Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tropical Depression

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

~Buck-O and Roy, “Hee-Haw

Back in the old days, a time when the Internet was still a secret military project, I was an adventurous sort. During that stretch, I had two experiences that turned me forever into what I am today, a sea-salt lubber.

Back in 1979, I was just a mere freshman in college. Lonely and with little excitement on my social horizon, I took up an invitation from my high school buddy, Billy. He suggested that my college roommate (and high school buddy)-Joel- and I come to Virginia Beach to stay at Billy’s aunt’s house. There, we could mess around for a weekend and have recent high school graduate fun.

It was not to be. Although Joel, Billy, and I did have a fun time with our old high school German teacher - she taught us the beauty of White Russians and jug Italian wine, the three of us were soon faced with a monster of a decision. The house of Billy’s aunt was located near what is now known as Willoby Spit near the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The days were ebbing toward late August and a massive hurricane was sliding up the Atlantic coast. Hurricane David had destroyed the islands in the Caribbean with 165 mile per hour winds- one of the most destructive storms on record, and it was slinking up the coast toward Virginia Beach, gradually weakening.

When we learned of the storm, we made a firm decision. No matter what, we would not abandon the beach house. Within a few hours, David struck and blasted us with tropical winds. Thumbing our noses at its fury, the three of us; Billy, Joel, and I; walked a block to the bay beach and leaned into the hurricane force winds. Never before in my life had I ever been able to stand on a beach and lean into a stiff, blinding wind- the blast supporting me like an invisible skeleton. We stood on that beach throughout David’s onslaught and monitored the Chesapeake Bay and the Bay Bridge Tunnel. In fact, we even took off in our car to explore the bay bridge tunnel during the height of the storm. Standing on one of the man-made bride islands in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay was glorious. Gulls and terns crashed around us, screaming in the whistling wind, desparate for a rest after being dragged up the coast. Rarely in life can you ever feel that liberated. Later, we came back to the small beach house and drank lots of cheap 18 year old beer.

In 1982, just after my graduation from college, I think, I had occasion to visit the Virginia Beach area again. My high school buddy, Brian, was stationed at COMSLANT–a Coast Guard communication hub in the Dismal Swamp. That particular day, my high school friends, Boyd, Joel and Ken ventured to the coast in Boyd’s amazing Dodge Omni with me. We planned to stay in Brian’s room on the Coast Guard base. That particular evening, we played the most amazing game of RISK ever seen. The whole world was evenly divided in a giant cold war stalemate. I suppose things got a bit out of hand in Brian’s room that evening, because the next thing we civilians knew, we were being escorted off the base and out into the sub-tropical night. We really hadn’t been paying any attention to the weather, but the weather was paying attention to us.

With nowhere to go and little money in our pockets, we headed to Sandbridge Beach along the Atlantic just south of Virginia Beach. There, we found a nice sand dune along an undeveloped stretch of oceanfront and tossed out our sleeping bags. The breeze was delicious, tasty, and seemed to pick up in intensity as the evening wore on. I remember falling asleep in a comfortable dream world: crashing surf, whistling breeze, ocean beauty.

I woke up rudely around three in the morning. My sleeping bag was soaked and the wind was howling. I later learned that a sub-tropical, unnamed storm had ripped across from the gulf and blown through the Outer Banks and Virginia coast before heading out to sea. This storm, although never being named, was brutal on us as we tried to sleep on the beach. All I knew at the time was that I was getting soaked, and I was miserable. Sopping wet, we all retreated to Boyd’s small Dodge Omni and tried to suffer through the rest of the humid wind and rain in his tiny fogged car. I’ve never been more wet or more uncomfortable in my life.

That devilish storm, however, peaked my interest in the ocean. Years later, I would endure several Nor’easters as I spent time fishing with my father and brother along the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the late fall. Each storm brought torrential rain and blinding gale-driven sand. Through these storms, my brother, father and I became the hardest b’strds on the beach.

I’m older now, but much saltier. I hear that salt preserves.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Pleasure to Burn

A Pleasure to Burn

I am not an old man, nor am I a young man. As a middle man, I demonstrate and exemplify mediocrity in everything I do, it seems. Physically, my middle has grown larger as my legs and arms shrink. I remember half what I used to recall easily. Sometimes I want to do stuff while other times I just want to lay around. My performance as a contributing human in this world seems half-hearted recently. I sometimes suffer cracks in my personal education, things that just seem to have slipped through the middle right in front of me.

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.

That famous passage is the opening to the classic 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Somehow, over the course of my life, I have managed to not pay any serious attention to anything Ray Bradbury has ever written, not even The Martian Chronicles or Fahrenheit 451. Such has been my loss.

Last week, I was looking around the house for something to read. I figured that there must be a book around that intrigued me enough to invest my regular evening television/Internet time. I stumbled onto this Bradbury book in my son’s recently abandoned room. Apparently, he was once forced to read it for one of his high school English classes. So I took it from his shelf and kept it hostage.

I fell for this book, and it has deeply affected me in ways that I can’t completely comprehend yet. As a book, it seems rather rough; almost pieced together. While I’m no expert on Bradbury’s writing style, I suspect he in fact did piece this tale together from shorter pieces. According to Bradbury in the Afterward, Coda, and Conversation attached to the 50th anniversary edition of 451, he states that his writing style is different than many other popular writers of his time. He likes to enter into an idea and allow it to swallow him with no pre-conceived plan as to what will be recorded. He writes without a plan, a free exercise in emotion and expression. As I thought of this, I realized that I only satisfy my writing passion when I write with that style. Bradbury loves the short story and essay form, and so do I. He seems to struggle more with longer form writing, as do I. If you look over his career, you’d notice that he’s written in just about every form: poetry, short story, novel, novella, television, film, opera, and play. Despite over 500 works, he’s actually produced very few novels.

One interesting thing about his writing is that he remains fiercely proprietary over his work. When Michael Moore created the film, Fahrenheit 911, Bradbury was incensed and was quoted as saying "[Moore] is a horrible human being – horrible human!" Bradbury said that Moore never asked him to borrow from his famous title. Despite his hard edge regarding ownership of work, Bradbury has been very forthcoming over the years in expanding or even reformatting his most famous works.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury studied our potential future society, one that has an eerie truthful ring 50 years later. In this future, citizens are numbed by “happy” wall entertainment. People are socially disengaged, preferring to hold up inside their technologically savvy homes. Politics runs on a “Pretty Boy Platform” where good looks mean everything. News is entertainment. Most shockingly, attainment of knowledge and reason are punishable offenses. Reading and studying books is a crime against the general welfare of that society. Free thinking and creativity are thought to be odd sicknesses.

The main character is Guy Montag, a fireman. However, firemen in this society have a much different responsibility than in our society. These firemen use fire to destroy knowledge. When the alarm goes off, they race to the scene, sniff out contraband with the help of an evil, emotionless mechanical hound, and torch the books as well as the house and sometimes the people inside. Fireman all know that paper burns when it reaches 451 degrees Fahrenheit. They live for the cool burn, the total destruction.

Guy, however, experiences an epiphany when he comes face to face with a vibrant, creative teen-aged girl. She lilts her way into his mind and heart, seduces his creative and inquisitive side. Suddenly, Guy’s predictably mundane life is turned upside-down. His inner turmoil builds as the action and burning picks up. When the book’s known world is destroyed in an atomic conflagration, Guy survives with a group of like-minded academics and they are last seen plotting a future where knowledge, creativity, and free thought are reseeded in the brave new world.

Bradbury wrote this book in difficult times. Society was scarred by memories of Hitler’s evil and was experiencing the iciness of Stalin’s repression. Those world pressures, coupled with the mass insensitivity of Senator Joe McCarthy and his cronies, bred Bradbury’s dark vision for the future society.

As I look out in the world today, I see much of what Bradbury warned us of 50 years ago. I suppose I don’t have to tell any of you how disengaged people have become. We spend our time zipping from place to place always pressured to be in place to join the nightly warped reality of “Survivor” and “American Idol.” People are “Lost” “24” hours a day.

With the attention of society focused on “happy” entertainment, our world is careening out of control. Our government has bypassed designed checks and balances while happy citizens dance an i-Pod induced jig. Based on fear and lies, our young men and women are sent abroad to fight insane, unwinnable wars. People who do stand in dissent are either thought to be treasonous, whacko, or simply ignored. Much like the society Bradbury painted 53 years ago, today’s society is poised on the deadly precipice of indifference, intolerance, and idolatry.

We are in the middle of some profound societal upheaval in our world beyond our ability to reason. Something will break soon, and for someone, some group, some country, some religion; it will be a pleasure to burn.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


She asks me why...I'm just a hairy guy
I'm hairy noon and night; Hair that's a fright.
I'm hairy high and low,
Don't ask me why; don't know!
It's not for lack of bread
Like the Grateful Dead; darling

Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there, hair!
Shoulder length, longer (hair!)
Here baby, there mama, Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair! (hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair)
Flow it, Show it;
Long as God can grow it, My Hair!

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas, a hive for bees
A nest for birds, there ain't no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my


I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining
Gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka-dotted; Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied!

O-oh, Say can you see; my eyes if you can,
Then my hair's too short!
Down to here, down to there,
Down to where, down to there;
It stops by itself!
doo doo doo doo doot-doot doo doo doot

They'll be ga-ga at the go-go
when they see me in my toga
My toga made of blond, brilliantined, Biblical hair
My hair like Jesus wore it
Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son
Why don't my Mother love me?

I read in the newspaper this past weekend, one of those retrospect pieces where headlines of a bygone era are highlighted. Back in 1931 in Roanoke, Virginia, according to the newspaper archives, Lakeside Amusement Park signed a contract with a Human Ape to perform at the park for the remainder of the season. “Timbu, the Human Ape, has been booked for nightly performances at Lakeside during the remainder of the summer season.” What kind of performances did Tamu perform? What did “he” do? Was Tamu a human or some kind of transmutant? Lakeside sure had a rich history of quality entertainment.

I’ve always been concerned about body hair. It’s not a real obsession on my part, but it is of passing notice. When I was a child, I was born with very fair hair on my head and all over my body. You might have thought I was blonde, but eventually, the hair on my head darkened. Back in those days, the only hair issue I was concerned about was just how short my father would buzz my head. I was firmly in the Beatle generation, and I learned to resolutely stand my ground for a longer hair style.

By the time I was twelve, I was growing some impressive bangs. These suckers would slide over my eyeballs. While the rest of my hair was relatively short, my bangs raged over the eyes, hiding me from people I was too shy to encounter. By the time I turned sixteen, my bangs were matched by my angel wings. I used to tease the hair behind me to curl like a girl. By the time I posed for my sophomore picture for the yearbook, I had the cleverly split bangs with the “That Girl” locks coupled with my purple themed plaid jacket and maroon and white polka-dotted tie. I was cool, but despite my beautiful, shiny hair, I was relatively hairless.

If you are a bit sensitive, this is where you need to check out. I’m about to write about body hair. Puberty. Peer Pressure.

I remember feeling so inferior when ordered into the gang showers in middle school. Most of the “Guys" had already achieved a most mature state of manhood, while I was left in a nymph stage. Bald. Hairless. Towel-covering... embarrassing.

Hair didn’t finally begin growing for me in secret places until I turned seventeen years old. Then fine hair began to grow. Eventually, I found that I needed to shave light blonde hairs from my face. Santa brought me an electric razor that year. When I first began teaching, I had to shave about once a week with my Norelco. To this day, my wife is convinced that I can’t grow a beard. I suspect that’s a result of my Polish heritage. Scraggly beard, fine body hair. I learned to accept my hairy physical limitations. Until…

I grew older. Now, hair has begun to sprout from unnatural places in my body. Some of the places can’t be mentioned on a public forum. Now that I’m 46 years old, hair has begun sprouting from my ear holes, nostrils, and other lest savory places. These hairs tickle, but not in a pleasurable or pleasing sense. They are definitely hairs that need to be kept in check. Wild hairs.

Luckily, I have a wild hair stylist who understands the errant nature of stray hairs. Whenever I visit Harold, my stylist, he knows to contain these abhorrent growths, or at least the ones above my neck. After he zaps them away, he soothes the affected area with medicinal powders that only barbers steeped in the lore of their craft possess knowledge of. I’m looking forward to my meeting with Harold tomorrow. My nose and ears thank him. I only wish he’d provide similar service to my back and chest. I'm concerned that after an inauspicious start to a hairy life, I'm slowly heading to a career as a modern day Human Ape.

"Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Opening Day

I suppose everyone would like to think that they would remember their first day of college, but the reality for me is that my first day was nothing but a comprehensive blurred memory. I suspect my son will always remember his first day.

After a tough week drilling with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, my son was granted a 36 hour leave this past weekend. So he came back home and slept in Sunday morning. Later in the afternoon, I drove him back to school. As I was leaving, I passed by lots of police cars with sirens blaring and even slipped past a SWAT team beside the road. I just figured there was some kind of beginning of the school year drug sting. Little did I know that Blacksburg, VA was about to be locked down as police searched for an escaped prisoner.

Monday was the first day of classes, and my son was able to go to his very first class, Dr. Bud Robertson's Civil War class. To say he was excited about attending Dr. Robertson's class is an understatement. I believe that he's been looking forward to being in his class for several years now. Anyway, just after the class, the whole VT campus was locked down. Apparently, the escaped prisoner and certified killer had been spotted on campus (a report later proven to be false) so all students were ushered back to their apartments and dorms and ordered to stay put.

The prisoner was eventually found in a briar patch near the Virginia Tech airport, but not until he had murdered a police officer. While my son's 36 hours of leave resulted in an evening sleeping in, the prisoner's 36 hours on the lam resulted in two people dead and 25,000 people with a very memorable opening day of school.

Happiness and joy after taking an oath of service

Standing Stony Still

Parade Review after week one

First formation on day one

Marching on day one

First day of classes

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Acadia National Park: Hanging by the Shore

We visited the shore along Acadia National Park. This shore is quite historic, actually; not just scenic. Acadia was a playground for the rich and famous at the turn of the 20th Century. All of the most "elite" found "cottages" (aka mansions) in Bar Harbor. Over time, they realized that the area needed to be preserved. So groups fromed to privately buy up land in the late 1910's. Eventually, Acadia National Park was created as this patchwork of donated land was assembled into one almost solid package. Today, Acadia, is unique among national parks. You can still see the financial effects of that earlier time as you turn every corner. Unique carriage roads, still blocked off to motorized travel and mansions dotting the landscape here and there.

These pictures were mostly taken along the shore of Acadia National Park.

The money shot

The artistic shot

The artistic shot with boats

The wild tide shot

We stumbled upon this lobster boat operator checking his traps within yards of the rugged shore.


Dynamic shorline

My favorite picture. To me, this is what Maine is.

It's wild, baby!

Sam and Emily stand on the rocks.

Emily on the rocks

Just around the corner, you find this.

Ok, I love this shot, too!

Framed by the coniferous, Maine is beautiful.

On the rocks, up close and personal

The death of a tree seems stark compared the vitality of ocean life

Yellow things grow near the decay

Don't mess with the power

Life, death, technology, and future

Today, the shore was photogenic; tomorrow, it may be brutal.

We descended to those far rock out-croppings.

A forgotten hidden, rocky beach in the middle of a tourist storm

This is Maine

Jackie on the rocks


On the brink

In the action

Emily on the rocks

Don't get wet

Acadia National Park: Otter Cove and Boats

We discovered a stretch along Acadia National Park's shore that just captured our immaginations. Well into our three hour visit, we were all getting very thirsty and hungry. Strange, there weren't any vending machines along the pristine, protected shoreline drive. But there were a lot of flowers and boats and beautiful scenes.

Strange flowers from the prehistoric era grow unfettered in this maritime paradise.

A prickley fruit

Schooners played in the surf.

Dipping here and there

Playing hide-n-seek with us

Otter Cove stares out into the Atlantic

This glacial terminal is framed by flowers

Glacial yellow

Ragweed takes on a beautiful shape in Maine

Looking back up Otter Cove toward Cadillac Mountain

Otter Cove looking toward the future

Pretty yellow

Avoiding the high lunar tide, our 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan, with a fresh transmission after only 51,000 miles, rests.