Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tribute To Theophil Czekajski

Theophil Czekajski is the second name listed on
the third column engraved on the wall of the
Arizona Memorial.
This story was originally published in The Spectrum in 2004, less than a year after the start of the war in Iraq.

It started with a dream.
            It was another dream about Pearl Harbor.  I have those often, usually as December 7th approaches, but this was in March.  Once again, it was about the U.S.S. Arizona, the American battleship that sank to the bottom of the harbor following an attack by Japanese planes.  In this dream, a name came to me.  It was a Polish-sounding name, starting with a “Ch” or “Sh” sound.
            Unlike most dreams which disappear like a wisp of smoke at daylight, this one stuck with me.
            I started researching the events of December 7th, 1941, particularly those surrounding the Arizona.  I found a name.  Theophil Czekajski. 
            He was a Signalman 3rd Class in the U.S. Naval Reserve.  His next of kin was  Mrs. Sophia Czekajski, who lived at 6479 Debuel Street in Detroit, Michigan
            That’s all.  It was a bittersweet revelation.  On one hand, it was fulfilling to know that the name of this American hero appeared on 15 different websites, which means his name has not been forgotten.  On the other, it was heartbreaking to know that this was all that would ever be known about him.
            Through further research, I found Nancy Martin.  Nancy was Mr. Czekajski’s distant cousin.  In another bizarre twist, Mrs. Martin was going to be in St. George at the end of March.  This began to feel like more than just a coincidence.
            We met at my office, where I learned that “Phil”, as he was known to his family, never married and had no children.  He had a brother who was reported to be still alive, but little other information. 
            What did he do for a living?  What were his dreams?  What was he going to be?  What girl did he leave behind?  How many children was he going to have?  What was he going to accomplish in his next 50 years?
            I began to ponder what all of this meant.  Then I realized that the symmetry could be found in the war in Iraq.  For that matter, in all wars.  Every day, another soldier dies in Iraq.  How many of them are like Phil?  How many died before their lives even began?  How many will be enveloped in obscurity for the ages?  How many will be marked in history as nothing more than a name and a rank on a bronze plate? 
            I want to say that I will remember you, Phil.  I pray that there is a special section of Heaven set aside for those like you who give their lives for people they will never know or meet.  I can’t know the name of every man and woman beside you, or those who will soon be joining you, but I can let you know that I am grateful.  And as you look down upon us, you know that your life was not given in vain, because you are looking upon a nation still dedicated to freedom, a freedom that is spreading around the world.
            I will remember.

NOTE: In 2010, my wife and I visited the Arizona Memorial, one of the most moving and emotional things I've ever done.  I cried at a wall that contained names of strangers who died nearly 20 years before I was born.  There near the top of that wall was the name: T. Czekajski. I thanked him for his sacrifice, which is as close as I'll ever get to showing my appreciation to the hundreds of thousands of people who died giving me this country and this life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Positive and Negative Screwdrivers

I don't like to admit it, but even I have an occasional "Here's Your Sign" moment.
For those who don't know, "Here's Your Sign" is a catchphrase immortalized by comedian Bill Engvall of Blue Collar Comedy Tour fame.  The bit includes examples of dumb things we catch ourselves saying every day.
Mine happened this week at a Walmart.
I was looking for a couple of screwdrivers to replace a pair that had gone missing from my computer repair kit.  They weren't stolen or hijacked.  The truth is that I had used them a couple of weeks ago in my home office, and I haven't been able to find them since.  That should give you some indication of just how messy my office is.  How bad is it?  I'd rather go out and buy new stuff than hazard an in-depth exploration mission within the confines of those four walls.  Much like shipwrecks in the Atlantic Ocean, I know the stuff is in there, but it's just too hard to find it.  Now if I had James Cameron money, where I could hire experts with depth finders and expensive deep sea diving equipment...
So this week I found myself in the tool aisle checking out inexpensive screwdrivers.  In my opinion, they are one of the most basic of tools.  I'm pretty sure that when the early upright-standing creatures in our history invented items to assist in their cave improvement projects, the first Sears Craftstroglodyte implement was a hammer.  Right after that, it had to be the screwdriver, so he'd have something to hammer on.  The second tool became so popular, six million years later an Englishman invented screws just so Ye Olde Hardware stores could charge more for the device.
For being a basic tool, modern man certainly has an impressive variety of options, not to mention brand names.
I decided that I needed screwdrivers with magnetic tips.  As I get older, my handyman skills have embarked upon a race between my failing eyesight and my less-than-steady hands.  The combination has resulted in every repair job taking twice as long as it used to because of the time now spent hunting for dropped screws.  (I fill that extra time with an ever-expanding vocabulary of creative curse words and epithets.)
I ended up checking out a rack of Stanley screwdrivers with magnetized tips. 
I noticed something interesting while examining the cards to which the tools were attached.  Some of the cards had a + symbol, while others had the - symbol.
"How interesting," I said, because I'm old and I'm in Walmart, where talking to yourself is required by law.  "Not only are the tips magnetized, Stanley is so sophisticated that they even tell you whether the magnetic charge is positive or negative."
I put the screwdrivers back and continued down the aisle because, in addition to being old, shaky, and increasingly blind, I've also become notoriously cheap, and felt $2.88 was just too much for a magnetic screwdriver.
All the way down the aisle, I continued to ponder the benefits of knowing whether a magnetized tip was positive or negative.  Maybe it was better to keep positively charged tips next to negatively charged tips to maintain the polarity longer.  Or it could have been a housekeeping issue -- if you neatly place a bunch of screwdrivers with the same polarity next to each other, they might repel each other and make a mess of your drawer.  Or perhaps there are people who are older, crankier, and even more anal retentive than I am, who insist on purchasing screwdrivers with identical charges, like those women who insist that all the patterns on their silverware have to match.
I was actually two aisles away before the "Here's Your Sign" light clicked on.
The symbols had nothing to do with the magnetic polarity.
They were actually identifying which kinds of screwdrivers were being sold.
The + meant Phillips head, the - meant slotted or flat head.
I ended up skulking out of the store without any screwdrivers, hoping the old guy in the next aisle telling the hacksaws about his sullen wife and ungrateful grown children hadn't heard me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

High Seas Adventure On The Gunlock Ocean

I visited the Gunlock Ocean over the weekend. 
For people who live in the Southern Utah area, the body of water northwest of St. George is officially known as the Gunlock reservoir.
However, over the years I've learned that the terms used for certain geographic features are not interchangeable between people from "back east" and those of us who live "out west."
For instance, running through the southern border of the small Nevada town of Mesquite where I live is a tiny trickle of dirty brown water that is so shallow and undrinkable that no self-respecting fish would be caught dead in it.  Not only can you walk across this body of water; during most of the year, you can do it without getting the Nike logo on your sneakers wet.  Behind the home where I grew up in Maryland, there was a drainage ditch that was bigger than this creek wannabe.  Heck, I've seen leaky bathtubs that have created larger bodies of water.
The name of this tiny spill of non-potable liquid?
The Virgin River.
It's bad enough that anyone refers to it as a river.
I'm sure that the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Susquehanna, and the Caloosahatchee all get together on Facebook every night and make fun of the Virgin "River."
What makes the name even more unrealistic is calling it a "virgin."  I'm convinced that whoever hung this moniker on such a defiled stream is the same guy that wrote the 1984 hit which made an identical claim about Madonna.
Even the federal government has bought into the lunacy, referring to the Virgin in historic documents as a "navigable waterway."
Yeah, right.
The only way you could get a toy remote control boat from one side of the "river" to the other is if you installed a set of wheels.
So overblowing the importance of a watering hole out west is a common practice, which leads me to christening Gunlock Ocean.
On the way to the reservoir on Mother's Day (mom's request), we encountered a few vehicles towing boats in the opposite direction.  In most places, that's a good sign.  But in this barren stretch of desert, it doesn't mean much.  I personally believe that boat owners in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona hook their boats up to the back of their SUV's twice a month and take them for a drive just to give the watercraft a change of scenery from the dusty back yard where it usually lives, and to impress the neighbors.  The truth is that the only time these powerboats have touched water is during the Mohave desert's semi-annual rain.  Well, people out west call it rain.  Back east, it would be referred to as brief malfunction of the lawn sprinklers.
To reach the Gunlock Ocean, we had to pass through some of the ugliest terrain on the planet.  A few years ago, I used the same descriptor for that moonscape between Overton, Nevada and Lake Mead.  I was wrong.  The 25 minute drive between Beaver Dam, Arizona and Gunlock, Utah is uglier.
When we finally arrived, I was greeted by a breathtaking stretch of water.  In the middle of all that desolation was a gorgeous pond.  Well, back east it would have been referred to as a pond.  Some of the more conservative local namers would call it a lake.  I went ahead and gave it the full "out west" treatment of naming it Gunlock Ocean.
As has become the custom out west whenever the government realizes they have a tiny sliver of real estate that isn't completely hideous, there was a cover charge.  The state of Utah had dumped a handful of unwanted picnic tables around the water's edge, parked a $30,000 pickup truck next to the entrance, and paid a state employee about $40,000 a year to collect a $7 admission fee.  As I mentioned in a previous article a few weeks ago about Lake Powell, the government was again gouging citizens to pay for a microscopic slice of land that their tax dollars had already purchased.
Fortunately we only had to pay $3 because Utah believes if you have someone in the car over age 65, the group should only get half-gouged.
It was a pleasant and entertaining few hours.
Probably the funniest moment was when an actual boat appeared.  (The "park" has the unmitigated optimism of offering boat ramps.  I didn't ask, but I suspect they charge about $50 for the privilege of launching your watercraft there.)
The boat owner and his half-dozen guests probably spent an hour packing supplies and preparing the boat to be towed another hour or more to Gunlock.  Then it took about 15 minutes to launch the boat, tie it up, and put away the truck and trailer.  Another 15 minutes, and everybody was on board and ready for their day of fun.
I watched as the skipper fired the powerful inboard engine at the dock.  Then he hit full throttle, making the 20-foot craft jump onto a plane.  The sleek and sexy yellow boat roared for exactly 18 seconds before reaching the opposite shore, where the captain shut down the engine, and fishing lines began shooting from every side like a waterborne party favor.
Eighteen seconds.
Hours and hours of work, preparation, and travel, just for a thrilling 18 seconds of wind whipping through someone's hair.
I can't report on the fish they pulled from the reservoir, mostly because Bushnell doesn't make a set of binoculars with an electron microscope option.
But if I know anything about estimating size out west, the six-inch minnows were described as "20-pound monsters" once the fishing party made the 18-second trip back to the dock and their desert-dwelling friends.
Such is life on the high seas of the Gunlock Ocean.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stuck On Adhesive Choices

I was adhesive shopping the other day.
To tell you the truth, I miss glue.
It was easy to find, easy to use, inexpensive, uncomplicated, and according to my colleagues in kindergarten, is less filling and tastes great.
I was in search of something to help reattach the side view mirror on my wife's car.  Although I drive it the majority of the time these days, the attribution is similar to that of our kids and pets.  When the dog is doing something adorable, it's "look at my dog."  When the dog tears something up, it's "look what your dog did." 
So the detached mirror is on my wife's car.
These days, there are simply too many choices for adhesives: Contact cement, epoxy, epoxy putty, paste, model cement, glue, krazy glue, super glue, super duper glue...
And even something as simple as glue has become complicated.  You have glue in a bottle, glue in a stick, glue in a metal can, glue that you insert into a gun and shoot at cutout paper dolls -- again, too many choices.
Worst of all, none of them seem to work very well beyond good old Elmer's.  If you want to permanently seal two pieces of paper together, Elmer's white school glue will do the trick.
Beyond that, it's a crap shoot.  Apply the glue, then cross your fingers.  Hopefully you weren't using super glue, or that's how those fingers will remain for the next six months.
I can happily report that, for the first time in my half century on this planet, I finally got super glue to work recently.
After my wife's dog (not my dog) chewed the nosepiece off of my reading glasses, I was able to use a gnawed up tube of super glue (my wife's dog got to that, too) to reattach the little rubber piece to the little plastic piece on the glasses.
It's the first time, dating back to 1975, that super glue actually worked for me.
I vividly remember that first laboratory test in the year that Captain and Tennille released "Love Will Keep Us Together."  Maybe if my friend Bobby Goll and I had had a little of that Captain and Tennille Love, we might have been able to salvage his red Western Auto wagon, because super glue wasn't able to keep the wagon's body and the front wheels together.  The two sections suffered an abrupt divorce after we tied the wagon to the back of my mini bike with a rope and tried a little off-roading in our adjoined back yards.  After discovering the catastrophe and mulling over the various and sundry ways our parents were going to kill us, we pooled our money.  It was a bit less than the amount necessary to purchase the Lincoln Welding equipment required to save our hides.  Instead, we came up with less than two dollars.  Fortunately, in 1975 when $2 could buy you a half a tank of gasoline, it was enough for a tube of that miracle glue we had seen on TV.
So we walked to the 7-Eleven and bought the glue.  It was surprising how tiny the tube was, compared to the model cement and school paste with which we were both intimately familiar. 
Believing it better to be safe than sorry, especially in the pursuit of protecting our posteriors, we used the entire tube.  We read the directions, waited the prescribed length of time to allow the glue to dry, then tugged on the front of the wagon.  The wheels came off before you could say "Radio Flyer." 
It was with that memory that I tackled the mirror project on my wife's car with an epoxy.  Unfortunately, this is the worst option today unless you have an advanced degree in molecular chemistry from M.I.T. 
For starters, instead of simply opening the package, twisting the top of the bottle, and applying liberally, you have to mix two chemicals in equal proportion, then apply the mixture in a specified amount of time.  With my garage bereft of Pyrex beakers, test tubes, and Bunsen burners, I had to do my best with a little plastic lid as the crucible and a tiny piece of ripped cardboard with which to do the stirring. 
After mixing, applying, and holding the mirror onto the side of the car for the required time, I let the car sit for the rest of the day.
The next morning, I took the mirror for a test drive.  It lasted until the car's speedometer hit 35 miles per hour.  Which is about 34 miles per hour more than the wagon test, so maybe I shouldn't complain.
In any event, I've only found one adhesive in my lifetime that can be counted on to work every time.  So if you see a blue car tooling along the highway with a mirror attached to the driver's side door with duct tape, you'll know it's me.  Driving my wife's car.