Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Benjamin Baum, Carl Taalak Ahsoak, and Travis Dean Picantine

I am not sure how these stories ends, but I need to tell them.

November 10th, 2010 is my grandfather Benjamin Baum's yahrtzite and marks the 19th anniversary of his death.

November 10th, 2010 marks the first anniversary of the death of Army SPC. Travis Dean Picantine.

November 14, 2010 would have been my father Carl Taalak Ahsoak's 62nd birthday. He passed away on May 28, 2009.

My grandfather was a veteran. He was a captain in World War II and served in England and France. He told me stories when I asked him about the war, but they were those that were appropriate for a 9-10 year old boy. I am sure that he saw things that were horrifying and that he served with soldiers who were affected by the things they experienced. I like to think that he would have tried to help those, particularly those men under his command, deal with the demons that come with war. He was 78 when he passed away.

On September 17th, I was getting ready for the beginning of yom kippur and I read a story on cnn.com about a company that was making memorial bracelets from the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts. The company had introduced an option where you could choose a specific soldier or elect a random selection. I ordered a random bracelet and completely forgot about it as I headed off to services.

A week later, a padded envelope arrived with a black metal bracelet, bearing the inscription SPC. Travis Dean Picantine Army 11/10/09 Fort Drum, NY and a picture of a young soldier. I looked at the bracelet and was surprised at the location. I googled SPC. Picantine and read several stories, which all contained nearly identical wording :

"Army Specialist Travis Dean Picantine, 23, of Sesser passed away Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009, at Fort Drum, New York.
Visitation will be held at the Brayfield-Gilbert Funeral Home in Sesser from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, for family and after 5 p.m. for friends and guests. Funeral services will be 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 at the Brayfield Funeral Home in Sesser with Kirk Packer officiating. Burial will be in Mitchell Cemetery near Sesser."

SPC. Picantine's death, sans mention of any other factors, could really only be one thing. Suicide. This was not what I had expected. I have not yet had a chance to contact his family, but I expect to do so before the year is over. I believe that they will tell me a story that begins with SPC. Picantine trying to serve his country and better himself and ends with his taking his own life.

In many ways my father (who was also a veteran, serving in the Navy in Vietnam) also killed himself, one bottle at a time. But he was such an extraordinary man that it took the better part of 40 years for him to do so. He decided that he was going to go on as long as he possibly could, laughing all the way. He drank himself into a stroke, which revealed two brain aneurysms. In 2002, he had brain surgery for the first time. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, which didn't stop him from doing much of anything (including drinking).

One year I had time off around the holidays and decided to go to Barrow for a few days. When I arrived, my aunt told me that my dad was in the hospital. He had ongoing problems, between the circulatory issues, the second aneurysm, and the fact that half his body did not work, so it was not unusual for him to be there. They told me that he had been pushing himself around town and he had gotten stuck in a snowbank for several hours.

He looked ok, except for his right (non-working) hand, which was heavily bandaged. The doctor came in and unwrapped his hand, which looked like it had had the fingers replaced with jumbo sausages. Each finger was easily four times what it normally was. The doctor explained that there was swelling from the frostbite and that they were going to try to save the fingers, but things did not look good. My dad laughed and said "Good Luck!"

Two days later, the doctor unwrapped the bandages and my father's right hand looked as if it has been turned into some kind of black wood. The fingers were now roughly half the size that they had started and had somehow become longer. They looked like death and felt like stone. The doctor explained that they could no longer be saved and that my father would have to have all of the fingers on his right hand amputated. He laughed and told the doctor "good luck." After that, I called him Stumpy or Stubbs until the second aneurysm burst.

There were no facilities on the north slope capable of taking care of him, so he moved into a long term care facility on the south side of Anchorage. It was a very nice house that had about seven patients living there, mostly people who needed 24 hour care, but not hospital care. I would go and sit in his room and talk to him, read to him, or just sit and show him pictures from the albums my aunts had put together for him. I would play the cds of Inupiaq hymns or watch baseball while sitting in his room. Eventually he improved to the point where he could go sit downstairs and watch tv, and drink his own meals. But his mind never came back. Even after the first operation, he was still capable, even if not as sharp as before. After the second brain surgery, he could still say "yeah" or "no" or "that's alright", but that was about it. He could barely remember one or two words.

We had one last conversation. We had started guardianship proceedings in State court, and one of the steps was meeting with the court appointed visitor. The visitor, my dad's social worker, the managing nurse, my dad and I all met one May afternoon. While we were sitting and waiting for the visitor to write something, my dad touched me on the knee and said "coffee?" He had eaten lunch sometime before so I asked him if he wanted more coffee. He shook his head no and again said "coffee?" I realized that he was offering me coffee. I told him I was ok and he said "that's alright." He died five days later.

I often question what makes men into the people they are, what influences guide them to make the choices that define them. I try to think of what choices and what situations could lead me to become like these men, what choices lead to success, what choices lead to failure, the bottom of a bottle, or the barrel of a gun. I like to think that I understand what lead my grandfather to devote himself to advising his community, what lead my father to laugh at the consequences of his choices until his body literally broke down, and the thoughts that lead to someone committing suicide. I do not presume to know or understand what SPC. Picantine went through that left him dead on an Army base at the age of 23, but I know that there is a lesson for me to learn from him.

I have tried very hard to become a better person and to make choices that will lead me to do the right thing. This has not been easy and for everyone that praises me, I am sure there are two people who would be happy to tell you what a jerk I am. But I think that SPC. Picantine and the lessons my grandfather and my father taught me that relate to him will play a part in the next phase of my personal development.

A long time ago I was at some function with my mom and a friend of hers came up and told her that Chris, a crazy acquaintance of theirs, had been institutionalized. My mom said she was not surprised by this. I asked her why and she explained that Chris was crazy and that he had no one to advocate for him in trying to get through the bureaucracy that lay between him and the treatment needed to help him. Mentally unwell people cannot navigate the often Byzantine systems set up to oversee the distribution of benefits.

I suspect that, when I have had the chance to contact his family, SPC. Picantine's story will be much the same as many other soldiers. He came back from the war broken and could not get help, so he took his own life. And he couldn't get the help he needed because he could not navigate the administrative maze that is military benefits.

I don't know how much of a difference I can make, but I am going to try. I am going to try and find a way to help. Maybe I can be that force in another man's life that will turn him from the bottle or the wrong end of a gun. I have devoted much of the last ten years of my life to learning how to navigate administrative mazes. Perhaps it is time to help people like SPC. Picantine through the maze.

I don't know if I am strong enough on my own, but I am not alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Project Smokin!

So I have smoked some fish this year. I have this on hand, which is going to get shipped out sometime in the next two days:


I am planning on going to Valdez over Labor Day, and hopefully come back with many silvers, which means I need to clear the freezer, which is currently in this state:


Almost all reds, with a bit of halibut and one chum (the tiger striped one). I figure that it will take me four to five double batches to clear it out (probably four).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A duffel bag full of fish

55 pounds of fillets in a duffel bag.


In the cooler.







And I have 14 fish at the processor getting smoked and turned into lox. I am going to buy a canner and start canning fish today.

43 fish total, probably 175-200 pounds total fillet weight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kenai, Round 2

So I am heading out for the second weekend of dip netting the Kenai. I will be going out on the boat with KTG and The Moefather tomorrow, then hitting the beach with Fito and Lizza on Saturday. Hopefully I will have gotten my fish and will merely be running/cleaning/advising/taking pictures/video rather than getting my gear on and getting into the water.

The forecast is partially cloudy, with highs in the 60s and wind. Saturday is mostly cloudy with scattered showers. We will see.

21 fish to go.

I got this shirt at B & J's in Anchorage this afternoon.


It says:


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fishes Fishies!

Back from the Kenai, ended up with 29 reds after a marathon weekend. Very tired, more words and a write up to come tomorrow. Here are some fish pictures.


Fish and fillets


















Friday, July 18, 2008

And I'm Off to Kenai

It is now 2:25 am, I just got up from my nap and finished loading the car, and I am off in 5 minutes. I am going to stop and get ice and coffee and then hit the road, in time to be at the Kenai for the 6 am opener. I think my setup is promising, but needs to be tested. Pictures and a report to follow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dipnetting is Here!!!

I am leaving for the Kenai to go dip netting tomorrow after work. I am very excited about this fact. I got a total of 28 reds last year and I am hoping to limit out this year. For those of you who do not know what a dip net is, I got one and it looks like this:


If you say "But Josh, I can't see how big it is", here it is leaning against my bike:


Another shot of it:


I am very excited to get it in the water. 25k fish through the Kenai and 19k through the Kasilof yesterday (that is very good).

For those of you who did not eat some part of my reds last year, here is what they looked like:


Kenai red sushi


Lox on cream cheese and crackers


Sushi Buffet


Fillet pre super bowl sushi


Super Bowl Sushi Spread


It was very tasty fish. I hope to learn to smoke and can fish this year, in addition to the kippered, the lox, and the salmon strips.

In any case, I am leaving late tomorrow and will be back sometime on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Marc, oh marc!

(h/t With Leather)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Live blogging an extra innings Detroit Tigers - Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem and Santa Barbra and Orange County and San Mateo game

[EDIT: The title of this blog changed in the 11th inning of the Tigers game, as I am now 4 and a half hours into this and the Tigers game is Fantastic!]

So there seems to be a lot going on. Going on at the same time today will be a Pistons Eastern Conference finals game versus the Celtics, a Red Wings Stanly Cup game against the Penguins, a Tigers game against the Angels, possibly some poker (I put $25 on stars last night and ran it up to $500 (plus $50 given to the Chinese relief effort, which is an awesome promotion by Stars)), and maybe even a BBQ later. All bets are off in the event that I get called away by some woman or another to go hang out.

4:13 - they show the Red Wings bench and the team is markedly less affected by the anthem than the crowd, particularly given the day. Much like Manu Ginobili mother's day comment, most of the Wings may be more in tune with the European counterparts to the anthem and remembrances.

4:18 - I call a push with K9 on the 5th hand of a tourney, vs qq. Flop is k9k. Sweet.

4:27 - BOOM! Brad Stuart drops it in. The Wings are like an octopus. They don't need two specific tentacles to do all the lifting, as long and some of the other 6 (doesn't matter which) grab something, they are ok.

4:29 - 9 minutes in, the shots are Wings 6, Guins 0.

4:34 - Sheed Says Get Out Ya Seats! Let's Go! I get out ma seat and get amped. JJ v 66. The Ampage continues. I love the final countdown music, just like when they used to introduce Joe D. and the gang.

4:37 - I'm going to propose to my boss that we dance in a "hype it up" circle every morning so that I can start each work day by doing the Sheed dance.

4:39 - I am probably going to be watching more Pistons than Wings for a couple of reasons. First, the Wings are already up 2-0 in the first adn I have seen nothing from the Penguins that makes me think the trend will change. I am much more worried about Detroit (which is now up 8-0, sweet) and I get ESPN (and thus the Pistons game) in HD, but do not get versus in HD. (Tigers to come on the computer). If you are looking for a more detailed live blog of the Wings Game, I suggest you follow Joe over at Behind The Jersey

4:46 - Please Tay, DUNK! Boston gets on the board. 10-2 Stones.

4:55 - I check the lineup and see Shef hitting 3rd and Guillen hitting 6th. I don't like this. Then again, this means that we have Guillen, Joyce, Rentaria hitting 6-8, which is pretty sweet.

5:04 - Maxiell lays the Smack Down on Garnett. Big Block with two and change to go in the 1st. 20-10

5:07 - I push with 3 high and the idiot flush draw, get called by a shorty with tp. River my idiot flush to knock him out in 28th.

5:11 - Sheed sticks his hand out and doesn't let big baby off the ground, much as a big brother might do to a little brother. Still, Celtics got it down to 22-17 after the first quarter.

5:15 - First break in the tourney. I am 7/21 and about to be in the money, wings are 2-0, pistons at 22-17, about to set up the tigers game.

5:20 - I turn on the Tigers game in time to see Carlos whiff on a grounder in X-Mo vision.

5:24 - whee, itm at 6/18. Vlad gets doubled up the end the 1st. Pistons have stretched it to 33-19. Wings still up 2-0.

5:28 - I am rooting for the 6-8 Power Pack to produce and carry the team tonight. First up: Carlos .... Doubles off the wall in right center. Joyce to the plate. Carlos tags on a fly ball to right center and comes in safe. Very Aggressive.

5:30 - I run 97 into KK and go out 13th.

5:31 - Rentaria sloooow rolls a ball to the left side. Carlos does not go. Edgar out a first. Should have been a run.

5:33 - Is the block Sheed is working on the same block Jenny is from? And the Tigers turn a man on 2nd, no one out into nothing, thanks to a virus that innables them to hit with runners in scoring position.

5:40 - Polanco gets the lead runner and Sid the Kid goes to the box. Wings 2-0 at the 2nd intermission. Rogers hits Angels Catcher 2b. First and Second with one out.

5:48 - Granderson goes back and catches a ball hit to the warning track in center. First Half Ends with Pistons Up 43-39.

5:54 - Shef pulls up lame on the way to first, holding his side/back/ribs area. MMMmMMMMmmMMMm, ribs. I need to order or find some food. I did not think I would be hungry after eating for several hours at the bbq I attended, but I am.

5:57 - J9 v AA v 66 on a floppalicious flop of 1087. 3300 early on. Give some back with aj v kq the next hand. AKs the very next hand.

5:59 - Cabrera circuses a routine foul ball.

6:07 - Big and Mig hit and run and have runners at 1st and 3rd, none out.

6:16 - And the Tigers turn first and third with none out into NO RUNS.
Pistons up 51-43.
Wings up 2-0.

6:28 - Thames steps into the on-deck circle. Shef out.
Pistons 59-48
Wings 3-0 (Missed the Goal)
From BTJ:
11:12 - GOAL DETROIT: Filppula (5) from Franzen and Stuart. Wow! Filppula was getting beaten up as he skated towards the net, Letang was all over him, Filppula dives and still gets off a magnificent shot past Fleury. It remains 4-on-4.

Guess those second line scoring worries are taking care of themselves.

6:34 - Sweet. Versus shows a shot of a Wings Jersey on one of the Tigers in front of Comerica. Anyone have any pictures of this?

6:39 - Rayburn for Sheff.

6:42 - someone takes a shot at Ozzy with less than a minute and a half to go and a scrum erupts. Paval throws many punches. Someone named Orpik (who?) is talking lots of smack.

6:45 - a graphic for the Pens lines shows "shots" and "chances". No need to show actual stats like points or +/- or anything. Oh Yeah.

6:47 - Wings win 3-0 to take a 2-0 win with a much larger edge in awesomeness, particularly considering what Sid looks like not clean shaven.

6:49 - with RISP: Tigers 0-7, Angels 0-6. What is the opposite of clutch? Brake? These teams are brake with men on base. Sounds about right.

6:55 - I put my Trammell jersey on for good luck. 0-0 in the top of the 7th. Pistons up 72-65. Sheed in foul trouble.

7:06 - Rip blocks Posey from behind, then goes the other way for a layup.

7:15 - Carlos bobbles a grounder to put runners on 1st and second with one out. He has walked himself into two in between hops for no apparent reason.

7:20 - Kenny gets through 7, going to the 8th 0-0. Pistons up by 8 with 2:30 to go.

7:23 - Grandy doubles leading off the 8th. Garland is still in the game. I doubt we will see Kenny back in this game. Polanco bunts successfully. Grandy to 3rd. Scoscia pulls Garland.

7:28 - the aisle 5 crew comes in to finish it out. Final score is 94-75. Rip was rippin. Now if only the Tigers could hit a fly ball.

7:30 - Rayburn strikes out. He is very brake. Its up to the big tilde. The Big Tilde is also brake this evening.

7:35 - Zach Miner. I am swiss about this decision. Vlad doubles on a bloop to right with one out. Hunter walks. Anderson to the plate.

7:45 - Angels backup catcher 2b gets the count to 3-0 with 2 out. Kotchman on deck. Bases loaded, 2 out. Kotchman. Please don't let this be where the bullpen (which should be ZUMAYA, for gods sake) blows a gem by Rogers.

7:47 - Soft fly to Joyce in left. Miner loads em, but gets through the inning.

7:54 - Carlos walks. Joyce to the plate. AAAnnnd, Carlos gets thrown out at second by nappoli (formally random catcher 2b). Great tag by Macier Iztures. Joyce strikes out. Going to the bottom of the ninth.

7:59 - Miner out for a second inning. I am swiss about this as well. Fly to granderson, one out.

8:03 - the Big Tilde makes a catch against the fence. We Go To The Tenth!

8:07 - Edger leads off the 10th with a single to left. Renteria on a slider in the dirt. Nappolli loses one to the right. 2-2 on pudge with a runner on 2nd. And pudge strikes out. Granderson lines out to Vlad, who keeps Edger at second.

I go to make ravioli, Placido makes his way to first in my absence. Rayburn strikes out. Bottom of the 10th.

8:18 - Dolsi out for the 10th. I stir ravioli, there is one out and they are going out to check dolsi. Mathews chopped a ball into his chest. He survives to stay in the game.

8:25 - I come back from finishing the ravioli and there are two out and Hunter is on 2nd. Something shady, possibly involving Dolsi loafing on the mound, have lead to this. Leyland elects to walk Anderson, and Dolsi throws a JG:IOSTUJRIOKJ WILD PITCH. Hunter goes to third. They successfully complete the intentional walk without giving up any further bases. First and third and Napoli at the plate. Anderson takes 2nd on strike one. Nappoli chops out to the mig tilde and we got to the 11th.

8:35 - the tigers go 1-2-3 in the 11th. Onto the bottom of the 11th.

8:44 - firefox freezes, I come back and there are two out in the top of the 12th. We go to the bottom of the 12th.

8:50 - Iztures singles to right off Dolsi. Gary Matthews steps to the plate. Flies out. Vlad at the plate. Ground ball up the middle, runners at first and third with one out. Tori Hunter at the plate. Another intentional walk. This time, to the other side. They compete the walk. Bases loaded with one out. Anderson to the plate, Leyland is coming out and bringing in Seay.

8:58 - Seay to Anderson with the bases loaded. Anderson is 0-4 with a walk. The Tigers bring the outfield in because Iztures is some kind of speedy fellow, or so the commentators claim.

Two and oh on Anderson, who went way past halfway there. Another breaking ball drops off the plate. Three and zero to Anderson. Seay comes in and walks Anderson.

Summary of the Tigers Night: Bobby Seay is very brake. VERY BRAKE!

9:04 - So ends the four and a half hour day of Detroit Sports. We won the two playoff games, which is good, but the Tigers managed to turn a great set of pitching performances into a loss without anyone having anything near a clutch or hard hit. ANYONE. There were multiple points where a Tigers fly ball (A FLY BALL, as in SOMETHING hit to an OUTFIELDER) would have plated a run and avoided all the nonsense. Leyland still does not seem to know what is going on with the roles in the bullpen.

I am stepping away to get some air.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My crew got a whale!

May 11th, 27'6".


Co-Captains Herman (center, back row) and Jonas (right end, back row) once again proving worthy.

Go Team!