Dec 88 / Jan 89

REAL TROUBLE #7 in a series

As you may recall, I last left off somewhere in the midst of a post-Club-Med-vacation daze in late October. Life has continued on at a pace that makes interstellar travel quite feasible. In fact, I'm only going to take life through December and January in order to keep the page count down. So I'll skip Thanksgiving, the Ice Capades, and winning the California Lottery.

On Friday, the 2nd of December, Jeff Stern and I headed for Mammoth on our first ski trip of the season. We drove up in the Camry, leaving Pasadena about 5:15. The only difficult part of the trip is the passage through the Angeles Crest Forest, where a two lane ribbon of a road winds and twists itself through the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Pasadena. The Camry powered through the turns like the Mom and Dad and 1.7 kiddies car that it is. The only exception was our velocity, which was set according to the Robb Hendrie Speed Limit Conversion principle, were one doubles the recommended mile per hour limits posted for turns. Jeff Stern's occasional nervousness during these maneuvers could only be noted by one who had years of practice reading his gestures; the tightened jaw, the frequent attempt to push his foot through the floor, the beaded sweat on his brow, the odd green pallor of his face, the throat tearing screams of terror as the Camry hurled itself into a .8 G hairpin turn...

Well, needless to say, we made it across the San Gabriels with no loss more significant than Jeff's lunch, and saved twenty minutes over the more roundabout route on major highways passing along the outskirts of the mountains. We both settled in for the next four hours of fast, steady, boring driving between us and skiing. Jeff took over the driving in Mojave, and I took it back in Lone Pine. As we reached the last hour and a half or so of the trip, we began to pass through the small towns that dot the 395 highway near Mammoth. These places are lively little spots consisting of a gas station that charges $2.63 a gallon for unleaded, a diner with the old town charm and appeal of a rotting garbage heap, a cross walk connecting the two, and, of course, the only real source of income for the town, a local police car. The local cop enforced the entirely reasonable 25 mile per hour speed limit that started on one side of the cross walk and ended on the other, a grand total of about four feet of two lane highway. This was annoying but circumventable by merely following some other speed crazed driver (90% of all skiers fall in this category) and letting him get the ticket. Jeff, ignorant of the lessons learned by my several trips to Mammoth, insisted that I was speeding excessively until I pointed this out to him.

We were trailing a white Blazer at the time, moving at about seventy and coming up to the normal ninety five MPH cruising speed after passing relatively slowly through "Big Pine". It was just about at that instant that I noticed a car coming over a hill in my rear view mirror. It was dusk, and the details were hard to make out, but some unconscious relay clicked and the hackles on the back of my neck started to rise. I yelled something unsuitable for a PG rated letter as the red flashing beacon of a police cruiser came on. Then I relaxed and smirked at Stern. "Watch this guy zip right by me and nail the Blazer" I said confidently. As I slowed, the cop slipped up behind me. "He's going to pull around me now" I added, the faint sounds of concern creeping into my voice. "I don't think so, Dave" replied Jeff. I slowed more, and the cruiser stuck to my tail. This time I yelled something unsuitable for a R rated letter, and pulled over onto the shoulder. The cruiser pulled in behind me. I started to fume. The cop walked up the passenger's side of the Camry while Jeff rolled down his window. "Sir..." he began, but I cut him off before he could finish the sentence. "YOU can't give ME a TICKET, dammit! I was SPEEDING BEHIND THAT TRUCK! You've got to give THEM the ticket" I yelled. He shook his head. "No sir... your headlight... I'm stopping you because your headlight is out". My rage vanished in an instant as I replayed the last couple of sentences. "Oh... ahhh, look, I didn't mean I was SPEEDING behind that truck, I meant I was ... ahhh... following ... ahhh ... headlight out did you say? By willikers, I just had that thing fixed and now its broken again. Gee Whiz, officer, you just can't get good help any more...". He seemed rather unimpressed with my weak attempts to cover the faux paus, and returned to his cruiser to write out an equipment violation while Jeff made a pitiful attempt to cover his guffaws of laughter. Fortunately, equipment violations can be cleared merely by fixing the problem and having it signed off by an inspector, so it wasn't a major hassle.

The actual skiing at Mammoth was fun, but not great. Not much in the way of crowds, but not much snow either. Most of the runs were icy and several areas near the top had uncovered stones and dirt to get by. I ate a few serious holes in my ski bottoms, had a few good runs off the top, and generally just got back in the swing of things after breaking for the summer.
On December 10th (I think) I met Susan Fenimore and Paul Martin, friends from club Med, at a bar in Westwood. We watched the USC / UCLA football game, which appeared interesting after a dozen or so beers. Actually, it was an excellent time. Sitting in the middle of the UCLA college town, one would have expected primarily UCLA support. Alot of USCers showed up, however (including me!), and it turned into a noisy but friendly rivalry.

Thursday, the 15th of December, my mother and father, Char's sister and her husband, and Char and I went to see Les Miserables. It was an amusing musical where almost everyone dies needlessly.

Tuesday, the 20th of December, I and Jeff decided to try our luck at one of the local ski areas, Mt. High, where they had night skiing. I and Jeff arrived there about 6:00. It was cold, windy, and icy. We noticed a lack of female skiers under these conditions, which Jeff attributed to the fact that snow bunnies are not nocturnal creatures. It was fun, but exhausting, and skiing just wasn't the same without the snow bunnies.

My brothers and their respective wives flew into LA for Christmas on the 21 and 22 of December. LA, as per usual for that time of year, was a fine example of transportation inefficiency. The entire city was gridlocked by 3:00. We made it to my parents house, however, and spent the rest of the week there. Christmas surpassed all expectations in the amount of joy that can be generated by running up bills that come close to matching the federal deficit. It was fun.
New years eve was spent with Char, Jeff Stern and his new flame Alison, Ben (Jeff's brother) and his new flame Teresa, Terri Lyzen, Jeff Goldsmith, and a friend of Alison's.

Alison is a combined law/M.B.A. student at UCLA. The combined law/M.B.A. program is an accelerated degree where they bypass the more traditional classes in order to concentrate on the really vital lessons to young up-and-coming business law students. Each day for four years they throw the students into huge pools of bloody, shark infested water. Getting eaten by a shark is considered grounds for dismissal from the program. This is followed with the graduation exercise where they are armed with knives and tossed into huge pools of bloody, shark infested water with each other. The sharks, of course, are laughably harmless in comparison to the students, and are included only for humor value. Anything that survives is considered adequately prepared for the world of corporate law.

The results of Alison's lack of formal education, however, became obvious at the dinner party. She promised to make a 9" cheesecake for dessert. Jeff suggested she make two instead, since dessert is usually in strong demand at our place. Alison decided that it would be much easier to make a 18" cheesecake instead of two 9" cheesecakes, however. The old "area of a circle is proportional to the square of the radius" rule kicked in, and we had a cheesecake roughly the size and weight of Rhode Island. After the eight of us attacked the thing, carving out huge slices of cheesecake (each one of which was large enough to require hydraulic jacks to actually get it on the plate), we still had enough left over to make a nice sized sand trap at a Florida golf course.

The next day (January 2) we decided to go to mountain High as a group. Teresa had about as small an experience level with skiing as you are likely to encounter she had never seen snow before. Jeff Goldsmith was also a newcomer to the slopes. We packed into the Camry and Jeff Stern' s VW Rabbit and headed off early Monday morning. Two things became immediately obvious. One was the fact that the entire population of the LA basin had clearly decided to join us that day. The lines for the lifts were about ten people wide and six thousand four hundred and seventeen people long. Actually skiing down the slope required the precision normally associated with expensive european automobiles and Japanese "transformer" toys in order to avoid the other skiers, and a somewhat callous attitude toward the bodies littering every square inch of the ski area. The other thing that became obvious was that the lift operators had been amusing themselves by sticking their heads in microwave ovens and shrinking their brain to the size and consistency of a walnut.

On the first trip up, I was with Teresa and Jeff on the triple chair lift, telling them how to get off when we reached the top. As we got closer, I saw a woman two chairs in front of us go down as she attempted to get off the lift. I knew they would have to stop the lift and help her up, leaving us hanging in the wind about thirty feet from the top. Wrong. The next group of three people squirmed frantically to avoid getting off the lift, but the pressure of the chair pushed them forward into the woman on the ground. The three of them crashed into the hapless skier and went down hard. Then it was our turn. "Weight your skis on the outside edges and turn around them!" I cried. It was useless. Four bodies in the small track leading down from the lift were enough to block it completely. We were forced off the lift, and I executed a fast right turn to avoid the mass of squirming bodies. Teresa and Jeff hit the group with a thud as they catapulted into the center of the disaster area. I looked at the lift operator. She was staring at the ceiling with the kind of dazed intensity that spells out major brain damage. My screaming at the top of my lungs finally brought her back to earth and she managed to stop the lift seconds before another group of three skiers was forced into the pile. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and we began lessons.

Jeff had an intuitive feel for skiing, but Teresa had a few problems. I made the mistake of taking her on an intermediate slope before she was ready. "OK, Teresa, just start off and do the snow plow like I showed you" I would say. Teresa, with a "what the hell am I doing with these two stupid sticks strapped to my feet" look, would cautiously push off. After ten feet she would execute a maneuver that was almost but not quite entirely unlike a snow plow. THUD! "Hmmm... not quite right, let's try that again" I would continue. Swwwisssh THUD. "Ahhhh... no. One more time, OK?" Swwisshhh HWACK THUD THUD THUD HWUMP! ! ! "Oh, that's unique!" I would cry, fumbling at my camera to snap a shot of a fairly amusing non-skiing maneuver, "let's try that one again!". She would look at me with a not-very-amused expression on her face, and we would start again. She would occasionally negotiate a turn successfully, if not gracefully, and as a result pick up enough speed for a really spectacular crash. Needless to say, it was not a very successful initial attempt on skis.

Between the waiting in lines and picking up Teresa we finished about three runs before the slopes closed. I and Jeff Stern had parked our cars far from the actual ski area due to Mt. High's parking policy, which was not to provide any. I and Jeff drove up to the ski area to pick up everyone else. When I parked, I noticed my car was at a funny angle. The left rear tire was completely flat. Changing the tire in the slushy, dirty, oily snow was about as enjoyable as inhaling Avon perfume, but I did it. We headed out of the parking lot. Unfortunately, the parking lot had extended itself to include the next ten miles of road. We crawled along for the next hour at a pace only slightly slower than molasses at the north pole. Finally, we hit a major highway. Of course, at the time, it looked like a BIGGER PARKING LOT. Bumper to bumper traffic, and I was ready to chew sheet metal and spit nails. We stopped for dinner to let the traffic die down, but it still took well over three and a half hours (as opposed to the normal hour and fifteen minutes) to get home. Jeff Stern had intelligently decided to take the back way out of Mt. High on a small road that twists higher through the mountains, thereby avoiding the traffic. Well, it would have been intelligent if he hadn't hit the patch of ice and slammed into the car in front of him. The Rabbit was in bad shape, but they made it home despite the front end rattling like a dying Ed Meese. We went to bed, thinking the worst had past. The next morning, Teresa found out that her legs wouldn't support her weight. Ben took her to the hospital, where the problem was diagnosed as cartilage damage with the possibility of surgery to correct it. All in .all, it was a wonderful ski trip if you enjoy jabbing yourself in the eyeballs with old rusty razor blades.

In early January, something occurred that was not humorous at all. I broke up with Charlene. It was extremely painful, very short, and absolutely necessary. After two years of dating, I still enjoyed Char's company very much, respected her as a person, and valued her as a friend. A problem still existed. As much as she meant to me, I didn't love her. And after two years, it was time to "fish or cut bait". In this case, it was time for me to start looking for someone I could really commit to.
So, in early January, I started going out with Katie Barhydt. The timing was not coincidental, but it was not directly related either. Katie acted as a catalyst, I guess. The breakup with Charlene was something that I had contemplated for a long time, discussed with Jeff Stern and Jeff Goldsmith, cautiously broached with my parents. I just didn't have the impetus to do it. Most of the time I spent with Katie up until that point had been in playing cut throat (three player) racquetball and other platonic activities. It was obvious that there was interest on both sides. Pursuing that interest promised to be a time intensive task. I decided that the time had come to finally make a decision. Either get serious with Char, and cut out all the sideline dating I had been doing, or break up with her and really pursue a different relationship. The decision I made is obvious.

About Katie then. Katie is in charge of the Ground Combat development team on JESS. The Ground team is one of the two largest teams on the project (the other is my team). Katie is 32, has a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Caltech, and beats me at racquetball more often than I care to admit. She is, in my opinion, pretty damned attractive. She also enjoys most of the myriad physical, social, and intellectual activities I participate in, and quite a few I don't. Or more appropriately, didn't (foreshadowing of things to come).  She invited me over for dinner on the 5th of January on the spur of the moment. It turned out to be rather interesting. This was just after work, so she didn't have any real chance to prepare for it. "I'm afraid I'll just have to whip up something really simple, Dave" she said. I looked around. "No problem", I replied, "but you don't have a microwave to zap frozen food with". She smiled. "I said something simple and fast, Dave. It still has to be food". She then proceeded to "whip up" a dinner of cheese tortellini in fresh home made pesto (made from basil grown in her own garden) and covered with toasted pine nuts, Ceaser salad with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a bottle of expensive Chardonnay. Dinner was served on china with silver chargers (under-dishes), with fine linen placemats and napkins, sparkling crystal wine glasses, and gleaming silverware. The table was lit by two long, white, tapered candles in cut glass holders. After that, I'm dying to find out what an "extravagant" dinner is going to be like!

On the 7th of January, we went to the ballet. It was a compendium of various pieces of famous ballets, including Swan Lake. The incredible precision and lightning fast movements of the dancers really brought home the beauty and grace that the human body can attain if you practice ballet every minute of your conscious adult life.

On January llth, I left for five more days of skiing at Mammoth. Jim Hlavity set the trip up, renting a large condo for himself, his Fiancee Grizel, and a group of his friends at work. Alex Simmons and I decided to tag along. Once again primarily icy conditions prevailed, but there were a few spots with decent coverage. I was hot for the slopes anyway. Jim's friends, however, had a slightly different perspective on things. They apparently looked forward to long hours of highly entertaining television shows. As I tossed and turned in the loft at midnight, a familiar tune blared from the living room below; at first I thought I had joined Freddy in a "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie or wandered into a Far Side cartoon, but no, they were really watching "The Brady Bunch". At midnight. In Mammoth. They finally shut down the TV at about 2:00 a.m. after a episode of Gilligan's Island. The next morning I and Alex blearily dragged ourselves out of bed, assisted by a chemical kick start for our brains (aka "sucking on instant coffee crystals"). When we left the condo at about 9:00/9:30, Jim's friends were beginning to show signs of life, and could conceivably have gotten out of bed by 10:00. We didn't stick around to find out.

I and Alex returned from Mammoth on the 16th. I dropped him off at Burbank Airport that night for his return flight to San Jose. The next morning I flew out for Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. My flight was at 1:25 out of Los Angeles International (LAX) . I arrived an hour and a half early, checked in at the Continental desk, walked about a quarter mile to the terminal, and settled back with Team Yankee, a novel about World War III.  My flight was on one of those little Boeing 727 "s that have an unfortunate tendency to lose important pieces of the fuselage while in flight. One docking bay over a much larger 747 was in the process of being refueled. At least I assumed it was being refueled since a man was connecting a hose to the underside and huge signs with minor cautionary notes like "WARNING FLAMMABLE", "EXPLOSION HAZARD", "TOXIC FUMES", "NO SMOKING", and "DANGER ALL HELL MAY BREAK LOOSE" were littering the place. As I watched, the man finished connecting the hose and pulled back on a lever. There was a sudden spray of fluid under high pressure followed immediately by the hose tearing free of the fueling port, whipping wildly around the underside of the plane and knocking the man sprawling. I watched as hundreds of gallons of highly refined jet fuel were spewed out on the tarmac. The man, shaking himself dazedly, ran over to where the hose originated and cranked excitedly on a value. The hose went limp as the gasoline supply was cut off. The expanding sheet of fluid continued to grow until it engulfed my plane as well as the refueling 747. "This", I thought to myself, "is not good".

I waited for the announcement that my flight would be delayed while grumbling quietly over the entire mess. After fifteen minutes, I walked over to the attendants at the boarding gate. "Excuse me," I asked, "but could you tell me how long a delay I can expect in the departure of this flight?". "Oh, no delay is expected sir" replied the attendant. I shook my head in disbelief. "But my plane is sitting in a puddle of gasoline. Somehow it strikes me that this is kind of an unsafe condition for starting a jet engine in!" "Perhaps, sir, but if a delay is needed, I'm sure that we will be informed. In the meantime, we begin boarding in ten minutes". I drew back for a second. "Look, that plane is sitting in GASOLINE! You know, the stuff that makes cars go? The stuff that's explosive when mixed with air? The stuff that CAN BLOW THE DAMN PLANE A MILE IN THE AIR IF IT GOES OFF! We're talking about G-A-S-0-L-I-N-E" I practically screamed. "Yes sir. Would you like smoking or non smoking seating?" she replied. "I'd like NON BURNING SEATING YOU PINHEAD!!!!" I yelled angrily. The conversation continued in the same vain for longer than I care to relate. Finally, to my entire disbelief, they boarded the plane. I waited for fifteen minutes for them to suddenly come to their senses and clear the plane, women and children first, but it never happened. The attendant announced the final boarding call, and I reluctantly tip toed down the the passageway to the plane.

I glanced out the window as I sat in my seat. Continental had formed a circle around the area with the little tractor and trailer chains used to move luggage around the airport. By twisting around, I could see one of them behind the plane, blocking any possible exit to the runway. Fire trucks and firemen dotted the area while people in both blue jeans and suit coats spread something that looked like a cross between sawdust and sand on the slick. Several firemen on the outskirts clutched fire extinguishers and hoses, nervously eyeing the puddles of gas. Those inside the area walked in the calm and deliberate manner of individuals who are terrified at the stupidity of what they are doing. This did not make me happy. Finally, the captain made an announcement that the flight would be delayed for an hour, since, ha ha ha, starting the engines while the plane was in a puddle of gasoline could BLOW THE DAMN PLANE A MILE IN THE AIR ha ha ha, but we should relax because the Continental fire experts were on the scene caused by the Continental fueling experts and, ha ha ha, things would be back to normal shortly. "Shortly" was meant in the traditional airline sense, of course, and could be loosely interpreted as meaning "sometime today or tomorrow". I settled back for a long wait.

The plane finally left for Austin about an hour and a half later. Fort Hood and Killeen Texas were about as exciting as licking basement walls. The exercise was about as exciting as juggling lit sticks of dynamite. This particular exercise, called "Road Runner", was supposed to test III Corps officers in their capability to lead a combined air/land war in Europe against Warsaw pact forces. The army group running the exercise, the "Battle Command Training Program" (BCTP), decided they needed some minor variations on the suggested JESS hardware, software, and database operating parameters in order to provide the best training experience. Of course, the list of "suggested operating parameters" is followed by a caveat in capital letters that reads "FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE OPERATING PROCEDURES MAY RESULT IN JESS CHOKING AND DYING IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR MULTI MILLION DOLLAR EXERCISE, SO DON'T DO IT!". BCTP, with the confident, "on top of things" air usually associated with life forms lower than intestinal parasites on the evolutionary chain, managed to miss this little piece of advice. There were a few problems. The exercise was none the less a success, due primarily to the frantic scurrying of JESS technical personnel carrying band-aids from computer to computer.

The only pleasant moments associated with Road Runner were the ones spent getting to know Katie on a more personal level. Despite the continuous problems with the exercise, we managed to find time for chatting over lunch and dinner. One in particular was special. Katie knew that my birthday had come and gone while I was skiing at Mammoth, unable to celebrate it properly. She insisted on taking me out to dinner in order to compensate for this injustice. The restaurant she selected was the Tyler House, a historic texan building that had been renovated into a five star restaurant. What this place was doing out in the wastelands of Texas where fried ochra and grits was considered edible food baffled me completely. Whatever the reason, it was orders of magnitude better than anything else I'd seen in the area. It also turned out to have a piano bar, and we returned on Saturday in order to sip heated cognac and listen to the music.

TO BE CONTINUED

(since the really interesting stuff all occurred since then!) PREVIEW OF THINGS TO COME: Road Runner misery. A week skiing in Utah. Dave gets in REALLY BIG TROUBLE. Alison and cute chili. More skiing. Pretend Honeymoons. Watch for our next big issue!!)