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The worst time for me to awake is about 1 - 2 hours after I get to sleep.

Especially when my name is being repeated and I'm being shaken.

It doesn't help matters when I grunt something only to hear "your car's gone."

My keys had been missing for a few days, so my reaction was subdued when I went out front to confirm that, indeed, the old black metal that was there a few hours previous wasn't. There, in fact, was exactly where it ain't.

Call police, receive unwelcome commiserations from drunken college kids neighbors, wait for the squad car.  The cop (a young Latina with the prettiest dark-eyed smile that I've seen in the wee hours in years) has to clear out the congregated intoxicants out of the road before taking the report.  Spring break is one of the more interesting times to live at the beach.  She takes my information - that I don't even have my tag number memorized shows how unautomotive my thinking is - and makes a comment about how I must be angry.

No, I'm not.  The missing piece of steel had no flesh, no blood, would never hug me back.

(Before the paperwork begins on my satori nomination, please don't steal my computer or my ipod or my bicycle.  I'm attached to material things that matter.)

Now I can't sleep, so I open a Diet Pepsi and fart around on the computer.  An hour later the phone rings.  "We've got your car."   It's less than a mile away.  The neighbors there heard an engine revving loudly, and saw three yoots in hoodies pile out and run.  After they "process the vehicle" she'll call me back and let me know whether I can retrieve it from the spot tonight or from the impound tomorrow.

Another half hour later the phone rings again.  Drive to the corner, inspect the car, confirm that all the scratches and dings are old.  The car smells like hot insulation.  Starts just fine.  The clutch is completely gone.  Not a bit of purchase in 5 gears or reverse.  I habitually reset the odometer when I fill the tank -- I later retrace my movements and determine that they rode no more than 16 miles before they couldn't move any more.  Don't steal a vehicle you don't know how to drive.

Wake up the tow guy, take the groceries out of the trunk (still there!), home for a few hours sleep.  Call the insurance agent in the morning to learn that comprehensive coverage has no deductible.  If the stars align I'll get a new clutch at the cost of a few hours sleep. 

On some level I always expected the car to be recovered -- there can't be much of a black market for 11 year old coupes with 140,000 miles.  Since my mechanic assures me that it is good for another 100,000 (ten years at the rate I drive), I'll be keeping better track of my keys.

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"Steven Spera, Sr.  Steve Spera

Of New Castle, DE, age 51, formerly of Westville, NJ died on March 16, 2008, at Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Mr. Spera was born in Camden, NJ and served in the U.S. Army. He retired from The Boiler Makers Union Local 13 in 2002 and was a member of the St. Anthony's Club of New Castle."

From the Wilmington News-Journal
Steve retired from the boilermakers, all right.  In the summer of 2001 he was working with a crew fixing the catwalks around big chemical tanks at an oil refinery in Delaware City.  The refinery, owned by a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and the Saudi kingdom's Aramco, hadn't bothered to maintain its tanks for years, because it didn't want to bear the cost of shutting down production.  The refinery owner didn't tell the contractor doing the catwalk repair that its own inspectors had repeatedly recommended that a 415,000 gallon sulfuric acid tank be taken out of service because it was corroded and ridden with holes.

There's no telling whether the vapors from the sulfuric acid in tank 393 were ignited by a spark from the welding or an impact between catwalk and tank, but ignite they did.  The result was a fireball that engulfed a neighborhood of the 8 square mile refinery, the rupture of tank 393 and another tank, and the discharge of 99,000 gallons of acid over the containment wall and into the Delaware River.  The EPA  later estimated that 2,400 fish were killed along with 240 crabs and fined the company ten million dollars.

What about the work crew?  Steve heard a noise and shouted "run!"  He and four other guys made it off the catwalk and over the wall.  Jeffrey Davis, a 50 year old father of five, did not.  The steel shanks of his boots and his belt buckle were found during the cleanup.  His body was dissolved by the acid.

AftermathSteve and the other workers, as well as two truck drivers waiting for loads, suffered extensive chemical burns.  Inhaling hot acid fumes isn't something I recommend for anyone.  From that day forward Steve did not draw a single breath without pain.

In addition to the EPA investigation, the refinery owner was prosecuted for the homicide of Jeff Davis and assault upon 6 of the injured workers.    The company pleaded "no contest."  Imagine, if you will, being accused of killing a man and saying "OK, no contest."  The company was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and assault and given the maximum penalty - a fine of $11,500 for killing Jeff Davis and $5,750 for assault of each injured worker.

The EPA fine works out to $3,787.88 for each fish and crab killed by the acid discharge.  Almost exactly one-third of the homicide fine.  Our governments think a man's life is only worth three fish or crabs.  That isn't good news.

My friend Steve Spera was an honest, honorable, hard-working guy.  I lost touch with him in the last years of his life, after putting on his boots, grabbing his helmet and going to work every morning was replaced by the listless days of the disabled and the alcohol and drugs that were his natural response to pain.  Though he  died in his sleep seven years after his health was sacrificed to corporate profit, his wife said that the man she loved died on the day of the fireball.

I have lost a friend.  It didn't have to happen.  I'm angry and sad.

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  Yep, that's an 11 pound cat on my back.  She leaps there without invitation, which can be an unpleasant surprise.  Especially in the kitchen with hot or spillable stuff in hand.

Made the mistake of starting her young:  

When girlfriend comes home with a kitten peeking out from her sweatshirt and tells a barely-believable story of hearing a noise under the hood of her car at a shopping center (in front of the pet shop she'd visit weekly to play with puppies) and says "what do we do with this?" What do you do?

You take the kitten to the vet.  When she yowls the whole time you name her in honor of tropical storm Gabrielle, which coincided with the kitten's birth, and because the cat is obviously gabby.

Except Gabs was just hungry, not gabby.  She'll converse with you, but in ladylike eeps and mrrts.  She won't say a word before leaping on your back, even if you're just the petsitter, or if you're another cat on the bed before she pins her ears back and pounces. 

Gabs owns the bed. She'll share with people, no problem, if you don't mind being woken in the wee hours by purring and stropping.  On occasion she'll deign to share the bed with other cats, but they never know when she'll turn on them.  When Gabs is seen with orange fur between her pads it'll usually be weeks before anyone else dares to get on the bed.  If you're passing through the bedroom, make sure to greet her.  Say "Hello Gabs," and she'll say "mrrt" and the day's most meaningful conversation will begin.

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For the third year in a row my brother and I watched the New York Mets play the Washington Nationals in spring training.  Though he lives just two hours away we don’t get together more often that 3 – 4 times a year, so the March baseball game – just brother and brother, no parents or spouses or kids -- has become an enjoyable ritual.

I live furthest from the ballpark, so I always leave first.  Then, after I’ve been on I-95 for half an hour or so he calls to tell me he is getting a late start.  He’s got teenage kids at home, and a pool and yard to maintain, and other responsibilities that delay his going anywhere.  So, he always calls.  “Dude, you’ve got my ticket,” I say.  “Now I feel guilty,” he says.

Turns out we get to the park within 10 minutes of each other, snaking down a two lane road with several thousand other fans and a few unfortunate civilians stuck in our traffic jam.  My brother hits the concession stand and I fill out a scorecard (a decades-old habit that makes me pay attention to the ballgame).  We find our seats which are immediately behind those of two brothers, a couple decades our seniors, sporting Red Sox and Celtics caps and conversing in a musical Boston brogue.

A warm spring afternoon at the ballpark is the perfect place for brothers to reconnect.  The lazy mandala of the game provides a focus without overpowering the equally lazy conversation, about our families, our friends, past and future games, and every so often the baseball game before us.  I note the progress of the players on the diamond on my scorecard, we slather sunscreen on our pasty knees, my brother worries that he left his ball glove home.  “You won’t see a ball here behind the screen” I tell him, though he has a worrisome propensity for diving for fouls in the stands.  We trade barbs with the guys in front of us, and the section consults on the scoring of an intricate rundown play (5-2-3-2-3, we conclude).  A foul ball does pop over the screen at us, bounces off the walkway and into the hands of one of the Bostonians directly in front.  My own brother looks stricken.  “Next year,” I assure him.

After the game my brother wants to find the restaurant we ate at last year, a hole-in-wall family seafood place which we stumbled upon miles from the ballpark.  Neither of us can remember where it’s located, so we spend an hour driving in odd circles, getting turned away at military gates and trying to coordinate by cell phone, before we give up and settle on a waterfront eatery at the port.

Dinner conversation is more serious.  We’ve both turned the midlife corner where opportunities don’t shine, and burdens weigh heavier on tired shoulders.  We discuss health problems, kids’ college plans, finances.  He wanders away to the railing of the restaurant patio – he’s smoking again.  Nothing is solved, but the commiseration feels good in itself.   We get into our cars to drive toward the sunset.

I hug my brother and tell him to look for next spring's baseball schedule.  “In twenty years,” I say, “I want to be those guys who sat in front of us.”

Maybe I’ll wear a Red Sox cap next year.

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