This is going to be a long one... might want to grab a snack.
(Rambling Nostalgia Alert! Part 2)
First of all, I will answer the rhetorical question I posed in the subject line. (Answering a rhetorical question... who knew?) I don't believe in wasted time. I believe every second of every waking day teaches us something, if we only tune our ears and listen. Whether it is in the form of a relationship, religion, philosophy, science... we are immersed in thought and knowledge. One has only to open their mind.
Do not fear wasted time, for it does not exist.
Click here if you want to read Part 1)
I don't know if anyone would classify me as "genius" because sometimes I do some pretty stupid stuff. But I'm not a stupid person. Whatever that means.
In my last post, I wrote of my Uncle Curt, a man that I admired. He worked with his head and his hands, and from my perspective, was pretty successful.
When I was a kid, I learned many things. I was often left alone, neglected even. But that gave me opportunities to explore and learn all by myself. When I was attended to, I learned carpentry, I learned to overhaul Volkswagen Beetle & lawn mower engines. I learned some masonry, some electrician skills, some plumbing, etc. I walked through the woods with no fear, I learned to cut trees & firewood via an axe, bow saw and chain saw. I don't always like to attribute any of those things to my father, but it is an inescapable truth. I learned from many sources, and he was one.
My dad would sometimes say "I know a little bit about everything, and a whole lot about nothing."
I still like that saying.
A different manner of expressing it is "Jack of all trades, master of none."
When I was in Middle & High School, I was interested in skilled trades. But nevermind, I was grouped with the "gifted" (aka smart) kids, whatever that means. I don't think I was particularly smart, I was just good at following instructions. I was put on the "college track" of classes, starting with pre-algebra.
I hated those classes, and I did not excel. I had started to rebel, and putting someone in a class they don't want to learn something they don't care about is a recipe for disaster. In fact, those were some of the worst grades I ever received. Almost straight "Fs" Yet the advisors kept trying to get me on the PACE (academic competition) team. I refused. Instead, I played football, basketball, and ran track, until I became academically ineligible. My family didn't care what I learned or how I performed... why should I?
I wanted to take shop classes. We did not have shop at my school, the county had a combined vocational education facility in the center of the district. I told my guidance counselor what I wanted to do, but I was deemed "too smart" to take shop. So I took French, Algebra & Trig, Government instead of Geography, Physics & Chemistry, etc. I could do the work... but I didn't want to. And I am still infuriated by the elitist attitude that skilled trades somehow do not equate to being a "success."
From "The Breakfast Club" in the early 80s
So I was kept on the track, hell-bent on going to college, even though it was not my choice. My feet were forced into shoes that did not fit.
Somewhere along the way, I knew I did not want to go to college. I knew I would be wasting time and money. I decided on the military, and after talking to a few recruiters, settled on the U.S. Air Force, which is the direction I was leaning anyway.
I reluctantly took the SATs, not wanting to burn any bridges. I did OK, 1160 overall, nothing stellar, especially considering that I did not study or prep at all, and was even accepted into East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City, TN. I don't really know why I wasted a day and the $10 or $20 test fee, because I actually took the time to write back and essentially told them "Thanks, but no thanks... See ya in Boot Camp." (If you were working in the registrar's office and are reading this, I'm sorry I wasted your time.)
During one of my later High School years, I was called into the principal's office along with a few other guys. As "disadvantaged" students, we were being offered some kind of scholarship application or some other crap. I said I wasn't interested in any scholarship, didn't want college, and essentially asked to be excused. The Principal (Mr. Jim Short, FYI) was visibly pissed at me for being honest. I still resent that man.
He also tried to give me unexcused absences when I went to visit my recruiter during my Senior year, visits which culminated in my signing up for the USAF. I had multiple days I missed, several of which necessitated overnight trips to the regional recruiting center or Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Knoxville, TN for my physical exams, testing, specialty selection, etc. By this time, I was over 18 in age, and I tried to excuse myself, but he would have none of that. I had to have "an adult" write me a note, an attitude which further infuriated me. I was simply biding my time to get my diploma, that piece of paper which The World says we need, or we'll apparently collectively starve.
He was also the asshole who made us Seniors come to school the day AFTER our graduation to get our diplomas. (We had missed a few days due to snow; graduation was "hard coded" but he made us come to school for... nothing. At our ceremony the night before, we had been handed rolled up blank papers.)
I still despise that man. A textbook bureaucrat who, in my opinion, personified what is now wrong with our educational system. A different time... but not so much a different attitude.
All of my scores were in the upper 90th percentiles, except administrative/clerical. That involved copying and doing office-type stuff, as I recall.. I wanted to go into electronics maintenance, because I had learned some basic stuff from my uncle & my dad. But I found out that my color vision was deficient, and if you ever look at a resistor or bundles of wires, you'll find that everything is color-coded. Deficient color vision is usually inherited from the father's side. (Thanks, Dad!) And I've passed it to my son, who wound up with a desk job in the Marines.
Anyway, at the MEPS, they told me "The Air Force won't waste scores like yours, so just sign here." My Presbyterian minister, Mr. Paul Taylor (ex-Navy) had beat it in my head "DO NOT SIGN AN OPEN CONTRACT!" So while sitting at the Knoxville MEPS, I made the recruiting staff earn their pay. I simply told them "Nope, I ain't signing." They fished around, hunted & pecked and made phone calls. Ultimately, they found a job called 291x0 "Telecommunications Operations Specialist" if I remember the nomenclature correctly. It was supposed to involve using a lot of computer shit, so I signed up.
Side note/tangent alert: If any human could ever convert me from my heathen atheist ways... it would be Mr. Paul Taylor. When I first met that Presbyterian minister, he was outside the church, smoking a cigarette. Unfortunately, he has passed away. I'd love to sit and talk with him again. He used to come over for dinners and hang out with us sinners. He studied the Bible in some of the original languages, and was a good man. (BTW, I still don't know if it's atheist heathen, or heathen atheist...?)
Ultimately, I got lucky, but not at first.
Turns out that being a 291x0 has a lot of administrative work to do. It's a government job, so of course there is paperwork, often in quintuplicate or more (at least it seemed that way.)
While waiting for my security clearance to be finalized, I worked the base telephone switchboard. In the early 80s, at Minot AFB, ND, it was much more labor intensive than a desktop telephone might suggest. Minot AFB was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. And SAC took care of 2/3 of the nation's nuclear triad. The nation's B-52 bomber fleet, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Minot had both. (The U.S. Navy was the other 1/3, via Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)
Minot AFB had B-52 bombers, cocked and ready, sitting on the alert pad, waiting for the order to launch. Crews were constantly ready to get their warbirds into the air. Even going for lunch or a haircut was not an escape. There were Klaxon horns and alert lights everywhere. And the ICBMs were a few turns of the key and button pushes from flying. It was said that if North Dakota ever seceded from the Union, it would be the world's third most prominent nuclear superpower. Minot AFB had the 23rd Bombardment squadron, and 3 squadrons of ICBMs. I don't know how many nukes the bombers had but it was a lot. And 3 squadrons of Minuteman III ICBMS meant 450 individual warheads. Grand Forks AFB was similarly equipped. Every time I went on shift, I thought of that, and I felt the burden of the nation's nuclear arsenal on my shoulders. Every mundane task I did related to that, and sometimes the tasks were not so mundane. When you patch together every key commander on the base via conference call, some on radio, some on their telephones, and you personally hear the bombers roaring in the distance, you become acutely aware of your role.
(That is a link to a previous post, but when you re-live the end of the world repeatedly, it alters your paradigm of life... I have endured the death of billions repeatedly.)
This was the type of telephone switchboard I cut my teeth on, a Stromberg-Carlson model:
|Make all the Hee-Haw jokes you want... |
it took a while to learn this stuff....
Meanwhile, back from my tangent...
I also learned to read 5-level paper tape:
Couldn't do it right now, nor could I read a punched card... but I was formerly fluent. I handled more cards than a blackjack dealer in Vegas, I'm pretty sure. And they were worth more. Paychecks and savings bonds used to be printed upon these. Mind you, without the columns of numbers, but the hole positions told you the info. Pre-magnetic ink, you could run one of these through a card-reader and get all the account info you needed:
I don't know how many levels of tangents I'm into here... but trust me, I'm working my way back. But first, another tangent:
Somewhere along the way, my supervisors discovered that I was pretty good with details. So in addition to remembering phone numbers, reading 5-level tape and punched cards... someone decided that I should handle and be responsible for nuclear launch codes. I was re-assigned to the COMSEC (Communications Security) Account.
No photos... Even if I possessed any, I'd be violating my life-long nondisclosure agreement. I worked in an office adjoining the equivalent of a bank vault. I have been personally chauffeured to work in a military vehicle with lights flashing & sirens blaring when I could not make it due to ND blizzards... I have been held at gunpoint when I made a mistake authenticating before disabling the alarm.
Despite the foul-ups you may occasionally read about in the media... the USAF don't tolerate no fuck-ups.
Somewhere along the way, the USAF decided to merge multiple career fields. Mine was 291x0, and in the hodge-podge, mish-mash, I popped out as a 491x1. I'm not even going to try to recall the heraldry... I worked with computers, only more of 'em. (Also, FYI, the "x" denotes skill level. 1 is helper, 3 is apprentice, 5 is journeyman, 7 is craftsman, 9 is superintendent.)
Data cards, 5 & 8 level paper tape, magnetic tape, and a big room full o' equipment with a halon fire suppression system with our Sperry 1100 mainframe.
Thems were the days.
|Not dissimilar to our computer room at Minot AFB.|
16 Gigabytes was equal to a wall full of refrigerator cabinets. My iPad now has 4x that.
I hung out at Minot AFB for 7 years. "Only The Best Come North" was the motto over the main gate.
|Why not Minot? Freezin's the Reason! Only the Chosen are Frozen!|
Heard 'em all!
The main gate has been updated, but I think they still have the motto.
One day I had a particularly nasty day of red tape with work. Before I headed back to my office, I went by the personnel office. I filled out a new assignment preference worksheet. I volunteered "Worldwide" "Remote." That is the administrative equivalent of Russian Roulette, or "Anywhere but HERE." Having been there for 7 years, I was pretty much guaranteed a bullet.
Within two weeks I had two assignments. The later one (which I did not take) was to Stuttgart, Germany. The first one was to Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (HQ AFCENT) in Brunssum, The Netherlands.
That was an experience, and would be another tangent (or multiple) in itself.
I became the administrator and responsible for the IBM 5360 mini-computer in the Support Group's supply system. My system tracked everything from pencils to Post-It notes, from toilet paper to tents. Big noisy printers, 8" floppy discs, daily back-ups, and ... air conditioning. I don't think Europeans had yet discovered it... but my office had it. Not usually hot, but on those few days... I was a popular dude.
|IBM 5360. Mine did not have sneakers... but I kept her hummin'...|
Hmmm.... Calculator, Time & AC groupies. I think I missed a few boats. The UKAF (British Air Force) gals wore garter belts with their skirts. I happened across that bit of info when some gal crossed her legs "inappropriately.... (damn, Adrienne!) I never relished paperwork more than those days....Benny Hill skits & music ran amok through my mind!
The synopsis of the next chapter involves building a network from scratch, learning the inter-webs, dead mice, steam tunnels, staple guns, and Survival Instructors who can build a fire with two toothpicks, but can't choose a complex password to save their lives.
So, perhaps Jim Short, in his effort to be Mr. Control Freak did me a favor. I found my own way from under his thumb. I meandered the stream of time and learning, and am still doing so. I'm not financially prosperous, or rolling in the dough, but I am happy.
And best off all, my shoes fit.