Friday, December 25, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
In the USMC, I fixed FM radios. I was an intermediate ("I") level avionics technician, meaning I fixed the electronics, after the "O" level techs took it out of the aircraft. I forget whether "O" stood for organizational, or operational level, but hey, it was 25 years ago! I worked in a "shop" from 4:30PM-Midnight, for most of my years there. During this time, I had several supervisors, but one stood head an shoulders above the rest.
"Gunny" (Gunnery Seargent) Keenan, as I'll call him here, was the only boss that motivated me to feel good about an otherwise humdrum job. As a 22 yr. old, recently busted lance corporal, I had little to motivate me, in the last year of my "time," so this was no small feat.
A few things need to be explained: the radios we were working on were Vietnam-era, and this was '84. The warrantees on them expired in '70. We had drawers full of replacement circuit boards, and we did basic troubleshooting. The day-shift had a shop across the hall, that could repair the boards, but no-one was there on the night shift, so we wouldn't bother trying to "troubleshoot" the cicuit card. We'd just chuck 'em
One day Gunny Keenan took me aside, and we had a conversation. He brought out the parts manual, and we looked up the price of the circuit boards. They were over $3,000 each. They were very "old-style," with huge resistors, capacitors, inductors, and transistors, which were easy to remove with a soldering iron. I only had some basic classes in this, and wasn't "certified" to do it. I had cross-trained in the micro-comp shop, so I knew how to do it. I also knew that these circuit cards had about $15 worth of electronics on them, that one could buy at Radio Shack.
He gave me my first lecture on civic responsibility in the bureaucracy, explaining that our tax dollars were paying for every one of these parts, and it would be helpful to everyone, myself included, if I could pitch in to try replacing fewer circuit boards. He said "Leavitt, could I ask you to try fixing some of these circuit boards on the night shift, instead of throwing them at each other?"
I replied "But I'm not certified." He said, "skip the paperwork. I'll give you the keys to the mini-comp shop, if you need to use it." Gunny Keenan had appealed to me in a very personal way. As an established "rule breaker," I loved the idea of doing something good, and still breaking rules and regulations. He "got" me, in a way that was rare in my military experience.
He also used me as a motivational tool for others. When he gave his Friday informal "speech" to the troops one week, he singled me out. He said when he was a young enlisted man, he used to carry a stone around, just to get himself noticed. Some thought he was crazy, but since he was good at his job, it just got him noticed by the senior officers in his command. He then compared himself to me, saying "everyone from the Colonel on down knows when Leavitt takes a piss!"
I lost my Corporal stripes before I got a chance to put them on, because of a positive urinalysis. I had recently returned from the Naval Drug Rehab Center at Miramar Air Base, where "Top Gun" was filmed, and was on six months of weekly urinalysis surveillance when he gave that speech. Everyone laughed at that line, but I appreciated it as a secret acknowledgement of the resposibility he had given me. He gave me good pro-con ratings, as well.
One of the reasons that I would never re-enlist was what the USMC bureaucracy did to Gunny Keenan. The only manager that could get Chris Leavitt, among many others, to be more productive, and save taxpayer dollars, was getting screwed around because of his weight! Gunny Keenan was not very fat, but he was getting "by-the-booked" by the system. His ability to perform his job had no bearing on this. It was strictly because he was literally five pounds over the "guideline" weight.
When I saw a man of his age (he was a little younger then than I am now), and of his position destroyed, by being "forced out" before he wants to leave the USMC, I knew that it was no life for me. If the good guys get screwed with too, what would change for me, after being a "screw-up?" I wasn't exactly ready to be a "good guy," anyway, at that point in my life. However, I can honestly say Gunny Keenan made a lasting impression, 25 years later.
Friday, October 02, 2009
"Central park was my back yard," I often tell my suburban-raised friends. It wasn't, technically, but I spent so much of my youth there, that I looked at it as if it was my own property. This is a story of the "forts" and "dirt-bomb" fights that were waged at the Adventure Playground, just inside the wall at Central Park West and 69th street. The playground was on the "high ground," with the land sloping downward from it's fence to the black wall that was the park's boundary with the city. The vegetation was mostly forsythia, which blossomed yellow for a few weeks every spring, and some small trees.
We used to squeeze through one particular spot in the playground fence (or just walk around, for the bigger kids), and build forts in the ground. With the slope of the land, we could put up a couple of pieces of wood, and make a shelter. There was occasionally a NYC park worker on duty at the playground, who would chase off dope-sniffers and the like, that might be hanging out in our fort. Sometimes, we chased them out on our own (what screwball wouldn't run from a bunch of kids taunting him?).
Our favorite game was throwing "dirt bombs" at each other, with one group inside the playground fence, and the other in the "fort." The kids at the fence had different dirt than we had on the slope. They had topsoil, with sand tracked into it from the playground, which didn't make good dirt bombs. We had the clay layer exposed, and we just made our fort bigger as we dug into the clay to make bombs. For a time, the playground kids started throwing clumps of grass, with big "dirt bomb" bottoms, but there wasn't enough grass around the edge of the playground for that to last long.
This was an interesting tactical challenge we had set up. The kids in the playground had the higher ground, but had no protection other than the widely-spaced iron bars of the playground. Because we were throwing uphill, they had time to dodge our "bombs." They also were limited to making wet "sandballs," if the fountain was working. Most of the dry "topsoil" dirt bombs used to break up well before reaching us through the vegetation. I fought from the playground side a few times, but I was usually in the fort. Everyone wanted to be in the fort. I used to dream about camping out there overnight, but then I remembered the aforementioned "screwballs" would outnumber me, not vice versa. This was in the mid 1970's.
I suppose that it was inevitable, but one of the kids in the playground decided that he didn't want to bother making a dirt bomb. He just picked up a big rock, and hurled it towards the fort. I chose that moment to stand up, ready to throw a good, sturdy dirt bomb, and saw it coming, just before it smashed me in the eyebrow. I went down, and started screaming "he threw a f**king rock!"
It took a minute or two, but the other kids stopped the "fight," and came over to help me. We climbed over the black stone wall, to Central Park West, and hailed a cab, who took me to Roosevelt Hospital, free of charge. I was bleeding profusely, but with the support of a group of friends, everything turned out fine (I don't remember any adults, other than the cab driver, being involved). The fact is that I was a "frequent flyer" at Roosevelt Hospital, when it came to head wounds. I think that the doctor remembered me, and calmed me down by saying it was "routine" for me.
Eventually, I outgrew playing in "the fort," and I'm sure that the NYC Parks Department has erased any trace of it, but Adventure Playground is still there, just North of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. Did I ever mention that I broke into their attic, and used to steal the "night lights" from their premises, and used them as "heat lamps" in my bedroom? Well, that's another story! Stay tuned for more "Tales From the Vendome."
Thursday, August 13, 2009
One of my oldest friends, Andy Kessler, died on Monday, Aug. 11th, 2009. I've mentioned Andy in a previous "Tales From The Vendome" post (link), using the pseudonym "Lenny." We weren't in touch, so I didn't want to use his real name, in a post with a blunt social/political message. After reading about his life after we lost touch, I don't think he'd mind me using his real name. The stories I have to tell about him date to before he started skateboarding, and cover a wide range of "life-lessons," from my point of view.
He was one of my two childhood "best friends," along with "Starsky," who shall remain anonymous. The three of us were like the little kid "urchins" of 71st to 73rd streets, from CPW to B'Way, in Manhattan. That was our "turf." Andy and Starsky lived on 71st, and I lived on 73rd, and Central Park was our back yard. We were crazy kids in the '70's, and that's what the "Vendome" stories are all about (link). I wish he had read them, and we had gotten in touch again...
Read about Andy's life, after we parted ways, at the following links (New York Magazine has the best photo):
NYC skateboard advocate Andy Kessler dies
United Press International
12 (UPI) -- Andy Kessler, one of the big names in the US skateboarding scene, died of an apparent wasp sting on Long Island this week, police said. ...
Legendary Skateboarder Andy Kessler Dies At 49NBC New York
SKATEBOARD KING DEAD AFTER STINGNew York Post
Legendary Skateboarder Andy Kessler Has DiedNew York Magazine
He was pretty intense, which brought out a similar quality from me. This explains our frequent fights, as well as our close friendship. My prayers and condolences go out to his sister Jodi, and all his family and friends who loved him. Andy was like family to me, and I loved him more often than I hated him. We would have great reunions, usually arranged by our mothers, after a few months of one of our "falling outs." The worst one for me was when Starsky and Andy "froze" me out of the group!
I saw Andy a few times in the early '80's, working at his father's florist shop in Penn. Station, after they closed their 72nd St. store. I wish I had stayed in touch with him, but after moving to LI, I joined the Marines, and got even further "out of touch" from old friends. I'm proud that he left his mark on New York City, but not surprised. He "channeled" his passion for skateboarding, and got results.
Good work, Andy. The world is diminished by your passing, my friend. I'll miss you.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
When I moved in with my dad on Merrick Rd. in Freeport, I wasn't too happy. Most of the friends I had made there lived in South Freeport, and hung out in places like Randall Park. Of course, some of those guys came up North to visit us. This was one such occasion. There was an abandoned movie theater on Merrick Rd, one block East of our apt. One day, a bunch of us broke in to it. (I'm not naming my co-conspirators, but you know who you are)
We basically ran wild; one of us grabbed the huge silk screen, and ran across the stage, tearing off a four foot thick swath across it's entire width. Others went to the projection room, where we dismantled the two huge projectors. I kept one of the lenses for years, as well as a coaster-sized plastic "Coke" sign from the food counter. No alarm was sounded, and we spent the better part of a week vandalizing the building as an "after school activity," before the cops got hip to us.
I'm not sure if they caught anyone there, but I have a faint memory of it ending on a "blow up the spot" moment, with the police involved. It was really one of a string of places that we seemed to test the limits of civilized response to outrageous teenage behavior, chiefly vandalism. Today's kids aren't very different from us. They're just breaking a different set of rules, and dealing with different responses to their actions.
Interestingly enough, the old Grove St. theater is now a branch of the "Word of God" Ministry, and doing good work. They gave me food, back when I was a neighborhood crackhead, once. I get a laugh out of how we acted back in the day, though I can see why our parents thought we were so much more crazy than they were. We were, as were the kids from the '50's, the '90's, or whatever decade one wishes to cite.
There will always be kids who break the rules. Today's kids may never have the chance to raid an abandoned movie theater, but they'll find something else to vandalize. If not in the real world, they'll do it online. I'm not giving them any slack, I just hope we can keep up faster than the authorities did with us, back in the '70's. That's my story today, and I won't mind comments from my confederates (details are welcome, before I add more of them in a later version of this story), as well as general critiques of my post.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Learning of the government's plans to instigate a Superhuman
Registration Act that would force costumed, super-powered individuals to
reveal their identities to the government and sign on as licensed agents, Iron
Man at first seeks to defeat the proposal, even going to such lengths as to hire
the Titanium Man to attack the hearing on the act as he testifies in order to manipulate opinion in his favor. However, at some point, Tony Stark's opinion of the Act changes, seeing it as a new means to achieve the goal that he had sought in forming the "Illuminati", and to tie the knots of friendship between humans and superheroes . He attempts to convince the other members of the clandestine group to support the new Act, stating that their input could prevent the Act from becoming too restrictive of superhuman activities, but all except Mister
Fantastic reject the idea of registration.
After the Stamford, Connecticut disaster turns public opinion against
superhumans and fast-tracks the Act into law, Stark comes out publicly in
support of the Act, but the new law splits the hero community in two. All of
Stark's planning and manipulation comes to fruition as Stark then becomes the
representative and leader of the pro-registration side, placed in opposition to
the anti-registration advocates. In his first major public action as a supporter
of registration, Stark again unmasked as Iron Man.
Prior to the events of Civil War, Stark assisted fellow Avenger Spider-Man
and his family. Peter Parker came to regard Stark as a mentor, became his
assistant, and accepted a new technologically-enhanced costume from him . Stark also convinced Spider-Man to unmask and go public with his identity as well. However, Peter's feelings of being manipulated and unease about the rightness of Stark's cause grew until Stark revealed a prison for superhumans he and Mister Fantastic had built in the Negative Zone. When Spider-Man attempted to escape from Stark Tower, along with his family, in order to join the Resistance, he attacked Stark, who had confronted him. However, due to Spider-Man's override of the suit given to him by Stark and some unexpected intervention by the Punisher, the web-slinger managed to escape with his family and was now considered a traitor by Stark and the Pro-Registration side.
As a lapsed fan, this site is a treasure trove. To the comic companies, it is a great marketing tool. It allows older fans to read synopses of what has happened to these characters over the years, though it's not always presented in the most direct way. I see it as a tool to help me decide which collections to buy, in TPB format.
I have to get all of the "Civil War" books. This "negative zone" prison smacks of Gitmo, and I'm sure that the books are full of "anti-Bush" propaganda. That's just a guess, from reading the synopsis, but I am an old comic fan. I remember the X-Factor villians called "the Right." They were a bunch of smiley-faced robots, back in the Reagan era.
Predictable as the politics may be, I still love the characters, and know that these changes are usually not permanent. I still enjoy reading comics, when I can afford them. Heck, I even enjoy reading the synopsized storylines on this Wikia website, which means it's got potential. Check it out!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
After Uncle Bill left, and mom was away from the bar, some drunk said to me "what, have you got a thing for old ladies?" Oh, yeah, he was Irish, and he got my Irish up, for a moment. Then the Norwegian in me took over, and I laughed in his face, saying "that's my mother, asshole!" He mumbled an apology under his breath, and left the bar when mom came back.
Unfortunately, I ended up "losing track" of mom that night. She had a way of "going off" on her own, which scared those of us who cared about her. She ended up being OK, but I spent the late hours of St. Pat's day "stewed," running around midtown looking for my "stewed" mother. Her side of the family was typically dysfunctional, but I have to accept that part of me. I count this as one of the "good times," because it's the last time I saw Uncle Bill. We had fun, but I've been wary of "St. Pat's Day" ever since...
It's become a holiday similar to New Year's Eve, as in "amateur hour." Everybody has to show how "Irish" they can be, with "Irish" translating to "stupid." Look, I've been more of a "party animal" than most of my friends, but I found the place to draw the line. Further, I'm good with "busting chops" on today's partiers, whatever holiday they excuse it with. If they act like asses, let 'em get the boot.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Monday, February 09, 2009
There is no way that "The Watchmen" can be adapted into one movie. There just isn't enough time to tell this story so fast. If I were to synopsize it, I would say that it shows a somewhat realistic view of "super heroes," and what the public's reaction would be to them. Here are some of the characters from the story: The Owl, Rorschach, Ozymandius, Dr. Manhattan. There are many other characters, but these are the ones to watch, in the flick.I have a copy of the Trade Paperback from '87, but see alot of people carrying new copies around.
Maybe it'll get "good reviews," whether it adapts the book well, or not. It's a mind-blowing story, even stripped down to the bones as it will have to be. I'm sure I will enjoy it, regardless of what's left out. The fun part is "adding the details" after the movie comes out, and summing up the "message" that the movie promotes, compared to the one from the book. I wonder how faithful Hollywood will be to Alan Moore's vision.
SPOILER ALERT! Ozymandius is a terrorist. Keep your "smiley face" pins on!
I will watch The Watchmen, with a critical eye. I'll try not to get overwhelmed by the awesome effects, but I can't promise anything! It has "big shoes" to fill, is all I can say.