Thursday, December 29, 2005

From tailfins to hybrids!

The half century mark passes today! I used to think of people like my father-in-law having lived in two centuries, as he went from harnessing horse teams to work his land to seeing us fly home on jets; I hadn't thought of myself that way until now.

Dad was a meat cutter; he and Mom had been married 5 years and he had worked his way up to running his own market in 1955. His store was a few door down from the Ford dealer and every day he saw the new ones come and go. In the spring of '55 he decided to trade his '53 two door for a new one. He really wanted a Thunderbird; it was the first year for them, they were gorgeous, and the two seater really appealed to him. Instead of spending the extra $200 for the T-Bird, he somehow thought he ought to get something with a back seat; before they made the first payment they found out Mom was pregnant with me...

Mom is 5 feet nothing, back then she might have weighed 100 pounds on a good day. She went into labor on Christmas Day, 1955. Our family doctor practiced through a Catholic hospital, and they didn't believe in Caesarians, so they left her in labor from the 25th through the morning of the 29th, then finally gave up making her deliver her 8 pound 13 ounce son naturally, gave her morphine to "take her out of labor" and took me Caesarian. For some reason, they said I was a sleepy for Mom there are times I think she's been getting even with me ever since!

As I look back, there are a lot of things that stand out, both good and bad. Decisions, indecisions, and a lot of pure dumb luck!

The 3rd person I met in San Diego when I transferred there out of my Navy jet engine school was a Navy Chief Petty Officer. He came knocking on the door of the barracks room I had just checked into because when one of my roomates saw the trumpet case I was carrying he said "I play too" and we proceeded to have an impromptu jam session. When the knock on the door came, I thought I was in big trouble, instead the Chief said it sounded really good and we should come play at the counseling facility he ran sometime. We became quite good friends; one of the luckiest breaks in my life!

30 years ago today I went to the plasma bank in National City, California for the 2nd time that week, if I remember right I got $9 for my donation. I had been out of the Navy for 6 months, put together a 1958 Triumph 650 Trophy model I had borrowed money from my grandparents to buy, and was doing little but riding, partying and working on bikes and cars. I crashed at the house of friends who were still on active duty, living on my plasma donations. I had come out of the ship's laundry on the USS Kittyhawk weighing about 126 pounds and was around 130 at this time, with a 29" waist. As I recall I bought a pack of papers, two packs of cigarettes, filled the bike tank and went home with about $2 left.

The Navy chief had called me earlier that fall and told me his cousin had just been transferred to San Diego from Hawaii, and that she and her younger sister were living with him and I should come meet them. I did, but the Triumph wasn't running yet, and I wasn't much on dating without wheels (dummy wasn't smart enough to call a walk to the beach 3 blocks away a date). By the time the Triumph ran, the younger sister had gone back to Vermont to college, and the older one had married a guy she had lived with in Hawaii. I spent the fall sliding further into oblivion, then around Christmas got a phone call from the older sister. The guy she had married had only wanted the "Barracks and Quarters" money she drew so he could live on it in Ohio, and now he wanted a divorce; her cousin had told her she should call me up and see if I wanted to go out with her.

We went out for the first time 30 years ago today. The date consisted of a ride out to Coronado on the Triumph, down "the Strand", past the Hotel Del Coronado, and back to Imperial Beach, then a stop at Jack-in-the Box for chocolate shakes. Thank goodness she didn't want a burger, because I couldn't have paid for it! We went back to the apartment she shared with her cousin and talked for hours; the next day we talked on the phone for a long time, and went for a short ride the day after, and talked most of the night.

I moved in with her a week later; later she said she felt sorry for me because my ribs were showing, and I will admit there were stray dogs that were probably of better character than I was at that time! I knew she was "the one" even then; after her bad experience of that fall it took almost a year to talk her into marrying me; were she less compassionate and understanding she would have fled, rightly so as I'm still no prize!

When it was time for her next duty station she was pregnant with our oldest son. She was to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and would have had to leave me stateside with a newborn, only able to visit once every 6 weeks (only officers got to take their spouses) so she opted for discharge, and we moved back to my hometown. Both of my Dad's neighbors were autoworkers, thought highly of me, and GM was hiring so they turned in applications for me, and that fall I went to work at the old Buick Oldsmobile Pontiac plant in Kansas City, Kansas. North American built B-25's there during WW2; my grandmother and 2 of her sisters had worked there. I've been there 27 years now; we tore down that old building and started production in a new one next door in 1988, and 2 years ago shifted from building the Pontiac Grand Prix to the new Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx.

This brings me to my header for this overly long missive; I came home from the hospital in a '55 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan; next fall I'll be helping build Malibu hybrids! The new Malibu in my driveway (the first car we've ever owned that I helped build)tells me everything from what mileage I'm getting and when it's oil change is due, to the temperature outside. I never dreamt that when I can remember gas at 15.9 cents a gallon that I'd see a car that gets 28 miles per gallon, let alone one that might get 50! My motorcycle only got 40 something...

Through all of this, I've been awfully lucky because most of it wasn't of my own making, that's for sure. It's truly been a wonderful life to this point! If I can ride this wave another 40 or so years, maybe get to watch my grandkids grow up and have some kids of their own, I'll consider myself one of the luckiest men ever!


Saturday, December 24, 2005

It's Christmas Eve!

Work is over for the year, and I am home not quite 2 hours into Christmas Eve. Some of the wrapping is done, lots more to go. The Christmas dinner and the adopt-a-family at work went well; I got to watch a ten year old girl scream and cry because she got the toy she wanted the most and never thought she'd get. She was actually afraid to touch it after she unwrapped it, like she was afraid it would disappear!
As I get ready to go start wrapping again, my mind is turning to New Year's resolutions; though there are many lofty and high ideal ones I'd love to make, I am going to stick to one's I have some chance at accomplishing:

1. To try to keep off the 93 pounds I've dropped since February of 2005; possibly even lose a few more, but not to gain any back. With this goes continuing to try and become healthier, and eat healthier...

2. To continue trying to be positive about things and not give in to the negativity and pessimism that influenced most of my life for it's first 50 years. Yes, the news out of D.C. is a constant source of agony and heartbreak, but I will keep writing my Congressman and Senators, trying to influence them when I can, and keep contributing what I can to the forces of change. I will continue to observe, grieve, write, think and read, but I will turn whatever emotion I am driven to to some positive end!

3. To try to explore new things instead of fearing them as I usually have my whole life. This last year physical therapy opened a new world of dieting and excercise for me; these led me to "working out" for the first time in my life, which led me to reading and learning more, which finally led to a mountain bike. Perhaps not this winter, but maybe next, a snowboard?

That's the big three for now; there are some smaller ones I'd like to add, but if I can nail those the others will fall into line.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

That's what I get...

for thinking I could put up a link that would work, lol! The blog column I was trying to share was entitled "Why We Fight", and of course my link takes you to the newest entry...someday I'll get the hang of this!

Gearing up for the Friday dinner and Christmas party at work; 15 pans of brownies through the oven tonight, and 5 more to go tomorrow night, plus a couple of extras for the family or maybe the wife's Christmas party at work on Friday. Next year I think I'll put in for vacation, just to avoid this, lol! I started out to do something for the teams I stock for, and it has snowballed over the years, like everything else I get involved I worry too much about hurting someone's feelings or saying "no" when I probably should!

Once more into the breach, my friends, the timer on the oven is calling!


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

An eloquent post by a like minded person...

  • DoobertsDigs

  • Make sure to click on the little links, too, if you have time!


    Santa's list...

    used to be the one I worried about; trying to stay on the "good" one. Now I discover that by signing Greenpeace petitions and getting RFK jr.'s "Riverkeeper" newsletter, I'm probably on W's watch list along with Osama...maybe higher even, I have a couple of library cards and I use one of them, regularly! (Wait 'til they figure out I've checked out a couple of Bernard Shaw books recently!)

    Then there's my e-friend in Beirut I met on Jeanette Winterson's message board, and another in South Africa who moved there from the Phillipines. There's a Buddhist friend who moved to Europe I correspond with sometimes...I'm probably on a couple of agency lists by now!

    Then again, I also belong to a labor union, and write my Congressman regularly, and even my Republican senators on occasion...that probably doesn't help!

    I wonder how many of my taxpayer dollars have been spent trying to assess my threat level? If they find out I like "New Orleans jazz" they'll probably be breaking down my door!!!

    Merry Peacemas everyone!


    Monday, December 19, 2005

    Graduation in the snow...

    on Saturday morning was quite fun; we all got there safely in spite of the city's lack of effort at dealing with it. I am glad it worked out, at he has worked long and hard to get his degree, working full time and going to school carrying too many classes at one time while trying to have a family life and raise 3 kids.

    The rest of Saturday was a celebration at his house, which also became two of the family birthdays later in the afternoon; his wife's and my nephew, turning 18. Seems like yesterday my Dad and I were photographing my sister's wedding...

    Yesterday was 12 hours of Christmas shopping and errands, and this morning I finally got 8 hours sleep for the first time in two weeks! That could be a Christmas treat all in itself!

    Off now to get one of the last two presents and go to work; looking forward to the holiday shutdown next week as a chance to catch my breath.

    Hope you are each finding a moment here and there to enjoy the season, and the company of those you lovel Sometimes it's so hard to quit running and just be!


    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    "Good Night and Good Luck" (and the shrub)

    Almost two weeks ago, we slipped out on the wife's Sunday off and saw the movie. Since then, everytime I turn on the TV or NPR or Pacifica or the BBC, something that gets said that reminds me of this movie. I think back to the slander attacks on John McCain when he ran against Bush for the Republican nomination (I am after all a 'Nam era Navy vet, so those things get my attention); then there were all the people who questioned the war drums before we invaded Iraq being called traitors; then the "Swift Boat" attacks on John Kerry. Everytime someone speaks out they are attacked; it doesn't matter whether the attacks are true or not. If they are baldface lies, then Rove and his minions get someone else to do it, if they are halftruths then they will do it themselves, and then if the have to say "oops" later.

    That was Joe McCarthy's modus operandi, exactly! It was chilling to watch footage of the man himself doing the same identical thing to what's going on in Washington now, 50 years later. I know Truman said that "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it", but never thought it was supposed to be so soon after!

    The saddest thing is that there is no Ed Murrow out there with a network president ready to let him take on the lies and deceit, advertisers and shareholders be damned. Ted Turner might have been the last one, and they even managed to make a basenji of him.

    Today we went and saw "Syriana". Another stunning movie, though not in the same league as "Good Night and Good Luck". I have no doubt that everything portrayed on the screen has gone on over and over again in the last 50 or 60 years, and sadly, am sure it will continue to. When we finally find things out we are told it was for our own good, or that we don't understand, or some other demeaning drivel; at worst, someone gets moved, retired, or maybe demoted, and the next play is already underway.

    Sorry for the rant...

    Run, don't walk to see these two movies!


    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Twenty nine years...

    ago today my wife said "I do". It wasn't fancy, just a Judge in San Diego, at his home with his mother for a witness, and a few friends. Though we were "in it" for the long haul, I still can't belive she's put up with me all these years! Through the partying, the outgrowing of it (finally, after the kids were born) the layoffs from work, then the overtime at work (feast or famine, the GM way!) the house in need of repair or in need of the money for repair. Then there were all of the cars that always ran, but always needed worked on, the never ending cycle of getting them ready to go on vacation to Vermont (her home state) from Kansas City (because after the kids got big enough to need seats, we couldn't afford to fly anymore!), packing the tools just in case, and the spare was always something.
    Once we went to visit her Mom and Dad when I was laid off and took the diaper service diapers with us, two weeks worth! When we went the clean ones were bagged on the back floor of our '71 Impala; on the way home they were double bagged and in the trunk. The speed limit was still 55 most of the way then, and the trip was well over 30 hours; as fatigue set in somewhere in Ohio, I imagined what was going to happen if we were in a wreck and they found all the diapers everywhere and couldn't find the laundry truck...
    We went out the first time on my 20th birthday; December 29, 1975. Maybe more about that later...but it doesn't seem possible it's been 30 years ago!


    Sunday, December 11, 2005


    My first of Richard Pryor were his role in "Lady Sings the Blues"; growing up in the "wrong era" of music, I fell in love with Billie Holiday before I ever heard of Janis, or Jimi, or John Lennon. I wore out the soundtrack album stealing Sweets Edison's trumpet licks, along with others of Chet Baker, and Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berigan, et al..

    My sister listened to the Beatles, but I was always at a band practice, or practicing my horn, off in my own world, the kid the other kids said was born 50 years too late. The first rock and roll I remember listening to was in high school when riding with a friend and hearing "American Pie". The next year they put a jukebox in the cafeteria and I heard a few more, some Chicago and Paul Revere.

    I enlisted in the Navy in '73 when my Dad made me refuse a full paid music scholarship saying 180 miles was too far for me to be from home at 17; he said I could stay home and go to junior college. I told him I wasn't staying under his roof after I graduated, that I was going to college or the service. I had been playing Taps at Navy funerals for a couple of years, and the recruiter and I had it worked out to where I could go to the Navy music school. Only problem was Dad would only sign for a two year hitch, and music school required a 4 year enlistment. I went anyway, figuring I'd re-up at the end of two and go then. By the time the two was up I wanted no more to do with them, and got out and did my weekend warrior time for 3 years.

    Christmas of that year found me in the Philippines...I still haven't figured out whether Dad won or I did!

    My real introduction to the Beatles came when I was assigned to the ship's laundry on the USS Kittyhawk, on loan from my helo squadron. We worked 12 hour shifts, and the guy that ran the pants press next to the shirt press I was on listened to nothing else the whole time we worked. By then I had started to question a lot of things in my life and the world, and Lennon and McCartney fueled a lot more thought and questions. I'm still grateful to them...

    My political memories were of JFK and Camelot, his assassination; my Dad talking about how everone should be voting for George Wallace and his backhanding my teeth through my upper lip when I told him he shouldn't use "the N word" anymore, that no one should. It was fun going to school and explaining why I couldn't play my horn solos with the stage band until that healed! Funny how it was Dad that turned me on to Bunny Berigan, and Berigan said more than once his biggest influence and idol was Armstrong (as did every other trumpet player Dad loved from the big band era), but Dad wouldn't admit Louis existed until a couple of years before his (Dad's) death in '83. In early high school I had a great band director who turned me on to some early Armstrong tracks from when he first went to Chicago in the 20's, and I had told Dad he should check them out some time. 10 years later I went by to see him one day and he was working in the darkroom and had some of the Hot 5's and 7's on the turntable. Neither of us said anything about it; I wish now I'd asked him what he thought...

    Back to politics; my next big awakening was Bobby Kennedy. I heard a bit of his speeches somewhere in early '68 and had just bought "To Seek a Newer World" as I went off to a band camp at KU in the early summer of '68. The day I arrived there Bobby was killed and it seems like a light went off that stayed off for a very very long time. I thought I saw it flicker a few times, especially in the mid 90's; I thought perhaps hope and caring and taking care of each other wasn't gone and forgotten, but Newt and his buddies soon extinguished that little glimmer, and I truly wonder if I will see it again in the time I have left on this earth.

    Gene McCarthy I don't remember much about; the things I've learned in the days since he ceased to be a force in politics still cause me to say "what if", but then "what if JFK had lived, or Bobby, or Martin Luther heart starts to rend if I play that game, so I just can't. Imagining alternative history is not something I'm good at in my own life, let alone the world!

    But for every good heart that still beats in this world, I know we are less without him, and so many others who go unnoticed and unappreciated each and every day.

    I once read that the natives in Alaska used to explain the Northern Lights by saying that they were the souls of all those waiting to return to the world, and they were dancing. I'd like to believe there's a heck of a party going on while Lennon and the brothers Kennedy and McCarthy and so many others bide their time to come back and help us straighten this mess out; in the meantime I'll keep giving what I can where I can and trying to do something to turn my red state blue...