“Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…”

This is another one of those “True Confessions” moments.  The names have not been changed to protect the irrational loser, in this case, me.

When I was six years old, we moved from a small nondescript house in a small nondescript subdivision on Glenwood Avenue in Fostoria, Ohio to an older house on Cory Street.  900 Cory Street to be precise.  Even though it was a distance that was easily walkable, when you’re six, moving is a big deal and it seemed like a long way away.

cory

The Cory Street house today, sadly in disrepair. (Stolen from Google Street View)

The Cory Street house was older.  As I recall, it was about 50-60 years old back then which would make it over 100 years old plus or minus today.  It was a three-bedroom home with a tiny den downstairs.  There was no heat on the second floor, so we all experienced in our bedrooms the extremes of weather that existed over the six years we lived there.

The house also had a basement.  It was divided into two rooms.  The first was the laundry area and had enough room for a couch that was there for a while, but wasn’t a permanent fixture.  The Siamese cat, Samantha, lived down there and so did the associated lingering stench of the litter box, which later became my job to maintain.  I was really bad at cleaning up poop — a characteristic of my being which I embrace to this day.

The second room was the furnace room.  Dad set up his workbench in there and for a time, Dad actually practiced his mantra of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”  Of course, his self-compliance was cyclical and I recall the workbench being cluttered as much as it was orderly.

The furnace was a large, old coal furnace which some years before had been converted to burn natural gas.  It was a monstrous, roughly cylindrical presence, extending from ceiling to floor, with multiple cylindrical ducts jutting angularly out of the top on their way to the floor above.  Samantha used to hop up on top and sleep on top of the furnace for obvious reasons.

Next to the furnace was the blower.  We called it the fan box.  It was a strong fan encased in a large sheet metal enclosure.  When I think about it today, I wonder why it had to be so large but I guess that’s the way they built stuff back then.

When the thermostat upstairs got cold enough, it activated the furnace and fan.  The fan in the fan box roared to life and the furnace ignited warming the house and making my childhood memories of that house as warm and as cozy as it made the air upstairs.

I was downstairs in the basement with Dad as he was organizing the workbench for the first time.  My six year old self had never really given a lot of thought to the heating system in the house.  Unless it breaks, who the hell does that anyway let alone a six year old kid?  Anyway, there I was standing right next to the furnace when the thermostat kicked on the furnace.

When the heat kicked on, the gas jet on the front of the old coal combustion chamber activated.  It made a loud whirring noise, almost a screech as the methane gas roared and was shot into the combustion chamber.  The jet had three louvers on the side which opened allowing air to get in and my little six-year-old eyes could see the first controlled explosion of the gas as it began its way to the combustion chamber.

So put this all together.  You’ve got a loud fan, a screeching set of louvers opening up to reveal a fire-breathing dragon looking thing and the roar of the combustion itself ringing in my ears; all in the span of a second or so.  So naturally I did what any self-respecting six-year-old might do.

I panicked.

Well, I didn’t really panic.   I screamed first.  THEN I panicked.  Then I kept on screaming.  Loudly.  Then I ran.  The screaming alone probably would have scared me even though I was the one doing the screaming.

I beat feet out of there at warp factor eight, even though Star Trek wouldn’t be thought up for another four years or so.  (Even then, I wouldn’t see it regularly until it was well into syndication.  But that’s another story.)

I don’t remember what happened after that except to say that I must have calmed down before too awfully long.  But the sheer terror of that moment remained behind and I was scared shitless of that furnace for a long, long time.

I eventually got over the fear of that furnace room, eventually setting up my electric trains, my chemistry set and my own little version of my Dad’s workbench in there.  But it took a long time for me to make friends with that furnace.  I would slowly open the door and peek inside and announce myself out loud to the furnace as though it had been expecting me.  I talked to it, told it that I was a friend and that I knew it wasn’t going to hurt me, knowing secretly that this was a bald-faced lie.  Over time, though that furnace and I made friends and it wasn’t too long before I barely noticed the roar of the gas jet or the rumble of the fan box when the thermostat issued its orders.  I could play there quietly or with my friends in perfect harmony with that big, scary old converted coal furnace.

Earlier this week, I was trying to find the office gym and the locker room.  The locker room is in the basement.  To get there, you have to leave breadcrumbs so you can find your way back.  Much to my dismay, the path from the locker room to the gym leads…

<wait for it…>

… through the boiler room.

boiler

My nemesis. You can just feel the malevolence, right?

The first time I opened the door to the boiler room and I wasn’t expecting it, I about shit my pants.  In a split second, that moment of panic (less the screaming, thankfully) consumed me.  All of my smarts and education went out the window and I instantly transformed myself into 187 lbs of irrational panic.

There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to go through that goddamn boiler room.

Ever.

I slammed the door, eyes wide and pulse racing.  (And this was on the way TO the gym!)

Damn.

Once I recovered a bit, I found a way to get to the gym by going around the evil boiler room which, like its distant cousin, the converted coal furnace on Cory Street, roared and rattled and screeched at me like it knew I was terrified of it and it was enjoying it.  I think it was laughing at me.

It was.  I swear it.  I’d bet a month’s pay on it.

Now, a week at the gym has passed.  I’ve discovered that I can get to the gym and back by going around the boiler room.  However, that means going from the Turner Building to the Fairbank Building and THEN around to the Annex building and ascending the sixty-six steps to the attic gym where my then elevated heart rate has some real use.

I’m getting a little better.

I can actually bypass the longer trip through the Fairbank Building IF and only IF I cut through a tiny corner of the boiler room.  Tiny.  It’s literally two steps and two doors.  I could do it with my eyes closed if the evil boilers weren’t there.  But they are and embarrassingly enough, I still have a hard time opening that first door and scurrying across the smallest part of the boiler room floor. If that second door is ever locked, I will have a heart attack and die right there.  Of course, maybe that’s their sinister plan all along.

It’s not any better when I come back from the gym.

I can do it now.  I can.  I really can.  I don’t like it, and I try not to look around.  If the lights ever go off in there mid scurry, you can bet your boots I’ll be reversing course and doing my exercise by way of LA Fitness or Gold’s Gym or something.

It’s embarrassing to think that here I am a grown man still unnerved by pipes and furnaces.  I mean seriously! What the hell?  But for that heart-stopping moment when I crack the door and I dash two steps to the other door, I am not a grown man.  I’m six and I’m in my new house on Cory Street.

And I have a new friend to make before it’s home.

A Snowy Tail

In honor of all the cold, snowy, crappy weather we’ve experienced this week, here’s a rerun from a similar time in 2009.

Last night, around 7-ish, I believe it was, I took the initiative and got the dogs rounded up to go outside for a potty break. Since Gizmo’s paralysis two summers ago, it’s been recommended by the veterinarian that he wear a jacket outside in the coldest weather to help keep his back comfortable. So I’ve been doing that, having discovered that it also prevents snow from accumulating on his undercarriage. Since I discovered this undocumented feature of dressing the dogs for the out of doors, I have complied because it makes my life far easier than before.

Even the rescue pup, Charlie, is reluctantly willing to don a jacket, though it’s still a challenge to get him to step into the arm holes on cue!

Once all three are adorned with their respective jackets, we proceed outside into the 18-plus inches of snow in the hope that they’ll be cued to do the dog thing.

Chloe begins by hopping about bunny style. Charlie actually starts to frolic, then catches himself and stops. I swear if he’d just relax and let himself go, he’d be a very happy pooch! Gizmo starts wandering and dashing about, trying to burn off some of the pent up energy of having been under house arrest all day. He wanders off down the street and finds a suitable place to eliminate and does so — the only dog to have a clue regarding our most sacred mission! Then he dashes back toward me about 20 feet and stops.

He’s maneuvering around in a rut in the snow about 18 inches deep presumably made by our neighbor Bill’s truck awhile earlier. So it’s kind of like being in a maze in which the direction of travel is limited to two directions: toward me and away from me.

Naturally he chooses the away-from-me path and takes off like a rocket.

Initially, I am not too worried figuring he won’t go that far, so I advance and collect the leftovers in the appropriate bag and proceed to follow Gizmo. By now, he is easily off the side street and on a street that will be one of the first to be plowed, meaning there’s a slight potential for motor vehicle traffic. He’s still in the rut, running like he’s being chased, but he isn’t because I am standing there in the dark, cold night, hands on my hips trying to get Gizmo’s attention.

No such luck.

Since this IS a relatively major thoroughfare, it occurs to me that an oncoming plow, four-wheel drive truck or any other vehicle will be hard pressed to see a black and white dog running in the dark at warp speed in a rut that’s just a few inches taller than him.

It is then that I make a command decision. Now is an appropriate time to panic.

I take off running after him calling his name and he ignores me like a hot woman at a cocktail party. All I see is his little doggie butt and his little doggie elbows as he beats little doggie feet away from me. Now I am REALLY starting to panic, so I start running after him and hollering at him trying to make him stop. I’d have had better luck commanding the snow to stop.

Now he’s down to the next intersection and I hear laughter from my right. I glance over and there’s a gentleman shoveling the snow from his driveway. He’s decidedly amused at my race after Gizmo. I suspect that about all he could see of Gizmo was a wisp of white, fluffy tail moving like a snow shark against the subdued lighting of the night, being hotly pursued by a rather panicked human.

It had to be hilarious.

Finally, Gizmo stops, then teases me with one more short dash away, then comes back toward me, all smiles and panting like… well, like a dog. He’s safe.

I don’t have a leash with me so I cajole him and herd him and ask him and tell him and… Anything to get him to head toward home. But he’s had enough and is ready to go home on his own, so he again takes off leaving me in the snow to find my own way home.

When I get there a short while later, he’s nosing around Bill’s house looking for their dog, Blaze, to come out and join the fun. But Blaze isn’t to be found, so he’s wandering aimlessly about. Once I catch up to him, he’s still a little reluctant to go in, so I have to lure him in with the promise of food.

But first, I’ll try the straightforward approach.

“Gizmo! Let’s go home, come on!”

Nothing. He doesn’t even acknowledge me.

“Gizmo,” I say sternly, “let’s go, NOW!”

Nope. I do not exist from his perspective. So next, I try the bribe.

“Gizmo, do you want a treat?”

That stops him as he weighs his options. But since dogs have higher clock speeds than we mere humans, he decides in a flash that nope, this is not worth giving up for a mere treat.

I sigh. I want to go in. I started to sweat during the 100 yard dash to capture Gizmo, and I am starting to get cold.

“OK, Gizmo,” I say. “How about dinner? Do you want some dinner?”

He stops dead in his tracks and spins his head toward me, ears erect and definitely paying attention. After all, I said the “D” word!

“Gizmo, do you have rumbly in your tumbly?”

Yeah, that’s a little embarrassing to say in public. But the neighborhood is covered with at least 18 inches of snow, and no one’s there but me and Gizmo, so it’s worth the risk. And he knows precisely what this means. I say it again.

“Gizmo, do you have rumbly in your tumbly?”

I think he was just waiting for me to confirm what he thought he heard the first time. At the second mention of the “rumbly in the tumbly,” he starts making his way toward me, indicating that dinner is, in fact, an adequate motivation to end his front yard romp in the snow. He hops off the curb and starts making his way toward me and the house, but of course, he’s up to his chin in snow. So he’s having a tough time.

“Gizmo, do you need some help?”

He stops struggling, straightens himself so I can pick him up, and I relocate him from the snow drift to another rut where he can maneuver just fine. At this point, he’s ready. He shakes the excess snow from his body and heads off toward the front door and to the warmth of the living room and his bed.

I follow him in, finally relieved that he’s out of danger. Then I realize it. I have rumbly in my tumbly, too. Yep, food is a more than adequate motivation to come in from the cold.

I just hope we’re not having the same thing for dinner.

Gizmo, as a young pup

Gizmo, as a young pup

I Am Homeless Again

I lived in Los Angeles from 1990 until 2004 when the Army permanently relocated me here to Virginia. During that period, I was trying to make a career in the entertainment industry as an actor. For a period of about 3-4 weeks smack in the middle of badly mismanaging my early life in LA, I was literally homeless, sleeping on the couches of fellow friends and other starving actors. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t romantic. It was frightening, demeaning and humbling. But I got through it and while I never did establish myself as a working actor as I had wanted, I did build a career as a technician in the entertainment industry for much of my time in LA and loved every minute of it.

This time, my homelessness is not as a result of my own gross mismanagement. In fact, this time, my homelessness is not a physical one but an ideological one. There’s no place at all for me to hang my hat when it comes to politics.

I am politically homeless.

The Republican Party as a group doesn’t seem to want to include anyone that doesn’t adhere to its strict conservative set of ideals. Sure, there are things about which I agree with the Republicans among them defense, fiscal responsibility (though no one in politics seems to be practicing this anymore) and personal responsibility above government responsibility.

The Democrats, on the other hand, deride anyone whose ideals conflict with a generally liberal perspective. I observe the Democrats pulling out the race card for things that generally aren’t racist, but that’s their opinion, I suppose, and they have a right to it. And there are things about which I agree completely with the Democrats including broadening the definition of marriage, legalization of marijuana and the easier provision of health care, though I disagree with the approach which is the Affordable Care Act.

So you see neither party will have me. And frankly, I don’t want either of them.

Since I disagree with the ACA, there are many in the Democratic Party who will state unequivocally that I hate poor people and actively want them to be sick. I don’t, and such charges are ridiculous. No one wants people to be sick if we can make them well. I’ve seen the ups and downs of the American health care system during my former spouse’s dealings with multiple cancers and other serious maladies and I welcome health care reform. I just disagree with this particular approach.

I hear a lot of Democrats say that the Republicans want dirty water and filthy air since they don’t support the same environmental concerns they do. That’s crazy talk, too. No one WANTS dirty air and water. No one. Not even the vast majority of corporate entities who are often falsely accused of relegating environmental concerns to the basement of the priority stack. They want to be good corporate citizens because it’s good policy and it’s better for their bottom line.

Republicans often say that if you support abortion under any circumstances that you want unborn babies to die. That’s ridiculous. Do you know one person who actually WANTS unborn babies to die? Do you know anyone who thinks that’s a great idea in every case? Again, no one wants that, but to hear it told by some staunch conservatives, if you have a (D) after your name, that is precisely the belief you hold along with ALL of those with (D)’s behind their names. That’s just nuts.

You get the idea.

Life is not now nor has it ever been an “either/or” proposition. Why has politics become this way?

And it’s not like a relationship with either party can be like one of those Venn Diagrams that you did in school:

Venn

Lately, it seems to me that neither party ideologically allows you to overlap even a little bit. (Not publicly anyway.) You’re either all in or your all out. You either agree with them 100% on everything or you’re a horrible person who wishes bad things to happen to everyone else.

Yes, I am aware of the Libertarian Party.  In fact, ideologically speaking, I probably overlap with libertarians the most.  But right now, the (L)’s are not influencing the national dialogue to any significant degree and therefore, not a practical entity in my opinion.

Ok, I admit it. There are a few people – very few — on whom I’d wish bad things. And no, none of them are ex-significant others or spouses or anything petty like that. So no, I don’t wish for bad things to happen to the sick, the well, the poor, the rich, the homeless, the unemployed, the heterosexual, the homosexual, the bisexual, the trisexual (or any sexual I can imagine — and I have a vivid imagination) or the purple people eaters of the world.

I’m just me and I have my own ideas and thoughts about things. And I’m smart enough to draw conclusions from the available data for myself. I have an equally smart, terrific circle of friends and acquaintances most of whom don’t share my every perspective and I don’t hate them and they don’t hate me. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. Yes, we have been known to have heated discussions, but we have far more in common just as people then we do politically.

And herein is the lead for this essay: We ALL have far more in common as people than we do politically. The two well-established political parties have lost sight of the American populace as people FIRST. People have nuance, color and diversity of thought. Voters don’t. And that’s how the two well-established political parties now view all of us – as voters not as people. You’re either all in or your all out.

In today’s political climate, this leaves the thinking person with no place to go. This leaves me homeless.

Ten things to do when you’re stuck at home on a Snow Day

1.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

2.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

3.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

4.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

5.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

6.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

7.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

8.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

9.  Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

10. Watch “Nicktoons” with the kids.

Buy This Book: “Green Card Soldier”

Former Army Public Affairs colleague and outstanding public affairs practitioner Bruce Zielsdorf has penned “Green Card Soldier.”  It’s a novel that…  Well, duh!  It’s his book.  I’ll let him tell you about it:

GCS_cover_frontGreen Card Soldier is an historic adventure novel that follows the exploits of Andro Babich – a naïve, but inquisitive teenage soccer star frustrated by his mundane life on the family farm in Bosnia. In the early 1990s, Andro’s sporting hopes are drowned as the former Yugoslavia is battered by thunderous storms of religious and nationalistic disgust that rip apart families, villages and the vast Balkan countryside. Once-civil debate decays into hate mongering, land grabbing and ethnic cleansing on all sides.

‘This tragic tale is told by Heath Winslow – a cynical, yet self-deprecating, war correspondent who, for decades, has seen much the same in other locales around the globe. Both characters challenge readers with the question: Can life become richer – and people stronger – when we look beyond labels to appreciate one another for the unique individuals we are?

“In the years that follow, Andro escapes to Greece, sails to America and joins the Army. As a Green Card Soldier, he soon earns his U.S. citizenship. Andro then returns to Bosnia as a USAID worker. During these vexing escapades, he meets a multitude of dynamic people and faces a mountain of barriers to reaching his life’s goal. This swarm of forces tests his drive and attempts to skew his moral compass. Andro eventually has an epiphany about achieving his quest… his life’s goal. In the end, our Green Card Soldier identifies several simple, but universal truisms that he intends to plant as part of his former homeland’s rebirth.” 

You can see more about Bruce and his book by clicking through to the book’s website here.  From there, you can download a preview and preorder the book.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  Come back when you’re done.

Good job and welcome back!

It’s being released in paperback on January 14th by Hellgate Press. I’ll be there to get my copy.

You should be too.

Congratulations on the book, Bruce!  All of us from Army Public Affairs are proud of you!

Bruce Zielsdorf, author of "Green Card Soldier"

Bruce Zielsdorf, author of “Green Card Soldier”

Early Review of 2014: Meh.

So 2014 is here.

Big whoop.

So far, it doesn’t feel any different than 2014. Perhaps I have unreasonable expectations or fantasies that the world will suddenly be a better place when the New Year begins. But really, the New Year is nothing more than an arbitrary moment. It could have been a day before, a day earlier or anytime really. Yeah, there are big celebrations, but the world so far has continued to spin at a relatively constant rate and the orbit of our planet around our star is undisturbed – all really, really good things.

So why should I expect something different?

Tradition. Convention. The manufactured expectation that the media places upon the changing of the calendar. Like most people, I DO expect something different, but as every year past, I don’t get anything different. I know why, too.

It’s all my fault.

I recognize that the passing of a year, another birthday or another seemingly significant day doesn’t affect change. I have to do that. I have to make decisions and choices. I have to be willing to affect that change instead of waiting for some random sidereal moment to make it all better. It’s up to me to make those changes.

People often quote or misquote the last few lines of the poem by William Ernest Henley.  (It’s pretty clear why people only quote or misquote the last few lines; those are the uplifting lines.  The rest is kind of depressing.) Here’s the whole thing titled “Invictus:”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I am, dammit. It’s all on me. All.

Though being an Army guy, I prefer to think of myself as the colonel of my soul.