Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summer Camp Stories 2016 - Operation Dark Waters Part 2

While the little Goofs are away at camp, I write them stories. Last year I traveled to Japan to save the world by eating sushi. This year, the nautical theme continues, but is way, way different. Part 1 is here.

USGC Polar Night

Operation Dark Waters 

Dear Kids, 

Sorry I haven't written to you. I've been so busy up here. 

Now that I'm fully briefed, I've been reading up on all the different phenomenon up here in the Arctic. There is stuff that goes back centuries. Eskimo lore is in the database. We've been doing all kinds of analytics on the monsters and I made a discovery.

There was a distinct change in the sea monster behavior about fifty years ago. They began acting with coordination, like a network. Then about 25 years ago they began acting against human operations in a coordinated way. They'd always attacked people, but in the early 1990s they began to consistently attack ships and stations that were important strategically. To me that means they have some access to information about the human world. Where are they getting it? 

That, in my mind is the critical question. If we find it, we can cut it off or feed them false information - or maybe even negotiate. 

I'm presenting this to the Captain soon. Don't know if she'll like it - she thinks I'm a doofus.

Another amazing thing, they have deep-sea Arctic divers. They take some pills and they can swim underwater indefinitely and see! Anyone can do it! I took it (I kept calling ti Gillyweed which annoyed the Captain). I haven't been in the ocean yet, but I've been swimming around the giant tank. 

One last thing, because of operational security, not even mommy knows I'm here. They made a clone of me to stay at home! They'll download the clones memories into mine when I get home. 

Diver Dad


July 8, 2016

Undisclosed Location North of the Arctic Circle

USGC Polar Night

Dear Kids,

My presentation to Captain Mastronati went well. She didn't say anything complimentary. But when I finished, she nodded and said, "OK."

High praise from her! The way you break up a terrorist group is to infiltrate it, get someone inside who can tell you what they are up to. My idea is to do the same thing with the sea monsters.

We are pretty sure the sea monster we just captured is pretty intelligent. We gave it different objects and the way it manipulated them was systematic and analytical. It also tried to use them to break out of the holding tank and escape. Given some tires and chains it fashioned a tool to smash out of its tank. The tank was too strong (we aren't dumb) but clearly this thing can think.

We've named it Artie, the Arctic Monster although we have no idea if it is male or female.

We've developed a plan to communicate with it and I am part of the team. We have several different strategies. We know it can see and hear. It communicates at low frequencies, we have a modulator that allows us to pick up its sounds and move our sounds to a frequency it can understand. It can hear sounds at our hearing range but probably wouldn't understand them as communication.

I’ve been playing a lead role in this: going into the tank and trying to communicate with Artie. I seem to be a natural. We played catch and fetch. It threw a tire with its weird T-Rex hands and I’d go get it. I “talk” to it with the modulator device. One time though it grabbed me and held me. I waited to see what it would do. It didn’t try to eat me. I think it was going to hold me hostage in order to be released. I know this thing is smart. But I set the modulator on stun and pulsed it. It let me go, but I’ve been more careful since.

I’m really getting somewhere with this and can stay in the tank for over an hour.

Deep Dark Dad

Sunday, July 10, 2016

SummerCamp Stories 2016 - Dark Waters Part 1

While the little Goofs are away at camp, I write them stories. Last year I traveled to Japan to save the world by eating sushi. This year, the nautical theme continues, but is way, way different.

June 30, 2016

Undisclosed Location North of the Arctic Circle

USCGC Polar Night

I could not tell you this before, but the clearance process means everything reaches you about a week after it happens, so there is no danger of releasing classified operational information.

I have been seconded to a top secret Coast Guard Icebreaker, the Polar Night. This ship is unlisted in the official records, so you can’t see it on the web. It isn’t like the other Coast Guard Icebreakers. This ship is designed to go deep into the Arctic for months at a time. It is actually a combination icebreaker/submarine.

It has on board laboratories for biology, physics, chemistry, you name it! The ship has its own super-computing facilities and can do a full on genome in house.

I don’t know much about why they want me here or what I am supposed to do. We’ve only been at sea for a day. I got here on an emergency jet to Barrow, Alaska. I got on bored the ship and immediately it submerged and headed for the North Pole. I haven’t even had ships orientation.

But here’s the craziest thing about this ship. In the middle, almost as though the ship is built around it, is an enormous water tank – bigger than an Olympic Pool! I asked about doing laps in it, but they said no, they had to keep it at Arctic temperatures. That doesn’t sound right, because I’ve seen people – not in wetsuits – swimming in it (they also didn’t have scuba gear and were really deep in this tank.)

The food is pretty good, but not much variety. Fish-sticks, fish-sticks, fish-sticks.


July 2, 2016

Undisclosed Location North of the Arctic Circle

USCGC Polar Night

This morning (well you don’t really know if it is morning, we are deep under-water and when we surface, it’s Arctic summer so the sun is up constantly, so day and night have no real meaning), the ship sirens woke me. The intercom blared, “Report to battle stations.”

I threw on my clothes and reported to the bridge. I didn’t know what the Captain wanted me to do, but she told that was my battle station.

“Mr. Starrs,” Captain Mastronati ordered, “Best estimates, how big is our encounter and what is it.”

“Predictive engine says a SeaSlug, about 20 tons. Confidence is on 45%,” the data tech answered.

“SeaSlug…” I muttered, “Is that a new kind of Russian mini-sub, I’ve never heard of it.”

Mr. Lopez (who was actually a woman I’d had lunch with – fish-sticks) whispered, “This is not a Russian sub. You’ll see. I’ll answer any questions.”

The Captain ordered the tech crew, “Get us in closer and get it up on SonScape.”

I heard the distant hum of the ships engines get a little louder, still quiet considering the size. A giant hologram appeared in the middle of the bridge.

“That’s SonScape, it’s an in-depth visualization of the space around the ship using sonar,” Lopez whispered.

Something moved through the corner of the hologram, just crossing the corner – fast.

“That is NOT a SeaSlug! Way to fast.” Mr. Starr exclaimed.

“Mr. Trang, I would like to try our new pulse lance. Do you think you can hit this thing?”

“Yes sir!” Trang said with a grin.

Then things were silent. We waited. The blip flitted across the corner of the hologram a few more times. Then it was solidly inside the hologram, swimming around. A weird conic blur went through the hologram towards the “thing” and it stopped moving.

“Nice shot!” someone exclaimed.

“Move in closer for pick-up. Divers ready at 50 meters,” the Captain ordered.

A few minutes later the “thing” on the hologram was close.”

“Let’s show Mr. Mannes what we’ve found. Visual!”

“Dr. Mannes,” I muttered, but stopped talking suddenly. The hologram shifted to a giant projection. Nest to the ship was an enormous sea creature. It didn’t look like a fish, more reptilian, like a giant lizard with bumpy skin and huge eyes. Except it had four little T-Rex arms near its mouth.

“A little one. Only 20 tons,” Lopez whispered. “About the size of a blue whale.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Campaign Season for GoofBoy

GoofBoy is running to be president of his USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter and I had some helpful advice for him.

I don't know much about youth groups. I didn't belong to one when I was a teenager because I didn't like the other youth much (the feeling was mutual). But I do know a bit about politics. GoofBoy was running against his best friend, CarpoolBuddy. Since I've known this kid since he was born, I thought I might be able to identify some critical weaknesses. So I wrote him a campaign strategy memo.


Overall Campaign Theme: Promise to make USY great again. Emphasize that the leadership is stupid but that you are smart. Don't offer any specifics beyond that except that it's gonna be huuuuge!

Attack Strategies:

1. Insiders: CarpoolBuddy's parents met at USY, he was practically born into it. He is a USY insider, part of the USY elite. You are an outsider who isn't beholden to the big USY power brokers and can make big changes,

2. Cruz him! CarpoolBuddy's father is Canadian (a fact that plays a larger role in my life than his). Raise questions about his eligibility for the highest office. It doesn't matter if the charge is legitimate or not, it will raise questions and he'll spend so much energy defending himself that it will distract his campaign.

Dirty Tricks:

Try to get inside his camp for intelligence. Get CarpoolGal to hack into her brother's laptop and leak his  speech to you. Also lets find out what his delegate strategy is!


GoofBoy, of course, rejected my suggestions and said if he lost he could just be Vice President and get his term as President next year. Of course if GoofBoy is Vice President then I am full of suggestions!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kids (of all ages) Love Trucks!

Kids love trucks. They are big, they are loud are powerful. Trucks do stuff. They pick up garbage, lift people up high to fix things, and sometimes have sirens. Some are so big they can carry cars. Kids are small and often want to do these things but are not allowed. Kids love trucks. 
The daycare at my synagogue (where I sent the little Goofs back in the day) sponsors an annual day of Truck Touch! The parking is filled with trucks, and there is food, and activities. It is like a Richard Scarry book come to life.

Naturally I volunteered to help. I proposed that I drive the dump truck. We would have a fire truck spray water and make a big mud puddle. Then I'd get all the kids in the back of the dump truck, drive them around, and dump them into the mud. Then we'd use the fire hoses to clean them up. Best of all, if any kids got hurt (unlikely, I know all about dump trucks, I've had a Tonka truck for over 40 years) there's an ambulance right there.

I kept pestering the nice young woman who organizes the event about this idea. (She already has two pre-school boys to wrangle, I really should leave her be - but occasionally I have to give MamaGoof a break from my madness.)

The little Goofs sent her emails:
Thanks so much for letting my dad drive the dump truck. He's so excited, it's all he's been talking about all week. He's been running around the house singing the dump truck song.
My proposal was not accepted, I was put on ticket sales (which I did diligently!) And about a million kids came and they all had a great time!

Zoom in to see the big grin on my face!
However, I did take some time off from my arduous back-breaking labor to SEE THE TRUCKS! I did (sort of) drive the trash truck. More importantly when one of the little boys I mentioned was disconsolate because he wasn't getting his turn at the wheel, I caught his eye and asked if he wanted to drive the coolest truck in the world. He nodded sadly - not believing in much of anything after being denied time in the drivers seat of a Ford F-150. I propped him up on my shoulders and let him grab my hair and drive. Not easy since I don't have much hair left. (GoofGirl pulled it all out sitting on my shoulders.)

Don't drive the truck! Be the truck!
So I didn't get to drive a truck, but really I did one better. I got to be a truck. And really, on some level, that's what every kid wants.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Missing Mama

At my mother-in-law's funeral I met one of my wife's cousins. He was a very nice man and he kept in touch with his beloved aunt. When we met he knew all about me. 

"I heard you wrote a book. Mama Lupe told me all about it." They called her Mama Lupe because, as the eldest daughter in an enormous family, a great deal of mothering was delegated to her.

My background was so very, very different from my mother-in-law. I had very little idea what, if anything, she understood about what I do. (It was not always clear to me that my own parents understood much about what I do either.) But apparently she got a lot more than I realized, and she was very proud.

After Mama died, my wife found a shopping bag candy in her room, and candies in her mother's handbag and the pockets of her clothes. My mother-in-law really should not have been eating bags of candy. Mama's sweet tooth was a well-established fact. When my wife mentioned this to her sister who lived closer by, her sister explained that Mama wasn't eating the candy herself. She was handing it out when she went shopping.

Once, my sister-in-law reported, they were on a shopping trip together and Mama had been giving candy to all of the greeters and stock clerks and cashiers. As she was leaving a store, one worker jokingly called out, "What, no candy for me?"

Mama was not moving so easily. But she bustled back to make sure the store clerk got his dose of sweetness.

My mother-in-law was a force of nature. And if she had your back, she had your back.

The first time I visited my wife's parents in LA, Mama went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. This was a great honor; most of the cooking was done by Nana at this point. But for the great guest (me) all the stops were pulled out. Then I heard the banging. The future MamaGoof (FMG) explained to me, "She is tenderizing the meat with a hammer. It's gonna be good!"

And so it was.

But I also got the message. Be good to this woman and her family, because she knows how to use a hammer.

We'd actually met some time before, at the FMG's PhD graduation. It happened to be the day of death for Rebbe MenachemSchneerson, who some believed was the Messiah of the Jewish people (there's a whole, whole lot of theology tied up in here.) Mama who monitored world affairs from her couch knew everything going on the world and knowing I was Jewish informed me, "Your Messiah died."

"I'd better get my instructions!" I joked and started to get up from the breakfast table.

She laughed, I'd passed a test. She was a devout Catholic herself, but more than willing to be tolerant. But she was testing my character a little – fortunately I passed.

Mama was born in Guadalajara, one of 15, where her father was the foreman on a ranch. At a young age she was married off to an older man who wanted her to clean his hotel. She fled, made her way north and worked in the fields of central California for a few years. (This was the 1950s, immigration wasn’t an issue). It was a hard life. She worked as a housekeeper and as a seamstress. At the factory she became friends with a woman who had a brother.

Together they had four children and she managed the house, pinching pennies so they could all go to Catholic school (instead of LA public schools) where they all excelled (2 MDs, a PhD, and a dental hygienist – the American dream!) She was smart with her money, but also generous.

She loved being a grandmother. I mentioned how Mama cooked for me, but los ninos could have anything their little hearts desired – cookies, candy, fries (she hadn't cooked since the steaks I mentioned above).

Her husband and sister-in-law (Nana lived with them and they were like sisters) had difficult declining years. I’ve written about it before, and I am sad just thinking about it. But, after Nana left us and Papa was placed in a home where he got the care he needed, Mama seemed relaxed. We figured she was good for another decade of telenovelas and visits.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. My wife misses her Mama, the little Goofs miss their Abuelita, and I miss her too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Typical Tubey Day

Today was a great snapshot into life with me.

I woke up tired and grumpy. I headed downstairs to zap a piece of quiche for breakfast. Then my day got much, much better. There was only a little bit of wax paper (to cover the quiche) left on the roll. That left me a cardboard tube - a new toy.

When I finished my quiche I used the tube as a trumpet and "played" a bit of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Then I went upstairs waving the tube excitedly. MamaGoof saw me and said, "Oh, the wax paper roll. I heard you and was wondering where you got a cardboard tube. I knew it wasn't from a toilet paper roll."

"It's TUBEY! My new friend!" I announced.

"Your son isn't getting up. Go get him out of bed." MamaGoof has mastered the art of redirection, it's a survival skill.

I burst into GoofBoy's room, took the cardboard tube and played Reveille. Then I jumped on his bed and bonked him on the head.

"Why Dad? Why?"

"It's TUBEY!" I yelled, "Anyway, get up, you have a field trip today and then a week and a half home from school."

GoofBoy's field trip took him downtown. I knew he'd be having lunch at a park just a block and a half from my office. I had planned to surprise him.

But now, I could bonk him on the head with a cardboard tube!

In front of his friends!

Oh happy day!

Several hours later...
Walking to my office from a meeting I ran into GoofBoy and his class on the street. Unplanned. They were surprised. I walked with them to the park and asked about their trip.

A work colleague came by with his puppy (he lives near by and walks his dog over lunch - lucky!) With GoofBoy and his friends distracted by the dog, I got TUBEY out of my bag and bonked GoofBoy on the head a few times.

"Really Dad, have you been planning this all day? Don't you ever have work to do?"

"Yes and sometimes."

"Can you hit my friends on the head?"


And I did! Each and every one of them.


This was not a particularly unusual day for me.

Update: GoofGirl was apprised of the plan that morning. But she did not tell her brother (which I assumed she would). So he really was surprised to see me downtown.

Good OPSEC GoofGirl!