I’m taking a moment of your time today to ask if someone out there with the skills and the desire could help me out on a project related to the Converging Forces story I’m writing.
If not, I’ll tackle it myself of course, I’m simply hoping someone that already has skill and practise at this would be able to do it far faster and with less effort. Someone that wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, or some other tired cliché.
What I’d like to do is have the Converging Forces story, as it stands so far, placed into a single combined form that I could post for download, suitable for reading on Kindle or another similar platform.
I’ve had a a few folks mention that they’d love to read it and get up to date, but even with a chapter page, it’s a bit… big. And hard to come back to. A portable version would certainly help.
Obviously, this isn’t a project looking for a finished ‘for sale’ kind of anything. I’ve been focused on speed writing when I’ve been doing the turns, not on anything remotely resembling a final polish. When what I consider the first ‘book’ of the storyline has been reached, that’s when I’ll go back and being, well, fixing the bloody thing so it’s actually readable without a billion jarring spelling and grammar mistakes, and terribly disoriented tense transitions.
I have NOT researched how to do it myself, not have I researched what it takes to format something so it can go on portable devices. Should you not have the time to do it for me, but DO know HOW to do it or where I can find a detailed guide, that would be awesome as well.
Thank you very much again for your time, and have a great weekend.
This storytime is dedicated to my wife, Cassie. If she’d known this story going in, she never would’ve married me.
The great thing is, you think I’m joking.
Warning: I give up. This isn’t a Bearwall, it’s a freaking testament to one bear’s stupidity. But after a while, I just gave up and rolled with it. It’s 5300 words. I’m going to go and drinik a case of Red Dog now, and ponder my utter inability to get to the point.
I’ve written before about the fun of my teen years. If I were to give a name to that era, I could call it the “Overcompensating Age”, for it almost seemed that my father was trying to compress a lifetime of manly training into as short a period as possible.
But that’s not really true. I wasn’t the point; I was the accomplice.
This is the period of my life that brought about such stories as the Gunslingers Tale, The Artiste and the Raccoon Story. Ah, the raccoon story. You know, ife is worth living JUST to have the raccoon story to remember in my old age. I’ll be the hit of the nursing home.
When I say I was merely the accomplice, it’s because the point wasn’t to instill within me any manly skills. The point was for my father to, how best to put this? Ah!
The point was for my father to munchkin his character sheet with survival and combat skills in anticipation of the impending apocalypse.
My father was a police officer for the city of Boca Raton, a former Navy submariner, and an all around macho kind of guy. Yes, he even had the “cop” bushy mustache. Of course.
But this dude was, like, obsessed with developing and mastering new manly skills. Once he had some new thing under his belt, though, he rarely maintained them on a continuing basis. It was always some new shiny beckoning him on. Very much like a teen with three video console systems and a limited budget, now that I think about it. Get a new game, play it through and beat it once, then trade it in for store credit on a new one.
He’d slide into a new ‘manly’ interest about every three months; fishing, reloading, duck hunting or wild boar hunting with a pike, spear fishing, scuba diving, gunsmithing, knife and swordmaking, leatherworking, axe throwing, fabricating pistol silencers, blowguns, handmade crossbows, black powder muzzleloading (making AND shooting), making log cabins from scratch, trapping, just omigod.
He’d get this new interest, he’d blow a ton of money on all the necessary supplies and books and training materials and classes, and then he’d obsess on it for a few months, and then off he’d go onto something else. I have to give him credit, he’d stick with it until he’d mastered whatever it was to some extent, but c’mon, talk about a guy with the staying power of a ferret on a pixie stick.
I thought it was normal at the time. After all, I didn’t know any of this stuff myself, and it all sure sounded cool as hell. I wanted to learn these things myself the second he’d mention his latest obsession, what boy wouldn’t? What, learn how to make your own rockets, add engines, build an electrically fired control panel and then go shoot them off? Then add explosives and stuff to them? And floaty cameras? Sign my butt up!
As far as HOW he went about learning things, I just figured everyone did this intensive cram course craziness when they needed to learn something new. It was just how things got done.
Balance in life is not something I learned at home. :)
Even now, my tendency when I have a new interest is to want to work on it to the exclusion of all else until I’ve mastered it. I’ve since learned to temper my enthusiasm a little by setting what I think are reasonable goals in stages, and once I hit a goal I’ll force myself to move on to something else for a while. It’s something that Cassie has noticed on more than one occasion, and she likes to say that when I get some new hair up my butt that I’ve got another obsession. I wish she was joking, but it does irritate her.
No, that’s not the thing that would have canceled our wedding if she’d known about it in advance. Well, maybe. :)
Ah well. I got even with him in the end. I introduced him to computers. A grown man with a problem managing obsessions set on mastering computers… I destroyed his credit rating. That right there is a bottomless well he’ll never fill, but damn has he tried over the years. And I got to play with all the toys he bought! A job well done, thought I.
In the middle of the Overcompensating Age, probably around the time I was fifteen, my dad decided it was time we went on a ‘real’ camping trip.
The summer before, we’d gone canoeing, something which I’d loved. It had involved going to a KOA campground in Florida that provided drop off service. We loaded up some packs, grabbed our canoe, and KOA dropped us off at the head of a river, along with one of my dad’s cop friends from Deerfield Beach. Nice guy, can’t remember his name though.
We spent something like four days canoeing down the river, fishing along the way sometimes, and at night we’d pull off at the side of the river to pitch a tent on the river bank, have a fire and relax.
I am intentionally not mentioning things like mosquitoes or humidity levels.
We went down that river until we arrived at the KOA campground, where our vehicle was parked. That’s it, trip over, time to drive home.
I thought, in my misguided way, that this was a camping trip with a value added canoeing on top. With sprinkles.
Um, no. I was informed that what we did was not actually ’camping’. He seemed faintly shocked at the very idea!
No, we had not gone ‘camping’. Was I crazy? camping? How could I think that was camping?
This lack of fundamental understanding seemed to weigh on him, for the next Fall he announced it was by God time for me to really learn what ’camping’ was all about.
He announced this in the Fall, because while I may give him crap about it, he is not a stupid man. During the Fall season in Florida, the mosquitoes mostly land at the airport so they can remove weapons and ammo, refuel and get winterized in preparation for the next season’s campaign of war on our fragile blood vessels.
Finally, I would learn more about what my father thought of as ’going camping’!
I had some vague ideas from movies and Scouting handbooks of what camping was… or so I thought.
Maybe a tent is involved? Fires? Marshmallows on pointy wood things? Weenies, perhaps? I’m sure I heard something about roasting weenies. Or was that chestnuts? Wait, what kind of chestnuts? Horse chestnuts? Those things look disgusting!
Will there be singalongs by the fire? Will the a song with the word “Koombaiya” enter into the picture at some point? If it does, will I be expected to know the words to the song? I don’t know the words! Are there words?
Mental images intruded of Hobbits wearing packs hiking across the frozen mountains on the way to the lonely door, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky.
I was pretty sure that, whatever the reality may be, hidden tentacles in murky pools would probably not be involved in real camping. Nor would Balrogs or riddle quests, darnit. I spend all my time studying for the wrong tests!
Dad sat me down and laid it all out. He set me straight.
‘Camping’, I learned, consists of driving a long, long way away so that the comforts of home are unavailable to you. The more remote the destination, the better. This most especially means no bathrooms. Going potty in a flush or chemical toilet automatically invalidates the entire camping experience, relegating it to ‘tourist crap for pansies’.
Apparently, in the proper camping experience, it is important to be as far from civilization as you can get. It is also to be hoped that, along the way, a party member will get mauled by a bear, bitten by a snake of a breed with less than immediately lethal levels of toxicity, or perhaps have a rotten tree fall on you. Mauled, poisoned, crushed, but not killed.
See, this gives the more manly member of the camping trip the opportunity to kill the bear, axe the snake or hoist the tree, thus saving a life, and then result in a desperate fight for survival against all odds as you work to bring the wounded man safely back to the world and easy reach of hospitals. It doesn’t count as true camping unless a Reader’s Digest article about your heroism is a definite possibility when things go horribly wrong.
Me, I consider that, well, crazy as a shithouse rat might be a pretty good way of putting it. Let me be blunt; if you know a guy that might think like this, DO NOT GO INTO THE WOODS WITH THIS MAN! If you do, don’t pull a Blair Witch. For God’s sake, YOU keep the map, compass, and a big f’ing gun on you at all times.
No, do not let him have the compass. Just, no. Not unless you want to wake up one morning with stick figures and moss wrapped with string hanging around your tent. Uh, no. Oh, and I’ve heard witches can be killed with cold iron. I don’t normally carry cold forged iron weapons, but I’m willing to bet if you fill them with hot lead, that might also serve as an efficacious cure. One way or another, I’d be willing to test that hypothesis. Preferrably with a Barrett M82A1 at 5,200 feet.
To continue, you get a pack that you wear, and everything that you’re going to need on the camping trip must be able to fit in this pack. Hey, protip? Bring extra water containers. And in some of them, carry some actual water.
Then, you must have guns, for there might be bears. I refer you to aforementioned story about potentially saving team from bear.
And there must be small arms, for there WILL be snakes. We’re talking about South Florida, after all. That’s MY rule. Snakes? Shotshells. Or a machete, but why bring a knife to a gunfight? And they’re snakes… I don’t WANT to be on a mano a mano basis with snakes. Mano a reptilio? I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, some of them fuckers can coil themselves and fly through the air. And lizards, too!
Flying snakes. I’ve seen the video, don’t even argue with me about this.
Indonesia, Amazon rainforest, Florida Everglades, I don’t care where the hell they supposedly live, I hear New York’s got alligators in the sewers. Fuck that, where’s my gun? Don’t give a sucker an even break, or a chance to fang you. If you get bit on the butt by a rattlesnake, don’t go crying to ME to suck the venom out. You tell me someone’s got to suck the venom out or you’re gonna die, I’m gonna look you square in the eye and say, “I’m gonna miss you on poker night, man.”
And there must be knives and axes, for we are manly men, and manly men apparently need the comfort that being festooned with edged weapons provides.
And there must be a tent, and a sleeping bag, but no sisy pads or air mattresses. Those are strictly for candy asses. This is starting to sound less like fun, and suspiciously like something designed to, [shudder], “build character”.
I build characters all the time, I got GURPS, D&D, WoW, tell me what kind you want me to build, I’m your guy. You don’t have to con me into a forest, ‘kay?
But most of all, you have to hike your ass out to some remote place to do the camping, so you’re “getting away from it all”, looking for that unspoiled expanse of raw nature.
Hold on, I have to stifle the giggles. This is America, there ain’t a square foot of land that ain’t been crossed by somebody in the last year. You just won’t find some hidden expanse of untouched wilderness out there, hiding the fountain of youth or the secret gold of Blackbeard the Pirate.
That scene, where Clint Eastwood climbed that insane chimney stack while training in The Eiger Sanction?
I bet when he got up there, he found the cans from an empty six pack of beer, a dead campfire, and a used condom. Oh, and somebody will have tagged the side of the chimney stack with spray paint in the shape of a giant wang.
Untouched wilderness? Yeah, right. But we can dream.
That was what camping meant for my father.
Before you even begin to think that bears any relation to reality, let me disabuse you of that notion.
I’ve come to learn in the years since that, when I mention camping to other folks, that definition ain’t the norm.
Cassie is a prime example.
When we started dating, I mentioned to Cassie that I really liked camping, even after having been in the Marines and having some damn SENSE pounded into me.
She told me that she had gone camping with her family many times when growing up, she’d spent lots of time camping. She kinda liked it.
Then I mentioned tents and wet sleeping bags, and things kinda fell apart.
See, even after years of the Marines, what I was thinking when I said “camping” was hiking up a trail wearing a pack, setting up a tent in the back of beyond, having a fire and listening to the coyote howl out his one lonesome song as the stars rise to illuminate the face of the sky.
What Cassie meant by camping was having the family get into the car, drive up to the campground where the trailer was kept parked year around, and then hang out at the campground for the weekend. With chemical toilets in the campground, but nobody used those because they were icky. You used the nice clean bathroom in your trailer.
Who has the right of it? Which version is more closely accurate?
Well, let me put it this way. Campgrounds are called campgrounds for a reason.
Now, part of why it’s hard for me to shake my mental image of camping is that I was actually raised in South Florida. If you’ve never really lived there, it’s hard to imagine, but I don’t think of living in a trailer as camping.
In South Florida, for a whole LOT of folks, another word for trailer is your HOUSE. Y’know, that place you live and where you keep all your stuff, at least what you don’t have rusting in the sugar sand and weeds you call a front lawn on cinder blocks, or hide under a tarp in the back.
You don’t go camping in your HOUSE. I mean, it’s your house! You might go camping in a tent behind your house, but you don’t camp in your house! It’s the house!
And anyway, if people didn’t live in trailers in Florida, what would we use for sacrifices to appease the hurricane gods each year? Hey, the Hawaiians can toss people in volcanoes, we didn’t have hot lava to worry about. We had 100 mph winds that can drive a straw through a tree or throw a cow into orbit. We put our dumb shits in trailers for the hurricanes to eat each year, and that cuts down on the severity of the storms each season by approximately 34.7 % annually.
It’s a fact! Check the data, that’s all I’m saying.
If too many rednecks leave the trailer park, it’s gonna be a BAD year for storms, man.
So, my dad wanted to go “camping”.
As we lived in South Florida in Boca Raton in the Southeast, in order to get our beer budget butts to an ‘exotic location’, we had to drive across the state to the Northwest. He chose an area near the west side of Ocala National Park as his destination, a nice spot near a lake he “knew about” where we could get the jeep in there, get a tent pitched up near a lake, and have a fire and do some shooting.
Doesn’t that sound idyllic? A nice chance for some father and son bonding.
Right. Dream on.
Thinking that I perhaps needed somebody along for that peer bonding thing, he called up my best geeky friend…. oh wait, no he didn’t. No, I would have enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have had the chance to build any more damn character. I just would have had fun. That was not the objective of this exercise.
I was beginning to learn what camping was really about. PAIN.
No, he called up his buddy on the Sherriff’s department that lived across the street (yes, the one whose house we think we shot), infamously mentioned in The Gunslinger episode, and asked him if his son would like to join us.
His son, the wanna-be jock that thought books were wonderful… they made such a mighty fine, rosy glow when you burned them. Not that I’m saying he was opposed to original thought or learning… opposition would imply he had a thought enter his head in the first place.
Okay, I’m being mean, but he was such a stereotypical jock with poor grades and zero imagination that it’s embarrassing. And it’s not really germane to the story, except to say that he and I weren’t exactly ‘buds’. I thought he was an idiot… I couldn’t understand then, and cannot understand now how anyone can actually be against learning something new. Like, as a philosophy or a way of life.
And he wasn’t the biggest fan of mine, since I actually liked to read science fiction and play role playing games with other guys at school, but I didn’t safely fall into the ‘geek to be bullied’ category since I could kick his ass, shoot better, fish better, and generally laugh at one of his dad’s jokes the first time without having to have it explained to me. In small words. My existence tormented that boys’ soul. “He’s a geek ’cause he reads, and geeks are pencil-necked nerds to pants and stuff in lockers, but he can fish and shoot and wrassle and kick my ass… no, those things can’t go together, brain overheating, must shut down before it explodes… arrggghhh! Too late! [kaboom]”
It’s the pride thing that got to me, too. The whole, “Oh, I’ve never read a book except what they make me read in school.” And being proud of it! Like, an admission of reading a book and liking it is a sign of being a little light in the loafers. A gateway to slapping a rainbow sticker on your bumper. It probably makes you a commie.
Hmmm, I’m inspired to write a Katy Perry song spoof, “I read a book and I liked it, the works of Mr Terry Pratchett, I read a book and I liked it, it had Sam and the Night Watch all up in it“.
Sigh. Maybe next week. I promised twww a Converging Forces.
On the first morning of our camping trip, we gathered our gear together, grabbed Doofus the Moron and headed north for a four day weekend. I’m pretty sure. It was definitely longer than one weekend, but I don’t think we took a whole week off in Fall.
It was chilly, no mosquitoes, and wet. Wettish, anyway. The weather reports were threatening stormy, freezing weather alternating with fog all weekend.
Well, maybe so, maybe no, but when you’re in our tax bracket, if you’ve planned a camping trip for such and such a date, you damn well go on a camping trip. You do NOT cancel your plans because it might, I dunno… blizzard. You never know when you’ll ever be able to afford another trip again.
And yes, I know it doesn’t blizzard in Florida. I also know snakes generally hibernate come the chilly wet weather of Fall. I don’t care. I go out in the Fall, and I hate cold weather. If I can do it, why can’t the snake?
The drive up was uneventful. Hey, something had to go right!
Once we reached the end of the winding roads and back trails my dad was sure would lead us to this promised land of camping isolation, it was time to park the jeep and get our packs and assorted gear settled.
My first lesson; put all your stuff on BEFORE you actually leave the house. This is the very bare minimum load planning possible. You do not wait until you are actually IN THE WOODS to find out that you weigh 155 pounds, and your proposed PACK with all attached gear weighs 255!
After strapping on our quick draw gunbelts, pistols, knives, hatchets, canteens, rifles, backpack, tent sections, sleeping bags, tarps, rain gear, food bags, coleman lantern, sterno stove, pots, pans, spoons and forks, a steel grating from a charcoal-style grill that rusted out on the bottom, a twisted-iron tripod and percolating-style tin coffee pot, and a shotgun with ammo “in case I see a duck over the lake”, we looked like a bunch of idiots.
I mean desperadoes. That’s it. Desperadoes.
Noise discipline my ass, we sounded like a herd of elephants wearing a kitchen supply store crashing through the woods as we hit the trail. I guess you can’t expect better out of a Navy submariner, huh? I kid, I kid.
Good thing we weren’t there to hunt, I bet we chased all the Mule Deer clear out of those woods and all the way to Alabama.
We hiked a good long while, following trails that looked a little too well worn to be simple game trails. Eventually, sure enough, we reached a nice cleared area at a slight elevation overlooking a very pretty blue water lake, lightly wooded for cover and with decent runoff. It had been misting all day, but as we got there to the 9obviously well used) campsite, the rain began to really come down.
Priorities quickly became established as my dad directed us in what to do.
“First, take all your stuff off.”
“No, don’t just put it down, get it hung up on a tree and throw a tarp over it.”
“If you have to set it down to get the tarp out, at least don’t set it in the mud! Omigod!”
“Okay, now the gear is up out of the mud, it’s got a tarp on it, and we’ve got our wet weather gear on. Let’s get the tent site cleared of rocks and dig a drainage trench.”
“Where’s the entrenching tool?”
“Oh for… okay, get the packs back down and dig the entrenching tool out!”
“NO, not in the mud!”
“Okay, get the packs back up and let’s get clearing.”
“Okay, we’ve got it cleared, let’s throw a tarp down and start setting the tent up.”
“Where’s the tent?”
“YES, we need the tent now! Get it out of the packs, please.”
“Okay, we need the tent poles too.”
“The tent poles.”
“Those long pointy things that look like… well, that look like fucking tent poles, what the hell do you THINK tent poles look like?”
“Who the hell was supposed to pack the tent poles!?!?”
“Okay, now what we’re going to do is set up a field expedient tent. we’re gonna run some of this rope to those four trees, to hold up the top of the tent. First, let’s stake the tent corners down. Okay, now you take this end and tie it to the brass loop in the canvas peak, and once we’ve got four ropes set, we’ll lash ‘em to those trees, and they’ll keep the tent up without poles.”
“Okay, so the tent goes up and down like a massive bellows every time the wind blows the trees. Hmm.”
“Maybe we can leave it like “DAD!” okay, okay, just a thought.”
“All right, you two go find some branches, and we’ll carve some tent poles out of wood.”
“Okay, now go back and find something more like a ‘branch’, and less like a ‘tree’.”
“Okay, it’s dark now and it’s really pissing down, so let’s get this tent finished.”
‘Shit, we need a light, let’s get the lantern lit.”
“Boy, that wind sure is something, isn’t it?”
“Funny how cold it gets when it comes straight in off the lake like that.”
“It’s a good thing this style of Coleman lantern can be lit even in a strong wind.”
“Okay, boys we’re going to need to get a shelter up so I can cut this wind down to light the lantern.”
“No, I didn’t bring a flashlight!”
“Go get a tarp and some more rope, and we’ll make a half-assed shelter so I can light this lamp.”
“NO, not the tarp over the gear! Another tarp!”
“Yes, we have another tarp.”
“Will you get those packs out of the mud!”
“No, I don’t…. what do you mean there isn’t any toilet paper in there? I packed the… oh. Well, crap.”
“LEAVES, I don’t give a shit. Use your hands!”
“You can take a bath in the lake tomorrow, we’re gonna sleep in this damn tent tonight!”
“Okay, we’ve got the lamp on, isn’t that better?”
“Now, let’s get this finished.”
“Screw the branches, we’re gonna lash the tent to the trees. Get those ends of the ropes, and hold them while I get this one thrown over a high branch and tied down.”
“Okay, let’s get these others lashed down.”
“All right, now get your sleeping bags and toss them inside the tent. Leave the rest of this shit out here under the tarp.”
“Where are the sleeping bags?”
“What the hell are they still doing in the mud? OMIGOD! When I said get the gear up the tree under a tarp, I meant the bags too!”
“Okay. Toss some rocks on the loose stuff so it doesn’t blow away. Don’t worry, this rain will let up soon.”
[everybody gets inside the billowing, roaring, wheezing tent, twisting every which way as different trees are moed in different directions violently by the ever increasing force of the storm, climbs into sleeping bags while still fully clothed and mostly soaking wet, and the lantern is turned off]
And that voice comes out of the darkness, cutting across the roaring of the wind and the flapping of abused canvas.
“So… hey, isn’t this great? Nothing beats camping in the woods, does it boys?”
“Get some sleep, we’re going to have a LOT more fun tomorrow!”
After a very long night, I finally did fall asleep. And yes, I’ll admit that it’s impossible for me to quote exactly what was said 25 years ago. But I have spent the last two days thinking about this, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the sequence of events down right. Including what happened next. And I do know how my dad talks, so I’m pretty sure, aside from some rah rah bullshit pep talks, I’ve got it close.
The next morning, I awoke feeling quite rested and refreshed. What a wonderful night’s sleep.
Damn, maybe my old man knew something about this camping thing after all.
I lay in the sleeping bag, all curled up and warm, the only opening being right over my face, where the cold and the wet had condensed and made me know one thing; I wanted to put off getting out of the bag and into the clammy morning air as long as possible. Like, until there was a roaring fire outside, if at all possible.
As I lay there, trying to be quiet so nobody else in the tent would be disturbed and, like, wake up and make me GET up, I heard the flat crack of a rifle echoing from off a ways.
It kinda sounded like someone fired a rifle, down near the lake. But the way sound travels near water, it could have been fired from the other side of the lake for all I knew.
I poked my head up a little bit, to find the tent empty. Deserted.
No sleeping bags, no dad, no Dufus the Moron, nothing but me in my bag, and my new hiking boots there next to me, and my rifle and gunbelt coiled on top off the wet tarp we used as a ground sheet.
Yes, it was a wet tarp, because it took forever to get the damn tent opened and set up on top of it.
I crawled out of my sleeping bag, feeling warm and comfy, but damp with my thick clothes full of moisture that had been well warmed by my body heat.
My body steamed in the morning chill, and the tent was still. There were no sounds of rain, no blowing of wind.
I threw on my boots without lacing them, grabbed my gunbelt and strapped it down. Then I poked my head out, expecting to see the two of them at a roaring fire, getting some food ready.
Nope. Things were straightened up a fire pit was laid in, sopping wet but laid in, wood seats were set up, the gear was stowed away neater, and a line had been set up between trees with sleeping bags unzipped and spread out to dry in the wind.
I drug my bag out and got it tossed on, but there was still no sign of my dad or Doofus.
Then I hear the very faint sound of voices, down from the water’s edge, and another flat crack of a rifle.
I stroll on down with my rifle in hand, and see the both of them fully dressed, shooting at a tree near the lake.
As I walked up, they both gave me the strangest look I’d ever seen, like I was a mutant, or had grown a third arm or an eye in the middle of my forehead.
They looked at me like I was a freak, or a clown, and I might start doing tricks or frothing at the mouth at any moment.
My dad looks at me, and asks me, “Did you hear anything this morning? Anything at all?”
I have to admit I didn’t. I tell him I’m sorry that they cleaned up the camp, but I didn’t hear them get up and move around.
My dad looks at me, and says, “Well, we got up and we made some breakfast. Then we cleaned the camp. Then we got our shit out of the tent, and you still hadn’t moved. Then I chopped some wood, and that didn’t wake you up.”
“So then I was a little pissed, so I had (whatever the hell the kids name was) hold the tent flap and watch you, while I took my shotgun, laid it across the top of the tent, and fired it to get your ass up.”
“You didn’t even twitch.”
‘So, we gave up trying to wake you and came down here an hour ago to do some shooting.”
“By the way, you snore louder than anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. Tonight, you’re sleeping in a shelter-half on the other side of the camp.”
Now, if my wife had had any idea, any idea at all how loud I could snore, and how easily I could slip away into sleep and sleep the sleep of the just in a heartblink, she’d never have come near me with a ten foot pole, let alone marry this chainsaw of a snore.
This is my favorite tech support story, at least from my own personal life, because it’s not that often God gives us a perfect little gift like this, all tied up in a bow.
I might very well have told this story on the blog at some point over the years, but with as many posts as I’ve done, honestly, if it’s in the archives, screw it, I ain’t going looking for it. If this sounds familiar, well, sorry!
Sit back and relax for a very short story. Oh, stop laughing at me. It’s gonna be short!
Now, this is no shit. Back when I was in the Marines, during my first four years, I was an Aviation Radio Technician. All that fancy title means is I got to work on Marine Corps Air Bases attached to communications and control squadrons, units that provide mobile radio and radar control facilities for fixed wing fighter aircraft.
Mobile, as in we’d throw all our crap on trucks, tranport the trucks by boat or plane, roll out to the field somewhere, drive around, and when we found a likely looking spot we’d stop the trucks, run out the generators, extend the remote masts and aerials and radar antennas, cable up all the closed-up huts on the backs of the 5 ton trucks and dragon wagons into a network, and then establish our map grid and align our systems so we could direct airborne flights of fighters, usually F-18 hornets and AV-8B harriers, to their targets.
The long and the short of it is, I was the guy responsible for making sure the radio part of the communication and control net was operational. If something, anything, went wrong I had to fix it, and I mean right now, because when the officer-type person in a hut ain’t able to talk to the officer-type person in the put put jet fighter = not good for enlisted-type radio tech.
Now, the officer-type peeps in the main control hut wanted control. They fancied themselves Top Guns that could be up there flying, if they weren’t doing the far more important task of directing flights from the ground.
The ancient radios we used, while frequency-hopping and having crypto links and all that stuff, had remote control arrays so the officers could change frequencies manually right there in the hut. But the officers didn’t like that… the little control box may have been in the hut, but they didn’t trust that magic cable to actually change the frequency on the radio over in the radio hut. It confused them. Strange things might happen.
So, the officers decided they needed a radio, an actual radio, in their hut. Being officers, you don’t have to justify what you want to do, and you don’t have to make sense, you just have to outrank the person you’re telling to do something. Voila!
There were no physical mounts for the radio, so it got set in there on a box, but they wanted a $125,000 radio sitting in their hut, they by God get a $125,000 radio sitting on a box in their hut.
The radio weighed about 75 pounds, and generated quite a bit of heat internally, so the top was mostly aluminum framing mesh vent squares. I just looked the radios up on the internet to check weight, they were AN/GRC-171 A(V)2 versions, which these days you could probably get for about $50 at a used surplus store for all I know.
They’d stick a headset and toggle switch to the front of the radio, and flip the dials for changing frequencies right there. Damn, they loved playing with the frequency dials.
There was absolutely no reason for sticking a radio in there, other than for them to feel like mad scientists or something. The remote boxes worked great.
So, there we are, we’re out in bumf&*^ wherever (it’s still classified, sue me), I’m in my commo box on top of a truck, with the AC keeping me chillin’ reading a comic book or something, waiting for my commo shift to be over, so I could head out for my shift as perimeter security, which was actually fun, because then I didn’t have to deal with phone calls from idiots on the damn comm net over bullshit.
Keep in mind, I’m in a comm hut on the back of a 5 ton truck, totally enclosed, chilling out. All the main UHF hardcore radios are in there with me, and controlled by me, all 9 of them, except for the one in the control hut. I’m looking at all of them, and monitoring their activity, and listening into flight chatter randomly to verify we’re all good to go.
These radios, at the time, cost around $125,000 each, did I happen to mention that? Anyway, they weren’t the fanciest things around, but I sure as hell didn’t want anything to go wrong on my watch. Thanks to modular design and good training, if anything did go wrong, I had spares and quick swap capabilities and, if a bullet went through a wiring harness, well, there’s always solder and duct tape. I was determined that if something were to happen, we’d be cool.
Having a spare radio I, um, happened to find laying around somewhere ready to patch in, just in case, didn’t hurt anything, of course. What, it’s not on the TOE? Really? Damn, I missed that. I wonder how that thing got there?
So right, I’m sitting there, and a call comes over the comm net for me. It’s the flight officer of the day, calling for me. My callsign was Echo Five Bravo on the net.
Yes, I still remember my callsign. Again, sue me.
Anyway, officer-dude calls over the net, “We’ve lost comm on radio 10, need back up asap.”
Just as an FYI, when using comm, you never say the word “repeat” if you didn’t hear what the other guy said the first time. You say “Say again your last”, because in arty circles in the Marines “repeat” means “liked your last shot, fire another round, thanks.” Umm, you don’t say repeat. I’m just saying. I used to find myself on vent in WoW saying, “Could you say again your last, over”, mouth on automatic pilot while the brain failed at tanking.
Oh wait, I was telling a short story here. Well, hey diddle diddle, guess what? Radio ten is in the control hut. All of it. The only part not in the comm hut was the antenna mast, and I’d run a cable snaked through a ventilation duct to get it hooked up. There’s no way for me to monitor what is happening with radio 10 from where I am.
Now, I could go over to the control hut and check it out, but before I went to those extreme measures, I decided to use my professional experience.
I thought about what I knew concerning the officer in question who was reporting the problem, and I considered what kinds of issues this officer had reported in the past.
There were several potential failure conditions that seemed possible to me, but I finally settled on the most likely one considering the time of day, the fact that there was just a flight controller changeover, and that the officer had entered the hut only a little bit prior to calling.
I then picked up the mike and called back on the net, “Echo Five Bravo, roger that, is the OH EN SLASH OH EFF EFF switch in the OH EN position, over.”
There was a long ten count of silence.
Then a quick burst of static, followed by, ” Ah, roger, cancel that trouble call, over.”
A few minutes later, I hear a clatter of boots coming up the metal ladder to my hut, the door is cranked open, and backlit by the sun shining through the cammy netting is revealed the beaming face of my best bud, Staff Sergeant Robert Watson, esteemed radar tech and all around great guy, who SHOULD at that very moment be sitting at his post on his ass in his own radar hut listening for a trouble call on the comm net, ad working on his D&D character for our game that night.
Yes, we played in the jungle. We played everywhere. Johnny Cash wrote our themesong, “I’ve played everwhere, man, I’ve played everywhere”, and we used to talk about having gamer jackets made up with those city/state/country badges on the sleeves showing where in the world we’d run RPG games. We’d a had long, full sleeves. Damn, I wish we’d of done that, that woulda been fun. Funny how silly that kinda stuff seems these days, like, who cares where we played RPGs? But we thought it was very cool to have played RPGs above the Arctic circle.
So, SSgt Bobert looks at me through the doorway, and with a huge shit eating grin on his face, says, “Are you shitting me? You did NOT.”
“Is the ON/OFF switch in the ON position? Really? Really?!?”
I just looked at him, and replied, “Hey, I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.”
This morning while driving to work, I got a nostalgic twofer on the local rock station. They played a song by The Offspring, back to back with some Red Hot Chili Peppers.
That combination brings back pretty powerful memories for me, because both of those bands evoke for me the time when I lived in Southern California, and almost all of my free time was spent either on a surfboard, or on the beach playing volleyball when waves were rough.
It’s funny, I don’t know if it’s just because both of those bands were on the airwaves a ton back then while on the beach, along with Suicidal Tendencies, or if it’s a similarity in tone, but hearing them always brings back that ‘surfer vibe’.
Hearing those songs, bringing back those memories after so long really shocked me a little.
It crept up on me. I can’t believe I live in Minnesota. I’m a freaking Minnesotan? Like, you want to go to the State Fair this year? You betcha!
Grr, hell no. That ain’t me, man. No way.
If you’d have asked me years back, I’d never in my wildest dreams have believed I’d end up living in a totally land-locked state, about as far from the ocean as you can get in the continental USA.
I’ve got the sea in my soul. It’s trite, and even corny, but dammit it’s true.
I was born in San Diego, CA, and I spent my entire life living right up close to the ocean, whether West Coast SoCal or East Coast Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Boca Raton.
Right up until I left for Marine Corps Boot Camp, all my life I was never farther than a 15 minute jog to the beach.
All my memories of growing up are tinged with an awareness of the closeness of the sea. Jogging the intracoastal waterway, working my uncle’s tourist sport fishing boat off the Miami Pier during the summer months, boogie boarding and surfing and snorkling, lazing around on the scorching hot sand, bitching about the long walks to get from the street to the surf, lots of my time was spent hanging around the ocean.
Even when I wasn’t within sight of it, though, you’d get the smell, the breezes, and the attitude. The awareness that, sure, right now you may be suffocating in a classroom, but freedom was just minutes away. Skip class and you could be in the water in minutes. Ahhhhh.
When I was at loose ends after High School, waiting for my entrance date to go to boot camp, I had months to get ready. I spent most of that time in Delray Beach at an apartment off South Federal Highway, and in the evenings, like starting around midnight every night when it got cooler and the humidity only felt like breathing through a wet dish towel when you ran, I’d head out jogging, go down to the big bridge over the intracoastal waterway, run up that sumbitch at a dead heat (and then coast down the other side), and run all the way to the fancy pants Marriot and out back to the beach cabanas they had back there in the planted palms. I’d run full out to get there, and then just sit for a while and relax, in the dark, enjoying the cool sea breezes, just being there and feeling the pulse of the sea. It’s incredible.
And then I’d have to run my happy ass back up that bridge to get home. Ugh.
It’s silly, but the whole thing feels like a weird dream when I take a step back and get some perspective on it. I never would have imagined a time when I’d live so far away from the ocean that people would talk about going to a waterpark, and seriously talk about the fun of playing at a “wave pool”. A big tank full of water with a machine that forces that water to simulate the motion of the waves of the ocean.
Say what? How, well, soulless.
Even in the Marines, events conspired to keep me close to the sea. Years spent in South Carolina at Beaufort right near the ocean, with Hilton Head Island a quick trip down the coast. Savannah just a little farther. Sure, it’s roads through swamps, but it’s still coastal. Then there was Okinawa and the joys of windsurfing. Oh, how I loved windsurfing.
I had no choice but to learn windsurfing in Okinawa, the big rocks they reinforced the coasts with mean the waves break RIGHT where your face meets concrete. That’s a scary damn thing for a soft sand beach boy to learn to deal with, right there. Coming in, coming in, coming in, Bail! Bail! Bail! Windsurfing gives you more steering control. :)
We won’t talk about the years in the desert, shall we? Let’s just say that I really, really enjoyed the stark contrast between life in the desert, and life near the ocean. I found it far more fun than if I lived in some normal place. Fortunately, the military isn’t in the habit of wasting perfectly good land to put a military base on. They’ll find some remote sandpit or swampland, and plant stakes there.
Yet, here I am. It was always meant to be a temporary visit until I could return to a REAL state, one with some tasty beaches. I came up here to visit because Minnesota is where my dad was born, and where all my family on his side still live. I came to visit relatives I’d never really had much chance to get to know before, and ended up hanging out for a little while. Inevitably, I made some friends. Next thing you know, I’ve got a job, apartment, friends I hang with, and I fall in love with a wonderful lady whose entire family lives here locally, and, well, once you start sinking roots that deep, you tend not to move very far away. :)
Is there a point to this?
No, not really. Just on my mind how funny things turn out, in ways you’d never expect when you sit down as a teen and plan out how you think your life will go.
If you’d asked me back then, nope, never in a million years would I have expected to end up in Minnesota. Just, how?
And yet, here I am, and honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else… because this is where the woman I love is, and where we are happy with our son.
Now I get to think about what life will be like for my son, with all of his roots here in land-locked ‘flyover country’. Having never known the sea, never known it’s power, what will his future be like? Will he grow up never imagining a time when he’d end up living anywhere else? Will he someday find himself living on a small atoll in the South Pacific wondering what the hell happened?
God help me, he’ll probably end up on a Navy Submarine.
I guess if there is a point to any of this, I guess it’s to not get too hung up on making long term plans, or setting serous expectations for the future.
If you get all wrapped up in how you think your life should go, then when real life comes along and changes everything around you, you might be too caught up worrying about what might have been to sit back and really enjoy the things you actually HAVE.
Still. Dammit, I miss good barbeque. One thing you can say for Southern Florida, barbeque is plentiful. And fresh seafood. Oh, the fresh seafood. How do I miss thee? Let me count the ways. OH! And cuban food!
Okay, I don’t miss Florida, I just miss the food!
In all seriousness, the one thing I really do miss is just being at the beach, at night, when things are quiet and there’s nothing but you, the sound of the surf, the feeling of massive waves pounding into the rocks transmitted to your feet, and the stars in the clear sky overhead. That’s just the best.
On the other hand… what I get now is the joy of watching my son hit a ball off a tee-ball post, and run to first base like a nut, arms waving madly all over in his excitement. Oh, and the way he giggles when he farts, driving his mother batshit insane, because “he’s just like you!”.
This storytime is dedicated to anyone that was ever in a new and unfamiliar situation, was stressed out and without friends, surrounded by people you didn’t know but who you wanted to fit in with, and who ended up doing something incredibly stupid just to try and impress them. /salute!
And it’s also dedicated to Lady Jess, who wears the brand of the devil itself on her arm.
So, picking up where the last Storytime left off. I was a fresh new Private at my first official duty station for training in my military occupational specialty. Read: I was there to learn how to do my job.
The way it worked in my case, I had enlisted with a guaranteed opportunity to attend training for my pre-selected MOS, in this case aviation electronics. I had the opportunity handed to me. If I failed the training, of course, then all bets were off. I’d be fresh game for wherever the military wanted to place me. Can you say official full time potato peeler, 1 each?
Courses started at the beginning of each week, once there were enough students to form a class. If you happened to arrive and check into base on Tuesday when a class had just begun, you might have a solid week or two before enough boots showed up to get a new class started. During that time, you would be on generic work detail, waiting for someone to come by that needed bodies to pick up litter in the desert or build tank traps out of I -beams and welding torches.
You spend a couple weeks sitting around with other guys, every one of them waiting for one of various different classes to start, and you start telling stories just to pass the time.
You never knew who you were hanging out with in the work detail that you’d be in class with, either. The processes by which a class was filled and assigned was more arcane and mysterious than Blizzard’s threat balancing mechanics, and a lot of the guys there were NOT confirmed for a particular school in advance like me. Most of them went into boot camp blind, were tossed to this base, and were waiting to find out what job they would have assigned FOR them.
So, there you are. Sitting on a sandbag with these strangers, all waiting for various schools to start. At the ripe old age of 18, it’s amazing how few stories there were to tell. But we told them anyway, and for all I know, all of them were bullshit.
I don’t know if anyone ever wrote a paper on it, but stories like that tend to go in cycles. You’re sitting there in a group of guys, and somebody is looking for a story to pass the time. Somebody starts with a hunting story, so everyone else shares a hunting story around the room. Then the fishing stories go around, and the camping stories, and the working on a car stories, and, inevitably, the drinking stories.
There might be some kind of one-upmanship involved in those kind of things, but for the most part they’ve always seemed to be more like “That was a good one. Now, if you think that was crazy/funny/stupid, then listen to this…”
So, as I said. Inevitably, the drinking stories.
The name of the game in telling these stories is, mostly, to entertain the rest of the folks, yes indeed. But it’s mainpurpose when among strangers who are all Marines is to establish boundaries. You are all young, yes, and none of you know each other, you’re from all over the country, and quite a few of the folks are from Puerto Rico and the American Samoan Islands. No real shared cultural or regional background.
It doesn’t matter. There are no white Marines, brown Marines, yellow Marines, red Marines, whatever. There are only green Marines. You might not have any shared culture before you joined up, but now you are all united by gutting through boot camp.
I’m going to ignore the “which boot camp did you go to/which company IN boot camp did you go to” pissing contest. Yes, some people will make a contest out of anything.
Anyway, in shooting the shit in this situation, you want to find out what kind of guys you’re hanging with, and above all else make sure everyone else in the group knows that you’re tough, experienced and worldly. All 18 bold years of you.
Yeah, right. Sigh.
You’d think I had a lot of stories I could tell. And yes, some of them were appropriate. I had fishing stories, and camping stories, and hunting stories, and all sorts of stuff like that. I even had weapon misadventure stories, and my ‘blowgun versus the mouse’ was a hit.
I also had the role playing group stories, fun campaigns I’d run, and while that pushed some Marines away from the ‘geek’, it attracted others just like me to open up, and reveal just how many RPG freaks there were in the Marines. God bless us every one.
The few, the proud, the gamers.
A digression, if only for a moment. You might be surprised, but then again considering my audience you might not, to learn that there are a LOT of folks that play pen and paper role playing games in the Marines. I sure as hell never had any difficulty in finding a group, and the players were always kick ass. Just brilliant. Sometimes they seemed damn odd, but after getting out of the service, I realize that it’s all relative. They were damn odd for Marines, that’s all.
There’s also something to be said for having a hobby where you don’t technically need to take books or anything with you. You can go into the field with some laminated photocopies of character sheets, a few padded sacks of varied dice (or slips of paper with numbers written on them to pull out of a hat), and some grease pencils, and when it’s night and you’re huddled in your tent, get a game on. Side by side with the guys playing Spades or Hearts or Cribbage.
My core group in Twenty-Nine Palms ended up bumping into each other often over the next eight years, and we discussed having black satin flight jackets made, with all the traditional Marine Corps patches… but with an RPG twist. When we played RPGs on deployment, we could add location nametapes to the shoulders of our jackets for which foreign countries we had played RPGs in, and when we’d bump into each other in the years after, we could size up what international gaming we’d gotten in.
As with so many other ideas, that one never went anywhere, but it was fun to think about.
Getting back to the point, I’ve got a fair number of decent stories, yes I do.
But when the time comes for the drinking stories to go around, I’ve got nothing.
I, my friends, have never been much of a drinker. It’s fun on occasion, certainly, in small enough quantities to get a light buzz on, but I have never, ever been one to get hammered just for the sake of getting good and plowed. In high school, me and my other role playing friends would occasionally get together a bunch of wine coolers (Bartles and James) and some beer, and hit the pool in the summer. That’s about it.
Yes, I was a boring child. No drugs, no hard booze.
But when the drinking stories start going around in this crowd, it quickly became clear that the majority of Marines in the group have consumed mass quantities, gotten nuts, and been wasted. In hindsight, perhaps they were all lying their butts off. To me, it seemed that everyone else was far more badass than I, that somehow I was grossly lacking in the ‘manly drinker’ category.
And the stories do, in fact, have a recurring theme; how amazingly drunk someone got, how powerful the beverage consumed, and how manly the person was in holding their liquor… and how bad the hangover was the next day.
In this crowd, I learned that wine coolers just didn’t cut it. It’s not ‘manly’. Apparently, you’re not supposed to drink something just because you like the taste and wanted to feel a little mellow. Apparently, you were supposed to drink something for the express purpose of being obliterated in the shortest possible time.
As I said, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but what the hell, I’ve known drinkers in high school, and I know what their tipple of choice in the stories always was; the almighty Jack Daniels. Whenever a high school kid started talking about what a hardcore drinker he was, or how incredibly wasted he got, the drink he imbibed in the story was always the Jack.
It came my turn to tell a drinking story.
I had a simple choice; pass and look like a wimp without a decent story(which would have been true), or tell the truth about wine coolers being the hardest alcohol I’d ever had, and at that consumed in far less than massive quantities (which would have also been true), or lie my ass off.
I looked reality right square in the face, weighed the manliness of telling a story about how, “I had a few wine coolers, chilled out, and relaxed in a hot tub watching the Miami Dolphins get destroyed by the New York Jets, and felt that all was right in the world”, and realised that at this stage in my life, I still felt I had something to prove.
So I decided to lie in order to seem cooler.
Yes, yes I did.
I took my story about drinking wine coolers while watching a football game, and changed the beverage in question to be Jack Daniels.
In fact, I wove a tale wherein my favorite tipple of choice was Jack Daniels, and that I enjoyed drinking quite a lot of it while relaxing and watching the game.
Now, at the time, I did indeed enjoy watching football. I grew up in Miami, and my two favorite football teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, and whoever was playing against the Dolphins.
I’m from Miami, I lived through the Marino years, sue me.
But Jack Daniels? Not freaking hardly. Too damn expensive, for one thing.
The story was tame, but invoking the name of Jack Daniels elevated it to the level of manliness. It passed due scrutiny, nods were nodded concerning the inherent manliness of JD, and life went on.
Whew! I lied, and pulled it off, right?
Oh, damn, karma’s a bitch. A stone cold bitch.
As I mentioned in my last Storytime, I was feeling a little stressed out and cranky, and life in the barracks mostly consisted with my sitting in there, reading a paperback, and letting time pass while waiting for my class to form up.
In Twenty-Nine Palms, rather than an open squad bay, they had these amazing hotel style condos for Marines to stay in while they waited to see where you ended up, totally temporary. Four Marines to one room, with a shower. Incredible luxury, only three other guys to deal with.
I had, amongst my three temporary roommates, one insane 70′s drug culture rock fan with his own turntable and abundant record supply (yes, records, compact discs existed but were rare as hens teeth), one guy that had his own car and took off after every afternoon formation to try and find a girlfriend out in town all night, and a guy that, and I kid you not, was teaching himself to play the banjo, in the room, and spent most of his evenings working his way at various speeds through “Dueling Banjos”.
It took me two more years before I saw the movie “Deliverance”, so I did not realize at the time just how much I should have feared sleeping in the same room with him.
So I’m sitting there in my room, off duty for the evening, another working party completed. We’d spent the day in the desert up near Black Top as I remember (which was a heck of a LONG drive by cut-v), and so we’d gotten back tired, hot, dusty and worn out. A good feeling, and nice to relax afterwards with nobody shouting at you.
The banjo is tooling up, but is scheduled to be stopped so that the record player can begin playing Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Mothers of Invention with assorted interruptions because “you really need to hear this one cut, this is awesome, these guys are brilliant, let me find the right groove, hold on.”
“The white zone is for the loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no cargo in the white zone.”
As I’m sitting there, wondering at what point I pissed God off so much that he felt compelled to send this banjo playing devil to torment me, there comes a knocking at the door.
I open the door, and there in the doorway stands one of the guys from the work detail… and his arms are simply full with cases of beer.
At the time, the beer of choice on base was Keystone Light, in the ‘specially lined can’. It was very, very, very cheap. I mean, that shit was cheap. MMMmmmMMMM cheap. The idea was, it was okay that it was crappy beer, because they put in these special cans so, while it wasn’t good, at least it didn’t taste like metal. The cans were lined on the inside with plastic or something.
I kinda liked it. In fact, I miss it. Haven’t seen it around for a long time.
I liked Red Dog for a while too. They had funny little “Be your own dog” sayings and stuff on the inside of the cap, and a little humor somehow seems important while you’re drinking cheap beer in the desert.
Anyway, here the guy is, and he’s brought beer! Woot! My new best friend! Come on inside!
Yes, we were all underage. Statute of limitations has done run out. Again; sue me.
He comes inside, he sets these cases of beer down, and starts cracking one open… and announces “Hey, thought we’d have a party… oh, and I came prepared!”
He turns to me, and says, “I know your favorite drink is Jack, so I picked this up on the way out of the Package Store just for you.”
He pulls a paper bag off a bottle, revealing, you guessed it, a full, sealed fifth of Jack Daniels.
Oh, son of a bitch. Oh, joy. My own bottle of Jack Daniels.
Just kill me now.
And he’s got this big shit-eating-grin on his face, full of happiness that he’d been thoughtful enough to bring my favoritest beverage in the world.
But, but… I don’t want to drink Jack Daniels. Beer! There was nice, friendly beer!
Think Bear, think. How exactly do I go about explaining to the nice man who just spent a crapload of money on a bottle of Jack for me that I don’t actually drink it? That the thought of drinking that instead of beer fills me with panic, for every story I have ever heard about it alwaysled to craziness, puking, and misery? Did I mention the craziness? Puking, who cares about that, it was the craziness that seemed to take hold of those JD drinkers that was worth concern. I’d selected that beverage specifically BECAUSE it was evil, damnit!
How do I admit that maybe, just perhaps, I had been fibbing?
Oh, damn. I’m going to have to drink that stuff, aren’t I? It’s either pony up and gut it out with a smile, or admit I lied and lose face.
Ah, pride. How we do love thee, for you cause us to do so many incredibly stupid, life threatening, asinine things before we learn to tell you to PISS OFF.
Oh, and nobody in my generation, at the age of 18, had ever heard of “alcoh0l poisoning”, thank you very much. Ignorance is NOT bliss.
I gratefully accepted the bottle from him, and relaxed in one of the few chairs while the beer got broken out and passed around.
Everyone else relaxed, the banjo was put away (score!), and the record player was pulled out. The door was propped open, folks from neighboring rooms started drifting in, and I manfully cracked the bottle and took a good pull off of it, while the beers were passed around.
I remember thinking to myself, with a great deal of surprise, that it really wasn’t bad at all. I decided that I would resolve to enjoy it, and allow my cares and concerns to be laid to rest, and just enjoy the night.
My impressions from that point on are, and the reason for this escapes me, somewhat vague, so I hope you’ll forgive me.
I know that our room became quite a popular place, because a lot of people drifted in and out, and there was a never ending sea of changing faces.
At some point, I distinctly remember the rocking roommate put Pink Floyd on the record player.
I liked Pink Floyd.
I happened to think that Ummagumma was a work of exceptional brilliance.
During this particular evening, it occured to me that Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict was a work of such sheer heights of brilliance that it wasn’t possible to grasp all of it’s many layers of nuance at a paltry 33 1/3rd RPM.
No, no it really needed to be cranked up to 45 for the best effect.
Oh, heck yeah.
Yes, I did turn the speed up on the turntable, and grooved, mostly empty bottle of JD in my hand.
That is the last coherent memory I have of the evening, but I’m fairly certain that I continued to have a LOT of fun.
The next thing I DO remember, is waking up wet. There was a very loud noise somewhere far away. I did not know where I was, who I was, or what I was.
I was very wet. In fact, it seemed to be raining on me. Unusual, when living in the high desert.
It was raining on me. I was standing, and had apparently been both standing and asleep, at the same time.
There was something large, very furry, and as tall as me standing oh so very close to me, cheek to cheek as it were, standing right next to me, and in fact I seemed to have been hugging it in my sleep.
It was raining. I was hugging what, to my traumatized senses, appeared to be a wookie. It smelled.
I opened my eyes.
This took courage on a level I don’t think you can fully understand. I didn’t really want to know what I was hugging, but I was also too afraid not to find out.
In the years since that moment, thinking back to what I felt waking up wet and tired, head hurting, hugging what feels and smells like a wookie… it’s just one of those memories that makes amnesia sound so damn attractive.
I was in the shower stall of our room. I was standing up, having apparently been propped up stiff as a board and drunk as a lord in the shower stall. I was fully clothed, the shower was running ice cold, and I was hugging the small rug from the room floor, that had been rolled up and tossed in the shower with me.
The smell of everything that I had eaten and drunk the night before was sharing the shower with me. I don’t really need to paint a more vivid picture, do I?
I did not, and this comes as something of an understatement, feel very well.
Amazingly enough, the first thought I had was, “At least it’s not a wookie.”
The second thought, such as it was, concerned the fact that clearly, I had a LOT of cleaning up to do.
And what the hell is that noise?
I stumbled out of the shower stall to find the room pitch dark. Door closed, window shutters drawn. From outside the room, down the walkway and coming closer, was a loud crashing noise, repeated over and over.
Boom! Crash! Pause. Boom! Crash! Pause.
As the noise approached, faint words began to be heard, and there was movement in the darkness of the room.
The crashing approached. The movement in the room increased, accompanied by groans and muffled swearing.
The noise was a bedlam. It came to the room next door to ours.
BOOM! CRASH! “Everyone out for PISS CALL!!!”
It came outside our door. The door echoed with the sound of a booted foot impacting it just under the knob. The door crashed open. The horrific voice repeated it’s cry, “Everyone out for PISS CALL!”
It continued on it’s way, sharing it’s message of pain. The room exploded into a frenzy of activity.
The lights were turned on in the room, and it was asses and elbows as four drunk Marines desperately tried to find acceptable clothes for falling out into formation for a battalion-wide surprise urinalysis test taking place at 3 AM.
Oh yes, 3 AM.
I quickly realized that I was still drunk, and somehow this became something I wished to hide. I didn’t feel any shame at actually BEING drunk, but somehow I felt that, once having fallen asleep after drinking, one should be sober when one wakes up. As I was not sober, clearly I screwed the process up at some point, and needed to lurk below the radar.
I was not concerned with being drunk for duty, because regulations state that you must cease drinking alcoholic beverages no latyer than eight hours prior to going on duty, to ensure the alcohol has had time to leave the system. This was a Friday night. There WAS no duty scheduled the next day. No worries, right?
Running out onto the balcony (our room at the time was on the 3rd floor, and overlooked the high desert from a mighty vantage point), we quickly discovered that the uniform of the day for 3 AM battalion-wide surprise urinalysis tests was green t-shirt, running shorts, and shower shoes (also known in some regions as flip flops).
This, I felt I could manage.
How to describe the rest of that night?
Hundreds of Marines, possibly a thousand, standing in the desert night in three or four lines that snaked through the sand, smoking cigarettes, shooting the shit, all of them tired, none of them really sure what the hell was going on.
Bering drunk and hung over at the same time, and standing in a line that marched as far as the eye could see around barracks buildings and quonset huts, having to piss like a russian racehorse and not daring to go for fear of having ‘stage fright at the last minute? Oh fun.
Especially the stage fright part. It’s one thing to have to go, but if you’ve just gone, it’s a difficult thing to stand there in an official stall with some poor Corporal watching your, ahem, pocket python, waiting for you to go.
Yes, you read that right. The rules were that someone had to physically stand there and watch you go, the actual mechanics of it, eyeball to, umm, err, to make 100% certain you didn’t have a water bladder and a hose full of someone else’s urine ready to fill a cup. It had to actually be YOU filling the cup.
Surprise, turns out we had some drug problems on base back then. I had no idea.
As I recall, it took over two hours for me to reach and complete the pee test. At that point, I was free to return to my room… where I had to clean the room immaculately, and clean myself, and generally fix the mess I’d caused the night before. Only then could I pass the heck out.
I was somewhat concerned, as the rest of the weekend progressed, that I would find out that I had acted in some way wildly inappropriate while drunk.
I had to keep repressing shudders as I let my imagination paint pictures for me of what horribly dishonorable thing I may have said or done while drunk.
The fact that everyone else that had been at the party, that I knew of, seemed unnaturally quiet and sullen only added to my apprehension.
Way it turns out, funny enough, you can get hammered on beer if you drink enough of it, and everyone else certainly drank enough of it. And if you WERE drunk and asleep at 3 AM for a surprise urinalysis, you generally had something to feel sullen about on a Saturday morning, unless you had a guilty conscience.
I worried that I was the drunken center of attention, and instead, while I did represent a certain destabilizing influence on the party, it was about par for the course at these things, and at a reasonably late hour the party had quietened down and everyone else had left without incident.
I even made it to my bed and crashed nice and normal. No horrible surprises. no terrible behavior. I just displayed a need… a need for speed. A heartfelt desire for music played very, very, very fast. And loud.
It was only later that night that I apparently woke up and started unleashing my inner lunch upon the carpet, into the trash can, and anywhere else I happened to be pointing.
My roommates, reasonably enough, decided that this show needed to be moved into the only place easy to clean… which is how I ended up where I did, how I did, and as confused as I did.
It was certainly a learning experience. Just be yourself, that’s all. Don’t let peer pressure or a desire to fit in drive you to be anyone but who you really are. The friends you make that way are more meaningful in the long run.
Time marches on, and fun is there to be had, and whenever you meet new folks, stories still get told. These days it’s in the maintenance shop.
These days when the drinking stories start, I cannot help but think of my very first drinking story ever, in more ways than one.
And I can’t help but try to forget that damn wookie.