Hello _____, (notice cleverly inserted "personal" touch)

Time again for another update in the life of Dave "Danger is my middle name" Dickie. As you know, we last left our hero cut in half by a ravenous shark in a feeding frenzy off the coast of Laguna. Well, he died. So let's look in on the life of the less exciting but not deceased Dave "Danger is great in a Bond flick but keep it away from me" Dickie.

I left off somewhere in the middle of "Brave Shield", an exciting military exercise where Corp level officers learn valuable debating skills as they attempt to prove that since the Mark XXIII67AJ-OA2 Tank really has a 1.4 Mile Per Gallon rating rather than the wargame modeled 1.2 MPG rating, they really could have made it from Paris to Berlin on three gallons of gas and a case of jelly donuts. Thus the $%#$@ stupid game was to blame for their unit being overrun by a superior (and mobile!) Russian force. This may sound like exaggeration (who, me? Exaggerate? Never!), but this is the kind of thing that typically takes about 90% of everyone's time during the exercise. You play for an hour, then argue about the results for nine. We even have a special set of orders called "magic" orders. Magic is a nice euphemism for "cheating" since they access the game database directly and let you, for instance, instantaneously drop a unit of American farmer (originally located on the southmost tip of Italy) on top of the Russian command post in downtown Moscow. I believe this capability was added to model a new secret weapon derived from the stealth bomber; this is the "stealth troop • carrier" that is invisible, undetectable by radar and flies twice the speed of light.

This may all seem a bit ridiculous, but it makes sense in the larger context of the new Army. Since the "magic" orders provide the most powerful effects in the game, those officers who can get permission to use them with the most persuasive arguments or the strongest political connections win the battles! The end result is that the new army has a set of politically sensitive, well spoken, sophisticated leaders, the exact kind of person you need in order to wheedle dollars out of a recalcitrant congress. And you thought the leadership of our military forces was mindless! Ha!

Charlene's birthday was on the 12th. It was one of those things where six billion tasks need to get done RIGHT THEN, and suddenly BOOM it's Charlene's birthday OHMYGOD!!!! I don't have a present and I haven't made reservations at the restaurant and... Then, for no apparent reason, everything clicks for half an hour and it turns out OK. Almost enough to make you believe in god.
I found what I thought was a great present while I was walking from my parked car to the beachside restaurant to make the reservation: a stunt kite! A while back in Laguna, I had purchased a six foot long kite shaped like a shark in order to give unwary scuba divers heart attacks as a familiar but very unwelcome shadow passed overhead. It was fun just flying the thing too, as it turned out, and Char really liked it (suggestion 1A for one of those carefully planned, carefully executed ways to convince a woman you barely know that you are a spontaneous, fun sort of guy. "Oh yes, I just carry around a couple of kites and two thousand feet of string in my trunk 'cause I might get the urge to kick back and "... you finish it!)

Anyway, I had to cross the street to get to the kite shop, and heading down to the car again I passed a flower shop where I shouldn't have bought any flowers. I realized this as I was loading the flowers into my trunk, and the shop owner, who was wearing a long robe and Birkenstock sandals, ran across the street with a wild, strange look in his eye. "You shouldn't put the flowers in the trunk", he said with a hysterical high pitched waver in his voice. He added, "They aren't going to LIKE riding in the trunk." Clearly, this was one of those people who look like crazed beachcombers and who, surprisingly enough, turn out to be crazed beachcombers. "Well, it's only a very short trip and..." I watched the spittle drool out the side of his mouth and continued "...and I think I'll just put these little guys in the passengers seat — after all, flowers are people too, aren't they?" The strange light behind his eyes dimmed and he answered in a calmer tone, "Yes. Yes, they are." He wandered back across the street as I wiped the sweat off my brow and hopped into the car. I made it to Char's ten minutes later, missing the "plus or minus two minutes" lateness criterion by a minute and a half. Oh well — at the time, I was just feeling lucky to be alive. Strangely enough, all of the flowers died in the next few weeks, a phenomenon that I am sure has no spiritual significance whatsoever. But Char liked them well enough that night.

She also liked the kite, although I forced her to play "twenty questions" on what it was. Char has this rather unique algorithm to solving these sort of problems. As far as I can tell, it involves asking random, completely unrelated questions, then thinking about it for a long period of time before coming to a simple, obvious, and utterly incorrect conclusion. I was therefore astounded when she answered (almost correctly) that it was a kite. (It was a STUNT kite!) The wrapping paper with the store name, "Go fly a kite", couldn't have had anything to do with it, could it?

Kyle and Shirley's wedding was on the 15th. My father couldn't make it due to an as yet incomplete recovery from the surgery for the home dialysis unit, but my mother and I flew out bright and early Saturday morning. Actually, it was dark and early, like 6:30 in the morning. I was, of course, almostcompletely unconscious at that time of the morning, but the same instinct that causes lemmings to rush headlong off a cliff to certain death in the icy sea kept me in a headlong rush for the /" airplane as well. We arrived in Boston only a few minutes late and with all of our luggage, an occurrence only slightly less astounding than surviving a nuclear blast at ground zero with an umbrella as shelter. Bill and his wife Sang Ok picked us up at Logan Airport, and we headed for the hills and dales of Vermont, where the wedding was to take place.

The trip took four hours, and every minute the surrounding countryside grew wilder, darker, and more primitive. Fortunately, none of the Neanderthals were out hunting, and we left the land that time forgot behind us. Shirley's home town was one of those small, quaint New England towns that look incredibly quiet and peaceful, the kind of place that is pleasant for five minutes, mind-numbing for five hours, and has you praying for a nuclear attack to relieve the boredom after a day. Of course, it was Saturday night and everything was open late that night, late meaning "eight o'clock or so". Since we hadn't had dinner yet, and it was well past eight, this presented something of a problem. We did manage to find a pizza place, although we had to take the stuff home to eat it since they were closing the place down as we arrived. We stayed overnight in a nicely furnished guest house.

The next morning we headed over to the Goss' for breakfast just before the wedding ceremony. By following the clear, concise directions that Kyle had left at the guest house we managed to pass the Goss farm three or four times as we desperately circled the neighborhood. We finally gave up and called from a small corner store. Bill talked with Shirely for a few minutes, and we were off down the road, finally arriving at a small, blue house that had no relation at all to Shirley and her parents. We returned to circling the neighborhood and finally spotted the blue Volkswagen bus that Kyle and Shirley had bought. Breakfast was crowded but fun. Shirley's parents were nice in a folksy sort of way. The wedding itself was on the top of a mountain. I'm not allowed to tell jokes about it on pain of death, so I'll merely (and truthfully) say that it was a very nice wedding, with the sort of perfect weather that no one has the right to expect on their wedding day in New England. The reception was at a sportsman's lodge (apparently the only place in town for things like wedding receptions as a half dozen of Kyle and Shirley's friends from Keene arrived late and explained that they had to stop at a yard sale and ask "If you had a wedding, where would you hold the reception?") We left Sunday afternoon for New Hampshire. Monday we stopped off to see my grandmother and then headed back to California.

Larry Finkel arrived in town again on the 18th, and we had a chance to go out to dinner and chat. Larry, for those of you who have been following his own version of the form-letter soap opera (which you couldn't have been since he doesn't really have one; I'm just trying to make everyone feel guilty enough to at least write a form letter!!), has decided to take a giant step forward from the old days, when he was doing rather humdrum engineering on state of the art bit-slice micro-processors; now, he's writing inventory programs on IBM PCs for such financial giants as "K mart" and "Toys are us". When I found out that his program was used to determine shipping locations and quantities for many types of common toys, I briefly considered joining his company with the thought of making the world a better place by sending every smurf doll in the U.S.A. to an obscure corner of Antarctica. Fortunately, this brief flash of sanity was followed by the almost undeniable desire to send them all to the White House. Then I briefly considered shipping them to Eric Haines' place as a wedding present. Finally I gave up on the entire concept as I considered the potential retaliation that might ensue. I could see coming home to find 600 prepaid subscriptions to the "Young Communist's Journal" in my mailbox. Yike!!!!

On the weekend of the 21st and 22nd, I was supposed to go to Mammoth Mountain for the weekend with Margaret, followed the next weekend with a trip to Santa Barbara with Charlene. The trip with Margaret was basically an opportunity for us to spend a little time together before she departed for a research project in the Privlof Islands (communist-owned islands off the coast of Alaska,) followed shortly thereafter by an expedition to Antarctica. Unlike most people whose primary motivation for going to obscure, distant, unfriendly places was to stand on the "X", return to civilization, and sneer at the rest of the population for not having visited the world's biggest ice cube, Margaret seemed really determined to chase penguins for four months; it has something to due with "harassing wildlife in its natural habitat," but never made much sense to me. Anyway, a half dozen copies of "Bloom County" Opus cartoons failed to cure her of that particular desire, so we decided to "get away" for a weekend before she left. Charlene was a different story — we just hadn't gone anywhere interesting in about a month, and a "fun trip" was called for. Well, you know the old adage about the best laid plans, and due to a set of circumstances not complex enough to go into, the locations were swapped; I ended up going to Santa Barbara with Margaret and Mammoth with Charlene.

Margaret and I actually didn't do much in Santa Barbara besides eat. I have a growing belief that restaurants in resort areas have some kind of time compression machine, where an hour in the restaurant actually has two or three real outside hours crammed into it. We did manage to see a few of the sights, however. And we did have a wonderful time on the bike paths. You can rent these petal powered buggies from some of the beach rental places. (Fortunately, we didn't need to rent a beach, since there was one right across the street; we just needed bicycles... I mean, Quadcycles.) Imagine a dune buggy crossed with a baby carriage and you'll have some picture of what it looked like. To add insult to injury it was decorated with the kind of strident coloring and excessive ornamentation that proclaimed "ONLY A GEEK WOULD RIDE IN THIS THING" to the world. Margaret and I knew immediately that we would leave Santa Barbara unsatisfied if we didn't go for a spin. We picked a buggy in a particularly hideous shade of blood red and hopped on the seat. Our first attempt could be considered an exercise in uncooperative steering. Margaret insisted that I was "wobbling" from side to side when I steered. Although this was true, there was a. obvious reason — I was attempting to terrorize the pedestrians and bicyclists on the bike path. For some reason Margaret refused to get in the spirit of the thing and took over the steering bar. The sudden ending to the argument gave us both time to realize that the bike frame, which bore an amazing resemblance to badly painted lead, was in fact badly painted lead. My car must have weighed less than the damn thing. We considered giving it up, but there was the minor problem of the buggies that were passing us with sixty year old grandmothers (with children) pedaling to contend with, and we finally gritted our teeth and went for it. We quickly determined that there was a positive side to the weight —once you started moving, momentum kept you going. This, of course, was almost completely independent of the braking system which, when fully applied, would stop you some significant time after you collided with something large and massive, like, say, a Mack truck. Still, it was fun to zip by people pedaling (or skating or running) in the other direction and ring our bell at them. The rest of the trip was uneventful and we returned tired but triumphant on Sunday evening to Pasadena.

The weekend with Char at the condo turned out to be something of a disaster. I was hauling up a new queen size bed to replace the current bed in the loft. This was because the current mattress was worn enough that any weight would compress it to a thickness comparable to that of a local newspaper on a tuesday in one of those towns with a population that could be counted on your fingers. This necessitated a truck, which I had arranged to borrow on Friday from a friend. Unfortunately, the friend simultaneously arranged to be in Denver on Friday, which caused a little problem with picking up the truck. Desperate, I asked around work, and luck was with me. Our system engineer, Hugh Henry, had a truck. Or, more precisely, his wife did. They were nice enough to loan it to me for the weekend, while I left them the Camry. This was all arranged at 11:30 on Friday, of course, three and a half hours before our scheduled departure time of 3:00. I and Hugh ran out to his house during lunch in order to pick up the truck. On the way back, I had a sudden sinking feeling as my eyes started to water and my nose suddenly felt like someone was inject high stress concrete up it under pressure. "Ah. . .Hugh, does your wife haul your cats around in this thing?" I asked. "No, not frequently", he replied. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was obviously having an allergic reaction, but it must have been a delayed attack from the cats in the house. Hugh suddenly continued "but you aren't allergic to horses, I hope?" My eyes bulged out in terror. I had come close to a horse exactly once back in New Hampshire during my childhood. After friends dragged me out of the barn, it was about half an hour before I could breathe normally. "HORSES!!!"  I said in a calm voice that ruptured Hugh's eardrum. Of course, there was nothing to do about it. I couldn't possibly get another truck in the time left. However, I let Char do most of the driving while I kept my head stuck out the window.

The truck itself was a Volkswagen Diesel, and had the smooth acceleration and raw power of a lawnmower. It normally takes about four and a half hours to make it to Mammoth in the Camry; it took us seven hours in the pickup, and I was truly hating life by the time we arrived. Char couldn't get the hang of driving the thing either; you had to floor it in first or it would stall instantly, which happened almost but not quite every time we started moving.

We finally made it, however, and started hauling the bed in. Char tossed the old bedspread over the low loft wall, incidentally placing a corner of it directly on the 200 watt spotlights mounted in the wall below it. "Sniff...Sniff...Hey Char, do you smell something burning?" "YIKE!!!!" Later, I went out to the truck to get my video camera. Char had stored it behind the passenger's seat. Unfortunately, she hadn't watched the cable between the camera and the video recorder; it fell into the metal latching mechanism that held the seat in place, and several wires were cleanly severed. Finally, tired and depressed, we decided to call it a day and jump in the Jacuzzi. Someone, however, was apparently.trying to hard boil eggs in the water and had set the temperature to a conservative 1000 degrees. I walked on water scrambling out, leaving behind only a few layers of burned off skin. We crashed for the night, my last remembered thought "hey, this bed is more comfortable than the one I've got at home!"

Still, we had a weekend of hiking, biking, and sightseeing ahead of us. Early Saturday morning, we grabbed some breakfast and headed out for the Devil's Postpile, a particularly scenic spot in the Mammoth Lakes region. When we got to the road, however, we found that it was still snowed in about eight miles back from the site. Fine; we came to hike, so we hike to Devil's Postpile. We made it a couple of miles before a few ominous clouds made us decide to turn back. The blizzard hit about five that evening.  Since it snowed all Sunday, We ended up painting most of the day, an activity that I enjoy about as much as walking through slugs barefoot. It did make a significant improvement to the place, however, a fact I found surprising. I thought the walls looked fine despite Char's insistence that they were "disgusting". I just didn't realize at the time that they were all uniformly dirty.

Monday we finally did a little biking in the back country. We rented a couple of "Trek" mountain bikes and took some dirt roads that riddle the backwoods outside of Mammoth. It was fun, and the woods when we stopped were so quiet it was spooky. So quiet you could hear a pin drop, so quiet you could hear a microbe sneeze ... I'm talking QUIET in capital letters! Then we left. (Sudden, abrupt, "I'm tired of typing" sort of ending.

Well, that finishes up number three in a long series of very, very, very long letters from which I never get any replies. See you all around!