Archive for Stuff I Like

Arsenal of Democracy Flyover Celebrates V E Day’s 70th Anniversary

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

I was very fortunate to be close to the National Mall in Washington, DC just before noon today. Otherwise, I would’ve missed a once-in-a-lifetime sight. In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of V E Day, the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, the skies over Washington hosted the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover, a massed overflight of most of the still flight-worthy American warbirds of World War 2. (All photos were taken by my friend and coworker Tony Tortora, whose camera was vastly superior to mine.)

The weather on the National Mall was warm and humid, and thousands of people staked out either positions that gave them an unobstructed view of the skies around the Washington Monument or a place in the shade of a tree (I tried for a combination of both). The various formations of aircraft flew overhead in the order in which they were deployed during various campaigns during the conflict. The first aircraft to appear were the trainers, mostly biplanes (Boeing PT-17 Cadets are pictured above), in which the Army Air Force and Navy pilots learned their skills.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

The Liberator medium bombers were the mainstay of early American bombing missions over Germany and other European targets. Their bifurcated tail assemblies make them very distinctive.

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

The F4U Corsair fighters flew off American carriers in the Pacific and were instrumental in late American victories over the Japanese Navy and Army, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They, along with the Grumman Hellcat fighters, gave American pilots decisive superiority over the Japanese Zeros and other fighters, and the Corsairs were superb ground attack aircraft, much appreciated by the Marines.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

The P-38 Lightning was one of the most distinctive and deadly aircraft of the war, known for its twin fuselages, high speed, and incredible maneuverability. A Lightning shot down the Japanese transport carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, and squadrons of Lightnings were instrumental in turning back the final German winter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Flown from bases in England and Italy, the B-17 Flying Fortress was one of the iconic aircraft of the European war. More heavily armed than any earlier bomber, the Flying Fortresses’ bristling machine guns foiled the missions of many Luftwaffe Focke Wulf and Messerschmitt pilots. However, on their early missions, before they could be escorted all the way to their bombing assignments, even their massive defensive armament could not prevent up to 30% of all engaged aircraft from being shot down by German pursuit planes.

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

The P-51 Mustang was the primary escort of the B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe. Prior to the advent of the Mustangs, American and British long-range bombers could only be escorted partway on their missions, which led to appalling losses of air crews and aircraft on numerous flights. The Mustang’s long range and superior flight characteristics allowed it to accompany the bombers all the way to Germany and back and to outmatch the capabilities of the German pursuit planes. So many Luftwaffe pilots were killed by Mustangs that from D-Day forward, the Allies generally had air superiority in the Western European theater.

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

The A-26 Invader was utilized as either a light bomber or a ground attack aircraft (its nose cone could either be utilized as a bombardier’s station or as a gun module mounting as many as eight .50 caliber machine guns, or a 20mm or 37mm auto cannon, or even in some cases a 75mm howitzer. It served in late campaigns in both Europe and the Pacific and was later deployed in the Korean War, the French Indochina War, and the Vietnam War, proving its versatility by adapting to many mission types.

The B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber, the follow-up to the B-17 Flying Fortress, is best known for being the aircraft that carried out the atomic bombings over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a very advanced aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurized cabin and an electronic fire control system which controlled four automated machine gun turrets. It served in the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force until the end of the 1950s. Only a single example, nicknamed Fifi, is still flight worthy. Accordingly, Fifi was one of the last airplanes to fly over the National Mall during the V E Day commemoration.

The final formation in the presentation was the Missing Man Formation, which featured a Grumman TBM Avenger, a Vought F4U Corsair, a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (the famous “Flying Tiger”), and a North American P-51 Mustang, saluting the more than 400,000 American airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who died in combat during World War 2. This year and last have seen an impressive array of anniversaries: the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812; the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War; the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One; and the 70th anniversary of the close of World War Two. This may be the last major anniversary of V E Day during which surviving veterans of the conflict will be present to witness. The vets are now in their late eighties or nineties. My cousin Joe Miller received the Bronze Star for heroism during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany, the longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, which took place over a three month period between September and December, 1944. He never spoke about it; it was a military setback for the Allies which cost the lives of over 33,000 killed or incapacitated Americans. Joe has been gone for about seven years now. I miss him, and I am thankful for the service he gave as a young man. I was extremely privileged to have stood on the same ground yesterday with other men and women who sacrificed years of their youth and often their physical and mental health to save the world from Nazism and Japanese militarism.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

What a Birthday Cake!

Andys Birthday Cake

Last month I hit a milestone birthday, the big “Five-Oh.” Dara threw me a marvelous party at the Amphora Restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. Friends and family gathered around a long table and enjoyed Greek specialties. My sister Robyn came up from Tampa, my father flew in from San Diego, and my wonderful high school friends Maury and Larry drove down from Brooklyn. After a rough forty-ninth year, filled with health problems, it was good to close the curtain on that year and begin afresh, surrounded by loved ones.

The big surprise of the evening was the cake, an “anatomically correct” version of Veena, the green alien girl who seduced Captain Pike in the pilot Star Trek episode “The Cage,” later re-cut as the two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” The waiters thought the cake was hilarious and arranged my candles rather strategically. My son Levi nearly choked with laughter when they brought it out.

veena

Here’s the original Veena. I think our cake chef caught her likeness quite well, don’t you?

Post-War Lives of the Civil War Monitors

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

The US Navy built more than forty ironclad monitor warships during the Civil War (some of them weren’t completed until after the war was over). Some of these monitors had surprisingly long service lives, being pulled out of mothballs for harbor defense duty during the Spanish American War; some even lasted into the first decade of the twentieth century before being scrapped.

I’ve been doing research on the navies of 1862 for my third book in the August Micholson Chronicles, Fire on the Waters, and I came across these fascinating photographs of vessels of the US monitor fleet in their dotage. Some of these photos are so clear and sharp, you almost feel as if you are standing on a dock and staring across the water at an actual monitor.

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

It’s also fascinating to see how much additional superstructure got added to some of the monitors for their Spanish American War service, a complete repudiation of the builder of the first monitor, John Ericsson’s dictate that the decks of a monitor should be cleared for all-around fire. But the superstructure was necessary to make extended service on the vessels bearable for their crews, for temperatures rose to awful heights below decks, and the below-decks spaces were cramped and suffered from poor ventilation.

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

One of the river monitors, the double-turreted USS Onondaga was sold to France after the Civil War and, after crossing the Atlantic (a heroic feat for such a low-freeboard vessel as a monitor) served in the French Navy from 1867 until the early 1870s. She was then mothballed and was not scrapped until 1904.

USS Camanche, 1898

USS Camanche, 1898

All of the pieces of the USS Comanche were fabricated on the East Coast during the Civil War and were then shipped to the West Coast to be put together at the Mare Island Naval Station. Because of this unusual method of building, she was not completed until after the war, when she was placed in mothballs. Here she is off Mare Island during the Spanish American War, perhaps hoping for the war service she failed to see thirty-five years earlier.

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

After the Spanish American War, the monitors were quickly mothballed again. Here is a wonderful photo of the USS Lehigh and the USS Montauk at rest in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1902. The last survivor of the Civil War monitors was the USS Canonicus, veteran of the attack on Fort Fisher. She was towed from Florida to Hampton Roads, Virginia in mid-1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition as the last surviving Civil War ironclad. She was finally scrapped the following year.

USS Canonicus, 1907

USS Canonicus, 1907

My High Hopes for the New Godzilla Movie: Fat Green Dinosaur Blues

Godzilla-Teaser-Poster-2-Header

It’s now May, 2014, which (in my household, at least) is officially “Godzilla Month,” due to the upcoming release of the Legendary Pictures reboot of the venerable Toho Studio franchise.

As a longtime Godzilla fan (I saw my first Godzilla movie, Destroy All Monsters, at the age of three in the back of my parent’s convertible at a drive-in movie in Miami), here are my hopes for the new movie:

• I’d like Godzilla to look like GODZILLA, not some mutated iguana or monitor lizard (like in the 1998 American version, which was a sort-of-decent giant monster movie, but a lousy Godzilla movie). From the pics I’ve seen, I think this one is covered.

• I don’t want Godzilla to move/run/fight at the speed of a scalded cockroach (like he did in the 1998 version). He is much more impressive as a somewhat slow but unstoppable force of nature (as he was in the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters).

• Would it be too much trouble to ask for Godzilla to have a smidgeon of a personality, apart from perpetually-pissed-off dinosaur? I’m not saying he needs to get all cuddly, like he was in Son of Godzilla or any of the monster team-up movies like Godzilla vs. Gigan. But maybe some facial expressions? Maybe some distinctive moves? Legendary Pictures did a good job of giving their giant Jaiger robots in Pacific Rim some personality, but all their monsters have had the personality of a salamander, thus far.

• I was pretty impressed with the script for Pacific Rim. Will the new Godzilla have some genuine human interest, or will it just be a trio of monsters bashing each other in San Francisco? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

Oh, and here’s a somewhat hilarious article from the International Digital Times, entitled “Is Godzilla Too Fat? Japanese Fans Outraged Over ‘Godzilla’ 2014 Portrayal As A Chubby Kaiju.”

“OK, so it’s a little hard to miss the fact that Godzilla is a little chubbier than usual in the latest Godzilla 2014 trailer, but we would never fat shame the tubby behemoth. Fat shaming Godzilla is exactly what fans are doing… Japanese fans are calling the new Godzilla ‘out of shape Godzilla,’ ‘Metabozilla’ and ‘pudgy and cute.’ Some of the more hilarious insults being hurled at the new monster are that ‘his neck looks like an American football athlete’s,’ ‘he got beefed up from the radiation at Fukushima’ and ‘that’s what happened when all your do is eat and lay around.’”

Hey, maybe Legendary Pictures will ask me to do the novelization of their latest film. I’ve got the perfect title – Fat Green Dinosaur Blues

Fiends Without Form: Toho Goes Shapeless with The H-Man, Matango, and Dagora, the Space Monster

Original Japanese poster for Matango

Toho Studios and the dynamic duo of director Ishiro Honda and special effects wizard Eiji Tsubaraya are best known in the U.S. for their kaiju films starring Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and other giant inhabitants of Monster Island. But their kaiju films were far from their only excursions into the science fiction and horror realms. At least three such Toho flicks are notable for featuring amorphous aliens, shapeless specters, random radioactive rascals, or fiends without form (there – I think I’ve exhausted my alliterative abilities, at least for the moment).

A nightclub beauty being dissolved into green goo by the H-Man

Although the best known monstrous mass of moldy goo from 1958 is undoubtedly The Blob, the first film to feature Steve McQueen in a starring role (and also memorable for its tongue-in-cheek hit theme song), Toho actually beat Paramount Pictures to the punch with their not-too-dissimilar horror flick, The H-Man (the former was released in September, 1958, whereas the latter was released in Japan in June, 1958, first appearing in the U.S. in May of the following year). The original title of this sprightly horror film was Beauty and Liquid Men, which suffers when translated into English, as do many Japanese film titles.

As with so many Japanese films of the period, the monsters are created by nuclear radiation out at sea (this is also the scientific explanation behind the mutagenic mushrooms found on the deserted island in Matango). Special effects technician Eiji Tsubaraya, the man behind the effects in all of the Godzilla pictures from the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters to Godzilla’s Revenge, designed the “liquid men” as blue effluence that could move of its own volition and take on roughly human shape.

With much of the film’s action set in or near a nightclub, Masaru Sato composed a jazzy score that adds much liveliness to the film. The nightclub acts give the film a kitschy, vintage charm. The monsters themselves aren’t very scary, until you see one dissolve a beautiful singer. The film’s climax, set in the sewers beneath Tokyo, reminds me of the subterranean climax of Them! (where the giant ants are cornered by the army in the storm sewers beneath Los Angeles. It also adds a good bit of genuine horror to this science fiction pic.

On account of the gangsters and their molls, the nightclub singers, and that suspenseful climax, I give The H-Man three stars out of five.

My favorite of this amorphous “trilogy” is definitely Matango (alternatively titled Attack of the Mushroom People or Matango, Fungus of Terror — the latter one of the all-time great monster film titles). In part, this is because I watched it at least half a dozen times as a kid on late-night or Saturday afternoon TV, so it made a big impression on me. Also, it is an unusual film for Toho and director Ishiro Honda in that it mainly focuses on psychological horror, rather than physical monsters. This is mainly due to its origins in the William Hope Hodgson story, “The Voice in the Night,” a 1907 tale of psychological horror (which I have not yet read, but which is on my list).

I wouldn’t eat that if I were you…

A group of young Japanese men and women on a pleasure yacht are forced to beach their craft on a seemingly deserted island after a fierce storm at sea damages their boat. Much of the island is covered by a rapidly growing fungus, as is another beached yacht, this one abandoned, which they come across. They quickly run out of canned foods and are forced to forage on the island. The yacht’s captain warns them not to eat the mushrooms, as they may be poisonous. They subsist for a while on bird’s eggs (although most birds avoid the island), potatoes, and seaweed, but one of their number succumbs to the call of the mushrooms and eats some. Their influence drives him mad, and he attacks his fellow castaways. One by one, the members of the yachting party eat the mushrooms, and they begin to see shambling, walking mushrooms, some of which appear vaguely human…

I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen it, but it’s a doozy. I give Matango four out of five stars for its atmospheric horror, unusual for a Toho film.

Before the script for Giant Space Monster Dogora (retitled Dagora, the Space Monster for American television) was written, I picture Ishiro Honda having the following conversation with monster master Eiji Tusburaya:

“Okay, we’ve done a combination Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus (Godzilla, King of the Monsters),” says Honda.
“Check,” says Tusburaya.
“We’ve done a pair of love-sick pterodactyls (Rodan).”
“Check.”
“We’ve done a giant moth (Mothra).”
“Check.”
“We’ve done a giant flying squirrel (no, not Rocky of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, but Varan the Unbelievable).”
“Check.”
“We’ve done a three-headed dragon that spits lightning bolts (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster).”
“Check.”
“So what kind of monster haven’t we done?”
“How about a giant space jellyfish that eats coal and dies when exposed to plentiful doses of wasp venom?”
“Fabulous! Get me a script writer!”

Yes, the creature does end up being vulnerable to wasps’ venom, which turns its jelly-like substance crystalline. One of the funniest scenes in the movie (perhaps inadvertent; I couldn’t tell) comes when a trio of hard-luck diamond thieves (Dagora eats carbon; that’s the connection with the jewel thieves) are suddenly crushed by a falling chunk of the crystallized monster while hiding behind a big rock on a beach. Violent slapstick worthy of the Keystone Cops.

If only more of this movie could've looked this mysterious and magical...

This is one of the only Toho science fiction or kaiju films in which the giant monster is not played by a man in a rubber suit. Also, Dogora/Dagora was one of the only Toho giant creatures to not appear in the all-star kaiju cast of Destroy All Monsters in 1968 (c’mon, even Varan the giant flying squirrel puts in a brief appearance in that film).

Despite the beauty of some of the scenes of Dagora in the night sky over Japan, I can only give Dagora, the Space Monster two point five stars out of five, due to the incredibly convoluted nature of its story, involving diamond thieves, coal deposits, wasps, etc. etc. etc. A little too baroque for its own good, I’d say. If only more of the film could have had that fabulous sense of wonder inspired by those few scenes of the creature floating over Tokyo in the night sky…

Precursor to the USS James B. Eads of Fire on Iron: USS Cairo

Famous photo of the USS Cairo, taken before her sinking by submerged "torpedo"

Famous photo of the USS Cairo, taken before her sinking by submerged “torpedo”

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Readers of my steampunk supernatural suspense novel Fire on Iron know that most of the novel is set aboard a fictional City-class ironclad river gunboat, the USS James B. Eads. What some readers may not be aware of is that one of the James B. Eads‘ “sister ships,” the USS Cairo, is on display at the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Cairo was sunk on December 12, 1862 by a submerged Confederate “torpedo,” or what we would call today a mine. Almost a hundred years later, in 1956, historian Edwin C. Bearss, employed by the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located the wreck, buried in the mud of the Mississippi River.

In 1960, Bearss succeeded in raising various pieces of the wreck, including the Cairo’s armor-plated pilothouse. Four years later, he had succeeded in securing additional funding from the State of Mississippi, and an attempt was made to raise the entire wreck in one piece. However, the three-inch thick cables which were being used to raise the wreck sliced through the ironclad’s wooden hull (Cairo was built of wood and partially plated with 2.5″ thick railroad iron and sections of boiler plate). So the decision was made to allow the cables to slice the gunboat into three sections, each of which was raised separately.

In 1965, the various sections and chunks of the wreck were placed on barges and first towed to Vicksburg, then towed again to a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the engines were disassembled, cleaned of rust and mud, and reassembled, and the various other parts of the ironclad were put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The wooden parts were continuously sprayed with water to keep them from cracking. It took many years for Congress to raise the necessary funds, but in 1977 the wreck, now partially restored, was towed back to the Vicksburg National Historical Park and put on display on a concrete base, next to a small museum, which displayed small artifacts recovered from the wreck (personal belongings of the ironclad’s sailors), and a gift ship which sold Cairo-related books and models. Since then, the old ironclad has been more fully restored and now rests under a protective awning.

I first visited the Cairo back in 1994, when I was writing my first draft of Fire on Iron. While I still lived in New Orleans, I made several pilgrimages to the Vicksburg National Historical Park to visit the only surviving US Navy river gunboat of the Civil War period.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow below of the Cairo in her original glory, being salvaged from the bottom of the Yazoo River, and how she looks today on display.

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A Historical Mystery Found in Graffiti

graphitti on Kiska

I discovered this seemingly weirdo incongruity while visiting an Internet site devoted to the Japanese occupation of the American island of Kiska during World War Two. This is the caption which accompanied this photo:

“Office of Japanese weather station occupied by Japanese, became U.S. officers’ headquarter; graffiti is written across wall behind desk.”

See if you spot the Bizarro-World nature of this graffiti which (we assume, based on the historical record) Japanese troops left behind on the wall of a weather station on the occupied island of Kiska in September, 1943.

Answer: the graffiti is in German, not Japanese! Was this a clever head-fake by the retreating Japanese, who left Kiska without firing a shot? Or were there actually German speakers on Kiska in 1943 – which would imply that the German High Command was considering using Kiska as a jumping-off point for an invasion of Alaska?

No; the latter doesn’t make any sense at all. It must be the former…

Here’s a link to the rest of a set of very memorable photographs of the island of Kiska, taken right after American forces liberated the place.

Rest of the Fall Foliage Dinos

Two of Dinosaur Land's original dinos at the front entrance

Two of Dinosaur Land’s original dinos at the front entrance

Fall is over; winter began a week ago. 2013 is nearly gone, and I must say, “Good riddance” to the bulk of it. I pray 2014 will bring more blessings than curses.

Iguanadon

Iguanadon

A friendly Bronto Jr.

A friendly Bronto Jr.

These are all photos taken on Levi’s tenth birthday in early November, so they are all bittersweet for me to contemplate. Still, with the passing of fall, it is time to clear my palette (and my blog) of these now out-of-date images, colorful though they may be.

Tyranosaurus claims Gigantosaurus as a victim

Tyranosaurus claims Gigantosaurus as a victim

Allosaurus

Allosaurus

One of those nasty venom-spitting dinos from JURASSIC PARK

One of those nasty venom-spitting dinos from JURASSIC PARK

I enjoyed two visits with Levi at his hospital over the weekend. He read to me from his journal, which is his version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, complete with cartoons. He is almost painfully honest in all he writes, and many of his jokes have real bite for anyone who is familiar at all with his situation. He shared with me his character descriptions for a story or series of stories he wants to write about a group of future Boy and Girl Scouts from eight different planets, his version of the Legion of Superheroes. From hearing him read from his journal and listening to his story ideas, I think he is at least as talented a storyteller as I was at his age. His “Uncle” Barry N. Malzberg asked me to try to dissuade Levi from becoming a science fiction writer, but now that the kid seems to be bound and determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps, I promised Barry I would always enforce the dictate, “Don’t ignore the day job! Writing science fiction financially supports about two percent of the people who make the effort to write and publish it (and two percent may be overstating matters).” Of course, by the time Levi reaches his earning years, the publishing paradigm may have changed half a dozen more times.

Iguanadon and Triceratops

Iguanadon and Triceratops

I’ve found that I enjoy giving Levi “Grandpa Frank’s Magical Back Rubs and Back Scratches” as much as he enjoys receiving them. There is something simply marvelous about that sort of rhythmical body to body contact which is meditative and soothing, both the the giver and the recipient. Plus, it has been a pleasure to introduce my mother’s father into Levi’s life; after all, my Grandpa Frank was my best friend until I reached the age of five, when heart disease stole him from me.

Giant Ground Sloth munching on some autumn leaves

Giant Ground Sloth munching on some autumn leaves

Vicious Allosaurus

Vicious Allosaurus

My brother Ric gave me the gift of clarity and closure today regarding my relationship with my mother and stepdad. Essentially, I learned that there is no relationship anymore, nor any possibility of reconciliation, so I am finally free to grieve. They have chosen to believe their own self-absolving lies, and it sounds as though this transaction has transformed them from the decent and mostly kind people I once knew into hollow shells of their former selves. They are pitiable to me now, as sad as this is for me to admit. But even if they continue to delude themselves — especially since they have chosen to do so — this does not mean that I can allow myself delusions of my own. It is time for me to grieve the relationships I once had.

Another shot of the Tyranosaurus-Gigantosaurus battle

Another shot of the Tyranosaurus-Gigantosaurus battle

All kudos to my wife Dara, who has ensured that not a single visiting period has passed since Levi has been in the hospital during which he has not had either me or her as a visitor, often with Levi’s siblings along. And additional kudos go to my father, Levi’s grandfather, who has called Levi nearly every night he has spent in the hospital. I’ve told Dad that Levi will never forget this kindness, ever.

A fall gathering of thunder lizards, featuring Apatosaurus and Styracosaurus

A fall gathering of thunder lizards, featuring Apatosaurus and Styracosaurus

I’ll be returning to work and to at least a portion of my former writing schedule the day after New Year’s Day, this Thursday. I have been away from work for nearly two months now. I enjoyed my first extended writing session at Panera Bread on Sunday before visiting Levi. This was my first long writing session since two weeks prior to Thanksgiving. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been away from my laptop for that long (with the exception of keeping this blog updated). Many thanks to all of you who have stuck with me throughout my “recovery blog” series. I’ve enjoyed every comment I’ve received. Your feedback has been extremely gratifying. May all of you enjoy a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

A Few More Fall Dinos; Tuesday’s Notes on Recovery and Resilience

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Two of my wonderful and brave sons, Levi on the left and Judah on the right, confront the fearsome spectacle of an autumn dino massacre. I believe they would have been just as brave and just as winsome had they known the trials which would await our family a month later.
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This giant prehistoric chicken, which of course post-dated the dinosaurs by several dozen million years, looks as though he could use a friend. In times like these, can’t we all?
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Damn, this day started out good. It ended up bruising, but at the same time fortifying.

Today was my brightest, most hopeful day since the initial hours of my illness. My first day of group therapy had left me emotionally drained but hopeful of better days to come. I suffered a pair of related panic attacks, but by being proactive, I found myself able to work my way through both of them without major upset. A discussion with my brother Ric appeared to set me on a path to achieve a sense of closure, one way or another, regarding one of my three major stress issues. I felt, despite temporary setbacks, that I was truly moving in the right direction.

Today began with my assumption of the status of Zen Master of I-95 South. I mastered my phobia of driving alone by bringing along my “silent partner,” soul jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Lou asked me no questions, and he demanded no quick answers. He allowed me to achieve a sense of peacefulness on the busy highway. By mastering my fear of the highway, I was able to meet one of my biggest goals regarding returning to my office on January 2: driving solo to the Manassas VRE train station.

My second day of group therapy began on a much lighter, brighter note than my first had. Rather than filling out reams of questionnaires and trying to tell my life story multiple times at triple speed, I received gifts of friendship from two members of the group: a recommendation for a good vegetarian Greek restaurant in Fredericksburg, and a notion for a perfect late Hanukkah present for my most special girl. For the record, my score of predicting assholes in the “Who’s an Asshole? Who’s a Sweetie?” game ended up 100% false negatives. A bad score I was happy to achieve.

I shared my ambivalent feelings about continuing to write journal notes for this blog. Two caring relatives had warned me yesterday that I was putting myself at risk by posting publicly details of my recovery process. One relative reminded me that the government, my employer, has the power to see and read any materials it wishes to. Another relative told me that the spread of some of my stories had resulted in some of our school-based friends no longer wishing to allow their children to associate with our children, due to me. According to an old Jewish teaching story, bits of gossip, true or false, are scattered on the wind like the feathers from torn, beaten pillows. Not all the fingers in the world can regather them. I consoled myself with the unalterable truth that my story is already out there. No efforts on my part can vacuum the rumors and tales back into their bottle. Regarding the parents who no longer wish to have their children associate with mine, all persons are entitled to their own fears and phobias, and all are free to set their own limits on their associations. I can feel disappointment, but not anger. Regarding my employers, I can honestly state that their conduct is in no way dishonored by my illness. The onset of my illness had nothing at all to do with my duties at work. My supervisors have praised my performance and are openly hoping for my swift return. I have let them know I have a strong desire to support my valued coworkers and a powerful wish to return to the office as swiftly as events and my stamina will allow. The stories I have chosen to share do not besmirch or damage the reputation of my employers in the slightest. They have been fully supportive of me, at least as supportive as I have had any reason to expect. Writing this blog for a presumed larger audience (larger than the audience of one which my personal journal would have) gives me the confidence and practice I need to produce writing for the audience awaiting my fiction, and writing my fiction on a regular basis has always been an essential part of my daily mental health regimen. So by working on this blog, I am setting the stage for a vital component of my ongoing recovery. This blog is a record of recovery. Any probing eyes with any discernment should be able to tell the difference between a tale of disability and a tale of ongoing recovery.

I shared my sense of this being a turning point of a day with one of my closest friends, a man who has recently seen me at my worst. It gave him a sense of accomplishment and hope, as I intended it to.

A portion of the day’s therapy was given over to a discussion of cognitive behavioral therapy. In laymen’s terms, this is known as either “Doing the Opposite” or “Embracing That Which One Fears.” If one suffers from depression which seems to force one to retire to one’s bed, the way to combat it is to force oneself to socialize as best one can. If one fears rejection, one should actively seek out opportunities for acceptance. I realized I had been intuitively putting “embracing that which I fear most” into practice, both by forcing myself to drive independently and to spend time in the company of my contentious children, whose fits and shrieks I had learned could drive me to the edge of a breakdown. Realizing that I had been putting cognitive behavior therapy into practice by instinct gave me an increased sense of confidence, both that I could still trust my own judgement and that by consciously practicing it, I could likely achieve even more positive results.

My day ended far differently than it had begun. If I chose to be cute, I would call it “A Tale That’s Too Sh_tty.” I was recently informed by a mutual friend that my dear friend Lucius S. had suffered a stroke. His primary disability involved processing language. The mutual friend asked me to call Lucius so that Lucius could practice speaking to a sympathetic listener. I was overjoyed to have such an opportunity. I was more overjoyed to discover the strength of character with which Lucius confronted his disability and strove to overcome it. I told him I considered him to be a Superman, which he shyly disavowed. Yet I also shared with him a prayer that, should I ever be struck down by a similar fate, I would request that God provide me with at least a portion of the same courage which Lucius was so obviously drawing upon. Less than a week later, I suffered the onset of my illness, which, in its early stages, due to the effects of medications, felt as though it had been a minor stroke.

The details of the end of my day are both painful and painfully funny. I arrived home, Zen Master of I-95, to find two police cruisers parked in my driveway. I immediately began repeating a simple mantra: “I will NOT freak out. I WILL not freak out.” I knew the only reason the two cruisers could be parked in my driveway. Levi had suffered another uncontrollable anxiety fit, and Dara had been forced to call 911 for assistance. Worried about me, Dara instructed one of the officers to meet me as soon as I exited my car. I reassured the officer by admitting that I had experienced the beginnings of a panic attack but had overcome it with my simple mantra. I told him how much I respected the hard work he and his partner are responsible for, particularly in such cases of domestic disturbances. I told him I was grateful that his partner would be escorting Dara when she drove Levi to the hospital.

Dara called our neighbor Larry to come be with me and with my other two children. I praised Larry as an example of a Christian gentleman and a Christian neighbor. He, like Lucius, disavowed my praise, but I told him that, as Jew, not a Christian, I am not bound by the dictates of avoiding praising acts of Christian kindness, so although he could not accept the praise, I was free to offer it.

I found my two younger sons watching episodes of Felix the Cat. They did not yet understand that their older brother was being brought to an emergency room. I passed the beginnings of my nightlong acid test of mastering a panic attack by joining them in front of the TV and comforting them with hugs and kisses, as we had been apart for many days. They were gentle and grateful for my affection, which made me only love and appreciate them all the more strongly. I attempted to contact Dara at the hospital to ascertain Levi’s current condition, but her cell phone had no reception from within the hospital’s thick walls. I knew I needed to take my children to get something to eat. A day earlier, I had sworn to Dara that it would be weeks before I could trust myself to drive my children in my car, due to their constant questioning me and quarreling with one another making me fear I would lose control of my automobile in a fit of frustration or anger. Yet tonight there was no one else to bring them somewhere where they could eat dinner. I determined to bring them to IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, which sets aside Tuesday night as Kids’ Night. Before we ventured out, I made them promise they would be mature young men and not distract me from my driving with unnecessary questions or fighting among themselves. They promised. I told them I would give a sterling report of them to their mommy if they followed through on their promise. To their enormous credit, they managed this difficult feat. We arrived at the IHOP without incident.

Rather than the typical Tuesday night face painting, our IHOP had an all-American non-Nordic Santa on hand, along with supportive elves of all races and genders. My Jewish boys, who do not celebrate Christmas other than by observing the American Jewish tradition of eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or Day, were completely charmed by the dark-skinned Santa. They wrote him “Dear Santa” notes and made him Christmas pictures, as well as posed with him for photos (although Judah indulged his shyness and hid his face). Asher proudly announced to Santa that he had brought along his special Coles Elementary School Principal’s List cap, which he’d acquired as a reward for earning straight A’s. Santa insisted on a special Santa-Asher photo. Asher quickly decided that this Santa was the coolest Santa he’d ever met. The invisible hand of the brilliance of American cultural capitalism made its positive mark upon me: studies have proven that the human brain cannot discern any difference between genuine smiles and forced smiles, and I forced so many smiles that my brain began to believe I was cheering up. I called over both the Santa and Charlie the IHOP regional manager to explain, with tears in my eyes, that they had given my family so much more than they could realize. My oldest son had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital that afternoon. The end of the day should have felt like a tragedy, yet their innocent, ignorant warmth had turned the evening into a time of celebration for my children. I shook Santa’s hand, then I embraced him, holding in a sob.

Judah, unfortunately, allowed his eyes to be bigger than his stomach. Without my realizing he would be overdoing it with Christmas cookies and chocolate, I allowed him to order himself a bowl of ice cream as a third dessert. Dara called and requested that we stop by McDonald’s so that I could pick her up a large vanilla latte, fat free and sugar free, which she needed to stay awake in the Emergency Room with Levi. I told her we would visit her and Levi at the hospital as soon as possible. At the corner streetlight only a block away from the McDonald’s, I smelled, heard, and sensed my youngest son begin retching a very full meal of macaroni and cheese, french fries, cookies, chocolate, and ice cream into the back seat of my Kia Rondo. Asher, sitting next to Judah, began to immediately protest in the vehement way only a slightly bigger brother can. He threatened to begin retching himself if I did not immediately get Judah out of the car and away from Asher’s sensitive nose. I was stuck at a red light. I said to myself, “I will not panic. I will not panic. I will work my way through this.” I finally turned into the restaurant’s parking lot and had Judah strip off his jacket, pants, and shirt, which were thoroughly soaked in vomit. I also scooped up my umbrella and snow scraper/brush and the floor mat, all of which had been inundated, as well. I fruitlessly scooped chunks of semi-solid, semi-digested dinner from Judah’s lap and car seat. Then I pleaded with the partially frozen child to accompany me and my soiled possessions into the McDonald’s, where we made straight for the men’s room. Most unfortunately, I discovered that the faucet in sink was motion activated, which meant I needed to wave the filthy clothes in front of the sensor to get the water to begin flowing. This did not make my task easier. Judah assisted me by taking his sopping wet clothes, which I had wrung out, and placing them in front of the hot air blower in a mostly futile attempt to dry them. To the child’s enormous credit, he redonned his sopping clothes without protest. I scooped the semi-solid vomit and toilet paper out of the filthy sink and deposited them with my hand into a garbage can, ignoring the aghast looks of a fellow customer. I then went out to the counter to order Dara’s tall skinny vanilla latte, apologizing profusely for the disaster I had left behind in the bathroom. The young assistant manager, to his enormous credit, did not give me a fish eye but responded with placid understanding, the best possible response to a man on the verge of a panic attack. Part of my mind realized I had been subjected to a true acid test, and thus far, I had somehow passed with flying colors.

Asher insisted that we drive to the hospital with the windows open. I blasted the heat so Judah would not go into hypothermia. We found the “automatic” entrance to the Emergency Room mysteriously locked. A paramedic wheeling a trauma victim cursed like a drunken sailor, then immediately turned abashed as he realized he’s just hurled several “F-bombs” in full hearing of a seven year old and an eight year old. I told him not to sweat it, that they’d already heard it all in PG-13 superhero movies. The door finally opened. We delivered the coffee to Dara in Room Five. I saw my oldest son dressed in hospital scrubs, sleepy from a nerve-wracked nap, awaiting his transfer by ambulance to a separate psychiatric inpatient facility. I swore to him that God would stay with him anywhere he might end up, and my thoughts would be with him, and the spirit of his Great Grandpa Frank would look down upon him and mentally soothe him with special back rubs and back scratches, even without me to serve as Frank’s physical stand-in. I hugged Dara and reassured her that she didn’t need to worry about me so much; the entire evening had been a massive acid test for me to prove I could withstand a panic attack, and I had allowed the acid to wash over me without losing my skin.

At home, I had Judah take a hot shower. I then did something which I had not had an opportunity to do in more than week: kiss the boys goodnight in their bed.

I had passed my test.

If anyone from my office is reading this blog post, please know that I faced my challenges with the perseverance of a Marine, if I may be so immodest as to claim such men and women as my model. Being afraid, and yet still doing what one knows one must do, is the definition of courage. My prayer of a few weeks before had been answered: like Lucius, I had discovered a reservoir of courage with which to keep my illness at bay. To those parents who do not want to expose their children to me, I humbly suggest that exposing their impressionable child to a person who has managed to conjure even a small scrap of courage is not a thing to be dreaded. It might even be celebrated.

This is my recovery in progress. True to cognitive behavioral therapy, I have “embraced fully that which I fear.” And I have survived the embrace. I will return to my office, as planned, on January 2. Thanks in part to my work on this blog, I will have the confidence to once again listen for the voices of my characters in my head and type their fictions upon my keyboard. I am getting stronger. I am reattaining my old stamina. I will recapture my confidence.

If anyone who reads this blog post responds with aversion or disdain, the fault does not lie with me or my choice of events to share. I can be fully confident of this truth now.

Still More Fall Foliage Dinos; Monday Thoughts

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Here’s an inquisitive, egg-eating fellow, out for a morning fall stroll. Perhaps he will find the perfect pheasant’s nest? And breakfast?
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A friendly Styrachiosaurus, a horny brute, but one with a pleasant grin. I built an AMC “Snap Tite” plastic model of this guy back when I was Levi’s age. With moveable head, legs, and tail. I wish I still had it!
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Some Monday, December 16 thoughts:

I am working very, VERY hard to reattain my prior stamina and skills.

I am very, VERY confident I will return to my office on January 2, 2014, as planned, and that I will also restart at least a portion of my former writing schedule, as well.

The first day with a new therapy group is, I think, always the hardest. You are coming in to the middle of their movies, and they are coming in to the middle of yours. Plenty of storytelling gets lost or foreshortened.

Some say it is easy to get bored with one’s own story. I agree (having told it so many times), but I think it is a bit more difficult to become bored with others’ stories (thankfully).

It does get tiresome to tell one’s story over and over again to a succession of listeners. I am very tempted to simply write the entire saga down on paper, and then hand it to the next interviewer and say, “Please — just read my dumb ramblings, okay?”

Trying to squeeze a story of fifteen years’ of gathering stresses in 45 minutes is taxing. Trying to squeeze the same story into 10 minutes is EXHAUSTING.

Men don’t like to cry in public. They don’t like to cry in front of women. They don’t like to cry in front of men. Not even in front of dogs.

Watching HBO documentaries on substance abuse is a harrowing, horrifying experience. But one of the biggest surprises is how POLITE all but the most addled victims are to the medical staff who surround them. Is this just an American thing? Even a man who had his arm half-sawed off politely described his situation and his state of consciousness to his attending doctor. Very, very odd to watch.

Waiting can drive one crazy. Especially when one is susceptible to panic attacks. It is like being a little boy who desperately needs to use the bathroom and jumps up and down on one foot, holding his privates.

Today, I was the MASTER of I-95 South! Hooray, ME!

Stage fright, ironically enough, can be even worse when one is on anti-anxiety medications (because they slow one’s reaction times).

I am meeting a surprising number of retired police officers and Marines. The rescuers, it seems, often require rescuing at the end of very long, stressful years.

It is surprisingly common to discover young women of exceptional attractiveness in these discussion groups.

On the other hand, a great many mental health professionals I have spoken with have exhibited signs of emotional stress or impairment.

When one plays the first-time-in-the-group game of “Who’s an asshole? Who’s a sweetie?” I have found that the percentages aren’t so good. About fifty percent of my guesses end up as either false positives or false negatives. Sometimes people “cheat” and change overnight from an asshole to a sweetie, making the game even more unpredictable.

The hardest questions one is asked don’t tend to come from the professionals. They come from fellow patients, who innocently, unexpectedly ask you a question about the one thing which is hurting you the worst.

More Autumn Dinos; More Thoughts

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Big battle between a Titanosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus. I place my bet on the Tyrannosaurus.

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For a bonehead, this fellow looks really lovable. I like him very, very much. I would like to keep him in my backyard with Romeo, my dog.

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This giant mantis is a “ringer” among the dinos, but I like him anyway. He is a throwback to The Deadly Mantis, a favorite film from my childhood. I believe that is Judah, my seven year old, standing next to him to provide a sense of scale. Or maybe not; perhaps Judah appears in another one of my dino photos.

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Here are some random thoughts of the morning, presented in no particular order:

My mouth (and I’m sure yours, too) tastes DISGUSTING after waking from a night following a late night dinner of cheese eggs and raisin toast at Waffle House and a mouthful of medications. Iced tea helps cut the bitterness (and half a banana).

Modern conveniences which have had a major impact upon my life: free bananas in hotel lobbies (indespensible for taking meds); flavorless Miralax powder which can be mixed with any beverage (indespensible for dealing with what the meds do to you); and, most importantly, free computers and wi-fi in hotel lobbies. This last has been a true life saver on two occassions. The first was back in 2005, when Dara, Levi, Asher, and I were stranded at a Doubletree Hotel in Albuquerque during both Hurricane Katrina and Bubonicon. I would have been completely out of touch without the hotel’s computer, because all of my personal computers were back at my house (under water, I believed). It enabled me to constantly check the NOLA.com website for news of the West Bank and to try to determine the fates of our eight stranded cats. The Doubletree staff were extremely accommodating, allowing me to sit at their computer for hours at a time, knowing I had come from New Orleans and could not go home anytime soon. The other time a hotel computer has been a lifesaver is right now. I am not without my personal computers, but again, they are at home, where I left them. I am staying this time at a Hampton Inn in Dumfries, Virginia, close to I-95, where I needed to go to stay with my mother-in-law so I could have a temporary respite from my children (as horrible as that sounds). I do not have my paper journal with me, either. So this blog, which I can log onto from almost anywhere, is my substitute journal.

People can be incredibly nice when you are able to ask them to do nice things for you. This was not always possible in the hospital. Oftentimes, I was too paralyzed with panic to get out of bed, and when I was able to get up and see an aide, oftentimes my messages of distress were not passed along to the nurse. Do not believe your preconceived notions of the speediness of care in hospitals which you have received from TV shows; hospital staff can be very blaise about patients’ distress, particularly when they are dealing with a lot of alcoholics with DTs, so they do not rush to your bedside and provide soothing cool cloths on your forehead and nice injections of morphine. I discovered the only way to get some immediate attention is to thrash about in bed while screaming at the top of my lungs, “I’M SCARED! I’M SCARED! I’M sCARED!” They come, but they may not do anything. Also, your mother-in-law will not turn down the volume on MSNBC unless you manage to ask her (found that out this morning).

When you are in a state of ready susceptibility to panic, it is like you are a science fiction telepath (like Professor X or Jean Grey) whose powers cannot be turned off. You turn into a helpless sponge which soaks up all the vibes and emotions of the people surrounding you. This is the biggest reason why I need a temporary respite from my children. They all want my immediate attention and panic or have a fit when they cannot immediately have me. Also, electronic waves from TVs or radios can be mind worms. Things I have learned to avoid: all TV and radio political talk (whether progressive or conservative); most “modern” comedies; big rooms with bad acoustics (like indoor swimming pools); live accordians; some food shows on TV; any form of internet, radio, or TV current events news. Things which are acceptable: Disney animated movies made before The Little Mermaid (ones without snark); episodes of The Munsters and I Love Lucy (the original series, only); cheesy horror movies from the 1970s (such as The Dunwich Horror or Madhouse with the brilliant Peter Cushing and Vincent Price). Thing which are sometimes okay: certain episodes of Star Trek: the Original Series (none of the “edgy” ones, like “Dagger of the Mind” or “Amok Time;” only the silly ones involving Tribbles or Harry Mudd); some episodes of Kolchak: the Night Stalker (ones without too many scenes set in the newsroom); and soft-core pornography with very little plot (lesbian characters preferred).

It is the hardest to stop laughing when you know that someone who shouldn’t hear is listening to you laugh.

Things I am sort of like right now: Dustin Hoffman (as Rain Man), but with a somewhat better haircut. The fellow from A Brilliant Mind, but who can’t do any maths harder than second level algebra. An eccentric with a circle of friends a lot like that of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood (and, friends, rest assurred, that is a TOTAL COMPLIMENT).

It is very difficult being an empath/emotional sponge. The last few times I was like this were all bad: when my then-disturbed stepdaughter Natalie was prone to violent fits of frustration; when I was in the final month or two of my failed first marriage; and when I was little boy who came home from Sundays with my father to face my mother who practiced cold rages upon my return, who would turn down the temperature of the house by forty degrees because of her anger at my having enjoyed time with my father; those nights, my only escape was to walk my dog outside for ninety minutes and then to disappear into the bathroom for another hour. My safe havens.

It is very hard having “diahrehea of the mouth” out in a crowd, knowing you cannot control it. I am working very hard on regaining my internal editor (although anyone reading this blog may doubt my sincerity). Still, I am making progress, just as I am with my driving skills.

I am looking forward to starting group therapy on Monday in Fredricksburg. I am told I should expect a more coherent set of co-patients than those I had at the hospital.

I will never, NEVER sneer at anyone who is struggling with alcoholism or substance addiction. I now know without a doubt that these folks are engaging in self-medication. The main difference between them and me is that my medicine comes in controlled, supposedly safe dosages, as opposed to malt liquor from a can or a rock of cocaine. I have met some of the loveliest alcoholics and substance abusers I could ever hope to meet. Some I would like to stay friends with forever. Some did far more for me than the professional staff at the hospital to survive my panic attacks (having experienced such attacks themselves). Alcoholics and drug abusers are most DEFINITELY among God’s children, and I MUST love them as I love all the other, “normal” people who have tried their best to help me.

Also, I apologize very much that I could NOT get Spellcheck to work properly in Word Press on this PC. Please ignore my errors, if you are kind!

Autumn Colors, Roadside Dinosaurs, Thoughts for the Day

Here are more memories of Levi’s tenth birthday on November 5. I took him, Asher, Judah, and one of their pals out west to Dinosaur Land. Dinosaur Land is a traditional roadside attraction, about fifty years old, that has both “old style” dinos from the 1960s and “new style” dinos, sculpted by Virginia artist extraordinaire, Professor Mark Cline.

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I’d recently bought a “new, old-stock” memory card for my ten-year old Olympus digital camera (whose card had given up the ghost). I hadn’t taken any photos since the spring, when the card had died. Amazon had some 50 Meg cards in stock (which I later realized was even TINIER than the card I’d purchased ten years ago!). But it still held about 90 photos, so I was back in business. My goal for the morning (aside from celebrating Levi’s special day) was to capture shots of the dinos with fall foliage in the background. This first one is of an Apatosaurus (or, as they used to be known, Brontosaurus). Looking good for an old guy, I think! The fall colors set off his skin tones so nicely.

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I believe this next picture is of an Allosaurus (I forgot to take notes while taking the pictures). I took a couple dozen of these over an hour and a half, and I’ll be sharing them over the coming weeks, as the mood strikes me.

Here’s an update on my mental/medical status. These past couple of days, I’ve been feeling/doing a bit better. I just started taking a mood stabilizer, in addition to my anti-depressant and panic attack-reducing medications. I believe the new medication is helping me to suffer fewer wide mood swings. This morning, rather than waking up with a “ball of furious cats of anxiety” jumping on my head, face, and neck, I woke up thinking what Peter Pan might call “lovely thoughts.” I spent my first waking hour reflecting on how many of my closest relationships I have had an opportunity to improve since being released from the hospital the Monday after Thanksgiving (December 2). My best moments in other times of crisis have been thoughts of what my recent experience could or had changed for the better. This, now, is no exception. In the last week, my relationships with my angel of a wife, Dara; my brother, Ric (who visited my family); my dear high school friends, Maury Feinsilber and Larry Leibowitz, who also came to visit; my mother-in-law, Phyllis Levinson, who has made her initial visit to Virginia just a day ago to be with me and with Levi; and with many family and friends I’ve spoken with over the phone (Paul Jerome, Charlie Pellegrino, my sister, Robyn, Adam Castro, and my father, Dick Fox)… all of these relationships have been deepened by these dear people sharing time with me (and my family) during our time of awful trouble.

Today I also reached an important milestone for my improvement: for the first time since being out of the hospital, I drove my Kia Rondo. Until now, I’ve been driven by friends or by my mother-in-law. But today I wanted SO much to try, to see if I could drive safely, that my therapist gave me permission (after I’d described my emotional and physical state) to do so, after I had practiced in the parking lot. I was so PROUD of myself — I drove several miles and navigated without any problem at all! Next week, when I begin doing half days of group therapy at an outpatient clinic in Fredericksburg, which is about forty minutes from my home, I plan to drive myself (my first day with either my mother in law or my wife in the passenger seat). I am excited and optimistic, for one goal I NEED to master before January 2, when I plan to return to work at US ICE in downtown Washington, is driving myself to the Manassas Train Station each morning and back home in the afternoon. I’ll be working a reduced schedule at first (I think), and driving will make it possible.

Thank you to all who have followed my blog recently and who have left such heartfelt, affecting comments for me. I’ve tried to answer them all. I love each and every one of you, and I SO look forward to making more of my books (both written and soon to be written) available for you in all the popular formats.

I’ll post more “Autumn Color Dinos” photos in the coming days. Please continue to come back and look!

A Reminder of Recent Good Times in Shenandoah

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So many terrible things have been happening to me and my family since mid-November; some of them I’ve described in a recent post, written a few days after I was released from the hospital. I am a new “devotee” or “fan” of cognitive therapy, the art of trying to change one’s mood by changing one’s thoughts. Although this morning I am in a reasonably good state, I want to do something to help ensure that I stay there. Unfortunately, at this time in my life, I never know WHICH Andy Fox I am going to wake up being, or which one I will end up being after eating breakfast or taking a shower. My mind, thank God, is sharp virtually all of the time, but my mood is very unpredictable. So I am resigned to “the wonders of chemistry” for the time being (and I truly pray my doctors put me to rights very soon, by early January, when I plan to resume a good part of my previous normal schedule).

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So this post is a fond look back at a recent very good afternoon spent in Shenandoah National Park, on Skyline Drive. I drove my three boys and a young friend out there for the day, as well as a visit to Dinosaur Land (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post, God willing). I wanted my boys to experience what remained of the changing fall foliage in the Shenandoah Valley, before all the leaves hit the ground. It was Levi’s tenth birthday (November 5), and Shenandoah National Park was one of the places he selected to go to celebrate his big day. This was a couple of weeks before the sh_t hit the fan, so to speak; although the signs were already looming. So this is a reminisce of one of the more recent happy days I spent with my family.

Three Little Bears

Three Little Bears

This was also the day we were fortunate enough to spot three deer standing near one of the park stations and later came across three baby bears up in a tree, eating berries (with their mother lurking on the ground, close by). The fall foliage was no longer at its peak (that had passed perhaps a week before), but some of these views are still quite lovely.

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I hope you enjoy looking at these snapshot memories as much as I am enjoying posting them. God bless you all, and thank you for your continuing support of me and my family during our months of distress and need.
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Friday Fun Links: Got Those Escaped-Dog Blues…

No, this is not my dog Romeo making good his escape...

No, this is not my dog Romeo making good his escape…

Feeling rather bummed out today. My dog, Romeo, an 85-lb fox hound, dumb as a box of bricks (but lovable), got out of the house three times yesterday. I caught him after his second escape when I pulled up to the house from the train station and found him loping towards me up the driveway. I put him back inside and slapped the invisible fence collar on him – the one that gives him a big ZAP! when he goes more than fifty feet away from the house. I’ve been trying to train him that, when the ZAP! collar is on him, he will get ZAPPED! When the ZAP! collar is NOT on him, and I have him on his regular leash, he will not get ZAPPED! The problem is, after a training session, he is terrified to go outside… whether the collar is on him or not. After about three days of being terrified, he forgets all about being ZAPPED! and is eager to escape again.

Well, wouldn’t you know it; the kids came home shortly after I got the collar on him and let him out of the house again. That big dummy loves tracking the scent of deer so much, he took off like a Saturn V rocket – and ran right through the electric fence, ZAP!-be-damned. He stayed away all night, when the temperatures were dropping close to freezing. Didn’t show up this morning. Hasn’t shown up during the first half of my workday.

What does this have to do with Superheroes-as-Manatees?

Absolutely nothing. But I came across the work of Joel Micah Harris while bumming around on the Internet and figured sharing my favorite mystery-manatee heroes with you might help alleviate my bummed-outedness. So here they are!

Cyclopatee

Cyclopatee

Thor Manatee

Thor Manatee


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Wonder Womanatee

Wonder Womanatee

Batmanatee

Batmanatee


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Hawkeye Manatee

Hawkeye Manatee

Captain Amanatee

Captain Amanatee


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If you’d like to see all the X-Manatees together, go here.

And here is Joel Micah Harris’ gallery on DeviantART, with lots more mystery-manatee heroes and plenty of other fun stuff.

UPDATE: According to Dara, Romeo has returned, safe and sound. So the mystery-manatee heroes have served their noble purpose.

Enviro-Irony: Fisker Karma Planet-Savers Resurrected as 638-HP Carbon-Spewing Monsters

"Luke, it is your Destino!"

“Luke, it is your Destino!”

Gaia worshippers, before you crawl into bed with government enablers and crony capitalists, be aware that the offspring of such intercourse, although cute and Earth-friendly when little, may grow up to be rebellious, Corvette engine-powered, supercharged enemies of the biosphere:

“VL Automotive, a Detroit venture backed by former General Motors’ vice chairman Bob Lutz, is moving ahead with plans to convert Fisker Karmas from hybrid power to Corvette power. … The converted Karma, to be called the Destino, has a more conservative grille and a few other minor cosmetic tweaks. VL Engineers are removing the Chevrolet Volt-like gasoline-electric powertrain and replacing it with the engine and transmission used in the Chevrolet Corvette. Two versions will be available, a base 450-hp direct-injected V-8 and an optional 638-hp supercharged V-8.”

This, on the heels of this disheartening news for the American taxpayer:

“An investor group led by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li is the likely winner of a government loan owed by Fisker Automotive, the now-dormant maker of plug-in hybrid sports cars … The U.S. Department of Energy picked Li’s group after an auction held Friday to sell the green-energy loan. … Fisker does not have enough money to pay its outstanding bills and has not built a car in about 15 months. Fisker laid off most of its employees in April to save cash. The DOE said last month that it planned the auction after ‘exhausting any realistic possibility’ that it could recoup the entire amount still owed by Fisker. The exact value of Li’s bid was not immediately clear, but bidders had to offer at least $30 million to participate in the Fisker loan auction, sources have said. …

“In 2009, Fisker won a $529 million DOE loan under a U.S. program to promote green vehicles.”

I stumbled across the Fisker-DOE boondoggle one lunch hour in October, 2011 when the head honchos of Fisker and the Department of Energy did a press rollout of their new $108,900 hybrid gas-electric luxury performance sedan in front of a deluxe hotel across the street from my office building. My curiosity captured by a row of gorgeous 4-door Corvettes (what the Karmas looked like, and what they now will actually become), I wandered over to the event. I wasn’t at all happy to learn that my tax dollars were being “invested” in a start-up manufacturer of four-wheeled toys for the .0001% — particularly since such toys, advertised as planet-savers, burned high-octane gasoline at a rate of 20mpg after the first twenty miles following a charge-up. Here’s my take from back then, which I presciently called, “Fisker Karma: Solyndra on Wheels?” (turns out the question mark wasn’t necessary).

So now, two years later, the wheels have come off Fisker Automotive’s eco-friendly dream. Twenty-five of the cars Fisker managed to build before going under will have their batteries and hybrid powertrains ripped out in favor of two of the meanest, un-greenist V-8 powerplants ever unleashed onto the tarmac. Hundreds more of the mutant Karmas/Destinos will be built using spare body shells and interiors left over from the now-dismembered manufacturing firm. Meanwhile, the American taxpayer takes it on the chin, yet again, as the crony capitalists get their bail-outs.

One more tantalizing tidbit from that Automotive News article:

“VL is further planning to offer current Karma owners the option to convert their cars to Corvette power for about $100,000, provided the Karma is in pristine condition. Fisker sold about 1,800 Karmas before production stopped in November of last year when the company ran out of money.”

Al and Leo: not so charged up on their Karmas anymore

Al and Leo: not so charged up on their Karmas anymore

If memory serves, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio both bought Fisker Karmas back in the company’s pre-bankruptcy salad days of 2011. Might these two eco-titans consider ditching their girly-man cars’ underwhelming hybrid powertrains for a heaping helping of hairy-chested, old-fashioned American V-8 muscle?

As Darth V-8der might say…

Come over to the dark side. Join me, and together, we can rule the American Road as father and son! Luke, it is your Destino!

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