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Archive for the ‘Overseas’ Category

I do not normally run around naked at 2 AM with the blue beam of a flashlight sweeping my roofline and treetops for the crush of a massive fallen tree.

An hour earlier I had been reading peacefully in bed, my softly backlit iPad wooing me back to sleep. That was when The Crash of Tuesday Last yanked me screaming from bed while outside the terrifying death-groan of an oak tree ripped chunks of timber and brick masonry from my rooftop.

Except for the naked part, I must have looked like a bare-footed Agent Mulder in an X-Files episode searching the treetops in the dead of night within the beam of an FBI-grade Magna-Light. Rain fell. I was cold. Thunder grumbled overhead. I found nothing.

The next morning, with the benefit of a spectacular sunrise, I searched again. I found neither fallen tree limbs nor damaged roof. Just another nighttime mystery.

Until yesterday afternoon when I opened the door to my spare bed/storage room and discovered my antique glass collection scattered on the floor. Errant pieces of of dark Depression Glass and shards of crystal bowls that had been gleaned through decades of countless yard sales and impromptu garage rummage events… gone, just like that. Turns out that an aging,  wall-mounted bookcase built in 1982 had finally decided it could no longer support the weight.

Some things are not meant to be. But the good new is part of my collection survived, along with idiotic mementos from my fragmented past.

How about that Pat Boone Speedy Gonzales record album? I won it as a prize back in the day, and managed to get it autographed by former Chief Justice, Earl Warren. My family was living near Athens, Greece at the time, and I was a Boy Scout competing in a swimming completion, and… well, that is  another story for another time.

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copyright© 2015 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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This is a tribute of sorts to “Uncle Ray Hall”, who wasn’t really my uncle, but a good friend of Dad, both of whom came from a tiny area in corn and oil field country, Indiana. Uncle Ray went on to become a Naval aircraft carrier aviator, while Dad became an officer in the Army, retiring as a full colonel, which, I can tell you, gave a whole new meaning to the yearly Army-Navy football games. That’s right. My sister, Pat, and I were Army Brats, but that’s not what this story is all about. Instead, this story is about how important people in one’s life have a way of slipping away from you in bits and pieces that are years until it is too late to tell them how important they really were.

Uncle Ray should have become a cartoonist — he was that good, but I can appreciate that the thrill of being a 40s, 50s, and 60s pilot who launches his aircraft into a stiff headwind off the end of a carrier was much more exciting; Uncle Ray could  have easily become an Indy race car driver, too. He loved the Indy 500. And he loved fast cars, because that’s the way most aviators are. Uncle Ray was the quintessential bachelor. I remember his fancy Alpha Romero sports cars, his sleek Jaguars, and other European screamers.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from a close friend of Uncle Ray. In it were several snapshots of my family, many of which I had never seen. The fact that Uncle Ray had held on to them all these years warmed my heart: maybe he got caught up in letting important people in his life slip away, too.

Dad. The only photograph I've ever seen of Dad being relaxed.

Dad.

One of only two photographs I’ve seen of Dad being truly relaxed. Most likely snapped during a commercial by Uncle Ray while watching an ARMY-NAVY game.

Probably taken around 1965, because I recognize our Norfolk, Virginia “TV” room and the comfortable, half-eggshell padded chairs you could get lost in. This is the same room I watched every Twilight Zone, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Avengers episode. I — like every TV-watching male teenager in the world — was in love with “Emma Peel“. Maybe it was the tight leather outfit she wore. The one with the ZIPPER running seductively down the front, the same zipper that had a KA-zillion teenage virtual fingerprints embedded all over it. Maybe.

Me, circa 1962.

Me. Circa 1962, standing beside the Greek mini-villa my family lived in during Dad’s 3 years in Athens, Greece. This was probably taken by Uncle Ray. He had a way of suddenly appearing out of nowhere: “I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.”

I can see Uncle Ray saying to me: “A little left. A little right. Put your right hand in your pocket. The other one on your hip…”

How about those rolled up Jeans legs? Can’t remember if that was STYLE or just Mom being frugal. White socks. Black shoes. An overcoat from hell. I actually WORE that stuff??!!

Yeah.

A typical Thanksgiving Dinner, with Dad carving the turkey. (The SECOND only picture of Dad I’ve seen with him looking relaxed.) That goofy kid front left is me. Still had red hair, but not as red as my sister, Pat, front right. Mom is behind Pat. She is now 93 years old. To the left of Dad is Claire. Uncle Ray’s lifelong “girlfriend”. Like Emma Peel, I had a crush on Claire back then. Back then I had a crush on almost every great-looking female I met.

This Thanksgiving Day photograph intrigues me: the wine bottle label I can’t read, and the empty place setting where Uncle Ray was sitting moments before standing up and taking this picture. Thank you, Uncle Ray. I will miss you.

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I don’t remember much about my kindergarten year in Yokohama, Japan, but I do recall I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s where I played hooky for the first time (I went fishing), and that’s where I was served my first fish that still had its head on it.  Minutes before the meal, I was lead to the restaurant’s indoor trout pond and waterfall, where I was given a bamboo pole with a dough ball neatly wrapped around a tiny hook. Three seconds after dipping the line in, I yanked a pan-sized trout out of the water. Zip, zang! The trout – – MY trout – – was clipped with a double, V-shaped identifying tail-notch. Flipping and flapping, the trout was quickly carried off into the restaurant’s steamy kitchen.

Thanks, kid -- I see you!

After a while, a waiter delivered the very same fish to our dining table. He pointed at the double, V-shaped tail-notch and grinned, but I was more interested in the fish’s head end, where a single, crispy-fried eyeball stared up at me from a bed of fluffy, white rice and lettuce.

I fiddled with my chopsticks.

“What’s the matter, young man?” asked my father. “You love fish.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “But this one’s LOOKING at me!”

Mom reached across the table and sliced off the fish’s head with a knife. She wrapped the head in her napkin and placed it beside her plate. “There,” she said. “Just like the way Grandpa cooks them.”

Wink, Wink!

I ate the fish, but had a difficult time keeping my eyes from wandering to Mom’s folded napkin. The trout’s nose was sticking out of a corner, and I knew the rest of the head was waiting for the napkin to slip just so it could sneak another peek at me.

Soon, the meal was finished, the table cleared, and Mom’s napkin forgotten. Later that night I laid awake and thought about the trout.

I think that was the first time I realized there was a difference between the fish I caught back home — the headless and anonymous kind that Grandpa cleaned when nobody was looking — and the more personal one I had yanked out of that Japanese Restaurant’s trout pond. No doubt, if I had been that fish, I, too, would want to stare at whomever was eating me.

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One day Mom and Dad bought me a chemistry set. The outside of the box boasted “101 SAFE PROJECTS FOR CHILDREN”. I think Mom, Dad, and the manufacturer underestimated me.

For my first experiment I decided to make sulfuric acid. Although “How to make Sulfuric Acid” was not listed in the kit’s table of contents, the Athens, Greece library supplied me with more than enough information to get started. I carefully bubbled sulfur fumes through an Erlenmeyer flask containing water I had distilled in the first half of the lab session. This produced a weak solution of H2SO4 (sulfuric acid), which turned the litmus paper the proper color.

Oh, boy!

Mom poked her head into my bedroom. “What are you making?” she asked. “That smells HORRIBLE!”

“It’s just sulfur dioxide, Mom.” I responded. “Smells just like rotten eggs!”

Later, I distilled the weak acid solution, producing a thick syrup. A fresh piece of litmus paper turned bright RED even without submersing it in the fluid. Just the FUMES turned it red.

Oh, BOY!

About a week later Mom noticed a dime-sized hole that had been burned through my bedroom laboratory’s carpet. “What’s THAT?” she asked, pointing the way only mothers can do.

“I must have spilled something on the rug,” I said. “You know, something nasty from that chemistry set.”

Mom was shocked. “Where is the chemistry set now?” she demanded.

“Don’t worry. I threw it away. What I REALLY want is a Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab!”

Quote from above link: “The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book (Dagwood Splits the Atom) and a government manual “Prospecting for Uranium.”‘

Sure enough, several weeks later Dad brought home a Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. He was obviously pleased with my continued interest in science, and possibly hoped for a budding nuclear physicist gracing the family tree.

The first thing I did was put some of the uranium powder into the sample of the sulfuric acid I had made…

Those were the days.

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HO Trains

Fleischmann makes the best.

While my family was stationed near Athens Greece in 1960, I convinced Dad that I was serious about collecting “HO” trains. HO trains are tiny, scaled down versions of the more familiar “Lionel” trains. Within a week Dad was hard at work constructing a train “layout” in one our spare rooms. I knew I was in for a treat—  Dad never did ANYTHING half way.

Realism at its finest.

Over the span of a few months, the layout grew to astronomical proportions. Tunnels, round-house switching tables, push button roadway switches, whistles, tiny towns complete with people, street lights, trees, ponds, cows— you name it. The control panel looked like a nuclear reactor’s control room. Six different engines could be operated at the same time. An engineering degree was required just to turn the power on. Great stuff!

Issue # 1

But eventually we had to move back to the States. By then the train table was so large it couldn’t fit through the door. And FORGET shipping! Dad convinced me the best approach was to SELL the whole setup. One of his Greek coworkers agreed to buy the contents of the room. With tears in my eyes I watched a reciprocating saw slice “ANYTOWN USA” into four separate pieces.

A couple of years ago I picked up a model train magazine, and nearly ALL of my six German “Fleischmann” HO trains (circa 1959-1960) had become collector’$  items. But that’s okay. During that same move back to the United States, I lost my entire comic book collection, including the “Fantastic Four” Issue #1 (1961).

Flame ON!

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Vapor Lock

I started three different Simply Tims yesterday with an eye towards the Tuesday RDJ deadline for today’s Simply Tim column. After a while, I realized I had absolutely nothing of interest to write about; that after nearly 13 years of writing Simply Tim columns, I had entered into that nefarious fog-shrouded twilight zone known as “writer’s block”.

“Writer’s block” is not an accurate description of the affliction. “Brain Dead” is much more definitive.

Our family Buick was 2-tone. Orange and cream. It became my first car. Looked great with a surfboard on top.

Back in the day, I remember our 1956 Buick Special suffering bouts of what was then called “vapor lock”,  and one time in particular, my family coasting some 20 miles down the side of Mount Olympus while enjoying an entertaining two-week Greek vacation. “Coasting” — because (according to Dad) — “vapor lock” prevented the Buick from starting, and was caused by the lack of a proper mixture of oxygen and fuel being sucked into the mysterious chambers of something called a “carburetor”, whatever THAT was. Apparently, carburetors were already on their way out back then, but we just hadn’t realized it yet, because nowadays they aren’t used in new cars.

So, I think I’m suffering from VAPOR LOCK rather than a temporary case of “writer’s block”, because — as you can see — I have no problem writing about something even when I don’t know what I’m writing about.

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Alarm set for 9 o'clock

I always admired my father’s Benrus alarm watch. He used the alarm to remind himself of everything. It was the neatest watch in the whole wide world.

“BUZZZ!” I can still hear that sound and see Dad glancing at that Benrus, remembering an important meeting or something he needed to do. How cool was that?

Dad and I lost our watches somewhere next to a lifeboat in-between those two stacks, while learning an important life lesson.

On our way back to the States after assignment in Greece, our ship — the SS United States — docked briefly in Naples, Italy, where we were accosted by a young urchin selling watches on a street corner. Dad ended up falling in love with a gold-gilded beauty, and bought it on the spot. Later, as the ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, he said, “I want you to have this.” He gave me the Benrus alarm watch. “Don’t wear it until we get a chance to shorten the band.”

For two days I was in ecstasy secretly wearing that watch. It eventually slipped off my arm and fell overboard. Dad found me crying on the top deck that night, staring out at the cold Atlantic and our ship’s churning, phosphorescent wake. I explained what had happened. He removed his new watch and tossed it over the side.

His wrist had already begun to turn green from wearing it. “We both learned a lesson,” he said. “Let’s go get something to eat.”

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