their Brochette shrimp. These little baby's are split down the middle, stuffed with cheese and a wedge of jalapeno pepper, wrapped in bacon, slathered in a mixture of white wine and butter, covered in a mixture of various spices, and then grilled. When they arrive on a hot plate, still sizzling, they give you a little bowl of melted and whipped butter, mixed with white wine, and a few other things, to dip the shrimp in. I tell ya, they are about the best thing in the world, for those moments when your mouth is making sweet love to them. Try them some time. Remember to get the butter dip. They're not the same without it. I usually order the fajita enchiladas as my main meal, and then end up taking about half of it home. Total gluttony.

4. Ok, this one is complicated, because it's actually two places. Back a few years ago one of the secretaries at work came in and told me there was a new Chinese place in Copperas Cove, west of the base. That's usually all I need to hear. I go there and order my usual, and I can tell by the way they make the Gen. Tso's and rice whether they're any good or not. This place threw me for a loop. Totally unexpected. The flavor of the rice reminded me of the rice I'd eaten in Hong Kong and Kowloon ten or twelve years ago, when I was teaching on the ships. I'd made a point to take a train into the interior to check out the places where the local folks eat. This new restaurant was called the Beijing Cafe.

It turns out that unlike every other Chinese food place around here, including Dynasty in Temple, the cooks at Beijing are actually Chinese! They use the authentic spices and the food has the same flavor that I'd grown to love overseas. Well, I went back regularly until about six months ago, when I noticed a few personnel changes. It turns out that the original Chinese cook/owner had sold out to a new set of Chinese cooks/owners. The food was basically the same, so I went back to grazing without much interruption, though I wondered what had happened to the old folks.

Then, about a month ago, I noticed that the old wing place by my local Killeen McDos lube joint had turned into a new Chinese food place. I'm thinkin' "Jesus, not another Chinese place!?!" There's got to be ten or twelve of these places in town, and most of them are half assed. I resisted for a few weeks, but finally decided to swing by for lunch and check it out. Imagine my glee when I walked in and found the old waitress and cook from Beijing had started a new restaurant. This time it's closer to the house, and the food is even cheaper. before the waitress had run the cash register and handled the call-in orders (speaks good English), but this time she's a full partner. I've been back one more time, and it looks like I won't have to drive the extra fifteen minutes to Cove anymore for good vittles. Business is business.

5. This one is a real favorite. Outside Little Rock Arkansas, heading southwest, just off exit 118 from I-30, there's a 100 foot long wonderland of deep fried and baked southern delight called Brown's Country Store. That's right, they have a 100 foot long buffet, filled with everything you could imagine in southern cuisine. My routine involves three trips, and three plates; salad plate, dinner plate, and dessert plate. It's a sight to behold, I wanna tell ya. This little stop on the road back from Arkansas has a special place in my heart.

Back when I was a kid, just starting college, I took an intramural PE class called Camping and Canoeing at the local community college. I found a world that I'd never known before, and friends that I still hang with to this day. We'd go on a big canoe trip to the Buffalo National River in the Ozarks, and spend three days living like kings and queens on the river. I keeps going on the trips till my school work and other things got in the way. I failed to go back for a few years while I finished my BA and spent two years getting my Masters in History. After finishing, I decided to go back and see if they were still teaching that canoeing class. Sure enough they were, and they were happy to have me tag along and help teach the new kids a thing or two.

Thing is, the trips had changed in those four years that I was away. The tents and canoes were a bit nicer, and the canoe trailers were a bit sturdier. We had a hell of a time, and I met another bunch of folks that I'm still friends with today. Then, on the return trip from the Ozarks, the coach made a left turn on I-40. I was thinkin' "what the hell?" Turns out we rolled a little ways back to the outskirts of Little Rock, slid down to I-30 west, and then 15 or 20 minutes later we were exiting into paradise. If you ever get the chance, give it a whirl. It's not health food, so don't get yer panties in a twist when your cholesterol level jumps a bit after the trip. Hell, you've gotta die of somethin'. Might as well have a smile on your face.

So, who to tag? I'm thinkin' Phlemmy, Becky, Kevin, Myron, and the Editor.

Well, there it is. I'm off. It's late and the sack beckons. All this talk of food and travel has exhausted me. Hope you enjoyed the trip. Drink up and eat well. See ya later. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

This is pretty cool. Canadians in Afghanistan. Dig it.

Pretty cool footage. I get a big kick out if watching them shoot those AT-4s and RPGs, and the Afghan dudes raising their Kalashnikovs over the walls and sprayin' lead. It looks like a lot of fun. Ok, I know they're pissin' their pants and somebodies dyin', but it LOOKS like a huge load of fun from here. They look just like yanks, till the end when the one dude starts talkin', pronouncing the words "rounded" and "house".

If I'd been a bit more mature at the time, I think I would have gotten a huge enjoyment as a kid at being in the military and blowing shit up for a living. But when I was the right age to go in, I was basically a big baby. Mama's boy, big time. Hell, I'm still a big mama's boy. Ask anybody. Maybe joining up would have matured me. Don't know. I think I probably would have snapped like the dude in Full Metal Jacket, but maybe not. At the time I figured I'd just gotten out of high school, which was filled with assholes who tried to push me around, and joining the military would just put me back in the ring for another four years. I didn't have a lot of confidence. If I'd known then what I know now, about taking care of myself, and dealing with retrograde assholes, and a lot of other things, I think I would have had a great time.

As I get older, hearing the stories told by other older guys who served in one capacity or another, it seems clear that serving was the defining experience that a few generations of guys in America had in common. I work with guys on the base who are almost all vets, from Vietnam and Korea, as well as our various other "police actions". It seems from listening to their stories, whether they were drafted or volunteered, serving was their Sun Dance ceremony, ritually bringing them to adulthood and manhood. Of course, most men in the country never had to serve, but our literature and movies would seem to indicate that by avoiding it, they've missed out on something profound. Something that allows one to discover deeper things about oneself, as you usually do when you are tested. I guess I'm saying that I'm afraid that I've missed out on something profound by avoiding the test.

Beyond that, I think it can become a problem when the nations population becomes increasingly divided between those who have served and those who haven't, and who don't understand the military. There seems to be a disconnect now between the men and women and their families who volunteer to serve, and much of the rest of the population. There seems to be a large number of people who think the soldiers are just dropouts who can't keep a real job, or poor people who have no other way of getting an education, or adolescent war lovers who just want to blow something up.

People don't realize what a professional soldier is, and what his or her family goes through to stick with it. People think it's all about free college and meds and a fat retirement check. I've been around it all my life, and I've seen each service up close. Spent the first half of my life as an Air Force brat, living on or around air bases around the world. Then I spent four years "boating" with the Navy and Marines, teaching college classes on the ships. Now I'm about 12 years into a gig teaching soldiers on a huge army base here in Texas. I've seen them deal with all kinds of real shit up close. Hell, even some of the kids down in Florence are Army brats, with parents serving overseas.

Over the space of time that I've been here, I've seen them deploy, and come back from deployments, only to be told they have to go again. I've seen them deal with everything from being alone during pregnancy, to messages from the other side of the world telling them that their spouse, uncle, or father has been killed in action. I saw people die in training accidents on the ships; a whole helicopter full of Marines once, and another Marine once, run over and killed by a truck on a landing ship. It busted loose from it's chains and ran him over in the well deck as others jumped out of the way. he just wasn't quick enough. Imagine finding out that your son died during peace time, run over by a truck on a ship, in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

One of the last ships I taught on was the USS Arleigh Burke, a new kind of destroyer that was designed to be more stealthy, with a very cool radar system and lots of missiles. We floated along in the Mediterranean, serving in the battle group that was supporting the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Once in the middle of the night, a sailor was blown off the carrier by jet wash. We searched all through the night and into the morning, but all they found were bits of his gear, and vary large sharks swimming around. Hell, he probably died from the fall.

Kids die here at Ft. Hood all the time, in training accidents, helicopter crashes, and driving to and from the base. They call the main highway to and from Austin The Highway Of Death, for that very reason. It's dangerous shit, being a warrior, even at home, and even between the wars. We hear how many have died in Iraq, but that number pales when compared to the number who die just going to work every day.

So when I see a video like this one, I see the professionalism of these guys and it gives me a huge charge. They know their shit, and they can only succeed if the assholes back here will get out of their way. As in Vietnam, they're so good at what they do, so well trained, they can only be defeated by their own side, and their own leaders, or a shitty battle plan or strategy. I think it would have been a blast serving in that sort of fraternity. Band of brothers, and all that stuff, but it wasn't in the cards.

Once, on a summer road trip up to Ohio to visit the Air Force Museum, the family drove through Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Mom and dad wanted to see the gold depository, but I was dying to check out the Patton Museum and all the tanks. LOVE tanks. Dad knew I had fantasies about serving in one, and worked on me to discourage the idea. He told me as we were driving through the base to look at all the enlisted guys sweeping and mowing and picking up garbage and getting yelled at. He knew how much I enjoyed that sort of shit around the house. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps.

I tried it out for a while. Two years of Air Force ROTC in college. Got sick of what seemed like the fakeness and politics of it, marching in the parking lot at TCU one day a week and playing soldier. Watching a few guys get ahead by kissing the ass of the detachment commander, as if they were grooming themselves to one day serve as staff twerps for some general. I think I realized that my dads Air Force, the seat-of-the-pants, Curtis Lemay Air Force of all my fathers great stories, really didn't exist any more. I found out that my eyes were going bad in the second year, and pilot training was out. Had ideas about flying an A-10. Blow up tanks if I can't be in one. But the eyes changed all that. They started telling me I could be a navigator, or I could be a commissary officer. None of that sounded as good to me at the time. I decided in stead to take a different path, and decades later, here I am.

I've been around the military all my life. Got to fly in a few of their planes, float around on a few of their ships, and found a way to have a great time, without having to put up with the crap. But I still have moments when I hear guys telling hilarious stories, or harrowing stories, and I find myself filled with envy, and think about what might have been. I probably should stop doing that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Check this out.

Ok, I've never heard anyone say the war in Afghanistan is over. And fuck Pakistan! Who the hell would ever waste the lives of their young men trying to conquer those smelly retarded bastards? if you rag heads would stay on your side of the border there wouldn't be an issue. They're still livin' in the same mud huts that Alexander the Greats men pissed on. And the idea that they can never be defeated because they're spending all their time copying technology other people invented? Uh, right. Whatever. "Pure evil in my hand", when he's handling the Luger? What a pussy! You know something dude, without that Kalashnikov, you're not worth the powder it would take to cleanse the planet of your whole kind. Having said all that, I'll tell ya what. If there is ever peace in that part of the world, and they ever have tours up there to the tribal gun markets, my ass is on the fuckin' buss. That shit looks fun as hell.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Well, the Air show this weekend was fun...

But the rest of the weekend was a bust; no trip to Austin to eat at Papsito's, no weed pulling, no studying for the mini term class that begins Monday, no cleaning the house. I am SUCH a lazy fuck, it's pathetic! I think I'm getting desensitized to squalor, which CAN'T be good. And to top that, I think I've come down with a cold. Some student sitting up front coughed on me last week. Fuckers gave me Chicken Pox last year, remember? I need to start going to class in one of those oxygen bubbles. That'd be a sight, wouldn't it.

Dad and I did our regular Friday evening trip to the Chinese food place in Temple, and the food was great as usual. Then, we went out to the local Airport to check out the Friday night show at the annual Commemorative Air Force Air Show. This thing is always fun for dad and I, and sometimes sis. Dad gets to see lots of planes from his era, and a few that he flew at one time or another.

I found a good spot to plant the old dude close to the porta johns and close to the taxiway so he can see the action, and he managed to bump into another old Air Force couple to sit and watch the festivities with. I never got this guys name, but he'd been an F-105 pilot in 'Nam, from 69 to 70. They live down in Georgetown, at a retirement community called Sun City, and drove up to Temple Friday for the Air Show. Apparently this guy keeps a small plane in a hanger here. Both of them were very nice, and it was great to have them pay attention to dad, let him tell his stories, while I went around to check out the sights.

We arrived during a dramatic flying display by an F-16, and by the time we got dad situated it was doing a slow fly by with a P-47 from the Commemorative Air Force (click on any of these for a larger image).

After the fly by, the F-16 zoomed off back to it's base, and the P-47 landed and taxied right past us. It's a beauty. These guys with the Commemorative (formerly "Confederate") Air Force keep all these cool planes flying, and keep the history alive. We've been going to see these planes since the 1970s, when they were based down at Harlengen, near the Mexican border. After the P-47 landed, the other World War 2 era planes all taxied out and took off to begin the major fly by.

In the larger program on Saturday and Sunday, they do a reenactment of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, and other things, using whatever planes they have on hand. The show includes two B-25s, like the one here on the left, and a Grumman Hellcat fighter, seen below here on the right. They set off huge explosions and have smoke streaming from the wings. It's cool as hell to watch.

The Commemorative (formerly Confederate) Air Force has a bunch of old T-6 trainers that were modified to look like Japanese planes for the movie "Tora,Tora, Tora". Now they fly them around to give today's generations a little look at what the folks in WW2 had to deal with. It's always a lot of fun to see them all flying together, and to see the explosions going off in time with the fly by.

My dad flew these planes, as trainers, and remembers them fondly. You've seen them in the movies, as well as the old TV show "Ba, Ba, Black Sheep". These things look so realistic, it always amazes me.

The plane dad and I always look forward to seeing is the one that he was trained to fly just before the end of the war. There's a black one based in Waco, painted to look like the planes that were used in Korea and Vietnam. It's an A-26 Invader, called the 'Spirit of Waco". I think it's the sleekest, coolest plane we produced in WW2, but I'm partial.

Here's a shot if it taxiing out to start its flight program.

Here's a great shot of it that I found on the web. I tried to take a shot like this with the digital camera, but I guess I still need practice.

Here's what I was able to get. Gives you a feel for how sleek the plane is. It's a refined version of the WW2 era B-26, which dad was also trained to fly, but the A-26 was much faster, easier to fly, and had the same payload capacity as a B-17. We used them till the early 1970s in Vietnam, to bomb the Ho Chi Min trail at night (hence the black paint). The Air force had renamed them B-26s by then, to some people's endless confusion. Most of them were sold off after the war, and they were rebuilt to be used as everything from passenger planes to fire fighters. In fact, if you want to see A-26s in action, check out the movie "Always", with Richard Dreyfuss. He flys one in the movie.

Here's the WW2 bomber version that dad flew. Note that the "Spirit of Waco" has the 8 .50s in the nose. That HAD to be fun to play with. Dad's had the Plexiglas nose like this one, for dropping bombs. He's got great stories about this plane, and the fun they had learning to fly it, low and fast and aggressive. They were crazy back then, learning to fly at the edge of the planes capabilities. He was in California, on his way to Kwajalain in the Marshall Islands when the Bomb was dropped. Otherwise he'd have flown this thing in the invasion of Japan in late 1945.

It seems like it all happened a thousand years ago, doesn't it? And yet there he sits, enjoying the hell out of himself, thinking about old times.

We've been going to these airshows to see this plane for over a decade. Dad wears the A-26B hat I found for him, and the guy who owns and flies the plane always looks for dad and chats him up. I'd love to get him a ride in it, but I'm afraid it might kill him. But then, what a way to go. The guy who owns the plane won't allow it though. Who wants that responsibility on their hands? Probably thinks we'd sue him.

After the WW2 show, the Vietnam era Cessna O-2 Super Skymasters taxied out and do their show. These things look like they'd be a lot of fun to fly. They have both a pusher and a puller prop, and they're highly maneuverable. The pilots fly over the crowd, reenacting the swaying back and forth flying motion that the Vietnam era pilots supposedly used to avoid getting shot down.

These planes were used as forward air controllers and as spotters, flying slow and low over the woods till they got shot at, and then they'd fire rockets to direct the helicopter gunships towards the enemy below. For everyone to survive, and for the troops on the ground to get the help they needed, the guys in these planes had to fly like maniacs, and everything had to be coordinated very closely. They saved many lives.

Along with the older planes, there were also modern things out there, and the services were doing their bit of recruiting, letting the next generation sit in the drivers seat of an Apache, Huey, or a Blackhawk.

The Air Force was there, with the F-16 flyover, and with a little motorized F-22 that they drove around, to the amazement of the big and little kids looking on. One thing that I was amazed to see, was a navy C-2 transport, parked next to an old C-47 from my dads era. I was shot off the deck of the USS Ranger in one of these after the gulf war ended in early 1991. It was hilarious to see one again.

You are sitting backwards in this thing when it is shot off the carrier, and you are suspended in your straps for a split second, till your body catches up to the speed of the plane. It was quite a ride ( I really need to get a scanner so I can post those pictures).

On Sunday afternoon, dad and I went out there again to see what we could see, and I was able to get a few good shots.

Here's a closeup of one of the B-25s taxiing out. Love the nose art on this one.

And here's the other one. This Blue one is a Marine Corpse plane called the "Devil Dog". Later, when both were back on the ground, I went by and took a few more closeups, and got a T-shirt.

For $2, you could climb up in the plane and check out the .50s. Thing is, the FHB ain't made for these small places. Not that I get nervous, but I get tired of bangin' my head and knees into things.

So I stood back and let the kiddies play, like I did when I was their age.

The A-26 was busted on Sunday. They had the cowling off one engine and couldn't get it started. That' was a bummer, but the rest of the planes still put on a great show.

The Hellcat always puts on a great show. These things are fast as hell, and shot down a lot of Japanese planes in WW2. At one point it began to sprinkle, and I ran back to see if dad was thinking to use his umbrella. Sure enough...

I found him sitting there, dry and happy as a clam, watching that A-26, waiting to see if it would ever take off. Notice the dry pavement under him, and that C-47 in the background. He flew that one in the Berlin Airlift, for about 6 weeks in '47 or '48.

The show ended Sunday with another F-16 fly over. This guy flew around for a while, and really showed off the capabilities of the plane. Reminds dad and I of the days when we'd be playing golf at Carswell AFB in Ft. Worth, across the runway from the plant where they build the F-16s, and every once and a while they'd take off and do a mini airshow for the onlookers. Now that plant builds the F-35, and I miss those impromptu air shows.

Anyway, It was a nice time for dad and I, and I hope you enjoy seeing the shots.