The Hess Report

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

We Just Waved to the President

President Bush was supposed to be in town today for a rally, due to Pennsylvania's status as a valuable swing state in November. He was also supposed to be flying over the flood zones. (In case you're not aware, Pittsburgh was hit with unprecedented flooding from hurricane Ivan. Houses and businesses just 1/2 mile down the hill from us were filled with six feet of water. We stayed dry as a bone.) On my way home from work, I noticed a military-like helicopter flying over Etna, immediately to my left, above Route 8. Most likely Marine One, but it was too far away to tell. It was significantly bigger than the usual traffic copters, though, so I'm guessing it was him. Cool.

Around 4:50, I heard a helicopter outside. I'm used to the sound of occasional air traffic over the house, and this was not a sound I was familiar with. I yelled to Joy that I thought the President was flying over. Patriot!Joy, the girls and I all ran outside. Sure enough Marine One flew over the cul-de-sac, at a height of just a couple hundred feet. We jumped up and down and waved our arms, just in case they were looking out at that particular moment. A couple seconds later and they were gone, over the hill. Very cool.

I'll pretend that he saw us.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I'm a bit of a political junkie. And so it was that several nights ago, I found myself reading page after page and staying up way too late following the cascade of evidence about CBS's document forgery scandal, being referred by some as Rathergate. For as long as I can remember, I've thought that network newspeople were, at best, blowhards, or at worst, actors. Simple entertainers who are reading from a teleprompter. Anything else they purport to bring to the table is mere pretense.

For centuries, the priests of the Catholic church (and, to be fair, many others), twisted and turned the words of the Testaments to suit their own needs, and there was no way anyone could argue. Only the priests had copies of the Bible, and usually, only they could read. But once Gutenberg began using movable type, Bibles fell into the hands of more and more people. Once they were in enough hands, it was very difficult for the priests to hold onto their absolute power. They're still powerful, mind you, but there is a lot of dissent, and much has changed since those days.

Dan Rather at CBS is one of those priests. What he fails to realize is that basically any American over the age of 10 can prove quite simply that the documents in question were created in Microsoft Word. The technology is ubiquitous, and thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D, user friendly. It is as though he is claiming that he and CBS stand by their story that it is in fact raining in Pittsburgh, when any schmo in the burgh can look out the window and see the cloudless, blue skies.

I'm fascinated. If I had fewer other projects in the works, I'd make a little video of Dan, diving in slow motion off the 10M platform at the Olympics, into an emtpy pool, flapping his arms and smiling grimly at the camera.

Good times.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

We're back on the fall schedule, which means Joy has Camerata rehearsal (I'll brag about that in another post) on Monday nights and teaches piano and voice on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Consequently, it's me and the little ladies on those nights.

I took them to a combination playground/park tonight, one we've always referred to, for no good reason, as the "secret park". We usually have good luck with park clientele, but there have been some bad apples there on occasion. The park itself is very nice: extensive playground apparatus, as is the modern way; mulched/wood-chipped ground; large covered pavilion for picnics; porta-johns ("We're #1 in a #2 business!"); full-size soccer field and full-size softball field. This evening, it was cooling off; the air was dry and a bit breezy; the sunlight was orange and our shadows stretched half-way across the field.

We hit the playground first. There was a little girl there, holding a stuffed rabbit, crying and whining that she wanted to go home. The recipient of the fit was either her much older sister, or very young mother. I couldn't quite tell. The fitee finally agreed that they could go home. Suddenly, I heard a growling voice from across the playground. A young boy, eight or nine, said:

"Arrrrgh! We just got here! I'm not goin' anywhere!" Apparently, he was under the impression that if a fit could get them to leave, then most likely another fit could get them to stay. Seeing him, I now guessed that the older girl was either the big sister or the babysitter. They had their little showdown, and my girls started happily playing. Several minutes later, I heard the boy roar "Why are you such a pain in the ass?" which was quite enough for me. He and his sister/babysitter were probably about six feet from me, standing at about my waist level on one of the play platforms.

I put on my authority voice, pointing right at him I think, and said: "Hey! There are little kids here. Watch your mouth."

His mouth fell open, and he stared at me. The older girl looked around, clearly embarrassed by him.

"I'm really sorry, sir," she said. Heh. She called me sir. I'm only 33.

"S'okay. You didn't say it." I smiled at her. Then, I jabbed my finger at him again. "Watch your language."

He looked kind of scared, and I remembered that I can come off as overly intimidating sometimes. Threatening, even. Inside, I'm just this nice guy who's trying to do the right thing, but I've been told that it doesn't quite look that way to the disinterested observer. Oops. They left, which I think they had resolved to do before I stuck my nose in anyway, and I'm sure had nothing to do with the scary guy who had yelled at them. I saw the kid catching hell as they walked off.

As far as I can tell, Maddie and Lucy didn't notice. They were too busy playing poor lost little girl who becomes an architect, and rich lady who calls the police because she needs help climbing the monkey bars.

Too soon, it was getting late, and we detoured through the soccer field on our way to the car. The field itself is on a raised terrace, fenced on two sides by forest. It must be a sort of local maxima for altitude, as your view of the sky is not clipped by hills, a rarity in western Pennsylvania. It also happens to be under the flight path of many jets departing Pittsburgh International. You can see them coming from the horizon. Sometimes two or three go by in fairly rapid succession.

As we scaled the terrace to get to the field, a jet flew over, and the lighting and weather conditions reminded me of another night, three years ago, in that same park. It was almost a full week after September 11, 2001, and I had taken the girls there, Lucy only a baby. Everyone was still feeling freaked out, confused and angry, myself included. We see air traffic all the time at our house, and its absence for the previous week had been unnerving. As I watched Maddie run around the soccer field that night, I noticed moving lights on the horizon. They multiplied, grew, spread out a bit. Airliners. I let Maddie roll and play in the wet grass, happily oblivious, as I watched plane after plane after plane streak over my head, the first ones I had seen in days. Most likely, they were only pilots and other staff, returning to their home ports for the big air travel reset, but I was grateful for the balls that it took for them to get back up in the air. Two months later, Joy and I would be on a plane ourselves, heading to Vegas for the trip I won on Jeopardy!, slightly nervous, waiting it out in Atlanta during an airport security incident. But that night, watching the string of flights shine in the darkening sky, I experienced a first small feeling of triumph as the country slowly got up off of its knees from the worst sucker punch in our history.

I was there again tonight, and felt again why so many men left homes and families to fight on foreign soil in the dark days after December, 1941. But tonight, we ran in the wet grass and tossed stuffed animals back and forth and watched the planes go by.