Sunday, February 24, 2008

A visit to Patriot’s Point at Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Back in 1977 after many hours of begging I talked my grandfather into my first trip to visit Patriot's Point where the USS Yorktown was on display as a museum. Back then a trip to the Charleston area was almost an epic journey to a far away place we went to only for a major event like buying a new car, purchasing of serious formal wear like a suit or fancy dress, or sending someone off at the only nearby major airport. Just getting up and going to see something for fun just, at that time, did not seem to make sense to my grandfather. But we did and my grandfather later admitted it was worth the trip. Many years later when my son Darth Spoilboy was about five he and I traveled down and spent the day crawling through the ship. At that time I wasn't into photography and I didn't take a camera so our adventures are lost. This time we had my daughter Miss Wiggles with us as we explored that proud lady. Each time I have come to visit her I'm awed by her size. I understand that many of her later sisters are far bigger in size but what do I know, I'm just an old army fart.

I did notice that during each visit I saw many older guys walking around telling their kids, grandkids, and now great grandkids about their time serving aboard that ship. The only time I got a good chance to hear some stories was my first visit. Since then I have had to keep watch over my kids while trying to listen to one of those fellows tell some of their history on the ship. I hope I have a chance to listen first hand to one of those sailors before they all move on. While these ships, active and retired, are steel the people serving aboard them give them a life all their own.

This is a halfway decent picture of the USCGC Ingham. She served in WW2 protecting ships ferrying supplies to Britain. In 1942 she sank the German U-boat U626. She went to serve in both Korea and Vietnam before being retired in 1988.

The torpedo repair room aboard the Yorktown. A nearby sign displayed at a cutaway torpedo display says that these things carried 75 pounds of explosives. Talk about a place to observe all the safety rules to the letter.

I would love to see some of the chickenhawks flocking around the country being so gung-ho about others fighting having to put up with such tight quarters. Click on the picture to read the sign. For those who may not know for many, many years sailors had LESS personal space than inmates in prison. The ships are larger now and I have heard that they do have a little more space and privacy but serving on a naval warship is not a cruise ship. The duty is long, hard, with many hours to wonder how your family is doing back home. This is true of the army as well but there is an old saying that some people use to explain why they joined army and not the navy. It goes something to the effect: "I can walk far longer than I can swim", meaning if the ship goes down you are in serious deep poop.

Just one shot of the engine room and all the dials and seriously old fashioned controls they used. Dear God, not one computer display in the entire engine room.

One of the anti-aircraft guns now on display on the hanger deck. My first visit there they left old steel pot helmets on the chairs the gun crews used. During that time kids could wear the helmets as they used the manual controls to turn the gun some. Simply, it was a blast imagining Japanese fighters buzzing around as some WW2 battle raged.

I think this is a Grumman F6F Hellcat, thanks Colonel, on the hanger deck. The planes on display in the hanger deck were awesome but my camera, and the operator, were not up to the task top take decent pictures in the low light.

The bridge of the Yorktown. Its hard to imagine all the history that was made and all the courage that was displayed right there as Japanese planes attacked.

One Beach Bum sitting in the captain's chair wondering if I could throw my son in the brig. No, the lower portion of my sweatshirt is NOT my stomach sticking out. Miss Wiggles had ditched her jacket and I stuffed it into my pocket on the front.

The flight very close to the point where the planes left the carrier. On my first visit to the Yorktown with my grandfather they didn't have anything to stop someone from just falling off the flight deck into the water below. In fact I almost gave them a reason that day but my grandfather pulled me back before I did it. Never the less sometime not long later someone did fall off and into the marsh resulting in a chain link fence being installed

F-14 Tomcat. No, I have no idea if that is the one Tom Cruise flew in the movie.

F-18 Hornet.

I hate that small sailboat that screwed up my shot. The old girl has never changed since that first visit but I do think she needs a coat of paint. While we were there a bunch of guys were very busy putting up a McCain campaign platform with many of his suited flunkies floating around making things ready for the senator because the South Carolina Republican primary was the next day. Since I have a bad habit of speaking my political thoughts I did have a small concern that McCain might drop in early and somehow see my daughter and try and do the old political baby kissing routine on her. She has heard enough of me talking about McCain that if she let something slip it wouldn't have been good. I respect the man's service and what he went through during his time as a POW but on international affairs right now he is almost nuts.

The USS Clamagore. She saw a great deal of duty in the Caribbean in the late 40's. Damn, I bet that was some sweet duty.

Miss Wiggles inside the sub. I could not have served on a submarine. I am just to big and just walking through that boat was hard.

Patriot's Point has a model of a Vietnam river operations base complete with a swiftboat. I believe like the one John Kerry served on during his time there. One of the many weird things I saw during the 2004 presidential campaign was how a bunch of non-serving lowlifes had the gaul to say a word against a man that served in a combat zone while many in the Republican party had dad fix them a slot in the safe confines of the Texas National Guard or somehow was able swing several deferments to avoid serve all together. Sure Kerry may have not been Rambo but just serving one day in Vietnam was lightyears ahead of the sacrifice many other did.

Just had to throw this one of a jeep in for shits and giggles. For those that may not know the new hummers now being used have automatic transmissions. The reason was that many kids going into the service back when the need for a faster vehicle was being developed were tearing the poop out of the straight drive transmissions in these old things. It ended up cheaper to buy automatics and deal with their maintenance and repairs instead of teaching the kids to drive a stick and sending the jeeps to a depot repair time and time again to have the transmission overhauled. And yes, I grounded my fair share of gears before I got the hang of it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not again...

I have to apologize to those who read my blog about my latest absence but events have once again overtaken my family and quite frankly I have found myself overwhelmed and lost to a great extent. Several times recently I have sat down at my computer to make comments at other sites and begin a new post entry on my site but I have found myself after many minutes staring at a screen unable to think of anything to write or much less summon the energy to type. Simply put, my uncle who I have given the name "Uncle Paul" to in my posts passed away last Saturday morning. In the course of twelve to thirteen months my family and I have lost my grandmother, my mom, and now Uncle Paul. It was not my intention to report this event chiefly because I just didn't want to write anything like this again. But I have found myself unable to "bounce back" like I had after the passing of my grandmother and mother. My grandmother's quality of life had deteriorated greatly over her last couple of years requiring almost twenty-four hour nursing care at the facility she was living at. While I miss her greatly even now please don't miss understand me when I write that she mostly talked about looking forward to seeing my grandfather again during those times she knew where she was at. I feel she is now in a better place free of the problems and concerns that plagued her in the last few years and along side my grandfather, probably sitting side-by-side next some river fishing. My mother greatly abused her health for years refusing to alter her behavior even after repeated warnings from her doctors that she was putting herself in an early grave. I made my peace with her and her behavior accepting the reality of her choices. That doesn't mean I miss her any less, it's just some things can't be changed no matter how many people endeavor to try. Their passing shook my family and me but there was a certain acceptance of the events due to the nature of their ages and health that made it, in some regards, easier to come to grips with sooner. My Uncle Paul's passing has been far more devastating for the whole family and a private hell for his wife Lady Einstein and their son, Neo.

Uncle Paul's health was far from perfect, he had been fighting a "mild" form of cancer for many years that while under control from chemotherapy never went into a full remission. Even though undergoing the grueling treatments there were several times I saw him up and about living a normal life just one or two days after the end of a session. For many in the family we had gotten to the point of overlooking what he was going through since whenever we saw him he did his best to not to show the toll it was taking on him. But it can be argued that my uncle loved life so much as long as he had breath in his body he was going to live it to the fullest no matter what. As the years progressed he did find himself making more and more visits to the hospital as the toll on his body became greater and it took more attention to stabilize his condition. The visits, at first, were usually just a couple of days but became more severe and longer as each one passed. While he fought to keep the cancer at bay the chemo began very much to be a double edged sword in its own right. The periodic chemical assault that prolonged his life ultimately damaged his liver to the point that just a few months ago while his health was stable he was under going tests in Charleston for a possible liver transplant at some point. The week before the Martin Luther King holiday I learned from my brother Joe Cool that Uncle Paul was once again in the hospital "probably just for a few days" and would be out before we all arrived down on the coast for the early start of the weekend on Friday. I had looked forward to joking with him on the Bush zombie clones roaming the state with the Republican primary coming that Saturday. My uncle was a independant minded Democrat and thought the Republicans a pack of fools. Even though the kids and I made a side trip in Charleston we arrived first in Georgetown to find Lady Einstein and him still at the hospital. His condition was far worse this time but I hoped that a little prayer and his seemly boundless energy might once again bring him back. I kept that hope as long as possible even though it became futile not long later.

One of my other cousins reached me first last Saturday morning with the news I didn't want to hear. I was devastated and I broke down and cried laying on my kitchen floor. The rest of that day was a blur as Dragonwife and the kids packed the needed items for the trip to the coast. I collected myself enough to drive down but I honestly don't remember the trip although Spoilboy did later make a point of asking me if I was okay several times. Needless to say I don't recall him asking me anything due to the shock I was in. The funeral was last Monday and since then I have found myself still unable at times to believe he is really gone. Uncle Paul almost worshiped Lady Einstein and was the type of father I try to be to my kids so I can't imagine what she and my cousin Neo have been through and will continue to have to endure. My other, and last uncle, whom I have given the name Uncle George finds himself the last sibling of the four that included my mother. The depth of his sorrow was such that the entire family was worried about his possible health. He has his wife and two sons but never expected to find himself the last one standing out of my mom, Uncle Bear who passed away in the late 1970's, and now Uncle Paul.

I am uncertain when I will return to blogging on a regular basis. I will be back at some point and I must admit that just getting this off my chest has made me feel better. Until then I will be lurking in the mist somewhere and wish everyone the best. And dear sweet Jesus in heaven I never want to write a post like this again for a really long long time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cosmic ponderings on intelligent life, or lack there of.

Oh, yeah Homo Sapiens the most advanced life form on the planet. Somewhere the dinosaurs are laughing their asses off.

There is been much in the way of discussion among the various science types about whether we are alone in the universe or that out there among the stars is an untold amount of other intelligent species pursuing their hopes and dreams. Those science types here on earth with absolutely no life at all have at times run the numbers on several factors that make up Fermi’s Paradox and figured out that some little green man, women, or whatever should have at some point dropped by Earth for a visit. Their absence has lead many of the egghead boys and girls to ponder the option that we are indeed alone in the cosmos. Now I’m fine to a certain extent with no Klingons, Romulans, or heaven forbid the freaking Borg showing up in orbit and blasting us with their ray guns and then sucking our brains out. But upon watching my fellow humans for years and just about coming to the conclusion that given how I must be crazy since most everyone else I’m around to me acts insane and I can’t be the only sane person around I have come to a different answer.

I have been bouncing the idea around in my head for awhile that contrary to the usual presumption the human race is not an intelligent species. Yes, human beings have and still do write great works of literature, paint glorious works of art, write majestic works of music, build cities, and explore both the deep seas and outer space, none of this is under debate. But given how we are causing global warming due to uncontrolled burning of oil so one person can ride in comfort in their SUV’s, driving a huge number of plants and animals extinct for stupid reasons like using powdered rhino horn to get your woody going, killing fellow humans over religious and political reasons, and electing strange unintelligent mutant throwbacks to national office quite frankly I think the question needs to be debated. On a recent Discovery channel show one of my favorite authors, David Brin, pondered what might take our place on the planet if we, humans, should disappear. Not quoting him here but he said something to the effect that yes, another intelligent species (at least how we see intelligence) might evolve but another possibility is that a species that he described as “clever” might arise with the ability to use simple tools, organize group efforts, and learn basic principles of the world around them but not be sentient, or at least that is the basic jest of what he was trying to say. Many times since that show as the daily boneheaded antics of humanity played out on the nightly news I have wondered if humans are just “clever” animals with our civilization relatively speaking to some advanced alien zipping around the galaxy no more advance than how we look upon the chimpanzees as the go about their daily lives.

In my weird way I can see some intrepid alien Captain Kirk, cruising the galaxy looking for new life forms, civilizations, and smoking hot alien babes to bag and then have them stumbling upon or little blue marble. The most likely response they would have, apart from blasting us into oblivion, would be how some city people act when they have strayed too far off the interstate and into the more rural area of the south where family trees are rather straight up and down affairs with few branches. They might slow down for a minute as they pass through seeing all the bizarre creatures. Then they would turn around and rush back the way they came to tell others that no, there is no intelligent life in this part of the interstellar boonies.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Joys of Plumbing and Marriage.

After several days suffering from one of the worst stomach bugs ever to hit the family the worst is finally over. Tried writing something current but nothing is really working and my son Darth Spoilboy is absolutely dying to get to his MySpace account. So here is a recently discovered artifact from my last blog which was one of my first posts.

It started last night, "Honey", my wife called. Well, she didn't say honey but I prefer not to write the word she actually said. "You need to check the kid’s toilet, it’s stopped up again." What she really meant was for me to grab the plumber’s helper and go unblock the toilet that either my son or more than likely, in her eyes, I had messed up. She had been in a bad mood the last couple of days and I had got to the point where I felt it was best just to stay quiet and ride this hurricane out. So I grabbed the plumber’s friend and marched off to do my husbandly duty.

Details at this point are better left out but there was nothing I could do. The clog was not going anywhere and so I told my female Hitler, I mean my lovely bride, that this was not the usual situation and that I would have to go to the local Mega-Hardware store and buy a plumbing snake. My hunch was that our little girl had flushed one of her small toys down the toilet but it was Wednesday night and Lost was about to start and I did not want to talk about it anymore. Someone was supposed to get killed that night and I did not want to miss finding out who it was.
The next morning I was off to the local Mega-Hardware store to purchase a drain snake and a new wax ring for the toilet if it turned out that I would need a Plan B. The great thing about the mega stores is the choices you have. The bad thing is that no matter how much the commercials say that they have a knowledgeable staff I usually only meet those who were rejected for employment by fast food places. I walked to the row that held the plumbing supplies and found the section that held devices that I hoped would free up the blockage that I was fighting without me taking the entire throne apart. My issue was that several of the drain snakes were different sizes and appeared to be designed for different applications. Now according to my wife, during better days, and several girlfriends I had in the past I never ever had a size issue and I always have been good at different applications but that is a whole other subject. But since I did not want to cause a bigger problem I needed to know which one was right for home use. But the sales associate who worked in the plumbing section looked at me with the deer-in-headlights look when I asked which one of the drain snakes were right for a simple residential toilet. Well, when in doubt always punt, so she pulled out the fancy cell phone and called someone. After several minutes of saying a lot single word responses to apparent questions on the other end of the conversation she grabbed what looked to be a dildo off the shelf and handed it to me. She explained that one end of this device would be attached to a common water hose and then the device should be pushed down the toilet until it meets the blockage. Then, she continues to explain, you turn the water on and the device would expand and a high pressure water spray would come out from the opposite end of where you screwed on the water hose. Supposedly, this would be the most effective way of removing the blockage. I told her once again that the blockage was more than likely a child's toy but she assured me that the "plumbing expert" she talked with said this item was right for the job. I almost bought her advice and the item. But as she was walking away I happen to look on the back of the package and clearly saw the instructions that read that this item was not to be used on toilets. Visions of exploding toilets and the aftermath of such played out in my mind very clearly. I tossed the dildo looking item back on the shelf, grabbed my drain snake, and a new wax ring so I could move straight to Plan B if needed and paid for my stuff and left for home.

The drain snake is a fairly simple device, on one end is what looks to be a corkscrew for a wine bottle and on the other end is a piece that you turn to get the snake to expand down the hole basically, with it fully retracted you push it into the hole and start to turn. In theory at least at some point the corkscrew end should encounter the blockage and then, I guess, it either breaks up or as you turn it to retract again you will pull it out. My first attempt netted let’s not go there. Let’s just say that after two attempts I pull out next to nothing and on the third I got the damn thing caught and for thirty minutes I could not pull it out. At that time I gave up and began working just to remove it from the toilet. About the time I started thinking of just buying and whole new toilet the snake broke free and I began preparing myself for Plan B.
Jumping ahead after removing the "water" from the toilet I removed the tank and carefully placed it inside the bathtub the base was removed and I moved it outside to begin the really disgusting part.

By this time of day the morning walkers were out. An older couple walked past my house as I was bringing the base out and could not help but to make a couple comments. Their comments were meant to be funny but I was not in the mood. The only reason it bothered me was by this time I was tired and slightly smelly. Knowing this prevented me from tossing water from the toilet on their cute, matching jogging suits. But getting back to business I figured whatever was jammed in the toilet was wedged very tightly so I took the water hose and pushed it up from the bottom with the water turned on. Right from the start I was able to push the water hose up to where I could feel the obstruction. The water hose was stiff enough that I could push it up but unlike the dildo that the Mega-Hardware store associate tried to sale me I did not have to worry about the damn toilet cracking. I finally felt that I was going to make some progress. So I started gently thrusting more and more with the water hose hoping that it would fall out. Ignoring the world around me I started saying things like "yeah baby" and "I know you’re ready". It was at this time that I looked up and saw the neighborhood divorcee walking past looking straight at me and laughing. This is a woman who any man would more than likely sell his soul to be with, she is that drop dead glorious. She has always been very friendly towards me but has never given me any hint that she might be interested in me but having her see me like that was very embarrassing. Maybe, you could say that I saw all my secret fantasies being flushed down the toilet.

Looking back on this whole event I realize that compared to other more serious problems this was very minor. But given that my wife had been on the warpath lately and she had been leaving very long "honey do" lists that had damn well better be finished when she returns home taking all day to fish out a child toy in a toilet that had just been installed three months ago was a major pain in the ass. But right after the divorcee walked by I looked down to find that my daughter's small Spongebob Squarepants toy had fallen out of the toilet. I cleaned up and reinstalled the toilet without any further adventures. I then called my bride at work to tell her about all this. My lovely wife's opinion of my handling of the situation was, as expected, full of criticisms of how I could have done everything quicker. But of course when she returned home and was talking on the phone, deep in conversation to one of her knitting class girlfriends, I laid the newly freed Spongebob close by and she quickly picked it up absent-mindedly playing with it. It actually took twenty seconds before she realized I hadn't cleaned it off. The reaction on her face when she realized why Spongebob was so sticky made up for the rest of the day. Now, a couple of weeks later and after we have made up I can laugh about the whole thing.