A day of love for our family and fellow human beings.
A day of peace.
Nineteen years ago, yesterday, we had anything but.
Sadly, it lives in the shadows of 9/11.
Nineteen years ago, yesterday, I was riding on the jump seat of a Northwest Airlines DC9 returning to Memphis from a trip to Philadelphia. We were about an hour out of Philly when we heard the news.
There had been an explosion at a Federal building in Oklahoma City.
"Oke City" has a soft spot in every air traffic controller's heart. It's home to the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. For us ATC's, that's the "mother ship". It's the common thread, the one facility we all have in common.
When I heard the news through my headphones, I gasped.
Both pilots were taken back.
My mind began racing. I wanted to know where, when, and how many.
Breaching my personal protocol of not asking for personal favors on the flight deck, I tersely said, "I need to know more about this!".
The captain did, too.
He was born and raised in "Oke City".
We had already had that conversation.
He gave the controls to the co-pilot and took command of the radio. He requested the controller at Atlanta Center give him all the details at hand.
Truck bomb. Alfred P. Murrah Building in downtown. Heavy casualties including children.
I went numb.
Not that the other casualties weren't horrifying enough, but CHILDREN?
The captain was looking off his left trying to hide his tears. The co-pilot had a steely look of resolve. I quietly said, "If you guys want to take this thing to OKC, I'll completely understand."
Pilots are some of the most determined people I've ever known. With so many of them having military backgrounds, it's quite understandable.
It was a moment of frustration. All three of us wanted to help. However, the dirty deed was done. All we could do at that point was listen to the grisly details and pray.
We landed at Memphis International Airport about an hour and some change later. The captain had radioed ahead to dispatch that he would be unable to continue his "trip" and had to return home to Oklahoma City. Dispatch completely understood.
When bad things happen at home, even if one is unaffected, going home is imperative for two very important reasons. One, just to go hug your loved ones. Two, to lend a hand to those less fortunate.
A lifetime for some.
More than some of the children would ever know.
More than one third of my life.
I can, and have, forgiven people in that time.
But not Timothy McVeigh.
Pure evil, as such, can never be forgiven nor should it ever be forgotten.
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat my beloved Memphis Grizzlies in game one of the playoffs.
I'm just around 1,000 miles away from Beale Street.
"Wine Race" in Memphis is a Sunday where all the employees in the restaurant business get the chance to celebrate. Having started my official working career in the restaurant business, my heart is with these men and women. It's tough being polite, pleasant, and professional every moment at any job.
I can list numerous FAA supervisors who can testify to my struggles with those three "P's".
More than once, I had to step outside those guidelines in order to preserve safety.
Today, those loving and kind servers, managers, and in some cases owners get to blow off some serious steam.
During my career I bandied about the idea of having a "Controller Amnesty Day" where once a year we could cuss like drunken sailors on the frequency. It would have been very therapeutic.
On the rare occasions I'm in Memphis these days, I watch the servers very carefully. No, I'm not "stalky" (that's another Memphis blogger). I watch because I know the stresses they go through. They are required to multitask at a level well above what they are paid.
That's not a slam on the owners.
Owners have a level of stress far above that.
I admire the men and women who step out there and make a business happen.
"......make a business happen." because businesses don't just "happen".
However, I worked as a server back in the day. I also washed dishes, bussed tables, and did short order cooking. I could list more, but you get the point.
I watch them, because I know from experience when a server is fixing to "blow up".
As a former member of that working group, I have the ability to sit and talk them down.
I've walked in those shoes.
I have talked with many a frustrated server. Customers, please remember this, you waiter/waitress/restaurant manager have lives outside that business. They are people. Please extend them the same courtesy you expect in the restaurant.
Today, they get to cut loose on Beale Street.
The "Sunday FunDay" gang will be over on Beale having a "Call A Cab" from Wet Willies.
I'm going to lay low and hang out.
"Laying low" and "hanging out" looks better on me these days.
Okay, I know using an adjective like *gloomy* in conjunction with a exclamation point is sort of a conflict to the literary minded.
I get it, okay?
Today is just going to be like that.
I can accept that.
Like an old friend once told me, "Some days feathers, some days chicken."
So, today's a pillow sandwich.
I can live with that.
I have so much to look forward to. I have an amazing event to attend next week. I get to meet a part of the family I've never met. How cool is that? In the process, I get to hang out with a bunch of other family including my Aunt (Dad's youngest sister)!!! I am so stoked!!!
To say my Dad's side of the family is "a bit scattered" is like saying, "Space is a small place.". While the personalities are mostly consistent, the interests are quite broad. It's an intelligent group of men and women on a bad day. Be it business, the arts, humanities, science, military........we got it covered.
It's daunting at times to stand back and realize that.
However, everybody's life is 98% mundane stuff.
Mine is no exception.
Therefore, laundry, cleaning, and putting things in order is today's plan.
Mundane stuff isn't so bad.............it is what makes the other 2% stuff exciting!
I might not be as prolific this go around, but I'm aiming for a more balanced approach to life. Yes, I'm still working on the book. My co-author and I have the initial end in sight knowing we'll have to do some editing and re-writing.
That's about business. This blog is about pleasure. It's my "guilty pleasure" where I get to reminisce from time to time, rant from time to time, and dare to share a dream or two along the way.
Today, I get to reminisce.
Look at this roguish group of men. From left: Mike C. (Bruce's best friend), Kev, Bruce, and Air Traffic Mike. This photo was taken just after Bruce's daughter married the luckiest guy in the world. I used to claim that title. I am happy to say that Lins' "Mr Lins" now has that title. Not that I'm not lucky any more. I still am. He's just luckier.
Like Mom Mom used to say, "Shit happens."
Getting back to the picture, we were standing inside the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, March, 2009. We were on the "in between" of the wedding and the reception. Despite his condition (Bruce was fighting terminal cancer), Bruce was not only holding up well, he was a man living a full life that day. I was worried for him in the preceding months. His legendary energy had been fading. I could hear it in his voice during our weekly phone calls. When I got to Vegas I was happy to see he was in good spirit and relatively energetic.
In hindsight I understand, what guy WOULDN'T be? He was surrounded by family and beloved friends, he was in his favorite city in the world, and best of all his daughter was getting married! For the time in Vegas, Bruce told cancer, "Go take a f***ing hike!!".
He never stopped smiling.
Bruce and Mike C. put a whooping on an adjacent casino playing a variant of "Black Jack" earlier on wedding day.
We even got to see "Flavor Flav" get his ass handed to him on a solo Black Jack table. By our best estimates, based on chip color and stack heights, "Flavor Flav" probably lost in excess of $100K during that time.
None of "Flavor Flav's" party mattered to us. Bruce was in his element and loving it.
He would have one last "in person" gambling day after that trip.
I was glad to be a part of it.
I retired one month and some change after David and Lindsay's wedding. I drove out to give Sis a hand with Bruce. If nothing else, I could be there with him during the day to both keep him company and assist him with the small things. We got to talk, laugh, watch "The Sopranos" together (we sang the song every day when the show came on). He could, and often did, express his sorrows, frustrations, and anger to me during that time. Some I can share, most I won't. It's a brother thing. This I can and will share. His biggest regret was that he felt like he let his wife and family down by passing young. In his youth, he was a lettered cross country runner. For a man used to not only making the distance, but conquering it, it was devastating. He wanted to retire with his wife to the Outer Banks. He wanted to see and spoil his grandchildren. He wanted to be there when all of us were retired, playing "Nickle/Dime/Quarter" poker with Mike C., Bill, Chris, and Freddy (his buds). He wanted to be at his son's (Christopher) wedding.
He was mourning his losses with me.
I went through the same thing with our Mom when she was dying of cancer.
One morning, I had an idea.
Bruce was on the upswing. His surgical wound wasn't hurting so bad. He was in a relatively happy mood.
Who am I kidding, he was giddy.
His "Lottery Club" had hit a Virginia Pick 4 number for a couple grand.
We were off to cash it in.
Since we were going out, I suggested, "Maybe this is a good day to go to OTB *Off Track Betting* so you can see your "boys" and hang out."
The light in his eyes said it all. I knew, deep down, that this would probably be his last time there. In retrospect, I think he knew it, too.
We cashed in the "Lottery Club" winning ticket in Portsmouth, VA.
I locked the proceeds in my trunk.
Off to the OTB we went.
We each took a $200 withdrawl from our checking accounts and settled in to bet the "Nay Nays".
Bruce could hardly get a bet off. All the OTB gang was there and wanted to talk to him.
Dedicated gamblers have a "family code" all their own.
Old men and their wives came over and hugged him. Many sent drink offers to him (He had to turn them all down save for soda, his chemotherapy and alcohol didn't mix). More than anything else, they just wanted to be with him. They wanted to hear the "Bruce" that could stir up a quiet room.
In the 5th race at Meadowlands, they got it in spades.
Some moron (me), bet a 70:1 horse $5.00 "across the board" (Win/Place/Show).
"AND THEY'RE OFF!!!!!"
My horse took the early lead. It was a one mile race.
Bruce immediately jumped to his feet yelling, "C'MON YOU F***ING MULE!!!!!".
That got the entire room going. Men and women who were watching to see if their bets at other tracks were going to win came running over.
At the halfway point, Bruce elbowed me and said, "Tig (my nickname, short for Tigger), he's got a chance!"
I knew that. The horse was a known "closer". His best part of his race was in the last quarter.
I didn't bother Bruce with those details. He was living in the moment.
Coming around the final turn, my horse was being challenged by three other thorobreds.
Bruce led the cheer.
"NO WAY, NAY NAYS. NO WAY, NAY NAYS!!!!!!"
My horse kicked into his high gear.
He won the race by three lengths (and going away).
I cashed in and we left.
On the way home Bruce asked, "Man, how do we tell today's story?"
I replied, "You give Donna a big hug when she gets home and tell her you had a great day."
As worried as Sis (Donna) was, I figured that was the most important thing she needed to hear.
It's four plus years now. Bruce is safe in God's arms and well out of pain. David and Lindsay have two beautiful children. Christopher is engaged. Sis (Donna) has a nice fellow in her life. Mike C. and his lovely bride Lisa, have their hands full with grandchildren and Mike C. being retired.
Me? I'm on the sidelines. Days like today, instead of wondering, "What if?", I sit back and enjoy the, "This is what we got.......ain't it grand?".
Sis, Christopher, Lindsay and David (please, next time, answer my phone call)....I love all of you with all my heart. Bruce will watch over his Family and grandbabies like a hawk.
Kev, I'm so glad we had that last weekend in Vegas with Bruce. I grieve for you every day that you lost your best friend.
Mike C., I grieve for you as much as I do Kev. You are a "Walker Boy" by nomination of Bruce. That meant you were automatically in. Bruce counted on you and you and Lisa were always there. I can't thank you folks enough. I just wish he'd picked up and used the last driver you gave him. Believe me, it wasn't because I didn't try to make him use it. He just had too much respect for the game (with no disrespect to you or I).
Once upon a time, five boys became five men..........
Now, Rhondo was unlucky in most things during his life. Besides the "Lawn Mower Ride" from the link above, he had other misfortunes. A friend accidentally closed a garage door on his head. He once almost got "power choked" by the driver rolling up a window in the back using the remote switches to do so. Another time Rhondo actually was in danger of hanging himself on his tether. He'd gotten the rope tangled around the metal railing on the back step, took a shortcut to the bottom in front of the stairs, leaving just enough rope to sit uncomfortably on the ground. He was no more than one half of a loop away from a slow strangulation. Later in the year he got into a particularly nasty battle with a possum he had cornered against the concrete wall of a garage.
Still, he always seemed to bounce back.
Then one day he had a seizure right in front of me. That really freaked me out. It seemed to come out of the blue.
We took him to the vet. The vet ran blood work, tested his stool for any clues, and tested his urine. His urine and blood work came back with really unexpected results. The little dog that had overcome so many bad moments in an all too short period of time had run out of lives and luck. His kidneys were failing. All of us who had become his last and best family had always noticed Rhondo had an unusual odor. It turned out the odor was coming from bad kidneys he'd been born with.
His health continued to worsen. We both knew Rhondo's time was coming to an end.
Then on January 7, 2011 we had to do the last decent thing we could do for that poor, suffering dog. With moral support from a friend who was also kind enough to drive us to the 24 hour veterinarian's office nearby, we made the decision.
I still get misty thinking about it.
It's not all gloom and doom. We still have pictures. I still have some great memories. And yes, Rhondo can still inspire some lighthearted Blogging buffoonery on my part.
Like this for example:
"Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of those pets who are routinely yet accidentally strangled by the occasional dog lover not trained in how to hold a dog properly, AIRTRAFFICMIKE Heavy Industries, LLC. (the official social think tank of Air Traffic Mike's) brings you a quick lesson on how to hold your dog while not loving him/her to death.
CORRECT!!!!!! Notice just how calm, content, and happy the late Rhondo is here in this file footage from one of his better days in the past. By golly, he looks like he could just take a nap right there! Then there's this attempt........
INCORRECT!!!!!!! Just look at that poor dog's body language! He's lost complete control of his back legs. It seems his right shoulder is just about to dislocate. Look at the grimace on his face and his eyes focusing on....well, nothing. That's what happens when any living mammal is about to pass out.
Now of course I'm exaggerating here. Rhondo was in no harm whatsoever.......well, at least for harm at the Rhondo level. However, he had a very expressive face. He had some wildly entertaining eye expressions (like cutting his eyes at the also late Lilly when she'd make a run for Rhondo's food).
Rhondo and Lilly are both gone now, but the memories linger on.
With that said, please click on this link for one of my all time favorite "Rhondo episodes".
Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.
As I do every morning I'm able to, I read the local paper from where I grew up in South Jersey.
Sadly, this morning's edition had the obituary of a childhood friend. Karl was a year older than me. I got to know him through mutual friends in high school. He dated a girl in my class and was friends with some of my buddies.
Karl was always a big fellow. However, as big and strong as he was, he was a decent and kind fellow. He was also an exceptional athlete. He could hit a baseball a country mile if a pitcher got stupid and laid a pitch up in "the wheelhouse".
I never got the chance to play baseball with him. We had a number of good baseball players in high school during my time there. However, I did get to play softball with him and the gang on a number of Sunday afternoon sandlot/pickup games.
The area of town was called "Central Park". It's not to be confused with New York's Central Park. It is mostly a blue collar area of town in a mostly blue collar town. There is a nice little elementary school there. Back in our day, just like all the other elementary schools, there was a small baseball/kickball/practice field.
One of our mutual friends, a guy we called "Quinny", lived close by. Now I'm not sure whose idea it was, but one Sunday afternoon I got a phone call asking if I wanted to meet up over at the school for a game of softball. I wasn't working yet, so it sounded like a swell idea to me. A bunch of us met up, picked up sides and had a blast. No pressure, it didn't matter if you were good, great, or outright horrible. We were just kids being kids killing some down time on a Spring Sunday.
Well, it caught on. Pretty soon we were able to field close to two complete teams. We had our rules for playing short handed as well. We had "ghost runners", "team at bat catchers" (they caught but in the event of a play at the plate the pitching team had to cover it), and the most used of all a "dead field". "Dead field" meant that any ball hit past a certain point away from center field was considered out of play and ruled as a foul ball would be. If the center fielder could "get on his horse" and catch it, the out counted.
Now the natural "dead field" because of the layout was left field. The then first/second/third grade classrooms were over there and it was a fairly short drive to the brick walls of the wing.
"Quinny League Softball Rules" were always in effect whenever we didn't have 18 players; which was most of the time. They were etched in stone (or in this case bricks and mortar) until one fateful Sunday when Karl started joining us.
Karl batted and threw right handed. I did mention he could hit a ball a country mile, right? In the first game he played in we had to adjust the rules due to his abilities. I was out playing center field. The "team at bat catcher" and "Dead Field" (in this case, as usual, left field) rules were in effect. I'm not sure who was pitching, it might have been "Quinny", it might have been Don, but it didn't matter. The underhand pitch came in about navel high and right down the pipe.
Karl turned on the pitch.
He promptly hit it over the first/second/third grade wing of the school. The ball landed and came to a stop in a small courtyard between the two wings of the school (Grades 4/5/6 were in the other wing). Since this had never happened before, a spirited sandlot debate broke out. "Quinny", serving as tacit "League Founder/Commissioner" did what any smart 17 year old would do.......he put it to a vote. It was a close vote but in the end the new rule read:
"Any ball hit over a "Dead Field" that clears the first/second/third grade wing shall be ruled a home run."
Thus was born the first "Karl Rule".
The next "Karl Rule" wasn't far behind the first.
Karl came back up to bat in the third inning. Once again the softball pitched found itself in harm's way. Just like before, Karl turned on it. Just like his first at bat it went right over left field. Unlike his first hit, this one was a line drive and I was already shading left field. He hit it, I started off to my right at the sound of contact. I thought I might have a chance at it. Heck, I couldn't have caught it if I was in a truck. It hit the lowest pane of glass on a window in Mrs. Chamberlain's first grade classroom. It also popped back out due to the large, heavy metal Venetian Blinds lowered all the way down. I unwisely fielded the softball now sporting glass shards and hurled it as hard as I could to home plate. I also yelled in pain, "DON'T CATCH IT!!!!!". Karl crossed home plate about the time the ball got there. The pitcher wisely let the ball pass by and hit the backstop.
Once again a discussion and vote ensued.
The second "Karl Rule" read as follows:
"Any ball breaking a window and bouncing back into any out of bounds territory or the field of play shall be ruled a home run."
I added one caveat, "And the ball handled carefully." as I took another splinter of glass from my right hand.
Seeing as how we had damaged some public property and my hand needed some soapy water and a clean towel, we did what any group of teenagers would do. We tossed all the stuff in the "Quinnymobile" (a 1962 Ford Falcon Station Wagon with a "three on the tree" gear shift) and hastily left the scene of the incident. We conveniently left all knowledge of the incident on the playground as well.
That would become the basis of the third and forth "Karl Rules" as we played another afternoon of "Quinny League Softball".
This time I ended up on the same team as Karl. We were the home team this go around. I remember that because the other guys batted around twice setting a "Quinny League" record that would last a week. The winds were blowing out towards left-center field. I remember that too because Karl did something we hadn't seen him do yet.
He roped a homer based on distance and the fact that the right fielder would have needed to be playing about 25 feet to his left to have a remote chance of tracking it down.
By the bottom of the fifth inning we had battled back to be within two runs of our opponents. With players on first and third, Karl came up to bat. The first pitch fooled him. With the winds gusting, their pitcher took off some of the speed of his earlier pitches. Karl took a mighty cut but the winds gusted hard enough that the ball landed squarely two feet in front of home plate. After three more attempts by one of the Burt boys to get Karl to chase another bad pitch, he faced with an unpleasant choice. Either load the bases with nobody out, or pitch and count on the wind.
The pitch came in right in the middle of the strike zone.
And that's when the third and fourth (ultimately the final)of "Karl Rules" were created.
He hit a high line drive that no one was ever going to get near. It was a screamer. It hit one of the top panes of glass in Mrs. Chamberlain's first grade class, shattering the window and getting caught in the top of the Venetian Blinds.
Because it was obvious where the damage had come from we grabbed our stuff, jumped our bikes or piled into the "Quinnymobile" and headed without haste to "Quinny's" mom's house.
No vote was needed on the third "Karl Rule":
"In the event any play leaves damning evidence of damage, play shall cease immediately and all hands will abandon the field of play. The winners/losers will be determined after all players are safely away from the field of play at a neutral site after the gear is stashed and the heat's off."
The fourth and final "Karl Rule" was simply a no brainer:
"When Karl is playing, bring more than one softball."
That was a good Spring/Summer. It only lasted that one year because that's how life is, especially in the teenage years. Some of the guys were Seniors and went to work or college. The next year some of us took Summer jobs to make a few bucks. In fact, "Quinny" and I worked at the same place busing tables and washing dishes later that school year.
Pretty soon all the "Quinny League" players and I dispersed to follow whatever path was to be ours. I saw Karl once many years ago. We talked for a few minutes. Both of us had other stuff to do. That would be the last time I would see him.
I've run into "Quinny" a few times over the years. We still laugh about the softball games. They were fun. No ego's, no arguments, just a bunch of kids getting outside and playing. Okay, so there was some collateral damages from time to time. Karl wasn't the only guy to knock glass out of the building. He was just the guy that did it first and did it so well.
The gentle giant with the easy smile and a big heart.
That's the Karl I'll always remember. Here's a link to his obituary.
Rest in peace and here's to you, Karl. You were the MVP in "Quinny League Softball" and more importantly an MVP as a person.
Until the next time, all y'all take care of yourselves.