A Novel Idea

I’ve had to change the title slightly in my novel “Wanderlust”.  Originally I wanted to name it just as you see, but there was already a poem by that name so I had to alter it slightly.  First, came “Wanderlust – Chapter 1”.  But that sounded stupid when I added the following chapters.  So I’ve now named it “Wanderlust!” (note the exclamation point).

Chapter 1 can be found on this link (clicking will open a new window/tab):

http://www.booksie.com/romance/novel/tom_oldman/wanderlust/chapter/1

I am heartened to see that over 30 people have already viewed the first chapter.  I hope more follow.

There are several more stories I am working on also.  One of them is a ‘what if?’ story that moves into an alternate universe at a crucial point and the other is pure fantasy (humorous, I hope).  Neither one of these will be ready for publication until I can flesh out some of the chapters a little more than a bare outline.

It seems strange, to me anyway, that I’ve suddenly discovered that I like to write at this time of my life.  One story I’d really like to write would cover almost all the things I did while I was in the navy.  Some stories, although true, would sound almost like fiction.  Unfortunately, if I were to publish most of them it would bring federal authorities down on me pretty hard – even though the personal events have been long surpassed by world events.  Suffice it to say that since the Soviet Union is no longer, writing about it could still land me in hot water.  This is a shame, because there are a lot of stories out there just waiting for someone to tell them.

Writing is very therapeutic and surprisingly easy to do.  All you really need is a good program, like Word, and a keyboard capable of taking a pounding.  I say that because, in my case, I started typing way back in high school (1958 to be exact) on an Underwood manual with very stiff keys.  You really had to mash them to get a good impression on the paper – especially when the ribbon began to get faint.  From high school papers, I graduated to writing a lot of letters to friends as I grew up.  making the transition to teletype keyboards in the navy was easy, except for having to shift between letters and numerals with a special key.  On a teletype, the key travel was around an inch and if you didn’t press firmly the letter (or numeral) wouldn’t register and it would mess up your coded message.

So, when I type, one can probably hear me all over the house because of the clatter.  In the last year, I have worn out four keyboards – one of which had the letters almost worn completely off the tops of the keys.  I’ve found the Hewlett Packard keyboards tend to hold up the best; Microsoft keyboards will fail within three or four months.  When I replace a keyboard, it always takes me a perceptible time to relate to a new layout, but soon I am flying along just fine.  In timed contests in the navy, I was clocked at 175 words per minute while touch-typing coded groups of five letters.  When I was taking Morse code, I can still handle around 35-40 words per minute using a typewriter  The key is to lag behind two or three words behind the code so that you can do “burst typing” to catch up.  It makes for much more accurate copy.

How in the world did I get on this subject?  My mind tends to wander on a lazy Saturday morning (or any other morning for that matter).  It is beautiful outside and the squirrels are gathering hungrily under new corncobs on the bungee cord.  One enterprising guy (has to be a guy because he’s just showing off), loves to jump from the limb supporting the cob and land on it holding tightly as it bounces up and down.  Once stopped, he calmly fills his cheeks with corn kernels and casually drops to the ground to run home with it.  A different one will pull on the chain until he has it on the branch next to him.  Far more effective, but not as much fun to watch.  He’s probably an executive in squirreldom.

My observations of the doves still lead me to believe that they are the cattle of the bird world.  They simply wander around under the feeder and peck at seeds that the more active birds kick down to them.  Even when I leave the house, they just look up at me and stare as I pass.  They are almost always a pair though.  Their pleasant cooing  is nice to hear after winter’s harsh crow calling.  Although yesterday there was a huge crow perched in the front yard tree cawing mightily.  It got so bad that Cami (our little cat) would bang her nose against the window in frustration trying to make it go away.

Time for a nice hot cup of tea.

So, snow already!

Off and on for the last week we have been alternately pelted with what I call ‘granola snow’.  It starts out as little grains of snow and eventually creates a crusty, slipper surface everywhere you step.  This goes on for a day or so and then the sun comes out (or tries to) and then the temperature edges up and over freezing resulting in melted granola.

While mentally composing this post, I ranged way back 60-some years and recalled the snows of winters past.  I am sure everyone does this from time to time; comparing snows “like it used to be, Sonny” with a chuckle more like a cackle, but I really seem to remember a lot lustier winters in my past.

Take Fairbanks (please).  We were up there from summer 1947 through summer of 1950.  I was age 5 through 8.  Perhaps it was because I was closer to the ground, perhaps not, but it did seem that snowfall, any snowfall, seemed to reach my waist fairly fast.  I definitely remember walking to school pushing snow ahead of me like a two-legged snowplow the whole six blocks.  When I arrived (or, in fact any kid arrived), our first order of business was to dance about and shake wadded snow and ice down our snowsuit legs.  This was done in the entryway and under the supervision of stern-faced teachers who would inspect each and every one of us for contraband (i.e. hidden snowballs).

Once inside, we progressively shed outer garments until we were steamed dry.  This was because the school used a monstrous coal-fired boiler and steam heat.  Steam heat, as we all know, is the bane of any kid regardless of age.  When the heat was on, we sweltered; when it was off, we froze our little tushies off.  But, I digress.

We were overjoyed when our dad came home and told up we were moving to Washington, D.C.  Whoopee!  No more snow!

To put it mildly, we were disillusioned the very first winter.  That was the winter of 1951 and it was brutal.  It actually made me wish for the sunnier days of Alaska.  At least in DC we had buses to take us to school.  Only on rare occasions would they fail to get through.  It was pointless to sit there in the kitchen listening to the radio and praying for a snow day (or week, sometimes) because they would never fail to pick us up.

This amount of snow was not the norm though.  In most winters (we were there from 1950 through 1955) the snow levels were somewhat disappointing to us kids.  It rarely ever reached our waists.  Instead, it mostly hung around our thighs or lower.  Since my age was from 8 through 13 there, perhaps it was because I was taller than before.  By now, however, boys my age were now more interested in building, charging, and defending snow forts as well as making the lives of girls miserable by snowy antics.  I would like to state here and now that I really didn’t have any axe to grind when I did stupid stuff like that.  If any of those girls are still around, I apologize.  It was just ‘stuff boys did’ back then; stupid, but necessary by the ‘Code of the Male Animal – preteen years’.

Moving onwards, we spent the years 1955 through 1958 in Southwest Germany – specifically at Bitburg AB near Trier.  This was a different snow it seemed.  Weather patterns weren’t like those in the States.  It seemed as if snow could come from any direction – and usually did.  My dad, who was in the hierarchy of the 2nd Weather Wing on base, had a particularly hard time predicting weather patterns for quite a while until he got used to there not actually being a pattern.  In my 13th through 15th years there, I came to welcome hard snows.  Since we were housed in a central area, and the school was plonked down smack dab in the middle, we rarely got a chance to actually miss school because of snow.  We did have what they called ‘delayed opening’.  This is similar to what that call the same thing nowadays except that it meant we would gather in the gymnasium or smaller lunchroom and play records and dance until the teachers actually arrived.  Now I recall that snow was beginning to work towards my aims instead of against them.

The Germans also had tons of sports and festivals all winter long in which snow played an important part.  Cold weather would not daunt them from carnivals and the like.  All of which would allow some cold-weather activity on the part of good male-female relations.  In face, it outright demanded it in some instances.  Ice skating was high on the list as well as bundling on horse-drawn hay wagons (real wagons with real hay and real horses) so we could “watch the scenery go by”.  And, best of all, there was nothing like walking your girlfriend home in knee-deep snow, carrying her books, and trying to catch flakes on your tongues.  That was something to die for.

The following years, I spent mostly in California.  When that ended, I spent a year in college and then joined the navy.  My first few years were spent down in Southeast Asia where the only snow you saw was coming from the press reports on how well we were ‘winning the war’.  I did spend three years in Misawa, Japan.  The snows were great there with drifts sometimes high over the roof of the car as I drove to work.  It seemed strange , however, that Japanese snow only fell from right to left.

Now, in this new year, all I see (so far) is snow that barely reached your shoe tops.  I realize that we may have more snowstorms for a while, but I’d bet they aren’t anywhere near as deep or as good as snowfalls of the past; dammit.  I really miss a good hefty snow.  Maybe, since it is an election year, we’ll see some great snowjobs.

48 Short Years

Today, August 1st, is the 48th Anniversary of our marriage.  Over the years, we have been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, and done a great many others.  Throughout this 48 years, through lean and rich times, good and bad times, and even war times, we’ve remained on an pretty even keel.

As I’ve remarked to a few close friends, I absolutely cannot remember ever having an argument longer than perhaps ten minutes.  This is the truth because we decided way back when that we would never go to bed mad at each other.  This meant some late night conversations, but we never broke the rule.

Contrary to male stereotypes, I can vividly remember our wedding and who wore what.  It was a military wedding actually.  My best man was a close friend who had flown back to the States with me from the Azores.  We were in uniform.  My dad, a Colonel in the Air Force, wore his.  My four ushers were from three services: Army, Marine, Air Force.  Enlisted men don’t have sword arches, but when we left the ceremony we ran between a file of rice-throwers.

After the reception, we headed out in our trusty little Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible for our honeymoon to the West Coast.  Trust me, you really get to know someone when you are in the confines of a small car for thousands of miles.  It was a wonderful trip.  We even managed to win a little money in Las Vegas.  Neither one of us was old enough to go into a casino, but some of the slots were accessible.  We did a lot of camping since it was August.

We had a couple of large bumps in our relationship when I went overseas unaccompanied, but when we got together in both the Philippines and Japan we managed to have our two girls.  They were seven years apart, but that is a good thing I think because we tended to enjoy them more.

Over the years since I retired from the navy, we bounced around the country and finally settled down here in Ohio.  We’ve been here now twenty years and don’t plan to move further.  We grow old, but only in years, not in any other way.  I still look upon my wife with pleasure when I see her walking towards me.  We still jibe at each other playfully, finish each other’s sentences, and drive our kids and grandkids nuts with our offbeat sense of humor.

It’s been a grand tour and here’s hoping it goes on for a lot longer than just 48 years.  We’d like to take a good cruise on our 50th, so we have to get ready for that in 2013.  If someone back in 1963 had told me that I’d still be married to the same person in 2011 I would have looked askance at them.  And, now, here I am.

I love you, Babe.

My Birthday

Well, here it is again; another birthday.  This one is a milestone though.  It isn’t a decade gone by, but an end to a decade – my 60’s.  Today I am 69.

I will have to cram a load of stuff into this year because once I trun 70 it’s supposed to be all downhill.  I thought of starting a bucket list, but couldn’t think of anything I’d really like to do that I already haven’t done.  Normal stuff seems a bit mundane and some of the more exotic things are now memories.

Like, for instance, driving a steam locomotive; I’ve done it.  Not one of those amusement park rides, but a real, honest-to-goodness, smoke spewing, steam hissing, black-painted locomotive coupled to a string of three passenger cars, a diner, a generator car, and a kitchen galley car.  This was while I was on vacation up in Connecticut, on the scenic rail line known as The Essex Steam Train (Or, the Valley Railroad).  Their web site is found here:

http://www.essexsteamtrain.com/

If anyone else is interested in doing something like this, check out the part of the web site called “Your Hand on the Throttle”.  It is an awesome experience.

Here is a shot of me in the hot seat:

For years I wanted to do some flying.  Not in an airliner (although I’ve done a whole lot of that) but doing it myself.  One of my past birthdays my daughter and a couple of friends set me up at a local airport for a series of sailplane lessons.  The introductory package consisted of three launchings (and, hopefully, an equal amount of landings).  The first, from 4,000 feet was handled completely by the instructor who sat behind me.  He guided the plane upwards behind the Cessna towing us and yanked the T-handle to disconnect the tow rope.

Then he showed me some basic plane-handling maneuvers.  I followed him with my hands and feet lightly on the rudder pedals and the stick.  We turned for the home field and landed.

The next launching went up to 4,000 feet and I got to pull the disconnect handle.  The instructor then showed me how to use the wind indicators to find thermals to keep us aloft.  I had to “unlearn” some things from powered flight in order to learn about gliding.  For instance: when you feel a wing lift in a powered plane, you try to stabilize the plane.  But, in a glider, you turn INTO the rising wing and gain lift.  It’s not quite that simple, but that’s the general idea.  You look down and try to overfly light-colored fields and roads as thermals will rise off them and take you upwards.

The third, and best, launch took us to almost 6,000 feet.  We couldn’t go higher because of the runway patterns from Greater Cincinnati Airport (in Kentucky) or CVG for short.  On this flight, I did pretty much all of it from release to even attempting a few mild aerobatics.  I was too chicken to try a full loop, so the instructor took me through a series of three of them in a row.  It was grand.  I turned for home and lined up for the landing and then he took over.  I even have the logbook to prove it.

Here are some other things I’ve done (and some of them I don’t want to do again).

I spent five, almost-year-long tours in a war zone (Vietman &Thailand)

Gone through a major typhoon in an old Liberty ship (USS Oxford – detailed in this blog).

Been in two larger-than-normal earthquakes (in Japan – also in the blog)

The wife and I have taken 4 wonderful cruises (East & West Caribbean, Panama Canal, and Mexican Riviera) for a total of over 30 days.

Lived in Alaska back long before it was a state (1946-1950).  While I was there I learned how to drive a four-dog sledding team at age 7.

I’ve milked many a cow.

Been present at the birth (finally) of a relative.  My granddaughter, 21 years ago.  Holding that pale, squirmy little girl was indescribable.

Watching that self-same granddaughter pass her driving test for a license 20 years after her birth.  The grin was ear-to-ear (hers, too).

Watching a huge thundershower cross the Continental Divide when I was higer than it at almost 14,000 feet.

After hunting in Colorado for over ten years, bringing down my first Elk.

And, finally, the most awesome one of all:  being married to the same wonderful person for just under 50 years.  We will celebrate that in 2013.

Wal*Mart Greeter

Charley, a new retiree-greeter at Wal*Mart, just couldn’t seem to get to work on time.

Every day he was 5, 10, 15 minutes late. But he was a good worker, really tidy, clean-shaven, sharp-minded and a real credit to the company and obviously demonstrating their “Older Person Friendly” policies.

One day the boss called him into the office for a talk.

“Charley, I have to tell you, I like your work ethic, you do a bang-up job when you finally get here; but your being late so often is quite bothersome.”

“Yes, I know boss, and I am working on it.”

“Well good, you are a team player. That’s what I like to hear.”

“Yes sir, I understand your concern and I’ll try harder.”

Seeming puzzled, the manager went on to comment, “It’s odd though, your coming in late. I know you’re retired from the Armed Forces. What did they say to you there if you showed up in the morning so late and so often?”

The old man looked down at the floor, then smiled.

He chuckled quietly, then said with a grin, “They usually came to attention and said, ‘Good morning, Admiral, can I get your coffee, Sir?'”

Reader’s Choice

So there you have it.  All of my overseas duty stations covered.  I suppose I could do the same thing with my stateside stations, but that might get a bit personal for the natives even though I retired from Skaggs Island, California way back in 1980.

I encourage readers to scan through my blog and pick out any special place they might like more details on.  I am sure I can supply things of interest for each and every one of them.

Just leave a comment and I’ll do my best.  With the nice spring season creeping up on us I might take a while though.  My camera is at the ready to capture some more bird/squirrel antics this year as they kick seeds onto the ground from the feeder and try to get into the cage with the suet.

Bill

 

Beautiful Thailand, Pt 5

One of the most entertaining (and wet) festivals I’ve ever been involved in is called Songkran.  Songkran is celebrated from April 13 to 15 (The New Year period) and consists of free-ranging people armed with buckets of water or power soakers.  No matter who you are, where you are, or how much you duck you cannot dodge a blast of water.

My introduction to this really fun fest was when I walked out of my bungalow and stood beside the road to catch the Baht bus for work.  A ‘lao-lao’ (literally – fast-fast) truck passed me but as it passed several passengers leaned out and pasted me with water.  In the background, I heard Nang go into hysterical laughter as I stood, dripping, with my mouth open.  My first reaction was one of rage, but, then I remembered Nang warning me several days ago.

Fortunately, the Marine utilities I wore dried off pretty fast in the heat.  Plus, the driver of the bus didn’t allow any water-throwing while in motion.  Now I understood why everyone was dressed in tee shirts, shorts and thongs.

I made it through the main gate of the base and stood my watch.  On my way home, I stopped by a friend’s room in the barracks and changed into my gym stuff.  Leaving the gate, I was primed to have some fun.

The next transportation to come by was another lao-lao truck.  I hailed it, dodged the water, and climbed aboard.  These trucks were a standard Toyota pickup, but was fitted with seats and a canvas cover in the bed.  This one had a big vat of water and spare buckets.  I joined in the general merriment as we waterbombed everyone along the way.

When I got home (thoroughly soaked) my friend Phupit, the taxi driver, Nang, and two other girls were ready to go out and soak some serious butt.  They’d located a pickup and filled a big plastic tank in the back.  Armed with huge water-soaker, pump-action squirt guns we headed for the center of town.  This video was taken in Bangkok but can give you some idea of the chaos during this New Year celebration much better than I:

http://wn.com/thailand_water

– – –

The one good thing I liked to eat you can’t really get here.  That’s a nice juicy steak.  Very expensive restaurants can get it from Australia, but the little mama-sans and their charcoal braziers haven’t a chance.  What you can get, and is surprisingly good, is a water buffalo steak.  One weekend, myself and several of my neighbors planned and executed a block party.  Celebrations of all kinds always drew hordes of kids, and this was no exception.  To this end, we bought two hundred hot dogs to grill on our backyard grill.  We had two halves of a fifty gallon drum lying flat and covered with a cast-iron grill.

While we held off the kids with their hot dogs, we grilled a mountain of buffalo steaks marinated in teriyaki sauce.  Everyone on our street came to the event bringing lots of side dishes.  On my street alone, there were quite a few retired US servicemen and their families.  Add to this a bunch more active-duty types on their weekend, and we had a real party.

An actual Singha beer truck parked at the end of the street (since it was too narrow to turn around in) and we schlepped seven cases of beer down to be dumped into galvanized tubs filled with ice.  Add to that about six cases of assorted soda pop for the kids and a huge pot of green tea for those who didn’t drink either beer or soda.  We stayed away from the bottled napalm I previously mentioned.

By the time dusk arrived, lights had been strung and several local bands began tuning up.  One such band played professionally at one of the bars called The Golden Horse.  They were hugely popular and when they started their set everyone listened.  Their specialty was the current rock being played in the ‘70s; mostly from Deep Purple.  They did a version of “Smoke on the Water” that couldn’t be distinguished from the original group.  Well, maybe you could if you were half in the bag.

The bands playing American favorites were interleaved with pick-up bands of local Thai talent.  They were very good also.  One such band played a special tune that was composed just for our party.  It was done in the Mor Lam style I described in a previous post.  Somewhere I have it on reel-to-reel tape and I will find it sometime.

Parties, as opposed to festivals, run until everyone poops out.  Ours ran from Friday evening until Sunday morning; sometimes waning, but never completely stopping.  I don’t think I got more than three or four hours of sleep during the entire period.  We made a lot of friends during that time.  Nothing untoward happened because we’d also hired four off-duty Thai cops as security.  Nobody messed with them.  Tired, but happy, we just relaxed in the bungalow Sunday evening.

– – –

My tour of nearly thirteen months was coming to an end.  Nang and the housegirls were quite somber as they went about their duties.  Packers came and boxed up what items I did have to ship to California – my next duty station.  It was going to be very hard to leave this place.  I’d had so much fun and made tons of friends, but it was time to get back to my own family.

The morning of my last day, Nang hired four Monks to come and hold a brief ceremony.  It was touching to see all the girls sniffling as they tied yarn around my wrist.  This is a sign of respect and friendship.  By the time they and my neighbors had finished, I had a huge knot of threads on both wrists; and a lump in my throat.  I stood, made a small speech, and bowed over the food I’d given to the Monks and then walked out to the taxi for my ride to the air base and my flight home.

I haven’t been back since, but I would really like to do so.  I made a lot of friends over there.