Second Chances

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Yes you read the title correctly, it says second chances – plural. I know that a lot of folks never get a second chance – singular. They go through their lives either successfully, poorly, middle-of-the-road-ly, or otherwise and they never get another snatch at the brass ring or another bite of the apple.

I seem to have spent my entire life getting these “back-hand” second chances.

I remember when I turned my back on acting the first time. My first wife did not like me being “in the business” and since I was very young and very much in love, I turned my back on my passion. Years passed, the bloom went off the rose of my first marriage and I got divorced.

I didn’t handle it well. Too young and too broken-up, thoughts of ending it all danced around the periphery of my mind. Not seriously though, thank who-ever: but I was pretty damn miserable for a long time. I moved to England, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and not long after arriving in the UK, I was drafted into an amateur theatre group.

I was back to acting again and I was loving it.

Then my job began to interfere and I had to turn my back on it again. Time moved on. I got married again and just before I got reassigned to The Netherlands (Holland) a mate of mine got me a job as an extra on an American TV movie, The Last Days of Patton. I worked for over 12 hours playing a WWII soldier who goes through a rifle drill with a whole platoon and we then got to meet General Patton (George C Scott).

The giant mansion behind "Patton" head is where we filmed.
The giant mansion behind “Patton’s” head is where we filmed.

It  was a memorable moment. Mr Scott was personable and approachable. He spent his time between takes talking to us Air Force guys who’d learned to do a rifle drill after a couple of hours of training by the film’s technical advisor. I remember thanking the “guy upstairs” for giving me this, a sort of taste of what I’d been missing.

Later when we’d settled in at our new Dutch home, I got to do some radio work and through the AFN guys, I got some film and TV work. Again getting a little taste of what I had turned my back on so many years ago. My daughter was born on the day that I had two auditions for a couple of American television commercials. I decided that my daughter’s entrance into this world was more important and called the casting folks up to express my apologies.

I got a few more little jobs here and there and met some interesting people and almost got a couple of great acting jobs. But fate had another idea and these close grabs at the brass ring, missed.

Later, when we moved back to the UK, I got out of the Air Force (I didn’t retire, I got out via the early out cut-back program) and did some more voice-over work. I even did some extra work. But reality kept creeping in and kicking me in the face. I kept trying to write the whole time I was being diverted from the acting side of my life. That activity was as doomed as the acting. Something always got in the way.

Lack of privacy; lack of ideas; lack of concentration; lack of confidence. All these things interfered with any sort of creative process and more. I finally decided to turn my back on any sort of creativity.

All thoughts of creating something either physically or mentally were killed off and buried.

The proud, the few, the under-appreciated...
The proud, the few, the under-appreciated…

Life went on, I found a good job that allowed me the time to enjoy my family and watch my daughter grow up. The job also came with a great retirement set up. It wasn’t the best job in the world and it was not anything that I’d have chosen for myself as the “last” job I’d ever do.

Then, injured at work and off for just under six months. Right after I start back to work, I have a heart attack. Two surgeries; one an emergency surgery that left me with pretty much permanent damage. The end result of this was my life was saved, barely, and I was ill-health retired from my job.

I won’t lie. I was a little depressed about losing this job that I’d done for just under ten years. I didn’t love it, but I like most of the people I worked with and I’d finally gotten top pay for my job. I felt like the character on films and TV that shrugs and says, “Eh, it’s a living.” But I was panic-stricken.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

I still don’t; but I’ve finally woken up to the fact that, for what ever reason, I’ve been given another second chance.  I’m not sure how many this is now, but it’s a lot. I don’t know if I’ll wind up doing anything creative or not. I do know that I’ll keep blogging, because it is a bit addictive now that I’ve started it, but I kind of feel like the sky’s the limit at the moment.

What is really evident to me is that of all the second chances I’ve been given, this one is perhaps the most important. All the previous ones were sort of career or personal goal oriented.

This one is a second chance at life.

I am going to try not to waste it.

Boldly going to where I've never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk...
Boldly going to where I’ve never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk…

Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano

Being born in the latter days of the 50’s. I was the very essence of a 60’s child. I was too young to ‘tune out and turn on’ and I missed the ‘free love’ thing altogether.

Still growing up in the 60’s was an interesting journey to say the least. It was the era of the Cold War and the images of atomic bombs and the devastation that they entailed were scary. The ‘child friendly’ film above was still being shown in schools and was intended to help us youngsters know how to react when the bad guys dropped the big one on us.

Oddly enough, if you were in school and a tornado hit, the drill was almost exactly the same as in the film. As this 2010 news clip shows, the drill has not changed much from the one that we practised when I was in grade school:

In the 1960’s the bad guy was Russia and the threat of them dropping a bomb on us was a daily threat. We were urged to have a ‘fallout’ shelter. If you were a frugal family, you used your tornado shelter (aka storm cellar) as both a place to hide when the twisters came to flatten your home and the place to hide from the after effects of the nuclear explosions.

A bit fancy, this one could have been for the Rockefeller family.

If my family ran and hid from either the bomb or a twister, our shelter was a bit more ‘down-to-earth’ and we shared our ‘safe space’ with the canned preserves and spiders and other creepy crawlies that loved the dark dank shelter.

“Just pass some canned tomatoes while we’re waiting, will you?”

Of course growing up in the rural south as a child we never really bought into the whole ‘Ivan-the-Terrible‘ Russian is going to drop a big, bad bomb on our heads. We did, though, believe whole-heartedly in the chances of being blown away by a tornado.

The schools did show us many films on the dangers of the atomic bomb. I remember vividly the film that they used to show prior to the Duck and Cover film. This was a very short film and it had been made at one of the Nevada test sites. It showed cinderblock buildings being turned to dust and cars being thrown about like Tonka toys.

It was terrifying to a 7-year-old. But it was still just a movie. We only had to look out our school windows to see the damage that the last  tornado did to Old Man Jones’s barn. I’m sure he would have come in and told us about it but, unfortunately for him, Old Man Jones went the same way as his barn.

The visceral reality of the tornadoes damage which could be witnessed personally far outweighed the terror of the ‘filmed’ atomic destruction.

As I write this I am reminded of a school I attended in Springdale, Arkansas. It was in the 60’s and it was huge. The school boasted three floors (one of which was under ground level) and if you were on the top floor you had to go down a circular slide as part of the schools fire drill.

Now a historical building and it’s been re-designated as a High School.

I was in the school when I was in the fourth grade. The time I spent there was marked by two events. One was the day I went to school in the morning and it was drizzling rain. By noon the rain turned to sleet and then snow. By two o’clock in the afternoon the snow was so deep that the basement windows were covered and school let out early. That marked the beginning of one of the worst snow/ice storms in Arkansas history.

The second event was the initial trial run of the fire escape. On the back of the school was a tower that housed a circular slide. It had sat unused throughout the summer months and it was decided to give the tower a ‘trial run’ when school started up. Unknown to the school authority’s, a family of bats had made the tower their new home.

The first person who went down the slide was a teacher (presumably showing how safe it was) whose backside was immediately covered in bat guano. The fire escape was closed for a long time while the school got rid of the bats. Not to mention the guano.

So growing up in the 1960’s was pretty cool, if not a bit scary. You just needed to know what to do when the A-bomb hit or when a tornado was barreling down on your town. Oh and the necessity of avoiding bat guano.

Okay, who forgot the toilet paper.

Chicken Little Politics aka Gun Control.

U.S. Presidential flag, 1960-present (not usua...
U.S. Presidential flag, 1960-present (not usually called a “standard” in official U.S. government terminology). It is defined in Executive Order 10860. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody knows the story of Chicken Little. The small fry chicken who gets hit in the head by some debris and then runs around like a headless chicken telling everyone the sky is falling. Of course it transpires that the sky is not falling and that Chicken Little was panicking for no reason. Of course the moral of this story is be sure of the information you’re spreading around, it might just be wrong.

Or how about the little boy who cried wolf?  Another childhood story that deals with a boy responsible for looking out for a flock of sheep. This mini Shepard got bored with this glum and thankless task and took to running into town and telling everyone that a wolf was attacking the sheep. After the towns people ran out several times only to find that the boy had lied, when the wolf did finally show up, no-one believed him and all the sheep got eaten (and depending on the version of the story you might or might not have seen, the boy got nom-nommed as well).

The moral of this story was a bit similar to the Chicken Little parable, don’t lie or make up stories because one day it might really happen and no one will believe you.

I only thought of these two childhood morality tales when I was reading a few of the more spectacular Tweets on Twitter about gun control and the government conspiracy to take guns away from the great American public.

I will admit that I also thought of both these stories when the Bush administration was busy ladling out huge doses of fear and paranoia about weapons of mass destruction and how they were on the cusp of being used against innocent American citizens. The Bush presidential two-term run made sure that the American people were too terrified to ask questions and to wonder why everything had gotten  so bad. The entire eight year term proved what the conspiracy theorists had said all along.

The government is lying to you. And guess what? They’ve been doing it since the birth of the nation. Now you won’t find this out from history classes or the ”sanctioned’ history texts used by the educational institutes in America. You have to dig a bit deeper and look at tomes written by PHD students who have dug around and found out things about our government that they really don’t want you to know.

I had my eyes opened when I was a junior in High School. Our American history teacher told an amusing story about how the first President of the United States was almost fired. That’s right, George Washington, the father of our country was almost booted out of office in his first term.

Why?

Well George had a thing for the ladies. He also told congress not to bother giving him a huge salary, he’d just like his expenses paid, if you don’t mind. C0ngress  said that would be just fine, until they got those first expense sheets back. It turned out that George liked to buy his ‘ladies’ gifts as a gesture of appreciation. It also turned out that President Washington has a lot of appreciation to hand out. He almost broke the governmental coffers. He was told off and had his expense account discontinued and there was a lot of talk about having him replaced.

You won’t read that in a classroom text on American History. Out teacher found out from another university student that she knew who had based his thesis on it.

When I was in Southern California I found out from a professional photographer about how the United States forced Japan into the Second World War by placing an embargo on their oil. By stopping the oil coming into the country they stopped all production of things the Japanese needed to survive, so they in turn, declared war on the US.

That also won’t be found in a text book.

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding we already know that the truth about any given situation that the government deems ‘safe’ to relate to the masses is homogenized and pasteurized beyond all recognition of the real facts of what really happened, Is it any wonder that a lot of folks think that conspiracies lurk behind every corner?

I wrote earlier that I thought it was a bit too convenient, this ‘midnight massacre’ incident. Happening just when the government wants to change the gun control laws. With the President about to sign the United Nations Arms Trade Control Treaty on the 27th of July and with a large population of Americans up (if you’ll pardon the pun) in arms about; it is there really any surprise that folks think that the incident was rigged?

It’s like the government saying, “See we told you the current gun laws were bad. Just look what happened!” Just like Chicken Little or the boy who cried wolf, the government are telling us that not only is the sky falling, but that a big bad wolf is going to eat us up before we’re crushed by the debris.

I would have thought that after an eight year reign of ‘ruling by terror’ we would have learned to be a bit more cynical about the government and how they control the masses. I am not in any way detracting from the horror of what happened in a crowded movie theatre in Colorado.

What I am doing is questioning it and wondering how much of the conspiratorial hysteria is just hysterical finger pointing, looking for the wolf who isn’t there or shouting that, “Hey! The sky is falling asshole and it’s going crush all of us!” Or are they right, that this has been coldly and cruelly organised to show how right the government will be in taking away our right to bear arms.

Unfortunately with conspiracies and cover-ups, only time will reveal their presence. It is only after the dust settles that we can find out that the wolf was here and it was he who made the sky fall.