Friday, January 27, 2023

Nepo Brats


Recently, I've been hearing a new buzzword: Nepo Baby. It’s being used to refer to kids of movie stars in Hollywood who find themselves cast or taking part in movies simply because of whose children they are. The basic gist is that nepotism is getting them where they find themselves. I'm not really sure why anyone would be surprised at that. It’s understandable that if your dad or mom is a big movie star, they might be friends with casting agents who’d want to do them a favor. Likewise, it is also possible that those same friends might've met the child at some point, and rather than going out looking for the next Lindsay Lohan, they just select Junior for the part instead.

Over the course of my life, I felt a few jobs with family-owned companies. At no point was I ever stupid enough to believe that I’d be promoted above the boss's son. In fact, the boss's son was probably going to wind up being my boss if I continued working there. Naturally, some nepotism would lead to a good choice, whereas others were terrible. I think the worst situation of all was when I worked for a clothing company where the entire three-generation family was working at the store along with a few folks who were not family. We got to see family drama dragged in from home to the store, and at various points, in time we were expected to select sides. I was smart enough not to play that game, and to move on as soon as possible. I ended up in the Air Force, which leads me to another type of Nepo Baby.

My choice to go into the service was at least partly driven by my familiarity with what life after enlistment would be like. It was an insight I gained over a lifetime because my father was in the Army. When I got to basic training, at least a dozen of us quickly figured out that we were second or third-generation military brats. It gave us a distinct advantage simply because we were familiar with what that lifestyle entailed. We were also sure of what life would look like at the end of basic training, whereas many of our fellow Airmen were deluded that their entire career would be like basic training. In the end, I think two folks from my flight were discharged in the first week for inability to adapt.

Adapting is what a military brat does best. However, in this case, we were not adapting but simply returning home. Our parents had guided us on how to follow instructions, budget time, make decisions on the fly, and can process critical thinking. All of those skills made the transition into uniform much easier. This was not the type of nepotism where you got something because of who your dad was, but you were successful in the job because of how your parents raised you. Don't get me wrong, there were several people I was in basic training with who came from the civilian world and adapted just fine by the end, but for me and my fellow military brats, it was just easier.

While people are upset that some Hollywood Nepo Baby is getting ahead unfairly because of who their parents are, they should take a moment to be thankful for the military brat Nepos. Those men and women are defending this nation and have been doing so for two, three, or more generations. It is a job that less than seven percent of the country's population will ever choose to do and in the end, those who do get nothing additional for following in their parent's footsteps–– except earned pride.


Friday, January 13, 2023

A Little Yipee Ki Yay

I played cowboy when I was a kid but I never sought it as a future vocation. Although, when I saw The Wild Wild West on TV, that almost changed. I thought Jim West was an okay character, but the character I really liked was Artemis Gordon. Artemis not only invented cool gadgets and got to play with them. He was also a master of disguise. To me, he was the most interesting part of the show even though he didn’t get in many fistfights and seldom got the girl. That’s just the way it goes in the Hollywood version of the West, I guess.

Even when I played cowboy with my friends growing up, it was always a militarized version. That is to say, we usually played Calvary or gunfighters. What else could you expect from a group of military brats? In fact, most of us had fathers who were part of the 1st Calvary Division, so it was a very natural fit. We wore cowboy hats, and belts that held two six-shooters. There was at least one kid in the group who wore crossed bandoliers of spent shells ala Sergio Leone. I always wore my guns with the grips to the front. like Clint Eastwood. The cowboy thing didn’t last very long, maybe a year or so before giving way to just playing Army.

Recently, a TV show came on that forced me to reconsider the cowboy as a career thing. No, I’m not moving to the west to buy a ranch, but there is something to be said about the environment where you can live that kind of lifestyle. For the first time since I heard Frank Zappa’s Montana, I considered what advantages there might be in living there. It is beautiful. I love the view of mountains in the distance and gorgeous colorful sunsets. The state seems to have plenty of both. The best part is I don’t have to be a rancher or a floss tycoon to enjoy it. I like that.

The show stars Kevin Costner and is named for a park in the western part of the United States which I will omit. Costner plays the patriarch of a family of ranchers operating a large ranch for over a hundred years. What makes the show more enjoyable is that it shows you the actual work of a ranch and why it is important far beyond the grazing pasture. Sure, there are lots in the storyline about family drama, bad guys who get their comeuppance, and crooked politicians, but there is so much more, and that is lacking in most modern TV shows. It is compelling, accessible, and fun to watch. Taylor Sheridan is a talented storyteller and has a few more shows I enjoy for the same reasons. If you haven’t seen it already, give it a three-episode trial.

Way back when I was a Boy Scout, I earned the horsemanship merit badge which required me not only to ride but also to know the accessories necessary to ride, various breeds of horses, and the best ways to treat them to get them to work with you. Since I was later a counselor at the same camp, I got to ride pretty much on demand when in my spare time. I enjoyed riding, but it never rose to the level of obsession it does with some folks. To me, it was always what I rode through while on horseback. In Oklahoma, it was flat open spaces— but still wide and open but not a single field of dental floss. 


Monday, December 19, 2022

The Fruit Cake Fell Off The Table and Almost Killed Him

Can we talk about fruit cake for a minute?  Every year, the traditional treat gets attacked and vilified by folks but yet it continues to exist.  I saw one survey that said 35.6% of Americans consider it essential. If you are unfamiliar, fruit cake is produced using raisins, cherries, and other fruit, flour, spices, and nuts.  The cake is dense and heavy due to all the ingredients but not overly sweet.

As a kid, I remember a two-by-two rectangle of Claxton fruit cake appearing at about the same time as a  box of Queen Anne cordial cherries in November.  My Dad felt both were necessary traditions to properly fuel proper holiday spirit. The cake was so dense a small half-inch slice was plenty for me.  As a kid I wanted to know how it could be cake with no chocolate. After a few tries, I began skipping it.

It wasn’t until college when I was given a tin of homemade fruit cake by a girlfriend that my appreciation of the sweet changed.  In addition to the normal ingredients, when the cake had cooled after coming out of the oven, she sprayed it with a goodly amount of rum – then let it soak in for a day.  This made every bite a treat of various fruit flavors all infused with a wonderful rum after-burn.  I treasured every slice of that fruit cake and refused to share it with my roommate. Thanks, Mathly.

Given his feelings toward the confection, I wasn’t surprised when my Dad began including a small fruit cake with other Christmas gifts he sent to me. I’d always pour a liberal amount of rum over it prior to digging in.  Since most commercial fruit cake is very heavy, my annual fruit cake consumption is at most three slices, but every bite was enjoyable.

With my Dad gone, I find myself buying a small box of cordial cherries every year.  Maybe it is time to start picking up a fruit cake too. By the way, a few years ago I went pirate and tried using Captain Morgan’s spiced rum.  Arrr, she be a serious Yuletide dessert now, mates!


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Chop, Chop Here & A Chop Chop There

I’ve never been big on sharing health news. I consider such things to be my private information until I have processed it ... and by then it is history, anyway. This time is different since I discussed its approach before it happened.

As you might’ve been able to tell, I survived my recent surgical adventure. Overall, it was a smooth experience. I showed up when I was supposed to, got checked in by a group of great professionals, got an assortment of drugs designed to make the experience pain-free, and then after being wheeled into an operating room that featured a table full of power tools, took a nap.

After waking up and getting dressed, I escaped the premises without feeling anything below my left knee thanks to an effective nerve block. A short while later, my phone notified me I had new implant information on my medical records app. How efficient — I checked the app and found the name, model, and serial number of an assortment of screws and wires that will probably be with me the rest of my life, along with the information on a graft injectable that was used. Odd feeling. The cyborg part of my life has begun. (Cue, power wrench sound from Devo's Are We Not Men?.

Over the last few days, the nerve block wore off and an assortment of pain pills I am taking in its place has ensured my anesthesiologist called a smooth landing. It has been, more or less. Getting around for the most basic things has required a little relearning and some mechanical help (crutches, a grabber, and a knee scooter). Per my ortho, it’ll be about two months before I am healed enough to use my newly rebuilt ankle to bear weight. That will be when I can figure out if this entire process was successful.

What started as an accident on the aft end of a C-141 that resulted in a fall out of the aircraft onto the tarmac in Guam has finally been fixed. Given that the fall occurred before most of the tech used to repair it existed, the delay was probably a good thing.

I didn’t run into any classmates from kindergarten this time, but Andrea was a much nicer nurse than any Army nurse I ever ran into. I guess there are tradeoffs.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

All the King's Horses and One Immensely Talented Ortho Surgeon

When I was eight, I went into the hospital alone for the first time  — well, the first time I remember. I was there to have my tonsils out and while I don’t recall being afraid, at that age and situation I had to be. Luckily, the kid in the bed next to me (it was an Army hospital children’s ward) was talkative and. after talking for a few minutes, we discovered we had gone to kindergarten together. While this might be no big deal in the civilian kid world, for a military brat it meant that even though we had both lived in three different states since we last saw each other, we were together again. He was there for an operation on his eyes.

There were no TVs in the ward, so we spent the night talking and getting yelled at by the nurse for talking. The next morning, they wheeled all the beds in the ward out in a long line, and we were paraded down to the operating room to wait our turn. Sometime later, I woke up back in the ward with the worst sore throat of my young life. My friend had returned too, with patches over both eyes.

The most memorable thing that happened that day was when I puked in my bed and my friend was yelling his head off for a nurse to come help. When he could finally get one, she changed out the bedding while cursing me for not calling her sooner. Not sure how I was supposed to yell for her with a throat that had just had tonsils yanked out. By the way, not all Army nurses look like McMurphy.

Later that day, I went home. I never saw my classmate again, and I carried an aversion to nurses for a long while after. I got over it, even dedicating my book POMSILv2 to them.

Over the course of my life, I have had a few surgeries but never ran into another classmate.

Tomorrow, I am having my ankle repaired from an injury I suffered while in the Air Force. I guess after more than a few years it’s time to make my ankle work the way it should. According to what I’m told, I will enjoy a medically induced haze for a few days to mask the pain. So, if I take a few days to reply to an email, that is why.

Just didn’t want you to wonder if I fled the country to avoid being captured by some espionage agency I wrote about a little too realistically… then again, maybe I did.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

What It Is, Ain't What It Was

While my dad was in Vietnam, we lived near Ft. Ord, in the town of Seaside. Next door to another military family whose father was also deployed to Vietnam. Those kids were a little older than me, but we shared one very important aspect in life — we both went to the same orthodontist in Salinas. Because it was a long drive, the mothers took turns driving all of us for our appointments, which were coordinated to occur one right after the other. Because of the distance, after the last appointment, we would grab lunch before traveling back to Seaside. It was on one of these trips that I walked into my first Taco Bell.

Taco Bell had only been around for about five years when I was introduced to something beyond a hamburger––a taco. Before anybody else says it, I will: Yes, this was an Americanized version of a Mexican taco, but it made no difference to me. I liked it. I also like the little tubs of hot sauce that came with them. 

Over the course of the year, I remained a dedicated fan of tacos until the one time I tried something, at the suggestion of my fellow dental patients, called an Enchirito. If you’ve never had or seen one, it is basically a beef and bean burrito with onions served in a shallow oblong bowl covered with cheese and red sauce and then topped with three black olive slices. It was delicious, and I love the fact that everybody was bathed in that spicy red sauce.

As life went on, whenever I stopped into a Taco Bell, I would usually get one Enchirito and a taco or two, depending on how hungry I was. Over the years, the Enchirito got removed from the menu and I’d forgotten about them completely until I was in Germany. 

I was standing in line at the Taco Bell on Wiesbaden Airbase when the guy in front of me ordered one. I quickly scanned the menu to see if I had somehow missed the delicacy returning to the menu, but it was nowhere to be seen. Before I placed my order, they delivered his, and sure enough, it was that familiar bowl containing the burrito covered in sauce and cheese topped with three sliced black olives. Even though it was not on the menu, I ordered it, and the person behind the register took the order and moments later delivered one to me. 

For the next few years, I’d continue to order the Enchirito even though it wasn’t formally on the menu. It was always delivered, properly prepared, and as delicious as every Enchirito I’d eaten before. Then a couple of years ago, it became completely unavailable — along with a lot of other things that used to be on the menu, like Mexican pizza.

In the interim, I found the best taco in town, Torti Taco, and completely dropped going to Taco Bell. Then, a few weeks ago, Taco Bell announced the return of the Enchirito.

I heard the news much after they began serving it again, and only a few days before they were due to stop serving it. I’m not sure what their logic was, and I really didn’t care. It’d been years since I had one and I wanted one now. I pulled into the drive-thru and ordered a pair of them and rushed home to enjoy the resurrected delicacy. Then I found out the truth.

This was not the original Enchirito, this was the 2022 Enchirito. The part that was lacking might seem trivial, but to me, it was part of the original they should not have been overlooked. It had the beef, the beans, the soft tortilla shell, and the onions  — and even though the bowl was smaller than the original, it contained enough red sauce to satisfy. What it lacked were the three slices of black olive. How do you do that? Visibly missing from the moment the dish was served. It was that unique bite of flavor that added something to the entire dish and made it special.

So, my dear friends, if you’ve happened by a Taco Bell recently and you’ve never had one before in your life, what you are being served is some sort of cost-saving un-garnished 2022 Enchirito, not the original served as intended.

Taco Bell is not the first restaurant to bring back a classic dish as a promotion, but they have failed. Don’t even get me started on the cheese Danish that McDonald’s is trying to push as the same one they served decades ago. Not even close.


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

If You Don't Do It, How Will You Know?

On Tuesday of next week, in the United States, we'll have another election. We've been doing this for a long time and despite some issues here and there we do it pretty well. Before you panic, I'll tell upfront that this is not a political post – – it is a post about citizenship.

During the last national election, and in the middle of COVID, my state was having issues getting enough people to work at the polls and was continually pleading on all media for volunteers to come and help. After a few days of listening to that, my internal volunteerism kicked him and I called the local Clerk of the Court (they handle our elections) and volunteered. 

Prior to the election I went through various training online, again this was the age of COVID. I also somehow moved from being a poll worker to being the chairperson for the precinct I was going to work in. To be honest, this was far more involved than I thought I would ever be. But to me once you volunteer for something, you are obligated to see things through no matter where it leads.

Election day started at six in the morning and went until eight that evening. Then. it took about an hour to break everything down and pack it away for the next election. During that time, we also prepared the ballot tabulating machines for transfer back to City Hall. I then went to City Hall, and after a few hours sat through an audit of all my precinct’s documentation, turned over the ballots to the Election Commission. The actual procedure is more detail than I am talking about here.

As I drove home at two in the morning, I felt two things: exhausted and proud. Exhausted is easy. It was an incredibly long day. My pride was a little more complicated. I wasn’t proud of anything I did; I was proud of the way democracy works in my country. I was also proud of the people who came in to vote — most of them were excited and were informed about choices they were making. (This would be a great place to go off and talk about the politics of elections, but that isn't what this post is about.) 

I’ll be working in the polls again this year. Once you volunteer, you get put on a special mailing list of people that are not only trained but willing to do this job. I’m in good company. But I wonder why there are people out there who are curious or who have questions/concerns about how all this works but who haven’t yet volunteered. Even if you only do it once, it’s a worthwhile venture for self-education. The way I see it, this is just as much a responsibility of citizenship as it is to pay taxes, serve on a jury when called, and voting itself. 

Without all of us, it doesn’t work.