I'm involved in an obituary project, so I decided to write one for myself, as an exercise. It's (hopefully) funny, and mostly truthful, but nobody will ever publish it, because it's s'damn long. ;-)
MESA, ARIZONA -- Alan C. Baird died [date] at [an undisclosed location], after [saving the world from certain nuclear destruction]. He was born January 5, 1951 in Waterville, Maine, the son of Chester Alton and Beverly Gilbert Baird, and started talking (swearing, actually) almost immediately. He later won a couple of trips to the National Spelling Bee and pointed out "pointtillist" to Merriam-Webster... a misspelling which appeared in their dictionaries during most of the 1980s and 90s. He attended Chelmsford High School (MA) for three years, then graduated from Westfield High School (MA) in 1969 and won a National Merit Scholarship to Michigan State: a hundred bucks annually, big whoop. But the student deferment allowed him to avoid the body bags waiting in Vietnam, so he joined USAF ROTC to earn tuition, and grew hippie-length hair while wearing a short-hair wig to ROTC drills. After getting a magna cum laude B.A. in 1973, he was (predictably) kicked out of the Air Force and did some postgraduate research in West Africa.
Alan later moved to San Francisco and worked on huge, room-sized computers (remember those days?), while earning extra money in a federally-funded marijuana research study: smoking dope for Uncle Sam. He was also one of the founding members of an urban commune named Bozotros. That's when he decided it would be a good idea to run the NY and Boston marathons, then open a teeshirt business on the Côte d'Azur with a Danish buddy. But after The Year Of Failing Miserably, both partners returned to their respective corners with tails tucked between their legs. Next, Alan drove a taxi in NYC and eventually became an NBC Page on Saturday Night Live, which meant free tickets for his friends, a chat with David Bowie and getting choked nearly to death by John Belushi. Alan harbored a passion for fast cars and motorcycles, and was a licensed pilot (thanks to instruction from his Dad), skydiver and scuba diver.
He had a hand in the writing of five books, all dismal commercial failures and resounding critical flops, but he kept scribbling anyway, right up to the very end. Some say he even wrote an obituary or two, but they were way too long to publish. His first two marriages ended in recriminations and threats of gunfire, but on June 6, 2000, he married Anikó J. Bartos, a smart and exotic Hungarian cutie-pie he met online. So he's survived by Anikó, her kids Anita and Jenő Győrfi, Jenő's mate Kriszta and two grandchildren, Dalma and Lilla. Alan loved (and was loved by) his adoptive family like they were his own blood, but he could never figure out why they chose to put up with him. Al's mother Bev and her hubby Jack Cauley, along with Al's brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Jane, are still around somewhere, too. They had little-to-no choice about having Al as a family member, but they tolerated his curmudgeonliness with apparent good grace and constant affection.
Al moved around a lot: Waterville ME, Oakland ME, East Millinocket ME, Bangor ME, Hermon ME, Far Rockaway NY, Bedford MA, Chelmsford MA, Westfield MA, East Lansing MI, Limestone ME, Cape May NJ, South Haven MI, Saugatuck MI, Lansing MI, San Francisco CA, Boston MA, Nice FR, New York NY, Santa Monica CA, Los Angeles CA, North Hollywood CA, Glendale CA, Indio CA, Budapest HU, Scottsdale AZ, and Mesa AZ. Doctors said it was an incurable affliction, akin to Restless Legs Syndrome.
At various points in his life, Al earned his keep as: potato picker, gardener, fruit harvester, babysitter, handyman, hotel clerk, bellman, busboy, cook, waiter, sommelier, bartender, receptionist, secretary, notary public, proofreader, word processor, paralegal, tv repairman, tv extra, production assistant, tv writer/producer, tv director, filmmaker, photographer, mainframe operator, macro programmer, software designer, webmaster, online editor, search engine optimizer, content manager, blogging professor, blogfest organizer/emcee, plasma donor, sperm donor, hospital orderly, opinion panel member, psychology test participant, marijuana research subject, tour guide, taxi driver, chauffeur, nbc page, olympics security, riviera teeshirt entrepreneur, pyrotechnician, census clerk, marketing assistant, bookseller, crisis counselor, scribe, journalist, satirist, lyricist, poet, copywriter, technical writer, joke writer, microfictioneer, playwright, script doctor, essayist, literary translator, author and newswriter... but he never quite figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up.
For those who are so inclined, impromptu memorials may be held whenever two or more of his friends get together, become roaring drunk and tell funny stories about his tawdry shenanigans.
[Further details in the materials below. Facebook links require free membership.]
Photo for obit - choose one:
Photo for 2 HS memorial pages - choose one:
or 1969 color: http://facebook.com/93574522476
Memorialize facebook account: http://facebook.com/help/contact/234739086860192
Suggestions for disposal of remains: http://facebook.com/89997887476
"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." --Marcus Tullius Cicero (03 Jan, 106 BC - 07 Dec, 43 BC; Age 63)
I posted by Alan @ 6/29/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Nobody likes a smarta**.
After rereading one of my old stories (reproduced below), I dug this eMail exchange out of the archives:
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 1999 06:59
From: Alan C. Baird
Is it my imagination, or does your dictionary contain a misspelling (pointtillist=pointillist)?
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:02
From: Maria Sansalone, Merriam-Webster Editorial Department
To: Alan C. Baird
You know what's even worse Alan? It's been in our print dictionary this way since at least 1981!
Buzz Words [estimated reading time: 1:45]
At the ripe old age of thirteen, Buzz earned a trip to the 1964 National Spelling Bee, after winning a series of local competitions. However, he bombed out on the second word ("abbot") because his school bus stopped at Abbott Street every day. Even though his left brain knew the proper spelling decreed by Merriam-Webster's dictionary, his stubborn right brain insisted on calling up images of that treacherous street sign, standing a mere two feet outside the safety-glass bus window.
So our vanquished hero spent the remainder of the competition sitting in the audience, writing down every word and torturing himself with dreams of What Might Have Been. He'd even worked out a complex algorithm to predict which words would have been "his," and spelled each one of them correctly: "vicissitude," "diastema," and especially the dreaded "myxovirus." By his reckoning, he should have won the whole shootin' match... but Abbott Street had wrecked his budding career as WordBoy.
The next year, he entered local history books by becoming the first area youngster to win two Washington trips in a row. This time, he was relaxed, joking with fellow contestants while finishing 14th in the country, stumped only by "gneiss." He deemed the word to be an honorable Waterloo, even though it didn't sound that way (pronounced "nice"). But most importantly, he was delighted with his 1965 results, the trip, and life in general. Every few years, the regional newspaper still publishes a huge picture of him during the spring, in their annual Spelling Season Shrine.
Could he have won the national competition in that first year? Maybe. But if he'd survived 1964's second round, the same words would have been doled out to different contestants, during later rounds. Words that were spelled easily, in his "abbott" universe, might have been misspelled, in the alternative "abbot" scheme of things. For example, his fancy algorithm couldn't really predict if little Susie would be able to deal with "escharotic" in AbbotWorld, when she was only required to spell "escapist" in AbbottWorld. Thus, Buzz's subsequent word list would end up slightly altered--which means he certainly *didn't* know it all.
Although he often acted that way.
Still does, as his friends will eagerly tell you.
However, sweet revenge was exacted from his old nemesis (Merriam-Webster) during the late fall of 1999, when he pointed out "pointtillist"... a misspelling which had appeared in their dictionaries for nearly two decades.
As you might guess, he's still bragging about that.
Other pix: 2, 3, 4, Ben Bernanke & Me.
I posted by Alan @ 6/28/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Scholar to soldier. Sort of.
I was the first in my family to go to college, so winning a National Merit Scholarship was a pretty big deal. I would have gotten a full ride, if my father's lower-middle-class income had been just a few dollars less. But nooooooo. According to the hardship tables, we qualified for only a pittance - $100 a year.
However, my parents were dazzled by the fact that their firstborn could be a Merit Scholar. So they bit the bullet, took out a second mortgage, and covered my out-of-state tuition.
That lasted for several months, until they heard that I had joined some demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
They thought the war was peachy. And I could never figure out why they wanted their boy to come home in a body bag.
Come to think of it, that may be the root of a few familial problems since then.
So that's when the money dried up. I took on a couple of jobs, after classes. But they weren't enough. Things were getting desperate. My draft card said 1-A, and my lottery number turned out to be 33. That year, Uncle Sam was hell-bent on drafting every male teenager with a number under 125. None of us could quite wrap our brains around the surreal image of some fat, decrepit old guy on TV, reaching into a large glass container to pull out a blue plastic capsule that contained a potential death sentence.
I knew a few vets, and I saw what the war had done to them. It wasn't pretty. Some of them came home with missing parts. Body parts. Mind parts. Some of my friends never came home at all.
So I seriously considered emigrating to Canada. I studied the qualifications for becoming a Conscientious Objector. I also thought about going to jail.
Then I got a really stupid idea.
I could get a draft deferment *and* a full scholarship... if I joined the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps. The only Air Force officers in harm's way were flying jets, and my eyesight was too crappy to qualify for jet school. So I bit the bullet and suffered through six weeks of basic training during the summer. After returning to campus, I struggled through twice-a-week ROTC classes.
Have you ever heard of cognitive dissonance? I got pretty weird. Even for me.
I grew my hair down to my shoulders and bought a short-hair wig for ROTC classes. I wrote anti-war articles for the school newspaper. I was tear-gassed in public demonstrations.
But I dutifully showed up at the ROTC classes. Twice a week. I knew they were the only things between me and a body bag. Life went on that way for several years.
At some point, my ROTC instructor attended a weekend track meet in which I was competing. I didn't know he was there. When I won a medal in the mile, my shoulder-length hair was flowing freely in the wind.
A few days later, just before my next ROTC class, the instructor confronted me in the hallway. He was a Captain. He was also a prick, but I would have hated him anyway. We argued military history and tactics during every class, and I was usually able to point out the flaws in his reasoning. He was a sore loser.
As I stood at attention in the hallway, the Captain looked at my head very carefully. He walked all the way around me, smirking.
"You know, I saw someone who looked a lot like you at a track meet this past weekend. Do you have a twin?"
So the jig was up. "That was me, sir."
"Did you get a haircut since then?"
I could tell that he wanted to rip the short-hair wig right off my head. But he was also aware that I was wound up pretty tight. He knew that I was ready--and perhaps even a little eager--to break his jaw. So he bit the bullet, and submitted paperwork instead.
The Air Force had no rules about wigs, but the Captain submitted paperwork anyway. I got a copy, a few days later. He wanted ROTC to discharge me "for the good of the service."
However, the military had paid for most of my schooling. And I had signed a contract, giving them certain rights. For example, if I failed to qualify for my ROTC commission, they had the option of drafting me for 4 years of slavery as a non-officer grunt.
But during my years of cognitive dissonance, the world had moved on, like it always does: Nixon had started his crime spree, and the war was winding down.
In short, the Air Force didn't really need another troublemaker. So when I graduated, they gave me a nice parting gift (Honorable Discharge) instead.
And I spent the next several years trying to get back to normal. Whatever that is.
I posted by Alan @ 6/27/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Loose Lips Sink Ships.
The classified ad in San Francisco's Bay Guardian was straight out of a doper's dream: Marijuana Research Subjects Wanted. Sure, why not?! In those days—late 1975—it seemed surprising that the U.S. government was still trying to figure out the physiological effects of cannabis, but if they were willing to pay folks to smoke their Mississippi-grown weed, I certainly didn't want to be left out.
Besides, the ongoing studies were taking place in Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, a place made legendary by The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe's 1967 opus. Several passages in his book documented the adventures of fellow writer Ken Kesey, who spent a significant amount of time in Langley Porter, gobbling down the government's LSD. Ken was one of our generation's heroes, and not just for writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
My screening session consisted of being locked inside a small airtight room, while an erstwhile grad student sat in a nearby chair, to ensure that I practiced good smoking technique with one of the program's fat, U.S. Prime, machine-rolled doobies. He had nothing to do except watch me, and I had nothing to do except smoke, so we struck up a dialogue which gradually became quite fascinating. As the drug gained traction, I kept forgetting where we were, and often attempted to pass the joint over to him, out of simple courtesy. Since he was obliged to enforce the experiment's protocol, he always turned down my proffered toke, but a contact high was unavoidable in that tiny room, and the longing in his eyes grew more and more pronounced.
For insurance reasons, the experiment itself required a commitment to living inside Langley Porter's supervised hospital psych ward, so I secured a 30-day leave of absence from my day job. Getting wasted was dirty work, but somebody had to do it. During the first week, the four of us enrolled in the research study were given placebo pills every six hours, around the clock. We weren't supposed to know they were fake, but nobody was getting off, so we shrugged our shoulders and tried to settle into the mental facility's daily routine: screams in the night, blood on the bathroom walls from failed suicide attempts, zombie-like patients who wondered why we chose to live among them.
Then there were the daily 14-page physiological self-evaluations, which included hundreds of questions like: "Is your mouth wet or dry? Do your feet feel cold or warm? Are your lips loose or tight?" It took nearly an hour to diligently complete the entire form, and the question about lips came near the end, when everything began to seem quite absurd, so I always added these words: Loose Lips Sink Ships. I figured this reference to a common WWII security slogan, warning citizens against revealing unnecessary details to strangers, might amuse the poor graduate students who were forced to process these godawful forms. But a few days later, one of them hesitantly pulled me aside, whispering, "Is this some kind of code?"
Following a week of baseline physical tests, the placebo pills were suddenly replaced with real THC. Yaaay! I started to relax, and interact with the non-study patients. They, in turn, began to seem less disturbed, less strange, less like... The Other. I even talked to the 14-year-old boy who mutely followed me around the pool table, like a puppy dog. After a couple of weeks, we were old buddies, even though he never said anything in return. I slowly became aware of the patients he liked and disliked, from subtle changes in his body language, and he began to smile at my lame jokes. During the fourth week, his father visited - and spent an hour berating him, inside his room. I overheard the monologue through an open door, and winced.
Then the father came to visit me, beside the pool table: "He hasn't smiled in three years! How did you do it?"
The nurses must have said something. I was caught off-guard, but managed to blurt out, "I dunno. I just try to listen to him."
"But he never speaks!"
I posted by Alan @ 6/26/2017 05:21:00 PM »
The Day The Planes Stopped Flying.
Surely you remember that crazy Frenchman. What was his name? Philippe something? He started bringing up his equipment a couple of days beforehand, slipping everything past the Twin Tower guards in a rucksack. By the eve of his big performance, he'd stashed a sizable pile under the open-air tourist platform. He hid there until after everyone had gone home that night; then his crossbow landed a grappling hook on the other building's edge. Was the attached nylon rope secure enough? Would it hold his weight, while he dangled upside-down in the midnight winds blowing up from Battery Park? He risked everything in the darkness for a half-hour in the next day's limelight. Shimmying across the quarter-mile distance at a height of 110 stories, he made several trips during the next few hours, trying to secure a heavy cable. By dawn, everything was ready.
But he was exhausted. Not the best condition for a tightrope artist.
And yet he managed to wire-walk his way into history, from one building to the other.
How about that mountain climber who scaled the outside of one tower during a nail-biting afternoon? By rush hour, every news crew in the city had a camera focused on him.
Then came the parachutists... or maybe there was only one. I can't quite remember.
However, I do recall my much-less-dramatic visit to the top. On that perfect September day, Lady Liberty seemed like a child's toy: so close, you could almost pick her up with casually-outstretched fingers. With the other hand, you might grab onto the huge bridge spanning Verrazano's narrows.
I remembered starting my first marathon over there, on Staten Island, ten years earlier. It was an easy sprint into Brooklyn, but by the time we jogged through Queens, I was hurtin' for certain. Later, the Bronx became a cruel hallucination of pain, and my legs seized up in Manhattan. There's a half-repressed memory of lying flat on the pavement, beating my fists in frustration against a cramped thigh, while some Harlem kids laughed at the foolish white boy in their gutter. Somehow that white boy got up a few minutes later, finding a way to float just above his suffering body while it half-ran, half-limped across the finish line in Central Park.
And that's why the September day was so perfect, one decade later--I took enormous pleasure in surveying the five boroughs, from horizon to horizon, at the top of those magnificent buildings. They allowed me to daydream about the vast domain I had conquered, when I was young and foolish.
Damn, that was a great view.
I posted by Alan @ 6/25/2017 05:21:00 PM »
La Légion Étrangère - un métier d'homme!
"The Biz is failing miserably. It's time to join the Foreign Legion." I burped for emphasis.
The Dane shot me a sidelong glance with bloodshot eyes, and smiled ironically. "It's true, our business is not doing too well, but we're having the time of our lives on the Côte d'Azur!" He giggled.
I snorted in disgust. He was quoting that bubbly TV travel ad again. His droll Nordic sense of humor was beginning to try my patience. Here was a man who could pun in four languages, only two of which could I understand. By silently farting at a crucial point during our beerfest last night, he had even made an olfactory pun. That suave multilingual sophistication and wit was getting to be damned irritating.
When we started our teeshirts-to-the-tourists business, we had unwittingly chosen the worst year for vacationers in the last two decades, and hardly anyone was buying. We would roll out of bed at 5:00 a.m., load up our Citroën Deux Chevaux (nicknamed "Blueballs" because of the twin blue globular headlamps protruding from the fenders, which lit our way into the misty Mediterranean morning), and head off to one of the local outdoor markets. Monday found us in Nice, Tuesday in Vallauris, Wednesday in Beaulieu, Thursday in Antibes, Friday in Biot and Saturday in Valbonne - which added up to a solid six days of rejection per week. The French bureaucracy limited us to selling in the local open-air marchés, which were geared more toward the locals, rather than tourists. We invariably set up our portable clothing racks next to someone selling kitchen equipment or house plants, and hoped that a few adventurous vacationers would find us before the market broke up at noon or one o'clock.
We attempted to be sharp "commerçants," but for a couple of supposed businessmen, our French was severely impaired. The main difference between Jørgen and me was that he studied to improve his usage, while I just scrambled around enough to get myself into and out of scrapes. Three months of enduring haughty professeurs at the Université de Nice was as much book learning as I could stomach, thank you. I also entertained a hopelessly romantic dream of falling in love with a mademoiselle and improving my French organically. But the prospects were slim. My English accent in French was not nearly as charming to the local women as their French accents sounded to my American ears. Then there were the rumors from some of my male classmates: after taking French women to bed, these undercover men reported the incessant nagging about marriage, which began almost immediately.
So maybe this wasn't the best language study method after all.
In the jaundiced eyes of France's bureaucracy, I wasn't legally entitled to start the Biz. I had entered their country on a student visa, and the procedural gauntlet for obtaining a Carte de Commerçant, their highly-prized sales permit, was designed to discourage half-baked foreign entrepreneurs. After several weeks of being brushed off by the gendarmes in the Préfecture and the officious city bureaucrats in the Mairie, I struck upon the idea of forming a partnership with my new acquaintance from Århus. The last thing a Mayor's flunky had mentioned, before heaving me out of his office, sounded something like: "Only Common Market citizens can do business here." Those fateful words dredged up many alcohol-blurred memories of my recent introduction to eastern Jutland's nightlife, a Death Tour which featured endless shots of Jägermeister. The drinking spree had sparked a camaraderie of sorts, so, on a whim, I dialed Denmark. A Common Market country.
When Jørgen agreed to this harebrained scheme, it shocked the bejesus out of me.
My new partner acquired a new nickname this morning, during Blueballs' starting ritual. With his limited knowledge of cars, this guy inspects only the spark plugs; whenever anything goes wrong, out they come. So imagine my consternation when Blueballs developed what seemed to be a spark plug problem; I knew the crazy Dane had been keeping them clean as a whistle, because he doesn't know how to do anything else. I finally looked in the engine, and... guess what? He hadn't screwed 'em in tight.
Ol' Sparky will never live this one down.
The jaded, cynical side of our collective sense of humor was coming to the fore, as this poorly-funded and -planned business went down the tubes. When things looked the most futile, we kept up a brave front by talking about the Foreign Legion. Our perception of La Légion had been formed by a multitude of Hollywood movies, where it was portrayed as a last resort: a place to escape an unhappy love affair, or to run from one's sordid past. So we jokingly dared each other to join the Legion and escape our financial woes.
But finally, we decided that today was our date with destiny. Squaring back our shoulders, we marched into the local Foreign Legion garrison to ask for information. We were met by the Adjutant, a mysterious man in dark glasses. He was dressed in the typical Legionnaire costume: khaki fatigues and a kepi, the Corps' trademark sawed-off stovepipe hat, which sported a baseball brim. He spoke French with an exotic accent and lethargic cadence, much like an addict who's just shot up.
He wouldn't reveal his nationality.
The interview was a bizarre experience, marked by waves of panic which washed through every nerve. Our instincts were screaming, "Get the hell out!" But we were very thorough, looking dutifully through a scrapbook which told us in seven languages (with colorful pictures of high adventure) that "no identification papers will be required." The man in the shades described a "faux nom" system, which forces every recruit to accept a new name, corresponding to his registration name only in the same initial letters. The Adjutant gave us all sorts of posters to take home, and we admired the trophy case which offered Legion paraphernalia for sale: tie tacks, money clips, mugs, jugs and teeshirts.
The faux nom system was curious, to put it mildly; it's a dead giveaway about the type of people who would be attracted to the ranks. You aren't allowed to use your real name until three years have passed, and even then, it's not required. Despite the literature which claims Legionnaires are neither mercenaries nor outlaws, what can one think about people who don't want to disclose their identities? Who were these men, looking forward to the Legion's promise of French citizenship under a new name at the end of their five-year enlistment?
So a new method of learning French surfaces (you're not required to know the language, because you'll learn to speak it during the term of your "contract"). Sparky and I stumbled away from the barracks, and drove off in a daze; it was hard to shake those chills which we had received from the man behind the Foster Grants. During most of the ride home, we punctuated our long silences with exclamations of "No identification required!" and "Faux nom!" The clear implication was this: if you can get to the Legion before the pursuing authorities close in, you can literally disappear.
Since 1831, the Legion has been the only organization of its kind in the world: taking in misfits and criminals of any nationality, then putting them through a five-year meat grinder to make them into model French citizens.
The really disturbing part, though, was the milieu which was only half-suggested by that scrapbook. The Adjutant, in his dark glasses and drugged voice, neatly fit the description of what most medical literature calls Brain Death: the body keeps on living, but there's nothing going on upstairs.
I imagined that he appeared to us as the spider looks to the fly.
On our way back from the garrison, we stopped to pick up an older man, hitchhiking beside the road. He acted oddly when we pulled over: checking out the license plate, he then mentioned the trailing "06" upon entering the car. He obviously knew that it indicated a registration in the Riviera département of Alpes-Maritimes. After Blueballs started moving again, he quickly abandoned our halting version of French, in favor of Sparky's fluent German. I was mesmerized by the tone poetry of a language which made no sense to me: the throaty gutturals, and the words which sounded almost, but not quite, like English. Finally, one phrase pushed its way through the comprehension barrier: "Heil Hitler!" My head snapped around to look at this passenger in the back. He smiled broadly at Sparky in the mirror, and casually watched me from the corner of his eye. Sparky grinned nervously in the driver's seat next to me; this conversation obviously made him very uncomfortable. I noticed some sweat beading on his upper lip. Given the loaded connotation of the phrase which our passenger had just spit out, I deduced it would be unwise to question anyone, in any language. Also, Sparky was obviously looking for a place to pull over; I guessed that the man in the back had made a request to get out at the next intersection.
As we drove off after depositing the guy, I was eager to pump some information from Sparky, but he seemed to be in shock. After awhile, he asked me to drive, and haltingly told the story:
Our rider had been in the Foreign Legion for nineteen years, and was discharged in the early sixties. Sparky was naturally curious, and the man related some of his war stories. However, he also mentioned that the Corps hadn't really satisfied his "appetites," and made allusions to dark deeds done during the war. It slowly dawned on me that his appetites had nothing to do with eating, drinking, or sex. And his final defiant exclamation indicated that he wasn't even slightly remorseful about the things he'd done. The Legion meat grinder had cranked out another citoyen modèle.
To us, it seemed typical that the French, with their maze of red tape, tyrannical bureaucracy, and repressive laws, would provide a loophole like La Légion. We retreated from the awful specter of Brain Damage and War Crimes into the bright Riviera sunshine, although one nagging thought still plagued us. Remembering the famous case of that comatose, brain-dead woman, the poor lady who had been maintained on life support for several pointless years, we harbored a nasty sneaking suspicion that she would've made the perfect Legionnaire wife...
I posted by Alan @ 6/24/2017 05:21:00 PM »
The dispatcher in Hell's Kitchen assigns you a scummy taxicab at 4pm sharp, and you flash crosstown to catch the Mad Ave commuters. One fare wants 84th and Third, then it's down to the Bowery with an adventurous socialite. Up to Columbus Circle with a Met baritone. Across the park with a perfumed matron in the front seat who's so horny she tries to jump YOU.
After a few theater runs, you flip the Off Duty sign for lunch and remember how broke you were on that first day, six months ago. In fact, you had to sell a pint of blood, just to buy a map.
The rest of the night is hair-raising, as usual. You drop off the cab at 4am to grab some breakfast.
You swear you'll write about all this shit.
I posted by Alan @ 6/23/2017 05:21:00 PM »
1) John Belushi grips my blue tie, which is still attached to my neck, and drags me down the hall to his Saturday Night Live dressing room. The Windsor slipknot cinches ever tighter, and my vision becomes fuzzy around the edges. Dressing for my shift this morning, I never guessed the tie could be so easily converted into a deadly weapon.
John wanted to share a joint with someone (anyone!), and I happened to be the closest warm body. "C'mon, Tommy-boy. Rehearsal is over, and your work here is finished. Let's go get wasted."
But when you're the newest page on staff, and terrified of being caught, you try to make a show of resisting. At least when in public.
It's a classic case of mistaken identity. Tom is usually assigned to the Studio 8H desk during the week leading up to a live show, answering phones, taking messages, dealing with the steady stream of celebrities and hangers-on. And everyone says I look a lot like Tom. So the last images I see, before blacking out, are the smiling faces of two fellow pages, receding into the distance as I'm towed away. Those same two faces, now hovering above me and filled with concern, are also the first things I see upon returning to consciousness.
"Did I smoke with him?"
"No. He kept dragging until you turned blue and passed out. Why'd you resist?"
"This is a cool job. I didn't want to get canned."
They exchange knowing looks and mutter, "Rookie."
2) We're a lucky group of pages: our boss is hosting a weekend getaway at her summer cottage in the Hamptons. My colleague Robyn has gone outside to try the secluded swimming cove, but nobody else wants to break away from our showbiz gossip-fest in the rec room, so I decide to keep her company and head for the beach a few minutes later. Robyn emerges from her first dip when I arrive. There's no need to test the water; Robyn's exposed left nipple lasciviously announces that it's quite chilly.
I'm not sure if she realizes the surf has tugged at her bikini top, so I gallantly offer my towel... after a short delay for gawking. She smirks up at me demurely. Honi soit qui Malibu.
3) David Bowie and I manhandle his life-size plastic punching doll into the elevator. The next night, NBC's costumers will bolt David into this rigid contraption so he can spin and wobble across the stage on live television, while lip-syncing one of the songs that made him into the icon known as Ziggy Stardust.
For a second, I gaze into Bowie's left eye and notice his famous blown pupil. "Why drag this all the way back to your hotel? The Props department could lock it up for you."
He laughs enigmatically. "Nothing personal, but if it goes missing, I can't just buy another one down at the corner shop."
I giggle. "Good point."
I still look back on this comment as my best shot at the Melonhead Hall of Fame.
Nobody gives us a second glance as we struggle outside to the Plaza. The Thin White Duke and an anonymous melonhead are trying to stuff a six-foot-tall, brightly-colored punching doll into the back seat of a stretch limo, but New Yorkers, true to form, don't even notice this singular tableau. David turns, to say thanks for the help. Polite guy. My brain is churning at light speed, searching for another bon mot.
So I bring out the big guns: "Break a leg!" When David looks puzzled, I rush to explain: "Not now. Tomorrow night." He smiles and thanks me again.
Then his limousine is gone, and I'm left alone to compose my Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
4) Six of us are squeezed into the rented car, driving back from a glorious day at the shore. It's very dark and very late; we all have sand in our sneakers. And salt on our lips. Especially Mindy.
Traffic is light on the Long Island Expressway, and somebody flips through several NYC radio stations, hoping to avoid the musical stylings of Billy Joel. When a few strange electronic notes ooze from the speakers, we all perk up. "Stop! Right there!" At first, the exotic music seems cold and inhuman, as though composed by aliens. But we gradually fall under its spell, almost holding our breaths; nobody is willing to interfere, even slightly, with the unworldly sounds. We sigh when the song finally ends, nearly twenty minutes later. Our short silence is broken by a whisper: "What the hell was that?" The deejay tells us (Tangerine Dream's "Tangram"), and I spend the next ten years looking for a copy.
5) The Grateful Dead begin psyching themselves up to perform 20 minutes before air, and by the time we let the audience take their seats, billowing clouds of marijuana smoke in the entry hall have reduced visibility to five or ten feet at best.
Then the red "On Air" light starts blinking, and through the heavy double doors, I can hear SNL's house band rip into the theme music. Don Pardo's dulcet tones announce the Dead and their guest host. Later, I'll go inside to watch some of the sketches that have survived dress rehearsal, and none of us will miss the two musical performances. But for now, I stand in the empty hallway, sucking up a few lungfuls of second-hand reefer. After an earlier rehearsal, Jerry Garcia gave me one of his plastic guitar picks, and I run a finger along its triangular shape, resting securely in my pocket. This little treasure will look mighty fine, pasted into the ol' scrapbook.
I posted by Alan @ 6/22/2017 05:21:00 PM »
The Last Lesson.
The mountains all around Tehachapi were booming.
It was early spring, and the sun was warming the large rocks and empty hillside fields so hot that the air shimmered. The heat waves rose and merged into columns of heated air. Some of those twisting columns were wasted in dust devils, mini-tornadoes of no particular threat except to scare the cows. But much of the rising air combined into large, swirling circles which were too diffuse to have the destructive energy of a tornado, but their lifting energy was awesome.
The glider pilots called the large circles "thermals," and those air columns were the ticket to a unique soaring experience. If a lightweight aircraft maneuvered into one of the thermals, it signaled the beginning of an elevator ride of perhaps several thousand feet - an acceleration so strong and sudden in its "lift" that the physical experience of flying a glider into a vigorous thermal was much like getting kicked in the seat of the pants.
So, to a pilot familiar with the air conditions, the hills were booming with lift. It was everywhere! The smiles on returning weather-beaten faces were testimony to the fact that it was one of those days when "you can't fall out of the sky!" The current wisdom was that lift existed wherever you looked - just hire a tow plane to haul your gossamer wings to a thousand feet or so, and you could ride all afternoon!
This was good news to me. I had only recently re-entered the sport of soaring after a two-year layoff, and it would be a game of chance for me to keep my rented glider up in the sky. My skills were still rusty, and I knew my rides would certainly be very short without the booming conditions. Hell, my flights might be short in any case...
I had just graduated into a hot German fiberglass glider from the two-place, American Schweizer fabric-covered training glider, much as someone would take tentative hair-raising spins in a sleek, manual-shift Porsche after learning to drive in a beat-up old Ford automatic. I was torn - I longed for the high performance of the German aircraft but I also wanted the easy familiarity of a Schweizer.
My supervising instructor recommended a compromise for my day's flying: I had demonstrated adequate proficiency in the German glider - enough to give him the confidence to let me take out a single-place Schweizer. There was no back seat holding an instructor to correct my errors, but he didn't feel that I would make any dangerous mistakes: "The worst you can do is miss a thermal, embarrass yourself, and glide back down in twenty minutes! But I'd like to see you stay up for an hour or more, if you can."
So I hooked the nose of the Schweizer 1-26 to a two-hundred-foot tow rope, and concentrated on staying behind the tow plane while it turned and climbed its way up to a particularly popular spot over one of the nearest peaks. I was excited to be flying a new aircraft - and it was my first experience of "teaching myself."
Since only one person could fit into this glider, the accepted method of instruction was to first take the prospective single-place pilot out in a two-place sailplane with difficult flight handling characteristics. If everything went well, it was then assumed that the pilot had the ability to teach himself how to fly a more forgiving single-place glider.
On the way up, I was still immersed in the process of getting familiar with the 1-26, and I just barely noticed the dozen or so other gliders circling around the mountain. The all tried to stay in a rising column of air that couldn't be seen - it could only be felt in the momentary rising of a wingtip, or, if they really had it pegged, they would feel that satisfying "kick" in the seat of their pants. I did notice that some of the pilots were doing very well - they flew in the same general area as several hawks. Since hawks are born to soar, by moving from one thermal to another with undetectable adjustments in their seemingly-stationary outstretched wings, if those pilots could fly near the hawks, they were piloting admirably.
Finally, it was time to release from the tow plane, and to test my new acquaintanceship with the 1-26. Would I be able to stay up for more than twenty minutes? I was excited to find out.
Thunk! I watched the once-taut tow rope recoil like a folding accordion, to gracefully trail behind the tow plane, now descending to the left. It was time to get busy, and to make the climbing right turn which insured that I would fly well away from the tow plane's path.
There! I sense a slight nudge on the control stick - it feels like somebody else is trying to take control of the Schweizer, but I know it's just the power of a thermal announcing itself, by pushing up on one of my wingtips. But which one? It's gone now - I pull the 1-26 into a tight, steep circle to search for that elusive nudge. And there it is again! Right away, I get the kick in the seat of my pants that indicates the strongest part of the lift. Whoopee! This is fun! And I gain five hundred feet of altitude during the circle! I've got to keep it up - if I can stay in this thermal, I'll put several thousand feet of altitude in my bank, to squander later when I go looking for other lift.
Abruptly, it disappears - there's a sinking feeling in my seat cushion, and a similar drop in the pit of my stomach. Instructors can teach certain patterns to fly, in order to stay in the concentrated part of a thermal, but when it comes right down to it, you almost have to have a sixth sense to keep your glider in a high-energy thermal for very long. And obviously my lift-seeking sixth sense was not operating very well today. I mentally kicked myself - "I can do better than this... my father taught me to do better than this."
Oh, no. That idea caught me by surprise - I hadn't thought much about my first instructor, my dad, in months. And to be thinking about him now... when I was flying the glider that he so dearly loved to fly while he was alive... it was too much. My eyes filled with tears, and I turned the 1-26 back toward the airport. Well, it wasn't such a bad flight - at least I kept it in the air longer than twenty minutes.
Then I flew into the second thermal, and I distinctly heard my first instructor's voice from the back seat, "Turn left. Hard left." Automatically, my right hand swung the 1-26 into a steep left turn. You don't question your instructor's command - you just do it.
Sure enough, the kick in the seat of my pants tells me we've flown into the liveliest part of a dynamic thermal. Wahoo! According to the instruments, we're going up at the rate of a thousand feet per minute. But it's hard work to keep this one pegged - we're slipping in and out of the strong lift, and it's taking all my concentration to fly an unfamiliar aircraft in this wild, powerful thermal that's quickly becoming a bucking bronco! I hope the instructor in the back won't notice. "C'mon - work it harder," again from the back seat. Damn. He's noticing. I shut out everything except feeling the 1-26, and checking the sky for other gliders. The 1-26 and I merge into one entity - we fuse at the control stick, and we have the flight of our lives.
When I could spare the time to check my watch, I noticed that we had gained five thousand feet in the last six minutes. The thermal was finally topping out and getting easier to fly. I turned back over my shoulder to thank my instructor for the encouragement... and suddenly remembered that I was flying a single-place glider.
I was dumbfounded. I knew someone had helped me - in fact, I remembered recognizing that voice from somewhere...
But it couldn't be... he died two years ago...
When I looked out toward the high right wing, still tilted up in a left turn to stay in the thermal, I saw a hawk eyeing me curiously and hanging in the sky, just a foot or so in front of my wingtip.
He honored me with his company for three full circles.
I posted by Alan @ 6/21/2017 05:21:00 PM »
The Thirty-One Dollar Man.
The wind whipped my face, as I stood there in the drop zone. It wasn't the safest day for a skydiver with a round parachute, like mine. But I decided to jump anyway. Why? Because I'm stupid.
After a twenty-minute ride up to altitude, I climbed outside the airplane, and dangled off the wing strut. It was even windier out there. The plane's 60-mile-per-hour forward speed buffeted my body, but I hung on until my partner was sitting in the doorway. When he nodded and jumped, I let go and arched my back. The spread-eagle position kept me vertical for a few seconds, as my body burned off the forward speed of the airplane. Slowly, I started falling belly-to-earth.
We did a little relative work, or rather, HE did some relative work. I just kept my body in a hard arch, while he flew down to grab my wrists. But he had too much speed, and we began oscillating like a see-saw. First my feet went up towards the sky, then his. We both tried to correct the wild movements, by extending our feet at the appropriate moments. But nothing worked. We were both too new at this. So I pushed him off, and turned around to fly away. After a few seconds, I gave a warning wave and pulled the ripcord.
As my round chute inflated, I saw his ram-air chute unfold, a hundred yards away. He flew a few circles around me, laughing like a maniac: "Why don't you get a decent chute?" I flipped him the bird. He knew I couldn't afford it.
My Army-surplus round parachute had a cutout in the back, for stability and steering. In a normal descent, that cutout gave the canopy a forward speed of about 8 miles per hour. His expensive ram-air canopy, which looked like cross section from a swimming-pool air bed, could generate forward speeds from 0 up to 30 mph.
So I lined up my chute to face into the 25 mph wind. Subtracting the canopy's 8 mph forward speed, I was now scooting along at 17 mph. Backwards.
Plus, my standard rate of vertical descent was already 13 mph, given the design of my particular chute and my normal body weight. I suddenly regretted eating that sixth slice of pizza the previous night.
As I got closer to the ground, I realized that I was headed straight for a barbed-wire fence. So I turned the canopy around. Now I was whizzing along at wind speed PLUS canopy speed, instead of wind speed MINUS canopy speed. 33 mph, instead of 17 mph. And that was just the horizontal component. I was also dropping out of the sky vertically at my standard 13 mph. I thought, "This can't end well."
My brain kicked into overdrive, trying to compute the combined vertical/horizontal velocity. But as the ground rush intensified, the math got harder and harder to do. After the barbed-wire fence zoomed past underneath me, I instinctively turned the canopy around, to head into the wind again. The canopy dug in, and my body swung wide underneath it, much like a pendulum. The resulting forward swing of the pendulum canceled out the backward push of the wind, and I landed with very little horizontal speed at all. Easy squeezy.
My partner applauded, from 200 feet above: "Nice hook!" His chute was effortlessly holding steady against the wind, and he was coming down almost vertically. It was quite the contrast to my white-knuckle landing.
After repacking the chute, I decided to go again. Stupidity squared. This time, I chose to swan dive out the airplane door by myself. I had had enough of my partner's see-saw routine. So I practiced my free-fall spins: tilt both hands to the right, recover, tilt to the left, recover. Then somersaults: straighten my legs, tuck my hands and head, recover. Then rolls: reach to the side with one arm and one leg, recover. Easy squeezy.
Pop the ripcord, line up into the wind, no problem. But as I got closer to the ground, I noticed the wind speed had increased, during my ride up to altitude. The velocity situation was looking ugly. No fancy "hook" maneuvers were going to save me this time. At 100 feet above the ground, I went zipping past some horrified onlookers. I yelled "HELP!" Groundrushgroundrushohcrapohcrap. Darkness.
They tell me that I was about 20 feet above the ground when a sudden gust of wind blew my chute backwards. My body, of course, responded less dramatically to the wind gust, so a slightly different pendulum effect was created this time. Have you ever wanted to climb to the top of a double-decker bus careening through the streets of London at 40 or 50 mph, and jump off? Facing backwards?
Long story short: I was smashed into the ground by this pendulum. Then my unconscious body was dragged 200 feet by my still-inflated parachute. Luckily, a nice woman had sprinted to my aid, when I yelled "HELP!" Somehow, she caught the runaway chute and deflated it. She waited for me to regain consciousness, then asked, "What hurts?" She drove me to the local hospital and waited while my elbow was X-rayed. She commiserated with me, when the doctor said the anesthesiologists were on strike, and I couldn't get the operation I needed. She drove me back to my car, after the doctor packed my shattered left arm into a temporary plaster cast. Then she waited patiently while I tried to figure out if I could drive my stick-shift car 50 miles back home, across the San Francisco Bay. I vowed to return her kindness, somehow.
The trip turned into a blur of pain, so I stopped at a liquor store for a fifth of tequila. The bottle was nearly empty when I arrived home. It helped quiet the screaming elbow, but it only intensified the agony of the concussion.
Over the next few days, I found out that my elbow needed an immediate operation, or it would end up f*cked. I'm pretty sure that was the medical term they used: f*cked.
And since the anesthesiologists were on strike, the only place that could operate on me was the teaching hospital at the University of California, San Francisco. They had "baby" anesthesiologists: anesthesiologists in training. They also had "baby" surgeons. My baby surgeon told me that he had never done this operation before, but not to worry, because the surgery would be supervised by his teacher, a "real" surgeon. I wasn't mollified, but what could I do? If I didn't let him operate, my elbow would end up f*cked. Medically f*cked.
After the surgery, he told me an interesting story: when they handed him the 6-inch Leibniz screw that was supposed to knit my shattered elbow back together, it was twisted. So he sent it back to the supply room, and asked for another. When the second screw arrived, it was also twisted. That's when his supervising surgeon picked up the screw and bent it back and forth. It turns out that Leibniz screws are designed to have great strength in the long direction, while offering great flexibility in the side-to-side direction. Since the outside forearm bone, the ulna, is slightly curved, the screw needs to curve with it. When the baby surgeon finished telling this story, he laughed. He thought it was funny as hell. Me? Not so much.
So I went home to heal. After several weeks, the baby surgeon took off my plaster cast. I was shocked at how much my arm had shrunken. He said I would probably regain only 75% of the full range of motion. But Macho Stupido hopped on his motorcycle, and started riding. After a month, the arm looked and moved normally.
A few months later, I mustered some courage and drove back out to the drop zone. I found the nice woman who had been so kind to me on the day my arm was broken, and I offered to buy her a couple of jumps. She seemed genuinely touched, and invited me to come along with her and her boyfriend. They knew a lot more about relative work than my old partner. When they flew down to grab my wrists, there was no see-saw oscillation. And right there, at 6,000 feet and terminal velocity (120 mph), the nice woman kissed me. It was my first kiss in free fall.
Even to this day, if you place your palm on my left elbow, you will feel an icy-cold spot. And I still have the itemized hospital bill that lists $31.00 for a Leibniz screw.
I posted by Alan @ 6/20/2017 05:21:00 PM »
The photo below is from 1989, and shows the Bro and me after a day of diving in the Keys. The bar was in Islamorada, I think. From what I can recall, the snapshot's fuzzy focus was pretty well matched by the fuzzy focus in my brain.
We had just finished a wreck dive, and by the time we found the bar, I was feeling the effects of too much sun and too little beer.
So we started making energetic progress on the beer front. As the evening ripened, we noticed other scuba divers at the tables around us. They were doing what divers do best: telling tall tales to the waitresses and hoping to get lucky. We overheard some outrageous lies, passed off as authentic dive adventures. So we began to parody their macho conversations, making up exaggerated stories of our own:
"A 10-foot barracuda tried to turn my arm into a snack, but I ripped out his jaw and made it into a lamp."
"Did I tell you about the time I killed a 20-foot moray eel with my bare teeth? Chewed him up and spit him out. Tasted like chicken."
"That's nothing. When a 30-foot great white bit off my leg, I used my air hose as a tourniquet and chased the sucker. After I retrieved the leg, it was sewed back on by a Key West hooker."
Several beers later, the stories became much more interesting. Wish I could remember them.
I posted by Alan @ 6/19/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Five days a week, I show my identification badge to Achmed, our building's lead security guard. He always peers at it for a very long time. Achmed takes his job quite seriously. He knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he's our last line of defense against terrorist bombers. When I walk down the hall to my bank of elevators, I can feel Achmed's mistrustful eyes following me.
Then--DING!--I step inside the first door that opens, and tap my knuckle against 41.
Achmed is a short, strutting man who originally came from Pakistan. He used to wear a toupee. Some toupees look reasonably okay, but not Achmed's.
I usually walk past Achmed a couple of times each day, because I need to escape from my workplace. That 41st-floor bullpen can become quite the pressure cooker. Plus, our building's plaza contains a lovely garden, with flowers, waterfalls, trees, fountains, and a stabile by Alexander Calder. You can see this sculpture in Pretty Woman, right outside Jason Alexander's office building. It looks like a giant orange spider.
Achmed observes my daily comings and goings with great suspicion.
The lobby of our building contains a rack, offering free newspapers. These publications are composed mainly of advertisements, and nobody ever reads them.
About a year ago, one of these newspapers decided to do a piece on my wildly unsuccessful attempts to moonlight as an author. They dispatched a photographer, who took many pictures of me in front of the orange spider.
Achmed's skeptical nose was pressed up against the glass, looking out from inside his lobby. Terrorists have been known to hide bombs in camera-like contraptions.
After months of nervous waiting, the article and photo were finally published. I collected thirteen copies of the newspaper, in a pathetically misguided effort to impress friends, family and co-workers.
Achmed collected one copy. He was supposedly in the middle of writing a book, and wanted to better understand the promotional process.
When that article appeared, Achmed stopped wearing his toupee and became my best friend.
Achmed now enjoys discussing story arcs and character development, but I've never believed his book actually existed. Yesterday, however, he proudly showed me a brand new three-ring binder, containing four hundred pages of single-spaced typing. His first page recounted, in mind-numbing prose, the hopeless boredom of a typical security guard's day.
The narrative went downhill from there.
I never thought I would be able to say something like this, but Achmed's book is even worse than mine.
And now he wants me to convince the newspaper to take HIS photo.
I posted by Alan @ 6/18/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Cone of Concussion.
The ten minutes before showtime were surreal: seven of us stood between the double line of mortar tubes, lost in our own thoughts, trying not to stare at each other. Everyone was decked out in safety goggles, blast helmets and flame-retardant Nomex. After sweating all day in the hot sun, we had finally erected a fearsome arsenal of rack-mounted guns, designed to hurl fireworks shells hundreds of feet into the sky. Our audience members were safely ensconced two football fields away, sitting more-or-less comfortably in wooden bleachers and listening to a group of Beach Boys imitators. But we were locked inside a no-man's-land behind two separate sets of chain-link fence, patrolled by a squad of police and firefighters.
For me, this was a dream come true. I was finally getting a chance to step up to the big time of professional pyrotechnics, from the sparklers, roman candles and cherry bombs of my youth.
For Anikó, it was something else entirely, and I was still not sure I completely understood why my new Hungarian wife was standing there between the racks, gazing off into space through her industrial safety glasses. Many years ago, a pressure cooker exploded in Anikó's kitchen, and she was nearly killed by the detonation. After spending several weeks in the hospital, her arms were still scarred... a testament to her reflex for protecting the eyes from such a powerful blast. However, her instinctive efforts had not been completely successful, and for several days the doctors were unable to determine if she would ever see again. Today, more than a decade later, she still cannot bear the pain of going outdoors--even in cloudy weather--unless her eyes are protected by dark glasses.
Suddenly, that surfing music stopped, and the distant crowd began a countdown. Our lead operator lit his road flare, preparing to send up the opening barrage of product. His spotter stood close behind, lightly resting a hand on his shoulder. The first 3-inch shells were almost deafening, even though we all wore earplugs. I glanced skyward distractedly and thought, "Wow. I've never seen these babies explode directly overhead."
To gear up for tonight's performance, we had watched several homemade videos of previous years' shows. The process of hand-lighting fireworks looks fairly innocuous on tape, but the cameraman had been restricted to a safe distance, so we were completely unprepared for the enormous amounts of flaming debris which now rained down on our lead operator and his spotter. When engaged in the disorienting task of shooting up aerial bombs, the spotter's job is crucial: he brushes you (and himself) off after each shell, and reminds you, by pushing down on your shoulder, to stay below the cone of concussion, which can easily knock you flat onto the ground.
Okay, the first three racks of 3-inchers and 4-inchers were spent, and our lead operator passed the flare to his spotter, like a flaming baton. Anikó raced over to take her place as the new spotter, and she was forced to brush off embers even more energetically, as the first 5-inchers went up. Things became pretty darn loud for a while, but by the time Anikó received the baton, some smaller 3-inch guns were next in the firing line. During our runthrough, she had asked me to be her spotter, just in case those old memories of the pressure cooker proved to be too overwhelming. So I gently placed my hand on her shoulder, ready to accept the baton at the first sign of skittishness.
After her first shell "whumped" out of its gun and the hot wave of backwash hit our faces, I could feel a bit of shaking through her Nomex jacket, so I quickly brushed the embers off both of us and squeezed her shoulder encouragingly. To my surprise, she stepped right back in and lit the second round. What a trouper. By the time we reached the end of the rack, eight shells later, she seemed almost at home in this living hell of thunderous explosions and burning rain.
But when I looked over my shoulder at the next rack, three huge mortar barrels stared back at me. 6-inchers. Holy cow. Anikó was unknowingly scheduled to ignite half of our team's largest shells.
She obviously hadn't planned on this, and I could see the fear behind her safety goggles as she glanced at me. I patted her shoulder, and prepared to take the baton. But then she stepped right back in, to light the next quickmatch. When that huge shell went up, its heavily-braced wooden rack jumped clean off the ground. I was busier than ever, brushing away a veritable blizzard of flaming embers. One of them burned through my sneaker and seared the back of my foot, but I was too busy watching Anikó. She looked around, hesitated... and then stepped in again. Nothing was gonna stop this lady now.
Later, she was given the honor of lighting off our set piece - an American flag in the form of fireworks. Piece of cake.
During the drive home, I asked why she had agreed to participate. After all, I was the crazy guy who wanted to fulfill his childhood dream of 'blowing things up,' while she was just a nervous woman who often jumped at the distant backfire of a car.
She replied simply, "A wife should share her husband's experiences, no?"
I posted by Alan @ 6/17/2017 05:21:00 PM »
"Sziasztok" is one of the few words I know in Magyar. When my wife's twentysomething children visited us from Budapest last summer, they often used this group greeting, roughly equivalent to "Howdy, y'all!"
Anita and Jenő desperately wanted to see Las Vegas, even though August at our home in L.A. was pretty darn hot. The Nevada deserts, of course, were even warmer: Hoover Dam's outdoor thermometer registered 136°F in the shade. My stepkids loved the inhuman heat and their mom, Anikó, ate it up with a spoon. I was usually dazed by the scorching weather, but I'm pretty sure I referred to all of them as "crazy Hungarians" more than once.
This summer, after my lovely bride suggested a trip to Death Valley, I began to detect a pattern. Much like swallows returning to Capistrano, Hungarians seem to have an inbred need to experience blistering heat at certain times of the year. When I hinted this might be the early warning sign of a severe genetic flaw, Anikó simply packed more beers into the cooler.
Lone Pine was our staging area. In the shadow of 14,491-foot Mt. Whitney (highest spot in the continental U.S.), we sipped our brewskis at sunset and watched four separate storms, each hurling thunderbolts and torrential rain onto the trackless waste just south of us. I shuddered while recalling some of the place names on our map: Desolation Canyon, Funeral Mountain, Devil's Cornfield, Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek. I was convinced we were heading into the maw of hell.
Much to my surprise, we survived the first day. In fact, we enjoyed a late-afternoon beer at the Forty Niner Cafe, a funky bistro in the middle of nowhere. They served up ice-cold Mojave Red, a tasty brew created by the same folks who make Sidewinder Missile Ale and Lobotomy Bock.
But during our sundown trek in the superheated air to nearby Zabriskie Point, it seemed strange that the other tourists used only foreign languages while gasping for breath. We heard no words in English, not even discouraging ones. I seriously considered revising my Hungarian Heat-Gene Theory to include several other nationalities.
The ground temperature never cooled down that night, so our shoes still stuck to the pavement the next morning, when we emerged from the car after a couple hours of driving. "Badwater," I read aloud from our guidebook. "At 282 feet below sea level, this salt flat is the lowest point in the western hemisphere." Despite the sheer cliff next to the road, there was no echo. The shimmering heat had sucked the words right out of my mouth.
We walked down the ramp in front of our car, onto a small wharf with ropes and posts, which steered visitors over to a solid part of the salty white ground. Anikó and I squinted at each other, feeling like explorers on the first expedition to a distant planet. We hadn't seen another soul on the road for nearly an hour, and the nearest stop was Dante's View, one mile straight up. But then, just as we started back to the ramp, another car pulled into the tiny parking lot. A young couple got out, and the guy glanced at our rear bumper, with its two oval country stickers: "USA" and "H." When we passed him, he greeted us with a casual "Sziasztok."
Of COURSE he was Hungarian. It made perfect sense to me. And I still believe this bizarre heat-seeking behavior involves some sort of genetic imperative.
I posted by Alan @ 6/16/2017 05:21:00 PM »
For me, the best part of exploring a new language is learning the taboo words, the words that carry an unnatural amount of power... the dirty words. It's fun to chat with a group of foreigners and drop a carefully-timed expletive into the conversation. They all look at you like you're a... well... a foreigner, and marvel at the fact that even though you don't know how to say "sorry" or "excuse me" in their language, you DO know how to say "motherf*cking c*cks*cker" with exquisite pronunciation and perfect inflection. Most of the time, they will laugh. But even if they don't, it's okay. Nobody wants to hang around a bunch of prudes, anyway. So acquiring a healthy vocabulary of swear words has always proved to be a very useful exercise, even if it just filtered out the tight*sses. When I married Anikó 17 years ago, one of the first things I asked her to teach me was how to curse in Hungarian.
In 2006, Palm Springs Life magazine sent me to cover a tennis tournament at a large stadium near our office. According to the program, one of the competitors was from Romania. However, I was almost sure that he was mumbling to himself in Hungarian. I imagined that he came from a long line of proud Székely warriors, who had suffered under Romanian oppression for nearly a century. As the match wore on, and his performance started going from bad to worse, he shouted a single filthy word in Hungarian. It was unmistakable. When I heard it, I let out an involuntary laugh. Judging from the silence all around me, I was the only spectator in the 16,000-seat stadium who understood what he was saying. After the next point--which he lost--there was another Hungarian profanity. I laughed at that one, too. He smiled up at me. But the match was turning into a disaster for him, and he started yelling many different, colorful phrases. I marveled at his creativity, and laughed every time. The referee couldn't understand the words, so he didn't stop the guy. But the crowd began to catch on, and every time I laughed, they laughed, too. At the end of the match, the player walked over to my part of the stands, and held out his hand. I walked down to shake it, and to offer my condolences. He said the loss was not as painful as it might have been, because he had enjoyed expressing himself freely, so far from home, in front of a guy who clearly understood his frustration.
I posted by Alan @ 6/15/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Texting 4 Godot.
(the shortest play ever written by Alan C. Baird)
Nothing to be done. (Gaping at his iPhone.) It's him!
At last! What does he say?
I posted by Alan @ 6/14/2017 05:21:00 PM »
Donald Trump = Vlad the Impaler?
Was Vlad the Impaler the Donald Trump of his era? Some observers have noticed the uncanny similarities between these two men. In the following excerpts from the eBook linked below, you may compare and contrast the two leaders in three areas: Healthcare/Homelessness, Foreign Emissaries, and Women's Issues. [Warning: violent.]
>>Healthcare/Homelessness. We all know that Trump is firmly committed to strengthening the safety net that protects the most vulnerable members of our society. And Vlad had that same level of commitment.
EXT. TÎRGOVISTE DINING HALL - NIGHT
Vlad stops outside the hall and confers with DRAGOMIR, the Captain of his guards:
VLAD: You have gathered together all the cripples, the poor, the sick, the vagrants and beggars of this land?
DRAGOMIR: Yes, Voivode. They're quite a smelly crowd, but they seem to be having a good time. It's lasted all day, and half the night.
Vlad nods, and walks inside the hall. Hundreds of wretched PEOPLE are enjoying a sumptuous feast. They stuff themselves with huge plates of food, and drink jugs of wine until they can drink no more. Things are getting pretty ROWDY, but everyone quiets down at the sight of Vlad.
VLAD: No one should go hungry in my land! What else do you need? Do you all want to be without cares... would you like to be poor no more?
VLAD: Then it shall be done!
He walks out and addresses his Captain:
VLAD: Dragomir, all my subjects should work, and contribute to the common welfare. Let's make sure these parasites will present no further burden to others.
Dragomir nods, and signals to his MEN. They NAIL planks over the doors and windows, and set fire to the hall.
VLAD (continuing): Remember: no survivors.
Dragomir salutes, as Vlad walks away. The people inside the burning building begin to SCREAM.
>>Foreign Emissaries. In Trump's international interactions, he represents America in a mature and dignified manner. Vlad's dignity was also unparalleled.
INT. TÎRGOVISTE COURT - EVENING
GURAY and FARUK, two Turkish ambassadors, are the guests of honor at Vlad's court. The celebration banquet has attracted a huge CROWD of the Boyar noble class. VLAD beckons ONE OF HIS COURTIERS, and the two men step out into a hallway.
VLAD: Why are the Turks still wearing those stupid turbans? Weren't they told they're required to remove their head coverings in the presence of the Voivode?
COURTIER: Yes, sir. But they *did* bow in front of you. They say they're not allowed to remove the turbans. This is their custom.
VLAD: Is that so?
COURTIER: They say they never remove them, even for the Sultan.
VLAD: Is that so?
COURTIER: Yes, they wear those turbans *all* the time.
VLAD: Is that so?! Hm.
Vlad WHISPERS to the courtier, who immediately runs down the hallway. Vlad returns inside to the banquet, smiles and lifts his wine glass to Faruk and Guray. The Boyars also lift their glasses.
VLAD: To the Sultan's ambassadors!
BOYARS: To the Sultan's ambassadors!
VLAD: I understand it is your custom to wear those turbans all the time.
Guray looks quizzically at Faruk, then shrugs.
GURAY: That's true, Voivode.
VLAD: Well then, I want to help make sure they'll never fall off by accident.
Vlad's GUARDS move in behind the ambassadors and hold them still, while the turbans are NAILED to their heads.
>>Women's Issues. Donald Trump obviously holds women in the highest esteem. Vlad also treated women with the utmost respect.
INT. TÎRGOVISTE PALACE - DAY
Many PEOPLE move in and out of this large hall, where Vlad sits on his throne. One MAN kneels in front of him.
VLAD: Okay, you'll be sitting on a stake later this afternoon. Next!
The man is dragged away, pleading and CRYING. Dragomir hauls a WOMAN in front of Vlad, and forces her to kneel.
VLAD (continuing): Dragomir, I'm getting bored. This one had better be good.
DRAGOMIR: Voivode, she was unfaithful to her husband.
VLAD: Infidelity, eh? We haven't seen a case like this all week. (pause) Let's see, let's see. How can we discipline her?
WOMAN: But sir, I am innocent!
VLAD: Innocent? Innocent?!
Vlad and Dragomir share a hearty LAUGH.
VLAD: A wife is just a whore who's waiting for the right opportunity.
VLAD: No more buts. You've wrapped your legs around too many butts already. Dragomir, did I ever tell you about peeling the skin off the bottom of that thief's foot?
DRAGOMIR: How could I forget?!
VLAD: Yes, it was a classic, wasn't it? But I've always had nagging doubts about that punishment.
DRAGOMIR: Doubts, sir?
VLAD: Lately I've been wondering if we should've taken it further.
EXT. STREET NEAR THE PALACE - 1 HOUR LATER
A CROWD has gathered, and they're all staring up at the unfaithful woman, who is, of course, SCREAMING. Vlad and Dragomir stand in the crowd's front row.
VLAD (continuing): She wanted to spend time with men other than her husband, and she wanted to get naked in front of them. So who am I to deny her wishes?
The Woman is tied to a tall post. Her skin has been removed, and it's nailed to the post above her, flapping in the wind.
Many will assume this is just another retelling of the "Dracula" horror myth... but Vlad's story is true. Hitler's Holocaust killed approximately 10% of Germany's people, while some estimates claim that Vlad exterminated more than 20% of his fellow Wallachians. A gruesome genre-bender with perverse humor, based on 15th-century history. Warning: graphic transgressive violence.
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