Wednesday
Jul182012

« The Model Moral Dilemma »

The mind of a young man can be co-opted by the wrong stuff. And then it takes a lifetime to shake some of it loose. And furthermore, things may be things but they aren't just things.

When I was about 11-15 in the late 1980s, I was completely enthralled by military aircraft. A couple major reasons include the fact that my house in San Diego was just a scant few miles from the outer fence of Miramar Naval Air Station, the location of Fightertown USA, the home of TOPGUN. A certain famous movie by that name, released just before I entered eighth grade, was a kind of pornography, drug, and rock and roll all in one, at least to this boy just on the cusp of adolescence that summer of 1986. Even before that, I used to be able to sit on my roof or go a couple blocks to my middle school, or just ride the canyons on my bike and I'd see F-14 Tomcat and other jets doing laps around and around for hours at a time. Most flew within a mile or so, and sometimes, nearly overhead. The base was a naval air station then and the pilots were doing their touch and go exercises to rehearse the kinds of landings they'd need to make on the aircraft carriers.

Extending that interest in watching the Tomcats and other planes do laps, my retired Navy chief grandfather indulged me sometimes and took me to Miramar and let me take binoculars to the fence just outside the Fightertown USA hangar, where I'd just observe the activity, or the planes on the tarmac. In a similar way, the stretch of empty space along Kearny Villa Road, on the east fence of the base, just at the end of the runway, felt a little like holy ground where I could be right under the planes as they landed. Of course, there would be military security goons that would come and dismiss anyone watching from that perspective. That made it all the more interesting.

Watching the Blue Angels and getting to the airshows was akin to high holy days. The spectacular six-point convergent move that is done just over the audience (or nearly so since those things have proven disastrous) was sort of a 12 year old's religious experience. Back at home, I'd pore over the Blue Angels' show program with an eye to every detail, getting to know the pilots and everything else.

Passion for Plastic

All this fed a need to build plastic models with more and more accuracy and detail. I'd been at building models since about 11 years old—about 1985 or so—and I'd been developing the craft with each model I built. My favorites were Tomcats, but I had several F-16s, F-15s, and A-4s. There were several other types but I kept gravitating toward those Cold War stalwarts. By the time early 1987 rolled around, as a 13 year old, I was introduced to the International Plastic Modeler's Society, an organization that is comprised of hobbyists, car and military buffs, fantasy figure painters and other types. I went to monthly gatherings and quarterly contests.

The Command Post business card from when I actually worked there. It wasn't the same as the place I hung out at. They had moved three stores into one and the vibe and character was different. By the time I worked there, I was over half a year from having built any models.The knowledge of the planes and the building of the models fed each other in symbiotic relationship. I routinely shopped at a store called The Command Post, a place where I later worked (interestingly in 1990 after I got out of the hobby). There I not only bought my models and supplies, I also endeared myself as the kid who knew all the product numbers and actually got into helping out, receiving product, stocking and labeling, and running errands for the guys. I was doing this at the age of 14. They would reward me with product. That Hasegawa F-14 kit was a pretty hot item when I got it.

For about eight months during 1988-89, I rode one of my bikes over there two times every weekend, taking a long and convoluted path to the store so that the old man could be satisfied I was safer as I crossed the 805 freeway. Each of those days I rode over there, I stayed the whole day, or near that. I got into a habit of staying five hours on Saturday and the entire four hour day on Sunday! I'd usually learn all I could by listening to the real staff guys (one of which, Ross Shekelton, turned me on to music, most particularly Rush, but also with the band that launched my interest in drumming: Def Leppard), and after a while, I'd even be talking to customers about how to use this product or that, and often, fans of one type of plane or another would break into enthusiastic conversation about sightings, air shows, and the like. I'd read the books, study the pictures of aircraft, learning all about them. I was the runner boy for rolled tacos over at the neighboring Roberto's taco shop in the next mall over.

Refining the Craft

Taking all that to my bedroom or my grandparents' patio (at Quapaw/Hog Heaven) during the summer, I'd spend hours at the craft of building plastic models. It was the first craft that ever commanded that much energy and focus of me. It paid off when I got my models entered into the local IPMS contests and was egged on to greater success and technique by the help of an enthusiastic group president, Darrel "The Big Salami" Killingsworth. I learned the finer nuances of flat sanding parts taken off the plastic molding "sprue"; the vastly superior qualities of liquid glue; the optimal filler putties available from automotive suppliers (NitroStan) how to prepare your surfaces for priming and painting; airbrushing; applying decals without bubbles or yellowing. Creating dioramas or maybe how to use clear acrylic mounting rods bent in boiling water so that an aircraft model could be mounted "in flight." And so on.

My A-4 Skyhawk that won two awards, and the plaque and six ribbons from the other winners, all on the same night. I swept two categories by default.The April 1989 sweep

I had been plugging along at the local contests and each was a chance to get familiar with others, learn techniques, get feedback, egg each other on. There weren't many juniors so there was a pretty predictable "competition" between me and a guy named Jeff and a couple others. Or sometimes not at all. One contest in April 1989, I got seven awards for six models, I think because no one was there and I swept the categories of Best Junior/Aircraft and Best Junior/Armor and then got the Best Junior perpetual plaque. It was a rather pointless victory, but good for the teenage ego, especially because my female friend Traci Flint (more of a tomboy/engineering geek of two years my senior) was in attendence and saw it all. At the very least, it did make for some victory chatter and my stuff was seen and the night was memorable.

Award certificate, 1988.One of the certificates accompanying the Aerospace Museum winsOther competitions were a bit harder. In the county-wide contest held by the San Diego Aerospace Museum (sic, that's what it was called then), I did have to come up with the goods. On two consecutive yearly contests, I did win against bona fide competition, placing an F-14 (that had won a few contests) and subsequently, an A-4. The prize was good for the ego: my stuff was on display before the tourist public within the main museum hall for one year for each win, with my name beside it. It was a thing to take my church group and other buddies to. (I think it failed to inspire Shelby Duncan, but she's a freak anyway.)

IPMS National, 1989

One last IPMS contest was a national one where it just happened to be in San Diego. It was during this very week of 1989 (23 years ago now) when I got four awards for three models. I had just started building armor models earlier in the year, and one of them was literally painted the day before entering. Because it was a bona fide national contest, there were other Juniors in the competition, but of course, since few can ride their bikes across the nation with plastic models in a saddle bag or milk crate on their rack, the competition was still not as stiff as among the adults. At any rate, I did get four awards, one for a wacky alternative take on an F-14, the "F-14E" as I called it. (There really were people who asked about it, especially since I came up with a tech sheet that featured the new developments of the airplane. All were contrary to the F-14's longstanding, voluptuous design. It was a total joke but a well done one.)

The three winning models with their award plaques. Abrahms tank, my hoax F-14E, and a Sgt. York tank.The spoils of model building war... the F-14E got the two middle awards

That contest was my last, even as it was my best showing ever. In fact, by October, I had a change sweep across me that was sufficient to put an end to my model building life. I began to play drums just weeks after the contest, and by the fall, all my model projects were brushed aside and forgotten about. I was getting into music. I got all the Def Leppard albums, and at the start of the school year, I was getting into Jethro Tull and bought one tape a week. I also was getting deeply into the life at church [scan of a letter from one of the adults praising that], where I had just returned to active life in June. I was so enthralled by this new life. Schoolwork suffered. Only when I actually was called to work at the Command Post did I engage in the hobby at all, but I doubt I finished even one model. By the time I got the gig at Command Post, they had moved the store (did that in summer 1989) and it was not the same. The personalities I liked had moved on. I worked extremely part time there for about five months or less and never connected again. The money I made was paid me from the cash register, and I promptly walked across the road to Music Mart and bought drum gear there once they had moved into the location. Out with the old, in with the new.

My stuff in the national magazine following the contest.Two of my models listed in the IPMS magazine following the convention

Dawning of Moral Consciousness: 2001

Going to church then in the 1989-1991 period was not the thing that led me to the change that I actually wish to write about now. But it was an early period of church life that later on did affect a lot of change of heart and consciousness. I'd have to skip ahead to 2002 and onward.

I returned to church life in January 2002, one week after it became apparent that Kelli and I were entering a whole new phase of life. We'd sort of moved past "just friends" and at that time, she was like a candle in the window to me, and I found that in the post 9/11 world, I'd need some clues of how to progress. I was 28. Family upset about a year before left the landscape of my life changed forever. My grandmother died in April of 2001, and as you've all no doubt read before, the dynamic changed drastically with the struggle between me and the old man.

I became a quite devoted pew sitter that year and by the end of the year I was recording the sermons and by 2004 was working on the website, and was on the trustees. I was seemingly mature and stepping into adult roles in the congregation. But my favorite part of the new era at church was the sermons and the great pearls of wisdom that I gleaned from the relationship with my pastor Jerry Lawritson. There I learned more about human struggles, nonviolence, liberal theology, and a bunch of stuff that excited me. Names like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and others were the names I was surrounded with. They all pointed to a deeper life that was tugging at me.

Around that same time and in a parallel universe at Mesa College, an English essay assignment I worked on pondered the direction of American style growth-based economics. That led me to knowledge of peak oil. And that shocked me. By early 2005 I had started a website called EONSNOW and was showing a documentary called The End of Suburbia. I had some idea that all these new things were going to intersect, but they were not yet doing so in my mind.

Booted from Eden: 2005

Awareness like that began to seep into my consciousness. Being troubled by these kinds of thoughts, I set about trying to share them and find others who might be troubled in a similar way. EONSNOW was literally just getting launching three days prior to the day when I got evicted from my dear house seven years ago. That was a galvanizing event as you all know by now. All of a sudden, the focus had to shift from being world-aware to getting a bunch of personal affairs in order. One thing that had to happen was vast reductions in material stuff. I was cutting through the house trying to figure out what had to go. Up in my closet were a couple boxes of plastic models. Many were in some state of brokenness as it was. Landing gear, tail fins, missile rails... all that was broken and not likely to be glued up. The decals were yellowing. The glue was brittle in places. Was there ever any chance I'd put these on display again? The newest of them was 16 years old! The Cold War came to an end AFTER my model career ended. Yet here I was, so many years later, still storing all this?

Techgnosis

Detouring for a moment here, it seems honest to say that I still find the technology fascinating. It can't be argued that any of these planes are impressive at some level. Defying physics and the laws of nature is indeed impressive. If I were into all this now, I'd be gushing about the F-22 Raptor, a plane that can do things that my beloved F-14 could never dream of. I'd be building models of it and talking about its thrust-vectoring exhaust nozzles that allow it to do some of the most unusual stuff a plane has been seen doing. But the pursuit of all this development is what I have to draw a box around: they are all weapons of war, and such things as building models is a safe way of objectifying that, and forgetting what human ruin comes either from the firing of the weapons or the very stockpiling of the weapons, and equipping a standing imperial military. The budgets that are shaped with the "defense" of the nation in mind are completely out of whack, with "defense" being half the government's spending for years and years now. And, as I researched this entry using my cursory trip to Wikipedia for reminders of terms and other figures, the F-14, as powerful as it was, was never really put to much use in war. Apparently two Phoenix missiles were launched in Iraq in 1999 for the purpose for which they were intended, and both missed. Those things are a million bucks apiece! That's pretty steep a price to pay for something that can't accomplish what it set out to do. Pointing to two failed missile shots should suggest that with all the massive expenditures the Department of Defense makes, it's clearly going to overspend on waste, fraud, or outright failure. How many people could be fed for the price of just one of those missiles? How much student loan debt could be struck from the books for that sum? How many neighborhoods could be resurrected into thriving communities? How many blocks of blight could be turned into community gardens? And yet, back in the early days of the Cold War, old Ike himself, not a stranger to the military as a victor among the victorious, warned against all this military buildup.

Air shows and other times when military buffs and supporters get together, a saying that accompanies a jet flyby is "That's the sound of FREEDOM!!!" but now I am more likely to mock that with "That's the sound of FASCISM!!!" Did any F-14 or any other piece of 20th Century military gear get made without some cooperation of corporate industry and government that now are bound up like a double helical strand of DNA? Yeah, I thought so.

It was one thing to be technically enthralled by statistics and specs alone, but it took a more mature mind than my teen years could provide before I understood and felt the wrongness of all this. Knowing how much the national "defense" budget requires is a shocker and is far from the concerns of a young kid who thinks it "cool" that a plane can fire missiles or drop bombs to stunning visual effect. Even from my family, I did not get too firm a message to remember that all those stats mask the real power to destroy life and community, and even environment. To a teenager, it's all a game. After hearing Jerry's sermons for a couple years, and hearing them again as I edited and posted them to the church site, I was poised to make a decision about the models.

July 1, 2005: From Plastic Model to the Plastic Bin

In a kind of visceral disgust at myself for keeping them long past their useful dates, I heaved every one of those models into the big black trash bin in my garage. Most I smashed into the sidewalls of the bin. I felt I had to repent for being so blind. Another layer of concern was the fact that all these plastic models were made of petroloeum—oil—and I just happened to be launching a crusade to remind people the oil age is coming to a close and life will have to change. For my immediate future, I had to concern myself with that giant amount of stuff I had inherited, bought, and otherwise gained in transactions ranging from trades to getting married and bringing Kelli's stuff into the mix. It was all hell. Smashing the models was a spontaneous act but something that was brewing for a while. I've never missed them since.

Simplifying: 2012

Skip ahead to the present day. It's 23 years after the most recent awards at the national contest. It's seven years since the models themselves were destroyed. Kelli and I have moved together five times in those seven years. Every move, we cut back some items, but invariably some get added and the feeling of being on a treadmill persists. In recent months, I've been working with Gerald Iversen, a committed peace activist and practitioner of voluntary simple living. We've been working on podcasts for JEM and for the upcoming one, it was just the two of us (Lee was off for good behavior) and the topic was the power of STUFF over our lives. While I didn't tell this story about models and worldviews during that recording, I have indeed been grappling with STUFF, in part because I do not have total say about the STUFF that occupies the house. It might be like pining for a lost innocence, but before I was married, before I inherited a household of STUFF, and before I had a studio space dedicated to the craft of recording, there was a time when things felt manageable, and moving house might have been a two or three truckload thing because it was really just a bedroom with some drumsets.

The recent move to Escondido did pare back a number of items but it still feels overwhelming, and after a bit of a period of considering our option to get a garage at $50 additional rent, we found that we had still too much stuff and that it warranted that extra space, if only because some things are just dirty items and awkwardly shaped: old bike Kelli doesn't use, lawnmower of no use to us at our previous house with a rockscape now with wood chips and no lawn, washing machines we didn't sell before we moved, etc..

my shipping boxes full of stuff, filling plastic tubs of more such stuff from over the years

I keep personal archive tubs of photo albums, boxes or folders of documents and little things to remember, all classed by year or certain other criteria. Those get combed periodically, but such a thing as the collection of awards shown in the video above has escaped scrutiny. The shipping boxes I was able to bring home from a job a few years ago have been handy for making tidy packages, but at the last house, there was no garage and the closet spaces were filled pretty completely. Shit like this just isn't that important anymore.

Of course, there is nostalgia about things like this. All the awards I won at the contests have enough of a reminder to say what model and what contest, but the rest of the story is in my head. No one would be able to put much of it together except from some journals scattered across this last quarter century. And, like everything else you can read on TAPKAE.com, no one really cares. The awards are not going to matter to anyone. They don't particularly matter to me at a great level now that I've felt drawn to another set of values. I do think of the fun I had doing the craft of it, and there are times when I realize in certain moments when I am drawing upon a kind of skill that was learned in those days. Some of those skills proved to be transferable to other things I've done in life. Maybe I bombed algebra and the critical thinking skills that was supposed to teach me, but the mechanics of shaping things with tools and sandpaper, the thought process of moving from step to step from opening a box to airbrushing and placing decals, and the pride of looking upon my creation is all stuff that sticks and appeared in the myriad experiences since, and will do so here on out.

Well Founded Immortality

All that is my experience and my perspective, but will do no one any good in the physical form of award ribbons and plaques. Curating a collection of models of the machines of war is a pointless exercise when you don't any longer believe in the value of war. Retaining a collection of pointless plastic artifacts made from oil is of no purpose to a person who for years has been critical of the abuses of the oil consuming culture. Retaining the synthetic and chemically-drenched awards that celebrate a proficiency in all of those things is particularly useless. The plaques can't even be burned, what with all the chemicals that go into presswood and the veneers. They can't be too well repurposed except as a flat surface onto which maybe a picture can be mounted, or perhaps turned into a hotplate for the dining room table. Attributing any value to these particular items is not transferrable; children I am committed to not bringing to this world won't care, will they? From here on, my generation and several preceding it will have some 'splain' to do why things are the way they are. The least most of us could do is break ranks with some the minor fetishes we have with STUFF, needless technology, and that unthinking love of the military as the defender of much of anything except the stuff that's killing us.

I will not have attained immortality for the keeping of this stuff, and if anything will aid in the immortality project, it will be some evidence of an enlarged consciousness and heart for those I meet and the things I do.

To quote Gerald Iversen, "It's just STUFF!"

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