Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Gimme Award goes to....

The Balforth Fennington Dalia Award
Hollywood, Calif (UPI)
by Walter Helmhurst  
Today the film version of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" was awarded the Balforth Fennington Dalia Award  better known as the "Gimme". The Balforth Fennington Dalia Foundation is dedicated to honoring all art which never really finds its audience nor becomes a commercial hit.
This award is given on an irregular basis for shows, plays and or movies for no reason other than to remind people that the movie, show or play still exists and is still available for sale or viewing.
The BFD Award is usually awarded to good shows that have trouble selling tickets. According to Velma Coopertonson, chairperson of the Balforth Fennington Dalia Foundation awards committee, "Never have we seen a show so qualified for this trophy as the Two and Only.." 
The Executive Producer of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" had this to say upon receiving the BFD.
"I am surprised by this award.  I was hoping for a royalty check. I do however need a paper weight for some unpaid production bills on my desk. This "Gimme" will work fine. " 
Actor and star of the film  Bob Campbell had this to say upon learning of the award, "What do you think we can get for it on E-Bay?"  Other actors from the production did not return our phone calls.
The committee for the BFD foundation will immediately start looking for next years honoree. According to Ms Coopertonson "Because shows like this are so hard for the audience to find, you can imagine how difficult is it for us." 

Friday, May 15, 2015


Three Kids...One of Each.
A Brother, A Sister and
A Middle Child
Last week my Mom moved to an assisted living facility.  I am the only child in the family who doesn't live in the area so I flew home to help. My sister and my niece were the operational commanders with my brother, my sister-in law, my nephew and me playing the part of the troupes. We all had assignments to do. The plan was to magically transfer Mom from her old place to her new place with a brief stay in the country at my niece's house while that move happened.
My niece and nephew took on the task of duplicating the new environment as close as possible to Mom's old place.  Both of them work as production coordinators for films so they treated the assignment like they were recreating a movie set.  In 14 hours they took a blank apartment and completely recreated Mom's world in detail.  It was amazing.

Above is a picture of old photographs of me, my brother and my sister, taken on the same day by the same photographer, mid-century. They are equal in size, background, matting, tone and frame. The pictures are a matched set.  They were displayed in this arrangement above my parents bed as long as any of us can remember.  My parents bedroom would not be complete without this birth order grouping of us kids in exactly this configuration.

My nephew used exact measurements from ceiling to floor, spacing above the head board of the bed and between each picture based upon the way it has always been.  Using a laser level and skilled precision he placed the individual wall hangers in the exact places they needed to be.  Then he carefully removed the pictures from the moving box and hung them up.

As you can see I am the middle child in our family.  There are many studies done on the significance of the birth order of siblings and how it shapes their personalities.  The archetype of the middle child would certainly be applicable to the way my life has turned out.  It would be pure ego to repeat those qualities of creativity, imagination, wisdom and joy that seem to define a middle child, so I won't. What I will say is, I have been dubbed "the golden boy" by my siblings and in spite of my career with puppets, I have definitely always been the "odd" one of the trio.  Ask around, my family is not shy about giving explicit factual examples of my oddites. I'm okay with being different. I wear my oddity like a new pair of clown shoes.

When my nephew stepped back to look at the picture arrangement hanging on the new wall, something was amiss. My picture frame (did I mention I am the one in the middle?) hung significantly higher than the other two picture frames. My nephew removed the pictures and checked the wall hangers with a level.  The three hangers were level as were the tops of the frames for of the other two pictures.  All his measurements were correct but it was still not right. It was my picture that disrupted the whole balance of the family arrangement,  my picture was elevated.

I have always looked for signs; communications from a higher vibration taking shape in physical form. I feel like these talisman-tic showings are trail markers to guide me in the right way.  They come most often as confirmation of decision when you are wondering if you made the correct turn. Their appearance is rarely note worthy, it could be things as simple as a feather on the grass, a Blue Jay flying past or a coin laying heads up on the ground.  Taking my Mother to an assisted living facility was the right move and in Mom's most lucid moments she would agree, but we were all looking for some sort of confirmation that we were indeed doing the right thing. The family was on uncharted ground.

As the set decoration team worked long into the evening recreating their Grandmother's home the reason for this activity was never far from every one's thoughts.  Placing a parent in the care of others is the painful passage of realizing you are no longer a child.  There are times the sadness of the situation causes what my niece calls "church laughter". The kind of giggles you get during a situation where laughing out loud would be offensive or at least not proper.  On the verge of tears, laughter becomes a desiderate antidote to the sadness of the moment.

My nephew discovered the hanging problem on the back of the picture frames.  Although the three pictures were framed exactly the same,  and appeared to be the same in every way, the eyelet screws attaching the wire of my picture frame was not screwed in at the same place as my brother's nor my sister's frames.  My screws were fastened to a different measurement.
With this discovery my nephew turns to his wife, my niece, and says, "Here is the trouble.  Jay is just wired differently from the others."
To which she replied, "I guess we better take him down a couple of notches."
They laughed about the discovery, as did I in the re-telling to the rest of the family. It was nice to laugh again for a moment. 
I suppose there will never be another metaphor more descriptive than this one explaining my place in the family gene pool.   It reminds me to say thanks to my brother and sister for understanding I am wired differently, and to thank my Mom for understanding I just don't hang like everyone else. It has always been so because my screws are in a different place.

As you were,

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Down to a minute

I took a lot of pictures and a lot of movies on board the Stennis.  This is an edited minute in the 18 hour days of Flight operations training.  After the last take off notice the crowd of sailors in different colored shirts run across the deck to get ready for the next take off.  It is a ballet of efficiency.

As you were,

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

CNV 74 --The Show

Jay "Heater" Johnson
Honorary Stennis Aviator
Hangar before the stage was set
Doing a show on an active aircraft carrier
during flight training exercises is like trying to do a half time show at the Super Bowl with the stadium moving through water at 12-15 knots per hour and planes taking off and landing on the roof.  The producers had to bring in the sound equipment and the flight operations had to be suspended for the day.  To clear space for the stage and an audience on the hangar deck, the crew had move 20 or 30 planes around and stow some of them on the flight deck above.  It took them all night and most of the next morning to create our make shift theatre. Below is a short YouTube I took when they were moving airplanes out of the audience space and "clearing the stage".

Setting up the stage on Hangar deck..
The official title of the guy who set up the show and made sure all the equipment was there and accounted for was "Fun Boss". Fun Boss is mainly shore side, but flies on with the entertainers to facilitate the production with the Navy. The Fun Boss had the power to get all the help we wanted to do whatever needed to be done for the show. He said this was his 154 arrested landing on an Aircraft carrier. However, he said they are never "old hat" and he never takes them for granted. Fun Boss has a great job. The party maker. When the crew sees the Fun Boss on board they know there is a party or show in their future.

At first the plan was to keep the bay door open for the show. Although it made a beautiful back drop, it was not good for the sound and lights. Fun Boss said he would get the doors closed and so he did.

Rehearsal after they closed the hangar door
After getting such a warm welcome from the crew, we were ready to do the show for them to give back something. Every performer in the show was a consummate road-seasoned professional,  so the sound check/rehearsal was smooth and fun.  Sound checks, when done right, let the entertainers entertain themselves.  A super private exclusive performance for us who will be working the show and not able to see it from the audience.
The musical director said the Admiral wanted a specific song in the show and had placed it last.  My friend Dick Hardwick, MC and fellow comic, thought that it was not strong enough to close the show so we persuaded him to put it in the middle and end with the Ray Charles version of America sung by Billy Valentine. (There is a YouTube video of the last few minutes of that song attached below.) When the crew came up to the stage to shake hands it brought me to tears backstage. It was a powerful moment.

There I am back stage. During the show. 
My point of view on the show.
Mostly I watched the show from behind the stage... Back stage literally and figuratively. From that vantage point, I saw a different show. I saw the faces of the sailors watching what was happening on stage.  At first they were reserved in ship shape military stoicism.  Each moment made that facade melt away a little more. Dick was the glue that kept it all together and monitored the humor quotient. By the time Darwin the Jazz Monkey hit the stage the crew was ready for some monkey business.  I didn't know how it would go with the ultimate sound-man's challenge and ventriloquist nightmare in this open hangar, but it could not have been more joyous.  It was not perfect theatrical conditions, but that audience. I wanted to bottle that reaction from those sailors and fliers and take it home. My time on stage flew by.
Darwin and Me on Stage
We all came on stage at the end to sing America. Dick grabbed the Captain and I grabbed the Admiral. We got them on stage and celebrated with the entire crew. They waved lighted flashlights in the audience.  It was amazing.
We spent the better part of the next hour just meeting or shaking hands with any and all crew members who stayed around to watch the stage strike.  With plenty of sailors ready to help,  the stage, lights, and sound gear quickly vanished into anvil cases then a cargo net ready to be loaded on the equipment plane.  As if it was all a dream the Hangar bay went back to its intended purpose and soon there were planes occupying the space which had doubled briefly as our theatre. Except for the smiles on the faces of young sailors it was like it never happened at all.
Practical Monkey Joke....
We hung out in Wardroom number 3, recounting the experience to each other and our officer guides. We answered their questions and got to know them as we decompressed from the show.
The next day was again an early call and it was back to being herded around to even more things that make the ship operate.  We got a fire drill demonstration, the Focsle where the massive anchor is stowed, the machine shop for repairing the F-18 engines and anything else that the officers could think of to keep us occupied.  And soon it was late afternoon and time to leave the ship.

This meant another briefing on the procedure of the catapult take off. Some of the suggestions were: 1) Make certain your four point harness is tight. When you go from 0 to 200 in two seconds any slack in the harness will impact your shoulders like a straight arm jab from a heavy weight fighter. 2) Make certain your hands are tucked under your arms.  During the catapult there is no way to keep your hands from flying out and hitting the seat in front of you. 3) Make sure your feet are secured and tucked behind the seat. If your legs fly forward they will hit the seat in front and your shins will never be the same again.  4) Have nothing in your hands or loose around your seat.  Any loose object will become a speeding bullet traveling at 200 miles an hour.  5) Lastly make sure your goggles are strapped on tight. There were tales of goggles separating from your face during the catapult only to come snapping back sharply when you reach air speed.
Once we were strapped in and ready to assume the take off position the anxiety begins.  There is no count down.  When the plane is secure on the catapult and all the vitals have been checked, and the pilot is ready and the safety crew has given permission you literally blast off. The only thing is... you never really know when. Like someone slowly pressing on a balloon, the anticipation of the pop is sometimes more stressful than the pop itself.  That was not the case in this operation, the shot off the bow of the ship lived up to the hype.
We hear the engines strain at full speed. We get in the positions we were instructed to assume. The engines rev up a little more. Seconds seem like an eternity until there is a metallic snap. Before you can comprehend what that sound was you feel a rush upward as you are falling face forward toward the unseen deck suspended only by shoulder straps. For a moment you doubt that the straps are strong enough to hold your massive weight.  It is like being a harnessed puppet pulled from a string in the middle of your back, straight up at 200 miles an hour.
The plane levels off and we are flying.  A dampened cheer of glee comes from the passengers. I give a thumbs up to my seat mate Dick and we grin at each other like four year olds.  The best roller coaster/carnival ride the US Navy can afford.

From that moment on it was like any other plane ride back to San Diego.
But... here is my take away from the show. The moment I get back home to check my email there is already a note from Barbara Guyll thanking me for entertaining the sailors.
My question was "how did you know?"
The audience from my camera. You can see Phil taking the movie.
It seems her son is currently on the Stennis and emailed her about the show. He told her I was taking pictures with my camera from on stage at the end. (You can even see me snapping the picture in the YouTube above) She thought I might have taken a picture of her son.  I sent her this picture of the audience at the end of the show.  When she told me the area he was standing I zoomed in as much as it would stretch.
Her son is the man on the left (picture left stage right) in the white observers uniform.
Extreme close up 
Small world made smaller by instant communication.
Thank you to the men and women of the USS John C. Stennis  CNV 74 for an unbelievable experience.
As you were,

Monday, April 27, 2015

CNV 74-- The Ship

Two rules: 
A) I am purposely not using names in this essay with the exception of Admiral Bowman who arranged this gift to all of us on board the USS John C.Stennis. There were many, many people who made this happen. Most of them were not on the ship but made it possible for us to be there and entertain the sailors. They may or may not want to be mentioned in my blog. One of the performers on this trip is a good friend and fellow Dog who definitely doesn't want to be mentioned in this blog. I didn't get any body's permission, so, to the Gentlemen of the BNSEF (Bohemian Navy Special Entertainment Forces)  You know who you are. Thank you for your service. it was an honor to perform with you all.  I will always remember my Navy buddies.

2) I am breaking this essay into chapters. 
This is chapter one. 

The circumstances....
I was asked by retired Admiral Mike Bowman to be part of a show for the Crew of the USS Stennis CVN 74. At the time they were doing flight operations training in the North Pacific.  The ship and the crew will be deployed somewhere closer to the action in the fall.
There were 12 performers and a support crew of 6 and two producers for a total of 20.  We flew an hour or more out of San Diego in a Military C-2 aircraft to eventually make an "arrested landing" on the flight deck of the Nuclear Aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. 
Suiting up to go observe Flight Deck operations. 

SIDE NOTE: For those who might not know how an aircraft carrier works here is a quick tutorial.  The upper deck of an Aircraft carrier is an airport. But even though it is a huge ship with a crew of 4000, the deck is three times too small for planes to land or take off. In order to slow the plane from airspeed, there are four cables that run the width of the deck. They provide the proper resistance for the weight and speed of the plane to bring it to a stop. To snag these cables a special hook on the tail of the plane (called a tail hook- naturally) is maneuvered by the pilot so that it catches the wire as he lands and the plane stops in 2 seconds.

That is called an arrested landing... basically a controlled crash where you go from 200 miles an hour to 0 in a matter of 2 seconds. Other than experiencing a crash there is no way to explain the feeling.  On the C-2 passengers face backwards. You get pushed back in your seat in a feeling that must be similar to a baseball when it is suddenly stopped by a catchers mitt.  G-force is just a number until you experience it. 
NOTE IN A NOTE: there are four wires so you have four chances to stop. The plane lands at full speed in the event that it misses all four wires. That is called a "bolt" and the plane immediately climbs to make altitude, circle around and try again.
CONTINUING SIDE NOTE: When a plane takes off from this mini floating airport they have the opposite problem. There is not enough deck to attain the ground speed for lift. To facilitate this problem the ship has a steam driven piston that runs the length of the flight deck. They hook the front gear of the plane to a knob attached to the piston which sits inches above the deck in a long slot.  The pilot throttles  the engines to near full speed and at just the right moment a "shooter" hits the red button to release the steam built up in the catapult and in 2 seconds the plane goes from 0 to 200 miles an hour and is airborne. When the catapult is deployed is sounds like something has hit the ship.  There is a loud bang and the ship shutters with the force of a 3.5 earthquake. But more about a catapulted take off later.
Back to the Adventure.
We land. And the plane taxi's to a spot where they can open the cargo door in the tail of the C-2 and we file off. We are led around the conning tower and down two decks.  One if the gang ways is metal grating open to the sea below. It is the first time we realize how fast the ship is moving, or that it is moving at all. We have landed on a quickly moving target. They take our goggles, life vest, ear protection and "cranial's". We are no longer dressed like crash dummies, and the color is coming back to our cheeks. There is lemonade and sandwiches in the Captain's in port office.
We met up with officers who will be our constant escort for the next three days.  Except for show day they kept us on a tight schedule getting a briefing from almost every department head on the ship. 

At one point they took us down to the Ammo magazine. It is where they keep the missiles, bombs and guns, when asked if there were nuclear weapons on board the K-5 said, "I can neither confirm nor deny." There were only certain areas of the ship they asked us not to photograph. This is the only photograph of the missile area that didn't violate that request 

In fact the only part of the ship we were not allowed to see was the nuclear reactor area. The sailors who work in that area have a special tag they wear.  When the color of the tag changes to orange, they are done.  They have absorbed all the radiation their bodies can take.  They are referred to around the ship as the "glow worms".

We watched the flight operations from the bridge, from the flight deck, from vultures row and from the Task Force Commanders observation deck (that is where the Admiral observes operations).  Since it was a training exercise we watched dozens of take offs and landings on the carrier, including night operations. To see an F-18 Hornet hit the after burners leaving the flight deck at night is an amazing fire show almost over shadowing the powerful compression you feel in your chest when you are on flight deck and the Hornets take off.  The captain said, "Until you have actually smelled it and felt it, you don't really get a sense of the magnitude of this operation." A ship is not a quite place, there is a constant rumbling dotted with metallic bangs and jet engines firing. There is a clean smell to the ship mixed with a patina of jet fuel and oil. It is distinctive.

Captain with the Glow Worms
We were DV's while on board. (Distinguished Visitor...the Navy loves acronyms).  Our cabins were spartan military grade but with only two people to a room it was equivalent to officers accommodations.  Technically we enjoyed a commissioned rank while on board.  Our first day we were so tired we were glad to get some rest in our metal bunk beds.  However, our staterooms were directly below the steam catapult.  We experienced the jolt and explosive sound of a 3.5 earth quake every four minutes until 3:00am.  We asked some sailors if the noise and the shaking bothered them.  They said you get used to it and after working 18 hour shifts on the flight deck you can sleep through anything. 
The average age on the ship is 18 to 20 years old. Our group of entertainers raised the average age on board considerably.  All of the sailors are in great physical shape.  There are no elevators from deck to deck and no stairs.  They have ladders.  Steep ladders that require precise navigation to avoid hitting your head or falling on your face. I didn't think to activate my iPhone pedometer to see how far we climbed. There was no cellular service at sea and the wifi was strictly confined to certain areas of the ship. 
We were generally taken to the officers Wardrooms for meals. Good food served 23 hours a day.  One hour each day is a ship wide cleaning duty.  Every member of the crew mans some sort of cleaning device from an electric buffer to a towel and cleans a section of the ship. There is a definite difference in what the officers experience and what the average E-1 experiences.  Down below there are decks with bunks three men high. Only if you are in the top bunk and the infrastructure of the duct work doesn't take the space away do you have more than 14 inches between your bed and the one above. 

Every sailor and pilot we met was friendly and smart and looked like they could be cast immediately in a new version of Top Gun.  A group of three fliers who showed us inside the AWAC were named, Party Boy, Ebola and Motor.  Party Boy was stunningly handsome, but I didn't get a photo of him since we were in one of those "no picture" areas.
In the next chapter I will go more into detail about the show, but my take away from this on board experience is this:  The quality of character, training, intelligence and responsibility of these service men and women is stunning.  You feel in very capable hands. It is how the government should function.  4000 people with differing ideas, backgrounds and abilities come together and perform like the dancers in a ballet troupe to accomplish what would seem the impossible. It is how America should work, all for one and one for all setting aside personalities to make things happen.  It makes congress look like a bunch of ego-centric old fools.
More later,

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hello? Hello?

The phone rings.... I don't recognize the number, but then I have some friends who are off the grid, so to speak.  I assume it is not someone I want to talk with because there is a long pregnant pause after I say hello.  Finally I hear someone come one the line.
"Hello Mr. Johnson, this is (insert name here) I work for a (insert name here) contracting company and we do work...

I put the phone down on the desk and continue what I am doing. I can hear the electonic chatter of the sales-pitch faintly but not distinctly.  After a minute or two there is a pause in the caller's running commentary. In the silence I pick up the phone and say.
"That is very interesting."
The caller said, "Are you thinking of doing work inside or outside your home.?"
"I Absolutely believe in home work. " I say.
There is a slight pause then:
"Inside the house or outside?" There is a hopefull tone to his voice.
"That would be correct." I say 
There is another pause of equal length then:
"Let me just ask... what is the project you are thinking about doing?"
"Yes that is a very good question." I continue, " Just outside my house and running along the perimeter I would like to build a moat.  I know I can't keep aligators in the water, but I am thinking that I could fill it with some sort of acid. I am thinking that battery acid is not that hard to buy in quantity? Or is it. That is somthing that contractors know right? "
He starts to answer, but I continue on
"No matter.  The main thing is I want shards of glass fixed to the edge of the moat so no one can get near the liquid."
Again I step over his next question.
"You see I am trying to keep contractors away from my house. I don't like contractors even the ones I know and allow to work on my property.  I wish there was some way to keep them from calling me on the telephone and disturbing me.  But at least if I knew they could not get to me personally I would feel better... So what do you think the trench, the concrete with embedded broken glass and enough acid to fry the average fat ass contractor would cost?"
There is silence on the other end of the line.
"I guess you need to come out and measure, Right... are your estimates free?"

My wife says, "Why do you do that... why don't you just hang up? Why answer at all... anyone we know will leave a message."

She is right of course. But that is the risk you take when you make an unsolicited call to my house. Besides I figure if they are wasting my time... I can return the favor.  If only with I had the talents of my friend Joey Van who is a double talker... I could keep them on the line for hours.
As you were,