Sunday, August 28, 2005

Thank You Armando

La Scarola was one of the first dates Laurie and I had in Chicago. It's got a great vibe and the food is outstanding. Apparently a lot of celebs think so too, as evidenced by the hundreds of photos that adorn the walls, most of which were taken in the restaraunt. Part of its charm is the location--off the beaten path on Grand Ave., near Halstead, in a fairly quiet West Loop neighborhood. Last February, when it came time for our first Valentine's dinner I could think of no better place to celebrate, so I made reservations. I thought of it as "our Italian restaurant" (A bottle o' red, a bottle o' white . . . ).

On the night of our big date, they gave us a nice semi-secluded table in the corner near a window. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, some outstanding food, dessert and coffee. I felt like the evening was going perfectly. But while we were enjoying our coffee one of the bussers came by and asked us in very broken English if we'd finish our coffee at the bar. Confused, I tried to divine from him why. It was about that time our waitress, apologizing profusely, came and explained. They had someone who wanted our table and the owner (turns out it was the maitre'D) was asking us to, in essence, leave so whatever bigshot they were trying to impress could have our table.

Kind of stunned, kind of pissed (they waited till I paid to ask), I refrained from making a scene and left. It threw a pall over what had been shaping up to be a very romantic evening. As the evening progressed, and the more we thought about it, the more annoyed we both got. The next day, Laurie shot a letter off to the owners expressing our disappointment, and embarrassment, at essentially being kicked out because we weren't famous or rich or influential enough to keep our table. On top of it all, we'd lost "our restaurant". I'd really looked forward to many more great meals and good times there, but no way would we be back now. We really didn't think they'd read the letter, we just wanted to get it off our chests.

About a week later, to our complete surprise, Laurie received a phone call from Armando--owner and, as I was to find out later, head chef. He said he was very sorry for the way we'd been treated and wanted to have us back for dinner for four on his dime. Due to schedules and life we weren't able to take him up on his offer until last night. We used the opportunity to have dinner with Katie and Mike who had just moved back up to Chicago.

I had a fantastic (as expected) Arabiata, a couple of glasses of Chianti and a coffee. Everybody else enjoyed their meals and we were able to relax and indulge in some pleasant conversation. During the dinner the maitre'D made a point to come by our table and make sure everything was OK. The place was hoppin' and he was really busy seating guests, so the fact he checked up on us was a nice touch. At the conclusion of our meal the waitress reminded us it was on the house. I got up to find Armando, so I could thank him personally. Neither Laurie nor I had actually met him, so we had no idea he was also the head chef. When I asked where Armando was, the maitre'D pointed me to one of the guys slaving over the stove. He stopped what he was doing and took a little time to thank us for coming back. Very classy. I let him know how grateful I was that he took the effort to make it right and that we'd be back for sure.

La Scarola is our restaurant once more. Here's the link to their site.

After dinner we were treated to a tour of the Cohen's new digs. I'd seen the pics that Katie had posted before, but they didn't really do the place justice. For starters you can't see the tree lined boulevard that goes down the middle of the street in front of the house. It's beautiful. Inside the house seems really big due to the 9' ceilings. I won't go into detail about the decor, because 1.) I'm a man and 2.) Katie was kind of self conscious about the fact it's not done yet. I can tell you it's shaping up nicely. It's got a great basement, too. That's all I'm sayin'. Katie has made Me UndeRstanD in no uncERtain terms she will kill me if I describe my initial impression of the BASEMENT. It's nice though. Really.

At any rate, it was just great to see the Cohens again. I look forward to seeing them again for the Shark Hunter's 30th. Oh, and if you get up there to see them, have them take you to the gelato (Italian ice cream) place. Goooood stuff.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Foul Temptress

We met when I was just a boy. You were always waiting for me at grandma's house. Through the years I grew to love you. In college you sustained me on those long study sessions that stretched into the night. You were my comfort when life was hard and I needed solace. But your charms soon became an addiction. An addiction that I couldn't shake. Then one day as I stared at the scale I knew you really didn't love me. That you wanted to ruin my life. I sent you packing.

I began to work out, to get in shape. Soon I forgot about you. Oh sure, I'd occasionally bump into you in the grocery store, but I was strong. I didn't need you anymore. I thought I was over you. Until last week when I saw you smiling sweetly at me from behind the glass in the vending machine. I was stressed out from work and hadn't had enough sleep. I haven't worked out in a while. I was weak and you knew it. And besides, it was just one package of Nutty Bars. How bad could that be? But you were ready. You, with your sweet innocent little smile behind which lies the path to perdition and ill fitting pants.

Now I am ensnared again in your web of chocolate lies and cream filled oatmeal deceit. I know you want to destroy me, but I love you just the same . . . you hussy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lookin' Good

I gotta' admit, he looks good here. The whole Omar Sharif thing is happenin'. I can't help but notice though, every time he wears the suit and shirt combo it's with an open collar. No tie. If I was in his shoes, anything around my neck would probably make me nervous too. Lucky for him everyone's still bickering about the constitution, 'cause once they get that sorted out (and they will) it'll be time to get down to business.

And in have-none-of-these-jags-seen-Jurrasic-Park news this little, gem. I mean really, how long is it before these guys get drunk one night and one of them says "You know what? Check it out. I stole this prehistoric mosquito stuck in amber from the specimen archives. Here, hold my beer." And then BAM-O! We're all living in trees hiding from velociraptors.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Soldier's Story

A few days ago I mentioned being somewhat moved by images of the Gaza evacuation (see "Back in the Saddle"). Today's WSJ featured an eyewitness account from one of the IDF soldiers involved in that operation on its Op/Ed page. I've included the link here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sorry, but . . .

Due to a recent spamming incident in the comments of one of my posts, I'm activating the word verification. This will not require you to register or any other such nonesense. You'll simply have to type in the wierd looking little word in the verification field in order for you comment to post. Sorry for the marginal inconvenience, but until I have the wherewithal and know how to host my own blog, this will have to do.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Go See The Great Raid

Just finished unpacking from a weekend up north with Laurie and her family. It was nice flying both ways, although Friday night was a little hairy. I didn't really get into any severe weather, but I had to dodge a pop up thunderstorm that mushroomed in the darkness over Bloomington and then set sail to the east right across my flight path. The preflight briefer had warned me it was forming but I knew I had oodles of clear air further to the east that afforded plenty of wiggle room to skirt around it.

I took off around 8:45 with a bright full moon to the east, some lightning to the SW and some interesting little blips popping up on the strikefinder to the NW. The blips to the NW were the neophyte T-storm the briefer had told me about, but I'd yet to see any lightning. Still, to be on the safe side, I stayed down at 3,500 and angled toward the clearer air to the NE. About 5 miles north of Champaign I saw the first lightning strike from that storm. The bolt was HUGE! We're talking a pucker factor of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. I keyed the mike and, in the calmest pilot voice I could muster, asked departure if they saw anything on radar. "Uh, yeah, it looks like a small cell about a mile or two in diameter at your 10 o'clock about 5 miles. But it's plenty clear north of it along the rest of your flightpath. Suggest you deviate a little to the NE to skirt around it." Ya, think? The moon was actually doing a really good job of lighting up the precipitation coming out of the cloud, so I had no problem maintaining visual speparation. It really was an incredible sight. A blazing full moon off the right wing and off the left, this ghostly veil of rain, occasionally sillouheted by million volt blasts of electricity. I'd say, 'You had to be there' but looking back I wonder if even I should've been.

Saturday afternoon Laurie and I met Chicken and friends at the Air and Water Show. It was a great day. Kind of toasty, but I had slathered on the SPF 15 well in advance so I was good to go. While there we saw all kinds of cool military aircraft, including the brand spankin' new F-22 Raptor. They didn't do much but a couple of fly bys though. No combat type maneuvers. Just two passes and then "Bye, bye". My guess is they're trying to keep its full capabilities out of the public eye for a little while longer. At about 4 the headliners, the USAF Thunderbirds, took to the skies but had to knock off about 15 minutes into their routine because a couple of the planes in the diamond formation "touched". This resulted in one of them shedding a small piece of its airframe. Thankfully, they were able to return to the airport without incident. I didn't see the collision, if that's what you could call it, happen, but I did notice the two solos suddenly break off their next run and climb away to join the diamond which had formed up well over the lake to figure out what happened. After about 5 minutes they announced over the loud speaker that one of the T-Bird aircraft had experienced a problem and they were cancelling the demo and returning to the airport. We found out what actually happened on the news that night.

Now, about The Great Raid. The main reason I like this movie is that it points to the eternal that resides in each one of us. It's a poignant reminder that we are more than just flesh and blood. For instance, in one scene Joseph Finnes' character 'Gibby' is questioned by the Japanese commander of the POW camp, "What do you have left to live for?" Gibby's answer "I want to live long enough to see you surrender." Not an incredibly memorable line in and of itself, but it is made more powerful by the fact it's uttered by an emaciated form that can barely remain standing due to 3-years of forced starvation and recurring bouts of malaria. He radiates strength not because of any physical prowess, but because of something deep inside of him. The film is replete with scenes like these. Gibby's love, Margaret, is a leader in the Phillipine resistance. She too is tested and must draw on inner strength to survive.

The other reason I liked the film is that it seemed to indicate this kind of inner resolve comes from a power bigger and more powerful than yourself. In Gibby's instance, it was his love for Margaret and his fellow prisoners that drives him on. In Margaret's case it wasn't just her love for Gibby but mostly her compassion for the Phillipine people and the American prisoners enduring unbelievable cruelty. There were also allusions to trust in God, but being a Miramax film, allusions are all you really get. Anyway, my point is, the film underscores that we are at our best when we look outward and serve each other rather than ourselves.

I was also struck at how ordinary the soldiers seemed. There were no wild charactres like you'd find in something like the Dirty Dozen or even Saving Private Ryan. In fact they're all incredibly soft spoken. The only time they become "emotional" is during the raid. They don't act like over the top professional super soldiers either. They were like me or you. Regular guys who had an extraordinary job to do. You can see the weight of it in their faces as they plan and train--equal parts determination and uncertainty. You also learn quite a bit about the role the Phillipine resistance played in aiding the Amercian forces. The most powerful part of the movie, however, is the credits. In fact I think the whole film is just preparation for them. Whatever you do, stay for the credits.

And speaking of looking out for your fellow man, I learned today my friend Christy is returning from a two year stint in Moldova where she served as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was on an email list of hers that she used to keep friends and family informed of what was going on with her while she was over there. The one I received today was what I assume was her last until she returns to the States. It was especially poignant, and more than a little uplifting. I'd like to share it with you in the next post or two if she gives me the OK.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Looks like the electrical problems with 97 Charlie have been fixed and I'm flying again. Cause for celebration. Unfortunately this good news is counterbalanced by the fact my fiancee has had to head back up north and prepare for the coming school year which starts next week. She's only a couple hours away by car--45 minutes by aeroplane--but might as well be on the other side of the world. This summer was to be an experiment in our tolerance for one another. Some may say you need more than a summer, but I don't. We spent a lot of quality time together and really got to know each other well. I'm happy to say I've hit the jackpot. My condolences to all the suckers who blew their chances with her. You lose, jags.

All kidding aside, we really did want to see if we'd get sick of each other. Not that we were necessarily looking to, but we wanted to live like a regular dating couple for a while and see if anything changed. Lots did. I ended up proposing and fell deeper in love with her than I ever thought possible. No, we're not the perfect couple but we're perfect for each other. February won't get here soon enough for me.

Nuff bout that . . . for now.

I watched some of the Gaza strip evacuation on the news this morning. Simply heart rending. I don't think you have to take sides on the issue to simply be moved by the scene of young Israeli soldiers having to forcibly remove their countrymen from what had been their home. I know the soldiers had to be torn in two. You could see them earnestly pleading with the demonstrators to come along peacefully as they were being pelted by trash, water and fists. I watched one gently help an elderly protester re-tie his prayer box (I think that's what it's called) before removing him. You could see the respect in his face for the old man, who was pleading with him, but he had his orders. I saw other soldiers take blows to the arms and head but never lash back in anger. Some of them may have returned a shot, but I never saw it happen. In some cases you'd see them weeping with the demonstrators as the took them out. I sincerely hope this whole thing was worth the price and bears some fruit on the road to peace there.

Finally, do any of you know if The Great Raid is coming to Champaign? I'm anxious to see this movie after reading Ebert's take on it. I was pretty sure it would be good from what I saw in the trailers and I'm somewhat familiar with the story. Plus I like Joe Finnes. I think he's a fantastic actor. Most remember him from his portrayal as the Gwyneth Paltrow shagging Bard in Young Shakespeare in Love. His best performances, however, were in Enemy at the Gates and Luther. The later is a fairly condensed version of Martin Luther's life but it is extremely well done and will make you want to learn more about this monumental figure whether you're a Christian or not.

I leave you with a few pics from adventures with 97 Charlie in celebration of its return to flight.

Stripey Plane, Stripey Shirt, Real Pilot--Your New Wallpaper
Profile Shot
Short Final at Morris
Mighty Mississip'
Copilot Curt
Copilot Clay
Downtown St. Louie

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I'm Sorry for Cindy

I truly am. I'm sorry Cindy Sheehan, like thousands of others, has lost someone in this war. I guess what I'm struggling with is the implication, by virtue of the media's incessant coverage of her vigil, that her grief is of greater significance than that of all the others who have lost loved ones. I also have a problem with the idea that because she's grieving any opinion that pours out of her mouth should go unchallenged. She seems willing to use the celebrity that her vigil has given her, I can only assume she's comfortable with the risks of using it as well.

From what little I can gather about Casey Sheehan in Google searches--aside from the fact he died and is now a cause celeb for the anti-war crowd--there seems to be some indication he wouldn't necessarily share his mom's opinion that the war is a waste. According to several sources he volunteered for a second tour in Iraq. Now, I can't really say why he did that and I can't ask him. You would think, though, that the media might be a little more interested in his motivations since he is, after all, the only reason you've heard of his mother.

I'm not writing any of this to argue for or against the war, but to say that I'm growing weary of both sides of this issue trying to add moral weight to their arguments by referring to dead American soldiers as "children". Let's be clear. These are not 10 year olds who've been abducted that we're talking about. These were men and women who, for various reasons of their own, voluntarily gave up their rights as individuals to serve as instruments of American foreign policy. They raised their right hands and took an oath to obey orders regardless of how they felt about them. They did not recite this oath under any duress other than that of personal pride and/or a sense of duty.

"Oh, easy for you to say LD. You're not Cindy Sheehan." No, it's easy for me to say because of Casey Sheehan. It's easy for me to say because the constitution he swore to protect grants me the right to express my opinions regardless of whether I've experienced personal loss in a war or not. I will always try to express my opinions with the utmost respect for those that fulfill this oath, and their families, whether they agree with me or not. But the argument that only those who have lost a loved one have a right to have an opinion about this war, or worse that their's is the only valid one, is maudlin at best and shamelessly opportunistic at worst.

And while I'm on the subject of soldiers' parents I thought I'd share this story from today's NYT. Apparently some military families in smaller communities are a little annoyed with the AP coverage of the war. Since few, if any, small town papers can afford to have national and international reporters on staff, they rely on AP to provide them with this coverage. By and large, according to many of these families, AP's coverage of Iraq has been extremely negative when compared to the stories of progress they are hearing from their sons and daughters returning from service over there. I've included a link to the story here.

The reason given by the AP is somewhat summed up in these excerpts,

" . . . as Mr. Silverman (AP Managing Editor) and Kathleen Carroll, The A.P.'s executive editor, responded to the concerns, the editors realized that some questions were impossible to answer. For example, she said, the editors understood that it was much easier to add up the number of dead than to determine how many hospitals received power on a particular day or how many schools were built."

"Mr. Silverman said the wire service was covering Iraq 'as accurately as we can' while 'also trying to keep our people out of harm's way'."

"The main obstacle we face,"(Silverman) said, "is the severe limitation on our movement and our ability to get out and report. It's very confining for our staff to go into Baghdad and have to spend most of their time on the fifth floor of the Palestine Hotel," which is home to most of the press corps. The hotel was struck by a tank shell in 2003, killing two journalists."

In short it's dangerous to try and give the big picture. This response reminded me of Eason Jordan's mea culpa for CNN's failure to report Sadaam's atrocities because it would have been "dangerous" to their ability to keep an Iraq bureau. When the "legitimate" media refuses to take the risks neccessary to give the full picture on something as important as the Iraq war, all we're left with is punditry. They've shown they can do it when they want to. As far back as Edward R. Murrow braving the flames of London during the Blitz to as recently as the imbedded reporters at the outset of this war, the media has shown it can get in the thick of it and give the whole story, when it wants to. Why don't they want to anymore?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Happy Birthday Eli

Eli and I at Marnie's Wedding
Tonight was my grandfather's 83'rd birthday. I wish you all could know him. The only problem is you won't see the man I've known for the vast majority of my 36 year old life. You'll see a very old man with a hillbilly accent and a bum right arm that's the result of a stroke during emergency heart surgery about 5 years ago. You won't see the man that could work nearly every other man I've ever met into the ground, including this one.

Fortunately you will see the man that has always had a twinkle of mischief in his eye. You will see the man that has never met a person he didn't like unless they really tried to be unlikable. You will see the man that has a colorful euphemism for just about everything that can happen in life. You will meet the man that, even if he does tell you you're a "bad egg" or a "mean rooster", loves every last one of his family members with a quiet, unconditional passion.

Tonight we met at Texas Roadhouse to celebrate. Unfortunately we couldn't all sit together at one table so I didn't really get to talk to him much. I'll make up for it with a visit this weekend. As he was leaving with his gifts he playfully gestured like he was going to smack Levi on the top of the head and said, "I should smack him on the noggin' good. It'll toughen him up." That's Eli for "I'm tickled pink Levi's here. He sure is cute." He's always kind of hid his passion for us behind this gruff sense of humor. Case in point . . .

One of my earliest recollections of my grandfather was him sitting on me and pinning my arms down on my side so I couldn't move. Then he'd play slap me on the forehead and say, "You're a bad egg, you know that? A mean rooster. We should send you back." Of course the whole time he's doing it he's got this Cheshire cat grin and a playful glint in his eyes. Even at 3 or 4, I knew he was just kidding around. The only time he ever really hit me was when I was about 7, and it was because I scared him.

When I was little we all lived in Monticello and I would often spend the night at grandma and grandpa's. One Saturday morning he needed to run some errands and brought me along. It was always a big deal to go anywhere by yourself with grandpa. For one, he was like a rock star in Monticello. He'd given so many guys their first jobs as foreman at the Viobin and he knew many more people from when he used to house paint and tenant farm. Couple this network with his irresistible charm and it was little wonder that you couldn't (still can't) go anywhere with Eli in Monticello or Champaign and not get stopped.

Anyhow, on this particular morning our mission was to run by the barber shop and then Buy-Rite to get a few things for grandma. For some reason we were in my parents beater Fiat that had a manual transmission. Before we pulled out of the driveway grandpa had been horsing around before starting the car by making race car noises and shifting the gears while we were just sitting there. It made me laugh but also just a little too curious. As we were leaving the barber shop, as usual, grandpa got stopped by some old friends. While they were catching up I waited in the car sipping a can of 7-Up grandpa had bought me. As the minutes dragged on I became incredibly bored until I remembered the little race car "game" grandpa had played in the driveway.

So, I grabbed the gear shift and pulled. Now had this been in grandpa's driveway nothing would have happened. It was level. The barber shop/Buy-Rite parking lot, however, was most definitely not. To my surprise and my grandfather's horror the little Fiat began to inexorably roll backwards down the parking lot, at a fairly alarming clip, towards the busy street behind it. I remember looking helplessly into his frightened eyes as he sprinted towards the car. He caught up to it and flung open the driver's side door nearly tearing it from its hinges. He dove into the driver's seat, yanked on the emergency brake and then smacked me over the top of the head causing me to spill 7-Up everywhere. "What's the matter with you!" he screamed. I couldn't answer because I was sobbing my eyes out. Not so much because he'd hit me, but because I'd never seen him that upset before. It scared the hell out of me.

We drove home in silence. Well, not complete silence. I was trying my best to stifle my sobs, but to no avail. I was a tear streaked, snotty mess by the time we got back to grandma and grandpa's. Of course grandma saw me crying and immediately wanted--no demanded--to know what happened. While grandpa told her I retreated to the inside of the house. Eventually grandma came in and hugged me back to "health".

That evening when I was returned home, I expected the worse. I thought for sure dad and mom were going to pound me for nearly wrecking the car. Instead they just gave me a big hug and told me they were glad I didn't get hurt. I think grandpa had explained to them I was only mimicking what I'd seen him do earlier. They did ask me, somewhat rhetorically, if I knew I shouldn't do that again. Later I cornered mom and asked in a trembling voice if grandpa was going to stay angry with me. After all, the thought of having one of the greatest men in the world angry with me was more than I could bear. Mom just smiled and said, "Honey, you really don't know why grandpa hit and yelled at you?" I shook my head. "You scared him baby. Scared him bad. He thought for sure you were headed into the street and was scared to death you were going to get hit." She then proceeded to tell me another time I "scared" him.

When I was two, I had to have a bi-lateral hernia operation. This was pre-laproscopic surgery so they basically had to cut me across the entire length of my tiny lower abdomen to open me up. After surgery I spent a few days in the hospital. I don't recall any of this, but apparently grandpa came to see me one day. As the story goes, when I saw him I pulled myself up on the edge of my crib but couldn't stand all the way up because of the stitches. She said I held my arms out and begged him to take me out of the crib. To take me home. No one was allowed to pick me up until the stitches healed. Mom said it was the first time she ever saw him cry. She said he just stood in the doorway and said, "Hon, I'd take you out of here in a heartbeat but they won't let me." and then he walked off and disappeared for few minutes.

It's funny, but just about all of the hard nosed, hard working, "tough" guys I've known in my life have almost always been some of the most sensitive men I've ever met. Eli is one of them. But that's just one facet of the man. There is so much more I could tell. Maybe I will. Not all of it would be as Hallmark movie as this, but I can guarantee it'll be interesting. Very little about my grandfather isn't. At least that's what I think anyway. Like Ernie K Gann says, you write about what you know. Well, most of what I know about greatness I learned from Eli. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Duke, Yard Sale Madness and Golf

Thursday the Big Guy had to go down to Kentucky for a meeting and decided to use the opportunity to leave a car down there so we'd have wheels handy when we fly down in the future. This necessitated Laurie and I driving down Saturday to bring him back(9'er 7 Charlie is still suffering from its mysterious electrical malady . . . don't get me started). We left Saturday morning and arrived in Russell Co. about 4:30. I told the BG I was bringing my clubs and that maybe we could get a round of twighlight 9 in. "As a dog returns to it's vomit so a fool returns to his folly."

While we golfed, my tuff fiancee put the top down on the SSR and went exploring the Endless Yard Sale along rte. 127. Not sure if any of you are familiar with this madness, but the Endless Yard Sale is an annual event wherein thousands of people set up shop along rte. 127, from northern Kentucky all the way down to southern Alabama, selling anything they could dig out of their shed, junk drawers, garages, basements, barns etc. It is a hundred mile long cornucopia of crap. Gordyville on a grand scale. In addition to all the junk, Laurie reported there was a disturbing amount of sweaty male shirtlessness accompanied by sweaty fat ladies in tank tops about 2 sizes too small for their rubenesque frames. I caught a glimpse of some of the clientele in a pickup sporting a bumper sticker with the confederate flag on it accompanied by the following: "Fighting terrorism since 1861." I'm betting they were shirtless too.

The golf game was actually OK, despite the fact I didn't golf all that well. I went back to using the original set of irons I purchased several years ago that have larger club faces. It helped alot. Most of my iron shots were pretty good. Unfortunately I'm still using the same driver. On the tee box is where the vast majority of profanity was uttered. Remember the Quiddich(sp?) match in that one Harry Potter movie? That's what my ball looked like coming off the tee most of the time. Still, I only lost one which is saying something on that course. Lilly Creek, despite its seemingly benign name, is anything but a walk in a park. It's hilly and the rough consists of packed red earth with sprigs of grass and rocks. And that's if you're lucky. Usually the rough is a forest or tall grass right on the edge of the fairway. The fact I finished nine holes using only two balls is a triumph in itself.

Sunday, on the way back up north, the Big Guy drove allowing me the opportunity to finally watch Island in the Sky on the DVD player in the back. What a great movie. One of the Duke's finest. Naturally it probably appeals to me more than others because of the subject matter--John Wayne plays a pilot in the Air Transport Command during WWII who's forced down in bad weather over the Northwest Territories and he and his crew must survive the 40 below conditions until his buddies can find them. Anybody who says Wayne couldn't act (I'll fight all of you!) needs to see this film. He does a fantastic job of playing a leader who's trying to keep his head so those depending on him don't lose their's.

Like Leonard Maltin's brief introduction indicates, the movie is devoid of any cynicism. There's no angst, no hidden agendas, no politics or tortured pasts. Just ordinary men with a lot of guts pitting themselves and their airplanes against the impersonal enemy of weather. I was amazed at how beautiful the cinematography was for a black and white film. You really got a sense of how vast the wilderness was and how small the protagonists were in comparison. The film also features some great performances by many old western actors, including a very young, pre-Matt Dillon James Arness. Even the guy who played Alfalfa from the Little Rascals is in it playing a young pilot who acts alot like Alfalfa. By all means check it out.

I leave you with a pic of Levi . . . finally.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Good Friday

Am I the only one that thinks Frank sounds better on a Friday? There's just something about Sinatra's swingin', devil-may-care style that just goes well with the day before Saturday. It's the perfect release from the cares and woes of the past week. Then again maybe hearing Frank come crooning through my headphones was simply the catalyst I needed to help me remember all the good things about this particualar Friday.

Last night I got to meet my new nephew, Levi. I know it sounds cynical, but I really didn't expect it to be that big of a deal. What I mean is, I thought I'd gotten through the totally-getting-sucked-in-by-a-newborn thing because I'd gone through it with all the girls. And I think I was, right until the second they put him in my arms. Then the same old thing happened. Everything and everybody else around you seems to fade into a kind of low background hum and you get totally lost in this tiny little face.

I must've just sat and stared for what seemed like an eternity. Ocassionally he'd open his eyes a tiny bit and they'd widen just a little when he seemed to notice my massive face in his. He did a lot of blinking. I think even the dimmed environs of the maternity ward were still probably as bright as the sun compared to where he'd been for the last 9 mos. But he still made an effort to try and get a look at me.

He'd just eaten and Mandy asked if I wanted to burp him. So I shifted him from the cradle postion to over my shoulder. They're so wobbly. The whole maneuver took what seemed like a long time. You just don't want to break anything, ya' know? When I finally got his tiny frame resting on my shoulder I started lightly patting him on the back. So light I didn't think I was really doing any good till he let out this huge belch. Granted it was a baby belch and sounded more like a little cough, but mommy and daddy were impressed and said it was his best one yet. Score one for ole' uncle Lar.

What really got me though was right after he burped his whole body just kind of melted into my shoulder. I guess it takes a lot of energy to burp when you're only a few hours old. But that feeling of complete relaxation was so peaceful. Soon he was snoozing. All in all not a bad first outing for Uncle Lar and Levi. The only thing that would've been better is if I hadn't completely brain farted and left my camera at home. I know, I'm an idiot. But now that I think about it, I'm kind of glad there were no pictures. It's always better in your memory anyway.

I'll have a pic soon. Hang tight.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

He's arrived.

Let the record show that Levi Stephens was born at 2:48 am, August 4th in the year of our Lord 2005--29 years and one day after his mommy was. I guess I was right about the "screaming" thing in my previous post. Luke says he's pretty pissed. He also said the "procedure" was being performed on him this morning, so likely as not he's going to be pissed for a while.

I think I'll hang back and introduce myself this evening after work. Between the Grandmas, Pappas and other well wishers I'm sure it's going to be a madhouse over there most of this afternoon. Right now I'm waiting for his pic to show up on the Carle babies site (link here). When it does I'll post it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Waiting for Levi

He's on his way. Mandy and Luke left for the hospital about two hours ago. Probably sometime this evening Levi Stephens will come screaming into the world. As active as he seemed in the womb, I'm betting this kid is going to be a handful. We'll see.

No Donny, these men are nihilists.

Last night I had to replace the daytime running light on the driver's side of my VW GTI. Now you'd think this would be as simple as . . . well. . . changing a light bulb. Not so. I had to remove two covers and wrestle with two retaining clips to even get to the bulb. The whole process took about half an hour because the VW owner's manual would not tell me how to get to the bulb. In place of such instructions was this admonition (I paraphrase): "Due to the fact some components may need to be removed in order to access the bulb in your car we recommend you take your car into a qualified VW service center to have it changed." Naturally I read this as, "You vill do vaht vee zay und you vill like it!" Yeah, well I figured it out on my own ya' frickin' nihilists! (cue the Ray Charles version of "American the Beautiful")

This morning I learned it only took a few seconds to "repair" the space shuttle. Well, it only took a few seconds for the astronaut to pull the exposed gap filler out but I'm sure it took a while to suit up, get strapped to the mechanical arm and maneuvered into position. I hope and pray that this eliminates any threat to their re-entry and they get back safely. Still I couldn't help but be impressed (pissed actually) that it took less time to "fix" the shuttle than it took for me to change a bulb on my car. Frickin' nihilists.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Comments Fixed

Forgive me guys. I have fixed it so now anyone can comment freely without having to register or other such nonesense. Guess I'd better check the other default settings and make sure nothing else screwy is going on.

It was quiet . . .

Things were pretty slow this weekend, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. I had planned on heading up north to be with Laurie and check out Venetian night, but it was not to be. Nine Seven Charlie is still suffering from some bizarre electrical ailment that even a generous check to Mike the Mechanic could not fix. Thinking all was just dandy after cutting said check, I launched from Monticello into sunlit, puffy-cloud filled skies Saturday morning. Climbing through 4,500 the alternator field breaker popped taking the alternator off-line.

I would like to print what came out of my mouth, but I've decided early on that I would try to refrain from profanity in my blog. Instead I will tell you that the quality of the profanity was first rate by even the most discriminating standards. Anyway, I reset the breaker and set about trying to isolate the cause by shutting down all unnecessary electrical accessories and turning them back on one by one. But even with just the bare minimum on, the breaker still popped. Well, it was a nice day to fly anyway, even if I never did get out of sight of Monticello. I returned to the field, landed and waited for Mike the Mechanic to return. He was apparently involved in Bement's Sesquicentennial some way. I can't help but think of Waiting for Guffman when I think of a Bement Sesquicentennial. Please rent the movie if you haven't seen it. Anyone who's ever lived in a tiny town like Monticello (or Mansfield) or participated in community theatre will find it nothing short of brilliant.

Back to Nine Seven Charlie's travails (or "Niner" Seven Charlie as we real pilots like to say). Eventually MTM returned and was just as annoyed as I was that we still had a problem. Thinking perhaps the battery was still too low and had been placing an unusually high load on the alternator, he took it out and charged it overnight. This necessitated staying in Monticello overnight. Now what does one do for fun in a Midwestern town of 4,800 on a Saturday night? Why go to your good friend Rob Csiki's and eat bacon cheeseburgers and play video games with the Csiklettes (his sons, for the uninitiated). It was a blast. After pounding burgers, fries and Coca Cola we indulged in an XBox frag fest, then topped the evening off with a DQ nightcap. Let me just say one thing--Csiklettes on sugar are AWESOME.

So Sunday I head back out to the airport about noon to see if charging the battery solved the problem. This time MTM joined me on the test flight so he could witness the weird electronic gremlins should they manifest themselves again. To make a long story short, they did and I had to leave the plane in Monticello for yet another few days. I'm really not too bummed because, well, I HAVE an airplane. How cool is that? Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of this and I'll be able to fly without having to worry about the alternator pooping out in the middle of a night flight. If it does though, my mother got me this cool flashlight headband (you know like miners wear) so I can still see the instruments if the lights go out (luck-eee). Maybe I'll put it on and post a picture.

Back to work.