In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, they can be found by clicking the labels button "stuff I made up".

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I write like...

Rudyard Kipling, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Cory Doctorow, Charles Dickens Ursula K. Le Guin, Mark Twain.....and who knows who else. The list may be endless, although it seems to land on Cory Doctorow more than often.

It's a neat site to visit. Go see who writes like you. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I was a little worried.....

...that Mostly Cajun was gone. I've been reading the blog for years and would miss it if it was gone.

Not so. He had some problems with his domain, but has mostly straightened out the mess.

I don't remember how I found the site, but it was years ago. Over time, I've spent many hours reading there and following MC's daily reports on his life. It's all been good and, to me, most enjoyable were the posts on 'Lil 'Dumplin, which is a boat that has a history.

After finding the boat, he went to a marina in Clear Lake, Texas, made the deal and sailed her from there to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The trip was not without incident; most notably 'Dumplin sinking near Port Arthur, Texas. That's when I met MC. I had read a post by his wonderful friend Chrissy, who had informed his followers the  boat sank. I was finishing up at work, had a pump available and went to offer assistance.

I had noticed 'Lil 'Dumplin when I travelled by the marina before she sank. All I can say is that it was a fine boat indeed. When I arrived and saw her on the bottom, I had that sick feeling, which I'm sure was only a twinge compared to what MC was feeling. It was a sad site indeed, but to really get a feeling for the event, you need to go read about her on his site. Type in Dumplin in his search pane and the posts will appear.

I think you'll want to visit his site every day. He is the epitome of the Cajun culture and is a wizard with large things that use lightning for power.

Spider Massacre

Over the weekend, I noticed that the orb spiders that built their webs higher in the trees were gone. It wasn't just one here or there; they were all gone. It's a little early for this to happen, but I'm thinking I might have seen the curlprit.

I caught a glimpse of something bright yellow in a large oak tree. I turned and focused on the spot and found a small yellow bird, which I'm guessing is some kind of finch. I'm, also, guessing it's migratory and this is a food stop on the way further south. From the way it flew between the trees, I think it was looking for another meal before moving on. I don't know, but it was all too coincidental.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Question

Since the shuttle program ended, and the Soyuz program is grounded, do you think the astronauts aboard the Space Station might be having second thoughts?

I do.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Me and My Machette

When I first moved from home, my first apartment was a garage apartment in my hometown. For those that don't know what that is, it's an apartment built over a garage.

Usually, a garage apartment was built completely over the garage. Stairs lead to the apartment, and some were fairly large, if the garage was built for more than two cars.

Mine was a little different. It was a single car garage. The kitchen and bathroom were two small rooms on the ground floor. There was an interior stair, besides the outside stair, which had been removed due to age and neglect. The door was still there, but the screen door was nailed shut to prevent unwanted exits.

Upstairs was a small "living room" attached to a just as small bedroom. A small porch was built at the front, which provided an awning over the entry downstairs. I'd sit for hours listening to my stereo, while I built a large drip candle. I couldn't afford a television, so I would mostly just stare, smoke cigarettes and drink a beer, or two.

For the first year I lived there, I didn't have air conditioning, which led to some miserable nights. The typical Summer night in my hometown usually meant humidity near 100 percent and temperatures in the upper 70's. To cope, I'd open all the windows and sit in front of a fan. I'd always close the "door to nowhere" at night, when I went to bed.I eventually placed a small window unit in the bedroom, but that's another story of how I acquired the air conditioner.

When I left to work offshore, I'd close all the windows, lock the doors and make one last check of the refigerator. I'd throw away the milk, which usually wouldn't last, but it was great for teaching friends not to drink straight from the bottle. I broke a friend of the practice after he took a large swig of curdled milk after I had repeatedly told him to stop. I guess I could have warned him, but I didn't. Don't ask me why.

After one week offshore, I returned home, made a trip to the grocery store and finally went to bed. I was exhausted and needed to rest. I went through my usual night procedures, which were to open the windows , close the door to the bedroom and go to bed.

Late that night, thunder woke me from my sleep. A strong thunderstorm was coming and I immediately started thinking of getting up and lowering the windows.

Before I could move, the door to nowhere started opening. It was that eerie slow squeal of hinges and I could see the light from the streetlamp appear under the door. A thousand thoughts went through my mind at that moment. Who was coming in? Who, or what? After all, it was 12 feet to that door. What could be coming in?

I crept from bed and grabbed my machette, which I kept next to my bed. I slowly eased to the door and listened. The storm had now arrived and I could hear rain hitting that side of the house. It was time to do something, although that something wasn't what I really wanted to do. Since there was no escape, I reached for the knob and carefully opened the door. I wanted to be very quiet and surprise whoever, or whatever was in the living room.

As I opened the door, machette in my hand, I carefully looked at the screen door. There was nobody there. I looked around the room; still nobody. I went to the front screened porch; still nobody. I was alone- maybe. I still had to search downstairs. Lightning flashes deepened the shadows. The momentary flashes made the entire episode surreal.

The trip down the stairs probably took five minutes. Every step was measured and checked, so I didn't make any noise. My ears listened for the tiniest of sounds, although the raging storm was making the task difficult. I finally made it to the kitchen; nobody there. Checked the bath; nobody there. I checked the front door; it was still locked.

I started turning on lights, just to verify I hadn't missed something in the shadows and started pulling the windows down to keep the rain out. Eventually I went and examined the door to nowhere. It was locked. Apparantly, when I had left for work, I had pulled the door closed, but it hadn't latched. It was the wind. The thunderstorm had arrived from the right direction, with the right strength - at the perfect time.

I didn't sleep well the rest of that night, even though the storm had brought a welcome cool breeze. I was still on edge and had to keep one eye open...just in case.

To the 700 pound person...

...that was in the line at the grocery store. Drinking from a half gallon of fruit juice, while in line, indicates you have absolutely no desire to lose the weight that is bending the wheels on the electric cart. Thank goodness you were discreet while paying for your food. If you had pulled out a Lonestar Card, I might have created a reason for a cleanup at checkout no. 6.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

One Sunday

I was staring out my kitchen window and thinking of my younger brother. It was early fall and still hot along the Gulf Coast. Autumn was coming and we were ready for the relief.

As I stared, I thought of years ago, when my brother was fresh out of High School. He seemed to attract bad luck. He was never in trouble with the law, but he was always on the edge. Things happened to him that wouldn't happen to anyone else. I blamed it on his determination and defiance.

One day, he told me he had joined the Air Force. I thought he had acted on a whim and wouldn't last more than a few weeks of boot camp. Over twenty years later, when he retired, he proved my thoughts were wrong.

My brother's specialty in the Air Force was radar systems. I was a little amazed he took to electronics so well. I didn't even know he was interested, but it became obvious it was more than that. Over time, his expertise was sought. His recommendations of any new sytem were integral in final decisions. He would be sent to other bases, and places he couldn't talk about, to troubleshoot and repair systems. He was well respected by those he led and served.

Early in his career, while stationed in Spain, he met a wonderful women, who later became his wife and finally: a U.S. citizen. They completed each other. Good, bad or indifferent, they survived, and flourished, as a team. Her daughter became his, too, and they had a son that was a younger version of his father. I would smile when my brother told me stories of his sons defiance and determination. His son was definitely following in his father's footsteps.

After retirement, my brother continued his career. He was doing the same thing, but for a contractor. After travelling for a few years, he decided to take a job at home for a contractor that worked on the local Air Force base. Both he, and his wife, were more content with him being close and home at night. He had time to do things he never could before. He bought a Harley and spent many hours riding along the beach he loved. They built a new home to share for the rest of their lives.

As I stared out the window, I sorted my thoughts as I recounted the last few minutes. I remember my mother's call and passing the information on to my wife. My brother had crashed into a car while riding. An elderly woman had pulled out, he hit the side of her car.and was gone. I later learned it had been quick and he never suffered. I silently cried, while my wife sobbed in the other room.

The service was set for the next weekend. The long drive there gave me time to prepare for the service, but it didn't prepare me for seeing my sister-in-law. She looked so defeated. It hadn't been long since they finished their new home. She would never share it with my brother again.

The viewing was crowded. As I spoke with the people attending, I noted the large network of friends and coworkers my brother had acquired. They spoke of their admiration and sorrow. Some had to leave. It was too much.

The next day was the day we laid him to rest. After a short service at the funeral home, the procession left for the trip to church for the final service.

I can only describe the funeral procession as magnificant. It stretched for miles and included all walks of life, including friends on Harleys. A half dozen sheriff deputies escorted and kept the traffic at bay. People on the side of the road removed their hats in respect.

When we arrived at the church, the priest asked everyone to gather outside for a few minutes. As we waited, an Air Force honor guard formed next to the coffin, and honored my brother with a 21 gun salute. My heart burst with sorrow and pride. I had no idea of the respect my brother had earned.

At the service, people spoke of my brother. They recounted their memories and the goodnes of my brother. The admired his willingness to help and be part of their lives. I tried to speak, but I couldn't for long. I returned to my seat and held my wife. It all seemed to crash at that moment. He was gone forever.

The next day dawned with a change in the weather. A strong wind blew from the north and the crystal clear air was in the fifties. Summer had been broken and Autumn arrived on a beautiful clear morning. We had one stop to make before we left for home.

My older brothers, and I, went to the scene of the accident. There wasn't much to see, except the orange paint marks on the pavement. Since I knew the story, I could envision the last few moments, where my brother hit and where he landed. It was all marked on the pavement. I wondered what my brother thought at those last moments.

We laid flowers with those already there. A small cross had been placed by a friend. Again, I thought of the network my brother had acquired. I felt so proud and thought of how it all had been such a waste. It was too soon for him to go. I had too many more things to say. As we left, I realized we had closed my brother's book of life and turned to another chapter of our own.

They say time heals all wounds, which it does, but the wounds of the heart are deep. They heal, but life can tug at the scars until they ache. I can feel that now as I write, at family gatherings and when I think of my sister- in- law telling me they had scattered my brothers ashes in the Gulf of Mexico. He was now part of the beautiful emerald waters he loved. His circle of life was complete.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricanes

I've been in a few hurricanes. All have been different, but none have been what is hyped on the news.

Bonnie was the first. It was one of those Gulf hurricanes predicted to be a tropical storm, but strengthen rapidly and come ashore as a category 1 hurricane. There were no widespread evacuations and the surge was around 6 feet. The biggest affects were along the coast. It washed away a section of highway on Texas 87, which was determined as too costly to repair and maintain.

Bonnie came ashore during early morning. The sustained winds, when they reached my house, were probably around 65 mph. That's far from the hurricane force winds, but it was still enough to peel sections of roof from my house. I can only describe the sound as like a giant zipper being unzipped. Repairs involved all of the next weekend, but the house stood. The eye passed about 10 miles away. I didn't see the eye, but I did see the clouds become lighter and noticed the wind shift. I was without power for a few days. 

After Bonnie, there was a hurricane about one year later. It was like Bonnie, as far as where it formed and how it behaved. I was far enough from the center that there were only tropical force winds. I didn't receive any damage or lose power.

Another storm struck the west end of Galveston Island a few years later. It was a strange storm since the usual wet Northeast Quadrant was dry. Instead of causing widespread rains, the storm blew in millions of mosquitos from the marsh. Since I was without power for a few days, it was miserable to be outside at night. The mosquitos would cover my skin to where only a little of the skin was visible. I didn't have a generator, so it was misrable in the heat, both day and night. I didn't receive any damage.

Rita was the next memorable storm. I evacuated, but wished I hadn't.(I'll elaborate further into my post.) Damage was minimal and I was without power for about 2 weeks. I had a generator to keep one room cool with a window unit, and power to my water well.

Ike was next. I felt Ike would end up over one hundred miles down the coast, so I didn't evacuate. Eventually, Ike proved me wrong and came ashore about 60 miles away, as the crow flies. The maximum winds at my house were around 85 mph and the eye eventually passed around 40 miles away. Damage was minimal for me, but the tremendous surge of Ike pushed water into places that hadn't been inundated by a surge in around 100 years. The damage was horrific to see. Entire areas literally diappeared and some were killed when they didn't evacuate. I was without power for about a week, but I had a generator to shift between the appliances and keep things somewhat normal.

All in all, sitting through a storm, in my opinion, is much better than the worrying in a strange place. I felt more relaxed during the worst of Ike than I did 300 miles from the coast during Rita.

An old man told me: "You don't run from the wind, but you run from the water." My experience has shown this to be wise in my part of the world. If you're above the highest point of a surge, the winds are not nearly as bad as you would think and you don't have to worry about a storm surge.

Am I saying don't evacuate? No, but I am saying the wisest thing to do is not panic, make logical decisions on your actions and never expect any help from a government agency. Emergency management can be as feckless as any government bureaucracy. Depending on that help can be a lesson in futility. Depend on yourself, keep enough drinking water to last a week, have plenty of non-perishables and never be without a flashlight. It's your friend. When widespread areas are without power, nights are the darkest you'll ever experience.

I've found the best resource after a storm were my friends, neighbors and even strangers. There's a strong effort to regain what once was normal. Everyone pitches in with helping to remove trees, temporary repairs and share the food they would lose if they didn't throw it on the pit after it thawed. Terrible times, become treasured memories. You realize your strengths, and weaknesses, but you increase your faith in yourself and the human race.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

A chopped food show

For a moment, I was wondering if I had lost any ability to write about anything - until I watched a cooking show on the television.

The show had four chefs, who would compete through the different courses of a meal under a time limit. Eventually, after the final desert is chosen, only one chef wins.

To start, the appetizer was composed of three ingrediants: beach sand, newspaper and running shoes. The chefs did well, but the judges were critical. Probably the worst critique was that the losing chef had served soggy beach sand. This chef was the first to go.

The entree' was composed of three ingrediants: chlorine bleach, used radial tires and chrome molding. I'm guessing they decided to forgo Mediterannean food and go for Nascar. The three remaining chefs did well, as far as I was concerned, but one of the picky judges really hated crispy steel belted radials, so another chef bit the dust.

The final desert was composed of three ingrediants, also: crushed glass, vacuum cleaner dust and turtle bowl water. The two deserts were fantastic and the judges were really torn on who should win. The winning decision hinged on the fact that one of the chefs made the mistake of adding too much sugar to their turtle bowl water and chocolate sauce. So, the winner was chosen for something as simple as having a dessert that was too sweet.

All in all, it was a really interesting show, but the ingredients were a little beyond what I'm used to. Maybe if I watch enough, they'll come up with something like the ingrediants of sirloin steak, potatoes and fresh romaine lettuce.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I have to add the following:

As far as hurricanes go, take everything you see on the Weather Channel, or from your local meteoroligist with a grain of salt. If you're over 100 miles from the center, there's no need to evacuate, unless you're in an area affected by surge, or just like to sit in stalled traffic.

I know this advice will be pooh-poohed by some, but that's how I feel. You won't find hurricane force winds 100 miles from the center. You might only see little, or no rain. That's just how hurricanes work.

Another thing: hurricanes take a long time to arrive, so you have plenty of time to make decisions and to change your mind.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Irene...

...is out there. The first hurricane of the season and heading towards the U.S. coast.

Over the weekend, the forecast track was through Florida. This track took it in at the southern tip and the eventual path was up the pennisula and the East Coast.

Now, that's changed. The Carolinas are the forecast landfall, which is not good for the Carolinas, especially since the category 2 winds can cause winds in excess of 100 mph and a storm surge over 10 feet. If it's been a long time since a hurricane, they'll find the weaknesses in their buildings, or that their trees have grown beyond their ability to withstand hurricane winds.

There is the chance the trough, which will guide Irene, will be further east and the storm will miss landfall on the mainland. Irene will then only brush the coast. Seas and tides will be terrible, but the worst of the destructive winds will stay away from land.

There is also the chance the track will end up being further to the west. This can mean Irene will follow the Florida coast and the landfall will be in northern Florida or Georgia. If so, this landfall will be by a hurricane with category 3 strength. The winds will be well in excess of 100 mph and the surge will be pushing 15 feet.

Whatever the storm does, people will be affected. They'll plan, watch carefully and leave if that's what's necessary. Some won't leave , even if it is necessary, but they'll find a long, lonely ride without any hope for rescue if everything goes wrong. There is no help in a hurricane. You're by yourself. Only after the winds subside will they start surveying the damage, or start looking for the people that made their last call from a crumbling house.

So, those that will be affected are in my thoughts. I've been through hurricanes. They change your life forever and they make you appreciate the simplest of things, such as fresh water and hot food. Even a hot shower becomes a luxury after a hurricane. The hard labor to repair, and rebuild becomes a daily task that leaves you wondering if your mind will finally snap.

I hope Irene misses the U.S. entirely and the hurricane season ends with the passage of a strong cold front that keeps the storms away. Times are tough enough, without adding a hurricane.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Feet

When I was a child, we'd officially shed our shoes on the last day of school. After that, almost the entire summer was spent barefooted.

It would take a few weeks, but our feet would develop calluses similar to leather. At around 1/4 inch thick, they would protect our feet from anything, except broken glass bottles. We could walk across hot asphalt paving without flinching. The oyster shell parking lots, which were common at that time, required walking carefully, but didn't stop us in our travels.

Our feet took a beating. The worst was usually a missed pedal, which dragged the top of our foot under the pedal of a bicycle. This usually took off a substantial piece of hide, or most of a toenail. This would slow us down, but we still avoided shoes. Blackberry vines were a concern; they wouldn't hurt the bottom of our feet, but the sides would be scratched if you weren't careful.

I remember riding on the handlebars of a friend's bicycle. This required sitting carefully and placing my feet on the two bolts that held the front wheel in place. We were in hurry, so he was peddling as fast as he could. When he hit a bump, I lost my footing, which pushed my foot into the spokes.  The next thing I knew, I was face planted on the paving and wondering what was broken when the bicycle, and friend, suddenly ended all forward motion and fipped onto my back.

After a few moments of analysis, I realized I had some scrapes, my foot was bruised, but not broken, and I would survive. I shook it off and we went about our business, although I did limp for a few days and we had to replace some spokes on the bicycle.

Today, my feet are no tougher than those of a newborn. There are no calluses and the smallest of twigs makes me flinch. It would be impossible to walk on hot paving and if walking across a shell parking lot was the only way I could get food, I'd probably starve.

There is a saying "No man is an island" ...I'll add, "unless he doesn't have shoes".

Friday, August 19, 2011

I really like this picture

Don't ask me why. Maybe it's the dog's defiant expression.

The Green Flash

There's a phenomenom that happens at the last second when the sun sets. It's called the "Green Flash". I'd never heard of it, until my brother told me about it during a discussion about the weather. He described how he had hoped to see it, but couldn't find the right location on land to view the phenomenom. Since I was working offshore at the time, I started looking for it, also, but the conditions never seemed to be right.

One late winter evening, the wind had laid down and the Gulf was almost calm. The water was only rippled by the light breeze. The atmosphere was as clear as it can ever be, so I waited at the rail on the west end of the platform.

As the sun set, I noticed the unusually clear atmosphere prevented the sun from turning the usual dull red. As it touched the horizon, it was still a bright yellowish orange. I kept turning my eyes away, since it was still so bright, but was quick to return my gaze for the right moment. It slowly disappeared until there wasn't much except a bright spot. Suddenly I saw it. For a second, the bright orange was gone and the sun turned a pale green. I felt a moment of strong triumph, but it was soon replaced by a loneliness and the wish my brother was there to share the experience.

I stored the memory, so I could remember it forever and told my brother about seeing the green flash. In the thirty years since that moment, we still haven't shared the experience together. I think I'll add it to my bucket list. Hopefully the shortness of life won't prevent it from happening.

Fortune Cookie

I had Chinese food for lunch. The fortune cookie had the following:

"Rome was not built in a day. Be patient."

I thought about it. Was I being given good advice, or being admonished by some machine in Taiwan? I guess I'll never know, until I play the lucky lottery numbers on the back. I'll share the numbers:

21 25 33 52 56-10
2 21 28 32 37
2 1 3

Now we can all be lucky.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Walmart, Zen and Crocs

I went to the Super Walmart this evening to do some grocery shopping. I had eaten, was cooling off and had on my Crocs. It wasn't like my usual Walmart experience.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I realized I was calm, relatively cool and suddenly went to a different plane. I was now super calm, super observant and focused on observing my experience. I was in Walmarditation, which is like meditation, but instead of letting your mind go blank, your mind opens and you become a disinterested observer. It's like an out of body experience, while pushing a shopping basket.

As I walked towards the door, two women were conversing in the parking lot, while a handful of children orbited around them and their carts. They were discussing their chicken-rice recipes. As I thought of this, I realized how wonderful their recipes must be. After all, what else but perfection could compel you to speak of such things in a parking lot where the temperature was near 100 degrees. I continued towards the door while they continued to block the traffic trying to park.

I reached for a basket, and carefully checked the wheels for locked bearings and flat spots. I wanted my experience to not have the distraction of a constant thumpity-thump. I failed to notice the half melted, partially wrapped Three Muskateers until after I had reached the tomatoes on sale near the door. Instead of my usual irritation, I calmly thought: "Oh well, I suppose the other half must have kept some basket rodent from pulling things off the shelf"

I put a handful of the tomatoes in a bag. As I bagged the tomatoes, I wondered how many runny nosed crack-heads had fondled the tomatos after scratching their sweaty crotch. It didn't bother me. I was in Walmarditation and knew chlorine bleach would stop the spread of infection.

I wandered through the store and checked off my small list. Instead of my usual problems, I only encountered one women with a motorized buggy pulling a cart. She was unsure of a purchase, so she shifted between forward and reverse while she made the decision. The back-up alarm chirped as she rocked and decided. I carfully navigated around her aisle block and continued with my shopping.

As I passed the entrance aisle, a frantic women almost took off the front of my basket. She looked as though some Xanax would help. I smiled and continued on my way. Right beyond was a grandfather with a grandchild that was having a hard time comprehending that "get out of the way",  meant "get out of the way". He looked at me for a reaction. I smiled and nodded as I passed. I had no words of wisdom.

I was finally through, so I went to the speedy check-out and waited behind a young man with a gallon of milk. The couple at the check-out kept looking around nervously. They had at least 40 items and were nervous because they knew I knew. Instead of my usual anger, I observed them as they hurried and continued to be nervous. It was as though my focus was punishing them for their arrogance. I felt a power and knew that one word of anger would cause them to run screaming from the store. I casually ignored them and watched as they scurried away.

My experience was almost over. As I walked through the parking lot, a cautious Grackle scampered under a car with a chicken bone in its beak. There was nothing left to eat, so its prize was only a trophy of a meal it never had.

Right before I reached my truck, a small car pulled into the adjoining space. It was an older model compact, with a visqueen and duct tape back window. Everything the occupant owned was crammed in every space available. The only space left was where the driver sat. I wondered where they would put anything they bought.

I knew my experience was ending, so I hurriedly drove across the parking lot towards the exit. As I watched a driver run a stop sign, and my reaction was "What a dumbass" I realized my Walmarditation was over. I was back.


Flagging

In my years of work, I've spent many a long hour standing at a flag post directing traffic. It's a long hard day of standing, hoping you don't get hit by a distracted drive, jumping to keep from being hit by a distracted driver, wondering when you'll get a break to go pee, wondering if you'll have time to sit in the shade and eat lunch and the hope it doesn't start raining. Slick highways, and poor visibility, raises the whole danger thing a notch.

In the past, the flagger didn't have any training. Now, they have training, certificates of their training and are expected to behave in a professional manner. It's important and necessary, but it still doesn't prevent accidents.

This morning was the last day on a job for a flagger. I don't know the details, but I do know the contractor and probably met some of the people involved - maybe even the flagger. They were struck and killed at 8:00 am this morning. I hope they didn't suffer and I pray for their family.

Question

I'm new at the blog game, so I'm in the dark about some things.

One thing I notice about some blogs is itemized postings. Otherwise, there are categories for the different posts, so the reader can peruse the categories they find interesting. I think it's a good idea, but then I'd have to keep a list of categories, which I could do, although I'd probably just make them up as I go and finally realize I had a category for every post. This would sorta ruin the whole "file cabinet" aspect of posting.

I don't really pay attention to categories. Not  that I don't like the idea, but I was so emeshed with the categories of one blog, I had an Eienstein moment and forgot to eat for about a week. That wasn't so bad, because I was about 10 pounds overweight before I started. My doctor warned me that was enough, so I avoid looking at categories.

So, my question: Categories or not? I can put them, but if you lose weight, I have to charge a few bucks. After all, if "Weight Watchers" can make a buck off writing, I should have the same opportunity.

Things That Are Hard To Fathom

The President is going on vacation. I don't how many that makes for this year, but I'm thinking it's around a dozen. I guess he's taking the whole family....in a 747...with hundreds of handlers and guards....on my dime.

Meanwhile, I wonder every day whether the crummy construction market will be sustainable and I won't have to stand in the bean line once again. Maybe I should start a sign company, so I can make stimulus signs. There seem to be a lot of those, although I don't see much of anything else going on.

Today...

...will be the first day of the rest of my life. At least that's what I read on a bumper sticker long years ago. There was that bumper sticker and the "Happy Face" bumper sticker, which was immortalized in "Forrest Gump".

I'm thinking I need to come up with some really snarky bumper sticker. I'll market it, make a million, find my idea was stolen, fight a Chinese corporation in court, lose my suit, pay punitive damages and die a miserable pauper.

Maybe I won't come up with some stupid bumper sticker. Life's too short to deal with lawsuits and copyright infringements.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Uneasy Truce

I was bitten by a spider years ago. As my wife and I were almost asleep, I felt what I could only describe as a bee sting on my back. As I rolled away from whatever it was, my wife suddenly jumped up, started slapping at her nightgown and said: "Something's crawling on me." 

I finally found the light switch and we surveyed the damage. There wasn't much left. All the legs were gone and the body was terribly deformed. Still, I placed it on the counter in the bathroom, returned to the bedroom and asked my wife to look at my back.

"Oh my God" were the first words she spoke. "Feel your back", so I did.

There was a knot the size of a half walnut shell. My wife went to work with her nails and started squeezing the poison from the knot. After a few minutes of this, I went to the bathroom, fetched the Icthammol ointment and a large bandage. She placed a healthy dob of the ointment and the bandage. We decided if it wasn't better by morning, I would go to a doctor.

When we looked at the bite the next morning, there was nothing left but a small red spot. The swelling was gone and there was no pain. I chalked it up to experience and mostly forgot about it.

About two years ago, I was bit again. This time was different.

I was walking through my yard late one evening, right before dark. There were plenty of mosquitos, so there were plenty of bites; mostly on my back. As I walked, I walked through the large, tough web of an Orb spider. I slapped away the web and, hopefully, the spider. They can get to 4 inches from tip of leg to tip of leg. Otherwise, they're large spiders, with large chelicerae (fangs). I thought I had escaped without injury, until about two days later.

A large red area appeared on my back. Over the next few days, it became larger and tender to the touch. I suspected a spider bite, but had to think of how I had been bitten. I knew I had walked through a web, but didn't feel the sharp sting like before. I looked up spider bites and found photos that looked like my back.

After I did a little research, I discovered that a spider may not inject venom, but will still warn you with a stab of their fangs. While this may seem to be harmless, the fangs are coated with all of the rotten juices that accumulate from their victims. The result of their warning can be a staph infection, which is what I was dealing with.

I kept the bite area covered, placed plenty of ointment and it started draining. It drained for days and eventually healed. This leads us to the title of my post.

There are always Orb spiders in my yard. They appear early every summer and start homesteading the spots where I walk. Since my bite, I'm obsessive with a pump-up sprayer and insecticide. I eradicate all I can reach. After the few weeks of summer, the first skirmish is over. If I can't reach them with the spray, they can build all the webs they want.

We have an uneasy truce, but I'm vigilant for their forays into my territory. If I miss them with the insecticide, the weed whacker does quite well. I've even caught one when the handy spray was safety orange paint. The paint served a dual purpose. Not only did it get rid of the spider, it left a brilliant warning to all of his comrades.

Usually, everything ends during the last days of summer, when the bats, and martins, find the webs. The webs will remain, but the large hole in the middle shows something had a good meal.  The battle is over, but the war continues. I have a feeling it will go on for a long, long time.

I give up

Dear Mother Nature:

I officially declare defeat. The heat and lack of clouds have proven I can't defeat such a powerful force as you. My sweat soaked clothes and blood shot eyes are a testament to the power of a heat index of 104 degrees. My persistant headache and chafed crotch prove that my thoughts of being able to work in such heat were based on my abysmal ignorance. My foolishness is classical and I now realize my efforts were completely in vain. Forgive me. I will try not to make these mistakes ever again.

Sincerely,
A Foolish and Ignorant Human.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A day in a refinery

I know there are many that have worked in a petrochemical facility, but for those that haven't it's not what you think.

When you first reach the gate, you'll find a series of concrete barriers. The barriers are placed to prevent quick access to the facility. Otherwise, if you wanted to pull around traffic, crash the gate and speed inside for some terrorist mission, you're out of luck. You'll crash and probably spend the rest of your life in prison, if you're not swarmed by a bunch of really pissed off workers.

The guards are trained to check you out. They ask for your proper documentation, which usually includes a Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC), another government issued photo I.D. and a card that shows you've been safety trained for the facility. They'll probably look under your hood, through your toolboxes, under the hood and use a mirror on wheels to check the undercarriage. If you have a beard, or the wrong type of safety clothing, you might be turned away. They have rules about such things, and there are no gray areas.

I wrote about the cards for access to the facility. What are these cards?

The TWIC card is a government issued photo identification. It requires fingerprints of all your fingers, proof of identification and a background check. The cost is about $140, which doesn't include the few hours involved with the processes to finally receive the card. It's good for a few years, then you go back for a renewal.

The safety card requires more time. Usually, you have a 4 hour basic safety course, but that's only the start. After that you have a site specific course and any other specialty course, such as "Confined Space" or "Hazmat". After it's all done, you can spend days in mind numbing safety classes and expect to return in one year for refresher courses. These courses don't include special equipment certifications that can take weeks to acquire. You have these cards, or you don't work. That's the rules.

After you're inside, it's time to prepare for work. You may have driven to the site, or have parked in a special area from which you walked, or rode a bus to site. Now it's time to go through the processes that allow you to work.

First is a toolbox safety meeting. You either prepare, or review a "Job Safety Analysis" and eventually sign the document for processing. After the fifteen minutes are up, it's time to go prepare tools and equipment, but you can't start until you have the proper permits.

The minimum is a work permit. It's issued by an operator of the unit, or area. They have the knowledge and know when it's safe to work. Included in this permit may be a hot work permit, confined space entry permit, a vehicle permit or any other permit required by the facility. No permit; no work.

The work area may need to be "sniffed" for Hydrogen Sulfide, or other dangerous gas. Processes involve tons of chemicals, including petroleum products and exotic things such as Phosphene, Phenol, Acrylic Acid, Hydrochloric Acid, Cyanide....you get the picture. One missed step might be instant death to workers. These deaths aren't pretty because, usually, at least on person makes the mistake of trying to save someone. Without the proper equipment, and training, they're just as dead.

Now it's time to go to work. PPE (personal protection equipment) is donned. The minimum is hard hat, safety glasses, steel toe boots and gloves. Added to this may be Nomex coveralls (usually required where a flash fire is possible) hearing protection, breathing protection (another special card), and a face shield. It depends and it's all uncomfortable.

Work can be anything. It may be heavy construction or any of the thousands of service jobs. All have their special tools and methods, but all are governed by the rules of the facility. There are no waivers. Those that fail to follow the rules are escorted from the facility and, usually, banned forever.

When you really stop and look, you can't hide your fascination. Pipelines are measured in hundreds of miles. Vessels are stacked, racked, tower or contained behind explosion proof barriers. From a distance, it looks like a solid structure. When you're close, your realize it's like a steel collage, with access to almost anywhere. Paths, catwalks, stairs, landings and rooms are everywhere. All sits on massive concrete structures and concrete paving is placed for containment and access.

The noise is a steady rumble accented by the scream of gasses traveling through pipes, the whine of electric motors and the roar of liquids as they're dumped from vessels and sent away for storage. Open flames are visible from boilers and the steam is always present from the constant relieving of excess water by steam traps.

The lighting of a flare will always get your attention. It's automatic and they don't waste anything. So something isn't quite right and sending it to flare means they have no other options. At that time, you'll start remembering evacuation routes and procedures.

There is no way to really describe a petrochemical facility. It would be like trying to explain the taste of chocolate. Until you experience a day in one of these places, I can only tell you it's the hottest, coldest, loudest, dirtiest, most frightening and most dangerous place you'll ever visit. Statistically, they're safe, but that's only because the beast is constantly watched and monitored.  None are without incidents, but these incidents are few, and far between. Usually, they happen because somebody took a shortcut, or ignored a warning. The result can be death, or a lifetime of suffering.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'll try to put this delicately.

As I was driving this afternoon, I saw a women that was, obviously, taking her afternoon run. She had the steady pace, the arms in exagerated motion and was running like she had......I don't mean to be crude....she had a chafed whutsit.

If this was an isolated incident, I'd just think: "Oh, that poor women is so determined, she'll keep her routine, even with a chafed whutsit", but that's not the situation. I've seen this a few times in the last few months, so I'm beginning to think I'm in the dark about something.

Is there some new exercise fad I haven't heard of? You know, a special exercise move? A move, if you incorporate it in your run, will eliminate another 10 calories? (10 calories is the same amount of calories you receive from smelling a donut at 20 feet.) If so, I don't think I like it. It really looks strange, and I know I'd be really embarassed to speak with someone if they should happen to stop in the middle of their run to have a conversation. What would I say? It would be a little personal to ask if there was a problem, or offer advice.

Anyway, maybe somebody can help me with my ignorance. Until then, my advice is to run like you're supposed to and stay at least 30 feet away from donuts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Delman and Clotille

No, this isn't a Cajun joke. It's about two ducks at work.

Across the road from the office is man-made lake, which is privately owned. Originally, it was a large dirt pit for supplying materials to build a large section of IH-10. Now, it's beautiful green water and lots of wildlife - including ducks.

Since the lake is kept from the public,  there are no human predators. Migratory birds come and go, but some decide to stay. Included in the denizens are a few dozen Canadian Geese and about a half dozen Mallards. This brings us to Delman and Clotille: two of the finest Mallards you'll ever see. Fat, sleek and their markings are classic. They can fly, but that's rare. That's old school in their world. Why bother?

Delman is the drake, Clotille is the hen. They are a mated pair and spend some time wondering around the office. They've denoted the area as their own and will chase off the other ducks, if they happen to wander around. It's not a violent squabble when this happens, but it can turn into a duck shouting match. The quacks are aggressive and the visitors soon leave.

When I have something they'll eat, (they don't like peanuts) I'll ease out front early in the morning and wait for them to spot me. As soon as this happens, they'll waddle up announcing their arrival with their social, quiet quacks. Clotille will shake her tail in contentment, while they wait for their food. Delman will give me his typical wary look and hang back.

As I feed them, I'll squat and patiently wait. They won't eat from my hand, but will eat the food I throw just out of my reach. Clotille will dig in, while Delman will take a bite, glare at me for a moment and then take another bite. They'll finish quickly and then look at me for more.  They won't leave until I go back inside. Until then, they'll pick at rocks, or anything else they think might be a missed morsel.

What interests me about the two is the fact they came from the wild. For some reason, they decided to stay and not migrate. Maybe one was injured, so the other stayed to help. Who knows. I do know they're pleasant to have around and add quiet, happy moments to my day.

The photo at the top....

...is Mount Redoubt in Alaska, which has it's own web page.

http://www.avo.alaska.edu/activity/Redoubt.php 

I became interested in volcanos after a movie I saw as a child.

In the movie, the heroine (who wore a grass skirt, or something like that) dove into the volcano at the end. I don't remember the plot, the story or the stars. I do remember the nightmare I had that night.

In the nightmare, I was walking through a field by my house, when I noticed a huge hole in the middle. As I passed, I heard something, turned and was terrified of the T-Rex that appeared. I ran, it started chasing me and I escaped by running into the house. I was safe.......not.

When I was glancing through the blinds, a volcano started erupting (no, we didn't really have volcanos) and lava surrounded the house. I was trapped and the feeling was horrible. Before we burned, I woke up.

So, for some reason, I became really interested in volcanos. I'm still interested, although I wouldn't want to visit one.

Playing with the buttons

I was playing with the buttons on my blog (Don't worry. The vortex port in space-time is still closed) and found the method to show bloggers I follow.

The listing sequence has no meaning. It's as I link or the blog wizard deems necessary. Otherwise, there's no favoritism, nepotism or any nefarious thoughts involved.

Now, you'll be able to sleep tonight.

The never ending circle

In the Winter, there's the constant griping about the cold. People will say: "I'll sure be glad when Summer arrives. I'm tired of the cold" I'll say: "Yes, but then you'll be griping about how hot it is and will sure be glad when Winter arrives.

In the Winter, there's the constant griping..........

CYA

Over the last year, I've found that one of my bosses had become a lesson in contradiction. I don't know if it is due to their age, or a developing personality disorder. It's maddening to make the effort to keep from going ballistic.

Anyway, I'm thinking I need to get one of those little pocket tape recorders to use as a reference. Since I can't write down everything, I can say a few short words and review the daily babblings for reference. It might help at the trial.

A new term for my arsenal.

Yesterday, during a break, I was talking with a coworker about how many of the younger folks we find today are woefully unprepared for working. They don't have a clue and our type of work sorts them out quickly.

While we talked, he mentioned a term an ex-boss had for these youngsters. He called them "Fleshy Headed Mutants" It fits and I'm going to steal the term.

Cantaloupe

Yesterday, while on the way home from a brutal day in the heat, I thought of cantaloupe. I imagined it cut into a salad with grapes, strawberries and bananas. I thought of how good it would be sliced. Cantaloupe became an obsession, so I stopped at the grocery store for a cantaloupe. I knew even a "fair" cantaloupe would be perfect.

There were no cantaloupes. None. The watermelons looked putrid and were over five bucks for the tiny ones. So, I bought some grapes and bananas, although my heart wasn't in it any longer. I guess the drought has affected me, also.

I went home and sulked. I'm still sulking.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Leo

I'll call him Leo. That wasn't his name, but his name isn't as important as he was.

Leo was born near Baton Rouge in the 40's. His early years in life didn't include school, but they did include long summers of helping with the bills by picking cotton. His fate in life was the fate of many others, unless he escaped, which he did.

Leo found a job with a contractor working in a refinery in Baton Rouge. It was hard labor work at first, but he wasn't content, so he patiently learned different crafts. He learned to build forms, pour concrete and finally, he learned to operate heavy equipment, which is what he was doing the first time I saw him on a project.

Leo had the touch for operating heavy equipment. I remember the first time I ever saw him suddenly stop, take a look and announce: "There's something down there". We were excavating for pipes and he felt a difference in the controls. I took a shovel and jumped in the trench.

As I carefully hand excavated, I kept expecting something large, such as a piece of concrete, or a large tree root to be uncovered. Instead, I found a telephone cable smaller than my little finger. He hadn't even skinned the insulation. Other than a small crimp, the cable was like new. I was impressed. I was, also, relieved to know I didn't have to worry about my safety, since careless operators had killed many by digging through a gas line.

Over the years, Leo and I worked many long days on different projects. Although he usually operated equipment, he wouldn't hesitate to help with anything. His skills weren't lost. He could hang with the best and work young men to the point they had to admit respect. He seemed tireless and his strength was phenomenal. He would hand tighten a fitting and I had to take a wrench to remove it.

I know Leo lost money over the years helping some of the hands through a pinch. Most would pay him back, but some left and never settled their debt. It would anger me, but he'd let it go. I felt they were abusing his kindness; he was wiser of such things and knew he would never loan money he couldn't afford.

Leo had good advice for many a young men. He'd give it to help; not to prove anything. His experiences in life weren't to be dismissed, although some would ignore what they should have paid to acquire. When he realized his advice was falling on deaf ears, he never became angry, or attempted to help any longer. He'd only shake his head and walk away. I could see the sadness on his face. He knew suffering would follow his ignored advice.

Leo wasn't a saint. He had his brush with the law. While it could be blamed on the amount of alcohol he'd drink after work, I only felt it contributed. He had good cause. I still remember when it happened:

We started that morning at daylight. We were preparing a concrete pour and were pushing hard to get the concrete poured before the rain that was forecasted. It was early winter and the high cirrus were a sign of what was to come.

We finished our preperation before noon and started pouring, which meant a sandwich, if you had it, and a long afternoon finishing concrete. It was hard work and added to the fatigue of the morning. We were finished pouring before 3:00 but there was much more time to work.

The high cirrus had long been replaced by a lowering deck of gray stratus. We could smell the moisture in the air and knew the damp cloudy weather would only slow down the curing of the concrete. Finishing the concrete would take long hours and we were only "babysitting", until we could put the final finish. We hid from the cold damp wind and waited. The cold had found the lost injuries of youth, which it pulled and twisted until they ached. 

By dark, the concrete still hadn't set enough to place the light broom finish required. This meant even more long hours. We didn't finish until 10:00 pm. We'd done all we could, we covered the slab and left with the first sprinkles on the windshield.

Leo was giving me a ride to my truck in the adjoining town. I asked him to stop at a convenience store, so I could get something to drink. He suggested a Sprite and some plastic cups. I thought it was a good idea. I did what he suggested, he poured us each a half glass of Bourbon and I topped them with Sprite. We were set for the 20 minute ride. He turned the heater up and we thawed as we travelled. Leo dropped me at my truck and went home. His recollection of reaching home has stuck with me to this day.

When Leo walked in, he found his warm home full of in-laws, his family and a few visitors. The smell of home cooked meal caused his stomach to growl. As he surveyed the group of people - some he cared about; some he felt abused his kindness - he went to the kitchen to eat. He opened the covered pots, only to find they were empty. They hadn't left him anything to eat. His blood boiled.

Leo returned to the front room and told everyone to leave. He went on a tirade, told them how worthless they were, and was rewarded with disbelief and words about not having to leave. His response was to go to the bedroom, get his 380 and return. After emptying two rounds in the ceiling, they decided to leave, but the night wasn't over. The police came, brought him to jail and he didn't go home until the next morning.

Leo's wife, who he later divorced, decided not to press charges, but new laws allowed a junior District Attorney to pursue charges. Leo was given 5 years probation, AA and community service. He completed all and put that chapter of his life on a shelf.

One early Spring morning, Leo slipped from the dew-slick tracks of an excavator and hurt his back. He tried to work through the pain, but was forced to leave and consult a doctor. Preliminary tests didn't find anything, so they chalked it up as a strain and the doctor started treatment.  It didn't help.

The doctor decided to run more tests, which found something they weren't expecting: cancer. They made an effort, but the cancer was the type that metastasizes before it's found. Leo dropped one hundred pounds in a month, faded and was gone. I guess I was shocked. I know my heart hurt.

As I write, I realize there's still sadness from losing Leo. I can still see his big smile, which he had every morning without fail. Nothing fazed him so much as to not find a brightness in the start of each day or prevent him from whistling the same happy tune.

I don't think you can ever really put in words the admiration you have for some people. It's beyond words, so you only do the best you can. I'm thinking life gives you some treasures. Knowing Leo was one of mine.

Name Tags

To Debbie, with the insulted expression, whom's name is embroidered on her work blouse:

I was looking for your name so I could be polite and say "Thank you Debbie" I was not looking at your large breasts, or notice that they were almost falling out because your top two buttons weren't buttoned. 

Playing in traffic

I've spent many an hour working on highways. Some sites have been surrounded by concrete barriers; others have been surrounded by a few hundred dollars of plastic and some signs with stern warnings.

Working behind barriers isns't so bad, although going to the porta-a-can is a trip witnessed by many that you really don't think have any business knowing you're going to the port-a-can. It's a lot safer behind barriers, but coming and going can mean miles of looping around freeways to get to the site.

Working behind cones, or barrels, is a different animal. There's no concrete. The only thing between you and the front bumper of a Peterbilt is an orange vest and a t-shirt. Since the highway wizards don't want to impede traffic, many times the work is inches away from traffic moving at 70 miles per hour. This can be disturbing; especially when the drivers are pissed. They may shoot you the finger, dodge to make you jump, or throw a bottle at your head.

There are some good points. During night work, you can, and will, see some strange things. My favorite is the lovely young ladies after the bars close. They may flash you, or blow you a kiss.

Late one night, when I went to check the closure setup, I found a wrecked car sitting at the start of the lane closure. I went and looked in the car but there was nobody to be found. I had a sinking feeling because the car had spun against the barrier median and there was the possibility the driver was thrown from the car. I checked over the edge of the rail and the side of the bridge. Still nobody, so I called the police, they called a wrecker and the car was towed away.  I still have no idea who they were or where they went.

Drunks are a problem at night. Since they have a tendency to wander between lanes, they may destroy a few dozen barrels before you can blink your eye. This is bad, since the other drunks behind them get completely discombobulated. Eventually, they're all over the highway, everyone on site is wondering where to run and the thought of having to pick up the mess starts gnawing. Calling the police is fruitless. By the time they arrive, all the drunks are gone and nobody had the presence of mind to get a license number.

So, the reason I'm writing this post is to point out that the highway worker is only on the job. They don't dream up the design, arbitrarily shut down lanes of traffic or particularly like working where death passes all day at one hundred feet per second. Remember, the person you hit might be me, so be really careful now that you know I might be out there.

Too Long

About an hour ago, I was looking for a mirror, with brackets, at a parts store. It wasn't the first I visited. In fact, it was the last one I had to choose from; the others didn't have what I needed.

As I talked with the older man, I reminisced about how the same brackets, and mirror, used to be available in any part store you visited. He looked at me and said: "You've been around too long." Since he's older than me, I wasn't insulted, although I did have to think for a few moments about his words.

Maybe it's true. I've been around too long. If so, where's my prize?

Physics

I took a semester of physics when I was in high school. I was terrible in the nuts and bolts of the course. As far as being interested, and impressed with the teacher, I was pretty damn good at being a student. The teacher could have taught at the university level, but they didn't like the idea of concentrating on one branch of physics.

Sometimes, physics are mistaken for Mother Nature. Not that I want to discredit Mother Nature, but physics can be just as harsh. Some things just don't work well when you apply physics.

An example would be Star Trek. They prepare, the captain gets a stern look, raises their hand and says: "Energize". Off they go at "warp speed", which sounds really fast. so fast, it's faster than light....which is impossible. The speed of light is the speed limit of the universe, and it never changes. Whatever your point of reference, it's always the same. Otherwise, you're travelling at half the speed of light, flash a flashlight at someone standing on a fixed platform, they measure the speed of light and it's 186,000 miles per second (that's a rough measurement) If they flashed a beam at the traveller, and they measured the speed of light, they'd get the 186,000 miles per second. It's always the same. So you say to yourself: "How can that be?" Surely the faster guy would get a slower measurement, and visa-versa? Nope, it doesn't work that way. The only thing that changes is time. The traveller's watch would to have appeared to have lost time. It didn't; it's right on time for their speed. (I know, this stretches some brain cells. I really don't have a really good grasp either.)

Another thing: what about the people in the Enterprise? If it instantly started travelling faster than the speed of light, what would happen to the people in the ship? It's simple: They'd be strawberry jelly on the bulkheads. It would be worse than standing if front of a freight train.

Okay. I know you're thinking that they would work all of that out when they found out how to fly faster than the speed of light. Maybe so, but until they do, I'm doomed to nit-pick the physics of any science fiction movie I watch. You see bells, whistles, warp drives and trips to other stars. I see a really big mess on the bulkheads and somebody trying to clean it up.

( I know there are some punctuation errors. I'll come back later and clean them up....sorry)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Surveys

I've never been called for a survey...until a few minutes ago.

For years I've thought about surveys. You see the results through poll statistics and leading indicators. The information is collected by experts, the numbers are crunched with super computers in a cryogenic bath and all of the information is beyond reproach. Otherwise, little escapes this process and all of the human race benefits from the results.

When I answered the phone, an automated voice announced the name of the survey. Years of thoughts appeared in my brain in one instant. I thought of all of the questions I could answer truthfully and was thrilled to have the opportunity. In the same instant, I realized the questions could be loaded, my answers misconstrued and something wonderful would be compromised by the corrupted data.

I hung up on the call. I really didn't want to take the time, was a little irritated they found my number and wanted to watch the end of a rerun of "Law and Order - Special Victims Unit"

The human race will have to wait.....I think I'll go get an Almond Joy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Second Week

I worked offshore for about two and one half years after I finished high school. It was a memorable experience, but the second week out was most notable.
I worked a shift called “seven on, seven off”, which meant we worked seven twelve hour days and were off for seven days. After I was used to the schedule, I realized it was one of the best to work. It was free room and board for half the year, so it helped with my expenses.
The first week was more of an introduction, if you consider hard work in blistering heat an introduction. My duties were to help the company men with their tasks. Since it was a high pressure gas production facility, and I was a contract roustabout, I was the “new guy” and was delegated any task that nobody else really wanted to do. Nobody was lower on the totem pole.  Nobody really cared if I made it, or not.
My second week out brought the start of a weather change. Since it was past the second week of September, the approach of a cold front had brought increasing winds and seas from the southeast. Getting on the platform, which meant swinging from the “monkey ropes” that hung at the bottom catwalk, meant coordinating a swing to the platform with the rise of swale. If you weren’t in tune, you either would swing into the platform, or find your miss meant you had to drop five feet to the deck of the crew boat. Everyone made it without a problem, even the old men, so there was nothing different about the Wednesday afternoon, which was the start of our work week.
Thursday morning brought higher winds. We worked on the various platforms, but as the day progressed, the seas became more treacherous. By evening, safety was becoming a problem. Before dark, a wire-line crew parked their jack-up barge at the west end of the main production platform. They planned to wait out the weather, before they tried to negotiate the jetties. They had a sturdy craft and the jack-up legs kept the craft above the waves.
The main platform was actually two platforms bridged by a catwalk that was about one hundred feet long. The production platform, which was full of high pressure production vessels and pipes, was on the West end of the facility. The living quarters, which were above a work shop, water tank and sewer plant, were on the East end of the facility.  All of the daily two hundred million cubic feet of gas passed into a pipe header on the production platform. The main pipeline was eighteen inches in diameter and flowed at a pressure of twelve hundred pounds per square inch.  An eight inch pipe carried the condensate liquid. It was called distillate, and was as flammable as gasoline.   
Friday morning was a typical morning. The night-man woke everyone at 5:00 am in the usual manner, which was opening the door, turning on the lights and announcing: “Boys, it’s time to wake up.” The man in the lower bunk lit a cigarette, which meant I bailed out of bed and went for breakfast. After going to the restroom, I went downstairs.
Two strangers sat at the table. I couldn’t place them, but the field superintendent was shooting the breeze, while they drank coffee. I quietly listened to the conversation and finally picked up who they were and why they were there.
They were the crew of the wire line barge. During the night, a leg on their jack-up barge had given away and they had been dumped into the Gulf. They both still had the amazed look of somebody that had cheated death. They had fought their way in pitch darkness until they made it out of the sinking barge. They had scaled barnacle covered ladders in their skivvies to find safety. The night man had been more than startled when he found them. He was still a little nervous from the experience.  The two men left on the first helicopter out.
It was too rough to leave the main platform. We repaired controls, cleaned things up and discussed the barge that was sitting on the bottom. Engineers said there was nothing to worry about. The pipelines were over six feet below the seabed. Everything was safe. The mostly sunken barge rocked in the swales.
That evening, after supper, the crew settled into their usual habits. Some watched television, others read, and everyone else was playing poker. I had played the week before and had beginner’s luck. I was sitting in again, nervous, since my luck wasn’t nearly as good. I was down about five dollars, which was more than I wanted to lose.
The platform shook as if something big had bumped into the legs. One of the crew asked if someone had called the big work boat. As everyone looked at each other, the platform shook again. This time the sky outside the windows turned a brilliant orange. As we all looked out the windows, we realized the entire production facility was engulfed in flames. The barge had worked into the bottom and ruptured the pipelines.
The field superintendent hit the alarm and started calling for boats. Everyone else started calling for evacuation.  I went for my life jacket and wondered what was next.
I couldn’t find my life jacket. I went to my work locker, it wasn’t there. I ran upstairs to my room locker and it wasn’t there either. I was starting to panic, so I ran downstairs to look again. It was in my work locker behind my rain suit. I had been in too much of a hurry to look closely.
Now I was really worried. I didn’t see anyone and knew I had been left. I hurried out, and started down the catwalk to the bottom landing. Nobody was there. I looked for the boat, while I glanced at the burning platform only a hundred feet away. Somebody was coming down the stairs. I was first. I felt foolish, and relieved.  Soon the entire crew was heading to the landing.
I now had time to observe the fire. Flames were rising around 40 feet above the deck, which was 40 feet above the water. The strong southeast wind was keeping them away, but the burning condensate seemed to be drifting closer to the living quarters. The heat was oppressive, even though the wind and temperature should have been uncomfortably cool.
The large workboat was approaching. An occasional large swell would break high enough to flood seawater over our feet. It was time to leave and it didn’t look like it would be easy.
As the large boat swung around, I could see the skipper at the back controls. As he backed, the swales would bring the stern high enough to see the propellers. As they broke the water, the engines would race. He carefully positioned the boat so we could climb aboard. We worked as a team. Between the monkey ropes, and mad scrambling, everyone was pulled on board. The skipper quickly pulled away from the platform. We were safe.
We spent almost the rest of the night traveling between the platforms and closing valves. I was too new to be involved with this task, so I just helped the crew on and off the platforms or stared at the burning platform in the distance. The flames were slowly receding. By 1:00 am they were out.
One of the crew said we were headed back to the living quarters. I must have looked like I didn’t believe what he said. He said I could go home, but if I did, I couldn’t come back. I weighed the options and decided to stay. If they weren’t afraid, then I wouldn’t be either, even if I was. I kept watching the platform as we returned. The generators were still supplying power, and lights. The gas stored in the pipes was enough to run for weeks.
We arrived and went to check the damage. All that could be done was to make sure all supply valves were closed and that nothing was still burning. It was time to call it a day. I showered and went to bed.
I didn’t sleep well. I dreamed there was no roof to the living quarters. It was though I was sleeping in a large open building in the middle of the Gulf. The night man came in a 5:00 am and woke us in the usual manner.
I spent the day cleaning the decks. The high pressure gas had kept a continuous supply of water on the platform. Instead of warping steel, the temperature had only risen to the boiling point of water, which left a bed of shrimp and fish cooked to perfection. We shoveled them into the Gulf with tons of sand.  The charred hull of the barge rocked in the swales.
Company officials visited during the day. The pilots would complain since there was only room for one helicopter on the heliport. Instead of sitting, drinking coffee and reading the paper, they had to play helicopter musical chairs. Those with the biggest officials had more time to sit.
We were told how lucky we were (we were) and how well we had done (Yep, but we were exhausted).  I found no comfort. In a way, I was insulted. They had no idea.
By evening, a large derrick barge had anchored off the end of the platform. The divers started working to prepare for the lift to remove the barge. I watched until dark. I was tired and knew tomorrow would be close to business as usual.
I have a lot of memories of my time offshore, but few as vivid as my second week. I consider it my baptism to manhood. Boyhood was gone and I had weathered a disaster. In a way, my life had just started.

Black Widow Sex

No, this isn't about humans.

I was reading an article that was about the findings of scientist studying how male black widow spiders survive sex with the female, since the female will eat the male, if she's hungry. Their conclusion: males avoid hungry, skinny females.........really?? Wouda thunk?

Gallbladder

Shortly after I moved from home, I was visiting my grandparents, which led to an invitation to stay for supper. Since I knew my grandmother was a wonderful cook, I gladly accepted. (This does have to do with gallbladders. Just keep reading)

She had cooked a roast, rice, with gravy and butterbeans. I'd never had butterbeans, but was suspicious since they look so much like lima beans, which are one of my least favorite foods. I had to try a few, since that's the proper thing to do, when you're at your grandparent's house. They were good- really good - so I had some more and complimented the cook.

Later at home, I was awakend by a terrible pain. Since this was before the movie "Alien" I didn't have the reference for description, but I felt like John Hurt when he decided to have something to eat. Rolling around, walking, and a hot bath offered no relief. I was wondering if I needed to seek professional help, when the pressure moved, the pain lessened and I knew it was gas. Eventually I fell asleep and woke the next day with my problem solved. Not only was that problem solved, but I saved money on fumigating for insects. I cracked the windows before I left for work.

Back to the gallbladder:.( I told you so) I woke about two years ago to the same type of pain. I tried the same things, but this time, nothing moved. In fact, the pain became so excruciating, I threw up. This was something that really got my attention. Before I made the desperate rush to the hospital, the pain started fading. It was a slow process, but eventually it was gone, although I felt like hammered crap due to the suffering. I assumed gas again, but I had nagging thoughts running through my mind. After all, it had been decades since my last episode and I hadn't touched a butterbean since. I couldn't think of anything I ate that would cause such a reaction.

Two days later, after I reached work, the pain hit again. It lasted a few minutes, and suddenly diappeared. I started looking up my symptoms on the internet and found I either had Pancreatic Cancer ( I know, everybody panics when they start reading symptoms) or gallbladder problems. I wondered which, but wasn't too worried. After all, it was, probably, only gas.

The next day was the deal-breaker. The pain was gradual and reached a new level of excruciating. By 10:00 am, I was doubled over and wondering if I could make it to the emergency room. I did, but as I was driving into the parking lot, the pain disappeared. Now what? I'd already called a doctor and their advice was to go to the emergency room.

I decided to go in. I'd had enough. The thought of another episode was not pleasant. I was a little surprised on how much of an effort it was to walk into the building. I must have looked really, really bad, because they didn't hesitate to put me somewhere where I couldn't infect the other patients. I'm guessing my yellow complexion was the deciding factor.

Long story short: my liver function was wrong, my skin was yellow, tests indicated my gall bladder was fubared and the good surgeon laproscoped it right out four days later. I did get to room with a Alzheimer patient with pneumonia, but that's another story that has to wait.

So, don't eat butter beans. They cause symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer. Consider this a public service announcement.

Etiquette

Since I'm new at blogging, I'm ignorant on many things. I have learned there are lots of different things you can do with your blog, including editing, changing the look of the blog, deleting spam, a transporter button, and statistics. It's all pretty neat, especially the transporter button. The Bahamas are beautiful.

I'm hesitant to push the "monetize" button. I have a feeling hundred dollar bills will start falling from my DVD drive and I'll fail to report the correct income to the IRS.

Anyway, as I was looking at the stats, I realized that LeAnn's blog was the source of the majority of the page visits. As I thought about this, I realized there must be some method of showing appreciation, even if I did send her the link and hope she wouldn't send me some nasty email telling me she thought I was a pond scum, opportunistic, reprobate bastard.

So, LeeAnn, thanks for mentioning my blog. I'm guessing it's like asking someone for a jump at the convenience store. It's really kind and I'm sorry I didn't have any jumper cables.

When I figure out the "monetize" button, I'll set it so it starts dropping hundred dollar bills from your DVD drive. It might take awhile, so don't go and finance a Mercedes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The mind

During my life, I've thought of our minds as being like a computer, full of circuits that process information. Lately, I've had some thoughts about this subject.

Computers can be analyzed. Otherwise, I could take your computer, fire it up and analyze everything about it. I could see the processor speed, the different connections and how much memory was available. A few minutes of examination would reveal everything about your computer.

I wonder if people are like this? Are all brains basically the same? If we could analyze brains, would they all be easily examined and all the workings understandable?

What if brains were all different? Would we be horrified of the images when we compared them to our own? Would orange be green? Would light be dark? Would lanquage be incomprehensible? Would a horse smell like peanuts?

My mind boggles.

Wisterias

I have one in my yard. Not that I planted it. My wife did, which I'm thinking was beyond her control.'

Wisterias are insidious. Beautiful to behold, but their treachery is never exposed - until now. I can only hope I'm successful with my warning.

Wisterias constantly grow vines. You hardly see them, but the constant endeavor allows them to spread. What starts as a small bush at the beginning of the summer ends in the disaster of a yard that is completely assimilated before summer ends. Every square inch of yard is covered by the vines that can grow  twenty feet each day. 

Seed pods are grown until they are released in the nightime. Durning the release, the pods sprout wings and fly for miles. Eventually, they too will sprout and another area is now doomed. A sharp ear will reveal the fluttering of these wings and the low rumble as the vines burrow through the ground.

I, once, saw a huge well groomed wisteria in a yard. I noticed it as a I walked down an almost empty street in a town I was visiting. The sinewy trunk extended from the ground like some large arm, which clutched a cluster of intoxicating purple flowers. It was as though a closer look would reveal gnarly fingers clutching the bouquet of doom.  I hurried my step as I passed. I knew there was an unwilling gardener in the adjoining shed, waiting, and blankly staring while the feeding vines kept them alive. After dark, they would exit with pruning shears to groom their harsh master that was waiting, conspiring and hoping for the eventual subjugation of all mankind.

Be wary. There may not be much time left.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Three point landing

Years ago, all the little corner stores had section of toys. There were slingshots, crummy plastic gizmos and the best: balsa wood airplanes. The balsa airplanes were somewhat of a treasure. They usually didn't last long and were easily broken. If not lost in a tree, a neighborhood dog could destroy one in an instant.

There were two types of balsa wood airplanes: the glider, which was fairly simple and the rubber band powered glider with wheels. Both were inexpensive by today's standards, but at that time, they were a sizable expenditure for our young minds to consider. The glider meant finding five coke bottles; the powered version required thirteen, which could mean days of looking and not buying a Frosty root beer and a Zero candy bar. When the long barefoot walk down hot asphalt streets was added, the airplanes required measured thought before purchasing.

Late one evening, after a strong summer thunderstorm, my brother and I ventured out front to survey the aftermath. It was a perfect evening. The damp streets were still running water at the curbs. The trees dripped in the completely still air. Traffic was light and my brother knew it was the best opportunity to fly his balsa wood airplane.

He brought his plane to the street, wound the rubber band and let it fly.  It made a short loop through the steam that rose from the street and crashed in a neighbor's yard. He did this a few more times and then had an idea: Wind the rubber band almost to the breaking point and see if the plane would take off. He tried his idea and it worked.

The light was fading and the brilliant orange of the dissipating clouds signaled that our evening was almost over. Soon we would have to go in. My brother wound his airplane extra tight to make one last significant flight. He carefully placed the plane on the ground, adjusted the tail fins just a tad, and let go of the propeller. After a few moments on the ground, the plane took off, made three lazy circles over the street, and made a perfect three point landing.

We both stood in silence for a moment. We had just witnessed an unforgettable moment in time. I don't remember what he said when he spoke, but it was pure joy. He couldn't believe what we just witnessed, and neither could I. He had to try again. He did, but his effort was in vain. I don't think he ever managed another three point landing, until he was getting his pilot license.

That was over forty years ago. A lot happened since that time and I'll never be able to share that moment with my brother again. He's gone, so I decided to share it with you.

The Trash Can Kingdom

Locally, we have small green lizards with the official name of Anole (look it up. I didn't invent the name). They're rarely over 6 inches long, even with the tail, and are interesting to watch. Oddly enough, with so many of them, you'd think more people would have them as pets. In my life, I can't think of anyone keeping them as pets, although I do know some people that used to tie them to their lapel with a string. It was more of a day job type thing, though. They would get tired of them and let them go. After all, they're a little small for the organ grinding gig.

Years ago, my mother had one that spent the winter around her desk. It would sit at the end and watch her as she worked. She, feeling responsible, didn't catch it and throw it out in the harsh elements. She fed it turtle food; even would roll up little balls of hamburger, which it would eat. I don't know what happened to it, and never asked. I'm assuming she let it loose when spring came. That sounds better than rolling over it while it scampered out of the way of her chair.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. There is a lizard that lives at my mother's house by her trash can. Call it his kingdom. He guards it from other lizards. I've seen him challenge would-be squatters by running his red flag from his neck. (I didn't mention this before. It's under their neck and the males run it out to threaten, or find a mate....whichever happens to be the occassion.)

Food is no problem in this lizard kingdom. Flies abound and he eats at leasure. He'll sit there motionless, until a fly makes a mistake and ventures to close. With lightning reflexes, he'll swallow the fly. If you blink, you'll miss the show.

One day, as I was watching him, he started running the flag out of his neck and looking around. I looked for his adversary, but there was none to be found. In fact, there wasn't another lizard. I'm wondering if he was just showing off. Maybe he was hoping to find a mate. Maybe a potential mate was hiding better than my keen astigmatic eyes could see. I dunno. In a way, he seemed a little lonely. Life's like that. When you're the king, you're bound to get lonely.

A fairy tale

Once upon a time, God and Jesus were sitting at the table and Jesus said: "You know, Dad, there are so many different types of beans.

God replied: "Yes, Son, there are red, brown, mottled, black, white...many different colors."

"But, there are no really cool colored beans, such as a bright green bean."

"I know son. Would you like a bright green bean?"

"Yeah, Dad, that would be cool."

So POOF, a bright green bean appeared, and it WAS cool."

Jesus reached for the bean, slipped and his hand fell on the bean, which squashed it out of shape.

"Sorry, Dad"

"I kinda like it like that., Son. I'll make them all that way." So he did.

"Dad, I really like this bean and would like it to be kinda special."

"Well son, we'll call it a Lima Bean, since it's lime green."

"Yeah, but everybody else will want to eat them. I won't have many to look at."

"I'll just make them taste very, very bad, Son. Nobody will want to eat them"

"You know how that turned out last time, Dad. Maybe you should make them poisonous"

"I dunno, Son. You know how I feel about stupid people doing stupid things."

"I know, but it would make Lima beans really, really special"

"Hmmmm. Maybe............Wait, I'm being called. A church in Duluth needs a new piano. See you later, Son.

"Bye Dad. Be careful"

The End

Friday, August 5, 2011

Grocery Shopping

Yep. Early in the game, and I have a post about grocery stores, which include Super Walmarts (which seem to be the worst). It's about the mouth gaping people that stare at you while they block access to the one thing you're after. They're the same people that turn a shopping trip into a family reunion and block access to entire sections as they try to formulate enough collective thought to remember they're there to get groceries.

If you're one of these people, and are offended by my post, remember I'm only posting because I don't like you. Get out of the way.

Something I've been needing to write about.

During the last two months, some life changing things happened that really changed my world.

One was my mother had a TIA. There's no preparation for such things. One day, everything is fine. The next, you're a stranger to someone that has lost their ability to speak coherently and comprehend anything you say. The good thing is that the damage is usually not permanent. The bad thing is that it seems to have accelerated the memory problems associated with aging.

Another thing was the loss of another brother. "Environmental Heat Exposure" is the official statement on the death certificate. Mother Nature's a bitch when it comes to such things. Even with a cell phone, and radio, he never had a chance. He was gone before he could call for help. It took over 12 hours to find him

Anyway, as time goes on, I'll have more blogs on my brothers and other things that will interrupt my usual snarky attitude. Right now, I'll stop at this point, so that I can get rid of some of the other thoughts that are scratching to escape.

Well...I'm not too sure about blogging, but this will be a start - or finish.

I was told by a friend, a few months ago, that I needed to write more. Someone I don't even know wrote and advised I create a blog. This is it.  Read at your own risk.