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May 9th, 2022

I Actually Did Have An Amazing Life

Loveless though it was…

I’m still really proud of the Rube Goldberg contraption I made out of a Raytheon Eclipse CECIL script, a DOS batch program, sftp, a bash shell script, a cron job, and three different computers to let me get email notifications whenever we lost the telemetry link to Goddard because I was the only one maintaining that link and Goddard would not allow email (completely understandable) on the JLAB machine we were using.

Six years ago I shared this award with two of my co-workers in the Integration and Test branch.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 25th, 2022

Thank You And Goodbye

Today was my last day at work. Office cleaned out, final timesheet filled out and signed, key cards turned in, RSA and DUO tokens given back. My co-workers gave me a nice sendoff last night at Pappi’s. Maybe I had one too many margaritas.

One last thing to do before I leave the paycheck life forever is say goodbye to the people who I worked alongside of at the best job ever…

Today is my last day here at Space Telescope. After 23 years and at age 68 I’m retiring, and moving on to a new stage in my life. But before I go I want to take some time to thank everyone here for making all these years some of the best in my life. I watched the TV raptly as the astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and later the Space Shuttle, and even in my wildest dreams back in those days I’d never thought I’d find a place for myself in the space program. I was raised by a single divorced mother, we didn’t have a lot of money, and expectations placed on me were low.

I want to tell you before I leave about the path that brought me to the Institute, because there are many paths that brought us here and mine speaks I think to something worth remembering about the value people can bring to their jobs, and their communities, regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of their differences, and to what makes this place so special. Sorry if this seems a bit longish.

I think the biggest debt of thanks I owe to any one person in my life is to someone I never got a chance to meet. My maternal grandfather, Albert (who I’m middle named for) built, sold and serviced radios back in the early days of radio, when KDKA was the first commercial radio station.

He suffered a sudden stroke in his mid forties when mom was still a teenager. She loved her dad very much, and while I was growing up anything she saw in me that reminded her of her dad she encouraged. So while I began showing an early interest in art and photography (my first grade teacher wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects”) whenever I showed an interest in radios and electronics she encouraged it, and I got radio kits, Heathkits to build, and all sorts of electronics kits to fiddle with.

I took an interest in shortwave radio because it gave me news and programs from all over the world. I would retrieve discarded radios from behind a radio/TV repair shop near where we lived, and get them working again so I could listen to the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Deutsch World, Radio Johannesburg. Once I brought an old TV home and got it working again, just as mom walked into my room and saw it. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my room, mom thought it would be a distraction from my schoolwork. But I knew if I could say the magic words (“I fixed it”) she’d let me keep it.

I bought my first computer, a little Commodore C64, because I saw a kit for it that let you pick up radio teletype transmissions, and also to play video games which were just then becoming a thing. The Commodore’s user interface was its Basic interpreter (which was written by Microsoft for Commodore), and experimenting with that I began to learn programming.

When the first IBM PC came out I was fascinated by it, but the cost of one was way beyond my reach. But one day I was walking around a HAM Fest at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, looking for vacuum tubes for a radio I was working on, I saw a booth that was selling the parts to build a PC compatible. The HAMS were using them for radio teletype. I saw I could buy the parts one piece at a time as I could afford it, which I did, and eventually got my first PC running. I remember staring at it in my room after I booted it up, feeling suddenly a bit intimidated by it, and thinking to myself that it was way more power than I’d ever need.

I bought a modem and started exploring the early online world. Some of the early modem programs allowed you to write scripts for automating connecting and downloading content, which was useful back when your favorite bulletin boards were single line and often busy. I could start off a program and go do something else while the computer tried to connect and get me the latest messages and upload some of mine. I also began experimenting with a copy of Microsoft Quick Basic, and later a copy of their professional development kit which came with the first iteration of their Access database engine. I wrote my own contact manager and calendar application, and made it work with the serial port and modem so I could remote log into it.

Around that time I discovered G.L.I.B.,the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau bulletin board, created by two gay men as a news and information resource for the community. I’d come out to myself back in high school, but in 1971/72 there were no resources for gay teens and the only place I knew of was a seedy bar down in Georgetown, so finding a safe place to meet and chat with other gay folk who were also techno nerds like me felt like a godsend and I quickly became an active volunteer in the board’s maintenance.

I wrote programs to maintain the user list and send out notices. I managed the calendar of events which we copied from the local gay paper, The Washington Blade. I paid particular attention to the board news section as it was the heart of our mission. One of our members worked for a wire service and he would send me a digest of gay related wire service news items. This was a time when most newspapers barely touched on anything related to our existence. When Anita Bryant went on a warpath in Dade County Florida against an anti discrimination ordinance, I had to find out it had been repealed by listening to a BBC shortwave broadcast because none of the TV news programs said anything about it. I wrote a program to download his news digest, split it out into the individual news items, format them correctly for the BBS software we used, then uploaded them along with a new menu with all the new news items in it.

I was still trying to make a living at my arts then, on the assumption that as long as I had no college degree I would never be hired as a programmer, even though I was getting pretty good at it. I had a few photography gigs for local newspapers but the pay was miniscule. I was earning a small living as an architectural model maker, but the savings and loan scandal in the mid 80s bankrupted the architects I did work for. So I was back to doing Manpower jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet. I asked the BBS users for help. One of the men who ran the system also had a business teaching classes on the dedicated work processors of the time, and he hired me part time to help him with other work.

I wrote him a membership management system for a gay political group, using Basic, Word Perfect and dBase 4 (working with dBase for I learned how documentation will occasionally lie through its teeth). The system could query the database for new members and generate welcome letters, run monthly queries for members who needed to renew and generate renewal letters, and had a simple menu user interface. The system would take the comma delimited data file dBase generated and reformatted it to Word Perfect’s mail merge format, and send the letters right to the printer

This gave me enough of a resume that when a friend who worked for a contract agency told me Baltimore Gas and Electric was looking for someone who knew Microsoft Basic to work on their Work Measurement System, that I was able to go through the interview process and get the job. I worked for BG&E for three years, delivering an assortment of programs that queried their databases to generate reports for management. That eventually became my stock in trade, along with writing installation kits.

After BG&E I wrote business software for AT&T, Becton-Dickenson, Litton Amecom, Zenica Pharmaceuticals, and several small insurance companies. I still did not have my degree, but my resume was getting pretty big. And with each new contract I gained a level of experience working in different software and hardware environments.

While working for one of the insurance companies, a recruiter at the agency I was working for asked me if I was interested in a part time side job. Not really interested since my plate was pretty full at the time, I asked where. “The Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.” he says, “They operate the Hubble Space Telescope.” Well he didn’t need to ask me twice.

I started work here, as a full time contractor, Thanksgiving week 1998, on the new Grant Management System, code named GATOR. Another business application, which was right up my alley. After a year as a contractor I was given the opportunity to come on board as AURA staff. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

At that time we distributed a Java application to our community, any one of which might be using Microsoft, Apple, SunOS, or Linux. So eventually I was tasked with building a test center we could use to debug problem reports from the community, regardless of what they were running our application on. That first test center was made from a lot of spare parts, again, something I had experience with since by then I’d built several generations of my own household computers from parts. That led to my joining the Integration and Test branch, which eventually led to my working on JWST, the ACTLab, the I&T Lab, and eventually the MOC itself.

And so the kid with low expectations, who watched the first astronauts going into space, found himself one day participating in JWST end to end tests, doing test conductor work, and speaking over the NASA voice loop to outposts on the deep space network. And still writing business software, because science needs business software too. The last major one I turned in was a build report for the Roman Space Telescope project.

I had the job offer letter I got in December 1999 framed and it’s on my den wall at home, along with our group pictures with the astronauts and my awards. There is also a little DayTimer page there, with a note on it to call Lee Hurt about work at Space Telescope.

The Institute opened doors for me, gave me a chance to grow professionally and discover potential within myself that I never knew I had, until I was given the chance. I have never felt safer, or more valued as a coworker anywhere else.

To the other LGBT folk who are new here, let me just say my lived experience here is this place takes diversity seriously. You are safe here, and you are valued.

And to all of you who are new here: you will love working here, and you will be proud of the work you do.

To the rest of you…thank you so much for making these the most wonderful years of my life. I am looking forward to all the great science to come from JWST and Roman. Take care. Love.

-Bruce Albert Garrett

So for 50+ years of my 68, I’ve been tied in one way or another to working for a paycheck. And now suddenly I am not tied to one.

I’ve been told to watch out for depression now that I’m disconnected from the work world. But the identity I’ve built for myself around the work I do has always been flexible out of necessity. There are two parts to me: the techno nerd and the art kid. For decades I’ve made a good living as a software and computer systems engineer. But there’s that other side, I paint, I draw, I do photography, I write stories.

That was the life I was looking toward when I was young. It is how I’ve always seen myself. I have this techno nerd side of me, but basically I am an artist.

But it was don’t quit your day job with me, because I’m so terrible at self promotion, and I never had that single minded focus on one thing, which is what you need to make a living at it. There’s the drafting table, the painter’s easel, the cameras and the darkroom. Stephen Fry said that we are not nouns, we are verbs. I don’t know about everyone, but that is definitely me, and as starving artist wasn’t all that appealing I did what I could for a paycheck, and tried to save time for my artwork. In retrospect maybe I should have gone all in on it, but what eventually Did happen was I got the best job in the world and stuck with it for 23 years.

Now I’m retired. Now I can have that other life without worry about the next paycheck, the one that was always been there in the background, the one I looked toward when I was young.

It got off to a pretty good start already. A couple co-workers came for a visit and I showed them around the house and the art room and one of them asked for a print of something I’d done. That lifted me up as much as watching James Webb launch last Christmas. I don’t know that I’ll ever make any money at it, or gain any recognition beyond this website and some family and friends. But the reason I can call myself an artist without any feelings of pretense after all this time is I know that I’m not doing it for the recognition. Recognition would be nice, it would be wonderful, but I do it because I have to get it out of me. And if you think that’s pretentious you don’t know and I don’t care. Everyone who does this, recognized or not, knows exactly how that is.

Now I can have that life. It starts today.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Thank You And Goodbye

February 13th, 2022

That Magic Feeling

Yesterday I entered the two week period prior to retirement, where everything is happening according to a set number of steps. You can no longer take any time off, because payroll wants a clean slate to do the final payouts on. There are steps for turning in equipment, and various key cards. Also I have to make sure the people who will be taking on my rolls (I had many) are fully trained and my system accounts are migrated over to them.

It actually began a few days ago, when I had to enter this in the IT support system…

I had finished up a pre-departure interview with HR and was instructed to start this process in the system. There are still things to tidy up, mostly equipment related things and documents to sign and pass around. But…here goes. As of now I am on the two week glide path.

When I leave the building as a retiree, I know what I’ll be thinking…

Monday morning, turning back
Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go…

Those lines from the Beatles You Never Give Me Your Money always played in my mind whenever I was laid off, fired (hair too long, incorrect sexual orientation) or quit (I hate this job I can do better somewhere else). It’s that initially disorienting sensation of suddenly not being on the clock anymore…which you are even on your time off because then the back to work clock is ticking. The clock is always ticking. And then suddenly it isn’t, and you feel a bit weightless. It’s a thrilling, scary, mysterious feeling. This will be the first time I experience it and I’m leaving on a high note.

I loved this job, absolutely loved it. But I can feel my time on this earth winding down now, and it’s time to move on.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Magic Feeling

January 29th, 2022

Mirror, Mirror…

It’s about time I think, to be breathing a sigh of relief and letting the stress of the past several months slide off my shoulders. The entire process of launching and deploying the James Webb Space Telescope terrified me, but everything about the launch and deployment happened without a hitch. It was a Mary Poppins launch…practically perfect in every way! The surprising immediate deployment of the solar array, only possible if the launch was absolutely spot on perfect, turned out to have been a sign that the rest of it was going to be perfect too. But that entire process terrified me. If any One thing had gone wrong we would not have a telescope, and billions of dollars, and the hopes and dreams of astronomers all over the world would have gone down the tubes. But not only did nothing go wrong, it all went so well that they’re estimating we could be good, fuel wise, for at least twenty years, not just the ten that was planned for.

And now…now…it’s time for me to say goodbye to this part of my life. I set myself a goal of seeing JWST through to launch. Now that it’s happened, and we’re all good, I’m just a few weeks from retiring. I can leave on a high note. The plan initially was to retire at the end of December 2021, but launch delays pushed that back to January, and then I was asked to stay another month since January was going to be busy for everyone with the tasks of getting JWST deployed and ready for commissioning. It’s time for me to move on.

I’m 68 years old now, two years past a heart attack and feeling my age. I want to have at least some retirement time to do other things with my life before the big sleep. Make some art, explore some highways, walk along some beaches, look at the stars, gaze at some new horizons…while I still can. I’m not sure how I can get 50+ years of working for a paycheck to slide off my shoulders, but I’ll give it my best shot. 23 years of that I’ve worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute, loving almost every minute of immersion in an environment of science and exploration. So many memories to take with me.

Like this one…

The photo below was taken from the observation deck at Goddard, where the JWST science half with the big mirror had been assembled and tested and was being readied for its trip to Houston for testing in the big Apollo vacuum chamber back in March 2017. Those of us working on the project were invited to see the telescope for it’s last viewing before it got packed off to Houston. I’d been to Goddard many times prior to this, getting our test servers approved for connecting to the Goddard network, and doing end to end network testing between Goddard and Northrop Grumman in the backup MOC, but it was the first time I was able to actually see the telescope we’d all been working on.

So there I was, snapping off a bunch of shots of that huge mirror when I realized…that if I positioned myself just…so…

Heh…  Yeah, this was before I started wearing a beard. Here’s another shot that gives you a better sense of scale…

That guy in the orange Sierra Designs mountain parka holding his cell phone up to take a picture is me. That’s my Goddard badge around my neck. I’ll know my time with the Institute is over when they ask me to hand it and all my other badges back…probably while I’m signing the paperwork on my retiring.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mirror, Mirror…

December 26th, 2021

We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves

That’s a paraphrase of something Neil deGrasse Tyson once said about going to the moon. We went to the Moon, and discovered the Earth. What I’ve learned from 23+ years working at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first on the Hubble Space Telescope grant management system, and then JWST integration and test, is how deeply human that desire is to know more about the cosmos. All the tribes of the Earth share it. And doing that work not only gives us a better understanding of the universe, but also of each other. 

Webb launched from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. It’s a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The morning of the launch I was at home watching the event on NASA TV, streamed through my Roku box. As we got down to the final minutes of the countdown, I was hearing NASA commentary in English, but the mission operation center in Kourou is run by the French, and all the call outs I was used to hearing from Cape Canaveral, I was hearing now in French. I don’t know much of any French, and yet I could follow along because I knew the drill; I’d watched this over and over and over again since the first Mercury astronauts went up. Hearing it in French for the first time, it struck me how Webb was a human project.

For a moment we were all earthlings with a common purpose. I’d heard that said over and over during Apollo, and I could see the truth of it, but my reference back then was still firmly planted in the United States. This was a European launch. It was their baby, with ours on top of it. I was watching it happen from the European point of view. But even our baby on top of that rocket, the telescope itself, was a project of many different countries. And I knew that for a fact, because for the past couple decades I’d been living it at the Institute.

I was raised by a single divorced mother and made my way there by way of restoring shortwave radios and building my own computer from parts I got at a HAM Fest. I taught myself how to program it, and that path eventually led to my becoming a software developer, and eventually to the Institute. And there I was working side by side with scientists, astronomers, computer geeks with multiple college degrees in computer science. But also facilities people, AV nerds, public outreach specialists. Many people, from many walks of life worked on this thing. I could walk the hallways and hear English spoken, but also other languages. We had astronomers from all over the globe working there. And we’re located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, where kids from all over the world come to learn. Practically every human tribe on Earth had a hand in the work we do.

For two decades I have been surrounded by this culture, this deeply human culture of science and exploration. It has kept me sane through the past several years more than I knew.

And so yesterday morning was a very spiritually uplifting event. Something I really needed to see in this horrible time of rising fascism, conspiracy theory kookery, anti-science nuttiness. From all walks of life and every corner of the Earth we came together and put a new instrument up into space because we wanted to know more about the universe that we were born to. I got back my view of the human status. We can do good things. We can make progress. 

We went into space, and we discovered ourselves.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves


My Wee Part Of James Webb

Note: Those of you who know I’ve a part of the James Webb Space Telescope that launched yesterday (Finally!)…this blog doesn’t have much of my moment-to-moment thoughts on that. Those are on my Facebook page and they’re usually (but not always) set to “Public”. I will try to be more communicative about it here since we launched, and since I am trying to disentangle myself from Facebook. But this isn’t the easiest place for me to whip my smartphone out and start posting when something happens like Facebook is. I’ll try to change that too…somehow…

 

 

[Posted to my Facebook page on Christmas Eve…the day before launch…] 

You may be seeing on the news now, shots and videos of this room. It’s going to be a very busy place tomorrow, and for months to come. But for a while, I was part of a team working there. Back in 2017, when this was taken, I was part of the Integration and Test team that did the initial end to end tests between the spacecraft and the Institute. I did work for a time in the flight ops room. Early on it was actually a simulator we were talking to, just to test the network connectivity, although I was there later, when the first commands were sent to the actual spacecraft and it replied.

This is me, sitting in the center front row seat in flight ops, performing Test Conductor duty. The three ring binder there next to me holds the very meticulously established test procedure for us to follow (I blanked the pages out here and the monitors too because that’s a high security area). After each step there was a place for my initials to sign off on that step having been done. I would call out the steps over the deep space network to all the stations involved in the test, and the flight engineer next to me would send the commands on my mark. One of my team members sat in the row behind us, doing Test Director work. Test Director was who you talked to when you needed an executive decision on how to proceed. I just basically followed procedure. Those test documents will be stored away for I don’t know how long, but once again there’s a little piece of me in the record of space exploration.

And it’s all still so stunning. So amazing. I did this. I really did this.

About a year or so ago my work in the flight ops room was done, and my access to it removed. That’s how it has to be, though I may still have work to do later in the other areas of the MOC. But this will always be for the rest of my life a fantastic part of it. I had other work besides this, gathering telemetry from the various cryo-vacuum tests on the science part of the spacecraft, watching as it spoke its first words. It was amazing.

Oh..and that little gold keycard around my neck is…special… (I’ve distorted that also for security reasons) I’ll probably have to give it back someday but at least I have pictures of me wearing it.

And now…it’s time to launch. Everything all these years has been leading up to this moment. Time to launch.

[Note: I’d call that a Mary Poppins Launch…practically perfect in every way! As of my posting this we’ve had our first course correction burn and everything is still looking good! Best Christmas present ever!]

[Note: That photo was taken in 2017 and and…yeah…I look much better with the beard at this age. Alas. I really don’t like beards…but…gay male vanity. I reckon I’ll keep it…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on My Wee Part Of James Webb

November 4th, 2021

Life Happens…

Facebook helpfully provides a daily Things That You Posted On This Date Through The Years link…

This is about the premiere of Morgan Jon Fox’s documentary This Is What Love In Action Looks Like. It’s about the protests over teenagers being forced into ex-gay conversion therapy at a place in Memphis Tennessee. I contributed both photography for it and some money, so I got screen credits for Photography and as an Associate Producer.

I’m sixty-eight years old now, and on the cusp of retirement, and I see this and I’m thinking, wow…it’s been a life hasn’t it Bruce Garrett…

Cartoonist, photographer, software engineer, woodworker, roadie for a local blues band, architectural model maker, burger flipper, stock clerk in a psychiatric hospital, JWST ground systems test conductor, associate producer…

I can remember looking out across the Washington DC rail yards and seeing steam engines. I remember when most of the passenger airplanes I saw overhead were propeller driven. I saw the beginnings of the jet age, then the space age. I listened to short wave radio so I could get the news from abroad. I remember the weird sounds of the Soviet Union jammers trying to keep Radio Free Europe out. I remember the transition to color TV. I watched the first satellite TV broadcast from overseas. I watched live as Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon. I remember the transition to wireless telephones, then to cell phones. I was among the first generation of 18 year olds to cast a vote in a presidential election. I registered for the draft when I turned 18, went for my pre-induction physical when I got the notice, stood in a line with a bunch of other 18 year olds in our underwear as we were poked and prodded by military doctors for suitability as Vietnam war canon fodder. I did my own maintenance on my first car, changing spark plugs, adjusting the distributor points, and checking the timing with a timing light. I remember the first gasoline drought and why it mattered if your license tag ended in an even or odd number. I built my first computer from parts I got at a HAM fest and taught myself how to program it. I walked in the first national Gay Rights march. I walked grieving and terrified among the Names Project quilt panels. I have stood in a protest line across from a camp that forced gay teenagers into ex-gay therapy, talked with the survivors young and old. I have spoken test instructions across the NASA deep space network, talked to astronauts that serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. I have a piece of it they brought back on my den wall.

It’s a small thing I suppose, but my handwritten signature has been into space three times, carried on an Institute banner during Hubble servicing missions. A little piece of me made it into space.

Yeah. It’s been a life.

Someone who joined a Zoom happy hour I hit every now and then said I should write a memoir, but it would be exhausting to do and probably very confusing for anyone to read. What is your point Mr. Garrett?? I dunno…shit happens I guess…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Life Happens…

November 3rd, 2021

1971

From a memories group I follow…

Ah yes…1971…a year to remember. Even more so than the following year when I graduated.

In 1971 Canon of Japan began making the Canon F-1. Up to then it was the Nikon F that was the iconic pro 35mm SLR camera. But it was a late 1950s design that was only by virtue of the camera body’s bombproof build quality and the ability to stay current with new attachments, like a Kirby vacuum, that enable it to stay on top. I was dissatisfied, too much of it seemed to be retrofitted and not organic to its design. Nowadays I’d call it a kludge camera, but I have more respect for it because it really was (apart from the photomic metering prisms) a workhorse, and I even own one myself now. When I saw the first ads for the Canon F-1 in the photography magazines they hit me like a lightning bolt. Everything about it was state of the art and completely organic to its design. And it was a beautiful camera. I knew instantly, that was My Camera. But it was expensive, and hard to find in the states for a long long time. That summer break I worked my first W2 job in the kitchen of a fast food joint making a tad over that minimum wage. That, plus selling my Miranda Sensorex allowed me to buy an F-1 in time for my senior year of high school.

 

 

When I got it home and unboxed it and held it in my hands for the first time I knew I had My Camera. I still have it.  

In 1971 my cartoons would see print for the first time in the student newspaper. Later I would also become its photographer. For the first time in my life my artistic talents were being appreciated and nurtured (my first grade teacher wrote in my school record that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects”). The bullying and low expectations of my early childhood began to slough away. I began to really believe in myself. It was different from believing that I believed in myself. I could see a future for a kid like me. Maybe.

The summer of 1971 was when I got my driver’s license. Mom would let me drive her car, a basic 1968 Plymouth Valiant, and I began my love affair with the open road. But another love affair was percolating in my teenage hormones.

The year would end with me finally coming out to myself December 15. First love. It was wonderful, I was completely twitterpated. It changed everything.

And couldn’t tell anyone. 1971 was not the time for a gay teenager to be out about it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on 1971

July 20th, 2021

Solidarity

I had a full day today in the JWST Mission Operations Center, working on an automated performance testing program (‘program’, not as in software but as in “a set of related measures or activities with a particular long-term aim.” It’s very tedious because it’s running through the same set of operations over and over and over and over and…so on… But this is necessary to insure the MOC systems can handle the stress of launch and commissioning, and also to make sure that the small fixes and updates to the systems haven’t broken anything that Was working previously.

As I said…tedious. And I have other things on my plate at work that I need to attend to. But for various reasons I won’t go into here, these tests needed to be done this week. It is Important to do these tests at this time. So I stay on it. Everything we do now is critical to moving us toward launch, and after that, commissioning. Then we have a space telescope that will show us amazing things about the early universe, and maybe even find life on nearby planets. I was in on Monday…I’ll be working this through Thursday at least. I want to see this thing through to launch (still scheduled for the end of October), but I am counting down the weeks until I retire. I have other things I want to do with my life, before I run out of life.

I come home, tired…very tired. I’m feeling my age more now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps very well to getting old: gradually, and then suddenly. Yeah. That. I make some dinner…a frozen package thing from the chest freezer because I am too tired even to think now. I just want to sleep. It’s the routine repetitive work that drags me down.

I turn on the TV. Smithsonian channel is running stuff about the Apollo moon landing. Oh yeah…that was today. 52 years ago. I remember watching it raptly on the black and white vacuum tube TV in our 1969 garden apartment living room. I even took a few snapshots of the TV screen while it was happening. There were no home video recorders in 1969.

I remember how it felt, I remember how amazing it all was. There really was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day back then. Everything was possible. I watched them put human footprints on the moon.

And then I realize I spent the day today working in the JWST MOC and I hadn’t even remembered today was the anniversary the entire time I was in there. I was busy. I had a job to do. Solidarity reaches across the decades and taps me on the shoulder. I’m really here now. I’m really part of all this. It’s about time I started believing it. I don’t think 15 year old me would have figured there was where I would be in 52 years. Certainly certain maternal family members would never have believed it. I should really stop carrying that weight around with me. I did my job, and I’ll get back to it tomorrow.

And I will feel a little less old and tired…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Solidarity

June 19th, 2021

When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

Since I was a schoolboy the days of the week always meant something. There is as significance in the name of the day. Monday-Friday are work days. Monday is the dreary start of the work week. Friday is the end of it. Then comes the weekend. Woo Hoo! Friday happy hour!!! What happens when none of it matters for anything in particular? There is no work week. Every day is the weekend. How does that even work?

Could be nice to find out. But I have a hunch it’ll take years before I get comfortable with it. I’ll be going to meetings in my dreams, and missing deadlines for the rest of my life. Some nights I’m still in my awful junior high school. I haven’t studied for the test and I forgot to put my clothes on. Retirement is going to be like that isn’t it.

I’m retiring at the end of this year. It’s a big step but I am really beginning to feel my age now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps pretty well to how it is to get old: gradually, and then suddenly. I can feel it now. The heart attack happened a couple years ago, and a year after that I had another heart “event” but that’s not it. It’s the fatigue I’m feeling now practically all the time. Don Juan was absolutely right about the forth foe. So I decided to take the next step and sometime before years end apply for my social security benefit, and then take leave of the Institute after 23 years working there. The plan is to spend the last years of my life working more on my artwork and photography, maybe finish a couple stories I’ve worked on. Maybe even get some of it published.

I hope not to get dragged back into computer work…I actually enjoy programming but it’s not as close to my heart and soul as the artwork. I’m going to get shed of a ton of computer books when I retire. I kept so many books because it’s a resource I might need and because it was my profession for the last 35 years. I won’t need my computers for work anymore, but I use them heavily for my artwork these days so there is no getting rid of those. The money software engineering made me is why I can retire pretty comfortably now, if not fabulously. But it’s time to move on. For a variety of reasons I never pursued my artistic interests professionally, and so I never had enough time to spend on it.  It’s going to feel wonderful to finally have all the time I want.

And…yeah…I’ll probably still have to keep paying attention to which day of the week it is, because that’s how the world works. I need to go to the store…is today a rush hour day…maybe I should wait a while…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

June 9th, 2021

The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

Time passes…the universe expands…I’ve lived long enough to see so many of my kidhood haunts coming down. Rockville it seems, is a city that just wants to eat itself all the time. Shortly after mom and I moved there, they tore down the old city center and built a doomed shopping mall they eventually tore down just a decade or so later, and then tore down what they’d built on top of that. A classmate posted that you can’t go home again, and I replied that’s especially true if home was Rockville, because you’ll get lost they’ve re-routed so many of the roads we used to drive down. I’m still stunned that Randolph Road now goes under Rockville Pike. My beloved high school got torn down recently and I’m still miserable over it, but I got a keepsake brick so there’s that. So much of my past is vanishing under the wrecking ball. But it’s not all bad. In fact, sometimes it’s wonderful.

Just heard on another page that this place is going under the wrecking ball next week. I couldn’t be more delighted. It was originally called Fritzbe’s. I have a particularly bad memory…a really Bad Memory…that place played a supporting role in. I have wanted to see it razed for decades.

What Happened:

It was a lovely summer night in 1981. I was in my middle twenties and on the downside of my second disastrous crush. We were close, or so I thought. I sent him love letters from the road while on a road trip with friends in the southwest. On my return it seemed we became even closer. But he was straight. What I learned from it is that straight guys can fall in love with other guys too, but for them it’s a purely platonic thing. For the gay guy who gets that deeply involved with a straight guy it’s a heart wrenching mess.

That night in 1981 he suggested we go to this new place that opened. It would have been at one time an easy walk, nearly a straight line from the apartment I grew up in to Congressional Plaza or the Radio Shack across the street from it. But the new Metro subway system was under construction and my path across the railroad tracks was now forever blocked, so my friend picked me up at the apartment and we went to Fritzbe’s. At Fritzbe’s I learned another lesson.

I was having a night out at a new place with the guy I was still crushing on madly. So I put on my best blue jeans and favorite shirt, got my long hair all washed and blow dried, put on my new Nike’s. But let’s face it, I was a scrawny ugly faced twenty-something no matter how well I dressed, and the summer humidity probably didn’t do wonders for my hair either. We got to the door to Fritzbe’s and there were two doormen standing there. One of them said my friend could go inside, but I couldn’t.

I was stunned. My friend told me he wanted to go in and just look around for a bit. So he did and I waited while the doormen made sure I stayed outside. When he returned it was clear to me that he wanted to spend the evening with the other cool people inside but first he had to figure out a way to dump me without making it look like he was dumping me. My memory of the rest of that night is a bit fuzzy, but I clearly recall saying something on the order of what’s wrong with me that I can’t come in I look okay, and under his breath he said “actually no you don’t”. So that was that. I politely excused myself from the evening and walked back home.

I got put in my place…which, of course I was. What was I thinking when I went out that night? Me? Really? The weird kid from the other side of the tracks. Clothes he bought at Sears or JC Penney…hair’s a mess…crooked teeth…no social skills at all…queer… Oh I know… Falling in love feels so wonderful, until the moment you hit the ground. It was impossible anyway, he was straight after all, but had the positions been reversed I’d have walked away from that place rather than go inside without my friend. I’ve actually done that a time or two. But that night I saw I was disposable. And that’s never just a circumstantial thing. It is what you are. Always.

People who look like that, want people who look like that…

Fritzbe’s eventually folded…I can’t imagine why. Well yes I can. Turn the uncool away as a matter of policy, to cultivate the shallow beautiful people, and eventually they’ll flit away to the Next Big Thing and what’s left are all the customers you might have had if you hadn’t pissed them off. So the name on the door changed but I never set foot in there. I was told not to go in and I don’t need telling twice. And now it’s going under the wrecking ball.

In its place, so I’m told, will be a massive new development of some sort that will occupy the entire block. Until that eventually gets torn down. Rockville just does that to itself. But eventually so does everywhere. The only thing that endures is the reputation you made for yourself. Whoever owned that chain and set its policies and created its theming probably made a lot of beautiful people very happy for a little while, and broke a lot of hearts for much, much longer. And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I probably shouldn’t blame the poor building. Like Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s novel, some places cannot help but take the shape of their builders souls. And the people who occasionally occupy them. But I am definitely taking one of my cameras down to the old neighborhood and snapping a few shots of the destruction. I’m toying with the idea of taking a few c notes with me and asking the wrecking crew if I can pay them to let me take a few whacks at it myself. But probably I’ll just go watch for a while, snap a few photos, and applaud at inappropriate moments.

I could hope they sow the ground with salt afterward. But concrete and asphalt will do.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

December 31st, 2020

Happy Same Old New Year!

Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins) is a cartoonist I’ve followed avidly since I first saw his cartoons in the local alternative weeklies (many of which have gone belly up in the print news devastation). I love his strip This Modern World, and when I needed a new host for my own personal website I did an nslookup to see who his was, thinking that if they were cool with his cartoons they’d be cool with mine and my blog.

He suffered a divorce a few years ago and he’s occasionally bled about it on twitter. Apparently it was sudden and unexpected. This thread he posted today this New Year’s Eve speaks to me so much…

“Three years ago today I was crawling out of the wreckage of a previous life, moving into my new apartment in New York on the coldest day of the year, absolutely no clue what lay ahead…”

“Some of it was very good and some of it not so much … and then we got to March, 2020 and everything sort of flatlined…”

“I wasn’t expecting to live the life I have now, but … it’s definitely been interesting. And sometimes, really good!”

That is so much me in many ways. And yet, my situation could not be more different. I reckon that speaks to the universal human condition. I didn’t suffer a divorce, but that’s because I never had the lover. The breakups in my life did not happen after years and years of peace and joy and happiness. So they would not have been as wounding. I suppose. Instead the wound was a never ending cloudy drizzly sky I somehow became accustomed to. A constant ache from a place within that should not have been so empty for so long. There was nothing in my romantic life to loose. But I lost everything. And now I’m 67, and given my own set of recent events, health-wise, I’m not sure I have a lot of life left.

Loosing both parents changes you. Old age changes you. The first heart attack, or whatever that first serious brush with death due to an aging body is, changes you. In some ways for the better. You kinda stop giving a flying fuck about things you probably never should have anyway. The regrets you’ve carried with you all this time get shuffled and re-arranged, and maybe some of them weren’t all that worth carrying around anyway. Baggage is dropped. But then fresh baggage is picked up along the way. It always is.

It’s odd in a way for me the elder man to be watching how the younger ones deal with their life’s knife wounds in a way that teaches me how to live with mine…at least a tad. I wasn’t expecting to live the life I have now, but…it’s definitely been interesting. And sometimes, really good! Yeah…I can relate. And especially to a previous tweet he put out there about how nobody wants to hear about getting kneecapped by love…probably because they’ve all been kneecapped too at some point and nobody knows how to deal with it. Yeah…I can relate. Absolutely. Somewhat.

And here’s the thing…all those times in my life when I’ve been asked/challenged/preached to, in the context of a discussion relating to my sexual orientation, if I had it to do over would I still want to be a homosexual…in the expectation that of course I would choose to be a heterosexual…all those times I may have stared back at them like they were from another planet…what’s going through my mind just then is You’re heterosexual and you’ve lived your entire life in that world and you’re trying to tell me that the grass is greener on Your side of the fence?? What have you been smoking all this time?

I’m sorry for what happened to you Mr. Perkins. I’m sorry for what happens to all of us. Somehow we manage. What I learned in 2020 is romantic alienation did not prepare me at all for imposed alienation. This is worse. In a world full of broken hearts at least we had each other…

“…but man I miss the possibility of a weekly hangout in that dive bar.”

…and our favorite local bar.

Here’s to the new year. May the day come quickly when we can at last all be brokenhearted together once more.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Happy Same Old New Year!

December 6th, 2020

The Lover Is A Monotheist…

The lover is a monotheist who knows that other people worship different gods but cannot himself imagine that there could be other gods. -Theodor Reik

I’m working diligently on the next two episodes of A Coming Out Story, and I’ve taken to listening to the Spotify playlist that Beth David and Esteban Bravo put up as their background music while working on their animated film about a schoolboy’s first crush, In A Heartbeat. It’s surprisingly appropriate, but at some point I might make my own playlist for A Coming Out Story. (It should probably be all 60s/early 70s songs)

Those days are long gone, and yet so much of the adult I eventually became was because of that period in my life. I survived admitting to myself that I am a homosexual, possibly the most awful thing you could be back in 1971, apart maybe from being a communist or a hippy, because I was was in love, completely and utterly twitterpated. When the realization finally broke through it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I swear it really was like something out of a Walt Disney movie…the birds sang a little more sweetly, the stars shone a little more brightly, I walked with a lighter step…everything was beautiful. It saved my life. I never doubted afterward that there was nothing wrong with me, or with any of us. But it did not end well. It often doesn’t for teenage lovers, and gay kids especially back then, and even now, have their own excruciating battle to fight for their hearts and their dreams. But if you never had that thrilling first love experience in your teen years, I am sorry for you.

Supposedly Kurt Vonnegut once told his daughter that you are allowed to fall deeply in love three times in your life. I think about that quote often when I look back. I’ve had my three strikes. But the quote above expresses how it was for me perfectly. It was always like that for me. Always.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Lover Is A Monotheist…

May 24th, 2020

Well Since I Can’t Go Anywhere This Holiday Weekend…

…I might as well do some lawn work. Especially since the rainy spring has made it hard to get it done previously. Gets the grass and weeds growing though…

So I took care of my tiny backyard in lieu of going to Ocean City NJ or somewhere…like Walt Disney World which is closed now except for maybe Disney Springs. But Florida is a hot spot I don’t want to get into for the foreseeable future. Still don’t think I’m putting any flowers or garden lights out this season because going to the lawn and garden stores just for that seems a frivolous reason to catch the virus So the best I can do for the outside of my house this year is just basic maintenance which I can do without going to the store. I sharpened the lawn mower blades a couple weeks ago, and did some repairs to the Ryobi weed whacker. At least I can keep things from looking like an abandoned house.

Standing on my deck, exhausted but pleased with the results, I had a sudden strong urge for a cigar. First really strong urge I’ve had since just before the heart attack. I’ve actually been surprised I haven’t been periodically getting those urges, but I reckon cigars just aren’t as addictive as cigarettes. No I didn’t.

Haven’t smoked one since the first week of October last year. I am well aware of the stress they put on my cardiovascular system…at least the smooth strong ones I’ve always enjoyed. It was a package deal with the pleasant nicotine buzz I got. I could feel my veins constricting. So I knew perfectly well what I was doing to myself. But I needed that nicotine buzz from time to time in my stressed out life. I’m actually surprised my psyche hasn’t demanded more of that since the heart attack. But just now it did and I didn’t. My psyche demands a lot of things of me that I either can’t or won’t give it, or infinitely defer it. Another trip to California for instance, right this minute for instance.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Well Since I Can’t Go Anywhere This Holiday Weekend…

April 24th, 2020

Hubble 25 Flashback

Today is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s a picture the birthday boy took

Thirty years ago today (April 24), Hubble launched into space on a mission to open humanity’s eyes to the wonders of the cosmos. In a new Hubble image released today, the telescope captured two neighboring clouds of cosmic dust and gas: the giant red nebula NGC 2014 and a smaller blue nebula nearby called NGC 2020.

…and here’s a shot from Hubble’s 25th, taken in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore Maryland. (click for larger view)

The astronauts participating in the last servicing mission are front and center. Institute crew and some of their lucky kids surround them. Steve Hawley, in the red tie in the center, lifted HST out of the shuttle on the robot arm. Next to him is commander Scott Altman. The guy in the red shirt off to the right with the camera is expecting to wake up from a dream at any moment…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Hubble 25 Flashback

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