Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time travel

Going up the steps into the Post Office yesterday I caught a whiff of something and flashed. No, I'm not Chuck, I am not the Intersect. Neither was it the "power surge" flash of folks going through their second puberty, not that I haven't had that "pleasure" - I have. Unfortunately it is age appropriate behavior for one such as I. And yet . . .

No music, no sounds, just a whiff of a smell walking into a small Post Office in Vermont and bang, you're somewhere else completely. In my case, 35 years ago in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I flashed to an old wooden building on a warm spring day on the distant side of Fort Jackson, SC circa 1977. It was Army Basic Training and we were getting some sort of class, Laws of Land Warfare maybe. I remember the day was warm and the building was old with a broad porch running the length of it, wooden screen doors slamming each time someone went in or out, the exterior coated with faded and peeling yellow paint. We were sitting outside on the ground in the shade of the trees, probably waiting for our Drill Sargent to show up.

For the drills, it was a good time to tend to something besides baby sitting a bunch of knuckleheads, unless we ran short or they ran long. Then we got to sit around and bs for a bit before life returned for what passes as normal in circumstances like that. Waiting for our Drills to pick us up and march us back to our barracks, stopping along the way for some extra training in marching specific maneuvers. Or how to handle our rifles; order arms, present arms, right or left shoulder arms, you know, "Army training sir". Stripes sans SGT Hulka.

In Basic, you marched as a unit most of the time. Everywhere. As a means of training, it is effective since you get plenty of opportunity to practice marching with no surfeit of feedback regarding your performance.

Simon Cowell really is a nice guy, if you get my drift.

For many of us it was a change from our usual lifestyle. All that walking was new for a lot of us used to driving everywhere and within a couple of weeks it had an effect. I'd like to say that we enjoyed the opportunity to walk through the woods. To observe the new flora and fauna we were exposed to after our prior lives in other climes.

I'd like to.

But I can't.

Suffice it to say that while many movies about Basic Training are pure Hollywood, some parts of them are accurate. 'Nuff said. The fatigues that fit us in the beginning got to be a bit baggy on us after a couple of weeks of walking everywhere. I think that may be why they waited a couple of weeks to fit us for our dress uniforms. I remember my dress uniform fitting pretty well at graduation and for many years afterwards. I got over it.

Our barracks sat at the base of Tank Hill, a prominent feature on the post whose notable feature was a couple of silver water tanks located on it. Okay, not guidebook quality, but it's the Army and immediately identifiable when seen. This is where most of the Basic Training units were located, arrayed in ascending rows of wooden, WW II era barracks, rising up the hill like a military housing tract. Most folks that attended Basic Training there usually reference the location of their Basic Training unit in measurements from Tank Hill even if their address wasn't on such tony heights. Immediately adjacent was a large depression that was set up as a training area outfitted with bleachers for seating during our periods of prescribed fun. We did things like marching, first aid, and some extemporaneous boxing on the odd occasion. But that's another story.

Something about smell does this in ways that nothing else seems to match. The smell of JP4 does that to me, bringing me back to times we hot loaded into C-130s, usually in preparation to jump. The hot exhaust from the four turboprop engines blasting over us as we approached from the rear of the bird, walking up the ramp, and on board. Domestic or international, the world was our drop zone and we had the keys to Dad's Herky Bird.

Sounds seem to be strongly evocative like smells and music. Just as the smell of JP4 evokes times in a 130, so too does the very distinctive sound of a 130. Even wafting across the air from afar, just hints of sound from a distant 130 is enough to catch my attention. Those four turboprop engines are a unique sound signature, etched into my memory after many years of hearing them.

And fast movers? I'll probably think of Lex every time I hear one now, more so every time I see a F-18. Definitely every time I see an Israeli Lawn Dart.

I still have no idea what smell it was that triggered the event. Or how that smell came to be at a small, New England Post Office. But I'm back now.

'Til the next trip.

marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Measuring the man

What is the measure of a man?

It would be too easy to take this along the usual route, money, power, popular fame. I was tempted and restarted this post since I had started down that comfortable, familiar, trodden path.

But that is not Lex.

There is no Nobel Prize, no Oscar, no Pulitzer Prize, though I believe that's more a case of how far traditional journalism has fallen for the latter. There are the usual indicators however. There are some fairly important people that made the effort to let his friends and family know that they were well aware of who he was, as a military man and as a journalist. The Secretary of the Navy, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe who is also the commander of the United States European Command, and others have all commented and passed along their condolences.

Well over ten thousand posts of condolences on his blog.Throughout the threads you see the same heartfelt comments about missing him and the impact he has had on their lives. New blogs have sprung up spurred on by his example, taking the torch he has passed with his passing. Who knows how many cards will eventually show up making his family aware that their loss is also an international loss.

But, people who have never met him have traveled to his ceremony today. From across the country people who personally knew him and those who only knew him online have traveled to pay their respects to a man they all respected and who is now being laid to rest.

By all measures, he was a good husband, father, and provider. It was obvious how he felt about his family. Their successes were his joy, painfully obvious when he wrote of them. Their pain and tribulations were his as well, magnified through the lens of parental concern.

So, what is the measure of a man? He is measured by the good that he has done and how he has treated his fellow man. He is measured by the difference that he has made in the lives of his fellow man and the compassion he has shown them, great and not so. And by the way he treats even the animals of the earth entrusted to his care.

That is the measure.

You stand relieved sir, we have the watch.
Go with the thanks of a grateful nation and us your friends.
You will be missed.
Requiescat in pace Lex.

marcus erroneous

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Time & tide

It will be three weeks on Tuesday, the day that he will be laid to rest. Three weeks since he ran out of options, gas, and airspeed. And altitude. Three weeks since a witty, brilliant man passed from us in an accident that was as avoidable as his being able to willingly stop breathing. Three weeks since three children who are just on their way onto the path lost the guy that they will want to call on through the many years ahead when they have a question. Do I need to lime my yard in the fall? How do I get rid of fire ants in my yard? How much better gas mileage will I get if I change the air pressure in my tires, Dad? I am older than Lex and I still called my Dad to ask him questions that I still didn't have the answers to, until his death last year.

In those three weeks, a young man with several tours under his belt already sneaked out into a nearby village and killed seventeen people, many children. His brothers in arms were surprised, all of us were, this is not who we are in war. Back home another young man shot an even younger man under circumstances that are becoming less clear now that the perpetually aggrieved are on the scene to demand justice as they practice it. Which "they" and whose "justice" are as yet to be determined. I'm hoping we won't create another Richard Jewell in the process now that the MSM are on the scene. The President has officially weighed in, which is not a good sign for justice, but likely means that "fairness" will prevail.Given his record, I hope that I never do anything that has the President chiming in on my side.

During this same time frame we saw improvements in aviation technology. New materials, new techniques, and low emission flight. As with most new technologies, this one may or may not pan out. There seem to be some handling issues despite the unique materials used in the construction. After the initial competition the final design was selected. While there were some issues with scaling from the initial flying prototype to the final result, they seem to have done a good job of implementing the technology and remaining true to the designers vision. Obligatory aviation pr0n here.

Possibly NSFW, or not. ymmv

There is a story about an English King, Cnut (or Canute if you wish) that was constantly being flattered by his courtiers and generals. To hear it from them (incessantly, apparently) there was naught that he could accomplish but by royal command make it so. So, he set his throne on the edge of the beach and commanded the sea to cease advancing. It did of course continue its inexorable advance requiring the deployment of a platoon of the Royal Toweliers to attend to the damage to his majesty's state of dryness. His point to his court being that even a sovereign has limits to his powers. Subsequent sovereigns to this very day in sore need of this education. Pick one. Any one.

This incident predates Chaucer whose statement, 'For though we sleep or wake, roam or ride, Time flies, and for no man will it abide.' from his Clerk's Tale of 1390, has been quoted in various forms ever since. It may well be that Chaucer was well aware of Cnut's incident and had it in mind when he penned his subsequently quoth phrase. Or not. More to the point is the phrase that "time and tide wait for no man". The phrase predates modern English for good reason, it's ancient observation is as relevant today as it was so long ago.

Unfortunately, that means Lex. To be true to him we must move on, continue our lives without him, though the better for the knowing of him. Most of us have started posting again. I've got some of them on the right side here with more to follow as I find them. Newly formed is our collaborative effort The Lexicans with the hope that all of us pulling together can achieve at least a pale shadow of that which he did solo. And give us a different forum to discuss him and reminisce of him.

Me, I'm finishing my Master's. I'm working my way through 'Digital Evidence and Computer Crime', writing papers, doing labs, and trying to honor this place with some content. And working.

And sometimes stopping to look up at the clouds, enjoy the birds chirping, and love the simple act of being. Lex might be gone, but not forgotten.

 So, flee tyme! Begone merciless tydes! For while you abide not for us, he abides forever in our hearts.

marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

But WHY?

It's been two weeks now since that terrible incident that resulted in what can only be referred to as a good friends death. Those of us that are Lexicans (some prefer Lexians) to a certain degree, just can't seem to move on. He's gone and we just can't get over it. It would be easy for someone to say, "What's the problem, it's not like you really knew him. He was just online to you".

You could say that.

You could.

I wouldn't, but someone could.

But WHY????

This past year I lost some people close to me. My Dad died a year ago last month. If you haven't been through it yet, losing a parent, I'm glad for you. It's tough. As with many things, it's a complicated thing though. First, there's the issue that they are gone, with the emotional issues that are attendant to that realization. All the realizations that he's gone, I can't talk with him again, and things left unsaid. There are the arrangements, telling the family which tears whatever bit of healing open again each time you inform another family member and have to relive it again.  You don't see him around any more. You go home and for the first time he's not in his chair and he's never going to be again. You sort through what was in his pockets, on his nightstand and dresser top. You have to go through his top drawer, that magical place you've never been before. It's an opening into him that you've never had as you see bits and pieces of his life that were important enough to him to keep though you have no idea what any of them mean. While I don't know the provenance of it, I have the kangaroo from his dresser top on mine now. The service and interment are painful but help to close the loop on this process. End of Phase I.

I'm the oldest son, I gave my father's eulogy. I found it oddly comforting that even Julius Caesar had been in my place. I returned to my home and dealt with my new life, the one without my father. Begin Phase II. While walking Oreo, our dog, it was a really beautiful day in the forest and I wanted to call my Dad and share it with him. And was reminded that I could not. Tears. Later in the season (we live up north where there are seasons), I was grilling outside and once I had finished placing the meat on the grill I reached for my cellphone to call my Dad and chat with him while grilling, my usual routine and was again slapped in the face with, can't call him anymore. Tears. While working out in the garage on a project I managed what I felt was a pretty innovative solution. Went to call Dad to share it with him and, you guessed it, can't call him anymore. Drill bits, which type should I use? Can't call him anymore. In many, many ways, mostly small, there are constant reminders that he is gone and it takes awhile to get used to it. My father-in-law passed away a couple of years ago, so both of my go-to guys are gone now. I call my uncle now. For now.

A couple of months after my father died, my oldest friend from growing up clutched his chest at work and toppled over dead. I'm only fifty-five and David was only a few months younger than I. We had bonded in the crucible of the third grade with Mrs. Bell who hated us both. My folks went to the first PTA meeting and my Dad came back and apologized to me that there was nothing he could do about her. David and I were not mainstream kids and were scolded and belittled by Mrs. Bell in class, adding to our outcast status with the other kids. So we bonded and stayed friends for life. I first heard "Dust in the Wind" on his record player, months before it ever hit the airwaves as David was Mr. Avant Garde. He got grounded (not an unusual occurrence for him) and sold me his concert ticket. 9th row, center in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a new group that, when he purchased the ticket, no one had heard of. Two weeks before the concert it went from barely half-full to sold out. They had a song that went wild on the charts, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and I had a killer seat to see Queen on that tour.

A year ago at this time we were trading chat messages. While in Germany for work last April we were chatting again, things old and new. David was still sending me links to music he'd found that was artistically avante garde, but I found that I still appreciated his recommendations in music. Two weeks later he died. I found out when I went to his page and saw the notice put up by his father. Just a few days ago I put up a recommendation to David's page for a song I found that I think he'd like. For the rest of my life, as long as I listen to music (always) I'll have moments and songs that will bring David to life for me. Always.

Two weeks ago I posted on the Streamers thread where Lex posted he'd had one of the horizontal variety. I'd had one of the vertical variety and compared and contrasted the two types. I asked him how his sunset looked that night. I never received a response because shortly thereafter someone posted a news article about a jet accident and the death of a pilot. We haunted the thread until we found out it was Lex.

Yesterday morning, I got up and started my routine. Fed the cats and Oreo then headed off to work out. Returned, made my coffee and some oatmeal, then sat down for my morning routine. My second bookmark is Neptunus Lex. I hit it while on muscle memory, before I could stop myself. Same thing again this morning. When I get a moment and want to see what is happening, I hit my blog bookmark list and the second one is still Neptunus Lex. My first is the Belmont Club and when I come out of that, I instinctively hit Lex's page. In a way, he's there. You can not read his writing and not feel him still alive. I think that being virtual for many of us, his link is still there, unchanged, so he's still there. We didn't see him every morning across the table or in the office or at the coffee shop, so there is no absence of him in those places to reinforce things for us and help to make it more real. Because he's been virtual for us, it's still surreal that he's really gone. Like not being able to call Mom and ask her about a recipe, or Dad about what type of drill bit, or share a new group with David, you go to Lex's place and he's not posted something new.

Every morning I get up, feed the animals, get my coffee and read my blog list. And every morning I'm reminded, he's not posting any more. That's why.

Damn it this is hard to write, I still need to get a water proof keyboard.

marcus erroneous

Friday, March 16, 2012

Whither now?

In our Fortress of Reflection, where we wax and wane on things Lex, there are a couple of dominant memes. One is that Lex's demise reminds us of our frailty. A reminder that life is fleeting and oft taken for granted. In some ways, upon reflection it is not news to us. At face value that is. If you've not suffered a recent loss it's very easy to forget that we really are here today, gone tomorrow. As I dwell on the Lex thread I've neglected other threads that I belong to, where others that I have known or known of have passed in the last week.

 It came to me one day as I watched Number One Daughter back out of our driveway that I might be looking at her for the last time. Not because she was leaving us, heading to somewhere specifically dangerous, but because she was an American teenager heading out onto the roads of America. Given her inexperience and the danger that inhabits the streets of America she was heading out into, she could do everything right and still be killed on the streets. And this was pre-texting. This sudden thought all but dropped me to my knees like a punch to the gut.

 It was not a premonition, she left and later returned unharmed and having had no close calls. It was just an awareness of how fragile life is. A sudden dawning that my child was now participating in life in a manner that could suddenly snatch her away from me without warning or reason. Twenty years in the Army where some friends of mine died within minutes of me seeing them that last time had not prepared me for the mortal danger that is life on this planet for my children.

And for us, what happened to Lex is scary. He was a really good aviator, he believed in rehearsing the hard things during good weather because if it's hard under good circumstances, it's more so when the chips are down. So he walked the walk, he did the things that you should do to prepare you for when you roll snake eyes. A good pilot, who prepared, was careful, and didn't take things for granted. And it didn't matter, as some of them have said, "he touched the face of God and God touched him back and kept him".

There's an old saying in the Army, that the Vietnam vets taught me, "It's better to be lucky than skilled because one day you'll run out of skill". They had plenty of stories of guys that were successfully moving in on the bad guys only to jump into a shell hole for cover and have another shell land on them. And more recently with Lex, he ran out of everything, including luck.

Another thing is that his legacy is for us to go out and blog. To pass along that light that we shared in his community. Several have commented that with Lex gone, the magic is gone and we are likely to scatter. Several of us have decided to blog on and take that challenge. Several, this site included, were dusty and cobwebbed sites with little or no recent posts. But we see it as our job to take up that torch, to keep it lit, to go out and light up the dark corners of the Internet. To do what we can to fulfill the promise of blogging as Lex did so well.

Given his ability, it's a daunting task. It's a herculean task to write, then write again. And again. And again. He did so daily, several times daily, while in the military, while transitioning to a new career, while working on his post-graduate degree. Many of us have trouble doing so a couple of times a week, let alone daily. Lex wrote well, very well. I don't know about the others, but I feel like I'm writing using my feet and doing so in Sanskrit. It doesn't flow, it isn't natural, it's painful to do. I get lucky and my muse kicks in and then we're off to the races. Except for when it doesn't.

Number One Daughter helps me tremendously, I owe a large part of any skill that I have to her coaching me while I've been doing my post-graduate work. Soon to be finished. She walks that fine line between trying to help her Dad and not hurting his feelings. And she's been very patient with me, a gift of her mother.

 So, we're going out and trying our best. It's another way to deal with our grief and try to honor a man we miss and held in high esteem. We are part of his legacy, graduates of Lex's School of Blogalism, sometimes sans the talent, sometimes with some modicum of talent. But we know what it looks like when it's done correctly and we owe the world to try.

 marcus erroneous

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The thanks of a grateful nation

We have a place, we "Lexicans", where we can mourn in a private manner amongst ourselves. It is perhaps better described as an extended wake. We share our remembrances of Lex and our favorite posts by him, some of them seemingly prescient about his demise. But, he spent a career flying and attending memorials of shipmates who flew one time too many, well aware what fate could be his as well. He had looked inside himself and was comfortable with who he was and accepting of the fates of his chosen profession.

He had written of the loss of love, joy, and other simple experiences for those who precede us. He had seen it happen and accepted it as an occupational hazard. There are men who are willing to accept these things. By contemporary standards they are considered quaint believers in an old fashioned, bygone set of standards. They are not metrosexuals, not comfortable with relative standards, not concerned with being out of time. They used to be called "real men", men who knew who they are and not afraid to take a stand for something even if they be but one. They believe in a right and a wrong and not the contemporary relativism that seems to pass for, well, morals just doesn't seem to fit for what relativism doesn't stand for.

And those men believe in duty. And while we can not choose if we will die, we can have some choice in the manner of our death. For men like these would rather die for something bigger than themselves than spend their lives looking only to saving themselves. In "Act of Valor" the LT leaves a letter to his son. In it he admonishes his son not to live his life in fear but to live it well.

We are not afraid to die, but we are not rushing for the exit either. We are constrained to live life a certain way that does not allow us to turn away from what we must do but to stay the course. Sometimes, ultimately, our wives and families pay the price when they must continue on without us.

We cannot deny Death, we have not the power. We can only try to leave a legacy that says we were not in vain. And that was Lex.

It was posted by Lex several years ago and by one of us more recently that the separation is the hardest part. The absence of the husband and father from the family while so much of their life has passed. Irrecoverable experiences that are yawning chasms in our lives while we serve. He found it difficult to write of. His family had already given more than a family should have to give and now has had to give all of the rest of that time as well.

Absolutely, they have the thanks of a grateful nation.

marcus erroneous

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A light went out

Tuesday, 6 March, 2012 a light went out. At 0915 there was an accident, in the snow and the fog and the wind at Fallon NAS in Nevada. A “52 year old pilot, flying a 35 year old plane against 24 year old pilots” suffered an accident in which for reasons as yet unknown, resulted in his running off the taxiway into an ammunition storage facility and dying.

Below the fold news to the country at large. But not to everyone. The Secretary of the Navy sent his condolences to the family the pilot left behind. As did the Commander of the United States European Command, a four star admiral in the United States Navy. Pretty much all of the military bloggers in the United States have eulogized this pilot.

Carroll “Lex” LeFon, Captain, United States Navy, Retired. He spent a career in the Navy and retired after numerous carrier deployments with over 4,000 hours as a naval aviator flying first the A-7 and then the F-18 before retiring. Those that served with him know him for his wit, wisdom, his ability as a Naval aviator, and his ability as a leader. Could he fly? Yeah, the Navy sent him to be the assistant commander of TOPGUN. You may have heard of it, I think some guy made a training flick about the place.

He retired, something he apparently hadn't thought would happen, figuring something would happen to him first. But he did and moved to the civilian sector toiling diligently in a cube, still doing useful things for his Navy and doing the dutiful husband and father thing to support his family. From a glass cube at 30,000 feet at high speed to a padded cube at zero feet and no speed. And yet, there he was, still witty, still humorous, still smart and hard working impressing his civilian coworkers even on the ground.

What I and many others know him for is his writing, his wit, and his wisdom as doled out in his blog on the Web. Started early on he was part of the first wave of milbloggers, blogging on things military. And things not. His central theme was things military, but he touched upon politics, religion, life as a husband, life as a father, life as a military man, life as a Navy man, and life as a pilot. Especially life as a pilot. He would recount “sea stories” of various things that happened to him as a naval aviator, in the air and not. In the Army we call these “war stories” and they usually start out along the lines of “There I was, knee deep in hand grenades . . .” and you sometimes laugh out of politeness and sometimes you just laugh. When Lex told his you couldn't laugh because you were in the cockpit with him. Your heart would pound and your body would clench and you would know as best as is possible what it is like to fly without having done so. So much so that people, sometimes other pilots, would ask his advice and their feedback was that he was spot on in what he recommended for them.

On his blog reason and discourse were king. Prosaic and prolific, erudite and concise, he wove a fascinating dialogue on a number of topics. A community gathered around him where all were welcome to join the banter, lurk, or expound. With decorum and reason. Or at least with decorum. Sans decorum there are other venues for you that he would recommend. Graciously and not maliciously, but there are places for that behavior and his community was not one of those places. Tolerance and reason allow folks to discuss and interact with each other freely. And so they did, this community of Lex. Over the years the regulars would visit, discuss, or lurk. Getting to know each other, building relationships that even they were unaware of at the time. And the years passed, and this online community flourished.

And Lex, his blog is Neptunus Lex, toiled by day, was husband and father by night, and blogged by night and early morning as well. And read voraciously from what I can tell, as he was conversant on a wide range of topics. And flew on the weekends in some little planes where folks with fighter pilot fantasies could safely indulge with pilots, one of which was Lex, keeping you in the air and off the ground (except when that was what the flight plan required).

And it came to pass that Lex was offered the chance to fly fast movers again. Let slip the surly bonds of the cubicle and return to the skies to once again ply his trade as a naval aviator. Flying as an opposing force (OPFOR) for Navy pilots to help keep them honest by providing a skilled pilot, in an aircraft that they were not used to dealing with, flown by an adversary that would pounce were they to underestimate him. Being an experienced pilot he adapted to the new jet and flew again. And you could read it in his writing that he was fully alive again. And there were the occasional minor issues while flying this old bird of his. But he shared it all with us, in prose and video. And ultimately, flying one of these thoroughbreds of the sky caught up with him on Tuesday.

He posted, we discussed, and he didn't come back. The news showed up- an accident where Lex was flying at the time. The watch by the community on his last thread and the final, sorrowful confirmation that the accident was Lex and he had not survived. And we grieved. And we posted. And we exchanged emails amongst ourselves. And we came together. This community of widely varying people came together. First to grieve, then to honor him. From across the country and across the world. They reached out to each other to meet, to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the life of a man who had become their friend, in some cases their mentor.

During an email exchange with one, she wondered if her experience in grief over his passing was weird. My response to her was, “Not weird at all. Ultimately, each of us have to deal with our grief separately and without the blessing of Lex's silver tongued turn of phrase. More importantly than the endless memory of the Internet, where nothing is ever really forgotten, there are thousands of people whose lives have been touched by him. Each of those is a point of light that collectively are a greater testament to the man than anything that he could consciously have done. While Lex lives within us, while we tell people stories about him, while we share him with people that never knew him he lives on. His legacy is not just his prolific and erudite prose, it is all of us that miss him and will not let him be forgotten. So, tomorrow night lift a glass and celebrate his life and our fortune in knowing him.”

And so they came together to celebrate this life. Yeah, those relationships that they were unaware of? They discovered that they were friends who could come together and support each other. They gathered in their groups to meet for the first time in the flesh. Friends who had not yet met, as it were. Here in Vermont we discovered that we will continue the ground component of our friendship. I suspect that many others discovered the same thing, they were friends that hadn't met and were pleasantly surprised at the meeting.

So, on this past Tuesday a light went out. And in response a constellation went on.

Absent comrades.

Marcus Erroneous