It’s A Good Morning

I am of a generational vintage that encouraged its members to alter reality, when in  addition to weed and alcohol many of my peers experimented with LSD, peyote, and even dried banana skins in an effort to “get outside their heads”.  That concept had little appeal to me – I may have a inherent twist to the way I view life, but it’s my twist (thank you) and I’ll keep it the way it was issued to me.

However, there are times when my reality has been changed without my intent, and it hasn’t been pleasant, to include ta miserable session I’ve just gone through. In an effort to more effectively deal with the symptoms that accompany ankylosing spondylitis one of my prescriptions was changed to a medication I hadn’t used in almost fifteen years, a medication that had disastrous side effects. To simply say that it brought on depression would be like saying the Great Chicago fire was a weenie roast. I would end up in a pit of despair so dark I didn’t want to just die – I wanted to be erased, and what was maddening about it all was I could think of no reason why I should be feeling so extraordinarily bad.

Fortunately, there was a light at the end of this particular tunnel. My Beautiful Saxon Princess literally (and lovingly) hovered over me and a miracle in scheduling got me in to see the doctor to get a change in medication. Once the change was made I was able to “dial it back” from soul-crushing despair to the regular day-to-day ennui that accompanies life as a sixty-seven-year-old with a chronic illness and I’m back to scribbling, sculpting and writing stuff like this.

…and I’ve also walked away with some very valuable insights:

  • I’ll never, ever take this particular medication again
  • Looking back I’m wondering if particularly bleak periods of my life may have been the result of this drug  more than the craptivity of the situation itself.

Marking Time

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a look at this page, and I was surprised to see that the last time I posted anything was the 28th of last month – and while I long ago came to grips with the way time sprints even faster with each year, I was saddened that I haven’t been able to keep up with the race. I always figured that whether I was sitting at my desk in the studio or balancing a keyboard on my lap while curled up in my papa chair I would always be able to write.

Well, it looks like I may have been a little overoptimistic, but then I’ve had my share of distractions, with most of them involving health issues to include:

  • An upcoming Mohs treatment to deal with a trace of basal cell carcinoma on the tip of my nose.
  • An upcoming  second injection of Covid-19
  • A change in pain management for my never-ending battle with ankylosing spondylitis is not going well.

…all of which means  a marked uptick in pain, anxiety, and depression. I’m hoping that I will make my way through this particular rough patch, but I always wonder if this is the point at which I become bed-ridden or worse. I try to fight the fear but sometimes it gets ahead of me and all I can do is drift through the day and continue trying…which includes typing out something out like this.

In the same way marching a unit soldiers requires “marking time” – keeping step in the same place – to keep the parade running properly writing notes like this will hopefully keep me functioning until better days.

Thanks for your support

david

Move On

The First Night

“I’m going to have to pass on this one Brandon.”

“Whaddya mean? Gus! Baby!  (Sniff) – Its pure gold. Emmy material.”

“Maybe, but it’s not for me. I had to struggle just wading through the series treatment.”

“What’s not to like?”

“Are you kidding me? “COP ROCK 2025.” The original series was so bad that I can’t unsee it, but you’ve managed to make something so tasteless that I doubt even Fox would run it!”

“(sniff) Are you going to start whining about seeing Dennis Franz’ ass again?”

“For the record that was “NYPD Blue” – but I’d still take that image over suffering through Justin Bieber as Frank Furillo Jr.  Holy hell Brandon, that’s yet another classic you’re butchering. I can’t work – I WON’T work on crap like this.”

A very unbrandonlike pause gave me just enough time to worry about the effect this conversation was having on my already troublesome blood pressure, but then he continued at a lower volume and slower rate.

“Yes, yes you can…and you will. (sniff) May I remind you that we have a contract and you still owe us a script?”

I knew at that point there was no getting through to this broadcast wunderkind any time soon so I mumbled something about time zones and headaches, hung up and slumped at my desk disgusted. Actually at this point “disgusted” was an understatement, but I wasn’t sure who I was more disgusted with – Brandon for his patently offensive series proposal, or me for prostituting my talents by working on the aforementioned offensive material.

  • What happened to the novel I was going to write?
  • When did I become such a whore?
  • Is there a word for what I’d become? Writer-whore? Wr-hore? Whorter?”

…I longed for (much) earlier days – university days when I wrote for myself and enjoyed what I did. I doffed my glasses and pinched the bridge of my nose as I wrestled with the fact that I was getting more depressed by the minute and needed to distract myself, so after replacing the lid on the container of mixed nuts that fueled my creative efforts, I grabbed the mouse and started clicking through websites. In most situations this would be every wife’s nightmare – it’s late at night and her husband is hunched over a computer, his attention riveted to images on a flickering screen, but in my case it wasn’t pornography fueling my imagination and causing my heart to race – it was Alaska creating the fantasies. At my age porn holds far less appeal than the thrill of vicariously revisiting the mountains, forests, and paths of my youth, but unfortunately the after-effects of this type of digital dalliance are just as debilitating as any erotic addiction.  When I finally shut down my computer I was feeling so flat that Gina didn’t even notice when I crawled into bed beside her.

The Second Night

I forget the precise label to my geographic enabler – Google Earth, MapQuest, or one of several other virtually identical services providing a satellite’s-eye view of the earth’s surface so precise that instincts lingering from a previous incarnation as an intelligence officer screamed “Who the hell cleared this?” When I finally convinced myself that what I was seeing was not a breach of national security I started digitally exploring the various scenes of my youth, but then as is the case with all addictions, my gateway drug began to pale, and I graduated from the alleys of my Anchorage childhood to the “hard stuff” – close-up views of Fairbanks and the University. I don’t remember when I first found the camera aimed down Cushman Avenue but I do remember the thrill that came over me when I took in that modest skyline for the first time in five decades. The intersections had changed slightly, and captions told me that most of the buildings had changed owners and names several times, but as long as the Immaculate Conception Church was still on the east side of the road the scene was just familiar enough to make my heart skip a beat the same way it did the day Debbie helped me unpack my bags for my first year at the university.

My early childhood as a service brat meant that unlike some of my former high school classmates, moving five hundred miles away from home held no terror for me. If leaving home for college equated to some sort of symbolic death of adolescence, I’d been resurrected to an eighteen year old’s idea of heaven with plenty of beer every weekend, cool music playing all the time, a stone-cold fox for girlfriend, and no parental supervision.

The Third Night

While the task was far from easy, I was able to hammer the beginnings of a script out of Brandon’s craptacular concept. Unfortunately the task required ingestion of caffeine far in excess of any recommended levels so by the time I hit control-S I had a splitting headache bad enough to preclude any more cashew-crunching for the night…but as tired as I was I still felt drawn to the webcam aimed down that particular stretch of pavement in downtown Fairbanks. Getting a good day’s worth of word-crunching was always a mixed blessing: I was thankful I had an income, and if pressed I had to admit that what fame I did enjoy was …well, enjoyable, but I couldn’t help feeling that I could have done something better with my life. I rubbed my eyes, replaced my glasses, and looked back at the screen as the scene changed slightly – even though it’s referred to as a real-time view, it’s actually a series of still photographs that change almost imperceptivity, giving you something more like flipping through a sequence of still photos than live photography.

Half aloud I wondered, “How many times had I walked past that church?” – Which was followed immediately by the equally quasi-vocalized, “More times than I care to remember” – The long hair, boots, and tattered surplus parka made hitchhiking in subzero a hard sell no matter how innocuous the inane smiley face embroidered in yellow on the left shoulder. I’d walked down that street countless times because the university bookstore’s stock of girlfriend-getting ammunition was extremely limited, requiring frequent trinket runs into town, which in turn meant that I got to know that stretch of Cushman like the back of my hand…or mitten as the case may be. From what I could see on the screen, not much had changed over the years as there was no lack of scruffy people walking along under the gaze of the sub-arctic webcam, but I passed that off as yet another quirk of life in the Last Frontier. College kids down here in the lower 48 came surprisingly well equipped with cars, laptops and smartphones, but judging from what I saw, current Alaskan students would fit right in with us back in the day… even down to the long-haired figure in an Army surplus parka, blue jeans, and work boots that was crossing the screen as it powered down.

A cacophony of popping joints accompanied me as I slowly stood up from my chair and stepped over the now unused outdoor gear that littered the floor of my office towards the bedroom and my sleeping sweetheart. I felt the slightest twinge of guilt when I realized my memories of this patch of frost-heaved cement were substantially clearer than those of the streets around Gina’s first apartment, but driving an air-conditioned Trans-Am through Pawtucket in 1980 didn’t have nearly the same impact on my life as hitchhiking along a highway just three degrees south of the Arctic Circle ten years earlier….

The Fourth Night

The door was ajar, so I peeked in, assuming she’d been asleep for hours, but I’d figured wrong. An improbable “Hey G.I!. Me so horny love you long time!” hissed through the doorway followed by a throw pillow. I walked in, sat on the edge of the bed and whispered back: “…and here I’ve been thinking all along that it was student loans that paid your way through college!”

Gina elbowed her way up from reclining to semi-reclining, her long raven-colored hair spilling down across the pillows. She kissed me, then said “You’ve been spending a lot of time with that machine lately. Is there anything I need to be worried about?” I kissed her forehead then looked at her. In forty years I’d never done anything to cause those eyes to view me with reproach. I loved my wife more than life itself, but late-night digital forays came from a world that she never was a part of and knew nothing about.

“Naw. It’s no big deal. It’s just some barbarian warrior stuff Bernie and I have cooked up. Still trying to write our own version of Conan without Arnold Swartznegger. Bernie just wants to get my feedback on what he’s come up with so far.

“Gus!” It was long and drawn hiss out like a dying inner tube. “I don’t think any of you guys ever emotionally matured past nineteen. Still daydreaming about guys in fur jockstraps swinging swords and rescuing bimbos in metal underwear.” She planted a kiss on my cheek. “Just don’t stay up too late – you’re supposed to see the cardiologist tomorrow – remember?”

I left the room and headed towards my laptop. I thought: “Oh my God – I’ve just lied to Gina. I have never lied to Gina. Never. Ever!”

“What the hell is the matter with me? I’m acting like an addict hiding away his habit.”

Unfortunately as is the case with any drug used to excess, nostalgia can bring on unexpected damage. I can readily detect the warning signs for excessive use of alcohol or drugs, but reliving both the joy and pain of that time so long ago was doing more damage than anything I could have snorted, injected, or ingested, and by now it had brought on an elevated pulse and blood pressure that worried my doctor, but how could I explain that 2021’s heart issues had their origin fifty years earlier?

Without warning, the clock in the hall started to chime… eleven times. It was late, and the mild annoyance at meeting with my cardiologist so early in the morning wasn’t nearly as bothersome as the cold sweat brought on by just the mention of the word “stint,” but as I reached for the power button something showed up on the left side of the screen that stopped me mid-yawn. As the web cam image refreshed, a faint figure progressively became closer and clearer until it was distinct enough for me to make specific details:

  • Long hair
  • Blue jeans and work boots
  • An army surplus parka with a yellow happy face embroidered on the shoulder.

The Fifth Night

It was a favor guaranteed to put a strain on any friendship – even a friendship a half century old – but there were compelling reasons Bernie was the only person I could call for help. For starters he had the insight brought on by the (slight) difference in our ages. When my primary goal in life was to meet William Shatner he had well-mapped out plans for a career in local government. While he and his girlfriend were exploring the Kama Sutra I was still wondering if Debbie’s new retainer would make French-kissing her taste metallic. Most importantly for this situation he was the only one of us to end up back living in Fairbanks, and by default, the only person I could call on to verify what I thought I was seeing. It was a tribute to his character that he agreed to help me out by waiting at the site of the web-cam and verifying what was visible over the Internet.

I started this latest legume-fueled session just as I had the previous four nights but when his red SUV was nowhere to be seen in the foreground of the web-cam’s image my ears began to boom with the trip-hammer heartbeat that always came with blood pressure climbing.  Fortunately a panic-fueled volley of text messages established that he was in fact parked down in front of the office building, so close that upon inspection I could see that a thin red line – the front of his SUV’s hood – poked into the image area.

The rotating illuminated sign across the river first read a balmy -26o then announced that the appointed time had arrived. I tapped out a “see anything?” text on my phone which was answered almost immediately with a terse “Nope”. I screwed my eyes shut, pinched the bridge of my nose out of habit, and thought to myself “I’m going fricking crazy,” as my pulse and blood pressure went into a roller-coaster ride that couldn’t be doing me any good. A couple of key strokes gave me a slightly more distinct image …and a better view of a figure now moving past the church on the left, a hooded figure in the grey-green parka moving down the left side of the screen, passing Immaculate Conception Church in screen-refresh intervals. The harsh street light illumination and fog coming up off the river obscured details, but I definitely could see the damning yellow happy face grinning like a jaundiced maniac from his left shoulder.

Me: “Do you see him?”

Bernie: “Who?”

Me: “A young guy in an old army parka.”

Bernie: “WTF?”

Me: “The way I used to look. Me. Him. Screw it.”

Our text-message badminton was abruptly cut short by an incoming FaceTime call from Bernie showing absolutely NO ONE walking along the sidewalk next to the church, while the continually refreshing web-cam showed the figure in the parka continuing to walk down the street and past the Immaculate Conception Church, until the last image when he/me turned, looked straight into the lens and flashed the peace sign.

The Sixth Night

I’m going to die tonight. I’ve lied to my wife and now I am mixed up with something right out of Twilight Zone – no, not Twilight ZoneNight Gallery because this is a whole lot scarier than Twilight Zone at this point, but I can’t pull myself away from my laptop, and now God is going to strike me down for lying to Gina.

My phone chirped out an incessant summons. but when Bernie’s number showed up on caller I.D., I sent the call directly to voice mail and reflected on my self-made bastard status. He was genuinely concerned after last night’s fiasco and knew better than most the toll it had taken on me and my heart…but there was no way I was going to walk away without at least a few questions answered. In purest cinematic fashion He/me appeared right on time and started walking down Cushman Avenue just like he had for the previous nights. I had ceased trying to make any sense of the situation but found it impossible to look away even though I could feel my pulse thunder in my ear and there was something terribly wrong with my left arm.

“Dammit! Not now. Not when I’m so close”

He/me slowed a bit before passing off screen to the left then he abruptly stopped, looked up into the webcam camera and pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. He smiled and opened the sheet up to reveal neat block printing:

IT’S OK.

IT’S BEEN A GOOD LIFE, EH?

IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON.

…then he/me tucked the paper into his pocket and the he/me image started to break into pixilated shards, but as he walked past the church and out of view I found I couldn’t breathe. My inner Cro-Magnon howled at the merciless irony of a heart attack robbing me of closure to a half-century of heartbreak…then there was a kind of “huff” sound and I could breathe again. What I’d thought of as cardiac arrest was in fact a piece of Brazil nut that had gotten temporarily lodged “in the wrong pipe,” …and it turned out that the pain in my arm was brought on when the day pack slung on the back of my chair slid down with the strap catching and eventually numbing my arm.

I took a deep breath and felt a wave of warmth spill over my shoulders while the pins and needles in my arm slowly faded. It had been too easy to let the advancing years send me mentally and emotionally fleeing to that simpler and easier time in my life – and whether it was an episode of Night Gallery I was experiencing or not, I couldn’t take up permanent residence. If I’d been able to freeze the calendar at 1971 I’d have missed so much in my life: Gina, the kids, my career, the first time we saw Full Metal Jacket in Sensurround– hell, even After The Love is Gone by Earth, Wind and Fire, which had been inexplicably playing in my internal mix-tape since I first heard it five years after I left Fairbanks.

Whatever this anomaly may have been , it made me realize something I needed to accept: as comfortable and carefree as 1971 seemed from the vantage of the 21st century I would have been a much poorer man had there really been a way to break the dial of the cosmic TV set of life and just stayed in that place forever. After putting the lid back on the mixed nuts I clicked on the Arctic-Cam URL, deleted it, and went to bed.

______________________________________________________________________

(another “fictional” break in the creative non-fiction that I usually write…)

LCHR 1954-2020

She was the girl with multiple nicknames:

  • Samantha (Stevens)
  • Honey (West)
  • (Doctor) Venus

Golden-haired girls were in short supply at Sterling Elementary in the mid-Sixties so it seemed like anytime a blonde would show up on television she would be tagged with the character’s name the following week…but for the other fifty one weeks of the year we knew her as Linda Christine, third of four children in the Hansen family living diametrically opposite from my home on that great circle made up by Robinson and Scout Loops in Sterling, Alaska. 

I carried a torch for her for most of 1966 but as time went by and my Napoleon Solo/U.N.C.L.E.- inspired swagger failed to win her heart our relationship morphed into that often more valuable state known as Good Friend. We’d bounce ideas off each other, share new music, deliver post-mortems on our respective romantic entanglements and just before I left for college in 1971 I lived my seventh grade dream when we went out on a pleasant albeit very platonic date.

I went on to my life and three-fold career while she went into nursing and family life with one of the finest men I have ever known. We would touch base from time to time over the next fifty years and every meeting was equally warm, as if no time had passed, but sadly the time for base-touching is past as she passed away a few days ago. With anyone else I would be ranting about the cruel timing of her demise but if you knew Linda you’d appreciate the symbolism. She is/was one of the most sincere women of faith I have ever met and given the nature and rapid progress of her illness It doesn’t surprise me that she left this mortal plane so close to the anniversary of the birth of our Savior.

She was that nice.

Let me put it this way: you know that stereotypical fundamentalist Karen character that the popular media keeps throwing at us? The narrow-minded, judgmental harridan warping scripture in twisted attacks on just about everyone else?

Well, that wasn’t our Linda.

Linda Christine Hansen Robinson was the anti-Karen, and such a fundamentally good woman that we will all be poorer for her going, but at the same time we are that much richer for having known her.

1969/2020 “Bah, Humbug!”

(This is one of two Christmas-themed stories I re-run every year. This time around it’s a little different in that I’m not nearly the Scrooge I’ve been in years past, I don’t know if it’s my age or a reaction to the insanity that has been 2020 but I’ve found myself really enjoying the tree, the cars, the scriptures and the music.)

Have I already mentioned that I hate Christmas?

My enmity to this time of year has little to do with the actual day but rather the personal history that surrounds it. Name a personal disaster or heartbreak in my life and odds are the event happened either in December or within 2 weeks north or south of that month. I’m not going to produce an itemized list but if you really want to know why I dread the twelfth month of the year, and why I am miserable to live with during that time send a private message. If I get enough a large enough response I’ll elaborate a bit and then you’ll know why my dear sweetheart deserves a six-figure cash bonus, the Victoria Cross and immediate translation for simply enduring my presence during the holidays, much less talk or interact with me in any way.

Christmas wasn’t always miserable for me. There have also been some very happy times associated with the holidays, but they are totally overwhelmed by the number and intensity of the negative stuff. That contrast is no doubt fuel for the fire as well; I’m like the hungry homeless man with his nose pressed against the window of a four-star restaurant tormented by the sights and smells of food he can only imagine.

Even when thinking back as objectively as possible I cannot understand how I survived some of those times.  However those Yule seasons that seemed to be even more Yuseless than usual also happened to be times when I was blessed with an “adjunct angel” an individual whose words and deeds were vitally important to my continued mental health ( at one time to my life)– yet probably had no clue of the service they rendered.

There have been many such individuals ranging from a college instructor whose timely letter of praise and understanding drew the venom out of a heartless betrayal in a rebound relationship following the most crushing break-up of my life to a flight school buddy that refused to shun me when my medical disqualification made me invisible to the rest of my classmates (maybe they though vision problems were contagious). However, one of the most heart-warming may have not been a person at work – but rather circumstances; what we call “tender mercies”

.  It was Christmas Eve 1969; my sister Holly and I were up in my attic bedroom listening to some distinctly un-holiday rock music on my stereo and commiserating about how there was no “joyeux” in the “noel” when you weren’t a little kid. There was a lull in the music as the changer dropped another LP onto the turntable – and that’s when we heard the footsteps. Yes, footsteps on the roof just 10 inches on the other side of the ceiling of my attic bedroom.

We couldn’t tell exactly what kind of footsteps they were – there was a chinook (mid-winter warm front passage) going on which always brought on a chorus of humming, whining and moaning as the wind ran past the T.V. aerials, their supporting masts and guy-wires. It didn’t matter though – we looked at each other in wide-eyed shock, then Holly shot down the ladder to her bedroom while I shut off the light and dove under my covers.

There were no hoof-sprints or skid marks on the roof the next morning – but there was also very little snow after the warm winds of a Chinook.

 Had our cats running around the attic?

Had my dad on the roof adjusting the living room TV antenna?

 Did a sleigh park on our roof that night?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, just like I don’t know why selected friends over the years have chosen this time of year to perform life-changing acts of kindness for me.  While footsteps-on-the-rooftop didn’t have the heavy emotional weight of some of the other incidents I’ve shared, the event did have a life-changing, softening effect on my personality at a time when as a sixteen year old I was making important choices about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. The timing was perfect.

…and as I was thinking about this post it came to me that timing has also been very effective with this whole holiday curse mindset. It’s cleverly turned my expectations about what should be a happy time into a subtle but non-stop attack on my faith.  I’m just very fortunate that at the same time those little attendant holiday miracles have been just as clever and even more effective in bolstering my faith.

Merry Christmas!

2020: Early Morning Ritual

4:00 AM

It was a whisper so quiet I almost missed it for the hum of the ceiling fan and the wind in the trees outside our bedroom window.

“Papa, I want to be down here with you and Nana” –  followed almost instantly with, “Can I use your tablet?” signaled the arrival of my grandson Jayden. I mumbled the usual assent mixed with admonitions about excess noise then drifted into my never-ending quest for more sleep.

Microseconds later a strident BEEP-BOOP-BEEP-BRRRRRT!! startles me into an (almost) sitting position while simultaneously triggering a semi-intelligible URK!1 The wee little voice with the endearing lisp calls out in the dark, “Torry Papa. I will turn it down,”  and instantly dispels my expected growly response and I roll back over to drift off as well as I can with patterns of light from the aforementioned tablet dancing across our ceiling.

“VROOOOMMMMM”

I stagger-stumble out of bed, visions of out-of-control vehicles heading for our front porch filling my imagination only to find my grandson with my tablet in hand, transfixed and terrified by his grandfather-turned-grizzly-bear careening around the bedroom floor and bouncing off bedroom walls while his grandmother struggles with the polyethylene clasp of her CPAP mask in an effort to sit up as well.

“JAYDEN!”

“Sorry Papa. Sorry Nana”.

At this point the tablet is turned off and put away before I once again embark on my fitful journey to Slumberland, but just as Little Nemo takes my ticket…

BA-THUMP…THUMP! BA-THUMP…THUMP!

“Hey Papa! I can jump reawy high! Watch me!”

My inner Cro-Magnon starts a growl rumbling deep in my chest but chokes it off when I note the time on my phone AND the growing light of dawn through the curtained window. I take comfort in the fact that if nothing else Jayden’s early morning calisthenics do not include PLFs2 off the dresser or a dive, tuck and roll over the bed with the two of us curled up comfortably and still sleeping…but mostly the knowledge that his predawn antics are a small price to pay for sharing this time in his life.

I’ve lived almost ten times as long as Jayden has and in all those years I’ve treasured my steadily evolving caretaking role as elder brother, uncle, father, and grandfather. I was never the type of dad who lived and longed for the day he would become an empty nester and the departure of each child was a little death for me. I suspect it will be the same when Jayden and his parents finally get a place of their own, but for now I will keep my tablet charged up and tuck the covers a little tighter when I turn in at night.

_______________________________________________________________________

Notes

1.  Which in my mind is perfectly understandable as “ See here young man what is this untimely commotion?”

2. Parachute landing fall.

1977: SCOPES

It’s always been a challenge for the army to train realistically for war. In medieval times young men would hack at each other with wooden swords but practicing with live ammunition can unfortunately produce unfortunate results similar to the “getting just a little bit pregnant” scenario that happens with inept sex education. It wasn’t until the introduction of MILES gear in the early 1980s that truly realistic training exercises started to happen. Training with MILES (a.k.a. the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) gave a wake-up call to units that were accustomed top scores under the old system of using blanks accompanied with bang-bang-you’re-dead-you-missed-you-stupid grunt; squads breezing through evaluations with a 10% loss were shocked  when the unforgiving lasers and sensors in the MILES system assessed 60-70% losses for the same exercise.

For the first time outside of actual combat troops started getting serious about cover and concealment.

Just prior to the introduction of MILES the Army experimented with a stop-gap system called SCOPES, which used low power scopes mounted on M16’s and camouflage helmet covers bearing low-contrast numbered discs that were extremely hard to read without the aforementioned scopes at distances more than a yard or two. When opposing squads made contact soldiers would aim at an opposing troop, squeeze off a blank round and call off the guy’s number to one of the lane graders who would then assess casualties, the helmet covers having been issued in a totally random manner to prevent soldiers from calling out random numbers and eliminating opponents without really taking aim.

It was under those conditions that my squad went through a series of tactical problems at FT Lewis Washington in July of 1977. We took turns as squad leader and were each given a simple mission to accomplish such clearing a path, making contact with an adjacent friendly unit or setting up a hasty ambush. I breathed a sigh of relief when my number came up and I was charged with leading the squad to a downed reconnaisnce aircraft to retrieve a film canister. At first glance it seemed that my biggest problem would be maintaining squad integrity while moving through the dense vegetation of the temperate rain forest covering this part of Washington state, but mostly I felt relief at what looked to be a walk in the woods.

Any elation I felt quickly dispelled as I started leading the squad in a wedge formation through terrain that sloped slightly downhill and into ever-thickening brush. We’d gone no more than ten yards when I lost sight of my two outermost flankers but I figured that between yelling at the top of my lungs and two dependable fire-team leaders I could still keep things going.

“Hey – I’m running into concertina wire” It was my guy on the left. I stopped the squad and went to check the wire, which was strung three strands deep and angled in towards our front, forcing me pull that side of the squad in before resuming efforts to “bust brush”… but with within a few short minutes a faint voice on my right chimed in with “Hey there’s razor wire over here too”, a development which prompted squad members on that side to also draw towards the center of the wedge creating a tactical formation known euphemistically known as a “Charlie Foxtrot”. Internal Stukas started dive-bombing the length and breadth of my abdominal cavity and I desperately searched for a tactical term that I couldn’t quite remember as we broke through the brush into a cleared area bordered on each side with triple strand razor angling in and meeting at a small gate directly ahead of us.

It was at that point that I remembered the elusive term:

Canalizing: the act of restricting an opponent’s tactical operations to a narrow zone by use of existing or reinforcing obstacles

It was also at that point that the machine gun’s opened fire, one to each side of the gap in the wire, prompting lane graders to start calling helmet numbers and eliminating everyone in my squad but me and one of the flankers. I was safe for the moment in a shallow depression but it was only a matter of time before one of the bad guys achieved a better line of sight so in the interest of playing the game I crawled over the closest casualty (AKA my buddy Doug), rolled him up on this side and used his body as a parapet shield before expending all the blanks in both my ammo pouches and those belonging to my now laughing protective barrier.

Any concerns over my tactical decisions during the critique were dispelled as the lead lane grader issued an outstanding spot report for me for my enthusiasm and unique tactical sense .Unable to hold his tongue any longer my human parapet Doug weighed into the conversation with “yeah, nice move but I began to wonder what you were really thinking when you started going through my pockets looking for my wallet and lighter!” to which I shot back with “ just trying to win in an unwinnable situation” but was startled when our lane grader abruptly broke back into the conversation with a quiet but firm “You weren’t supposed to win” that instantly changed the tone of the critique and shut us all up.

As a Special Forces qualified Master sergeant who’d started his career as a rifleman in Korea and spent two tours of duty in Viet-Nam our evaluator was definitely someone to listen to carefully. The lines on his face traced a map of every one of his twenty-seven years as an infantryman though the wrinkles around his eyes were as much the product of good nature as evidenced earlier that morning at the beginning of the exercise when he stressed that his personal motto was:

“Don’t run if you can walk

Don’t walk if you can ride

Don’t go if you don’t have to!”

He went on to tell us about an infantry school study that had shown that new platoon leaders in Viet-Nam often found it “easier to die than to think”, and that just as much emphasis needed to be placed on initiative and imagination as doctrine when training new lieutenants.

“That’s why we scattered problems like this in the syllabus – to get cadets to use their imagination when needed”

“Sometimes you just can’t win”

…which is the point of my story. As I’ve written in the past I have ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease much like rheumatoid arthritis. It is progressive, incurable, irreversible, very painful and getting more so as time goes by which is why insurance underwriters put it in the same “dread disease “category as lupus, multiple sclerosis and others. It’s going to be with me until I die and at best all doctors can do is alleviate the symptoms…which gets more and more difficult to as time goes by. It’s also the reason my writing has been so sporadic this last year. Lack of flexibility brought on by A/S was a major factor in a tumble I took down our front room stairs that in turn caused me to spend a good part of the fall of 2019 flat on my back followed by a slow-down-in-general since then.

Because the disease didn’t come with a missing limb or change in pigmentation it’s not readily apparent which can often lead to judgmental comments of which “You don’t look sick” is the most prevalent and as the topic has not appeared here lately my Beautiful Saxon Princess has been gently elbowing me into crunching some words on the subject so:

 Please understand that your friend or relative or co-worker with the not-overly obvious disability is not fishing for sympathy or trying to figuratively steal your wallet and lighter through disability/insurance fraud. We’re just trying to cope with an extremely difficult situation and we’re just doing the best we can…and just as was the case in June of 1977 I’m still trying to win.

Spoons

Spoons

It should be no surprise that summer is my least favorite season. Despite the years I’ve spent in Tennessee I am still an Alaskan boy at heart with climate preferences like those of a golden retriever – I’m happiest when it’s no warmer than forty degrees and my feet are wet. I’m also one of a very small group of people whose autoimmune disease symptoms became more painful when the weather gets warmer….which means that as summer heats up I feel progressively worse – when July rolls around my days involve a lot of just laying around reading and trying to mentally “will” autumn to appear in August.

Despite my penchant for speculative subject matter in my art my taste in reading material is fairly mundane. Currently on my Kindle you’ll find the following books:

  • Confederates in the Attic
  • The Year 1000
  • The Mound Builder Myth
  • The Color of Law
  • Empires of the Sky
  • Drums Along the Khyber

Most of these books are historical works, but sprinkled among the titles from times past you will find books about spoons, specifically spoon theory –  an idea that has very little to do with silverware and everything to do with communicating the challenges and discomfort brought about by the  daily battle with  autoimmune diseases. It’s a wonderful concept brought about by Christine Miserando and you can read about it at length at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com.

Spoons are markers used in allocating/assessing how much you can get done in a day despite the dramatically reduced energy level and equally elevated pain levels that come with autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or in my case anklysosing spondylitis. You start out the day with a dozen spoons, and every action – and I mean EVERY action will cost you one or more spoons. The allocation of twelve is purely arbitrary but I found I was able to calibrate my spoon expenditures rather quickly. Getting out of bed costs one spoon, getting dressed is another one, climbing stairs takes two spoons and going to church takes three…so it’s not hard to see how you can run out of spoons rather quickly.

I’m barely scratching the surface of this marvelous communications tool and I highly recommend you check out Ms. Miserando’s website and read her ideas first hand.

 

 

 

Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

Paper, pencils and dice were the only accessories used in the first roleplaying games I experienced many years ago, so it was a big deal when 25mm miniatures arrived to aid in visualizing game events. Scarcity and a wide range in quality made us loath to retire characters when called to do during play, and one friend dealt with the situation by renaming and reusing his favorite figure. His prize 25mm figure started out as “Beowulf” only to become “Beowulf Junior” after one particularly lethal gaming session only go be reincarnated as “Son of Beowulf Junior” and eventually “Friend of The Son of Beowulf Junior” shortly before I graduated and moved away from that area and gaming.

I’m in a similar situation as we start to ramp up for the second book. The existence of other books with titles that play off the Midnight Sun / Midnight Son pun prompts me to rule out a simple “Midnight Son 2” title for the second book in the series but for now that will be the working title for the second volume in the series which will cover high school from 1968 to 1971. I had originally planned the Kickstarter for that book to happen next month (May 2020) but the uncertainty brought on by the Covid 19/Corona Virus pandemic is requiring an extra measure of flexibility in planning, but I did want to give you all a heads-up, hence this post today.

While Midnight Son 2 covers a short time span it will actually be a longer book, reflecting the added complexity in life brought on as we approach adulthood. Some of that added length will also come about by the inclusion of section headings for each individual year, bringing into context the increased influence of current events in my life – especially during the turbulent times of the late 1960s/70s. What follows is the intro for the first section:

1968

 I turned off the television and just sat for a couple of minutes, my mind still spinning from rapid-fire dialog and chaotic change in scenes. I had just witnessed a fifteen-year-old boy’s dream come true – 58 minutes of social and political satire interspersed with counter-culture graffiti and sexual innuendo. It was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and while I initially hated it for replacing the Man from UNCLE it was a perfect introduction to the 1960s, or rather that period from 1968 to 1972 which had all the social characteristics of “The Summer of Love” that comes to mind when most people think of the “The Sixties”. It seemed like we were all witnessing the birth of a new exciting world, but all the same it was an unnerving time to be a teenager.

  •  The TET offensive simultaneously terrified and angered an American public already unhappy with the lack of progress and increasing body count of the Vietnam war in general.
  • Every newscast had a segment on riots somewhere in the Lower 48. Whether sparked by unrest over the Vietnam War or the glacial progress of civil rights, riots seemed to be happening everywhere with collective turbulence culminating in the organized chaos of the 1968 Democratic Convention.
  • Hints of a thaw between the East and the West disappeared when Warsaw Pact tanks rumbled over the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia.
  • It seemed like everyone was getting shot. For a while I’d lived with the assumption that President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was enough to shock some collective sense into the nation but then Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down in April followed by Robert F. Kennedy two months later.

 On the other hand:

  •  Manned Apollo missions commenced with Apollo’s circumnavigation of the moon making a nice Christmas present.
  • …we were all very pleased but a little confused when the Beatles released the White Album at Christmas time.

 For me 1968 started out in much the same way as previous years – trying to stay warm while waiting six months for first-run movies to finally hit the local theaters. Our governor Wally Hickel was drafted by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of the Interior and Ted Stevens was appointed to the Senate after Bob Bartlett died during heart surgery. The first mall in Anchorage opened up at the intersection of the Seward Highway and Northern Lights Boulevard, a third television station (KHAR channel 13) began broadcasting and a two inch column at the bottom of the front page of the Daily News casually announced that maybe – just maybe – there was oil to be tapped on the North Slope.

I’d spent most of the school year just surviving and the summer of 1968 looked to be a pleasant change of pace. I had grown an inch or two in height while losing an inch or two from my waistline and gaining some coordination in the process. One of the biggest changes involved what I listened to each day – during the summer I bought a very basic record player and while the sound quality was marginally better than a Kenner Close-N-Play it allowed me to explore music beyond the scope of the 2:45 standards coming over my AM clock-radio. From this point on songs became “time-stamped” to what was going on in life.

…and to reflect THAT very fundamental change in my life each chapter in this volume will be annotated with the song or album that was my favorite at the time, which will again bring some added insight to what was going on during that period.

“Hello?”

“Anybody there?”

I’m a semi-shut-in (if that’s a thing) so I’m used to my horizons being clipped short and using Amazon for shopping…but from where I stand it’s not just the mall, church of my grandson’s school that seems deserted – it’s feels deserted here as well. I can’t speak for all of my other word-crunching friends but for me personally – I’ve never had such low readership figures, looks, likes whatever you call it. I hope it’s just quirk brought on by the virus and that as time goes on we all get back to reading and commenting.

To better days!