Monday, November 13, 2023

Some Offices Are Built To Be Playgrounds


When I was stationed in Wiesbaden, I worked at the American Arms Office Towers (AAOT). The building was dual use with one side having offices and the other side a military hotel. When I first arrived, I stayed in the hotel with two of my sons and walked to work, which was convenient. Originally, the entire thing had been a hotel, so most of the offices had their own shower and bathroom. Except for the offices being small, they were among the best I had in my entire career.

The building was six stories tall and in the shape of a hub and spoke, with a large circular center on each side that was open from the ground floor to the roof. Ringing the center rotunda was a walkway that looked down over the center. As a result, if you were on the sixth floor you could glance over the railing and see all the way to the bottom. At the bottom was a circular desk where security guards sat monitoring cameras and the entrances and exits. Overall, and aesthetically pleasing layout. 

Then came the day I was at the store and saw some of those little plastic parachute guys I had when I was a kid. If you are not familiar with them, they consist of a plastic soldier attached to a plastic parachute with strings.  You would fold with parachute up and then throw it into the air (some came with a slingshot to facilitate this).  If you got it up high enough, the chute would unfold and open and the solder would float gently to the ground.

As I picked one up, pondering getting one for my son, I had an idea. I could drop the parachute guy from the top of the rotunda at the AAOT and it would float all the way to the ground floor, as long as it didn't veer off course. Just that germ of a thought convinced me to pick up a couple of these toys and bring them home. 

One evening, after work, I put the parachute guys my pocket and headed back to the AAOT with my son. We strolled in, took the elevator to the sixth floor, and I handed him one the parachute guys and told him to throw it over the ledge. He did and we leaned over the rail and watched as it floated down six floors. I took the elevator back to the ground floor, retrieved the toy and put it on the elevator for the ride up. When it got there and the doors opened, my son retrieved the parachute guy and threw him over the ledge again. We did this numerous times that evening.

Before we left Wiesbaden, we would play like this from time to time. Sometimes if I had to run back to the building to check on something or retrieve a hot message, I would take my son along and we’d play the parachute game.

When my tour was finished, and as I was preparing to leave. I picked up a couple of dozen of these parachute guys and at my departure lunch I gave all of my staff one with an explanation of what I had been doing after hours. I can just imagine if all of them went up to the sixth floor at one time and through all of the parachute guys over the edge. It probably looked like a plastic army guy invasion.


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Pit, a Pendulum, and a Dark Auditorium

I don’t have a favorite author; I have favorite authors. One of those authors is Edgar Allen Poe. Like most, I discovered horror books in fifth or sixth grade. Later on, I had a literature teacher who turned us on to more horror and Gothic horror stories, which is when I truly discovered the depth of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. His books are magnificent, of course. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In college, I eagerly enrolled in a literature class entitled An Examination of the Works of Edgar Allen Poe, but the actual content had little to do with its title.

Not only did we not examine the works of Poe, we barely examined anything at all. The professor had designed the class around the critiques Poe had written about other authors and their works. Apparently, criticism was Poe’s main income vehicle back in the day. To ensure that we knew what Poe was actually criticizing, we read dozens of other authors’ work before reading what Poe thought about them. This was not the class I thought I had signed up for. 

To make things worse, the professor had a very monotonous voice, and he’d insist on reading long passages from the book that I could not have given a damn about. Did I mention this class was my first of the day at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning? Since I was still a freshman, I didn’t know I could drop a class simply because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I stuck it out. In the end, I got a B with the only lesson being learned that sometimes writers do things to make money when their time would’ve been better spent creating.

During my first year at Central Junior High School in Lawton, Oklahoma (Go Cougars!), I was introduced to the concept of school social activities. Once every other month, the school held a dance with a live band in the gym while they showed a movie in the auditorium. On later reflection, I think this was to please those with religious restrictions on dancing and to help shy teenagers who didn’t want to dance in public. It was an elegant solution, but I never ran into another school that followed that protocol. Like most seventh graders, dating was a foreign concept, so I arrived at the first dance and quickly met up with a group of my friends.

We stood around the fringes of the empty dance floor for quite a while before someone took a leap and danced. Soon, the floor was completely full. That included me, because my friend Mark’s girlfriend had several other friends and timing met opportunity. After one dance, across the gym floor I saw her. I’d seen her in class and thought she was cute. She had long dark hair flowing across her shoulders, and the darkest naturally red lips I’d ever seen in my life. Her bangs accented her eyes, which I found hypnotic. I guess that high contrast look and accent on the eyes this might've influenced my later attraction to Goth girls. 

As I stood watching other people dance, she quietly sauntered up beside me. We held a brief conversation that included that she didn’t dance. She then asked if I’d accompany her to the auditorium to watch the movie, which was about to start. I agreed and off we went.

The movie was The Pit and the Pendulum starring Vincent Price. I’d seen Vincent Price in several movies adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s work before this and always enjoyed his performances. Price had the creepiest voice and aristocratic mannerisms that always seemed haunting. 

As we watched the movie, I gathered my courage and held her hand in the dark. The movie included themes that were perfect for our age group (adultery, murder, revenge, madness––the usual). She’d occasionally squeeze my hand during the scarier parts, but other than that we sat there silently - sweaty palm pressed to sweaty palm. 

I vividly remember two things from the movie. While walking down an abandoned passageway, Vincent Price walked into a wall of cobwebs face first. Years later, he mentioned this scene and how he asked the director if it was meant to scare the ladies. The director replied, “No. The men.”   Also indelibly etched into my mind was a scene that also gave me sleepless nights for the rest of that week. It was the very last one in the film. I won’t reveal it here, but I’ll say the director of Carrie and M. Night Shyamalan probably learned the concept of the glance back twist ending from this film. 

After the shock at the end, it was time for a shock of my own-- she leaned forward and kissed me as the credits scrolled. She wasn’t the first girl I ever kissed, but she was the first girl I was ever attracted to who I kissed. The shocking end of the movie and the subsequent kiss left me flabbergasted. Since it was Friday night and I would not see her again until Monday, I had to wait to see if I’d get a repeat opportunity––maybe somewhere in the halls of my school. But alas, it was not to be. 

She went home and told her mother about our evening, which resulted in her being up grounded. She was forbidden any sort of non-platonic relationship with anyone outside of her faith and until she was twenty-one. I was forbidden fruit at thirteen? It left me feeling a little Romeoesque. 

I’ll always have great admiration for the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve since learned that a lot of the urban legend surrounding him… his madness, and drug abuse were just that—– urban legend. That’s okay. I think it adds to his stories. If you believed he produced some of the most amazing tales while mentally altered, you have to admire him more. 

After all, how could he craft such perfectly written tales while not being in full control of his faculties? He takes you along as a tormentor is permanently bricked into a wine cellar wall. You imagine hearing the cries of a cat and the beat of a heart, even though both are impossible. Then a bird — a Raven — who knows and repeats but one word. 

All that isn’t from one being tortured, but one who wants to torture the reader, leaving them enjoyably unsettled. 


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Don't Dread the TBR, Everyone Needs One

Sitting on the corner of my desk, and a nice neat pile next to a miniature I call Tiny Lair, is my pile of books to be read (TBR). If these were homework assignments or part of a required reading list, the feeling might be less than positive. However, these are books are ones I’ve selected but just didn’t have time to read. So, they sit there in this nice neat pile waiting for time.

I admit some books have been there since last spring. Sometimes it is difficult to read a book during summer unless you’re relaxing in a beach chair next to a body of water. Now that we’re past Halloween, I expect I’ll begin working my way through this stack.

I typically read three books at the same time - one fiction, one nonfiction, and one on philosophy/self-improvement. It lets me flow back-and-forth depending on my mood when I find a few minutes to glance at a page or two. I also read one novel a month for my Zoom Reading Group. It might seem like a lot of reading, but it really isn’t.

Besides the pile that you see sitting on my desk, I’ve got another pile stacked in bits and bytes on my Kindle. Whereas most folks seem to gravitate towards one or the other reading media, I easily flow between the two. My typical rule of thumb is that if the title is something I think I might read again or at least want to have around for reference, I buy it in hard copy. If it is something I’m only reading once, it goes on my Kindle. It’s a simple division.

On my wish list for my next house, I hope for a spacious office with a wall-to-wall bookshelf and a hidden passage to a cozy reading room. The room would include an easy chair, some kind of music playing device, a lamp, and a few other accouterments that’d create a proper reading environment. I guess my desire for such a hidden room comes from all those Batman episodes I watched when I was a kid. I must not be the only one because there are several companies that produce the hardware to create my desired secret passageway through a bookcase.

Like most readers, I see no shame in having a TBR pile. In fact, I think it reflects the fact that my basic philosophy is that there is always something more to read. 

Oh, within that pile are several books bought as gifts from the various wish lists that I have online. The one recommendation I’d make: If you’re buying a book as a gift for someone else, take a moment to sign it. I know, I know some people say it reduces the value of the book. I’m not talking about a first edition Chaucer; I’m talking about modern publications. I can’t speak for everyone, but every time I open a book that was a gift, I’ll occasionally turn to the inscription and reflect on the one who gave it to me. In this way, the gift becomes a recurring memory of the gift giver.


Monday, October 23, 2023

A Demon, a Spaceman, a Cat and a Starchild Walk Into My Summer of Live Rock & Roll

That’s not actually correct. They didn’t walk; roadies lowered onto the stage on individual platforms. Also, it really wasn’t summer, being mid-October — it was more autumn. But the rock & roll was live. Kiss put on a great show, and since this was their third farewell tour that also aligned with their 50th anniversary, it was even more special. That it was in Detroit was an homage to their own roots, as that is where they started.

Kiss was just taking off as I reached adolescence. That takeoff was surrounded by massive hate and discontent from those who were already opposed to rock ‘n’ roll. I remember the first time I saw them in their full makeup and costumes, and that alone caused me to pause and listen to the music. The band faced opposition from church groups who believed that the name Kiss had sinister connotations. Looking back it was all a little silly: Knights in Satan’s ServiceKinder SS, Kids in Satan’s Service.  Well, to be honest, being a young teenager that only caused me to gravitate a bit more toward the group. 

I was never a big fan of the music, at the time I was leaning more towards Linda Ronstadt in the Eagles. But I was familiar with the music and there were several songs I liked. Most of that was because of the eight-track tape player I had in my car. The device was a hand-me-down from my dad’s pickup truck, and I owned four tapes: Johnny Cash - San Quentin, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Soundtrack, That’s the Way of the World Live by Earth, Wind and Fire, and Alive! by Kiss. Looking back at that collection, it is interesting that three of the four are live collections. There was also a tremendous difference in the genres of each compared with any of the others.

So how did I wind up at this concert? I bought the tickets as a birthday present for my younger brother as he was a fan of the band back in the day.

Overall, it was a great evening, and the music was good. The number of songs I was familiar with surprised me. It never occurred at the time which band was performing it. 

From the very first song, Paul Stanley (Starchild), the band’s frontman, made it clear that every song we heard was being performed in Detroit for the very last time. A constant reminder that this was their farewell tour.

You can debate the quality of the music, vocals, and actual performances. But what you cannot debate is the quality of the show itself. It was entertaining and kept you waiting for the next surprise around the corner. Gene Simmons (Demon) stuck out his tongue and at one point blew a huge fireball into the air then spat blood. You know, the usual. Eric Singer (Cat) performed an exceptional drum solo that started with a showy bit of prep while he kept dual bass drums rhythmically pounding away without pause. Tommy Thayer (Spaceman) offered up several guitar solos that are now among my favorites.

One of the bigger highlights of the show is when Paul Stanley climbed onto an aerial zipline that went from the stage to the back of the arena. Once there, he climbed off onto another stage and performed several songs. Since our seats were right next to the second stage, it was a big highlight for us. While he was singing, he was also doing a bit of soft shoe in the tall platform shoes that they all wore. Considering the man is now 71 years old, performing much as he did when Kiss started five decades prior added to the impressiveness of the performance.

I’ve always been a people watcher, but it seemed as if the uniqueness of the band brought out a fan base just as unique. I mentioned earlier all the problems that grown-ups seem to have with the band when they arrived on the scene in the 70s. It was interesting to see entire families showing up for this concert and all in makeup; in the last 50 years, a Kiss concert had become a family event. 

Of course, there were also adults who dressed up like the band, and it was fun talking with them before the music started. I even got a picture.

During the third or fourth song, my attention was drawn to two ladies who were sitting across from us. One of them, with Starchild makeup, was filming the entire concert with her phone. While she was doing it, she was watching the concert over the top of the camera and dancing. I can’t help but wonder what the video looked like since she was putting quite a bit of effort into her dance moves. Standing behind her was another lady who was very into the music. 

It took me a while to figure out exactly what she was doing, but when I did, I realized why she was having more fun than anyone else in the venue. Somehow, at least from how she acted, she had directly connected with the band on stage and they were performing solely for her. As she sang the songs back to them, she was oblivious to everything else around her. At various times, it looked like she was flirting with the members of the band even though there was no way they could see her from the distance between them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a connection that deep or eclectic between a fan and a performer.

The first time I saw Alice Cooper it surprised me how exceptional the show was. This was at the same level. The show was visual and auditory. It brought back memories and gave me a lot of new ones to walk away with.

There are several more shows left both here in Canada before the tour wraps up in December. Buy the damn tickets and go.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

Casey’s Coast to Coast — and a Few Fly Overs In-between

When I’m cruising around, because of my love for music, my radio is always on. However, is not always music I’m listening to. I also programmed in some comedy and news channels. I also listen to a couple of different podcasts as well. But mostly it’s music.

On the weekends, if I get lucky, I catch an episode of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Of course, these episodes aren’t current, I don’t even think AT40 is still broadcast. But way back in those magical days, when I was in my adolescent and young adult years, it was part of my weekly routine. I’d listen to Casey as he counted down Billboard magazine’s Top 40 hits for the week.

A confession: Except for getting to hear a few songs I would record for later mix tape creation; I really didn’t care about the countdown. What I enjoyed most was Casey’s way of telling a story through long-distance dedications, trivia, and some of the back stories he provided on older music. Casey hosted the show from 1970 to 1988 and then after a ten-year absence, returned in 1998 until he and AT40 permanently parted ways in 2004. 

When I worked as a disc jockey during my college years, I got to play Casey’s show every week. It’d arrive at the station on custom-made vinyl albums that included all the songs, commercials, and other material ready to go. I played them one at a time. Then flipped them over and played the backsides. Because of legalities, we were required to return the records every week after playing them or pay a hefty fine. I stopped listening to the show regularly when I finished one of my tours in Germany in 1983. Armed Forces Network Europe made sure we got the show every week.  

I’ve been listening to AT40 for a long time, but I only realized recently that the bottom fifteen songs on the chart usually don’t move up. This is because of the way the charts mix of famous and lesser-known music. Either less than stellar songs solely occupied the lower part of the countdown by famous artists or new songs by people you’d never heard of. Upon that realization, it forced me to ask myself, should he have even bothered?

While on a recent trip, I was trapped with Casey’s show from start to finish. The show was from October 1979. Rather than flipping stations, I let it play uninterrupted from beginning to end. Since the show’s a countdown, he started with song number forty and worked his way up to song number one. This meant my first hour of listening were these barely known songs. At least to me.

Were they bad songs? No, not really --  they just lacked that commercial hook that would’ve made them eventually rise to the top. A few of them I recognized and at least one I could remember dancing to, but they weren’t those stellar songs that climbed to the top.  

Were they worth listening to? Yes. Most definitely. They provided me with entertainment for at least an hour and at least one of them was significant enough to me I could match it against a life event. So, if those songs did not exist, things would’ve been a little less than. Personally, I like it when my life is more than.

Without realizing it, Casey made sure those songs gained ears even though they wouldn’t gain massive fame and fortune. Most songwriters, like writers, feel happiest when they entertain and share their words with an audience, not only when they earn money.

Here’s Casey’s final sign off.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

September -- When Celebrate Ends with an Arrr!

This is a busy part of September with many things that I consider important being commemorated: Batman Day, US Constitution Day, Birthday of the Air Force, Oktoberfest begins, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and somewhere in there my birthday.

16 September — The day commemorating the world’s greatest detective: Batman. Starting with Adam West’s portrayal and followed by all the players who have put on the cowl since, he’s been my favorite. Why? His only real superpower, aside from unlimited funds, is his intellect.  

17 September—US Constitution Day, a day celebrating the most brilliant government document ever written. Freedoms for the people, and a framework for how the people control the government. The Constitution rocks.

18 September—US Air Force Birthday. I am and will always be proud of my service in this branch of America’s military. WWII showed the Air Force was truly something different from what came before and therefore needed to stand as an independent force. Yep.

19 September—International Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is my favorite holiday, with rum, booty and talking funny. It should be yours too. It is easy to take part, just go Pirate Speak–you even get to keep both eyes, both legs, and you don’t need a hook or parrot. Check out the facts here.

Mid September -- Oktoberfest Begins -- This is the time when everyone gets to be German. Beer, singing, dancing, and more. I only got to go to Munich once so far. I will never forget it. Hey Baby -- indeed.

Note: For those who think I forgot, I didn’t.  

20 September—Storm Area 51 Day, a meme-driven event that turned a mass uprising into a humor creation exercise. As information regarding UFOs is now being released, please take a moment to realize nothing references Area 51.


Monday, September 11, 2023

A Rememberance

Note:  I wrote this after experiencing 9/11 while stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany capturing the experience of being outside the United States during that day.  Never forget.

A lot of folks have asked me to share what it is like being outside the US during recent events.  After giving it some thought, I have pieced together the following, and I am sending it on to friends and family.  I hope this lets you know that the world is still a caring place, for the most part, and that we are all safe and secure.

On 11 September, I was in class when the announcement was made about the first crash. None of us could believe it.  I grabbed my cell phone and dashed to our security office from the classroom.  I arrived in time to watch the second plane hit - I was dumbfounded.  My brain could not digest that this was real and not some special effect. 

I left the security office to head upstairs to the situation room to notify them that I was locking down the network to prevent any problems.  After about 15 minutes there I walked into the Colonel's office to brief him.  As I walked into the room, I heard the announcement about the Pentagon.  This was so unreal.  I was in a daze.

I had no fear for my youngest son, he was on the base and secure.  My older son was at work,  just around the corner from his brother.  The only real fear I felt was for you folks in the US and those folks in uniform I had worked with for 20 years. I also had a very odd feeling because this was the first time in 20 years I was in no way connected to what would be the "military reaction."

Like most of you, we all spent that night and the next few glued to the TV set to see what new information was forthcoming.  Armed Forces Network (AFN) was giving us a live CNN feed.  We, like you, were looking for something --  anything that would lend a bit of hope to the darkness.   I found some of that hope in the German people of our city.

The night of the 11th I was taking the trash out when two of our neighbors, who I had not even met yet (we had been in the house 11 days), came by to express their condolences and to tell me that their prayers were with America.   While walking downtown,  a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent comes up to apologize for the acts of the "insane and evil" among his people.  Most of all he wanted me to understand that it did not represent his people and that I should not hold it against them.

The base went into lockdown mode.  As some of you know, I do not work on the base itself but in the American Arms Officer Tower downtown.  Within a few days, we all got used to the ID checks, car searches, and other obstacles in place to keep us safe.   About two days after the crash I started to notice the flowers appearing at the main gate,  which had been totally locked down.  I started making it a point to go by there, and as days passed flowers, candles, cards of encouragement, and flags (American and German) all appeared.  I took time to read several, and most said the same thing "We are with you,  we are one."  I had found some hope, a bright spot that made it all a little easier. Several huge silent candle-lit marches went through the city, ending in services at the various cathedrals in town.

We went on a Volksmarch (sort of an organized stroll through the forest) the next weekend, and IVV was collecting money for American Red Cross and signatures for a card to be sent to New York.  I think this is the first time I can ever remember hearing about or seeing a foreign country giving to America instead of the other way around.

In recent weeks there have been two other events here in Wiesbaden that connect to the WTC tragedy.   I am telling you about them so that if you hear about them later, you do not feel any worry.  The person thought to be the "money man" for al Qaeda was arrested here.  Keep in mind that Frankfurt (20 miles up the road) is the financial capital of Europe, so it is not out of line for this guy to be living here.  It is about the same as finding a stockbroker living in Newark.    One item of comfort:  since this was a money laundering operation, the business end was kept far away from it to keep it looking legitimate.

The other incident was an Anthrax scare at a local Shell gas station. The substance was tested and found to be plain old cocaine.  How's that for relativity - feeling relieved because it was cocaine?  

The worst part of being here during something like this is not feeling insecure or fearful.  The worst part is feeling disconnected from your people - those that share the experience and feel the pain.   It feels that way here to a small degree.  For the most part, the sincerity of the words "We are with you,  we are one" from the German people provides that comfort to us.  From what I hear similar experiences are being had by Americans in England and Italy as well -- too bad it takes a disaster to bring us all a little closer together.

That's all the news from Deutschland for the moment.  Everyone is fine and well and doing great.


Wiesbaden, Germany