Friday, September 23, 2011

The Wright Brothers Never Invented the Airplane--Part II

Yes, I know I owe you an update from last week, but my homework started to get the best of me so I needed to put this on hold temporarily, so I'll combine two weeks' class updates into one post.

I've always joked my end would be death by homework.  Now it's not so funny.  Well, okay, maybe it's just a little funny.

But not to me.  Okay, so I've laughed about it.

 Can we move on?

Did you know the Wright Brothers never really invented the airplane?  They get all the credit for doing so because they were savvy enough to get to the patent office first.  The actual inventor of the airplane was Glenn Curtis (unless you're a die-hard Brazilian and then it's Dumont).

Curtis was commissioned by Alexander Graham Bell to create an engine for a "heavier-than-air" machine, thanks to his stupendous reputation for inventing and working with machinery.  When the private pilots' licenses were issued, he received his first.  Orville Wright received license number five, because at that time, the licenses were issued in alphabetical order.  And then there was that whole Patent Office snafu that any idiot with a finger can Google.

I eagerly awaited last week's class.  I'd often wondered just how a ground school flight instructor would begin explaining such a complex machine.  How did one begin explaining how to navigate and manoeuvre an aircraft through three-dimensional space?  Thankfully, our cars operate on two axes in the Cartesian plane (that diagram you've seen of two lines that intersect):  x and y.  But now we suddenly have z with which to contend.  It almost seems like God gave the morons who can't drive an extra dimension in which to screw up.

 So we started the meat of the lecture with a basic diagram of a plane.  Seemed a likely place to start.  Then we immediately began discussing the aerodynamics.

There are four forces that act upon the aircraft:  Gravity (weight), Lift, Drag and Thrust.  Weight is pretty self-explanatory, especially to a woman.  Lift is the interesting one because it's created out of a combination of airfoil surfaces, thrust, and low/high-pressure spots on the wing.  Actually, lift is created out of a difference in pressure between these forces.  Drag is a difficult one to explain because why it occurs is very tricky (aside from the fact that there are many varying types of drag a pilot needs to know), and thrust is comprised of juicy things like the slipstream (the phenomenon of air created by a propeller that wraps around the body of the plane causing it to yaw), torque, another natural phenomenon that pushes the airplane to the left to counteract the yaw, load factors and finally the gyroscopic effect (the phenomenon that causes the plane to respond to a command 90% later than it's given).

NOW we were talking.  This was the physics' portion and I was in heaven.  Although my Russian flight instructor (who also happens to be my math advisor) goes so fast I'm certain there will be a lot of out-of-class study in order to grasp all of it.

Avro Vulcan Bomber
The angle of attack (AOA) is very important in flying because it affects the amount of lift that acts on the aircraft.  Most standard airfoils (wings) on modern planes have a general AOA of about fifteen percent to the relative wind.  This means the wings are angled at fifteen-degrees to the ground.  (Model airplanes, however, don't have camber wings, they have delta wings, much like most fighter jets, thus, they don't operate under the same laws of general aerodynamics). 

Flaps and ailerons are two control surfaces that deflect air flow and change the camber of the wing (camber, being the general curvature on top of the wing).  The only thing you use a flap for is to steepen your approach on landing.  Remember, I said from last week that a landing is a controlled crash (stall)?  This is why.  Reduce the amount of air flowing over the wing, and your airplane will be heading for a swift landing while you're still trying to see Sarah Palin's house in Russia.

And you've all heard of Bernoulli's Theorem where flight is concerned.  It's not magical or mystical, or even difficult.  It just states, in a nutshell, that the faster an object moves through a liquid (air), the lower the pressure it creates.  The Theorem was created for fluid dynamics, but one can think of air as a type of fluid which carries similar characteristics, thus the theorem can be applied to aerodynamics.

Fast forward to this week.

After learning the external forces that act on the aircraft, we then turned our attentions inward to the instruments.

Compass:  this points to magnetic north but the north on aviation charts is true north.  This produces a phenomenon known as the Turning Error, where the centre of gravity tilts south of the compass heading during a turn.  So you must compensate for it before the turn.  (Briefly, while we're on turning, it isn't the rudder that turns the plane.  The rudder simply tilts the plane, and the natural forces turn the plane.  Try this on your bicycle--you don't first turn your wheel to turn, you first lean into the turn.  It's the same idea.)

The compass suffers from something called Magnetic Deviation, meaning, other metallic objects in the cockpit affect its reading.

Air France Airbus A330
Does anyone remember that horrible Air France flight 447 jumbo jet accident in June 2009?  For the longest time, the BEA (the French version of our NTSB) was unable to determine what caused this Airbus A330 to simply fall out of the sky and crash, killing all 228 people on board.  In fact, the investigation is still on-going.  And it's now labeled as the worst aviation accident to occur since the American Airlines Flight 587 accident in 2001, and it was the first deadly accident to happen to an Airbus A330 while in passenger service.


The most apparent and largest cause was due to this next instrument:  the Pitot Tube.  In layman's terms, it's an airspeed indicator.  It's a small blade-like tube mounted on the outside of the aircraft.  The Altimeter and the Airspeed Indicator take their input from the Pitot Tube.  On this particular Air France Airbus, the Pitot Tubes had become iced over from lack of a working heating apparatus, thus giving inexact readings on the instruments in the cockpit.  The Pitot Tubes measure constant fluctuations in air-pressure readings, because that is what the instruments measure.  An altimeter is the best example of this, because it doesn't measure height off the ground, it measures the difference in air pressure from one altitude to another as compared to the air pressure on the ground; one reason a pilot must check the daily atmospheric pressure before take-off.

So, that was the gist of the lectures.  But I have a delicious surprise for you.  Next Saturday, October 1, I will be in the cockpit for my first flight lesson, and I will try to get live photos and maybe even some video for you.  This won't be my first flight lesson or first time flying a plane, but it will be for this excursion into my pilot's license.

And now, please place your seats in their upright position, grab your gear and deplane.  We'll see you next week, from the cockpit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Penguin Finally Earns Her Wings

TTU Plane at Sparta Airport, TN
"Stall an airplane at the wrong time, and it's a crash.  Stall it at the right time, and it's a safe landing."

This is how my FAA ground school instructor opened today's inaugural ground school class.  One of the perks of TTU Aviation membership is free ground school instruction, so two minutes later I was reaching for my credit card (Membership also included the 2012 FAA manual for ground school, my first empty log book, and a really snazzy cool yellow membership card without lamination with my name in red marker). 

I already had hours from flying years ago, but since I was grounded due to an inner-ear problem and then ran out of funds, and regulations have changed so quickly along with the planes themselves, I decided to start from the beginning again, and one of the perks of being one of my Twits is that you get to read about every hair-raising, joy-inducing and mind-numbingly-boring moment as they happen.

Space Shuttle Atlantis in its final rollout to launch pad
at Kennedy Space Center, July 2011
I guess my love of flying came from my dad and his side of the family.  Our cousin Gary was an air-traffic controller for the Navy and then the private sector for twenty years (he refers to the both of us as "a couple of fixed-wing nuts" since he has his private pilot certification, too), eventually becoming a supervisor.  My great Uncle Elmer (now deceased) was head mechanic for San Francisco Int'l airport, and his son retired from the same position.  Then I've bored everyone with tales of my great Uncle Keith (also deceased) who worked at McDonnell-Douglas in Saint Louis, on the team of aerospace engineers who designed the original Space Shuttle.

Then there's my dad.  Poor eyesight precluded his fulfilling his dream of flying rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters), but an insatiable love of them didn't preclude his talking about them incessantly, and I think it sort of rubbed off.  (Psst:  Don't tell him, but I plan to surprise him next October 4 on his birthday by chartering a plane, landing on the hill of a nearby farm and then taking him up and letting him fly again.  That's been another little bucket list item of mine and I can't wait.  I'll post later where to send flowers.)

If you've never been at the controls of a fixed-wing aircraft, flying is like a secret no one else knows.  Feeling the G-forces as you manoeuver, knowing the risks of flying beyond the specifications and limitations of the craft (just because you've always wanted to know what it's like to fly through a Cumulus cloud and feel alive when that lightning strikes your head), being fully prepared for what to do if you lose an engine on your twin-engine Cessna, while losing attitude control, while you're low on fuel, and all while discovering that you've suddenly run out of Twinkies.

It's. a. rush.  Well, not the Twinkie part, but follow along.

I was under the impression that there were five classificatons of pilot licenses:  Private without instruments (single-engine), private with instruments (single-engine), private double-engine land, private double-engine water, and commercial (where you could fly for a major carrier like American Airlines).

Man, I hate to be wrong.  Classes are:

  • Grade - determines the kinds of flying a pilot can do
    • Student Pilot - local solo training flights without passengers (I will have this as soon as next week)
    • Recreational Pilot - local uncontrolled day flights 1 passenger
    • Private Pilot - flights worldwide with passengers, non-profit (I will have this after my first solo flight in eight-ten hours from now of in-plane time with my instructor)
    • Commercial Pilot - paid flying allowed, can be airline copilot (Think bush pilots of Alaska)
    • Airline Transport Pilot - paid flights, can be airline captain
  • Ratings - what aircraft a pilot can fly and how - VFR or IFR
    • Category - Airplane, Glider, Rotorcraft, Lighter Than Air...
    • Class - eg Airplane Single or Multi Engine Land/Sea
    • Type - needed for each turbojet or heavier than 12,500 lbs
    • Instrument - separate for each Class and Type Rating

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules (Flying only by visual ground cues; something you can't use, for instance, while your city suffers the effects of hurricane Lee [!]), and IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules (You need to know how to fly by instruments if you wish to fly at night, solo, or even get your water certificate; if you wish to fly into Nashville Airport, you don't need IFR because it's a Class-A airport, but if you wish to fly into Atlanta, then you need to have your instrument rating or else they will deny you permission to land, because they're a Class-B airport.)

Over the next three or four months, follow my weekly account as I relate to you the struggles of juggling a busy Astrophysics/Applied Mathematics schedule with additional book training for passing my Private Pilot certificate, while dealing with Systemic Lupus and Fibromyalgia and debilitating fatigue sometimes so severe I can't hold a fork.

And don't forget the Twinkies.  Will keep you fully updated on the supply.

This has been my dream since I was a kid--to hold a Commercial and eventual ATP Certificate.  So what's an Astrophysicist who also holds advanced degrees in Applied Mathematics want with a license to fly idiot people on jumbo jets cross-country?

It's all about the flight, baby.

And I'll end with my favourite DaVinci quote about flying:

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guns Don't Kill People...My Uncle Does

It isn’t every day you wake up to suddenly realize you’re related to a cartoon. Every time I see Dale Gribble on King of the Hill, I swear Mike Judge had actually crawled inside my head and put my uncle Bob in his show.

Bob is my mother’s oldest sibling and only brother. And now that I’m an adult, I understand this was a smart move on God’s part, since I’m convinced that if Bob had been forced to share the testosterone with his brothers, he would’ve eaten them alive in order to preserve the stupidity of the species. You see, Uncle Bob was a shining example of just what a high-functioning degree of stupidity could do for a man.

My first memory of Bob is one evening at the house, watching him load his dogs into their wire cages to haul us all off to the local 4-H camp. That’s right, folks: Bob had twelve Coon hounds. The truly amazing part wasn’t that he had so many dogs, but that they actually had a Coon hounds club that met once a month (and that they could read a calendar). Aside from a secret handshake that involved the licking of the palms, to this day I still don’t know what they did at these meetings. But he loved it so much they eventually promoted him to President. He’d sit there, just presiding over the meetings in his mirrored sunglasses and green John Deere cap with his Marlboro clenched between his teeth, which he refused to remove even while chugging his beer. And if the man had been a church-goer, that’s the way he would’ve attended church, which was probably why my Aunt stopped inviting him in this manner:

“Bob, if you’re not going to change out of that get-up for a quick brunch with the Lord Jesus, then I’ll just have to pray you go to hell, because I’m not explaining that mess to God almighty when it’s your time to go.”

Bob was a walking contradiction. On one hand, he was very political--a devout Democrat for as long as I can remember. He believed in organized government (which was a surprise since he never once balanced his checkbook or carried a calendar to organize his time), and yet he never missed a vote at the polls, or the opportunity to rub my family’s very strict Republican noses in it.

On the other hand, his conspiracy theories and nut job ideologies tended to force him to lean so far to the left that he could wrap around himself twice and kiss his own right ass-cheek. “Clean air is nothing but a government plot,” he’d say, while coughing up another piece of his lung. It was twenty-three-years later that he finally stopped smoking. “Just seemed like it was time,” was his answer when asked why. Sure. And that six-month long round of radiation therapy was just another extended-stay opportunity to enjoy the Jell-O.

Since he was a seasoned hypochondriac, for a long while after they finally diagnosed the lung cancer and told him his time was limited, the rest of us could’ve sworn he was happier than he’d ever been in his life. I think it had something to do with the constant Xs he’d mark on the floor, while dramatically stating, “THIS is where I’m going to die. Mark it down on your calendars. The second I hit forty, you can come back to this spot and find me as cold as mom’s gravy.” We got to the point where we were just plain tired of him constantly getting our hopes up. As of right now, he’s seventy-three, has had part of his stomach removed due to cancer, and still draws those Xs on the kitchen floor. I think it was finally some time back in the mid-Eighties that my Aunt switched out the red crayon for a piece of chalk: Just easier for her to clean up when the deadline had passed with yet another disappointment. Much like the Rapture.

Still, I always liked Bob. Although, the only time he was ever funny was when he told really bad jokes and then laughed his own ass off all by himself, which is really what made him funny. At least he was smart enough to bring his own audience.

I remember one summer in particular where my sister and I, along with our cousins--Bob’s two sons--decided rather than go outside and play in the heat, we’d stay in to watch TV. Now, I’m not exactly sure who found it first, or why we felt the need to go searching through the couch cushions, but suddenly one of us pulled out a Penthouse from the armchair. At first, no one said much--we just kinda stared in fascination. None of us were older than twelve, so while we knew what we were looking at, we just weren’t sure what we were looking at. I think the bigger question for me was, when do you get it to look and act like that? As we slowly leafed through the pages the one consistent question we kept asking on another was, “This is Bob’s magazine?” It was too weird for any of us to think that Bob owned such a piece of high-brow literature, since none of us had ever seen him read, or even kiss his wife for that matter--which had to be to her relief. There were times you could just tell if given the chance, she’d run him over with her car and then hide the body. To this day, even her sons are convinced Bob could not be their father.

But, back to the book.

Everything we saw up to that point was pretty tame. While we liked to think we were experts already, we could only guess. However, as soon as Roger turned the page to the centerfold, he nearly dropped the book, my sister screamed and hid her eyes, Roger’s younger brother passed out and I just couldn’t help myself: I laughed out loud. For there, in all his stapled and glossy glory, was none other than THE Ron Jeremy. While it’s true there isn’t much need for a sixth-grade junior high-school lady to have any working knowledge of who Ron Jeremy is, apparently the rules for boys were very different, for both Bob’s sons yelled, “Hey! It’s Jeremy!” And I just couldn’t stop looking His nose was just so BIG for his face. It made you wonder how he was ever able to wrap a tissue round that thing when he sneezed. Luckily, though, he had lots of women hovering over him in the photos to help with that.

Ten-minutes after we had discovered the magazine and its centerfold, Bob came bursting through the living room, searching for something chaste like a flashlight or fan belt, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us with the book.

“’d you get that?”

Roger said, “’Neath the chair cushion. What’s it doing there, dad?”

After watching his face turn eighty-shades of red, he coughed, took a breath, and smoothly replied, “It’s your mother’s. Put it back.”

I was fairly certain I didn’t buy it, for two reasons. One, wasn’t it usually men who looked at the women? And two, I was pretty sure you didn’t "need" such a magazine in your living room to supplement your nightly television-viewing.

It’s been probably thirty-years since we first found the book, and I still can’t get the image of that day out of my mind. Bob never mentioned the incident again, and a few weeks later on a return visit to the living room, the book went missing.

Bob’s mellowed over the years, keeping his NRA rants and trips to the Baptist Gun Show to a minimum, and I can tell you right now, that one day when the Red X finally hits the kitchen floor, the world will mourn one of its most unique characters, who was worthy of his own TV cartoon show.

Thanks, Mike Judge.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Howard and Mona

All couples have problems. Live day-in and day-out with a Neanderthal that hasn’t learned after twenty-years of being told to put his knickers in a basket just inches away from where they eventually land on the floor, and you’re either looking for another social circle, or new and creative ways to commit suicide.

This idea of couples dating has always fascinated me. When I was married, my husband and I did it. It seems that anytime we find someone we want to share our life with, the first thing we do is find people we can ignore them for.

My parents did the same thing. When I was four and my sister a year-old, I remember this one couple that used to visit my parents regularly. Howard and Mona. Why I remember this from age four, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s the peculiar way my parents began to behave once they had all become good friends and had a standing weekly “date”. I don’t know--maybe my parents were afraid of commitment.

Howard had dark hair and wore Buddy Holly glasses and checkered pants--a fashionista apparently light-years ahead of his time. Even at four, I knew that man was just one science experiment away from re-discovering gravity. He worked with my dad in the local machine shop, so it was a natural progression that they would begin to socialise with their wives. And at first, my mother liked Mona.

She was different. She had masses of dark hair piled on top her head in these neat little adobe mounds. She, too, wore glasses and liked to wear bright red lipstick. I won’t comment on her wardrobe, because...well, this was the sixties. Everyone was always so busy getting cancer, developing a life-long gambling addiction and doing the Twist that they had no time for important social issues like Politics, becoming obscenely wealthy, or how to properly dress themselves.

My mother loved playing the hostess, because that’s what you did in the sixties, and why not? Dad didn’t want her working. Little did she know this would prepare her for marathon sessions of Oprah thirty-years later. She turned out to be a natural. She’d always start fussing early Monday afternoon about the house. Each time I’d question her on this ritual, she’d say something wise like, “If the Pope were visiting, you wouldn’t want him to see your naked Barbie Doll on the floor, now, would you?” Which was stupid since I was pretty sure we weren’t Catholic. Then after the toys were put away, she’d scurry from the refrigerator to the stove, worrying over what hors d'oeuvres to serve, but not before she’d had my dad’s dinner planned down to the last Brussels sprout. And everyone thinks Martha Stewart invented domestic science. As I look back on it, I thought that’s how all women behaved. But years later, it would again be my mother who would prove me wrong. In the sixties she cooked dinner, vacuumed the house in heels, and obeyed my dad. In the seventies, she found women’s lib, discovered the joys of TV dinners and you were lucky if she ever put on her pants to answer the door.

But back to Howard and Mona. They loved to come over each Monday night and play Rook and Canasta--games I would later learn were the favourites of people who were generally just one day from death. I guess it’s some unwritten requisite of God’s: If you’re over sixty, then you must learn Canasta. Saint Peter mans the Pearly-Gates with a list of our running scores, according to my grandmother.

My parents gladly invited them each week. I guess it gave dad something to look forward to other than my mother’s bitching about diapers and laundry, and it gave her something to look forward to other than dad’s belching and scratching.

Howard would tell really stupid jokes in between trying to sell my dad Amway, and Mona had a very theatrical laugh--the one that reaches the back balcony even when you’re in a closet. It took the hair off a couple of my sweaters. For the most part, these two twenty-somethings were pretty cool.

But in all this bliss, Howard and Mona had a dark side. After months of dating, my parents began acting strange when Howard dropped hints for their weekly cards invitation.

I remember one time in particular, my parents had decided they didn’t want to see them anymore. When I asked them why, I was met with stutters, grunts and whistles to the effect of, “Well, it has to do with the mean, not average, vis-a-vis the vagaries and political curves of the gross national product and what time it was yesterday over the international dateline, but not what time yesterday’s time was, what it will be during tomorrow’s yesterday.” I was four. I just sucked my thumb and made a mental note to short-sheet God’s bed for dumping me into this family. And to seal the deal that we wouldn’t “be home” that night, dad pulled our Dodge Dart (yes, I’m serious) to the back of the house and parked it in the garage, which at four, I thought absolutely genius. However, in all my dad’s dazzling spy-brilliance, he forgot this particular garage door had a row of square windows--anyone could see in.

My parents's feelings must have had something to do with the fact that every time she was in my mother’s living room, Mona would sit and rip up tissues, then toss them on the floor. They weren’t used tissue--all the time--just tissue. She never apologised for this peculiar habit, and as far as I can remember, she never once offered to help my mother clean them up before they left. At the end of the night that living room floor rivaled DC’s cherry blossoms in spring.

Everything came to a ridiculous head one night at six-thirty. Thinking we wouldn’t be dealing with Howard and Mona that week, we were sitting at the kitchen table finishing dinner, when suddenly dad slammed down his fork and said, “Oh my God, they’re here.”

My mother said, “What are you talking about?”

“They’re here! Howard and Mona just pulled into the driveway.”

“WHAT?” I’d never heard my mother quack like a duck before. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, let’s just sit here and let them knock. When they don’t see the car in the driveway, they’ll realise we’re not at home and leave.”

I’ll say one thing: Howard and Mona were tenacious little buggers. He knocked on that front door like he had a hammer and a license to mine for diamonds. Finally after five-minutes of pounding, we collectively breathed a sigh of relief when their car door slammed.

“Great. They’re leaving,” dad said.

Oh, but life is cruel. Instead of leaving, they got into the car and pulled it round back. Dad was peeking out the kitchen window, overlooking the back driveway and saw Howard walk to the garage door where he then saw the car. I remember feeling like Jason Bourne, because dad had shushed the lot of us so Howard wouldn’t hear us from the garage door.

This time Howard got into his car to leave, but with my dad being a sharp one, anticipated Howard’s next move. Since Howard knew we were home, dad ordered us into the bathroom down the hall. It was a good thing, too, because just a few minutes later, I developed a good case of the trots (my Gerber, you see) and needed to avail myself of my training chair. As my parents were cursing the broken condom that had created me--their little bundle, Howard AND Mona were on the back porch, peeking into the kitchen window. We could hear them from our stake-out post in the bathroom.

Why is it you go by for months, then suddenly get the urge to laugh at the most inopportune time? Like during a gynecological exam? Once I started to giggle, it spread like a virus and soon both my parents were cackling like idiots, but in hushed tones. Suddenly we were a room full of Muttleys.

The next morning, my dad, never a dancer before, was tap-dancing like he was Savion Glover's understudy in Bring In ‘Da Noise when he told Howard I had become ill and needed the hospital, and instead of driving he called one of our friends to drive us over. Yeah, Howard bought it. Desperation will do strange things to your mind when you’re being dumped.

Howard and Mona never wanted to play cards much again after that, and my parents did eventually get back into another relationship, but it was years later before they were ready to open up their hearts again.

Just about the time my dad started selling Amway.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Johnny and Roy

"51, start an IV with D5W, ringers lactate and transport as soon as possible."


"What did he say?" asked my six-year-old sister, who wasn’t half paying attention. That annoyed the heck out of me.

"You annoy the heck out of me," I’d say with as much indignity as a brainy geek with glasses and Cherokee/German nose could muster, then go back to my living fantasy, watching two unknown men save lives, and dreaming of the day (hopefully soon) when I would fall mysteriously ill and be so close to death that no one would be able to figure out my ailment, and they’d have to call in these mysterious new breed of men, these paramedics. "Paramedics." I would say it over and over, and feel a pre-pubescent thrill attack my spine each time. It just sounded so...official, and bigger than anything I’d experienced in my little life so far.

Emergency! was our family’s way of pretending we liked each other and wanted to spend quality time together, and soon it was the show's TV stars to which I'd become addicted.

Randolph Mantooth played Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage. He was dark-haired, dark-skinned and had a deliciously crooked smile. Where had he been my entire nine-year-old life?? Now that I look back on it, he was a chauvinistic pig of the highest magnitude; making fun of "fatties" and always referring to women as some sort of sex object ("Mom? What’s a sex object?" "Er, erm, nothing--be quiet and eat your cake."), but not then; you couldn’t convince me this man could ever do anything wrong.

Then there was his gorgeous and slightly-shy red-headed partner, Firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto, played skillfully by actor Kevin Tighe. Roy DeSoto was married, and while we as an audience never got to see "JoAnn," I was jealous of her.

"I’ll bet she’s fat," I said one afternoon during mine and my sister’s make-shift fan club meeting, beneath the little tree in our front yard. My sister and I were always coming up with hair-brained schemes to figure out how to get accepted into the fake paramedics’ fan club. If only we’d figured out all we had to do was send in the form, it would’ve saved us a lot of torment and bitching during club meetings. There were never any other fans except the two of us. But that was okay, because we didn’t need the competition.

I remember our little worlds opening up, however, on a Saturday night trip for ice-cream, after Emergency!. As we walked into The Dairy Mart, I noticed a magazine stand on the right wall--the one where my dad always found the newest Popular Mechanics and where my mother always got herself a new crossword puzzle book. As soon as I started browsing the selections, I saw it. There, standing upright on the shelf with the glossy paper shining back at me, was the Holy Grail of teenage angst everywhere:

Tiger Beat.

And guess whose faces were gracing the cover? Yup--the object of my very first stalking case, Johnny and Roy. While inside I was thanking the Heavens that they had blessed me and my lust, outside I wasn’t stupid. I knew the least sudden movement would signal to my dad, standing just feet away, that something was askew in the universe. I moved slowly toward the book, not wanting to draw attention to myself (I needn’t have worried. My red-checkered pants were doing that enough), and casually picked it up.

"Hunh. Wonder what this is?" I was one, cool cucumber. I figured by deliberately stressing the word this, I would appear unconcerned, as if merely possessing a healthy curiosity.

Again, I needn’t have worried. Dad was so engrossed in his article on the advances of hot locations for refrigeration repair schematics, that he scarcely noticed his nine-year-old daughter licking the pages of Tiger Beat and moaning.

Soon I was rolling in paramedic. I had collected every article with both Randolph and Kevin. I would read headlines like, "10 Ways to Capture Randolph’s Heart," and immediately tear into it as if it were a sandwich. And each time there was an interview and article about Randolph, there was usually one about Kevin, so I’d devour it, too. "What Kind of Girl Does Kevin Want to Date?" was always a big attention-grabber for me. It would also give my sister and I something of import to discuss at the next club meeting.

In fact, that’s when my mother began to suspect my addiction was interfering with my life. Each night before I’d go to bed, I’d kneel down to say my prayers that God, in his infinite wisdom, would allow me to meet these two men so we could all get married. Then before turning out my light, I would pucker up and kiss both Johnny and Roy’s posters. Oh, and sometimes before dinner I’d sneak a peck, just to brighten an otherwise tedious day. Then I’d go downstairs and enter the kitchen very nonchalantly, knowing exactly how to work that room. Yup--no one was going to discover my secret--I was too slick.

"You’ve been kissing your posters again, haven’t you?"

I wheeled around as if I’d been shot in the back. How did she know?

"Because I’m psychic."

Man, sometimes she just freaked me out.

"And you have paper cuts all over your lips."

Crap. Note to self: buy more Chapstick during next visit to The Dairy Mart.

Years later when I finally took the posters down, I noticed the lips had been worn off Randolph’s photo. He looked like one of those comic sketches from SNL where the guy cuts the lips out and uses his own through the hole to mock the country’s current presidency.

I'm still addicted to Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe--who's with me?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will Work For Unemployment

We've all seen them:  Beggars along the side of a highway at a popular intersection holding signs that say something stupidly profound like, "Will work for food," or my favourite, "Will work for cable."  And when I lived in DC, it was "Will work for you if your windscreen is dirty."  They loved to stand at the corner while you were waiting to merge onto the Beltway at Crystal City.  They never allowed you to decide if your windscreen was dirty, they simply started to clean it, and then subjected you to a verbal onslaught if you didn't want to pay them for their unwarranted service.  Bureaucrats.

After losing both my jobs in December of 2008 due to illness, I was forced to resort to applying for unemployment.  Thankfully, this ritual isn't as complicated as it once was the last time I needed to apply back in 1985.  Then, you were forced to stand in long and tiring lines with the dregs of humanity that you usually only bumped into at the DMV, in which case it wasn't so much a waiting game as a reunion.

Now, they've removed the human element by allowing us to apply online.  For which I was thankful.  But it's not all roses and tea parties.  Having to wait constantly for that next cheque to come in is hard.  In fact, I'm the reason my mailman carries a gun.

The really stupid thing about being on unemployment (besides the mind-numbing 1/4 of your original salary they expect you to live on), is you spend more time fighting for your benefits than you ever did on a real job.  If there's ever a problem (and there usually is), then you must haul your angry ass down to an office that doesn't even have GPS coordinates and can only be entered with a password found on the inside of a cereal box and a decoder ring worn by the kid from A Christmas Story.

I spent three hours one day waiting to see an unemployment agent.  Dealing with these kinds of issues are hard because you're always at the mercy of someone else.  Just once, don't you wish things were different?

Man's voice:  "Number 51."
You:  "Oh, that's me!  But can you call my number again in about an hour?  That's when I get back from lunch."

At least being unemployed allows me to have an imaginary day job.  However, with the state of this economy, I've now given myself an imaginary raise.  But then my imaginary boss called me into his imaginary office one day and complained that I was now breaking the imaginary budget, and that there may be an imaginary company-wide layoff, and that now my imaginary day job may be in imaginary jeopardy.

Is nothing safe in this economy?

So, after two years of fighting to keep benefits I earned and paid for, I'm not ashamed (okay, maybe just a little) to say that I've learned how the game is to be played.  I've now been forced to resort to the same exercise in futility.  Except my sign reads a little differently:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pardon me, Miss, but are those your knickers in the sink?

I don’t know if most of you realise this or not, but I was once homeless. And it wasn’t at all like I expected.

On Monday morning, January 9, 2009, I officially moved from my quaint little apartment with the neat washer and dryer in my closet that smelled of cheeze, into my very spacious Volvo, that also smelled of cheeze. I never thought I’d be in such a situation, but then again, I always thought Charlie Sheen would stay sane forever, too.

But follow along.

I got to thinking about how we view this phenomenon of being without a home. It’s SUCH a social club. It’s real estate snobbery in its purest form. If you have no home, then you’re suddenly asked to leave the imaginary clique, and that hurts. People begin treating you differently. If you have no money and nowhere to be for the day, it’s called being homeless. But if you have money and nowhere to be, it’s called Society. The only difference between myself and someone from Beverly Hills is where we wash out our underwear.

I was at least lucky enough to have had my car. There are some advantages to it: First, it’s private. Second, you have a kick-ass stereo system, and third, you’re not expected to clean up after yourself.
The worst part about it, though, was not having cable. You thought I was going to say stinky clothes or not being able to brush my teeth. Well, think again. It was not being able to keep up with new episodes of Burn Notice. At first it’s fun, but soon the novelty wears off and then it’s just like any other life: Begging for food, begging for change, begging for televisions....

The hard part was in knowing my cats didn’t have a home. I would’ve much rather they had a place to sleep than myself. And I hated having to run down to the local fast food place to pee. I had their litter box on the front passenger floorboard, and I tell ya by day two I was eye-balling that litterbox in a whole new way.

Everyone gets so serious when you tell them you’re now homeless. These same people that, before, couldn’t get their considerable asses blown off sofas with C-4, suddenly turn into mini-Houdinis and make one hell of an exit. They want you to know they seem sympathetic to your plight, but any more expended energy on your situation would remove the attention from theirs, and God knows when you’re busy spending money you need all the concentration you can muster. Empathy is as far as it goes, too. That exit usually comes long before you’ve had the chance to ask if you can use one of their twelve spare bedrooms in their guesthouse on the back 40-acres over in the next county. However, that doesn’t matter. You could be deaf, dumb and have lost your fingerprints in a horrible Sudoku accident, and no one wants to be troubled.

Fact is, people can be selfish, fully satisfied in the knowledge that giving that one last old can of last year’s leftover Cranberry Sauce when the post office leaves that Second Harvest food bag on your mailbox is a good enough act of charity, without being bothered with someone having to dodge bullets in between dreams while snoozing under the nearest interstate overpass.

I even found myself doing things I would never do, like begging strangers for cat food. I once got thrown out of a Dollar General. Dollar General! It’s a toilet with a place to swipe a credit card. Macy’s I can understand. Dillard’s? Oh, hell yeah, any day of the week. And on days when I’ve done too many Benadryl shooters and need to cash my economic stimulus cheque of $12.50, K-Mart.

But Dollar General? That’s like getting thrown out of a soup kitchen for not busing your own table.

Since mine was a forced eviction, I also had the privilege of watching the Sheriff toss my crap out into the yard, which is humiliating, because anyone can just walk up and take it. But, I learned something valuable from that experience, and walked away with a bit of street-smart savvy: Forget going to yard sales. Just go to evictions. There, you don’t have to haggle. I learned that there were so many forced evictions happening in our neighbourhood, that eventually I went to enough and was able to get every bit of my crap back.

So. The next time we bump into each other on the street and you begin asking me how many square feet my car has and if I have room in my spare backseat, don’t be surprised if I have to make a hasty exit because I need to be at an “appointment” at the nearest shopping mall.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Shouldn't Be Alive. (Finally, something on which we agree.)

Lately, I've been interested in a show on Animal Planet called, "I Shouldn't Be Alive." And oddly enough, it has absolutely nothing to do with animals.

The premise is simple: Pay the producers boucoup bucks to scour the Earth (read=Google) to find people who, due to their bravery and penchant for adrenaline, have found themselves in inexplicable situations in which all the odds point to the fact that they simply will not live through the event long enough to be rescued. And once they have clearly established just how dire the situation is, they proceed to weave snippets of interviews with the actual victims into reenactments of the event, and all so they can lead up to the triumphant conclusion that yes, you may be a loser of a human being with advanced hypothermia and a peg leg, but if you have the will power, you WILL be able to climb down that mountain and be reunited with your mail-order bride and adopted children from the Ukraine.

And, I will admit that I’ve caught myself crying with joy near the end of one or two episodes.

However, I’ve recently learned something of value that they don't tell you: In nearly every instance, the reason this person found themselves to be a victim of circumstance was due to nothing but their own bad judgment; it was all their own fault. Which made me quickly relinquish those tears of joy in favour of a blistering fax to The Discovery Channel.

Now. I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly unsympathetic sort of person. I mean, I do my part each Christmas by crying when I see those commercials that beg you to send in money to support the local Mission. I nearly reach for my checkbook each time that Father Christmas guy comes on begging for money to feed the children; the same children who are obviously slackasses and too self-absorbed to get jobs. Seriously. What ever happened to setting up roadside stands and selling lemonade? Or, if you’re in Africa, rocks? It was good enough for me and my sister, and we did quite well in our Bel Air neighbourhood.

And please...I’m no hero, so don’t flood me with e-mail asking for interviews.  I'm just an average girl, happy to do my part to make life on Earth better for everyone.

But after about ten episodes, I realised there was a disturbing pattern began to develop as each one drew to a close. When they showed the clip from the final interview with the victim who was relating his story in his own words, each person said the same thing. “I’m so grateful to be alive and would do it all again if given the chance.”

What the hell? Don’t these idiots ever learn a lesson from 48-hour exposure and dehydration-induced delirium from being stranded in the Amazon jungle because they were much too stupid to stay on the public trail? You mean if given the chance, you’d get lost at sea in the Atlantic ocean and sit adrift for 73-days without food or a way to poop? Apparently the lobe of the brain that controls even-tempered judgment was chewed off by some rabid wild dog. Are they really so determined to prove they’re not stupid that they put the snow mobile in the ravine and break a pelvis 65-miles from nowhere?

Have you heard of the mid-point principle? For pilots, it means that if we’re having engine trouble and we’ve not yet passed the point midway between take-off and landing, we must turn around and fly back to the original airport. It’s there for our protection, and removes the temptation for pilots to fly further than they can safely travel.

Just once I’d like to see someone realise they went further than was safe. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “Y’know, I learned my lesson; it was entirely my fault. I am too much of a moron to ever leave my house, and if I ever mention climbing Everest again at the age of 72 with no shins, I’ve instructed my wife to bust out the .38 in the nightstand and blow my brains all over the kitchen ceiling.”

But no. Instead, we’re treated to idiotic statements from the guy doing the voice over, like, “Tim was hospitalised for 8-weeks and suffered exposure so severe that he had to have all his limbs and colon amputated. But, he’s not let this stop him from living his life.”

And then you see Tim respond: “I love mountain climbing too much to give it up. Yep--my wife and I talked it over, and she’s supporting my decision to climb again. I may not have a torso, but I’m not going to let that keep me from doing what I love!”

Oh really. Well then don’t let me keep you. I’m sure there’s a German POW camp left over from WWII that needs a pizza delivered somewhere. Why don’t you volunteer? Maybe they’ll create a reality show about it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

5-Hour Cocaine, more like it

Yesterday I decided to be brave, jump on the sheep bandwagon, and try 5-Hour Energy.  Normally I resist the mob mentality when hearing super-hyped products such as this, but, seeing as how I sometimes suffer with debilitating fatigue from my Fibromyalgia and Systemic Lupus, I tossed caution and five bucks to the wind, and leapt.

I had no idea what to expect, but was not heartened merely by reading the myriad of warnings printed on the label.  These are meant to be an enticement?  Is this really a successful marketing ploy?

Let's break them down, shall we?

The first disclaimer is this: 

Contains caffeine comparable to the leading premium coffee.

Hmmn.  The first acerbic witticism that comes to mind is, then why hasn't Starbucks jumped on this bit of street-smart savvy promotion and pegged their morning cup for what it really is:  Jet fuel?

Moving on.

Limit caffeine products to avoid nervousness, sleeplessness, and occasional rapid heartbeat.

And?  I think the American buying public has been more than aware of these side-effects since we began drinking coffee in our sipper cups as an aperitif for the strained peas and smooshed apricots.

You may experience a Niacin flush (hot feeling, skin redness), that lasts a few minutes.  This is caused by increased blood flow near the skin.

Oh really.  Trust me when I say females in their mid-forties to late-fifties have been experiencing this feeling since women first blew a Saint Bernard out their ass and deigned call it childbirth:  It's called MEN-O-PAUSE, and trust me when I say we will go to ANY lengths available, including some that are illegal, to avoid the modern, less clinical term for this:  Hot flashes.  Why the Living Essentials Company decided this would be the best possible way to market their product is beyond me, and every other peri- and menopausal woman I know.  Perhaps a better idea would've been if they had decided to include a personal fan within the packaging. 

Or some estrogen on a stick.

But, be that as it may, I was so completely exhausted from merely getting out of bed and needing some focus to write, that I decided with much trepidation and cursing, to down the entire bottle (another small statement says you can take only half the bottle if needed).

Now.  I've always considered myself to be a pretty trusting person, so when the label is marketed as being "GRAPE FLAVOURED", then hell:  Call me old-fashioned, but that's what I think the product should taste like.

But instead of a scrumptious hint of berry, I became nostalgic for the time when I had the flu for three days and kept tasting the bile from my fourteen-hour ordeal of projectile vomiting.  I think I've tasted piss that had me gagging less.

But, after getting past the bitter taste, I'm very glad to say that I didn't notice when the product finally kicked in.  Nor did I suffer the onslaught of a "Niacin Flush", and believe you me I was ready:  I had the air-conditioner cranked down to 52 (we're currently enjoying 23-degree winter weather), two fans, and I'd just shaved my armpits so as to clear the way.

But, nothing.

Twenty-minutes later after I'd gotten dressed and was sitting at the computer, already involved in paragraph one of whatever I was penning, I noticed that I had more energy, wasn't feeling jittery, and was able to concentrate for at least another paragraph.  The product's effects were very non-intrusive, and hopefully I wasn't the anomaly in not experiencing those heinous list of symptoms.

Two days later and I'm still cheery.  Was feeling so good last night that I saw absolutely no need to even sleep, so I sat up all night and made gum-wrapper necklaces, while cleaning the garage and doing a re-write on my entire thirty-five chapters of my new novel in one sitting.

So, honestly, I have no idea just what they were on about with their "scary" symptoms. 

But I can't wait to buy more.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Holiday Rehab

What is it about spending that "can't ever get it back again" quality time with family during Holiday that always makes us feel the need to bathe when it's over?

Don't you so wish it were a reality show on VH-1 where Dr. Drew offers free counseling and copious amounts of alcohol for those who survive it?

I can see it now:  HOLIDAY REHAB WITH DR. DREW (Viewer discretion from your children is advised)

If it were a single, isolated incident that occurred once within a ten-year period, then I could understand it:  A good shot of Jack Daniels and it would be done.

But, that's never the case.  Nope.  By the time you pile the 4.7 children and the dog and the goat and the nanny and the hamster into your '67 AMC Pacer with the break-away read-end, and peel away from your parents, the first thought that crosses your mind is how quickly you can file an order of emancipation to keep this from ever happening again.

When you weigh the sleepless nights, the arguing, the crying, the excessive drinking...and then the pain your wife must be feeling, is it all worth it?

I posit it is not.

And yet, countless millions across the world repeat this form of measured masochism every year.  In fact, one of last year's biggest tabloid headlines was how families of third-world countries handle traveling cross-country in their Hummers just to visit the in-laws for Thanksgiving in their mountaintop chalets.  I'd wager a guess that if it were up to these unsuspecting adult children of insane, even less-mature parents, they'd sooner put out a hit on them than have to go through this unnecessary and humiliating ritual year-after-year.

I will say it:  Going home for Holiday is not for the squeamish.  Or for those with pacemakers.  Visiting and spending time with "loved ones" is nothing but an exercise in fortitude; a way to separate the men from the women, the women from the children and the children from the clutches of the grandparents.  It is the quickest way for you to gain the title, "Camp Self-Abusement Director" with all the rights and bequeathments included therein.

I am happy to announce that I've found a cure for the on-going madness.

I don't go.

Sure, I get so lonely I could chew off my own foot without removing my shoe, and yeah, maybe I cry a little too much at cat food commercials because I don't have Christmas presents or anything to eat for my celebratory dinner but the "I-can't-believe-I'm-eating-packing-materials" Rice Cakes, but at least the cats don't fight me for complete control of my remote, I don't come away from an argument with my mum wondering just what the hell the colour of the sky really is, and if I had strong views on politics and religion, then they certainly would remain intact.

So.  Now that it's over, do you feel better?  Or has the combination of Excedrin and Crack worn off yet?