Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Urban Assault Scooters

The latest in urban assault vehicles. The Cannon mounted Vespa Scooter! Fight hippies and zombies, fully mobile and legal in all 50 states ! (come on Miles, I know you want one).
I'm sorry to say after attempting to read the information on this, in French, it's not an urban assault vehicle, but an idea of the French Military, the ACMA Troupes Aeról Portées Mle. 56. This was essentially a militarized Vespa scooter outfitted with a 75mm recoilless rifle. The rifle could be fired effectively on the move by the better gun crews, but it's probably easy to sight in and aim when your target is bent over laughing. Used by the French Airborne in my parents generation,, they were often dropped out of airplanes with parachutes, which, no matter how I think of it, reminds me of a Monty Python skit. Or other somewhat humorous weapons.

Such as the potato gun. Did you ever build one? We certainly built one or two in our adolescence. Some PVC pipe, a BBQ lighter, some of Mom's Aqua Net hairspray (which could actually be used on hair if you like hair that will withstand a hurricane or a volley of .45 shells) Some are simple, not much more than said pipe and some propellant. Others, quite sophisticated.

Big or small, all spud guns propel projectiles down their barrels using pressurised gas in the same manner as a gun (although at a much lower pressure). The way the basic, non military, civilian spud gun does this is By the combustion of a gaseous fuel-air mixture; this is generally called a combustion launcher, and its pressure is limited primarily by the energy density of the fuel-air mixture (less than 100 psi (7 bar) with all safe fuels). Pretty simple really.

The last one I built. Well, we quickly got bored lobbing taters over the trees so I got the bright idea to launch someones Barbi, ala, the Flying Wallendas. It was a good idea, in theory. Barbie wearing her best spangled bathing suit,was ready to fly. Except somewhere in the launch Barbi. . . . well, Barbie lost her head. And a small female member of the family was NOT happy about it, and snitched us out. Barbi was retired to the Barbie Dream House on full disability, living with a Ken doll the dog had gotten a hold of and gnawed a little, watching TV, and voting Democratic so she'd had that steady supply of stimulus checks. I, however, was grounded for a week.

It was almost worth it.
But today I have real guns, and I've learned a lot about shooting safety from my shooting instructors and regular shooting practice with some folks that know more than I ever will. But that still leaves that age old question. What to do with the potatoes?

How about a nice bowl of Yukon Golds mashed with a hint of bacon and garlic served along some some barbecue ribs (directions in comments).
click to enlarge, if you dare.
Forget the zombies - you might need a weapon to fend off your hungry friends.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Barkley

Forget the candles, I want something that goes "Boom!"

It's Barkley's 7th birthday tomorrow, exactly one month before mine (and if you're curious, in dog years, I'm dead). I think back to one hot day, when he was about seven weeks old and . . .

A small farm in Ohio.

I can't believe he was ever that small. His Mom's owner took me to him and a huge cluster of little black dogs, rounding the corner to greet me and a friends daughter who went with me.

I really didn't need a dog, but I was at a spot in my career where I would be home for a few months without break to train him. Barkley's sire was a National Grand Field Champion and when a coworker got one of the dog's offspring a previous litter, a great little dog, I knew I wanted one of my own. When it came time to select one from the next litter, there were 8 of them, all cute, all cuddly. How to pick? Some of them came frolicking over to me, mindlessly entertained by the smell of new shoes. Barkley just sat and looked at me, as intent as I've seen in a puppy. It was a look of hesitation, not through fear, not physically but in his little doggy spirit, that profoundly sober alertness you see in someone of quiet intelligence as they size you up.

After assessing me carefully he came over and sniffed my hand, then sat at my feet, ignoring the other people there with me, snuffling at my shoelace, while the other pups, losing interest, went off to eat a bug or something. Barkley didn't leave me the rest of the time I was there. Where I went he went. And simply sat and looked at me with satisfaction.

I told myself I wasn't going to get another dog, not going to lose my heart again. Their lifespan is too short, and my heart still ached from losing my last old dog, too soon after another death in the family, the soft release of his spirit in his last breathe against my hand as the doctor slipped the needle into his furry body.

That day, the pups too young to be separated from their Mom, I raced that 50 miles back home down country roads in an old BMW, my heart joyful for the first time in years. In a couple of more weeks I was able to fetch him, and that night as I slept, a little black lab puppy lay on my chest, soothed by the sound of my heart, still reluctant to get far from me.

I've owned several dogs in my life. All large hunting/retriever dogs or huskies. Barkley was my first dog after several years without one, living in a small citified condo while I saved for a large place of my own.
He faithfully waits for me each day that I'm out working. When I'm gone for lengthy periods, one of my two good friends either stays with him or has him over on a sleep over. All are his "pack", be they blond, brunette or redhead, male or female. When I come back, he's either out in the yard playing with kids and dogs, or sitting right by my window, alerted to the sound of the big black 4 x 4 coming up the drive.

He's pretty patient. I don't usually take him out to play as soon as I get home, needing time to unwind myself, especially if it's been a long day or one that's high stress. He'll just sit and look at me and wait, knowing that like the regular phases of the moon, I will soon put a Bass Ale or a Guinness in the fridge to cool for later or brew some tea if I'm on call. Then it's time for running with him around out back and throwing his two favorite toys, a plush bone on a string that I can throw far, or any kind of ball that he can haul around in his mouth.
Yes, as many people might say, he's just a dog. He'll never win any awards as a rocket scientist. He still sits patiently by the spot next to the counter where once a roast chicken fell on the floor, as if there's a secret poultry shrine there and if he waits long enough, another will reappear on its alter. He'll sniff anything he comes across, chase the same ball for an hour, convinced he's on some major breakthrough in retrieval tactics. And he's consumed an entire pizza, a sock, a plastic sandwich bag, a jalapeno pepper and a dead worm, all with the same gusto.

But our pets are family to many of us, and are much more than animals. They teach us about unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. They teach us to appreciate the simple things, the glint of sun off a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As Barkley goes into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard, I think how he has also pointed me to the things that matter in life. Loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.

He's seen me through good times and bad, as I him. Once while I was away, he badly injured a leg. No one is sure what happened, one minute he was playing in the back yard, jumping high for a toy and the next he was hobbling with pain. My friends were beyond concerned and hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, he'd quit eating, then drinking and my concern turned to panic. I called Tam and she came over, helping me make a little stretcher out of a rug to get him into the truck and off to the doggie hospital in the city for x-rays. It was a soft tissue injury and they kept him overnight for some hydration, some pain relief, and anti-inflammatories and he was better. But I was like a parent there, in the waiting room, the male vet tech trying to sooth me as I fought tears. He said "are you by yourself" and I sniffed," no a friend is with me" He said, I'll go find them, what do they look like "I said, look for the 6 foot, beautiful blond in the Blackwater hat pacing the lobby looking worried."

We brought him home and he was fine in a few days, but in that moment I got a portent of what it will be like to lose him someday, as I know I will. For now, he's here, the life of the party and a big part of our hearts. Yet, though dogs come and go in the course of our lifetime, yet they always stay with us. I have good memories of duck hunting with my first lab, of romps in mountain snow with my two huskies. Three dog nights, in the big old bed, a mountain storm wrapping itself around a cabin like a dark blanket.

I probably get too attached. But Barkley is family to me. Not a substitute for a relationship with another human being, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of love to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (jeans and black t-shirt again? Well if you insist Barkley), he's the soft coated Kleenex when I cry.

He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit when I'm sick, always there, even if no one else is. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes in front of the fire, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.

He's taught me that money doesn't matter, he's as happy with a beat up old toy as anything I could give him; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple, someone to love and something cold to drink, a well loved toy to play with and water.Life has changed for us, by choice. It's no longer the plush life of an upscale suburb, but a quiet existence, with less bills and more values. Life out here has taught us both a lot, myself to be more self reliant

But I love nothing more than sitting in the bed of the truck, Barkley by my side, as the night envelopes us. Some folks say they don't like the silence, needing either people or a TV around and on all the time. Barkley and I love the silence, nothing but our breathing in these open spaces. A tromp out into the corn fields with the old Belgium Browning, maybe a pheasant for dinner if we're lucky. This is all we really need, not a fancy house or 3 cars or designer clothing. We have food, family and something in the distance to chase. . .

. . .a bird or perhaps a dream.

That's all he and I need for now.

It took him a moment to size me up before he selected me, but that first night together, his little doggie heart beating against mine and his tongue licking my cheek, I was the one tasting the finiteness of life, and the inestimable chance we have to connect and love again.

Some things are just too precious to pass up even as we know we can't hold them forever.

OK, it's your birthday, you can have your own can of Tactical Bacon.