Author Archives: Rick Ladd

About Rick Ladd

Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017. I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.

Manzanar & Toyo Miyatake

In the Spring of 2018, my wife’s niece arranged for a few members of the family to take some portrait photos. She chose the studio of Toyo Miyatake, a photographer who was imprisoned in the Manzanar concentration camp, during World War II. My wife is Sansei (3rd generation Japanese-American) and grew up on Monterey Park, CA, where most of her family continues to reside. The studio is currently being run by his son, Archie, who took some wonderful pictures of my wife, our daughters, and her mother, sister, and niece.

Caption on photo reads “War Relocation Center – Manzanar, California”

The studio is in San Gabriel and it’s filled with lots of photos taken by Toyo and Archie and I snapped some pics with my phone to share. I didn’t get around to doing anything until now, for reasons I’m incapable of reciting. Nevertheless, here they are. In looking for information on Toyo and Manzanar, I came across the Densho Encyclopedia, which has this to say about their work:

From the Densho Encyclopedia’s website:

The Densho Encyclopedia is a free and publicly accessible website that provides concise, accurate, and balanced information on many aspects of the Japanese American story during World War II. It is designed and written for a non-specialist audience that includes high school and college students and instructors, multiple generations of Nikkei community members, confinement sites preservation groups, amateur and professional historians, librarians, journalists, documentarians, and the general public.

The Encyclopedia is thoroughly cross indexed and articles are linked to relevant primary and secondary materials from the Densho archive and from other websites that include still and moving images, documents, databases, and oral history interview excerpts as well as standard bibliographical sources.

https://encyclopedia.densho.org/about/
Caption on left reads, “Manzanar Spring 1944”

The history of America’s treatment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII is a stain on everything this country is “supposed” to stand for, yet rarely seems to be able to provide. It was the result of racism and chauvinism, of nationalism and white supremacy. It set the Japanese-American community back years, if not decades, especially for those families whose property was stolen by white citizens who remained behind. Some were able to reclaim their homes and farms, but many didn’t. Toyo Miyatake was imprisoned here in California, at Manzanar. Here is what the Densho Encyclopedia has to say about his time there.

From the Densho Encyclopedia’s website:

The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar. While there, Miyatake met and began a longtime collaboration with Ansel Adams, who wanted to capture candid photos of people there; the two men later published their work together in the book Two Views of Manzanar. Miyatake’s groundbreaking Manzanar photographs have also been featured in a 2012 exhibition at the Eastern California Museum called “Personal Responsibility: The Camp Photos of Toyo Miyatake.”

https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Toyo_Miyatake/

The collage I’m sharing, below, is of Archie recreating one of his father’s more iconic photos. He was able to find the now grown men who were originally pictured in Manzanar and bring them to the site for the shoot. I think the photos are pretty self explanatory, but the second row has the money shots, IMO.

Manzanar then and now!

I’ll share three more photos I took while we were there. The photo on the left is of a portion of the front of the studio, where much of Archie’s work is displayed. It was there I saw large photos of people like Condoleezza Rice and Vin Scully, in addition to many others. The center photo is of Archie shooting photos of my family, which consisted of my wife, my MIL and SIL, along with My SIL’s daughter (our niece), her grand daughter by her other daughter (deceased) and our two daughters. The photo on the right is a collage of photos Archie took at the wedding of “Uncle” George Takei and Brad Altman. Click on any of the pics to see a larger version.

Aaaand . . . since I’ve mentioned George and Brad, I have one more photo to share, below these three. On September 19, 2019, Linda and I attended a talk at The Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, in Hollywood, where George was discussing his newest book, “They Called Us Enemy.” We purchased a copy and, while waiting in line to get it autographed, Brad walked through the line greeting everybody. We got a nice photo with him. Here’s how George’s book has been described:

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s-and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon-and America itself-in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/12579768

Linda, Brad, & Moi

TJ’s 5-Tab Browser

A friend of mine posted an interesting picture the other day. She’s a librarian and often posts items of interest regarding libraries, books, reading, and education in general. It was of a 300-year-old library tool that enabled a researcher to have seven books open at once. She also commented, “Now they’re all just browser tabs,” referring to how we do research nowadays using multiple tabs on whatever browser we happen to be using, whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Opera, etc. Below is the photo from her post.

Old-Fashioned Browser

Seeing it instantly reminded me of a tool I had seen over a decade earlier when I had the opportunity to visit a vendor in Charlottesville, Virginia, the owners of which I had become friends with. I was on my way back home from a conference in Maryland and stopped to visit with them for a couple of days. Inasmuch as Thomas Jefferson’s mansion and slave plantation, Monticello, was nearby, I felt obliged to check it out. It was in Jefferson’s library that I saw the item this tool had reminded me of. It was another type of research tool (depicted below) that served the same purpose. Also, I remembered it specifically because, at the time, I thought the same thing my friend did; this was the 18th/19th century equivalent of having five (Jefferson’s wasn’t quite as lavish as the one above) browser tabs open simultaneously.

TJ’s Monticello Five-Tab Browser

I also had the pleasure of visiting the University of Virginia, which had been founded in 1819 by Jefferson. Seven years later, Edgar Allan Poe attended the University where, apparently, he had to raise money for tuition by gambling because his father hadn’t sent him to school with enough money to get my. Below are a few more pictures from my visits in Charlottesville.

Fully-Mustachioed Rick Apres-Visit
Jefferson’s Burial Plot Marker
I Think This Is The Entrance To The University Of Virginia
Edgar Allan Poe’s Dorm Room, Which Is Sealed. This Photo Was Taken Through A Window On The Other Side Of The Room. Can You Say, “Nevermore“?

Perseverance Arrives!

A Blue Martian Sunset

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley. Sputnik 1 was launched exactly four months after my 10th birthday. I remember lying outside on our front lawn, watching it go over. It was exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have a vague memory of seeing the United States’ first satellite, Exlorer, go over and I have a real vivid memory of seeing Echo as it orbited our planet. Echo was a giant aluminum balloon that, when inflated in orbit, was 100 feet in diameter and reflected the Sun, making it the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon.

I also have vivid memories of rocket engine tests in the Santa Susana mountains, just slight northwest of where I lived. Many of the tests were conducted at night, and I could see the sky light up over those mountains. As I grew up, I had friends whose parents worked at Rocketdyne, the company that built just about every liquid-fueled rocket engine used to power America’s space program, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, not to mention the Space Shuttle.

Little did I know that many years later I would, quite serendipitously, get sent on a temporary assignment to work at Rocketdyne. I had been working at a company that manufactured what were, at the time, high density hard drives. This was in 1986 – 1987, and high density meant something like 5 Gigabytes! It was, for some reason I still can’t quite fathom, a seasonal business and when demand dropped all the temporary employees got laid off. That was me. I lost my job on a Friday. Later that evening I got a call from Apple One, the organization I was temping through, telling me to show up at Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility the following Monday.

To make an exceedingly long story short, I started work on the FMEA-CIL (Failure Mode & Effects Analysis-Critical Items List) the document that would prove Rocketdyne’s RS-25, SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) was safe for the Shuttle’s return to flight almost a year to the day after Challenger exploded during the ascent of STS-51-L. (For clarity, I think it important to note those engines were not responsible for the loss of Challenger; they had worked just fine.) I had long been a space cadet (in far more ways than one) but I never imagined I could end up working there, as I wasn’t an engineer. Silly me. I just hadn’t realized it takes a lot more than engineers to run a business that large and complex.

I was hired in after a year as what they referred to as a “job shopper.” I was forty years old. I retired 23 years later and it was the best, most fulfilling job I ever had, though dealing with a huge corporation (and “the Rock,” as we called it, was part of Rockwell International, the Boeing Company, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division, and Aerojet) was why I left early. The Shuttle program was winding down and P&W offered everyone over 60 a severance package I just couldn’t refuse, even though it wasn’t terribly generous.

Nevertheless, I’ve remained deeply interested in space exploration. I have long believed it’s important to the survival of humanity we get off the surface of this planet. I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific, but also a cultural presence off-planet in case of an extinction-level event. Frankly, it’s my opinion if we don’t do something about climate change and our contribution to it, we may be the ones causing such an event.

At any rate, all this is to say I am happy Perseverance landed safely on Mars this afternoon (PST) and appears to be functioning as designed. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Red Planet. I’m especially keen on learning how well the Moxie instrument (see graphic, below) accomplishes its mission of producing oxygen from Martian CO2. Congratulations to JPL and the Perseverance team. Job well done!

PS – I’ve also posted a graphic depicting one of Perseverance’s scientific missions, the Ingenuity helicopter which, if successful, should dramatically improve our ability to send rovers to the most fruitful (scientifically) locations, after they’ve been scouted out by Ingenuity and its successors.


Geese & Ducks & Coots, Oh My!

Yesterday I had to take my youngest daughter to the orthodontist to get her braces checked. She’s almost done with what is looking like a two-year ordeal to straighten her teeth. After she was done, we stopped by a local pet and feed store and picked up a bag of duck food, which they sell for $1.00/lb. We then went to Rancho Simi Community Park, which has a fairly large pond and is always filled with lots of ducks, geese, coots, and various other species of birds.

I took a bunch of photos as she was feeding them and they were milling around waiting or congregating to snatch up the tiny pellets of food she was throwing to them. I’m not conversant in all the different types of ducks there are, but I recognize Canadian honkers when I see them and I’ve researched the other species of goose that seem to live there year round. The first picture here is of Chinese geese. The only thing I can say for sure about them is . . . they’re assholes; at least the males are. They’re very aggressive. A couple of months ago I had to lightly kick one of them to keep it from attacking me.

The second photo is of a duck that has a pompadour. Not sure why that happens, but I’ve seen this duck at the pond before. Another reason I’m pretty sure all these waterfowl reside here year-round. The third pic is, I believe, a Mallard Drake. The fourth is a nice closeup of a Canadian goose who was unconcerned enough to come right up to me. Fifth is another Canadian, maybe the same one in the fourth. Sixth is also a Canadian and I can’t quite figure out what it was doing; whether it was begging for food or trying to intimidate me. No other goose has exhibited this particular behavior.

The seventh photo is of my daughter feeding them and gives you an idea of the various species that live there. Thankfully, the Chinese geese didn’t come by and ruin it all. The eighth photo is of a bunch of birds eating right in front of the bench I was sitting on, and the ninth is mostly coots and a few Mallards in the water. My daughter loves feeding the ducks at this park and we’ll be going there again soon.


Becoming a Switch Hitter

I am a southpaw, a left-hander. Big time! So much so that when my father tried to get me to golf right-handed (he said golf courses were built to favor righties) I just wasn’t able to do it. I played a little—he even bought me a beginner’s set of left-handed clubs—when I was 15, but came to the conclusion surfing was more my speed and gave up golf.

I actually have no plan to become a right-handed golfer, assuming I can ever golf again (that’s another story.)

When I took it up again at the tender age of 46, I still played left-handed, though I realized it would be helpful to my game if I spent a little time strengthening my right side, as well as improving my right-handed coordination. I set about doing some exercises and using my right hand more frequently. It was a bit haphazard, but I managed to become a bit more comfortable with it as time went by.

Last night I believe I came to the conclusion I need to change my handedness from left to right. The reason for this has nothing to do with golf, however. Sometime around a decade ago, I began to experience the effects of what is known as essential tremors. Also called familial tremors, the malady is genetic and generally affects one or more of three areas: the neck muscles, the hands and fingers, and vocal chords. My mother had them in her neck; she was, in her last years, a bobble-head.

My tremors show up in my hands and, ironically, they are worst in my left (dominant) hand. I am almost certain sometime in the next few years, I will experience them in my neck muscles as well. I can feel it coming on when I’m drinking any liquid I don’t sip. Not all the time; my hands don’t shake all the time either. When they do, though, it can be pretty had to do certain things. For instance, typing becomes next to impossible when they’re shaking, as is eating with a fork or a spoon.

Ironically, eating with hashi (chopsticks, in Japanese; my wife is Sansei) is much easier than eating with a fork. It might present a bit of a problem if grabbing whatever it is I wish to lift to my lips, but once I’ve got it grasped I can hang onto it because they shake in the same amount and same direction, and the food is securely pinched between the two pieces. This does not work with a fork or a spoon unless whatever it is I’m eating can be stabbed with the fork. Spoons are even worse because one eats things that are liquid and can spray all over the place when shaken as thoroughly as my left hand is capable of when it gets going.

For example, when I was in the midst of my battle with Covid-19, at the beginning of the year, I didn’t eat for a couple of days. Even though I could neither smell nor taste, I finally got hungry and my wife brought me a bowl of homemade chicken soup. She served it with one of the large, Chinese soup spoons we have, which are reasonably deep. As I raised a spoonful to my mouth, my hand began to shake violently and I sprayed hot soup all over myself and the bed. It was frustrating.

Last night I was eating some canned pears and cottage cheese; one of my favorite comfort foods (actually pineapple is my real fave, mixed with cottage cheese) and I was having a difficult time getting the spoon to my mouth without dropping or flinging the food hither and yon. Having done it once or twice before, I decided to try eating right-handed. It went much better than I had hoped for. So now, difficult as it may be at 73 years old, I’m going to start re-training myself to be right-handed. It won’t help with my typing, but I’m pretty sure it will improve my dining satisfaction … and that’s important. I may even begin eating with hashi right-handed as well. I’ve done it before and I know I can.

PS – Did you know that all the synonyms for “southpaw” are negative? According to thesaurus.com, these words are: ambilevous; awkward; clumsy; dubious; gauche; insincere; maladroit; sinister; and sinistral.


Why I’m Not a Journalist

In January of 1971 I was living in Berkeley (aka Berzerkeley), California. I was “working” at an underground radio station run out of the living room of one of the guys who lived in my building. The address of our building was serendipitously easy to remember; it was 1776 Leroy, just north of the UC campus. I had a one-room, no-water flat though, during that winter there were times when moisture dripped from the walls. I had to go down the hallway to get water, relieve myself, or take a shower. I had a hotplate in my room and, truth to tell, I don’t recall if I had a small refrigerator or we shared one in a common area.

Our studio put out 500 watts of power, but we only had a 1/10 watt transmitter our engineer had managed to sneak up and secure at the top of the Engineering Building on campus. We had dual turntables, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and various other recording devices, microphones, etc. With that little of a transmitter we only reached about 5 blocks square, which was a substantial portion of the north campus community.

In addition to playing music, I thought it was important for us to report on local news, as well as national political news if it happened nearby. On January 5 of that year, the trial of Angela Davis began in the Marin County Courthouse, a little over 20 miles away. One of the devices we had was a boom box that had a cassette tape recorder and I decided to haul my ass over to the courthouse and cover the trial.

I later provided armed security for the McAfee family, whose farm was used for Angela’s bail, when they appeared at this concert.

When Angela Davis’s attorneys came out to speak to the crowd, they were inundated by reporters, journalists, and photographers. There were so many of them (in case you aren’t familiar with this case, it drew international attention) her supporters could not hear a word that was being said. I knew that my boom box could be used as a megaphone, and I knew how to make it happen. I offered her attorneys the use of what I had turned into a way to amplify their voices and reach her supporters. They gladly accepted.

So … everyone got to hear the update Angela’s attorneys provided. Unfortunately, it meant I didn’t get to record anything. I returned to Berkeley empty-handed, save for the memory I had of the event. I had nothing to report other than that. No audio at all. Though I later published the Los Angeles version of The War Bulletin, which was produced in Berkeley, and I’ve written and published several newsletter over the years, that was really the end of whatever career I might have had as a journalist. I wasn’t capable of detaching myself from the story (at least not THAT story) and recognized I didn’t have what it takes to “get” the story.

PS – Today is Angela’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Comrade. Wishing you many more.


My Battle With COVID-19

On Christmas Eve, not quite three weeks ago, I felt I was becoming ill. I initiated an e-visit with Kaiser, and was able to get tested the following Monday. The following day, results showed I was positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus best known as COVID-19. I had to quarantine (meaning stay in my bedroom the entire time) for ten days. During that time I got pretty sick … almost going to the ER on (I believe) the 30th. I attempted to share my experience, as best I could given how sick I was, with my friends on Facebook. What follows is a concatenation of each of my posts as I struggled to ride this illness out. I’m happy to report, with the exception of some residual weakness and light-headedness, I seem to have recovered. Given my age and numerous comorbidities (especially COPD) I expected to become far sicker than I did, and am both relieved and grateful I seem to have recovered rather quickly. I have contacted my doctor and requested a follow-up visit to determine if the virus has caused any damage to my heart or lungs. I will follow up when I have something to report.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

12/24 at 14:37:

Out of an abundance of caution, I initiated an e-visit with Kaiser to determine if I’ve got COVID. I don’t have any of the worst symptoms, but I definitely have some of them. I’m scheduled for a test this coming Monday.

12/28 at 09:48:

Getting my COVID-19 test in the parking lot.

12/29 at 09:12:

Well … Now if someone asks if I personally know anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, I can answer “Yes.”

Me!

So … the illness I really didn’t want to test my immune system and my overall health on finally got me. Now I have to isolate for 10 days. I think I’ve already been through the worst over the weekend.

I’m taking MucinexDM once every 12 hours, an occasional Aleve, and vitamin C. I can’t taste a damned thing and I wasn’t terribly hungry for the past four or five days; I’ve lost eight pounds in the last six days.

I’m feeling good today. No fever this morning and SpO2 is staying around 95%. No congestion, hardly a cough.

I know this thing can offer some surprises, so I’m monitoring myself carefully, but it looks like I won’t suffer as much as I thought I might, which is a pleasant surprise. Still, being cautious seems prudent.

12/29 at 20:08:

Have I mentioned I feel like shit. I have a mid-grade fever and I’m sweating under the blanket, but I get the chills if I get out. Typing this is difficult. Stomach is sour and SpO2 has dropped as low as 91%. I’m dizzy, weak, tire easily, and can’t take a deep breath without bronchial pain.

Other than that, I’m feeling just peachy.

12/30 at 10:02:

Sitrep:

As of this morning, I am feeling better. No fever, but that’s how yesterday started. SpO2 is 96. I think the low reading I got yesterday was an anomaly. I have never felt as though I was having trouble getting enough oxygen. Still taking MucinexDM every 12 hours, which seems to be working quite well as a cough suppressant and expectorant. Also taking vitamin C. Still hurts to take too deep a breath, but doesn’t cause spasmodic coughing. Kaiser and many, many people have sent me lots of instructions, many of which I will choose to ignore, because that’s the kind of asshole I am. Haven’t left the bedroom.

Bottom line. This sucks, but I don’t think it’s going to kill me. Then again, this virus has proven to be treacherous and I have waaay too many comorbidities to let my guard down. Stay safe y’all. At least try … that’s what I did.

12/31 at 17:31:

The battle continues. My normal temperature is 97.6. This morning it was 98.7. Since then it’s been as high as 102.5 and everywhere in-between. Currently, it’s 101.1.

Linda went out and got me some vitamin D, Zinc, & NAC, all of which are said to be efficacious in combating this fucking virus.

Happy God damned New Year, reprobates.

01/01 at 12:21:

Happy New Year everybody. Well, these last few days have been trying and difficult, to say the least. I can finally taste again; not completely but it’s getting there. I no longer have to pay as close attention to my breathing as I have for the last couple days, as my bronchial tubes are opening up and taking deep breaths is far easier than it’s been up ’til now.

I still have another five full days before I can even leave the bedroom really, at least without wearing a mask and worrying about what I touch. I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s daylight, not an oncoming train. I’m very grateful.

Temperature continues to be normal. Still dizzy and weak, but a bit more aware. Onward and upward.

01/01 at 15:47:

Man! This virus doesn’t give up. Temp is back to 102.3° F.

01/02 at 10:26:

OK – Health update. I can’t recall the last time I had the flu, or anything for that matter, that caused me to have a fever, so I’m not sure if what’s been happening to me is the normal progression of dealing with a virus. As noted over the past few days, I wake up feeling reasonably well, with no fever, and by mid-afternoon I’m burning up.

Last night it got up to 102.5, the highest it’s been since last weekend. I feel as though my fever broke last night. I finally had to take my t-shirt off. It was soaking wet. I put another one on and it was pretty soaked by 9pm, so I took it off as well and, for the first time since this started, I was comfortable sleeping without a t-shirt, which is how I normally sleep.

I had taken two Aleve, since my fever seemed to be climbing and within about an hour it was down to 98.3, which is still nearly a degree above my normal temperature of 97.6, but a good sign.

So . . . the signs are all good, but I’ve heard too many stories of people seeming to be on the mend then, boom, they’re in the hospital being intubated. No victory lap for me yet. Eight more days of quarantine. Hopefully, by next weekend I’ll be chomping at the bit to leave the bedroom. I haven’t really cared this past week.

ADDENDUM – I should add my breathing has improved considerably. I can take pretty deep breaths without pain or the need to cough and I have no congestion at all. I almost didn’t take a MucinexDM this morning, but decided not to tempt fate.

01/02 at 15:58:

Yesterday at almost exactly the same time, my temperature was 102.3. Just now it was 99.1. I would call that an improvement. So there.

01/03 at 19:12:

FYI – No news is good news.

01/04 at 13:14:

Update: While I believe I’m pretty much out-of-the-woods wrt the possibility of being hospitalized, recovery is clearly going to take some time. I just took a shower for the first time in a week and I almost couldn’t finish. I had to stop and rest halfway thru drying myself. This virus really takes a lot out of you. I can only imagine how much more difficult it might be for people who are really overweight. I feel so much better being clean (I was too sick to care for a week) but I’m beat from the effort.

Be careful out there, folks. There’s a far-too-large contingent of obstinate assholes out there whose selfishness is making it harder to avoid becoming infected.

01/09 at 12:51:

While it may be effective, I’m here to report that being infected with COVID-19 is far from an optimum weight loss strategy. I just dropped to a weight I haven’t seen since high school … and I’m 73. Think I need to eat something, stat.


I Do NOT Like These Feelz

I was born just after the end of World War II. The nation was heady with promise and I was raised immersed in what I later came to realize was propaganda; the belief that the United States of America was the greatest, most progressive country in the world. I’ve known for a long time that’s not true, but I find myself wondering how a country that speaks and thinks of itself as “exceptional,” can defend so many people coming this close to financial and, perhaps, physical ruin (see WaPo article in Tweet, below.)

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever feel guilty about being on Social Security. I don’t get a lot (nobody does) but along with my wife’s social security and the income from our meager retirement savings, at least we’re not food insecure or in danger of being homeless. It doesn’t feel right, though.

Yet, I’m helpless to do much to assist other than support economic transformation that would alleviate these problems. If there are millions of families in this horrible situation, how can any of us do much about it, especially when doing so would bring us closer to the same kind of ruin. Losing one’s home, especially if you “own” it, is devastating and very difficult to come back from. Nobody deserves this kind of reckless abandonment, yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump is doing. I can’t think of much that would be a worse dereliction of duty than this.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in these next 28 days … and beyond. The fact that Trump vetoed the legislation and has left for Mar-a-Lago, the government closes down next Tuesday, and much of the help that had been made available for people who’ve lost their jobs to COVID-19 is drying up this week is not helpful. Maybe it’s time for:


My Mom’s Farewell

As some of you know, I am working on a couple of memoirs, as well as my autobiography. In doing so, I’ve been slowly going through all my photos and files, culling out items that I can use in these documents. While I am hopeful I can make a little money from these efforts, I’m hardly depending on it and I am mostly working to preserve my memories (which are beginning to fade) for myself and my family, especially my two daughters.

Annette Ladd
My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

What follows is the funeral service I wrote and gave for my mother, who passed away over 15 years ago. I had not seen this since I recited it that day. It was a little difficult to read. Although I did not give it attribution at the time (I may have mentioned it, though I didn’t write it in the “script”) the first paragraph is the section “On Death,” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

I am not a religious man, though I believe I am spiritual and have a deep and awesome relationship with the universe as I understand it. I did attend four years of Hebrew school and am bar mitzvah. I am also an ordained minister in the First Church of God The Father. I claim no special connection to, or knowledge of, the infinite and received this ordination in order that I might perform weddings. I have performed around 50 of them. I’ve also done a couple of funerals, but they were all in the family. Here’s the text from one of those funerals:


You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath form its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

On behalf of Steve and Angela, their daughters Blaire and Erika, Brooke and Paul, Myself and Linda, and our daughter, Aimee, thank you for being here today to honor the memory of our Mother and Grandmother. I must tell you I agonized for a while over using the word “welcome” in the little pamphlet we prepared for this day. I thought “Is it appropriate to welcome someone to what is a sad and solemn occasion?”

However, the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent to me this is a very intimate moment for our family and, in reality, you are more than welcome to be here to share it with us. We are profoundly grateful for the love and respect you show to our mother’s memory by being here today. What I really want to do, what I’m going to try to do, is speak not so much of my mother, though I will certainly be speaking from my experience of her, but more of our mother. I want to try and express just a little of what she meant to all of us.

How does one sum up a life of over 80 years in just a few sentences, especially when ours is so intimately intertwined with hers?

First of all, let me say this will not be a traditional Jewish funeral service, though there are two prayers that will be recited in honor of our mother. For our family, you might say Judaism was like the sun; you didn’t have to believe in it for it to shine its warmth on you. Our early life was filled with a great deal of Jewish observance and celebration. We belonged to the Sun Valley Jewish Community Center, later to be renamed Valley Beth Israel. Mom was, for a time, quite active in the Temple’s Sisterhood and counted many of her friends among the congregation.

She was not, however, (at least in her later years) an observant Jew. Despite this, she held on to her Judaism in certain, small ways which had meaning for her and which gave her comfort. For instance, she always had a mezuzah on her door, and she couldn’t help but utter a Kenahorah (Kayn Aynhoreh – no evil eye), whenever she remarked on something good that happened.

When my maternal grandmother died, my mother took it very hard. I had never seen her so upset and the memory of her distress stayed with me – at times haunted me – for years. As I grew older and began to contemplate the mysteries of life, I felt a need to know that she would grow old gracefully and that she would, when the moment came, be able to peacefully accept and embrace her death.

When the opportunity would arise, I would find a way to discuss death with her, so I could figure out how she saw things. We also talked at times about religion. When I asked her if she believed in God or an afterlife, she always responded with one of two expressions. Either she would just shrug her shoulders and give me a look, as if to say “I don’t know. Who does”, or she would wave her hand dismissively, as if to say “Why bother thinking about those things?”

Most people elicit, at one time or another, virtually every emotion we are capable of, and our mom was no exception. She could be endearing, warm, and comforting, and she could also be tough, uncompromising, and infuriating.

All of us have weaknesses and frailties. If I had to point to one of my mother’s, it would have to have been her bluntness; her habit of telling you exactly what was on her mind. Sometimes, it was hard to remember she was also a kind and thoughtful person, who was capable of giving a great deal of her self for others.

In many ways, her habit of speaking her mind was not necessarily a bad thing. When Stephen’s Sister-in-law, Erika, called the other night to express her condolences, she told me of a conversation she had with her father, Wence, shortly after he had learned of Mom’s death. She said he told her something she had not thought of before. That the one thing you always knew for certain with Annette was where she stood. That she was incapable of artifice or, in many ways, subtlety. What you saw was, indeed, what you got. I believe this honesty of hers caused her a great deal of heartache over the years, but it is, I also believe, a good quality; not a bad quality.

As I think back on my mother’s life, I can point to what I consider to be three wonderful achievements she is responsible for. They are, of course, my brother, my sister, and (I like to think) myself.

To be sure, none of us have become famous or wealthy. But I think each of us has become what she had hoped for us; responsible adults, striving to fulfill our dreams and accomplishing many of the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We couldn’t have reached the point we are at today without the values she instilled in us. We couldn’t have become the people we are today without the lessons we learned through her guidance.

She brought us into this world, and it is now our solemn duty to help her leave it. Her passing marks the end of a large chapter in our family’s life. I, personally, do not believe in an afterlife; at least not in any way that I have learned from the many religions I have studied. Nevertheless, I do believe in some sort of continuation of her life, if only in the hearts and memories of those who she loved, and who loved her. I came across a wonderful quote, which I think concisely states my feelings about this.

Death does not extinguish the light; it merely puts out the lamp because dawn has arrived.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’ sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) – Shoveling dirt on the casket.  This mitzvah is known as hesed shel emet, true loving kindness. Traditionally each person at the graveside, beginning with those closest to the deceased, puts three shovels of dirt into the grave – replacing the shovel in the earth for the next mourner, rather than handing the shovel directly, to avoid “passing on death.” This mitzvah demonstrates our continuing concern for the deceased as we make sure their final journey is completed – some say we should use the back of the shovel to signify this is different than any other use we make of the shovel.


Some Personal Space Shuttle History

Thirty-four years ago next month I showed up for work at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, I was familiar with Rocketdyne, as during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs the rocket engines they made, which powered the vehicles used to launch our astronauts into space, were all designed and manufactured not far from where I lived.

The factory was in Canoga Park, but the engines were tested at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which was in the hills to the west of my home. I have vivid memories of seeing the night sky light up and hearing the roar of those engines as they were being tested. I also remember going out at night and lying down on our front lawn to watch Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite (launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957) go by overhead. I was ten years old at the time.

While these experiences didn’t cause me to pursue a career in engineering, they did serve to pique my interest in astronomy and space exploration. They also had absolutely nothing to do with my ending up working at Rocketdyne. My beginning there was entirely serendipitous. I was working for the temp agency, Apple One, where I had been temping at a hard drive manufacturer called Micropolis. Their business model, perhaps the industry itself, was somewhat seasonal and work for temps was boom and bust there. As had happened many times before (we’d heard about it and weren’t surprised when it happened) business slowed down and they decided to lay off the temps, who comprised the majority of the workforce.

That was on a Friday. That evening, my contact at Apple One called me and asked if I could show up at Rocketdyne the following Monday. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the middle of January, 1987, almost exactly a year after OV-099, Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, exploded as it was ascending to orbit, killing all seven crew members.

I was to turn 40 years old later that year and of course I would show up. I needed to work. However, that it was Rocketdyne I was to show up at was something of a bonus, as far as I was concerned. I had known people who worked at Rocketdyne over the years, and it never occurred to me I could work there. I wasn’t an Engineer or a Scientist. I didn’t even have a college education, though I did have a Juris Doctorate, which I had earned eleven years before. I was the only person in my law school without a baccalaureate. None of that mattered as a temp (or what they called a “job shopper”.) They didn’t ask anything about my background or my capabilities. They just needed a warm body who could perform data input.

So, that following Monday I showed up to work at the plant on Canoga Ave. in Canoga Park. I had never worked at a really large organization before. In fact, with the exception of the temp job I had previously been working at, I had never worked anywhere that had more than a dozen or so people. Most places I’d worked only had five or six, at the most. Rocketdyne had armed guards at the gates. There were at least four entrances guarded by men with guns. It was actually a bit heady.

I ended up hiring in a year later and worked there until May of 2010, when I accepted an early severance package offered to everyone over the age of 60. I turned 63 the next month, June. I’m writing several memoirs, and my time at Rocketdyne will play a big role in at least one of them. However, my purpose here is merely to introduce one of the “awards” I received when I worked there.

I was not a big fan of individual performance awards, believing they tended to pit people against each other when, in fact, we needed to find ways to improve our collaborative and collective abilities. This particular award was given to each of the members of the Space Shuttle Main Engine High Pressure Fuel Turbo-pump team, who labored mightily to manufacture, test, and deliver 10 additional pumps for the program when Pratt & Whitney was unable to certify their alternate design. As our contract ran out, and we knew there would be no new business, the team had to wind down and members had to find other places to hang their hats.

You should note that everyone on the team received one of these shadow boxes, with a flag, a turbine blade, several mission buttons, and these inscriptions (see below.) I’m including the back, because our managers took the time to personally thank each person on the team; there were well over fifty, if memory serves. This “award” hangs in my home office. This coming May it will have been 20 years since I received it, and I’m every bit as proud of it now as I was back then. Plus … how often do you get to have a piece of rocket engine hardware and other space memorabilia?

PS – In case you don’t get to it (it’s on the back of the shadow box) that turbine blade traveled a total of 27,600,000 miles, mostly doing nothing after MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) on each flight.

PPS – Just to be clear, in these two photos (below) I’ve superimposed the award (from the front) on a picture of a shuttle night launch. It has a glass door, which I opened because it’s reflective and I didn’t want that in the photo, and digitally removed with Photoshop. I’ve separately added the two pieces of text from the back, without including the box, and superimposed them on that same night launch photo.

Obverse of My Turbo Team Award
Reverse of My Turbo Team Award

%d bloggers like this: