Monthly Archives: August 2018

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

Chapter 1 – The Estate of R. Jonathon Wilkinson

The reading of Wilkinson’s will was quite the event, just as he had planned. His ex-wives, each of whom (according to him) had extracted their pound of flesh (complete with blood), were there. His relatives who, when he was alive, would actually cross the street to avoid him—unless they wanted money—all sat in anxious anticipation. In fairness, he probably (others would say definitely) deserved such treatment, but, like Don Corleone, the Godfather, to him it wasn’t personal, it was strictly business. However, it’s fair to say that his relatives’ behavior during his life contributed to his peculiar preparations.

At this point everyone was focused on the attorney he had hired for the occasion. Actually, the verb cast would be a better description than hired. The attorney-du-jour for this event had been hand-picked for his distinguished-looks and “radio voice,” with his only duty being to read Wilkinson’s will.

At the precise time, per instruction, he knocked on the conference room table to get everyone’s attention. Naturally, he was ignored, while relatives and former spouses busily engaged in overlapping shouting matches.

This lawyer, who was being paid a generous flat, rather than hourly fee, had no reason to let things drag out. Getting impatient with Wilkinson’s “friends” and relatives, he slammed the Wilkinson family’s old family Bible down on the table. Hard. This was also in accordance with his instructions.

This particular, leather-bound, sacred document had been in the Wilkinson family for at least a century and a half. It had been used to record births, deaths, and marriages for at least a century, although none of his family had ever even considered reading its contents. As far as anyone knew, the family could have been passing along an ornately bound mail order catalog or romance novel from generation to generation.

While it might have been the sound, it was more probably the cloud of dust followed by the coughing and sneezing throughout the room that finally encouraged everyone to focus on the attorney.

Several of Wilkinson’s inner circle of trusted employees brought out an ornate steel container—beautiful to the eye yet built to withstand anything short of a nuclear explosion. There was no need for these employees to do so, but they so wanted to be present and witness the events as they unfolded and it gave them the excuse to attend. They stepped back a respectful—or perhaps a safer—distance.

The lawyer-du-jour had a key in his vest pocket, which was fastened to the chain of a pocket watch. The key, chain, and watch had been retrieved from a safe deposit box that very morning. The lawyer, wearing a grey, pinstriped three-piece suit, white shirt and red tie with blue diagonal stripes—as instructed—had placed the key in one pocket and the watch, which appeared to be a fine antique watch (which was his to keep) in the other.

Now that it was silent, he dramatically checked the pocket watch.

“I believe that it is time to begin,” he announced in his beautiful baritone radio voice. He replaced the watch in right vest pocket and removed the key from the left. He went through the motions of dusting off the top of the box, even though it was already immaculate, and inserted the key. On the first try, the lock didn’t respond—but after all it had sat unused for over a quarter century. He removed the key, reinserted it and this time, with a solid turn of the key, the lock opened. The attendees began moving closer to see what the box held.

The attorney lifted the lid. The box contained but a single envelope, sealed with actual sealing wax imprinted with Wilkinson’s monogram, as was appropriate for the occasion. After all, this would be Wilkinson’s last communication with those with whom he had shared portions of his life. Would a new prince or princess be named as his heir? Would he create new fiefdoms by dividing his wealth and attaching conditions and requirements? How would his vast wealth be distributed? Who would reap without sowing? Who would gather without scattering?

The lawyer broke the wax seal, opened the envelope, and removed a sheet of finest parchment, handwritten with a proper ink pen—the kind you dip into an inkwell, not one with a cartridge, or God forbid, anything resembling a ball point.

The crowd was silently leaning forward as he began to read:

I, R. Jonathon Wilkinson, being of sound mind and body, without reservation, and of my own free will, do hereby write my last will and testament superseding and negating any previous such documents.

I have acquired great wealth and power during my life. Power I cannot bequeath.

As to my wealth, to my family, friends, business associates, charities, and others:

I leave absolutely nothing.

Instead, I have decided to take it with me.

The assembled multitude quickly turned into an angry mob, leaving the attorney looking most undistinguished with patches of hair missing, both eyes blackened, and a broken nose, which bled profusely. Naturally, an insurance policy had been purchased many years before to cover any medical bills and compensate the lawyer for any discomfort, as well as to replace all the furniture in that room, knowing it would be destroyed.

Eventually, the crowd disbursed. The lawyer, who was now sitting on the floor, stared at the smashed antique watch, which he had hoped to keep. Actually, the watch he held was a very accurate replica because, naturally, Wilkinson had anticipated the mayhem and damage. The genuine watch was delivered to the lawyer later that same day, along with a check for his services, and a personal note from Wilkinson thanking him for his time and apologizing for his family’s behavior. The note was handwritten and dated almost 25 years earlier.

Throughout it all, in the back corner of the room, an attractive woman had sat quietly. She had neither joined the others in their protest nor commented on it. Once everyone else had left, she removed a tissue from her purse, wiped her eyes, and headed out the door. She pressed the button for the elevator and waited for it to open.

(To be continued)

The Story

I’ve been working on a story for a while, but writing it keeps getting in the way.

I’ve always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” which was published as a serial in the Strand magazine, a monthly publication. My story–“The Story”–has been under development for a while. Like most writers, I d-r-a-g things out far too long as I write them. It’s a case of “Wait! It was a small dog, not a puppy!.”

As George Lucas supposedly said, “Movies are never completed, only abandoned.” The same is probably true of stories, so I’m going to publish–on this blog–at least a chapter a month. I make no promise that a particular chapter (including one that I may publish) will not be removed or eliminated.

Welcome to the wonderful??? world of writing. You may have the chance to experience my dreams, frustrations, pain, and stupidity, as I try to write a story.

I’ve already changed at least five chapters, but, interestingly, all of the characters remain, although their experiences might be different. If I share, I’ll try not to be too confusing (I’m not responsible for confusing myself).

If it’s worthwhile–I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One is coming soon.

Peak Season

HURRICANE-IRENE-PATH-2011-NOAA-2

For those of us who live on the East or Gulf Coasts, we’re now headed into peak hurricane season. Although hurricane season begins in June, we frequently see the worst storms–and the ones that make landfall–between now and the end of November.

It’s kind of like Christmas shopping–the stores have the Christmas products on the shelf in October, but it’s the last few weeks when the shoppers go into a frenzy.

So, I’ve checked the generator, put the six-month old gas from the storage cans into the car and replaced it with fresh (and added the fuel stabilizer). I’ve checked the backup chargers for the cell phones, and of course the ham radio gear.

Now all I have to do is wait.

The last big storm we had was Hurricane Irene in 2011. We’ve had some damaging, but not disastrous weather since, so I’ve been waiting since 2011.

If you’re wondering, I much prefer waiting to dealing with a storm. Wish me a happy and successful 2018 wait, with no serious storms.

 

MOM

Today is my mother’s birthday. If she were still here, she’d be 91 (as would my dad, whose birthday is earlier in the year). They were a matched set who belonged together. Mom died first, after a fall, and Dad grieved until he joined her. Now that they’re back together, all is right in their world.

If your parents are still alive, cherish every day you have with them, even if–especially if–they don’t measure up to your expectations. As we get older, and gain a modicum of wisdom, we begin to understand and accept people for who they are, not who we think they should be.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Professionally Broken

Broken-Ham-Radio

A friend of mine once sent a radio transceiver (transmitter and receiver) to a reputable company for repair. When he was told it was finished, he picked it up and was very pleased at how well it worked.

A couple of days later, the reputable company called him and told him that they had given him a radio of the same brand and model as his, but the one they gave him belonged to another customer. Would he please return it and pick up his own, which was now repaired.

He brought back the radio, and they showed him his (now repaired) radio–exactly the same brand and model. However, the price they wanted to charge him for repairing his radio was outrageously high.

He told them that: a) the price was ridiculous, and b) he had done them a favor by returning the radio that had been given to him. After all, he was under no obligation to return it, and it was identical to the one he had brought in.

Their response? “Tough.”

He asked what they were going to do. They informed him that if he didn’t want to pay for the repair, they would have the technician return it to its previous condition. He was incredulous and asked, “So after the cost of repairing it, you’re willing to pay again to have my radio professionally broken.”

“Yep.”

Needless to say, that company is now out of business.

However, that was years ago. Today, as near as I can tell, high-tech equipment is pre-broken at the factory. The symptoms won’t show up immediately, but definitely will be fully developed just after the warranty and/or extended protection plan expires.

I call it frustrating. Manufacturers call it progress.

Good, Better, Worst

1957_Ford_Thunderbird_white

I spent a good portion of the weekend trying to work with several computer programs that defied both logic and me. There’s a reason for that.

When I was young, automobile companies would design and produce a very popular model, such as the Ford Thunderbird. It started out as a two seater sports car, similar to European sportsters. The hardtop version, in the earlier years, had two small round windows that had no other purpose than to look cool.

Every year, they “improved” it by making it larger, adding rear seats, and making it generally uncool. This practice has been continually refined since then so that good products are improved until they fail. It’s the product equipment of The Peter Principle–the cream rises until it sours.

One explanation is that the enemy of good is better. Actually the Perotto Principle applies; it takes 20 percent of the resources to achieve 80 percent results. It then takes 80 percent of the resources to achieve the final 20 percent.

Such was the case with these programs. The original versions did a few things very well. The current, new and improved versions do many things, but only those who wrote the computer code understand how to make them work.

There’s nothing wrong with “good enough.” If it gets the job done, that’s all that is required; it doesn’t need chrome fender dents and a two-way sneeze-through wind guard.*

 

*Ralph Spoilsport Motors–Firesign Theatr