Friday, June 26, 2015

UFOs, Washington, men's magazines, and Mario Biaggi

In 1978, I was a Foreign Service officer in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in the Department of State. I was an authority on the political leadership in North Korea. We had two pre-school sons and lived on Valewood Drive where I'm typing this now.

Being the Kim Il-Sung watcher for U.S. intelligence was a more than full-time job.

Still, I found a time to write for magazines.Everybody knew it. My men's adventure magazine tales were a topic of water-cooler banter. I'd been getting paid to put words in print for twenty-three years but had not yet published a book.

I was reading the obituaries in the Washington Post every morning hoping—then, as now—to encounter a certain figure. I plan to remain on this planet until I do.

This morning, June 26, 2015, I read the obituaries. The person I want still wasn't there.

Mario Biaggi was.

The link to today's news story is here.

In 1978, Phil Hirsch, editor of MAN'S magazine in New York, phoned to say that a congressman had stated publicly that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) "are real." The men's adventure magazines were dying and their publishers had turned to UFOs for market share.
Phil was responsible for IDEAL'S UFO REPORT, where I was the editor and wrote all of the articles. I also worked with Martin Singer, editor of SAGA and of SAGA'S UFO REPORT, later re-named, simply, UFO REPORT.

Although I almost never interviewed anyone for my stories in those days, I visited Biaggi and took photos of him reading our magazine. He was gracious and courteous but very busy. He said enough about UFOs to enable me to write about him.

Biaggi was a former New York City police officer who spent two decades on Capitol Hill and much later was convicted of federal corruption charges. I don't know the details. I can find plenty of Americans who believe our whole system is corrupt and who classify those convicted, like Biaggi and Randall Cunningham, as amateurs. I remember Mario Biaggi as a generous host, hard worker, and dapper figure who was well liked.

And I remember a Washington where Americans could still walk into the government buildings they owned. In those days the security presence around the Capitol and White House was light and not terribly intrusive.
It's very different today. Americans, it seems, want to be secure, or at least to feel that way.

You can be secure. You can be free. You cannot be both.

My visit to Biaggi, easily arranged, was probably my first visit to a lawmaker on Capitol Hill. More than a decade later, I returned to visit high school classmate Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md), who is currently the second ranking Democrat in the House.

Mario Biaggi lived from October 26, 1917 to June 24, 2015. He died at age ninety-seven. For part of one day, he was part of my life. Thank you, Congressman.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hitler's Time Machine: Everybody's question

I'm often asked if the bad guys win in "HITLER'S TIME MACHINE," my alternate history available for Kindle here. I started to post the answer and changed my mind.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Time Travel and Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA)

I graduated high school in 1957, age seventeen.

From 1957 to 1960, I was in the Air Force, in Korea. I finished before my twenty-first birthday (on September 11, 1960).

Beginning in the new decade, I lived in San Francisco, held odd jobs, and wrote for the men's adventure magazines. They were pulps with names like Stag, Male and Argosy.

In 1963, with little money and no job, I traveled in Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong trying to get down to South Vietnam to write about the small and romantic war flickering there. But I ran out of money and had only a return ticket.

I stepped off the plane in San Francisco in March 1963 to be greeted by Bill R., who'd been in Korea with me and was now a station agent for Pacific Southwest Airlines, or PSA.

Bill was one of my half-dozen best friends throughout my life. With his help, I was hired as a station agent with PSA. I wore their heavy gabardine uniform replete with half-wings for non-flying employees, and mostly worked the ticket counter. Salary was $360 per month.

In those days, every departure was announced throughout the airport. At 8:45 a.m., the stern-voiced woman on SFO's public address system said, "Pan American World Airways Flight One for 'around the world' is departing from Gate 17. Passengers should be at the gate." I'd taken the iconic Flight One going out and Flight Two coming back from Hong Kong. In that British colony, I never found Suzie Wong but I talked about a job with the producers of "The Seventh Dawn," then filming in Malaya with William Holden and Susannah York.

Oh, those glory days. People dressed to the nines to fly on the seven-oh-seven. Less than ten percent of adult Americans had seen the inside of an airplane but passengers on Pan Am, PSA and other carriers were pampered to the hilt. It was a grand time when the nation had heavy industry, exported petroleum, had 98% literacy and enjoyed respect around the world. Even our enemies wanted to send their children to our universities even if I never found my way to one.

We had a vigorous young president. We'd stood up to the Soviet Union. We were at our height of prosperity and confidence. It was the period James Lee Burke calls the heyday of the Great American Empire.

If I had a time machine like the one in my new alternate history novel—see my book here—I would like to go back. For most of us but not all of us, it was the best time to be on this planet. More station agents were needed and a smartly-attired, very presentable young man appeared at the counter to fill out an employment application. While the applicant was walking away but still within eyesight, our boss Don B. ripped his application to shreds because the prospective employee was black. The airlines did not welcome Negroes, to use a word from that era, but were a haven to Americans who lived on the wrong side of a taboo: the word was not yet part of the lexicon but among men employed by PSA it seemed only Bill and I were straight. PSA was widely known to have the best-looking stewardesses in the industry and they were, indeed, walking wet dreams, but they must not have owned wristwatches. A few consorted with pilots. There were rumors of steamy "R.O.N. Parties" because aircrews often had to remain-over-night. But none of the stews would give us station agents the time of day.

Forty years later, Bill told me he had amyotropic lateral sclerosis. Of my half-dozen best friends, all but one are gone now, gone along with the Great American Empire, the factories, the literacy (fallen, now, to 76%), a society where people wore clothing to go out-of-doors and fine clothing as a requisite for an airline seat. Not long ago, actor Val Kilmer seated himself next to me in first-class bulkhead on United, slipped off his flip-flops, and placed his bare feet up in front of my face. By then, not even first class was first class.

Give me my time machine—more details here—and let me return to that grand period.

With tax, air fare between SFO and Los Angeles was $14.18. The plane was the Lockheed 188 Electra turboprop. Flying was a luxury. Credit cards were a new concept and in the airlines' climate of elitism, you knew you had arrived if you had an Air Travel Card. The red Air Travel Card for domestic travel was a sign you were in the top tier of society. The green Air Travel Card for international travel put you at the very top in a very class conscious world. One day, elbows on ticket counter, I looked up at an argumentative passenger and told him to shove his green Air Travel Card up his ass and, then and there, in September 1963, my career in the airlines ended.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Flake? Here's my take

Wondering what to do about people who annoy you?

In "PEOPLE WHO NEED TO DIE," author Victor Rook has the answer.

The year is 2021. Folks are fed up. Thirty percent of the population must go. Having already exterminated murderers, terrorists and rapists, the authorities now permit selective homicides of everyday people in order to reestablish a tranquil society. Apply for official sanction and you can whack somebody who annoys you.

Preferably by using some ghastly method.

Kindhearted and diabolical at the same time, Rook uses fiction to devise clever ways to exterminate bad drivers, Internet trolls, litterbugs, and (an especially deserving target) Black Friday shoppers here.

Rook combines humor and horror in conjuring up imaginative ways to rid the world of these people who need to die.

Perhaps without intending to, Rook also opens up a world of possibilities. Almost everybody knows some category of person who deserves to be stomped.

But one category is missing from Rook's treatise.

The flake.

In his fantasy/horror tales, Rook unfortunately provides no fictional way to wipe out people who are flakey. And it needs to be done. The world is being taken over by flakes.

To find one definition of a flake, click here.

I knew you'd look it up. You had to. You're not a flake. After all, you're reading this and supporting my work so you couldn't be flakey.

Could you?

Here are some examples of flakiness:

1. "Guess where I am."

Yeah, I know everybody does this but...

Why would anyone ever send an e-mail message that doesn't include his name, address, phone number, and e-mail address? People who would never omit this information from a business letter send messages asking me to call but providing no phone number, or asking me to ship but offering no address.

This is not the place to deal the privacy card. Anyone can find out where you are. Your contact information doesn't need to be secret.

My estimate is that this costs me about 300 hours of work time very year, or about 20 percent of every work day. I don't want anybody to mandate what ought to go into an e-mail message. I just want a little common sense and courtesy. Otherwise, you may find yourself in Volume Two.

2. Distracted walking.

A recent Washington Post article only touched on this colossal irritant. The article is here.

I don't get the thing with hand-held devices. With my own eyes, I watched a guy walk into a tree because he was looking down and texting. Think you're in control of that device? It's in control of you. There is no communication so urgent that it cannot wait until you're sitting down. I don't mean you, of course, but you know who I mean. Yes, it can wait.

3. "Track me down."

If somebody owes you money, whether it's for work performed, or purchasing your product, or whatever, your chances of collecting are directly proportional to the amount (the smaller it is, the less likely you're ever going to see it) and inversely proportional to the size and prestige of the debtor (one of the nation's largest publishers has owed me fifty bucks for two years).

Don't make me chase after you to collect a few dollars. Oh, I don't mean you, of course. I mean the flake. Honor your commitments. That way, you can stay out of Rook's sequel, if there is one.

4. Hands in pockets

This is mostly a guy thing, not applicable to women. The lowest level of The Inferno, and the harshest punishment fiction can mete out, must be reserved for men who stand or walk with their hands in their pockets.

I've actually seen a prominent person stand at a podium and put hands in pockets while addressing an audience. This is a way of signaling that you don't count. Get those hands out of those pockets. Or become one of the deserving.

The bottom line:

We all make mistakes. But let's do better. We may not succeed but we can strive for integrity, dignity and common sense. Well, maybe not common sense. And I know this doesn't apply to you, but:

Don't be a flake. Thank you very much. Oh, and click here.