Friday, February 25, 2011

The Joys of Camping

Yep, with the weather getting warmer and Spring on the way, my thoughts have, once again, turned to those forlorn memories of camping in the Olympic mountains. And then I shutter, and realize how great life is now.

I suppose I once enjoyed camping because it was all I knew. Sure, I trekked into Seattle once in awhile to rendezvous with a girlfriend or visit Seattle Center, but most of my earlier family memories revolve around camping at some lake, sleeping in a tent, or under the stars. Oh, those bygone days of waking up in a freezing wet sleeping bag and running barefoot through muddy rocky dirt to find an appropriate bush to seek relief from my over-stressed bladder. Good times.

The mornings were often filled with discoveries of new life forms cohabitating with me in my sleeping bag, melted sneakers found too close to the fire pit, and the mushy feeling between my toes derived from stepping on marshmallows dropped the night before.

Yes, I remember days spent wearing nothing but shorts, walking gingerly over rocky soil (because my sneakers were burned in the campfire) my body exuding some odoriferous mix of sunscreen and bug spray by day's end.

And those nights around the campfire, faces barely lit, and dancing among the shadows in a horrific display of familial torment. Men laughing, and farting, and pointing there asses toward the fire; women displaying increasing levels of disgust on their faces as the men carried on, laughing, farting, and drinking beer after beer from cheap aluminum cans.

Yeah, and all that was the good part. The bad part was waiting to use the one stinky undersized bathroom in the tiny cheap trailer, or just walking off into the woods with a shovel and a roll of toilet paper hoping to find a quiet place to do my business as everyone in the camp watched me go.

Yep, good times. That's why I no longer like to go camping. As I get older, I prefer a solid structure over a tent or trailer. Preferably someplace with an unlimited supply of hot water for my morning shower and a screened porch behind which, I can watch the campfire bug-free, without fear of someones ass spontaneously igniting as they bend backwards into the fire and let it rip.



The fishing was nice though.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Excursion

First off, let me apologize for my recent absence in the blogosphere. We took a short vacation this weekend and went south of the border. No, we did not splurge, and eat dinner at our local Taco Bell, We drove to South Florida to attend the wedding of a relative.

I must give proper thanks to my cousin for inviting us to this wonderful wedding. We had a great time celebrating the union of two great people, danced like we were young again (I'm tellin' ya, we were "crunk" dancing and everything) and learned much about our extended families, and ourselves. I will not post pictures of the wedding as I have not asked permission to do so, but suffice it to say, I was a truly fabulous wedding. My personal thanks go out to the Bride's family for doing such a great job with the preparations.

I would like to report that I found, what might arguably be, the best Cuban sandwich in Miami. One can find many reviews for this place on the web, but I will add my own.

Our mid-morning started with a leisurely drive from Deerfield Beach, South into Miami. We left the freeway and found ourselves in a, uh, transitional part of the city. We were just a little apprehensive when we found the little cafe and had to drive another block or so to park streetside in what could've been an alleyway. Nonetheless, there were still meters available to take our money for the privelage of parking.

The outside of the building is unassuming but welcoming. Inside, the place was packed, but we lucked out and found a table right away.

Of course, I ordered the Sandwich Cubano. They offered two varieties: one on a croquette, and one on fresh-baked cuban bread. I chose the cuban bread.

My wife ordered the Sandwich de Pavo (Turkey Sandwich) with lettuce, cheese, and tomato.

The meal came with traditional fried plantains. We decided on the Tostones (Green Plantains) since we had just eaten Maduros (Sweet Plantains) the night before. Hey, I know what you're thinking, "Cuban two times in a row?" but, we don't get much cuban in Southeast Alabama.

The service was quick, the staff friendly (despite the place being severely overcrowded, but in a good way) and the prices were more than fair. I was most impressed!

So, if you ever find yourself at 186 N.E 29th Street in Miami, Florida, You just have to make it a point to stop at Enriquetas Cafe for the best Cuban, or Pavo around. But, if a sandwich is not your style, they offer many other traditional choices as well. Plus they make a cup of coffee that might as well be crack cocaine, it's so addictive.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prime Inhabs: Part Two

I've post the rest of the story "Prime Inhabitants" which is the first story I ever wrote (in full) back in the seventh grade, and, serves as the base for which all my other writing has come from. You might notice that all the female names in the story start with the letter "E" and the male names start with the letter "A." Not sure why I did that but I'm sure that, to my seventh-grade mind, the idea seemed pretty unique to me at the time.

Prime Inhabitants, Part II

Evek awoke with a sharp pain in her neck and ringing in her ears. Beyond the ringing, silence surrounded her. She had no idea how long she was unconscious or whether she was able to move, and was afraid to try. Sitting there, dead still, she took some deep breaths. Dull throbbing pain from the movement, that was good, at least she had feeling in her body. The shock foam had dissipated, although Evek could see almost nothing through the film it had left on her helmet faceplate.


“Adam, Aruck, Eda, radio check,” her own voice sounded hoarse and distant as she heard it through her helmet. Evek waited to hear the sound of the crew’s voices confirm they made it through impact. No response. This could not be happening!

“Adam, Aruck, Eda!” “Can you hear me?” Evek was shouting now and her voice assaulted her own ears through feedback. Still no response! She couldn’t stand it anymore. Evek unstrapped and slid out of her chair. Her feet slipped right from under her in the shock foam residue, and she went immediately to the floor. She lay there on the floor, her hands and arms flailing around for a hold on something, legs numb and useless inside the thick suit. Evek soon gave up the fight and lay still for a moment before reaching up and removing her helmet. Lying there on her back, her head nearly eye-level at the shoulders of her suit, Evek surveyed the cabin. She could barely move her head in the restrictive suit but saw light through the small port window. The cabin itself looked like it did not fare well on impact. Computer panels, radio boxes, and wiring were torn from their mounting structures and left hanging, as if perched to fall at the slightest movement. Evek saw she was lying at Adam’s feet, and he was not moving. So, this was it, Evek thought. She survived a hurried launch during a meteor storm, a spaceflight at blinding speed, entry into this crushing atmosphere, and impact, only to die alone and paralyzed on a planet she would never see. How many other crews survived impact? At least some of them should have made it. Maybe they would try to find one another. Maybe someone would find her before she died; Evek knew it was a false hope. There was almost no chance of ever seeing one of the other crews again. The capsules were launched in sequence, which meant that they would land on this planet just moments apart, but because of the planet’s rotation, the distance covered would be well beyond the horizon, and that had to be a huge distance on this planet at more than twice the size of home.

Evek heard something in the cabin, she saw movement, it was Adam removing his restraints and climbing out of his seat!

“Adam,” Evek tried to yell, but her voice was hoarse and cracking from the thick atmosphere – and recent trauma. Before Adam could respond, his feet must have hit the floor and slipped away bringing him forcefully down directly on top of Evek with all the crushing force of gravity times three. Evek was looking face-to-face with Adam, searing in crushing pain, and saw him looking at her with a faint smile. He was mouthing something through his faceplate but she could not hear him. He rolled off her and took off his helmet.

“Are you OK?” Adam sounded excited, and out of breath.

“I think my legs are paralyzed, but I’m not sure in this suit,” Evek said, realizing she had to struggle to speak in this dense air.

“What about you Adam, you OK?” Evek countered, trying to minimize her own problem.

“I’m OK.” “How long was I out?” Adam said, responding in his normally positive fashion. Yeah, he was going to be OK.

“Let’s get you out of your suit and take a look at those legs,” Adam said, after a longer-than-normal pause for his unanswered question.

Adam turned his back to Evek, and she unzipped his suit. He got his suit off, and rolled Evek over to unzip her suit and help her out. As Evek was rolling to her side, she felt her legs respond instinctively for balance. She had a tingling sensation in her legs – they must have gone numb from the impact and her restrictive suit.

“I can feel my legs!” she panted out to Adam.

“That’s great.” Adam shot Evek a thoughtful smile. “Now help me get you out of this suit.”

Once out their bulky suits and wearing only their anti-chaffing undergarments, Evek and Adam propped themselves up to a standing position, using their seats for balance on the slippery floor, Evek’s legs still tingling. The dissipating shock foam had left a thick, slippery slime on the floor of the cabin. Evek found that just standing up took great exertion in this gravity; they would have to move slowly. Evek and Adam slowly traversed the seats in the cabin through the slippery residue to Aruck’s seat. Aruck did not survive the crash. His seat had apparently broken loose during impact, and slammed right into the back of Evek’s seat with such force that it crushed him even through the shock foam. His body, still strapped to his seat, looked limp – almost deflated – and his head crushed, and bloodied behind the cracked faceplate of his helmet. They made their way to the electronics bay through a myriad of hanging wires and bent panels to find Eda’s broken body half-buried amongst a pile of rubble. She was missing an arm, which they later found still attached to a support structure next to the shock foam control panel. Evek and Adam went back to the cabin and sat in silence for a long time, catching their breath and looking at each other only occasionally, hiding feelings of despair and fear of the challenges ahead. The light coming through the small windows faded, replaced by a black so deep it reflected Evek’s face like a mirror. She looked older than she remembered with lines clearly forming around her mouth, eyes, and forehead, her bronze skin shiny from sweat, thick black hair mottled and uneven from the helmet.

“We better open the hatch before we suffocate in here,” Adam finally broke the long silence. She just looked at him for a moment without responding. He looked as disheveled as she did, except his hazel eyes unmoving, piercing into her soul in a knowing and familiar fashion – understanding and equally scared.

“OK Adam, Let’s see what we’ve gotten into,” Evek managed to say in one breath.

Adam and Evek made their way to the hatch at the rear of the cabin, simultaneously grabbed hold of the hatch levers, and while looking at each other one last time, turned the levers opening the hatch. A short whooshing sound was followed by cool wind as the hatch door opened, and slid down to one side. Adam helped Evek climb through the opening and onto the top of the craft, and then joined her outside. They sat there catching their breath and looking through the darkness at their new surroundings. Below them was only darkness, although it sounded alive with countless creatures chattering as if discussing the new arrival. The trees here were tall; their shadows silhouetted high into a clear night sky filled with clusters of bright stars, and vast darkness. Evek and Adam sat for a long time on top of their enormous craft, feeling crushed by their journey, and the gravity of the new world around them. The world must be habitable – its air breathable anyway – if they could just gain the strength to move around. Evek thought for a moment about venturing off the craft into the surrounding area in the darkness. The tall trees and nattering creatures made her change her mind about the idea.

“We better wait until the next light before we go out there,” Evek suggested to Adam.

“I agree, we need to rest – get our strength back,” Adam said slowly, breathy, nothing but eyes shining back at Evek.

They slowly, exhaustingly made their way back into the cabin amongst the mess of components, shock foam residue, and dead crewmates, to the tiny sleeping quarters, eventually finding sleep through sheer exhaustion.

#

In the morning, Adam and Evek found themselves nearly as exhausted as the night before. Their sleep was fitful at best with every breath, a difficult exercise even at rest. Using the capsule escape ladder, Evek and Adam slowly descended the craft and ventured out to explore the surrounding area. The place was dense with vegetation. Some of the plants had broad leaf structures, while others had many seedpods – all likely to be edible. Evek took samples of many of the plants she saw to bring back to the craft for testing. Adam and Evek found movement of any kind to be extremely difficult, and spent an entire day barely leaving sight of their craft. In the evening, they tried to drag Eda’s, and Aruck’s bodies from the capsule but they were too heavy to lift through the escape hatch. Evek and Adam finally decided that they would have to remove all the usable food and equipment from the craft and find another refuge. They moved the bodies of their crewmates into the waste processor of the craft, and built a small lift at the escape hatch to aid in removal of those items needed for survival.

Adam and Evek spent the next season removing usable items from the craft, sampling plants for food, and building a home in a cave they found near the craft. They slowly adapted to the increased gravity, although never completely, and built a large garden in the open from the best edible plants they sampled. Evek dedicated the garden to Eda for the sacrifice she made that saved them. Season after season, Adam and Evek tended the garden and improved upon their small territory, never seeing any other survivors from their home planet. Evek had several children that all grew too quickly, and ventured out to find other survivors. Life for Adam and Evek became settled, routine, and pleasant, except for the enormous craft decaying in their site as a constant reminder of their painful past. In their old age, Adam and Evek would occasionally make the exhaustive journey to the barren top of a nearby hill to spend the night looking for their home planet amongst the stars twinkling in the vast night sky, and one night, Evek found it.

“Look Adam, our home planet,” Evek pointed toward an object shining pink in the night sky.

“I see Evek, but this is our home now. It will be our home for many generations,” Adam countered, in his most calming tone.

Evek understood but felt she would always cherish the home of her birth. Someday, Evek thought, maybe thousands of generations from now, her offspring would find a way back to rebuild on her home planet. She had purposely instilled that venturous spirit in all her children. One day, she hoped her kind would break the weighty pull of this planet’s gravity and return to that glowing pink orb just one planet away, and settle in their true home on that fourth planet from the ever-burning sun.

Please, post your thoughts and comments. And, post here when you put your own "first writings" up for the world to see. Looking back at the old stuff can be a great educational tool.

I would post some of the dirty limerick and little single-scene stories, but I'd have to put an adult warning on my page, and it would only show my immaturity at the time, and my distorted psycho-sexual development.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

From the Cellar

Here it is, the very first thing I had ever written that was available for reading by the rest of the world! It was a science fiction piece that garnished me a mediocre grade. Yes, you will see that I was not very imaginative with the names, but the theme of the story was very Heinlein-like or Jules Verne-like. I guess they had more influence on me than I ever thought before.

I'm posting this exactly as pulled from my files without changing grammar, spelling, or other mistakes. As I read this, it simply amazes me how much my writing has changed over the years-and how much it hasn't changed. This is part one. I will post part two in a couple days. Please be sure to leave comments after reading.

PRIME INHABITANTS

A rise in temperature activated the final landing sequence as the small craft skipped across the thick atmosphere – white-hot from deceleration. A rise in outside pressure deployed aero brakes with a violent jolt, slowing the descent, and increasing the angular trajectory of the capsule. Terrified occupants peered out small port windows at the quickly approaching planet below.


“This is it, prepare for landing,” Evek yelled over the humming and rattling craft interior. The crew knew the drill from the endless practice sessions throughout their journey. Nobody had ever really been on this planet before, but satellite observers and ground rovers gathered enough data to determine the planet was habitable. This journey was to be the first--and last--of its kind. The crew would have been heroes if anyone on their home planet were alive. No, they would not be heroes, only survivors, on a forbidding planet in a vast, empty universe.

The crew strapped into their seats, donned their helmets, and started counting off checklist items as the heat outside the craft covered the small windows with bright orange flames.

“Trajectory.”

“Check.”

“Velocity.”

“Check.”

“Structures.”

“Check.”

“Life support.”

“I got code four!”

“Code four”? Evek tried to hide her shock from the crew but her voice instinctively raised an octave as she replied.

“I’m showing a malfunction in the shock foam system, we’re not going to have G-force protection at landing!” Adam was in the seat next to Evek but screamed a reply through his microphone, assaulting her ears beyond the cacophony of warning beeps and audible buzzers already swimming around in her helmet.

“Can you try resetting the system?” Aruck yelled the question from the seat behind Evek.

“We don’t have enough time before impact. Besides, if we reset, our entire life support circuit will be off until the system test is complete,” Adam’s voice jumped repeatedly as the vibrations in the craft caused his jaw to chatter.

“Eda, what do you think, is there anything we can do?” Evek knew if anyone could find a solution, Eda could do it. Eda was a top systems specialist, and helped design the escape craft.

“On it.” Eda responded quickly as she quickly unstrapped, climbed out of her seat, and made her way to the electronics compartment at the rear of the craft.

Eda was the only crewmember who had any real technical knowledge. Sure, they all were well educated and smart in a general sense, but none were chosen for their special knowledge or abilities – they were chosen mostly by their ability to survive on this planet. Medical testing, not special skills, is what determined the few survivors of their dying planet. Evek thought about their chance of survival without shock foam. The planet’s thick atmosphere and heavy gravity was three times that of their home. There was little hope the crew could survive without protection beyond their safety straps – and the force of impact alone might rip their limbs right off without the additional protection of shock foam. It was a small relief to know that, even if they did not make it, at least some of the twenty other capsules would successfully land on this planet. Of course, surviving would be another task altogether. Exploration of the planet consisted only of a few satellite orbits and robot landings hastily thrown together in the last few seasons. The only thing anyone was sure of was that this planet was habitable – although the stifling atmosphere and crushing gravity would make living difficult – and it had not suffered as heavily from the devastating impacts that were killing their home planet.

“I found the problem,” Eda’s voice sounded in Evek’s helmet. Still lost in thought, Evek was slow to respond. Finally, Adam spoke up.

“What’s the problem Eda, and can we fix it?”

“Looks like a broken relay,” Eda was nearly yelling, her voice shaking in time with the capsule. “I can disconnect some wires and splice them together with a switch.” “I – I guess I’ll have to manually deploy the shock foam from here.”

“Eda, there’s no shock foam deployment beyond the cabin, can’t you run some wires up here?” Evek could not hide her concern, and no doubt, the others heard it in her voice. Evek could hear Eda clanging through her repair tools with her microphone open. Seconds stretched to hours waiting for a response.

“We don’t have enough repair wire, I – I’ll just have to set it off from here.” Eda knew – they all knew – what she was saying. It was a fateful decision. There was no way she would survive the impact from the electronics bay without shock foam, or even restraints.

Evek peered through the small window to the fast approaching mass below. There was no time for alternatives, no time for consoling speeches or sappy good-byes. The only known was the inevitable impact of their capsule, built without control surfaces or any means to guide it along its flight path. It was built as an escape capsule shot from one planet to another. In moments, they would hit the surface like the meteors destroying their home planet. They did not know where on this planet they would hit – on land or sea. Only their restraints, shock foam, and a few bursts of thrust, automatically shot from the bottom of the capsule would give them any hope of surviving. Eda was dead. The crew would be down to three, Aruck, Adam, and herself – two males, one female.

“Give me a count down so I know when to switch on the foam,” Eda broke the vocal silence, her voice shaking in tune with the craft, and the weight of her decision.

“Good luck -- to all of you,” Eda added, her voice now thickening with despair.

“You’ll make it, we’ll all be fine, just hold onto something,” Aruck lied, not even trying to sound convincing.

“Evek, were nearing impact, give us a count,” Adam said over the microphone. He knew the count was for Eda but refused to mention her by name – never mention the dead. Evek quickly cleared her throat for the count.

“I’m ready,” Eda called from the electronics bay, already sounding distant. Evek saw the planet quickly approaching through the round window. Masses of blue ocean, green and brown land, long strings of cloud cover growing faster until covering beyond the small round window.

“OK Eda, Impact in five, four, three, two, one.” The impact was so sudden; it hit Evek from the front and the back at the same time. Shock foam filled the cabin, the sound deafening. Evek Felt her restraints pelting her body from one direction, and then another. Evek heard short grunts from Adam, also assaulted by his restraints. Evek could hear her own grunts as well, but did not hear anything from Eda – no grunts or screams – just dead silence. Shock foam had covered the entire cabin. All vision obscured. Bodies pounded violently even through almost no movement. The sudden stop was too great, Evek’s fear was gone, her mind blank, darkness – nothingness.

Hey, don't laugh. I was in seventh grade when I wrote this! I challenge anybody who reads this to post work of their own from the early years. And let me know about it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Tax Man Cometh

Ouch, I'm feelin' the burn! It seems that there has been a slight increase in Federal Income Tax Withholding for 2011.

Now, I try to stay out of the political arena, but when one takes money from me, I take notice.

I read many articles explaining this inherent increase and found that our federal income tax system has apparently remained unchanged for the new year. But, on December 31st, the "Making Work Pay" program ended, bringing our federal income tax liability back to (where it was before?)

This increase is partially offset by a decrease in Social Security taxes of two percent. Of course, that's only if you are currently paying these taxes-not collecting them.

Am I angry? Hell yes! It seems our current system is set up  to overtax those in the middle class, coddle those who cannot/will not work as productive members of society, and ignore those who represent wealth in our nation.

We have become a society of entitlement where services are freely offered to those choosing to partake; paid for by those choosing to produce.

Moreover, I, as most other retired service members recently experienced an increase in the taxes I pay on my retirement. (yes world, military retirees are even taxed on their retirement.) This of course comes with no new changes in the tax laws for 2011 (according to congress) and no cost of living increase.

I know what you want to say. "Congress has elected to NOT take their AUTOMATIC cost of living increase for the last two consecutive years. I commend them for their sacrifice, but have two reservations.

First, Why does congress, by law, receive an AUTOMATIC cost of living increase, and must vote to not receive it, while the cost of living increase on my military retired pay and social security benefits is NOT AUTOMATIC and must be voted on to be given?

Second, at $174,000 dollars annually, most congress members will not feel the pinch if they do not have an annual cost of living increase. (by the way, congress's cost of living increase, over the years they accepted it, was more than twice the cost of living increase for military retired pay and/or social security. Their annual salary increased by nearly $25,000 annually over the course of ten years. Can we say that about the increase in military retired pay or social security benefits? No.) Those of us who gave our very lives to our country or worked our entire lives in a real job most definitely feel it when the national cost of living increases by two percent and we (in our retired pay or social security) make, on average only eleven percent of the annual salary of our congress members. Keep in mind also, that the majority, if not all, of the members of congress bring in more then their annual congressional salary through previous/outside financial gains. In other words, they do not rely on their annual congressional salary as their only means of living. How many of you that spent your entire life working and are now suffering can say that?

Here's a novel idea: Why not devise a system where everyone pays a fair and equitable tax? As an example, institute a straight federal sales/consumption/value added/ retail tax that would be levied upon any citizen when they actually purchase something. Or, levied upon a business, domestic or foreign selling goods to anywhere in the united states. This way, everyone would be taxed according to what they spend.

In this system, if a wealthy person wanted to buy a luxury vehicle or some investment property, they would be liable for a set amount of tax on that purchase -- not at the end of the year, but right now! If that same person wants to avoid paying this tax, they could simply not purchase an expensive product. This tax would also be fair for those living in poverty. The benefit would be that they would not be taxed on the money they make, only the money they spend. This would entice those living on government sustenance to find meaningful employment and live within their means. Our current system actually rewards those not willing/able to gain employment and those having multiple children.

Oh, and by the way, this tax system would completely alleviate the need for an entire governmental agency dedicated to the collection of taxes. We would not need tax reform because everyone would be taxed fairly, and one time only on their purchases. I don't know. I'm just sayin'.

I'm no politician and I know my simple plan is full of holes, but It could be made into a fair system and, surely, as much as we pay congress, they could work out the kinks to make it a fair system for all. Hell, the government could even offer incentives or breaks for American companies under this system to encourage the manufacture and sale of American goods to Americans over foreign goods.

Ever wonder how Toyota is able to sell their cars so much cheaper than a comparable American car? First is lower labor costs, but second, and most important, is that our government actually gives them incentives or breaks on tariffs in order to manufacture and or sell their goods here. Do American-made products foster the same incentives for manufacture and sale overseas? Of course not.

But that's another post altogether.

Please send me your comments. What would you change? How would you make our tax system simple and fair?