Monday, January 31, 2011

Not Afraid to Mix it Up

Denny Hamlin had a great Twitter post today: "after last nights Pro Bowl i think its safe to say we have the best "all-star" event in sports.. Put a trophy in front of us.. We go get it!" If there is one generalization you can make about race car drivers that may actually hold water is that they are super competitive. I remember sometime back in the 90s they had a seniors race on the infield short track at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the guys were told to not worry about the cars and they turned it into a demolition derby. I also remember at some point (I wish I could remember when it was exactly) there was charity race on unmodified lawn tractors and it got out of hand with the beatin' and the bangin'. You can say what you want about the current batch of drivers out there but if you put Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart two equal lawn tractors and laid out a course in your backyard and told them the winner got a trophy handmade by your daughter you can bet each of those tractors will be unfit for duty when they got done.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My first job

I got my first job during football season of my junior year in high school in 1984. The reason I decided to look for a job was for the simplest and most obvious of reasons, I needed spending money. One afternoon after football practice Joe Miller and I went to that restaurant at the intersection north of Cedar, MI. It’s now a family style restaurant where you can get a pretty good breakfast. At least it was this last winter. I hope it’s still in business. In the fall of 1984 it was a restaurant that I never went to other than to use its game room. I remember playing the Red Baron arcade game. I remember thinking those vector graphics were the fershizzle. On this afternoon all my friends were pouring quarters into arcade games. This was one of the first times I had been out with the guys in a social situation and I didn’t have a dime on me. I had to stand there like a schmuck and watch everyone else play these games. It really ate at me. That night when I got home I complained to my Mom about not having any spending money. I think she essentially said, “Get a job.” Mom was always practical.

Where to get a job in rural Northern Michigan? Here’s an aerial shot of my neighborhood. We were located 1.6 miles from the middle of Maple City and 3.2 miles from Cedar. I just really had no idea where to even begin looking for a job. I didn’t know how the real world worked. Which, frankly, has been a problem with me for my whole life. My head is usually in the clouds. The closest I’d come to having a real job was tarp pulling in a cherry orchard that summer with Kevin, Tom and Pat. Tarp pulling is whole story itself. I do remember they paid us around $5 an hour to pull that tarp. That was good money when you’re 16 in 1984 when minimum wage was $3.80 an hour. The summer before that I picked strawberries for a day in a field south of Cedar. My output was so bad they asked me not to come back. I had no problem honoring that request. At some point Kevin Draper had attempted to get me hired as his replacement at the grocery store in Maple City. They let me work for free for a day and told me not to come back. I don’t know if it was called Gabe’s back then. If it’s still owned by the same people they still owe me $50 bucks if you adjust for inflation. Really, who takes advantage of a kid like that? Go ahead and let him think he’s training for a job and when he’s done tell him not to come back and not even pay him for the work? So it goes.

Like my first step into library work back in 1993 the impetus for finally applying for a job at the local ski resort, Sugar Loaf, was my Mother’s idea. I don’t remember too many details of the process. I do remember putting on my best clothes and going to the interview and feeling really grown up. I also remember fretting afterwards for a day or so, wondering whether would get a job. Mom gave me another suggestion. She said that employers appreciated applicants that called them back after a couple of days. She claimed it showed them that you really wanted to work. The next day I followed her suggestion and I was offered a job in the housekeeping department as a houseman.

The position of houseman was not a bad gig at Sugar Loaf. You spent a lot of your time picking up and delivering sheets, towels and washcloths to the maids. When you worked evenings you first emptied the trashcans in the administrative offices and spent the rest of the evening mostly roamed the building picking trash up off the floor, delivering rollaways and extra towels to guests in their rooms, helping the maintenance guy carry stuff or hold the flashlight while he worked and cleaning up the occasional spill. Once I had to clean up vomit. Once in three years isn’t bad. Essentially, if something needed moved or lifted and it was pretty heavy they called one of the three houseman.

I spent a lot of time working the night shift in the winter. I played football in the fall and baseball in the spring and for a couple of winters I spent my time after school roaming the lodge at Sugar Loaf and doing whatever needed to be done. When there was nothing pending I would just mosey. I’d visit the game room in the ski lounge and then do my rounds and come back to the lounge. There were always guys from school hanging out. I remember Anthony Hayes, Scott Scanlon and Alan Popa killing a lot of time at Sugar Loaf. I think it was Anthony who figured out if you kicked the Dig Dug machine just right with your ski boot you could get a free credit for each kick. Alan spent a lot of time playing Dig Dug. Dennis Fleis would be there also, spending hours playing Donkey Kong. He had mad Donkey King skills.

Except for the working at The Cove restaurant during the summer between my junior and senior years I kept that job until I left for bootcamp in August of 1986. Working at The Cove is a whole ‘nother story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Few Recent Photographs

Sunset last night. I love playing with the tripod
IMG_8983

The Moon last night during sunset
IMG_8965

Early morning shot of a building in the Southpark area on Saturday morning
Glassy Glass Building in Southpark

Ice covered tree branches
IMG_8929

Commuters at the train station
Train Station

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nerd Time

Because the whole world was playing it I rented Call of Duty: Black Ops from the Red Box at my local Harris Teeter. After a couple of days of playing the multiplayer I was hooked and went ahead and bought the game. One of my favorite features, and one of things I loved about Halo 3, is the theater mode. You can view the last 100 games you played and you can create short video clips and share them online. I uploaded this video Wednesday evening and it finally showed up today in my Youtube account. The feature that allows you to post your video clips on the web is still in beta testing to I'm no complaining. I do hope they speed this up soon because uploading videos from your 360 is a pretty cool feature. This is a video of a long distance shot with a grenade launcher in the Gun Game. What you will see is the same shot from a few different angles. Fun times.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Mona Lisa at the Louvre (Flickr Finds)

It looks like it's behind about six feet of transparent aluminum
Musée du Louvre // Mona Lisa

It's popular with tourists
Paris, bisou

If you're short you're hosed
Louvre - Mona Lisa

Everyone in the world now has a digital camera
Mona Lisa, Louvre Paris

If you can't get close enough to enjoy the painting you might as well make your own art
Mona Lisa in The Louvre - Paris

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gettin' Gangled

Not many people can say the were chewed out by someone who would eventually appear on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I was. This would have happened in 1989.

After my two years in Okinawa I spent a year and half with the First Marine Division on a small infantry base called Camp Margarita. Camp Margarita was part of the large base called Camp Pendleton. Margarita was wedged between some hills at the base of a mountain. It was small base and afforded you some good views of the area. I was in the battalion known as 2/9. Which is supposed to mean 2nd battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment. For some reason we were in the 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. None of us ever knew why 2/9 was in the 5th Marines and not the 9th Marines. A regiment usually has three battalions and each battalion has three infantry companies and a headquarters company and a platoon of lunatics known as STA (scouts and snipers). I think I'm right about those numbers. If I'm off it's not by much. There was a rumor that the 9th Marines was disbanded due to improper behavior during Vietnam. That appears to be as true as most rumors. We did feel like the bastard battalion of the regiment and liked to complain that we got the shit duties. It’s nice to have a good reason to complain. I mean, Marines are going to bitch and moan anyway but some extra incentive never hurt. I was in the Communications platoon of the Headquarters and Support Company for the battalion. I remember initially being nervous about serving with an infantry unit but I found out if you are going to be a radioman the best way not to be bored out of your skull is to work with the grunts. At least with them you’ll be doing your job rather than sitting in a warehouse cleaning radios over and over which is what I mainly did in Okinawa.

At some point Colonel Randy Gangle became our regimental commander and immediately developed a reputation in the ranks as being...well...a little crazy. He was known to keep an eye out for any little slip in proper military courtesy towards his rank and would chew anyone out in front of anyone. I think most of the offenses were such terrible infractions as forgetting to address the colonel as “sir” or neglecting to salute him when you passed him while he was walking or driving. Yes, we had to salute officers as they drove by if you were walking along the road. An officer has a blue border at the bottom of the windshield decal each car has if you want to park that vehicle on the base. When the colonel was driven around in his official car the front license plate had his insignia on it. If you saw a white car coming at you with an eagle on the front plate you better salute it.

Gangle was a full bird colonel and he could dress down anyone anywhere if he wished. He did it so much that getting caught and getting yelled at by the Colonel was known as “Getting Gangled.” It was getting so bad that our First Sergeant, during a morning formation, told us if we ever got caught by Colonel Gangle we should notify him immediately because he didn’t like surprises. What would happen if someone pissed the colonel off is that first he would get publicly reamed by the Colonel and then Colonel would go back to his office and yell at the regimental Sergeant Major (the regimental Sergeant Major would be the senior enlisted man in the regiment. He’s the Ed McMahon to the Colonel’s Johnny Carson). The Sergeant Major would then call the First Sergeant of whichever company the recently reamed Marine belonged to and yell at him. Our First Sergeant didn’t like getting yelled at by the Sergeant Major. He told us if we got in trouble to call him immediately so he could warn the Sergeant Major and the Sergeant Major could then tell the Colonel everything was taken care of before the Colonel could work over the Sergeant Major. He made it very clear that if one of us pissed off the Colonel and the first he heard of it was from an angry phone call from the Sergeant Major then "your ass is grass and I'm a lawnmower." The old saying that “shit rolls down hill” was never more true than in the USMC.

So, one day I’m walking from the communications shop down to the motor pool. I don’t remember why. As I’m walking I’m deep in thought or just looking around at the beautiful California day and not really paying attention to what is going on around me. A car is approaching me and I look up right as it is going by. The car has an eagle on the front plate. I don’t see the car in time to salute. A car going the other way stops I see a sergeant I don’t know roll down his window and say, “Looks like he got you.” I look behind me and see that the white car has stopped also and a figure is scrambling out the back seat. Once he gets out I see Colonel Gangle and he yells, “C’mere, Marine!!” The sergeant who stopped chuckled and drove off. I’m still annoyed with the bastard sergeant that stopped just to watch the show. What a dick.

I trot down and place myself at attention right in front of the frothing Colonel. I really don’t remember anything he said. I was too terrified. Colonels and Privates never interact and to be screamed at by one on the side of the road is too much for a young enlisted man’s brain to process. I wish I could remember what he said because I remember thinking at one point that he was really good at it. He just yelled at me for a couple of minutes and I said, “Yes sir!” several times. He asked what company I was from, I told him and he got back into his staff car and moved on. I stood there stunned for a few a seconds and continued walking to the motor pool.

When I arrived at the motor pool I saw the Gunnery Sergeant who was in charge and I knew him pretty well and he was a good guy so I told him right away that the Colonel had got me.

He said, “Have you called the First Sergeant yet?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Go in my office and call him right now.”

I went in his office and dialed the First Sergeant. When he answered I said, “First Sergeant, this is PFC McDonald from Communications.”

“What’d you do?” he asked. Because, why else would I call the First Sergeant other than to tell him how I had screwed up in some way?

“The Colonel went by me in his car and I didn’t salute him.”

“You got any ass left?”

He caught me off guard, “Huh?” I said.

“I’m sure you ain’t no ass left after the Colonel got through with you.”

“Oh, yes, First Sergeant.”

“OK then. Bye.”

“Bye, First Sergeant.”

After I hung up I thanked the Gunny and went on with my day. I never heard anything back from the First Sergeant about the incident. That Gunny from the motor pool really saved my hide.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Bigot Downtown

I don’t like the fact that one of the county commissioners of Mecklenburgy County is an unabashed bigot who hides his bigotry behind bible quotations (as he did in a recent posting to the comments on a story about him on the Charlotte Observer’s website). He ran unopposed and was elected by his district and whatever bigotry he posts on his personal website is his choice. Freedom of Speech means I have to sit back while a lot of things that are wrong and misleading are portrayed as truth (Fox News). Fine and dandy. This is America and bigoted assholes are part of the deal. But! But! When one of my representatives publishes bigoted and false claims while attaching the great and historic seal of Mecklenburg County to it then we have a problem. You don’t do that. I don’t use my work email to further my political agenda. I don’t use my position as a librarian to force my political beliefs on anyone else. If you come into the library and want to waste your time reading Sarah Palin’s fake autobiography I’ll do everything I can to get a copy into your hands. Shoot, I don’t even try to steer people towards books I think they should read unless they tell me specifically to recommend something I liked. If you like detective romances with half elf vampires I won’t try to force you to read Isaac Asimov.

Bill James is going to be on the agenda for tonight’s county board of commissioners meeting. They should censure him but nothing of any substance will happen. He’ll continue spreading his hate until the people of his district finally decide to vote him out or when the Democratic Party actually tries to defeat him. One thing I do take hope from is a belief I have had for a while which was reiterated by John Grooms in his current column in the local magazine Creative Loafing. Attitudes like James’ are on the way out. He’s already a minority and hopefully in my lifetime folks like him will no longer be considered viable candidates for public office.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The First Sergeant and the Shitbag

I hadn’t been on Okinawa for too long when the First Sergeant of our communications company dressed down a Marine in front of the whole company during morning formation. This was winter of 1987 and I was stationed at Camp Kinser. Many of the buildings shown on the base's official page were not there in 1987.

I guess you might need some background about Marine life. Everyday, after we woke up, we would go to the chow hall and eat breakfast or go for a morning run and then eat breakfast. After “morning chow” we would report to the company compound for our 8 hour day of work. The first part of that day would be the morning formation. We would gather in our platoons and the platoon sergeant would do a roll call. After than each platoon sergeant would, in turn, report aloud to the company First Sergeant that each member of their platoon was accounted for. Then the First Sergeant would relate any pertinent information to us and then release the platoons to their platoon sergeants who would then relate any information related to each platoon. The First Sergeant was the liaison between the enlisted Marines in a company and the officers in command. If you ever did something stupid that could possibly attract the attention of the company commanding officer it was nice to have a good First Sergeant. A capable First Sergeant could make life in the barracks endurable. this particular First Sergeant was a Gunnery Sergeant. Most of my First Sergeants over my time in the Marines were Gunnery Sergeants.

Our company was part of the 3rd FSSG. This unit is now called the 3rd Marine Logistics Group. From what I understood we provided support for the Marine combat division stationed on Okinawa. I never fully knew what that meant because I spent 90% of my work time in Okinawa cleaning and testing radios. The only time I ever really did my job, which was radio operator, was the few times I set up a safety radio link for weapon firings. Since no one ever blew themselves up while I was on duty that job consisted of hourly radio checks. Fun stuff. I did get to shoot a .50 caliber machine gun and an automatic grenade launcher on two separate shoots so it wasn’t a total loss.

This Marine was embarrassed in front of God and everybody because he had the expensive habit of writing bad checks. If I remember correctly he had written over $1500 in bad checks. This was a lot of money in 1987 when a Private First Class probably made around $700 a month. It’s odd to think it was a problem now but before ATM cards servicemen writing bad checks was a real problem, not just on Okinawa but at military stores everywhere. Before the ATM in order to get some cash for spending money you had to write a check at the PX. Every Friday I would go to the PX and write a check to cash for around $50 and that would get me through my weekend. I never bounced a check but I was a regular check floater. Since checks took a few days to hit if you had no money in your account on Thursday and payday was Friday then writing a check for that case of Budweiser was no problem. That check would clear on Tuesday with plenty of time to spare. If you were smart you could do this for years and never bounce a check.

Occasionally someone would get into trouble. There were several bases on Okinawa and if you were enterprising you could write check after check after check. In 1987 it could be several days before all of your checks hit your account. It was hard to keep track of who the trouble makers were so you could write checks for cash at $200 a pop at five bases in one day with little effort. Some guys got into a lot of trouble. This one particular Private was legendary. He had been reduced in rank, confined to the barracks and put in the brig. Each time he was given a little freedom he was back to writing bad checks, borrowing money with no intention of repaying and even borrowed someones bicycle and sold it. The First Sergeant had no idea what to do with the guy. He couldn’t really punish him anymore since he was on his way out of the Corps on a bad conduct discharge and he decided he needed to protect those in his company unfamiliar with the guy. So he called him out in front of the company during a morning formation.

The rest of us had no idea what was about to happen when he called Private “Jones” to come front and center. Neither did Jones.

“I want the rest of you Marines to take a good look at Private Jones.” He paused and at this point Jones is standing at attention to the left of the First Sergeant.. I remember him being a little paunchy with curly light brown hair.

“Private Jones,” the Gunny continued, “is a piece of shit.” Now Jones’ head drops and he’s staring at the ground and a hushed exclamations reverberated down the ranks. Rather than tell us to shut up he paused to let the shock set in. He continued, “Private Jones has written $1500 in bad checks and he owes dozens of other Marines hundreds of dollars. Do not go out on the town with this Marine. Do not lend this Marine money.” Another pause, “Do not loan this Marine your bike. He will take your money and your bike and you’ll never see any of it again. This Marine is not your friend. He will offer to show you around and take you on to town and will write bad checks to show you a good time and he will help you do the same. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Yes, Gunny,” we chanted back.

“Excellent. You’re dismissed, Jones.”

I had never seen anything like it and never would again. I’m glad I never saw something like that again because it was awful to witness someone, even if it was due to his own doing, humiliated like that. Jones was known to approach Marines who had just arrived on the island. He would take them out on the town, write bad checks, spend money like crazy and borrow money. He would convince others to write bad checks and show them how easy it was. He was a bad egg and he been busted several times and had spent time in the brig and he was waiting around to get his bad conduct discharge. The First Sergeant must have figured that the best way to protect the Marines under his command was to reveal Jones for what he was so he couldn't corrupt anyone else while he was still with the company. So he did.