Tuesday, September 27, 2011

what're we doing today?

We sat and stared at each other, unblinking, knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder, shifting our blank looks occasionally to see who would fold first. Who was weak. Who would think this take-off was exciting.
A Master Sergeant looked up at the ceiling and held on, white-knuckled, to her cargo belt that crossed at her chest. One by one we noticed her desperate stare and smiled. The ice was broken. Someone found the plane ride terrifying.
The webbed straps we sat on shook as the aircraft shuddered and banked steeply. There's nothing like a few officers with a sense of humor, a couple steering columns and a plane load of military personnel to show off to.

Two hours and change later we did a sharp version of the opposite and landed, the same Sergeant just as nervous as before -- if not more -- looking longingly at the ceiling and gritting her teeth. Maybe just a little bit bleary-eyed too; it's not as if dozing off in such a setting could lend itself to any relief whatsoever, regardless of how exhausted one was.
We landed, unbuckled, and sat tight.
We weren't tasked (told) with dismounting the sky-cow yet.
Someone with some kind of authority boarded the stairwell quickly and yelled confidently.

"Listen up! You're here now. There are people all lined up waiting to greet you so you need to ensure you're at a 100% as of RIGHT NOW. 
You will need your Airman's manual in your right pocket, not your left. 
Your gas mask needs to have it's fit test in the pocket WHERE IT GOES. 
Wear your helmet and flak jacket and earplugs at ALL TIMES while on the flightline. 
Do you understand? You're here now. You're ours for the next five days and you'll be representing the Wing, so GET IT TOGETHER."

There was a pause as she allowed it all to sink in for a moment before saying simply:

"Now get off my plane."

Sergeant Enlightened Loud Voice disappeared just as quickly as she appeared entirely ignoring the flurry of activity that ensued.
Everyone's pulses raced at least just a little as our training flooded back and hearts pushed against the bulletproof vests that sat on our chests like sleeping german shepards.
None of us joined for the Form 55's, DNIF paperwork or computer-based training. We joined for the money, the war, the games, and it was game time.

Check yourself. 
Check again.
Check your buddy.
Does anyone not have a buddy that's standing close enough to check? 
Check them too.

It had begun.
That evening as the eighty people from my unit sat around in the fourth of six briefings trying to stay awake, we were handed a small pamphlet with Volk Field's insignia emblazoned loudly across the front.
I flipped to the middle page and read for the sake of occupying my starved mind.
Barely able to contain my laughter, I surreptitiously elbow-bumped Sgt. Mitchell who sat next to me.
"Look, look at this" I whispered. "Read that!"
Snorking audibly, Chris found the humor in it the moment he saw the center day of our schedule for the week.

0400-0630 - Breakfast
0700-1800 - War
1800-1930 - Dinner

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the challenge.

"This is Calvin, he's 91 years old and called us after he fell while getting out of his vehicle this evening." The paramedic stood with clipboard in hand and watched us work while he gave "report" to the male nurse who was busy undoing the straps that held the frail old man to the plastic board that kept his fragile frame coldly rigid.
"Calvin reports that he may have hit his head when he fell out from the vehicle, although he's not quite sure. He said he has some neck, lower thoracic, left and right lower quadrant pain, pelvic pain, and when we hooked him up to our 3-lead we noticed an irregular heart rhythm, somewhat V-fib."
The nurse bent over the top of the bed and spoke directly, loudly.
"Calvin. Calvin, can you hear me?"
"Yep." The reply had only a hint of quavering.
"Calvin, how are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm alright." The old man's startlingly bright blue eyes glimmered tiredly as he responded.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Oh, I'm in the hospital I suppose."
"Good. Now Calvin we're going to take real good care of you, okay? Just sit tight and while we take you off this board I don't want you to move at all. You just let us do all the work."
"Okay." His eyes closed and the loose skin on his jutting chest slid gently back and forth as his ribs shot upwards and dropped back down often.
Six bodies worked in unison as only a healthcare team can. Hands, elbows and arms all bumped relentlessly as they glided over his elderly body. Feet stepped on each other, shoulders moved back and forth, and progress sped along quickly, propelled by a symphony of performances.

Straps on the left side undone.
Shoes off.
Straps on the right side undone.
The IV in his left AC was flushed and re-opened, checked to make sure it was good, and ready for more fluids or medications if need be.
Do you want me to cut his clothes off?
No, not yet. Let's not do that unless we have to.
Behind you with the EKG.
Hand me the BP cuff. 
Untwist the pulse ox.
Go ahead and draw labs for me, a rainbow (all standard-colored labs).
Glance up at the vitals monitor and notice the patient's oxygen level is at 99%, a very good sign. 
Gown placed over the patient's now exposed waist. 
Step around two people to reach the monitor, tweak the settings and hit "every two minutes" in the settings for how often the patient's blood pressure would be taken.

Words were very rarely spoken unless in the form of the question, answered each time by the nurse, who was in command of the room until the doctor arrived. It was only a few minutes.
"Calvin, this is Dr. --------. He'll be taking care of you."
"Hi Calvin, how are you?"
"Oh, I'm good."
"I bet you are."
The nurse looked at the paramedic.
Work continued.
"Do you want me to give report or do you?"
"I will, you can head out" the nurse answered, and the paramedics stepped out through the curtain, pulling it closed behind them.
"First, let's go ahead and take this board out from underneath him."
The nurse took over.
"Both of you reach here and here. Then we'll roll him up on his left side. James, you'll take the board out from under him and then I want you two to keep holding him so Dr. -------- can do his exam."
The two medics reached where they were told, and I held the edge of the board loosely.
The nurse stood over the head of the bed and looked at Calvin's eyes as he spoke loudly and clearly.
"We're going to move you and the doctor's going to take a look at you, okay?"
No one moved.
We waited, a synchronized pause.
The nurse looked up, then said "1, 2, 3 roll."
Lectures, notes, practices, tests, final exams, grades, on the job training, it was all so cold and clear in our minds as we moved, standing room only, around a hurting person.
We had all progressed to this. Work was a synchronized performance of triage; we all acted, communicated and moved in descending order of what was most important to the preservation of life.

A few minutes later after there was a lull and the immediate needs of the patient had all but subsided, I walked over towards the nurse's station to grab my Pepsi and heard a nurse call a medic over. "You have to see this. Check this out, watch how he falls."
Youtube flashed and glowed as it replayed the clip for what would be almost the three-millionth time.
"Watch what happens, this guy is going to go halfway down the stairs on his skateboard."
"No, no he isn't. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Oh my God, that sucks so bad. Did you see his head, how it hit the railing? He's out cold. Damn, he's out."
"Eldridge, can you wheel "Charlie" (Bed C) to x-ray?"
"Sure." I set my drink down on the desk and greeted Calvin. "We're going to take some pictures now, there's some people who want to see how your bones look."
He smiled and nodded ever so slightly.

Unlock the bed.
Lift the monitor onto his mattress, the vitals come with.

As we moved down through the dark hallway the silence hung in the air stagnant and reluctant. Calvin was awake, aware, and waiting to find out how badly he'd been hurt.
"Calvin, I think you lied to me. Were you really just getting out from your car when you fell? Or were you trying to impress some young ladies with your skateboarding skills? Because I when I took your shoes off I thought your calves looked pretty athletic."
Calvin's mouth moved slowly upwards as he thought for a moment before answering slowly.

"If you have a skateboard with you we could find some ladies and figure that out right now."

Monday, September 5, 2011

labor day.

"Everyone outside and help carry groceries."
The loud, bellowing voice carried through the living room, into the school room, and out the sliding glass door onto the back porch. As if the command wasn't strong enough in and of itself, names would promptly follow accompanied by orders for the specific tasks forces present.
"Michael, Grace, open up the front passenger-side door and bring in all the cereal."
"Richard, James, in the back of the truck is a man-door and table saw -- I want those set in the garage. Then I want you the two 25 lb bags of rice that are in the back seat and bring them inside and refill the tupperware containers in the pantry with one of those bags."
Man-door was a very descriptive term essential to notating the specific difference between a door with a lock on it a human would walk through and a "door" used as a loose term to often refer to a "garage door", something you would drive through and close behind you with a button on your car's visor.
Had Dad said "in the back of the truck is a door and table-saw -- I want those in the garage" there would have been an immediate uproar and indignant outcry from the small barefooted natives he beckoned.

Mom was very present. 
"James, Rick, that means now. Dad gave you very specific instructions and I want you to get and go do them please. Smiles on your faces!"
For some reason when Mom requested smiles it was always impossible to maintain scowls.
"But what about Bethany? She needs to help! She's in her room."
Bethany was very not-present.
"No, Bethany's reading for school in her room. Leave her alone." Being responsible made you so hatefully immune sometimes. Responsibility was something that, looking back on how we saw it at that point in our lives, I would most likely pair with today's equivalent of a new theory from Stephen Hawking. 
My younger brother and I definitely never understood the phenomenon of how being responsible could get you out of what we saw as unavoidable hard manual labor.

Out the front door, along the brick porch into the garage and out the front to the driveway where a the Nissan Titan awaited our load-relief services, the two brothers interacted as only siblings can.
"I wish we had a fork lift, this would be so much easier you know."
"No it wouldn't. That's stupid. It wouldn't even fit in the garage."
"So? We'd get to drive it."
"That's true." The logic did make sense. 
"Doesn't Dad let you drive the fork lift at work sometimes?"
"Only like three times. Here, help me."
Our backs strained, arm muscles flexed, and we grunted appropriately as men should when conquering a beast. The tailgate opened and we saw it.
The man-door. 
"One of us has to hop up in there and grab the other end."
"No, we can just grab either side."
"It's too heavy."
"Well I don't want to get up in there though."
"You have to."
"No I don't."
"Yes, you do." Somehow this worked, and the younger brother reluctantly conceded. I think in middle-school student disagreements the purest logic is repeated insistence or demanding.
Soon with much pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting, yelling, arguing, and slamming, we successfully maneuvered the monster into it's new dwelling.

"I bet we're going to have to put this in today."
"What? No. Dad has a meeting with the salesmen I think."
"That's what he just got back from. It was this morning. It's always in the morning."
We bear-hugged the massive bags of rice and stomped heavily into the house, the hardwood floor soaking up our dramatic pattering thuds. 

A younger sister trotted by on her way back to play with the neighbor girl again. "Rachel, you're so lucky your Dad doesn't shop at Costco. Ours ONLY shops there and we have to bring all the stuff in."
Rachel was not content to be outdone.
"Yes, but my Dad brings groceries home and we have to go up like a hundred stairs to my house."
"You don't have a hundred stairs."
"I know, but it feels like a hundred."
"Eldridge childrennnnnnn! Family meeting!" Mom's voice could not be ignored when those words were hollered. It meant there was more work ahead, unavoidably. But when a family meeting was called -- as opposed to simply finding the victims and announcing their future personally one-by-one -- it was exponentially better. It meant there was also an exciting reward ahead. Something that could change the entire day. 
We sat in the living room sprawled out on different articles of furniture, belly-down on the floor with feet kicking in the air and elbows on the carpet with our chins in our hands, and we waited. 
"Here's the scoop." Mom liked starting out that way. "We have a lot of things that need to be done today, some of you still have chores from yesterday that you didn't do, so you'll have to finish those too. But what we'd like to do since it's labor day is work for a few hours and then...." 
Mom's pausing for dramatic effect was always flawless. We shrieked indignantly and garnered smiles from both parental units.
"Mom, don't do that!"
"Tell us Mom!"
Even Bethany got in on picketing against the evils of suspense. 
"Please Mother, don't do that. Just tell us."
Mom smiled and shushed us, then cleared her throat. Silence was king for a brief moment, the lull before the storm of excitement.
"If you do that, if you finish your chores and the few things Dad has for us to do today, then..."
Then she spoke and the dark clouds over our heads opened up. Lightning crashed, thunderous happiness pounded our chests and joy reigned from above like only a late-afternoon drive to the cousin's house at the beach could.
"We'll go to the Abbeys for a potluck this afternoon!"
Powerball lottery winners had nothing on us. A forty-five minute drive to the North Shore to have dinner at the Abbeys, jump on their trampoline, walk across the highway to the beach and have one of Uncle Chris' legendary bonfires was Christmas in September.
The rest of the afternoon sped by in a blur. The roar of the table saw blended in with the engine sounds of the fifteen-passenger maroon-colored Chevy van headed North to the cousin's. The smell of Windex and salty beach air became indistinguishable. Trotting across the yard with the mower and the pumping of legs to stay afloat in the water blurred together. 

"I need three hours of work from each one of you. Your Mom has a list of jobs you can pick from, but if you get done with yours and it's done well enough to pass inspection, then she'll have other options for you to pick from. But I want to be on the road, everyone in bathing suits ready to go at two o'clock. Understand?" 
Labor day may have meant several hours of work that we'd hoped to avoid, but that night the kids who weren't lifted into the van already asleep for the ride home were out cold before the road curved inland from it's path parallel to the coast. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

game play.

Mom was a firm believer that children needed to have lots of time outdoors. When it came to things like schoolwork, meals, devotions and chores, she was more than understanding. More often than not, however, if there was any volume of conflict between siblings, any furniture jumping or even too much feet-kicking, it would immediately be "outside! Let's go. Everyone."
"Even Michael? Does Michael have to go outside? He's taking a nap."
"No, let your little brother sleep. I don't want you playing outside his window either."
This statement caused much chagrine and bemoaning amongst my two sisters, as the front porch from behind the railing to the front wall all along the whole front of our house was "their zone." Mutually agreed upon, us older brothers didn't often foray of our own volition into their territory. It was both fiercely protected and cluttered just enough with girl toys that there would be no justifiable reason to want to go there anyway. The few occasions when we were asked to clean up that section of the front yard was  responded to dramatically and on strong enough grounds ("it wasn't our mess Mom! The little girls played with all that stuff and left it out in the rain the other day") that usually the offending parties were given official (verbal) summons and made to appear before judge and self-appointed jury of sibling-peers.
"Outside!" was the command, and we slunk, slouched, dragged and argued our way outdoors.

It was by no stretch of the imagination cruel or unusual punishment -- in fact it was by stretching our imagination that it was no punishment at all.
"Okay, from speed bump to speed bump is limit."
"No way, that's too big of a field! Besides it's pavement and it'll hurt if you fall on it."
"I never fall."
"But I do!"
"No you don't. I've never seen you fall."
"Yes I do, I fall all the time. I fell last time."
"You did?"
"Yes, see? He did fall last time." The defense attorney lifted up the shorts-leg of the defendant and displayed confidently exhibit A: a small, pink mark where the scar tissue was healing.
"Oh, I didn't know that. Well let's play in Grandma Mattie's yard then."
"But Grandma Mattie said no more football in her yard, she doesn't like us getting hurt."
"Two things. Grandma Mattie is gone to the Philippines this week and we're not going to hurt."
"How do you know she's gone?"
"Her car isn't there." A smug finger pointed to the empty carport across the street, void of it's seemingly ever-present gold-colored Ford Taurus. If the car wasn't there then she had to be in the Philippines.
"Okay, fine."
A conciliatory win was just as good, if not better than a win on the "football field."

Why on the pavement or in Grandma Mattie's yard?
Our grass wasn't the kind of grass that looked or felt like real football grass. Besides. We had bricks in our yard. Bricks and fence posts. There was no way, no way we'd ever play football in a yard that had a sidewalk and a fence. It wouldn't work. We'd rather play basketball than football in our yard.

And so we played.
Five or twenty-five minutes into the game one of us older siblings would call "quarter" or "half" at the top of our lungs. Whichever we felt like. Inevitably this would be followed by much arguing as to how we were able to discern that our timing was appropriate, and like every pass, run and play, it entailed much arguing. Each game the number of timeouts was firmly agreed upon with much promising and threats of what would happen if they were taken advantage of or exceeded in usage, but always they ended up for all intents and purposes, limitless.
The score was always what everyone concurred it was. Between counting by sevens for touchdowns, adding four for each "field goal" which was next to impossible to ever achieve (how many ten year-olds do you know that can kick a football straight?), and losing track of what play we were on, it was almost unavoidable. The game would end each time with "next point wins" which definitely doesn't work in football where a team starts with possession of the ball and touchdowns are always scored in under five downs.

We broke every rule, lost track of time and spent our days playing as aggressively as we could until someone got hurt. Then we would erect new rules against such behaviors as could cause another person pain and use them as coercion tactics to convince the victims of the sports violence to rejoin the league.
The afternoon would get dusky, and sometimes, every once in a long while, if Mom didn't call us in for dinner because we had a babysitter (we're allowed to play outside as long as we want, our Mom says!) we would play until the sun fell deep enough behind the top of our valley that we couldn't see the ball as it flew haphazardly towards our faces.
Then one of the older kids on the winning team would "call the game" and the opposite team would negotiate a tie. We'd all shake hands, come inside and rampage through the kitchen as only a horde of small boys can, and see how many hours of "computer" time we could get in before we were evicted and relocated to our rooms.

"Are Dad and Mom at a business dinner?" we'd ask, chips and salsa overflowing on plates. The answer determined how late they would be out, and directly coincided with how much we could be able to get away with.
"You should go next door and get one of those big Pepsi's from your house" we'd suggest to the neighbor kids who sat next to us on the massive bench at our 8-foot long kitchen table.
"No, I might get in trouble." This didn't matter. We never had soda at our house because it wasn't good for us, but if someone else brought it, it was fine.
"Well you're eating our chips and salsa for dinner. You should go get your soda and bring it here."
"This isn't even my dinner. I'm going to go home and eat something after I leave here."
"But I thought you were going to stay and play Age of Empires with us?"
"Oh yeah, can I?"
"If you want to. Mom and Dad are at a business dinner. That means they'll be out late."
"Oh, then HECK yeah!"
"So then go over and get soda from your house and I'll let you play our game."

With our glasses full of ice cubes and dark carbonated beverage, we'd play. The two youngest boys would share a chair and the two older boys each got their own as we sat around the computer for as many hours as we thought we could get away with. There was no way to make four chairs fit, so it fell to seniority or who's turn it was to play. Those that weren't playing got up on their knees, put their elbows on the computer table and pointed and told the one who was playing exactly where he should go and what he should do in the game. He who was playing was free to disagree and do as he pleased, such was the triumph of having the mouse and keyboard in your hands.

"More sheep. Go over to the right and gather more sheep."
"I don't need them, I'm already getting berries."
"Okay then, your enemies will get them."
"I don't care."

"Build a Barracks, you don't have one."
"Yes I do, I built one over there --"
"No, that's an archery range, idiot."
"Hey, you're not allowed to say that to me."
"Yeah, don't say that to my brother. You're not allowed to say "idiot" at our house."
"I'm not? I thought I was."
"No, you're not."
"But it's not even a bad word!"
"In our house it is. Don't say idiot to anyone or else we get to punch you."
"Your Mom doesn't punch you if you say that though!"
"I know, but she's not here. So we have to take care of it because we can't talk like that no matter who's  here. So that includes me. And you're not my kid, so I can't spank you or make you wash your mouth out with soap, so I'll just have to punch you."
"It makes sense, but if you punched me I'd punch you back. Harder."
"Watch out, that's your enemy's scout!"
"No it's not, that's my ally's."
"What does ally mean?"
"It means friend, not enemy. The other team that's the good guys. You can trade with them and stuff."

An hour or so into our game play we'd be informed by our sweet, naive babysitter that "your parents called and they're on their way home."
Instantly all arguing and activity would cease, save for one of us who dove towards the keyboard to hit "Escape" and pause the game.
"Where did they say they were at?"
"They said they were just leaving downtown Honolulu, and they'd be home in about forty-five minutes.
Someone would save the game, someone else would jump up to clean the living room and our neighbors would escort themselves out the front door.
We'd brush our teeth, hop into bed and dim the lights just enough to keep reading and fake sleeping if necessary. The door would be left open a crack and all ears would listen raptly as parental units asked "how the night went."

"Oh, it went really well. They were well behaved. They played outside then came in and had dinner (whew, safe) and spent most of the night on the computer."
"Idiot!" an older sibling would whisper from the top bunk.
"You're not allowed to say that" came the whisper from below.

no particular Saturday

It's Saturday afternoon and my stomach is full of grilled cheese sandwiches, salsa, and Grandma's homemade peach iced tea. It tastes so much more fresh, so much colder and noticeably clearer than the beverage made from store-bought powder. I tried complimenting her on it but is it is with most comments she brushed it off.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just don't like that stuff that comes in packages."
"I know. But yours is really, really good! I love it."
"Pshaw, so now James. How's your schooling coming along?"

After lunch had been cleared away, the paper plates tossed in the trash and the leftover cookies thrown in a Ziploc bag (oh yeah, there were cookies. There's always cookies) I graduated to the living room with Grandpa to wake board behind his channel changing as we catch updates and several plays from college football games all across the States. Arms crossed, slouching slightly so as to take the pressure off the small of his back, Papaw sits a mere two yards from his massive 46" television and makes definitive statements as to the coach's and player's decisions alike.  My lemonade sitting on the coffee table beside me, I occasionally reply with a few directive comments of my own, just to ensure I'm keeping up with him.
Every once in awhile the right or leg stretches out, seemingly of it's own accord. Old knees are flexing, stretching and not getting too stiff.
"Auburn just got beat. There's four minutes left. They're down by ten."

The Cinematic Orchestra plays in my second internet tab I have open, mournful violin strains and the gentle cooing of a carefully tempered voice filling my headphones with piano-laced swelling melodies.
I read, and outside the day gets a little warmer.

"A small boy, perched on an open catwalk in a candy factory, falls to his death. No, it is not a macabre moment out of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." It is a true story told by social reformer Jane Addams, who founded Chicago's Hull House in 1889.
Addams also described little girls who refused sweets as Christmas gifts that year. "They could not bear the sight of it," Addams wrote. "We discovered that that they had worked from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, and they were exhausted."These Dickensian scenes lasted in America from the late 19th century until 1938, when child labor was outlawed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. They are a sobering reminder of why the nation marks Labor Day."

It is not only sobering, but enlightening. With a pulse. Past lives, past pain, past human beings shouted, protested, starved, worked malnourished and died for what I so rarely appreciate today. Who doesn't like a three-day weekend? It's more than just that, it's rights built on a rich, albeit violent and even depressing history.

I continue reading. A hobby of mine, I'm fascinated with phones and the growing pressure inside the bubble that is the smartphone industry.

Google has just released the latest set of Android version numbers, and the overall trend of legacy version numbers dropping continues.  There's no drastic changes, but a quick look at the chart above lets us see that numbers for Donut and Cupcake are now in the "also ran" category with each under two percent, and Eclair is steadily dropping compared to last month.  Froyo (Android 2.2) still leads the pack with over 50 percent of all devices using the Android Market running it, but we see a nice boost in the number of phones running gingerbread, with numbers for Android 2.3 climbing over six percentage points.  With Gingerbread updates rolling out or in the works for the Dinc, Droid 2, Droid X, and more, we expect another significant increase next month.

I take a sip of lemonade, uncross my legs, and glance outside. 
There's a tropical storm threatening to smack New Orleans with 65mph winds and 8 - 10 inches of rain. "Too bad" I think. "We could use that here. And in Texas -- Texas could DEFINITELY use a bunch of rain right now."

"Home is behind the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadow, to the edge of night
Until the stars are all aligned
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade
Home shall fade, home shall fade."

The Steward of Gondor now played quietly as I caught paused from reading to catch the last few seconds of the game.

"Wow. 41. Auburn came back and goin' win here in the last 30 seconds of the game." 
Excited, Papaw left his seat and trotted upstairs to go find Grandma and tell her the news.