Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Conformity and acceptance- What I learned at Comic-Con


To be in the Military, you have to be at least a little bit of a conformist.  It starts on your first day with some Drill Instructor or a Sergeant of some sort yelling commands for seemingly no reason at all. At first he's screaming at the lot of you, but then quickly switches to one poor sap for the smallest or the largest of infractions, whichever guy stands out. You don't want to be the guy that is too slow, too fast, too tall, too short, too anything.  It doesn't matter though, even if you're perfect.  They aren't unfairly singling any one person out as eventually everyone will screw up and get their face time with the guys in charge.  It tapers off as you learn to conform, work as a team, and forget your individuality.



The uniform cements that notion.  You're all the same, nobody looks different from anyone else, and you all work toward the same goal.  At first it's just finishing the basic phase, then it's whatever training you're undergoing.  Later it's helping to get the squadron underway, or even taking it to war.  You can't do that unless you fit in, work together, and ignore your individualism, for the most part at least.

Boring Officer  Civilian Clothing
Boring Officer Clothing when he's relaxing.
(Notice the untucked shirt)
 I've basically been a conformist my whole life.  In high school there were two main groups, the dopers and the jocks, so it was either smoke marijuana or play sports.  Not a hard guess as to which way I went In college it was joining the young Republicans, wearing khaki slacks or shorts with a polo shirt and penny loafers.  That wasn't so much a GOP-prescribed dress code, but it was more like what a lot of folks wore in the 80's.  On liberty in the Navy?  Khaki slacks or shorts, a polo shirt, penny loafers, and then with a huge expansion of my wardrobe, maybe even a button-down oxford or short-sleeved collared shirt!  Now that I'm retired, I've found that the Hawaiian shirt is much more forgiving to the pony keg I'm hiding under there, no six-pack for me, along with the now-requisite khaki shorts or slacks.  So I pretty much stuck to the conformist attitude while I was in the Navy and still do today.  I like to keep my hair short, what's left of it that is.  I tried letting it grow a little longer, going 6-8 weeks before visiting the barber, but I hated the scruffy feeling on my neck and ears, and realized that I just can't do civilian.  So when I was in the Navy, I learned to fit in, either because it was what was expected of me, or I liked the comfort of conformity.  I was pretty much a "TOD." Scroll to the very bottom here for the definition.  Things haven't changed...much.

It's pretty hard to change your attitude when you've been a conformist for 30-40 years.  Hard, but not impossible.

I've briefly mentioned my kids on this forum via a couple of posts. "Four Different Aircraft" introduced my son, and I referred to the whole family in a comment on one of Sarge's posts before I joined the team. My beautiful wife and I are blessed with a 15 year old "wicked-smaht" and highly artistic daughter whom I call the "Teenangster." Our first born is our 18 year old son, the Minnow- a moniker given to him by the nurses in the NICU  who read my flight suit name-tag listing my callsign in both English and Japanese.  He was born in May, but wasn't supposed to hatch until August.  Possibly because of him being born premature (2lbs 5oz), he's always been a special kid.  Autism is the diagnosis, some would call him an Aspie., but he's pretty high-functioning.  However, he's still a kid at heart and will most likely remain so.


The Minnow is not your average kid.  He sometimes says things that are not necessarily mainstream, he laughs a little too loud at times, he'll get up and pace the floor in public places talking to no one in particular, gesturing wildly sometimes.  As I'm sure any parent would, I worry about him because he's a little different, that people might pick on, or make fun of him, or at the worst- take advantage of his trusting nature.  In some ways, he's pretty normal for a teenager. He likes his X-Box, Superhero movies, his I-Pod, and girls, not necessarily in that order.  For Halloween a few years ago he went as "Master Chief" from the X-Box Halo video game.  He likes the costume so much that when we went to Universal Studios, he wanted to wear it.  The conformist in me instantly went into high gear and tried to talk him out of it.  "You'll be too hot" I said as a lame alternative to how I really felt.  He was unconvinced and wore it anyway.  Turns out I was worried for no reason.  He was a big hit and lots of people cheered him and asked to have their picture taken with him.


He continued to wear the costume to the movie theater for nearly every action-adventure movie we saw, as well as on a trip to Disneyland.  He was an even bigger hit there.  In line for one ride, a bunch of college kids started chanting MAS-TER-CHIEF, MAS-TER-CHIEF which put the biggest smile on his face.  On another ride, the operator gave him a bunch of head-of-the-line passes.  He was also approached by a game-designer for Microsoft who said that any kid wearing a Master Chief costume to Disneyland deserves some free X-Box schwag, which he mailed to us a week later.



So when the Minnow asked me to take him to Comic-Con here in San Diego, I couldn't deny him the one opportunity where he would fit in more than anyplace in the world.



"Geek-Fest", "Freak Zone", "Nerd Prom", "The largest group of virgins in one place", are all ways people have described Comic Con.  Those may be true to some extent, but the convention-goers embrace every supposedly unflattering slight thrown at them.  My kids included.  Unfortunately, it took us four years to join them.  Getting tickets is HARD!  130 Thousand people attend Comic Con and the demand is closer to a million.  You don't wait in line to buy tickets, you register for a random lottery draw online and hope you get picked.  This year, I had 3 different computers logged in to the accounts of myself, my son, and my daughter. His number came up and I quickly purchased the tickets.  I tried to buy a fourth, but they were sold out seconds later.

The place is a mad house.  It's ordered chaos like the top of an aircraft carrier during flight ops, but chaos nonetheless.

One small portion of the nearly overwhelmingly crowded exhibit floor.

The Teenangster in a rare moment that she's not rolling her eyes at me.
The First Family of Comic Con (Catwoman, Batman, and their progeny, the Huntress)



Lady Loki.  Female versions of male comic-book characters are quite popular there.

Daenerys Targeryan with her dragon egg, and Khal Drogo (may he rest in peace), from Game of Thrones


Ms. Marvel and another Mother-of-Dragons Cosplayer

The kids and I had a great time, and they were both in their element.  To be perfectly honest, I was too.  I was a huge collector of comic books when I was young.  DC comics were my interest, but I had quite a few Marvel issues. I still have every comic I ever bought, and they're all meticulously cared for in plastic sleeves, awaiting the day when I feel the need or desire to part with them.  My collection might be worth about a grand, so it's not like I'm going to get rich selling them.  For now, having that reminder of my youth, knowing they are safely stored for another day is enough to make me happy.

I have about 8 uninterrupted years of this comic series, along with a ton of different
Batman and Superman titles, plus several others from the DC Universe.

Why do I tell you this?  It was during the convention, as I was happily looking through the comics for sale to see how much my own collection might be worth, that I shed whatever was left of my reservations and fears for my son, and for my own inhibitions. Not just at Comic Con, but for life in general.  He was very happy there, as was probably everyone else, dressed up in costume or not.  I realized that Comic Con is a tremendous example of absolute acceptance.  Geeks, nerds, hotties dressed up in tiny pieces of foam rubber and cloth, even conservative bald men who could lose a few pounds- all are welcome and completely accepted there.  



It took my adult son dressed up yet again in a fairly thread-bare Master Chief Costume to make me realize that my own conformity is driven not only by my own tastes and interests, but by how I think others will perceive me. In almost every instance, save for the occasional job interview, what others think about you should be irrelevant.  Sure, I need to ensure my son has sufficient self-protective skills so he isn't taken advantage of, but he couldn't care for a second about what others think of him.  

We should all be so lucky.  


Hope to see you next year at Comic Con. Maybe I'll even be in costume.





Fried Green Tomatoes


Last night we had our first batch of fried green tomatoes. Along with some chicken The Missus Herself did up on the grill after letting it marinate in a delicious concoction of olive oil and a bunch of other ingredients.

Now those tomatoes may look different from other fried green tomatoes you may have seen in your life. There's a reason for that. But first, I haven't gone to Wikipedia in a while for a definition, so I'll do that now.
Fried green tomatoes are a side dish usually found in the Southern United States, made from unripe (green) tomatoes coated with cornmeal and fried. Wikipedia
The reason ours look different is because The Missus Herself fries them up using a tempura batter, not cornmeal. Why, you may ask, would she do that?

Well, once upon a time I was explaining fried green tomatoes to her. Not being a cook myself, I wasn't sure what my Mom had used to make this delicacy when we were kids. I thought it was just plain old flour.

So the first time The Missus did a batch (the grocer thought she was insane when she asked for unripe tomatoes - obviously this was not in the South) she used plain old flour. While they came out okay, they weren't what Mom used to make.

So she applied logic. What does one deep fry things in when in Asia? Why tempura of course. So the next batch was done up using a tempura batter. Excellent and to this day, that's how we do fried green tomatoes at Chez Sarge.

Now about that "usually found in the Southern United States" thing, well, we had them when we were kids. Not sure where that recipe came from, but rest assured, the only South I grew up in was Southern Vermont. Ain't 'zactly Mississippi or Alabama, innit?

Perhaps the recipe came from the same grandmother who used the term "cattywampus" when we were young. My maternal grandmother was well-traveled though I don't believe she ever got further south in her life than Connecticut. Though I may be wrong. Might have been Cousin Gus. He was career Navy and he did get around, a lot. Lives out in California now-a-days. Oakland I think.

Anyhoo, it may be primarily a Southern dish, but I had it as a boy in Vermont. Then again, I never had good grits until I went to Charleston, where they make the best grits in the world. Or so a buddy of mine from South Carolina told me. I tried them in an Air Force chow hall once, the library paste we used to snack on in summer Bible school was much better.

So to my knowledge, South Carolina does have the best grits in the world.

If you're ever in Charleston, you should eat at this place...

(Warning blatant advertisement coming up. I don't care, I loved the food at this place. Besides which, I am not against someone making an honest living, especially if they're good at it!)


Oh yeah, try the grits. They're excellent!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slow News Day


I sat down to post last night, then decided that watching Season 3 of Hell on Wheels was a much higher priority.

Yes, I feel bad about that.

A little.

Actually, the plan was to continue tweaking the stuff over there along the starboard rail of the blog. All I really did was move everything (save my "holiday" badge) aft, behind the "Stuff I Like to Read" list (hereinafter referred to as the SILTR list).

Juvat suggested that move and I pondered it for quite some time. Flew North to the Fortress of Solitude and while ensconced in that glittering palace of ice I ...

Sorry, drifted into fantasy land for a moment. While having a Fortress of Solitude might be neat, I'm betting that heating the place would prove to be problematic.

(If you don't get the reference, let me just say that "Google is your friend" and leave it at that.)

Anyhoo...

Juvat mentioned that he uses the SILTR list as a jumping off point to get to other blogs he enjoys, I do the same, it's really the reason I created it, lo these many months past.

He also mentioned that it was a big pain to have to scroll down to find that list as I had a bunch of "stuff" new to the top of the blog which really added no value. So it was moved.

Which reminds me, long ago Tuna complained about "having to scroll" to see if there was new content. So I squeezed the header down.

What is it with officers and scrolling? Tsk, I don't know, I'm a simple enlisted man. But when the readers speak, I listen. Most of the time. Well, okay, some of the time.

How many of you know what the picture up there is? (Easy one.) How many know the vantage point from which it was taken? (Still easy but a bit harder.)

I was out there a year ago this week. On the day the photo was taken I was visiting a friend.

Like I said...

Slow news day.

Monday, July 28, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago Today


On the 28th of July, in the year 1914, exactly one month after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were gunned down in the streets of Sarajevo, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia.

Within another month, most of Europe was at war.

An entire generation was crippled. Millions (literally) were killed outright. Many more were physically maimed. Millions of others bore the mental scars for the rest of their lives. Military and civilian.

Virtually no one was left unaffected.

Empires crumbled. Boundaries were redrawn.

The bloodiest century in human history had begun.

While the guns of that conflict did fall silent four years later, it was not the end.

It was only a respite.

It did not end when Berlin fell or when nuclear fire rained on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It did not end when the guns fell silent in Korea in 1953.

It did not end when Saigon fell.

It did not end when the Twin Towers fell.

War has raged, sputtered and gone silent. Only to flare again.

World War I began this on date a century ago.

One might argue that it continues still.

The Recruiter

A comment in Sarge’s Saturday post from Bill Brandt got this post story going.  “…the premise was that any act of kindness you do to others - no matter how seemingly insignificant, can have profound life-changing effects.

So, There I was….* in the waning years of the presidency of the second person to be impeached and it was obvious to me that I was never going to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force in this lifetime and so retired.  Moved to the Hill Country of Texas and had been hired as a Teacher at the local High School, teaching computer classes.  I’d been doing it for a couple of years and was enjoying it.  The kids were generally well-behaved and polite.  I don’t think I was called “Sir” this often at any time in my military career. 
In any case, my first period class was webmastering and the bell rang at 0800. (8AM for my students, but I keep better track of time when it’s military time, why is that?) Anyhow, this class was one of my favorites, 20 kids, 18 of whom were female, very pretty, smart and funny. The two guys in the class were in Hog Heaven. 

The class was not a mandatory class, although it became one a few years later, so I didn’t have a state mandated curriculum.  I taught it the way I thought would be more useful to the student in later years.  The first grade period, I started them out on MS Office. For many of the kids, this was their first exposure to computers and actually using them to do research, write papers etc, so this was a valuable time. (This was a while ago, yes.) I showed them Excel and the test was building a spreadsheet that helped them decide which was better for them, taking the cash back or the lower interest rate when buying their car.  An eye or two opened on that one.  During the second six weeks we started building web sites.  The Microsoft answer at the time was Front Page and the other teacher started his kids out with that on Day One.  I started the second six weeks by having them open two programs, Internet Explorer and Notepad.  We built web pages strictly using HTML, by the time Christmas rolled around, they were building some pretty good websites and had a decent working knowledge of HTML, programming and troubleshooting.

The first class after Christmas Break, I started off the class by saying, “you guys are going to hate me, but open up Front Page”.  I then showed them how to build a page from the GUI.  A lot of grumbling was going on as I turned them loose on the next website project.  The class hasn’t been working it for more than 15 minutes when one of them puts up her hand and says “Mr Juvat, this isn’t doing what I want it to do.”  Just as the Evil Teacher wanted.  I then showed them the HTML tab in Front Page.  She clicks it and there’s her code.  I ask her to take a look at it and see if she notices anything.  She does and points out a tag that isn’t formatted correctly.  Once she was a student, NOW she is a Master! 

So, it’s almost spring break and I’ve got a student who has a bad habit.  One of my biggest peeves is being late.  I was a military brat and my father was known to drive off and leave you if you were going to make the family late for church.  No, that did not get you out of going to church, you had to walk to a later service.  That stood me in good stead when I officially joined the AF (I think Military brats tend to think of themselves as unofficial members of the Service, wish it counted towards retirement).  Acceptable Time on Target parameters for fighter pilots were plus or minus 2 seconds.  So timeliness is a BIG deal with me. 

This student, we’ll call her Megan, a senior and about to graduate, had a habit of being late.  Now, I don’t mean she was occasionally late, or even frequently late.  I mean she was late every single day.  Sometimes a matter of 30 seconds, sometimes 15 minutes, but every single day! She was never spiteful about it, always was polite and said she’d try harder…But. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!

Well, it’s a Monday and there’d been Thunderstorms over the weekend and our network had gone out and, and, and.  Frustration is starting to mount as I’m running around trying to get kids into their computers and projects when in bops Megan with a cheery “Morning Mr. Juvat!” That was the straw for this particular morning.

“Young Lady, Do you know what you need?”

Eyes got big and wide.  “Noooo”

“You need to join the Marines!”

Tears starting to form.  “Why?”

“You need to learn some self-discipline!”

Sniffle, Sniffle. Sits down at her computer.

I’m thinking to myself, “Well Done!  Juvat, You’re going to be fired, sued, arrested and probably shot!”

I look over at Megan and she’s beboping along on her computer, talking with her friend next to her and having a great time.  I forget about the incident.

June comes, the Seniors graduate and begin the next step in their life’s journey.  The summer passes, I've got a new crop of kids and we’re in the notepad hating phase when I hear a knock on the door.  I open it and Megan’s standing there.  She's ramrod straight in the Khaki Blouse and Blue trousers of a United States Marine! 

I invite her in and ask her why she stopped by.  I have no recollection of the incident.  She says “I just wanted to thank you.” Puzzled, I ask  “For what?”  She says “For talking me into joining the Marines.”  My jaw drops.  

We chat for a bit about what she was going to do in the Marines (intel) and as she stands up to leave, I say, “Megan, just one more question.  Have you been late since you joined the Corps?”


She said, “Well, I was a little slow getting off the bus at Boot Camp, but they made it very apparent that wasn't going to be acceptable!”  I laughed.

*What'the difference between a fairy tale and a war story?  A fairy tale begins "Once upon a time..." ,a war story begins "So, There I was...".

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Joys of Travel

New England Sunset
In my sixty-one years I've traveled quite a bit.

I've lived in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Mississippi, Okinawa, Korea and Germany. I've also visited many places adjacent to where ever we were living at the time (both in this country and overseas).

I've also seen a number of cities which left their mark on me, in one way or another.

London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Brussels, New York, Denver, Boston, Omaha, San Francisco, San Diego, Seoul and Tokyo to name but a few.

Much of my travel was under the auspices of the Air Force, much of it was because where the Air Force stationed me gave me the opportunity to visit places I wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.

Much of the traveling I do now is thanks to the Navy. Not that they're paying for it, but that they've seen fit to scatter the progeny across the country. It's okay, I don't mind traveling to visit kids and grandkids. In fact, I love it.

Now a lot of my travel has been for the purpose of visiting family. Even back in the day. For The Missus Herself has family here in the U.S. and back in Korea (of course). When I was on active duty, so were the spouses of two of my sisters-in-law. We would hop in the car and go visit them. We did that a lot when we were stationed in Omaha.

While Omaha is centrally located in one sense, it's still not a short drive from there to Alexandria on Louisiana's Red River, where two of the sisters lived. But from there it was but a hop, skip and a jump to another sister in Fort Walton Beach over in the Florida panhandle. (A place I would revisit some years later to visit The WSO at Pensacola. Do I like that part of Florida? Oh yes, yes I do. A great deal I must say.)

Now once upon a time, in the summer of some year in the late 1980s, we were invited by the youngest sister-in-law to "come on down" to Louisiana for a visit. Some folks would think that the high summer would not be a great time to head to the South for a visit.

Sure, it's hot and bloody humid. But for me, there's never a bad time to visit the South. Good folks and great food are always an attraction.

We had this new operations plan we had decided to put into effect for this particular trip. We would stay awake all through one night, then sleep the entire day, get up around sunset and hit the road. Traveling only at night. For the bairns were still young and were prone to say the following things if we traveled during the day:
  • Are we there yet?
  • I'm hungry.
  • I'm thirsty.
  • Mom, brother/sister is hitting me.
  • Mom, brother/sister is making faces at me
  • Are we there yet?
  • I have to go to the bathroom.
  • I'm hungry.
  • I'm thirsty.
  • Are we there yet?
  • Etc., etc...
And this while still within fifty miles of home...

We figured if we traveled at night, the kids would sleep most of the way and we could make better time. For the most part this worked. However, there was one fly in the ointment.

I had spent the entire night awake, drinking coffee and playing a submarine simulator on my computer. In the wee hours of the morning, just after dawn, I staggered up to my rack and went almost immediately to sleep.

Only to feel someone shaking me what felt like minutes later.

"Honey. Honey. Are you awake?"

Me: "No, well yes. Now I am. What time is it? What's wrong? Are the kids okay?"

The Missus Herself: "It's 11:30, nothing's wrong and the kids are fine..."

Me: "So... Why are you waking me up?"

TMH: "I need to go to the Exchange and get a pair of jeans. I was washing mine and discovered a hole in them."

Me: "Why don't you just wait and buy them in Louisiana?"

TMH: "I need to something to wear in the car on the way."


Me: "We're traveling at night. Who's going to see a hole in your jeans, in the car, at night?"

At this point I received the "you are an idiot" look and decided that perhaps taking her to the Exchange wasn't such a bad idea. Considering the alternative of provoking her wifely wrath just before a drive of about a thousand miles.

So to the Exchange we went, where we discovered (much to my chagrin) that they did not have any jeans she liked. Therefore she did not buy any and actually wore the ones with the hole (in the cuff of all places, not revealing per se, just shoddy-looking!)

Back home we went, back to bed I went, where I tossed and turned for some time before giving up and getting up.

Me: "Let's go, let's pack the car and get going."

TMH: "I thought we were going to travel at night?"

Me: "If we wait until nightfall I'll probably not make it through the night and we'll have to stop early. Let's just go."

Go we did. Found a motel the next day where they thought it passing strange that we were checking in at dawn, then checking out at sunset.

It didn't improve the staff's opinion of us (nor my wife's opinion of me) when I told the clerk, "We're vampires, we can't travel during the day."

Of course now-a-days they'd think that interesting. What with all this Twilight nonsense.

Eventually we made it to Louisiana. Where I immediately hit the sack and was well on my way to logging at least ten hours of sleep when...

"Honey. Honey. Are you awake?"

Me: "No, well yes. Now I am. What time is it? What's wrong? Are the kids okay?"

The Missus Herself: "It's 4:30 in the afternoon, nothing's wrong and the kids are fine..."

Me: "So... Why are you waking me up?"

TMH: "My sister in Florida wants us to come pick her up. She wants to see us while we're here."

Me: "So why doesn't Smitty just drive up here?" (Yes, that's Smitty of the hamsters fame.)

TMH: "Smitty has to work and..."

Me: "Alright, alright. I'll go get them tomorrow."

TMH: "What's wrong with going today?"

I sensed a trap. My senses were tingling, I knew that just over the next ridge was no doubt the biggest Indian village ever gathered. Unlike Colonel Custer, I had no delusions of grandeur or any confidence in my dissuading The Missus Herself from a course of action upon which she has set her heart. And all of her not inconsiderable will.

So I did not cross the ridge and enter the valley of the Little Big Horn.

Meaning of course that I drove to Florida. And back. With youngest sister-in-law along to help with the driving. As I was tired. Her driving woke me up very quickly. Not that she's a bad driver, she just kept turning around to talk to her sister in the back seat. Which caused me no little amount of terror and concern.

I told her that I was good to go. Why don't I drive so you can talk to your sister?

Needless to say, when we returned to Louisiana, I crashed hard and slept for a good fifteen hours. Upon awakening I heard my lovely sisters-in-law and the love of my life discussing my tendency to stay in bed "all day."

Sigh...

You can't win. Sometimes you can't even break even.

Still and all, it was a good trip. Had a lot of fun.

Did we do it again the next summer?

No. We did not.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nothing is without meaning...

Gnarled tree in Colt State Park
Last night I watched a movie, The Wolverine.

While the movie was alright and provided two hours of rather mindless entertainment, it was set in Japan. Which enhanced my enjoyment. I have a great deal of interest in Asia, particularly Korea and Japan. I served in both countries, enjoyed both.

In the movie, after sitting down to eat, the character Mariko corrects Logan (the Wolverine) after he has jabbed his chopsticks upright in his rice bowl. Even I, gaijin (外人though I am, know that this is a bad thing. In Japan and in Korea. In the movie Mariko tells him that the upright chopsticks look like "incense at a funeral."

Then she states, "Nothing is without meaning..."

That statement kind of blew my mind. I only half paid attention to the rest of the movie. 

Think about it, one can interpret this to literally mean that the concept of nothing has no meaning. It is nothing, it is the void, it is the absence of things. Therefore it is meaningless.

On the other hand, it can mean that any act or gesture, no matter how seemingly insignificant has some meaning which one may not be aware of.

Try to hold both concepts in the mind at the same time.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Cormorants enjoying the day

So with that stuck in my head, I went to bed. Woke up in a pensive mood and decided to go out to the park.

We have a very nice park in my town, surrounded by water and very well maintained. I took a few pictures there and at the yacht club. I particularly like that shot of the cormorants sitting on the swimming float.

Though it's an overcast day it's still lovely in my mind. I mean it can't be sunny everyday can it? A little contrast keeps things in perspective.

Sunny all the time is boring.

Though sunny most of the time does have much to recommend it.

Old Glory at the Yacht Club

Pedestrian/bicycle bridge in Colt State Park

Some days, you make your own sunshine.

Enjoy your weekend.

Our first sunflower of the season
My nothing always has meaning.