Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

29 November 2008

Giving Thanks

Well I burned the turkey. Me! I can't believe it. I was cooking it at my house while we made the rest of the fixin's at Matt's house. I know that if Matt ever does get around to getting his pilot's license we'll get along great as copilots, because one thing he and I like to do together is cook. See, we both love to eat, ergo... And we work well together in the kitchen. So we decided to give Alisha the day off from cooking and do a meal for others who have nowhere else to go on Thanksgiving. We'd take care of everything. Heh.

The plan was to do the turkey at my place, and while it was cooking I would head over to Matt's to help prepare the rest of the mean. He had a recipe for dressing that he said was out-of-this-world that he wanted to try. Mostly, we just usually do the Stove-Top thing, because: a) It's so easy that any idiots (including us) can do it; and b) It's delicious! But Matt wanted to try this complicated dressing/stuffing recipe that he'd gotten from his aunt. The ingredients with respect to certain brand names were very specific. Not stuff you'd find on the shelves at Wal-Mart.

The directions for the turkey said 5:30 to 6:00 hours at 325 degrees for its weight (20 pounds). But I just had a feeling it wasn't going to take that long. Nevertheless, I put it in the oven at 8:00 am and left, worrying that when I returned I'd find the firemen hosing down the smoldering pile of ashes that had once been my house. Bad idea.

I got back to the house around 12:30. The house hadn't burned down, but the oven was smoking pretty good. My parakeets had flown over to the phone and were trying unsuccessfully to peck "911" with their little beaks, poor things. The built-in pop-up thingee on the turkey had already popped. I stuck a thermometer in the breast, looking for 185 degrees. I was dismayed to see the needle go right up to 200. Oops! Four-and-a-half hours, not six! Damn you, directions! And don't blame my oven, either. I've calibrated the temperature setting on the knob with the actual temperature in the oven. I am a pilot - I am anal like that. Well, not anal enough to actually watch over something as it cooks, just anal about some things.

Matt's out-of-this-world dressing recipe called for boiling then shredding a chicken and then adding that to the mix. Needless to say, we weren't about to boil any chicken when Wal-Mart sells broiled chickens for four bucks. Boiled...broiled, what's the difference? So with the huge (over)cooked turkey in the passenger seat (the car smelled wonderful!), juices overflowing from the pan (should've drained it), I gingerly drove to Matt's, stopping on the way at Wal-Mart (of course they were open) to see if they had any of those pre-cooked chickens (of course they did - a ton of them.) At the checkout line, people were eyeing me with pity. "Oh, the poor, old, pathetic single guy, buying a Wal-Mart chicken to eat by himself on Thanksgiving." When I saw that look on the face of the lady behind me in line, I said, "IT'S FOR THE DRESSING!" loud enough for everyone to hear.

Finally, the meal started coming together. Aside from not boiling a chicken, we had to make a few other substitutions as well. Like, we used packaged chicken stock and we didn't put in the onions and celery as the recipe called for (personal choice there - dressing shouldn't be crunchy).

All in all, there was a ton of food. Too much food. Much more than necessary for the small number of people we ended up feeding. The no-shows had obviously found better places to be - a good thing, let's hope. And yeah, the turkey was kind of dry, but that's why God invented gravy. (Mmmmm, gravy!) The dryness of the turkey was more than made up for by Matt's aunt's dressing which was, I have to admit, out-of-this-world and worth cooking again on non-Thanksgiving days.

But even with all that wonderful food, we were good. We didn't gorge ourselves that badly (had to leave room for the two pies...and ice cream of course). In anticipation, Matt had worn his loosest baggy pants. I would have, but none of my pants are really all that loose since I'm still pretending that I have a 34" waist.

By the end of the meal, I had pretty much drained a bottle of red, and was feeling very good indeed. Matt and Alisha both drink white wine. When I visit, as a good guest I don't like to arrive empty-handed so I usually bring over a nice bottle of...well, red. And I usually have it all to myself. (How can people even drink white wine? Sheesh. Cold wine? Over ice?? Heathens!)

Good friend that I am, I took Matt's brother Jacob back to his house (he's between motorcycles at the moment). I left Matt and Alisha with the dishes and cleanup. And the turkey, by the way.

Although I wasn't with my own family this year, I was with the people who are equally close to me. I don't know whether I've adopted Matt, Alisha, Jacob and Gene or they've adopted me. Either way, they are my family now. And it was the best Thanksgiving ever. Of course, I say that every year. And every year I mean it, for every year it's true. They keep getting better and better as every year I have more and more to be thankful for ;-)

I hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable - wherever, and with whomever you spent it.

I wonder if Matt still has any of that dressing left over?

21 November 2008

Am I Happy?

To quote an spunky politician who recently garnered 14:59 of fame, "You betcha!"

In my previous post, I noted how low gas prices have gone. I suggested that one way of spurring the economy would be to find a way to keep those prices low. It has certainly cut my commuting costs, which puts real money in my pocket...money I can spend on other things besides gasoline.

As I predicted, gas prices have continued to fall. This is what I saw today. Even premium is under $2.00 per gallon!

So Matthew commented:
"...Striving for cheap gas prices is horribly short-sighted -- ignoring issues and challenges like environmental damage, community health, urban planning, technological innovation and alternative energy, and the long-term prospects of our reliance on what really is a horrible source of energy."

For starters, I do not agree that petroleum is a horrible source of energy. Of all the things that cars, buses and aeroplanes could have been powered by (e.g. coal, wood, hydrogen, etc.) petroleum is a wonderfully efficient source of energy. In over 100 years, we have not found anything as good. Now, if Matthew wants to take the Al Gore view that the internal-combustion engine and everything it powers (including our personal vehicles and how we use them) is "evil" or something, well, he is entitled to his opinion. It is one I do not share.

Cars of today are amazingly "clean" in terms of the amount of pollution they produce. But yes, of course we need to find an alternative - if you believe we are "running out" of oil, that is.

I flew an "oil guy" recently. Admittedly, he is no more of an expert on oil than anyone else on the planet, but he is in the business (president of a small oil company), which is more than I can say. I asked him about this peak oil theory. He waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, there may very well be more peaks in the future."

This was news to me. Like a lot of people, I thought that oil was the byproduct of dead dinosaurs or something, and that all the oil that's ever been made is all the oil that's ever going to be made. Finite resource, in other words.


Turns out that oil has been discovered in places that were thought to be nearly depleted, like certain Gulf of Mexico oil fields (see this article). The theory is that the planet is continuing to make oil.

Also, as seismic technology improves, we'll be able to find more oil that was heretofore undetected. Finally, as drilling and production technology improves, we'll be able to extract oil from areas that were previously thought to be uneconomically feasible.

So. Do I think that oil is going to "run out?" No.

But more than that, technology will advance; it does not stand still. I do not believe that everything that's going to be invented already has been invented. In time, some other power source for personal transportation devices will be found and developed. Or maybe we'll find a way of burning salt water like inventor John Kanzius is trying to do.

In the meantime, we're stuck with cars and airplanes (and helicopters) powered by fossil fueled, internal-combustion engines. There in no mass-transit in Smalltown, America. My job is such that I cannot car-pool to work. This is not our fault - meaning you and me, the general public. I don't think it's fair that we should be penalized for it. This is what we've been given to work with. Having said that, I'd like gasoline to be as cheap as possible for as long as possible. I don't care about other nations where consumers pay exhorbitant gasoline prices. Apples to apples, please.

Short-term, getting the U.S. economy to recover will depend a lot on those of us who still have jobs spending and investing the money we earn. My boss asked the other day if I felt confident enough to buy a new car right now? I said, "Sure! It just wouldn't be a Chrysler, Ford or GM vehicle...and even if it were I sure wouldn't spring for the factory extended warranty."

But I'm not in the market for a new car; the old Grand Cherokee soldiers on acceptably well, carrying everything I need either inside or on the roof or behind in a trailer. (Try that in your Prius or Yarus or Honda Fit!) And the VW Camper will soon get its new engine. And next summer, if gasoline is still under $2.00 per gallon, I may take off and do some of those trips I've been planning since I was a kid.

Am I happy? Oh hell yeah!

15 November 2008

$1.90 Per Gallon??

Are you kidding me: $1.90 per gallon? But yeah, that's what I saw it for today. And it'll probably go lower than that.

Back when gasoline went to nearly $4.00/gallon, we didn't think it would ever come back down. "Peak oil!" they screeched. "We're using it up faster than we can produce it! We're gonna run out!" All sorts of dire warnings were issued. India was going to take all of the oil...China too! Oh dear, what were we going to do?! Sales of big trucks went in the tank. People started riding motorcycles. Suddenly, my 20-mpg (highway) Jeep Grand Cherokee didn't seem like it got such great mileage after all. If I didn't have to fly, I didn't even think about going to the airport. Hell, the 120-mile round-trip burned six gallons, or put another way, cost me nearly twenty-five bucks!

But now gas is down to $1.90 and it's only costing me $38.00 to fill it up, not $77.00. That's money in my pocket, baby!

Hey Dubya and Obama, you guys wanna jump-start the economy? While you're throwing around those billions in of dollars in bailout money, how's about giving some to gasoline distributors and gas stations (not the big oil companies). Keep gas down around $2.00/gallon. I'll be going out to eat more often, buying more crap...hell, I might even take a trip or two in the car! How 'bout dem apples?

Subsidies for gas station owners! Now there's an idea we can all live and prosper with.

08 November 2008


...Or, New Orleans, Louisiana. Nobody pronounces it that way verbally, but it is often referred as such in print. And it's where I am tonight. We came over on Friday for the weekend. Landed right at the Superdome, which has a nice little heliport that's open 24/7 (and even has fuel!). It's never busy. The couple of times we've been here, I've never seen another helicopter. And it is so convenient.

Around midday today I flew Boss up to Baton Rouge so he could attend the Alabama/LSU oh-my-God, nail-biting-to-the-end, cliff-hanging college football game. The Crimson Tide did prevail, but only barely. We left Baton Rouge at around 8:20 for the 35 minute flight back. Fortunately, we had the wind on our tail. Good thing - Boss had a 9:00 dinner reservation. Night flying, especially around big cities, is enchanting. It's really something to see, and photographs simply do not do it justice.

So the Boss is off...wherever. I'm about to go wander around the French Quarter. My King Air pilot buddy Cass suggested a place called the Acme Oyster House, and the Boss heartily concurred. Luckily, my hotel is within walking-distance of the Quarter, the Oyster House is a mere couple of blocks away.

A lot of people love New Orleans. I'm kind of ambivalent about it. I mean, yeah it's cool and all...I don't know...I'm just not all that enthralled. The French Quarter - which is about all that's left of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in 2005 - is so touristy and fake that walking down Bourbon Street gives one the impression of being at Disney World...a sick, demented, perverted Disney World. It just seems like a movie set to me.

We're not leaving until late tomorrow (Sunday). So I'll go grab some oysters and a beer or two...err, twelve, and then wander around seeing what kind of trouble I can get into. Surely there has to be a sleazy, smokey club where there are some authentic, old-timey New Orleans jazz musicians playing, huh? I mean, in a town like this, why settle for a run-of-the-mill "cover band?"

06 November 2008

Even More Basic Instructions

God, I love the humor of Scott Meyer. Especially this strip above. (Right-click on it and open it up bigger if you're like me and cannot read the print as it appears in this blog.)

It's unusual for a cartoonist to use a term like, "Ragnarok upon us?" Who would even know what that is? By using that term (from Norse mythology and defined as "the end of the cosmos, death of the gods, flooded earth and various other natural disasters"), I had to wonder if Meyer wrote the strip after the election? And no, Ragnarok is not upon us. Yet.

I wake up every morning in a good mood. Perhaps this is because I'm single. And I don't have a cat.

04 November 2008

Al Hirt: Java!

I feel sorry for kids these days, music-wise. As I've mentioned, when I was a kid we had "Top-40" radio stations in the 1960's and '70s that played a wide variety of music. So in addition to "pop" groups like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Supremes, I heard songs from "middle of the road" artists like Eddie Arnold, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong, as well as jazz artists like Ramsey Lewis and country artists like Roy Clark. WABC in New York played everything. It was such a strange mix of things that even my parents could (and did) listen without yelling at us to turn that damn thing down!

The music from the radio formed the soundtrack of our lives. WABC might play a Beatles song (pick one) and then Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," followed by a Rolling Stones song, then Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," and finally "The Girl From Ipanema" by Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto. I didnt' know any better - I thought it was all just...well, music. I liked it all. Such combinations of genre would never fly with kids these days. Radio is too fragmented.

In early 1964 WABC began playing an uptempo little instrumental tune called "Java" by Al Hirt. A native of New Orleans, playing professionally since he was 16, Hirt was obviously influenced by the wealth of eclectic music emanating from that city, and he frequently played with the legendary Pete Fountain with whom he was friends. That his music would be played on the nation's biggest and most influential Top-40 pop music radio station must have been quite a shock to the 42 year-old Hirt.

I hadn't thought of "Java" in a long time...perhaps decades. But since I'd put the instrumental, "Love Is Blue" on my iPod it got me thinking about other instrumentals of the day. So as I do, I went right to iTunes and downloaded the Al Hirt song. As usual, listening to an old song under headphones in stereo is profoundly enlightening. You hear things you never heard before.

"Java" is fascinating to me in so many ways. For one thing, it's short - barely two minutes long. Hirt's trumpet and a ride cymbal dominate the sound. It's a rollicking Dixieland tune with a vaguely Spanish arrangement. iTunes notes that Hirt had "...a propensity for playing far too many notes." Which is true. He plays the hell out of that trumpet. Live versions are different; Hirt crams so many notes in that you wonder where he gets the breath and stamina. If only I could blow like that!

One odd thing about the studio version is that there are no "classic" drums to keep the beat as there would be in a typical rock tune, but rather just that rolling piano underneath and the ride cymbal above, with Al's glorious trumpet providing the melody and two saxophones on harmony. There are other bandmembers, but they are kept low in the mix.

I think I must be wierd sometimes. On the way home from the airport yesterday, I listened to "Java" over and over and over, picking out the various instrumental parts, feeling how they all fit together. With songs like this, I try to put myself in the studio as it happened, as the guys were laying down the tracks. "Java" sounds like it was incredibly fun to record. In fact, it's one of those "perfect" little songs I love so much. It's awesome - there's not a bad note to be heard. All the better is that it's an instrumental, with singers only "oohing" along in the background. Vocals would have ruined it.

Please go up and click on the song. Please listen to it with your headphones on. See if you don't agree that it's an awesome gem. (And even if you hate it, you'll only have wasted two minutes of your time.) In this day of computer-generated or electronically-enhanced instruments, it's nice to hear a virtuoso creating music with nothing but his own breath and a brass instrument. I love the electro-synth pop records of the 1980's, but music like that hasn't got anywhere near the heart and soul of simple songs like "Java."

We lost Al Hirt in 1999. He continued playing in New Orleans almost right up to the end.

01 November 2008

The C - Word: Life's Funny Like That

Rule #1: Doctors don’t know shit about cancer. You can take that to the bank. It is an absolute truth.

In the 1980’s, my dad’s voice started becoming raspy. Doctors diagnosed him with non-cancerous “nodes” on his larynx. It was the years of smoking, they said, adding that he’d better quit that. Periodically he would go in and have the nodes removed. The doctors always assured him they were benign. “Not a cancer cell in your body, Mr. Barbanes!” they told him time and again.

Right up until the day they removed his larynx. Because, you know, it was cancer after all.

After the operation, the doctors were again confident. “Not a cancer cell in your body, Mr. Barbanes,” they assured him.

And then soon he had his prostate removed. Bang, just like that. In for a checkup today…“Oops, gotta schedule you for surgery, like, um, tomorrow.” I learned about it after the fact, it was done so quickly.

Well that wasn’t the end of it, of course. The surgeons had their way with him, cutting off bits that no man should ever lose...bits *I* hope never to lose, please, dear God!

The oncologists kept him coming back and back and back for more torture. Test after test was done – always on an outpatient basis. Many of them were severely debilitating, bordering on barbaric. Dad’s cancer got worse and worse. It was hard to watch, and I’m sure it must have been harder for him to go through it. But dad never complained. He gritted his teeth and soldiered on. It’s what men of his generation did.

None of their tests or procedures did anything positive. After a while, I got the impression that the doctors really were merely experimenting on him just to see what “might” work in his case. It was then that I realized that doctors don’t know shit about cancer. They don’t know what causes it, don’t know how it spreads, and obviously don’t know how to cure it. Worse, they don’t even know how to treat it.

I’ll spare you the details. Eventually they gave him six months, max. They suggested a short-term terminal care facility. We took him home, arranged for hospice care. Their prediction was just about right.

I bring this up because of a fellow blogger named Debby. The link to her blog, Life’s Funny Like That is over on the right. She is a wonderful writer, very funny and warm. She has an upbeat way of conveying things in such an intimate way that it’s almost like reading an email from a friend. Even better, she updates often – more often than me for sure. Definitely a blog worth subscribing to. If you do nothing else, read this hilarious story about how she found the family cat dead in the street. Someone who can make a story like that funny is a very, very good writer indeed.

Well it turns out that Debby has cancer. It started when she discovered a lump in her breast. Things happened very quickly from that point on. She’s had surgery and will endure a regimen of chemo and radiation therapy. Oh what fun.

There are already certain similarities in Debby’s journey and my father’s. After her initial operation and a PET/CT scan, the doctors told Debby that she was cancer-free. She was confident enough to blog, “I had cancer!” Had, as in past-tense. Reading those words made me wince. Remember rule number one. Privately, I wondered why they were putting her through chemo and radiation therapy if indeed she had - past tense - cancer?

Well of course there’s now another lump in the other breast. The cancer is not beaten after all. The visits to the various doctors continue, as will the various treatments with more urgency now. The doctors confer and conflict and consult and advise and hedge and do all the bullshit that doctors do when they’re pretending they actually understand what’s happening inside a human body on a cellular level or deeper. What she is going through right now is awful to read about. To get the full story, you should start reading around the beginning of September and read “up.” It’s enough to make you want to scream.

Debby is a strong woman with an equally strong faith. I know that ultimately she'll be okay, whatever the prognosis. She knows the score: We're all going to die some day - we'd all just like to put that off as long as we can if possible. I wish her the best. Nobody needs this kind of stress and upset in their life and the lives of their family members. But I fear the worst. Because like I said - all together now...

Doctors don’t know shit about cancer.