Thursday, November 16, 2017


There's an old saying that lightning never strikes twice. But I am here to tell you that it does, at least in the form of misfortune--very specific misfortune. 

I turn fifty in a few weeks. It doesn't particularly bother me, nor am I all that impressed. It wasn't hard to reach one-half century in age. I haven't outlived many people I know, as most of my friends and associates are still alive. I don't feel decrepit or unhealthy. It's basically just a number. 

Still, fifty seems like a significant number to some folks, so I decided that this year, for my fiftieth, I'd do something different, something special. I decided to treat myself to something I've never done before. I tried this back when I was about to turn 20. I saved my money for several months, planning on learning scuba diving--something I'd always wanted to do, despite living several states away from any ocean. 

Fate had other plans for me that year. I was laid off just a month before my birthday. My savings went to food and rent rather than weightbelts and snorkel, and my dreams of swimming among all those delicious fish got derailed. 

For 50, I could have chosen scuba diving again, but my interest in it has waned over the years. I suppose if I was on vacation somewhere, I might give it a try, but it just doesn't hold the interest for me it once did. No, for the big Five-O, I decided to try another failed birthday wish: hunting. 

I've been a fisherman all my life. One of my earliest memories is a family trip to Canada when I was 2 or 3, and fishing. I don't remember the actual fishing part, but I do vaguely remember the trip. Growing up, one of the few things I could get my father to do was take me fishing--he had a friend who lived on a private lake. We went out to her house often, and fished with Peggy and her husband. 

My kids enjoy fishing, as does my father-in-law. We try and go several times a year to lakes in the area. Fishing is just kind of a regular thing for us, no more special than a trip to the movies or zoo. 

Hunting, on the otherhand, is something I've never gotten to try. 

When I was fifteen, I traded in my sold off BMX bicycle and used the money to buy a nice compound bow. I became quite adept at archery over the following spring and summer. Unfortunately, my father was not a hunter, and had no desire to become one. But his brother hunted. My Uncle Tommy was an avid hunter. And, for my sixteenth birthday, he invited me to accompany him to Pennsylvania for a week-long deer hunting trip. 

Unfortunately, it meant I'd miss a few days of school. My father kiboshed the trip, and my archery skills remained firmly in the realm of slaying paper targets for the next few years. Among the many things my father did wrong in my life, this is easily one of the top ten that still bothers me. I tend to think about it very often, even now, all these decades later. 

So this year, I decided to change that. 

My planning began in early January 2017. In 2016, I had built my own AR15--something I'd wanted to do for years. It was a fun project that involved buying parts here and there, stretched out over several months, then assembling my rifle and covering it in accessories and add-ons (scope, bipod, etc. etc.)

For my hunting trip, I decided I needed a shotgun (Indiana doesn't allow hunting with a 5.56mm Armalite sporting rifle). I began shopping for a cheap .12 gauge--something I could use to hunt either Deer or Turkey. I planned on finding a nice, cheap, used shotgun, then rebuilding it, adding on bits and pieces much the same way I built my AR15. 

Then 2017 began to unravel. First, my wife had a car wreck in march. She wasn't seriously hurt, but it derailed a lot of our plans, including vacation. Then, my youngest was diagnosed with scoliosis and began wracking up medical bills and attending weekly physical therapy. By September, I hadn't done much of anything towards my fall goal of finally going hunting.

I did manage to score a shotgun around this time--my father-in-law passed down a nice pump-action he no longer wanted. A .20 gauge. It seemed that Deer was off the list, and I'd be setting my sights on Turkey. Not a problem--my birthday always falls on or around Thanksgiving, so some delicious bird I killed myself seemed like a great idea to ring in the next decade of life. 

It was a stupid accident--I wasn't watching where I was going, and fell down the stairs into my beloved basement. I didn't break anything, but I did rupture a tendon. In one literal, fell swoop, my birthday plans were dashed. I spent weeks in an immobilizing boot, then a brace, and now do physical therapy once a week. I can tolerate about an hour of standing or walking at best. 

The only hunting of turkeys I'll be doing this year is in the freezer section at the grocery store. 

And thus, lightning has struck again. For the umpteenth time. There are many other stories of birthday plans dashed I could recount--like when I turned 21 and instead of going out for free drinks with my friends got stuck in West Virginia for a week when my grandfather passed away. But I think I've made my point. An ironic point, actually, as one of the things I've always said is how being struck by lightning (and surviving) would make a great story to tell. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Halloween Memories: 1992

Halloween may be over this year, but the memories of it, and Halloweens past, remain. Like the time I got kicked out of a German Castle for trespassing on Halloween.

It was 1992, and I was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, at Rhein-Main Air Base, a member of the 435th Security Police Squadron. I rarely went off-base--the Germans in Frankfurt made it painfully obvious they didn't like G.I.s--not even when I tried to speak their language, putting those GPA-killing three years I'd studied in High School to use. 

This particular Halloween, one of our new Sergeants, who had been stationed in Germany years before, told everyone how we should, as a group, go out together and celebrate Halloween properly--in a haunted castle. Our Sergeant explained that yes, we could drive south, past Darmstadt, to "The Frankenstein Castle" where a big Halloween party happened every year, or we could go to a better castle he knew of with a slightly smaller crowd. 

Our Flight voted and agreed to go on this journey, those with wives or girlfriends bringing along their companions (I brought my camcorder). We chipped in and rented three big vans and managed to fit every one inside. And then, we set out into the night...

It had been years since our Sergeant had been to the castle we were seeking, so what should have been a quick drive turned into a several-hour excursion, full of narrow, dark backroads, wrongturns and lots of griping. But eventually, somehow, we reached our destination: an old German Castle tucked away in the middle of nowhere. But there were no signs of life: no party, or group of paranormal tourists gathered. So what do thirty or so liquored-up G.I.s decide to do? Why, we went exploring. 

Fortunately, we had brought two of our German Nationals with us--these were local Germans the Air Force hired to work alongside the Security Police, offering translation services for those of us who didn't speak the local tongue. And, as luck would have it, one of our Germans was a big history buff. He knew all about castles. 

Somehow, we made our way around the exterior of the castle to some stairs leading up to an upper level. It was a broad landing, probably where archers had once stood, or maybe guys with vats of bubbling oil or something. As we stood around, talking, I happened to look over to the side wall--which had large windows installed. 

The castle was not deserted. It was full of people. People in very fancy clothes, all seated at tables, having some kind of fancy dinner. It was all very black tie, with what looked to be tuxedos, ladies in evening gowns, that kind of thing. And all of them were looking towards the unruly G.I.s outside with utter disdain. It was like we had stumbled across the awards banquet of SPECTRE or some other insidious, international organization of evil. 

Everyone laughed it off, several of us speculating that they must have turned the castle into some kind of restaurant or lodge in the time since our Sergeant had been here last. Several folks decided to go back to the ground level and find the front door to see if we could get reservations--dinner in the warm interior of the castle-restaurant sounded pretty good after our long drive from Frankfurt. 

The rest of us split up into groups, spreading out to explore the exterior more. I ended up with several folks ascending stairs into a tower. I struck my head several times, commenting that my German ancestors must have been some tiny little guys. 

Once we reached the top, we actually found a shaft for pouring hot oil down--or so our local told us. It had been covered up with a metal grating. He gave us a long story about the defenses such a castle had and we descended down to the landing with the windows into the restaurant. Then we got a good scare...

The Castlemeister, or whatever they called him, was furious and demanding we all leave. He was threatening to call Polizei (German police) and have us removed. This wasn't a restaurant, it was a private castle and we were not invited! (Reinforcing my theory this was a dinner for members of dastardly order of dubious origins, or maybe vampires or something). 

And thus, ended our night, with our group rounded up, packed back into our vans, and facing another hour or so drive back to base. My alcohol was fully burned off by the time we got back. It was late, and I was tired and cold. While most of the group decided to set back out and try to make it to the Frankenstein Castle before the post-midnight activities died, I (and several others) just went back to the dorms to sleep off our disappointment.