The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Articles

Morning Cafe

The dawn streamed through the glass door of a quiet cafe, guiding my fuzzy mind to the row of perches set before the supporting breakfast counter. By memory, I stumbled along the beam of daylight until there were no more stools, and then shifted myself mechanically back one index, to the last spot.

It may have been comfortable. But most importantly at this sketchy part of the morning, it was solid.

And so was the counter.

And after some hazy conversation with the chirpy waitress, the warmth and aroma of steaming coffee slid in between my hands, and I wrapped myself around its aura.

Gradually, the cafe’s sights and sounds came into focus. First the counter, worn wood-grain with scuffs, and cuts that rendered it precisely perfect for its function. Only one small flaw, a chip where the glue had failed way over there in the corner disturbed this perfection. I reached and slid the bowl of sugar packets over it. But it didn’t help. I knew it was there now, and covering it up just made me think about it. I uncovered it to let it breathe with the rest of us.

The waitress suddenly was standing before me on one hip, pad and pen in hand, as if she’d just spoken and was waiting for my response. My response was a raised eyebrow. From that, and memory, she scribbled a copy of the last three days’ breakfast order, and punched the slip of paper into the order-wheel and spun it around to the kitchen.

The CLUMPCLUMPCLUMP of the bussing cart with a bad wheel lumbered its way behind my over the tile, punctuated by the sudden, eager sizzle of meat and potatoes on the griddle from behind the window to the kitchen. The exhaust fan droned tirelessly pulling air out and spreading the aromas of breakfast around the neighborhood in a smoky rain of onion, and bacon flavor. A disheveled head raised itself from his bed of trash bags in the alley out back,  taking it all in with the quiet joy of a desert landscape drinking in the rain as if a drought was over – until the pangs from his belly reminded him that his money had gone to a bottle. He reached fearfully into his breast pocket to make sure it was still there, and to refresh his hazy wall of protection from the world of pain around him.

Inside, oblivious to this conflict, I opened the gates to my mind, and took in this fresh new day, sorting and placing and knowing the things around me, listening to the patter of a half-dozen conversations around me, listening to the sounds of life, feeling the stream of daylight still casting sideways from the horizon. Life took its place in this new day all around me.

And only that one, virtually imperceptible hole where one man had sealed himself out from it, so near to me in the alley behind, disturbed the perfection of worn, used people and things serving their purpose. One dot of silence poked through where there should have been a voice niggled unrecognized in the back of my mind.

– The Mighty Viking

;IGY6

;IGY6

If the above looks like random characters created by my cat walking across the keyboard, this article might be for you.

If you’re only vaguely familiar with its meaning, read on.

And if you know EXACTLY what it means, from a personal standpoint, I’d like your opinion on what follows.

I got involved this morning in an interesting group conversation started by a woman who was thinking of getting a tattoo with those characters. But she worried that because she had never been in combat, and did not have PTSD, perhaps it would come across as a presumptuous attempt to ingratiate herself with that group.

The group she referred to are veterans who struggle with PTSD from their military service. The semicolon is from another movement aimed at preventing suicide in the general public. The letters are an acronym for “I’ve got your six”, a military way of saying “I’ve got your back”. Together the phrase, and the wearing of the tattoo, is a symbol of support meant to be seen by someone who needs it.

I thought for a bit about her question. These days, it seems many people want to belong to a group they consider cool, even if they’ve never done anything connected to that group’s common experience.  While I don’t personally understand wanting to be part of a group whose common core is a debilitating disorder, we’ve all run across the joiners of anything that sounds suitably dramatic.

 

I earned my submarine dolphins in the navy. If you wore those Dolphins as a tattoo “in support”, I might take issue, because you weren’t there. I earned medals, including an expeditionary medal, a result of having engaged in a difficult mission. If you had that tattooed “in support”, I’d take issue, because you weren’t there.

;IGY6 isn’t a military award. The theme belongs in a sense to veterans, I suppose. We lived, slept, ate, and fought with our shipmates, our platoon mates. We stood on the shores of hell together. Some flinched. Some stood forward and ready, and jumped into the fray. We learned who to trust through experience. Those people proved themselves in the ultimate test of character, and we place an incredible amount of faith in that test.

But in the awkward post-military world we struggle to survive in, we PTSD vets need people with things at our six besides weapons. The war is of a different nature, it is against ourselves, and we need people who can see, recognize, warn, and handle those things. Many times the ones who recognize the signs are in fact our brothers-in-arms, who have seen what we’ve seen, know it’s look in our eyes, and can call us on it when we try to hide. But beyond that, there are many other ways to “have our six”.

We need people who can take a look at us and say, with a sense of familiarity with the subject, “hey, you doing alright?”. Sometimes that’s a wife, or a brother or sister who know us well. We need people who see us in a rage, and can talk us down, or protect us and those around us until we’re safe. We need people to see us “go silent” in public, or beginning to panic, and can take time to be with us for a moment, or walk with us out of the Walmart that sets us off. We need friends who remember we haven’t been seen online for a few days, to seek us out and pull us out of a downward spiral with their voice, and quiet company. We need a non-judgmental reminder of where we really are and what we’re doing when our thoughts get out of control and we can’t think or talk right. We need people who can be trusted with the knowledge we aren’t always right, without the stigmatizing condescending assumption that we must never be right.

We could use an army of these people. It doesn’t take a veteran. There are plenty of other horrors in this world besides combat that can prepare a person to be empathetic. There are plenty of people who struggle to live with those memories – from childhood, from an abusive relationship, or from acts of violence or disaster. I’ve known adopted children, survivors of awful kinds of abuse, whose word and touch have pulled me back.

We all can have each other’s six in this fight. It is a different kind of army I speak of. Anyone can prepare themselves to be part of it. But make no mistake, it takes work. It takes study. It isn’t something you can just do flippantly to appear cool. At some point if you haven’t done something to actually learn and prepare, if you subscribe to the many myths and junior-high slumber party stories of what PTSD is about, you’ll find yourself face to face with someone’s crisis, and your shallowness and naïveté can cause more damage.

But if you can do those things, if you can genuinely care about someone else’s outcome more than your self-interest, then at this point in our life, you may be better prepared to have “got our six”, better even than some of our shipmates, or patrol mates. If you can be all or even one of those things, you can be a lifesaver.

And if you can be that, then by all means, get the tattoo.

for more information, check out the following:

http://igy6foundation.com

https://www.projectsemicolon.com

 

 

Leaving an audience dangling

So there I was at the gas station fueling up the Excursion while pulling a trailer down to the brother-in-law’s. I come out and the gas attendant informs me I’ve got a tail light falling out of the trailer.

We walk back together, adopting the folded arms stance of two men talking mechanicals, and sure enough…there it hung.

So I turn to him, and tell him the following tale:  

“When I was a wee lad of 17, I worked for a summer as a courier in a hospital. My job was to take stuff that was here but needed to be there. Usually it was supplies, or paperwork, or sample, etc but once in a while they needed a person pushed. I was the pusher.

So one fine morning they call me to the ER to push a bed with a patient in it. As it turns out, he was a motorcycle rider who had crashed into a brick wall. My job was to push while the emergency trauma team fixed and held him together on the way to the operating room.

So I started pushing. There was bustling, and beeping, and the strained chatter of professional tested to the limits of their skills working together. I sensed the import of the moment, hunkered down in determined silence and did my part. I pushed that bed.

When we got to the relative lull of the elevator, I took a moment to take in the moment before me. Slowly, as impossible scenes do, I realized that the patient’s eyeball was lying on the pillow beside him, dangling by what I could only assume was the optic nerve.

“Much as this tail light was hanging out now.”

I told the gas station attendant all this, and said “you don’t forget something like that easily”.

I had been looking dolefully at the dangling light during all this, but at this moment I looked back at him. His face was pale, his mouth agape. He stood transfixed, aghast with the horror he had not seen coming.

My work here was finished, it was time to travel on.

 img_0247

TMV Card Back wBleedA few have asked me about my 2016 Presidential platform Thus far, I have this to say about that:

1. What is your stance on abortion?

I can’t for the life of me understand why this is such a popular
question to ask of a presidential candidate, given that the President has virtually no control over the issue.  But hey, since you’re asking, and this is my moment in the sun:  The issue is fraught with moral division, to the point where as a government of free people, we should not be legislating until we can argue more clearly the secular moral implications.  Meanwhile, the government should not be funding abortions either.  If groups want to raise money to support abortion clinics, more power to them.  If they want to use the platform of their personal religious beliefs to speak out against it, they should absolutely do that.

2. Do you support the legalization of same sex marriage?

Personally, No.  But as the President of these United States, my personal preference doesn’t serve the people of the country in this regard.  I would like to see the country come to view “Marriage”  in less of a theological cast, in regards to others.  If a person wishes to view Marriage as “God-ordained”, I think that is right and proper.  But to attempt to force others in a non-theocratic society to absorb their theocratic designs is wrong.  Proselytize if you wish, but force is out of line with the foundations of this country’s intent.

3.Should the government increase environmental regulations to prevent global warming?
It is possible to trace a path that shows the development of the “Global Warming” theory as a tool for other environmental concerns that could not hope to compete with Natural Resource Industry’s ambitions.  I believe that mankind has shown repeatedly not only the capacity but the ability to destroy local ecologies in the pursuit of profit.  I believe that one industry dominating public land  use and resource harvest through favorable laws written to subvert self-sustaining conservation and give that industry unfettered access to public resources is wrong.  I also believe that agonizing over individual toads, sparrows, lizards, owls, small rodents and non-adaptable flora is the mark of an obsessive movement built around an intentional over-reaction to these ecological abuses, in an attempt to  attain collateral conservation goals.  I believe, spiritually, in the “dominion over the earth” concept presented biblically, and through aboriginal traditions as well.  As humans, with the gifts of intellect that we possess, I think we have the opportunity and spiritual responsibility to find a way to combine sensible natural resource harvest with the responsibility to learn and apply techniques to help, rather than hinder nature.  To that end, the debate over the validity of  the “global warming” phenomenon is indeed one of power-mongering, with both sides vying for an unfair share of control over the disposition of earth’s resources.  I think there are studies being fronted who’s results were predetermined by the funding agencies’ subtle selection of institution.  In the end, a better rationale for self-control of Natural Resource Industry must be rooted in honesty, flexibility of sensible application, and the limiting of size and scope of harvest/recovery, which will be addressed in future questions regarding anti-trust and monopoly law.

4. Should national parks be preserved and protected by the federal government?

Absolutely.

5. Should producers be required to label genetically engineered foods (GMOs)?

On its surface, the underlying principles behind this question sound similar to the abortion question. The key difference here is that the People’s choice is dependent on accurate information.  The problem so far has been that by adopting a labeling standard, that standard becomes a target for corruption, where the intent of the law is fairly easily subverted with intentional loopholes lobbied for by unscrupulous businessmen.  If we tell people to trust the standard, and then the standard is perverted by lobbyists writing laws for lazy, unscrupulous lawmakers, it seems to me we’ve opened ourselves to liability.  So we either have to take the issue another step and require producers to provide more source information from which consumers can draw their own conclusions, or let people develop alternate sources of food from producers willing to provide this data at a economic premium.  If we certify something using government agency, then that should come with strict standards that the producer  and consumer pays a premium to receive documentation for.

6.  Should employers be required to pay men and women the same salary for the same job?

Yes.  The caveat being that there should be exemptions for jobs for which there is clear gender performance differences.  If, for example a physically demanding job can be done by a woman, but not at the same rate of production level as a man, a difference should be allowed to remain. The problem is this invites a rats-nest of never-ending quibbling over performance demands and levels.  Because of this, despite the obvious unfairness, government should not be making blanket, unilateral anti-discrimination except to address the most egregious discrimination.  Let the market reward equality.  Sub-note:  I do NOT think women should be sent to physical combat units.  Warfare is no place for social engineering experiments.

7. Should physically and mentally capable adults on welfare be required to work?

I think some sort of service should be engaged and offered to this group.  Presently, and for generations now, policy has encouraged a culture of deception and socially destructive tactics from people who see welfare as a “free ticket”.  Broadening the question, I believe that government support should not reward single mothers and larger families over two-parent families of modest size.  This of course is just as difficult to monitor and enforce as the current policies, and people seem to get some funny ideas – legends about how the system works emerge from these subcultures that drives a systemic misbehaviour from the population in general.  I would like to develop a civilian alternative to the National Guard, and develop policies that encourage pride in that force, but limitations to its financial reward to discourage dependence on it.  The National Guard weekend a month and two weeks per year paid service paradigm on a volunteer basis allows those with the drive to succeed to use the tool available to further their well-being, a rigorous screening process for true disability to steer those with diminished capacity into channels where they can make the most of what they have, while leaving those with chronic disregard for productive life free to choose poverty and hardship.

8. Should all welfare recipients be tested for drugs?

Let the states decide, based on the efficacy of testing using scientific data.  The best information I’ve personally seen to date does not support its efficacy, but if actual science says different, then it should be an option.  Again, this is a State issue.

9.  Should there be more restrictions on the current process of purchasing a gun?

No, not in general.  Proper writing and interpretation of current laws will be more effective. These laws should be local, not national.  I realize this creates problems for large urban areas where their local laws can be subverted with a little travel and subterfuge on the part of the purchasers.  I think the solution to the problems caused by gun violence are better addressed through social policy than direct firearm legislation.

10.  Should people on the “no-fly list” be banned from purchasing guns and ammunition?

Not without caveat.  The government does not have an especially good system for inclusion on this list.  These limitations subject otherwise good citizens who’ve been falsely targeted to unwarranted loss of rights.  The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” must prevail.

11. Do you support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

No.  Requiring purchase of insurance on a national level is wrong.  I think the initiatives by some states have provided a good opportunity to understand the issues without what I believe to be an unconstitutional requirement to purchase a product managed by the government.  The effects on both the competitive market and the ability of individual citizens to conduct their business is damaging.

I do, however, believe that a state-level program that no one is forced to sign up for creates an opportunity to resolve some of the problems.

12. Should the federal government require children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases?

As long as public school attendance is required, vaccination should be required.  Private schools (I’m thinking of some religious movements here) should have the flexibility to refuse vaccination,

13. Do you support the legalization of Marijuana?

Yes. It should have similar controls to alcohol. 

14. Should a photo ID be required to vote?

Yes.  But two caveats:  first, the requirement must be created at the beginning of an election cycle to give people time in places where it isn’t a general requirement already, and second, assistance should be provided to create the documentation for people who do not have it.  There should be included in this system a review process that can grant ID with a hearing of evidence including anecdotal, and a judge to resolve the issue when simple documentation can’t be had.
15. Should the U.S. accept refugees from Syria?

Not en masse, no.  I’m not opposed to a stringent vetting system for limited numbers, but it is a problem for other parts of the world to resolve, not the US.  We have humanitarian projects of our own in our end of the world to attend to.

16. Should foreign terrorism suspects be given constitutional rights?

No.  They should be treated as enemy combatants, until in the process they can be proven otherwise.

17.  Should the government decrease military spending?

Formulating this into a blanket question/answer is an intentional trap based on a disingenuous premise.  Military spending seems, on its surface, to be a bloated self-sustained ecosystem that has become almost socialist in nature.  Standing armies were anathema to the Founding Fathers’ grand design.  It is impossible, however, in Modern Warfare to simply call Jim-Bob off the tractor to the call of a bugle and expect to defend the country effectively.  The military complex is top-heavy, as that is where the power to self-perpetuate resides, and it must be trimmed.  The military advancement system has become analogous to academia in its formulized system of performance evaluation, gratuitous expectation of retention, and the unethical interaction between military leadership and civilian contractor.

18.  Do you support increasing taxes for the rich in order to reduce interest rates for student loans?

No.  While I see taxation as a valid method of social engineering, it’s application must be with the lightest of hands.  There are already too many college graduates for a workplace that needs other skills that college isn’t designed to provide.  The most common problem for trade schools of any value is that business is loathe to train people because inevitably after the investment in professional development another company comes along and hires away the investment.  It could be argued that a tax for creating trade schools funded by that industry might be in order, but this should remain a State issue in order to take advantage of the State’s ability to attune itself to local issues more readily than the federal government. I do, however, support simplification of the tax code and fewer personal deductions available only to the wealthy.

19. Do you support Common Core national standards?

Not unless someone can explain to me in plain language why we’re using it and what good it does.  There is much made of the apparent idiocy of Common Core, but that isn’t my primary concern.  At issue is the federal government’s meddling in what should be a state and/or local issue.  My vision for the Department of Education is to function as a central advisory and resource coordinator to serve states, but to have no power to require states to do anything.  States are perfectly capable of being responsible governing bodies of their citizenry, as guided by good judgment and local conditions and traditions dictate.

20. Should illegal immigrants have access to government-subsidized healthcare?

No.  Illegal immigrants (as opposed to legal ones) have no rights beyond the basic human rights to be afforded them as they are escorted back to their countries of origin, or to incarceration as applicable laws dictate.

21. Should Muslim immigrants be banned from entering the country until the government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists?

I think all immigrants should be prevented from entry until some sort of threat assessment can be conducted.  I don’t  if this is practical though.

22.  Should the government fund space travel?

Yes, as well as other scientific exploration.  I also believe in government-supported art, though I believe it should be in the form of supporting historic cultural art belonging to America, and the fostering of art community that in turn can choose for itself what actual art to support.

23. Should the government tax the wealthy at a higher rate?

I believe that a modest tiered system is valid to allow those working at the lower levels the ability to attain a healthy standard of living, but disagree with a dramatic percentage increase at the higher levels.

24. Should the government close loopholes and tax corporations at a higher rate?

This is, unfortunately, one of the classic misdirection questions that so often lead to political opportunism at the expense of actually addressing one of the most pressing issues in American Economics.  The real issue of unfair competition practices cannot be resolved with complex taxation schemes.  In fact, I believe that corporate taxation should be simplified and reduced – it is not the job of government to play economic engineer.  The singular role of government in business is to ensure that anyone who comes to the market with an idea can do so without harassment, or any one of the myriad anti-competition practices engaged in by the biggest competitors.  To that end, an examination of anti-trust, monopoly, and competition law needs to be made.  Small Business will always be at the core of a healthy, vibrant economy. To the extent that an economy suffers, it can often be shown that one player has gained dominance over others and has begun to operate aloof of the principles of free market.  Taxation schemes cannot fix this.

Small-town skirmish

Yesterday, I stopped in a very small town in NE Oregon for breakfast. When I came out, just before firing up the bike I heard some shouting around the corner.

At first I thought someone was calling, but then I heard the second voice, clearly crazy and angry, and realized an altercation was developing just out of sight. Since I already had my helmet on my head, I thought maybe I’d best bring the bike to the scene just in case. I started the bike, and pulled that direction.

Rounding the corner, I saw a group of children and two adults on one side of the street and a huge guy shouting and gesticulating aggressively from the other. Several things happened all at once. I parked my bike in the middle of the street between the man and the crowd. It got worse when I realized that the crazy guy was holding a sword. My first thought was, “oh great, crazed lunatic bent on mayhem” and I started to dismount, preparing to engage with a nasty situation.

But before I could dismount, it dawned on me that the guy was also holding a shield, and the adults on the other side were dressed in robes.

Yep. Vacation Bible school, re-enacting the story of David and Goliath to the kiddies.

I had to say something.

So I called out loudly, “Angel of the Lord Messenger service! Is there a “David, son of Jesse” here?”

“David? Son of Jesse? Anyone?” Looking at the kids parked under the shade of a tree, “Is your name David?”

Three of the kids pointed at one of the robed figures.

“Ah, David, good. Thus sayeth The Lord: “use the Sling.””

And I fired the bike back up and boogied on outta there, beet-red.

On memes, dupes, friendship and Freedom.

This isn’t a political post. Honest. But it’s about your politics. We need to talk.

If you make political posts to social media, using memes you share from elsewhere, sooner or later you’re going to get caught with one that is blatantly false. You shared it because it said something you already thought was true, were prepared to believe was true, or wanted to believe was true because it supported your candidate, your cause, or your opinion.

But it was false. Not just “oh, we made a mistake” kind of false, but turns out it was insidiously crafted to appear true, to appeal to you and those who believed like you, all the while being a bald-faced lie.

You were duped.

It happens, sooner or later. There’s a little bit of shame to it, but nothing you can’t shake off.

But did you ever stop to wonder about who it was who made that post? Did it ever come to mind to really contemplate the full scope of the origins of these things – of what had transpired?

Think about it. Someone – someone who knew better – sat down and connected a series of facts they knew full well were false, to paint a picture designed to mislead the potential viewer, You.

That person did it on purpose.

Who were they? Were the part of a party subcommittee of an organization who’s task it is to create propaganda? Do they work from the knowledge that even the most blatant lies are bought into by a certain percentage of people? Do they ever think, in the late evening when they’re alone, about the fact that their work for that day was a known, intentional deception?

And what about you? What did they intend for you? When the deceivers created the meme, they weren’t thinking about those they consider the Opposition. They knew full well they’d never get anywhere close to those who already disagree with them using this method. It is you who are the intended victim. When they set out to deceive, you are the target of the lie. You. and your friends, and your friends’ friends…those who think like you already are targeted to become a standing army of willingly deceived carriers in a game of power being played out upon your backs. And as with many an abusive relationship, you excuse them, make excuses for them, intentionally blink over the facts and fight for them using raw emotion – and the ego that doesn’t want to acknowledge that you’ve been used.

And what’s to become of your friends, the ones who agree with your points of view, who will wake up in the morning and see the meme that you shared – the one that was a lie from the beginning, targeting you? Those friends aren’t getting the lie from its source. They’re getting it from you. You have become, like many victims of abuse do, the abuser yourself. Look your friends in the eye. If time and distance prevents it, pull up a picture on your screen, and look that friend’s picture in the eye. Are you going to lie to them? Are you willing to target them with an abusive attempt at thought control? Which is more important to you? The friend? Or your abuser’s designs for using you?

If your friends are more important, then when you come across a meme that speaks something you want to say, check it first. Check it hard. Use sources you know want to put it down, see what they have to say. Protect your friendships first and foremost, don’t let mutually accepted lies and deceit substitute for friendship. Resist the attempt by outside forces to trick you into believing in your independence, when the only freedom is theirs, to sway you at their whim into taking action on their behalf, to solidify their power.

Government of a free people is not a means itself to an end. It is only the tool to prevent others from forcing us to be their means to their ends against our will. Choose to be part of “the people” first – a faithful and respectful friend.

This technology we’ve invented for ourselves – it shrinks our world, allows us to be communal beings without the limitation of physical presence. It sometimes shrinks us too far, to the point of being nothing but a pulsing ego in a fantastical world of our own imagination, inattentive to the other aspects of our humanity. Don’t let your world shrink until it is only you, and an invented, inhuman notion of controlled servants. Let others be free.

Be free.

The Mighty Viking’s Theory of the Hows and Whys:

The Mighty Viking’s Theory of the Hows and Whys:

Friends, we all know that one guy, the guy who, in high school, broke everything he touched.  Every project he built, every car he worked on, every desk he sat in broke, came out mangled, never worked again, in some cases managed to mangle or bleed someone – as often as not himself, unintentionally.

And every so often, he wouldn’t come to school for a couple days.  Some say he was recovering.  Some say the principle didn’t appreciate the help fixing light bulbs, or bathroom fixtures, or the rewiring of the classroom projectors. It wasn’t just that he broke things, but that despite his own track record, he wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. He was terminally curious.

And I say with confidence that we all have known that one guy because, well, I am that guy.

It has been so for as far back as I can remember, and even further. I can walk past something and merely think curious thoughts about its internal mechanisms and they will give up the ghost crumbling to the floor, grinding themselves to a pulp, bending, folding mutilating. Spindling. I can reach out to straighten the most imperceptible bend or crinkle of a thing, and step away with a major part of the physical structure of an inanimate and usually expensive object awkwardly tumbling over my left shoulder on its unconstrained way to the floor, detached mysteriously from its host body.

When I was a wee lad, and my brother – four years my junior – began doing dexterous things like building models, creating Lego machines, etc., it didn’t take him long to add the skill of hiding his prized creations from me.

I was hurt.

I told him, because I was the older brother and that’s what older brothers do, that I could “fix” things for him.

His precious things remained hidden

I wanted so badly to build things.  But nothing I built stayed built.  in fourth grade, we were organized into 3-person teams.  My team was to build The Alamo using sugar cubes and toothpicks.  We gathered round the table, my mates and I, and worked for days on our project.  The other two were girls, and they questioned more than once why on earth it was taking so long.  And where the sugar cubes were going if they weren’t going into the construction of a fort.  And they never thought to look up and wonder at the toothpicks impaled into the acoustic ceiling, or connect the dots between the complaints of three tables over, the geographically-opposed opposite side of the room, about toothpick-based lob-darts with spit wads attached for weight. This extra-curricular activity was only partly due to my affinity for raw sugar and projectiles. It was also influenced by my complete inability to make the glue from the glue bottles to go where it was intended.

Oh, did I forget to mention the rubber bands? Yes. As it happened, I seemed to have a gift for ballistics and trajectory. Not the math of it, mind you. But I could make it happen.

In my 8th-grade year, our neighbor who happened to own the local Western Auto hardware store took me under tutelage by my father’s request to learn the assembly of wagons, for his christmas displays and for sales. I lasted 3 days, and it was gently suggested to me that perhaps it was best if my trade did not include mechanical devices, or their assembly.  I just could not understand how they went together, no matter how hard I tried or how many times he showed me. By the time I hit high school, I had come to an understanding of my mechanical skill.  I decided not to even try to take shop, even as my friends were making cars run, cutting and shaping metal birds, creating all manner of wooden doodads, and building electronic boxes that were radios, and lights, and clocks, and…oh, it was too painful to even pay attention to what they were making.  I wanted to make.  But all I could ever do was unmake.

It was in the summer of my Junior year in high school that things came to a head.  I was learning, under instruction and the well-advised caution of the Learning Permit system of the great state of California, to drive the family pickup, a 1975 Chevy with 3 on the tree.  

There were problems.

The first major problem was the coordination of the clutch and the gas.  I understand, and understood then, that it was a rite of passage for a new driver to do the Herky-Jerky, the Stall-Out, and the ever-popular “Push-on-the-clutch Push-on-the-clutch -FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-ALL-THAT-IS-HOLY-PUSH-IN-ON-THE-CLUTCH!!!!”, as my dad liked to refer to it, after the moment, with animated horror in his eyes.  He had a way of delivery that virtually oozed with sincerity, I’ll give him that.  Normally he was a calm, reasonable father, so I had to assume the clutch, wherever in that moment it had gone, needed pushing.  In.  

But I digress for the moment.

The second problem was the sympathetic combination of the two hands – one on the wheel, the other on the shifter. My hands would move in mirror image to one another, so if I was lifting the shifter, the driving hand also lifted, and vice versa. Shifting into second gear wasn’t so bad, we just veered into ditches, waterways, to the edge of bridges, tangled jungles of tumbleweeds that were everywhere in Southern California, and the occasional bicyclist or homeless sot. But third or first gear was a darker issue. The one and only time I ever heard my father say a bad word was a First-Gear event. That has stood out in my memory lo these many decades.

And so it was one undistinguished,ly sunny, hot day in the City, working our way Herky-Jerky to the hardware store. It was another test of courage on my dad’s part, and grim refusal to accept the obvious on my own part.  “The obvious” being, of course, that I was not cut out to drive a stick.

As we sat in stony, stunned relief in the parking lot of the store, my father spoke from his fetal position against the passenger door, his body attempting what his paternal dedication would not allow, to flee through the very membrane of steel and glass.  This man, though he was a doctor, had grown up on a farm, driving trucks across orchards with the natural gift of the otter to a river, since just a little before his feet could reach the pedals.  We sat, for an uneasy eternity, two broken people, wondering what could possibly come next.

After the emotional din in each of our heads settled for a few moments, He looked across the expanse of the bench seat between us, and asked a stunningly brilliant question.

Glenn, do you know how a clutch works?”

The question stunned me in its simplicity.  My outward answer was, “no, I have no idea how a clutch works.”  My inward answer resounded more loudly, “No, I have no idea why I never thought to ask!”

So, in a brief and simple way, he explained the whole contraption in a way I could easily visualize – friction plates, the synchro gears of the transmission, the effect of the lever for the shifter, the effect of the pedal on the plates – the whole thing.

I have no idea what we bought while at the store.  It seems perfectly likely that we forgot what we came for.  What I do remember, however, is the feeling of being awake for the first time in my life.  I started that truck up, eased that clutch out, letting the plates slide gently at first, and smoothly increasing the pressure until they were pushing us smoothly, and calmly down the highway.  I could be wrong in my memory, but I don’t believe I ever did the Herky-Jerky again.  It was like lifting the hood off the eyes of a hunting falcon.  The question to be asked, apparently, wasn’t “how”, but “why”.  That was what I was wired to need to do anything well.  If you could tell me why something needed to be done, I could figure out the how.  Or another how that no one else had thought of, one that sometimes solved problems people had been struggling against for a long time.

I’m not saying everything has been smooth grease and roses since. But that summer, I assembled a motorcycle from a frame and a box of parts, and made it run.   I’ve gone on to be a successful submarine sonar technician, fixing some of the most complex electronics in the world, and teaching others the art of it. I have figured out the function – and more critically the reason for the non-function, of completely unknown equipment based on fundamental theory.  Post-Navy, I evolved into a sought-after field engineer for sawmill computerized systems, and later a systems analyst and consultant in the field.  And as I look back on where I advanced, and where I failed, almost always it revolved around whether I remembered to, or was able to use “Why” and “How” as a delicately balanced pair of stepping stones, moving one forward, then the other at the right time.

If you have one of those people in your life, the ones who always seem out of sync, always breaking things, try this:  Ask them if they know how.  and ask them if they know why.  And listen very carefully to where they’re at.  Sometimes they’re trying to figure out why when they should be learning how.  And sometimes, well…the other way ‘round.  If you want to teach them, learn to listen, and to understand which moment they’re in.

On that way home, I felt a freedom like no other, having finally done something mechanically that was actually how it was supposed to be done, without breaking anything or anyone.  My heart soared.  And then suddenly, there at the left-hand turn from Barton Rd onto Michigan Street, I reached for first gear.  I heard for the first and last a bad word come from my father’s lips.

And I knew why.

Grown on Radio

 

 

 

 

 

I read this morning the news that Radio Shack has gone Bankrupt.

I guess no one really knows exactly what that will mean for their own personal favorite Radio Shack. But I recall mine. globe radio

It was 1970. Somewhere in the Inland Empire, my mom took me on my first Radio Shack visit. I don’t remember why we were there to begin with. And I don’t know what we bought – except for one thing: A bright red Panasonic “Globe” radio . And even though it was softball-sized, it came with a keychain.

Fast-forward a few months. It was summer of 1970. In the Secret World beneath the covers of my bed, I listened to my radio with the ear piece in so as not to alert my parents that I was still awake. I worked the tuning dial to get the best reception while the ball was out of bounds. I strained through the static, my heart stopping as Walt Frazier passed in, and Dave DeBusschere sank a shot from…I didn’t know where. I didn’t care where. I was crushed.

But the announcer wasn’t done, and neither was Jerry West. Words jumped out at me from the radio:
“three seconds”
“two seconds”
“one second”
I thought all was lost. Who had the ball? Where were they? Was anyone doing anything?

and then somehow, “West throws it up…” came through my ear-piece, and in that instant I thought “Maybe”. Maybe something could happen. If anyone could make “maybe” happen, it would be Jerry West.

And for an agonizing second, the announcer said nothing. The crowd noise continued as fervently as it had been. I wanted to know, I NEEDED to know.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Even though his shot tied the game and sent it to overtime, the Lakers failed to capitalize on the miraculous shot. But I didn’t get to hear about their loss until the next day, however, because my shout of triumph betrayed me, and the radio was confiscated for the night. Regardless, the excitement of that night etched in me a deep respect for the power that Radio Shack could bring me. There was magic in that store.

Until the advent of Youtube, I had never seen the shot, it only lived in video in my imagination. And until then, seeing that old, grainy film clip of all the other fans cheering, I believed that a little boy under the covers wishing with all his might was all that mattered.

Then again…maybe it did.

The Moving Wall Vietnam Veteran Memorial

 

A stout old marine storming down the street in my direction drew my attention from the people around me. His march took him through the short parking lot, up and over the curb and angled towards me across the park grass. A proud red Marine veteran’s hat emblazoned with “Semper Fi” provided a little shade over his bulldog face set hard with determination.  This man was on a mission. And it was about to become mine too.

At half the size of the permanent Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC, the Moving Wall would seem to be something of a lesser experience. But that doesn’t account for how directly and powerfully the memorial points us back to humanity.  I was invited to help out with the exhibit by an old Navy mate of mine. I had no idea what to expect, nor any idea how I could be of help.  But I went anyway, and found myself at the end of the West Wall, greeting people, handing out brochures, and preparing to have my life changed. And so I prepared to greet this determined marine.

His focus was so set he didn’t even see me.  He blasted past me by precisely one stride, and then…stopped, dead in his tracks.  He stood motionless for a few seconds, his face going from focused determination to abject grief in the space of maybe five seconds.  Turning askance towards me, his choking voice said, in answer to my stepping forward to him, “Dammit, I thought I could do this.”

The event was two days old, and this overwhelming surge of emotions had been expressed over and over again.  It was there when the Wall began to come off its trailer with hardware and pieces.  As we raised the first few panels, the many hands lifted them with a certain unspoken reverence from their storage and up to where they were to stand.  By the time 6 panels were up forming a right angle, the power of this display was already apparent in the solemn dignity with which the work was carried out.  Workers took turns between adjusting hardware in the back, and standing in the wash of recognition of human life in front of the Wall. Many of the volunteers were from various veterans motorcycle groups.  Handshakes were seldom enough as we came together.  Words were not always needed.  Hands on shoulders, a hug when a brother could be seen struggling with the moment, standing together silently side by side – these things were not just ok, they were needed.

The old Marine stepped back off the walkway, and around the back of the wall where he could shed the unwanted tears privately. He gave himself the old marine pep talk, “C’mon, you can do this”, slapping his cheeks to sharpen his sense of now, and distract from “then”.  In a few minutes, he was ready to try again.  He got to the same spot as before, and stopped again.  Hand on his shoulder, I asked if I could walk with him.  Another Docent, more experienced than I, pulled alongside and offered the same, and together they changed course, walking over to the table where information about which wall panel his mates could be found.  He could do that much.

This event was the first of its kind for me.  I didn’t serve during Vietnam, I served for 10 years on submarines during the Cold War.  I don’t understand the fear of bullets flying and landing around me, but I understand the dangers of submerging a vessel into the sea.  My shipmates and I have experienced our own nightmares, the cold breath of death held back only by the sometimes intense work of a dedicated, tightknit crew fighting casualty with trained skill. The closeness that comes from that cannot be expressed fully.  

The Marine’s list of names was nearly an entire platoon long.  Many of them were listed together, as the names are arranged in order of casualty. He spoke little, and worked hard to maintain his composure as he approached the Wall.  After only a couple moments he had to step away, face contorted again in grief.  The Docent stayed with him as he approached and stepped back several times. Gradually the grief from that day long ago and the years since became manageable.  He stood in front of that spot on the wall, processing the memory of those men, remembering that day, thanking those who fought with him, apologizing for living, thanking, living, and starting again at the top.  Thoughts that made no sense reconciled with those that do.  Emotions that had never seen the light of day broke out in such raw clarity that the pain seared like a fresh cut.

That morning I had ridden my first large group ride, “The Run for the Wall”.  We rode together, these men who were brothers of mine.  Signals traveled as we rode, from ahead to behind, each of us depending on the communication of the other.  These were riders who knew what it meant to be counted on. The rider ahead, beside, and behind me formed an interlacing network of trust that traveled the whole length of the group of 100 riders.  We moved as one, in the same sense as my sub crew moved, trusting, being trusted, doing what we knew was needed. I felt a kind of mutual confidence – the kind of confidence that is formed by fire. It fit like a final puzzle piece in my mind that had been missing for the last twenty-five years. Just being among these men, and being here at this wall with those who were lost, a peace settled upon me in a way I hadn’t felt for a long time.

When he finally left an hour later, the sturdy old marine walked away, his bulldog face turning back several times on his way across the grass, through the parking lot, and down the street.  It seemed he could still hear the guns of this new battle, as the enemies in his mind had been displaced, and still fought in their retreat.  This war of his wasn’t over yet.  But today’s battle, perhaps, showed him that he could win.

And I found myself thinking about him and that experience through the rest of the day. The scene played out in dozens of ways over and over again. More than once I found myself being thanked by someone who, turning to deflect the overwhelming emotion of the moment, felt moved to thank someone – anyone – in that moment, even someone who had done nothing more than hammering, carrying, and putting up flags.  I watched the sister who had lost her brother when she was in high school, remembering the day they came to tell her family he was dead – people reached out to hold her up in her grief, people who did not know her, but reached out anyway, and sat with her for a spell.  There was the swaggering old sailor from the Bronx, who stood calmly, talking to me so matter-of-fact about riding swift-boats, until that moment when he remembered the incoming fire, and the men falling – friends falling.  Another taciturn soldier began to tell his story, but suddenly he could do no more than say, “too long…too long…” in grief apologizing somehow, for taking so long to visit.

This one Marine marched into my life, and then walked back out with no more than 50 words spoken between us. But our handshake was a whole conversation. The speechless arm over his shoulder, the acceptance of his arm around mine in response, moved me beyond words. It took several days, and a thousand miles of riding, for me to grasp finally what was meant by the Moving Wall. This wall does not leave you where you were.  It changes you.

The Moving Wall – it isn’t just a war memorial, but a human memorial. And it will move you, but not just randomly. It will move you closer to others. The appalling reality of war is how it moves people apart. The miracle of such tribute is how much closer we can become.

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The Sweeper

The Sweeper

We sat at a diner, musing over coffee in our  leathers discussing route options for the next two days.  It was my trip, but I was still undecided about the choice of two possible routes for the first couple days.

My dad made his position clear.“Well…whichever one you take, when you look back I’ll be there.”

As with most thoughts worth having, this one rattled around in my head for a while over the next set of miles.  My dad and I have been riding together – in one capacity or another – for a long, long time.  I wasn’t exactly one to tuck in behind and just hang on for the ride.  I’ve always been the one to see a road, and think to myself, “huh…I wonder what’s down there?”

And more often than I can remember, I found out.

There’s something you should know about motorbike riders.  On group rides, there are two particularly important people. The Road Captain, and the Sweeper.  To be honest, most of my riding has been done on my own, without either one.  But when I do ride with a group, I’m usually the Road Captain, mostly by virtue of being the only one that’s been where we’re going.  There’s a lot more that goes into being a good Road Captain – a good sense of judgment, the ability to say “no” to one’s own curiosity in deference to the group’s intent to get where they’re going safely.  I’ve been a lot of places, I know a lot about the landmarks, the best diners, the best coffee, the best beers.  The interesting characters and history and scenic views – I make a decent tour guide.  And I can do pace calculations in my head pretty well.  On the other hand, those behind me learn pretty quickly that those scenic stops can come up all the sudden, and I’m not so good at accounting for the group behind me.  I’m good at making seasoned riders out of the folks behind me.

The Sweeper’s job is to be behind.  If someone breaks down, or needs to stop – whatever – the Sweeper stays back, and does what’s necessary to keep the group together.  That’s not to say he takes care of all the problems.  He’s back there to keep contact between the straggler and the group, and if there’s something he can do, fine.  But mostly, the Sweeper is just there.

My most consistent Sweeper has been my dad.

My first multi-speed bike, 1969, Loma Linda. Dad's already riding sweeper.When I was 2, and the front yard was still That Big Place I Haven’t Fully Explored Yet, every time I looked back, he was there.

When I was 8, and the gate was opened to me for the first time to take to the streets, I flew dow the asphalt.  And when I looked back, he was there.

When I was 16, and after years of being on the back held the throttle of my own motorbike on the street for the first time, I looked back, and he was there.  He wasn’t telling me what to do, or which way to go, or how fast not to go.  He had been there himself, and had some rough idea of how fast and far I could go.  He wasn’t there to instruct me.  He was just…there.

When at the age of 17 I told him my plans for my future, he wasn’t at the Door of Opportunity ushering me in.  He wasn’t pushing me into one Hall of Study or another.  He was just there.

When at the age of 19 I held the arm of my true love, and told him I planned to commit the rest of my life to her, he was there in the front row of the church.  Right behind me

When at the age of 21 my hand held the pen that would sign my name to an enlistment in the Navy, I looked to him.  He neither pushed nor pulled – he was just there

And here on this day halfway through my 52nd year I started east on another cross-country ride.  I asked him to ride a was with me.  And when I didn’t know which way I wanted to go, he only had one promise: whichever way I went, I could look back, and he’d be there.  Sometimes he’d help.  Sometimes he’d just talk while I figured out that what I had wasn’t a panic moment.  Sometimes he’d just watch – because, dang it, I was just that entertaining

And that’s the way it is with fathers.  They live their life.  They learn what they can, and if they do it well, they come prepared to have confidence in their children.  Or at least to act like it.  I don’t know if I’ve been so good at it with my own kids as he was, but then, I was kind of a different kid.  He seemed to understand that giving advice, trying to assist, involving himself until it became HIS life – wouldn’t really work.  Sometimes I wished, perhaps, that he’d have helped me a little more actively than he did.  But I can’t say I ever really felt left to my own fortune.  Always the Sweeper – he was there, but not to make me feel like a helpless tourist.  His presence gave me the hope that staying on the road was worth it, to at least someone.

These days, I’ve become the Sweeper.  I’m not quite as adept as he to be the one that has done enough on my own, and ready to be the one behind.  But I’ve learned enough of fatherhood to know that we each have to ride our own ride.  The single hardest thing about fatherhood, for me, is not getting on their bike and riding it up the road a spell for them.  It leaves them no more able to ride than before, and me 10 miles down the road from my own ride.  Their ride is their’s, alone.

And frankly, the most satisfying place in the world is behind your child, watching them succeed.