Saturday, March 10, 2007

Countdown to St. Patrick's Day

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches I, like many Americans, am once again swept up in my annual longing for the Emerald Isle. In my mind, it is a place of unnatural beauty populated by a mystical folk that, despite all of the misery heaped upon them by history, still pursue happiness and gaiety as if it were their only means of salvation. Tearing through Hibernia on a two week Guinness bender is still at the very top of my list of things to accomplish before I die. If I am ever suddenly stricken with a sudden debilitating pain in my chest, I am not going to the hospital. I am going into the ambulance heavily armed and with every intention of forcing the paramedics to drive me to the airport.

Why I feel this way about a place that I have never even been to is a huge mystery to me. My paternal grandparents were from Londonderry but only one of them was actually Irish. My grandfather was of English parentage. Listening to them describe the place did not exactly paint a very flattering picture either. They described Londonderry as an industrial wasteland where a man had to show up early on the docks to get a day’s work in, if there was any work to be had. In his experience, Ireland was much more grey than green and if I considered the people he described to me from there, it was filled with shiftless drunks, ill-tempered and morose who entertained one another through random acts of callous thuggery and cruelty. Actually, Londonderry sounded a lot like my grandparents’ house in Detroit at Christmas time.

Anyway, neither of my grandparents spent much time there. They married very, and likely illegally, young and with one being Protestant and one being Catholic, they somehow wormed their way aboard the first potato boat to New York before anyone learned they got hitched. They arrived just in time for The Great Depression and somehow ended up in Kentucky to begin their new lives wallowing in alcoholism and domestic violence. I haven’t dealt with that side of the family in over ten years so why I identify so strongly with their heritage is beyond me.

On top of all that, I was adopted at birth so I have no biological ties to the land either. When you put it all together, I very likely have no Celtic blood in me at all. Still, St. Patrick’s Day is to me what Easter is to fundamentalist Christians and up until I had kids, I celebrated the holiday with an ecclesiastic fanaticism that one would be hard pressed to find outside of the Sunni Triangle.

Now, when I was in my early twenties, I had no moral reservations about drinking at the crack of dawn. Even now, in my late thirties, I have no real objections to the practice. Unfortunately, my employer does so I rarely get the opportunity to participate in any early morning imbibing. On St. Patrick’s Day however, I used to down two bottles of Guinness before I even bothered to brush my teeth. After I was out of the shower, I had another one with breakfast and I have had as much as three more waiting for my fellow revelers to arrive to start the day.

By the time we had reached the Olde Shileleigh, Detroit’s only authentic Irish pub (which ironically is located in Greektown and owned by an African-American), I had normally already killed more than a six-pack and waiting for the doors to open at 7:00am, possessed more of wobbly swagger than the inebriates that were forcibly ejected out of those same doors barely four hours before.

Once inside, the real carnage began. Those lined up outside before the sun dared to come out were the hardcore fanatics and they did that so that they could seize seats on the 2nd floor of the bar. This is where the authentic Irish bands were playing, those from the Gaelic motherland or at least able to fake the accent well enough to make us believe it. These musicians were typically big chaps, hardened and muscular, roughly hewn and barbarous in appearance. They were frightening looking folk and would have been very intimidating had they not been playing accordions, violins and penny-whistles, the very instruments played by kids who got beat up by those marching band ruffians in high school. Had they been American, they likely would have been on the bottom of the food chain in school but in the Olde Shileleigh, these men were GODS.

Various intoxicants work better with different types of soundtracks. Marijuana works best with punk rock or heavy metal. Hallucinogens such as LSD are most potent when done to Pink Floyd or something played by Elmo and The Sesame Street Orchestra. Pabst Blue Ribbon is best served with something by Merle Haggard. To properly enjoy a pint of Guinness in a public place however, one must be listening to an off-key version of “Wild Colonial Boy” or “Mari-Mac” sung slightly off key by a raging drunkard who looks like he would be just as at ease swinging a bar stool as he would be swinging the bow of a violin.

By nine in the morning, we are well passed the point of being pleasantly buzzed and hurtling headlong towards full blown intoxication. Our blood alcohol levels are approaching potentially lethal levels and odds are that at least one person in our party has already blown chunks all over the bathroom wall. Drinking any more at this point would be nothing more than foolishly irresponsible, so here is where we get into the Crown Royal whiskey. For those of us whose stomachs are not up to this level of abuse, we’ll cut it with Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua. Then we’ll order corned beef and cabbage.

Now, I have been told that the Irish-American staple of corned beef and cabbage is virtually unheard of in Ireland. In my opinion if the Irish have any sense at all, they will keep it that way and remain blissfully ignorant. I can only assume that Dublin pubs are just like their American counterparts on a Paddy’s Day morning in that the air they contain is heavy with the stench of stale cigarettes, spilled beer, fermenting perspiration and gangrenous vomit. The Irish can take my word for it that they do not need to add the sickeningly sweet odor of copious amounts of flatulence produced by mixing Guinness and boiled cabbage as well. On many a March 18th, I have sent musk oxen running for fresher air at 200 paces and according to the wives of my Gaelic drinking companions, I am not alone in this ability. One buddy swears that he once blew a gaping hole in his underwear, scorched the sheets, shredded the mattress and left streak marks on the box spring after treating himself to a third helping of the delicacy during the celebration of 2001.

At eleven o’clock, there are few of us left standing. Some have been ejected from the premises for either groping the waitresses, passing out at the table, urinating in something other than an approved waste disposal receptacle or for fighting with the husband of a woman that they finally convinced to join them in the parking lot for a midday tryst. Those of us that remain know that our time at the Olde Shileleigh is short and realizing that the last one conscious is going to have to serve as the designated driver, we kick our consumption into overdrive. It is time to play the Limerick game.

None of us remember the origins of the Limerick game since it was likely conceived during a blackout period, but it has evolved into a standing tradition. First, the person at the head of the table picks a topic. Then, the person next to him has to make up a limerick on the subject on the spot. If he can’t he has to buy the table a round of beer. If he can, the next person has to as well, and so on until somebody screws it up. In the rare instance that everybody makes one up, the table votes on who had the best and the winner guzzles a beer bought by his friends. A typical round sounds like:


“Make one up about Sean’s beer mug!”


“Though he thought the idea was quite dumb,
Sean filled up his beer mug with rum,
Then he heaved with a sigh,
And in a new way to get high,
Stuck the damn thing right up his poor bum.”

Next Guy:

“Sean…had a…uh…new…uh……Aw, fuck it. WAITRESS!!!”

Not that the next guy is always stupid, but I have an unnatural ability to come up with a Limerick while hopelessly smashed (plus my constant drooling while drunk) that has caused some to think that I am borderline autistic.

By noon we are out in the parking lot, passed out in someone’s minivan. Usually the car belongs to one of us, but as evidenced by events in 1997, that is not a hard fast rule. That was the year that we lost Mike Donnelly, who called us at four o’clock in the afternoon to tell us that, having passed out in the back of the wrong vehicle, he had been driven to the opposite side of town and needed someone to come pick him up and drive him back home.

After a quick snooze in the parking lot, we would typically leave Detroit and find a house in our neighborhood to pass out in for a few hours before embarking upon round two. It was during the second round that our girlfriends and wives would join us. They used to come along for the morning round as well but they started boycotting the early session in 1999 once our kids started being born. They guessed that one of these years the whole group of us was going to end up in jail and if that happened, someone needed to be available to take care of the children. In addition to that, nothing irritates a colossal hangover like a crying child so by 2002, the women had abandoned the ritual altogether.

I gave it up myself in 2004. I had planned to go that year but something happened that caused me to miss it. I planned to go in 2005 as well, but missed it because of something work related. In 2006, I didn’t even try. I had three kids at this point and had been neglecting my drinking for months. St. Patrick’s Day is like any other sport in that if you do not properly train for it, you are risking serious injury by participating in it. This year, in 2007, no one in the old group is going and I regretfully have to mourn the passing of the era. I will likely spend the day with the kids, doing things around the house that do not require extreme levels of intoxication nor carry the risk of severely spraining my liver. I just might get up before dawn and kill a couple of Guinnesses to toast my past life however.

Who knows, maybe I can give the wife the slip and take the older ankle-biters to the pub as well. They’ve never been to a bar before and I could sell it to the wife as a learning experience. Hell, if I fall back into old habits while we’re there, they could possibly learn how to drive that day as well.

So since I’m now forced to live vicariously through others, what kind of debauchery are you planning to honor the patron saint of the terminally alcoholic?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mr. Mabolo and The Electric Vasectomy

Though the AN/SPN-35 air traffic control radar was so old and obsolete that it was generally only assigned to technicians who, like me, did not pay a whole lot of attention in electronics school, it was a formidable beast to behold. It stood over eight feet high and had two elongated, dish-style antennae, one that moved side to side and another that moved up and down. When energized, it sounded like two hundred Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners on crack. Completely enclosed by a dome 12 feet high and 20 feet in diameter on the aft end of the ship’s island structure, its menacing appearance was reminiscent of some sort Death Ray. In fact it was often mistaken for a Top Secret Death Ray, mainly because that was what I several girls I picked up in San Diego nightclubs it was while trying to coax them to one of the few places on the ship that offered working air conditioning and privacy.
The AN/SPN-35 was as temperamental as it looked and broke fairly often. Luckily, it was usually very easy to fix and more often than not, we could bring it back up as quickly as it went down. The key word there is “could”, not that we ever did. A down air traffic control radar was normally a fantastic reason for the ship’s captain, who appeared to hate our division officer nearly as much as we did, to make Lt. Mabolo’s life a living hell.
Lt. Mabolo enlisted in the US Navy from The Philippines and spent 15 years as a cook. When he finally was granted US citizenship and could hold a security clearance, he changed his rating to DS (data systems technician) and was enrolled in his training for the specialty. During this time, the US military was pushing to get more minorities into the officer ranks and six weeks into his school, Mabolo was pulled to go to OCS. He was commissioned as an officer and then, because of his month and a half of electronics training, was made the USS Belleau Wood’s Electronic Materials Officer. Now, we did not hate Lt. Mabolo because he did not know a semi-conductor from a sledge hammer, we hated him because he did not speak English. He would issue orders that no one could understand and then punish you for not following them. As a result, the division as a whole, from the Master Chief on high to Seaman Cromwell took a personal interest in sabotaging his career.
We were on our way to Hawaii once when the SPN radar went down. I took the trouble call and inside of two minutes discovered that I had blown a crystal. It was fixed about thirty seconds after that. Ten seconds later, Lt. Mabolo called me in the radar dome. “Di doo plix da ladal let?”
“Di doo plix da ladal let?”
“Who is this?”
“Lt. Mabolo? Is that you?”
“What are you trying to say? Speak slowly.”
“Could you say the third word again?”
There was a second’s worth of silence and then Master Chief got on the phone. “Jep, how’s the radar?”
“Fixed. How long do you want me to drag it out for?”
“A while?” Obviously, Mabolo was nearby so he could not just say, “Until the captain makes the little panty-waist cry”.
About a half hour and several unintelligible phone conversations with Mabolo later, my master chief called again and said that both he and the lieutenant were on their way down to the dome. This meant I had to make the radar look really broken, but not so much so that I could not get it back up in a couple of minutes. The best way to do this was to remove the high voltage power supply from the radar and put it on the work bench. From there, I could pop a couple of the monster capacitors and make it look like I was deep inside of a trouble shooting regimen.
Now, those monster capacitors are a bitch to work with. They carry a charge measured not in the hundreds, but in the thousands of volts. There is however, very little current involved so though the electrical forces at play there are not really deadly, but can be incredibly painful. Before you stuck your hand in there, you wanted to be absolutely certain that everything was shorted out. This was done with a copper probe that you clipped to a steel support that could act as ground. Once the probe was grounded, you stuck it to the capacitor leads and watched the sparks fly. I was just getting ready to do this when my master chief and lieutenant walked into the dome.
“Bat id da sutatees ob du ladal nauw?”
Not wanting to be down there all day, Master Chief translated, “What is the status of the radar now?”
I knew that. In fact, after a year of dealing with the guy, we all spoke varying amounts of Mabolo-ese. It was just that none of us were willing to admit it. I launched into a little technical speech about radar theory and what I thought was wrong with the device, throwing around a lot of words like “klystron” and “thyratron” that I knew Mabolo would not understand though they had nothing to do with why the radar was down (you may think I borrowed component names from Star Trek TNG, but its actually the other way around – they often named planets after radar components). Eventually he got bored and started looking around the radar. Eventually he reached up to play with the tuning knobs below the crystals and had to be stopped. “Sir, you don’t want to play with that or else we’ll be in rather serious trouble.” It was not a lie. Playing with those would REALLY fix the radar and land the master chief and I in some pretty hot water.
Once I was satisfied that the lieutenant had no idea what was going on, I decided to go back to work. I grabbed the grounding probe and started to short out the power supply.
For what happened next to have occurred, the planets had to have been perfectly aligned. First, the probe had to have been not grounded properly. Next, I had to have been grounded somehow, which is no small feat in a space specifically designed to keep electrical ground and navy radar technicians separated since they have such a long history of not working and playing well together. Though I investigated it thoroughly over the next couple of weeks, I never did figure out how I managed to do that. Next, there had to have been an opening in the insulation covering the grounding strap (I did find that). Last, my zipper had to have been exposed.
With the Zodiac conspiring against me, the probe’s grounding strap brushed against my zipper at the exact moment I touched the lead on the biggest capacitor in the power supply. I had the instant sensation of being kicked in the crotch by a cleat-wearing Clydesdale and shot into the air and onto my back, certain that both of my testicles had exploded. Master Chief swore that I had my pants and underwear pulled down to my knees before I hit the ground, but I don’t see how this would have been possible. I will not argue that once I regained my senses, I was on my knees with my head pressed against the floor, sticking my bare ass right at Lt. Mabolo in a gesture that unintentionally conveyed to the man exactly what I thought of him. My genitals were safely covered protectively with both hands as I just laid there and exhaled for what seemed like a half hour. I thought that I smelled scorched pubic hair but that must have been just psychological.
“POOT DO GADAM PATS OAN LAIT NAUW PEDDY OPPISER JEP! LAIT NAUW! DAS UN OLDAL!” As I was contemplating the end of my sex life as I knew it, Mabolo was ordering me to get dressed. Fortunately, master chief stepped in and told him that if it would be best if he went back to the office and let him deal with the situation. It was just in time too, because if he had not gotten out of there I would have lost it and threatened to beat the living shit out of his incompetent ass, most likely in a voice reminiscent of Helium-huffing Teletubbies.
Amazingly, I suffered no permanent consequences from the accident though, due to a prolonged dating dry streak that hit at about the same time, I was not sure of that for a few months. It is however one of the reasons why any contact with certain parts of my anatomy during foreplay are guaranteed “moment-killers”. The other reason was because of a kick I took to the groin that was delivered by a midget I dated in high school. Well, she wasn’t exactly a midget. She was perfectly proportioned, just very short. I think the technical term for her is “spinner”. `

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Skid Marks

The weather forecasters where I live are about as trustworthy as a crack addict working as a pharmacist’s assistant. For instance last weekend, I went to bed after watching their proclamations of an imminent wintry apocalypse and woke up to find that we’d received maybe a tenth of an inch of ice. Then over Monday and Tuesday, days they had been predicting as dry, we received two inches of snow. When I woke up this morning, the news was reporting that my area was subject to a Winter Storm Warning, and the meteorologist reported that the epicenter of the icy tempest was the city that I live in.
I turned off the TV, stepped outside the house to let the dog shit on the neighbor’s lawn and discovered that though there were trace amounts of snow on my car, there was no precipitation in sight to speak of. I went back inside, turned the TV back on to listed to an obviously drug-addled and delusional weatherman frothing at the mouth pleading with me to, for the love of God, keep my speed down as I went to work. Feeling absolutely no obligation to heed the advice of someone who is either clinically paranoid or inherently dishonest, I got into my car determined to beat my record time for flying into work. Traffic and law enforcement activities permitting, I was determined to keep my speedometer buried on the sweet side of the 80-mile-an-hour mark.
Tragically, traffic was not permitting and it appeared that the majority of my fellow commuters were gullible enough to believe the meteorological propaganda that was flooding the airwaves. I was forced to follow the pussies at 45 miles an hour just because the road got a little snow, and by little I mean just enough to get the roads a wet, not enough to stick.
Eventually, I saw the flashing lights of two police cars and a tow truck up in the distance, giving me the first indication that maybe the weatherman was possibly on to something. They were located near in a bend in the expressway that, though it lacks a “Dangerous Curve” road sign, is much more convincingly identified as such by all of the white crosses, teddy bears, and holiday wreaths just off of the right shoulder. The Great Lakes State is kind of strapped for cash right now so as a cost saving measure, it appears that the Michigan Department of Transportation union has conceded to allow the state to outsource the identification of dangerous stretches of highway to the grieving relatives of interstate fatalities.
Even though I was only doing 45 miles an hour, I decided that maybe I should slow down a little. As soon as I let my foot off of the gas however, I felt the ass end of my car begin to drift.
Now, I had heard the tips a million times and had ingrained into my head the things I was supposed to do as a driver to keep control of my car during a swerve. First, I was supposed to let off of the gas. Second, I was supposed to steer into the swerve. Third, under NO circumstances was I to step on the brake.
Well, letting off of the gas was what got me swerving in the first place, so I checked that item off of my list. Now, I never understood the whole “steer into the swerve” thing. It always seemed that if the front of my car was moving to the right, turning my steering wheel to the right would only serve to accelerate losing complete control of my vehicle. Still, I decided to give the driving experts the benefit of the doubt and do what they had been telling my to do for years. Immediately after doing this however, I discovered that the driving experts behind that that little tidbit of advice probably live somewhere in the former Confederacy and still pissed about getting asses handed to them in 1865, decided to prey upon Yankees’ gullible natures and kill them en masse with bad driving advice. Before I steered into swerve, I was spinning at about the speed of a clock’s second hand. After I steered into the swerve, I was spinning like a roulette wheel.
Having lost complete control of my car now, I also lost all ability to rationally deal with the situation. Instinct took over and I found myself at the mercy of variously involuntary muscle spasms. The first thing to happen to me was that my sphincter puckered and apparently pinched a nerve controlling my right leg. I knew this because from prior experience I knew that the LAST thing you do while sliding on ice was touch your brake, yet as soon as my ass tightened up my right foot jumped up and did its best to slam that particular pedal right through the car’s floorboards.
Before that, I was spinning out of control but amazingly, maintaining the direction of the lane. After that, I was spinning out of control and heading for the center median wall. I tried several times to get my foot off of the brake but my sphincter was not cooperating and my efforts were little more than an exercise in futility. To make matters worse, the traffic behind me was gaining quickly. I had a feeling that this could possibly be the larval stages of a huge and spectacular pile-up. If I played my cards right, I might even be on TV! I started to regret not taking the time to shave before I left the house.
I am not usually a person that believes in predestined fate, but in this case there was pretty much nothing I could do about the situation so I decided to just kind of sit back and enjoy the ride. As I hit the shoulder before the median, I must have hit a mound of ice or something because instead of crashing into the concrete barrier, the car changed direction and started heading for the other side of the highway. I again crossed all lanes of traffic, and finally came to a rest on the opposite shoulder, facing the wrong way but with my car completely unscathed and no damage inflicted upon myself that couple of Long Island Iced Teas would not fix.
When it was over I dug my fingers out of the steering wheel, pulled the Green Day cd out of my radio and replaced it with something a little more mellowing, The Sundays. Somehow however, the song “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, did nothing to calm me down so I turned it off and lit up a cigarette.
I was sitting there in silence, smoking and trying to determine if I needed to go home and change clothes when the cops showed up. After making sure that I was alright, they stopped traffic and allowed me to turn the car around to continue on to work. As I was driving away, I could not help but feel a little disappointed that I was not going to make the 12 o’clock news. I considered turning on the radio to get an updated weather report but decided against it as I still don’t trust the bastards.
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