General Aviation: Deadly Disregard Takes Flight

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No one was injured with this plane hit a house in Eatonville, Wash., in May 2013. But planes do hit houses, and people do die. (Credit The News Tribune).

No one was injured with this plane hit a house in Eatonville, Wash., in May 2013. But planes do hit houses, and people do die. (Credit The News Tribune).

Flip over to Google right quick and search “plane crashes into residential area.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

One of the top results you’ll find is the August 2013 story of a fiery crash involving a general aviation aircraft that slammed into a house in a suburban Connecticut neighborhood. The pilot of that craft, Bill Henningsgaard, and his son, Maxwell, were flying around to visit colleges that Maxwell might attend after graduating high school.

The crash killed Bill and Maxwell Henningsgaard. It also killed two children, ages 1 and 13, who were in the house into which Henningsgaard’s plane crashed.

You’ll also find that, on July 16 of this year, a 73-year-old pilot survived when his single-engine plane crashed in the back yard of a home in a residential area of Hillsborough, N.J. His plane was an amateur-built model.

“It’s pretty freaky being a homeowner living where I live, knowing that could have ended up being my house,” Anthony Quintano, who lives near the crash site, told The Star Ledger. Quintano used to live near Teterboro Airport, also in New Jersey, and said he’d seen crashes there as well. “It’s always nerve wracking living near some kind of airport, especially with small planes, which seem to crash a lot more.”

Quintano’s observation isn’t far off the mark. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 94 percent of the fatal aviation accidents that occurred in 2011 involved a category of aircraft called “general aviation.”

General aviation includes high-powered, professionally piloted corporate jets like the Gulfstream IV (one of which crashed at a general aviation airport near Boston in June of this year, killing seven). It also includes small, privately-owned planes flown by amateur pilots. Some of these planes are built by amateurs from kits or pieced together from scrap and spare parts salvaged from junkyards and hobby shops.

By comparison, commercial aviation — those massive jumbo jets most people think about when they consider air travel — accounted for exactly zero deaths in 2011. According to the NTSB, general aviation aircraft average about seven accidents per 100,000 flight hours, while commercial airlines average 0.16 accidents per 100,000 flight hours.

PlaneHitsHouseAgain

Two children — ages 1 and 13 — were killed in their Connecticut home in 2013 because a guy and his son didn’t want to drive to tour colleges.

In fact, from 2008 to 2012, there were more than 7,500 general aviation crashes in the United States. A great many of them are fatal, not only for the pilots who willingly took their lives in their own hands or the passengers who willingly sought the thrill of going up in a small plane, but also for unsuspecting people on the ground. Just this week, a pilot crash-landed his plane on a Florida beach, killing a 36-year-old U.S. Army sergeant and his 9-year-old daughter. That pilot, flying a small plane built in 1972, radioed to the airport that he was having trouble. Rather than ditching in the ocean and losing his precious plane, he elected to land on the beach — where there were people — which claimed two lives even as he and his passenger walked away without injury.

(There is absolutely an economic angle to these circumstances, too. Most general aviation plane crashes occur in close proximity to airports. Those who have money to invest in their housing often don’t live near airports, landfills, wastewater plants, jails, etc. So the people in greatest risk of losing their home to a plane crash also are those least likely to participate in the hobby of general aviation themselves.)

These pilots, who have the money to spend on aircraft and fuel for pleasure flights (when’s the last time you casually priced buying your own airplane?) are subject to far looser regulations than commercial aviation. So loose, in fact, that they’re not even required to carry liability insurance on their aircraft.

Hence the case of a Palm Coast, Fla. woman who lost her home when a small plane crashed into it. The woman escaped the burning home through a window. The crash killed the pilot, Michael Anders, and his two passengers. But because Anders was not required to carry — and elected not to spend the money to carry — liability insurance on his pleasure plane, the woman who was unfortunate enough to own a home in Anders’ flight path now has no way to rebuild her home or recover from the physical and psychological injuries she suffered in the crash. In fact, even though Anders could evidently afford a plane, his estate itself was insolvent so the woman has absolutely no recourse.

Requiring liability insurance could radically reshape general aviation. Insurers can set and more rigorously enforce requirements that pilots have more flight training before taking off on their own — including a set number of hours in the particular aircraft he or she is piloting. They can also require inspection of personal aircraft to ensure they are fit to fly. This creates a safer environment not only for the pilots and passengers, but for terrestrial dwellers like you and me.

Liability insurance also provides some help for people who are the real victims of general aviation crashes (I don’t spend a lot of time weeping for the wealthy pilots who knowingly engage in a hobby that is risky not only for themselves, but have no qualms putting the rest of us in danger as well): the passengers and the people on the ground. Not only is the lady in Palm Coast without a home, but two families lost loved ones who were aboard that aircraft when it crashed, and they, too, will receive no benefits from the crash.

If the Federal Aviation Administration is unwilling to effectively police general aviation — and they’re not, evidenced by a goal they set 15 years ago to reduce the annual number of general aviation crashes and the fact that, over those 15 years, the average number of annual general aviation crashes has remained static — then maybe the insurance industry will do it.

And with any luck, they’ll ground some of these flying cowboys before they can crash and kill even more of us.

After all, if Bill and Maxwell Henningsgaard just drove to colleges like normal people, two children would still be alive and a mother would’ve been spared watching her babies burn alive in the house where they should’ve been safest of all.

More Search Results that Bring Us Traffic

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I think it’s time to revisit again the search terms that bring people stumbling, bleary-eyed, fevered and shivering, onto this site.

We did this a couple of months ago, and the results said a lot about the Internet. Most of what it said was disturbing.

search terms from past 30 days

The top search terms for our site over the past 30 days.

Again, I don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know what you’re hoping to learn, and I hope you’re not expecting this site to make your life better, richer or more rewarding. I also hope that you won’t attempt the things we’ve discussed on this blog. It’s scary. Don’t do it.

So, without further adieu, we present our top search terms from the past 30 days.

Jekyll Island surges to No. 1 on our list, probably because of this post I wrote memorializing the fantastic Oceanside Inn and Suites which is now well behind schedule in its conversion to a Holiday Inn Resort. People planning their fall escape bumped perennial traffic draw “burt reynolds bear skin rug” from the top. Surprisingly, it looks like a fair number of people are still figuring out how to use the Internet, since they’re actually typing our URL into the Google search term (this tells me that either A) we should focus on deploying an AOL Keyword; or B) people don’t want our site to actually appear in their browser’s search history). I don’t know what the hell ” ‘smoked my pipe’ picnic” means, but the term below that is fascinating. (For the record, we burned down exactly zero houses with bottle rockets in Long Beach, Calif.)

“Guy on bear rug” and “burt reynolds bear rug” round out the bear-loving visitors who found us, while a few are interested in cedar waxwings. Former GDOT commissioner Vance Smith continues to Google himself, and somehow at least one person got here from the World Wide Web while looking for “uncle rick incest.” So, thanks for bumping us up on the government watch lists for that one, whomever you were.

Ah, Internet. You’re a dark and frightening friend.

Four Reasons I Don’t Gripe about Laundry

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Most people hate doing laundry. Admittedly, there are things I’d rather be doing than laundry, but it’s far less taxing and laborious than mopping the floors or cutting the grass.

Here are four reasons laundry day doesn’t give me the denim blues.

1. It’s mostly mechanized.

My grandmother told me about how she had two dresses the whole time she was in high school. This was in Georgia in the 1940s, when the way people kept cool wasn’t by sitting in an air-conditioned classroom, but by sweating. Her lack of a sufficient wardrobe meant doing laundry was a nightly affair — and it wasn’t as easy as throwing a shirt in the machine.

And it wasn’t just her dress that needed washing, either. She had siblings and step-siblings who also dirtied clothes that needed to be washed.

Old fashioned washing machine

Are you washing your clothes like this? Then shadup.

Laundry meant scrubbing stains with a bar of soap and rubbing them on a washboard, sloshing the clothes manually in a sudsy tub, rinsing thoroughly and squeezing the water from the garments, then running them “through the ringer,” to remove as much excess water as possible before hanging them on the clothesline.

That’s why I don’t make such a fuss about having to wash clothes. All I have to do is throw them in the wash. The hardest part is hanging them up or folding them when they’re done in the dryer — I don’t even have to hang them on a clothes line and check them until they’re dry. It’s not like I have to haul them down to the creek and rub them on a rock until they’re clean. Machines do the hard work. All I have to do is put them in a machine and turn it on, then move them from one machine to another and repeat.

2. It’s not as easy for everyone.

It’s easy to take for granted having a washing machine in your home. But consider the abject panic that ensues when the machine abruptly stops. As with the failure of any major appliance, its restoration to service becomes one of life’s priorities.

But think about not having one at your personal disposal at all. Think about the investment in time involved in schlepping those several loads of laundry you must wash each week to a laundromat, paying by the load to wash the laundry and haul it back to your abode.

Laundry Love is a charity movement that started in Ventura, Calif., and has spread to more than 70 houses of worship throughout the country. The charity takes over a local laundromat one day a month and provides free laundry services to those who need it most — the elderly, the out of work, the working poor, etc. For many, this once-a-month washing is the only opportunity they have to wash their clothes, sheets, children’s clothes, etc. They wait in line for hours to get their clothes clean. That should put things in perspective and make logging a little time in the laundry room (where you don’t have to wait in line) a little more appealing.

It’s not just the poor who struggle to clean their clothes. Only recently in major metropolitan areas like New York have architects began allocating a little precious square footage to cleaning clothes. In 2006, the New York Times reported that only 17 percent of current listings had washer and dryer connections. By 2010, that number had risen to only about 20 percent as the Times continued its coverage of New Yorkers waxing wistful for a washer and dryer. Many buildings have communal machines in the basement, consuming quarters and doing the work. Other residents rely on “wash and fold” services, which sound lovely if you’re willing to pay strangers to handle your … unmentionables.

3. It’s almost alchemy.

My daughter’s laundry presents the ultimate challenge.

At 6, her clothes are usually all wadded up in her hamper (and we’re just lucky she actually uses the hamper). Panties are still stuck in her pants, and in the winter, it’s not unusual to find that her socks are stuck in the pant legs as well. How she manages to get pants, panties and socks off all at once is quite a skill. I’m so impressed, I don’t really want to correct her. And also because she’s 6, the clothes are always spotted with a sundry of inexplicable stains.

Spending as much time with her grandparents as she does, I often don’t know what these stains are. (Is this ketchup or blood? Her blood or someone else’s?) Either way, I’ve got to salvage those shirts and dresses, so into the wash they go — sprayed with some chemical that pretreats the stains, with a “boost pack” that enhances the power of the detergent to strip the stains (why isn’t the detergent already “boosted?” how does it know the difference between the stain and the pattern on the shirt? magic!) and set the washer. Should I wash it on hot and chance shrinking the load? Will the steam-based “deep clean” cycle ruin the adhesive holding the frilly parts on her nightgown? Who knows? Let’s find out!

Did you know that the way that stuff you spray on stains is based on the way your saliva works? The enzymes in your saliva start digesting food even before you swallow it. Similarly, the enzymes in the pretreater also “digest” the stains on your clothes, dissolving and loosening the stains from the threads of the fabric.

Mixing these ingredients together, choosing how the machine will apply them and waiting to see if the concoction and equipment cause the clothes emerge clean, bright and un-blighted is exciting to me.

4. What if something happened?

Our world is full of fragile things that we take for granted. Electricity and water, for instance.

These are things that are delivered to our homes by wires in the sky and pipes in the ground. Pipes that are old and brittle, that can be dug up or rupture on their own, and wires that can be brought down relatively easy by wind, trees, reckless drivers, etc.

Imagine that happening when you’re wearing your last clean shirt.

Having the ability to keep a steady supply of clean clothes, enough to last a few days if something happened, is something you won’t value until you’re wearing your last clean outfit and you come home from work, sweaty and tired, and find out your water’s been cut off. But then, that basket of clean clothes won’t seem a chore, but a blessing.

Living in Academic Absentia

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In a voice that was forceful if apologetic, a man from Fort Valley State University phoned me on Friday to let me know that I would not be attending his school in the fall.

I tried to pause the verdict as he read it as a judge delivering a condemned man’s sentence from the bench. I tried to offer an explanation again, but he spoke through me. He was going to run me over, and while I got the impression that he didn’t want to do this as much as I didn’t want him to, it was a thing that had to be done.

Exclusion.

The decision was based on a GPA from 11 years ago, when I was extremely poor and desperate. But that humiliating figure remains an albatross too great to ignore. I guess all the guys who flunked out because they partied too much have given the rest of us a bad name.

Now, I find myself again in a very painful, lonely place. My face is pressed to the ceiling of life. I want to achieve more, but no one will consider me for anything other than what I’m doing now unless I have a degree. I will never be promoted, I will never be considered for another position within our without my company. I will be what I am now for as long as the powers that be will allow me. And then I will be cast out, a husk that no one will look at twice because of all the positions in my field for which a bachelor’s degree is requisite for consideration.

I asked if they would take me on a probationary basis. Let me prove that my miserable academic performance from all those years ago did not represent my capabilities. But no. I asked if that old GPA might eventually age-out — could I come back and apply again in five years? 10 years? — but it wouldn’t matter. They’d still request the same transcript and come to the same conclusion based on that antiquated metric. If the GPA were at least marginal they might be able to work something out, but the performance just wasn’t there. There were more deserving people to accept in their program. People who didn’t screw the pooch a decade ago.

It’s scary going through life on your intuition and instincts, operating in professional environments without the confidence that you gain (and others recognize) that comes with a college degree. All my life lessons and experience matters little. I still have to learn things the hard way — and I have a lot to learn. I have to figure out the things others were told. I’m a poseur. I don’t belong here. I’m stupid, and it’s only a matter of time before I’m found out.

I hoped my pursuit of a degree would enable me to make amends. I knew I would take time, but time feels like it moves pretty quick these days. I would’ve finished my degree before I knew it.

This isn’t the end. The somewhat apologetic man from Fort Valley State suggested I apply at Georgia Perimeter College. Their deadline for the fall semester is tomorrow, July 1, and their systems to accept applications are down for scheduled maintenance at the moment. I’ll apply, pay them my $20, send them my FAFSA and my transcripts and my immunization records. And when they reject me, I’ll ask what I can do that would gain me acceptance to their program. And I’ll do what they tell me, applying elsewhere, and asking what I can do when I’m rejected there as well.
I will grovel in the dust of academia. I will go before the admissions offices on my knees. I will repent, disavow my previous performance and swear that I will do better. I am willing to do this the hard way.

And when at last I’m out of options — when I ask what I can do and they say, “nothing” — then I’ll know I’ve reached the end and I will give up on this dream. I’ll accept it. I’ll be the dumb man that my academic record proves I am. It doesn’t matter why I’m excluded from academia. It doesn’t matter that poverty and shame had such a role in my last foray into education. I enjoy learning things and I want to be a learned person. I’ve taught myself a great deal and I’ve learned as much as I could from those who were willing to take the time to teach.

I’m scared and lonely. I don’t know if I’m forever excluded from academia. In spite of my poor performance, I recall how much I enjoyed being a college student. I remember the joy of sitting for an hour or more and listening to someone who was a verified expert speak on their chosen subject, imparting their wisdom. I relished the challenge of the advanced college-level classes. I starved, froze and learned a lot more about humility than I did astronomy.

So, I’ll keep applying. I’ll keep graciously accepting the calls and messages denying my admission. I’ll grieve. I’ll remain ashamed. Hell, it says in the Bible, isn’t fire and brimstone: it’s simply absence from God. To be in hell means to be excluded from love, to be cast out.

And so, this is hell.

Peak Pipe

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“What do you want for Father’s Day?” my wife asked, as if she had to. I’m easy to shop for. There’s always a reliable go-to, if all else fails: get me a pipe.

My pipe collection is more humble than some but grander than many. And each of them has a story. One is from landing my first full-time job, another was an anniversary gift from my wife (third anniversary). One was given to me for Christmas, one was a gift for officiating a friend’s wedding. A couple were the product of me haggling down a guy at the brick-and-mortar tobacco shop to make me a deal on some pipes that had been in his glass cabinet for more than a year without any takers.

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A portion of my humble, yet hardy, collection.

I treasure each of them and value each for various qualities, whether for their beauty or the quality of the smoke. (A couple are even good at both.)

So, when my wife says to order a pipe, my tablet is quickly in my hand and the inventory of my favorite online pipe retailer, www.PipesAndCigars.com, on the screen.

But this time, I just didn’t find anything that impressed me. Not as much as the pipes already in my stable, at any rate.

What did impress me was the fact that I had a tablet on which to look at pipes at all. Or a comfortable chair on which to sit while I searched the Web for pipes. Or a big-screen television blaring in the background.

Every now and then, I’m struck by just what a lucky bastard I am.

True, life hasn’t always been fair or easy, and there are many of whom I’m envious and many for whom I have no pity because their plight is the product of their own decisions. I’m not above being on a high horse from time to time. But I’ve been damn lucky, too. And I realize I don’t always stop to appreciate how good I have it in spite of everything.

Months ago, my wife perpetrated one of the most sincere acts of kindness I’ve ever experienced. As I sat on one end of the couch, endeavoring to mend the most expensive pipe in my collection — a calabash, which I’d had my local tobacco shop order for me when I was a single man and which I’d saved for a year to purchase — she went online and quietly ordered me a new one.

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My beloved calabash from my, um, truly beloved.

Calabashes are exceptional pipes. They’re heavy and ostentatious, but they smoke like a dream. Their meerschaum bowls mean you can smoke one repeatedly, and the chamber beneath the bowl allows for the smoke to cool so it doesn’t burn the tongue or mouth. My beloved calabash had been left atop my desk at home, however, dangerously close to where my young daughter plays, and I’d discovered it shattered on the hardwood floor behind the desk.

To take the initiative to go online and purchase me a new one — for no special occasion other than, perhaps, pity — touched me deeply. My wife is a nurse practitioner by trade, and that she tolerates my peculiar propensity toward pipes at all is a bit of a wonder, but to hold her nose and even support it in a way that would mean so much to me was beyond all expectations.

And so, when she said “order a pipe,” I paused. I thought of my dozen or so already treasured implements of briar and meerschaum, the ones that tell little stories to me each time I light them, the ones that remind me of past glories and the achievements they signify.

And instead, I ordered an ass ton of pipe tobacco.

Happy Father’s Day to me.

Life, Sans Degree

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Here’s how my high school guidance counselor helped me get into college some 15 years ago:

Me, sticking my head in the door to her office: “Hey, I got an eleven-hundred on the SAT. Do you think that’s good enough to get into Georgia State?”

Her: “Yeah, that should be fine.”

End scene.

That was it. That was all the help I got. Neither of my parents had gone to college, and both had desk jobs in air conditioned workspaces, which was better than their parents (who also had not gone to college — or necessarily finished high school for that matter) had it.

I carefully considered my options. I would be paying my own way, and could live at home as long as I helped pay a bill here or there. My high school GPA wasn’t good enough for a scholarship, but I could get loans and, maybe, a Pell grant. There were two public colleges within driving distance to my house (three, counting Georgia Tech, but there was no way I had the math and science skills to apply for that school): Georgia State University, in Atlanta, and the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

Expensive college

This is Wellesley College, which Forbes ranked among the best private schools in the Northeast. You’ll pay more than $50,000 to go here. I got kicked out of my in-state public school for $300 I didn’t have.

I fumbled through applications for both, finishing them in the small hours of the morning on a school night and mailed each the next day from a blue mail dropbox in front of what was then a Winn-Dixie. West Georgia accepted me right away; Georgia State wanted me to finish a math class I was taking first and then send my transcripts again (Algebra II, which I was taking for the third time), which I did, and was then accepted there as well.

Since Georgia State was a little more stringent in their application requirements (and since their tuition was actually a little lower at the time), I decided to go there.

I was excited. I was in college. For the first time in my life, I’d actually have an advantage: a college education. I was excluded from advanced history classes in high school and had to fight tooth and nail to take an AP Literature class. My teachers had little faith in my academic ability, but I came out with As in both the AP Literature class and the prerequisite Pacesetters English class. I had been booted from the staff of my middle school newspaper by a teacher who pulled me into the hall one day and told me I’d “never make it as a writer.”

There were students who were favored for great things. Maybe they had older siblings who showed promise, or received praise from their former instructors that called attention to their abilities. But ever since the second week of the first grade, when another kid tried to take my jacket and I took him to the ground and bashed his head against a rock (to be clear, I never picked up the rock; it was merely there while I held the boy’s hair and struck his head against it repeatedly), my reputation was one of a brawler who didn’t like it if you messed with his stuff. Other students were being tended, nurtured; I was well aware that they were shuffling me through before I could hurt someone.

It’s not that I thought myself stupid or ignorant. I read a lot and I exhibited some skill with words. I won my share of writing contests and made it through several rounds of an oratory competition that the Optimist Club sponsored.

At last, though, I would be in college, where every class was a “college-level” course. I would be challenged, but that just meant I could prove myself. They didn’t know about that time I beat a kid’s head against a rock, or the time I beat another kid’s head against some metal lockers in middle school, or the time I beat still another kid’s head against a bench in the locker room (I’m seeing a theme here), or if they did, they didn’t care. I was a college man now!

Then I came home after work one day and all our shit was gone.

It was the summer after I graduated high school, a few weeks before the start classes. I was working for the Douglas County Sentinel, which was then a daily newspaper, with my own by-line and everything. I had a desk in an air conditioned workspace. I was living the dream.

The kitchen table and hutch were gone. A lot of the silverware and all the good cookware was gone. The TV was gone. The living room furniture was gone. The pictures were gone off the walls. A bedroom suite was gone. My computer was gone.

I called my dad first to tell him he needed to come home, as we obviously had been robbed. That’s when I found out that, no, we hadn’t been robbed; my mother moved out. She took whatever she wanted, and moved into a duplex one town over.

So, I sat in a house with two mortgages and no central air, and panicked. I didn’t expect my parents to pay for my college, but I’d hoped they pay for some stuff that would help, like Internet and electricity and water and such. But now the second income for the house would have to be mine (if we were going to keep the place, and again, I didn’t really have anywhere else to live, so my hands were tied).

For the next four years, I did anything I could to turn a buck. I wrote papers for other students, worked as a copy editor for an online upstart news site, made $6 an hour at the Sentinel, sold books and CDs at a big-box retail store called Media Play, worked as news editor and managing editor of the college newspaper, anything. One day, I met up with a blues musician friend at a Home Depot and stood around to get hired on as a day laborer. I didn’t get picked up; I guess I looked like I might know something about labor laws, and probably didn’t look like I could do the plumbing. (Slim got picked up though, but he’s Puerto Rican, so…)

A low point came when I gave another student my research and background work I had done for my own paper in one of my own classes. I took a hit academically, but he paid me enough to get the water cut back on. Another low point came when, flat broke, I went three days with no food at all. Finally, getting a little shaky and desperate, I used my key to get into my grandparents’ old smoke house and found a stack of boxes in the back. They contained Mason jars, and the jars contained home-canned green beans, creamed corn and stewed tomatoes. In my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting, in magic marker on the outside of the box, was “1978.” If that was right, these vegetables were older than me. I carried an armful of them outside and studied them in the sunlight. They looked OK. No mold, no discoloration. I remembered my grandfather talking about being hungry during the Depression, how he learned to never be too proud to eat anything. He had passed away before now, but I understood in a very real way what he meant. I had started driving past the trash bins at restaurants, remembering all the food we threw out when I worked in food service because of spoilage, and knowing that there were probably biscuits and burgers and all sorts of things in there I could eat. With that, a jar of 25-year-old green beans sealed in my grandmother’s sterile kitchen seemed a safer source of nutrition. It might make me sick, but at least I’d be sick with a full belly.

I ate on those three jars for four days until I got paid again. I then went out and bought a trunk full of ramen noodles and a pillowcase-sized bag of white rice.

In the end, a professor called me to the front of the class. It was Dr. Rieber. He was a very good professor. I’d taken his classes before. He was very discreet; he just handed me the note the university had given him. I owed about $300 in student fees. If I didn’t pay today, I would not be able to continue taking classes. He invited me to take my seat again. He said I could keep coming to his class as far as he was concerned; he just wouldn’t be able to assign me a grade because I would no longer be in his computer. I told him he was kind, but I didn’t want to waste his time. The $300 might as well have been $3 million — I didn’t have it, I couldn’t get it, it wasn’t going to happen. I put my binder back in my bookbag, zipped it up, walked to my Oldsmobile in the parking deck without air conditioning and left. Maybe I could save up the money and come back.

A few weeks later, I was sitting at a conference room table inside the Marietta Daily Journal, with a full-time job offer on the table. Paid vacation, health and dental, the works. I could work one job, 40 hours a week, and make more than I did working four jobs in college. So, I took the job and put college behind me. I’d gone for four years — long enough to have earned a degree — but honestly, I’d only been enrolled in classes so I could stay on my dad’s health insurance plan. I hadn’t been going to class very often, and I didn’t have books for any of them. I couldn’t afford the gas and the parking to drive to campus most days, or the MARTA fare. And if I was in class, I was paying; if I was out of class and working, I was getting paid. I needed the getting paid part. Not eating for days because you’re penniless sucks. Not knowing if the lights will be on when you come home from work sucks. Washing yourself off in a spigot on the side of someone else’s house before work sucks. College rendered me very poor for a long time then kicked me out for being poor. Work, as the Nazis famously said, would set me free.

I met a girl, got an apartment, got married, built a house, got a better job, then a better job, then a raise at the better job. I had a child, then had another (with said wife, to be clear). I made my way forward with life. I’ve done OK. I’m not rich, sometimes things are tight. I wish I could go to the beach this year. But we do OK. We get by.

And more, I’ve helped said wife fulfill her ambitions. She earned a bachelor’s degree, with honors, and a master’s, also with honors. I did everything I could to help her achieve these ends, from putting forth my expertise with words to help her with her papers to keeping the house up and taking care of our daughter so she could take classes and complete assignments. We lived very hand-to-mouth, but we made it work, and now she gets to be home at night and on weekends and holidays, which is a big damn deal for a nurse.

But it eats me that I never got a degree. For all the hell I went through, for all the things that should’ve been easy and weren’t, for all the fear and anxiety and shame, for all the times I swallowed what I could be so I could see another day as what I was, I have nothing to show for it but a $300 blight on my otherwise sterling credit history.

Fort Valley State University

Fort Valley State University, an HBCU in Fort Valley, Ga., that might give me an opportunity to finish my degree, if we all clap our hands and REALLY BELIEVE.

I’m trying to remedy that. I want a degree. I want it desperately. I’ve already shown that I’ll bleed for it as long as I have blood to give. I’ve put that dream behind me for a decade so I could be a good employee, a good father and a good husband. And I expect to remain all these things, but I want to be a good student, too. I want to prove myself.

I know I can’t take classes in person — the only schools that cater to nontraditional students like me with evening programs are either not close by or private and radically expensive. I need an online option. I’ve found one at a small, historically black university in Peach County, Ga. — Fort Valley State University. It’s a bachelor’s in professional and technical writing. I’ve looked at it a few times before, but wrote it off because I either didn’t have time or (initially) because the class description had a few typos in it.

At this point, however, I don’t care. I just want a degree. I deserve the opportunity to earn that. I deserved that much when I came home that summer afternoon and found the house empty. Because people are selfish and don’t cotton to the responsibility that having a child carries with it isn’t my fault. I’m here, after all of this. I’ve pushed on, with my head down and the sun on my back.

I wasn’t supposed to get as far as I’ve come without a degree. People are stunned to hear I never finished college. It’s a shame that I talk around all the time with awkward phrasing. “Where did you graduate?” “I went to Georgia State.” I’ve had to prove myself more than anyone with a degree. I can’t just walk in and be considered for a position for which I’m qualified; I have to qualify myself as uneducated but experienced.

So, I’ve waded through hell and bureaucracy and fought for three solid weeks to get my debt paid and transcripts released by Georgia State, and now I’m waiting on FVSU. I’m waiting to hear if they’ll overlook by abysmal Georgia State transcript. I’m waiting to see if I’ll have the opportunity that I gave up a decade ago. Whatever academic sins I committed then, surely I’ve paid the penance now.

There are inmates taking correspondence classes to earn degrees right now; why not me?

I completed my application earlier this month. I sent the admissions folks everything they wanted. I asked people I hope think well of me to write letters vouching for my experience and ability. I can’t change the past, but I’ve paid for it.

And Tom Petty is right: Waiting is the hardest part.

The Search Results that Bring Us Traffic

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I don’t know why you’re here.

I don’t know what you’re looking for, what you expect to find, how you think anything said here is useful, relevant, insightful or entertaining.

And I don’t know how you washed up on this site.

But I am curious.

Top search terms for squad-blog.com

This is why you’re here: the top search terms bringing people to our site over the past 30 days.

It’s that time again to drop another $18 to keep this blog around another year. And since I’m essentially alone in its maintenance, upkeep and contribution because my one-time peers (I guess) have better things to do with their lives, I’m thinking about making the place my own a bit more. Maybe redo the curtains. Hang a couple of Steely Dan posters in here. Shoot the cat.

I never liked that cat.

As a lark every so often, I take a peek at the search terms that are bringing people to squad-blog.com. To be honest, they’re not bringing many of you, and as I stated before I don’t know why you’d want to come (even I don’t come around that much, and it’s my damn blog). But the search terms always provide an interesting glimpse at what Google thinks we can offer — if you go about eight pages deep through the search results or are foolish enough to push that “I’m feeling lucky” button.

So, since there’s no one here to stop me and since the content on this site is, admittedly, pretty… eclectic… I’m going to start periodically posting the search terms that are bringing people here.

And I’m very sorry to say that “burt reynolds on a bear skin rug,” “burt reynolds sexiest man alive” and “hairy gay man” are not in the top results for the past 30 days. But there is a curious fascination with cedar waxwings out there. Hmmm.

I guess I really am going to have to do something about that.

Burt Reynolds on Bear Skin Rug

MOAR BURT!