If you’ve been reading these blogs awhile, you know that I attempt to give you the very best of what I’ve learned over the decades. And…you also know that, my ego is strong and robust…and some would say stretched like like a basketball that’s been pumped up to 400 psi. With that in mind, I decided to put away the very heavy topic I’ve been working on. You can suffer that one next week. Today I’m going to whisper in your shell-like ear the most embarrassing, stupid, dumbass things I’ve ever done. No holds barred and I won’t be able to defend a single one. I am now, figuratively naked before you.
Not Terribly Friendly Fire… I’m in pilot training and late for an important stand-up briefing. I have a guy sitting behind me on my motorcycle who is in the same situation. Soooo…a command decision is in order: I cut across a big empty field to get to shave a minute off the travel time. Only trouble is, halfway across the field, I hear the sound of machine gun fire, accompanied by..little puffs of dirt and grass exploding in front of me. I roll to a stop…scared SHITLESS as a military Jeep races across the field. I discover (quickly) that Columbus AFB is not just a training base. It’s also what is known as a Vest-pocket SAC base. That means there is a single B-52 bomber parked at the end of the runway with a nuclear warhead on board. I had inadvertently wandered into no man’s land. The sergeant with the M-16 saluted, but kept the gun pointed at us. “What the Hell are you doing?” he asked. “I’m late for class…” “Do you realize I could have killed you?” “Well…. I do now.”
Dating: I’m hideously embarrassed to say that I’ve made the following mistake, not once, not twice, but three times, each time with disastrous results. I’ll boil it all down to one sentence: If your girlfriend isn’t free on a Friday night, do not ask her roommate if she’d like to go out instead. For complicated reasons, it really doesn’t work very well.
As a Budding Ten-year-old Inventor, I decided with great wisdom and humility that I was going to build…a submarine! We had a big farm pond on the property so the concept was a slam-dunk. One 55-gallon drum, painted black with orange stripes; I cut a hole and made a conning tower in the top; I bolted on Batman-like fins for steering and even made some rudimentary controls. I created a placard inside to indicate up, down, right, left.
Entry was from a hole cut in the bottom. The closed system kept the air in and I found I had to attach bricks and rocks to make it go down a bit. So far…so good. But then, it occurred to me that I also needed some sort of long term air supply. No problem! I got out a garden hose and dragged it into the pond where I then drilled a hole in the top to attach the hose to the inside of the chamber. And it worked!!!! I even found that with the hose attached, the sub was now riding lower in the water… then lower and lower, until it submerged completely. I jumped in the water and swam out to enter the sub. Bob, my ally in crime, noted that a whole lot of air was blowing out of the garden hose. We looked at each other for a long moment. The sub was never to return to the surface. I think it’s still there 50 years later. Don’t know what some new owners will think if they ever dredge the pond. What I discovered was this: The Laws of Physics really work, whether you’re aware of them or not.
Pamela and I were stationed in Japan. In addition to the top secret Tempest missions I was being sent on, I was also the safety officer for the 5th Air Force Group. Lots of responsibility. And then one Friday afternoon, Pamela and I decided to spend the weekend down on some scenic shore about two hours south of Tokyo. Didn’t know the name, just the Japanese kanji letters depicting the place. I remember one letter looked a little like a guy peeing. With that info and not much else, we set out in my Shelby Cobra with my Coleman stove, two dachshunds, and a pup tent.
First off, it’s really hard following signs in kanji and trying to see a little guy peeing at 75 mph. Second…I noticed to my delight that the route going down was amazingly empty! Essentially no one on the road at all, at least no one going our way. The route going the other way…very heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Got there and the place was empty, deserted. Drove onto the main beach, pitched the pup tent and cranked up the Coleman. Ate burgers, watched the sun go down, walked the dogs. Later that night the typhoon hit the coast. I remember trying to re-pitch the tent much higher up on the beach, but then…it just blew away. Slept in the Shelby which I drove to the highest ground I could find. By morning, the typhoon had passed, though the saltwater had gotten about half-way up my mag wheels. I remember vividly that Squeakie, our black dachshund, glared at me in the rear view mirror the whole way back. Uhmmm….no explanation for this one. If you don’t know the language, and you don’t know what you’re reading, and you’re a complete dumbass, things can happen.
Asia: We had a drop-dead gorgeous Gordon Setter named Asia. Looked like an Irish Setter only black and I do believe the only thing Gordon Setters do is chase tennis balls. Really, that’s it. Sex? Food? Pat on the head? Who cares? It’s just about tennis balls.
Trouble was, she was so fast, that it became embarrassing. I’d no sooner throw the ball than it was returned to me with Asia looking for the next throw. I couldn’t tire her out. Sooooooo…inventor Henry came up with a truly amazing new dog toy! I got a new tennis ball, a 20″ plastic Nerf bat and wove together fifty super heavy-duty monster rubber bands. No idea what they’re used for. I attached one end to ball, other end to bat and I discovered I could make that tennis ball dance all over the yard. It was GREAT! Asia was a tail-wagging blur and for 10 minutes we were both in dog heaven. Then Asia lucked-out and got hold of the ball and ran off, thirty feet, fifty, seventy…a hundred feet away! My son came outside and said, “Dad……” “Not now, son, I’m busy.” “Dad… You might want to…” “Not now…” One point three seconds later the tennis ball was streaking toward me like a SAM missile and, of course, it went exactly to the wrong place. I was down in one tenth of a second. My son was down, too, rolling in laughter. I looked over in agony and managed to croak these words, “You’re dead meat, Cam.”
Motorcycles: In pilot training, along with the flying, they also drum it into you how elite, and special and irreplaceable you are. It’s a hard mindset to sidestep. The words Sierra Hotel are used a lot. In military parlance it stands for “shit-hot” and we were all Sierra Hotel…every one of us. Yeah…that’s right. Sure…
And then, somewhere along the line it flickered through my mind that a motorcycle would be a fun thing to have. Drove into the town of Columbus, Miss., on a Friday night, wallet in hand and went on in to the Honda dealership. Bought a nice blue-and-black motorcycle, knowing well…absolutely nothing about motorcycles. Did the paperwork, shook hands and the guy handed me the keys. He walked me out and then asked, “By the way, how many bikes have you owned before?” “Uhmm…….” I did assure him, however, that I was a pilot out at the base sooo…that should take care of about everything. Yup…
First thing you learn on a motorcycle: The throttle twists backwards from what you’d think and you shift with your foot. Got the thing going, yanked the throttle backwards to….idle? Apparently not. I just about went through the show room window before I could release and I found the salesman staring at me. Then…it started to rain. I remember the guy saying,”You sure you’re okay?” “Yeah. Sure. I’m a pilot.” Drove the eight miles back to the base on the side of the road doing about ten mph…which was the only smart thing I did that night.
Selling Electrolux Door-to-Door: I actually have very fond memories selling vacuum cleaners. I learned how to sell and I learned how to cope with rejection, big heaping metric tons of rejection. That’s part of the deal. I started out humble and actually sold pretty well with a “schtick” of saying that I was just learning. That really worked! One gal, took the order sheet away from me to show me the correct way to fill it out. But…with my growing greatness and finely honed abilities I began to experiment with my technique.
I was ushered into one particularly messy house. Young mom, three babies. The place smelled pretty bad and there was stuff, dust, dirt, diapers everywhere. I decided that I was her knight and my Electrolux was going to save her life plus the lives of her babies. At some point, I said something to the effect that, “With the Electrolux your babies won’t be exposed to so much dirt and filth anymore.” I remember there was a long silence. I’m not sure whether she actually kicked me in the ass or just threatened to. I deserved it. I would have thrown me out, too.
But then soon after…there was a Frenchman in Chester, New Jersey. He even had a beret and a skinny Frenchie moustache and accent. He already had a Kirby upright so he didn’t need any vacuum cleaner. But then, I had an idea. A challenge! A suck-off competition between the Kirby and the Electrolux. Plugged ’em both in, turned them on and then stuck the Electro wand up against the Kirby wand. The sounds of both cleaners changed under the load. They were workin’! Twenty seconds later the little light on the front of the Kirby began to dim. I was winning! Then there was this awful smell of something burning as the Kirby breathed its last. The Electrolux had won the suck-off competition hands-down. Do you think I got a sale? No, I did not. I did, escape, however, without getting arrested and future suck-off competitions were put on hold.
Chili Peppers. Oh, a quick one: Nogales, Mexico: Stationed at Davis Monthan, Pam and I drove down for a little weekend in scenic Nogales. Went to a little bistro, ordered a couple of Dos Equis and something Mexican. After a couple of beers the food arrived and I slyly commented that the chilli peppers weren’t all that hot. Not nearly as hot as the little place we went in Tucson. The waiter smiled strangely at me. “Si, senior……” He was kind enough to bring out a complimentary plate of special chilis for me to sample. Three days spent in the bathroom and I wanted to die. I probably deserved to die. Big lesson learned.
First Grade: There was this girl named Neva Kelly that I was gone on. Blonde, huge blue eyes, freckles and my very first puppy love. I even remember what was on the radio then, a sweet song called Friendly Persuasion. We had a “date” if you could call it that. She came over to the house, I showed her my workshop/ laboratory in the basement, and somewhere in the middle things I kissed her. I kissed her! and it was…GREAT!!! It was so great that I ened up kissing her ten more times in my workshop. And, of course, the next day at school, I couldn’t wait to tell the entire universe that I had kissed Neva Kelly…11 TIMES!!!! I was toast by lunchtime…dropped like a too-hot potato. dumb…
My first (and last) 4- Stage Rocket: Returning from my very first trip to Florida, I had loaded up on…FIREWORKS!!! For the first couple, my heart went pitter patter, but then the dangerous Harvey curiosity took over. What IF???
What if you take a two-pound sky rocket, hook it up to a 12-oz sky rocket, followed by a six-ounce sky rocket, topped with a bottle rocket?? I was rather proud of the nuanced reduction in the size of the stages and I had spent a whole lot of time making sure the green waxy fuses of each rocket led to the next one. Made a gantry out of my Erector set. And waited till dark.
In the back yard, my buddy, Bob and I dragged it out to the middle of the yard, double checked everything, even had a count down. 10…9…8… Then we lit the fuse and ran like hell. The first stage propelled the rocket to the top of our maple tree where it got stuck as it began blowing out fireballs and sparks. A heartbeat later, stage two ignited, though unfortunately it was now pointed at Dad’s garage. Stage two wasn’t a pretty sight and Bob and I kept watching to see if the balls of fire were igniting the shingles. Then stage three blasted-off, going through the upper window of Dad’s barn and no, it hadn’t been opened. The bottle rocket (thank God) never went off. Oh, and I’m not sure how, but the blast of the two pounder destroyed the gantry, too. How dumbass does it get??? Pretty dumbass.
Embarrassed to admit, I could go on and on. Decorum and a tiny modicum of residual shame dictate that I bring this to a merciful end. Oh, wait… Did I mention that I made a parachute for our cat? I think it actually would have worked if I’d tossed it out of something other than the second floor of our barn. Puffy never hung around much after that.
P.S. Subset of… Dumbassedness: When Hurricane Sandy hit, we lost over 30 big trees. Additionally, there was a real mess towering over our driveway. Five trees were entangled and leaning on each other. Like Minnesota Fats, I studied and deliberated long minutes about how to handle it. Then I came up with a plan: I began making my cut, but then I stopped and yelled to Pam. “You might want to take the dogs and back up a little…” Half-way through that first cut, there was a sound of pressurized wood splintering. I’ve never seen five trees go down in one second with one cut. Afterwards, there were leaves still swirling in the air. Pam thought I was….a Genius! Well, not really. I was a dumbass, but at least I’d stopped to warn Pam. I am…if nothing else, a LIVE dumbass.