Paths Not Taken - part 2

(Written November 21, 2003) A little while ago I wrote about hearing that a guy I had known in high school, “Tom”, had died. I got that news during a phone call about getting together for a visit with a couple of other friends from the Old Days. For the sake of their privacy, I’m just going to call them “John” and “Scott”.

I met “John” during my last days in the Army - he was a small time drug dealer at the time and had just gotten married. We became close friends and I ended up living with he and his wife for about 3 or 4 years - sometimes there were just the 3 of us, sometimes the number grew to 7 or 8. I met Scott through John. At the time he was vice president of the local chapter of the Pagans motorcycle club/gang. For obvious reasons, much about those days is best left unsaid.

But nothing is ever as simple as it seems at first. John was a long-haired, motorcycle riding drug dealer - and a Republican with solidly conservative views on most things. Looking back on this period from years later I credit him with saving me from myself. If I had been a loose cannon going into the Army, I was even more of one after returning from Viet Nam. I was pretty wild with very little sense of direction, most of which was heavily influenced by those around me. I could have very easily fallen in with a group like the SLA or Weather Underground or some such, and really made a mess of my life. As wild as we were, there was one side of John that was practical and solidly rooted in basic values. He pulled me back from the brink a number of times. Today he owns his own painting/finishing business and he and his wife have been married for over 35 years. They have a daughter who is a Green Party activist and their son has made them grand parents twice over.

Scott has always been what I would call a “seeker”. He eventually drifted away from active membership in the Pagans. The next major stage of his journey involved moving to West Virginia and becoming a Fire Breathing, Bible Thumping Born Again. That lasted for awhile, but, as he later confessed, he finally recalled what it was he hadn’t liked about going to church. I’ve lost track of all the things he’s tried, although I recall he worked for a newspaper for awhile and also tried his hand at gold and silver trading. The parade of women through his life seemed to be a steady stream, and I don’t even remember most of them. About 20 years ago he finally found his career - he owns a porta-potty business and seems to be doing quite well at it, having as he says, “made a shit pot full of money” in the business.

Anyhow, a few days ago John had flown into the DC area to take care of some family business and the 3 of us got together for an afternoon. We ended up at Scott’s house for a little while and started out in his shed, which was loaded with Harleys and Harley parts. Since both he and Tom had been Pagans they had kept in contact, and it was through Scott that I finally learned the details of how Tom died. I don’t know what I had expected - maybe a motorcycle crash, cancer, getting shot, or just poor health. The last I had seen Tom, at that high school reunion back in the 80’s, he had seemed pretty normal - probably a bit of a “Harley gut” but no more. So I definitely was not ready for what I heard. Scott said Tom at some point “just gave up” and sat down in front of the TV drinking beer. He died of a heart attack at a weight of 400 pounds. Geeez. Suicide by Budweiser. It seems like anything would have been better than that… Tom’s last Harley was in baskets in Scott’s shed - it had been awhile since he had been light enough to ride.
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Paths Not Taken

(Written November 10, 2003) Be advised that what follows are the arm chair ramblings of an Old Fart, which may or may not have a point. If you consider such to be a waste of time you can stop now.

This weekend I was talking with a friend from the Old Days, and one bit of news he had was that a guy I had known in high school, “Tom”, had died - although he had no further information. In the time when I was in high school, although it was the early 60’s, the “60’s” had not yet begun. The Beatles were still a brand new band, and no one male even thought about wearing long hair. There were two social groups in high school, the Surfers/Collegians and the Greasers. I hung with the Greasers, whose main point seemed to be impressing the world with the fact that they were Bad Asses. I guess I was never really more than a BA wannabe - I did get in little bits of trouble here and there, but nothing ever serious enough to get expelled or locked up for. No so with Tom, who was the genuine article. He hung with all the baddest guys, got arrested and locked up on a regular basis, and never did finish high school because he was finally permanently expelled. I was actually pretty proud of the fact that he and I socialized in the Industrial Ed classes (for those learning a “trade”, without expectations of college in their future) - it was like just hanging out with the guy gave me some BA credentials.

I “graduated” from HS with a 1.8 GPA, which is better than what Tom did. At about 17 or so he got a girl pregnant and via a shot gun wedding he became the first of the Class of 1965 to get married, although it may not yet have been 1965. He also got expelled for whatever reason before graduation.

After high school I was pretty much a loose cannon, working jobs I didn’t much care for and doing my best to get into serious trouble. Viet Nam was just starting up in earnest and I figured nothing would burnish my BA credentials like being a Returning Combat Veteran (ahhh, the “logic” of youth…) So into the Army I went, near the end of 65. A couple of months later, while home on leave from Basic Training, I was sitting on a friend’s porch one evening and heard lots of gun fire erupting very nearby. Turns out it was a “fire fight” between two rival motorcycle gangs, the Pagans and the Avengers. This was right in Arlington Virginia and created a hell of a lot of noise, although they must have been lousy shots because I don’t think anyone was actually hit.
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New View (out of the office window)

(Written October 10, 2003) The little company gets bought by the bigger company, which is in turn gobbled up by an even bigger one. Same job, same place, but there have been 3 different company names in the 7 years I’ve been there. Now we are no longer even in the same location. Many of us former smaller companies, at different locations, have been “consolidated” into a single location. Unfortunately, the old location was Crystal City (bad enough), but now we are in a brand new office building in South East DC (next to the Navy Yard). So I’ve given up driving to work (parking at $300+ month plus the uncertainties of the 14th St bridge bottleneck) and am learning about the Metro life style. At least I’m getting caught up on some of my reading during the commute now, so it is not all bad.


A good point of the move however, was a totally unexpected one - the view out of my window. I can see the Southwest freeway about 3 or 4 blocks away, and there is a good view of the Capitol right behind that, along with some other large government buildings that I haven’t identified yet. But the good part is that I have a small field of green and trees immediately outside my window. It is a nearly vacant block with only a single building on one corner - the “Star Market - Groceries, cold beer and wine”. I’ll let you guess how many “groceries” they sell. Bars on all the windows, and the actual store area inside is about the size of a large closet, with the cashier sitting behind bullet-proof glass. You can buy potato chips and the like there, so I guess those do count as “groceries”.


But the rest of the block is a little patch of overgrown nature - right there in the midst of the concrete jungle. There is trash in it, of course, but most of that is hidden by the green stuff. There is also a regular crew of nature lovers that inhabit this “park”. It appears they have a well worn path to the center of the lot where they are completely hidden from view by anyone on the street. But I guess they haven’t yet gotten used to the idea that there are people in that big new building next to their park.

One of my co-workers brought in a pair of binoculars, and it has been educational. Any appreciation of nature is apparently enhanced with the favorite recreational substance of choice. They come and go all day with their crack pipes and needles. And lest you make any unwarranted racial assumptions, this is a racially diverse group who seem to be quite the model for inter-racial harmony.
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Not All Smart People Are Educated

(Written July 11, 2003) This past week we went up to central Pennsylvania for an annual party/fly-in of hang glider pilots. We stopped in to visit an old friend from when I lived there, a local hang glider pilot named Ron. Ron has never left the tiny town he was raised in and never went past high school. He learned to become a mechanic and opened his own garage which is about a quarter mile from his house (both are “downtown”), and has built it into a pretty good business. I’ve always enjoyed visiting with him because he has a lively wit and is always exploring new things.

On this visit he was showing me the new bi-directional satellite internet hookup he recently had installed at the garage. He wanted to also be able to network his house to the service. They originally set him up with an antenna/receiver setup, but it had problems and didn’t work very well. He finally came to the conclusion that the guy doing the tech installation didn’t really know what he was doing. That didn’t phase him because, as he said, “I can get on the internet and read - you know what I mean”. So he came up with his own solution based on plans he found online.

Once he had the required dimensions for the “antenna” he went through the grocery store with a tape measure looking for just the right size can. The entire setup is simply a wireless port on the garage network connected to his custom made antenna (same arrangement at the opposite end). The antenna is nothing but a properly sized fruit juice can and a bit of coax cable:


He has it set up for line of site transmission to his home and says it works great. He’s even set up for automated backups of the garage files on his home computer every night. According to the plans he found this setup had supposedly been used for up to 5 miles. I forget the transmission rate he was quoting, but it seemed quite adequate for most uses.

The whole thing just tickled the hell out of me. When the ‘experts’ couldn’t make it work he just did a little basic research and cooked up his own solution. I guess “American ingenuity” isn’t dead after all.

Spring in the Hives

(Written March 22, 2003) Today was a nice spring day and I opened the bee hives for the first time this year. It is always a surprise as to what you’ll find. The bees have been out flying, so I knew all 3 hives made it. Which is not a sure thing. Bees don’t hibernate, they just get in a tight little ball and eat honey to generate heat (that’s why they store so much of it). You have to be careful to leave them enough in the fall. And with the mites that are throughout the bee population now, they can become too weakened to make it all winter long (the Queen stops laying eggs in the fall and doesn’t resume til spring - so the fall bees aren’t replaced every few weeks like summer bees are). Even a well stocked healthy hive can die if the weather stays too cold for too long without a break. The bees need a milder day to move their “cluster” in the hive in order to get to unused honey supplies. I’ve heard tales of bees starving to death just inches away from ample honey supplies, simply because it was too cold for them to move to it.


Besides the 3 hives in the yard we have an observation hive in the study (the bees come and go through a tube in the window). It is really useful for seeing what is going on in bee-land. For instance, last January (2002) I discovered that they had loaded up with pollen on a couple of mild days. That was the third week of January! Where in the world did they find that pollen? We have a witch hazel, but it typically doesn’t bloom until February some time. I still don’t have an answer to that one. This year was different though - there were no warm January days, and no sign of pollen in the hive till nearly the end of February.

The three yard hives still had a surprising amount of honey left, which means I can stop feeding them sugar water - no more Easy Street for the Girls… All three queens were laying eggs again, although one was way behind the other, so I moved some brood comb from the more populated hives to the weaker one. That might also help things out a bit with swarm season rapidly approaching.

There are countless articles in the bee magazines about techniques to keep the Girls from swarming. I’ve tried about all of them that made any sense at all. I think I’ve finally figured out why none of them seem to work all that well - bees just don’t read. It doesn’t matter how clever this “master” beekeeper’s idea may be - nobody ever told the bees… Whoever wrote the Murphy’s Law Corollary - “under the most carefully controlled conditions of temperature, humidity and environment the organism will do what it damn well pleases” could well have been a beekeeper.
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So Many Questions (going into Iraq)

(Written March 22, 2003) I’ve been writing this message in my head for a couple of weeks now - maybe by finally writing it will help me sort some things out in my own mind, or not.

The only thing I feel fairly certain of is that Saddam would never disarm, regardless of how many inspectors were sent in there. They would find this, he would build that, and on it would go until the world/UN just gave up.

But, the question is - is Saddam with his weapons better or worse than war? I’m really stuck on that one. There are a *lots* of piss-ant dictators in the world. Why is it suddenly so necessary to go after this one? I’ve heard the “it’s all about oil” line - but that is too simplistic. It probably figures into it, but I can’t see it as the major motivation. The Bushman is spending a hell of a lot of political capital to make this happen - when he could be spending it on things like tax cuts, etc. I have yet to see him make a believable case for why he thinks this is so important.

Right now I’m not either for or against the war - fortunately I don’t have to make that decision - and I guess how it turns out in the end will tell the story. There are two possible equations as I see it, in terms of number of people that will die:

X=(# years Saddam remains in power without a war)*(average # people per year that die because he is in power)

Y=(# people killed in the war) + (# people killed in the political unrest afterwards).

These numbers are, of course, unknowable (we’ll know one, but never the other). But if it could be shown that Y would be less than X, would those who are against the war still oppose it? And if so, why? And why are all the protests against removing Saddam from power? Why aren’t there any protests saying he should disarm?

What really scares me is the Bushman’s rhetoric. All of this evil and ‘God is on our side’ stuff really gives me the willies, like we’ve got our own Mullah Omar in the White House. The problem with fundamentalist versions of any religion is that they seem to be all about killing and vengeance “for God”. And the Christian versions really like this Apocalypse thing - it’s their big revenge fantasy that they can’t wait for. Given that sort of mind set it scares the shit out of me that Bush is so eager to go stirring things up in the Middle East - where the Big End is all supposed to come from…

I was in the infantry in Viet Nam. Later I protested against that war. In recent years I’m thinking our bigger mistake was pulling out of Viet Nam when we did. I guess we didn’t have much choice in terms of keeping our own country together, but when you look at what happened to those poor people in the South when the Communists came in - they *really* got screwed far worse by the Commies than they ever did by us. Of course the government in the South was for shit and not worth defending, but what the South needed was a real government, not just letting them ‘unify’ under the Communists. So none of the answers were really right - but you can see why I am having such a hard time seeing this war as either Right or Wrong…