Friday, June 22, 2007

Where's your ball?

Something happened today which made me flash back many years and run through a list of happenings I know is longer than I remember.

What happened was a simple request. My landlord has a dog, a beautiful Australian Shepard name Lacy. Every morning when I go into my kitchen to make my coffee, there is Lacy, staring into the window. And every morning, I say hi to the dog and she cocks her head and goes about doing something.

However, this morning, after I said hi, she just sat there looking at me with sad eyes. I turned on my coffee maker and said out the window, "Where's your ball? Find your ball, and we will play catch." Well, Lacy immediately took off for another part of her area and just as quickly, returned with her ball in her mouth. She then dropped it and started nudging it with her nose.

I knew immediately what happened. She understood me and from her body language, I understood her. So I went out and played catch with her for about an hour. But while I tossed the ball and attempted to wrestle it from the mouth of Lacy, I thought back to strange animal encounters I have had.

The first one I recalled, is at my Great Grandparents place. I was little, maybe five or six, if that, and their neighbor had a pet crow. Everyone went over to pet the crow, except me. I headed for the car since we were leaving. I got five feet from the car and the crow took off, landed on my shoulder and started pecking on my head. Of course, I got scared and started to cry...and the crow continued hammering away on me until someone ran over and took it off me. I got in the car and never looked back.

Years later (and a number of insignificant animal encounters), I was visiting my cousins. We went to someone's farm and were checking out the animals there. We got the corral with the horses and there was one horse out. I was told that horse hated everyone except one person. I don't remember that one person, but that person was the only person who could get close to the horse. We then left and went inside to eat. When we finished, I decided I would go outside and I went to the corral. There was the mean horse, staring at me with its big, brown eyes, standing in the middle of the corral. So, like an idiot, I climbed through the log fence and walked up to the "Terror of the Farmland." To my surprise, the horse didn't do anything. I rubbed her (his) neck, scratched her nose and chest and in return, she snuggled her nose under my arm.

While I was making friends with the horse, my cousins came up. They were yelling at me to get away from the horse, but I ignored them. I knew I had a friend in that horse. I didn't attempt to ride her, but I am sure I could have barebacked her around that corral and nothing would have happened. As I walked over to fence where my cousins were, I noticed the horse followed me. I began wishing I had a carrot or an apple, or even a sugar cube to give her, but I didn't. So I patted the horse on the side, and climbed back through the fence. When one of my cousins attempted to befriend the horse, the Terror of the Farmland returned and almost bit his hand. Everyone looked at me and I said, "She likes me."

Years later, I was in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. I was working day shift at the time, and every evening after work, I would hit the dining hall and after chowing down on the great food they served, I would grab an apple and head to my barracks. One evening, I didn't eat the apple, so I put it on the outside window sill of my barracks room. The next morning, I went to get what would then be a nicely chilled, apple and found it missing. Figuring someone walked by, saw it and decided it would be a good start to the morning, I let it go and went to work. Of course, that evening I picked up another apple and again put it on the sill and found it too, was missing the next morning.

Well, I decided I would find out who was taking my apples. Since I was off the next day, I figured I would put an apple out there and watch and see who took it. Sometime during the night, I fell asleep, but woke just as the sun was beginning to lighten things up. I looked and noticed the apple was still there. So, I began my vigil again. It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes when something happened. I watched as a large dark brown nose and huge head came up to the sill, opened its mouth and in one bit, took in the apple. It was a moose. And the lack of antlers told me it was a female moose. I walked to the window and watched as the moose wandered back to the wooded behind the barracks and decided I would get two apples from then on.

I continued to leave an apple on my window sill and every morning, the apple was gone. This went on for weeks until one morning, rather than being awakened by my alarm clock, I was awakened by the noise of a crowd outside my window. I walked over and noticed people with cameras taking pictures. For a moment, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want a picture of my window with me standing in front of it in a white T-shirt. Then I heard someone say, "Look, it's moving." and I peeked out over the sill. Below and to the side of my window was the female moose, but she wasn't alone. She had given birth to two calves right below my window. I got dressed, grabbed my camera and joined the crowd. I was able to get a photo before the base animal control officer arrived and got everyone to leave. For me, it was to work.

When I returned, the space under my window was empty. That night, I put an apple on the sill and went to sleep. The next morning, it was still there. The moose never returned for an apple, but it wasn't the last moose encounter I had in Alaska.

Flash forward a couple of years to San Antonio, Texas when I stationed at Lackland AFB. I was editor of The Talespinner, the base newspaper, and for a safety article, I put the word out that I wanted to get a photo of a live rattlesnake. A week later, my phone rang and the person on the other end said he had two snakes cornered about two blocks from my office. I grabbed my camera and took off. It wasn't hard to find the place the snakes were. There was a crowd of people in circle about 20 feet in diameter staring somewhere into the middle.

When I arrived, I pushed my way through the people and there was two sergeants with snake poles (or whatever they call those things they catch them with) keeping to coiled, ready-to-strike rattlesnakes at bay.

I walked up to one of the guys and said, "Where did you find them?" He told me and said, "Get your photos quick. I need to return to my office." So I squatted down, focused the camera on one of the snakes and took a picture. I wasn't pleased with the shot, so I moved around to the right and squatted down again. As I lined up my shot, I noticed the snakes (I was trying to get both in the photo) were looking at each person in the circle behind me and as they looked at them, they would flick their tongue and rattle their tail and then move to the next person. As they came around to where I was, I lowered the camera and realized people were saying something to me. It turned out I was very close to striking distance from the snakes. But they were turning their heads towards me and I figured any sudden movement on my part might trigger their defense reflex, so I remained where I was.

When it came time for me to be stared down, the snakes didn't give me a second look. I know, because I was watching the eyes of each one as they turned towards me. There was no fear of me in them...but there was a lot of fear of the people standing behind me. I stayed there for a few moments, then stood up. As I did, I watched the snakes and neither one paid me any attention. I turned, thanked the guy for calling me and went back to my office. I decided not to use the photos and instead printed a staged photo of a stuffed rattler in striking mode.

Moving forward, it was the mid '90s and I was fishing at Prineville Reservoir. It was a hot day and where I was, the sun was beating down like a sledge hammer. So I decided I would go up the bank 15 feet or so and sit in the shade of a Juniper tree. I could watch my pole from there and not worry about the back of my neck becoming well-done. After about 10 minutes, I heard a sound above me and felt a rush of air pass over me. I lifted my head and looked up and to my surprise, no more than five, maybe six feet directly above me, had landed a Golden Eagle. About the time I started to look up, the eagle decided it would look down...and it did. There I was eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild, beautiful, Golden Eagle.

I started to smile and just as I cracked the corner of my mouth, the eagle spread its wings, lowered itself into launch position and took off. But before it did, it let loose with a load of crap which hit the back of my hat. I watched it gain altitude and fly out of sight over a nearby hillside. I then got up, walked to the lake side, washed my hat, rung it out, put it on, packed up my gear and went home. I figured nothing could top what had just happened.

I don't know if anything of these incidents mean anything, but I like to think they do. I have had many other encounters and all of them have ended the same walking away wondering what happened.

About the time I finished flashing to the eagle incident, I went to toss the ball and Lacy decided she would get an early start on catching it, so she leaped at the ball...still in my hand. She got the ball, but also got part of my hand.

Darn that dog...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Accidents, Walls and Fine Looking Women

Last night, I was trying to fix my desktop computer. There was a time when I enjoyed doing that sort of thing. But after seeing so many systems of mine (and others) just stop working for no apparent reason, I got tired of it. But there comes a day in every person's life when they have to roll up the shirt sleeves and dig in. So there I was...staring at an add-on card, trying to figure out if I really needed it or not, when...BAMMM!! BASH!!!!

The sound came from the window next to my computer. Like a sober St. Nick, I leaped from cheap computer desk chair, lifted my Venetian blinds and peered out. But what to my normal, saline filled eyes did appear, but a steaming pick-up with its front-end smashed up. Its hood was raised in a salute to all, and a person staggered by, probably wondering what happened.

It was obvious to me. Someone driving very stupidly, ran into the rear end of my landlord's son's pick-up which was parked in front of the house where I rent a small, but livable space containing most of my earthly possessions. I slipped into my shoes and head out my door and there I came across Lacy running back and forth, scared to the point of almost ignoring me...which in and of itself, is very strange.

I did my best to calm her down in my normally, soothing, gentle voice (I know...don't laugh...I'm not called "Bear" for nothing) and headed around front. Just as I got there, things were heating up. I could hear a very upset voice near the truck which was hit, yelling something I won't repeat here. Under the shadowy, back light of the street light, I could see the rear-end of the that truck smashed in and a dog peering over the side. And I knew I wasn't needed. As I headed back in my place, I stopped and let Lacy loose. She followed me into my house (with a lot of coaxing) and went into her normal, "What's New...What's New" mode.

When tow trucks and cop cars began showing up outside, Lacy didn't pay any attention to them, or the noise they were making. She was exploring, looking for something new to eat, play with, check out, tear apart, or whatever it was she felt like doing to it at the time. Hopefully, she (the dog) became accustomed to those sounds and if some stupid driver hits the only vehicle parked on the side of the road in front of our place again, she won't be as scared as she was last night.

What happened last night was stupid. The driver of the lethal weapon pick-up simply let his attention span lapse for a split moment and something happened. Stupid, but it's not like none of us have ever done anything stupid while driving around. I know I have.

Just after I got my driver's license 40 year's ago (yes...back in the stone age), I took my sisters to a party or something at Bullfrog Lake in the Forest Preserves of the Chicago area where I lived. After dropping them off in the parking lot, I turned the car to make a U-turn and get out of the lot when I saw a young woman I had a crush on. I was halfway through the turn when I saw Vickie and stopped the turn as my eyes followed her as far as they could...well, I was abruptly reminded I was driving a car when an impact occurred. Snapping my head forward, I found myself looking up into the blue summer sky.

Confused, I went to get out of the car and realized the ground was much lower than normal...and the front end of the car a lot higher than normal. And then there was that three foot high cement wall the front left tire was sitting on. I squatted down to look and think things over and lit a cigarette. A few minutes later, someone appeared on top of the wall and asked if I had a jack. I did and we jacked up the front left side of the car sitting on top of that three foot high wall and when it was high enough, pushed the car off the jack. The car landed back on the parking lot surface, ready to drive away, the jack waiting to be put away next to the car.

I thanked the man on top of the wall, who said, "Don't be so stupid while driving a car," then he turned and walked off. I got in the car, started the engine, put it in drive and pressed the accelerator pedal. To my dismay, the car wanted to turn left on its own. I drove the 20 or so miles home, fretting every minute.

When I got there, I told my dad I hit something with the car and now it turned to the left. He asked what I hit and I said a chunk of cement in my path. I didn't tell him it was a three foot high wall, nor did I mention how the car was put back on the driving surface. When he went out to see the damage, there was none on the bumper or the fender, but when you looked at the car from the front, you could see the left wheel was toed outward.

That was the first accident I was involved in. But it wasn't the last time I stared at a fine woman walking by where I was driving. Try not to do it while driving along the nude beaches of the French Riviera.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Typos? What Typos?

It's been almost a month since I posted an entry in this blog. I have been sharing bloggin' time between here and MySpace. And when I'm not bloggin', I'm shootin' and when I'm not shootin' I'm processin' and when I'm not processin' I'm generally doin' nothing.

That is the extent of my life these days. Not much to it, but I like it. Yes, it could be better. Jessica Beal could be my next door neighbor, or I could be able to go anywhere I want to shoot the photos I want. But she ain't and I can' I don't worry about it.

Hell, I can't even afford to get my desktop system working properly. And when it doesn't work correctly, I am forced into using a laptop which is almost as old as I am. And I can't stand the keyboard. My desktop system has one of those ergonomic keyboards. I love that keyboard. I hate straight keyboards. I spend almost as much time fixin' typos as I do typin' words worth typin'.

I hate typos. During my Air Force career, I was assigned as the editor of a couple of base newspapers. My first one was stateside and for the most part, when I submitted copy which had typos, the typesetter would correct them. She was great like that. She was also hot...but taken.

Then I was assigned to Aviano AB, Italy. I loved that assignment. As editor of The Vigileer, I had a lot of responsibility in that position, especially since I was the only staff member. But the worst part was fixin' the typos. Some English words are very similar to Italian words. So, when the typesetters saw a similar word, they typed the Italian word out of habit. It didn't happen all the time, but it happened often enough to keep me on my toes. I generally caught almost all the typos. Some did get by me, but I rarely had one on the front page...until a week in September 1976.

Just prior to my arrival in Italy, a series of large earthquakes struck the region. Close to a thousand people died in the strongest quake. Towns were in a shambles and most of the damage was in the towns surrounding Aviano. The people in the area knew what killed the majority of the people. It was buildings falling on them.

So when another fairly strong quake hit on the day my newspaper copy was being set, the typesetters decided they didn't want to be in the building they worked in until they were sure it was safe. That meant waiting until the next day, then making sure the building was still standing. But my timetable had taken a was a day behind schedule. When I arrived at the publishers to layout the paper, none of my set copy had arrived. At this point in time, my newspaper was hot lead. Each line of type was formed on a strip of lead. The letters, the words, the pictures, everything about the newspaper was mirrored so it would print correctly. When I looked at the columns of type as they were in the boards, the letters of each word was reversed. Normally, I would run some ink over the plate, press a large sheet of paper on it, and then take the proof sheet back to the base and proofread the paper that evening. But I was behind schedule, and in order to publish the paper on Friday, I had to make some decisions.

As I was trying (my Italian wasn't that good and no one spoke English at the printing plant) to explain my decision, another shaker rumbled through the area. I watched as everyone in the plant ran out the large double doors about 30 feet away from me. I watched as dirt fell from the ceiling rafters, I watched as the lights swung back and forth and I watched the last of the workers and followed her gorgeous body out of the building.

Here it was Wednesday morning, the newspaper needed to be "put to bed" that evening so it could be printed on Thursday and distributed around the base and town on Friday. It had been drilled into me that an editor NEVER missed a publishing date. Well, not long after we exited the building, the typesetter's (their building was about a half mile way) delivery man arrived with the first run of copy. I did the best I could to proofread what I had, marked the mistakes and sent the changes back to the typesetters. A couple of hours later, another tremor rumbled through the area. Well, that did it. Everyone quit working and went home.

The owner of the printing plant said if I was there early in the morning, he would make sure everything was done by noon so the paper could get printed and delivered on time. So, the next morning, I was at the typesetters at 6 am...and they weren't. I waited around for about 30 minutes and then went to the printing plant. As I walked in the door, yet another quake shook the area. After hanging around outside for a couple of hours and noticing the building wasn't coming down on top of us, we all went back inside. I told the owner about the typesetters and he called their office. No one answered. He then called the typesetter boss at home and talked to him for a few minutes.

When the owner hung up the phone, he told me that the typesetter's building sustained some damage the day before and his workers were off until the building could be repaired the next week. Now remember, no one there spoke English, but a man who worked in bar a couple of buildings down did and that is where we went to talk over the situation. With a cup of Cafe Correcto and some sort of pastry, the three of us translating what the owner and myself said. In the end, I called my office, explained the situation to my supervisor told him I would do what I could to fix the typos, and get the paper out Friday morning when it should hit the street. Since we had no idea of when things would return to normal, he agreed and told me to get the paper out on time.

Well, I did the best I could to fix the typos, especially those on the front page. And I got the paper out on time. But at a cost. During the lunchtime, a lieutenant who I had never met walked into my office and plopped a copy of the paper on my desk. He had circled every typo he found in the paper in red ink. As he dropped the paper, he said, "I have a degree in journalism and I would have rather died than put out a piece of shit paper like you did, sergeant. What have to say for yourself." I looked at the lieutenant and said, "Talk to my boss, sir. Captain So-and-so will return from lunch shortly." He left without saying another word.

I unfolded the paper he dropped in front of me and started counting. On the front page alone, there were 17 typos. I knew there would be a lot since I couldn't fix all of them the day before, but I didn't think there were that many. Looking through the rest of the paper, there were a total of 122 typos. Normally, I would have three or four in my eight page tabloid. I reached for my roladex and got the number for my counterpart at higher headquarters and called him to relay the news about my paper. After talking to him, and explaining the situation, he understood and said he wouldn't count the paper against me. I vowed then and there that I would do everything I could to get rid of typos in things I type.

But they still get through and this friggin keyboard isn't helping...hehe.

But you know, the worst part of the story above is this: I put out 24 issues a year (skipped New Years and Christmas weeks). In early December of that earthquake ridden year, headquarters for the Air Force announce the dates of the mandatory newspaper submissions for the annual media contest. You guessed earthquake ravaged edition was one of the mandatory submissions. Naturally, I didn't win any awards that year.