I grew up in small town USA, population 298.  It was great.  There were two grocery stores, ameat locker, a US post office, a hardware store, and …well you get it?  It was a place.  The big city was 26 miles away and only on special days with a special agenda did my dad ever think to go there and shop.  Now I go to wally-world and shop online.

I always aspired to move out and make something of myself.  This was a BIG dream.  It was “really out there.”  My favorite uncle moved to a city with a population of 750,000 people in 1964.  We went to visit one day.  It changed my life.  From now on, this was the plan.  “Get a college degree and become famous for inventing something we all needed more than (air).”  It turned out to be a computer that processed eight instructions that moved the ones and zeroes from register to flip-flop to register and out on a piece of yellow paper.  It turned on and lite up.  We were all mesmerized.  I liked it because it took up the whole room.  It burned lots of electrical power and the lights were red.

One day a professor approached me with a ticket to the Chicago Electrical Expo at McCormick Place.  I knew it.  This was the break I waited for all my life.  I was 19 years old.  POWER.  Electrical POWER.  It makes a big noise when switching and a bigger noise when it fails.  I set my sites on Cutler-Hammer INC.  I worked on the fourth floor with about 20 other engineers.  We made something people needed more than (air).  Married with two beautiful girls we found our first apartment on the Northside next to a botanical garden.  I had it all, the big job, the big city, a loving wife, and a great plan.

February 6, 1977.

January 1, 1978.  I excepted a offer to Aviation Officer Candidate School, Pensacola, FL.  US Navy, Class 01-78.  Life was about to change.

The trip home and the household move started with a U-haul trailer.  The job was done with one car full of precious stuff and one 12 foot rented trailer.  I still can not believe we loaded everything we owned (or wanted) in that small of a space.  Just as a side note here:  we have so much stuff now it would take a yard sale first, then a give-away, then finally a throw away day before I would even consider loading anything in a moving van.  We live in a consumer world and…sad to say… it feels like we have everything and nothing at the same time.

Back to the life story?  For the first sixteen weeks the Navy policy was “no contact.”  After seeing the students dropout (on request; DOR), this was a good thing.  Why string out the pain?  Experience it all at one time and save the embarrassment.  The class graduated with honors.  Here is how we did it.

The time came to rank our class using a fancy averaging system that I just happened to figure out while talking about the night before the paper slips (who was first in the class?).  The system had a flaw.  We could rank every candidate with THE SAME NUMBER.  And, this is what we all agreed to do.  I can honestly say this was a coming together of 27 different men from different backgrounds from different parts of the USA I have not ever seen since.  The moment was almost spiritual.  It ended very badly.  The school Captain did not like the outcome and (we voted again).  This time it was “as ordered.”  I ranked squarely in the middle of the pack.  (Or), in other words, an average guy doing average work on an average day in a well-above average class.

May 1, 1978.

The Navy (experience) became the “stepping stone” for my passion.  That would be flying airplanes.  Fast jets that fly high and land with grand entrance.  I can only say now, I think I want to be 25 years old again.  Now that I am old and typing on the internet?  Does anyone out there remember PamAM World Airways?  Yuan Tripp and the company he built was just a fantastic place to work.  The company treated me like a professional blue collar employee.  The 1980’s became a bloodbath for the airline industry.  It was pretty much finished by 1993.  I can name, names.  I can site references.  I can show anyone the empty pension fund.  I can go on-and-on about “that fateful day” in 1991.  Here is a story about the 25th anniversary of the closing.

P.S.  I saw a plastic model of the USS Lexington (CV-16) yesterday at Hobby Lobby and was instantly reminded of my first (trap) carrier arrestment.  I sent the LSO and his crew into the safety net when I saw the red ball passing the round-down.  Only later to discover that I was inches away from “a glorious ball of fire” and a certain ticket to the surface Navy.  It worked out.  The next five passes were all (OK) and the day ended in a “qualify.”  Dog-gone that  muscle memory?

Fast Forward.  The day started out in a flurry.  Off to work then a drive to the Doctor’s office for some “old man” tests.  If you are the old guy reading this, you know?  If you are any other age, sex, and/or whatever, your turn will come.  Of course there was the procedure first, then the announcement.  This is what I call “safe insurance health-care.”  Waiting for the results is almost as bad as the wait for the visit day.  As I get older there comes a time when the only thought that matters is…what’s next.  I remember telling my young bride once when I was fixing our car in the parking lot during a snow storm in Milwaukee that “cars break honey and then they break again, it is always just a matter of time.”  A note here worth mentioning is (I don’t work on my car/truck past a few simple replacements items any longer AND the MTTF (mean-time-to-failure) has been extended to past “weekly.”  Thank an engineer next time you see one?  Now getting past the philosophical and back to my life story.

I found myself “treading water” these days.  Not really wanting to “get at it.”  There is the garden.  Then the two acres of land.  Don’t forget the ever-changing house projects.  And finally, anything personal “just waits.”  Why is that and how do I focus like the good ole’ days?  It may be because I am still suffering the effects of the “savings drain” this winter for a new furnace and re-modeled bathroom and (always) more tax on my labor to settle that yearly account.  Really?  Taxing my labor has become quite a chore for all of us.  “The professionals” have given rise to the forms and paperwork in a way that defiles any good reasonable thought.  Does all that sound like “treading water?”