Spies in Boston

We walk hand in hand through the tight streets. The magic in the North End seems to rise from the granite slab sidewalks, our foot falls releasing it all as we ever so slowly grind down the grooves carved into their surface so long ago.

She is wearing a skirt, which seldom happens away up north on our island home. Shhh. She is blending in with the fabric of the city.

Passing for Urban.

We walk briskly, with purpose. Not ogling the old brick facades like so many, but stealing glimpses from the corner of the eye, remembering details to discuss later over the privacy of our dinner table.

We are not tourists with fanny packs and cameras on straps. Not obvious with outsized hats and backpacks bulging with swag. We pass like spies, changing our manner, moving like locals and step around the knots of lost sight seers ‘till we reach our goal:

“Two cannoli, please.

Gratzi.”

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Houston, we have a problem…

There were some unforeseen issues with the date we were to leave. Initially, the launch was supposed to take place on March 18th at the height of the afternoon. It was going to be perfect for viewing with a young child. Then, like massive pieces of monstrously complex machinery are want to do, something went wrong on the orbiter. Nothing major. Nothing catastrophic, but just a big enough a problem to warrant rescheduling the “go” date for the beginning of the next month. No big deal, right?

Heh…

The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Oh, thank God I didn’t buy the airline tickets yet.” To say that things are a little strained in the airline industry these days is like mentioning that sticking a rosebush in your pants might be somewhat uncomfortable. With the hysteria that has infused every corner of the airline experience combined with the unadulterated fact that the vast majority of carriers are losing money hand over fist, despite the fact that they charge you for your luggage, your drinks, your food and even (I wish I were making this up) the pillows, then you can see why I suspected calling them up and begging for a date change on our tickets would meet with non-helpfulness on a wide and impressive scale. They might do it, but there would be a charge. My only question was if the penalty fee might be more than the price of the ticket. For this very reason, I had begged off on selecting our flight. That, and I’m cheap and hate forking over large sums of money for just about anything and tend to put it off until I can’t let it go any longer.

The second problem was that our departure date would now fall, not only on Easter Sunday, but also my daughter’s second birthday. Great.

In some ways, it’s hardly a big deal. Though my wife and I were raised Catholic, neither of us are practicing any more. To be fair, after eleven years of parochial school, I feel that I’ve practiced enough and am ready for prime time. As for the birthday, well, that stings a bit. The good news is that this is probably the last time I could ever get away with that. She is after all, very, very young and the concept of birthdays to her means only two things: “Pwesents” and “Cake!”

If it were up to Lulu Belle, every day would include pwesents and cake. For her, the fact that it falls on a particular day in the year means exactly, precisely, nothing. Therefore, we’d be having our festivities a day ahead. Problem solved! Plus, since the Easter Bunny doesn’t actually work for the Vatican, we figured that we could talk him into a Saturday delivery as well. All seemed to be working out just fine, even if it does sting a bit for me to miss her special day. I was already missing her and we hadn’t even left yet.

The last little entertainment that cropped up due to the date change was the launch time. Previously, it was going to take place in the sunny afternoon, and, as luck would have it, just before naptime! How perfect can you get? Too perfect, apparently.

When NASA, or anyone else for that matter, wants to launch a rocket, they don’t just pick the time arbitrarily. It needs to be very, very carefully worked out. The issue is that if you want to make a multi-million (or billion) dollar chunk of technology go up into orbit, any old orbit, then when you press the big, red launch button doesn’t really matter. (I’m assuming here that the “launch” button is red. If it isn’t, then it should be. That’s how I’d make them) There’s a lot of space out there and if the engine on the back of your rocket is big enough and you can get it to fly consistently up, then you’re pretty safe to hit it eventually.

It’s kind of hard to miss.

The trick is when you want it to go into just the right orbit. Like I said, space is really big and if you’re going to wind up in the correct bit of it to say, meet up with the International Space Station, then you’re going to need and plan things just right. The Earth, after all is moving and pretty damned fast at that. So is the ISS. It’s cooking along at 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kph) and though it might look pretty big in the NASA release photos, it’s barely a speck on the horizon. And then you have to find the right horizon. After all, those lucky few whom are riding it get to see a new sunrise ever ninety two minutes! See how tricky this gets? This is also a perfect example of why I’m not a NASA scientist. I’m much more in the Alan Shepard school of thought, who put it this way to Mission Control after waiting in his capsule for over four hours to blast off and become the first American in Space:

“Why don’t you just fix your little problem and light this candle!”

God love you, Alan.

That might have been how things rolled in the early days, but is sure as heck isn’t how things roll now.

So, with the change in the date of the launch, so comes a change in the time of day for the Shuttle to make its launch window. We were now looking at a 6:22 AM launch. “Not bad” you might think. “I’ve seen worse things than getting up just before dawn.”

Ah, yes, but you’re forgetting something. That’s when the launch actually happens. We have tickets for the viewing and they have a non-negotiable, “arrive by” time. Because this is a highly regulated venue and since we were going to be seeing the launch with roughly sixty zillion other lucky ticket holders, we had to be at the Space Center early. How early?

Midnight.

Wait. Let me say that again. MIDNIGHT!
With a FOUR YEAR OLD!

But wait, there’s more. The hotel we were staying at. Yah, that’s an hour away.

So, I’d be pulling my son, a few hours after arriving in Orlando, out of his soft and comfy bed and packing him into the car to drive, park and then wait for six hours. This would be tough on me but I was afraid that it was going to be brutal on him. What I needed to figure out was how to stuff an Ace up my sleeve.

My horror image was of the two of us, standing out in the dark field that’s used for viewing with several hours to go and him melting down because, well… he’s a little kid, tired and without a safe and comfortable place to try and get some sweet, sweet sleep. I needed to bring my own home base. With only a few days to go before launch, I started looking around on Amazon.com and found my solution.

Rush delivery?
“Oh, yes! Please!”

Two days later, my brand new, super cheap, one-man tent arrived.

In its traveling sleeve, it looks almost identical to one of those collapsible fabric and fiberglass pole traveling chairs that you see everywhere. My sincere hope was that if I could get it in, and if I could find a place to set it up and if I wasn’t discovered by a disapproving security-type individual, then perhaps I might be able to avoid my vision of parental doom.

That’s a lot of “if’s”.

Here’s hoping.
Hey? Was I the guy bashing hope just a while ago? I take it back.

I hope! I hope! I hope!

Quasi-happily, I did find out (yet again through Facebook) that tents were sometimes allowed on the Causeway, but no one seemed to know if that would fly at the actual Space Center. It would be, after all, on manicured grounds filled with spectators and exhibits. Kind of like going to an outdoor symphony and setting up camp amongst the other attendees, but in my case, the orchestra would be igniting with over seven million tons of thrust. The Boston Pops might be good, but they aren’t that good.

In some weird way, I actually didn’t want to probe this too deeply. After all, If I couldn’t find a quick “no” to my tent idea, I could possibly beg ignorance and not purer my self. I try very hard not to lie, but there’s not reason I should make a Herculean effort to actually hang my self, right? No harm, no foul! Right?

When the tent arrived the day before we left, I set it up in the front yard to test it out. The consensus? It was cheap. Very, very cheap. In fact, it used something that I thought had died out years ago with innovations to tent technology. guy wires. Two, big segmented poles were used to give it its basic form, but it used actual tent stakes and wires to hold it out to its full length. Still, it was serviceable, relatively smuggable and I thought it would do in a pinch, provided that some poor soul didn’t do an unanticipated forward somersault in the predawn dark. Possibly me. I packed it into the bottom of my suitcase and made ready to head for adventure with my boy.

“Do you really think they’ll let you set it up?” My wife looked at me with a face that managed to appear both sincere and incredulous all at once. I have no idea how she does this.

“Well, I think so.”

“You think so? But you don’t know?” Her eyebrow arched and the arms crossed. Uh-oh.

Must… not… fidget… uncomfortably! At times like this, I have found that the best course of action is to blame others. Not the moral high ground, perhaps, but it seems to work more than it doesn’t. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the first male to use this method of redirecting a womanly gaze of scorn. That, and with its use, I would still be able to pass a polygraph test. “I can’t seem to get a straight answer about that.” I used my very best professorial tone in an effort to add credibility to my words. “Some people said that it would be okay at the Causeway, but I can’t find anything about the Space Center, either way.” I didn’t mention that I hadn’t looked super duper hard to find that information. Again, I wanted to be able to use the Idiot Defense if cornered later on.

“So, what’s your plan then?” This was a test, and I knew it. I’ve been around the block enough times to avoid this one.

My “plan” was the one that so many men had used before me. It’s been in use for millennia and it’s driven wives and girlfriends bonkers, probably since the beginning. I don’t know what they called it before the invention of American Football, but here and now, we have a name for it. It’s called punting. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, I’ll make it brief. Punting is when you kick the holy hell out of the ball and pray that things go your way. It is the ultimate non-plan.

If it were just me who was going, that would be fine with her. She’s traveled with me quite a lot and is actually very good at shooting from the hip when it comes to fluid situations. The difference here was that it wasn’t just me. I would have our very best son with me (actually, our only one, so it’s sort of de facto, but true none the less) and his care was the most important thing. I needed something better to say than, “I dunno. I’ll make it up as I go.”

“Oh, I suppose we could sleep in the car. That would be warm and safe.” To be honest here, I seriously doubted that this would work. I was pretty sure that we’d have to leave our vehicle and would not be allowed back out unless we were willing to abandon our admittance to the grounds. Wisely and weasely, I omitted that part and let her mull it over. I’m not proud of that, but what was the point of panicking her at this point in the game? She could probably see right though me, but if she did, she didn’t let on.

“Alright. Just take care of our boy.” Whether or not she bought it, I don’t know. What I do know is that she helped me pack up our provisions until the suitcase bulged to comical proportions. The next day was the day before our flight and we had birthday and Easter to attend to. With the last few hours rolling by at amazing speed, I started to get that sinking feeling I always do before a trip.

What was I forgetting? Was I forgetting something? I don’t think I’m forgetting anything. Am I?

Dangerous Birthday Presents

Action Girl is not an easy person to buy a gift for.
That’s putting it mildly. She’s fiendishly difficult to buy a gift for, and with her birthday coming up fast, I was in a bit of a panic.

Over the years, I have made progress in working out what she likes for prezzies and what falls flat. Clothes? No way. She’s very particular about clothes. Dustable knick knacks? You’ve got to be kidding. Jewelry? That depends. She likes bracelets but never wears them because “They get in the way and bug me..” Necklaces have the same issue. She likes the idea, but the actual wearing of them is another thing. Rings? No. I don’t cal her “Action Girl” for nothing. Rings are far too delicate and would get crunched or wacked very quickly. Her wedding ring (in fact, the only ring she wears) was actually selected very carefully based on durability and looks. The Durability issue, however, came first during the selection process.

So, that pretty much leaves me with earrings. She loves earrings and she has lots of them. I have been buying her earrings for all sorts of occasions for years now and have followed the progression from ‘long and dangly’ to “posts, only please” and lately, back to ‘long and dangly’ again. The problem is that I almost ALWAYS get her earrings. She always appreciates them but it was starting to feel too easy, to obvious. I needed something new.

I also wanted something that said “I love you” in a new and interesting way. I love spending time with her and we used to do a lot of out door activities together such as mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing, but since the arrival of our kiddos, that’s been pretty much a memory. So, I spent some time thinking about an outdoor sport that we could do, just the two of us, that wouldn’t take too much time and we’d both enjoy. Then I had an idea. It was risky, but I hoped that she would like it.

Yesterday was her birthday. She informed us all that she was turning twenty nine again this year, since it went so well the other times and we made plans to get up at a reasonable hour and do something she enjoys. On the morning, we packed Short Stack and Lulu Belle into the wagon and headed off strawberry picking. Short Stack is still to young to remember doing this last year and we were a bit dubious about how this would work out. We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as he got his empty pint box, he transformed into a dump truck (his favorite thing to be) and made about fifty trips back and forth from us to the quickly filling flat. He dubbed it the “flat bed”. If any activity can involve trucks, he’s happy. Lulu Bell mostly got hoisted along in her car seat and watched clouds and bugs.

We finished up picking and after a quick cleanup to get the strawberry juice off of Short Stack’s face, hands, chest, neck, ears and arms, we headed back. I had told Action Girl that her present was at my shop. I got the obligatory, “You didn’t have to get me anything” speech but there was no way that I’d let her birthday go by with out something given. As we got closer, I got more and more nervous. This was either going to work or really, REALLY bomb. When we pulled in I tried to explain that this was… an unusual gift. It was something that she didn’t need and probably never thought of getting. I explained that I got it because I wanted to spend more time with her and I thought this might be a good way to do that.

Boy, did she look confused and perhaps, just a little bit worried.

I ran in, got it and came out with this…

It’s a M96 Swedish Mauser built in 1917 and it’s in fantastic shape. For those of you who haven’t read the “In a Nut Shell (bag?)” page or missed the other posts I’ve made about firearms, or the fact that the name of the blog comes from two of my favorite fire arms, let me just say, “I love shooting.” Though her upbringing did not involve guns, Action Girl has turned out to be a very good shot. The problem was that the high power stuff I shoot tends to kick her around too much and thus, she doesn’t go with me very often. She likes the little .22 caliber rifles we have but they are really only good to about fifty to seventy yards and for accuracy over distance, you need more power.

My sweet Action Girl… truth be told, is a power junkie. Just ask her. Her idea of a boat is a center console, 25 foot Mako with a couple of 225’s on the back. She can drive any piece of heavy equipment you can name and handle it flawlessly. She drives multi-ton sea going vessels for a living. She, to put it succinctly, likes power.

The Swedish M98 Mauser is nothing to sneeze at. The bullet it fires may be smaller than most of the military cartridges if the day, but at 6.5 millimeters in diameter, it’s still plenty big; just not big enough to bruise your shoulder after a morning at the range. It is also very beautiful, as old rifles go. My hope was that if she had the right rifle and the knowledge that it was hers, then perhaps she would feel compelled to drop the kids with the grandparents and go shooting with me some Sunday mornings.

Big gamble. She was either going to love it or hate it and I was really nervous. I put it in her hands, told her what it was and… a big smile broke across her face. Then she started working out how we could slip away this weekend so she could go and shoot HER rifle! *phew!*

So, we have a ‘date’ this Sunday to go and punch some holes in paper targets at 100 yards. I’ll bring one of my usual rifles and this time, she’ll have her own. I can’t wait. And the best part is, neither can she. I wonder what earrings accessorize best with a rifle?

Be careful. Baby’s are catching.

A few very short and sleepless nights ago, Lulu Belle entered the world. Action Girl and I have been waiting anxiously for some time for this event and thank goodness, all has gone well. Both Mom and Lulu are in great shape and there were no worrying or unexpected events. The three of us were tired, happy and relaxing in the recovery room the evening after the happy event.

As it happens, a truly improbable number of our couple-friends are expecting babies of their own in the very near future. In total, we know four other couples who will be getting family additions of their own either in the next week or so or some time this summer. One of these friends is almost tied with action girl in respect to due dates. In fact, they were only one day apart. Because Action Girl had a C-section scheduled and since they set those up before your actual due date, she was going to beat our friend by about a week. It would have been fun to be all in the hospital at once, but hey, what were the chances that they would be so close in the first place? It was nice for Action Girl and our friend to be there to commiserate and shop with over the last few months, though.

The night after Lulu was born, our round and expecting friend came in to visit, bringing flowers and a small gift for our new baby. She got to hold Lulu and Action Girl got to tell her all about the experience and generally catch up and be buddies. I mainly sat in the background and nodded a lot. This was girl talk, after all. Our friend’s husband was supposed to come by as well but had begged off at the last moment after he came to the realization that he still had a ton of things to do before their own baby came into the world some time next week or so and he wanted to try to get through as much of it as he could that evening. Though robbed of “guy talk” that evening, I doubt I could have held a coherent conversation any way.

The reason for my more than normal dopiness was that the night before we were due to go to the hospital, Short Stack pulled an epic night of no sleep. After three nights in a row of sleeping right through, he managed to come down with a runny nose and stuffy head. What that meant was that he didn’t really get much sleep. What THAT meant was that I got less. Action Girl was in no condition to leap out of bed and help him, so that in conjunction with just being keyed up in general left me with something like three hours of real, good, deep sleep. Then, we went in the next morning and had a new baby girl by early afternoon which, though I was there mostly for moral support, took it out of me none the less. I was holding up alright but the visit that we were expecting from our very pregnant friend did run longer than I hoped. When the visiting hours expired at eight, the ladies were still yammering away while I was having trouble keeping from elegantly sliding off the chair and on to the inviting floor.

Finally, by twenty past, our friend was putting on her coat and giving out the good bye hugs. The last thing Action Girl said to our friend was that she should go home and just go into labor so they could be at the birthplace together. Our friends words were, (and I quote) “I’ll do my best”.

We turned in for the night and the three of us dropped off fairly quickly. For me, a folding cot, a pillow made from foam and a gauze thin blanket never felt so good. Lulu did have a few moments during the night. She needed a change of diaper once or twice and a new “urp-up” free shirt and pillow case, but nothing too bad. These were taken care of by me since Action Girl was down for the count after major abdominal surgery. Two AM rolls around and to my amazement, Action Girl’s bed starts moving up and down. It elevates, it goes down, changes shape, pauses and then starts squirming like an android caterpillar.

At first I thought she must be leaning against the controls in her sleep. No. She was playing. Then to my added horror, the light over the bed goes on and Action Girl starts asking me if the baby is keeping me up. What I quickly start to realize as she tries to drag me into conversation, is that all the pain killers that she’s on have her WIRED! She’s wide awake, hyper and bored. After about ten minutes of assuring her that Lulu isn’t keeping me up and that “no”, I’m perfectly comfortable, I finally inform her that the major impediment on my way to Sleepyville is in fact, Lulu’s mom. Through the haze of the percocet she slowly and sheepishly turns off the light tries to fiddle with the bed less an not ask me questions about… anything. Somewhere between nurse’s visits, Lulu whining and a woman giving birth in the next room, I manage to pull down… at least another two to three hours. WOOO!

The next morning I go to fill up the largest bowl shaped object I can find with what ever passes for coffee in the waiting room. On my way to scout caffeine possibilities I see a face I didn’t expect. It’s a buddy of mine and you guessed it, the husband of our very pregnant friend from the night before. He looks ALMOST as shell shocked as I do. Apparently, at 1:30 that night, her water broke and off to the Hospital they went. After a long labor, they have their own little boy and are moved into the room next door to ours. More mutual friends of our have come to visit since our happy family additions, one of whom is pregnant as well. We all cautioned her to touch nothing and stay away from the water, lest she join us.

It’s going to be interesting once we get home. No more nurses. No more coffee ready and waiting for me in the lounge. No more free laundry service with an unlimited supply of infant bedding. It’s going to be tough. But that’s okay. Once we’re home, I know that I don’t have to worry about our bed coming to life as Action Girl gets bored at two AM. And Lulu wouldn’t wake me up, right? Right?

Heh. It could happen.

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