Why do we Stand?

It’s morning at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  Welders, electricians, shipfitters, and engineers alike settle in to begin their day working to repair the pacific naval fleet.  The rain pounds the asphalt as I walk from my office to the machine shop for a work brief, ill equipped for the weather as usual.  It’s been this way for weeks now, as is the norm in the Puget Sound, with no signs of a respite.  Any second now, a trumpet will sound through the loud speakers, signaling the national anthem.  All that are inside are free to go about their business while the it plays.  However, those caught outside are instructed to stop what they’re doing and stand at attention.  I pick up the pace and walk briskly to the door, fast enough to make it in inside, slow enough not to bring about unnecessary attention.  I’m almost there, mere seconds from sanctuary—

“Badum, badum!” the trumpet plays.  Only a few steps separate me from the entrance of the shop.  I hesitate.  My mind goes into hyperdrive.  Do I sneak in?  I don’t want to be late for the meeting.  Besides, I don’t think anybody will even notice, and who would blame me if I did?  Nobody will ever see…


If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time on a military base, most likely you’ve had a similar experience, especially if you are stuck in extreme weather conditions.  Every morning at 0800, the Star-Spangled Banner rings throughout the base, and every morning, everybody who is outside stands at attention out of respect for our military, including me, no matter how many thoughts vacillate through my head.

So, it’s no surprise that several different emotions ran through me last Sunday as I watched players kneel during the anthem, or link arms to make a statement that didn’t seem to have much to do with the anthem.  I was angry, even furious at times.  The headlines on CNN, “NFL players take a knee in defiance of Trump,” didn’t make matters any better.  “How could somebody be so disrespectful to a country that has given them so much?” I thought or, “Why protest like this?  Why make a political statement at the expense of the American Flag?” or perhaps the most egregious, “What are they doing?  This kneeling crap’s going to screw up my fantasy team (which it did)…”

At the same time, I was sad.  Watching the demonstrations take place, it was almost as if I no longer recognized the country that I had grown up in.  I felt that I could never watch a game and cheer for a team I loved so much the same way ever again.  It was as if by a single gesture, all the excitement, the entire livelihood of the NFL had been sucked out of me.  Perhaps the worst part was that I didn’t see a single leader of the NFL, the coaches, commissioner, or any of the broadcasters have the courage to say what those players were doing on the field was wrong.

After all, standing for the national anthem is a practice that’s been entrenched into most of us since we were young.  It’s an anthem that often gives me goosebumps, and even a little swell in my heart after a beautiful and emotional rendition.  And I hate to admit, but during times of inebriation, I’ve admittedly sang the anthem at the top of my lungs like a jackass.  But if you’re anything like me, for most of your life, you’ve stood with your hand over your heart, many times just to go through the motions, never really stopping to ask the question, “why is it so important to stand for the national anthem?”

Many of the reasons the players chose to kneel were well expressed, most stemming from the that inequalities still exist in our country and that social justice must be attained before they choose to stand again, a viewpoint exacerbated by Trump’s recent comments.  And how much can I argue that inequalities don’t exist?  After all, we are a country that for better or worse, has been through a lot since its inception, born with its ailments, or foibles perhaps, that the founders knew couldn’t be cured with just the stroke of a pen.  They were shortcomings that would take years of pain, suffering, and intense battle to overcome.

“America is great because she is good.  If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” said Alexis de Toqueville, the French diplomat who had spent a copious amount of time studying democracy in the early years of the United States, eventually authoring, “Democracy in America.” The founders shared de Toqueville’s sentiment that the American citizenry consisted of a good-hearted, God-fearing people, and had faith that they could, and would carry out the dream of a free society if given the chance.  With this, they were granted the power to choose its leaders through a representative Republic, with the ability to form, to quote from our constitution, “a more perfect union,” of which many risked and sacrificed their business, riches, security, and in some cases, lives to fight against all odds, against the most powerful nation on the planet, so that one day, maybe, just maybe they could secure this dream for the American people.

We are a country that in order to remain united and survive past its infancy, had to accept the inhumane practice of slavery.  And although slavery existed, the founders knew the system of government they had set in place would allow the will of the people to eventually right its wrongs and put an end to the practice.  And with a war that cost the lives of roughly a million Americans, a great president, and nearly divided our country for good, we paid our debts and were able to overcome this evil.

We are a country that continues to fight against the evils of racism to this day.  During the civil rights movement of the sixties, people of all backgrounds fought against many powerful institutions to pronounce the treatment of a group of people based on their race is wrong, and it must be stopped.  And through peaceful protest, heavy persistence, and battling past the constant threat of violence, those who had fought so long for fair and equal treatment won the argument and changed the hearts of Americans alike.

We are a country who continues this rejection of prejudice to this day.  At the recent riots in Charlottesville, while many in the media screamed of fear and the rise of fascism, white supremacy and racism, I saw a swath of Americans who came together to take a stand against a vile display hate and anger.  The hundreds of demonstrators that came to protest that day were highly outnumbered by the voices denouncing them from all around the country, voices that aren’t afraid to speak out, not matter where the source of such evil comes from.

And when it comes to evil, we are a country who has had a proven track record against it.  On December 7th, 1941, there was little hesitation from our country to take action after the attack on Pearl Harbor, judging by the response of our leaders and the abundance of young men willing to join the military to take a stand against the Nazi’s and Imperialist Japan.  And like the soldiers of the American Revolution, Civil War, and other wars before them, they fought, risked, and sacrificed, from the beaches of Normandy to the islands of the Pacific, enduring the harshest of conditions and all horrors that come with war.  They fought to defeat this evil, for there was a belief that what they were fighting for was something greater than themselves, that although they may fall, their brothers would fight on to secure their way of life, that their sacrifice may result in a much better world for their friends, family, and the rest of the world.

We are a country who from the beginning, has always promoted science and innovation.  Not by force and coercion, but by allowing the pursuit of happiness to take its course, to let one take command of his or her own ideas, dreams, and visions of the world and watch them flourish.  Through this, we’ve built and powered great cities, from New York to San Francisco.  We’ve taken command of the internet, unleashed its power and provided an infinite catalogue of knowledge and the ability to connect with people thousands of miles away with just the click of a button.  All throughout our history, we’ve created thousands of other inventions most of which go unnoticed in the day to day grind: the automobile, airplane, iPhone with GPS capabilities, indoor plumbing and waste treatment, air conditioning, electricity, fresh drinking water, refrigeration, an MRI machine, Disneyland, Nintendo, Instagram, and the list goes on.  Thousands—millions of inventions that make our lives better, each and every day, most of which are taken for granted by everyday citizens, including myself.

We are a country that promotes the free expression of art, creative ideas, and different modes of thinking.  And through the advancement of music and motion pictures, artists continue to find ways to experiment and express themselves, creating art that touches our hearts and makes us laugh, cry, and at times jump up with excitement.  By watching films like the Godfather, Forrest Gump, Star Wars, or any John Hughes movie, or by attending your favorite band’s concert, whether it be Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Metallica, or Kenny Chesney, this art holds a deeply emotional and significant impact on our lives and has changed the way we view the world.

I mean, c’mon, we are a country that put a man on the mother f’n moon for God’s sake!  Excuse my language, but think about this for a second.  Back in the day when the Pilgrims came over, it took 2 to 3 months just to sail across the ocean, one way, and this ain’t your luxury Carnival Cruise we’re talkin’.  These trips sucked, and if you wanted to go and visit Europe, you best believe you were gonna stay there for a long ass time.  Then, America was born, and in less than 200 years, we flew a couple of dudes into space, traveled nearly a million miles, landed on the moon, and brought their asses back to Earth in a little over a week!  That’s incredible!  (And if you’re one of those people that believe the moon landing was a hoax, Buzz Aldrin will come and punch you in the face!)

Imagine Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson talking about this after they wrote the Declaration of Independence.  “You know Tom, after we get this forming a country stuff figured out, someday, we’re gonna walk on that big old moon up there.”  Forget about it.  It never happened!  And who could blame them?  The country they helped form was able to do something inconceivable, something that nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve ever thought possible, a feat no other country has ever been able to do, ever!  Man, if they were alive today, they’d be damn proud of what this country has accomplished.

Somebody once shared a quote from John Adams that has stuck with me, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”  These great men who set the foundation for this country, who did the heavy lifting and hard work in its early days, and those who, to this day, serve to protect our country, our freedom, and our way of life, who allow us to live peacefully without the threat of anybody taking that away, it’s these people who allow us to live our lives as we see fit.  It’s these great men and women who allow people like me to drink Rockstar energy drinks and share silly stories of my misfortunes when I should be studying mathematics and philosophy.  It’s these same people who provide artists like Kanye West the opportunity to share their crazy views while creating their amazing beats without the fear of censorship.  It’s these people who give us the luxury to watch, play, and celebrate a game in which two teams try to carry a pigskin across a field.

It’s these people of whom we are indebted to, of whom deserve our deepest gratitude.

And above all, we are a country that comes together during the tough times.  I’ll never forget September 11, 2001, watching on a 13-inch television set in Mr. Rayburn’s science class as a Junior in High School when both towers of the World Trades Center came down, knowing that the one and only world I ever knew would be changed forever.  And I’ll never forget the emotions felt during that time, the amount of pride I felt as an American, in my fellow countrymen, seeing almost every single person I knew set aside their differences and unite to heal as a country.

It’s a spirit of lending a helping hand to our fellow man that continues to this day, as I watch several strangers come together, donating their time, money, and efforts to provide aid and rebuild the lives of victims of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

I see the national anthem as an allegory for this type of spirit.  Played before times of intense battle and divisiveness, where fans will relentlessly jaw insults back and forth and two teams will spend 60 minutes pounding the crap out of each other, we all can take a moment to stand with our hands on our hearts, to remember that there are things in this world and in our lives that are bigger than us, bigger than Donald Trump, that there are principles we all can unite around.

We can take a moment to reflect on those great men and women, admittedly greater than myself who have served and those who have shaped this great country through art, innovation, risk, and sacrifice into what it is today, to allow us to partake in such coveted pastimes such as the NFL.  It’s a reminder that someday, through hard work, patience, and sacrifice, we too may become the great men of our generation.  It’s a reminder that though our country is not perfect, nor will it ever will be, we have the ability to change, to strive towards a more perfect union.  Our system of government allows it.

…It reminds us that America is great because she is good, and despite our differences, the flag and the anthem unite us.  It always has.  It is the single most unifying symbol we have.

If anything good has come out of the craziness of this kneeling fiasco, it’s given me a chance to reaffirmed my beliefs on standing for the anthem and the importance behind it.  It’s given me the opportunity to articulate my views so that others who do not know better may understand.  Never again will I question whether or not I should try to sneak in at the last second to avoid having to listen to the anthem for a minute on a military base.  And as long as America remains great, I will always stand at attention when the anthem is played, on base or at a sporting events, no matter the weather.  I will show respect for the American flag, and I ask you to do the same.

I ask you to set politics aside, and remember the reasons as to why it’s important to show this respect when our anthem is played.  I implore you to search within yourself, to look at the big picture, to remember that even with the present inequalities or injustices you may see in your life (and trust me, I have a list of my own), that there is so much more good than bad that has come about from this country and from the people living in it.

I implore you to stand next to me with your hand on your heart, unified.

The professional Pee Tester

At my work from time to time I am called in for a random drug test.  You know, the ones where you pee in a cup and they send it to a lab and analyze it for bad things in your body.  It can be once every couple of months, or even years sometimes between pee tests.  Recently however, I’ve been called in for a donation of my pee pee quite frequently, twice in a matter of three weeks to be exact.  Maybe Obama just doesn’t trust me anymore?  Oh well, whatever the case, I usually don’t mind, for I get to take a nice little stroll through the shipyard, observing the blend of historic structure and modern military marvel, where old World War 2 bunkers are converted into laboratories for analyzing chemical compounds, and old workshops built of brick and mortar house an array of machines that fabricate the finest technological gadgets to support the mission of the United State’s pacific naval fleet.  A perfect time for life thinking, and breaking off from the monotony of office life for an hour is always a nice change-up in your routine.


I enter the pee test lobby and behind a window there is an elderly gentleman who happily greets you, the same one every time I go in to deliver the goods.  And when I say gentleman, I truly mean the word gentleman, one of the last few left on this planet.  Definitely a God fearing, good deed doing family man.  As I look at him and I can just imagine him gathered around his grandchildren at Christmas time jolly as can be, telling stories of seasons past and the honorable heritage of their family tree, all of which are hanging on his every word, eyes glued to his in wonderment.  He wears a nice long sleeve button up tucked in to a pair of wranglers sporting his favorite belt buckle, the one I’m sure he’s had ever since he was a young lad.  His face is aging, slowly turning into the same material as his leather cowboy rope tie.  His white angel thin hair parted across his head, the same way he has been styling it his whole life.  And yet, even at 70 plus years of age, he feeds you a smile of youth, as if you were that young broad he courted at the barn dance all those years ago, sporting the same outfit, the one that has never let him down.  It’s only natural to feel brightened, and send him back a smile in exchange. 


And yet, this is just another day in the office, taking people’s urine and analyzing it.  The work seems mundane to us, but he’s in his office working like a busy beaver, taking all the pride and joy that’s inside of him and delivering it in the form of services.  The service of collecting your urine… 8 hours a day for 5 days a week.  He treats his job as if it’s his passion, his reason for living; the profession that God himself has called upon him to carry out.


Imagine meeting a guy like that at a dinner party and everybody’s introducing themselves.  “Hi, I’m steve, I’m a Optomoligist,” or “Hello, I’m an engineer.”  “Paul’s my name, I own the general store down the street.”  This guys would be the man who says “Hello, I’m Dale.  I’m a certified pee pee collector, available for private and public practice.”  The more I talk about him, the more I want to hang out with this man.  Seems like a night out on the town with him would be nothing but a good time!


“All right, c’mon back,” he says to me, waving his hand in a welcoming circular motion.  He leads me to the back room where he hands me a cup and instructs on how to produce what he describes as a “good specimen.”  I do as I am told, in the order he tells me.  Wash the hands, enter the bathroom, and fill the cup to around the halfway mark, and if necessary, pinch it off, sending the rest of my beautifully self-produced golden waste into the toilet filled with dark blue dye.


I hand the man my sample, and that’s when he starts to work his magic, and things get really interesting.  He takes out two smaller containers, the size of the old 35mm film capsules, and begins the process of filling them completely full.  You would think that this would be a very delicate process, one that any normal person would take their time with and wear the proper sanitary equipment that comes with the job, aka gloves.  Time nor gloves however are not resources this man has, or cares for, or needs.


He fills the first specimen tube, holding my cup of urine about a foot above the tube, in almost the same fashion as some foolish college kid tries to fill his half drank soda bottle with his favorite liquor.  Now don’t lie to yourself, we’ve all been there and done that, and remember how hard of process that was and how nervous we were about spilling?  There was always that unfortunate moment where a good portion of that liquor ended up on the counter, leaving us with two choices.  Wipe up the mess in sorrow at the loss of perfectly drinkable booze, or suck it up like a man and zamboni it right off the table.  Think of that and now imagine the same situation, except instead of pouring a little bit of whiskey into a half drank 20 ounce bottle, you’re filling a large cup of pee pee and pouring it into a tiny little specimen tube, with barely the volume of two shots.  This is exactly what this man was doing…  Without gloves no less!  I had an underlying feeling that this stunt wasn’t going to go so well…


“Well here we go,” he said to me as he tilted the cup of urine down towards the specimen tube while I held me breath.  A stream of golden liquid, recently departed from my body was leaving the cup, suspended in mid air, with only milliseconds before it hit touchdown either directly into the tube, or all over his hands and onto the floor.  The suspense was killing me.  It was that Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb 4th and 8 call against the Bears with 44 seconds left on the clock all over again.


Touchdown!  The urine landed square in the middle of the tube.  So far so good, but the moment was short lived as I dreadfully watched the liquid level climb up to the top of the tube.  It was rising, and rising quick!  He acted oblivious to the fact that he was less than a second away from a flood of urine covering his bare hands (did I mention he’s not wearing gloves during this entire process?), and all I could do is sit there and watch as the time drew closer and closer to a disaster just waiting to happen.


Just when I thought a tragedy was among us, with as much grace as the choreographed “Single Ladies” dance by Beyonce, he lowers the urine cup, tips it back, and finishes the pour, test tube filled right up to the brim, not even a millimeter of separation between the edge of the tube and the liquid.  One handed, he flips the lid back into position and closes it, no urine lost or spilled.  Not even a drop.  I was in total amazement as I was still trying to wrap my head around what I had just seen.  He literally had a brush with death, and by some miracle, he was still standing, his clothes and body free of my warm bodily projection.


“Ok, now for the second one,” he said to me with in a chipper tone, delivering a slight chuckle afterwards as he flipped off the cap of the second specimen tube and prepared for the pour.  He raised the first urine sample towards me, now completely capped off, as if he were about to give a toast.


“Oh no, not again!” I thought to myself.  That first time was luck.  There was no way he was going to be able to handle another pour like that without some type of backlash.  But sure enough, with the same level of confidence and ease, he started his pour a foot above the specimen tube, filled it at a rapid pace, and stopped just in time for the urine to fill completely to the brim.  No miss pours, no straggling drops or a spraying of debris, nothing.  Again, he capped the specimen tube one-handed, and that was it.  A few signatures from me and those babies were off to be analyzed!


It was at that moment, seeing both specimens capped off ready for delivery, that I knew I was in the presence of greatness.  This could be possibly the best pee pee tester on the face of the Earth.  He just made it look so easy, as if pee testing is second nature to him, like riding a bike, or eating a slice of pecan pie.  No doubt the Kanye West of urine testing, maybe even better.  He was that freaking good.  I wanted to shake his hand right then and there, but something stopped me.  I looked at him as he went through the necessary pee handling procedures, filling out the necessary paperwork, dumping the leftovers, interacted with the other donors in the room; I felt like I didn’t have the honor of shaking a man’s hand like that, at least not in this environment.  Besides, I hadn’t even washed my hands yet after going to the bathroom, so a handshake would be considered a little rude at that point.  Maybe someday, I’ll gain enough respect to shake the man’s hand.  Hopefully someday soon, before he retires…  That is, if he retires.  Few men that are true masters of their profession never really retire or stop what they do.  I hope to be among one of those men someday.


And as I walked back to my office, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How does a man get into a position like that?  Becoming a professional pee tester?”  I imagine during career day at school he didn’t go up and tell the class “When I grow up, I’m going to play around with people’s pee pee.”  Maybe he did, but I find it highly unlikely.  It at least wassn’t my top career choice in school.  I mean, judging from events in our adolescent years, Ben Woodward may have thought about that as a viable career path once or twice, for he was the most comfortable around that type of stuff (so it seemed).  But still, think it was a long shot even for him, or maybe a back-up plan.  And that’s saying a lot, cause that kid is a one in a million, and pretty wacko in the head!


But regardless of what Ben’s career aspirations were, over time with every trade, you develop skills, and for extracting other people’s urine 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 30 (maybe 40) plus years, I’d say you’re going to get pretty damn good at the job.  That probably explains how he’s able to handle other people’s urine with the amount of ease and comfort that he does, as if it he was holding his newly born grandchild, or as if I was serenading a couple boundary babes in some exotic locale with a beautiful sunset shining over a landscape consisting of lush forest and pristine lake front. 


I can just envision what they’ll say at his funeral (God Forbid).  “Here lies George (or whatever his name is), father of 4, husband to 1, and the greatest pee test man the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has ever had the pleasure working with.  He will forever be remembered as the admirable man who poured urine specimens, over and over again, to keep us out of trouble and protect us from harmful toxins that could inhibit our work ability and destroy our family life.”  Those in attendance would nod their head in approval, knowing that he was the best in the business, and that he touched their hearts every time he sent their donation to the lab, caring for their safety every step of the way, and performing the work that no other man would do, the tough job that could make you an enemy very quickly in the eyes of the ungrateful.  Never the less, he did it because it had to be done, by someone…  The best, all for his fellow brethren.  I hope I’ll be among those in attendance, reminding me that his legendary spirit will live on through the shipyard, long after all of us are gone.


I’m thinking a typical donor takes about 5 to 10 minutes total to complete the process of making their donation to the pee test man, so in a typical day, he could probably be handling about 50 unique urine samples easy.  That’s nearly 500 a week, and well over 1000 in a month.  A professional like that, given the right circumstances could very well hold over a million different types of pee pee in his hand over his life-time.  To me, that is a mind-blowing stat, and a bit of an accomplishment.  Who else could say that they’ve done something like that?  He’s truly the best pee tester in the game.  Even Richard Sherman couldn’t quite match a feat like that, and he wouldn’t even have to announce it over national television!  He just let’s his work speak for himself and leaves the rest of us in awe.


So every now and then, I get called back to the same room, where the same old man with the same old cowboy rope tie sits and administers a pee test.  I hand him my sample, thinking to myself, “Is this the time he’s going to finally spill on himself?  I don’t want him to. Honestly, I’m rooting for the guy, but his luck’s got to be running out.”  And with the same elegance he’s had throughout his whole government career, he proves me wrong, filling the cup straight up to the brim, no gloves, no splash, no problem.  He’s never made a mistake the dozen or so times I’ve visited to deliver my sample and I’ve never heard a peep from any of my other colleges around the office of him spilling.  And believe me, if he would’ve screwed up, I would’ve heard about it.  That’s just the way gossip works in my office, just like any other office in the American business front.


I truly believe with all my heart that not only is he one of the most tremendous pee testers known to man, but an honest to heart great man, the Vince Lombardi type, the ones who strive for greatness each and every day, while always finding ways to improve their technique and work, to keep them at the level of the best, now and forever.


I can say with all credibility that it’s a privilege, and an honor to donate my pee to that man.  He’s just that damn good, and watching people at that skill level working at their craft leaves you in awe and inspired.  If I could be just half as good at writing than he is at pee testing, you’d see me on the New York Times Best-Seller list every month.


Upon writing this entry, I’m truly looking forward to the next pee test, and dread the day where I enter the office he’s not there, replaced by some young klutz with a skull full of mush trying to administer a pee test.  He’s going to pour pee all over himself!  I know it!  It’s going to be terrible!  And I’m just going to stand there shaking my head in disapproval, for he will never reach the level that man has reached, and will probably end up quitting his job, unable to perform his duties at the quality of his former.  What a sad day that will be, a day that will live in infamy for the employees of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.


I hope and pray that there will be at least a couple more pee tests with that man at the helm.  There’s got to be.   It’s what he does, what he was born to do, what the legends will speak of for generations to come.


Until next time Mr. pee test man…  Until next time.