Category Archives: Life in America

The Lost Ghost Ships of the Apollo Program

Apollo 11 on pad
Apollo 11 awaits launch. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Readers of my blog know that most of my posts are about ghost folklore of the American South. But since July 21st marks the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing in 1969, I decided to tell a different ghost story, one that will bring to light an often forgotten aspect of mankind’s journey to the Moon. It’s time to tell the story of the lost ghost ships of the Apollo Moon Program.

Where are they now?

Let’s start with the most interesting ghost ship of them all – the ascent stage of the Lunar Module for Apollo 10, nicknamed “Snoopy” by the astronauts that flew it very close to the surface of the Moon. Launched on May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the historic Apollo 11 mission and did everything Apollo 11 did with the exception of actually landing on the surface of the Moon.

To test the capabilities of the Lunar Module, astronauts piloted Snoopy towards the surface of the moon. They then jettisoned the lower half of the craft, known as the “descent stage”, before returning to the orbiting Command Module in upper portion, or “ascent stage”, of Snoopy. And just in case you’re wondering, the Command Module was nicknamed – you guessed it – Charlie Brown. The Apollo astronauts not only had guts, they also apparently had a sense of humor.

A lunar module ascent stage flying in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Shortly after separation, the descent stage of Snoopy crashed into the surface of the Moon. But NASA had a different fate planned for Snoopy’s ascent stage.

Once the astronauts docked with the Command Module for their return to Earth, the ascent stage of Snoopy was jettisoned into space into what is known as a “heliocentric orbit”, which means it was sent into orbit around the Sun. And there it remains to this day, an empty ghost ship floating aimlessly through the cold environs of space. Unlike all of the other Lunar Modules flown in space during the Apollo program, Snoopy remains the lone survivor.

The next most interesting ghost ship of the Apollo Moon Program is an asteroid named J002E3. Except it’s no ordinary asteroid. Discovered in 2002, it was first thought to be an asteroid until the reflected light from it was analyzed with a spectrometer by an amateur astronomer. The results showed wavelengths consistent with light reflected from black and white paint. There are no known natural asteroids sporting paint jobs of any color, but there was lots of black and white paint used on the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts into space.

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A Saturn V booster stage identical to the one used in Apollo 12. Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was later concluded that asteroid J002E3 was not a natural asteroid at all, but rather the booster stage from Apollo 12. NASA routinely crashed the booster stages from the other Apollo missions into the Moon to study the seismic readings on instruments left on the surface by the astronauts. But the Apollo 12 booster was not crashed into the Moon. Instead, it left the vicinity of the Earth in 1971 and returned in 2003 only to leave again. Best estimates show it making another pass at the Earth sometime around 2040.

A lonely Lunar Module descent stage on the Moon. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The rest of the ghost ships from the Apollo program are on the surface of the Moon. All six descent stages remain on the surface and have been photographed by a satellite orbiting the Moon known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

And last but not least are the Moonbuggies of the last three Apollo missions. They currently sit riderless on the surface of the moon frozen in time just as the astronauts left them in the early 1970’s.

The Lunar Rover from Apollo 17. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Perhaps if NASA ever figures out how to get back to the Moon, something that as of right now is sadly beyond its capabilities, they will include a set of jumper cables in the gear of the astronauts so they can take the Moonbuggies for another ride.

Live Long and Prosper

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Leonard Nimoy yesterday. Forever to be known as Mr. Spock, he was one of my biggest childhood heroes.

I didn’t start watching Star Trek until the mid-seventies, but that didn’t matter. Once I saw the first episode I was hooked for life. I’ve been a Trekkie ever since. Despite loving all of the characters in the show, my favorite character by far was Mr. Spock. As a wide-eyed twelve year old sitting in front of the TV, I had never seen anyone like him.

One of the best things about Star Trek was the interaction between Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy. McCoy loved to spar with Spock and try to rile him into showing his human side, but it was the “bromance” between Kirk and Spock that took center stage in the show.

My best friend and I were consumed by Star Trek and had a bromance of our own that mirrored Kirk and Spock’s. We greeted each other every day with Spock’s trademark split finger salute while deadpanning “live long and prosper”. Then we would rehash the previous night’s episode, discussing at length whether or not the Klingons would win the next battle and take over the universe, or if the Enterprise would make the mistake of crossing into the Romulan neutral zone never to be seen again.

I was a model builder back in those days and I built every single plastic Star Trek model available. Hanging from the ceiling in my room were models of the Enterprise, a Klingon battle cruiser, the shuttlecraft and a Romulan Bird of Prey. I even built models of Spock’s Phaser, Tricorder and Communicator. I carried the Communicator to school with me and on more than one occasion tried to raise the Enterprise on a hailing frequency from the boy’s room at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school in Daytona Beach. I never could get the Enterprise to answer and I always attributed this to the fact that the Romulans had to be jamming all the frequencies.

Courtesy of CBS

The best way to live long and prosper is to find out what you are good at, and then find out what you enjoy doing. If you’re blessed they will be the same thing. Leonard Nimoy was blessed in this way. He brought a character to life that has endured for generations, one whose face is instantly recognizable whether it be on Earth or Rigel VII. He gave young boys like my myself someone to look up to in an era where we were very short on heroes. He gave the smart kids a reason to be proud because as Mr. Spock he made being intelligent look very cool.

Mr. Spock was a hero to my generation. He was the ultimate bad-ass scientist. May his memory live long and prosper.

Tower Chicks

In a previous post I talked about America’s infatuation with cell phones. We have  become a nation of yappers and thumbers, and it’s time we pay tribute to the people that make it all possible for us to communicate with each other.

Just as most people nowadays have no idea what goes on under the hood of their car, they also have no idea how their cell phone works, or that there is a small, specialized group of people out there that risk their lives every day so that Americans can have cell service.

They are known as the Tower Chicks.

Got balls?

Even though they’re women, Tower Chicks have more balls than most latte-sipping, Prius-driving American men who ride down the Interstate every day thumbing their BFFs while steering their car with their knee. These men, as well as all cell phone users, have no idea that Tower Chicks are risking their lives every single day to make all that thumbing and yapping possible.

In a male-dominated field, these women climb cell phone towers every day to repair or replace the equipment located at the top of the towers. They climb towers everywhere in America, from the deserts of New Mexico to the frozen wastelands of Wisconsin, to the flatlands around Miami to the gloomy mountains of Seattle.

In the cities and out in the countryside, these women spend their days climbing sometimes as high as four hundred feet in the air with tools hanging from their work belts. They live in motels, eat gas station food, and then climb to their “office” at the top of a tower to begin their workday.

Note the bird’s nest in the background

Cell tower climbing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. It is not for the fainthearted, or for anyone, man or woman, who suffers from a lack of guts. These courageous climbers perform an essential task in our society and sometimes get hurt, or fall to their deaths while doing it.

So the next time you’re sitting in your pod at work surfing the Internet on your cell phone, or driving down the highway trying to check the stats on the game, think about the Tower Chicks that climb the towers to make it possible for you to have that privilege.

And when you drive past that 400 foot cell tower with the lights blinking on the top, tip your hat and toast your pumpkin latte’ to the Tower Chicks, and their male counterparts, that climb the towers all over America.

The world would be silent without them.

Rockin’ The Hilfiger

Paradise…

When I was a young I lived two blocks from the ocean in the heart of Daytona Beach, Florida. It was as close to paradise as a young boy could get without a girl being involved. But even though I spent my youth surfing, skateboarding and manning the jib sail of my neighbor’s 16 foot Hobie catamaran, none of it was enough to save me from the fate that awaited me when my wife and I took our teenage son to the mall to buy him some clothes for his upcoming senior year of high school.

It was on that day that I found out I was rockin’ the Hilfiger.

Anyone who has teenage children knows what a traumatic experience it is for them to be seen in public with their parents. We are just so uncool that it ruins their image to be seen with us. What they fail to realize is that we weren’t always so uncool.

So there I was standing in a clothing store at the mall, a surfing-themed clothing store if you can believe that, when a young salesperson walked up and spoke to me. His tone was one of unbridled amazement.

“Dude… I see you’re rockin’ the Hilfiger!” he said as he stared at my shirt, his eyes full of wonder.

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

“You’re rockin’ the Hilfiger,” he repeated. Then he reached up and touched the sleeve of my shirt like he thought it was made out of some sort of magic cloth.

“Nice shirt,” he said. “But we don’t sell anything like that in here. Can I help you with something else? Maybe something more stylish, like Neff or DC?” I could tell he was trying his best not to laugh.

“Neff? DC?” I said. “What?”

The kid just smiled and shook his head. In his eyes he knew I wasn’t nearly cool enough to understand his language, or to wear Neff or DC clothing. And like most kids his age, he was convinced that his generation had invented the surfing and skateboarding lifestyle. He had no idea that I am member of the Stacy Peralta generation, or that surfing legends Gerry Lopez and Tom Curren were my heroes when I was growing up in Daytona Beach. Well, them and Luke Skywalker but that’s another story.

So I decided to have a little fun and give the kid a run for his money.

Sex wax“No thanks on the Neff and DC,” I said. “But I’ll take a cake of coconut Sex Wax. And I could use another pair of Quicks and a new leash. I broke my last one riding the outside during a huge swell at Ponce.”

The kid looked at me dumbfounded. “What?”

“Sex Wax. I’m sure you guys sell it. I mean, I see surfboards hanging on the walls. Don’t tell me you don’t sell Sex Wax.”

“Sex what?” was all he could manage.

“Wax,” I said.

“Um, I don’t think we sell that,” said the poor kid. Then he turned and walked away, outwitted by a middle-aged father of two wearing a Hilfiger shirt.

There is only one thing better in the world… Photo by Stan Shebs

Even though I grew up at the beach and surfed almost every day of my life during my teenage years, had a year-round tan and a subscription to Surfer magazine, none of it was enough to save me from the passage of time.

I have long since hung up my Rip Curl wetsuits, sold my Logan Earth Ski skateboard and my Gordon and Smith thruster. And I haven’t sailed a reach on a catamaran in thirty five years.

The passage of time is a funny thing. Nothing stays the same. Wise adults know this. What the poor kid in the clothing store didn’t realize is that one day he will probably be standing in a mall with his son shopping for clothes. And he might even be wearing a Hilfiger shirt while he’s doing it.

And I can only hope that when that time comes he realizes there are worse things in life.

The Road to Hell is Lined with Mailboxes

Back in the late 1980’s I spent one long, hellish year as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. It was during that year that I learned the hard way that the road to Hell is lined with mailboxes.

I wasn’t the only carrier that hated my job. Sometimes a fellow carrier would call me on Sunday night and tell me that they were considering robbing a convenience store just so they could get thrown in jail. Anything was better than carrying the mail so I understood this logic. We were all kindred spirits and tortured souls.

Mailbox
Don’t let the flowers fool you. There’s a devil inside…

Monday was the worst day for us because it had the heaviest mail volume of the week. We hated Mondays, but to be honest, we pretty much hated every other day of the week as well.

Yes, carrying the mail was a horrible job but there was one thing about it that made it interesting – I knew everything about the peeps out on my route. And I do mean everything. The FBI and the NSA might be spying on us, but they don’t know half of what your mail carrier knows.

When you carry someone’s mail you learn everything about them, like for instance what kind of marital problems they are having. I always knew who on my route was getting divorced. The first tip-off was the forward order for the husband. His mail would stop coming and then after a few weeks a new guy’s mail would start to show up. Yep, poor old Joe moved out and Raul moved in. And I knew Raul was doing more than just taking care of the lawn.

The squabbles between the married couples were always the most entertaining and also, sadly, the most viscous. One poor guy flagged me down while standing at the end of his driveway one afternoon because he wanted to explain why he had padlocked the door of his mailbox, and to also tell me why he had cut a slit in the door with a pair of tin snips. When I asked him why, he said that his soon to be ex-wife was coming by in the afternoons and stealing his mail before he got home from work. He cautioned me to be careful sticking the mail through the slit because he had purposely cut the edges jagged to deter anyone from sticking their fingers into the slot. He said this with a devious grin on his face.

And I also knew which husbands weren’t taking care of business. I knew this because I would deliver long, slender packages about the size of a flashlight to their house. Those packages didn’t contain flashlights, and they weren’t nearly as discreet as the wives thought they were. I knew what was in them.

I knew where the alcoholics lived, I knew when the DMV revoked someone’s driver’s license, and I knew who bought sexy lingerie for their wives because I would deliver their Victoria’s Secret credit card bill. I knew whose kids got into college and which ones had to move back home to the basement after they graduated.

I knew where the golfers, woodworkers, guitar players, fishermen and hot-rod car aficionados lived. You can tell everything about someone by the magazines they subscribe to.

I also knew where the porn addicts lived, and what kind of porn they liked. Most guys went for Playboy, because, you know, the articles are good. But some went for Penthouse, and occasionally I would deliver a Swank, Hustler or maybe even a High Society. In those days porn magazines came in brown wrappers which enabled me to sneak a peek before I put the magazine into the mailbox. This was one of the few perks that came with the job of carrying the mail. Come to think of it, it was the only perk.

I delivered red and green holiday greeting cards until I started to hate Christmas. Santa Claus had nothing on me when it came to delivering packages. Then after Christmas it was time to start with the Easter cards and the IRS tax forms. If there is one person that hates April 15th more than any other American, it’s a mail carrier.

I delivered Social Security checks until I started to loathe old people. Back then most of those checks weren’t direct deposited and they had to be delivered. And we had to make sure we didn’t put the check in the mailbox before the date showing through the little window of the envelope. To do so was a surefire way to bring on an ass chewing by the postmaster at the station.

I delivered so many certified letters from lawyers that I started to hate lawyers. You’d be surprised how many people are being sued every day.

I delivered registered mail and Express mail that I could not let out of my sight until it was delivered and signed for. That meant I had to take it with me if I went to the bathroom.

And then came the most pleasant part of the job – the interactions with the customers. Yes, the sweet, polite customers that thought that carrying mail was just a cushy government job with great pay and benefits. All they saw was me glide by in my mail truck, stop at their box and deposit a handful of mail. I’m sure it looked easy to them. What they didn’t see were the other four hundred boxes that I had to stop at, along with another three hundred boxes at the two apartment complexes on my route. And they didn’t know that I had thousands of letters waiting to be sorted when I got back to the station.

These people figured that since my job was so easy that I surely wouldn’t mind doing extra things for them. After all, they were “paying my salary” as they often reminded me.

For example, sometimes they would tape a few coins to their outgoing envelope where the stamp was supposed to be and then leave it in their mailbox and expect me to replace the coins with a stamp. That’s still funny when I think about. I repaid these people by “accidentally” delivering their mortgage bill to their neighbor’s mailbox.

My favorite customers were the ones that would stand by their mailboxes and try to get me to hand their mail to them instead of placing it in their box. It was against postal regulations at the time to put the mail anywhere but in the mailbox. You should have seen how bad this pissed people off. They would call and complain to my supervisor who always took my side because she knew I was following regulations. I would repay these people by delivering their electric bill to a house three streets away from theirs.

Some people would try to be nice and leave me a piece of fruitcake in their mailbox wrapped in tin foil. This always happened around Christmas when, like I said before, I was already in a foul mood from delivering red and green envelopes. But the rum in the fruitcake did tend to take the edge off of carrying the mail.

I also loved the customers that used the flag on their mailbox as a way to signal whether or not the mail had been delivered. They would leave the flag up when they came out to get their mail knowing that I would put it down the next day when I arrived with that day’s mail. All they had to do was look out of their window and if the flag was still up they knew the mail had not been delivered. Once I caught on I stopped putting their flag down. You’d be surprised at how many of these people called my station to complain. I rewarded them by delivering their credit card statement to their neighbor’s mailbox.

By far the angriest people were the ones that left their trash cans in front of their mailbox, thus blocking my access. I was not required to get out of my vehicle and if I couldn’t reach a mailbox because it was blocked by trash cans, or a parked car, then per regulations I was allowed to just pass right on by and take that box’s mail back to the station. Man did this piss people off, especially if they saw me drive by without stopping. And you guessed it, they would call and complain and I would reward them by delivering their cable bill to a house with the same street number but in the neighborhood next to theirs.

Sometimes I was able to have a laugh or two while out on my route. It was the only way I could hold onto my sanity. I was a rural mail carrier so I didn’t get an official postal Jeep with a steering wheel on the right-hand side. As rural mail carriers we had to use our own vehicles and those vehicles had to have automatic transmissions. I would sit in the passenger’s seat with a lap full of mail and steer with my left arm while using my left leg to press the gas and the brake pedals. All rural carriers did this unless they bought their own surplus mail Jeep. Often I would sit at stoplights and watch how people reacted when they saw that the driver’s seat of my small pickup truck was empty. I didn’t have any signs on my truck that said U.S. Postal Service so they didn’t know I was delivering the mail. I’d sit there acting like I was having a conversation with a person sitting in the driver’s seat that only I could see. Then I’d tap the gas and move the truck forward a foot or two and continue on with my conversation with this imaginary person while waiting for the light to turn green. Sometimes I would point my finger at the invisible driver and then get animated like I was arguing with them. People in the cars around me would go bananas thinking that I was in a driverless truck having a conversation with a ghost. Then the light would turn green and I would drive off. The looks on their faces were priceless.

It took me about a year before I figured out that life was too short to spend it hating every single minute of every single day. That’s the life of a mail carrier. At least it was back in the 1980’s when the mail volume was very heavy and there was no such thing as email. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was when the porn magazines suddenly started coming in plastic envelopes. Gone were the brown paper wrappers, and with them the only perk that made carrying the mail even remotely tolerable.

Once I couldn’t get a free peek at the latest issue of Swank magazine, I knew it was time to turn in my notice and move on. On the day I quit, my supervisor congratulated me and told me she was happy that I was escaping while I still could. She said it was too late for her, but that she had never understood why a young guy like me wanted to carry the mail.

She knew, just as I did, that the road to Hell is lined with mailboxes.

The Shooter Girl and Life in the Eighties

We had it all in the 1980’s. Front-snap bras, Shooter Girls and cassette hiss. Life was sweet. Or as we liked to say, life was bitchin’.

Any guy that came of age in the Eighties knows all about those heavenly front-snap bras that were so popular with young girls back then. All it took was one little pinch of the snap using a thumb and two fingers and the next thing you knew, just like Meatloaf said, you had paradise by the dashboard light.

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Paradise by the dashboard light

And to go along with the front-snap bra we had acid-washed jeans. The sight of a girl in a pair of those jeans, with the rips and tears all over them, was the stuff of dreams for guys in the Eighties. Combine those jeans with a soft fuzzy sweater hiding a front-snap bra, a dash of Loves Baby Soft perfume and you had the recipe for heaven on Earth.

Not only did we love our women, we loved our music. That was the other great thing about the Eighties – the music. We played it everywhere we went using a thing called a Walkman. Those little handheld cassette players were a godsend to us and to the companies that sold AA batteries.

The cassette was king in the Eighties. Everyone had a cassette deck in their car and a Walkman in their hand. My old Pioneer cassette deck saw its share of paradise illuminated by the soft glow of the dashboard lights and I went through probably three or four Walkmans before the decade came to an end. I miss those Walkmans and the cassette hiss. So what if they couldn’t hold 500 songs.

No matter what kind of music you loved there was something for you in the Eighties. The decade was a melting pot of musical styles. Everyone was having a good time and it showed in the music. We had everything from Springsteen to Prince, Madonna to Metallica and The Thompson Twins to Twisted Sister. The variety of musical talent in the Eighties was nothing short of astounding.

And we had our own alcoholic drink called the wine cooler. I’ve downed my share of orange California Coolers and the thing I remember most about them was that they tasted as good on the way down as they did on the way up.

But by far the best drink in the Eighties was the Kamikaze because it was delivered by the Shooter Girl. Every bar had a Shooter Girl dressed up to look like a hot cowgirl. Instead of a gun belt the Shooter Girl wore a belt holding little plastic cups. In place of a gun she had a bottle of premixed Kamikazes in a holster and for the bargain price of a buck she would pour you one right on the spot. Now I ask you, what could be better?

We went crazy playing Pac-Man and trying to solve Rubik’s Cube, and we all tried to figure out which kid we best identified with in the movie The Breakfast Club. Guys wore Mullets, girls wore shoulder pads and everyone was divided into two groups – those who liked Betamax and those who liked VHS. It’s still a sore subject with some of us so just I’ll leave it at that.

I guess the main thing about the Eighties was that we were all just very happy. That was the underlying thread. There’s no other way to explain it. Detractors call it the “decade of excess”. Well, okay. There was an excess of happiness. We could use a little of that nowadays but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

The Eighties are long gone and I’m not sure where we go from here. There’s no cassette hiss, most bras snap in the back and today’s music is delivered to us prepackaged straight from American Idol and iTunes. The Shooter Girls have long since hung up their belts.

And nowadays if someone wants to see paradise by the dashboard light all they have to do is go online and download it.

Where’s the fun in that?

The Garter Belt

Let me clear something up right now for the men out there that still don’t get it. Victoria’s Secret is the greatest store in the entire world. One of the items they sell makes the world turn on its axis.

And what item is that, you ask? The answer is simple – the garter belt.

Garter belt

The garter belt is the greatest invention in the history of the world. Wars have been fought over less important things. If it weren’t for women, and more specifically women in garter belts, we’d all still be living in caves and cooking food over an open fire. The garter belt is the crowning achievement of the civilized world. That simple little lace belt is what makes the world turn on its axis.

Last week I was sitting in my office listening to my fellow coworkers lament about how they had no idea what to buy their wives for Valentine’s Day. Roses and candy were all they could think of. How original. Apparently they needed a little help so I offered a suggestion.

“Victoria’s Secret,” was all I said. But they all just looked at me like I had snakes coming out of my ears.

“Uh, yeah… I’m not going in there,” replied one of my male coworkers.

“Not gonna happen,” replied another. “My wife buys her stuff at some department store and only when it’s on sale.”

On sale?

Bargain basement bloomers do not make the world turn. The garter belt does, and more specifically, the fancy garter belts sold at Victoria’s Secret. I could care less if they’re on sale or not.

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So the next day I hit my local Victoria’s Secret on my way home from work. Sure, I could have used the website but I would much rather be in the store.  I was kneeling down next to a drawer full of lace garter belts and rummaging through them while trying to match one to a pair of panties and bra that I had already picked out when I noticed a woman standing close by. She was watching me intently while holding her hand over her mouth.

“I wish I could get my husband to come in here and pick out something for me,” she said as she lowered her hand and frowned.

Just then a young girl who worked in the store walked up carrying an armload of colorful bras. Given her age and body weight she could have easily modeled any of the lingerie in the store, including some of the more slinky stuff. She overheard what the woman said to me.

“I hear ya,” she replied as she began to sort the bras into their respective size drawers. “I get a hefty employee discount and I can’t get my boyfriend to step foot in this store. He’d just as soon die as come in here and pick out lingerie for me, especially one of those garter belts.”

Say what?

The problem in America today is that men have forgotten what makes the world turn. Trust me, it’s not golf, watching football or playing poker with your old college buddies. It’s not climbing the corporate ladder, 80-hour workweeks or getting an office with your name on the door. And it’s not sitting in a tree stand waiting on a deer to walk by. All of that crap pales in comparison to the heavenly sight of a woman in a garter belt.

Garter belt photo

I have traveled the world as a U.S. Marine and believe me when I tell you that if there was anything out there better than a woman wearing a garter belt I’d have found it.

So put up the golf clubs, turn off the damn football game, pull your head out of your ass and drive down to your local Victoria’s Secret and get busy shopping. You will soon learn why it’s the greatest store on the planet. And if you need a quick class on buying lingerie before you go, you can find it here courtesy of GQ.

Your woman will appreciate your effort, and will waste no time showing you just exactly what makes the world turn.