Allow me to introduce you to this little asshole. I’d apologize in advance for the language but it’s already too late for that and I refuse to use the backspace.
My family’s pizza shop had this magical oven-toasted sub aptly named the Sub Divine. It was a glorious gold standard for hot subs everywhere. I miss it and every now and then I crave it so much that I replicate it at home. Usually with rousing success. I have, after all, 14 yrs experience making them.
I dropped the ball today, though. As I type this, my nose is still running and I’m positive I’m working through a mild stroke. Bear with me.
I looooooove spicy food. Love it. Always have. But I knew that if I substituted the shredded cheddar for habenero cheese, I better tread lightly. I thought I sliced it up thin enough for both pieces of bread (I had no sub buns) that I could avoid feeling like I was biting on Satan’s hairy undercarriage but failed spectacularly. In the picture you’ll see the delicious sandwich before I wrapped it in foil and baked it. Do not be fooled by it’s innocent look; I still can’t feel the roof of my mouth.
The lovely & talented Beth.
I knew after the first bite that something was wrong. The pain was almost immediate and was soon followed by shaking. I breathed through each bite like I was in labor and powered through half of it with sheer will and the power of prayer. I’d spent too much time creating this masterpiece to give up like a little bitch.
Alas, after half of the sandwich disappeared, so did my will to live. It was me or the sandwich and I chose me.
My tongue isn’t currently working properly and after blowing my nose and washing my face with cold water, I was able to stumble outside for fresh air, mumbling “Nothing about me feels good about any of that”.
This mofo ended up just being a bunch of toppings encased wall-to-wall in pure hatred.
I couldn’t even tell you if it was good or not. I *think* I tasted banana peppers and pepperoni at first but it was short-lived. After that, all I could taste was hell fire and every mistake I’ve ever made in my life.
Probably the worst part of all of this is the fact that I’ll have to relive the pain all over again tomorrow.
Look at that sandwich…..it was a simpler time and I was but a 35 yr old girl full of hope and wonder. Now Satan himself is holding a Fight Club meeting in my stomach and no one is the winner.
The lovely and talented Beth Geyer posted this on Facebook today and it had me laughing. Well done, Beth!
Many of you will not know about my dog, Chloe. Chloe is a Papillon who came into my life in 2007. The former spousal unit and I got her as this tiny little puppy. She was full of the kind of energy that fuels puppies of all kinds and as you can see, she was incredibly adorable.
Chloe and Gizmo
She joined the family shortly after Thanksgiving, if memory serves, and quickly made friends with the other creatures in the house especially with Gizmo, the other Papillon who came to us a couple of years earlier.
Chloe’s disposition was not unlike that of every other Papillon I’ve met, sweet and playful with a nearly complete lack of aggression toward anyone including other dogs. She and Gizmo were inseparable and they lived together harmoniously with a wide assortment of cats and parrots ever since.
Chloe, all grown up.
Unfortunately, I was informed late last week that Chloe was not well and was unlikely to recover. She spent a few days in the pet hospital receiving the best of care and her improvement was negligible. Even though she seems far too young to be at the end of her journey, it looks as though that’s the case.
It breaks my heart to see such a sweet, delightful creature in such a condition. And even though I held her in my arms on Saturday and told her how much she meant to me, she’ll never really understand how much she contributed to my well being nor will she know how much love she gave me over the years I was fortunate enough to be in her world. Even though we’ve not lived in the same place for over five years, seeing her again and knowing that it was likely that I’d not see her again is devastating.
Goodbye, Chloe. You were everything every puppy ought to be.
Which brings me to the second dog in this tale, His Emmettship, Ruler of All Things Within Barking Distance. Most of you know him already from all the Facebook photos.
I’ve done my best in the last couple of days to spend more time with Emmett — you know, concentrate on the living and all that. Emmett as you may recall had a tough life before he found us and has been growing and trusting us more and more. Accepting affection from humans is something he’s still learning to do.
He’s happy, healthy and hasn’t bitten me or anyone else in ages, which early on was a serious concern. In fact, last week, we actually roughhoused a little. I was scared to death that he’d lose sight of play and get too aggressive too fast. He did bite once a little too hard but he immediately backed off. From this one action alone, he’s demonstrated that he’s learned a great deal and that he clearly does not want to hurt us.
Emmett loves to go in the car and if I ask him if he wants to go to the store, he hops around just like I would if I had won the Powerball. In the car, he’s relatively well behaved and if we’re going to the drive thru, he’s learning NOT to stick his head in the bag o’ food to see what’s there in spite of the wonderful aromas of freshly cooked fries. In return for his fine behavior, he gets to share a regular Mickey D’s burger, no onions, no pickle. As we approach home, he dives out of the driver’s car door and heads toward the front door, with the occasional pit stop at a nearby piece of shrubbery.
If I play my cards right, Emmett and I have quite a few years left until the finishing touches are put on his story. Or mine. Now that Chloe is leaving us, the best thing I can do to remember her is to make that extra effort to love and cherish Emmett’s companionship to the best of my ability.
I still marvel at the ability of these creatures to impact our lives. Emmett, Chloe, Gizmo, Bella and all those preceding pups have found extra space in my heart in which to take up residence for good. And it’s my experience that there’s always room in there for one more.
Week before last, I got word from my sons, Jon and Andy, that their grandmother and my former mother in law had passed away. She had been in ill health having suffered a stroke some years before and the second one that afflicted her on July 3rd finally ended the life of someone I loved and respected even though we hadn’t communicated in earnest since the first ex Mrs. Me and I divorced a lifetime ago.
I don’t want to concentrate on the loss, though of course I grieve with my sons and the rest of the Ginsburg family. I did want to recount a couple of anecdotes about life with Patty over the years that we interacted. In a nutshell, she was brilliant, articulate, caring and a delight to be around.
Deborah and I lived with her family for about six or seven months at their home in Augusta, GA while I was in the Signal Officers Advanced Course at Fort Gordon. It wasn’t long before we were fully integrated into life with Patty, Deb’s dad, Jack, and the rest of the family. Trying to be the considerate guy, I did what I could to help around the house, though I admit I could have been a much better houseguest.
One day, I was wandering about the house and noticed wet laundry in the washing machine. I says to myself, “Self? You can help out by putting those clothes in the dryer!” So I opened the machines and transferred the goods from the washer to the dryer, set the controls on desert and pushed the “go” button.
Sometime later, I hear this loud gasp from the laundry area. I don’t remember the words that followed – not that there was any profanity involved that I recall, but the next thing I remember is Patty standing in the laundry area holding up a teeny, tiny and particularly luxurious brilliant green cashmere sweater which had once fit her quite nicely. Post drying, it would have been a tight squeeze for my infant son, Jon.
I was horrified.
But I don’t think I was more horrified than Patty was. Here was this really gorgeous, soft, undoubtedly expensive cashmere sweater which had been one of her favorites shrunken down to the size of a dishtowel. Still brilliant green. Still soft as could be. Just a thousand sizes smaller than it had been at the start of the day.
All was quickly forgiven, of course. But I was pretty sure for a while there that I was going to be pitching a tent out in their steeply sloping back yard. It was one of the bigger of many faux pas that I inadvertently perpetrated against the family, but probably the most memorable.
I used to tease her mercilessly for watching reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard” on cable TV in the evening hours. I know it wasn’t really destination television for her, but somehow I always seemed to catch her sitting in her chair in the family room, feet up on the ottoman and “The Dukes” on the TV. It became a running gag that, upon catching her in the act, that we’d both launch into words of great praise for Bo and Luke Duke, wondering if this were the time they’d finally get nabbed by the law.
When she was watching “The Dukes” or anything else on TV with her feet up, if she wasn’t wearing shoes, she would cross her little toes over the ones next to it. Now while this may seem odd at first to the casual reader, it was a habit I developed myself early in life. I thought I was the only one! I remember the first time I noticed it, I laughed and laughed – so much so that it was a few minutes before I could explain that I was not laughing at her feet per se (I was literally pointing at the time, if memory serves) but rather at the fact that I wasn’t the only one whose little toes got a bit of a workout in front of the TV set.
She was a botanist by interest and training. She was like a kid in a candy store when she came to Belgium to visit us and was able to observe the native foliage that she couldn’t see in the U.S. I remember she had a thick coffee table book on European plants in preparation for her trip.
While in Belgium, she also rearranged our kitchen cabinets and did a superb job. In fact, she did such a good job that when we talked on the phone over the years, I would ask her “Hey Patty, when’re you coming over to rearrange our kitchen cabinets again?” It was my way of saying “We miss you – come visit.” And I’m pretty sure she took it that way.
Even though my marriage to Deborah didn’t last, my respect for Patty did. Even though we didn’t stay in touch, I know through Jon and Andy that she continued to be the amazing woman I knew her to be. I’m sure that the high school students to whom she taught biology for decades would in retrospect also agree.
Patty was unusually kind to me, and for that I am forever in her debt. After all, I still owe her a cashmere sweater.
This is a post from nearly two years ago, but the feelings are still perfectly valid. In honor of Father’s Day, here’s a little more about the two gentlemen who first allowed me the privilege to be called a father.
Long before Instagram…
Long before Picasa…
Long before Google+, Photobucket, Mashable, Tumbr…
…and long before the Internet had a capital “I”, there was WolfeScrapbook.com.
WolfeScrapbook.com was a web site that I started way, way back in the mid 1990’s. You know, the Dark Ages of the internet. (No capital. See?) Back when seeing a Uniform Resource Locator on a TV commercial was rare. Back when dial-up modems screamed at you every time you tried to connect and often didn’t.
The server on which it ran lived in my spare bedroom in California at first. It was built from spare parts gathered from all corners of my world. For a time, the computer case in which WolfeScrapbook lived was from the computer that automated all of E! Entertainment Television’s programming for something close to a decade or so. (To all of my former E! colleagues, remember TAS? I still have a 3 ½” disk with the TAS software on it that my friend and fellow surf tech, Ron Baer presented me with long ago. It’s a cool souvenir.) There were probably some other parts in there from the E! channel, but I only remember the case.
WolfeScrapbook was my family web site on which I posted pictures, coded in HTML by yours truly, so that my family could access them from their computers up in Alaska.
So why am I telling you all this?
I post a lot of photos on Facebook and talk a lot about Nate and Garrett, my significant other, Beth’s kids. From all the attention they get, you’d think they were the only kidlings with whom I’ve had the opportunity to share space.
Well, this isn’t the case.
Circa summer, 1990, in Alaska.
I have two boys of my very own who are now grown up and who I love and miss very much. They don’t get a lot of Facebook time from me because of course, they’re not around for me to photograph and dote over as I would if they were in the same area code. But they’re not, and they suffer from a temporal disparity that allows me to share my experiences with Nate and Garrett far more easily than when this whole Internet thing was still in its commercial infancy.
So anyway, I’m making this opportunity to tell you all about my older boys, and let all of you know that they are ridiculously awesome! And they should be – they’ve been all sorts for awesome for nearly three decades now.
Jonathon Wolfe was born in Belgium while I was stationed there. For a time during high school, he took to all things Japanese like a fish takes to water. Toward the end of his high school career, he decided to go to culinary school and worked as a chef in Portland, Oregon for close to ten years. He’s in the middle of a career switch and is studying Electrical Engineering enroute to a bachelor’s degree. The dude can cook like crazy and the dude can fix PC’s almost as well as dear ol’ Dad can.
Andy, aged significantly since his birth.
Andrew Wolfe was born in Anchorage, Alaska and has remained in his hometown. He is largely self-taught, academically speaking, and writes splendidly about all sorts of thing. He works in the Alaska film industry behind the scenes mostly, but occasionally appearing on camera. His nickname is “Sauce,” and I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores of that name’s origin. But if you address him as Sauce, he will answer.
Both of them are talented gamers and know their way around their computers. They get that technical stuff from me, I suppose. Then again, some degree of technical savvy is necessary these days just to navigate life, so they are well prepared for that.
Jon is Android. Andy is iPhone.
Jon is a little bit country. Andy’s a little bit rock ‘n roll.
(That’s not true. I just thought it was funny.)
They are as close as brothers can be and I think that’s the thing I love most about them. Even though Jon’s been living in Portland for many years now, they still stay in touch almost every day using Skype. They regularly play together online MMO’s and FPS’s (Massively Multiplayer Online & First Person Shooter for the uninitiated.) And they help each other when their computers malfunction. (They only call me for tech support when things get really bad.)
The bottom line on all of this is that Facebook has given me the opportunity to share fun moments with Nate and Garrett. But I’ve been sharing far more fun moments with Jon and Andy over the years, but without Facebook, y’all never saw it.
To Jon and Andy: You guys rock! You’ve always made me proud. You’ve always kept me laughing. And you’ve always been there when I needed to lean on you – even when you were far too young to be leaned on.
Thank you for all of that. And thank you for being exactly who you are.
You may remember that I wrote about Bella, our Dachshund, who was with us for a very short time. She was by far the sweetest, kindest, most gently affectionate dog in my memory. I never met a dog who was so insistent on violating the laws of physics by occupying the same physical space as you at the same time for as long as she could. Her untimely passing over a year ago was a huge blow to our family.
His Emmettship, relaxing on the back of the couch.
Several months after Bella’s death, Emmett came to live with us. In appearance, Emmett was a carbon copy (another word for “duplicate” for those who may not know what a carbon copy is) of Bella, but in attitude he was Bella’s antithesis.
Emmett came to us after a month in foster care. His backstory, as I understand it, was that he was discovered abandoned in a single room with no food or water and was found after at least three days living like that. He was unusually aggressive, though good on a leash, but virtually untouchable. Petting him in those early days was not an option.
You could entice him with a treat or two, but any attempt at physical affection was greeted with the baring of sharp Dachshund teeth and vicious snarling. And I can tell you from personal experience that his bark was decidedly less severe than his bite. On more than one occasion, he sank his teeth up to his gums in my extremities demonstrating unequivocally the boundaries of his personal space.
His “personal space” was roughly the size of a football field.
Shortly after his arrival, I took him to the veterinarian for his new pet checkup. I was terrified how he might behave. He allowed me to hitch up his leash with no problem and hopped in the car willingly – he really loved to go for rides.
Once at the clinic, I checked in at the front desk and sat down. He wandered around on the leash for a bit and then came back and hopped up on the bench next to me, a rather panicked look in his eye and shedding profusely. I gather that the smells of the vet clinic were not new to him and his memory of previous visits spooked him badly.
He tried to climb up my chest and started licking my face and whining pitifully. I did my best to calm him and only after a while did he calm down enough to stop leaving scratch marks on my neck and face.
Once in the exam room, he was muzzled and the exam proceeded without incident. He even let me pick him up un-muzzled and behaved more like a dog and less like a feral beast.
He had actually improved a little in the days prior and his submission to the exam and subsequent friendliness was encouraging. So I took him to the pet store chain closest to me on his leash of course, to get food, toys and such. I was careful to keep him close and warned anyone who came close to stay away because he was not a good dog. Everything was going fine until one person who had been successfully feeding and petting him moments before touched his back unexpectedly and he nailed her hand.
Needless to say, I was horrified.
Home we went and we stayed. Emmett rarely left the house except for routine walks and the like. He still exhibited aggressive tendencies with all of us. I had zero faith that Emmett would be able to live in our home. I was afraid of him. Scared to death. Not just for me but particularly for Nate and Garrett who are less conscientious about how to behave around an aggressive household pet.
But the lovely and talented Beth, who found Emmett on a pet adoption web site and fell immediately in love with him, was convinced that he could be rehabilitated and that he’d eventually be fine. Frankly, I thought she was nuts.
Of course, she was right.
He’s still aggressive towards people he doesn’t know which limits the places we can take him but with those of us he knows and trusts, he’s a completely different pup.
And he’s a complete slave to his routine.
In the evening, post dinner, he waits until I have finished the dishes, plopped down on the couch, put my feet up on the ottoman and opened my laptop before he approaches me. Then he sits up like a circus-trained dog and asks for his evening walk.
“Emmett, do you want to go potty? Do you want to go outside?”
He jumps up on my lap enthusiastically, licks my face furiously and whines excitedly. I take him downstairs, hitch him up and we go for our walk. Once we’ve returned from the walk, at some point in later the evening, he approaches me again, sits up like a circus-trained dog and demands the second event of the evening’s activities.
I am a diabetic and having a snack pre-bedtime helps regulate my overnight blood sugar, keeping it from getting way out of specification. (It’s still out of spec in the morning, but if I don’t have a snack, it’s WAY out of spec.) I started eating a small bowl of cereal before bed to help with this and it seemed to work well. I know – not the ideal snack, but hey, it works.
“Emmett, is it time for cereals?” (How that word became plural, I am not sure.)
Anyway, I go pour myself a small bowl, return to my seat in the living room and he sits upright and waits for me to feed him bites of cereal. And should I forget to let him lick the bowl, he gets apoplectic, stomps his feet and demands it. This all started as a way for me to establish and enhance my relationship with Emmett but now, of course, it’s a requirement. I have to feed him cereals even if I am not having any. It’s our ritual.
Here’s Emmett today – well, a couple of days ago.
Since last week’s vet visit, he’s been particularly affectionate, hopping up next to me on the couch and snuggling in next to me for a quick nap. Occasionally he will crawl up on my lap and attempt to lick my face for no apparent reason at all. And last night before I went upstairs to bed, I picked him up, wrapped him in my arms and gave him a gentle hug for the first time. He responded with a gentle lick to my chin and actually seemed to welcome it.
I was wrong. Beth was right. (Yes, you have it in writing now, Beth.)
And while I still miss Bella, Emmett is my pal now. And Beth’s. And Nate’s and Garrett’s, too. He’s come a long way since those early days in our home. He’s calmed down, accepted us, learned to trust us and integrated himself into our routine.
He’s still completely untrustworthy around other people, though, and I’m terrified to take him to a dog park, though I know he needs more exercise. He tends to be overprotective of the boys when he’s outside with them, and he guards the house with unnecessary vigor. That’s why he’s still a jackass.
But finally after nearly a year, he’s our jackass.
My oldest and Belgian-born son, Jonathon and I correspond infrequently, most often choosing to relay critical elements of information via text message, Skype or Hangouts. He’s a former chef turned Electrical Engineering student who lives in Portland, Oregon, the setting for the TV show “Grimm.”
A couple of weeks ago on the way home from work (Jon has great faith in my potential texting while driving skills, which of course, I NEVER do) I received the following out-of-the-blue text message about my former Army career:
Jon: “So I told my coworkers about being born in Belgium and some of your military history. They are convinced you were spying on eastern Germany.”
This made me laugh out loud and had I actually been texting and driving (which of course, I NEVER do) I would have swerved dangerously thus providing myself a valuable lesson.
Since I spent most of my career as an Army Public Affairs Officer with multiple assignments with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, my work was usually about publicly broadcasting (literally) information about the Army. This is antithetical to the whole idea of secrecy and spying.
Keeping both hands on the steering wheel at the 10:00 and 2:00 positions, I replied, eyes firmly fixed on the road because I understand the dangers associated with texting and driving (which of course, I NEVER do:)
Me: “Shoot, I never made it near the border except for [Grafenwoehr, an Army training area relatively close to the former East Germany.] After I left Germany and got to Belgium, I wasn’t anywhere close to bad people. Of course when I was in Bosnia, I was around Russians all the time. But they were all friends by then.”
My phone chimed a new message:
Jon: “You should write a blog about some of your deployments if that is legal.”
Ok, Jon! You asked for it, you got it! Here’s a short summary of some of the cooler things I got to do while in the Army. I assure you, I conducted no spy missions.
So far as any of you know.
And even though today I work adjacent to the CIA Headquarters with the Federal Highway Administration in public affairs, I assure you I am conducting no spy missions.
So far as any of you know.
“If you’re going to be one, be a Big Red One.”
After a public affairs assignment at Fort Gordon, Georgia, I took over the Signal Platoon of the 1st Infantry Division (Forward). The closest I ever got to the border with East Germany was when the division trained at the aforementioned Grafenwoehr training area. If memory serves, this happened three times during my 18 months there. We also did a couple of long “deployments” to the German countryside for REFORGER exercises. One of those was a good four weeks long, and there were other, shorter exercises leading up to it. I don’t recall any of those being perilously close to the border.
Incidentally, of all the assignments I had in nearly 29 years, this was by far the worst. This was due overwhelmingly to my own severe ineptitude as an officer in 1981. In my defense, at the hail and farewell upon my arrival, the commander of the 1st ID(F), Brig. Gen. James R. Henslick, when he heard I was taking over the Signal Platoon, shook my hand and with sad, sympathetic eyes said “I’m sorry.” I wish I had been prepared for the potential failure that he knew awaited me in that assignment. I was not and I failed spectacularly.
Worst. Platoon Leader. Ever.
I’m not exaggerating.
I learned a lot in that assignment about myself and about leadership from Master Sgt. John Kingeter. He actually left the HHC 1st Sgt. job to take over our Signal Platoon’s NCOIC job after some real failures in our NCO leadership and mine. By the time I left to go to Belgium in 1983, I had grown considerably as an officer with a far more realistic self-image and drastically different expectations and understanding of the Army.
Toward the end of that assignment, I was on all-night staff duty at Hohenfels training area which was much like the Grafenwoehr training area, but even less luxurious. Master Sgt. Kingeter came into the staff duty office after an evening at the NCO Club which apparently included the overconsumption of spirits. A fairly short conversation ensued after which he awkwardly stood, saluted and with slurred speech gave me one of the highest compliments you can get. He’s said “Sir, you’re a good officer. You’re good.” And he meant it sincerely and in the most complimentary way. Yeah, it might have been the alcohol talking but I chose to believe that he was being tipsily truthful in his compliment. So even if the rest of that assignment was a total disaster – and it was – it ended well.
Master Sgt. Kingeter was the NCO I should have had on my first real assignment and gave me the training I needed to learn to be an officer.
I am forever in his debt.
Not a deployment, but an awesome assignment – my first with AFRTS. AFN SHAPE also molded me as an officer (who wants a moldy officer?) and helped restore the confidence that was obliterated during my time with the 1st ID(F). Made some lifelong friends from there as well including Dave Malone, Kim Danek and Kyle Osborne.
It’s also where I was introduced to fatherhood by the aforementioned offspring.
Chef Jonathon Wolfe BEFORE his palate became sophisticated.
I’d have stayed there forever if I could have.
Not a deployment, but a so-so series of jobs in a magnificent setting. Again, made some terrific lifelong friends including Raymond Brady and Ben Sherburne.
Me, Raymond Brady and Ben Sherburne. Ben is also a fellow graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy.
Since I had two public affairs assignments as a company grade Signal Officer, I was understandably not among the best qualified for promotion to major in the Signal Corps and left active duty for the Army Reserve where I was promptly promoted. (I was considered fully qualified for promotion, just not best qualified.)
The arrival in 1986 of Andy, offspring number two, highlighted this particular assignment. Andy still lives in Anchorage, and I don’t visit him or his brother nearly often enough.
Andy, aged significantly since his birth.
Los Angeles Riots, 1992
Not technically a deployment, but probably the most dangerous environment in which I’ve operated.
I have a zillion stories from getting the page in the supermarket that then President George H. W. Bush was federalizing the California National Guard, to my first time ever talking with a reporter from NBC News. So much happened in the days prior to our activation to support Joint Task Force-Los Angeles that was more heartbreaking, disillusioning and downright frightening that a recounting of events once activated are genuinely dull by comparison. We weren’t called up until the third day of civil unrest, May 1st, and so I spent much of the preceding days watching the destruction and mayhem on TV and staying the hell home.
It was awful.
I heard more gunshots in the preceding days in my neighborhood in North Hollywood than I heard in all my deployments before or since. It was a frightening time to be an Angeleno.
On the upside, once I got the page and got on the road, the usually ridiculously crowded L.A. freeway system was empty. And I mean empty. I breezed through the East L.A. interchange at 70-80 miles an hour, not a law enforcement officer in sight. Made it door-to-door from North Hollywood to Los Alamitos in something like 40-45 minutes. This was usually a 90-minute plus trip at best.
The highlight of this was working with a talented group of local Soldiers who I knew well as well as the assembled Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from the active duty force that President Bush activated to augment the state forces to restore order.
This is a photo of the entire Joint Information Bureau staff from JTF-LA:
I don’t remember all their names, but here are the names of my Army Reserve comrades who were activated for JTF-LA:
Lt.Col. Stan Kensic, Capt. Rod Anderson, Master Sgt. Jeanie West, Staff Sgt. Jim McGehee, Sgt. Ted Bartimus, Cpl. Kent Ambrose, and Spec. Ralph Streifel.
Jeanie West and I are still in touch and we often talk about this as being one of the more rewarding assignments during our time in the 63rd Army Reserve Command and the great people with whom we worked.
Lt. Col. Speedman, me, Lt. Col. Stan Kensic and Master Sgt. Jeanie West.
This was my first real deployment.
I’ve written a lot about Bosnia here, so I am not going to rewrite the history yet again. In a nutshell, I was assigned to the Stabilization Force (SFOR,) a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Bosnian war. We were in close proximity to bad guys and former bad guys, but by the time I and my colleagues got there in late January, the shooting had stopped.
Our mission was to keep the AFRTS radio and TV stations on the air and provide radio programming to the U.S. forces assigned to SFOR. We worked with the public affairs folks from all of the nations assigned to SFOR including the Russians. My interactions with the Russians produced one of my fondest memories.
I took a year’s worth of Russian in college and got a good, solid D for the second semester. I totally earned it, too. But I DID pay attention in class. Fast forward to Bosnia. The Russian PAO major, whose name I regrettably have forgotten, came to the radio station with his interpreter to conduct business of some sort. Summoning up all the courage I had, I said hello to him in Russian based on what I remembered from college nearly twenty years before. The Russian major’s eyes lit up. He smiled broadly, excitedly shook my hand and said through his interpreter, “You greeted me in our language!” It was a magnificent moment for me and proved to me that you don’t necessarily have to have perfect grades to get something valuable out of academics. You just need to pay attention.
Just a few of the folks from our trip to beautiful Tuzla, Bosnia in 1997.
AFN Bosnia was really a terrific experience and I would have stayed longer, but by law we weren’t allowed to do so. So after nine months, it was back home to Los Angeles.
This deployment generated more lifelong friends than I can list here. But I listed most of ‘em on the original article linked above. Thanks to all of the folks who contributed to our success there.
And I assure you that even with the Russians around, I conducted no spy missions.
So far as any of you know.
Saudi Arabia, 2000-2001
Second real deployment.
I can’t tell you much about this deployment. Not because I have secrets or anything, but because not much happened in the seven months I was there.
I was a one-man PAO shop there so I was more of a worker bee than anything else. But it was really a great assignment and I accomplished as much as we could considering that there was no civilian press allowed there without the permission of the Saudi government. You can guess how often than happened. (Hint: zero times.) So I concentrated on internal communications which the Army calls “Command Information.”
I was there with the USS Cole was attacked. While that was in neighboring Yemen, it’s close enough to Saudi Arabia that our alert status shot up.
I was at the gym running on the treadmill when it happened. I was in the middle of my run watching the TV when the Giant Voice, the post-wide public address system, sounded a siren and announced the elevation of the alert status, or whatever the correct term was at the time. Without missing a stride, I ran off the treadmill and just kept on running all the way back to my room. I quickly showered, put on a uniform and headed to the office per our standing operating procedure. Some hours later, we held a staff meeting to discuss the incident and that was about it.
Then Major Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East.
The longer term impact was that we were restricted to the compound where we were living. No more trips downtown to buy gold or rugs from the local merchants in Riyadh. This happened about three weeks into my seven month deployment and they didn’t loosen the restriction until about three weeks before I left. So I didn’t get to see much of the countryside. That was OK though because the countryside was mostly stark, ugly, trash-laden desert. I’ve never seen so much nothing in my life! Sure there were other sights to see, like the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, or whatever we called it. And the capital of Riyadh was magnificent in many respects. Trips like that were infrequent at best. But as far as I am concerned, Saudi Arabia didn’t have much to offer in the way of tourist destinations.
Ken later in his distinguished career.
I did run into Bosnia colleague Ken Adams from the U.S. Air Force. He was there for a couple of days for some reason I don’t recall. But he’s a great guy and it’s always good to see a colleague and friend like Ken when you’re locked down and isolated like that.
(I have a photo of me and Ken in Saudi somewhere, but after looking through a half dozen CD’s from back then, I am unable to locate it. Once I do, it’ll go here. Until then, this’ll have to do.)
In 2002, I “deployed” to the Pentagon and completed nearly six years of active duty doing everything from working in the Army Operations Center to being the temporary military technical advisor on the first Transformers movie. Other than traveling through some of the seedier parts of DC, I was never near any enemies of which I was aware. Assigned to the Army’s Office of Chief of Public Affairs, I was involved in telling the public about the Army not keeping any big secrets.
So far as any of you know.
Just cause I always loved this photo of me, Jon and Andy. Alaska, 1990.
No, I suppose that’s not the best thing I can say about 2014. But it was the first thing to come to mind when I wanted to describe the year in a nutshell.
This past year was actually pretty decent as years go. It had its high points and it’s low points and a lot of points in between.
Sidebar: My Dad always used to say, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” I always parodied it as “The shortest line between two distances is a straight point” or something like that. The straight point always made the mathematician in me giggle.)
This year marked my return to the world of the employed. I wrote about my first year at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center a while back. In July, I unintentionally acquired the mission to coordinate a presidential visit to the Center. That turned out to be a huge shot in the arm both professionally and personally. I had not experienced any real successes for along time and successfully coordinating that visit was the kind of confidence builder that I didn’t know I really needed – but I did – much more than I’d thought. So for that opportunity, and for all of the great people at the Center and at the White House who contributed to that success, I am very, very grateful.
Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn’t my arm.
We lost Bella and gained Emmett as our family dog. While in my mind, the jury’s still out on whether this is a good thing or not, in moments of clarity, I recognize that Emmett provides me with a little bit of calm quiet time when we go on our evening walks around the neighborhood.
Of course, when I come home from work in the evening, he’s at the top of the stairs wagging his tail like a garrison flag in a tornado, his teeth are often bared in an aggressive grimace that rivals that of a battle-readied Klingon, and he’s growling in a way that to the uninitiated would be a clear indicator for future avoidance.
Oh, he’s also licking my hand as fast as his tail is wagging. In between growls, there are squeals of either delight or constipation. But so far, he’s not pooped, so I’m going with delight.
He’s a canine nutcase. But we have a mutually beneficial relationship even though he’s bitten me on a couple of occasions. So Emmett, and you’ll only hear me say this once, I’m grateful for your presence in spite of that time you sank your teeth into my left forearm.
And to Beth Geyer, Mistress of the Universe and Supreme Leader of All She Observes, I am grateful for you, for finding Emmett, for believing in him when I didn’t and helping me find his inner sweetness. Really, REALLY inner. And not very sweet when you get right down to it.
Oh, and thank you for taking such good care of me, Nate and Garrett. You do good work and we all love you! And you’re really, really pretty too, which is a plus!
The Prius, some years ago. It doesn’t look much different today.
I’m grateful for my Toyota Prius. At over 205,000 miles, it’s going strong, in good mechanical shape and still fun to drive. It’s unexpectedly comforting to have a vehicle that is reliable, comfortable and fun to drive even if the technology under the hood is ten years old. Thanks, Toyota, for making such a terrific car. (I just noticed that I was grateful for the Prius last year because I paid it off. Well, at least I’m consistent about something.)
My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a life-changing German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.
I’m grateful to the U.S. Army for a number of reasons, but the latest isn’t even something that affects me. Thanks for sending my brother, Jefferson and his magnificent family to live in Europe for a few years. I mention this because back in 1981, the Army sent me to Europe to live and it was an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience that I really do cherish to this very moment. I hope that for him and his family it is at the very least an equally positive experience.
Another sidebar: I admit I am more than a tad envious. I’d always wanted to go back for another permanent change of station to Europe. So I am grateful for the opportunity to hear about their experiences over there.
Here’s a quote from last year. It’s not like my social life has changed much at all, so this really still applies:
“I’m grateful to the online community for keeping me company when I can’t get out of the house, which is pretty much always. Thank you for entertaining me, engaging me and giving me an outlet for socialization even if it is virtual in nature. I recognize that you’re all real people on the other side of my screen, and I value your friendship, your candor and your confidence. I’m extra grateful that I DO get to see many of you in person from time to time. Thank you for being so welcoming and so supportive.”
I’m pretty sure I’m grateful for a ton of other things, but at this moment, I am too sleepy to write about ’em all. So for the moment, I’ll be particularly grateful for the opportunity to count my many blessings at the end of this very eventful and positive year and say thank you to all my friends for just being. You all matter to me.
If I had to do 2014 over again, I’d do it with more comfortable shoes. Other than that, 2014…? You go in the “win” column!
Oh, and thanks for reading the stuff I post on this blog. It’s always a pleasure to interact with you even (especially!) when we don’t agree. Let’s make 2015 the year of cogent discourse!
And chocolate. Yeah, 2015 should have more chocolate.