Wandering History Lessons

How does a homeschooling lesson go? If done right, it sometimes wanders in unexpected directions.

We’re currently studying the early women’s rights movement, including the early suffragists, the 19th Amendment, and the fight for equality before the law. We started with good, rather conventional material from the National Endowment for the Humanities Edsitement site, History.com, and PBS. I then assigned him a reading from Thaddeus Russell’s excellent A Renegade History of the United States. Russell argues, convincingly, I think, that prostitutes played at least as great a role as the much-discussed prominent activists in pushing the boundaries of what women could do by ignoring rules of propriety, acquiring wealth and investing in businesses, and breaking down legal hurdles.

Good stuff.

While reading Russell’s chapter, Anthony came across references to relative incomes in the early 20th century (men earned on average about $20 per week, while prostitutes could pull in $30-$50 per week). He connected this with a movie we recently saw–Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, released in 1923, in which the character played by the comedian earned $15 per week and risked his life climbing a building to win a $1,000 prize.

Great movie, by the way.

Anthony has a grasp on the concept of inflation, so he asked me what these dollar amounts meant in modern terms.

So, off we went to the Cost of Living Calculator at the American Institute for Economic Research. Lloyd’s $1,000 prize, it turns out, is worth $14,294.12 in 2017 money. Fifteen minutes or so of fiddling with the calculator gave the kid a good idea of the declining value of the dollar over the last century.

This led us to discuss wealth, purchasing power, and changing livings standards over those intervening years. What your money could buy you–and what could it not buy–then vs. now.

So he read “You Are Richer Than John D. Rockefeller,” a fascinating article pointing out that the famously wealthy industrialist in 1910 couldn’t purchase antibiotics at any price, and lived uncomfortably by the standards of modern Americans of modest means.

Then back we went to reading about the fight for equal rights. His history journal entry for today should be interesting.

We Miss You, Max

I miss my dog.  He died almost a month ago, on Monday, September 26, 2016.

Wendy found Max wandering in the desert by the side of Beaverhead Flat Road–a road perhaps even less traveled in 2002 than it is now. He came trotting up to her car when she pulled over for a look at this scrawny, parched-looking dog in the middle of nowhere. She took him to the shelter, but they made it clear that they had limited resources.

“If nobody comes for him, will you take him?” they asked.

And we did. It was one of the better decisions we made.

Max made it clear that he liked people, and that he especially liked people who paid attention to him. When my father came to visit and sat on the sofa, our new dog jumped up next to him. Max flopped across his lap, lifted his leg, and issued a commanding groan.

“What does he want,” my father asked.maxandsadiesprawled

“A belly rub,” I answered. “So long as you’re going to sit there, he figures you might as well do something constructive.”

“Just so long as he doesn’t want a hand job,” my father answered, before obliging on the belly rub.

After a year or so, we decided that Max need some company. We adopted Sadie to be his playmate and in the hope that he might spend some time with her and a bit less time underfoot. Instead, affection became something of a competitive game; if I was petting one dog to my right, the other dog had to get equal treatment on my left. With the third hand, or something, I might actually turn the pages of a book.

Sadie never did quitimg_0488e fit in as well as Max. She spent a decade tormenting him (a true marriage, you might say)–and it took years before she seemed to decide that I just might be trustworthy. After she snapped at him, Max would often turn to me and seem to sigh. But they did disappear together for hours at a time to explore the neighborhood.

And Sadie did love Anthony–although she developed something of a sibling rivalry with him. She met him at the door everyday when he came back home from daycare. Showering him with Sadie kisses became a tradition.

maxbabyBut when Anthony came along, it was Max who immediately became his protector. For every feeding, Max would drag himself across the house, accompanying whichever human adult was doing the honors at the moment. He kept strict watch for coyotes at all times–creatures for whom he had a life-time aversion, probably gained during his tenure on his own in the desert.

I distinctly remember one night when an already exhausted Max padded after my equally tuckered self across the dark house as I went to give the baby his bottle. Max flopped on the floor of Anthony’s room just as coyotes began howling in the distance. He began a low growl, which then tapered into a snore as he surrendered to the need to sleep.

img_0565Early on, Max gained permission to sleep on the bed through the clever tactic of waking me every time he had a bad dream about coyotes, or heard thunder, or just felt lonely. He would stick his nose in my ear and whine until I calmed him–or, eventually, patted the bed to invite him up. This quickly became a permanent pass.

Once on the bed, he would slump on top of me, using me–as Snoopy did his dog house–like a bed. His head would go under my chin, and he’d promptly start snoring.

Yeah, I’m a sucker.

maxbackpackMax loved the outdoors and even had his own backpack for carrying snacks and his water bowl. It would go flapping in the air has he dove through the underbrush chasing rabbits or leaped from rock to rock in an arroyo. It was that enthusiasm that he felt and the joy that he so obviously wanted to share with us that I tried to infuse into “Champ,” his fictionalized self in the novel High Desert Barbecue.

He and I went on our last backpacking trip together in 2011, while I was checking the accuracy of some of the descriptions I’d put into the book. He was beginning to get just a bit creaky for extended trips into the wilderness. We could’ve probably done one or two more, but I never did get them planned, and then it was too late.

2015-08-01-20-20-09Max and I still went trail-running together, even after he survived a near-lethal encounter with a rattlesnake. He was tagged right between the eyes and I spent a week shuttling him to the vet, and then to an animal hospital, even as I was launching a new project for work.

And then, a year after his rattlesnake encounter, he had his first bout with thyroid cancer. He recovered, but the cancer and the surgery knocked the stuffing out of him energy-wise. His body couldn’t quite live up to his intentions after that point.

We finally stopped running together because his knees were going. Not that he wasn’t the same Max. He still engaged rabbits in low-speed chases. And he still slept on the bed, though now he needed steps to make the climb. Maybe I wasn’t so comfortable anymore, since he started stretching out next to me instead of on top.

Sadie passed away last year, of an untreatable (except by radical surgery) sarcoma. While all of the human members of the household mourned, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Max was almost indecently happy to have the place to himself, and to no longer have to worry about ambushes lurking around corners.

anthonymaxendWe were all with Max at the end, after the cancer returned. I spent two nights sleeping next to him on the floor while he refused food and most water. And then, on the last day, he somehow dragged himself to his feet. He made his way to the water bowl. He went outside to piss where he always did, on the small patch of grass in the back. He flopped for a while in his favorite resting spot under the dining room table. Then off to the front courtyard to watch the street through the gate. He even took a tiny nibble from my hand. I briefly allowed myself to hope that he was somehow getting better, but he staggered as he walked, and dragged his paws. You could see the stupendous physical effort he was expending to make what looked to me like a final grand tour of the things he loved to do. The cancer was still there, but so was his will and spirit, to the last.

It was time for that final trip to the vet.

 

The Power of the Dog

by Rudyard Kipling

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find – it’s your own affair, –
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent,
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve;
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long –
So why in – Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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These Boots Are Made for— Oh, Shit.

bootssmallThis, in the photo to the right, is what I call a catastrophic equipment failure. And I should have known better.

I like to go for a “walk” on Sunday afternoons. This usually involves me heading off to the Forest Service land within walking distance of our house. I head down a trail, or a jeep road, or a drainage, and see where it takes me.

Today, I added some serious bushwhacking to the itinerary. I headed across country off-trail and climbed a hill to see what was there.

At the crest, I looked down to see what was dragging from my boot. It was the sole, as it turned out. It was completely separated, except for the toe cap.

“Uh, oh.”

So I started climbing back down. Then the other sole gave way. Both were now flapping off my boots, off-trail, in the middle of the desert.

These were my good boots–Asolos that have taken me from Alaska’s Kesugi Ridge Trail to Escalante. But they’re old. And they have cemented soles. And the thing about cemented soles is that they work great right up until they don’t. And then they fail, off-trail, in the middle of the desert.

I’ve stopped buying cemented soles for this reason. But these were my bulletproof Asolos that could take anything. Until today.

I was in no danger–I had water, food, a gun, means of making fire, a knife, means of signaling… And all I needed was the knife, which I used to cut off the flapping outsoles once I got back to the road.

But next time, I’m buying welted soles. You can see when they’re failing, and you can fix them. Oh, and I’m bringing duct tape. That would have helped.

From the Horse’s Mouth (and That of His Rider)

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

This year we’ve switched from having Anthony enrolled in an online private school to homeschooling him in a more do-it-yourself manner. We’re still using K12’s Grammar and Vocabulary lessons (I bought the full Language Skills package, but I’m ignoring their take on Literature and Composition). That let’s us address some of the kid’s complaints about last year’s packaged education. In particular, he was frustrated by the drive-by approach of many of his subjects–such as Literature dealing with excerpts from brooks rather than whole works, or History lessons that glancingly mentioned interesting topics before passing on to something else.

So this year we’re digging deeper. For History, Anthony is reading On the Border With Crook, Capt. John G. Bourke’s memoirs of life in the West, including service in the Indian wars, the hideous treatment of many of the defeated natives, and the cultures and people of the Southwest. Of particular interest, he was stationed for a while just down the road from us, at Camp Verde. Here’s Bourke’s take on how the disgusting condition of Tucson, including dead animals in the road, was incorporated into local direction-giving:

“You want to find the Governor’s ? Wa’al, podner, jest keep right down this yere street past the Palace sloon, till yer gets ter the second manure-pile on yer right ; then keep to yer left past the post-office, ‘n’ yer’ll see a dead burro in th’ middle of th’ road, ‘n’ a mesquite tree ‘n yer lef , near a Mexican ‘ tendajon ‘ (small store), ‘n’ jes’ beyond that’s the Gov.’s outfit. Can’t miss it. Look out fur th’ dawg down ter Mufioz’s corral; he’s a salviated son ov a gun.”

To quote Blazing Saddles‘ Olsen Johnson on Gabby Johnson, that’s some “authentic frontier gibberish.”

Actually, as much as that sounds like a bad Hollywood script, it is authentic. Bourke wrote in 1892, drawing on his own experience. It turns out that those script-writers weren’t being campy–they were drawing on history (not a shock when you realize that Wyatt Earp, in his later years, was a consultant to the early film industry).

Anyway, Bourke was a true scholar (on the board of the Anthropological Society) as well as a participant in the life of the West, and an engaging writer. I strongly recommend his work as an alternative to lifeless modern textbooks.

And, while we’re learning about the West, why not listen to it, too? While Anthony wrote in his History journal today, I put on Dave Alvin’s Public Domain, which draws on songs from the era. Let me leave you with “Texas Rangers.”

Shooting Lessons

Not every class with mom and dad involves diagramming sentences, the history of North American settlement, or (deep breaths, de-e-e-e-p breaths) long division. Sometimes the focus of the day can be the care and feeding of the boomstick. You may know this better as gun safety and good, old-fashioned shooting.

Much fun was had by all. The main attraction was a Ruger 10-22, which is a nice platform for teaching the basics. It’s easy to use (though something like a single-shot bolt-action like a Cricket would be even easier), accurate enough to avoid frustration, and offers no recoil to speak of.

The kid discovers a new favorite pastime

The kid discovers a new favorite pastime

Now that I’ve touted the charms of the Ruger 10-22 as a first boomstick, I’ll mention that he also did well with my wife’s Smith & Wesson .38 Special. Somehow, I didn’t get any pictures of him shooting the revolver, but he had no complaints about the recoil and took to it well, though he prefers the rifle.

How Not to Balance Homeschooling and a Full-Time Job

It’s been six weeks since I woke up with a crushing headache and essentially blind in one eye. I thought it was a visual migraine, of which I’ve had a few over the years. The weird geometric shapes obstructing the vision in my left eye, pain, and exhaustion all suggested that I was starting my last week of full-time work at Reason off with a whimper rather than a bang. I’d have to limp along through the day and make myself finish up the work I needed to get done to hand off my responsibilities.

But I didn’t feel much better the next day. Or the next. As my optometrist told me, before hustling me off to my primary care doc for a battery of tests that aren’t quite done yet, it wasn’t a migraine; it was a Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO). I’d thrown a blood clot and, instead of taking a left turn and handing me a stroke, it veered right, jammed itself into the back of my eye, and fucked up my eyesight (along with other interesting complications.

After enough blood draws to gag Count Dracula, monitoring of my blood-oxygen level while I sleep, extended recording of my blood pressure and resting heart rate, and a cardiac stress test, I now know that I’m in awesome shape (I was running at five miles an hour up an 18 percent incline to hit my target heart rate). Well, awesome except for that little blood clot to the eye thing.

The problem seems to be that I have a genetic predisposition for blood clots–my homocysteine level is almost double what it should be despite a healthy lifestyle. Nobody really knows whether the homocysteine level is a cause of trouble or just an indicator of it, but it correlates with heart disease and blood clots. And the risks associated with an elevated homocysteine level can apparently be exacerbated by stress.

I was under a lot of stress. I assumed that stress was the trigger for the migraine that I didn’t actually have; instead, the doctors say that it was probably the trigger for the CRVO that I did have.

For the past year, I’d been juggling not just the demands of managing staff, scheduling stories, hiring contributors, etc., of my job, I’d also been homeschooling my son. My wife handled math in the morning, but I fielded most of the rest. The transition from a charter school to homeschooling wasn’t especially well-planned, though it was necessary (I’ll get into why in another post). But since we didn’t have time to shuffle things around, we just jammed it all into the existing schedule. That meant I didn’t really sit down all day, or focus on anything for more than 20 minutes at a time. By mid-spring, I knew this wasn’t sustainable. My wife was warning me that I was going to have a heart attack. So I gave two months notice, because my son is more important than the job, and he’s been thriving while learning at home. He’s where my emphasis has to be.

Maybe that was a week too much notice, in retrospect. But at least I didn’t have the heart attack.

The stress level is much lower now. I still write, but only a column a week. And the only management I have to do involves teaching plans, dogs, and meals. My son and I have time to really focus on lessons–and to build on them when they catch his interest. And now we can even get out of the house to field trips and spend time with other home-schooled kids (we’ve always had a lot around here, and the Sedona-Oak Creek School District’s ongoing disintegration is swelling the ranks).

And I’m learning some lessons too, about my mortality (who knew?) and that there are limits to what I can do. Maybe the kid will learn from me and not make the same mistake.

Oh, and I’ve regained most of my vision and my strength is coming back. Which is a good thing.

When parenting goes viral

Into every stay-at-home parent’s life comes that transformative moment. Maybe your kid is finally old enough for you to go in search of a reentry point on that career path you left behind, or maybe that irresistible job offer comes in, or maybe your family just needs more money. So you get back to work.

It’s a juggling act, of course. You’re still trying to be a good parent and give the beastie plenty of attention, and the spouse can’t be neglected, but you’re also dedicated to doing your best and proving that you still have what it takes for the new gig. Sooner, rather than later, assuming you don’t fuck it up, you hit your groove and settle into a demanding, but do-able schedule.

And then the shit hits the fan.

That expression is all too literal in my case, since I came down with gastroenteritis, probably courtesy of norovirus, three weeks into a new job for Reason magazine. On a Tuesday morning, to be exact, with the rest of the week yawning ahead. There I was, running a fever, weak, nauseous, bed-ridden, and very much with something still to prove. So I propped myself on pillows, put the laptop on … well … my lap. And tapped away.

I can never watch this movie again.And then, two days later, Tony got sick. He had the same gut-wrenching virus I had, but magnified by his youth and relative lack of experience with maintaining a death grip on a cold, porcelain disk. What was horrible for me was a tour through hell for him. I was still sick at this point. So my wife rented movies, bought gatorade, and basically tossed them in our direction while holding her shirt over her face and mouth and wielding Lysol wipes like sacred relics.

I literally worked in 15-minute spurts between sessions spent propping Tony over a tupperware bowl, rubbing his back and uttering soothing reassurances. Then off to the porcelain throne for my own turn at misery, and back to the job. All of this accompanied by endless repetitions of Ice Age: The Meltdown, to which Tony clung like it was a lifesaver of joy in a sea of bile-flavored suckage.

On Friday, I kid you not, the laptop got sick. It picked up some pernicious version of the Google redirect virus that resisted Unhackme, Windows Security Essentials, Malwarebytes, SuperAntiSpyware, Combofix and some unnamed stand-alone product from Avast. The wizards of Bangalore employed by OfficeMax finally dug it out, but by this time, I was ready to pursue my old fantasy of chucking it all and living in splendid solitude in a shack in the desert. No computers, no kids, and no shortage of receptacles the next time I came down with stomach flu.

I didn’t do that, obviously. Frankly, I haven’t yet recovered the energy to flee into the wilderness, and I’m well aware that, by the time it returns, my mind will have blissfully blurred the sharp edges of last week’s memories, making the events less immediate and more tolerable.

But with work, parenting and the ever-looming prospect of random disaster, the juggling act continues.

Holidays in a house of dissent

There’s nothing like Christmas to highlight religious differences in a family. On Christmas Eve, which already seems much longer ago than the crate of not-yet-stored decorations on my office floor suggests, my wife, sister and mother shuttled Tony and his cousins off to church. After they trekked off, my father, brother-in-law and I settled down to the serious business of discovering just how many obscure and unlikely cocktails could be mixed with the contents of my old man’s preposterously well-stocked liquor cabinet.

How many? Answer: Holy shit!

Which was about as holy as the male side of Christmas Eve ever became, in a continuation of a long family tradition. If the women in my family occasionally commune with the Spirits, the men prefer to commune with spirits — a pattern that was set before I was born.

My father these days is slippery in characterizing his religious views; a few years ago, he described himself to me as a “zen Judeo-Christian”at a time when he occasionally attended my mother’s church — mostly, so far as anybody could tell, in order to spar with the minister over politics. I say “minister” because my mother decided some years ago, despite all available evidence, that she is a WASP. The theological implications of this odd revelation she initially addressed by attending a Congregational church. Having since discovered that Congregationalism is something of a New England eccentricity, she now makes do in her mid-Atlantic digs with Episcopalianism. Come to think of it, Episcopalian churches are probably better venues for political debate than for religious discussion, so my father may have been on to something.

My old man has since abandoned his peculiar entertainment, and now confines himself to spiritual musings that, honestly, I find a little bizarre. But when I was a child, he called himself an atheist, and so I was raised in an environment in which maternal religion and paternal irreligion were given equal time, leaving me free to make my own choices.

I chose the path of irreligion, myself. Not the fervent anti-theism of Christopher Hitchens, mind you, who, despite the pleasure I take in reading his work, seemed to have carried over his old Leftist joy in absolutist factionalism to a fresh jihad (with a twist) against believers, but more of an unconvinced eye-roll against the world of commandments, clerics and invisible, all-powerful beings. My stance, I think, isn’t far from that of Epicurus, who essentially dismissed the existence or non-existence of gods and their alleged desires as irrelevant to the business of living.

My wife, on the other hand believes … in something. She was raised in a divided house, herself. Her father was Jewish, her mother also Episcopalian (an odd convergence in my life). She has variously identified with one side or the other — mostly depending on which of her now-divorced progenitors she got along with better at any given moment. Having come to a mid-life truce with them both, she currently professes to believe in a god (or God, if you prefer), without worrying whether he or she prefers bagels or martinis.

I want Tony to be raised knowing that there are a multitude of religious beliefs, including the divergent views of his parents. So he marched off to his first Christmas Eve service — first church service of any kind, really — with mom, knowing that dad chose to abstain. All for the best, it seems, since he ended up enjoying the music and the pageantry. He may end up being a believer, at least for a while, just for the theatrical aspect of it all.

Whatever our differences, we all agree that we like the smell of pine in the house, that we enjoy exchanging gifts, and that Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra still can’t be beat when it comes to Christmas carols.

There’s nothing like Christmas to highlight religious differences in a 

family. On Christmas Eve, which already seems much longer ago than the

crate of not-yet-stored decorations on my office floor suggests, my

wife, sister and mother shuttled Tony and his cousins off to church.

After they trekked off, my father, brother-in-law and I settled down

to the serious business of discovering just how many obscure and

unlikely cocktails could be mixed with the contents of my old man’s

preposterously well-stocked liquor cabinet.

Answer: Holy shit!

Which was about as holy as the male side of Christmas Eve ever became,

in a continuation of a long family tradition. If the women in my

family occasionally commune with the Spirits, the men prefer to

commune with spirits — a pattern that was set before I was born.

My father these days is slippery in characterizing his religious

views; a few years ago, he described himself to me as a “zen Judeo-

Christian”at a time when he occasionally attended my mother’s church

— mostly, so far as anybody could tell, in order to spar with the

minister over politics. I say “minister” because my mother decided

some years ago, despite all available evidence, that she is a WASP.

The theological implications of this odd revelation she initially

addressed by attending a Congregational church. Having since

discovered that Congregationalism is something of a New England

eccentricity, she now makes do with Episcopalianism. Come to think of it, Episcopalian churches are probably better venues for political debate than for religious discussion, so my father may have been on to something.

My old man has since abandoned his peculiar entertainment, and now

confines himself to spiritual musings that, honestly, I find a little

bizarre. But when I was a child, he called himself an atheist, and so

I was raised in an environment in which maternal religion and paternal irreligion were given equal time, leaving me free to make my own choices.

I chose the path of irreligion, myself. Not the anti-theism of Christopher Hitchens, mind you, who, despite the pleasure I take in reading his work, seemed to have carried over his old Leftist joy in absolutist factionalism to a fresh jihad (with a twist) against believers, but more of an unconvinced eye-roll against the world of commandments, clerics and

In which I embrace snobbery

I’ve admitted in the past that I’m a snob, and that only becomes more true the longer I’m a parent.

It wasn’t always so. Years ago, I had a girlfriend who, it turned out, bitterly resented what she described as my ability to walk into a room full of people and make an immediate social connection without regard to whether the place was teeming with bikers or opera buffs. I thought it was just because I enjoyed finding common ground with people who didn’t immediately repulse me; she thought it was reason to increase the frequency of her meetings with her shrink from one to two sessions per week.

Yeah. That relationship didn’t last.

But that was before I had a kid. The fact is, raising a little social sponge who is capable of aping the speech and behavior of everybody he meets makes me much more sensitive about what he soaks up. I may still enjoy tossing down a drink with pretty much anybody who has an interesting story to tell, but I’ve also become invested in somewhat tailoring my son’s environment in hopes of reinforcing behavior and values of which I approve, while discouraging those I disdain.

And, who knew? It turns out I disdain a lot!

This doesn’t mean I’m raising the kid in a Skinner box, even if caging the little beast is sometimes a nearly overwhelming temptation. But it does mean that I steer Tony away from people with bad manners, who clearly don’t value responsibility, education, work, hygiene, carrying their own weight … I encourage his interactions with kids who come from homes where reading, culture and a broad and tolerant view of the world are emphasized.

And when you’re a parent, your social world tends to be heavily influenced by that of your kid, and vice versa. You may not bond with all of the parents of your little beast’s herd-mates, but they do have a tendency to work their way into your life. And when you tailor your children’s interactions based on compatibility of culture and values, your own world starts getting more homogeneous. So that, one day, you look around your living room at at the people attending a pot luck, and you realize that, even though they don’t all look like you, they are like you in important ways.

Honestly … while I never thought I would become so selective and frankly snobbish in life, none of this bothers me half as much as I thought it would back when I was knocking down shots with those bikers.

The friendly skies

20110619-103237.jpg Whatever could delay a scheduled flight for over an hour? Could it be engine trouble? Or a sick pilot? Or perhaps . . . a broken latch on a seat-back tray?

Yes, really. On a US Air flight (really Mesa Air — flying commuter flights under the livery of other airlines and giving them a bad name for a bunch of years, now) out of Long Beach, Flight 2780, on June 11, returning to Arizona from a Disney/Lego vacation (to be covered in another post), the plane was actually delayed because a small plastic catch had broken, allowing the seat-back tray to flop into my wife’s lap.

My wife was quickly moved to another seat on the half-full plane, and we firmly expected that the flight attendant would quickly solve the problem with a strip of duct tape and let us get under way, but it was not to be.

The pilot explained to us over the PA that FAA regulations require broken seat-back trays to be repaired with very special, approved tape — tape that wasn’t to be found at hand. So the maintenance department was contacted — in Phoenix — and asked to call their guy on the ground right there in Long Beach (apparently, just waving the guy down from the window of the plane in the tiny airport is frowned upon). The arrival of the guy then had to be waited upon, and waited …

20110619-105402.jpg Finally, the guy showed up. He peeled off three or four squares of double-sided, clear tape, stuck the tray in place, and carefully affixed a . . . well, I think it was a Post-It note, warning of the temporary inconvenience.

Yeah, this really took over an hour of sitting on the tarmac, as we entertained ourselves passing camera-phones around so everybody could preserve the incident for posterity.

I’d like to add an extra thanks to the world’s laziest gate agent, who lost interest in re-booking passengers about to miss flights connecting with the small commuter plane about half-way down the aisle, so just left. That was a truly impressive display comparable to anything I’ve ever seen in a Department of Motor Vehicles.

Fortunately, my family had nothing to connect with but a car parked in an economy garage at Sky Harbor, but others weren’t so lucky.

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