Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"No Easy Way Out"

The Ray & Elizabeth Spear Clan circa mid 1930s
Nelson, Keith, Donna, Eugene, Dale

I was fortunate to be able to spend a significant amount of quality time with my mom after my father’s passing. One of the last things my mother and I did together before I left Michigan was to visit my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Keith, at his home. He was the last living member of the original clan of five siblings—all born in the 20s with the youngest, Dale, in the early 30s.

I felt bad for my Uncle Keith. At 83, almost by accident, he managed to outlive not only his parents, his sister and four brothers, but he also survived his wife and youngest child to boot. Based on observing his sad experience, I can definitely say that outliving nearly everyone in your immediate family is not like winning some kind of contest. On the contrary, the poor guy was miserable with a capital M.

Eugene & Keith in the late 1940s

During our visit, he’d intermittently stop in mid-conversation and weep bitterly at the thought of his recently departed “baby girl,” Dawn, having left us much too young in her mid 40s. Openly weeping, head bowed nearly to chest, he continuously sobbed how he missed her. Her recent passing obviously had broken his fragile spirit, what there was left of it, not to mention breaking his old heart, already weakened from decades of atherosclerosis and more than 60 years of some serious chain smoking. I noted an ash tray full of butts on the table next to him. Obviously his health was the last thing on his mind.
Over the years, I became very fond of my Uncle Keith and Aunt Marilyn; I think, because they had demonstrated so much fondness for me. From the time I left for the marines at 18, over the next 27 years thereafter, whenever I made it home on leave they always made it a point to come see me. No matter what they had going on, no matter how busy, they made time to come visit, without exception. They dropped everything and came, every time. It was probably Aunt Marilyn who had the most to do with this wonderful aspect of their affection for me, but as a team, I think they were both pretty special. Even after Aunt Marilyn died of cancer a few years ago, Uncle Keith never failed to ask my parents how I was doing whenever they spoke.

In a special homage to the Aunt Marilyn side of “the team,” over the years, she spent hundreds of hours knitting Afghan coverlets, one for each of my kids, starting with Marie in 1979 all the way through Sarah in 2003. Only my mom showed more interest and got more involved in welcoming my children into the world. Indeed, I was determined to name my child (the one that turned out to be Sarah) either Marilyn or Keith, depending on the gender. My wife at the time wouldn’t go with Marilyn, so, she compromised and agreed to Sarah Marilyn. Post Mortem: Strange how things rarely go as imagined. When I learned that Uncle Keith had passed away last week I pictured him as leaving us by way of a simple heart attack or stroke, where he simply left us and moved on to be with the rest of his departed family and friends, but no, unfortunately I was disavowed of this notion when my mom sent the following email:

“…There is some controversy over Keith's death. When they were taking him to the hospital the original responders were just transporters. When they tried to move Keith from their gurney to the medical ambulance gurney they dropped him and he landed on the right side of his head. He died shortly after that. They tried to resuscitate but could not save him...”

I answered:

“What a Keystone Cops episode that was for Uncle Keith's last moments. Geez. Seems like all the Spear boys just had bad luck on the end side of their lives, didn’t they? I mean, didn't any of them get a break? Now this... and what does that mean...transporters? What the heck? He had a heart attack at home or something and they didn't send a medical ambulance? I never heard of such a thing as "transporters." Explain please?”

My mom:

“He was at St. Francis Nursing Home, as the doctor said he could no longer live alone at home. They called the ambulance to take him to the hospital, as he was having some bad chest pain. Instead of the ambulance coming, it was people who are equipped to only take the patient to the hospital (transporters); there must have been a problem at the EMT Center. Well, then the medically equipped EMT ambulance finally did arrive, but only after they had already gotten Keith on the transporter gurney outside the nursing home. So, they elected to transfer him. Why they couldn't use the same gurney is beyond me.

You are right though; all four of the brothers died the hard way—no easy way out for any of them.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Death and Sadness

I'm pretty sure that the last time I felt deep racking sadness over a death was when I was about eight. We were staying for an extended time at my grandma’s house in Saginaw, probably on our way to my dad’s next assignment. I can’t remember exactly how I came to have it, but I had brought home a small snapping turtle, perhaps from the lake where my grandpa Spear had his cabin.

(I have to give my parents some credit, for I would never allow any of my kids to have such a potentially harmful critter as a pet. It was neat how much leeway I had as a child, to explore and delve into the world around me. Things were different back then; that’s for sure.)

Anyway, someone had left the wooden gate open to the back yard. My juvenile 7 inch snapper proceeded to make a break for it. I knew this only after spotting the aftermath of this “jail break” from the upstairs dormer window overlooking the street. There below me I saw that my turtle was now mashed into the pavement—the shell flattened and cracked, head and four limbs sprawled, forming a five-pointed dead turtle star, and worse, massive amounts of spurted blood and gore.

I have never been more devastated. The sense of loss was crushing. I sobbed and sobbed as if this turtle had been the most important thing in my life, ever, which funny enough, it wasn’t. I had only had it for a couple of days, yet I was overcome by its demise.

Flash forward to more deaths. My Great Aunt Helen died when I was about 12 or 13. I was more uneasy with having to see her dead in her casket than I was sad. Not long after that my wonderful Grandpa Spear died. I was sad, but never cried. I really loved that man, but not even a single tear did I shed. I remember feeling confused about myself at seeing my other cousins crying and freely shedding tears.

Over the years I lost other friends and relatives and it was always the same, although I missed them I did not feel profound melancholy. This was true even when my beloved Grandma Haley died in 1987, and I was closer to her than even to either of my parents. We were great pals, having literally spent thousands of hours together, conversing and learning about each other; yet, when I learned that she was gone at 85 I felt next to nothing.

My brother warned me many years before my father finally passed that his kidney condition would likely end in his death. Sure enough, about 18 years later, that’s pretty much what happened. I had always figured that when he died that I would be as distraught as when my turtle was killed, but again, nothing.

I’m still trying to figure this out. I’m the kind that hates going to poignant movies because I tend to cry at the parts meant to elicit that response. I actually sobbed out loud during Schindler’s List, you know, the part where Oscar Schindler loses it at the end and laments that he could have saved more. Even now, thinking of that damn scene I feel pressure in my chest and tears welling. Cripes! So why do I feel no sadness when people I love die?

I spent a lot of time talking with my mom about Dad’s passing, how we felt about him and how we feel about him. Every so often she would cry, not uncontrollably, but for a minute or so, and I would ask her afterwards what brought on that particular episode of emotion. There were two primary reasons: one, she felt so bad that she could not do more to save him, to make him eat, to make the doctors want to do more to make him well; and two, the memory of his suffering, his yearlong crumbling into death, during which he lost his appetite, lost weight, lost interest, and finally lost his ability to keep breathing. It was a slow process that very nearly took her along with him.

One thing that both my mother and I have in common concerning the after effects of all this: We both feel some level of guilt over not feeling “bad enough” over his demise. She feels awful that in spite of herself she feels a level of relief. When he finally left this world her life instantly became easier. Intellectually, she knows that he is in a “better place,” yet, she feels guilt, thinking that maybe she could have done more, and now that he's gone, that she SHOULD feel worse.

I made an argument for her, trying to put into words against her continuing irrational self-reproach over “not feeling bad enough” over his passing.

“Mom, literally thanks to you, Dad LIVED 80 years. No other woman would have put up with him over the entire course of that 50 year marriage. YOU were God’s gift to him, from start to finish, because I can’t think of any other woman that would NOT have divorced him. He needed a kidney and YOU gave him one. Then, you made sure he took his dozens of pills per day, that he ate what he needed to eat, that he did what he needed to do. It was all YOU! No one could have done more for another human being, especially someone so difficult at times, NO one. Because of YOU, he lived LONGER than most. YOU did that.”

I went on, as I CAN do:

“Besides, how long should anyone live? For instance, do you want to live long enough to have to see your own children die? I think that alone would kill me, to see one of my kids go. There is a natural order of things. We live, hopefully into old age, and then we die. 80 seems to be just about right. Besides, we all end up where Dad is now. I think that’s why I haven’t cried or felt any deep sadness since that snapping turtle died in the street in front of Grandma Haley’s house. None of us are here for all that long. We all end up dead, and hopefully, together again with God on the other side. That’s the hope, right?”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Treehouse Tower, Completed

The tower has been done for months now. In fact, it only took Eddy and his boys just over three weeks to finish it from start to completion back in May of this year.

Even after all this time I still love to look at it, my tower, to admire its simple soaring elegance. From every aspect I do this. I stare at it from directly below, from the side where it passes up through mango branches thick with leaves, from down the street where its cone-topped perch floats just above the treetops, from within it while climbing up its five flights, and finally, while standing on the top platform and looking directly down at the top of the banana tree planted directly in the middle of the tower’s concrete foundation. For me, this towering structure, painted dark green to blend in with its cover of fruit tree leaves, is a wonderful work of art, something to behold.

That's Eddy, the architect, the overseer, the builder, wearing the bandana over his mouth as he arc welds one of the hundreds of individual components into place. Notice the mangoes dangling in the foreground.

That's Eddy's youngest standing next to the platform framework. I asked him to stand by it to provide some perspective as to its size. As you can see, its not exactly tiny.

From beneath, this is the same platform frame already welded onto the very top awaiting for the myriad grill work pieces to be welded in place.

Half the flooring is installed in this shot, but, once I stood on it I knew it wouldn't do. There was almost a full inch between each round bar, way too much space for comfort. I told Eddy to have the lads add another bar between each existing one. After that, it was perfect.

Here, Eddy shows with a piece of paper how the roof would be shaped from prepainted aluminum sheeting. The idea being to form it into the shape of a traditional Filipino Bahay Kubo roof, which is usually made from thatched palm.

Shaped round bar is used here to stiffen the cone roof and to provide rigid attach points to the vertical supports. Aluminum tabs, attached with plenty of rivets every foot or so, secure the stiffening bar to the roof.

The riveted tabs are visible here. "Welding Man," crouching in the center of the roof, is attaching the stiffening bar with his trusty arc welder.

The finished roof being man-handled to the top of the tower using rope and muscle. It was not an easy procedure due to its extreme weight, the wind, and interfering tree branches.

In by inch, the roof was pulled upwards. Eddy was very much in charge while this took place because of the dangers involved. That roof, if it fell, would have come down like a killer knife-like sail because of its aerodynamic shape and sharp edges. Not only that, a drop would have meant buying all the materials all over again since it would have likely been crushed and made unusable.

Success. I thought the hard part was going to be over once we had it up there, but no, it took another 30 minutes of sweaty all-hands work getting the heavy ungainly piece into place on the verticals.

Eddy holds the roof in place while his son welds it on. I never heard him raise his voice in anger or impatience while instructing his workers in what to do, no matter how hairy it got. He is the epitome of a leader.

Three of my girls enjoying the view and each other's company at the top shortly after the tower was completed.

A neat thing about being on the platform is the feeling of being suspended in air. This is just before the final coat of green paint went on. As I've been saying, its a handcrafted work of lovely art.

One thing I really love about my tower is that it does not intrude visually. I have met other denizens of my subdivision living just down the street who have never even noticed the existence of my towering treehouse.
To see more photos of the tower build, from start to finish, check out my Flickr site here. Play the slideshow for the best look and also check out the details version for all the commentary and titles. Comments are encourage. (Ok Ed, enjoy...)

Christmas Explosion

We just came in from watching Angeles City bring in Christmas with a bang, or more like a series of them, plus a bunch of mighty booms and a lot of pipsqueak pops.

From way up on the tower platform in my backyard, Janine, my 12 year old step daughter, asked me if we did it like this back in the States. Of course I told her no.

“Where I come from, Christmas is all about “Silent Night, Holy Night”, not “Boom Bang Pow Night.”

I suppose though that I can sort of see the rationale behind all the fireworks here on Christmas Eve—celebrating the birth of Jesus is as good a reason as any to pull out the stops and shoot off scads of heavyweight bottlerockets and Roman candles. Regardless, it’s pretty cool being above the trees and roof tops and getting a 360 degree bird’s eye view of all the celebratory action.

In fact, we didn’t know which way to look for the best displays. From that height there’s a lot of area to try to cover visually; so, Divine, Janine, Jenalyn and I scanned our own sectors and called out whenever a particularly good series of rocket propelled pyrotechnics were being set off. It’s a good system and will serve us well next week when the REAL show happens on New Year’s Eve.

Last year, I sat and stewed in my room trying to watch TV, and mostly just cursed the intrusive explosions going off all around the house for most of an hour leading up to midnight and for a good half hour and more afterwards. I admit that it’s much better being outside and feeling a part of it all. Some might say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” but I’m not exactly joining in, just observing it from 50 feet up.

It was nice, almost comes close to being a thrill, especially when some of the big boomer bottlerockets explode just a few feet away from our perch. Deliciously scary, and FUN!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Death and the VA

I was in Las Vegas when I received word by way of an email that my dad was dead. Actually, it was two emails. The first one was from my oldest daughter, the one married to Barry, a US Army Blackhawk pilot currently stationed in Iraq. She simply wrote, “Daddy, call grandma right away!” I knew then that my father was either gone or very close to it. Before calling my mom I opened the other email from my brother: “Dad breathed his last this morning at …”

Even now, many weeks later, I still feel nothing. One of my buddies is a psychiatrist and I mentioned to him that I have no sadness. In fact, that I feel nothing at all—neutral. His style of analysis is partially to use his own life experiences in helping his patient’s to cope and understand. When his dad died he also felt little, or so he says. In other words, if it happened to him that way, well then, it must be normal, whatever “normal” means. And just between friends, I think both he and I are both “football bats”—we be screwed up, ebonically speaking.

I started writing this not long after I returned from across the Pacific, but I stopped after finishing just the two paragraphs above. Other than the arthritis in my fingers and the tendonitis in my wrists, the real reason is something else—the current bane (and purpose) of my life.

I feel like two people: the person I show to others, the guy who seems to have it fairly together—that’s the fellow that speaks pleasantries and nods hello when he’s forced to leave the sanctuary of home to meet with and help local fellow veterans down at the office. But truthfully, that doesn’t feel like the real me; that’s a fake, an imposter. The real “hidden me” lurks in a dark place, lost in a sea of stormy nothingness. Actually it is a sea of something, and that roiling sea consists of anger, no, gusts of outright visceral rage, and all of it mostly directed at the local VA.

My voluntary (unpaid) involvement with service officering, which entails my assisting fellow veterans and dependents in trying to deal with a very difficult to deal with Veterans Administration, is in fact killing me, exactly in the way that cigarettes leisurely kill smokers, or the way high blood pressure silently kills the sufferers of that deadly condition. In fact, just writing that word, “VA,” causes my blood to boil, my teeth to grind, and my thoughts to seethe.

I’ve noticed too that my failed marriage, the resultant separation from my girls, and the death of my father and others, that all of it seems to make the continuous problems I encounter with the VA, and the schmucks in there intent on screwing over my people, all the more worse.

I was trying to explain the depth and cause of my VA-induced fury to someone the other day. You see, it occurs to me that, unlike most, I never get to get to achieve closure. The irony is that most of the people I’ve assisted to an endpoint rarely continue to harbor any ill will towards the very institution that gave them so much trouble over the months, and even years, of their quest for the benefits due them. Not so with me, since there’s always a fresh line of vets in the midst of getting their dose of “VA hard time” before hopefully eventually getting their claims awarded to them, albeit at times many years after filing the initial claim.

My predecessor, and the guy who originally asked me to help him do this stuff, used to growl at me as he listened to me complain loudly and continuously against the barrage of boneheaded decisions coming out of Manila, “Spear, calm down. You can only do what you can do. When you leave the office, don’t take it home with you.” If only I was put together that way, but I’m not. Most nights I hardly sleep at all, as my mind squirms with the latest bit of obtuse VA meanness.

So, my father died, and instead of pondering his passing, all I can think of is my vitriol for this merciless government bureaucracy. Is that healthy? One of the other ironies of this very real detestation is that my own personal dealings with the VA have been fairly good. I was eventually awarded compensation for all the conditions I claimed (after about 18 months of challenging and fighting) and I now receive all the meds I need to keep my body in one piece, although, I seem to be losing the battle to keep my mind together (perhaps because of my volunteer work with vets—my cross to bear, as my mom calls such things). So, I’m not angry for me, I’m mad because of what I see being done to others. I want it to stop, but I’m mostly powerless against this non-empathetic heartless machine. After all, nothing breeds despair more than helplessness

On the other hand, perhaps it’s good. While my heart and mind are filled with spite and hostility, and yes Mr. S, with disdain, maybe it’s keeping me from falling into a pit of isolated gloomy sadness, where I think I might otherwise be, for I’m pretty certain that once I stop doing this stuff that I will rarely find cause to leave the confines of my compound. Even now, I hate leaving it and can’t wait to pass back through the gate.

PS: Whenever I post about the VA, as soon as I do so I feel uneasy about it, as if I should keep these unhappy thoughts just between me and the veterans to whom I normally vent my spleen. Notice though that I don’t include specifics on active cases. I’m not supposed to do that while still doing my service officering. Anyway, my counterpart is the one who speaks nicey-nicey. I don’t like what they are doing down there and I obviously don’t care if they know it. As for my counterpart, he’s not any happier with the way many of the things are done at VARO Manila, but he keeps his really foul thoughts between the two of us. Poor guy—he still believes he can make them change their ways. I just don’t see it ever happening. Institutionalized unresponsiveness, I believe purposeful, predicated on advancing careers based on building reputations purely on budgetary mindfulness. I don’t know how else to explain it—it’s all about the money. If I was in charge of it all, if the shoe was on the other foot, I certainly wouldn’t allow the things I see from my perspective. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

More thoughts and observations on the death of my dad in the works… I’ll try to stay away from venting on the VA for a while, or try to. I mean, what good does it do?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Northwest Flight 71

Finally, I have returned…

Not going into detail about the what or the where of the last two or so months, let’s just say transition has been the overarching theme—with two d’s being primary: death and divorce.

So, there I was… I’m flying home once again on Northwest Flight 71, the first leg of which takes off from Detroit, heads northwest over Alaska and onwards to Nagoya. Last year we got four hours into that first segment only to be informed well west of the Hudson Bay over the central Canadian wilderness that an engine had to be shut down and thus we’d have to do a 180 back to Detroit to change over to a more flyable jumbo jet, presuming that one was available.

With that excruciating experience in mind I naturally began to figure at what point we’d be more than half way to Japan so that a similar semi-catastrophic system malfunction would not mean returning to Detroit. I knew that point-of-no-return would be somewhere west of Anchorage.

Just as I began to relax, my uneasy forebodings gradually assuaged, the head attendant made an announcement straight out of a movie script, “Is there a doctor onboard?” She went on to explain that a very ill passenger required assistance.

‘Damn!’ I screamed inside the confines of my mind. I turned to the guy to my right and frustratingly told him, “We’re going to land in Anchorage. It’s a sure bet; mark my words.”

A surprising (and reassuring) thing was the high number of medical personnel on the aircraft; almost all of them fellow coach passengers. Wow, I always thought doctors had money enough to fly at least business class. I counted more than six different people, all apparently claiming to be doctors, and each in turn spoke to and examined the distressed old woman.

Soon, another announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that we must divert into Anchorage since our sick passenger requires immediate medical care.”

Dropping my head and then turning to the guy next to me I muttered resignedly, “I told you so.” Even so, I had been desperately hoping against hope that I would be wrong.

I sighed, ‘Here we go again…’ I knew I should have felt more concern for a fellow human being’s physical plight; but, being the selfish jerk that I apparently am, all I could think of was, ‘Why did this person get on this plane feeling so poorly in the first place!’

I loved the attendant running service in our section, the very aft part of coach. In his 40s, he looked to be Latino American, and from his George Lopez sounding accent, he was probably from Texas or some other southwestern state. From before the beginning of the flight he made it known that he would not consider taking any guff from self-absorbed passengers. I heard him raise his voice with one such traveler a few rows behind me over the proper stowage of carry-on luggage. ‘Yeah! Give him hell,’ I nodded, mentally approving.

During the in-flight medical crisis this Latino attendant, reminding me of a tough drill sergeant, continually had to harshly remind my fellow voyagers to keep the aisles clear, “Please sit down,” he berated them, “YOU are getting in our WAY!” It was great listening to him assert his prickly authority. There ARE times when folks from this part of the world NEED that kind of personal reinforcement since behavior based on civil cooperation does not always win out over individual wishes. Each time he got in someone’s case I felt huge vicarious satisfaction.

I gulped down my disappointment and frustration at yet another unsatisfactory Northwest flight experience and accepted the idea that this interminable flight was about to become even more so.

At Anchorage the aircraft literally dropped onto the runway with engines immediately squalling alarmingly into reverse. The aircraft fishtailed some three or four times before being tamed back into straight forward motion. It felt like a carrier landing looks like. I have flown into that airport before and don’t remember it as being exceptionally short so that it would require that kind of extreme landing, although giving the flight crew some minimum benefit of the doubt I thought maybe there had been some cross winds messing with them. I didn’t really believe that though, because those kinds of winds can usually be felt on approach and nothing of the sort was apparent.

I remarked to my seat mate: ‘My God that was one of the worst landings in a 747 I’ve ever experienced! I hope they didn’t blow any tires!’

I thought with no little concern, ‘That’s all we need now, to have to change some tires too!’

It seemed to take forever to get the sick person off the plane. It also took a lot of time for the baggage handlers to find and retrieve luggage all while thousands of gallons of jet fuel were replaced given that we’d had to dump an equal amount into the air over the wilds of Alaska to reach a safe landing weight.

Well over an hour later the captain came on again, “Well folks, we are refueled and our ill passenger has been evacuated, but I’m sorry to have to tell you that I’ve just been informed that another passenger is apparently very ill. Emergency medical personnel have been called to come back, after which we will continue our flight. Thank you for your continued patience…”

An audible groan from the 400 plus passengers, including my own explosive curse, filled the passenger compartment. That second sick person caused us to be on the ground almost another additional hour. So much for the original overly optimistic estimate that it would take a mere 45 minutes to divert into Anchorage. TWO passengers on the same plane requiring medical evacuation, what are the chances of that happening!

I’d made a new buddy, Anthony, a guy across the aisle from me. A young looking 44 year old Filipino lawyer, I told him jokingly, “Man, if I got sick on a flight like this there’s no way I’d EVER tell anyone. I’d rather die quietly here in my seat than have to pay what it’s going to cost those evacuees in medical and ambulance billing. Just put a blanket over my corpse and bury me when we land!” He laughed.

Eight hours after takeoff from Anchorage we landed with an even greater jouncing thud at Nagoya. It was so jarring that I felt it painfully in my back and neck as the vertebrae compressed. “Son of a BITCH!”

No more benefit of the doubt. Now I was truly mad. Not only did we practically crash land, the aircraft fish-tailed like crazy at least 6 or 7 times before the crew got it dampened out. It was so violent that we could hear the tires below us screech and skid as we gripped armrests for our own stability. Some of us clenched our teeth while others around me whimpered out their concerns. Hell, I used to fishtail like that purposely on the icy roads of Michigan, but to feel that kind of extreme motion from a monstrous 747 is disquieting to say the least.

“These guys SUCK!” I practically yelled across to my new lawyer friend. If we land in Manila like that then it’s the airplane, if its smooth into Manila then it’s the incompetent schmucks up on that flight deck. We’ll have a whole new crew going into Manila—Thank God!”

Upsetting landings aside, after two hours on the ground at Nagoya it was almost time to reboard the plane. I’ve learned when flying with Filipinos that it’s best to act like them, at least when it comes to boarding. These folks do not cotton to the concept of making orderly lines and typically, 30 minutes before first boarding call, they will begin to mass in a gaggle in front of the gate. Screw it, I do it now too; or at least I do when I have substantial carry-on luggage, which I always do anymore to avoid at flight’s end having to wait in the mass of humanity at the luggage carousel. It isn’t that big a deal, but I like to make sure upon boarding that I have first crack at the overhead bins, just to make sure. I did this successfully at both the Detroit and Nagoya gates, positioning myself as close as possible to the gate entrance and then inching forward into whatever space opportunistically presents itself in the mob. I think of it as a game and try to enjoy it with a gamesmen’s attitude. Doing it like that, it’s not so bad.

Don’t get me wrong. Filipinos who do this are not unruly or rude as they mass up at the boarding gate. In fact, they cheerfully socialize as they gently fight for position. Americans in similar circumstances are not always so sweet-tempered with some tending to surliness; so I can appreciate this about Filipino air travelers. They are what they are, they do what they do.

I had to laugh at the Japanese Northwest agents though as they made their silly demands that everyone should PREASE form two rines. None of us in the general boarding gaggle even looked at them as we continued to stand patiently in our quietly disobliging throng. I made a joke out of their silly attempt to bring Japanese order to a group of mostly Filipinos, turning to my fellow “mob mates” behind me I smilingly made my own mocking announcement, “Okay folks, please form a line directly behind ME! And thank you for YOUR cooperation.” Some even smiled.

Not quite four hours after taking off from Nagoya we made the long gentle approach into Manila. I nudged my lawyer pal as the plane floated and flared down to a soft touch down—the moment of contact almost imperceptible. I told him knowingly: “See, it WAS that first aircrew! Now THAT was a beautiful landing.” In consensual agreement my fellow passengers applauded sarcastically, the old Bronx cheer, all realizing that we finally had some REAL pilots up front. It was the first time I’ve seen passengers applaud just because their pilots were able to land without thrashing everyone in their seats.

At the Manila terminal, four hours after our original estimated arrival time, pulling along my heavy, bursting-at-the-seams, wheeled, carry-on suitcase, I deftly sailed past as many of my deplaned fellow travelers as I could, managing to be just number four in an immigration line despite my extremely rearward seat position. But just my miserable luck, the guy in front of me decided to ask a bunch of stupid questions about extending his tourist visa. I silently implored, ‘COME ON DUDE! MOVE IT ALREADY!’

At last, my turn; I gave the tired looking immigration lady an obligatory pleasantry, “Hello maam, sorry for the late arrival. How are you doing tonight, I mean morning?”

With a vacant smile she nodded pleasantly, electronically scanned my permanent resident card and quickly stamped my passport. Zoom, I was out of there.

Passing through the rows of luggage carrousels I could see a couple hundred people already congregated thickly around the one on the far left. It was not turning thus far and not one bag had yet to be delivered.

‘Heh heh! …Suckers!’ I thought, hurriedly proceeding to an unoccupied customs agent standing at a station below a sign declaring: “Nothing to Declare.”

The short skinny bald customs official began to wave me through having just done so with about ten of the aircrew and attendants from my flight, and then stopped me when he realized that I was not with them. “Do you have anything to declare sir?” he asked. Biting back sarcasm I respectfully said instead, “No sir!”

He took my customs declaration, initialed it and waved me on. Bing bang boom.

Looking much exhausted after such a long and unexpected wait, my driver and gal were waiting for me at the bottom of the ramp outside. Plopping into the rear seat of the sedan with a wince due to my aching back, I tried to nap for the last two hours of my odyssey after having left my starting point in Saginaw, Michigan almost 30 hours before.

Dawn’s light was already visible when the driver pulled up in front of my gate. As I said at the beginning of this piece:

I’m home, …at last! Yawn….

Monday, September 08, 2008

VII. Tree House, 3/5ths Up

The boys were on a roll. “The factory” was turning out steps like gang busters while Eddy and his welding prodigy worked feverishly (it seemed) to get the third ramp of stairs in place. As usual, being at the office during the morning, I didn’t have to watch them as they did it, stretching arms out while welding a support in place all while balancing on an inch wide horizontal on one leg.

Hopping off my scooter I could see the third flight and loved how I high up into the trees it sat. Eagerly, I almost jogged over to see it from beneath. Eddy was standing at the base with arms crossed high on his chest as he tends to do while watching his lads at work, but as I approached he walked over to meet me.

“Hey there Santa!” I greeted him joyously.

Not getting the joke, nonetheless he smiled uncertainly asking “What?”

“Eddy, you MUST be Santa, because every day I come home to see what’s going on around my tree and it feels exactly like Christmas morning.”

“Ahhh!” he laughed, liking the comparison to Saint Nick.

He declared, “If you want, you can go up to the third platform. The railing is only half supported so be very careful. We are high enough now to see the mountains behind Clark! You're going to love it. It's beautiful.”

I had never seen Eddy so animated. His excitement was catching hold of me.

“Really? Can I go up now?” and up I went without waiting for an answer.

Sure enough, for the first time since moving into the subdivision I could see the Zombales Mountains to the west. It was amazing. Suddenly my world had expanded to scores of miles beyond the inside of my little walled yard.

Elated, I declared “Only two more flight to go Eddy. I can’t wait!” I stood there for a good ten minutes, although feeling a bit shaky, more than 30 feet up, torn between the feelings of precariousness and excitement, staring at my newly extended horizons while feeling decidedly unsteady at the lack of support around me.

“I’ll get out of the way now, so you guys can finish this railing.”

Even on the ground I was still drunk from the freedom of being high up in my trees.

‘This was REALLY a GOOD idea!’

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

VI. Tree House, "Higher and Higher"

The second section of stairway, now that’s when the real gymnastics and high wire work began. Watching these guys wearing flimsy flip-flops, no hard hats and even worse for my peace of mind, no safety harnesses, makes me nervous to no end. Having spent decades on Air Force flight lines where every work scenario is governed by strict safety considerations, I could barely watch without squirming.

Eddy confessed that one of his boys had actually fallen not all that long ago at another work site. The kid had hit the ground from about 15 feet up, landing on his back, luckily on soft ground with no apparent lasting injury other than having the wind knocked out of him.

“Okay, so you’re with me if I ask you guys to start tying off?” I practically pleaded.

As always, when I bring up the subject of safety, he just smiled and found something else that needed to be done at that moment.

Admittedly, mostly based on hearsay, falling is not exactly an unusual way for construction workers to get hurt and even die around here. From what I hear, many building projects involving more than a couple floors run up a death and injury toll. Last year I watched the Korean Hotel go up across the street from my gym and I was regularly horrified (anyway, I regularly cringed a lot) to watch the blatant flouting of what I consider basic safety precautions. In fact, one or two deaths took place on that site before it was finally finished. I asked one of the fitness center assistants, a talkative good-natured fellow who regularly gives me the low down on what’s happening in the neighborhood, what kind of compensation the family got for the death of their loved one. He shrugged saying only a few thousand pesos, perhaps just a couple hundred dollars.

I hate the idea that any worker might get hurt or even die while working on the tree tower. Thing is, I know that even if I go ahead and buy harnesses, which are available here, that mostly out of pride and because they can be cumbersome to use, none of the boys would wear them. I’d be wasting my money. I even told Eddy that I was willing to buy everyone a hardhat, a harness, and safety goggles; but again, he just smiled politely. You can lead a horse to water…

Even though it reached upward towards 20 feet, the second flight of stairs was still fairly easy to put up and weld into place since someone on the ground with a long sturdy board could help support the steel step casing while the welder reached out from where he stood on a makeshift platform of wired on one-by-one boards and tacked into place the casing’s underlying supports.

By the time I came home that afternoon I was ecstatic to see the second flight mostly complete. Eddy stood with me below answering my chatty questions as I craned my head back peering excitedly at the wonder that he and his boys had wrought.

“So, what’s next?” I asked enthusiastically.

“We start putting up the next level of vertical supports,” Eddy responded.

“Are you sure it will be high enough? Will that take us up so that when we’re standing on the platform we will be able to see above the top of the tallest tree?”

“Yes, it should. We’ll know soon.”

“If not, can we extend it on up so that it does?”

Nodding his head with arms folded high on his chest he answered quietly, “Yes, we can do that.” And he said so in his typical staid confident manner.

If anybody can, it’s Eddy. At this point I’m convinced that he can build just about anything…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It’s not WHO, it’s IF.

(Let's take a break from the tree house today...)

I’ve had it up to here (pointing over my head) with the drone of TV talking heads pontificating on who is “pulling ahead or falling behind” in the polls.

Think about it. Are there actually people out there, serious voters mind you, who have NOT made their minds up yet?

At this point, are there really citizens still sitting on the proverbial fence waiting to be swayed on which way they will fall? I think not. At this point, NO ONE could possibly be THAT wishy-washy, and if they are then chances are they are not going to vote anyway.

Voters who think Obama is the way to go, a politician who will certainly take us sharply to the left, are going to pull the lever for him no matter what more the McCain people “find” on him in the way of “negatives.”

Folks like me, who believe that John McCain and his barely right of center platform is best, will vote for him no matter how many homes he owns. (He’s married to a multi-millionaire heiress—and they ONLY have eight houses? Enough on that Bob Beckel!)

It's always amazed me how few of us actually vote. Over the years, going back to the mid-70s, I’ve had animated discussions on who should be president with dozens of people. Then, when the time came to vote, it turns out that I was the only one to actually do it. It makes me wonder how many of these all-mouth-and-no-vote folks are the ones being polled. I do know that I've never been polled.

One pundit spouted a stat from recent past election cycles when polls actually showed a 15 point “bounce” for candidates after their convention. What? So, that means 15 out of 100 people polled actually switched their intention over to “the other guy” merely due to the excitement of THAT guy’s convention? Excuse my skepticism, but “No way!”

No, polls are BS. The people answering them are frauds. They have to be. More so this year since the difference between the candidates is as stark as any I’ve ever seen.

There is no one waiting to be convinced anymore since there are so few nuances between the two contenders. I mean Obama is so far left that he makes “Maverick McCain”—a senior senator not known in the past for being a dyed in the wool conservative—suddenly looking like an amalgamation of Ronald Reagan and Curtis Lemay.

Hence, there should be only two questions on any current poll:
1) McCain or Obama?

And …
2) (On pain of DEATH!) Are you REALLY going to vote?

And the emphasis SHOULD be on latter. If the pollsters could get THAT right then they would immediately be out of a job and they know it. Still, if we COULD get that one thing truly and honestly answered then we could stop all this ridiculous nonsensical polling, and better yet, end all the mind numbing TV discussions on the so-called “latest poll results.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

V. Tree House, "Stairway to Heaven"

When I first imagined my tree house tower I saw it in my mind’s eye with a spiral staircase going up through the center and entering the top platform through a trapdoor. I mentioned this scheme to Eddy and he just smiled politely. Once he knew I was serious about constructing it he “suggested” instead a series of stairs winding around the outside of the structure. Immediately I saw his way was best and also realized that his visions would always be better than mine. It got so I would tell him what I was looking for and then he would tell me what I wanted.

Work on what could be done on the bottom tiers of the first 20 foot section soon reached a point that the boys could no longer safely continue to go higher. Thus, it was time to start construction of the stairway. According to Eddy, as the stairs went up so also would the rest of the tower.

The easiest ramp of stairs was of course that first one. It was also one of the most exciting to watch go in since it signified that it wasn’t just a run of the mill tower structure like the ones seen everywhere around here that hold up household water tanks. Eddy has built dozens of them so in many ways this particular tower is not much different than the others he has built in the past. He did tell me though that this is the first tree house tower he’s ever built. Cool. I like being the first.

With all the pieces already available having come straight from “the factory” it took very little time for them to finish that first casing. “Kid Welder” is a wiz with that fizzling yellow metal box of his. Still, I was a bit surprised that afternoon when Eddy told me to go ahead and walk to the top the first landing. Carefully, I did exactly that. I didn’t need to be careful at all. It wasn’t finished, but even so it was sturdily unyielding. Standing there, ten feet above the yard, and still only on the first landing, I was very encouraged and looking forward to getting even higher.

This height thing is like a drug. The higher you go, the higher you want to go. So be it…

IV. Tree House, "Step by Step"

I’ve been away, at least from blogging anyway. For over a month now I haven’t read anyone’s blog or written anything into mine. My dad’s health woes, which appear to be stabilized now, sort of took the stuffings out of me there for a while. That, the stresses of my current “life transition” as well as my volunteer duties as a veteran’s service officer all seems to have affected me more than I realized. The thought of writing and reading blogs just soured. Well, I hate leaving anything undone, so I’ll give this another shot… I’ll continue…

I was away when they did it. The next day after the very next day, after waiting for the four foundation blocks of cement to cure, Eddy’s eldest boy, a compactly sturdy “lad” over 30 years old and the one most adept at arc welding, welded each of the four legs to their respective foundation plates.

To sum up, at this point, we have a robust multi-tiered tower base more than 20 feet in height, firmly planted, not to the ground, but into the ground, with plenty of concrete and steel.

Just to confirm what I already knew, I would go up to “my baby,” grab her with all my strength, such as it is these days, and try mightily to get some movement out of it. I could not get so much as a vibration. After doing that a time or two, I was convinced of its sturdiness. As high as I planned to go up with it I wanted to make completely sure, especially before I let my little girls clamber up and all over it. I was building it as much for my kids as I was for me.

Before we could go any higher with the tower structure, Eddy put his entire gang, all four of them, into establishing what I have come to refer to as “the factory.”

These fellows fascinate me the way they can take simple straight pieces of raw steel—whether it be round and flat bar, as well as angle iron and thick lengths of pipe—measure out what they need just once without ever writing anything down, cut it up using nothing but muscle and hacksaws, before welding all the myriad pieces into a finely finished product. For me, it’s amazing to see it happen, mainly because I know they make it look much easier than it actually is.

We were going to require lots of steps. In no time at all Eddy’s gang had a batch of them, maybe a dozen or so, plenty enough to begin the first stairway. Each step is a minor work of art. I can’t imagine trying to make one of them much less the 50 plus we would eventually need to take us all the way to tippy top of our glorious mangoes. Two boys would cut the angle iron to form the rectangular frame while another sawed and sawed the hundreds of pieces of round bar that formed the actual stepping surface.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Dad

I’m not the sort of person to tell all about sensitive personal stuff; so I’ll just say that my dad is not doing well. In fact, I think he is probably dying.

It’s tough in that I am exactly on the opposite side of the world from where my family is dealing with what may be his final “crisis.” Now, waiting for news of the worst, writing here in this self-indulgent little blog, and self-indulgent is what all blogs are, it’s hard to make myself find words to properly express sensitive thoughts (How to say them so as not to hurt feelings or come off sounding callous?) I suppose I do so not so much for whatever little readership there might be, but for myself when I might go back and read this at some time in the future.

I don’t want to write a requiem now, not while he still struggles to live, but speaking to my brother and sister over the last day or so has forced me to think about how I feel about him.

My dad is not the easiest fellow to be around, in fact, he can be downright mean-spirited. From about the time I approached my teens our relationship became uneasy at best. He’s the kind of hypersensitive person whose overreactions to comments and harmless remarks have taught folks over the years to walk on eggs around him. That was tough for me since I am the supreme wiseass, the ultimate quipster. The irony is that I probably picked up my wisecracking from him. I guess you can say he could dish it out but could not take it in return.

The funny thing is that out of all my siblings I just might be the fondest of him; and believe me, it’s not because he was any nicer to me than he was to them, for he was universally difficult to all of us. I’ll explain.

Within days of my graduation from high school I was on a bus heading for the Marines. Here’s the weird thing: from the moment I left, all the teenage odium that a young man can feel for a thorny father evaporated. It evaporated in a puff of wispy smoke.

From that exact second on, my mind pushed away to the back of my brain all the memories of slights, unpleasantness and unkind remarks; they became unimportant. Instead, over the decades what became prominent were all the good memories I have of him, and thinking back I realize that there are more than a few. For instance:

I remember the last fatherly kiss he gave me. It was while we lived in what I think fondly back on now as an enchanting spot, especially for a little lad that grew to love nature. Of all things to be fond of, it was a simple trailer court (nothing paved, all of it gravel) in the wilds of Maine not far from Bangor at a place called Mud Lake. I was about 4 years old and in my mother’s arms one evening. It was time for bed and she brought me outside in my pajamas to say goodnight to Dad. As if it was yesterday I remember saying, “Goodnight Daddy,” with him answering gently in kind. Then he kissed me through the screen of the porch door. I clearly remember the strange feeling of kissing through that screen. Believe it or not, that was probably the last time he kissed me. It’s a precious moment.

Another sweet flash of recall comes from about two years later when we lived in the base housing of Dow Air Force Base in a pleasant subdivision called “K Park.” I don’t remember what caused it but some other little kid had me in tears, as usual. I was a pretty sensitive little wimpy child back then. I came into the house wearing all my winter clothes, choking back sobs, with tears running freely down my face like salty rain on a window pane. With me blubbering and struggling to gasp out my sad little story he said nothing at all as I desperately tried to explain my latest little personal catastrophe. Fully expecting to be chided about not crying over silly things, instead, he silently comforted and silenced me without saying a word by putting a hand on my head while I hugged his legs. At that moment all was right with the world. I probably remember that moment more so because he never did anything like that again. I’m sure that’s why it’s stayed with me.

I became a pretty good ball player because of him. We played catch almost every day from before the time I was four years old. Strangely, he never once played organized sports his entire life, yet he was pretty good when he tried to be athletic. Before bursitis ruined his shoulders he could really put some heat on his throws. By the time I started little league at the age of 8 we would play what Americans call “burn out” where two guys playing catch try to throw the ball back harder than it is thrown to you. The ball literally whistles through the air directly at you before popping loudly into your mitt (hopefully). Catch it wrong and it can break bones. (In fact I have two broken fingers from playing baseball). I learned courage doing this simple baseball exercise with him.

I used to caddy for him during the late 60s before I began to play golf with him myself on occasion. It was interesting observing him reacting with his friends (he was always so pleasant to his buddies), and I really liked that he was nicer to me around them and treated me like a little adult.

He probably enjoyed that game more than any other pastime he ever tried; but in the mid-60s it about killed him and probably changed him for the worse when he was struck in the temple from a toed shot off the tee by one of his golf pals. While looking expectantly down the fairway the errant shot knocked him to his knees and into the hospital for several weeks. Whatever personality glitches he had before then only seemed to grow worse after that. All his emotions became amplified and he was less able to control cutting remarks. Whatever patience he had for those of us in his immediate family became miniscule. Over the years the effects grew worse until by the time I was in my early teens I used to avoid him or simply clammed up sullenly to evade provoking him.

I learned early on that it was easier to love him from afar. I wrote about it a little in an earlier post describing how proud of him I was while covertly watching him on his bicycle one afternoon as he rode hell for leather from his worksite while we lived at Karamursel Air Base, Turkey. Seeing him like that from far-off made me feel an affection that I could not explain.

In the same period I got to see another fleeting side of him that made me feel extremely uncomfortable but gave me insight into his heart of hearts. It was also in Turkey at a party my father had thrown for the airman that worked for him. He got drunk quick that day and calling me over he put an arm around my shoulders. Squeezing tightly he announced loudly to all there in a heavily exagerated amiable slur, “This is my boy Philip! He’s my buddy. You and me forever, right Philip!” Embarrassed, I just grinned and nodded.

Contact with my dad became much limited after his retirement from the Air Force after he started his second career at Saginaw Steering Gear. He worked second shift and that meant our paths crossed little, which was probably a good thing for the angst-ridden sullen teenager that I had become. By that time, whenever we were in the same room together I always felt tense and resentful. It was the classic old bull unable to get along with the younger, or perhaps the other way around is more like it.

Counter to what many close to me might believe, I couldn’t wait to get out and on my own not so much because I was miserable at home but because I was anxious to experience the world. Getting back to what I stated at the beginning of this piece, it's strange that the moment I got on the bus for bootcamp whatever hostility and umbrage I felt for my father disappeared. Sometimes it’s actually true, no, a certainty in my case, that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. To know this is true all one need do is read my letters sent home from my basic training days. In them, I have nothing but good things to say regarding my dad.

At the time I write this he’s still with us and I hope it will continue to be so, especially if he can recover and then maintain some kind of quality of life. Just the same, it’s not looking good. I wanted to record these scattered thoughts while they occur to me while I know that he is still here on this earth with me. It feels strange to think that he will probably be gone, if not soon then in the immediate future. It happens to us all; we all lose our parents eventually…

I love you Dad.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

III. Tree House, From the Bottom Up

Part III

Once the boys had the base standing suitably, with the first three horizontal support tiers and all respective stiffening cross pieces installed and tightened, it was time to position it. Eddy asked me where I wanted it, not only the spot on which to place it, but how I wanted it arranged in respect to the trees and the porch. I figured the best way to decide this was to climb inside, stand directly in the middle and look straight up. Doing this, I pointed in one direction then another while calling out for them to move it a few inches this way and that, as well as having them turn it on its axis so that the largest tree limbs would not have to be cut back. My goal was to adjust it so that once the tower was raised to full height it would poke straight through the middle of the three trees and into the sky.

In less than a minute or two I had it exactly like I wanted it. I extricated myself to have a look at the result, curious to see how it would look from the porch entrance. With only a slight adjustment more I was satisfied. The stairway entrance would be in an ideal spot, and the tower base was still set so that the eventual topside would poke through the tree branches unencumbered.

After that, I ran out of money. I needed another week or so to wait for a check to clear in my local dollar account before we could proceed. The banks here rip you off in almost every way to include what should be the simple function of transferring money into local accounts from stateside ones. We normal “little people,” those without the necessary connections and clout, have to write checks and then wait for about a month for the money to “clear.” In reality, the money “is there” almost immediately, taking no more than a day or two for the electronic transfer to take place, but the bank holds on to it for weeks to use as they see fit. Sigh. It’s just one more of the many little (and not so little) inconveniences foreigners have to put up with for the privilege of living in “paradise.”

The next step was to provide a robust foundation. I sure would hate to be standing on the platform some 45 feet up only to have a strong gust of wind topple the whole thing over. I could just imagine what it would look like; probably like a tall tree falling after a lumberjack had his way with it. “TIM-BERRRRR!” No thanks. We made sure it was “set in stone,” so to speak.

Eddy marked the exact spot where all four supports would stand, had the tower base moved out of the way and then had two of his lads dig a squared off pit at each of the carefully marked spots where the four legs would ultimately stand.

At the same time he had the other two of his progeny cutting round bar into a host of separate pieces to weld up a cage of metal destined to be set into the concrete that would be poured into each of the four 3 feet deep pits. It seemed to me that he was over-engineering it, but I that was fine by me!

When I came home that afternoon he had all four foundation cages completed with one already in its pit and ready for immersion in concrete. I was impressed at the thought that went into the design of the cages. Each was wide at the bottom with its own base; rising up from that base a rectangular column of long threaded bolts poking through and in turn were welded to a base plate designed to sit directly atop the concrete. The four primary vertical support legs would then be welded to these

I never did get to see them cement the cages into place. By the time I got back the next afternoon all four were already in the ground and curing. Things were moving steadily along, just as they always do when Eddy “The Man” is in charge of a project!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

II. Tree House, We Begin

Part II

The first step Eddy took toward fruition was to sketch his tree house concept based on what we had discussed. He eagerly showed it to me a few days after our discussion, wanting to know what I thought. His crudely penned drawing had the look of a guard tower along with the flavor of the long gone windmills that once dotted in their thousands the landscape of the rural parts of the United States some 40 years ago.
As you can see from the diagram, it starts out wide at the base and narrowing as it soars skywards—elegant yet simple. To me, it was perfect.
“Let’s get started,” I said patting him lightly on the back.
A few days later he showed up at 7:20 am with his welding machine and drill press, both well-worn though not yet worn out. He and his boys spent the whole of a day measuring, drilling and welding metal.
I asked him towards day’s end, “Eddy, how do you expect to achieve the proper narrowing of the vertical supports as you built it up to the top? I can’t imagine how you are going to do that.”
As patient as always with my non-stop questions he told me: “Well, we’ll lay the vertical supports out on the ground first and make sure we get the right distances as they slope upward. You see, the secret is in the horizontal supports and the cross braces between them. We will make them shorter and shorter with each riser section. Don’t worry; we’ll make sure it all works correctly first with all the pieces laid out on the ground before we try to bolt it together up there.” He pointed up to the tops of my trees with pursed lips in Filipino style and then smiled good-naturedly, something he does all the time.
After he explained it, once again, I realized that I had just asked a bit of a stupid question, but sometimes answers aren’t so obvious until you hear them explained.
The assembly of the first section, the base, with each of the four vertical supports some 20 feet long, was to say the least an “interesting” event to observe, because the process seemed so chaotic and precarious. Nuts and bolts held it all together at this early stage, none of which could be tightened completely until all the pieces, vertical and horizontal supports as well as the cross braces, were in their respective positions.
The bottom horizontal level, easily within reach from the ground, was not a problem. The precarious part started when the second horizontal pieces had to be emplaced some five feet higher, at least it seemed that way for me as an American observer used to orderly structure and with a background in following and
enforcing strict safety standards.
With their dad providing even-tempered instructions in his quiet yet commanding style, one of his three very slender yet extremely strong boys, all in their mid-20s and early-30s, clambered up onto the not yet completely tightened lower horizontal support , and began to install the second tier of horizontals a few feet above his head. I could hardly bare watching with my over-developed sense of safety drilled into me from my decades on Air Force flight lines, where every possible procedure to keep workers from harm is followed to a “t.”
He was less than six feet from the ground; just the same,
my heart was in my mouth. The young man was tenuously balanced wearing
only flip-flops, the standard footwear for virtually all construction workers over here, and had to use both hands to tighten hardware while adjusting and keeping it in all in place, and that while standing on a narrow piece of steel only a little more than an inch across, all while the entire structure was still all loose and wobbly.
To me, the whole thing seemed about to collapse in a heap of very dangerous pick-up sticks, with this stout-hearted young fellow trapped in the middle of the jumble. As I said, I could barely stand to watch, but watch I did, and even took photos, while hoping I was not about to capture images of a fallen and broken nephew.
Over the next few weeks, that was not the last time I would marvel at their seeming lack of concern for the preservation of their own life and limbs. I suppose it’s something they just get used to, perhaps out of necessity, but I’ll be darned if I ever will get used to seeing it.
Sometimes, I just have to stop watching, either that or become a jumpy raw bundle of nerves.