Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Me and Sergeant Allstate

My time in the Army National Guard was 6 years of me counting down the remaining time. I enjoyed Basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT--where you learn your "specialty"); I just remembered that it was all a mind-game.

I've got some deep-set objections to external authority, so the "obey-me-because-I-outrank-you" mindset isn't a good fit for me. It didn't endear me to the insurance salesman they brought in to be my supervisor (I won't call him my superior)--not when I had to train him. Let's call him Sgt. Allstate, for the insurance salesman thing and because I was supposedly in his good hands to be molded into a proper soldier.


My specialty was 31-N, "Patch Panel Operator" (though the military preferred "Tactical Circuit Controller" because it sounded more important and technical). Bare-bones, I plugged patch cords into jacks on one of three panels, troubleshot them if communications from Officer 'A' couldn't reach Officer 'B' 30 miles away, and counted down the days 'till I could go Echo Tango Suitcase.

Sgt. Allstate made me his project: I would be promoted from Spec-4 (basically a Corporal) to Sergeant! He started by writing me up for carrying a clipboard around. It's not part of the basic uniform.

I ALWAYS have a notepad, notebook, scrap of paper, something I can scribble notes and ideas on.

The write-up sheet (the Army calls it a "Counseling Statement") had a block for my comments right under the block where Sgt. Allstate wrote, "Specialist [me] is impairing his chances for promotion by being out of uniform." In my block, I replied with "I'm not interested in promotion."

Seriously. I wasn't interested. I wasn't being a wise-ass, trying to fight The Man over taking my clipboard away. I don't consider myself management material...and going to E-5 would be a step in the managerial direction.

Sgt. Allstate didn't like that. He kept at it for the next 4 years!

His Operation Big Sale happened one evening during a field exercise. He tried to make it conversational, casual, building up to his triple-pincer attack, whereby he would have surrounded his quarry and rendered me defenseless to say "No!"

First prong: "You'll have more responsibility." C'mon. I was STILL training him in his job while doing my own--and training a couple of newbies to be my replacements. I was The Man, the only one trained in operating the Patch van. It seemed to me that already had plenty of responsibility.

Second: "You'll make more money!" I was making $130 a month for each 2-day weekend drill. Taking that promotion would have put me around $150 or so. Not enough to make me want to join Management.

Third: "You won't have to do K.P. anymore." Hah! He really didn't understand. If you had K.P., you got there when everyone else did, around 7:30 a.m., helped the Mess Sergeant, washed the pots and dishes, and went home a couple hours early. I always looked at it as an escape from Sgt. Allstate.

I just shook my head and told him, "No." He couldn't understand that. I didn't try to explain.

His final attempt was almost insulting; this time not only was he trying to sell me on promotion, but my time was getting short and he was trying to get me to re-enlist. He mentioned the re-up bonus, but his Big Bonus was...a cheap-looking Swiss Army Knife, complete with cheap-looking gift box. Two blades (short and shorter), I think a can/bottle opener, and a plastic toothpick.


Song of the Day: You Know My Name (Chris Cornell)

This was the opening song for the 2006 James Bond flick "Casino Royale"--though it's not on the soundtrack album. Instead, it's on Chris Cornell's 2007 "Carry On" disc.

That's a shame, because this is the most James Bond-ish song in quite some time to grace the all-important opening credits, especially considering the vomitous offerings of Madonna (Die Another Day) and Jack White/Alicia Keyes (Another Way to Die). Granted, I'm not a big fan of Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker), but she's still lightyears ahead of them, and she's got some impressive pipes.

Cornell--formerly of Soundgarden and Audioslave--is probably my favorite male singer, period, and "Name" holds good examples of his style, from the intimate, dangerous crooning of the verses (great vibrato!) to his signature scream of the title in the end.

The lyrics are smart and straightforward, very James Bond (especially the Bond of the novels).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Absinthe Makes the Guy Grow Sicker

(originally posted to alt.atheism March 18, 2006; a little editing and revision follows...)

Back-story: I've known "Lefty" (not his real name--protecting the guilty) for more than 30 years, now. We've lived a few houses apart almost all that time (for several years we each lived in different states or towns, but he moved back into the family home in December of 2005).

The guy's got a well-stocked liquor cabinet, he's a hell of a cook and a movie freak. Every Sunday evening, I make the long (500 foot) slog over to his place to watch a movie and hang out.

Lefty's been wanting to try absinthe for a few years; last year (when he lived across town) he dug up a recipe and tried making up a batch. He sunk more than $100 into this venture, getting several large bottles of Everclear, the wormwood extract and other stuff. He and another guy tried it out one Saturday night; I showed up and watched. They opened the first bottle and in seconds I could smell the stuff from the other end of the house--it smelled of Listerine and oregano. Nasty. Dark green. Each one had a couple of martini glasses of the stuff. Aside from the booze buzz, though, all they got was Oregano Listerine breath.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. Lefty had ordered a 700ml bottle of the real thing. Took a few weeks to ship. He was utterly impatient waiting for it, and once the bottle arrived he was utterly impatient to get into it.

He started with maybe 3 fingers' worth in a Scotch glass, pouring it over a pair of sugar cubes to mask the taste. Guzzle. He waited several minutes and was disappointed, for he'd been hoping for some psychedelic effects and was just feeling the booze.

A second glass, only this time he held the sugar cubes in a spoon and lit the stuff (it's 60% alcohol) to melt the sugar. Guzzle. Several more minutes' waiting, and now he was getting angry. What was the point in spending US$120 for a simple booze high?

Third glass. Now it's been maybe an hour, and he's only getting drunk and more irate.

Fourth glass. If I'd known any better I'd have stopped him at the third one. He's complaining loudly to me and his other guest that this stuff was too damn expensive. She got up and went outside to answer her cellphone.

He got a good bit drunker just on this 4th glass.

Then the stuff hit him. He was all ready to get up and make himself a fifth glass of the stuff. Had his glass in hand...and somehow poured himself out of the couch. That's the only way I can describe it--he went down flat without a THUMP, and without spilling the dregs of drink #4.

That is talent.

He started laughing hysterically and shouting with glee, lying there on the floor: "I'm on the floooooor! This is fucking awesome! This is the best high I've ever haaaaad!"

Needless to say, this cracked me up, me being stone sober and eternally amused by the antics of drunks in captivity. I wish I'd thought to bring a camcorder.

He low-crawled into the kitchen to procure drink #5. He had it all ready to go (and I was ready to take it from him and hide it and the bottle) when his cell phone rang. He carried on at length with the caller, utterly enthralled by this wonderful booze, and went out his back door to take a leak.

10 minutes went by. He knocked on the door glass. He couldn't negotiate the stairs (they wouldn't be still). He handed me the phone and told me to pour drink #5 out. I did this and hid the bottle. Lefty handed me the phone and stretched out on the dirt at the foot of the stairs, staring up at the amazing clouds. I told him to roll on his side. He did, and spent considerable time being fascinated and frightened by the "Hitchcock Zoom" interaction between his arm and the ground it rested upon, and by the electric grass.

Long story short: He stayed on his side for nearly 3 hours, with me and the other guest trying to get him to move inside. Any sort of motion made him retch. He tossed up maybe 3 glasses worth of that stuff in that time (he did all this on an empty stomach), and with us nagging at him he finally crawled on his belly up the stairs, crawled across the threshold, and stopped on the floor (refusing to move any further), where we covered him with blankets, pulled off his shoes, made him as comfortable as possible, and let him sleep it off.

He remembered most of it the next day--and says the hangover was pretty bad. I just added the whole thing to my "This is why I don't drink" list, made note of it for future use in a story, and hope he doesn't try such a damnfool thing again.

At least...not without me having my camcorder handy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Juan Sebastián de Elcano (June 3, 2009)

This impressive Spanish sailing ship came to Pensacola last week, making port on June 3rd.

I made plans to hit the end of Santa Rosa Island (the home of Fort Pickens) early Wednesday morning. I did the same thing a few years ago, when the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise came to town for a few weeks. The info on the page I linked to said the Elcano would be arriving around 9 a.m.

I misinterpreted this to mean the ship would be crossing the bar from the Gulf of Mexico to Pensacola Bay at 9 a.m.

So I woke up at 6 a.m., got on the road by 7, spent 10 minutes in Gulf Breeze waiting for McDonald's to make my breakfast. I took another 10 minutes at a drugstore getting film for my 35mm camera.

It was just past 8 a.m. before I hit the entrance to the park. I tooled along the road, hoping I'd be able to get the car parked, get my stuff together, and hike out the 1/4 mile or so from the Pickens seawall to the western tip of the island.

I was almost to the Ranger station--about 4 miles from the park entrance--when I happened to glance to my right: north, into Pensacola Bay.

The ship was already IN the Bay, steaming east along the shoreline of the Pensacola Naval Air Station.


I made a left into a very convenient parking loop, grabbed the 35mm camera and my camcorder, and hiked north to the bay shore to get some pictures. A little video, a few clicks of the shutter...and it started to rain.


I hiked back to my car, thinking that if I hoofed it I'd make it to port before the ship got there.

Rain picked up a bit.

Okay, no panic there, the car's sunroof leaks, so I pulled towels over stuff and got...moving.



I was stuck at the ass-end of a line of cars, the leader strictly enforcing the 15-mph speed limit.

People pick the damndest times to obey traffic laws.

Four...miles...at...fifteeeeeeennn...miiiles...perrrr...houuur. The Georgia goober in front of me kept riding his brakes.


We finally got out of the park, and the speed limit went up to 25.

The speed-enforcer at the head of the line went to Hyperdrive or something; I certainly never saw him speed up. Probably because the Georgia goober was hell-bent on maintaining that 15 mph limit even though we were out of the damn park. Either that or his goobermobile was having some trouble. It finally made it into 3rd gear and broke 20 mph like a champ about a mile out of the park--with another mile to go before we would hit the road off the island (Via de Luna). To top if off, there was a double yellow line: no passing.


Goober turned right on Via de Luna. I hoofed it to the left, running north over the Sikes Bridge, through Gulf Breeze (keeping it at 35--the town takes that speed limit seriously), then faster along the Three Mile Bridge that crosses Pensacola Bay between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola.

I could see the ship to my left as it sailed north and started making the final turn for approach to the Port of Pensacola.

Traffic stopped.

See, it's around 8:30 on a work day. 80 million people come to Pensacola to work, and many of them were in my way, waiting for the light at the Pensacola end of the bridge.

The rain started picking up. My wipers couldn't quite keep up, and my lap was getting wet from the leaky sunroof.

The windows fogged up. I don't have a working heater or air conditioner, so there's no way of defrosting the glass aside from wiping. One hand for that, one for steering, one for downshifting, and my head on a pivot as I watched all the other drivers to make sure they didn't run into me.

Right on Palafox, running south, then into the parking area that faces on the Port. Amazingly, a spot opened up as soon as I needed it.

I grabbed the cameras and my poncho and headed for the railing. I was 5 minutes ahead of Elcano. I ended up using the poncho as a tent to protect the cameras. I don't know how the pics turned out yet--fogged lenses, wet lenses, and a constant drooling rain.

There were a pair of tugs guiding the ship into position, its long and lean white hull standing out even through all the rain and mist. The sails were furled; I don't know how long the link will be viable, but here's the Fiesta of Five Flags page, with a good shot of the ship under full sail.

It was worth getting soaked to see even that much of it. Once I get the pics developed, they'll get upped to PhotoBucket.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It was just a CAR WASH!!

Number Two and I had a routine on Sundays. We'd wake up and she'd get showered and dressed up, and then I'd drive her the 15 miles into town and drop her off at her church for her dose of preacher-talk.

I would drive a bit up the road to the parking lot of an old, abandoned children's asylum called Sunland. It was a brooding old building, full of memories and secrets, and fenced in, and I wasn't all that interested in exploring. I'd usually pull into a shady spot facing on Phillips Road and just sit and read for 90 minutes or so.

This one time, though, I decided to run my trusty 1983 Chevy Citation (the little sister to my '81 X-11) down to a car wash a few miles away. Scrubbed and as shiny as that poor rust-spotted little car could get, I returned to Sunland and waited until time to get Two.

No doubt she was under pressure to get me into the church--but I had told her from the start that that wouldn't happen. Maybe that's what had her in such a chipper mood when I pulled into the church drive and collected her.

I was interrogated as to my activites. I described them.

All hell broke loose. It was just a car wash--and it was with my own money--but you'd think that I had been caught shagging her mother whilst drunk on Communion wine on the altar at the church during services and asking the priest to keep it down.

She started on me before we even got out of the parking lot! She kept that up for another 15 to 20 minutes, blah blah blah of all the nerve blah blah, the time it took to get to the little Chinese buffet where she'd decided we were having lunch. She kept it up--blah blah leaving me at church blah blah--while I found a parking spot, blah blah blah yap yap yap more responsible with your money blah blah, then kept chewing on my ear right up to the point where I opened the door to the restaurant.

She only shut up because there would be more witnesses.

While I was loading up our plates (she's mostly blind, remember), an elderly couple approached me and the woman shook her head--they'd been right behind us from the parking lot to the door--shook her head and said, "Young man, I heard all of that...you must be a SAINT to put up with her!"

I shook my head back and half-smiled. "You have no idea."

I never bothered to find out what had set Two off; by this point in our relationship, I was looking for a better job for no other reason than to make enough money to get my own apartment and get the hell away from her. At the time, I was trapped pretty solidly--few friends, none of whom I could move in with; not much money (and most of that going into gas for the drive from Two's trailer into town for work); really solidly trapped. I put up with a lot of shit because of that (the accounting for my time when I wasn't with her, the emotional abuse, her two-year-old tantrums when she didn't get her way, her trying to use threats of suicide to keep me around), all the while setting up my escape. I can sort of laugh about it now, tell it as a good story, but a month before I was able to get out of there, I was ready to kill myself. No joking.

Never again.

I know I made my share of mistakes--the first and biggest was allowing it to happen in the first place.

At least now I can wash my own damn car in peace.


As of today, it's been 10 days since my big car-repair project; on May 5th, the car's troubles finally reached a point where it stranded me on the side of the road on the way to work--just three weeks after stranding me in a Sonic parking lot at lunch.

Basically, the (computer-controlled) carburetor was letting too much fuel get by without atomizing it properly--raw gas was getting dumped into the engine and not burning properly, leaving a bunch of carbon and unburned fuel behind. It's a design flaw common to all the cars in the early '80s with that carburetor, and it's probably why there aren't that many Chevy Citations--let alone the X-11 "hot rod" version--left running.

I went to a junk yard, shopped around for a pickup truck with the same engine but no computer controls at all, and for $40 cash-and-carry I had a carburetor, distributor and ignition coil. I took my time tearing it all down, soaking it in solvent to remove 25 years worth of gunk, then rebuilding. Two weeks ago (May 21) it all got installed, but it took me a few more days to get the bugs worked out. On the 26th, I finally killed off the next-to-last bug and the engine started.

The last bug was the carb setup, but that was easy.

It's amazing how much more power--not a huge amount, but enough--there is. No sputtering, no stalling or uneven operation. When I want to speed up and pass someone, I just point the car and nudge the gas a little...VROOM! she goes.

At this point, I don't know whether I'm going to try eliminating that design flaw and putting the car back in original computer-controlled condition...or just leaving the computer stuff unplugged and driving it as-is. As far as emissions, it's exempt now that it's more than 25 years old.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shocked--Shocked, I say!

...that this clown didn't die:

A neighbor who lives along South Hopkins Road in Branch called 911 Friday night when a man fell from a power pole near her home. Franklin County deputies said Roy Achterberg may have been trying to steal electricity from the power pole to run to his nearby home. Achterberg placed a metal ladder on the pole and tried to siphon the electricity with jumper cables. Achterberg was electrocuted and fell to the ground. Family members said he broke his back, neck, pelvis and his organs were hardened from the electricity, leaving him in critical condition.
Wow. If you click on the photo at the site, you can see that the jumper cable is still hooked up. VROOM.

There was someone at least as stupid as this guy in Pensacola a few years ago; he and a buddy got into a fenced-in electrical substation a few miles from me and tried to steal copper cables from energized equipment.

The guy's freaking fingerprints were melted into the paint on that transformer. But he survived and bailed out of town. Cops caught up with him a few months later.

TOOLS!! Perfect for FATHER'S DAY!!

Eh, not so much. In the run-up to this sales-driven "holiday" every car parts joint is raving over how their selection of tools is Just What Dad Needs, BUY IT NOW!!

Ignoring the fact that the Old Man is in an Alzheimer's hospice, he's never been a guy you'd buy tools for. It was best not to encourage him--he meant well, but the poor man couldn't be trusted to do more than basic--VERY basic--repairs.

Three little scenes, for explanation:

1) My mother swears that she had to teach him how to change a light bulbin the early 1970s. He was ready to throw the lamp away. Apparently he'd never encountered such a thing on the family farm in the 1930s and '40s. He went Air Force during Korea (no idea whether he traveled out of the States), then college and university (law school). I can't imagine how anyone could go through 40 years of life and NOT know about light bulbs, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt because...

2) Mom had to call an electrician to come and un-do one of his "projects" in the 1980s. He decided to install a new light fixture in the kitchen and ended up knocking out the lights for the front half of the house. Amazing. Then there's...

3) The day he decided to rotate the tires on his '81 Fairmont. He jacked up the passenger-side front corner of the car and removed the tire correctly...okay so far...then he put a cinder block under that corner of the car. An upright cinder block--long-wise. The weakest part of the block was now holding up the car. He goes around to the driver's-side rear (remember, front tires to diagonal rear, rear tires straight to the front--I can still see the decal in the trunk). He starts...to...jack...up...the--*BOOM!!*. Note to self: don't use a cinder block lengthwise to hold up a car. It'll break.

Like I said, very basic stuff: he got really good at changing spark plugs on the mower. It was always an amusing thing--but also sad, because I wonder how much of it was the early effects of Alzheimer's. But I won't focus on that, since I intended the story to be amusing.