Monday, January 21, 2008

Minor covert adventures in uniform

Being all that I could be and getting away with it.

A few months ago while making my way to the hospital cafeteria I bumped into the wife of the first sergeant from the National Guard unit I retired from in 2005. The best description of this lady I can offer is that she is a South Carolina version of the former Texas governor, the late Ann Richards. Steel hard bright blue eyes, a strong but motherly voice that could scare any officer under a full bird colonel, snow white hair that gives her air of grace and strength, and a commanding presence that kept many a wife of the lower NCO's and enlisted in line when situations concerning the unit and their husbands had many of them worried. She ran the unit family support group for years before her husband had became first sergeant and it would be a fair assessment to say that he inherited some of his authority from her, although I would never say that to him. We exchanged greetings and small talk with her chastising me some for retiring when I did hinting that even now it may not be too late for me to reenlist. With the help of her good grace I side stepped the reenlistment issue and soon found out that her husband was in the hospital for some surgery. I promised her that I would be up for a visit once he was ready for visitors and we both then went our separate ways. Just two days later I was called to the phone at work and found the first sergeant's wife on the other end with her relaying a message in her famous authority voice that the now retired sergeant major wanted to see me in his room two minutes ago. I was fairly sure the "order" was done in jest but some part of me still felt the urge to hustle up quickly and find out what I had done wrong, although I had some idea. But, I'll need to drop back and punt to explain.

From the time I first entered the service in 1984 till 1997 I had been in air defense specifically and combat arms in general. The mind set for many in combat arms is far more fast paced than in the support units that normally stay in the rear areas. Not that the rear area jobs are any easier, some are far worse, its just they do things differently than the grunts, gun bunnies, tankers, and the ever lowly air defense types. After I left the active army in 1990 I hooked up with a Stinger missile battalion in the upstate and was fairly happy running around in the woods close to Clemson University doing air defense and general soldier training with the other members of my unit. Now Dragonwife, with no real idea of the military life, took my tales of soldier fun and frolic as nothing but a bunch of little boys playing in the woods and started suggesting that I transfer down to a local unit so I wouldn't be so far away from home. From the time we were married in 1994 till 1997 I resisted, telling her I enjoyed what I was doing and since I had family in the area I could stay with I was spending no real money, except for gas, and I would not transfer. While I didn't change my attitude about the National Guard the National Guard changed its attitude about its members and how it related to their civilian jobs. Where once the Guard worked with its members when conflict arose with their civilian jobs and weekend drills after 1995 the Guard started being less and less flexible wanting the civilian job to come second to the National Guard. While I'm sure there are many in the Guard now that would debate this point none the less I remember 1995 being a year that many began leaving when they felt they could not risk their civilian jobs for a part-time job that began demanding so much. Such demands very soon became too hard for me since I lived over two hours away from the unit and my civilian employer was having to rearrange the schedules of various co-workers of mine to cover my periodic absences. It's one thing for many civilians to say they support the troops but its a whole other situation when they have to give up their hunting and fishing time for someone wearing the uniform. Once I began looking to transfer it didn't take long to find a unit close to the house needing warm bodies. I was soon a member of a maintenance unit in the commo section, or communications section, making sure all the various parts of the unit and those units it supported could talk with each other. Being a fish out of water in the new unit adjusting to the new environment took a good bit of time.

While I was in air defense weekend drills most of the time had us away from the unit very early Saturday morning until late in the afternoon when we were released for the day. Sundays might have us out in the woods again but mostly we would be doing clean-up and repair on our equipment which still required us to hustle so we could get released as early as possible. I found the maintenance unit to be use to a far slower pace bordering on the glacial. Word might come down that the section needed to ride over to a different unit to look at some radios or other equipment but instead of just dispatching a vehicle and simply going we often needed to wait until some officer cleared it. That would have the section doing other stuff until we were cleared to go or have us just sitting on our thumbs waiting out of sight and out of mind of those who might throw some other detail our way. Worse was to get word that the leadership would have a whole list of important tasks and details that the unit had to get done before we could leave for the day and literally wait most of the day before such information would finally come down. Then everyone would run around for several hours trying to get issues cleared up so we all could be home at a reasonable hour before our dinner got cold and very often failing. More than a few times I would come through the door finding a sour expression of Dragonwife's face because she had made plans that my late arrival at home had ruined. The following drill weekend I would find other guys reporting a similar occurrence at their homes with their wives because of the late release. For those wearing the uniform we usually understood how the very screwed up nature of the military lead to such events and just drove on but none of us could ever get our wives, once again because of not having much contact with military life while growing up, to understand as well. All these situations that had the section and the unit doing the famous army "hurry up and wait" dance did start to wear thin after a couple of years. It was especially a pain in the ass for me once my son started to get a little older and in some activities dads should never miss, and one time I had to work outside the system to get away in time.

It was the summer of 1999 and the commo section had already finished all our Sunday tasks and was waiting for some word of when we might get released. Around 3:30pm (heck with the military time stuff) word came down that the company commander was highly upset over several issues that had not been corrected and that the unit should prepare to be very late in getting cut loose for that day. The first sergeant said that it might be as late as 7:30 to 8:00pm before we would have our final formation and then be released. At 5:00pm my son, Darth Spoilboy, would be playing in his first peewee soccer game and while I had always been a good trooper I frankly resented the idea that I would be held up for something so important because some ROTC wonder had not crossed all his T's or dotted all his I's. Plus I was in absolutely no mood to deal with Dragonwife that day and how she would act once I did return home. But the question was how could I find a way out and home that did not have me going AWOL, which was a huge world of hurt I did not want any part of on my record. It was then I spied a honest to goodness old fashion phone booth that was in the far corner of the drill hall floor while I and many others were running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. The various wheels and gears in my head turned as I endeavored to fan the flames of a tiny spark of a plan. After a few minutes of sorting out all the various angles and anticipating questions I was sure to get from those above me I called my youngest brother Joe Cool. I asked him to call the unit and say that he had been in a car accident in the Columbia area that required me to take him back him to the upstate since his car would be in the shop for several days. I prepared him for a few questions that might come his way and to insist to whomever he spoke with that he had no one else to call for assistance. I then slipped out the phone booth hoping no one saw me enter or leave and went back to work. I waited long enough to start to think that Joe might have forgotten to call or had screwed it up when a very junior second lieutenant famous for being a jerk came up and handed me a message from my brother saying that he had been in a car accident and that I needed to go take him home. This being a few years before cell phones really took off there was no way of calling him back so the lieutenant took it upon himself to release me and off I went, but not before hearing the first sergeant call off in the distance for me to wait. I figured that my plan had just gone belly up since the first sergeant was an old timer and was wearing army green while I was still pooping in my diapers. He had said many times while in formation that there wasn't a scheme or trick he hadn't pulled himself and I'm sure he would have smelled my scheme just as soon as he walked up to me. But his job being what it is he was intercepted and pulled off in another direction before he got to me. The little second lieutenant that had delivered the message came by a few seconds later and asked me why I wasn't gone, I told him the first sergeant had told me to hold up but had drifted off. Looking slightly peeved at me he told me to head on out and that he would handle the first sergeant. Not being one to look a gifted horse in the mouth I hauled butt knowing that a mere second lieutenant could not simply handle the average first sergeant much less the force of nature that was ours. But as they say that was not my problem and the second lieutenant having his butt handed to him by the first sergeant would do much to temper his holier-than-thou butter bar attitude. I made a clean get away and made it to Spoilboy's soccer game in plenty of time. The following month though I kept getting knowing looks from the first sergeant but he never said anything and the second lieutenant lost a great deal of his attitude being far more an agreeable person to work around.

Back to the present, I walked up to the Sergeant Major's hospital room door and knocked, a loud and clear "come" was the answer I got. I walked in and the Sergeant Major was in his bed with his wife next to him sitting in a chair. We began talking but not about my little early out scheme and I actually began to figure he might have forgotten or let it go after all these years. About a half hour later once his doctor came in I started to leave he called out with me standing at his doorway and said he had saw me enter and leave the old phone booth and that he was in the office when the resulting phone call came in not ten minutes later. As much as I should have expected it the giggling his wife started to make suggested that I still betrayed myself with the expression on my face. Curiosity getting the better of me I asked why had not his wrath struck me down the following month since he knew something was up? He told me that the jerk of a second lieutenant had tried to play some attitude off on him and that once the aggrieved butter bar was missing a few pounds off his hind quarters I was small potatoes. He then said "dismissed staff sergeant" and I walked out laughing all the way back to work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Going over the wall and to the beach

I am officially heading out tomorrow morning and away from the daily barrage of the utter tragic and bizarre silliness that is life in these United States. I will be taking refuge in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Pawleys Island as the Republicans come to crow and roost in my home state for what I'm sure will be a reality bending weekend for them. From Huckabee's proposal to amend the Constitution to fit the Bible to the latest McCain swiftboating episode in this state that says he was giving aid to the Vietcong while a prisoner I'm sure the poop is going to get very deep here until someone is declared the winner. This being a truly strange state there is some talk that Fred Thompson has actually awoke and is moving up the in the polls. Given the number of times this state sent Strom Thurmond back to the senate we do have a nasty habit of voting for the dead.

My brother Joe Cool and his lovely Mrs. Cool will be joining the kids and myself as we range up and down from the Lowcountry and Grand Strand. While we will not be looking to meet any politicians Joe Cool will be bringing his two attack Chihuahuas, Steve and Dodo, and any encounters that might happen will not be pretty. As long as my kids and Steve and Dodo avoid biting anyone I should be back Tuesday. I wish everyone the best.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Signs of strange and bizarre times

I really hoped this was just a bad joke but it may be signs of something far worse.

Saying that we are living in dangerous and difficult times is an understatement that defies description. Things are so strange that I have heard some on both the liberal and conservative sides of American politics wish longingly for the bi-polar world of the Cold War. At least then for the United States the enemy we faced was simple and clear with far fewer other wolves at the door than we seem to be facing now. Thirty years ago the worst thing we lived under was the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction from a nuclear war with the Soviet Union but few if any worried about global warming, mass extinctions, pandemics, nuclear or biological terrorism, or any number or other near doomsday scenarios. Adding to this list of ever present worries we face now are concerns about the educational system and if our kids are keeping up, whether our jobs will be outsourced overseas, will we be able to retire, or will we fall victim to disease and illness and become burdens to our children struggling to survive themselves. Given all stresses its little wonder why some need medication to face life. But I was surprised to find that some are openly wondering if it was best that not only if they didn’t exist but that it would be better if the human race went extinct to solve issues involving population. While I had heard of similar concepts in science fiction, namely Nature’s End, I had always relegated such an idea to the more distant improbable concepts explored in science fiction.

I have yet to receive the book but the premise explored by the author appears to deal only with over population. But I can’t help but wonder if the other stress factors involved with daily life are bleeding over. (Yeah, I may be jumping the gun but this has freaked me out) Not including those affected by medical depression the prescription of mood altering drugs is rampant with articles and reports saying that many people need something just to get through a normal day. Many times these are people that live in huge fabulous houses, drive new and expensive cars, and have tons of neat toys and gadgets. But yet in the struggle to supply all those possessions I personally know some that claim an emptiness in their lives that more possessions just make bigger. In the past most took comfort in religion to bring meaning in their life but for numerous reasons many find that not an option now.

So is the option now non-existence in the form of organized suicide and a possible movement toward extinction? And is this an example of the decay of Western Civilization when you call into question the very idea of living and speculate about the benefits of human extinction? I guess I will find out after I read the book.

The Harm Of Coming Into Existence by David Benatar

Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence—-rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should—-they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm... The author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view—-that it is always wrong to have children—-and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

One of the comments from the Amazon site about the book:

Emilana Uoj says:

I don't understand why people are hating this book without even reading it- so you're glass half full people- people that never question their lives or existence- you are actually his target audience- he needs to make you see that what you believe is b.s. and that you should really try to look at life more objectively to determine how "worth it" it is...

I think people really need to look at both sides of the story- everyone says that we're all so blessed to be alive... WHY?! the only reason why people say that is because they had no choice in the matter of coming into existence and the only way to gain some control is by pretending that you wanted to be here... so stop lying to yourselves.... you had no choice in being here... so yeah... now that we're here we make the best of it... but dont lie to yourself (and others) and say that life isn't hard and harmful...

if you hate the book so much just by the title- why dont you pick up and actually read it and see what his arguments are- and read it with an open mind!!

life sucks- there's no meaning- there's no purpose and you didn't even have a choice for whether to be in it or not... what's not horrible about that??? and if you're religious... i read a quote lately that's great- it goes something like... religious wars are like little kids fighting about whose imaginary friend is the strongest...

thank you very much

Okay, I’m stupid enough to bite and since I’m really having nothing else to post and I’ve ran out of beer, what to hell. Life is a huge pain in the ass with dealing with money issues and having to work for a living. But I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough not to enjoy watching a sunset, walking on a beach, playing with my kids, being around family and friends, or a whole bunch of other things. What amazes me though is the idea that life is so hard now. Yes, some live with medical, economic, and societal disadvantages that make life very difficult but a good many that walk around a complaining about how unhappy they are either have never seen how some people live in third world countries. Because someone has to put up with jerk of a boss or has sold themselves into credit card serfdom is nothing compared to having to walk miles for food or water or having to avoid armed squads looking to kill you because of your skin color, religion, or ethnicity.

I listed several factors above but I’m hard pressed to worry about what I can’t change and I have enough intelligence to recognize that I cannot buy happiness. And yes I had no choice in my existence but sorry, I find my existence a blessing and enjoy my life while trying to help others. I do not challenge your right to ask such questions and I will read the book but such whining suggests that your mental health is in question or that you

actually need to go out and get a real life.

Friday, January 4, 2008

War made easy for the lazy and spoiled

While he doesn't look like Arnold, evolution has to begin somewhere.

One of the biggest, and I don’t think fully realized, disasters of Bush’s Iraq war is how the men and women of the armed forces have been abused and misused. Multiple extended tours away from families, constant stress of never being in a safe place with the only ground you hold under your feet, equipment that can be unsuitable for the combat environment, and a population that at best thinks of you as an infidel or outright wants to kill you. Under such conditions the all volunteer force has found it hard to recruit middle and working class patriotic young men and women. Many in the Mr. and Mrs. Middleclass ranks while supporting the war just can’t see their Jane or Johnny going out and fighting. They have SAT’s, proms, and finding a good college to worry about so they can keep a decent career track going. And the supply of patriotic working class kids, while never really being used up, has become thin and many come with certain factors such as a criminal record that years before would have had the recruiter laughing them out the office. Being honest here while Bush, Cheney, and any number of neocon chickenhawk political pundits still talk of a “clash of civilizations” and “Islamofascism” a good many of my fellow working class folks are saying something to the effect: “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” As for the children of the elite and rich serving, there are a few noble and honorable exceptions such as McCain’s boys, Jim Webb’s son, and a few others in congress and out but they are largely sitting out the war. They that stay home are serving in their own special way. Such as the Bush daughters that took a break from partying and went on an extended South American vacation to party some more. Also, I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention Mitt Romney’s boys who are serving the country by campaigning for their hypocrite father and his special blessed underwear.

With the rich kids serving in their own special way, the middleclass kids to busy, and the working class kids running low how is the military to keep up with all the present and future wars that Bush and his fellows want to involve us in? At first I thought it was going to be an expensive cutthroat mercenary force, I mean expensive cutthroat private contractors, but with them out of the UCMJ (Uniform code of Military Justice) and their loyalties only to money they will have their own special Praetorian Guard duties in the future if things continue like they are now. I found the best possible answer just a few days ago.

Back in the 80’s the movie going public was introduced to a sophisticated bloodthirsty killing robot in the form of a terminator shaped like a muscle bound future governor. The robot was an autonomous system identifying and killing specific targets. The fact that his target in the movie was the shapely Linda Hamilton made this movie one I watched time and time again but that was me in the 80’s. It’s not like it was as good a movie as Red Dawn (I'm joking Vigil) from the same decade. But during the same decade DARPA and the US army were already beginning research into systems very much like in principle to the terminator. While stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado when winter weather confined me to the post I would often make my way to the post library to catch up on the weekly magazines such as “Aviation Week and Space Technology” and “Jane’s Defense Weekly”. Both magazines always seemed to hold a wealth of reports on some pretty far out research the military was pursuing. One of the reports with several very pretty speculative illustrations said that to overcome the huge advantage in the Soviet Union’s ground forces the military was trying to develop independent robotic tanks or armored cars that could identify hostile forces and engage them. Developing robotic systems that can navigate simple obstacles has proven very hard even now with quantum advancement in computers system compared to what we had in the ancient 80’s but the research still is continuing. This research is finally seeing the first generation of combat robotic systems enter the service. Now these bad boys are just remote controlled and not independent, you have to walk before you run. Even the reports I read while I was in the army in the 80’s stated that more than likely the first systems would be teleoperated from rear areas. But even though these remote operated systems are very limited right now I’m sure the powers-that-be are salivating over the new possibilities for imperial military adventures and will give a whole new meaning to REMF’s. Maybe even tempting some of the middle class and rich elites back for some video game-like service with them safely in some air condition trailer in the safe rear areas wondering if they will get a medal for combat carpal tunnel syndrome. So maybe there is a future son or daughter of the Bush, Cheney or Romney clan marked for combat glory.

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 6, 2004 – Soldiers may have armed robots as battle buddies by early next year, according to industry and military officials attending the biennial Army Science Conference.

The Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System, or SWORDS, will be joining Stryker Brigade soldiers in Iraq when it finishes final testing, said Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos, a bomb disposal test and evaluation noncommissioned officer in charge with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Directorate of the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

“We’re hoping to have them there by early 2005,” Tordillos said. “The soldiers I’ve talked to want them yesterday.”

The system consists of a weapons platform mounted on a Talon robot, a product of the engineering and technology development firm Foster-Miller.

The Talon began helping with military operations in Bosnia in 2000, deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002 and has been in Iraq since the war started, assisting with improvised explosive device detection and removal.

Talon robots have been used in about 20,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Foster-Miller reports.

“It’s not a new invention, it's just bringing together existing systems,” said Tordillos, who has been involved with the project since its inception about a year and a half ago.

Different weapons can be interchanged on the system – the M16, the 240, 249 or 50-caliber machine guns, or the M202 –A1 with a 6mm rocket launcher. Soldiers operate it by remote control, from up to 1,000 meters away.

n testing, it hit the bull's-eyes from as far as 2,000 meters away, Tordillos said. The only margin of error has been in sighting, he added.

“It can engage while on the move, but its not as accurate,” Tordillos said.

The system runs off AC power, lithium batteries or Singars rechargeable batteries. The control box weighs about 30 pounds, with two joysticks that control the robot platform and the weapon and a daylight viewable screen.

SWORDS was recently named one of the most amazing inventions of 2004 by Time Magazine.

There are four SWORDS in existence; 18 have been requested for service in Iraq, Tordillos said. So far, each system has cost about $230,000 to produce, said Bob Quinn, lead integrator for the project. When they go into production, Quinn estimates the cost per unit will drop to the range of $150,000 to $180,000.

Quinn credits soldiers with getting the project started. “It’s a classic boot-strap effort,” said Quinn.

Tordillos fielded a variety of questions while showing off the system in the exhibit hall. Soldiers wanted to know what military occupational speciality they have to sign up for in order to work with the system. There is no specific (military occupational specialty) for it, he said.

Other questions were more thought provoking. Does he envision a day when armed robots outnumber humans on the battlefield? Tordillos firmly said no.

“You’ll never eliminate the soldier on the ground,” he said. “There’ll be a mix, but there will always be soldiers out there.”See Caption.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Closing of Summer, September 2006

Memories of people and events from a near perfect weekend.

The phone call had come from Uncle Paul early in the week saying that he had the urge for an end of summer beach party and that he wanted me and the kids to come down. Uncle Paul wanted as many members of the family to be there as circumstances allowed and that he had enough room for everyone at his house for the weekend. Never one to turn down any chance to head for the coast and party I told him to expect me and the kids that Saturday morning. I hung up the phone already feeling good about the coming weekend that just that morning seemed to hold nothing but the usual yard work while being stuck in what I had come to think of as the godforsaken Midlands. I called Dragonwife at work and told her about Uncle Paul's offer and wondered if this time she would come down with us. As expected she looked upon this as a chance for her to get things done around the house with us out of it. Being use to her response I breathed a small sigh of relief since nothing kills a party like my wife. Everything was set and the kids and I only had to wait for the weekend to come.

We pulled out as fast as possible early Saturday morning. But not before having Dragonwife come up with several important chores that she had said nothing about the night before. Maybe this was some sort of subconscious statement about not wanting us to go but once they were completed the kids and I quickly hit the road before she could, and would have, come up with other absolute needs. The bright sunshine of the day was a huge contrast to the dark clouds that a tropical storm had pushed inland a few days before as it rode the coast north then out to sea. The interstate was close to being empty and while the kids settled in with their games and books I tuned in the Saturday morning NPR show and settled in for the drive myself. We made it all the way to the other side of the Isle of Palms on US highway 17 before Miss Wiggles started yelling out about needing a bathroom and chocolate milk before having to stop. With Pepsis and chocolate milk in hand we quickly hit the road again and made it to Uncle Paul's house without any further interruptions. As the kids and I drove onto the island I began wondering who else might have answered Uncle Paul's call to rendezvous at the ocean front haven. The nature of my family makes such sudden party urges common but unfortunately jobs and commitments make answering them hard. I hadn't been able to make contact with my brothers or sister during the run-up to the weekend and I had no idea who we might be enjoying the weekend with.

After parking the starship the kids and I saw two cars we didn't recognize jammed up underneath the raised beach house. We soon found the collection of people that had gathered for the weekend party a real, if not uncomfortable at first, blast from the past. We walked up the back stairwell of the house leading up to a small porch and the kitchen door. Looking through the screened door sitting at the kitchen table was one of my honorary uncles and aunts, Easyrider and Crazylady. My two blood relation uncles Paul and George are just twelve and fourteen years older than me. As they were growing up my arrival during the better part of their girl chasing years opened a convenient avenue to get the attention of the fairer sex. As soon as my mom and dad would allow it I could be found going on beach trips with them and at times they would loan me out to their good, and thankfully trustworthy, friends. Easyrider sitting at the well worn kitchen table had originally started out as best friends with Uncle Paul and George's older and now passed away brother Uncle Bear. Uncle Bear in the late 60's had joined the navy and Easyrider by default fell in with my younger uncles and another honorary uncle Suferdude who is the brother of Uncle Bear's wife. More times than I count during the late 60's and well into the 70's before my mom and dad divorced they would come and snag me to act as chick bait on the beach as they surfed. As the years drove on both Easyrider and Suferdude stayed in my life until events caused us all to lose most contact. Easyrider's wife, Crazylady, rushed up from the table to give me a quick hug. While the years had turned Easyrider's black mane white and left him with a leathery wrinkled face and pudgy body Crazylady looked as if she had skipped the last twenty years. She wore a modest bikini but I'm sure she would still draw the attention of men on a beach. And I thought I saw a very happy look on Spoilboy's face as Crazylady broke off and hugged Wiggles and then him. Our noise brought Uncle George and his wife Lady Maria from the ocean facing porch as well as Easyrider and Crazylady's daughter Bikerbabe and her son who was about the same age as my son. It was then I had a momentary cringe seeing Bikerbabe since she and I had a sort of past. Growing up around these people I had known Bikerbabe since she and I could walk. We had been friends during that time and I admit we may have played "doctor" as young kids. By the high school years our paths had diverged enough that she and I had nothing in common even though we did date for awhile. But that didn't stop Crazylady from trying to match make us several times with disastrous results as late as the 80's one time when I came home on leave from the army. My first thought as I saw Bikerbabe enter the room was concern thinking that while I had not seen Easyrider or his family in years I had heard that she was single again and Crazylady might try to live up to her name by trying to push us together. My marriage to Dragonwife right then was on some very serious rocks and I'm sure whatever information about Easyrider's family that I heard was equal to the information that they got about me. I didn't mind, while years had slipped by without seeing them I still considered them family. My concerns about possible fixups soon slipped my mind as another person entered the door to the ocean side screened-in porch and came into the house.

I did not know her at all but the first thing I noticed about this lady was her dark shoulder length hair and her dark eyes wearing a yellow one piece swimsuit. I was soon introduced to Ravenhair, a friend of Bikerbabe's who had come down to Georgetown to join up with Bikerbabe's folks then over to Pawleys with her to enjoy the weekend on the island. Uncle Paul and Lady Einstein came down from the upstairs getting the spare bedrooms ready not long later and while I was eager to get outside to the beach everyone else, namely the older folks, wanted to finish their coffee and relax. As it would have been expected my son and Bikerbabe's boy being about the same age quickly fell in with each other along with Ravenhair's son and ran out for the beach promising to stay away from the water until we were all outside. Wiggles found Uncle George's lap and began explaining about her small collection of Barbie's that she carried with her in a small case to him and Lady Maria. Both Uncle Paul and George have grown children but neither yet has any grandchildren and of the two Uncle George is the one who is really looking forward to being a grandfather. So Lady Maria and him were in hog heaven being explained the rules of Barbie fashion by Wiggles.

Knowing the nature of young boys and how rules can easily slip their minds the entire tribe went and sat on the screened-in porch to keep some sort of eye on the three as they played close to the shoreline. While it was already hot outside a periodic breeze coming from the ocean along with the two ceiling fans mounted in the rafters made the heat only slightly noticeable. The reported lost art of conversation was quickly rediscovered as everyone relaxed in a comfortable and friendly setting knowing that a near perfect day had just begun. Someone saw fit to bring the CD player online and soon the lyrics of “Under the Boardwalk” were drifting in the air. The general plan for the day was fun on the beach, a quick very light lunch, and as the shadows grew long later in the day the elders would pull out the grill for a huge fish fry. Most everyone was content to sit on the porch and talk except Crazylady who grew tired of what she thought was wasted time. She forced everyone up and out by applying sun block on her body in a way that put a huge grin on the face of Easyrider and sent everyone else running off the porch. Neither of them had ever been shy about expressing their affection for each other in nearly public places and I found myself frankly envious that even now their relationship was such that I heard Crazylady tell her husband to cool his jets until tonight when they were alone as I walked down the steps leading to the beach carrying Wiggles.

Even though the beach began at the bottom steps of Uncle Paul’s house a couple of big umbrellas were used to provide some shelter from the sun for the elders sitting in their lounge chairs. Spoilboy and Bikerbabe’s son, Scamp, being equal in age began leaving Ravenhair’s much younger son, Ash, behind as they prowled the beach with Bikerbabe whom seem to be keeping me at arm’s length. That left Ravenhair and I to entertain her son and my daughter. Both little ones wanted to go deeper into the water and jump the very mild waves that lazily made their way to shore. Between the tame sets when the ocean went flat Ravenhair and I would try and teach the two little ones some basic swimming strokes but ended up just getting splashed as the two broke down into extreme giggles. Being in such close quarters I soon learned she was a teacher at a small town close to Rock Hill, South Carolina. She had divorced Ash’s dad almost the day he was born but I didn’t ask why and she didn’t until much later tell me why. Ravenhair and Bikerbabe had been friends for years from when both had been wilder free spirits. Any question of a possible change in fix up tactics on the part of Crazylady was mostly set aside when she told me she was seeing someone else. I would be lying if I said I was relieved to learn she was seeing someone else, she was attractive and had an easy smile and friendly manner that instantly made it easy to talk with her. Time slipped by as our play with the kids and conversation went on until Easyrider and Crazylady came running into the water acting as teenagers grabbing each other and whispering stuff in each other’s ear. Ravenhair and I watched and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that both Easyrider and Crazylady had found it too hard to cool their jets until nightfall so we decided that the smaller kids needed a short break from the sun and pulled them out. From off in the distance I heard Bikerbabe yell out for her parents to get a room. If her parents, whose only visible parts above water were their heads, heard the disgust in her voice they paid no notice.

My uncles and aunts being far more settled in their lives were happy to stand guard on the coolers in their chairs under the umbrellas keeping the sandwiches and drinks for lunch cold. While Ravenhair and I had been in the water with the smaller kids Lady Einstein had pulled a collapsible tent out and had it ready to provide some shelter for the kids. All four of the kids were soon inside devouring the sandwiches and drinks with an abandon only the young can show. Easyrider and Crazylady came out of the water, adjusting their swimsuits with huge grins on their faces, and again took their place under the umbrella shade. Bikerbabe retreated to the house to make a phone call and Ravenhair and I found ourselves sitting very close together sharing what part of the shade we could from the umbrellas. The rest of the day went quickly as the adult members of the tribe, minus Uncle George and Lady Maria who watched the smaller kids, rushed to the water to play some Frisbee football. The teams were girls versus the guys with Spoilboy on the guy’s side and Scamp playing on the girl’s. Frisbee football has a pretty good history in our little tribe dating all the way back to before many of the older members were married to each other. But even with such a long history the rules of the game are nebulous to say the least with the real objective just to keep the Frisbee moving between people who are in the water. If the Frisbee does stop the other team can pound you into the water and sand. At one point Uncle Paul threw the Frisbee down range toward me in a straight path. A sudden breeze caught it causing it to drift away and up and I turned and ran looking over my shoulder to keep it in sight. Ravenhair was doing the same heading in my direction. While I had been a very good boy so far that day some little portion of my brain saw an opportunity and my sights shifted from the Frisbee to the lady in the yellow swimsuit. But our inertia being what it was instead of just doing a soft tackle, sort of a glorified hug to stop someone, as soon as I had a hold of her our motions caused us both to fall down with her on top of me. I remember the surf receding, my arms wrapped tightly around her holding her close and looking into her smiling face, and her not pulling away. It was a very comfortable few seconds with something else on both our minds until my son came up and broke the moment by kicking me in the side. For the rest of the game though both Ravenhair and I did concentrate our attentions on each other but never could recreate that short moment. Several times I did make a mental note to think about leaving Spoilboy home the next trip down. Our section of the beach had been largely empty but I could tell our collective activities had drawn the attention of those both sitting out in the sand and those just passing by. I can’t speak for other locations but as long as some decorum is observed even the recent heated activities of Easyrider and Crazylady are overlooked on Pawleys. The Frisbee football game lasted long enough for most everyone playing to feel the various impacts from each other and when time was called all were quite happy and exhausted. Time had come for the fish fry but no one had the energy to even begin to handle such an endeavor. Democracy being the blessing it is a motion was made for everyone to get cleaned up then head out to Murrells Inlet to hit the Admiral’s Flagship restaurant, the home of the best seafood in the area.

Even with a house that has only two bathrooms everyone was cleaned up and ready in a near miraculous time. Crazylady wore jeans and something low cut, my aunts wore simple warm weather pant suits, Bikerbabe copied her mother, and Ravenhair wore a sundress that even with our flirtation going on was stunning. The guys all wore Hawaiian shirts that while looked fine for the beach gave a strong impression that the Tom Selleck fan club was in town. Somehow all the kids ended up with me in the starship, mostly wanting to stay together and keep their conversations going. As for a co-pilot, much to my disappointment I almost got saddled with Uncle George until Ravenhair’s boy started yelling for his mom to ride with us. I didn’t argue and as we drove off heading for the restaurant Uncle Paul and Easyrider gave me the first of several knowing looks, I just smiled back as I past them.

Being a rather large crowd we lucked out and got a room all to ourselves and with the restaurant being buffet style we were soon swarming the various serving tables piling our plates high with seafood. It’s hard to describe the feeling that had been in the air all day and had once again set-in as we all settled in enjoying the food and company that surrounded us. Old memories of past events and people were recalled and joked about as was the present day lives of those sitting at the table. It was the knowledge of easy fellowship carrying no animosity or heartache. Bonds that had grown old and faded were renewed as was new ones made. Bikerbabe and I even felt comfortable enough to joke about one of our high school dates that had me walking home from Myrtle Beach late one night after she stole my car. I’m sure we could have stayed there all night, except for the fact that after three trips to refill our plates the manager started to look worried. So we loaded up again into the cars with the intention of heading back to Uncle Paul’s place just to hang out for the rest of the night. Ravenhair rode back with me and all the kids again and while they talked about their kiddy stuff I showed her where Mickey Spillane once lived and how I very briefly meet him once as a kid when my mom, siblings, and I lived in Murrells Inlet in the 70’s. And how he helped me one day when my mom’s demons were riled up and I didn't have enough money at a local store. In returned she opened up about her relationship with Ash’s dad and how she put her life back together after she sent him packing. Our side trip, while unnoticed by the rugrats in the back, lasted long enough for everyone else to make it back to the beach house. Once again I received another look from my uncles this time, even Uncle George saw fit to join the other two. The bigger kids being quite bored with grownups just talking searched out a DVD from Lady Einstein’s collection and settled in on the two couches and big chairs to watch one of the “Star Wars” movies. The younger two later went upstairs to watch a Spongebob marathon and were both sleeping before long. The rest of us sat out on the screened-in porch to listen to various oldies coming from the CD player and the ocean surf. Before long with most the house lights turned off the couples paired off and began dancing both to the slow mellow tunes and when a good beach or fast pace tune played everyone would try to shag, the state dance of South Carolina. Some were experts and really could show off some moves. And then there was me, who couldn’t dance if my life depended on it but my partner didn’t seem to mind. Several hours passed and later on a silence fell among the group and a few went for late night strolls and some just continued to sit on the porch enjoying the breeze and the music turned down low. Ravenhair and I elected for the late night stroll walking north toward one of the many groins, built to inhibit beach erosion, sticking out into the water. The island was fairly dark due to light discipline by the inhabitants to avoid confusing baby loggerhead turtles as they emerge from their buried nests. She and I found a comfortable spot on the sand and spent some time star gazing and exchanging life stories. It was an extremely relaxed and happy moment in time as we shared many things with each other that night. We had both been going through some rough times recently with the person in life we should have been closest to but had found our respective relationships troubled and in question about their very existence. While the night was getting late with midnight fast approaching we did talk about doing something slightly different the next day and began walking back toward the house. Unfortunately we were met by Easyrider coming to find us with word that the world had intruded and plans were going to change. Bikerbabe, who was a nurse at a retirement home, had received an emergency phone call from her work saying that she had to come in for someone the next day. Since Ravenhair had rode down with Bikerbabe she and her son would have to leave very soon. Upon our arrival back at the house the atmosphere was busy as bags and sleepy kids were loaded into Bikerbabe’s car. Far quicker than I liked or could understand they were driving off the island without the goodbye I wanted to say to Ravenhair. The disruption had the added effect of Easyrider and Crazylady deciding to head back home to Georgetown along Uncle George and Lady Maria who were leaving because they wanted to sleep in their own beds. The house was soon silent again as Uncle Paul and Lady Einstein went to bed and I found my kids asleep. Not able to sleep I again began walking the dark beach but alone this time with my thoughts far away.

I ended up sleeping on the couch in the living room listening to the crashing surf from an open window thinking that heaven had to be close to the environment I was in then. My son, Darth Spoilboy, had somehow ended up on the screened-in porch sleeping in the hammock hanging from the rafters. As I listened to the surf rush the shore along with what I thought was rain falling on the roof I heard my daughter coming down the stairs talking to my uncle and aunt's cat. The long haired tomcat had graciously put up with all the visitors the day before without clawing any of the children that had been in the house. I realized Wiggles emergence would force me to fully wake up and get her and my still sleeping son some sort of breakfast. Uncle Paul and Lady Einstein went to bed very tired the night before and Wiggles was not one to let anyone in a house sleep when she was ready for another day of action. While they had plenty of food in the refrigerator they did not need to suffer the almost certain calamitous noise and mess that my daughter can generate. So after getting her dressed, tossing my son out of the hammock, and packing most of our stuff back into my backpack we made our to the car and then to the local burger clown hamburger place. The sky was heavily overcast and raining that morning as we cruised up to the north causeway to drive off the island. The usual collection of morning yuppie bikers and joggers were missing due to the steady rain and intermittent heavy downpours that seemed intent on soaking the island. The rain was so bad at times that I had to leave my window up preventing me from enjoying the smell of the marsh as we drove. A more disconcerting thought about the heavy rain was that I had planned to stay most the day on the beach at Pawleys and only head back home near the end of the afternoon. Dragonwife was back in the Midlands enjoying her favorite pastime of rearranging the various closets in the house and I really wanted to give her as much happy time as I could with her choice of weekend activities. Our premature arrival back home would doubtless see us drafted into her world of organizing piles of junk, hanging closet organizers, and packing then stacking plastic storage boxes.

Driving off the island on the north causeway I said a small prayer of forgiveness to the legendary Pop as I passed the empty and quiet building that once housed his local hamburger stand that had operated from the late 40's into the mid 90's on the way to the burger clown. While he had surrendered operation and later ownership of it to a local couple newly married in the 70's it had been called Pop's Grill until the day it was closed. Pop had passed in 1976, a World War Two combat veteran, whose gruff exterior seemed to fit the stereotype of someone in his line of work but his true nature was a caring and trusted fixture in that small spot of the planet. The couple that took over the place had a good run over the twenty odd years they had it even building on its legendary status. But the influx of newcomers from other parts of the country and the cultural encroachment of national franchises that followed in their wake brought an end to the place. As kids, drawn by television, began wanting the prepackaged and processed chicken nuggets with the cheap toy Pop's Grill faded away as the kids that use to beg their parents to stop and get a burger there began taking their children to the hamburger clown to appease their demands. I have heard a few whispers from long time locals of ghostly sightings of a big guy wearing an apron over a white shirt and jeans with a military crew cut prowling the North causeway at night. This phantom is reported to be whistling a happy tune and waves at people passing him by only to be gone as they look backward in their rearview mirror.

The kids and I entered the burger clown establishment and ordered our food. As much as I hate to admit it the young lady taking our order was courteous and efficient as was the rest of the staff. She smiled and chatted with the kids in a friendly and intelligent manor and acted as if she really cared about what she was doing. It was a huge difference than the usual surly pimply faced teenage boy or ever so bitchy teenage girl that have long since seemly become standard issue at such places. Spoilboy and Wiggles raced to the indoor playground and scurried up its many levels even before I had the table set with our stuff. Not looking a gift house in the mouth I used this time to eat my food in a more relaxed and slow pace without having to referee any issues between them. Looking around the dining area the few scattered people inside were mostly older folks sipping coffee and reading the paper. Instead of the manic rush usual to the burger clown and its clones the lazy relaxed atmosphere was one of an old fashioned diner that existed years ago. In a couple of high corners along the walls two large television sets had CNN or MSNBC on with the sound down and the closed captions on and I could tell that a few people were discussing the news debating the outcome of events. Beach music tunes could be heard playing on the speakers mounted in the ceiling almost giving the soulless corporate entity a human face. Before long my kids came stumbling out the playground and took their seats. The now cold burger clown pancakes that my children had ordered flew apart in seconds. Luckily I had the foresight to slide a little further away as plastic knives and forks whirled through the air at near super-sonic speed. The rainy weather that had threaten to short circuit my plans had begun to break apart with the sun shining through many of the cracks and with my kids full we left and turned back toward the island. As I again passed the ruins of a simpler age I felt some guilt for coming away from the burger clown as impressed and satisfied as I had been. Hopefully, Pop and his cohort Captain Andy were preoccupied chasing female angels and missed my transgression.

My hope for the clouds to move completely out did not happen. While the sun had come out some making the day far brighter huge dark clouds still cruised around like an enemy armada looking for targets on the ground to rain on every now and then. It was still early in the morning as we passed the small Pawleys chapel that had yet to open for its Sunday service and I once again found myself reassessing my plans. Instead of going back to my aunt and uncle's house and bothering them or heading home to Dragonwife I decided that while swimming might be out due to the heavy downpours still coming at a much reduced rate we would just walk on the beach so we headed for the south end of Pawleys. While there are public access points to the beach all down Pawleys Island they are small and are at a first come, first park basis. Private beach houses cover the island and the days of just parking in front of someone's house to spend some time at the beach were long gone when I was a small child. The south end of the island is the exception to this rule providing a relatively large area for the general public to park their cars with plenty of space to enjoy the ocean. If folks from Georgetown said they were going to the beach it was more than likely the place they could be found. The south end is a tongue of land about the size of four football fields, at low tides, that sweeps around from the ocean side through the inlet that joins the ocean to the creek that stands between the mainland and the island. As part of the effort to fight erosion a walking bridge was built at one point to prevent people from flattening the sand dunes separating the parking area from the actual beach. The kids and I crossed over and saw only a couple of guys surf fishing and a few fellow early morning beachcombers walking the sands. Our usual habit has us starting on the ocean side next the old groin and walking around to the creek side to the first private pier sticking out into the creek. The wind was doing its best to blow away the dark armada floating above whipping the surf up to white froth but the enemy still saw fit to loosen volleys of rain from time to time so I left my camera in the parked starship. As we strolled further along checking out various seashells and seaweed along the shore I noticed that one of the two guys surf fishing had hooked something big. His rod was almost bent double and I could see the strain on his face as he fought whatever he had on his line. His buddy was a few feet away and I could see them speaking but not hear their words as the one struggling with his mysterious catch fought to keep it. It took a huge jerk on the line almost yanking the fishing rod from his hands before the other guy came over and began to help. The kids hadn't noticed the age old struggle being replayed now just a few yards in front of us and were content to play in the water and sand but we still slowly walked closer to the fishermen now locked in an embrace I'm sure neither would have condoned or admitted to in any other situation. I was frankly amazed that whatever they had caught hadn't broken the line or fishing rod for that matter and was being worked closer to the shore. The two fishermen were standing on a small sandbar peninsula in water that was about up to their calves when I finally caught sight of the sharp angle of a fins swirling in the deeper water just off their little peninsula. The kids and I were in ankle deep water ourselves and coming close enough for me to alert them to the battle going on in front of us. Darth Spoilboy asked me what the guys had hooked and I told him that the brief flash of fins I saw made the angry fish the two Georgetown boys were wrestling a shark. I quickly had to grab my two to prevent Spoilboy from joining the fight and Wiggles from heading out in the water to give the shark a hug. But we stopped just ten feet away and watched one of the two guys break away from his buddy and actually jump into the deeper water where the shark continued to thrash around. The deeper segment of water went up to just above the guy's knees with him trying to get a hold of the shark’s tail. I had seen enough to tell that this was no young and small shark. I guess the shark was preoccupied with the guy still hold the fishing rod that it was attached to and didn't notice or care about the guy trying to grab its tail. The distraction lasted just long enough for the guy to get a good hold at the base of the tail and begin to pull the shark onto the higher portion of the sandbar and start to drag it onto land. I could see the look of victory in the eyes of the two guys and honestly the size of the shark was pretty big. Using the two guys as measurement it had to run from the five to six foot range. With it fully exposed I could see it was a black tip shark, fairly native to the local waters around Pawleys. The victory the two fishermen expected quickly evaporated even as they drug the watery predator on the shore. Unexpectedly the animal jerked around, almost doubling over and snapped at the guy holding its tail causing him to drop the tail and fall onto the sand. Even from where the kids and I squatted close by we saw the open mouth full of teeth start to squirm toward his tormentor laying on the sand in frozen shock like a deer in the road surprised by headlights from an onrushing car. The guy that had been holding the fishing rod as his buddy handled the shark quickly produced a knife that cut the line severing his connection and then turning and running away. The guy sprawled on the sand quickly recovered himself scrambling away from the fish. As the two fishermen left the area the kids and I watched the sleek black tip shark literally turn itself around and crawl on its fins the several feet back toward the water only to disappear in the waves. As I kicked myself with 20/20 hindsight about leaving the camera in the car I could hear Wiggles yelling bye-bye to the shark as Spoilboy and I prevented her from running toward the water. I never saw where the two fishermen went but the kids and I completed our walk around the south end of Pawleys. At the end the clouds had finally drifted away leaving a bright sunny day. While hanging around and playing in the surf was now an option I felt no need to tempt Sammy the Shark for a little revenge with my kids even though I had been cheering for him as he taught the two guys a lesson about nature. After a brief visit back at Uncle Paul's to say good-bye we made our way toward home. But not before making our way to Sullivan's Island just outside Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to see Fort Moultrie. The kids and I spent the afternoon climbing over gun emplacements and studying the history of that famous place looking out at Charleston harbor.

We returned home Sunday evening and were greeted by Dragonwife who was eager to show off her organizational endeavors. We all tried to show some interest but the weekend in the sun and activities had taken their toll. The kids by this time were pretty tired and since we had picked up dinner on the road were ready for bed, even Spoilboy. With the kids in bed after a quick bath Dragonwife and I sat in the living room watching some movie. I myself was too tired to go upstairs to do anything but watch the movie and recount in my mind all that happen over the last couple of days and wonder about what I wish had happened under the stars Saturday night.