Friday, May 1, 2009

Another Adventure

Embarking on this Ballistic Tour has been an enlightening experience in some ways. It has highlighted how fortunate I am and the fact that people tend to be rather nice to me. That sounds odd but I don't know how better to put it.

I was talking to the wife half of my landlord complex and one of her sons this evening. What cool people they are. Hitting on this place and those people was quite a stroke. For those of you who always own your dwelling that probably sounds a little peculiar or lacking the security one would expect from a lad old enough to be your Uncle, or your father's uncle or your father, or your cousin twice removed, or your first grade teacher, or your spiritual advisor, or friends with Ben Franklin. We called him Benny.

As it turns out, it seems increasingly more secure not to own an estate or basic dwelling. Ridiculous, I know. Here in CA, the landlords are the ones who push for month to month rental agreements rather than 1 year lease. That's due to rules and regs which put the person who owns behind the 8 ball. I see it as a blessing to me, but I am not one who thinks renters should be able to make life hell for the responsible owner. Upside down.

Even so I expect to own plenty before it is over, provided I don't have to join a revolution somewhere. As I watch free speech being eroded in ways that aren't even decent, I wonder. Whatever craziness comes down the pike, I still think in terms of projects which could yield some good return, pipe dreams or not. Having dreams is the cool part. I feel better when I do, as long as I can be at peace in the moment from time to time.

So, I'm off in a few days to south FL and I'm excited. The work involved is rather vague because we have no idea exactly what we're in for. I know it will be fun and I'll be with great friends. No way anything too gloomy is permitted with that gang. I was telling the land lady about it and she pointed out how lucky I am. Somehow she always makes me see the up side of my circumstances. For me to focus on the down side would be a bit like looking a gift horse in the mouth. Or something. It would be stupid and inappropriate.

I think the posts below this are more meaningful. This next few weeks is a mystery. I'm going and that's all I know. Flying, but I doubt Joe Biden will be on the plane. I hope lots of people stay home so it won't be crowded. Journey into the unknown. Not real well known at any rate. Just the way I like it; everything will be unexpected because I have no idea what to expect.

Remembering an Odd Encounter Part 1

(I may have written some version of this on the old journal--harpO--but it wasn't as vivid in my mind and I felt like I needed to write it again)

Today was another teak day. I finished a piece over at project O, as intended. I was going to scan the scene with my Flip, due to Bobby's request, but I discovered the batteries were dead as doornails. I must have left that sucker on, or something.

Anyway, the lounge chair is now a work of art. I have done five of those now. Just one more to go, but that will be later. I'm heading south to do who knows what near the thriving zany city where I was supposed to grow up but never quite did.

Tracing the thought pattern which brought up the memory of Mike Kevorkian, a pioneer in the South FL diving world would take more space than this lengthy story. My acquaintance with Mike was brief, yet memorable. I did not know him as the shaker and mover I later discovered he was.

Growing up in Miami included working in and later doing all the work in a side business my father started. Not sure how it came about, the business, not the work. It was a little operation that originally made spearguns, then the replacement bands for the top brand and spears for Hawaiian slings. Those are like an underwater slingshot that shoots spears. I've never been spearfishing. Maybe my father did, I don't know. Our lives were not exactly intertwined in a transparent fashion. Since he didn't live there from the time I was 9 or 10, the work load fell on my brother and I. In high school, I was the whole ball of wax.

The speargun factory was in the garage in the back yard. Few jobs I've had since involved work that was that hard, hot or unsafe. UPS truck loading in Greensboro matched or exceeded the degree of risk to life and limb. Safety is for sissies. That was our motto. In addition to producing a higher quality product, I managed to shed less blood than those who went before me. Am I tooting my own horn a bit much here? Sorry. I'm practicing for some pitches I have planned for projects that require schemes so crazy that unmitigated gall and confidence are the only way to go.

My experience in the fish gun labor camp is probably the source of my secret satisfaction in doing higher quality work than is required, or even obvious, and my disconnect between work and reward. Work should equal reward and satisfaction. I have yet to tie it together as I should. For some reason I do like seeing a good result that I can't fault when I'm done, but considering best return for effort put in eludes me.

Back to Kevorkian. He was always asking me about things I couldn't answer when I'd make deliveries to his shop. He especially wanted to make the replacement bands and was always prying about our method of doing this. That was not information I could divulge. It bothered me that he asked, and I was just a kid, stuck in a morass of other confusion.

A few years out of high school, with some college behind me, now a part time Air Guard crew chief, and still confused, I'd returned to Miami thinking, since the business was shot and stagnant that I'd revive it, then branch out into making other cool things not related to spears or fish. I figured if I offered my dad 50% provided he just take the money and didn't interfere it was win-win.

I immediately drummed up new orders and sold out the stock on hand with new orders coming in. Absent as he always was, I'll be damned if dear old dad didn't find time to start questioning my pricing and every other move I was making. Instead of months going by with no contact, he was critically crossing my path way too often.

I shut it down. Hell with that. I took a job as a draftsman/designer at a place that made water cooled exhaust systems for yachts. That was not a bad gig. Soon I was the go to guy for the custom work because I could look at blue prints and design the system to fit. Had to say that. I often forget that stuff. Anyway, I had a little apartment and a hellacious rush hour commute to Hialeah every day. Soon I decided to go back to school in the middle of nowhere--little town in NC--small college, and I was going to straighten out; no drinking or drugs, just become academic. Fat chance on that. D and D all the way.

Kevorkian called me and since he'd heard I shut down, wanted to buy the machines and such for making those bands. He named a figure and I assured him it had to be higher for me to even approach my father. I was good at that game. He complied, and my father agreed. After all kinds of hassle, I got a meeting arranged between the two at my mother's house, home of the speargun factory.

End part 1.

I'll write part 2 in a minute. I'll mess around with it so that part 1 is above part 2 on the page. Right now I have a cafe con leche break. Bustelo cooked on the stove. I'm saving my remaining parrot coffee, but Bustelo is a reliable Cuban coffee por la gente.

Remembering an Odd Encounter part 2

The meeting was set, when we left off in part 1. My father was all cynical and surly about the thing and I had concerns that he'd be totally abrasive and rude, which was about par for the course. He couldn't help it and may he RIP and all that. Just stating facts and setting the stage.

Just before Mike arrived dear old dad was quibbling over the agreed upon sale price for what was left of the defunct business. He even tried to say he hadn't agreed. Perhaps he was high or a little drunk when I closed the deal with him over the phone. In any case, I was sweating it. What if Kevorkian was acting up, too? Believe me, I had faith in neither guy, but I figured it would best dispose of the dreaded speargun factory once and for all and I was hitting the road in a couple of days. It seemed I'd wrangled an agreed upon commission when I sewed up the deal, so that was looming---gas money to a place I'd only seen one weekend.

Oh, and I had to make a guard drill along the way. The first of my ballistic tours I guess.

Finally I see this metallic green, Ford Falcon covertible I believe, with flames painted along the front fenders, come wheeling into the driveway. Out pops this guy, maybe late 50's or 60ish. He was one of those VanDyke beard people. Back then that was spooky. It wasn't yet trendy.

I expected the worst. But Mike had this open warmth that was not as I remembered from my high school and junior high encounters with him. A friendly aura of peace.

Somehow even my father seemed to be at ease and taken in by the charismatic madman with the crazy car. We were sitting in the living room, check was exchanged and the topic of the car came up. Kevorkian chuckled and said he imagined he looked like a kook in that ride but he wouldn't trade it for the world.

It turns out that about 5 years prior Mike was diagnosed with cancer. Lung maybe. He was a goner and had been advised to get his affairs in order because he was going to be checking out in six months most likely. So, he began to get rid of stuff which was of no use to his wife, and generally started making sure the loose ends were tied.

One of the items on his list was a sailboat he kept at Coconut Grove marina. It was a forty footer and his pride and joy. He was down there sprucing it up and hanging the For Sale sign. This young couple showed up and the guy was just staring at the boat like a puppy in love. Mike asked if he wanted to come aboard and take a look. The kid assured him he better not because he could never afford anything like that. He said he better just dream from a distance.

Then Mike decided to do something unexpected. He saw the kid's car and asked if he had clear title. He told the kid he'd trade him even. That's how he got the car. At the time it was only worth possibly two grand, if that. The paint was worth more than the car, and a paint job like that sort of limits the market so it was really worth not much. The boat was worth somewhere near 50 K, give or take 10K. Memory serves well enough to know it was in thaqt range but not sure of exact number. A totally lopsided trade.

Mike went on to tell of his experience on the cancer ward. He had undergone chemo or radiation, whatever they did. He said what struck him was how gloomy and empty the other patients seemed. They'd all given up and it bugged him. Being the gregarious wildman he was, he started raising hell with them and the doctors.

Finally he talked the medical people into letting him get the other cancer patients interested in learning to use scuba gear in a swimming pool. He got some sort of program going trying to add a little fun and life to his fellow patients. He said his own outlook changed dramatically when he was diagnosed, and as he decided to take an interest in the others. That was not really his way before.

It sounds odd to be taking sick people diving but they weren't out in the open sea. I did the scuba thing in a pool once and it was a cool experience. The point was, he cared, and he found changes he needed to make in himself through the process.

Mike's cancer went into remission and he lived another 15 years after our encounter. They dedicated an artificial reef to him south of Key Biscayne. They called the ship they sank the Tarpoon, named after his dive shop.

If you go to you can find a little more about him, or about Miami diving. Why you would, I don't know, but it adds credibility to my tale. Truthfully, I'd always thought the guy was kind of sleazy until that day in our living room. He changed dramatically.

It was one of those times when you leave a person and feel like you just had a spiritual experience or awakening of some kind. The feeling he left us with was just incredible.

I'm glad I remembered that event. Mike's story, his expression of his change in philosophy, and how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to see life a new way, was a gift. It was an event that makes me wonder that maybe sometimes things do happen for a reason.

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Ballistic Mountain, CA, United States
Like spring on a summer's day


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