Flopping

I purchased my current mattress after the break up of my marriage.  It was not supposed to be my forever mattress, only my transition mattress.  After eight years and even more lumpy spots, it had to go!

After weeks of procrastination, I went shopping.  The first few stores were not doing it for me.  In each, I was met by a sales associate who appeared in front of me as if dropped by a pneumatic tube associate dispensing system activated by opening the door of the store.  With each salesperson came a big toothy grin and a clipboard with sale flyers, credit applications and, no doubt, a list of everything the manager wanted the staff to sell.  The associates in each store stayed in close formation, chatting me up, looking for personal details to bond with me so I would make a purchase, preferably on my new store credit card.  The only thing they needed to know was that I was shopping for a mattress, I was there to flop, lay still and sort through the selection on my back.

mattress

The last store was different.  I slipped into the vast showroom unnoticed by the staff.  Perhaps their pneumatic associate delivery tube system was down.  The last time I was here, the mattresses were way in the back of the building, so that is where I headed, weaving through the confusing galleries of bedrooms, dining rooms, leather recliners, and couches.  When I finally arrived in the back, I was dismayed to find the former mattress gallery full of beach house offerings.  “Wicker (shuddering), so much wicker!”

I plotted my escape from the store.  Did they stop selling mattresses?  To find that answer I would need to talk to an associate. No, it was better to locate a way out as stealthily as possible.

20180818_122327As I weaved my way out it happened, a desk caught my eye.   I wanted a new writing table. It had to be hardwood, at least 60 inches wide, and a close match for the furniture in my bedroom.  As I was examining it, a strange feeling came over me, perhaps a feeling a wildebeest experiences when they sense a lion, with a clipboard, sizing them up.  I moved away, picking my route through the maze of galleries, increasing my pace as I went. I was using my peripheral vision to track the predator associate as I moved ever closer to the front door.

I moved left and stumbled on the entrance to the mattress gallery.  I darted around a half wall and there, in front of me, a sea of mattresses.  I flopped on the first one.  Wow, not too firm, not too soft.  The lioness approached, but the half wall obstructed its view.  She moved off slowly. There were more wildebeest to be had.

I checked out the selection and returned to the first mattress I had tried during my escape.  We have a winner!  Now I need to find an associate.  They are never around when you need them!

This is a blog post written for a class, Blog Writing I, I am taking with Gotham Writers Workshop

My Kingdom for a Low Beam

Cherokee 001

I made an appointment for Saturday, 5 May 2018, at Southern Chrysler Jeep Greenbrier in Chesapeake to have a low beam replaced on my 2014 Jeep Cherokee. I was told, while making the appointment, to show up at 7 a.m., and they would get to it and get me out the door. I had another commitment on Saturday, so time was of the essence. (At this point, with this dealership, the thought “I should know better” crept into my mind)

I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and was the 4th car in line in the maintenance lane. The service advisor checked the Jeep in. I thought this was a straightforward job of changing out the low beam bulb on the right side. That is what I was here for, and that was all I wanted. A little over an hour later I was called to the service desk.  The service advisor informed me that the low beam was expensive, around $70 (In fact, it was $55). I must have had a curious expression on my face.  I needed the low beam, I was aware of the cost involved.  What I did not understand was why the bulb was not already installed or why I was standing here.  The job should have taken 15-20 minutes at the most.

The service representative then started telling me about the 23 point inspection completed on the car. Excuse me? I was here for a simple (I thought) bulb replacement. Why were they wasting my time doing a 23 point inspection? Was it just like the one they did on 21 April 2018 (2 weeks earlier) when I was in for an oil change and tire rotation? I had that report in my maintenance file, and there was nothing to cause concern. He then mumbled about brake fluid color and how much it would cost me to have the work done. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I came in for a BULB REPLACEMENT!   Was I missing something?  Southern Jeep seemingly was taking this opportunity to try to make a little more money off of me.

I asked how long it would take to change the bulb. I was told by the annoyed service rep who was failing to sell me on another service, that it would be another 30-45 minutes. And an hour for the brake fluid, one more attempt to up-sell me. After repeating that I did not want the brake fluid service, I asked the service desk to do only the work that I had scheduled. That work could have been completed by this point had they not wasted time on the inspection that I did not authorize.

Almost 40 minutes later I was called to the cashier to settle my bill and get my keys. The paperwork I was given did not include the inspection report. Next time it will be Autozone and a YouTube video. I will do it myself.

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2001 Cherokee Sport

I have owned three Jeeps over the years.  My first was a 1988 Cherokee. I had to give that up in 1994 when I transferred to Japan.  My second was a 2001 Cherokee Sport that I put over 270,000 miles on before buying my current ride in 2014.  The first two Jeeps ran reliably and only needed standard maintenance, brakes, and tires. I loved both of those Cherokees.  In fact, I regret selling the 2001 Jeep after buying the 2014 version.  My current Cherokee had 11 factory recalls in the first few years, ranging from computer updates to wiring harnesses. I also have had to replace a bad alternator and battery and had performance issues with the 9-speed automatic transmission.  Compared to the performance of my first two Jeeps, it has been a disappointment   I may have purchased my last Jeep product.

Southern Chrysler Jeep Greenbrier continues to set the customer service bar low and then fails to reach it.

 

The Cat, My Nemesis

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Misty

We are rivals for the affection and attention of the same woman. That is where our commonality ends.  I am not a “cat person.”  My feline aversion has everything to do with allergy and very little with to do with animosity.  I think Misty, the cat, somehow knows this and is using it to her own advantage.

It all started a few years ago when I visited Jeanne on Dutch Island for the first time.  I knew I had an allergy to cats and I knew she had a cat in her house. It is her daughter’s pet. I figured that I would just avoid contact with the cat and all would be fine.  Besides, Jeanne is a doctor and would be able to head off any ill effects if they popped up.  What could possibly go wrong?

During the second day of the trip, I started sneezing and feeling a little itchy. But I was cool about it.  The crush I had on this woman all those years ago was manifesting itself into something more significant, and I was trying to avoid complaints or whines about the cat. That evening we were in her kitchen preparing dinner.  I was sitting at the counter while she was prepping something on the granite surface near the sink with her back to me.  The cat was surreptitiously perched on the stool next to me, presenting herself to be petted and looking annoyed that I had not already commenced that activity.  As the conversation progressed, Jeanne turned around. The look on her face changed immediately when she glanced at me. “OH, DEAR GOD!”  The shocked look and sudden exclamation were not exactly what I was going for in the “wooing my dear friend” plan.  In the few moments that it took for Jeanne to finish the task in front of her and then turn back to me, my face had swollen to the point where my left eye was almost completely shut.

What followed was a bit of a blur.  A search for Benadryl, checking drawers for allergy remedies, mutterings of “I am a doctor, and I have nothing to help you in the house.”  I was getting a little loopy.   We hopped in a car and went to the store for allergy meds. It was about 10 p.m. on a Saturday evening as we pulled into the Walmart parking lot. The sideshow that can happen at a Walmart anywhere in the U.S. was in full swing in Savannah.  I realized that my swollen face was a part of the act.

Now, when I prep for a visit to Savannah, I start popping Claritin D like M&Ms for a week before I go.  An uneasy truce between Misty and I exists, but not without the occasional reminder that while I am on Dutch Island visiting with Jeanne, I am in Misty’s world.  I avoid contact with her because not doing so will lead to hives on my forearms, watery eyes and an increase in the frequency of sneezing fits.

DSCN2264When I arrive, you can almost sense that the cat is looking at me and thinking “Back for more, little man?”.  She still presents herself to be petted.  I always ignore her.  She sometimes pays me back for the slight by nipping at me.  While I am there, Jeanne will close the cat out of the bedrooms. Those rooms are Misty’s favorite place to sleep at night after napping all day.  My nemesis does not appreciate the appropriation of sleeping spots by the interloper from Virginia.

If I am up early in the morning to walk Bella, Jeanne’s Vizsla, Misty will be waiting for me when I am done with the dog.  Mewing like she has not been fed in days she will follow me around, rubbing against my legs until I make my way to the kitchen to feed her.  If I am wearing shorts in warm weather, I am dancing to get out of the way of the feline contact.  Once her dish is full, she will harass me for treats.

Book

I laugh at your literature!

She has stepped up her campaign to get me out of the house and ensure she has access to her favorite sleeping haunts.  She will walk across the keyboard on my laptop or just lay upon it staring at me as random letters rush across the screen.  She seems to be almost taunting me to pick her up and move her off.  She will rub all over my computer bag, lay on my coat.  At Christmas, she seemed to be ridiculing me by using a book on cat training as a pillow. It was a gift for Jeanne.

While sitting with Jeanne watching TV, Misty has been known to walk across the back of the sofa and start forcefully rubbing her head on the back and top of my head.  I do so love hives on my scalp!

I have been told that the allergy may resolve itself over time with more exposure to the cat.  I think, if Misty had a vote, I would have been dispatched from my intrusions into her world long before any allergy was overcome.

IMG_4637On the last two trips, she has violated our truce by urinating first near and then on my shoes after I came back from walking the dog. A small rivulet creeping away from the stain on top of the slip-on and running along the grout in the front hall tile. Nearby, she sat on the stairs, cleaning her fur and occasionally glancing in my direction.  I think she is throwing down the gauntlet.  I have challenged Misty to a final battle in the marsh along the Herb River behind Jeanne’s house.  It is still in doubt which one of us would emerge victorious after such a clash.

For now, I will start the Claritin D a week before heading to Savannah.  I will continue to avoid direct contact with Misty, as far as I am able.  Shoes or anything else I bring along with me will not be left out to be insulted by my catty antagonist.  I can only wonder what Misty has in store for me on my next trip south.  I know she is waiting for me.

cropped demon cat

Rivulet

Finding Modoc Stash or How I Detoured Three Hours For an Old Geocache

Before I tell you my story, I should take a moment and explain that I am a Geocacher.  Geocaching is a hobby in which people use multimillion-dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. That may be a flip oversimplification. A little more of a concise definition for Geocaching may be: hunting for and finding a hidden container, location, or event using GPS coordinates posted on a website. There are over 3 million Geocaches hidden, worldwide.  There are apps that you can use depending on what kind of phone you have. I use a Garman Oregon 450T, handheld GPS for most of my Geocaching trips.

GPSThe hobby became possible May 2, 2000, when the government turned off “Selected Availability” from the geospatial constellation of satellites that enable the Global Positioning System (GPS) to function.  On that May day, civilian use of those satellites became 10X more effective.  On 3 May the first “GeoStash” was hidden in Oregon to test the accuracy of the newly released satellite capability.

If you are not familiar with Geocaching, you can watch a quick Geocaching 101 video.

Now that you are caught up, I will tell you about my adventure.

I had planned a weekend trip to Savannah to see Jeanne in early April.  The weather has been a little crazy since March with some unseasonably cold weather; I was looking forward to a  warmer climate and some quality time with Jeanne.  I had taken a day off on Friday the 13th and planned to drive south.  Jeanne was going to be working; my goal was to arrive in Savannah for dinner.

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National Forest Map, South Carolina

While planning my trip, I was looking to see if there were any challenging Geocaches along the way to break up the seven-hour drive.  I have had my eye on the oldest cache in the State of South Carolina.  Modoc Stash (GCF4) was placed in December 2000 in the Sumter National Forest.  I have thought about coming here before but have had to change plans because of weather, hunting season or a lack of time.   The other issue is that an attempt to find this Geocache would take me over 135 miles out of my way, roughly a three-hour detour off my usual run to Savannah.

Why would a reasonably intelligent man drive 135 miles out of his way to find an ammo can in the woods? If you don’t have the Geocaching bug, you may not get it.  There were several draws for this hike.  First, it is a Y2K hide.  There are less than 175 of the original caches hidden in 2000 still active worldwide. On top of that, it is one of the rare remaining Y2K caches with a four place alphanumeric serial number.  Second, it helps me fill in some challenges.  I add a new county (McCormick) in South Carolina, fill in a new page for the South Carolina DeLorme Challenge (Page 42). This find qualified me for the April 2018 GeoChallenge of the Month.  Yes, I am a geek.

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The Trailhead along South Carolina Route 23

I left my house in Chesapeake just after 7 a.m. and began the trek south and west.  When I came upon the I-95/I-20 interchange in Florence, South Carolina, I went west on I-20 and started the detour hoping to get past Columbia, South Carolina’s Capitol, before Friday afternoon traffic became problematic.  Just after 3 p.m., I exited I-20 west of Aiken and worked my way along country highways until I arrived at the trailhead.   There is parking at this location and a geocache, Modoc Trailhead (GC7B2YZ),  is very close to the parking area.

I had a backpack with me with water, a couple of Kind bars, and some of my usual Geocaching gear.  I also had a walking stick. I usually do not use the Geocaching app on my iPhone for hikes like this one.  Instead, I had loaded my Garmin Oregon 450T with the coordinates for the caches along the trail.   I had the trailhead marked with the first cache that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, another along the path and finally the goal for the day, Modoc Stash.

I have some recommendations for this hike.  First, sturdy hiking boots.  Flip flops or sandals are not going to cut it on this trail.  Second, be aware of your surroundings.  This trail is shared with mountain bikers. You will want to keep a lookout for them.  There is also wildlife in the national forest.  There are over 48 species of mammals including bears, bobcats, beaver, and deer as well as a variety of venomous and non-venomous IMG_4623snakes. Finally, you need to stick to the trail until you get within about 200 feet of the cache location.  At the parking area, you will be about 1/3 of a mile from the target geocache.  That is a straight line reading.  You will not be able to do a straight line land navigation quickly.  Stick to the trail.  I know that switchbacks are a pain, but there are a few elevation changes and water obstacles to cross. Two of those water obstacles do not have bridges.  They are not difficult to handle. If you stick to the trail you will come on a geocache, Eclipsed in the Forest (GC7B2ZG), about halfway to Modoc Stash.  The hike to the old geocache is about 1.1 miles. One last point, I marked a waypoint where my Jeep was parked.  While I used the trail markings, I like to know the distance to the car on the way out.

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Stevens Creek

 

water crossing Modo

The first crossing point

 

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Modoc Stash in hand!

The hike was fun.  Early spring in South Carolina with the trees budding and some species of wildflowers in bloom is lovely. If you are interested in birds, there is no shortage of variety from songbirds to the big raptors and wild turkey.  The cool temps, in the low 60s, with a breeze kept the bugs to a minimum.  Once I was within 200 feet of the cache location, left the trail to head to “ground zero.”  Going off trail here is not a difficult bushwhack.  Once I was within 20 feet, I switched from my handheld GPS to my eyes and my “geosenses.”  Within a minute of getting to the general area, I had the ammo can in my hand. I traded some trackable items and signed the log.  It was time to head back to the Jeep and get back on the road to Savannah.

 

 

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The trail on the hike out.

 

I took a little over an hour to complete the hike and find three Geocaches.  I actually had a strong signal on my iPhone that enabled me to do a preliminary log for all the caches and document the trackable items exchanged at the old cache.

From the trailhead parking area, it took about three hours to complete the trip to Savannah.  I was at my destination around 7:30 p.m. in time to get cleaned up and go out for dinner.

The next Geocaching road trip for me will be to collect a group of Y2K Geocaches in northeast Georgia.  One will require a boat to get me out to an island in Lake Lanier.  A friend of mine completed that grouping a couple of weeks ago.  That trip will have to be more than just a detour on the way to Savannah! Perhaps I can convince Jeanne to partake in a little Geocaching adventure with me.

Click here if you would like more information the trails in the Sumter National Forest.

Partake

 

The War At Home

My daily routine during the work week is pretty well established. I commute 22 miles from my home in Chesapeake, Virginia to my office on a Navy installation in Norfolk. I occasionally vary my route because of traffic reports or time of day to avoid congestion. If you are familiar with this part of the country, you will know traffic can be a challenge. Because of the river systems feeding the estuary that is the Chesapeake Bay, people around here are doomed to deal with a system of bridges, tunnels, and bridge-tunnels. Bottlenecks abound!

While I am maneuvering my ride along Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk as I approach the bridge over the Lafayette River, I stay focused on what is ahead of me and what is overtaking me from behind. I don’t notice the scenery or anything off the road if it does not have an impact on traffic. As a result, I am not aware of changes in neighborhoods, especially when it comes to the installation of art on public land.

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Larchmont Branch Library, Norfolk

On a Sunday morning, not too long ago, I was out indulging a hobby of mine. A friend with the same hobby pointed me in the direction of a new art installation around the Larchmont Branch Library in Norfolk. Located south of the bridge over the Lafayette River on Hampton Boulevard, it is a place I pass almost every day. Because it was early in the morning, no one was around, and the rising sun was casting long shadows on that brisk morning.

What I found was an installation of steel plates standing upright on bases positioned on the west and north sides of the library. On each one of those plates, an outline of a veteran was cut out. These were not random cutouts; the veterans represented here are among those who have committed suicide. The installation is called “The War at Home“.IMG_4450 (2)Mission 22, a veterans organization dedicated to combating veteran suicide is responsible for the installation of these memorial plates. Each is an outline of a specific veteran, a dog tag with the name of the lost veteran is placed at the bottom of each plate.

A plaque by the installation states:

This memorial is meant to remind us of our loss, to amend the past, honor the present and prevent this from happening in the future.

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On average, 22 Veterans take their own life each day. That is 22 too many. According to the Mission 22 website, “These memorials remind us of the sacrifice, honor those we’ve lost, and help tie civilian to soldier.” They want to thwart the epidemic of suicide.

The War at Home is a “temporary” installation. If you live in Norfolk or plan on visiting, I would recommend you come down and walk among the plates, among the lost. Over the last 15 years, we have asked a great deal of our volunteer force. They have been going into harm’s way more so than any other generation in American history. Perhaps installations such as this will serve as a reminder that more must be done to engage veterans and help them to live. Mission 22 is looking to find permanent homes for these installations.

If you want to help or get more information, I invite you to go to the Mission 22 website.

Like those steel plates, our nation is weaker because of what is missing.

 

Thwart

I love a parade… usually

President Trump has announced his intention of conducting a grand parade to honor the Armed Forces of the United States. His inspiration comes from the Bastille Day Parade he attended in July 2017 in Paris. The French have been conducting this parade on the morning of July 14 every year since 1880. I will note here that the Germans marched the same route during their occupation of Paris during World War II. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l’Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. At the end of the route, the formation marches in front of the President of France, his government, and foreign ambassadors. It is a French tradition.

WWII Victory Parade NYC

82nd Airborne marching in the WWII Victory Parade in New York City (Library of Congress)

But I am an American. I am a Veteran with 24 years of military service. The United States does not have a current tradition of an annual military parade on a national scale. We “parade” after significant historical events. For instance, after winning a war. The Grand Review of the Armies was held in Washington, D.C. on 23 and 24 May 1865 to the cheers of those viewing along the route.

After World War I, General Pershing marched the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York. In 1946, the 82nd Airborne Division in “Operation Homecoming” marched, 13,000 strong, with their equipment through the streets of New York representing the combat forces of World War II.

1991 Victory Parade DC

The National Victory Celebration in Washington, DC following the Gulf War in 1991 had representatives from the Active and Reserve Components (8,000 military personnel) and the equipment that won that conflict. The price tag for that parade was approximately $8 million. Of that, $3 million was paid for by the taxpayers. The rest came from private donors.

Military commands are regular participants in patriotic parades and presidential inaugurations. Military Bands and small units march in ceremonies across the country on the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. There are ceremonial units in the Washington D.C. that have the specific mission to represent the Armed Forces at official state occasions. You also see the Old Guard maintaining vigil at Arlington National Cemetery. We march and represent all the time.

Why does President Trump insist on having a full-blown U.S. Military Parade? And what would it cost? I don’t know the answer to the first question. I will tackle the second.

Right now, the Secretary of Defense is preparing options for President Trump. Secretary Mattis will go in with some scenarios to conduct an event ranging from a large-scale parade on par with the National Victory Celebration in 1991 down to small-scale events.

An event with the scope of the 1991 parade would include marching units, bands, vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and missiles. Expect 8,000 uniformed personnel to participate. There will be flyovers by fixed winged and rotary aircraft along the route, most likely moving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Accelerating the cost from 1991, this parade would probably cost over $40 million.

Stepping down from the mother of all parades, a medium sized event with 5,000 troops, their equipment, and aircraft, just less of it, would run in the price range of $20 Million. This parade would be comparable to that of a Presidential inauguration event.

An event with only 1,500 to 2,000 service members and limited amounts of equipment could be sized to a parade similar to a large scale 4th of July event and carry a price tag of around $10 million to $15 million.

The logical time to run a parade, in whatever form it would take, would either be on the 4th of July or on Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2018. Veteran’s Day this year will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice that ended World War I. That may be a reason to honor the service of the men and women of this country that helped, in conjunction with our allies, bring a close to that conflict. I think a small, relevant event would be appropriate to mark that occasion.

A Military Times poll posted on their website (as of 2/10/18 at 5 p.m.), showed that an 89% majority favored not having a parade at all. I live near and work in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is not only a Navy town, but it also sits in the middle of one of the most significant concentrations of military bases in the country. The buzz I am hearing is that a tiny group of people see the idea of a National Military Parade as a good idea. Most of the people (a high percentage are veterans) I have spoken with don’t think the country needs this kind of event. Why? We don’t rely on parades to showcase our military might. We don’t need to march like the Russians in Red Square or the North Koreans in front of their “great leader” (don’t get me started). I really don’t like the optics of that with President Trump reviewing the troops. We can demonstrate our military acumen, when needed, with great effect. I think we need to respect the might of the armed forces of the United States of America, but I also believe we should appreciate the humility of the men and women in the uniform of this country and not put them in the bullseye of an unnecessary political storm.

If I may be so bold as to offer a fourth option to those outlined before, do something small and respectful on the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. Let’s just not make it a date every year. Mr. President, I am sure you can book a room and watch the parade in Paris on July 14, 2018. I hear that it is a beloved national tradition there.

Doughboys

Insist

Parking Garage Photo Collection

I am absent-minded when I park my ride.  If I am heading to the airport, hospital, shopping mall, or a work location to give a presentation I usually space out where I left my wheels.  It is actually a little embarrassing.

I have had enough of walking through parking lots or garages with my hand in the air pushing the lock button and waiting for the horn to sound. Sometimes I end up hitting the panic button and waiting for the full cacophony of headlights and horns and discover that I am on the wrong level.  That leads me to my next mystery, did the sound come from the level above or the level below? I am hoping that someone reading this post is thinking “Oh yeah, I have done that!”

I have begun using the camera on my iPhone to record where I have left my Jeep.   This usually means that the clue to the location of my car is just a few swipes away in the picture folder on my phone. An example to the left is of the long-term parking garage at the Norfolk International Airport.  I snapped that on my last business trip out to San Antonio.  That was only an overnight trip, and I had to pull out the phone at baggage claim to remind me where I had left the Jeep the previous morning. (The airline made me check my small suitcase because the overhead compartments were almost nonexistent on the flight from Charlotte to Norfolk.)

On Friday, 22 December, I had an appointment at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.  I arrived to find the communal garage pretty full, even for the Friday before Christmas.

After circling the first and second levels for a few minutes, I finally found someone pulling out of a spot.  Once in the parking space, I mindlessly pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of the closest location sign to where my Jeep sat waiting for me. I heard a small laugh behind me.  When I turned around a woman, walking in the same direction as I, looked at me and smiled. I was busted getting my photographic waypoint before heading for my outpatient procedure.  “That is actually a good idea,” she said.  We chatted as we headed to the elevator about the joys of the times when we had not remembered where we parked.  It is easy enough to do in some of the larger parking lots or multiple story parking structures that have become ubiquitous in modern life.

As I waited for orthopedics to see me, I scrolled through my phone and found about two dozen shots of parking lot location signs from all over the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  There are also shots of street signs and neighborhood streets in Savannah and Washington, D.C. where I have found on street parking.

You may think that I am a forgetful middle-aged man who is overly reliant on a photographic prompt to find my car.  But next time you are wandering from row to row trying to find your wheels in stormy weather or dragging luggage behind you, I will be making a beeline for my Jeep, currently parked on Level 3, Aisle D.  Safe travels, my friends!


Communal

Gotham Writers Workshop Assignment

I recently completed a creative writing course through the Gotham Writers Workshop.  The following short post is the updated draft of the third week’s assignment for Individuality.  It is a rant piece on something I hate.

Sand

I hate sand.  I have always hated sand.  When I was a child, my mother would take my siblings and me to the beach at Breezy Point.  Only in her late twenties, she would haul her five children out of Brooklyn in a station wagon full of towels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beach toys.  Once at Breezy Point she would first take me out to the beach, spread out a big blanket and place my three-year-old butt in the center.  Only then would she go back and grab the rest of my siblings with one of her girlfriends schlepping the gear needed to keep five kids, all under the age of 7, entertained for a day at the beach. Mom would not worry about me wandering off my cotton island in the sand.  I hated the feel of it burning my feet, on my skin and in my hair. I hated the taste of it in my mouth.  Most kids bring pails and shovels to the beach, I brought a hand broom and fought my first battle in the sand.

I still hate the texture, the way it gets into everything, and never seems to go completely away. It collected in my boots, scratched my glasses and never really shook out of my desert camouflage uniform. It concealed explosives and absorbed blood, the stain from either only lasting a few hours before being covered. Giant storms of it would blow and envelope everything in its path.  The sun could not completely penetrate the huge clouds rolling across the desert. Sand could steal the horizon and any sense of safety I had retained.  The taste of it was always in my mouth, I breathed it in and coughed it up.

I hate that it took a body as quickly as a bullet took a life.  I hate how it covered mass graves and weapons caches.  Even when heavy equipment was brought in to move it, you knew it was only a matter of time before the sand would undo all the effort to displace it.

No amount of washing those uniforms seems to be able to get rid of all the sand.  Even now,  14 years later, I can pull out the big plastic bags in which my combat uniforms are stored, and I will still find the powdery off-white substance that fuels my nightmares. It makes my skin crawl.

Everyone laughed at me and thought I was weird when I was three years old because I would go to such lengths to avoid contact with sand.  Forty years later, I remembered what I knew as a very young boy. I have no use for sand.

 

Serendipity, Thy Name is Goat

The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…”

Sometimes the universe surprises me.  Something incredible happens, and I have no explanation for it.  My father would call that a miracle.  I will call it serendipity.

We all have icons in our lives.  Some are more obvious than others.  Growing up in the largest of the five boroughs in New York City,  I could point to structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bank Building or the Cyclone as being Brooklyn icons.  But, there are more personal icons.  Those are things that may be small and significant to a neighborhood, a block, or a family.  Examples in my life included the letter “F’ on the front end of the subway train that serviced my neighborhood.  The F Train was transportation to adventure. It would take you to Manhattan and, with a change of subway line, would transport you anywhere in the city.

prospect panthers

Panthers of Prospect Park (3rd Street Entrance)

The Panthers at the Third Street entrance to Prospect Park guarded the approach to a different universe in my imagination away from the traffic and buzz of my neighborhood.  (They are not lions! Google it if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.)

And then there was Fred Goat.  I have been on a mission to find a photo of Fred Goat since last October.  That tasking came from my godmother, my Aunt Anne.  This post is, in fact, my third on the subject.  The other two posts are:

To summarize, Fred Goat was a logo that adorned the side of the turret on the building at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn. It was the home of the Fred Goat Company, a machinery firm.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s, my maternal grandfather would encourage his daughters to say “goodnight” to Fred Goat as they passed by on the journey from my grandmother’s family home on Dean Street to their home in  Park Slope.  The tradition continued with my siblings in the 1960’s as we made a similar journey home from the venerable old brownstone on Dean Street to our home on 4th Street near the park. As a child, I would look at that castle-like structure, and I would imagine it was ruled over by a goat named Fred.

My search for a photo had yielded me various shots of the exterior of the building, but none had an angle I wanted with Fred on the side of the turret. I worked with the Brooklyn Public Library, the NYC Municipal Archives, the New York Times and other potential sources of the holy grail of Fred Goat photos.  But my efforts went unrewarded.

That is until last night. I noticed that an email had arrived in this blog’s admin account as I was working on some old family photos.  The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…” I took a look at the name of the sender, and I knew the universe might be up to something.  I replied to the email hopeful that I was about to be reunited with an icon from my past.

The email was from the great, great, great granddaughter of  Fred Goat (the entrepreneur, not my mythical goat).  I don’t know how she stumbled on my blog.

Fred Goat2

Courtesy of the Goat Family

Perhaps, one of my 23 subscribers let it slip that I was looking for a photo of her family’s old business in Brooklyn.  My subscribers are, after all, a very exclusive and influential group! I would like to know how she stumbled on me, but I promised not to ask. So this is me, not asking.

Just before ten last night, another email came in with two photos attached.

Ladies, Gentleman, and exclusive and influential subscribers, I give you Fred Goat!

Fred Goat1 (2)

The Fred Goat Company, corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street.  Courtesy of the Goat Family

We all have quirky family traditions.  At least I hope and wish we all do. The real Goat family probably never knew what was being whispered from the back seat of a random Ford Country Squire station wagon to the logo on their building. That secret is out now.  Without ever knowing it, there was a connection between the families.  Of course, you didn’t know about us, and the younger members of my family thought you might be real goats.

Aunt Anne, here is your photo courtesy of the Goat Family.  I will start working on quest #2 (that is another story for another evening).

My thanks to K.G. for sending the photos along. Please know that from southern Virginia to coastal Massachusetts, my Mom, siblings, aunts, cousins and maybe some nieces and nephews are going to be saying goodnight to Fred Goat tonight.  Some are doing so for the first time.

Goodnight, Fred Goat!

Returning a Bracelet to the Wall

Jeanne and I found it about a year ago in an antique store on Maybank Highway in Charleston, South Carolina.  A Vietnam era POW/MIA bracelet with the name LCDR James Beene and a date, 10-5-1966. It was in a case with old military buttons, medals, and coins. I had worn one of these as a teenager in the 1970’s, albeit with a different name etched on it.DSCN2492

I think that I was initially bothered by seeing it in the display case with a price tag.  This was not, at least to my thinking, something that should be for sale.  After walking around the store and looking at all manner of antique collectibles, I came back to a sales associate and asked for the bracelet.   I didn’t think it was right to leave it sitting in the case.

Perhaps I should explain two things here.  The first is that the idea for these bracelets came from two college students, Carol Bates and Karen Hunter in 1969 as a way to draw attention to the missing men of the Vietnam conflict without getting drawn into the politics of the day.  (You can read more about how the idea of the bracelets became a reality clicking here:  Bracelet ).  The bracelets originally included the name, rank, and date of loss of the service member.  The idea was to wear the bracelet until the person whose name was on your wrist came home. Second, I am the son of a Naval Aviator who served on active duty and in the reserves from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The name on the bracelet, James Beene, was a Naval Aviator, a contemporary of my father’s.  I spent almost 24 years as a naval officer; I feel a connection to anyone who has worn or is wearing the uniform.

Lieutenant Commander James Alvin Beene, USNR was a native of Burbank California. He was a member of Attack Squadron 152, Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard USS ORISKANY (CVA-34). On October 5, 1966, he was the pilot of a Douglas Attack Skyraider (A-1H), serial number 137610, on armed reconnaissance over the coastal area of North Vietnam. His aircraft disappeared after he entered the clouds during the mission.

I was wondering what I should do with the bracelet.  Should I try to return it to the family?  Was there a group to which I could send it? I knew I did not want to put it in a drawer and forget about it. After discussing it with Jeanne, we decided that I should bring it with me on my next trip to Washington, D.C. and leave it at the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the base of the panel that bears LCDR Beene’s name.

I know that items left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall are collected, cataloged and conserved.  The collection will serve as part of the display for a planned Visitor Center. Perhaps this bracelet could find a home in that collection.

At the beginning of July, I was scheduled to conduct a brief at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  I traveled to the area the day before my presentation to give me time to get into the city in the early evening.  There was a METRO station close to my hotel, so I took the train into the city and walked down to the Mall on a hot, humid evening.

I found James A. Beene’s name on panel 11E, row 48.  I carefully laid the bracelet at the base of the wall.  While there, I noticed other things left behind in memory of some of the more than 58,000 names of Americans killed or missing from that conflict.  Along the wall were a few long stemmed roses as well as a handful military medals from the Vietnam era scattered along the base of the Wall.  There were people carefully taking rubbings of names off the wall onto paper provided by volunteers.  There were veterans, in silent contemplation, lingering near panels.

I didn’t want to stay too long. I had delivered the bracelet that I had for almost a year. It was time to wander back to the METRO station at Foggy Bottom and head back to my hotel.  As I walked through the streets of Washington, I couldn’t shake the thought of the loss of all those service men and women in that conflict. Many of the families still do not have answers about their loved ones. We, as a country, owe it to those who gave their lives in service to this nation to gain as full an accounting as is possible. It is the very least we can do for those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.