Thursday, July 31, 2008

Week 1 Update

Hiya, kiddies...

Well, I guess it's about time I checked in for an update. My little vacation here at the Chateau de la Chemo is over-rated, at best. It's my own fault, though, I suppose I should have read the brochures a little closer before trading my time-share in Boca for it. heh heh heh

Anyway, everyone is knocking themselves out trying to make me comfortable, and I'm grateful for their efforts. I'd also like to thank all of you who've continued to correspond with me even though I've offered little in return. After this first round is over, hopefully everything will stabilize and I'll bounce back with something approaching my life as it existed before this all started.

Hope all of you are conducting yourselves in a manner that speaks well of your parents. (I have no idea why I just said that... blame it on the cocktail.)



Sunday, July 27, 2008

Phylox, The Wonder-Spatula (Part 2)

Removing my only form of self-protection from my belt loops, I laid it upon the stump and began to assess my situation. The afternoon, in its current weakened position, couldn’t last much longer, certainly, and soon it would give way to the fullness of the jungle night, complete with soporific influences of natural and, yes, even supernatural origin. Already, I felt a weariness borne of the stresses of travel and uncertainty, the same sort of fatigue a soldier might experience after a long march deep behind enemy lines— without the bloodshed, of course. Of course, having never actually been a soldier, this, too, is mere speculation based on some very vivid dreams I’ve experienced while attempting to shrug off the effects of LSD, magic mushrooms, peyote and/or copious amounts of Budweiser. Maybe I should just say I’m freakin' tired and leave it at that. Consider it done… I was tired, okay? Jesus, everybody’s a critic, these days.

At any rate, I decided that if I were to make it through the night, with only a generously sized protective cup (certainly much larger than the average guy might require, I assure you… maybe not exactly John Holmes-sized, but worthy of the run-of-the-mill porn star) and a fair-sized wooden spatula with a good-sized spoon going for it, I would need to employ all my wits in defending myself and maybe even finding something to eat. In the back of my mind, I briefly entertained the thought of a fire, but dismissed it summarily, realizing I had neither tinder nor matches, much less flint. I suppose I could have tried smashing one of the shells and striking it against a rock until enough sparks were generated to light some tinder (if I could find any dry enough). No, any dinner the forest provided would no doubt be comprised of invertebrates incapable of withstanding or hiding from the vicious swipe of a rounded surface kitchen appurtenance, and if it rained, well, all bets were off. Suddenly, I questioned the wisdom of my decision to go for a long walk in the rain forest. In my defense, however, I must tell you, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Such is the history of my decisions, especially those that start out seeming inconsequential.

In waning light, even the most well pronounced of features can seem distorted, so at first glance, the presence sitting before me offered a wispy contradiction in terms. It emanated from the glyph-stump yet its shimmering essence left me with the impression that it attempted separation from its sarcophagus. Now, armed with only the vaguest of knowledge regarding the inner-workings of the supernatural, i.e., I once saw a being on a bus who was either an alien or an incredibly skinny man with the largest head and eyes in the known world, and a spatula, I decided to make contact. I’m not brave, but I have been known to push the envelope on occasion, especially when common sense might have dictated a different tack. Call me impetuous…

As I sat stock-still, my hand wrapped around my spatula with a grip I can only describe as vice-like, I watched the apparition (if, indeed, that’s what it was) disengage itself completely from the stump and stand before me, its vaguely- reptilian eyes questioning but not threatening—at least they didn’t seem threatening, it’s often difficult to discern such complexities at first glance.

“Phylox”, it said, extending a forelimb in my direction.

I must tell you, at this point, that it was much more impressive as a glyph than as a jungle presence. It stood roughly five and a half feet tall (and I’m being generous) and its squat, over-weight body tended to make it look more like Mr. Potato Head than any conception I might have of a god.

Without any notice whatsoever, and with a dexterity I could never have anticipated even if given a ten-year head start and a mind so open that virtually nothing would remain inconceivable, it grabbed that spatula from my hand and turned its back.

Gyration. Back still turned to me, but I swear the thing was gyrating. Then, my spatula placed to its mouth, it spun around and instantaneously I heard music… and not just any music, either, it was honky-tonk piano, bass, drums and saxophone doing a magnificently-conceived rendition of a 12-bar blues riff, only with the tempo speeded up to a frenetic pace.

“Good golly miss Molly, sure like to ball,

Good golly miss Molly, sure like to ball,

A-when you're rockin' and a rollin',
Can't hear your mama call.”

The little guy didn’t miss a move. Dude was a dancin' fool! I doubt Little Richard himself could have done greater justice to the performance. I felt my head begin to nod in rhythm with the music and I had to stop myself from grabbing my cup and pretending it was a microphone. I was getting into it…

“Goin' to the corner gonna buy a diamond ring,

When she hugs me and kiss me make me ting-a-ling-a-ling

Good golly miss Molly, sure like to ball,

A-When you're rockin' and a rollin', can't hear your mama call.”

Phylox, indeed.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Phylox, the Wonder-Spatula

It’s spooky in the woods, especially when you’re not wearing underwear, at least not underwear in the strictest sense of the word. I suppose that a cup is not really underwear, and honestly, it’s not all that easy to keep in place as I walk. I have to hold onto it with my hand, and this keeps me from brachiating properly, even though I switch hands fairly often, dependant on terrain. If I’m crossing a fallen tree trunk, for example… I have to look over it to see if landfall on the other side is lower on the right or left side, and then I hold onto my cup with the opposite hand. I suppose I could have worn shorts under my jeans if I’d had any clean ones available, and if they were the ‘jockey’ style, but planning is not my long suit. Boxers are technically more comfortable, but they have no containing structure for a cup. I tried scooping up a very large amount of leaves and putting them down the front of my pants, situating them such that their bulk, in theory, might form a support structure that would prohibit my cup from moving. However, gravity tends to have the same effect on leaves that it has on cups, unfortunately, so within a half-mile or so, not even the massive bulk of my boys could keep it in place without assistance from my fingers.

That’s why I envision myself looking a bit like a chimpanzee as I make my way through the underbrush and branches. Chimps don’t brachiate like humans when they walk. Their arms tend to hang rather than swing opposite the leg that’s being advanced, and since I can’t swing both arms, my stride might appear as much simian as human. It’s a little demeaning, but I don’t worry as much about it now as I might have when I first left the trail. Decorum becomes much less important when outside the range of other human eyes.

Damn… it’s beginning to look like my choice of a sidearm might not have been the best, either. Although in retrospect I recall my mother using the very same weapon as an effective deterrent against a little boy’s hands that assaulted the rack of cookies cooling on the window sill, an ordinary wooden kitchen spatula might not provide the sort of firepower capable of convincing a marauding leopard that he’d committed a serious logistical mistake by choosing me as his prey. How much pleading on my part would be necessary to dissuade a two-hundred-pound growling, biting, flesh-rending killing machine with razor-sharp claws and jaws capable of crushing the skull of a deer fawn, even if I am slamming his head with the business end of a wooden spoon? I suppose that if all else fails I might try to smother him with my cup. I know that would work if I were that jaguar… but Bubba doesn’t play that game, that’s just nasty. Ain’t no part of a cup getting anywhere close to my face. Just the stank alone would be enough to make me run off into the woods.

Okay, so let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that I'm not dead now. Maybe the jaguar had a change of heart and decided that the cup had already skunked his prey and I wasn't fit to eat. I mean, even jungle cats won't eat just anything, will they? His cousin who lives with me is pretty picky about what she eats, so there's a possibility that I'm still sucking oxygen... I'm just sayin'...

Honestly, I’m really starting to think that the author of my Outdoor Survival Guide might be full of crap. I should have known better, though… it’s really all my fault. With a name like Betty Crocker, how good a survivalist could she be? Possum flambĂ©, indeed…

I am not a pearl hunter of any repute whatsoever, a fact whose sudden realization troubles me greatly. Vines, lianas of all types, certainly… recognition of their presence would not have seemed out of place at all. I can locate them at any time by merely extending my arms and they project a thousand years in any direction; the soulless appurtenances are omnipresent. So if I had envisioned a crudely fashioned ladder climbing intrepid to the forest canopy, I’d have merely shrugged and started climbing. Nevertheless, the vision of all manner of shells appeared before me; pukas, cowries, conch, abalone, spirals, starfish, you name it… piled alongside a strange flattop wooden stump decorated with the carvings of strange and elegant glyphs, some form of quasi-Byzantine or perhaps Maori tribute, no doubt. It is at times like this that I wish I had not dropped Cultural Anthropology 217 in college… Dumbfounded is a state of being that visits me more often than I’m comfortable admitting, so I shall refrain from emphasis upon the condition’s presence except to modestly and circumspectly (did I include casually?) mention it. I could see no path leading in any direction, no wood shavings to identify a carver’s influence or any other indication of a human presence. Yet there they were—graphic representations of intelligent origin, apparently created by carbon based beings of corporal substance.

I sat down upon the glyph-stump, hoping I wasn’t committing some undefined sacrilege against the spirits of the forest, and paused to take stock. Yes, I was lost; yes, I couldn’t be sure of east from west, inside from out… but now I knew I was not alone.

(Editor’s note** The author has concluded the ‘story’ at this point, citing his desire to do a bit more research on ‘glyph-stumps’, but he promises to re-visit the tale at the appropriate time, sending along his sincere apologies to anyone foolish enough to read this far in search of something making sense.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baptism by Fiber

Your Thought For Today:

Surprisingly enough, the end of your life will include 20 minutes of credits, copyright information and a rather sad, zither-based closing theme.

Before long, you’ll be able to call me Dr. Bubba. After many years of diligence, hard work and attention to detail, I have finally perfected my new wonder-product, SoulSoles® shoe inserts, my miracle in foot-soothing technology that incorporates a minimum of four areas of pseudoscience with a revolutionary new concept in transcendental awareness.

For years, I’ve researched the regimens and protocols of the world’s greatest philosophers, from Gandhi to the Maharishi Marakesh Yogi to the Dali Lama of Tibet. I’ve delved into the psyches of Freud and Jung, studied the habits of Aristotle, Socrates, Karl Marx, Jimmy Swaggert, Dr. Phil and St. Thomas Aquinas, and discovered a common thread that runs through each individual:

They all had feet.

Several world religious movements promote the concept of total-body wellness. Could it be that we’re paying too much attention to our heads at the cost of ignoring the real center of the soul, the sole? I came upon the hypothesis some years back, when after a particularly-intense bout with the Budweiser Brown-Bottle Flu, my neurological system seemed to ignore most all stimuli save those applied to the soles of my feet by that little bastard, Clarence Simmons—my wife’s nine-year-old nephew. Besieged by morning-after misery brought on by a New Year’s Eve party, I tried every form of miracle cure known to mankind, with no success. Then, after an hour or so of chasing Clarence away from my bed (and my feet) with his chosen implement of torture, GI Joe®, I asked the little woman to rub my ankles and feet a little. Immediately, I realized that my head throbbed less with each tender touch she administered... and an idea was born.

However, SoulSoles® are not just a mere shoe insert. They are a total body-rejuvenation system. The difference is the way they harness the power of magnetism to properly align the bio-magnetic field around your foot. Its (soon-to-be) patented FaithGrid® design, which features more than 200 isometrically-aligned contour points, actually soothes while it heals, restoring the foot's natural bio-flow.

I have written scientific-sounding literature trumpeting my new insoles, paying particular attention to the Contour Points™ that take advantage of the semi-plausible medical technique known as reflexology. Practiced in the Orient for many years, reflexology establishes a correspondence between every point on the human foot and another part of the body, enabling your soles to heal your entire body as you walk.

Now, you may say, ‘But, Bubba, any insole can do that!’... and you would be wrong. While other insoles have used magnets and reflexology as keys to their appearance of usefulness, SoulSoles® go several steps further by utilizing the healing power of crystals to re-stimulate dead foot cells with vibrational biofeedback... a process similar to that by which medicine makes people better. You’ll just have to trust me on this one, the explanation is so technical it’d probably be over your head. Only great scientists like me can really get a handle on it.

In addition, SoulSoles® employ a brand-new, cutting-edge form of pseudoscience known as Bubbometry, developed specially by one of our country's most-esteemed pseudoscientists, moi.
The principles of Bubbometry state that the earth resonates on a very precise frequency, which it imparts to the surfaces it touches. If the frequency of your feet are out of alignment with the Earth, the entire body suffers. Highly-sensitive (not to mention hideously expensive) resonator nodules implanted at key spots in SoulSoles® convert the wearer's own energy to match the Earth's natural vibrational rate (47.09054 nanobubbas). The resultant harmonic energy field rearranges the foot's naturally occurring atoms, converting the pain-nuclei into pleasing comfortrons.

I’d like to add this testimonial from Mr. Ezra Franken of Spiveyville, Alabama (who is no relation to me, although it is rumored that his daddy may somehow be kin to Louise’s side of the family) who agreed to be a guinea pig for SoulSoles®:

“I recently jumped off the roof of Jimmy Ray Eckert’s barn. The reasons aren’t important, but I broke both femurs in multiple places. I thought I should go to the doctor, but Dr. Bubba convinced me that he’d take care of everything, so I agreed to give him a chance. For the last 27 weeks I’ve undergone intense therapy with SoulSoles®, and with any luck at all, within a few months I should be able to walk to the bathroom by myself, even if I do need a walker.”

Excuse me... I need to get a hanky. That story always makes me cry. By the way, just so you’ll know, I didn’t charge Jimmy Ray a dime for his SoulSoles®. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

I’d better stop before I give too much away and you steal my idea. I may be philanthropic, but I ain’t stupid. Write to me and we’ll negotiate a price for my little miracles. You need ‘em, trust me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

One Man's Trash

A Short Word From The Boss

I cannot begin to convey the effect your many, many kind expressions of concern and support have had. It is simply overwhelming… so, I’ll merely say that from the bottom of my heart, in that special place that not even I am allowed to visit routinely, I cherish every word. I couldn’t ask for better friends. On behalf of my family, I wish you all the good things life has to offer.


(A little smattering of my history)

If you find yourself wandering around in Casper, Wyoming, especially if it’s 1977, you’d be well advised to take plenty of money or lots of plastic with a lofty credit limit. A steak at The Glory Hole will cost you $30 a la carte. You see, my friend, you’re in a boomtown, the richest little city in North America. There are more millionaires here, per capita, than any town in the country. If you’re a young mud engineer fresh out of college, assigned to live and work there by IMCO Services of Halliburton, the largest well-service organization in the world, you’ll be looking for a pull-behind camper trailer to rent, from one of the entrepreneurs who’ve sprung up on the outskirts of town. The KOA Campgrounds facilities, once the Hilton of vacationing families seeking the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, are now filled with the oil field equivalent of affordable housing for roustabouts, tool-pushers, and auxiliary rig hands of all sorts. A dinky room in one of these little beauties will run you from $700-1000 per month, depending on availability. That’s why, in the summer at least, you’ll find many men living in their pick-ups. Of course, this isn’t a real problem, because, by the time they get tired enough to want to sleep, most will be so drunk that it won’t matter whether it’s a bed, a seat or a gurney. So long as they’re able to get back out to the rig by the time his next tour starts, few rules apply in Casper.

Thirty-one revolutions around the sun have past, countless global incidences of natural and human disaster and triumph have come and gone, and I can still feel it. When I first drove northwest out of Casper—looking for the small signposts indicating that even though I had no idea where I was heading, I knew I was on the right trail— I finally pulled onto the lease and stepped out of my truck. Through my brandy-ass new steel-toed boots, I felt the ground unite with that rig to form a living, breathing creature whose life force emanated as an audible buzz of droning low frequency, its pulse the steady micro-bursts of energy produced by some unseen heart. Stepping onto the drilling platform of Cardinal #UH-874, it enveloped me, sniffing at me and checking me out—looking for my soul and determining my worthiness for acceptance.

The rig was a jackknife, small by Overthrust Belt standards, designed to dig shallower total depth wells. Hauled to the site by a flatbed semi, it could easily be tethered, the derrick pulled into place by hydraulic means and stabilized to practically any semi-flat terrain. The degassers, silt shakers, mud pits, prime mover and doghouse were all brought in modules and connected to the drilling platform. Fluid and air lines were matched to accompanying receptacles and electricity from the massive auxiliary generators soon coursed through equipment designed for precisely one purpose—make a hole in the earth ten thousand feet deep and see what happens next.

There was a saying in the ‘oil patch’. Once you’re oilfield trash, you remain oilfield trash forever. To a man, the sentiment was worn as a badge of honor. Of course, my perspective, given my recent foray onto the scene, still contained a certain ‘wait and see’ reservation. I didn’t totally buy into the prospect of never again being accepted or wanting to be accepted by society. Sure, even at twenty-eight years of age, I’d already proven to be a maverick. After four-year stints in the Marine Corps and college, I headed down the road to perdition willingly, but I couldn’t claim to be a professional malcontent or recluse. I did care what the world thought of me, at least as far as a casual observer might be concerned. Yes, I’d been through a war and had some invisible wounds and scars that I wanted to hide, but I’d not yet chosen to fold up the tent and jump off the mountain.

Still, the bad reputation that my compatriots held within the community at large appealed to me on some level just below the surface. There’d been lots of experiences in the Marines (mainly in the Far East) that had titillated my ‘dark side’ and allowed me to experience the rawness of emotions unencumbered by conscience. So I understood the looks I got from Californians when I first returned to the U.S. in 1969. In my khaki dress uniform, I represented all the atrocities they’d watched on the evening news and read about in the Los Angeles Times. I’d also heard that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck, so early on I abandoned any altruistic campaigns designed to change peoples’ attitudes and impressions. However, although I retained the right to be a duck, I chose not to jump into every pond I saw. This gave me the ability to travel in both circles, a chameleon that could show you whatever spots you wanted to see. That particular talent allowed me to travel under the radar and entitled me to acceptance with the bad boys as well as the good. Plus, at that time, I think there was a choir boy or Boy Scout still bunking somewhere inside my psyche, an apolitical, perpetual adolescent who knew right from wrong, even if he chose to look past it on occasion. After all, if my Catechism could be believed, my deceased mother saw every move I made, and I didn’t want to disappoint her... too often. In the oil patches of northwestern Wyoming in 1976, it became the best of all possible worlds.

Rig hierarchy varied, depending on the company. Cardinal was a turnkey operation, a type of financing arrangement for the drilling of a well that places considerable risk and potential reward on the drilling contractor (Cardinal). Under such an arrangement, the drilling contractor assumes full responsibility for the well to some predetermined milestone such as the successful running of logs at the end of the well, the successful cementing of casing in the well or even the completion of the well. Of course, this meant that the boss, the company man, was responsible for providing labor under a contract to an outside firm. Casper was full of “temp-agencies” who provided just such labor. When a man hired on as a roustabout (unskilled or semi-skilled labor) he worked for the temp-agency, but answered to a boss called the tool-pusher. Every rig hand aspired to someday be a tool-pusher, because he was like a First Sergeant; he was responsible for making sure that no matter what formation was being drilled, no matter what weather conditions prevailed, no matter how many rig hands were killed on a tour (shift), he would make sure that a pre-designated number of feet of bit penetration occurred. And when a tour ended, it was generally the tool-pusher who decided what bar the crew would attack.

I was a mud engineer. My job dealt with the annulus (hole) that the drill bit made. Drilling mud, simply put, fulfills much the same function as the internal organs of a human being. Its composition varies with depth of the hole, geologic strata, and many more conditions that need not be described, but it is essential to remove the cuttings from the well bore and cool the bit. The mud circulates continuously and forms a cake on the side of the hole during drilling to ensure that the hole doesn’t cave in and cause stuck pipe. A tool-pusher doesn’t like stuck pipe because it keeps him from attaining his quota for depth. In the oil patch, time is money. Since I’m hired by the company man and don’t work for the tool-pusher, he’s not required to consider my safety. If, in his opinion, my mud causes him to lose circulation in the well, he’s probably going to come looking for me with fire in his eyes. Ask any roustabout… that’s not a desirable position to find one’s self in. With this in mind, I tried to always make sure I found out where the crew was headed after the tour concluded. A few rounds of drinks, dinner and a hooker or two went a long way towards consideration, if not forgiveness, if a well went sour. I certainly didn’t want to find myself tied upside down by the feet, dangling at the outer end of the monkey boards (upper derrick catwalk). Halliburton offered me a very liberal expense account, because if we brought the well in successfully, I’d be a big hit with the company man, and it was likely he’d hire us for more wells to be drilled. Dropping a couple of hundred dollars a night on booze and hookers was both accepted by my employer and expected by the crew. My biggest problem became getting reimbursed for my expenses. I had a $5,000 limit on the two cards I’d been provided. Many months, I had to call my district manager and get it extended so that I could live until I had time to do the paperwork, a task that would become considerably more onerous if I had a broken leg or two.

Even my company had to draw the line on expenses somewhere, so I was not allowed to use my credit cards to make bail for either my cohorts or myself, a condition that was called into question on several occasions. The good citizenry of Casper loved the standard of living supplied by the oilfield workers if not the workers themselves. ‘Come, spend your money, have a good time, then get the hell out’ seemed to be the prevailing attitude for most of the townies. Certainly, they didn’t want their daughters becoming involved with these yahoos. However, young people being young people, the chasm separating roughnecks from debutantes was breached with impunity and swiftness approaching the speed of sound. The mix of hormones and liquor provided whatever impetus was necessary for nature to insure the prolongation of the species, no matter what a young lady’s parents might forbid. Many a truck backseat was filled with bodies engaged in ‘doin’ the wild thing’ without the benefit of protection. Ninety days later, sheriff’s deputies combed the trailers and doghouses of rigs scattered throughout a three-county area, looking for a roustabout with ‘a tattoo of Satan on his belly’ or ‘long, blonde hair cut in a mullet’. Within twelve hours of the first visit, tattoo parlor artists would tattoo Satan on at least five people and every barber in town would find blonde hair all over his floor. Never in the history of mankind have hairstyles and body art varied so radically and rapidly.

Unfortunately, booze and drugs were also very often blended in the witches’ brew of oilfield society, or more correctly, dearth of society. As is commonly the case in any group known to man, that is when things got out of hand. Pool, cards, dice and dominoes also found their way into any bar from Jeffrey City to Douglas, Rock Springs to Gillette. Wages in the oil patch were very good because the hours were long and the work was dangerous. A certain type of man is usually attracted to the oil patch. He’s probably under-educated and over-medicated, oversexed and under-loved, quick on his feet and good with his hands, and has a heightened sense that the world is out to screw him if he gives it a chance. Combine that with an over-active sense of immediacy resulting from putting his life on the line most every day and you have a walking billboard for Alcoholics Anonymous who will do most anything to keep from looking like a coward when his buddies challenge him to do something stupid. By any means available, keep firearms well out of his reach.

I never tired of watching the interaction of the crew. My job allowed me that luxury from time to time as I waited for a water test to run the seconds off a timer or a rheometer to compute the viscosity of the mud. Every move on the drilling platform was choreographed as surely as a dancer waiting for his cue to move onstage. The drilling itself was accomplished by turning the bit in the earth, and chains wrapped around the ‘kelly’, the connection between the strand of pipe and the rig. Depending on the layer being drilled, the rate of penetration varied. The tool-pusher had the responsibility to see to it that the prime movers (power plant that turned the chain) were set to the proper RPM’s to optimize the penetration rate of the drill bit. If it went too fast, he risked collapsing the hole or burning up the bit. If it went too slow, he didn’t make his quota of penetration for the tour. So, it became very important that when a piece of drill pipe had reached a point where it needed to be coupled with the next, the crew lose no time in making the connection and restoring the drilling process. This required that the chain be removed and replaced on the next strand. This was known as ‘throwing chain’, an extremely dangerous procedure that could cost a roughneck his finger or hand in the blink of an eye, if he was careless or unobservant. One worker would place the threads of the new strand over the coupling of the old, slosh on some pipe dope to keep the threads from leaking and facilitate the joint seal, while the other whipped the chain around the new joint and attached it to the prime mover, causing it to turn rapidly and begin the process anew. The drilling platform itself was always wet, icy or totally frozen dependent upon weather, and footing was often treacherous. The men working together had total confidence in each other and most of the time, were closer than brothers. In fact, on many occasions, they were brothers. The oilfield was passed down, father to son, for generations.

On every rig, the least experienced man had to ‘walk the monkey boards’, a job that almost everyone hated. The upper derrick catwalk, a platform at the extreme top of the derrick, is used to store pipe during a ‘trip’. A trip is the temporary cessation of the drilling process in which all pipe is removed from the annulus. This can occur when the crew has to change a bit, set casing, or if they get stuck pipe. Obviously, the pipe must be stored somewhere, and the top of the derrick is the perfect place. During a trip, the pipe is hoisted to the monkey boards, where it is stacked in neat rows, suspended above the ground. Then, when the repairs are completed, the pipe is brought back, hooked piece by piece to the kelly, and the drilling process starts over again. The man positioned atop the monkey boards must guide the pipe into the storage holders and unhook it from the hoist chain. Depending on the season, he is almost constantly bombarded with rain, snow or sleet. In Wyoming, there are few days when the wind doesn’t blow and gust, so footing is always treacherous. Throw in the fact that the monkey board workers are seventy feet above ground for twelve hours at a time, and it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to understand why everyone hates the job.

With all the kidding and horseplay that crews inflict upon one another off the rig, there is seldom any levity present during working hours, at least not on the drilling platform and certainly not during the final stages of the drilling operation, when the drillers approach total depth. Before a well is ever spudded in, geologists have determined, through various sonic tests, that an oil-producing formation exists at a pre-determined depth. Not all of these formations contain the select conditions necessary to produce crude oil, but if a geologist signs off on a study, it can be pretty well assumed that the probability is high. Of course, the predicted depth can only be estimated within a given range. When this range of depth is entered by the drill pipe, at any time the bit could pierce the salt dome directly atop the formation and send a high-pressure surge of natural gas up through the annulus. Directly under every drilling platform, there are large hydraulic rams that must shut and close around the drill pipe, securing it against the pressure, thereby diverting the gas flow under the rig. This is called ‘taking a kick’. If the tool-pusher (or whoever has been designated) doesn’t immediately get the rams shut, the pipe will come back up the annulus along with the gas and knock the derrick over, likely killing everyone on the rig. Reaction time and attention to detail are extremely important during this critical time, so it isn’t hard to understand that nerves tend to get frayed during the final stages of the drilling process. It is the one time that crews tend to take it easy on the booze. Some carry their abstinence so far as to actually go home during their time off between tours. It’s a drastic step, assuredly, but a price that must be paid. Besides, if the well is completed, there’ll be a fat bonus check accompanying the shutdown process and plenty of time to go to the bar and really do it up right.

On an oilrig, preachers and teetotalers are endangered species. Oilfield trash is, if nothing else, honest and forthcoming. A roughneck lives as though each day could be his last; the threat of impending death is never far from his thoughts. He’ll give, or forgive his crewmates nearly anything as long as they don’t violate the code. It’s very simple: Your brothers on your crew are your family. Their problems are your problems, their joys your joys and their lives, your life. Like in any family, troubles may arise, but they are handled in whatever manner is dictated at the time; his brothers unequivocally support decisions made by a member until such time as the code is violated. Pick a fight with one member of that family, and you have picked a fight with the entire crew. I wish you luck, because you’re going to need it. It has happened that entire crews had to be bailed out of jail for a breech of accepted town ordinances. Brash, bawdy, ornery, loud, unabashed, vulgar, lewd, rude… all valid descriptions of oilfield trash; but if you leave out ‘loyal’, you’ve omitted the very essence of the lifestyle.

I moved on from Casper when I was re-assigned to Beaumont, Texas, then Haynesville, Louisiana. The weather was as different as the people. Instead of the cold, harsh winds and people of northwestern Wyoming, I was treated to the steamy warmth of the deep South, with all the amenities naturally offered by the nice people I met down there. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the Latin derivation of ‘Louisiana’ is ‘place of hospitable people’. Then, in 1982, the end came. OPEC broke the American oil market and destroyed one of the greatest American industries. I was forced to scramble, and found a place treating industrial water systems. Suddenly, I was transmogrified from engineer to businessman, and I remain so to this day. And I’m poorer for it. They’re gone, but not forgotten. Come to think of it, if you substitute ‘Marine’ for ‘oilfield trash’ the above-stated qualities (I stop short of calling them virtues) are just as valid. Maybe that’s why I love them so much…

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mugged By The Muffin Monster

The Thought For The Day:

It's okay to tell a girl you like the way she walks, as long as you do it politely, and she's not an amputee who uses those clip-on metal arm canes.

The candy store is closed, ladies and gentlemen, maybe never to reopen. Somehow, my sweet tooth has decayed and rotted in my mouth, the victim of too much righteousness. Every day now, when the news comes on, I run screaming for the remote like a child from the boogeyman... Make it stop, Momma, make it stop. If it isn't Islamic extremists using American skyscrapers as a backstop or Catholic priests buggering kids, it's the daily insane dance between the Jews and Palestinians fighting over a forsaken strip of desert somewhere in the eastern quadrant of Hell. The Muslims and Hindus are about thirty seconds from annihilating half of the India/Pakistani borders, and as we speak, ethnic cleansing is purging the Balkans and Ireland of all the undesirables in the holy game of My God Is Better Than Your God.

Every year during Holy Week or Passover or Ramadan or whatever Buddhists celebrate, we recall and glorify the Lord's murder of innocent children in Egypt to illustrate His Divine Power and the assassination of a certain Nazarene mystic so that we could start a new calendar. But what this will do for the overall plight of humanity, nobody can seem to figure out! Oh, there are lots of thou-shalt-not's to guide us all, because, after all, we're right and they're wrong, but the truth is, we're merely creating more boundaries and ways to be different and justify our 'right' to be better than someone else.

One thing I'm starting to realize is that whenever more than two people get together in the name of God, there damn well better not be any guns, numchucks, clubs, bombs, knives or other sharp instruments within arm’s reach. We conquer and invent and label things with the dogma of the week, and we socialize and hoard and pursue that money! It's good to be rich, especially when we can put labels on it like color and gender and God... After all, it's God's will that our toys be kept safe from their toys. Frankly, all that talk about what God wants and what God told those other strange people... well, it just seems a little silly right now. Hell, it's starting to sound crazy, truthfully.

Most of us seem to know what God wants. It's hard to believe that millions of those other people don't even have a God. No wonder they're so screwed up. They're blinded with scientific method and skepticism and (((shudder))) intellect, and they tend to blot out the truth with common sense. So, to fight against them, we resort to the basics; drugs, alcohol, power and greed.

As a recovering Catholic, I'd like to simply point out that at some point all of the self-serving bullshit has to stop! But, we all know that it won't. Not as long as there are coffers to be filled. So, we'll continue to bury our heads in the sand and we'll keep on trying to explain to our kids why that nice, quiet, dignified white-haired man with the robes and white collar tries to touch him in the bad places when they go into the sacristy. Of course, after our kids are grown (we don't want to embarrass anyone) and spending half of their life on some shrink's couch, we'll report it to the bishop, who will move the bad man somewhere he hasn't had a chance to work his miracles yet.

Finally, the Good Guys will get their chance to finally put the knife in those cheesy mackeral-snappers, and force the Cardinals into court. But don't expect any of these obese gas-bags to cough up a lung over it. By this time, they can't seem to remember any of the details of who or why or how it all happened, and the dance goes on. Meanwhile, we're all wearing the knees out of our Levis while we put the envelope into the basket. Pray and pay, dude… pray and pay. Just don't expect anything to change, because it just ain't profitable to get any wild-eyed notions about priests getting married, or a woman holding up the wafer to get all transubstantiated or whatever... what are you, some kind of freak?

Meanwhile, that train will just keep right on a rollin'... But, don't forget one thing-- all these big-business hypocrites know where the answers lie. They have a blueprint buried somewhere, in a place where the martyrs are buried, some stinking hole deep in a cavern in Israel or Palestine. They know what occurs when the cycle of ignorance is broken... after all, every day they look up at a lifeless image of an assassinated Jew hanging on a cross, reminding them that the beat must go on.

Don't forget that train...

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Well, I'm home from the horsepartial. After two nurses quit and a phlebotomist complained so vehemently that if he were to have to go back into Room 640, he would tender his resignation at once, the VA administration decided that they could do without my presence any longer. Just because I may have accidently questioned one or another's professional abilities, manlihood, or parentage, the individuals in question decided that enough was enough. Some people are so touchy...

Anyway, I've been home for nearly an hour and my wife has already decided she 'needs to go to the store', which is Weezie for 'I'd rather not kill you this afternoon'.

The good news is that I'm sore from the laporoscopy but otherwise unscathed. The bad news is that I've been diagnosed with colon cancer and will have to go through another round of chemotherapy starting some time within the next several weeks. There's talk of a vena cava filter and a 'auto-cath' which, as I understand it, is a subcutaneous catheter that will allow them to stick me and suck out bodily fluids (or add various poisons) to my blood stream without having to stick me thousands of times. Of course, this is alright by me because I'm basically a wuss.

But, after four days without eating, the food they bestowed upon me in my two meals today tasted wonderful. They had all the food groups represented in their attempts at a balanced diet; something from the yellow group, a green, a baby-shit brown, and several from the not-quite-red-but-certainly-not-rose-or-crimson variety. Of course, it all tasted pretty much the same since it was cooked in a pressure cooker until any semblance of texture was gone, but I expected that so it didn't surprise me. I know the VA's budget is decreasing, so I guess they had to make cuts somewhere. They certainly haven't cut their ability to give good care. The doctors, nurses and technicians who put up with me went out of their way to make sure that I was as comfortable as possible, that I understood each step that was undertaken and why (at least to the level that my pusilanimously-puny ability to understand would allow), and I'd rate my care right up there with the most expensive private hospitals anywhere in the world. So, if you want to bitch about the VA, you better take it somewhere else, because if you say it to me, I guarantee you, we're gonna fight.

I do want to thank you all for your many phone calls, comments, e-mails, and other expressions of support, and I can't tell you how much they helped me. I'm looking forward to the fight to come and I want you all to know that I may lose, but I won't go without a fight. You're all in my prayers, as I hope I'm in yours.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

To my friends...

Hi, folks. I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm going to be pretty scarce for awhile. I'm having some surgery and it may require me to lay low. So, if you don't see any posts or if I don't come visit you, it's just that I'm on Injured Reserve status and won't be in the line-up.

Either that or you've really pissed me off and I'm boycotting you forever.

Just kidding...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I heard it through the grapevine

Your Thought For The Day:

My doctor refused to write me a prescription for Viagra. He said it would be like putting a new flagpole on a condemned building.

Salutations, fellow commoners. I trust the new day brings you the super-sized cup of glad tidings... diet, of course.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if ninjas had their own post office and a disgruntled worker chose to take out his frustrations with management and the world in general?

I can picture the broadcast on CNN as the helicopter view shows police swat teams swarming the facility in Honshu Province. The talking-head would tell us that Kymazu Honimaki was reportedly despondent during the mandatory three-hour morning prayer vigil, refusing to jibber-jabber with the rest of his peers or receive the sacramental incense. At approximately 11:47 a.m., Mr. Honimaki donned his ceremonial black gi along with his co-workers and began his job of cancelling arriving mail, but without his customary 'crouching-dragon' flair and accompanying side-kicks.

"Not single time within next hour, did most honorable Honimaki bow to ancestors," said shift supervisor Hirimatsu Shazai through her appointed interpreter, "velly selious!"

Providently, the situation ended without further incident when Honimaki promised to raid an enemy village without pay and forfeit the two bowls of rice he'd accrued in his retirement and profit-sharing account. Police forced open his locker and found only the customary cache of razor-sharp throwing stars, numchucks and black satin ceremonial garb, so no arrests are expected. Are you paying attention, Secretary Gates?

Gotta go... I'm still hungry and it's almost time to go to work. Those little mushrooms I found out back are tasty, maybe I'll eat a few more of the little beauties...