Visiting the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

When we visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, I was reminded that tourists are ugly from all over. Not long after 9/11, I noticed people coming to take photos of Ground Zero. I can understand that, I like taking photos as well. What bothered me was how they posed in front of it, smiling. It just seems disrespectful. I saw the same oblivious ugliness as tourists posed in front of the list of those who died at Pearl Harbor.

The viewing platform.

The memorial is hallowed ground; the ship is below you. The platform crosses it just behind the front turret, which remains above water. This was a clever way to mark the grave of nearly 1200 men who died during the sneak attack, an enormous cross that’s not there unless you think about it. The bow and stern are marked with white buoys. Around the harbor you see cement markers memorializing the other ships sunk on that day.

The list of those who died at Pearl Harbor, without a smiling idiot.

It’s eerie, looking down through the crystal blue water and seeing the rusted hulk of the ship just below, occasionally seeping oil. Small colorful fish dart around the structure. A sign asks you to not throw coins, which contribute to the decay.

The remains of the front turret, gun removed.

The immensity of the battleship is not readily apparent below the surface. Even when you see the buoys, it’s hard to imagine. I’ve seen larger boats, like the ore boats of the Great Lakes, but not from above. The sailors who shuttle you to the platform remind you that this is a cemetery at sea, and to be respectful, but it’s quickly forgotten.

The ship stretches into the distance.

The small white dot below the other ship marks the stern. That and the slightly rust-colored tinge to the water gives you an idea of the Arizona’s size. A torpedo pierced the bow, but it sank with the superstructure otherwise intact. It’s a solemn place, or should be. Maybe they need more soldiers there to give a presence of authority; at Arlington National Cemetery, people were well behaved, especially during the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I think people posed in front of the Eternal Flame, which is still pretty lame.

I didn’t see any people doing this at Bergen-Belsen, or in front of Anne Frank’s grave. Soldiers vs. civilians, I guess. Ground Zero is certainly hallowed ground to the families of the dead, yet tourists feel compelled to smile and pose in front of the empty hole. The stereotype of the Ugly tourist isn’t just for Americans anymore.

The anchor of the U.S.S. Arizona

We visited the U.S.S. Bowfin while we waited 2 hours for our shuttle to the platform. It’s parked right nearby and a good way to kill time while you’re waiting, without sweating with the mobs in the museum and souvenir shops.

The U.S.S. Bowfin, aka “Pearl Harbor Avenger”

It’s about the same as the U.S.S. Growler near the Intrepid museum in NYC. If you’ve never been on a sub before, it’s a good look into the life of a submariner. The cramped beds, the hatchways, the claustrophobic spaces; it makes Das Boot seem roomy.

On the old subs everything is make of brass and looks like antique steampunk machinery. It seems out of place next to the large mechanical switches and analog gauges. It’s sort of in-between the brass equipment of old sailing ships and the voting-booth look of switches and knobs on war machinery of the 70’s and 80’s.

I’m not sure if they allow you on the deck of the Growler, but we got to crawl all over the cannons and guns on this one. And take clever photos. And while I would not pose smiling before 1,177 watery graves, or a list of men who died in combat, I believe the stern of the Pearl Harbor Avenger and Old Glory are perfectly fine.

 

In Memoriam

WTC 1995

I was working in Manhattan that day. Well, I would have been, if I hadn’t been late. I worked near 53rd & 3rd, immortalized in the Ramones song about a male hustler, from their debut album. So far away from the horror. I grew up with the Towers in my skyline; we lived on a hill where they poked through the trees, across the river. My heart still clenches thinking about that day.

I memorialized it in my work in progress:

I joined up on my eighteenth birthday, after the planes hit and Manhattan smoldered like a blindfolded man’s cigarette at an execution.

That’s what the city looked like for a month or two after the attack. Riding the DeCamp bus in on the Lincoln tunnel loop, I saw it, breathed it, every day. We all did. They replayed the strikes on TV so often I can see them between blinks, even now. I think many of us suffered trauma that day. Some more than others of course, but enough that the country as a whole is very different than it was the day before. What I like to remember is how we came together afterward, before the fear settled in. Everyone gave blood, everyone chipped in. I lost my job shortly after, right before the holidays, because my employer was headquartered in Israel and their stock plummeted. Now they’re doing great, they got into surveillance. I’m glad I moved on. My grandmother broke her arm that year, the first stumble down the spiral before she passed on a few years later. I’d just returned from living in the Midwest, and everything felt like an omen. It was a rough couple of years for us all. My friend Johnny, who joined the Marines as a reservist the day he turned eighteen—inspiring Scotty, the character in my WiP, above—was eager to go to Afghanistan and fight the Taliban, but Iraq? Not so much. We’re still recovering from that misadventure. Many fought bravely there, but for what? It looks like we’re returning a third time. Then again, if you follow history, we’ve been mucking with the Middle East for a lot longer than that. What’s the answer? I’m not sure. But I think our move toward US oil and renewable energy is good first step to staying out of the nation-building (and destroying) business.

We’ve neglected the homefront for a decade, our roads and bridges are collapsing, our people overworked and underpaid (wages stagnant, profits soaring). We’ve barely rebuilt what the terrorists destroyed. I hope in the next decade we’ll focus more on that.

I like this old photo, I’m chubby and innocent and hopeful, having just graduated from Rutgers. My friend Tim is in the background, my friend Jim took the photo. It’s 1995, the Internet boom (and bust) was just up the road. And so was 9/11.

 

 

 

Goodbye, CatLoaf

Goodbye, CatLoaf

My not-so-little arm warmer succumbed to kidney disease yesterday. When we adopted him from an acquaintance, she said his name was Shadow. We called him CatLoaf. We quickly surmised that he was called ‘Shadow’  not for his dark fur but for his preferred loafing spot, behind you in direct opposition to the sun. When he wasn’t desperately attempting to sneak underfoot, he would sit on the couch behind your head and give you a scalp massage whether you wanted it or not, find devious ways to climb on the table and sit on your hand or stuff his entire head into a drinking glass like a feline Jerry Lewis, or knead the pillow by your head and purr in your ear.

CatLoaf needed to be within three feet of a human at all times, but not touched by one. He was a feline electron, negatively charged, in a rigid orbit around you. Petting was okay, sometimes. Holding was forbidden. He never achieved his dream of living inside our refrigerator, sleeping on Firecracker’s keyboard, or climbing on top of my head while I used the toilet, but he never quit trying. His last days were spent loafing, getting stroked, and eating treats and drinking tuna water when he could keep it down.

He was a friendly cat who would approach any stranger without an inkling of fear, only an expression of deep curiosity and comradeship. He would let you pet him, and when he had enough, he would tell you in his way, which was by nipping the tender skin between your fingers. The only things he ever ran from were his nemesis and nap buddy Charlie Crookedpaw, our rescued Siamese, and his own droppings, which when caught in the fur of his prodigious hindquarters must have felt like the very jaws of death snapping at his empty scrotum. I have wrestled 300lb athletes to submission, but was not able to hold CatLoaf still for more than a few moments during his prime. He would rather die than give you control. And he was of course, black as your soul.

He was a companion that grew on you, and stepped on you, sat on you, leaned on you, sneezed on you, and occasionally hawked hairballs on your shoes, bed, and clothing, but over the years he became a beloved part of our lives, and we will miss him terribly. But not his breath. No, not his breath, which fellow cat-lover H.P. Lovecraft would tenderly describe as more wretchedly unwholesome than the fetid emissions of Azathoth’s hindmost parts.

Goodbye, sweet CatLoaf. We made you happy for a time, and you returned the favor.

Meet the Blade Brigade: Neliza Drew

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Meet Neliza Drew, writer ninja. Neliza is the author of several excellent crime stories. “Hollow,” published at Beat to a Pulp, stars one of my favorite characters, Davis Grove. Davis also appeared in “Addictions” in the Feeding Kate anthology, and “Tricks,” in Summer 2013’s Needle: A Magazine of Noir. Davis grew up hard, taking care of her mother and sisters, and she has done whatever she had to, to get by. She does part-time work for an investigator, and navigates the human wasteland of southern Florida like Charon taking us over the River Styx. Check out “Hollow” for a taste, while Neliza finishes her Davis Grove novel, which I can’t wait to read.

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Neliza also trains in kempo and gung fu when she is not wrangling delinquents, making candles, or hunting vegan food with her bo staff. Torment her at your peril. You can find her, and her work at her website Neliza Drew.

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The Christmas Empire Strikes Back

Yesterday I shared an anonymous letter that one of the residents of my building posted, about how the management was “torturing” us by putting up the Christmas decorations too early. Most of the ire returned to the anonymous protester was that s/he claimed to speak for all building residents, which is always a bad idea. If you say “we, the people” you had better be more than a handful of elites (waitaminute…)

Anyway, here are the very entertaining responses to the original letter:

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Meet the Blade Brigade: Ben LeRoy

This week I introduce you to some of the friends who helped with Blade of Dishonor. Ben LeRoy, the force being Tyrus Books, didn’t help with the book directly, but he has been an inspiration in the publishing community since we met at Bouchercon in 2011. He is constantly driven to do whatever he can to improve the world, whether that is publishing new and striking voices, giving books and music away every week, or donating to whoever needs help most. And when a new writer is often told that publishing is a monolithic cabal granting entry only to a select few, he cuts through the BS with a weekly Q&A at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Room. Check out the Tyrus website for a varied selection of excellent reads, from poet laureate of noir Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager novels, to Angela Choi’s Hello Kitty Must Die, Peter Brown Hoffmeyer’s Graphic the Valley, and Steve Weddle’s “dazzling” (NY Times Book Review) novel-in-stories, Country Hardball. Follow @tyrusbooks on Twitter if a positive force publishing great new fiction is up your alley.

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If you want to rock one of these t-shirts with the cover art by Roxanne Patruznick and design by Suzanne Dell’Orto, you can get them here (along with signed copies of the paperback).
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Meet the Blade Brigade: John Milkewicz

This week I introduce you to some of the friends who helped with Blade of Dishonor. Part 2 of the trilogy, Devils and Dragons, is free on Kindle until the 16th. You can get Part 1: The War Comes Home for 99 cents here, and Part 3: The Shadow Shogun for $1.99 here. That’s a dollar savings off the omnibus edition(which collects all all 3 novellas for $3.99). And yes, it is available in Trade Paperback from bookstores and e-tailers. If you buy the trade on Amazon, you can get the Kindle version for 99 cents through the matchbook program.

I met my friend John back in 2001, when we conquered Orctown with bow and axe. We have roved and roamed this great country far and wide on wide hobbit feet, from the Marines memorial in DC just before Johnny shipped to Iraq, to Stairway to Heaven, one of the most brutal hikes in New Jersey, and to Hillbilly Hotdogs and the home of the Mothman deep in the heart of West Virginia. John signed up in the Marine Corps reserves after 9/11 and served in Iraq. He helped me give Blade of Dishonor a sense of military realism and he’s been a great friend for a dozen years. He brought the book on his trip to Rome, where he photographed this memorial to the Devil’s Brigade, who spearheaded the Allied liberation of the Eternal City. I fictionalized this in the novel, because when I read of the accomplishments of the Devils–aka the 1st Special Service Force–I could not resist sharing their heroic exploits.

Here is the memorial:
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A photo of the book in Rome:
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And here’s me and Johnny, battling for the One ring atop the cracks of Mount Doom in the Sourlands:
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