Observations

Alpha and Omega, Part 1


I remember the first time I kissed Amy.  It was the early spring of 1984, and I was living with a motley group of other Air Force ROTC cadets in a house in far south Austin.  I was a senior at The University of Texas, and I was looking forward to graduation, commissioning, and pilot training.

We had rented the house from an Air Force captain who had been an ROTC instructor at UT for several years, and had been reassigned the previous year. He knew all of us well; he had taught us  the finer points of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and shepherded us through the Professional Officer’s Course.  He therefore should have known better than to rent to us, and I blame him for the fact that the house ended up in somewhat worse shape than when we signed the lease.

It’s not as if the house was pristine when we moved in, though.  The good Captain had a huge black lab named Bjorn, and Bjorn was flea-infested and indiscriminate about his excretory functions.  It took six bug bombs and a hazmat suit to even get into the master bedroom, and a whole box of industrial-size garbage bags to cart off the accumulated trash and debris that was piled throughout the house.  For a brief period we actually improved living conditions in the house.  It didn’t take much – an occasional pass with a leaf blower, Carl Spackler-style, and periodic sessions with a bow and arrow in the back yard to control the rat population in the woodpile.  We even cleaned the pool once or twice during the fall semester, usually after a party to make sure there were no bodies in the deep end.

However, all our good work was undone over the Christmas holidays, when most of my roommates and I scattered to various exotic venues and abandoned poor Barry to hold down the fort over semester break.  The winter of 1983 was the coldest I have ever experienced in Texas, and I had my own problems with the weather in Dallas, where I spent the holiday with my brother. I learned that it’s a bad idea to fail to refill your car radiator with antifreeze, for instance.  In a choice between a case of beer and a gallon of antifreeze, beer always wins in a resource-constrained environment, and in college my environment was always resource-constrained.  The cooling system in my venerable Ford Granada froze, the seals cracked, and so did the engine block. It ran fine after that as long as I stopped every mile or so to add oil and water.  It was not an inconvenience; I was already stopping to add brake fluid, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid.

The unprecedented cold snap gave Barry a few challenges as designated rental home caretaker, too.  The pool filter, pump, and associated plumbing froze and cracked, as did several of the external water spigots around the house.  Everything would have been fine if the weather hadn’t warmed up again. Barry came home from wherever he went during the day to find most of the pool water in the front yard and several new fountains spraying festive jets of water from unusual locations around the house.  The Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas may do it better, but we did it first.

Barry’s response was just what you might expect from an emerging military leader and responsible young college student. He found the water shutoff valve, closed it, and left to spend the rest of the holiday someplace else.  I happened to be one of the first of the roommates to return from Christmas break, and keen observer of my environment that I am, I immediately noticed the water was turned off in the house.  It took me somewhat longer to realize there was both no Barry in the house or water in the pool, but I leapt into action when it finally dawned on me what must have happened. I found the right valves to isolate the pool pump, used a little duct tape when that didn’t turn out as I expected, finally called a plumber that was willing to bill us (poor, dumb, trusting plumber – the last of his clan), and then, when we had running water again, washed my hands of the whole mess.

You might expect there would have been an emergent leader someplace in our group of college-educated almost-officers who could have taken control and solved the problem.  There wasn’t, and by the time of our spring break party we not only still had a broken pool, but we also had a swampy, tarpit-like mess in the bottom of the pool that was spawning new life forms.

I had just met Amy, and I invited her to our party.  We were sitting on the edge of the concrete hole that used to be our pool talking about everything and nothing.   I was already hooked and suspected that I was done looking before I had even really started, but I had no idea if she felt the same way (sometimes I still don’t.  I think she likes it that way).

The conversation reached a comfortable lull, and we both lapsed into silence, with nothing but the screams and raucous laughter of the other party-goers and the gentle bubbling of the science experiment in the bottom of the pool to interrupt the silence. I don’t know who leaned toward who first – we’ll say it was me, because I’m telling the story and it sounds better.  We met in the middle, aligned noses after a few feints and false starts, and…

I had been kissed before.  More than once.  The first time was when I was about 5, by Susie who lived down the street.  Although I had a crush on her, it grossed me out something serious, and I vowed there would be no more of that nonsense.  It was unsanitary and undignified.  I changed my mind later, but I had never been particularly invested in the activity until this kiss.

There can only be one first kiss with the love of your life.  I won’t describe it – if you’ve been there, I don’t need to, and if you haven’t yet, you wouldn’t believe me.  That kiss is not the reason we married and 30 years later continue to be, but it’s among the top 10 reasons.

First times are important.  First time to ride a bike, drive a car, drink a beer, hold your newborn son or daughter; they’re milestones on the path, and they shine in memory.  Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about last times.  I’ve realized that there are some things I’ve probably done for the last time, like skiing the backcountry at Breckenridge, drift diving in Cozumel, climbing a ladder to install an antenna, or pulling cable in the attic (maybe).  Although I try not to be maudlin about it, when I’m doing something I enjoy that PD interferes with (and that’s almost everything), I think about whether this will be the last time.

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post about going to the desert with a friend to take a defensive handgun class. I’m here again this week, but this time alone, and taking a class that’s half as long. The PD has progressed in the last two years, and this may well be the last time that I am able to participate in a class like this. Honestly, it’s an open question whether or not the first time was the last time; I’m not altogether sure that I’m going to be able to do this. I’m going to try, though, even though it gives Amy indigestion and headaches.  She worries about me, and not without cause – I did fall though the ceiling only 3 years ago, after all.

So, I’ll let you know how it goes over the next few days.  Wish me luck and stay out of Nevada until Sunday.

2 thoughts on “Alpha and Omega, Part 1

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