W. Clark Allen – An old school kind of hero.

Clark and what we affectionately called the Wog because it resembled, in his mind a polliwog.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The day he nicknamed me. The day he gave me a name that stuck so hard a lot of people thought it was my real name. I’m not saying I didn’t fit the part, but a lot of the reason people took that as my name is because Clark said it. When that dude said something, everyone listened.

He had that kind of clout, that level of respect. So much so that when I see guys from that time in my military career now, they still call me that. Guess what; I still answer to it.

Clark had a lot of nick names for me when I first got to the 177th Fighter Wing Electric Shop out of tech school in February of 1990. I had one stripe at the point. A very proud airman I was.

The Air Force stripes were supposed to resemble wings. When you only had one or two, they looked like wingnuts. And that was my nick name for a bit. But that one never stuck.

Nope it was when he was teaching me how to wash and store the battery assembly that went in the went in the right-hand wheel well of the F-16. Clark was a storyteller who had almost no equal. As I was trying to do what he had just instructed me to do he began relaying the story of the little kid who lived next door to him.

Apparently little Vinny from next door liked to hang around Clark when he worked in the yard. Vinny was prone to get in all kinds of situations in Clark’s yard. Usually, Vinny would do something Clark had just told him not to do. See where this is going?

Clark would tell Vinny not to ride his little tricycle through the flower bed. Seconds later Clark would turn around and Vinny would be laying in the flower bed with his bike on top of him yelling for Clark to help him.

Vinny had to be home soon for dinner, he would get himself stuck in the large oak tree in Clark’s yard and yell for help.

Clark’s dog wasn’t feeling well and laying out in the driveway, Vinny and his tricycle would fall on her seconds after Clark told Vinny to try to steer clear of her.

So, after watching me attempt to disassemble and wash and then store this battery assembly, Clark took to calling me Vinny. Relaying the story of his neighbor kid was Clark’s way of telling me I was jacking it up nine ways to Sunday without telling me I was jacking it up nine ways to Sunday. So, I was Vinny. And that name stuck like glue.

In my defense I was the new guy. I made new guy mistakes. Plus, Clark was intimidating. He wasn’t an ogre or anything. I mean he was tall, but he was the nicest guy around. No, Clark was intimidating because he had unbelievably high standards and unlike a lot of people, he lived up to his own standards.

He was as skilled an electrician as I have ever seen. He had a flare for troubleshooting and could come up with fixes on the fly in amazing situations. He was as quick witted as they come. He lived for the emergency. He loved the red phone. We would get calls on a literal red phone from Maintenance Control when something was busted. It got his heart going. The flightline was his arena. He was an artist and pressure was his medium.

And one day fixing a battery issue with the pilot waiting plane side, he called me Vinny. I was the new kid with one stripe on my arm and I was anonymous as could be. Until that moment. Everyone within ear shot knew Vinny had to be my name.

Clark said it was.

Thirty plus years later and I still am Vinny. The only difference is it went from a bit of an inside joke to my actual name. Even eight months later when the shop chief wandered out to the line and called me by my god given name, the crew chiefs and others standing around replied with obvious confusion. Francis, who the hell is Francis? When the bewildered shop chief pointed at me the reply was almost in unison. That’s not Francis, that’s Vinny. And they were right, my name was Vinny.

Clark said it was.

What made Clark such a hero to me was the simple fact that a guy with such talent and such drive to be a perfectionist could always be so damn funny and always have a story to tell. Clark could lighten any mood in any environment.

He was old school to a fault. When smoking was outlawed in all government buildings in the US and all US military facilities outside the US, Clark wanted to protest. He smoked a lot and drank diet coke like it was water. He got me hooked on what he called that magic elixir. He finally got his chance to protest the smoking regs and he made the most of it.

The smoking lamp is lit.

We were in Goose Bay Canada. They did not have the same rules as far as smoking went. I forget what country owned the hangar we were working out of but it followed none of the rules or social conventions the US bases did. In the electric shop of this hangar Clark found two liquid oxygen bottles. One was pristine. The other looked like it had been in a fire. His bulb went off immediately.

He had me take a pic of him smoking with a big smile on his face next to the pristine LOX bottle. Then another pic with him next to the burnt LOX bottle and the ciggy hanging from his mouth and a sour look as if the bottle had just blown up in his face. It wasn’t Abbott and Costello, but it seemed pretty funny at the time.

The pic above is pre-explosion.

All the joking aside, Clark was respected as the informal leader for good reason. He never cut corners when it came to aircraft maintenance. He didn’t suffer people who cut corners either. He set the example for young guys like me to follow. He just didn’t crow about it. He was a lunch pail guy with the brain of a genius when it came to trouble shooting and fixing the aircraft

He would preach to me about dependability. Damn it Vinny, he’d say, when the red phone rings be there to answer it. I learned from him, as well as from others, being called out to the line meant I was representing all of them. What I did out there reflected on them as well as me. How I conducted myself mattered and I should take it seriously, cause that’s what he did.

That shop was steeped in that philosophy. Guys like Tim Donovan and Joe Zane and George Wessler and John Bennett were cut from the same cloth as Clark. Amazingly skilled at their jobs, dedicated to the cause, and proud to wear the uniform.

It was a privilege to be among them. I am who I am because of them, no matter what they called me.

Reaching for the good stuff.

Rest in peace Clark, you’ve earned it.

Your friend,


The Summer of Frank: Around the world in 60 Days

Editor’s Note: This site has really shifted over the past few years, for a lot of reasons. The kids can read now so that becomes problematic with regard to my sense of humor. There is also the issue of their own privacy now too. Got to respect their space as it were. Being a kid is hard enough, no need to add fuel to the fire of the standard ball busting done by kids on other kids.

The bigger reason is really more my laziness than any other thing. I wrote that I was going back to work, Back to Work: Stay at Home No More, almost seven years ago now. Time has absolutely accelerated. And I’ve not kept up. So now this has turned into more of a diary/scrap book type thing for when I start to go nuts and put sponges in the oven thinking they’re loaves of Italian bread. I’ll need some way to remember.

And man, this summer has had some memories. Most of them not mine. The title of this post is apt. It has truly been the Summer of Frank. The kid has basically been away the entire summer. He’s not been home two weeks in a row since June.

The following is both part narrative and part old fashion boring home movie style. Proceed at your own risk.

Around the World in 60 Days

A while back I became aware of an upcoming trip with Frank’s school in June. Tracy was quick to mention that she had told me several times about the trip and though it was run by teachers it was not technically sponsored by Frank’s school. She and Frank would be leaving for a 3-country tour of Europe in June.

Alrighty then.

First things first. Tracy was sick so I had to go to the briefing for all the parents. Frank came with me. It was at the school, but no the school was not involved. The briefing was kind of standard stuff, until we got to the security of your possessions part of the evening. It was then the group was informed of the three stops, London, Paris, and Rome; it would be in Rome where the thieves would strip your bones bare. Cut you open if they thought you swallowed a quarter. Rob you of your very essence if not your passport.

I mean, I should get the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping my mouth shut. For the love of… it’s a freaking school! Have they never heard of Oliver Twist and Fagen, who turns orphaned London boys into pick pockets and Broadway caliber singers? It sure as shit ain’t Ernesto Twist and Luigi, I can tell you that. And she said it again later in the presentation in case you were not cluing into how all us greezy EYE-talians we’re murderous, thieving, hordes. Wake the hell up lady. I know it’s East Tennesse and all but there are some of us Wops in the wood pile if you know what I’m saying. And in this case the wood pile was the front row in the briefing room.

Whew I’ve been holding that in since June. Anyway.

First stop Jolly Old, crime free England. London to be exact. The Beatles shirt was his idea. I dropped him and Tracy off at the school where they shuttled with the rest of the group to Nashville for a British Airways direct flight.

They hit the ground running apparently and didn’t make it to the hotel until later that next night. They landed right in the middle of the Queen’s Jubilee. Got to see the big parade and a few of the princes. So that was fun. I guess.

Frank ate fish and chips, so there’s that.

The big find though was part of Tracy’s family history. Her great-great grandfather owned a pub in London, and it was still there. She took Frank and they got to meet the current owner. It was there she found out her great grandfather was actually born upstairs, over the pub. Pretty cool.

Next stop Gay Paree, the city of crime free lights. No plane ride for this. My man took the train under the Channel. The Chunnel I think they call it now.

They also hit the ground running here. I think Tracy said they managed the Notre Dame Cathedral, or what’s left of it, and the Louvre in one day.

That’s some running. I believe they cruised through the 14th century on their way to see the Mona Lisa.

They got to go up in the Eiffel Tower at midnight which was pretty cool. Tracy was the last to step out of the tower that night. Quite the accomplishment apparently.

Needless to say, Frank was diggin his Euro-tour with his mom. As evidenced by the pic to the left.

On to the crime ridden bastion of thieves and swindlers. That’s right kids, Rome here we come.

Somehow, they made it to the hotel and then to the restaurant without incident. Huh, hard to figure. Anyway, the kid was the star of the show as they got to make their own food.

He already knows how to make pasta, so he did a little demo here for the group.

You know I have to laugh. That’s my kid, in an actual Italian restaurant in Rome, making pasta and bread under the watchful eye of the chef. Unbelievable.

Rome was the last stop so it was back to London and then another British Airways ride to Nashville. I collected them up at the school and heard all the stories. What a memory to have at such a young age. It was only the beginning.

Seabase and the Boy Scout camp at St Thomas was up next, a mere 10 days after he returned from Europe. And yeah, that St. Thomas, the one they keep in the Virgin Islands.

Not a lot of pics from this trip. But he seemed to enjoy it. Nine Scouts, three scout leaders, and three dads on two 40ft sail boats, sailing around St Thomas. One captain per boat and the boys were the crew. An amazing experience to be sure.

Frank reported he was only sick for half of the first day then was fine for the rest of the week.

Here he is with his boys on the beach, one of the few times they went ashore. Jesus that boat must have stunk of teenager.

No rest for the weary, we no sooner got him back from St. Thomas we had to get him ready for Camp Daniel Boone in North Carolina and the “normal” Boy Scout Summer Camp seven days later.

Yeah, he may have been tired of having his picture made at this point. But hell, these pics are all we saw of him this summer.

Footlocker packed, scout shirt ironed, off he went for a week to Camp Daniel Boone.

Frank won’t likely join the military so this scouting is giving him as similar an experience as he can get to that. Hearing him say he was going to pass on the City Swim Meet so he could stay the full week with his patrol group was interesting. He would have done really well with that swim meet I think. He’d been shaving time all season.

He was the only member of his patrol to go to Sea Base and he’d not seem any of them all summer. He wanted his time at camp to hang with his boys.

They elected him Patrol Leader right before the summer started for a reason apparently. Gotta respect his decision to pass on the City Meet. Hate it, but the kid is growing up. But then again who knows, I didn’t see him this summer.

What we thought was the end of his travels turned out to only be the second to last trip.

Deciding to go with his sister and mother to Anne Marie’s specialist appointment in Raliegh NC, Frank was off again. This time to the Outer Banks and the beach for a few days before his sister’s appointment later in the week.

His shoes still had the dirt of god knows what countries on them. But he packed and off he went again.

They hit the beach for a few days and then the aquarium and various eateries in the area. In other words, the kid was on his fourth freaking vacation in two months.

Not bad for a 13yr old. My first plane ride was to Air Force Basic Training. I was 20.

The summer of Frank was a good one to be sure. He made it home in time to make the Swim Team Banquet.

While he missed a few meets and some practices to go globe-trotting, he did contribute, swam some of his best times, and volunteered to be a junior coach.

Let me tell you something, seeing a random five yr. old get a medal for swimming and then run over to your table to fist bump your 13yr old to thank Frank for being his junior coach is an experience I never would have ever dreamed I’d get to witness.

Almost tops seeing him make his own pasta in Rome.


Frank’s swim team ate the competition alive this summer and won their league going undefeated. Frank got his own medal, league championship tee, and was recognized as a junior coach.

The alarm of reality rings tomorrow morning though. The 8th grade won’t care one bit about Frank’s summer exploits.

But man, what a summer.

The Summer of Frank indeed.

Two Dog Night

Yeah so we caved, kinda of sorta. We had been talking about it for a while. It’s a bit of a selfish conversation born out of our pending sadness. Nothing lasts forever. The conversations got more serious, more detailed. Plans were hatched, lists made. Then, finally, after months of bullying and harassment by unnamed people (Amy & Rachel), we caved in and did it.

He knows not where he perches.

In the immortal words of DJ Khaled, and another one. No not the dirty copier machine you mutts. The dog. We got another dog. Adopted another rescue I should say. Orville to be precise. A 3-month-old Retriever/Springer Spaniel/Terrier mix. We think. Hard to tell with these rescues who just get abandoned on the side of a road or tossed over a fence at an animal shelter.

He may grow to be a killer, but hey at least he’s cute as a button now. And he rings the bells hanging from the front door when he wants to go out. That gives the cute impression that he is house broken, until you realize he’s peed and crapped himself all the way to said bells. What are you gonna do? Make the kids clean it up that’s what. Who says it’s a sad day when your toddlers grow up?

So now we have Milo and Orville. Solid names all the way around. No cute pic of the two of them sitting with-in close enough proximity to each other if that tells you anything about how Milo is adjusting to his new kid brother. Milo is happiest when Orville is in his crate.

The crate has been the clear marker the two dogs are different. Milo spent 38 minutes in his crate and has slept on the bed ever since. Orville naps in his and since the half of the family with no spine is in Europe, I’ve been crating that little prick every night. Guess who’s sleeping like a baby this week and last? No not the dog. Well maybe he is who knows. He’s downstairs in his crate. Me. I’m sleeping like a baby, a stone, a dead man and what have you.

The dog makes not one peep. When I come down to spring him for the day, he’s lying there staring through the bars waiting for his meal period like a convict resigned to his incarceration, waiting for yard time. So, in that respect he’s been much easier as a puppy than Milo was. We just don’t remember what a pain in the tuckus Milo was when he was a puppy because it seems like he grew into a member of the family so quickly. That could not be furthest from the truth. We have all hardwood floors because of Milo.

Thanks to those hardwood floors, Orville clean-up is so much easier. In Orville’s defense he is getting better. He’s still a puppy.

And if he keeps to his lights out by 10p prison sleep schedule, he may eve get to stay.