Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Countdown to Exodus.

Last weekend, a storm came through, including sleet, snow, high winds and frigid temperatures that knocked power out all over the Northern State. Some people are still without power, and have been for almost a week.

Thankfully, we were not burdened with the throwback to a simpler age. But Boy HOWDY, it's cold.

And I'm reminded of a lovely thought......thirty four days until my vacation. Back in June of last year, my Father decreed that all vacations would happen in March, and all vacations would be spent on the Gulf Coast of Florida. So, the wife and I are going to spend a few days and nights in Sarasota.

And that can only mean one things.

Grapefruit League.

There's something about spring training baseball, I can't put my finger on it; but it's much like watching minor league.....there's a real love there that is not overwhelmed by the ticket prices, and the home field advantage....and the crushing pressure that causes your first place team to completely tank in the closing days of the season and I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.......

Lakeland is where the Tigers play, so I'm pretty sure that I won't be seeing any Tiger action. But, I'm pretty sure that the Pirates play in Sarasota or Bradenton, and I can do with some Pirate action.....I still have images of Clemente in my head.

Nothing tastes like a ballpark dog, with ketchup and relish. Damn the pizza and the nachos, give me peanuts in the shell and a dog......

Thirty four days to go.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

way back when and wasn't it nice?

The snow has begun to fall again, in fits and starts; the big snow that I spent the week fearing (for blizzards make my life complicated) has been mild; although I still fear the possibility of an ice storm. But sitting in a quiet office watching the slight movement of the weather puts me in a mood nostalgic.

Like I need an excuse to wax both poetic and nostalgic.

Have you ever noticed how when you get around to waxing nostalgic, it does seem poetic?

Well, the good stuff.


Everybody should have a place to go when the weather turns; someplace warm and inviting, offering shelter and sustenance. Nowadays, I don't really have a place like that. I've become somewhat misanthropic in my age, and combined with the fact that I don't know anybody outside of family up here in the Northern State, I don't have one of those places....

But when I was a younger man, there was always a friendly tavern to take away the winter blahs, with warmth and charm and food.

I've mentioned a couple of times a place called The Portside Inn. A little bar on Washington Street in Marquette, Michigan. It's interior was dimly lit, with a small stage near the back for live music occasionally; but it also had a fireplace and a large window overlooking the street, so that passing pedestrians could look into this lovely tavern and envy those of us inside.

The food was good, and that is departure from a lot of taverns I have frequented in my day. The pizza was the stuff of dreams, of course, and the bread sticks have never been equaled in my book. The sandwiches were generous in their bounty, and the owner, who often tended bar, was not skimpy with his wares. He knew his regular patrons by name, as any good tavern keeper should.

There was nothing like a ham and cheese (lightly grilled so that the cheese would melt) with fries, with a lovely rum and cola to start, and a girl scout cookie to finish.

A girl scout cookie is cocoa with a shot of schnapps.

And then, of course, there was the conversations, the endless conversations on any topic from theatre, to music, to current events. And laughter fit to shake the pillars of Heaven.

I took over that tavern for a night back in February of 1985. A few years earlier, I had won the lottery on an instant ticket, for ten thousand dollars. I squirreled away the money into a money market account for a couple of years, so I wouldn't touch it, but when I was finally ready to graduate (by that February, it was a foregone conclusion that with or without a degree, I was leaving) I invited thirty or forty of my closest friends down to the bar, and I paid for everything. All night.

It was glorious. There was love and laughter and an overabundance of drink and food; anybody that came through the door that I didn't know got an apology for the row, and a drink on me. And it didn't cost as much as you would think, but for the record (and I still have the record, by the way) we drank 300% more than we ate.

It was a memorable evening; I know this, because when I was up in the UP last winter, I ran into an old friend who mentioned it within the first ten minutes of our conversation. And, of course, I remember it. It's one of the few things I CAN remember from that period.

The chief memory, though, is this: Walking through a snowy evening. The snow continues to fall, and it creates an romantic image as it falls past the antique-looking streetlamps. The breeze is light, but enough to give what would normally be a pleasant briskness an almost unpleasant bite to the air, but the snow is fluffy and light. And as you enter the building, you're hit by that initial discomfort of going from cold to warm, but the sound of the muted conversation over the sound of light jazz is as inviting as an old sofa.

You don't join that.
You get enveloped BY it.
And I wish I had a place like that now.

Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A brief Farewell.

When I was a lad of thirteen, I picked up a book on a whim; it was in the junior high school library, in the paperback section, and I have no idea why. It was called THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT and it was a reasonably short (handy for the teenager with limited time), and written in short chapters, and most of it was dialogue.

I thought Spenser was the coolest detective ever.

Of course, I knew detectives; my Father was a fan of Holmes, and Poirot, and somebody named Smith who went a-hunting Fu Manchu; but Spenser was cool; smart, good with his fists and his gun (but only when he needed to), and he had a simple moral code, which never wavered. It boiled down to a simple rule: the strong must protect the weak.

He had a girlfriend; a committed relationship without the need for a formal definition. Susan Silverman, the love of his life. And he had a wing man, a fellow known only as Hawk. And if it was possible to be cooler than Spenser, then THAT was Hawk. And, of course, there was Pearl, the Wonderdog. I think there was more than one Pearl, but it didn't matter, it was always Pearl.

One of my favorite traits was that Spenser and Hawk and Susan didn't age in real time. They were always in the present, but in the beginning, Spenser served in Korea; I always imagined this seventy something guy busting heads in Boston. But I don't think he ever got past fifty five.

I read about one Spenser book a year from that day to this day. And I read some other works of his, as well. There was a kind of comfort in the reading of it, like an old friend, or a comfortable sweater.

Robert B. Parker died (apparently, at his writing desk) yesterday morning, and my world got a little smaller and a little darker.

I'll miss them all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From Heel to Heal.

Whether or not you go into a twelve step program, or you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and rely upon the old tried-and-true method of massive self-denial in order to overcome an addiction, there are steps that always come. AA has formalized them, but before the book that Bill W. wrote, they were steps that would naturally come with the clearing of the head, the strengthening of the body, and the return of the conscience.

One of the steps is to make amends, to the best of your ability, to the people you hurt.

Over the years, I've gotten a chance to do that; with limited success. Most people I felt I hurt seemed to not really give a damn one way or the other; which doesn't say much for my choice of friends. But a few of them, the ones that I really hurt, have accepted my apologies graciously.

Recently, I had the opportunity to open up a communication with somebody I hurt very badly. We hadn't communicated for twenty two years; and thanks to the many social networking sites, she tracked me down.

I'm always a little scared when people track me down. I'm not sure if I'm going to be greeted with a (metaphoric) hug or a (metaphoric, I hope) Louisville Slugger upside the cranium. With this one, I got a little of both; while in a metaphoric hug, she metaphorically bloodied my nose.

And, friends and neighbors, I deserved it.

And then, the conversation began. And I have to tell you, after the fact that I had to put myself out there and admit to all the crap that came with the many gallons of cheap vodka (and yes, good orange juice) I injected into my system, she was gracious enough to stop hitting me and listen with a sort of kindly interest.

And the time machine buzzed, and off we went to the mid-eighties. And we again went through what happened, and we talked about where we went after that, and how we came to be here right now, and eventually I suppose we will talk about what should have happened.

And during this whole process, another weight that I've carried around with me all of these years is lifted. And a wound becomes a scar, which is reminder of what not to do next time. And I begin to actually remember; not the things I want to remember, but the things that ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

And slowly, and surely, I become a better man.

It's not a destination. It's a journey.

And thank you for letting me take it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Television exists to sell you stuff. Like Cars, Soap, and Presidents.

It is with a tremendous sense of disappointment that I'm constantly reminded that the social structure of the American government has not risen beyond that of a third grade playground.

And the media is behaving like your average audience attending the taping of SAVED BY THE BELL, "oooohing" and "ahhhing" at every naughty bit.

For Days. For an amazing amount of time. So, I rephrase; it's like a third grade playground, but with the unfortunate side effect of having a pit bull-like attention span.

I swear to GOD that if the Congress of the United States paid as much attention to what your average American thought was important, we would be living in a kind of paradise. Instead, the dwell on keeping their own little garden of power, ignoring the true needs of their constituents, and they bicker and snipe about something somebody said and oooooh, he should resign.

Somewhere, in a Heaven dedicated to those Founding Fathers that we hold up as shining examples, who put to paper the standard on which we base every single choice (and I'm talking about the Constitution, not the Bible)...somewhere in the distance is the sound of those Founding Fathers retching.

And they're still talking about it. And in another thirteen seconds, somebody will die because they lack the ability to afford adequate health care.

I hope you realize that Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned is just a metaphor. In truth, Nero was so busy building monuments to himself that the Huns came down and kicked Rome's ass.

Fear Canada.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Playing through.

I've been one poor correspondent,
I've been too, too hard to find;
But that doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind.....

It's been a long and tiring week. People have asked much of me, and I've given all I've got. Long nights, impossible hours, keeping my hands on the keyboard.

I've learned a couple of things this week; actually, re-learned:

I relearned that it's frustrating and non-rewarding to be the smartest man in the room.
I relearned that the hour between four and five am can be the longest hour ever. I swear to GOD that last night that one hour was three days long.
I learned that an hour-long program about trapping pedophiles is not, in my opinion, entertainment. Or even informational. Unless you are seeking information on how to induce vomiting.

And how are you?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A dissertation on the airport personnel that use three initials.

Recently, a dear friend sent me word that some people had questions and concerns about traveling by air. She felt I was in a unique position to answer some of those concerns, seeing as I'm in the business, so to speak.

First, I have to point out something that has not been pointed out on the many talking head opinioncasts you see on the so-called news stations. And by news stations, I mean they're about news like MTV is about music.

But I must not digress.

The chief point to be made here is this: you do not have the inalienable right to fly on an airplane. Airline travel is much like some of the faster rides at Disneyland; they have rules (and according to the sign, height restrictions) and so do the airlines. And if you want to ride, you must obey the rules.

Now, I'm talking about the airlines, now, and not the TSA. The two are sometimes mutually exclusive. The airlines instituted the rules regarding what personal effects you could access on the plane, as well as the ability to cover oneself with a blanket, or go to the bathroom.

These have been blown out of proportion, usually by the media; and, they have been, in some respect, eased somewhat. What you probably didn't know is that they were restrictions limited to international travel. And, these were restrictions born from the knee-jerk reaction to a terrifying event. When somebody goes into a school and shoots up the place, we want to ban every gun in the world; when somebody tries to blow up a plane by setting his d*ck on fire, we want to ban trips to the restroom (where he went to prepare) blankets (that he covered himself with) and access to carry-on (where, theoretically, he got his accoutrement.) I'm surprised we haven't banned underwear. Not that some of us would need any prompting in that regard.

From my perspective, there are three fundamental problems with airline security; one, we don't have the intelligence gathering agencies on the same page. There are still too many holes, even with the umbrella organization that was created after 2001(called Homeland Security). There was more than enough information about the fellow in question to stop him from getting on a plane, but it was like that old children's game we called Telephone: you start with the first person with a simple message, and they whisper it to the next person, and so on, and you compare messages at the end. They are usually FUBAR. Such is the nature of passing on information, even information as important as this. And, certainly, we have certain rules in this country that would have set off the alarms all over the place; one way ticket, no luggage, paid cash, last minute.....oh, yeah. He's a full-on strip search just waiting to happen. But, we cannot be responsible for the screening that takes place in Nigeria, or Amsterdam, for that matter.

The human element; you can't take it away, and you can't really make it perfect. And that's number two on our list of problems; and I'm speaking of the TSA now. I have a problem with the hiring practices, the training, and the management that oversees not only the training, but the use of that training. I'm fairly certain that your average human being with a stake in the outcome can tell when another human being has ill intent. The trouble is, after years of abuse from passengers, and a lack of support from management, the work force has become bitter and uninterested at best, and outright thieving bastards at worst. You've seen it; I've seen it. I've worked against it. But there are other things; the penchant for the organization to hire retired federal employees; the military mind-set of the civilian organization that doesn't allow for individual thought or action without first getting approval; but the most important thing here is that the organization feels that technology trumps human intuition, and that can't be farther from the truth. The TSA really does have some of the best technology in the world, but it's only as good as the person running it.

I would like to take a moment and talk about the technology of the Full Body Imager. The chief concern when it comes to this particular piece of equipment is that it's a massive invasion of privacy. I've seen this machine work, and it really is a marvel, in my opinion. But the images are not graphic; and male images are viewed by male officers, female images by female officers; and the face is not visible; and the image is erased as soon as the image is cleared; and the images are viewed in a windowless, locked room, on a computer that is not linked to any network, so it cannot be hacked. There have been stories that people are afraid that somebody will take a picture of their image scan and put it on the Internet; and it would be impossible for anybody to a) take a picture of the scan, or b) identify the image as a single individual in the scan. And if that's the only argument against the use of this technology, then it really isn't a very good argument. AND, at this point, the technology is strictly voluntary.

If it does become mandatory, I point you back to the first couple of paragraphs, i.e. airline travel is not a right, it is a privilege. You want to ride, you follow whatever rules that come along. Or, there's always Greyhound.

The third problem is that we can't be everywhere. The TSA is kind of like the's only effective in this country. We can offer our technology to other countries, we can even put advisers and the occasional trainer in the other countries that fly directly to the states, but we can't be everywhere. We want to be; personally, I would like a cushy position is a warmer clime, but what are you going to do?

One of the thing that offends me is that the organization is considered a failure for this; it may sound like a cop-out, but I wish I could print the long list of plots we have foiled; but we don't broadcast out successes...that would actually tip off those who seek to do us harm to try another direction.

I would like to apologize to anybody who has ever had a bad time at an airport checkpoint. I profusely apologize to anybody who was forced to deal with rudeness and arrogance from the organization. I'm sorry if you felt as if you were a suspect, or you were treated like a criminal. But you should hear some of the things people say to us.

I've been called racist, fascist and communist. I've been called a rent a cop. I've been told that they'd be waiting for me outside. I've been asked, while searching a bag, if I'm getting off on it. I had one woman throw a large bottle of shampoo at my head.

I've had people say that they forgot that the gun, or the knife, or the Asian fighting tools were in their bag, even though they were right on top.

I've had people say that they really need their shampoo, but don't want to check a bag because we charge too much; as if the TSA controls the airline fee policy. As if there isn't a Walmart on every street in America.

But I understand it; it's their STUFF. And people get really crabby when you try to steal their stuff. And when they ask why, I tell them.

You take your shoes off because an idiot named Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb.
We limit your liquids because a bunch of idiots tried to blow up several airplanes with liquid explosive disguised in soda bottles.
We appreciate your patience, and if you wonder why we worry about all sorts of little things; we worry, so that you don't have to.

I'll admit to you this one last thing: I have always tried to treat everybody I came into contact with in my duties with the respect I would want; I explained as much as I could (without giving away secrets); I attempted to help whenever I could to expedite the screening, often going so far as to escort people to their gates so they wouldn't miss a flight; when I said, "thank you." and "have a nice day." and even "how are you today?" I meant it.

So, the next time you're in a checkpoint lane in some busy airport, try to follow the rules, if you have questions, ask them, and understand that there is always a method to the madness, a reason for doing things that we can't always explain, and that we worry about these things so that you can get where you're going in peace.

I have written more in this post than I have in the last two months. I no longer have fingerprints, which is probably going to cost me my job.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A meaningless dissertation on the freakin' cold.

I wonder if there is a correlation between how tired you can feel and how cold it is outside.

I'm very tired.
And the temperature is -30. Without a wind. A natural cold, which is somewhat easier to bear than it would be if that was the wind chill factor.

Cold comfort, as they say.

But it is true, even though those of you who live in the warmer climes would doubt me; but think in terms of heat: the heat of Vegas in the summertime is different, and easier to bear than the wet heat of, say, Galveston. Cold is like that. Not that I would suggest standing out in it for very long.

Cold is easier than heat; you can always but on more clothes, but in the heat, once yer nekkid, yer nekkid.

In the cold, remember.....layers.

When I was an airline worker, and was slingin' bags at this hour of the morning out on the tarmac when the temp was -40, I dressed like this:

Thermal Underwear.
Flannel lined black pants.
Two pair of socks.
Pullover windbreaker
Down parka
Cotton Gloves
Padded cold weather gloves
Longshoreman's cap
Pullover face mask

And it would still be cold, but bearable.
And I would look like the Michelin Tire Guy.

Nowadays, I'm awfully glad that my car has heated seats. Nothing like a toasty ass as you drive home in the early morning.

Gotta love the toasty ass.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Let us build upon this.

Well, here it is; another decade entered. May it serve us well.

Good GOD. I've entered a fifth decade. And the funny thing is, when I look out my window tomorrow (or, if I get my ass up and look out my window right now) it would look that same as it did just a few short hours ago when it was a different decade.

Time passing should have some sort of clarifying marker. A different color, perhaps.

The question has been asked on a few of the pages I am honored to read:

What do you want from the next year? I suppose that means....RESOLUTION!

In 2009, I quit smoking; I began to go to the gym regularly; I changed jobs; I said hello to a few friends, and goodbye to a few more; I gained a kitten; and lost a part of me that will probably not return in its former glory, but may return in some other incarnation...and will, like the second coming, be completely welcome but unrecognizable at the same time; I learned a few jokes; I laughed at the human comedy, and cried at the human tragedy; and I did my best to help people both known and unknown. But most of all, I've attempted to understand the things that people don't wish to even acknowledge.....

I want to finish something that I started; so that will be my resolution.
Finish what I started.

And I'm taking a quote from Margaret Mead with me as I walk face first into the plate glass window that is 2010:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Happy New Year, my friends. Let there be light.