REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BIG TROUBLE

Number 10 - and Last - in a Series

The explosion, when it came, was as frightening in its unexpectedness as it was shocking in its intensity. This kind of beginning really attracts your attention, doesn't it? You may consider this to be irresponsible journalism, using a "teaser" lead-in like that, when it is completely unrelated to the subject at hand. Ha! You would be dead wrong, however, because the sentence in question is taken directly out of one of the stories to follow, where it is used in a fashion that closely resembles responsible journalism (at least as judged by several unbiased individuals to whom I gave small sums of money in unmarked bills ...)
"So," you may ask, "how the heck is life going for Katie and you?" A most adept, insightful question. There is a long and short answer. The short answer is


CHAPTER 1 - JESS Intrudes on Our Lives Once Again


At the end of April, Katie headed for Germany in order to provide site support for a
JESS exercise held at V Corps in Stuttgart. There were tears in my eyes as I grabbed Katie's
supple waist with one mighty arm and drew her to me for a passionate, five or ten minute
kiss. She dug her fingers into my back in a romantic frenzy, or maybe to tell me that she was suffering from serious oxygen deprivation and was about to pass out. Whatever the case, alocal aircraft maintenance crew with the assistance of a few crowbars and a hydraulic lift separated us. "Don't worry, Katie," I exclaimed, "I'll be waiting here for you when you get back, provided your plane isn't blown apart in midair by a fanatical Iranian terrorist or a
Libyan surface to air missile." "Gee, thanks" she replied, "I feel so much better." And then
she was gone, leaving me to a week of misery playing cards until one in the morning and
drinking enough to pickle most of the main attractions at Sea World.
 

Katie, in the meantime, was having the time of her life in Germany. Chowing down in the army mess halls, where they proudly served balanced meals (meaning that the slop spread evenly across the plate) consisting of the four major food groups (meaning that the slop had crunchy little green, brown, yellow, and designer "lavender" pieces in it). Chatting with the General about why the entire JESS support staff (including the program manager) with the exception of her were participating in an all day "walk-and-drink-athon" sponsored by a local bar instead of working at the exercise. Getting emergency phone calls at one o'clock in the morning by Colonel "Madman" Clark after working a sixteen hour shift. Katie sort of summed up the entire Germany experience thing in a simple, if somewhat whimsical sentence: "The beer was great -everything else {exact word deleted}."

CHAPTER 2 - Katie's Plane is Hijacked by Australian Aborigines
 

I was hopeful, because it would have made a really neat chapter, but unfortunately, Katie made it back with no significant problems.
 

CHAPTER 3 - CAFAM and General Weirdness
 

CAFAM certainly sounds kind of ominous and military, doesn't it? So it shouldn't surprise anyone that it stands for the "Craft And Folk Art Museum." Katie and I signed up
for a basket weaving class. Shortly thereafter, Katie pointed out to me that the basket weaving class was billed as a "family activity" and recommended for children between the ages of eight to twelve years old. We managed to work something out, fortunately; Katie asked one of her old friends if we could "borrow your daughter, just for a few hours, OK?"
The class was interesting. The instructor began by passing around a set of nice looking wicker and reed baskets. He explained in each case how the local area in which the basket was made determined the construction materials that were used in producing it. "In Los Angeles," the instructor continued I immediately got a very bad feeling "we are fortunate in having a great variety of useful materials that can be used in making baskets." "Like at hobby shops?" I asked cautiously. "No, no" he replied, "those cannot be considered locally found materials; in fact, purchasing the base materials is strictly against the rules." I assume the rules he was referring to were the ones that ensured that whatever lovingly crafted vessel you created would be considered an acceptable candidate for the local garbage heap by most individuals. The instructor reached down for a box of materials that had been sitting by his feet. "Here are the types of materials that can be used to create a truly representative Los Angeles basket" he said, dumping a pile of what initially appeared to be trash from a dumpster, but which turned out to be trash from a garbage dump. We spent the next several hours making "baskets" out of chicken wire, discarded mylar from popped balloons, pieces of yarn, crepe paper, and other colorful but unidentifiable pieces of scrap. At the end we were surprised what three hours of hard work could accomplish, however, in front of each of us was a small object that looked like chicken wire, discarded mylar, pieces of yarn, crepe paper, and other colorful but unidentifiable pieces of scrap.

Chapter 4 - Katie and Dave Head for Whine Country


On the 10th of June, Katie and I headed out for California Wine country in Temecula. The entire trip was organized by the Caltech Alumni Association and included a tour guide, a bus, a continental breakfast, and a wine "classification" kit. The kit consisted of a pen, a set of charts to describe how experts classify the taste of a wine (basically a set of typical wine-taste adjectives like "fruity," "elegant structure," "grassy," all arranged in a diagram that looked suspiciously like a dart board), and a few "rating" sheets that we could use to jot notes on the wines we tried that day.


At the continental breakfast, I immediately noted that the median age for the crowd was a little higher than I expected; it fell somewhere comfortably within the three digit range, probably the reason that my attempts to start a rousing chorus of "100 bottles of beer on the wall" during the bus ride failed miserably. Still, there was plenty to do. The tour director introduced herself and provided a little background on why she was a "wine expert." This apparently was a result of (a) personally knowing a number of wine producers with odd personality quirks that she could and did describe in exhausting detail and (b) having a wine cellar roughly as large as medium size sports arena. At last count, it was in the vicinity of 4,000 bottles of wine, enough to keep 2,000 of the homeless face down in a gutter for the better part of a day. Katie and I figured that it would take us roughly ten years to drink that much wine if we decided to become raving alcoholics. And spilled alot.


In any case, the tour guide decided to have a practice wine tasting session in order to prevent people from looking like complete idiots at the wineries by actually drinking the wine without the prerequisite sniffing, twirling, sloshing, staring, and other wine expert type activities. She passed out a few bottles of Chardonnay inside the bus. "This is a 1986 Marble Crest Vineyard Chardonnay," she announced, "and you may notice a slight essence of asparagus on your palate as you drink it." Katie looked at her in amazement. "Did you say asparagus?" she asked in a puzzled voice. "Yes," the tour guide replied, apparently surprised by the question. Katie drew back slightly. "And you expect us to drink it? Asparagus flavored wine? This is a joke, right?" I do not think the tour director was amused. "This wine is simply stunning when served with a meal that includes asparagus as a side dish" she shot back in a frozen voice. I decided to jump in at that moment. "You serve wine to complement SIDE DISHES?" I yelped in amazement, "heck, I haven't even gotten the red/white wine correspondence to meat and fish and all that jazz yet! You must be a REAL
expert." Once again, the tour director appeared less than enthusiastic about this response.


Well, to make a long story long, we drank the wine, which did not taste at all like asparagus, but more like dishwater - used dishwater. Fortunately, the wine we were served at the vineyards we toured was much better. In fact, it seemed like each vineyard progressively served better and better wine with every bottle we drank. Pretty odd, don't you think, that we should visit the better wineries last after drinking bottles of less exciting stuff first? Anyway, the tour was fun, particularly when the tour director asked Katie and I if we were newlyweds because we were so "cute together;" a recurring conversational theme that I've noticed of late .


CHAPTER 5 - Another One Bites the Dust


Enter Jeff Stern and Alison, who are a truly cute couple, cute enough to make Kermit and Ms. Piggy jealous, cute enough to make puppy dogs vomit in revulsion, cute enough to . .. well, you get the idea. It was clear that the two were headed for something serious. Well, Jeff finally made the big decision to give up fatty foods. Oh, yes, and to ask Alison to marry him.


You may remember from a previous form letter that Alison made a school bus sized
cheesecake for a dinner party at our house. In the forgiving and kind manner of sharks in a
feeding frenzy, most of the individuals involved have never let her forget it. In the meantime,Jeff was racking his brain to come up with a good way to spring the question. Skywriting?  Too extravagant. Over a private candlelit dinner? Too serious. In front of the TV while watching the world series over a couple of Miller Lites? Hey, now there's an idea!
Fortunately, Jeff was provided with a much better suggestion by Katie, namely embossing a
cheesecake with the words "Will you marry me, Alison" on it. Jeff thought it was the greatest idea since the discovery of gluons, which are subatomic particles that can't be seen by the best electronic microscope, and which gives you some idea why Jeff is a PhD student at Caltech.


Well, the 17th was Father's Day, and of course all the bakeries were busy cranking out cakes with little golf putters and things on them, and Jeff was taking his merry time ordering the thing, to the point where I and Katie thought he might not be able to get it. This was rather thoughtless of Jeff, since it would have the extremely negative effect of not providing Katie and I with yet another cheesecake story to harass Alison with over the years. So we stopped at our favorite bakery and ordered a fantastic cheesecake for him. Obviously some underlying telepathic communication occurred between us and him, probably caused by gluons, because Jeff, at the very moment we paid for the cheesecake, was ordering one himself.


We didn't let our cheesecake go to waste, however. We were heading down to my folks house for Father's Day (Katie's dad was meeting us there), where Katie was going to demonstrate her (truly) outstanding cooking skills. It was a fine dinner, and afterwards, while everyone was sitting over coffee, Katie and I came out with the covered cheesecake. "Dad," I said in a slow and serious voice, "we wanted you to have this token of our appreciation for everything you've done." He opened the box, looked in expectantly, and ... paused. "Why, . . . uhhhh . . . thanks, kids . . . uhhhh ... are you sure you got the right cheesecake from the bakery?" he asked in confusion. I and Katie were laughing too hard to answer.


Jeff, in the meantime, had his own set of problems. He selected a nice local restaurant, the Parkway Grill, for his setting. He then spent two hours explaining to the waiters exactly what he wanted them to do; "when we order desert, no matter what we ask for, bring out the cheesecake." Simple directions anyone with the brain of a chocolate chip cookie should be able to follow. So of course, when Jeff and Alison ordered dessert, they got exactly what they ordered instead of the cheesecake. Jeff jumped up. "AHHHH ... I've got to talk to the waiter for a minute, OK sweetie pie?" "Why?" asked Alison. "Ahhh . . . AHHHH . . . those people over there got little candles on their desserts, and I think you deserve one too!" he replied. "How cute!" squealed Alison.

Jeff went over to the waiter and pointed out, rather strenuously, that the waiter was SCREWING UP HIS ENGAGEMENT and that this was not a good method of GETTING A DECENT TIP. Jeff sat down again, and this time the waiter got it right. The cheesecake was presented in a fine fashion. Alison stared at it. Jeff got down on his knees. Alison began laughing. Jeff pulled a ruby and diamond encrusted ring out of his pocket and asked for her hand in marriage. Alison, still staring at the cheesecake, began laughing hysterically, doubling over in huge, air-gulping guffaws, almost falling out of her seat in unconstrained mirth. Somewhere in there, she managed to choke out a "yes." After Alison had calmed down a bit, the two headed back for the house where we were waiting to hold a little congratulations party. On their way out of the restaurant, the waiters, while staring icily at Alison, murmured to Jeff that they were sorry that she had laughed in his face when he asked her to marry him, but that it wasn't the end of the world.


CHAPTER 6 - Many Random Things Happen


Which is another way of saying "the grab-bag chapter of things that should be noted but are too small to make individual chapters out of."


On the 13th and 28th of May, Katie and I went to see the Joffrey Ballet. It was a beautiful, moving, multi-million dollar experience that we will recover from financially sometime around the turn of the century. All kidding aside, it really was impressive. The Jeffrey seemed to place more emphasis on ballet as a graceful, structured type of dancing rather than the more programmed and stylized classical ballet. The performance in both cases was a series of four "mini ballets," some with a minor story, some just a celebration of human motion. I honestly recommend that you take the opportunity to see the Jeffrey if you have the chance.


Our particular experience was enhanced before and after the performance by some of Los Angeles' time worn cultural traditions that really make the city an exciting place to live; I speak, of course, of punk rockers and car thieves.


Prior to the ballet, we met Katie's mother, Janet, and sister, Anne, for dinner at the "Cocola Cafe," a restaurant just a few blocks away from the Music Center, which is to say just past the edge of town where the buildings are marked as unsafe for cockroaches and the local populace have the quaint look last seen in the movie "Night of the living dead." The Cocola was actually a nice place, with a private parking lot, barbed wire, and machine gun nests. Inside, people with metal studded leather jackets and "I shot Mom" tattoos rubbed elbows with people in conservative suit coats and well tailored dresses (i.e. Katie, her relatives, and me). It would have been an interesting place for people watching if there had been any there. Instead, we watched the patrons of the place. I'm sure Spock would have described it as "fascinating," just like he did when the Enterprise encountered a six parsec long amoeba that tried to eat the crew.


After the ballet, we were fortunate enough to donate to the city's needy, who demonstrated the kind of simple country talents passed down by generations of the less well to do, namely punching in trunk locks with a pick axe and grabbing everything inside. The lock was a total loss, but that was the only the tip of the iceberg. Katie had a gym bag with a few T-shirts (worth about $30), some running shoes (worth about $50), and her make up (worth about $999). It was an expensive evening.


On the 18th of June, Janet received her PhD. Katie and I joined other members of her family in celebrating this special occasion. The ceremony at UCLA was well attended, with graduates with wildly different ages and cultural backgrounds, linked only by the common thread of wearing caps, hoods, and gowns that were the fashion rage in the 16th century. A ten man band played from the balustrade as each new graduate, with shoulders straight and the serious countenance of a person fully aware of the fact that they were dressed in something that looked like a nightgown, marched on stage for then* (simulated) diploma. As Katie's mother took the stage, with literally hundreds of onlookers, our little group did what we could to make it a memorable occasion; on the count of three, we all simultaneously screamed "YEAHHHH MOM!!!!" at the top of our lungs. Even from our distance, we could see her turn beet red and hide her head in her hands. The audience, needless to say, thought it was hysterical.



On the 23rd of June, Katie and I went to see the opera "Orpheus in the Underworld." Colorful, lively, and full of highly amusing songs where one word in ten could be understood, it was a modern version of the old classic Greek tale, where "modern" could be loosely interpreted as "weird." It was fun, though, and it had one pseudo joke I really liked (and understood since no speaking/singing was involved!) - The gods were having breakfast cereal from boxes labeled "Ambrosia"; on the opposite side was a picture of the "Les Miserables" girl with a large "MISSING" caption under it.


CHAPTER 1 - End of an Era


Madness was in the air, like humidity before a sudden thundershower, a heavy presence you could feel with each breath. Suddenly, without warning, it dawned on me what was causing the sensation. I knew in that instant that I had to have Katie beside me for the rest of my life. A spur of the moment decision, perhaps; a momentary flight of insanity, but I knew in my heart that I would ask Katie to marry me that very night. Just call me "Mister Spontaneity," I guess.


Fortunately, by strange coincidence, I had purchased a diamond ring, a bottle of Cuvee Dom Perrion, a corsage, five dozen roses, three pounds of M&Ms, and arranged to have a limousine take us to her favorite restaurant that very evening. "Perhaps, due to fortuitous chance, this would be a good time to ask her" I thought to myself, "because she will certainly be impressed by the M&Ms."


In actuality, about the beginning of June I decided to pop the question. In fact, I and Jeff ended up shopping for engagement rings together. Jeff just beat me to the punch by a week. But then, I had rather elaborate plans to make June 24th a very special evening.
Katie new something was up. I told her in advance that we were had dinner reservations for Saturday night at 7:00. Unfortunately, I didn't know that Katie's step-sister Lisa was having a combined birthday-housewarming party that evening around 6:00. The Limousine, which of course Katie did not know about, was supposed to pick us up about 6:30. "Uhhmmm . . . going to a 6:00 party is going to cut it pretty close with the dinner reservations, Katie" I said when she told me. "We can just go to the party for half an hour or so, Dave" she replied, "and still make it to the restaurant close to 7." "Ya, well, but, uhhnnn" I replied smoothly, "but I would really, really hate to be late - can't we, like, send a card or something?" Katie looked at me suspiciously. "Is something going on? Are we meeting someone there?" she asked. "NO!" I shouted, "NOTHING IS GOING ON ... heh hen heh, I mean, what could possibly be going on, it's just dinner right?" "Then we can go to the party, right?" Katie asked questioningly. "Yes, sure, right-O" I answered.


I called and changed the limo reservation to 5:30. Everything else was set after weeks of planning. I had already picked out the spot where I would ask her. It was along the Angeles Crest Highway, a small, twisting road that climbs up and through the mountains just north of Pasadena. There are a number of sight seeing spots beside the road were you can get a view of the entire Los Angeles Basin. During the evening, the millions of little residential lights, the skyscrapers, and the ever busy arteries of LA life, the freeways, make for a very spectacular view. It was one of the first places I took Katie when we started dating. I drove up the entire length of the road, rating each spot for it's view and distance from Pasadena, finally selecting one about fifteen minutes up the road. I already had the ring, a flawless, blue, 1.1 carat diamond, with two diamond baguettes on each side, set in white gold. I already had the Dom Perrion. The reservations had been made weeks ago. All that remained was picking up the flowers.


I went to a local florist that always had nice roses. I could only see a dozen red and two dozen pink roses in the window. "These are all your roses?" I asked, startled at the low number. "Yes," the salesperson replied. "O.K.," I said, "I'll take them." "How many?" she asked in a businesslike fashion. "All of them." "All of them? " she asked, surprised. "All of them" I repeated. "Which color, red or pink?" "I said I'll take ALL OF THEM" I replied. It finally dawned on her that I really wanted all her roses. It took a little more shopping, but I finally ended up with five dozen roses and a white orchid corsage.


My last trip was to the supermarket, where I did indeed purchase three pounds of M&Ms. Jeff, Jeff, and Terry Lyzen (visiting from San Diego) helped me sort them out until I had a cognac snifter full of green M&Ms to take with me. There is a standing joke between Katie and I about the effect of green M&Ms on a person. A private joke. You figure it out.


When the limo arrived at my house, prior to heading down to Katie's to pick her up, the driver jumped out. "Have no fear, Jerome is here" he cried. I was immediately worried. He turned out to be a very reasonable guy, fortunately. Everyone helped prepare the limo. We liberally sprinkled roses across the far seat, put the Dom Perrion in the ice bucket in the center table, and set out two glasses. Jerome pointed out all the little features in the limo.

There was a phone which could be used to call out or to talk to Jerome if the privacy shield was down, separating the driver's seat from the back of the limo. You could select regular lights, mood lights, or no lights. There was a television, a am/fm cassette CD stereo system, a wet bar, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. No, only kidding, the swimming pool was in the trunk, not in the car. We headed off to pick up Katie.


Jerome parked outside while I ran up to get her from her apartment. As we walked out the door, Katie glanced at the limo with a puzzled frown, obviously wondering who would have a limo waiting for them in that neighborhood. When we were about fifty feet away, Jerome jumped out, ran to the rear door, and with a flourish and a smile, opened it. Katie stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face me. "You didn't" she said, looking at me wide eyed. I shrugged, a huge grin on my face, slowly turning beet red. "Dave, I don't believe you" Katie laughed. I hooked her arm and escorted her the rest of the way to the limo.


Once inside, we gave Jerome the address of Katie's step-sister, told him to close the privacy shield, and opened the champagne. Jerome picked a very long route to get to the party, but Katie and I didn't mind - we were otherwise occupied. Jerome dropped us off in front of Lisa's place. We walked into the living room, where Katie's sister, Anne, her mother, Janet, her stepfather, Bill, Lisa, Lisa's boyfriend (now husband), Danny, and a few other people I didn't know were gathered. We were greeted by dead silence. Finally Bill spoke up. "Well, I see you traded in the family car, Dave." With that, everyone began talking again and things loosened up.


After the party, we jumped back into the limo and headed for Katie's favorite restaurant, the Raymond. I deliberately hadn't mentioned to Katie where we were going in order to surprise her, but she outwitted me in a brilliant verbal ploy. "You won't tell me where we're going?" she asked. "Nope" I replied. "How long will it take to get there?" she continued. "To the Raymond Restaurant? Oh, about fifteen ... damn."

The Raymond is an older, stately house that has been converted into a small dining establishment. It is the kind of place where, when you reserve a table, they assume you are going to keep it all night. When I made the reservations three weeks earlier, I had asked for their most romantic table. When they told me that it was already reserved, I explained that I was taking my girlfriend to dinner in order to propose to her. They kindly agreed to bump the current reservation and give me the table instead.

The dinner was superb. We were seated at a small, two person table on the back patio, nestled into a dark, quiet, private corner. The patio was covered by a trellis with sweet smelling wisteria covering it in a thick, green blanket. The only light was the dim, flickering dance of the candles on each table. On the other side of the patio, a classical guitar played softly into the night. We both had a four course meal, each course demanding to be eaten slowly, savoring each bite. The temperature was wonderful, warm enough that the light suit coat I wore and Katie's shawl were perfectly comfortable. We spent about two and half hours dining, laughing, talking ...

When we were ready to leave, the waiters came out with roses and balloons, placing them on the table. They had sort of missed the fact that I hadn't proposed yet. I made subtle gestures to them as they started congratulating Katie, like dragging my thumb across my neck and making a gagging sound. It didn't work. As we left, the couples at the tables around us began clapping, and one person cried out "special night?" "Yes," I replied, pointing at Katie, "but she doesn't know it yet." "Yes she does" whispered Katie into my ear. Shaking my head ruthfully, I helped Katie gather up the roses and balloons. She passed the roses out to the other tables, explaining that she had five dozen more waiting for her in our limo. Outside, Jerome was waiting, and ushered us into the car. The balloons made a brightly colored canopy against the black interior of the limo. "You know were to go" I told Jerome. I had previously explained to him the exact spot I wanted to stop.


I wanted this to be a surprise as well. Katie was dying of curiosity, but I managed to distract her by ... well, let us leave it at I distracted her. She certainly wasn't paying attention to the scenery outside of the limo. She didn't even feel the transition as we hit the Angeles Crest Highway and started up into the mountains. I smugly settled in to the rather enjoyable task of keeping her distracted for the fifteen minutes it would take us to get to the viewing area.


The explosion, when it came, was as frightening in its unexpectedness as it was shocking in its intensity. I had forgotten about the pressure differential in the mountains, and one of the balloons had popped from over-expansion. Katie let out a little scream of surprise at the sudden noise. I was rather startled myself. The phone began to beep urgently, which I correctly assumed was a signal that Jerome was attempting to contact me. "Yes Jerome?" I asked, still a little shaken. "What's happening!!" he cried, "Did she say NO?!? Did you SHOOT HER!?!?!?" I had to laugh as I told Jerome what had happened. Unfortunately, Katie had glanced out the window by this time, made the correct assumptions with regards to the balloon popping, and knew where I was taking her.


The view was spectacular. We walked slowly away from the car, arm in arm, stopping on the lip of the small observation area. We stared down on the twinkling lights of Los Angeles for a while, who knows how long. Finally, I took Katie's hands in mine and turned her towards me. I kneeled down, staring into her eyes. "Katie," I said, "I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?" She smiled back and replied. . .


CHAPTER 8 - Beginning of an Era


"Yes."


PROLOG
 

Yes, folks, it really is true. I am engaged. Like, as in going to be married. Now, I'm afraid, we have to go a little non-sequential. Important changes are happening in my life a little more quickly than the form letter can keep up with. So, a little sneak preview of our next, exciting episode follows! I have a new address and telephone number. They are:


Dave Dickie and Katie Barhydt
1795 East Sonoma Drive
Altadena, CA 91001
(818) 791-2452


See you in our next big issue, hopefully shortly following this one, namely: "HOMEOWNERS and other synonyms for the damned"