Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2017 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
Any reproduction of this material is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adventures in Parenthood [part 1]

           I have three children, twin boys, and a girl a year-and-a-half younger. They're in their mid-thirties now, and I'm close to all of them in very different ways. As you might imagine, the road that got us to here was long and winding, and there are a lot of highlights and anecdotes that I would just love to tell you all about. Since this is my soapbox, I am going to, but before I embark on the Tales of the Toddlers, it is necessary, in order for the reader to appreciate them, for me to give a brief description of the life that created El Cajon's oldest teenager. Born in the forties, raised in the fifties, and coming of age in the sixties, it was an era when children were poorly understood, and could legally be treated as poorly as any antebellum field hand. After all my speechifying last Sunday about eliminating the negativity in these posts, I have been considering just abandoning this whole area of subject matter, but like so many times in life, in order to get to the good, you have to hold your nose and swallow the bad first. The kids were a lot of fun, and their tale is worth telling, so let's get this over with.

           I was born in the fall of 1948 to a Navy diver and a professional gambler, both under twenty, with likely no idea of how they had caused her pregnancy. They were married, and very soon divorced, as I never met my father, and my mother subsequently remarried without any legal problems. Mom was out of my life by the age of awareness, and the only "parents" I have memories of were my grandmother and great-grandmother.

           To say that they had no use for another child in their lives is a study in gross understatement. I have been told terrible things that I have no way to verify, and no interest if I could. Grandmas told me that dad took up a collection on the ship and got enough money for mom to have a Tijuana abortion, legal abortion being four decades away in the U.S. back then. Mom supposedly got to Mexico, found that the abortionist had been called away for some family emergency, and instead of waiting for him to return, used the money to go on a three-day drunk. Thus am I alive to write this today, and that close call, true or not, has colored my view of abortion ever since. Mom told me that the grandmas took me from her and had me made a ward of the court, with them as the legal guardians, because she was alleged to be an unfit mother. This has a feel of truth to me, as in 1950, a nineteen year old gambler probably would have been considered an unfit mother, and besides, I can't imagine anyone who despised children as much as they did keeping one around if there wasn't some money in it. California is one of the states that pays a stipend to foster parents, and you can draw your own conclusions from that...

           So I was placed in a home with two older women whose views of men were somewhat jaundiced by their own experiences, and all of their desires for revenge were happily transferred to the toddler who had been placed in their care. From the time I understood words, I heard, "You hateful little hellcat!" "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," "You can tell a Tyler, but you can't tell him much," and probably my favorite, "You're nothing but a God-damned man!" (at three years old). I was whipped regularly, mostly for infractions that to this day, I don't understand. I use the word whipped because of the instruments involved. Great-grandma's weapon of choice was a nice supple switch cut from a handy tree, and there was no butt-spanking to it. She would hit me anywhere, legs, face, chest, back, it didn't matter. Grandma favored the wire coat hanger, and she would hold me up by one arm and lay it on across my shoulders until she couldn't hold my weight up any more. This was usually prefaced by the phrase, "I'm gonna wear you out!" or else stylized, humorless laughter. I remember hearing the words, "I love you," exactly once during my life with them, and it was used to justify some otherwise unjustifiable torture they were inflicting, in the context of, "We're only doing this because we love you!" Yeah, right.

           If you imagine that with this kind of life at home, I was not particularly well adjusted, you'd be close to right. Violence was really the only solution I had been taught to any problem, and once a child enters elementary school, that doesn't take him very far. Throughout childhood I had very few friends, simply because I didn't know how to be one. I was ostracised, isolated, teased, taunted, bullied, and that was on the good days. The science of education was not well developed in those days. The belief was that a child's mind was a blank slate to write on, and if a child didn't learn at the pace of all the other children, it wasn't that he needed a different curriculum. No, it was that he was a lazy bastard who needed to have it beaten into him by force. Personally, I am wired to be adept at the literary and spacial (drafting, geometry) arts, and not so good at mathematics, and they pretty much saw being good at one thing and not another as the work of Satan. The school system treated me accordingly.

           So, for the first sixteen years of my life, I was wrong, automatically, on a daily basis. Whatever I was accused of, be it by another child, another parent, a teacher, whoever, the solution was another beating. The only sanctuary was in solitude, and I retreated there more and more often. Oh, I had a couple of friends who were outcasts in the school society, but they had homes where they could go to hide; I had only my own mind to protect me. In the summer of 1965, following my junior year in high school, I was sent to Monterey to spend the summer with my mother, giving the grandmas a break from the "hateful little hellcat." As the school year approached, I announced my intention to join the navy. Mom couldn't sign the papers fast enough.

           I didn't enjoy my four year stint in the navy, and rarely have anything good to say about it, but for the record, that structured, disciplined, and ultimately fair society gave me the upbringing I should have had in a loving home as an innocent child, and I owe them a great deal.

           So here, after my promise of two days ago to let go of the negativity and just have fun on this site, is without any doubt, the most negative story I have ever shared. Why? Because the story of my life with The Tyler Gang is positive, funny, uplifting, and someone somewhere may be inspired by it to have more fun with their own kids. That would be wonderful. I don't mean to say that our lives together have been like The Brady Bunch, far from it, but there is much to be shared, and in order to appreciate the story, you need an understanding of the storyteller.

           In my case, the only reason that I didn't become the greatest serial killer of my era is because I decided not to. See, by that summer in Monterey, I had learned three things. First, that the only time I was safe was when I was alone, and second, to trust no one. It had never crossed my mind that I would ultimately have the "normal" life of wife, kids, extended family, and the whole nine yards, but once I had my encounter with "Ms. Right," and saw that I was going to go down that path, I realized that there had also been a third lesson. I knew from personal experience the living hell that a helpless child endured when he had no one on his side, nowhere to go to just be accepted, comforted, loved. There was no conscious decision, but from day one, whenever someone wanted to go after the children that I had created and was responsible for, they had to come through me. I have faced down angry parents, school administrators, social workers, police officers, and gang bangers, and I have to say, those have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life.

           So really, this is a positive post, an almost Dickensian tale of how an orphan unwanted in his own family became a devoted family man. The lesson here in installment one is this: They are your children. Get involved in their lives. Take responsibility. Be there for them. I have done a lot of things in my sixty-two years, and I have to tell you, there is nothing that will give you more satisfaction than coming to the rescue of a beleaguered child.

           All right, there's the dark backstory. From now on, I'll make these posts fun. Now get out there and live life like you mean it!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Adjustments

          My 9/11 post has been up for two weeks, and it's time to move on.  Eight comments is very gratifying, and I need to thank Nine for pointing out that things may not be as dismal as they seem.  I hope she's right!

          Moving on, there is nobody new to welcome this time out, which is okay; you can't expect new followers to pop up every few days... Unless you're really, really good.  I must say, I'm a little disappointed that I never heard from the Muse again.  That's okay, too; I'm sure she has other things to do.

          Now for the meat of this:  Those who have been following me know that I have been talking about being overextended for some time now.  Like so many problems, I procrastinated long enough for it to solve itself.  My good friend Chops, he of the Irish Navy blog, was aware that I have been writing books for many years, and went through a period a while back in which I tried long and hard, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to sell some.  It was he who suggested that I get a blog and post my chapters there, and at least get some exposure that way.  I started doing that about a year ago, and generated what I'll charitably call "mixed" interest.  When I saw how easy it was to manage these things, I started the Tyler Gang, and shortly thereafter, this blog... And within a short time, found myself overextended.

          See, I am the breadwinner for my family, and that takes time and attention.  In what is left, I have to do my housework, car maintenance, and such; spend time with Bonnie (which is a pleasure, make no mistake) taking drives, going to concerts, or just sitting out on the terrace; play video games (still a major relaxer for me, and also time with Sidra); service these blogs, of course; write books; watch movies and TV; my new project, learning to play harmonica (I'm starting to get it... I know two songs now!); and I'm not above taking a run at anything else that comes up, like ESPN's sports blogs, where you can occasionally find me commenting as 24flanker.  So, you can see my dilemma.

          Well, last week, I posted a chapter to my current book project, Slayer of Darkness.  Slayer has a grand total of three followers, including two who live in my house.  I told them verbally that I had put a post up there, and after a few days, they had not yet appeared on my counters.  No interest at all.  I then conducted an experiment: I closed the site so that no one but me could access it, and waited for somebody to say, "Hey, what happened to the book?"  Well, a week into it, someone finally did... Bonnie.  That decision has made itself.  The book is gone.

          This works out well.  Creating a world from scratch, populating it with interesting characters, customs, and mores, developing a storyline and guiding it through an interesting and logical series of plot twists and resolutions is a full time job!  It's every spare minute if you're writing a book.  You carry a notebook around everywhere you go, and steal every spare minute for story development.  Nothing is so important that you can't drop it to jot down every idea you have.  If you're awake, you're writing.  Assign yourself deadlines to accomplish milestones, and you've just empowered this time vampire to a power of three.  Well, not anymore.  It's been so long that I've forgotten how to just sit back and watch the show, but I'm going to remember.  And truthfully, I haven't completely quit writing.  I've just quit pressuring myself over it, and if this book gets finished a year or two from now, I'll put it up for all to enjoy.

          But for now, time is free to do other things.  Like this.  I've put together a more structured approach to the Hideout.  I'm going to eliminate the negative tone that I've noticed creeping into it, which will pretty much mean no political commentary (not that I've ever hit that too hard anyway).  I may talk about my religion at some point, though I don't have any specific plans at the moment.  What I do have is a half-dozen categories under which specific subjects will be discussed, and this should reduce the chaotic nature that has crept into the neighborhood of late.  Join me Tuesday (outside influences willing) for a look at the first of these categories, "Adventures in Parenting," where I take a look back and try to figure out how the heck my kids reached adulthood with me as their father.  I hope you take the time to stop by.

          Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Mornings After

          It has been ten years since that dark day in history.  As one who loves my country, despite all its faults and blemishes, it is time to tell my own insignificant story.  Here on the west coast, separated from these momentous events by two mountain ranges and three time zones, it took on a surrealism that couldn't be incorporated by those in the immediate vicinity.

          On September 11th, 2001, I was a shift worker, as I am today.  It was the first of three days off.  I had come off a night shift, and crawled into bed for a good night's sleep around 3:00 AM [all times Pacific, making it three hours later in New York and Washington].  Later that morning, about 10:00 AM, I woke up, staggered to the coffee pot, still mostly asleep, poured a cup, and sat down on the couch.  When I flipped on the TV, KUSI Channel 51, an unaffiliated local station came on, showing a long view of the New York skyline with black smoke roiling up from the Twin Towers, a somber reporter making infrequent comments about the dark day this was for America.  This was puzzling, as this outlet was normally showing a sort of localized version of the Today show at that time, and my first thought was, "Why are they showing a movie at this hour?"  Remember, I haven't begun to come fully awake at this point.

          My first attempt to rationalize what I was seeing was that they must be showing scenes from an upcoming blockbuster.  The FX were magnificent, of course, but when the view stayed the same, and the reporter didn't offer much more in the way of dialogue, I got bored and cycled the channel to our local NBC affiliate.

          Oh my God!  There was the same picture, with a reporter offering much more information.  I have never come awake that fast in my life; I hope I never do again.  As I sat open-mouthed, my shaking hand spilling hot coffee on my jeans, the first tower began its descent into rubble.  At first I thought I was watching live events.  Only later did I learn that all this had happened while I was sleeping.  That didn't matter, it was live to me.  My first thought was, It's the end of the world; somebody's going to get nuked into radioactive slag for this.  Other impressions were of a missing President, as Mr. Bush was out of Washington at the time, and took to the air in Air Force One, escorted all over the southeastern United States by F-16s, presenting a moving target to an attack that no one could say was over yet.  I remember the map with 5,000 little green glowing airplanes beginning to clear as the FAA struggled to clear the skies over America.  But mostly, I remember Ashley Banfield.
   
       Ashley Banfield became the face of the 9/11 coverage for me.  A reporter of personalities, she had a job on Wall Street interviewing the movers and shakers of the day.  I myself had never heard of her.  She looked like a ditsy woman I had once worked with, which was an initial strike against her, but she overcame that within minutes.  Without hesitation, she descended on the World Trade Center, armed with a microphone, and accompanied by her cameraman, whose name, to my everlasting discredit, I have been unable to find.  Arriving shortly before the first collapse, they broke into a closed business to shelter from the fallout.  She emerged covered from head to toe in fine gray dust, finger-wiped her Clark Kent glasses, and proceeded to perform two nonstop days of the finest unplanned news coverage I have ever witnessed.  She was given water by firefighters, caught a nap in the back of an ambulance, and interviewed everybody who would stop and talk to her.  And this was none of that, "What do you think about this?" drivel you see so much at disaster scenes.  Her questions drew out the essence of what it was to have lived through the horror, and kept us up to the minute on what was going on among emergency responders and survivors alike.  I don't know why she didn't get Tom Brokaw's job when he retired.  The only reason I can think of is what I call The Zulu Effect:  In that no-longer-PC movie, after hours of non-stop attacks by thousands of Zulus on a small British garrison, the two officers, played by Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, stand amid piles of corpses in a small yard of the mission hospital they have successfully defended.  Second-in-command Michael Caine asks, "Was it like this for you?  The first time, I mean?" to which his superior, Stanley Baker, replies, "The first time?  You think I could stand in this butchers' yard more than once?"

          I was scheduled to be off for three days, which was the length of time that all of America was a no-fly zone. It was eerie. I remember sitting out under the orange tree with Bonnie, hearing no jet noise, seeing no airplanes, except once on the second day when a flight of F-16s from an Air Force base up north made a sweep over the city. Getting to work would have been a nightmare, as security on all the bases was cranked up to a level unprecedented in American history. There were eight hour waits the first couple of days, as every car was checked with a fine tooth comb from hubcaps to sunroof. It was not the most enjoyable three days off I've ever had, hanging on news coverage that mostly showed the Towers falling, over and over and over again, waiting for hard information that didn't seem to come. It did eventually trickle in, of course, a picture emerged of who they were and where they came from, and the War on Terror began on my birthday; I'm proud of that...


          Now it is ten years later.  What has changed?  Well, nobody flies for fun anymore.  If you simply must, then before you get on the plane, government officials subject you to a level of sexual molestation that, performed outside the airport, would get you life in prison without parole.  It's harder to get into buildings than it used to be.  My "rank" is sufficient that I used to take Bonnie to the Officers' Club for dinner; now I can't even bring her on the base.  Have these measures helped?  Possibly.  It's impossible to describe the attacks that didn't take place because you couldn't bring a bottle of shampoo onto the airplane, but it is more difficult to make your way through your daily life, and I can't help but think of the words of Benjamin Franklin, words to the effect of, "Anyone who gives up some liberty to obtain some security will soon have neither."  I guess the jury's still out on that one...
          The survivors have become a subclass of our culture, and they say some things that seem odd.  From the fireman who pulled his buddy out moments before the collapse to the securities manager who carried a woman in a wheelchair down sixty-eight flights of stairs, they all say, "Don't call me a hero.  Talk to that guy."  Survivor's guilt?  Modesty?  Just fed up with their unwanted star status?  That's not for me to say.

          I sort of get it, though.  As a child of the sixties, I am a Vietnam Veteran, and while I will freely talk about what it's like to ride out a hurricane on a small wooden ship, stand a pier watch in freezing rain, or hold a 25,000 ton fleet oiler steady in a seaway while a helicopter medevacs a stricken shipmate, I don't talk about 'nam.  I can't.  I tried to write a work of fiction incorporating some of the events that happened to me; it doesn't come.  What happened there, stays there, somehow part of a sacred core that no one is allowed to touch.  The 9/11 survivors had their "Tour in 'nam" visited on them in a single hour, and with none of the training or preparation we had as soldiers and sailors.  I briefly mention my own experience here as a reference point, but had I made a thousand trips, it would pale by comparison to what these people went through.

          My grandparents recognized one date on which they remembered where they were, what they were wearing, who they were with, what song was playing, everything, like it had just happened moments ago.  Their Date was December 7th, 1941.  In the aftermath of that memory, their generation rolled up their sleeves and went to work.  My grandma took a job building fighter planes for Lockheed, Rosie the riveter, freeing up a man to carry a gun.  Carry guns they did.  They made sacrifices on the home front, endured rationing, saved cans, turned in their aluminum pots and pans so that their soldiers, the Greatest Generation, could stamp out the greatest evil of their day, a pair of Empires so vile that we allied with Josef Stalin's Soviet Union to defeat them.

          How is our generation measuring up?  Not well.  Who do you know that has made one meaningful sacrifice?  Oh, an individual here and there, and certainly those who have joined the services to stand in the face of a form of evil that will commit mass murder in the name of their god, but what is happening on the home front?  Practically nothing.  We whine about the price of bread while our soldiers die in faraway lands so that we can sleep peacefully in our comfortable beds.  As Kipling noted 120 years ago:

Makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, and they're starvation cheap.

          As Al-Qaeda, and the other poisonous leagues of evil it has spawned, diligently plots the downfall of Western Civilization, what are we, that very Western Civilization, concerned with?  Why, ninety-two flavors of butt-stupid "reality" shows, and hanging on every word of some rich-ass celebrity who's blubbering into a hanky because the elevator in her mansion is out of service, while children starve on the sidewalk within view of her rooftop patio.  Look what happened in our nation's capitol last summer, when our petty piss-ant politicians were willing to let America slide down the toilet rather than take one step to compromise with the opposition party.  Just who is the enemy here, really?  We elected these jackasses, so I guess we deserve them.  Seriously, I posted the solution to that particular problem on The Tyler Gang.  It was up for six weeks.  There was not one comment.

          I look around ten years later, and I see the camaraderie that followed in the days after the attacks gone.  It's business as usual, like nothing ever happened.  If you study the history of our great nation, you realize that the path of that history is littered with the wreckage of swaggering dictators and petty warlords who all believed that Americans were too soft, too addicted to their little creature comforts to actually set them aside and fight to preserve them.  As I look around ten years later, I fear that this time, they may be right.

          You will notice that I did not post any pictures of the actual attacks.  You know where to find them, if that is your interest.  I cannot look at them without being transported back to that day.  It is like salt in an open wound, and when I see the images, all of my emotional makeup wants the bastards who orchestrated it killed.  I want the people who nurtured them, and gave them the beliefs that led them to this killed.  I want the countries who harbored them laid waste.  See, when I look at those pictures, all of my religion, what I claim to be my spiritual beliefs, are made lies, because I don't want to forgive any of them for anything.  I want them killed, horribly, terrifyingly, lingeringly killed.  Is this what my grandparents felt when they watched the black-and-white newsreel footage of the USS Arizona exploding?  Most likely.  Their generation acted on it, going so far as to immolate two cities in nuclear fireballs.  In the aftermath, Germany and Japan are two of our staunchest allies.  Where will we stand with the Middle East in fifty years?  More importantly, where do we stand with ourselves today?

          I sat down here to remember those who fell in a savage act of pure evil, and to honor the heroes of that day.  I don't think that can be done without looking at what has happened to the rest of us, to our culture, because of those events.  I have spent many years learning the history of this nation, and from that perspective, I have to say that what I see frightens me for our future.  Oh, not our brave and skilled warriors, but those of us left behind in the civilian world whose lives and actions form the foundation on which they stand.  What do they stand for?  What must they think when they look back to their homeland and see the biggest news items of the day are who got booted off American Idol, or what zillion dollar resort Kim Kardashian is frolicking at for her honeymoon?  I think that, while it remains a date on the calendar, most of us have, by and large, forgotten 9/11.  As a person a continent away whose personal life was untouched by these events, that seems a sacrilege.  And yet, during all the remembrance shows of this past weekend, one thing stands out.  A survivor, being interviewed about her experiences of that day, losing her husband among them, had this to say:

          "Everyone tells me, 'never forget, never forget.'  Every time I want to speak with my husband, I remember, but if we are ever to achieve true peace and closure, don't we have to, at some point, forget?"

          In 1973, thirty years after the Second World War, my grandmother refused to allow me to bring my good friend, my good Japanese friend, into her home.  Will my grandchildren be more enlightened thirty years from now?  Let us hope...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Should I stay, or should I go?


Wha's up, Smokey?
           The first order of business is to welcome our newest member to the hideout, someone who became an instant favorite of mine, the Muse of Doom.  I'm including her profile picture here because she is drop-dead gorgeous; in fairness, I guess that could be said of any young woman in a see-through dress...  Anyway, I exchanged a few quips with her on CT's Nerd Lunch post concerning his love of the Muppets, and instantly recognized a kindred spirit.  She left an e-mail contact on her profile, which I used for a longer introduction, she replied, and the next thing I knew, here she was on my followers' list.  I have to tell you, with her dry wit and sarcastic humor, talking with her is almost like talking to myself, except unpredictable.  She does have a name, part of which she has graciously shared with me.  I'm not going to ruin her fun; visit her site, http://www.museofdoom.com/, and maybe she'll share with you, too.  Continuing the similarities, her site itself mirrors the shades of blue and purple that I chose to use for Slayer of Darkness.  The only difference is that she used smoke for her background instead of the starfield that I went with.  She has some great material over there, especially a post called Experiment #1.1.  In fact, I only have one real problem with her site:  She hasn't posted since November of last year, so I want everyone to get over there, soak up what she has on display, and leave her lots of adoring comments.  Hopefully, this will encourage her to continue, because I seriously want to see where she goes next.  Really, if you have been enjoying what I'm doing here, I'm betting you'll enjoy what she's got over there.

          Every time I start to prepare this Interlude section, I have an internal dialogue with myself that basically goes, "Is it productive for me to keep doing this?"  Some of you are aware of this.  It stems from the fact that I feed this site, and our family blog, The Tyler Gang.  The difficulty arises because they are so similar.  They involve social commentary, humor, hobbies, travel, kids, all just so much fluff done purely for fun.  The differences are that we have agreed to keep The Tyler Gang current, so when I want to talk about my childhood as a wargamer, that doesn't fit into the box that the three of us agreed to observe over there.  Should we change the box, thereby changing the "brand" of The Tyler Gang?  The other thing is that I own this.  The only parameter a post has to meet here is that I find it interesting.  Also, I don't have to "wait my turn" to post anything; it's always my turn here.

          Okay, those look like compelling reasons to keep this site operating.  Here are the cons:  First, this dilutes my efforts.  Because of the similarities, I have to research and prepare two articles to have one ready for each site.  Oh, yes, I do research; you think this stuff falls out of the sky?  Another con is that The Tyler Gang, for reasons we don't completely understand, generates about twice as much traffic from far more places than this site does, so always at the back of my mind is the feeling that by putting a post here, I'm automatically depriving it of half of its potential audience.  And then, of course, there's the rest of my life to service.  I contribute to these two blogs.  I'm writing (and posting) a novel.  For my son's enjoyment, I'm posting another novel that I finished years ago.  I have a wife who enjoys my company, and four of my seven grandchildren live close enough that I see them almost every day.  For reasons known only to them, they like my company, and want to spend time with me.  My daughter, "Nine," who you can visit at The Tyler Gang, enjoys playing long, co-op video games with me, and as I enjoy that as well, sometimes chunks of hours disappear down that hole.  I have recently gotten a burr up my ass to learn blues harmonica.  That takes practice.  Oh, and just as an afterthought, I have a job.  It's almost to the point where something has to go, and what I'm willing to let go of comes down to this blog, the old novel, or the harmonica.  I don't know.  I welcome suggestions.  Meanwhile, I enjoy all of it, and will continue for a while longer to hammer at my schedule, trying to fit a couple of extra hours into each day...

Can this diabolical
piece of tin really
defeat the man, the
legend, the Jack?
           Okay, two days ago, we enjoyed the biggest blackout in Southern California history.  Not as many people, obviously, were affected as in the Great New York Blackout, but it was that complete.  I considered doing a post about that, but given that tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of 9/11, that's where I'm going next.  I call myself a patriot, but if I post about a lousy power outage on that anniversary, I'll have to stop doing that.  So, take two more days to offer any final thoughts you have on Word Mutation, and I'll see you all Monday.  Hopefully, I can get through this post without offending half the population...