Monday, August 29, 2011

"Non-fat from now on..."

People ask me, “Were you hit in the head or something?”  I say, “Well, yes.”  People also ask me, “Were you ALWAYS this stupid?”  I say, “Part of the getting ‘hit in the head’ thing.”  
When people ask me idiotic questions like, “How are you doing today, Brent?” in a cute voice like they’re talking to a three year old, I usually come up with an answer like, “They let me out without the helmet today, so pretty good.” 
I was once asked, “You’re not ordering a BREVE latte are you?”
This was about twenty years ago, and by a woman of local fame....or maybe infamy is the right word.  Let’s call her Bess.  Bess was the most famous widow that month.  Her husband died suddenly when Bess shot him in the back five times.  But this isn’t about that.  He threatened her life.  There was a history of abuse, so she got off with self defense.  She was on the national news for one day.
I was hanging out at the Cafe European espresso bar, where I usually hung out.  I was about twenty four, had no responsibilities, and was self medicating with the glorious caffeine.  I was also people watching. That was a hobby of mine.  
I had just ordered a breve Brent Special.  Breve is the term for making a drink primarily out of cream or half & half, instead of milk.  I loved my breve drinks then, but even the thought of something so rich now, at the age of 44, makes me a little queasy.  
Leaning on the bar, I answered slightly intimidated, “Well, um, yes.”
Her last name ironically, was the same as a brand of hand gun, so let’s call her Bess Lugar.  Rumor has it that during her trial there was an ad placed in the local classifieds for a 9mm Lugar, only fired five times.  
Parenthetically, the name we came up with, Bess Lugar, for some reason, reminds me of the second grade where I won all the staring contests.  I had learned to spit milk from the inside corner of my left eye socket, so in a staring contest I was unbeatable.  I like the name.  Let’s go with it.
Bess said, “Well, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  
I was intimidated beyond belief.  I straightened up, and squeaked out a little, “How come?”
This woman who had just been on trial for murder, said to me, “The cholesterol will kill you.”
I was floored.  
I looked at the guy working at the coffee bar, and said, “That will be non-fat from now on.”
The Brent Special was at that time, a 16 oz. latte with a single shot of espresso, one shot of coconut syrup, and about 5 to 8 drops of Irish Creme syrup.  
I used to tell anyone new who made it, “A shot of coconut, and enough Irish Creme poured into it, that if it were a pregnancy test, it would be positive.  Not twins, but positive.”  
The newbie would pour the shot of coconut, and be very surprised when, on pouring eight drops of Irish Creme syrup into it, that it did resemble a chemistry experiment.  The brown syrup was suspended in the translucent white syrup.  
I was enjoying a Brent Special one day, when my Friend Who Shall Remain Nameless pushed up to the bar, right outside Wray’s Foods.  It was about 93° out, and being a quadriplegic, his spinal cord was injured too high for his sweat glands to function.  He had pushed his wheelchair about two thirds of a mile, and he was burning up.
“Hey Brent, I need you to do me a favor.” He said.
“What’s that, Un-Named Friend?” I asked.
“I need you to get two glasses of water, and pour one of them over my head and shoulders.” He said.
I asked, “What do you want me to do with the other glass?”
“Just toss it in my face.”
I smiled, “I can do that.”
While the coffee girl poured two glasses of water, he turned around and locked his brakes in front of the coffee bar, so his back was to the automatic door to the grocery store.  
As I poured the first glass over his head and shoulders, I could see relief hit him like a bag of nails.  
Unnoticed by me, the grocery store doors slid open. An elderly lady exited the building, with her shopping bag and her purse.  I threw the water in the second cup in my friend’s face.  
Leaning back, he bounced on his wheely bars as if the weight of the water had tossed him back. 
He exclaimed, “Whatja do that for??”
I was speechless.  The old lady got this angry look on her face that said to me she was thinking about beating me with the purse she clutched in one hand.  
We watched her walk away, and as soon as she had traveled slowly out of earshot, I whispered in his ear, Let’s do that again!”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Friend Who Shall Remain Nameless...

One Christmas several years ago, my mom made bath robes for the entire family.  My robe was florescent plaid.  I loved that robe.  I still do. I still wear it every chance I get.  But even after it’s been washed a hundred times, it is still very loud and bright.
I was wearing the robe one morning about three or four months after that Christmas when one of my best friends, who shall go un-named, came driving up in his wheelchair accessible van.  He honked to get my attention.  I put on my Birks, and went outside to see what was up.
It should be known, that I was ONLY wearing the robe.  I hadn’t showered yet, and still had hair going every which way.  And I say that only for background purposes so the story that I’m writing has every bit of funny it had when it happened.  
He rolled down his passenger-side window, and I leaned up against his van, “What’s up, Friend Who Shall Go Un-Named?”
The friend that shall go un-named had a Diet Mt. Dew can stuck under his wheelchair, and was afraid when he got home he wouldn’t be able to leave his van.  
It might have even been a set of wheels I had built for his chair.  Let’s say, for the sake of the funny, that it was.  I have built a few sets of wheels for his wheelchair. One set for his Olympic torch carrying, with red white and blue spoke nipples...which is also mentioned for the sake of the funny.
I opened the door, climbed in, reached under his chair, got the can, and set it in the dashboard drink holder.  Keeping the passenger-side door open, I then sat in the passenger seat and we started talking about this and that.  
Pretty soon he put the van in reverse and began backing out of the driveway.
I thought, “The bastard!” I thought about jumping out, but we were backing up quite fast and I was sure the door would hit me in the butt and probably knock me over.  Plus, if there was a chance for any hilarity to happen, I was all for it.  So I just sat there as he shifted into drive.
I asked, “Um, Bastard Who Shall Go Un-Named, where are you taking me?”


He said with an evil grin, “Nowhere in particular.” As we turned onto Lincoln Avenue and started heading down town.
A few minutes later, he asked, “Are you thirsty?”
“Well, yes.” I answered.
We turned right on 40th, and again on Summitview Avenue.  
Then the insults started.  It was too long ago for me to remember what the insults were.  He usually began by calling me an idiot in some form or another, or somehow insulting my brain injury.  I usually turned his insults around, and geared them towards his spinal injury.  I.E.: Knucklehead became Knuckleneck, and S#%t for brains (Or bwains), became S#%t for spine (Or Spwine).  Next, he probably said how much easier his life would be once I died, and he hoped I was working on my skills to kill myself. 
I probably responded something like, “You first.”
To which he almost surely told me how much he hated me.  And I always relied on his false homophobia, and told him how much I loved him.
“Stop saying that!”
It should also be known that we met at the Harborview (Or to alumni, Harbor-Zoo) Brain and Spinal Injury Rehab Unit years before, on a return visit for me to get checked out for riding a bicycle.  
My old primary nurse told me she had another patient from Yakima that was coincidentally in my old room.  She took me to meet him.  He had recently transferred from the hospital ICU.  We poked our heads into his room.
That was my favorite of the three rooms I had during my stay there because it offered a view of the Columbia Center which was being built then.  I spent many hours just watching the construction.   As did he.  It was like watching grass grow, if tiny little men used tiny little tools, and tiny little cranes to put the grass up, millimeter by millimeter.
He was laying there, looking out the window, with a cervical collar around his neck, watching the construction.
We pulled into Chalet Mall, drove across the parking lot to Wray’s Grocery, and parked in the disabled parking right in front of the Cafe European espresso stand.  That’s when I realized his plan.
“If you think I’m getting out of the van, you’re nuts.” I said.
“I’m not going to leave. And please don’t talk about my nuts.” He replied.
“Un-Named Person of No Consequence, I’m not leaving this van.
“Dude,” He looked me in the eyes, “I swear, I won’t leave.”
I got out of the van.  There was a line of three people, and I was the only one in it wearing a bathrobe and nothing else, besides Birkenstocks.  Maybe I was wrong about my friend, maybe all he was after was the humiliation of standing in line. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in line, waiting my turn to order.  It seemed like it took hours.
I didn’t have any cash, but I had been to this coffee stand many times.  In fact I had hung out at this stand enough that not one of the employees, including the manager OR the owner’s wife made me pay for my lattes.  I had no tab, they just gave them to me free. It was awesome.
It was soon my turn, and as I ordered, I could hear the van shift gears into reverse, and then back away.
I smiled, as the coffee girl asked, “He’s coming back, right?”
“No...He won’t be back.”
She made my latte.
As I walked the mile home on the sidewalk along Summitview, I waved at everyone who honked at me, like, “Yeah, I know I’m a fool for ever trusting that guy.”  Then I came to the realization, that if roles were somehow reversed, I would have done the same damn thing.
Last Christmas my mom made robes again, and this time she gave me the choice of color or pattern.
I said simply, “Well, you’ve got to beat the first one.”
She asked, “How?”
I suggested some sort of animal print.  Like zebra, or tiger.
She said, “I’ve got dalmatian.”
“Perfect.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vacation 2

Traveling with the Whitmires is always an adventure.  It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling the world with us, or just going to lunch.
When I was growing up, we had a camper.  We took it everywhere, up skiing, to the parking lot of Disneyland, photography conventions, Yellowstone park, Cannon Beach.  
I remember so well, riding in the camper, in the bed above the truck cab.  I pretended I was flying.  I remember many times just being hypnotized by the white dashes on the road, they would take on a certain rhythm, and then switch to yellow lines and curve this way and that.
If I didn’t ride there, I was in the “hammock”, which wasn’t really a hammock at all, but more of a stretcher with canvas stretched out between two metal poles on the sides.  I still remember the smell of the canvas.  
My father made modifications to the camper, he built a platform on top to do photography from.  He later put a 14 foot ladder on top of the platform, which elevated him to like 22 or 23 feet off the ground.  Of course, when we were driving the ladder came down.
I was about six, the first time we went to Yellowstone.  On the way in, there was a bear busy eating what ever the passers by would give him.  It was like a rite of passage thing, if you went to Yellowstone in the early to mid seventies, you fed a bear out of the window of your car.  
Curiously enough, my dad wasn’t satisfied with just passing the bear Oreos, like everyone else.  He had to pull over to the side of the road, put on the emergency brake, grab his camera from in between him and my mom on the seat, open the door, and get out of the truck.  He screamed as he chased the bear back to the other side of the road.  Yes, you read right, my father once chased a bear.  When he got it back in the woods, he photographed it.
He said later, “Well I had to chase it back to it’s natural habitat.
My older sister and older brother were yelling for my dad to quit it.  I didn’t care, I was six, I was bawling under the table in the camper. Terrified of what might happen.  Would my dad hurt the bear?  Would the bear hurt my dad?  Two very serious questions.
Another time, when I was a little older, like ten, my father and mother and I were heading North in the truck with the camper along the Oregon coast.
Dad saw it first. Sheep grazing on tall grass with the ocean and a light house with the surf crashing against it in the background.  Obviously we stopped. (Brake squealing sound effect here.) Dad got his Pentax 6x7 and a long lens.  He got out of the truck, and climbed the fence.  I exited the camper.
“Dad, what about those signs?” I asked.
There were NO TRESPASSING signs posted on the fence about every six feet.
He said, and I swear...this is what he said, “Those signs are just for amateurs.”
So, I climbed the fence too.  I watched him photograph the sheep with the light house in the background.  We hiked down a hill where there was more sheep.
Ten photographs makes a roll of film in the 6x7, and I think he shot about five or ten rolls.  We shot all the film he brought over the fence with him.  We were heading back to the camper when we heard this unmistakable sound.  Click-Click! The sound of a shotgun being cocked.
“CAN’T YOU READ?!?” The farmer shouted from the top of a hill, with the gun pointed at us.
Now, I don’t know why, but I’ve blocked the memory of the farmer following us back to the camper until very recently.  Maybe because he was pointing the shotgun at us.
Of course when we got back to the camper my mom made the farmer a fresh cup of coffee.  And while he sat on the bumper of the truck and drank it, my father promised to send him an eight by ten.
There was once a commercial for Lipton Tea, where this photographer was photographing this light house until dark.  A storm rolled in. In the rain, the photographer knocked on the light house door.  The light house keeper answered the door, and invited the photographer in for a cup of tea.
When that commercial aired, my sister always said, “What you don’t see is that photographer’s family waiting for him in a car somewhere on the shoulder of the road.”
I never saw that side of the stopping to photograph things, although, we were always late by the time we arrived at where ever we were going.  I remember once we were heading to some convention, and we had to make a certain distance every day.  The second day, we saw this farm complete with bales of hay, and baby sheep. (Sound of squealing brakes again.) We made fifteen miles that day.  Needless to say we were a day late.
Being late has its advantages.  We were in New York City in 1976 for, yes a photography convention.  We were staying at the Waldorf Astoria.  The day we were scheduled to leave, Hurricane Belle hit the city.  My parents discussed leaving before the storm got there, and avoiding it all together.  We stayed, and the eye of the hurricane passed over the city where we would have been heading.
In my nine year old mind, the worst thing that happened on that trip was not the six lives that were lost, it wasn’t the destruction of buildings and cars.  In my nine year old mind, it was that the hurricane ruined an umbrella that I bought in New York.  The umbrella was cool, it folded down really small.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vacation 1

It was about five o'clock on a windy afternoon.  There was a fifty mile an hour northerly wind.  We were headed to Las Vegas for a photography convention.  I was traveling with my mother, father, and the studio manager, Jigger Schmidt.  We were in an old green Dodge station wagon, towing grandpa’s old bright yellow trailer that he probably bought in the 50’s, and I could see my dad, who's driving, nodding off.  
This is after the adventures near Salt Lake City where we lost two universal joints.  Count 'em...TWO.  I saw one bouncing down the road. We had coasted over to the shoulder and dad had hitchhiked into the city for a tow truck...twice.
We were then headed down a highway in Southern Utah.  Jigger and I were in the back seat.  He was asleep.  As was my mother, in the front seat.  Sand dunes all around us.
Dad looked at me in the rearview mirror, "Brent, it's your turn to drive."
"But dad, I'm thirteen!"
"Doesn't matter, I'm falling asleep here." Dad said.
We were late, Dad was scheduled to speak in, like, ten minutes, and we were about a hundred and twenty five miles away.
He pulled over to the side of the road, and we switched places.  I had just sat down, and adjusted the seat when I heard my dad start to snore.  
I thought, “Great.  Now we’re all gonna die.”  I felt alone.  I felt like I was put in this situation, and I had to figure it out, by myself.  
I started driving the huge, old, green station wagon with the yellow trailer behind it.  The peeling part of the wood decals blowing in the wind as we traveled southwest.
Did I mention that there was a northerly wind that must have clocked out at fifty miles an hour?  Well, there was a northerly, 50 mph wind.
I did well.  Well, I did well for the first 150 to 200 yards.  When I was up to speed, going about fifty, I started to over correct.
I zig-zagged in my lane for a while.  Then, I widened my over correction into the shoulder and the on-coming lane.  The on-coming cars were honking as they passed in their shoulder.  
Dad was still snoring, and Jigger was asleep, but my mom sitting next to me, had woken up.  The look on her face was priceless.  It was a look of impending death.
When we left the road...Yes, we did leave the road...Actually, we left the ground.  We caught about a foot of air.  I think my mom’s screams woke up everyone in the back seat.  
All I remember is Jigger Screaming “HOLY S@%T!”  
We lost all four hubcaps.  But somehow Dad and Jigger were able to get us out of the dune we landed in.  The trailer was still attached to the car. And EVERYONE was now up, and willing to take over driving from me.
We went to the convention, and Dad’s program was rescheduled.  
It was in an auditorium with a stage.  Dad, Jigger, and I started moving the wall portraits from the trailer to the stage. 
When we were finished, we were told that there was a scheduling snafu, there was a star studded dance show that was supposed to use that stage to rehearse. In the end it was all worked out.  The curtain was drawn, and dad got to use the front of the stage, while behind the curtain, the dancers danced.  
I had heard that speech about a thousand times, so I wanted to go back to the room and get my swim suit on and go out to the pool.
I went backstage, where they were testing lights and effects. There was a brunette in a mink coat, watching the tests.  I looked up at the thin, green laser beams.
“Neat lasers!”
“Thanks.” she said.
Walking away, I was able to put the voice with the face.  I had just spoken to Lynda Carter.  And “Neat lasers.” were the words that I had chosen.
We traveled to the Grand Canyon after the convention.  That’s when my father said something that Jigger would quote until the day he died.  
A Japanese couple were standing at the edge of the canyon, motioning for my dad to use their camera to take their photograph.  They didn’t speak a word of English.  He walked over and grabbed the camera.  The couple backed up so they would be right next to the edge.  Dad was looking through the viewfinder.
He put a hand up and said, “You know what Smokey the Bear says...Don’t fall off the cliff!”
He clicked the shutter.
The funniest thing about the whole trip is my father sees no humor in the movie Vacation. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting Some Air

I was delivering a print to an ad agency, The Marketing Den, while working with a studio up in Saskatoon.  I ran into a Creative Director that I knew there, David Gillespie.
While making erratic movements with his hands he said, “Brent, I just got a new two seater, wanna go for a ride?”
I didn’t hesitate at all, “Damn Straight, Dave, any time, any place.”
“Meet me at my house at five.”
I did, and we went from there to the airport.  See, Dave was the 1992 Sportsman Aerobatic Champion of Canada, and his two seater, was a Pitts Special S-2A aerobatic bi-plane.
We got to the hanger, where I first laid eyes on the plane, glossy black, with the Ray-Ban logo in gold.  He said it was part of the Ray-Ban Gold Aerobatic team, which had recently broken up.
After we pushed her out of the hanger, I put one foot on the wing and lifted myself into the front seat.
“Where are the front controls?” I asked.
He replied, “The front controls were taken out, so the firewall could be moved back...”  He smiled, “So a larger engine could be put in.  It has a 260 horse power engine but it came with 200 horse power.”
“Nice.”
“Yeah, it went about 175 miles an hour, now it’ll go about 210.”  He said.
“Far out.” I replied.

He changed the subject, “Now, if we have to leave the airplane...” He began telling me.
“Wait, leave the airplane?” I asked.
“Yes, this is important.” He smiled. “If we have to leave the airplane, I’ll turn it upside down, and open the canopy.  You release your seatbelt, and fall out. Release your seatbelt, NOT your parachute.”
I looked down at the two belts, “Okay, which is which?”
He showed me.  And he showed me two struts to hold on to...for dear life.  Soon we were off, taxiing down to one end of the runway.  We turned and he throttled up.  We sped up to like 65 miles an hour. We lifted off of the ground a little bit and right away accelerated. He took us, it seemed to me, straight up, at the speed of sound.  I knew we weren’t going that fast, but I could really feel the prop bite the wind.  It was different than I expected, the motions were both soft and forgiving, and hard and sharp.  
Once we got away from the airport, and were flying above farmland, in one motion, he brought one wing tip up, until we were leaning to left ninety degrees, and then, he brought the right wing tip up to the same angle. The whole motion took less than five seconds.  He told me through the intercom that was a test.  He asked how I was feeling.  I gave him a thumbs up.
He rolled us twice to the left, and twice to the right.  Thumps up.  Then he pointed the prop a little into the roll, so we rolled about a hundred percent faster, twice in each direction.  Again, thumbs up.  I didn’t have a chance to do anything but smile.
Next came the Cuban eights. We did a half a loop, turning us upside down, with a half a roll that righted us.  Then another half loop, with a half roll. The end result was, if the plane was a pencil, and the sky paper, we made an infinity sign.  I was so concentrated on my firm grip on the struts, I couldn’t even think of getting sick to my stomach.
Looking out of the plane during a Cuban eight reminded me of the intro to Six Million Dollar Man, I saw glimpses of the ground, and glimpses of the sky twirling about.  I think we were pulling a whole bunch of “Gs.”  We did two Cuban eights and after, I gave him a thumbs up.  
Next was a loop, and as we headed over the top and began our decent, really it was an upside down dive, on the other side of the circle, I looked out and thought, “What a pretty barn.” as we headed straight for a farm.  Instead of crashing into the barn, we finished the loop.  I started to feel a bit queasy, but that left me as we did another one.
As he turned the plane around back to the airport he asked, “Feel like a barrel roll?”  
I said, “Uuuuh...”
Right away, we start rolling and looping at the same damn time.  I don’t have any idea what we did exactly.  It seems to me we did a diagonal loop, with constant rolling.  
We set down soon after, and taxied back to the hanger.  
He opened the canopy and got out of the little bi-plane, and turned to me and asked, "Well, did you have a good time?”
I replied, “Dave that’s the most fun I’ve ever had without having to take off my underwear.”
In researching the facts for this post, I found out in September, 2002 Dave donated the CF-AMR Pitts Special S-2A bi-plane to the Air and Space Museum in Ottawa.  Not because I flew in it, but because it’s the last surviving plane of Canada’s Carling Red Cap aerobatic team, which became the Canada Reds, and The Ray-Ban Golds.  That’s right, now the plane that I almost soiled myself in, is on display in the Air and Space Museum in Ottawa.