Sunday, August 1, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir--A NO SPOILER REVIEW


It goes without saying the movie version of The Martian was a brilliant piece of hard science fiction. I was literally in awe of the actors performance, the real science involved in the story, along with the basic concept of a lone individual marooned on a planet. Because I enjoyed the movie so much I naturally bought the Andy Weir novel which I found surpassed the movie. It was true “hard science fiction” in the sense that there was no magic gadgets that defy known physics used to save the day. Everything in the movie and novel is technologically possible.

Even growing potatoes in martian soil, the only show stopper being the weird type of salt in the martian regolith that Mr. Weir didn't know about when he was writing the book. Called perchlorates, this type of salt would make growing plants in Martian soil difficult, to say the least. But this doesn't derail the use of martian soil as material for growing Earth plants. Such salts could easily be washed out of the soil as it's put into greenhouses.

So when I learned of the basic plot of his latest novel, Project Hail Mary, I was like a kid waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. I ordered the book off Amazon and had a fit when the United States Postal Service failed to deliver it in the required two days. But it did arrive and I have to go ahead and say Project Hail Mary is one of the best science fiction books I have read in my life. Now, understand it's the best science fiction books I've read, but it's not HARD science fiction.

The book opens in more or less in the present day with a probe being sent to Venus and discovering an alien single-cell lifeform reproducing uncontrollably around the sun. Yes, its definitely growing around the sun and causing significant dimming that will plunge the entire Earth into an ice age in thirty years.

This of course sends all rational countries into terror because while the sun will not be extinguished the percentage of dimming will cause massive crop failures resulting in billions dying around the world. Needless to say an ecological collapse will also result in a mass extinction event as well for most plants and animals. So it's the end of the world and no amount of climate denial and anti-science rhetoric will stop the advanced rational nations from a crazy project to try and save it.

Enter the main character Ryland Grace PhD, a humble junior-high school biology teacher who was forced to leave advanced molecular biology research because he wrote a controversial paper proposing that life could exist with using water.

The almighty overlord of project Hail Mary, Eva Stratt picks Grace to study the samples of the lifeform being brought back to Earth. Mainly because everyone was assuming that since the organism was growing on the sun that it couldn't possibly contain water. But also because of the fact that Stratt wanted a competent, but highly replaceable, scientist to look at the organism first. In other words if the organism killed Grace while he was poking it with a stick there was essentially no loss to humanity.

Well Ryland Grace makes significant breakthroughs in classifying the organism he names “Astrophage.” It uses the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Venus to reproduce then emits huge quantities of light energy to get back to the sun to hang out. Astrophage's ability to emit light as a form of propulsion is discovered by other scientists and they begin figuring out a way to build a sub-light starship using it as fuel.

Why build a starship when Earth is about to become a global icebox? Because every astronomer in the world is looking for the origin of Astrophage and they discover all the local stars in our stellar neighborhood are dimming the same way. The conclusion, Astrophage has infected them all except one, Tau Ceti, a star a little under twelve lightyears away.

Project Hail Mary is an attempt to build a Astrophage-powered starship to reach Tau Ceti and hopefully find out why the single-cell assholes aren't causing it to dim. Dr. Ryland Grace end up on the three person crew of the Hail Mary, who are put into a medically-induced coma for the four-year journey to Ta Ceti. Four year journey, when you said Tau Ceti is twelve lightyears away????

Relativity my friends, old Albert Einstein isn't a character in the book but his ideas about traveling close to the speed of light means our intrepid crew will only experience four years of travel time. Why put them in a medically-induced coma? Because the Hail Mary isn't the spacious Starship Enterprise, the three-person crew would go insane living in such a small container. Plus it saves on the use of food and life support during the voyage. Of course while the crew will only “experience” four years, time dilation means those left on Earth will experience more and with only a total of thirty years left before Earth goes full dead block of ice the possibility of success is remote.

Oh yeah, the crew on the Hail Mary are all on a suicide mission. To save Earth they have to reach Tau Ceti discover why that star isn't dimming. If they find a solution they will launch four small probes back to Earth that will carry the information on how to solve the problem. After that all three have ways to painlessly end their own lives.

It simply wasn't practical to build a starship with enough fuel for a return voyage to Earth.

Needless to say like any battle plan going to shit when opposing forces make actual contact, lots of crazy, scary, unplanned events happen to those aboard the Hail Mary. Small spoiler here but the star 40 Eridani, another in the local neighborhood that is also dimming plays a part in the novel.

Project Hail Mary isn't hard science fiction, but it an excellent novel in its own right. “Astrophage” naturally doesn't exist and along with a few other created elements prevents this novel from being hard science fiction.

Another curious thing about this is book is the seemingly lack of direct American involvement with the Hail Mary Project. That why I said all 'advanced rational nations' at the start of my review. Of course Ryland Grace is American but during the construction of the Hail Mary every major spacefaring nation including the multinational European Space Agency (ESA) seem to have far more involvement than NASA. One example, after the Hail Mary is built and in orbit around the Earth, it is astronauts of the ESA that crew the ship during during testing. The reason why Andy Weir wrote the story that way is unclear.

Personally, the first thought that came to my mind is that I could easily see the antiscience dumbasses here in the United States denying that any problem with Astrophage and the sun existed. I could easily see dozens of right-wing religious extremists and libertarians saying Astrophage was all an evil globalist plot to undermine the United States. Those same individuals say the same thing about climate change, pollution, and numerous other real issues the world and our nation faces.

During the book I began to feel for the character of Ryland Grace and his situation as he attempts to save Earth. His situation gets extremely dire several times with only luck and pure intelligence saving the day. Grace is a true hero but he's no Captain Kirk nor Picard by any means. He has a serious flaws and they are exposed during the course of the novel. But I also felt his excitement as he made numerous discoveries trying to get to the ultimate goal. The fictional Ryland Grace is a twenty-first century man who truly got to voyage, “where no one has gone before.”

I highly recommend Project Hail Mary.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Plundering Around in my Subconscious

 


Probably best to start this rambling mess of words with a friendly disclaimer.

Just like one of the characters in the movie Inception stated, dreams, at least for me, have no real beginning. The way I remember my dreams is like waking up in the middle of a movie that has been going on for some significant period. I know something in the form of a plot is going on but I have no idea what caused the “characters” to behave the way they do.

Secondly, I absolutely do not believe dreams are supernatural in origin. That means I do not believe dreams are windows to alternate universes nor glimpses of the past or future. And I absolutely do not believe metaphysical beings contact us through dreams.

Dreams are just the unconscious human mind sorting through the bits and pieces of conscious reality and stringing them together. If someone has a dream about their Aunt Sally winning the lotto and that actually happens at some point in the future that was pure chance. For me, deja vu could well just be random pieces of memory that dropped into a dream with that individual experiencing it accidentally repeating those actions in a similar location.

I do believe dreams are elements of a person's psyche and can be related to their fears, hopes, and how they view themselves. Which in my case could mean I'm losing what little piece of my mind that works

With all that out of the way, I had a wild dream recently that I want to relate because it was so weird.

It began with me among an unknown group that I couldn't see nor really hear. All I knew was that they were pissed at me for some reason. I have no idea why they were upset but I understood, at least I think I do, that it involved me personally.

Typical dream stuff that didn't have any real basis in how others see me. Over the next several days, I began to theorize it was just my subconscious playing with my deepest fears. Nothing too awful weird, and given the times we live with economic uncertainty a normal component of life, probably typical.

It was the final segment of the dream that was really different. Don't ask me how I knew the following but I after left behind the unknown group I “bumped” into God.

Now get this, in the dream God was a short, fat white guy. Sort of like Danny Devito, Budda, and the Boss Hog character from the Dukes of Hazard television show back in the early 1980s. And yes, he was smiling and giving off this feeling of love and warmth that was quite weird for a dream.

Now the really weird part begins, God was wearing a mustard gold Starfleet Command uniform from the original series complete with the flying delta symbol on the upper left of the blouse. My one distinct memory of the dream was being utterly surprised to see God wearing such a costume.

The dream ended right there, or at least that's all I remember. All things considered it was pretty cool and left me with a good feeling for most of that day. Now clearly understand this, I DID NOT have a personal one-on-one encounter with the Almighty. Technically, it's still best to classify me as an agnostic, although I freely say humans don't know as much about the universe nor reality as they think they do. It just takes real, verifiable evidence to prove things exist that would be classified as metaphysical.

Like one character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture stated near the end of the film: “We all create God in our image.” I guess my subconscious wanted to relieve the collected societal pressures in my head and constructed a God I could relate to in the best possible way. What's weird was that my subconscious put God in an Original Series uniform. I relate far more with Star Trek: The Next Generation and I could easily see Sir Patrick Stewart playing God in a movie.

But I can deal with a Danny Devito, Budda, Boss Hog combination making up a friendly God. Yeah, all that stuff in my head is a mess. Speaking hypothetically, it would be beyond cool if God was a Trekkie.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Addendum for The Tomorrow War

 


 During my rush to express my general dislike of Chris Pratt I forgot to add some important information about time travel. While the initial sloppy premise of The Tomorrow War was for the world of 2051 to ask for help from our present day world the question of changing future events was always in the background.

Speaking strictly as a curious layman when it comes to the actual implications of traveling backwards in time I believe the scientific consensus is that it isn't possible. We are naturally traveling into the future one second per second and through various means like approaching the speed of light or sitting close to the edge of a black hole “faster” forward time travel is possible.

But every reasonable science article I have read or video I watch says traveling backwards in time is problematic. Without getting deep into the mathematical weeds, which I have no ability to comprehend, I think Einstein's theories say nothing prohibits backwards time travel as far as the universe is concerned but it would take God-like powers.

The key here is that nothing outright forbids backwards time travel so various real and respected scientists have speculated on what would happen if someone or groups began shuffling through the space-time continuum.

Of course the Grandfather Paradox is the favorite with some psychotic moron going back in time to kill his grandfather before his own father was conceived. So if the father was never born how could an insane kid go back and kill his grandfather?

Some have speculated that such actions would create a temporal loop. The kid is born as he is supposed to be, grows up and builds a time machine, then goes back in time shoots his teenage grandfather in the head. Granddaddy never has a son so the kid is never born. Because the kid is never born he never builds a time machine to go back and kill his grandfather. So events proceed as they occurred with the Grandfather having a son who goes one to have a kid of his own. So once again the kid grows up, hates his Grandfather, builds a time machine and travels back to shoot him in the head. This loop presumably would continue for eternity.

Is it just me or does this put a big dent into the idea of free will?

The alternative is that instead of a temporal loop, time has a way to protect itself. Instead of backwards time travel such a homicidal grand kid would instead travel to an alternate universe set in the years during his grandfather's childhood. Killing that person would prevent your counterpart from being born but leave your own universe/timeline untouched. 

Going for shits and giggles here by throwing a hypothetical timey-wimey wrench into the time-space continuum, but what would be really wild is if we could reverse time would be to look at events on a much wider perspective. Instead of focusing our attention just on an insane genius-level kid traveling to the past to murder his teenage grandfather, look at the mundane decisions normal people make during the course of their day during that same period. 

Insane kid keeps a record of what his friends, Tom, Dick, and Harry did the day before he pops back years in the past to kill his grandfather. Insane kid then goes forward in time to that day and secretly observes his friends to see if they make the same choices. These choices could be anything from what shirt they wear, the route they take to work, or what they decide to have for lunch.          

If there is the least little bit of deviation from what they originally did that would leave open the idea of free will, I guess.

This all feeds back into the ultimate conclusion of the movie. While sending troops to the future to fight a clearly lost war just doesn't make any sense. The world of 2051 could have just sent the same group to our present with tons of information on what will happen along with the bio-weapon to make a more plausible movie.

Personally, while I have my doubts on the degree of free will humans actually have, I think the far more likely reality of backwards time travel would be sliding over to an alternate universe. But then again I'm no scientist, but goofing with the flow of temporal events just doesn't ring true in an universe that seems so highly ordered.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Tomorrow War--A Movie Review

 

I watched this movie so you wouldn't have to.

 By the time 2021 arrived the world had seemed to turn the corner on the pandemic. Multiple lingering issues were still an embarrassing shitshow but with the vaccines out and the Orange Buffoon being shown the exit, despite unprecedented and scary attempts to stay in power, things were starting to look up. With the receding of the pandemic the various workings of civilization began to restart, one of them being movie studios who began tossing out previews to films that had been long delayed.

One of those films is called the The Tomorrow War staring Chris Pratt, a military science fiction film about the usual unstoppable invading aliens. Despite my liberal bleeding heart, tree hugging leanings I am a sucker for such movies and watched Tomorrow War the day it dropped on Amazon Prime. In truth, my eagerness to see the movie was in part due to my desire for new content, any entertainment that wasn't a leftover from happier, pre-pandemic times.

For example, over that extremely long nightmare year of 2020, I had rewatched The Lord of The Rings movies so many times I was starting to lose real life hope no matter the multiple times Gandalf and Aragorn assured me it still existed. Yes, I am a voracious reader but there are times everyone needs fresh visual and audio input that only the boob tube can provide.

As for The Tomorrow War right off the bat I had to dump a bushel of demerits for the basic premise. Chris Pratt, not one of my favorite actors to begin with, plays Dan Forester, a former Green Beret who is now a high school biology teacher who deep down knows he's meant for greater things in life. But in the first couple of scenes we find out that he has been turned down for a position at a “prestigious research facility.”

Danny Boy gets all mopey, and even a little bit whiny with his loving wife and daughter doing their best to comfort him during a World Cup Soccer viewing party at his house. See during the middle of this televised to the world game a wormhole opens up with soldiers from the year 2051 literally dropping in to tell everyone that humanity is losing a war against invading aliens and on the brink of extinction.

These aliens, which are called whitespikes, will suddenly appear in the year 2048 and overrun the world in three short years. These representatives from the future have interrupted the bloody World Cup match to ask the nations of present to send soldiers to the future to help with the war.

Of course as with these types of movies, the nations of the world almost immediately start sending troops to the future without any apparent questioning of the future people, or assessment of the tactical situation. More to the point, nothing in the movie suggests that people here in the presents take a moment and ask the future people detail questions of where these aliens first set foot on Earth. All we're told is that the first recorded encounters with the whitespikes were in eastern Siberia.

A huge area to be sure, but with thirty-some odd years to wait it seems commonsense to be me to maybe load up a couple of divisions of troops from different nations and recon the area. Yes, we're talking Russia here but I wouldn't be opposed to some vodka-soaked Russian general being put in charge as humanity does a grid by grid search to short circuit our extinction. Dear Lord, real life murderer, and petty dictator Putin would love calling himself the freaking savior of humanity.

In fairness to the movie, one of the future soldiers does say that that when the whitespikes began appearing the nations of the world looked back on the records and no telescopes nor radar saw anything drop down from space. Okay, I'm no George Patton nor Alexander the Great but that suggests to me that maybe they were already on Earth. And some forensic study on the first few whitespikes killed in the war might narrow down the area where they first appeared. Hint...Hint.

But no, present day troops are rushed through the wormhole to 2051 for seven-day deployments with fewer than thirty-percent surviving. Seven day deployments you ask? It's all part of the movie's time travel gizmo and is just a useful plot device.

With trained troops coming back as hamburger, if they return at all, the nations of the world resort to drafting civilians. No, these civilians have no prolonged period of basic training. They are literally given weapons, some basic gear, and then get sucked up into the wormhole for a seven day visit to Hell.

Even worse for this movie many of these civilians are not in the best of health. Many are clearly not physically fit for serving as a REMF in present day armies much less engaging in intense combat with murderous aliens.

Low and behold former Green Beret, Dan Forester's number comes up for the draft. Forester's wife and daughter plead with him to contact his estranged, troubled Vietnam Vet, genius-level mechanical engineer father to dodge the draft. See, Danny Boy's dad has figured out a way help draftees circumvent the tracking device the government installed on those going to the future. We then get a scene with Danny Boy and his dad where they promptly engage in a father/son pissing contest. Danny Boy gets disgusted with his dad and says fuck it, he reports to the base where the pathetic civilians are dispatched to the future.

Right from the get-go the trip to 2051 is a cluster fuck with Danny Boy's group dropping from the wormhole not five-feet above the ground but at least fifteen-stories above apocalyptic Miami Beach. Luckily for Danny and the important secondary characters they fall into a roof top pool that strangely still has enough water to cushion their fall.

From there the survivors regroup and get a mission to rescue an important group of scientists working in the city. Now understand, whitespikes have infested the city and a dozen or so pizza delivery-type guys and retail working ladies have to fight their way to the building where the eggheads were doing their thing. Remember no training, no months long physical conditioning, just John Wayne movie determination and Danny Boy and another former army type who has already served three previous seven-day tours to 2051. That guy has terminal cancer and is a walking death wish. But he does carry a souvenir, a claw from one of the first whitespikes killed in the war.

The movie meanders to a conclusion with Danny Boy meeting his 2051 daughter, who just happens to be a colonel in what is left of the military force fighting the whitespikes. The 2051 people have pretty much realized they can't win, so why they were continuing to suck unprepared draftees from their past into their hopeless fight, I can't figure out.

What the 2051 people do have is research into a biological weapon that will kill the female whitespikes. Supposedly the females are extra hard to kill and like Star Trek's furry and cute tribbles are born pregnant. Hence how they were able to overrun the planet in three years.

Danny Boy and his adult daughter, who is also the chief scientist of the research project capture a female whitespike, take it back to humanity's last fortified base, and perfect the bio-weapon. See Dan's daughter wants him to go back to the present and use the weapon while there is still time.

Well now all sorts of crazy shit starts to happen. That last base is attacked and overrun with whitespikes out to rescue the female. Dan now fights to survive long enough for his timer to hit zero where the time travel gizmo will automatically send him, the nifty bio-weapon, and the surviving members of his group back to our present.

Returning to the present the world has gone to pieces. Realization that the 2051 war is hopeless and extinction imminent the geopolitical situation in the present has seen all nations turn inward with international alliances being abandoned. It's clearly mentioned even NATO has disbanded something I once thought ridiculous and even suicidal until the Orange Buffoon did his best to make it happen.

To me that is when the movie got extra super stupid, yes the 2051 war is lost but with thirty years to prepare the world of our present could pull together and somehow change the future. But then again the United States has in reality just seen over six-hundred thousand people die due to Covid-19 and there are motherfuckers who violently believe it was all some grand conspiracy. Then there are climate change deniers, another massive conspiracy, and Flat Earthers so maybe the writers do understand human nature better than me.

But never fear, Dan Forester will save the day. See in one of Dan's biology classes there is a student who is a volcano nerd. This kid loves volcanoes and knows everything about them. So after Dan and his terminal cancer combat buddy have his souvenir whitespike claw analyzed by a scientist and discover ancient volcanic ash embedded in it and get a general age of that substance. For reasons I either missed or the writers never stated, Dan get his volcano wizard student to tell them what part of the Earth the ash originated.

They surmise that the whitespikes arrive on Earth right before a certain Siberian volcano erupted and ended up buried and then frozen in ice. That during our time the ice melted enough to thaw out the planet-cleaning killing machines.

Great we have a location, eastern Siberia but we then learn Russia has locked its borders tight. And the United States government has no desire to contact them and say they have cool information to share that might save humanity in thirty years.

But wait, Dan's estranged father just happens to own a C-130 transport plane and can fly the beast under Russian radar. So Dan, his dad, the terminal cancer guy along with several others organize a mission to fly into Siberia to find and then destroy the whitespikes with the bio-weapon.

This motley crew locate the buried spaceship, blast their way in, and begin killing the whitespikes still sleeping in their hibernation sacks. That is until a couple of whitespikes begin screaming waking up the rest. The group then begins blasting away with weapons as the whitespikes start escaping until terminal cancer guy detonates the C-4 explosives they had placed throughout the ship.

Everyone inside the ship dies except Danny Boy and a couple of lucky whitespikes that are doing their best to run off into the icy wilderness. Dan and his estranged father, who was left outside to cover the exit, give chase and have a final confrontation with the two remaining aliens. Yeah, one of the surviving whitespikes is female and she's clearly pregnant.

Father and son kill the last two whitespikes and then have one of those redemption/reconciliation moments that has all the sweet sincerity of saccharin. They go home where they are greeted by the world as heroes.

Okay my biggest problem with the movie was the basic idea that 2051 world would come to our present asking for soldiers to fight a war that they had long since decided was lost. The better plan, in my ever humble opinion, would have them developed the bio-weapon first then drop into the World Cup game with it and a detailed report and get us in the present to locate the and kill the whitespikes.

The world could have still gotten all gung-ho with Dan Forester drafted into a global coalition to locate and eliminate the threat because of his prior military service. Dan could have seen a message from his adult daughter who still would have been the chief scientist on the 2051 bio-weapon and realized his path to glory would be to change the future for her.

But no, we get a chaotic mishmash of Terminator, Aliens, and Predator tropes so Chris Pratt can look good on screen. My problem with him is that he can't act. His character in the Parks and Recreation was a one-dimensional creature that honestly didn't seem to stray far from his real personality. The same goes for his character, Peter Quill, in the MCU. The first Guardians of Galaxy movie was great but the second not so much.

In short Chris Pratt strikes me as a pompous douchebag who isn't any different than a couple of thousand other underemployed actors living in Hollywood. His one difference is a couple of lucky breaks other, better performers never got.

If you haven't already figured out, The Tomorrow War is a wreck of a movie that I honestly can't recommend for interesting entertainment. Truthfully the best part of the movie were the whitespike aliens, which were pure CGI. Time travel films can be tricky things and when done well can be some of the best thought provoking entertainment around. My final stab at this movie would be for someone to go back in time and prevent Amazon from wasting money on this script.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Amazing Dabous Giraffes of Niger

 


Wow, things have been crazy around my house lately, not “bad” crazy more like really busy leaving me no energy when I get home after work. It's the heat and humidity, mostly but the weekends aren't much better. Here at my house the grass and weeds in my yard have already moved into the ultra fast growing season I don't usually see to the first of August.

Yeah, I have a riding lawnmower but there's a lot of smaller chores left over like weed whacking and using the blower to clean up the curb and driveway. Anyway here's a small post on a subject I find interesting.

I am continually amazed at what archaeologists find from human prehistory. Long before writing was created numerous vibrant and sophisticated cultures came into being only to fade away into oblivion leaving only mysterious stone relics.

One such remnant are the Dabous Giraffes, stone petroglyphs located in the Air Massif of Niger. Dated to around 8000 BCE they are the largest stone petroglyphs in the world and were created when the Sahara was a much wetter savanna that stretched for thousands of miles. This wetter period is called the Neolithic Subpluvial and lasted from around 12000 BCE to 7000 BCE.

No expert, but if I remember correctly once the Sahara went back to desert some of that regions inhabitants migrated to the Nile River and began the process of establishing Egyptian culture.

The giraffes were carved into a sandstone outcrop and depict a large male and smaller female. Long after the Sahara returned to a desert climate shifting sands covered the glyphs for thousands of years before they were rediscovered in 1987. That region of Niger has over 900 similar carvings of animals and humans.

I find myself profoundly sad that the artist or artists of these glyphs will forever remain unknown to us. The culture that produced the creators of those glyphs had to be advanced enough that they had advanced beyond the mere struggle for survival. That they had enough food and necessities that men and/or women could create such works of art.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Stupidity of the Carolina Squat

 For me anything that falls under the umbrella of “popular culture” is something I usually try and ignore. Whatever popular culture once was it is now overwhelmingly a banal wasteland paradoxically overflowing with lackluster personalities and social influencers who while not quite parasites on the butt of society certainly offer nothing of value to it.

Case in point has to be the Kardashians and anyone else associated with their popularity. There was a time when I thought they would fade into the static of American life like numerous others who found fame but couldn't justify it. Now, I have this strange idea that they will be remembered for hundreds of years in the future as a new type of demigods. I've got to admit, not bad for a family whose first dose of fame came from a “leaked” sex tape.

Despite my best efforts to ignore popular culture, aspects of it do penetrate my defenses making me take notice. That happened a few weeks back while I was stopped at a red light.

One of those massive monster trucks pulled up beside me. The funny thing though was that it was obvious that the front end was pointed up at a near forty-five degree angle. Like the back end of the truck was carrying a massive load weighing down the suspension. No, that wasn't the case. When the light turned green the driver of the truck hauled ass leaving me behind in all his truck exhaust glory.

Given the angle of the truck I could easily see the bed was empty of cargo. I didn't think much more of the truck until I saw another configured the same way a day or two later, then again not a couple of days later. By that point it was obvious these truck were not suffering from some sort of mechanical failure but were being alter to that configuration on purpose.

Eventually, I learned that these trucks with the front end pointed up, or the rear end modified to be lower was called the “Carolina Squat.”

Curiosity got the better of me and I did a little internet sleuthing. This trend originated in California and was used on the Baja desert racing circuit where it was called the “California Lean” or “Cali Lean.” Lowering the back end had a practical purpose in the sandy terrain and hilly landscape. When contestants hit a jump at high speed, the rear end would hit the ground first helping to avoid a crash. However this modification has no practical purpose when the vehicle stay strictly on highways and streets.

Leave it to the unrepentant ignorant rednecks of the American South to grab onto this trend in an attempt to impress someone. It was bad enough when years ago they started raising the wheel-bases of their trucks to the point small step ladders were needed to climb up into the cab. Throw in chrome rims that can run into the thousands of dollars alone and the American South once again can be thought of as a backwards bunch of idiots desperately attempting to overcome some perceived shortfall in manhood.

The shortfalls of the Carolina Squat include a total loss in towing capability, a dangerous reduction in proper handling along with simply being unable to see the road. Mainly because the truck's headlights will be pointed up and not down at the road ahead.

Leave it to Southerners to lead the charge into another level of stupidity.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

You Know This is Coming


 For reasons that usually escape me I'm a fan of most of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. Cosmic horror filled with powerful entities totally ambivalent to humanity's existence is a level of science fiction that may have a closer approximation to reality than I'm comfortable with. 

 All that is beside the point with the key idea here being horror, painful intense dread of something perceived as bad or evil. Humans excel at horror, we are adept at torturing and killing each other on industrial-sized scales. As recent science podcast I listened to said ants are another type of animal that will wipe out an entire competitor population. Then again ants aren't sentient while we have plenty of religions and beliefs that say killing each other is bad. So on a certain level between ants and humans I'm not sure who has the moral high ground.

It appears humans have begun to reach for a new level of horror with the possibility of an "Ethnic Bioweapon" that could be designed to eliminate inconvenient populations of fellow humans. As the picture says, it might be possible to design a virus that targets specific genotypes. A terrifying prospect to say the least, but honestly you know Old Adolph Hitler would have jumped for joy to have such a weapon in his inventory.

And as you can already guess, human wisdom and morals has not advanced at all sense the end of the Second World War. I'd even go as far as to write that here in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave" our moral high ground has greatly eroded in recent years. And well, you know there were those little oopsies with how we treated the Native Americans and the African slaves. Given the fear and anger oozing like a newly reopened sore from the crowd wanting to Make America Great Again I'm sure a few of the more rabid members would love to have an ethnic bioweapon. 

The following source is unknown:

 U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen considered such a "genetic weapon" plausible, and believed the former Soviet Union had undertaken some research on the influence of various substances on human genes. In its 2000 policy paper Rebuilding America's Defenses, think-tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) described ethnic bioweapons as a "politically useful tool" that US adversaries could have incentive to develop and utilize. This weapon could be used to kill people with a specific code in their DNA essentially and effectively whipping them from the face of the earth.

 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Rainy Day Revelations

 


 

Saturday morning began like all the others since the divorce. Still half-asleep, I rolled over towards what had been her side of the bed not truly conscious of the fact that she was gone. At least the drowsy sense of panic only lasted a second or two before my brain fully rebooted for the day. The worst aspect of the situation was now just the unending silence making the house seem like a tomb.

Kathy let me keep the house in the divorce settlement, quite the consolation prize for a failed marriage. As a kid, I would stay with my grandparents for a week or two during summer vacation. In the afternoons my grandmother would makes us lunch and we would both sit in front of the television and watch game shows.

I enjoyed this time with her and we would talk about the various constants and how some succeeded where others failed. We would also laugh at their reactions to the contests the host put them through. Of course, the big winners at the end of an episode jumped around frantically as the off-screen announcer listed off the various prizes, cash, and trips they were taking home. As the closing music played the host and the big winner would then cross the stage to the glamorous models standing next to the various prizes or posing in front of the elaborate displays showing the exotic tropical destination the lucky guy or girl would enjoy.

For a brief second or two, the camera would flashback over to that day's runner-up contestant. He or she would still be standing behind their assigned podium with a stunned and dismayed look. The announcer would then quickly say that the runner-up, meaning the loser, would receive a year supply of Rice-A-Roni for their troubles. That's how I still felt, I got the house while the woman I loved had moved out and taken up residence in one of her parents' fancy downtown condos.

I laid there in bed for a minute feeling the loneliness closing in and again started thinking about getting a dog. Kathy was severely allergic to dogs, something that I had accepted when we married. Kathy also hated the sight of dog shit when we went walking in the park. The offending dog and its lazy, irresponsible owner could be long gone but she acted like we had stumbled across some disgusting alien monster struggling to free itself from its slimy birth pod.

Getting a dog was a definite possibility. My parents and former in-laws still chatted and even had the occasional Sunday brunches even though blood loyalty to their children had strained their sickly sweet friendships. As the eggs benedict and mimosas are served I can see my ex-mother-in-law asking the perfunctory question about how was I doing. I can then see my mom answering in an equally offhand manner that Steven had adopted some mutt from the shelter. The two couples would then smile and maybe even laugh a little then go about their usual, more important discussions.

Just for shits and giggles, I then imagined my former mother-in-law telling Kathy sometime later that I was destroying the house she had so perfectly decorated by bringing in some furry mongrel to chew up the furniture and shit all over the carpets. Kathy's hatred for dogs went beyond simple allergies, it was more based on her belief that any animal would destroy or spoil her masterwork of style and balance.

After talking with her mother, Kathy would then fret for days before finally calling me at work to ask about some item of hers she couldn't find and that was probably still stored up in the attic. During our stilted conversation, she would mention that she heard I had adopted a dog. And I would casually mention that yes, I had a dog and that it had unfortunately laid some turds in the living room and foyer but that you couldn't really see the stains. The tone in her voice would then drop giving away the fact that she was upset.

Yeah, whenever I decided to get my ass out of bed I would look online for the biggest dogs up for adoption.

It took several more minutes but eventually, I did get out of bed and went through the motions of taking a shit, showering, and shaving. Yes, I also brush my teeth, no need for tooth decay to interrupt my post-divorce malaise.

Coffee was the next goal and with a cup of steaming hot good stuff in my hand, I opened the kitchen window shades and looked outside. It was pouring rain, the skies were a dark gray pretty much guaranteeing it would stay that way all day. The lawn desperately needs cutting but the rain was making any yard work impossible. I'm sure the Home Owners Association wouldn't see it that way but since the divorce, I didn't give a fuck what they thought.

Still, I needed something to do for the morning before pet adoption places opened. Then it occurred to me that Kathy did have a huge amount of junk stored in the attic. While her condo overflowed in luxury and comfort, storage space was at a minimum. I had agreed to let her keep the crap here, mainly out of some ridiculous idea that she might realize her true feelings and come back to me and her precious house. It might be fun to look through the vast amount of stuff she couldn't part with but yet didn't want in her new home.

That was eighteen months ago and before I learned about Chad. When Chad entered the picture I wondered for a few days if the suddenness of Kathy's decision to end our marriage was because they were having an affair. That they would stay apart for over a year before announcing their relationship. I looked into the matter and learned that Chad had never stepped foot in Atlanta until his company transferred him here. It was Kathy's sister, Jenny, that confirmed to me that they hadn't made the beast with two backs until well after the divorce.

Jenny had always liked me and after we bumped into each other at a coffee shop told me that it was true love at first sight for the two. It was at a work-related party and apparently, Cupid's arrow had a direct hit on the two on the first try. Jenny then laughingly confided that they were soul mates because they were both extreme compulsive-obsessives.

Climbing up into the attic I was sort of stunned at the amount of stuff she left behind. Being the last survivor of our failed endeavor I didn't have any reason to visit the attic. My extraneous crap was all down in the extra, unused bedroom.

Looking things over Kathy's boxes were of course labeled and neatly organized like toy soldiers. Poor Chad, I hope the bastard was truly in her anal-retentive league. I opened the box labeled books and wasn't surprised to find a collection of hardcover and paperback novels arranged in neat order, like puzzle pieces. It wouldn't have surprised me if Kathy had organized them into some sort of secret code like something from a Dan Brown ancient conspiracy novel.

The selection of books did seem unusual for her. They ran the gambit from the typical romance novel, spy thrillers, to science fiction and even horror. It was almost bizarre on a certain level. Other boxes had papers from college, clothes that I never saw her wear, and even pictures from her family that had to date as far back as the 1930s.

Several hours passed with me going through every box. As her now ex-husband it was wrong for me to go through her stuff. One box even had love letters to a high school sweetheart that was now some high-level advisor to a US senator. This guy's existence was old information, Kathy told me about him while we were dating. But as I read the ancient letters that were sent during their junior year of high school I discovered the old boyfriend had admitted to her that he was bi-curious and had a crush on some guy on the football team. I found this revelation hilarious since this old boyfriend worked for the right-wing asshole from Texas.

After going through the last box I was suddenly overwhelmed with the thought that everything here made up the entirety of Kathy's life. There was even a copy of our divorce papers. But the one group of items missing was anything from our almost six years of marriage. No box containing pictures of our wedding, various vacations, or mementos two stupidly in love people give each other. It was a true gut punch to think that down in the spare bedroom I had a box storing all the birthday cards she gave me from the time we meet till that last year of marriage. Other boxes I kept had all the pictures I took of her, including the topless one she posed for on a beach in Puerto Rico.

That's when I noticed one last box in the corner. It wasn't labeled but when I picked it up I heard items sliding around. I lifted the lid off and saw five leather-bound journals inside. I picked up one and flipped through the pages, it was filled with her expertly neat handwriting. The leather cover of each journal had the year embossed in gold so it was easy to see where they began. The last one had the year she asked me for a divorce.

I flipped through the pages of that last journal to find the last entry. Sure enough, it was dated the day Kathy called me at work asking to meet her at the deli I liked for lunch.

Sitting on the floor of the attic I had a sudden flash of the emotions I felt as Kathy calmly told me in that deli she had hired a lawyer to draw up divorce papers. There wasn't any need for marriage counseling nor talking, she wanted a divorce. It would happen one way or the other and it would be best if we parted on friendly terms.

Sitting in that booth waiting for our order I felt the pit of my stomach sink into a churning, sour abyss. I looked at the woman who I loved more than anyone in the world numb from the shock of her words. There was no denying the reality of the situation. It was totally unexpected but I knew it wasn't some nightmare, it was real.

Some would say I was too shocked to agree with anything but I said yes to everything. I agreed to the divorce and didn't make a scene as my world collapsed. Kathy left a few minutes later leaving her lunch order untouched. Like a moron, I stayed behind and ate mine as if nothing weird had happened. I even left a tip on the table for the waitress as well as Kathy's untouched order. I'm sure the waitress asked me whether or not I wanted it packed up to go but I didn't hear her.

I never got any answers from Kathy as to why she ended it. And I'm sure if I had forced the situation and demanded them like some macho guy from the movies she would have refused. Her only response would have been a look of disappointment and heavy sighing like a parent might give to a slow child.

But now with these journals, I know the answers will be in Kathy's exact handwriting. Still sitting in the attic feeling the sweat pouring down my face and body, part of me knew I wouldn't like what I read.

That the answers I deserve would come with pain.

That same part of me said I should quit right there and forgot everything I had already seen. But it was too late for that, I was a true graverobber who had disturbed the ancient tomb and let loose all the cursed spirits.

I took the box down to the living room and began to read.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

My Thoughts on the Bizarre UAPs

 


One of my most enduring but ultimately irrational aspirations was to live long enough to see humans make first contact with an alien civilization. This can be traced back to my childhood in the 1970's when I would browse the covers of cheap paperback books about UFOs and ancient astronauts at the local department store.

The subject of UFOs was a hot topic at that moment in popular culture with one of the paperbacks supposedly having a picture of an “energy being” on the cover. To my young and uneducated eyes still dealing with implications of the stories presented in Star Trek and other science fiction stories I was enthralled at the idea.

The fact that this energy being looked like a bunch of sparkles in a rough humanoid shape was something I didn't question at the time. Luckily for me, especially since I received most of my education in South Carolina which has never been a place famous for teaching rational thought, I eventually came to understand the vast, overwhelming majority of UFO encounters could easily be explained away with entirely earthly answers. Of course that meant any reported alien encounters associated with UFOs was the result of an intoxicating substances or an outright hoax. Probably like the dumbass trying to make a buck passing off a fake humanoid energy being.

Becoming a extreme UFO skeptic was a far better outcome for myself than turning into some redneck prole freaking out over a reported strange light in the sky. Real science turned me on to the idea of finding primitive but no less interesting organisms living deep underground on Mars or floating in the liquid oceans of the ice covered moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

Well a funny thing happened recently with UFOs or more accurately, Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) as the Department of Defense is calling them and I find myself at a complete loss as what to think.

I'll be honest and write that I totally ignored the initial news reports of the United States Navy confirming the authenticity of leaked video showing UAPs being tracked my navy jets doing maneuvers that break the laws of physics. For example we're talking about UAPs making sudden 90 degree turns that produce several hundred gee forces.

Human pilots can take around nine gees before passing out with the structure of our planes able to take a few more before flying apart. These videos also show science fiction-like acceleration with no visible means of propulsion. No super-heated air coming from jets or even wings to provide lift. One in particular even has a UAP going trans-medium diving into the ocean and disappearing in the depths.

When I finally started paying attention to these reports it has been strongly alluded that other, still classified videos show these UAPs in high-definition performing other maneuvers that defy the laws of physics.

My initial thoughts about UAPs leaned towards Russia and/or China achieving some sort of technological breakthrough in both physics and structural engineering. That these UAPs were unmanned drones since any pilot flying such a craft would be turned into a thin paste of human salsa the second they attempted any type of maneuver that produced hundreds of gees.

Further reports featuring the navy aviators who tracked these UAPs as well as experts in field of aviation engineering suggested to me that for Russia or China to have produced these things the breakthroughs required would have taken the minds of people like Einstein, DaVinci, Tesla, Edison, Newton, and Hawking all at once. We're not talking next generation technology here, breaking the laws of physics, as these craft apparently can easily do, would literally require something done in science fiction set at least two or three hundred years in the future. Science doesn't work in a vacuum, so I am highly skeptical of some modern day science wizard developing inertial dampers for high gee turns and anti-gravity for wingless, hypersonic flying machines in his, or her garage.

I don't believe in conspiracies so the idea that this technology, which would have required thousands of scientists and a greater number of trained technicians as well a huge number of secondary support personnel to develop was kept secret for the decades required is ridiculous. So, where does that leave us?

Frankly I find it extremely hard to believe that an alien civilization advanced enough to travel the distance between stars would just decided to harass bored navy folks on the open oceans of Earth. Yes, there are reports that the Russians and the Chinese have their own investigations of UAPs. More disturbing and even scary are the reports of these craft are interfering with the operation of nuclear technology. We're talking about taking nuclear weapons offline and in the case of Russia bringing them back online as well as buzzing around nuclear power plants.

One video, produced by the Washington Post has the expert appearing saying something along the lines that these craft could be coming from “inner space”, “outer space”, or the “space between.” Okay, since these UAPs have moved beyond redneck proles and anal probing and into the halls of the Pentagon and official reports demanded by the United States Senate I've moved beyond happily puzzled into the realm of the concerned. Simply put none of this makes any sense, not as a genuine First Contact scenario and not as a geopolitical, national security issue.   


Included are two videos that I find highly credible. 


Friday, May 28, 2021

The Eternal Refrigerator

 


It goes without saying that the selling and/or the purchase of a house is a time-consuming and exhausting endeavor. For my wife and I back in 2000 we were lucky enough to be the exception to the first half of that rule. However the purchase of our new home was not smooth and seamless. To put it bluntly, it was a huge cluster fuck unparalleled in scope and repercussions. We spent years cleaning up the mess and dealing with the items the previous owners left behind.

Boiling everything down to the basics my spouse and I were in the closing stages of adopting our daughter from China. One of the requirements to satisfy the adoption agency was that the baby had to have a room to itself. Our first home had three bedrooms, enough for us, one for our son, and one for the baby. But my wife felt we needed a fourth bedroom for family and friends who would visit.

So we painted and repaired our old house until it just about shined. Then we went about looking for a new house that had the right number of bedrooms and met my wife's other personal requirements like location, good school district, and distance from her work. The housing market at that time was on the side of the sellers and we immediately ran into some issues. Things got worse when the first family that looked at our home made and offer and we accepted. The clock began ticking for us to find a suitable replacement and get out before the deadline. We had less than two weeks left before we found a house that while meeting all the requirements had several issues.

Namely that the family selling the house we wanted to buy wasn't ready to move. Their replacement house they were building was livable but they wanted more time. It's been over twenty-years now and all I remember was that as far as they were concerned they wanted all the bells and whistles in their new home fully installed and connected. They wanted at least another two weeks before surrendering the house.

That was a no-go for us because the adoption agency had to evaluate our new residence and then send confirmation to the Chinese governmental agency so the adoption could go forward. If we weren't in the new house by the time of the evaluation we could lose the little girl picked for us who was still in a Chinese orphanage.

So the selling family blinked and moved out before their new place met their standards. It was either get out or we would have rescinded the offer leaving them with two mortgage payments. As a Plan B my wife and I had talked about looking at apartments and just staying there until the adoption was over where we would then have a new house built.

The old owners were not happy with the situation and in typical Lexington county passive-aggressive behavior they moved out leaving the house trashed. As we moved in my wife and I were shocked to see dozens of holes in the walls in every room that had been cleverly hid by the selling family. Most were from pictures but no attempt was made to repair any of them. During this bullshit the house inspector somehow didn't warn us about a multitude of issues that the sellers were supposed to fix. Off the top of my head the report that asshole gave us didn't mention a word about the broken burner on the stove; the interior doors that weren't square with the frames; and most of all the stains on the kitchen floor.

I honestly believe the selling family slipped the house inspector money to overlook these issues. I mentioned as much to a few of our new neighbors and I'm sure my suspicions were relayed to the selling family. I have another suspicion that the selling family was friends with many of those people and my accusations colored my relationship with those living around me.

But in true passive-aggressive style it was the refrigerator they conveniently forgot to load up that still makes me harbor ill feelings about those assholes.

Adding icing to the already difficult cake of moving I had National Guard duty on the weekend we took up residence in the new house. And for reasons I never understood both the CO of my unit and the First Sergeant refused to cut me some slack and allow me to slip out to help with the move.

By the time I arrived home late in the afternoon the majority of the moving was finished. My wife and in-laws were still dealing with the shock of the condition of the house. I, in turn was flaming pissed and wanted to kick some ass. Especially when I opened the doors of the refrigerator they left behind.

My dad-in-law knew something about kitchen appliances and guessed that it had to have been twenty-years old back in 2000. While still functioning properly the inside had obvious wear, to the point rust was showing through on some exposed metal parts. Shelves were bent and glass panels cracked making it look like a real backhanded insult to us demanding they move before they were ready.

But most worrisome was the brown sticky stuff at the bottom. Partially covered by the crisper section for vegetables, it looked like a Coke or Pepsi had leaked and they never cleaned it up. I wanted to move that refrigerator out the garage and bring in ours from the old house but by that time my wife was on the verge of a nervous breakdown while my in-laws compassion and love of family were exhausted.

So we assembled beds to sleep, the in-laws went home, and we order pizza from what I was now calling a glorified redneck trailer. Later that night as I lay in bed and fumed we then discovered the marooned refrigerator made some of the god-awful noises. The sounds it produced were like a combination of it about exploded and a plea to end its miserable existence.

Weeks rolled into months and we slowly made our new suburban trash heap a home. That included taking all the insides of the refrigerator out and cleaning them. And yes, I personally cleaned out the brown sticky stuff at the bottom.

The trouble was that a week or two later I noticed the brown sticky stuff had reappeared at the bottom and it was growing. I think the brown stuff reappeared after each cleaning for about a year. It never entirely went away but we learned to live with what little bit we couldn't kill off.

The adoption moved forward and the years came and went but we never pulled the trigger on getting rid of that nightmare refrigerator. We talked about it many times but with a new baby and other issues the fact that it still kept food and drinks cold always prevented us from really doing anything. I even learned to take comfort at night with its strange sounds.

That refrigerator lasted another fourteen years before it had its version of a stroke and died. So if my late dad-in-law was correct, and the old bastard was smart, that refrigerator lasted north of thirty-five years. Here's the real kick in the ass, its replacement died in less than five due to a lightning strike. And its replacement, an expensive Samsung with all the bells and whistles lasted two years before the ice maker on it utterly quit.

We called in the company-approved technician and he isolated the problem to the touch screen controller or the water filter assembly that had its own little micro-controller. He couldn't isolate the issue to a single cause and to fix both electronic components would cost over five-hundred dollars.

We instead bought six plastic ice trays for fifty-cents each from the Dollar Store and called it a day.

I still believe the selling family left the old refrigerator here as a form of insult. A small dig at the ungrateful family that wouldn't give them enough time to move out on their timetable. But I'll be damned as much as anyone can think fondly on a kitchen appliance that bad boy was tough.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Real Dangers to Democracy

Okay, I'll make this brief because I've got people coming to remove some storm damaged trees. What does a dangerously authoritarian-leaning political party do when they can't win elections? You got it, they change election laws in the state legislatures they control. 

What does the other political party do to TRY and avoid having elections stolen? You write a bill that prevents the other party from destroying democracy. What's seriously tragic though is to have the Democratic senators from West Virginia and Arizona sabotage the process.  

On another front for those who don't realize this, we're at war with Russia. We have been at least since the November 2016 election, although it has probably been going on for years before that. While the recent pipeline cyber-attack was supposedly done by non-government hackers they have been traced to Russia. It would take strong evidence to convince me something like this happened in Putin's personal kingdom with him not knowing about it.

Putin is engaging in a curious form of asymmetric warfare with the United States. Numerous news reports over the years all suggest Putin blames the United States for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin's inference in American elections is certainly an attempt to spread dissension and chaos in this country. It wouldn't be hard to convince me now given his success that he and his cronies may believe they can actually breakup the United States as a form of revenge for his beloved Soviet Union.   

Understand something, for the most part I trust science and scientists. Of course where science gets sticky is when you have paid lackeys like the "scientists", who while employed by cigarette companies, claimed smoking didn't cause health issues. 

The same can be said for current day "scientists" who work for oil companies and claim Climate change is overblown or not caused by humans. But for the most part if an unbiased scientist with strong evidence says something I'm usually going to side with that person.   

No science is not a religion but it's a process that has been extremely useful in discovering how the world and universe works. Over the centuries since applying this process we have made the lives of billions of people far better. No science isn't perfect and the pursuit of knowledge can be a double-edged sword causing untold death and destruction.

In some ways we've been lucky with the Covid virus. It could have been far deadlier and with the idiots running around denying basic science and politicizing something trivial like wearing face masks the damage would have been far worse. I write this realizing well over half a million people died from Covid here in the United States.

The insanity of our times is exemplified when you have racists morons, like the ones on Fox News, spreading outright lies about the vaccines that could end this pandemic.  

  

Monday, May 10, 2021

Inconvenient Estranged Parent

 

Writing Prompt- Your main character is approached by their long-estranged parent who wants to reconnect. How do they react? This started out as fiction with only a little bit of real life thrown in. Unfortunately past history started seeping into the story creating a hybrid mix.  

 

 Early February at Fort Carson, Colorado isn't a good time to be stuck outside working in the motor pool. The only thing worse than the motor pool is being down range out in the field during a field training exercise. But then there were rare occasions when dealing with hardships out in the field were preferable than getting tangle up in old family issues.

“Specialist Vaughn,” my platoon sergeant called out while walking up from our company's motor pool repair bays. “Lieutenant Chase is on the phone, he wants to talk with you ASAP. Haul ass up to the office and find out what he wants.”

“Roger that, Sergeant Blackledge,” I said taking just enough time to put away a couple of pieces of equipment back into the platoon's storage container before double timing down the line. My seemingly responsible and prompt response still earned me a hateful glare from the man.

My platoon sergeant, SFC Blackledge, was a huge, African-American guy with a baked-in bad attitude when it came to anything I was involved. To this day I never really understood his dislike for me. I definitely wasn't the platoon fuck-up, we had three new privates fresh from Advanced Individual Training (AIT) who were all competing for that title. The general consensus among the other members of the platoon was that if you combined the intelligence of the three new guys a squirrel would probably still beat them at tic-tac-toe.

At the time my best guess for why Blackledge enjoyed hassling me was that I was the perfect average soldier. I was almost three years into my enlistment and my gung-ho mentality had long since died. It had been replaced with a new perspective of doing just enough to keep the NCOs and officers above me happy. I had one year and a couple of months or so left of active duty and my ass would be going home.

As most things go, the army during the late-1980s was pretty cut and dry. This is a gross simplification but as long as you shined your boots, performed basic hygiene, and could read a map most American males could be a success in the United States Army. But for me the glamour had long since died and whatever Rambo-esque dreams I might have entertained had long since been crushed by your basic standard issue reality.

Thinking on it now, my carefree attitude may have been the source of Blackledge's distaste for me. In all modesty if I had stayed motivated and played the dog and pony game by looking good and performing beyond basic standards, I'd probably could have made promotion way beyond just sergeant (E-5), which I would unexpectedly make the following month.

After arriving at the repair bays I stepped into the office and was handed a phone by one of the people working there. “Specialist Vaughn reporting, sir,” I said or something similar.

“Vaughn,” LT Chase said in a tone of voice that betrayed a touch of annoyance, “your dad called the company commander. He's in town and wants to see you.”

“Ah yes, sir, did someone die or something?” I ask back confused. At that moment I couldn't remember the last time I had talked with my father. My mom and dad's marriage and their final divorce back in 1977 had been Chernobyl-like in its messy, complicated nature. So bad that one of the few absolute certainties in this universe is the fact that those two fucked up individuals should have never been allowed to live on the same continent, much less marry and have children.

My mother had legitimate mental issues that in South Carolina went unrecognized and, of course, totally untreated. She was the child of hard working but poor parents whose education never went beyond a couple of years of high school. South Carolina was, or still is a backwater provincial land with a grossly under-educated population lacking any true idea of how mental health can affect individuals and society as a whole.

Mom's way of coping with her issues was to drink. She was a chain smoker as well, which brought on a whole other series of problems. Finally there was infidelity, something she would actually talk about to us kids once she had a few drinks in her system. Her other favorite subject of conversation was to tell her children how much farther she could have made it in life if she had never had us.

Dad's issues were a little more abstract but he was also a product of Southern society and culture. He was a hard worker but showed next to no emotion to his kids other than rage when they did something bad. Beatings with a belt were the usual punishment for infractions raging from not doing homework to breaking one of his possessions.

There was also more than a little resentment when he had to use his money for us kids. I clearly remember department store trips to buy new clothes for my siblings and I with him whining about how much money was being wasted. Adding more insult to these injuries, after mom and dad separated he got us for the weekends. Which most of time had us hanging out in his mobile home as he worked on cars outside. I vaguely remember catching him telling a neighbor, who had asked him to go on a fishing trip, that his damn kids were here so he couldn't do anything this weekend.

“Don't know Vaughn,” LT Chase answered bringing me back out of my memories. “But prepare to copy this phone number.”

LT Chase calls out the phone number to a local motel and the room number. I write it down on my notepad sort of figuring this meant no one was dead. My father had always seemed a few french fries short of a full happy meal when it came to common sense. But not even he would travel from deep in the bowels of bumfuck Texas and come to Colorado Springs just to tell me some member of his family was dead.

“Tell me something Vaughn,” LT Chase interjects without warning, “why haven't you talked to your father in several years?”

Whoa, that was the other thing about dear old dad which I had forgotten, he loved playing the victim. “It's a long messed up story, LT,” I respond wearily.

“Okay, I get it, Vaughn.” He says before hanging up.

The rest of the day plays out as usual with me wondering if I should contact my father. Got to admit I was more than slightly pissed with him playing the abandoned and forgotten father. Dad had promptly gotten remarried suspiciously fast after my parents' divorce was finalized. Can't really fault him for that with mom long experienced in blazing new trails in roadside motel exploration.

His new wife brought with her a couple of daughters and by all accounts he was a great step-dad to his new kids. My siblings had spent some time with them a few summers back while I was over in West Germany playing soldier. The reports I got from them about a happy, affectionate man was a truly alien concept considering the sullen individual I remember that only reluctantly took his own kids fishing.

After the company's final formation and being released for the day I found myself drifting towards the rack of payphones in the barrack's day room. With mixed emotions I dialed the motel number and asked for his room when the desk clerk answered.

“Hello,” a lady said in a sweet voice.

“Yeah, this is Eric. I got word that my father was staying there.” I replied figuring I was talking to his new wife, my step-mother by default.

“Oh Eric,” the lady said, “we've been hoping you would call. I'll get your father, hold on.”

A second or two later he picks up the phone. “Hey Eric, it's your father,” he says like there was some question who it might be. Remember, a few fries short of a full happy meal.

“Yeah...dad,” I say hesitantly not really comfortable labeling him as such. “You're in Colorado Springs, what's up?”

“Lisa has a band competition here tomorrow, and we decided to see if you wanted to have dinner with us tonight.”

Running this information through my brain, I had to figure that 'Lisa' was my step-sister, someone who I had not only never met but didn't have a clue what she looked liked. Full disclosure, I didn't know what his new wife looked like either because I had literally never been in the same location with the lady. When my parents officially divorced, dad stayed in Texas and my mom and siblings and myself went back to South Carolina. Dad's new family life began about three or four days after everything was finalized.

Being the oldest of my siblings, I knew neither of our parents were worth much in the way of consideration. Going with our mother back to South Carolina was the safest course since we had her family to fall back on for support. But I admit, I was considering his offer of dinner. Part of me thought it would be interesting to meet at least a couple of members of his new family.

“So how about it?”He asked in an upbeat tone that I found both curious and slightly irritating. Past experience had taught me that my father expected instant acceptance and that any hesitation on the part of me or my siblings was a personal insult to him. There was way too much baggage in our past for me to have any enthusiasm about this reunion. I wasn't a kid anymore, I was an adult in my twenties and the few times I remember talking to him in the previous years he clearly still thought of me as a child.

Out of nowhere a question popped into my head that I had to ask before giving him my decision. “How long was this trip up to Colorado Springs planned? I mean you guys didn't just receive news about the band competition the last couple of days.”

“Oh, its been in the works for the last couple of months.” Dad replied offhand not realizing what it meant for his own flesh and blood to be an afterthought. Such actions were typical for him, for some reason his own kids were never a priority. Truthfully, it bothered me a lot that he somehow expected me to drop everything and rush across town to see him. He served in the army himself and knew the end of the duty day didn't necessarily mean a soldier was free to leave the post. It was either that or his offer for dinner was never be meant to be accepted. That he would use my refusal as yet another example of him being the victim. Given that the trip to Colorado Springs had been months in the planning, the fact that he didn't call me until the day they arrived tended to support my conclusion.

I simply didn't feel like being played that day. “No,” I said to him, “had you called and arranged something in advance it could have happened. But no, I'm going to the mess hall and then hang out with a few friends.”

“Okay,” he said in a tone that I felt was indifferent. He started to say something else but I cut him off.

“Look, it was great hearing from you,” something I didn't really mean, “but your arrival was totally unexpected and, honestly more than a little inconvenient for me. How about we try this again sometime in the future.” After that I hung up and didn't think about him for the rest of the night.

Was I cruel? Probably. Should I have given the man the benefit of the doubt? Maybe, if the weight of too many disappointments wasn't bearing down on my shoulders at that moment. The one good thing out of this cluster fuck was that I learned to treat my own kids completely different.

The coming years would bring my father back into my life. Namely him showing up unexpectedly at my house a couple of weeks after the birth of my son. My wife made me play nice. But dad never really changed and my patience with him only got shorter. My brothers somehow developed a phone relationship with him over the years with nothing but silence between him and myself.

Recently, I got word from my brother, Wilson, that dad asked for my phone number. Thankfully, Wilson told him he would have to ask me first. As I talked with my brother I thought about it for a couple of minutes. My decision was ultimately no, curiously there is no bitterness on my part. I found myself indifferent to the man and his life. Whatever relationship we might have had has long since passed into nothingness.

Friday, May 7, 2021

One of Those Weeks


Last Friday about this time I was mentally preparing myself for the rough week that I knew was coming. It started Saturday with my wife and I driving separate cars up to Clemson University to bring our daughter home. The semester was over, she had passed all her exams and came away with a GPA well over 3.80. I was/am proud of her as any dad can be.

Once we arrived at the collection of Soviet-era looking building that pass as student dormitories, the crazy shit slammed into a giant high speed fan. Just imagine the night the Titanic got much too personal with a random iceberg and you have something approaching the craziness of several hundred upper middle class parents all struggling to load up their kids' crap and go home. Throw in way too many cars, trucks, SUVs, and even a couple of mid-sized U-haul moving vans in an area never meant to have a quarter of that number and you could begin to understand the confusion and frustration.

Strangely enough, everyone seemed in a friendly and lighthearted mood. No arguments or fights, just way too many people in an area that the campus authorities had setup with multiple barriers to impend anyone getting too close to the buildings. We're talking 9/11 era safety features to prevent anyone from driving hypothetical car bombs up to the buildings front entrances.

Luckily, my wife and I had arrived a little earlier than our scheduled pickup time, so getting our daughter's stuff loaded was actually not as bad as I feared. Just when we were pulling out the next wave of parents started flowing into dorm parking lot. Still though, the drive back down to Columbia was exhausting and I pretty much gave up on all activity the minute I walked back into the house and saw the living room couch.

The next day was yard work, and even with a nifty new John Deere riding lawnmower I still had to pull out the trusty push mower and the irritating weed whacker to tame smaller, overgrown areas. Where was my rising Clemson University sophomore daughter? She had skipped out with her two college friends for an early Sunday brunch leaving me high and dry. I didn't say much to her about abandoning good old dad because she really buckled down and studied for her exams.

But wait folks, there was still a good bit of flying shit for the rest of the week as well.

Back at my work, I took a buddy's on-call for this week because he was hurt. And it was a moderately bad week involving a great deal of hospital equipment and circumstances I never had to deal with before. That was just Monday morning and early afternoon. The real fun began around five o'clock in the afternoon.

As massive squall line of storms swept through my area and as I was trying to post something that day. Somewhere around four O'clock I heard what that I'd have to describe as a combination of a thick limb breaking and outright explosion. It happened after a massive and prolonged gust of wind that had me listening for the telltale sound of the proverbial locomotive plowing through my subdivision.

 


We totally lost one tree in the backyard with it falling over into the neighbor's backyard crushing the fence. Making matters worse, where that tree fell is the usual location of that guy's super fancy bass boat. Luckily, the neighbor moved his boat sometime before so I didn't have to deal with my insurance guy. But I did talk to the neighbor about going halves on the fence repair since he had attached his small segment of fence to mine without asking permission. No he said, they're broke but will gladly give us tons of moral support for our trouble.

In the front yard the old and brittle river birch growing right at the neighborhood intersection lost a lot of decent-sized limbs. Limbs big and numerous enough to completely stop traffic from coming in and going out of the neighborhood. While it was still raining I ran out into the street and cleaned up the fallen limbs tossing them in my front yard. Looking on the bright side of things, my wife has finally agreed to have that river birch removed. After every storm over the last several years, I had informed her that if one of the big limbs or even a part of the trunk had fallen into the street there was no way I could clear it. And Heaven forbid had a big limb or part of the trunk hit a car that was stopped at the intersection. 

 The tree guys are coming in a couple of days to give us an estimate for removal. We're talking a couple of thousand dollars, at least.

Given the situation at work on Monday and my impromptu tree cleaning that day I passed out the second my head hit the bed that night. The rest of the work week was quite busy with me breaking new records in the number of total steps each day. I still have to cover for my buddy this weekend and will not be off call until Monday morning. Here's hoping nothing weird happens as this week slowly dies.

The final icing on the cake this week was the dishwasher. Last Sunday it gave up the ghost, stopping in the middle of a cleaning cycle. The tiny LED screen on the door threw up an error message saying the drain pump was the issue.

No problem, a couple of YouTube videos later I have my head in the dishwasher cleaning the filter screen. Since that didn't solve anything the next item on the trouble shooting agenda had me giving it a mechanical colonoscopy around the impeller of the drain pump. Sure enough the impeller was frozen with me not finding anything causing the jam.

Enter the professional appliance technician who had to make three separate visits this week to fix the dishwasher each time. Third service call appears to have been the charm with the dishwasher purring along even now as I type out this less than glamours collection of verbal offal.

Yeah, washing dishes is literally one of those “First World Problems” privileged and spoiled Americans whine about but I've hated that chore all my life. So as I sit at the kitchen table reflecting on the past week I take solace in the idea that my entire family, wife, son, his girlfriend, and my daughter will be going to Disney World this December. It's still a long time away but thankfully 2021 seems to be flowing far smoother than 2020.

I just hope I get to hug Goofy. I'll probably cry if I do. It doesn't take much to make me happy at my current stage of life. 


 

 

***Just as I was preparing to post, the dishwasher shut down again and started displaying the same error code. Oh well, at least it's Friday night.