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Vance Gilbert

Vance Gilbert, "My Bad", 2.12.14


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Book Of Silhouettes

I was at Chinese buffet with my brother and his partner, and we had pretty much put a hurting on the place in our first round of plates. To the table to my right a man and a woman were just arriving. She sat down directly, however he was scuffling his feet in front of him in a manner that was pulling himself forward in his wheelchair to the space where the maître d’ had pulled the chair away. His finger nails were long and bluish, an oxygen tank was strapped to the back of the chair, clearly either COPD or congestive heart failure his self-propelled, 4-wheeled MO, yet he had a Veteran baseball hat on.

I don’t care what you think my politics might or might not be at any point in time during any day, but at any chance I get, when I can see and identify a Veteran, I thank them for serving and I make an attempt to shake their hand. Sometimes it leads to “Thank you” or “You’re welcome”, never has it led to a personal dismissal, and often there’s a story – this was one of those times.

“Ken” was military police at a US airbase “borrowed” in England, early 60’s, if I remember correctly RAF Mildenhall. He said that he and other police were watching over KB 50 airtankers parked, coming, and going. I asked if he ever got to ride on one and he said indeed he did but he had to crawl through the narrow claustrophobic connector from the front to the rear of the plane and he would never do that again! I have never seen a man tell such engaging stories and eat so many Chinese buffet raw oysters in my life! Man, could he slurp and tell!! My favorite of his stories during the 20 minutes I pestered him was of some skulduggery that involved a constant week’s-end miscount inventory of spark plugs. He made me clear that just one of the KB-50J’s big Pratt and Whitney 4630’s motors had 28 cylinders and dual spark plugs per cylinder, and even my bad math says that’s 56 spark plugs per engine. Multiply that times 4 engines per airplane, and multiply that by three or four of these planes sitting on the tarmac getting service...You can see how this might be an inventory nightmare. Well, it seems that some darkly-enterprising American mechanic was skimming the stock pile of spark plugs, taking them to a jeweler somewhere in town, and melting down the metal to extract the platinum tips, which would bring quite a bit of beer money. Ken and his police team caught the guys, and he made a point of how the English were going to punish the jeweler their way and leave the Americans to punish their mechanic in a way that suited them.

I went back to my table, grabbed my 1964 Williams Green book of aircraft silhouettes that lives in my travel bag. Most of you out there that know me know better than to laugh because most of you have seen me with this little book at meals, church, synagogues, shows, funerals, etc., musing about my next project at hand. Yeah, that book. I went back over to his table and asked him to sign the page occupied by the KB 50J.

As we left the restaurant, leaving that couple to sit there after a brief kind goodbye, I found the waiter and asked how much their meal was, handed him my credit card, and took care of their bill and mine. Look, I’m no hero for that. I’m just taking care of somebody who is. And even with my self-imposed rule of not building models of war planes, this model could easily make my list of next projects. Or maybe even make its way into a song...

Still, Peace
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updated: 2 weeks ago

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