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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – ESCAPE FROM STALAG SULTANATE, Part 4
“Nah, ya’ borgus frap! To the left!” I shout.
“We’re facing the same fucking direction, so same fucking left.” I reiterate.
“OK, now just drop the sonuvabitch.” I command in a loud, steady un-Presbyterian voice.
“Perfect!” As I give the ‘OK, you meathead’ salute, one finger at a time.
“There. Marvelous. You can leave now. Yes, you may take your forklift with you.” I insist.
So, now we have a rusty, old Maersk 20 foot shipping container blocking our villa’s carport.
Open ‘er up, have a look.
Frankly, I’m vaguely disappointed.
Some foreign bugs, properly dead. A quick sweep with the propane-powered pressure washer and tomorrow, the guys arrive to start schlepping our stuff.
One step closer to exiting the Stalag.
Still waiting on a report from Rack and Ruin.
But we have our container for our ‘personal effects’.
Esme walks out to our courtyard and looks over the situation.
“Let me guess... Going straight, right, or left was beyond their ken?” she asks and hands me a cold beer that she had found hiding in the back of my fridge.
“Chinese beer? Oh! Velly nice.” I chuckle as I drain the liter by half.
“That’s wascist!” Esme chuckles and helps herself to one of the Ukrainian beers she also found in my fridge.
See, we have several fridges around the villa.
The big one, for food and the like, is in the ground floor kitchen.
Then we have slightly smaller ones in each of the other three kitchens we have on the other various floors.
Then, due to a contractor’s inadvertent and irresolvable mistake, I have my massive, stainless steel drinks fridge downstairs, just off the alcove to our open-concept majlis.
Most would call that a living room.
My fridge doubles as a cigar humidor (instead of a vegetable crisper), glass chiller, wine rack (reds only), drinks station, and beer icer-downer.
My fridge has been suffering from a depauperate population of both cigars and liquoriferous delights of late, thanks in part to all the COVID-connected craziness.
Thanks to Mishka and his black market confederates, we’ve solved, at least temporarily, the cigars quandary.
Esme has been going through our villa, into rooms seldom visited and into storage areas even more unfrequented and lonely.
She has discovered a long-forgotten treasure trove of potent potables we had stashed for long-past parties, infrequent celebrations, the occasional in-house staycation booze-up, super-typhoon, or recovery from a particularly vexatious and nasty contract in a, particularly vexatious and nasty locale.
Long story short…(ha), my fridge had regained its usual turgor and boasted beer from over a dozen countries, dangerous, seething polychromatic liquors from six or twenty-two others, and other unidentifiable drinkables from just outside the Outer Rim; where Imperial Forces wouldn’t even bother to venture much less examine.
“Marvelous!” I exclaim to Esme as I hold her in a crushing one-armed bear hug.
I puffed on a vintage Arturo Fuente Opus X BBMF cigar and was partaking of a cold Yorshch, comprised of Polish Pre-Wall-Fall Buffalo Grass Vodka and New Zealand Steinlager.
Yes, the one-liter bottle size.
Anyways, I had the guys delivering the 20’ container leave the front dogs down and the rear dogs extended. That gave the container a tail-to-front gradient of approximately 20. Just enough for me to get the propane-powered pressure washer into the container and let the effluvia drain out the front, down the street and unto who knows where in a place that has absolutely no idea Climate Engineering exists as it’s applied to urban conurbations.
I fire up a fine Zuban cigar, push-prime the pilot on the propane-powered pressure washer, attach the hose, and fire up the recalcitrant little beast.
After fixing all the leaks in the system that hasn’t been used in over 5 years, I get it purring like a well-oiled kitten (now there’s an image) and venture into the back of the container.
After grappling with the 250 psi(g) pressure washer and only getting smacked in the head twice by the custom-built Power Wand!, I begin hosing off the debris accumulated from hundreds if not thousands of trips on the high seas. It was a weird odor, that of propane exhaust, my cigar, and all the schmoo and such now being peeled off the metal walls and being sent to the land of evanescent wind and spirits.
Of course, when there’s water of any depth present in this desert nibbana; the local critters try, with unflinching determination, to make certain they get their fill.
Now, I don’t mind the vinegaroons, camel spiders, or whiptail scorpions; but I draw the line at Saw Scaled Vipers.
I mean, that last batch is just plain ornery.
Plus, their bite can prove fatal to non-ethanol fueled organisms; such as Esme.
Therefore, I have to ask, in a most straightforward, ill-mannered, and direct manner, that they must take their leave of the area.
If a good shot of the propane-powered power washer isn’t enough to dissuade them, then a couple of loads of birdshot from my .44 Magnum usually suffices.
Plus, as a bonus, it gives the Egyptian Buzzards something for lunch.
Such handsome little neodinosaurs.
Anyways, I’m hosing out the 20-footer and getting slightly giddy from the fumes as it appears this container spent some time over in northern South America. The propane-powered pressure water effluent is now a milky white. I do believe we have some remnants of a batch of Peruvian Marching Powder that resided for a longish time right here in this very strongbox.
Or it’s anthrax. Either way, I’m feeling a bit on the more-than-usually-loopy-side.
After kicking the final saw-scaled viper to the curb, I make certain the doors to the big metal box are propped open so they can dry during the 500 C night.
I toss in a couple of smoke grenades which I’ve wired to cans of Pif Paf Bug-be-Gone. The snakes and mice hate the smell of the mercaptans in the Pif Paf as well and I hope, by morning, the smell will have dissipated.
Really doesn’t matter, as everything is going to be packed in bubble wrap, cardboard, or metal boxes and sealed in the house with tough, shipping-grade vinyl wrap before they hit the container.
I return to the villa, strip, toss the smelly work clothes in the wash and wander upstairs for a shower. Since our water chiller croaked right around the time the first wave of COVID hit, we have no water chiller for the shower.
Taking a shower any time other than right at first light or well after sunset is a clear invitation to second-degree burns, steam injuries, and bubbling flesh.
Happily, Es had some other ideas, so that I was well insulated from the possibility of a skin-bubblingly hot water shower. An hour or two later, it was almost positively tolerable.
The next day, over bagels and coffee, we’re waiting for one Chettur Goyal, the moving crew chief, and English speaker. He and his crew of Eastern Expatriates start to show up to begin packing up and trundling out all the kit we’ve determined that without which, we certainly cannot live.
We decided that a couple of his team, depending on English skills, will work with Esme on the ground floor level of our villa.
Our house has been described as being decorated in a style called “Early Museum”.
Well, when you’ve lived on over five continents for the last 35 or so years, you tend to generate some eclectic collections.
We’ve developed an easy tag-out method for our perhaps less than 100% literate friends doing the schlepping for us. Green tag means pack the cabinet and everything contained within. Red tag, everything stays, as Esme and I have already cleared the internals and sorted them by desirability. A yellow tag means as Chettur, Rock, or Esme after all the green tagged furniture and bits and pieces have been packed; will make decisions on what goes and what stays, if anything.
In all truth, we probably have a couple of 40-foot containers-worth of material; definitely, if we decided to take Es’s Land Rover and/or my Isuzu Trooper.
Alas, they’re being donated to the American School.
Neither Esme nor I have the time, inclination, nor patience to put them up on the local “Used Car” board only to deal with shifty locals or whiny expats lusting after our wheels.
The former one will waste your time and finally strike a deal, only to show up on the fateful day 2,000 or 3,000 rials short.
“It’s all I have, sahib.” They’ll say.
They know full well you’re on your way out and don’t have time to waste telling them to ‘get fucked’. Besides, doing that might bring a visit from the Royal Ostrich Pluckers. So, usually, the expat gives in just to get rid of the fucking vehicle.
With the other expats, particularly the Eastern variety, pulling a sobbing, snuffling, wailing scene as you’re trying to get everything packed and into the container; is also most unwelcome.
They’ll try and wheedle and cheese a deal. Ridiculous for you, splendid for them, in the hopes you’d rather just get the fuck out of Dodge and the hell with the car, where are the fucking plane tickets?
Either one is a monumental pain in the ass.
So, donated to the American School they are. We receive thanks, a receipt, and a healthy deduction on our next-years taxes.
But I still miss that Trooper.
Fuel-injected V-8 with little pollution control crapola. M8274-S 10K WARN-winch upfront on the huge bespoke Bull Bars. Massive Hankook all-terrain tires. Custom 11-speed transmission. Skid plates where skid plates should be, transmission intercooler, and holy fuck, wait…
I run after the tow truck driver just before he drops his vehicle into “Tow: low”.
I retrieve a Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistol I won in a poker game from one of the several secret compartments I had personally TIG-welded into, onto, and under my erstwhile vehicle.
I have the tow truck driver sit tight and smoke one of my cigars as I go through the vehicle, trying to remember where I had placed all the ’secret stash’ hidey-holes.
I found several knives I had thought were lost or stolen, a couple of small caliber handguns, some very dusty ammunition, a Ziploc measure of Mexican agricultural pharmaceuticals for the treatment of my chronic back pain, a box of blasting caps, and a small electronic detonator I’d completely forgotten about; batteries totally corroded and weepy of alkalinic shmoo.
I also found those half-dozen large ampules of Ketamine and hypo I kept in case I found a horse or ox or Utahraptor in obvious distress during my travels.
Wouldn’t that be fun on American School Driver’s Education day when one of these compartments popped open and a .25 caliber snub-nose dropped into the lap of the novice driver?
Well, in my defense…I’ve been busy lately.
Back to packing.
Es was going to take care of watching over and answering questions down on the ground floor.
I decided it would be best for me to go up to my office/lab and direct the packing of some of the more esoteric items I had living with me up on the third floor.
“OK, Mr. Chettur, I don’t know how well your charges speak English, but I want you to translate for me verbatim.” I asked.
“Yes sir. I can do that for you.” Chettur replied.
“OK, guys. Gather around. Comfy? Good. Now, this is my office and laboratory. I’ve taken to dismantling and packing of some of the more delicate instruments as far as I can. Yes, you may smoke up here; hell, I do and am. But if I find one cigarette or whatever the hell those nasty things are butts on the floor or packed in with some cargo, well, I’m sure you can all get along just fine with one working kneecap.”
I waited until that was translated and for the horrifying looks to subside.
“OK, now we’re on the same page. If you drop, smash, or destroy anything, well, kneecaps aren’t everything my friends.” I said.
Again the looks of horror.
“Now, guys. This is just my way of impressing upon you that some of this stuff here is very, very delicate. Some of it’s very old and parts are probably not available. Some of these things are very, very heavy and that could take out a kneecap or scrotum easily by themselves as well; if ONE IS NOT CAREFUL!. We green?”
“Green?” Chettur asked.
“Yeah. Green. हरा (hara). Green as in ‘go’ because we’re on the same page and we understand each other explicitly. Green as in the color of the grass that’ll cover you if you fuck up with my stuff. Green as in You diggin’ me, Beaumont?”
“AH. Ha. Hara. Green. Yes. We understand.” Chettur smiled finally getting the crux of my gist, noting the motion toward which I’ve drifted.
“No, you might Chettur, but the rest of this crowd? Please interrogate and explain.” I asked.
After some bad noise and a promise they could help themselves to anything in the kitchen fridge, an agreement was sorted. Extra care and damn the time clock. We’ve got a huge job in front of us and if it takes 4 days instead of two, so be it. I’ve got a lot of kit I’ve accumulated over the years, and most of it’s irreplaceable.
“OK, now we’re all nice and green, let me take this time to quickly go over what you’ll be packing and transporting for me. I already have a list of the material for which I want special transport insurance. But, beforehand; let’s have a smoke, go get a coffee, tea, or whatever, and get back here all nice, refreshed, and attentive in 10 minutes. Shall we? We green, gentlemen?” I ask.
“HARA!” was heard, as well as “Akhdir, as I had a few had Arabic language skills. All I know was ‘Jebel Ackdar’ means ‘Green Mountain’, so I guess that will suffice.
I lit a new Cohiba #9 Oscuro cigar and made note of the strategically placed ashtrays around my lab and office.
I dropped an extinguished Lucifer into one of these ashtrays and pointed to the receptacle.
Chettur knew I meant for his charges to follow suit. It’s a bit bothersome moving furniture with only one functioning kneecap.
I toured quickly with Chettur and gave him the highlights.
He was amply impressed.
I asked him to convey that same sense of wonder to his charges.
A few ticks later and the crew had returned, obviously mistaking my fridge for the kitchen fridge. Instead of juices and water bottles, there were bottles, cans, and bags of beer.
“OK by me,” I said, reminding everyone of the less than two functional kneecap penalties if anything’s ruined.
“OK,” I say before we begin, “Most of this will not mean anything to most of you guys, but as I explained to your boss, these are delicate scientific instruments. Treat them as if they are made of very heavy and easily fucked-up glass.”
They all nodded and got the idea.
“OK, gents, follow me” I motioned to pile number one in my lab.
“This”, I said, pointing to the bits and pieces before them, “Belongs to my eldest daughter. It is a Russian telescope; oddly enough from Magnitogorsk, Russia. It is a Stargate-500p syn-scan 508mm (20”) f/4 parabolic truss tube computerized go-to Dobsonian telescope and I don’t understand what the fuck all that was any more than you do. I do know it, in total, with clock drive and tripod weighs in at around 125 kilos. So, let’s be very careful here.”
They all looked, goggled a bit at the intricacies of the instrument, and chattered among themselves.
“Next on the parade is one of my reasons to live. It is my JEOL JSM-7000F Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope, and I’m one of the very, very few private citizens to own a working one. I’ve had this for years, and it’s taken me all that time to accumulate all the cryogenic and vacuum equipment as well as the gold evaporator and carbon sputter coaters. Just for grins, an elemental aluminum stub to which I affix a specimen costs $950 each.”
They all jabber and recoil in shock at the costs.
“Of course, I didn’t spend that kind of money on them, but it gives you an indication as to the expense of this particular piece of scientific equipment. It’s insured for over US$1 cool million. At least, that’s what I place on replacement cost. Handle accordingly.” I smile.
They all smile agreeably.
OK”, I continue, “Next up is my trinocular polarizing petrographic microscope. It’s an Olympus Microscopes BX51 Pol-Polarizing with BF/DF and Trinocular Head, refitted with custom-made Zeiss optics. As you might imagine, it’s old, and one of a kind. It’s also got a lot of glass, mechanicals, and other parts that are easily broken. I would be most unhappy if something happened to it or any of the peripheral equipment you see here. Green?”
“HARA!” was the answer.
They were actually getting good at this.
Then I pointed out my 9 Halliburton aluminum camera cases. These were chock full of Canon, Nikon, Zenit, Rubinar, Kyiv, and Smena 35-millimeter camera equipment. Lenses, power winders, a FS 122 PhotoSniper, flash equipment, both digital and film. They were already armor-plated, but I wanted these characters to take it easy on this stuff as well.
Next, we went into my petrology/lap (lapidary) lab.
Aside from all the rock saws, tumblers, wax stations, and assorted petrological equipment, I had everything necessary to create thin sections. That is slices of rock affixed to glass slides anywhere from 30 µm (= 0.03 mm) to 10 µm (= 0.01 mm).
Included in that were my lap table and vibratory lap polisher.
My lap table was a hunk of cold-rolled and hardened tool steel, some 3 centimeters in thickness, 1 meter wide and 3 meters long. Luckily, it broke down into 1-meter sections, each about 215 kilos in mass.
It had to be that heavy as the surface was hand-polished to an unevenness of perhaps a thousand of a millimeter across not only the connections but from one end of the table to the other. I spent days and days going over this table getting it as close to ultimate horizontalness as possible. The weight also helped to dampen vibrations.
The flatness tolerance defines a zone between two parallel planes within which a surface must lie. Since flatness is applied to an individual surface, this tolerance does not need to be related to a datum. Flatness is usually used on a surface associated with a size dimension, acting as a refinement to the size requirement to ensure proper function of a part or to promote even wear.
I was aiming to get flatness to less than one one-thousandth of a millimeter over a piece of steel three meters by one meter by three centimeters in thickness.
Most said that was impossible. However, the more I worked at it, the more Rick Sanchez and his moody grandkid dropped by for a look and a few cold ones. When his grandkid almost refused to leave because he was reveling in the flatness of my table, I knew I was nearly there.
Still, there was much consternation a the weight of the individual sections and the fact we’re about 10 meters above ground level.
No matter, I sealed the deal by showing them my hydraulic-pneumatic suspended 6.5 cm (2.55”) thick, heat-treated, Rockwall 66 hardness, 1.2 meters (3.93’) diameter Vibra-lap.
It is another piece of heavy steel kit that polishes rocks flatter than flat by gyratory, Earth independent, shimmying; similar to this, but larger and heavier.
It was driven by a smallish 220 VAC electric motor and was covered with various degrees of diamond dust and mineral oil. An already flat hunk of rock was set down on the Vibra-lap, it switched on and the huge mass of the lap table began to vibrate, but at very low hertz, or cycles per second.
It was all accumulative, as the longer you left the Vibra-lap run, the finer and finer these vibrations got and the flatter and flatter the rock face you were polishing became; down to thousands of a millimeter difference over the face of a sample.
That’s a bit of the problem. The hunk of steel that makes up the working surface of the machine weighs in at about 340 kilos
Or around 912 pounds for the American crowd.
There was a bit of an inconvenience when I decided to assist in its initial removal and moving.
True, it’s a heavy piece of kit; one who’s relocation should be attempted only by three strong men and a boy.
Viswarupa thought Chakravarti had it. Chakravarti thought Madhavacharta had it. Madhavacharta thought that I had it.
And therein lies the problem.
The lap plate was let go of by three of the four characters moving it.
I was the last to let go.
The plate hit the marble floor.
Luckily, it was insulated from the total impact by the fingers of my left hand.
My middle finger and ring finger of my left hand are already artificial, titanium-tungsten-osmiridium alloy, and were just fine.
My index finger, also artificial, was out of the line of contact.
The well, little pinkie finger of my left hand was not so lucky.
It got sort of, well, mashed.
“Oh, fuck.” I noted.
I’m no stranger to manual injuries.
Yep, that pinkie finger is hosed. Busted in at least 3 or four places.
But, no matter. No time for a hospital or doctor, especially during these strange times.
I have Esme retrieve one of the many finger splints we keep around for just such an occasion. With a liberal application of gauze, surgical, and duct tape, we’re back in action.
In case you were wondering, yes, it stung a bit. However, my left hand is so fuckered from burns, scarring, and the like, it wasn’t debilitating. In fact, I was off growling at the movers within a half hour.
There was a bit of an almost instant insurrection when I noted this piece was, in fact, one-piece and needed to be schlepped to the container as is; just let me mop off the blood.
“OK, cool out,” I said and opened a door to the outside balcony.
I had installed a gin pole and electrically-operated crane for just such an emergency. It could handle about 2 metric tons, so the lap table and the Vibra-lap posed no problem.
OK, a little problem. They still had to manhandle the thing out the door and onto the bloody balcony. Then, once on the ground, into the container.
But hey, that’s why they were making the big money.
But of course.
Several days, and a significant dent in my fridge’s state of turgor later, the 20-foot container was nearly full. Now since shipping via container relies on volume rather than weight, we made certain all of our heaviest kit was packed throughout the container, instead of being stuffed in one end or the other, or one corner or the other.
Still, it required a second crane, a larger one, to lift our container onto the flatbed semi that was going to overland this for us to Dubai,. Then onto a container ship and finally to New Jersey, if we were unlucky, or Chicago, if our luck held out.
Then, once through US customs, it would be trucked to my eldest daughter’s place in central West Kansanebraskistan. Then we’d all have a grand reunion as my youngest and her latest paramour trundle down from Baja Canada to become repatriated with the gear we’ve been holding for them for the past 8 or 12 years.
Like Christmas in December; we hoped out container appeared sometime in November.
The jury's still out. Kind words and goods thoughts appreciated.
But first, we had to make the agonizing decisions of what went and what stayed. Remember, there’s no coming back for us; this was the final exit out of the Sultanate, and as things stood, we’re leaving a shitload of machinery, electronics, and furniture behind.
Virtually all my electronics, such as televisions, stereo, and such were 220 VAC.
The US is 110 VAC.
In my experience with voltage inverters, they simply prolong the departure phase. They are not clean enough, nor fast enough to prevent fuzzing, frosting, and frying of delicate electronics. I have to replace all the motors on my petrology equipment and SEM with equivalent 110 VAC devices when we return home.
The same goes for most all my small hand tools. All 220 VAC. Easier just to replace them when we get home than drag them halfway around the world. But I’ll still miss my Dremel sets, electric beaver (German wood carver…a gift from my Mother-in-law), and some of the big electrical motors I got for a song that ran my larger rock saws.
As for home electronics, we left the 75” television. Simply no room and truth be told, we weren’t’ watching that much TV anymore. We left the WiFi gizmo, modems, and other Internet goofiness as we’d get that for free at University.
But the furniture.
Keep the dining room table and six chairs or take two china cabinets and everything within them?
Keep the gabbro TV stand, which takes up a fair amount of room and weighs some 220 kilos, or take the bedroom suite?
Esme and I wrangled with decisions like this for weeks.
Finally, after a lot of give and take and some tearful decisions, we got everything absolutely necessary into the 20-foot container.
Luckily, I dropped a few of my things with some military buddies out in Thumrait who were about to rotate back. We found enough room for Esme’s two hand-built Rosewood cabinets and her living room coffee table made from an old Omani window.
Still, we were leaving a shitload of expensive furniture and gobs of household bits and pieces.
Wouldn’t be the first time, though. And it’s taken time, but we realize we either ship it and essentially pay for it again, or leave it, buy new and enjoy the new furniture and old memories.
But it’s still a pain in the ass to do, no matter what the logic.
So, we finally got everything packed into the container that we’re going to ship. The few bits-n-bobs like clothes, my computer, and some other unleavables were coming with us in our luggage once Rack and Ruin figure a way for us out of this place.
So, the first crane couldn’t lift the container because of the mass. So, we had to wait on a second crane. Of course, the lorry sent to transport our kit to Dubai was then, of course, too small; so we had to wait on another more robust prime mover.
The old fridge took a serious dent during all the waiting.
To be continued…