Storytime: My favorite tech support story

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.”

Storytime: Feeling the Surfing Blues

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!”.

It doesn’t get much better than that. :)

Storytime: …. and Punishment

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?

Close one!

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.”

Sorry. Flashback.

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.

Oh, boy.

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.

Possibly disconcerting.

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.

Storytime: Crime….

This storytime is  really two stories, because it’s not possible for me to split them up in my head, telling one without sharing the other. The fun story is the next one… this story is the stress machine that wound me up, so I would have something to unload in the next one.  

Cassie has told me that this part was depressing, but I don’t really see how I can help that. It’s life, it’s just where you are sometimes, especially when you are far from home and can’t affect what your family may be going through when they need you… or at least, you think they do.

So this storytime is kinda part 1, the crime, and the next storytime is part 2, the punishment… or as I like to think of it, instant karma biting me on the butt.

Ready for a bearwall?

A long time ago, in a desert not so very far away, I was a brand new noob fresh out of boot camp, and checking into my very first duty station for training after earning the title of United States Marine.

It was a time of both high excitement, and difficult stress.

Sure, you’d expect there to be some anxiety when checking into your very first duty station, but this went a little beyond the norm.

Where did this unusual (for me) stress come from? Well, therin lies the story…

You see, this is the Life of Bear, so things did not go quite as planned for my movement from Parris Island to Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

You’d think it would have been the simplest of things, wouldn’t you?

I went to boot camp in Parris Island, graduated with flying colors and not a small amount of pride, flew down South to spend a few weeks of leave visiting my parents’ home in Boca Raton, Florida, and then had to catch a big fat bird to carry my butt to my next assigned duty station on the other side of the country. 

Not so difficult, right? Millions of military personnel move from station to station every single year. Leaves are taken. Travel is arranged. Orders are cut. Ho hum, etc.

During any movement between duty stations, a little stress is involved. A risk is always being run when you travel from duty station to duty station. You MUST check in to your next duty station by the time and date specified on your orders. No exceptions. No excuses. If you fail to arrive at your next duty station by the date and time specified on your orders, you are FUBAR. Umm, I mean UA. Umm.. screw it, you be in da trouble, mon.

For a brand new Marine fresh out of boot camp, you DO NOT WANT TO STEP IN THE CACKY FIRST TIME OUT.

Did that sound like shouting? Oh good, I did manage to get across the importance of not messing up your very first assignment.

As a Marine, you’ve always got a choice. You can do it right the first time with all of your effort, or you can coast and be a screwup. It’s an ever present choice. There are no acceptable excuses in failing to get the job done. Your duty is to get the job done. Maybe shit happened, but you had your duty, and if you failed in your duty, all else is trying to excuse your failure.

Maybe you had powerful motivation to do things that resulted in failing in a duty, because after all, there are always priorities. That’s what judgment is all about. Maybe you failed to make a flight because you were rescuing a busload of nuns from a burning vehicular accident, darting in and out of the wreckage moments before an explosion, and you were treated against your will for smoke inhalation, and failed to make your flight. Whatever. 

Even in that situation, there would be an awareness that you were choosing to miss a movement, and an understanding that you would face the consequences. Maybe there wouldn’t be any consequences. Maybe they’d congratulate you and pat you on the back.

Wanna bet on it?

No big deal, just something to keep in mind, to help understand how something as simple as flying across country can become a planned movement with fallback options for the prepared mind.

“But how do you prevent accidents from happening?” I hear you ask.

Well, you hope for the best, but you plan for the worst, and make careful choices as to what is an acceptable amount of risk, and what is a reasonable amount of preparedness.

For example… my orders said I was to depart Beaufort, South Carolina, and that I had to check in by a certain date and time a few weeks hence, in 29 Palms, California. 

I made the personal choice to stop along the way to visit my parents in South Florida. I did not have to do that. I chose to do that.

I could have traveled at any time, as early as I wished, to my next duty station, checked in, and waited in temporary barracks until my official check in time came around. Some Marines did, indeed, do that. I coulda spent two weeks sitting in a barracks waiting to check in… and I wouldn’t have risked being late.

Or, I could have chosen to get in a car in South Carolina, and drive across the country, spending two weeks taking in the sights and doing the tourist thing. I could have taken a train. I could have flown to Alaska and hunted a caribou, then driven a team of huskies as far South as they would take me, then hitchhiked the rest of the way to Yucca Valley. My duty was to check in on time. How I accomplished that duty was up to me.

You eventually grow up and learn that you must make contingency plans, you arrange your life and situations in an attempt to anticipate problems and remove any obstacle that would prevent you from accomplishing your duty.

If I were to do it these days, or even a year after this story, I would have arranged my last flight schedule to give me enough extra time so that, if the plane broke down or a flight was delayed at any stage, I would have had at least an extra 24 hours to make other arrangements or layovers. I would have anticipated and planned for delays, and made sure I’d be on time anyway. So what if I lose a day of my personal leave, so long as I’m on time returning?

Sometimes, there really are unforeseen issues of such dramatic scope that you can’t get it done. But it takes something mighty special. You accomplish the mission. It’s just what you do.

So yeah, right out of boot camp I made the personal choice to take a risk, without even understanding that I was taking a risk, to visit my family for a few weeks, and then travel on to California. I had my flights arranged, knew how I was getting from here to there… but I was new enough that it had never occured to me to give myself ‘wiggle room’ if I missed a flight or if the plane broke down, or whatever. I hadn’t thought about it. I’d never traveled enough to understand just how fragile a flight itinerary could be.  So my flight out of Florida to California was really, really tight. Last minute kind of stuff.

I enjoyed my time back home. It was fun, I saw my little brother, saw my mom and dad, drove around town looking at things with a new perspective, saw a few of my friends that were going to college at Florida Atlantic University locally, and generally hung out before taking off for a year of training and oorah.

Now, my mom is an insanely cool lady. I believe I have mentioned, in a previous Storytime, the houdini escapade, her status as a firefighter and police dispatcher, her incredible motivation and drive to achieve her goals, and how much I love and respect her.

Well, she knew that I was a huge Blue Öyster Cult fan, so when I came home ffrmo boot camp, she had a special surprise lined up waiting for me.

The very night before I was due to get on that big fat bird bound for California, Blue Öyster Cult was scheduled to play in an oceanside bar in Fort Lauderdale, just 30 minutes drive South of Boca. The kind of place Hemingway would have loved, the local bikers doubtless enjoyed, and where you’d never in a million years expect your moms to go for a show. Yeah, it was a real dive.

She had gotten us two tickets, and the two of us headed down there from Boca Raton to see my favorite band tear the place apart.

Why both of us? Why, so I could drink (underage) if I desired to, and have a safe ride home.

Many drinks were indeed had, much rocking was done, the band closed the place down, and so did we.

My flight on the big fat bird was scheduled for very early the next morning… which, by the time we rolled back home, was now very early the SAME day.

The alarm I had set went off, I dragged myself outta bed on maybe two hours sleep, grabbed my pre-packed stuff, shoved it into mom’s beat up car, bustled my very little brother in there, and away we roared to the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Traffic was a lot heavier than either of us anticipated, so by the time we actually arrived at the airport, the reasonable time I expected to have for check-in and moving to the departure gate had evaporated.

We were running so late, it looked like I was going to miss my flight. It was right about at this moment in time that the consequences of missing my flight began rolling in on me. Heavy traffic… could have been avoided if we left earlier, but I thought it was safe to get some sleep.

I didn’t panic, but I began to get that “omigod” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Like I said, I didn’t understand quite yet what constituted an appropriate risk. I should’ve been to the airport plenty early, and never have gone to the show the night before. What can I say? I was an exceptional dumbass at 18.

Yes, yes, I know, how little has changed, right? Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Back then, of course, airport security was a lot more relaxed than it is now. Everyone could go with you to the actual airport departure terminal, kiss and hug and wave bye-bye, and your family could stand by the window and watch as your actual plane taxied away from the actual terminal.

So here’s the picture.

I’m running mucho late.

Mom drops me off at the front with my seabag, and heads off to park the car.

I go running in my class ‘A’ uniform up to the check-in counter, check the seabag which constitutes all the luggage I own in the world, and by the time I have my tickets in hand, mom and brother have finished parking and are waiting for me at the tunnel that leads to the departure gates.

The lady at the check-in counter has told me that if I run, I might be able to make the plane before they close. They are boarding already.

No, they did not offer to hold the plane. I did not ask. I would never have imagined asking someone else to hold up other people’s departure because I was a late dumbass. Didn’t even cross my military mind.

Away we go. I”m sprinting for the gate, and mom and little brother are sprinting right alongside me.

We hit the tunnel, and I dart through the metal detector on the way to the departure gate, almost there, mom tosses her purse on the x-ray and darts through the metal detector, my brother at her heels, I’m running, halfway down the aisle, they are literally CALLING MY FLIGHT’S LAST CALL FOR BOARDING on the loudspeaker, but I’m damn well gonna make it.

I suddenly realize I’m running down the corridor on my own.

I stop, turn around to see where mom went to, what the hold up is…

She is standing at the metal detector, a circle of airport security are around her, guns out and pointed, and she’s being handcuffed. Little brother is just watching.

Dead stop. WTF?!?

It really took a minute to process.

My mom is standing there, getting cuffed as I watch. My little brother, what was he, like 8 or so, is standing there watching. The last call for boarding my flight is going out over the loudspeaker over my head right. this. moment.

What the hell do I do? Miss a flight and be UA, or abandon my mom?

What the hell do I do?

Well, that’s an easy choice to make. My own damn fault I was running late, and I’m not about to abandon my mom.

I start running back to mom to find out what the hell is going on and to try and help straighten out whatever the blankety blank is going on. Mom is a freaking police dispatcher, I’m in Class A greens, my brother is a runt, what the blankety do they think we are, terrorists

Mom knows me very well indeed. She sees me running back, and while she is in the very act of being handcuffed, she processes the same choices I just did, knows what I’m about to do (which is basically yell and wave my arms and try to reason with people that aren’t in any rush at all to straighten things out), and yells at me to keep going, get on the plane, she’d be fine, it was just a stupid misunderstanding. She’ll be totally fine, trust her, just go. Go, go, run, don’t miss your flight! Don’t you dare miss your flight!

Oh, and I love you! Have fun in California!

Yep, that’s my mom.

So, I turned my happy ass back around and ran for the terminal. I made the flight just in time, squeaked through the door, and had the entire flight to wonder what the bloody heck had happened.

Drugs in her purse? Not bloody likely. Unpaid traffic tickets? How the hell would airport security know? A warrant for her arrest? Again, how would they know? A bomb planted by a terrorist before we entered the terminal? Not even the remotest of possibilities, we never paused once in the airport itself.

Maybe she looked like a famous terrorist. I’ve seen the movie “The Final Option”, it could happen. Mistaken identity, looked like someone else…

That was my best bet.

Now, I bet in reading that, there are folks that would have chosen differently. Wouldn’t have left, would have stayed, whatever your mom said. I understand, and maybe you’re right. This is just me sharing what happened, and that includes what I did at the time.

In retrospect, I do still feel that I did the right thing, because there really was nothing else I could have done. At the time, all I really knew was that my mom was the smartest, most reliable and responsible person I knew, and I trusted her judgment. If she told me to go, she had it, get my ass out of there, then I went, because she said she had it… and to stay behind anyway would be to tell her that I didn’t really trust her to take care of herself when she said she had it. 

That didn’t stop me from second guessing my decision during the entire flight to California, of course. :)

This was years before cell phones were widely available. I couldn’t call home until I landed, and even then I had to try and contact her using pay phones, and instead of having a number for a cell phone she’d have, I had to try numbers from my memory of places where she or a member of the family might be. 

The only number I had was of the house. So that’s the only place I could call. Nobody was answering while I tried at the terminal… but the answering machine was picking up and recording my messages, so I was losing my quarters with every try. Eventually, I had to grab my bus and head off for Yucca Valley.

For the next three days, as I checked into my new duty station and began in-processing, I tried to reach home. I tried and tried, and couldn’t get ahold of anyone back home for nearly three days. Three days of not knowing what the bloody heck happened.

It’s funny now to think how hard it was back then simply to get ahold of family members, considering everyone and your 5 year old little sister seems to have cell phones these days, or at the very least digital voice mail. At the time, nobody but drug dealers had portable phones, and if you didn’t have a tape driven phone answering machine, you didn’t get messages or a notice of a call. And even if they had an answering machine, you never knew if the tape was already full and if they really got your message or not.

Do you get the feeling I’m putting off the reveal?

Yeah, it took three days to get an answer on what happened. Whether my mom was okay, what she got busted for, if my brother was okay, the whole enchilada. 

It turned out… it turned out my mom was arrested because she smuggled a gun into the freaking airport.

No, no, now wait a minute, lemme ‘splain.

See, it’s simple. No, really, it’s very simple. It could’ve happened to anyone.

No, no I don’t really believe that. But I sure as hell can see it happening to my mom.

Quck refresher, my dad was a police officer, my mom had been a firefighter and, at the time, was a active night shift police dispatcher. I was a Marine and gun and knife hobbyist, and we’d had firearms in our house my entire life. Dad has pictures somewhere of baby Bear holding guns like baby toys… and somewhere or other are pictures taken of me at the rifle range drilling half inch groups with a .22 at about the age of 3 from the seated position, proud papa at my side.

Guns are, in the end, just inert objects that do nothing in and of themselves. If they’re not loaded, they are nothing more nor less than lumps of cold steel, plastic, resin and wood. Not even any potential energy. That’s all in the ammo. Well, if you get your thumb wedged in there when the hammer comes down, the firing pin hurts like a bastard on a revolver, but that’s a different story.

I’m sure some folks would think that having a gun around would be like having a small lump of radioactive material, glowing and constantly reminding you of it’s presence. It just isn’t like that. It’s like having a screwdriver or a hammer, but that requires special safe handling practises. Maybe it’s better to say a firearm is like having a battery operated chainsaw.

Basic firearms safety is that the firearm is never loaded. The ammo is all kept under lock and key. If a firearm comes in the house, it’s unloaded. By default. And before you handle a firearm, the first thing you do, always and without exception, is break it open to check to see if it’s loaded. Yes, even if you just cleaned it and set it on the table, went to the kitchen and got a drink, and came back to pick it up and lock it in the gun safe. You pick it up, break it open and check to make sure it’s unloaded. Again. Every time.

Now, in my house, under my dad’s rules… well, he was a lot more relaxed and careless in his firearms safety. I have a lot of “accidental discharge of a firearm” stories I could tell.

An example of a typical day in my dad’s house, when he wanted to take a pistol to the shooting range.

Dad; “Where the hell did I leave the Sig? I thought I had it at the reloading bench. John, did you see the Sig?” “Nope, where’d ya have it last?” “Damnit, I don’t remember. Did I take it fishing? I’ll check the tackle box. Nope, not there. Hmm.” He searches for a while, starting at gun safes, moving to gun boxes used to transport locked firearms from the house to the range, then on to the garage, then to various tables, desk drawers, closet shelves, bedroom dresser drawers, and even a quick trip out to the jeep to check the glove box. Finally he hits couch and chair cushions. “Hey, what the hell is it doing wrapped in a greasy newspaper in the pouch of my easy chair? Oh, right, I was cleaning it on a tray table, and then it was dinner time, so I just wrapped the newspaper around it and tucked it down out of the way. Crap.”

“Okay, now has anyone seen my holster?”

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m not like that, one accidental discharge too many, thank you. The Marines taught me to handle firearms with a little bit more respect… and with a healthy paranoia towards the inherent stupidity of other people around firearms. I expect them to be loaded and in the wrong hands, if those hands are anyone’s but mine. But that’s me, and we’re talking about my mom, having been taught firearm safety and transport rules by my father.

Kind of a “Do as I say, not as I do” thing.

This was the mid 80’s, and my dad had been worried about my mom, because she worked the night shift at the police department as a dispatcher, and he wanted to make sure she was able to defend herself… so he’d given her a little Lady Smith, and forced her to carry it in her purse. She didn’t want the damn pistol in her purse, but he insisted, and they argued about it in a general low key, stubborn as a mule way back and forth for weeks.

He finally insisted she carry the damn gun, and so she promptly stuck it in her cavernous purse, where it settled to the bottom.

There the pistol rested, ignored and unheeded (and uncleaned for months, naturally), until the day she was in a hurry at the airport to see her oldest son off to California, and tossed her purse onto an x-ray conveyor at the Fort Lauderdale Airport.

Airport security was remarkably lacking in a sense of humor about the whole thing.

When my mom waved at me to keep going, she seriously thought at the time that there was no big deal. She screwed up and forgot she had a gun in her bag, but it’s not like she had a record or anything, right? She was ‘in the life’, so to speak, with law enforcement, and had been all her life. Her husband was a police officer, and had been for over 15 years at this point.

She figured yes, it was an embarassing mistake, and she’d never ever hear the end of it, but she’d make a call from the airport security office, dad would come get her, and it would all get worked out. A few hours lost to a major annoyance, but no big deal.

Umm… so, they took her downtown, threw her butt in jail, and called dad down to pick up my brother and bail her butt outta jail. 

He got the message at work through dispatch, came down to pick up my brother, and was asked if he’d sign her out of custody.

Reportedly, he said, “Nah, let her sit in there overnight, it’ll teach her a lesson about carelessness.”

So, mom got to spend a night in jail, because she did have a pistol in her purse and they certainly didn’t like that very much.

It turned out not to be so funny after all. 

The end result of it, was that first, she was pretty pissed at my dad. Um, yeah… no, really? I can’t imagine why.

Second, she went from being gung ho about service in local law enforcement, to being fascinated in the entire legal system that she was snarled up in. I think she always expected my dad, as the experienced police officer, to be her “knight in shining armor” if something like that ever happened. Instead, her knight had feet of clay, and her attorney rode to the rescue on a white steed.

The work of her attorney in extricating her from the legal tangles got her so involved in learning more about the law, that she finally quit her job and went back to college, to begin studying to become a lawyer herself.

She’s become quite the activist, as well. Just another of the things I admire about her.

At the time, of course, I had no idea where the events would lead. All I knew was, my moms had been arrested by the five oh for carrying a concealed weapon into an airport to get me on my flight.

And while she held me absolutely blameless in what happened, she was pretty pissed at life in general, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible.

So, that’s where my head was at my first week in sunny Twenty-Nine Palms, California. That was quite fun, in addition to learning the ropes and procedures for life on an active duty base that was NOT a boot camp, which is an eye opening process all by itself, let me tell ya.

I wish I could say that the experience taught me a great deal, but I’m not that deep. All I really learned was, make sure you try and anticipate trouble and plan accordingly, something I should have already known, and don’t carry a gun in your purse, something that I didn’t figure I’d have any problem remembering.

I guess I did learn one other thing, at that.

When you hear a story about somebody doing something just incredibly stupid, it’s easy to ask yourself how anyone could ever possibly do something like that… until you run into something like this, and realize that sometimes, through a perfect storm combination of chaos, carelessness, pressure and thoughtlessness, you yourself forget one key thing that normally you’d keep at the forefront of your thoughts… and you become the story other folks chuckle over at the water cooler.

The lesson there? Don’t panic, don’t rush, and give yourself time to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

Oh, and don’t carry a gun in your damn purse at the airport. Stick it in your glove box instead!

Storytime: A Razor's Edge Away

Despite what you may think, I don’t generally whine on the blog that much.

I bitch. There’s a difference. :)

Whining is complaining about crap ineffectually and self-pityingly, being passive and expecting someone else to come along and fix your life and problems for you.

When I bitch about stuff, it’s meant to be with a sense of humor, a feeling of sharing to pass the time, and the sure and certain knowledge that even if I’m angry, I ain’t expecting anybody to do a DAMN thing for me, I can fix whatever’s bugging me all by myself (which means with the help and support of Cassie of course), and thank you very much.

The only time I tend to talk about stress and crap is waaaay after the situation is resolved, or when I know that it is resolved. When there is a solution.

Bitching is just part of the after action report. :)

Last week was one hell of a hard, stressful time for Cassie and I, and thankfully, for us, the worst is past. For those few people that dumped extra stress on us with needless drama, and you know who you are… thank you oh so very much.

I didn’t talk about it at the time, because it was still ongoing. There wasn’t a resolution yet. Now, for us at least, things are looking much better. So now I can be cheery and start bitching about being all stressed out last week.

It’s not just me that does this, it’s a trend on my side of the family. When stuff is going wrong, when bad times have come, you go dark and run silent. The rest of the family doesn’t hear from you again, not until you’ve got positive news to report.

I KNOW we’re not the only ones that do this.

I knew my mom was going through a bad time when I didn’t hear from her, and she didn’t return phone calls, for well over a year.

When I finally DID get through to her, she regaled me with tales of job loss, impounded and busted cars she couldn’t afford to have fixed, suspended licenses, skirting the edge of jail time (for driving ON a suspended license while speeding, naturally) and problems with my little brother and sister… neither of whom are little anymore.

But those were tales of the past… because by the time she actually started answering her phone again, she had a new job, her car was working, her license was back, the house was in good shape, and my brother and sister were, if not doing well, at least not ACTUALLY in jail. At the moment, anyway.

That’s just the way it works.

Now, I am going to share with you a tale of woe. A tale from the dark side, of depression and struggle, when I was down about as far as I’ve ever been. And there IS a point to it, a reason why this is on my mind at the moment, and when we get to the end I hope it’ll become clear.

I had a stretch back many years ago, before I met my lovely wife, just after I had quit my job of cross country truck driving with the hopes of settling down and making a few friends, where I found myself a hair’s breadth from being homeless and living on the street. 

I hadn’t been totally crazy, you know. I try and make reasoned decisions. When I quit truck driving, it was to walk into a high paying Engineering job that was just waiting for me, making test stations for jet engines, test stations that the major airlines use to do their serious periodic engine maintenance.

I walked into the job, snagged a room nearby that you paid for by the week (at stupid prices, and due to my ignorance of the area, in a horrible crack house neighborhood), I didn’t have a car yet because the truck had BEEN my car, but I started saving immediately to get these things taken care of. 

I figured I needed about 3 months, max, and my foundations would be form underfeet.

The company lost their contract, and I was let go with, literally, zero warning on a Friday afternoon at the last second of the work day. I had spent all of two weeks there.

Desperation set in, and my savings vanished paying the stupidly high weekly room rent as I looked for a new job. I finally grabbed the first job I could find to get some money going, working on equipment that cut, shaped and sealed foam products.

Once I had a job, I still had no savings at all, and no car or anything else. Anything other than cheap clothing vanished as my room got repeatedly broken into while I was away at work. Crack house, remember?

I was bussing and walking, and saving every dime in the bank to fund a future job search. The job paid poorly, but just well enough I could make it work. Theoretically.

But once the room was paid, there were very few dimes left over for savings, let alone food or a car or a security deposit. Every week after rent was paid, I had just about enough left over to buy some cans of vegetables, some ramen, and a single 99 cent Whopper a day for food.

Damn, that Whopper felt like such an unnecessary luxury item. I mean, you could get three cans of corn, or two cans of tunafish, or a loaf of bread for what that one Whopper cost. It’s funny what I remember now, how guilty I felt for not saving that dollar each day for my future.

Christmas rolled around fast, and I was right on the edge… I didn’t have enough money saved to do anything yet, and some of it got spent at the Army/Navy surplus store getting cold weather gear.

Note to others… there is no finer item for cold weather comfort, than what we in the Marines in 1994 called the “poncho liner”, a soft, smooth, silky, insanely warm and comfy blanket in camouflage pattern that could be crushed and rolled up to fit in the cargo pocket of your trousers. Sucker washed and lasted forever, too. A more perfect item I have never encountered, and the procurement officer responsible for buying them for us Jarheads should be blessed. Note to self… try to find one online. I miss my poncho liner.

Anyway, Christmas was coming… and then the word came down. They were cutting back on positions because of a slow fourth quarter. People were going to be cut. And I was one of the newest employees. Everybody I worked with was sure my ass was out the door. 

I was truly looking at being homeless and unemployed on Christmas in Minnesota, and spending some time in a shelter, IF I was lucky enough to find space.

I wasn’t really worried, you understand. I was single, and a former Marine, and I knew I wouldn’t starve to death so long as a single place needed a dishwasher somewhere within a bus ride’s distance. It’s being responsible for providing a safe, secure life for the rest of your family that makes things… terribly stressful when you lose your job. So much more to lose. 

That whole period of time, not a single family member heard a peep from me. Not word one. I dropped off the planet.

Now, I did NOT get let go. It was close, but I and the rest of third shift was kept, and they let first shift people go instead.

Staying employed, I eventually saved those dimes.

Far more importantly, I found a much cheaper place to live which made a HUGE difference.

It was in a co-worker/friends’ house, where a bunch of his buddies all lived in different rooms, and while it was still a bad neighborhood, it was a far, far better situation to be in, and let me save a lot more money. I wrote about the housing arrangement in a previous storytime, I believe it was called “Look out he’s got a knife” or something like that.

Amazing how these storytime things all tie in together at some point, isn’t it?

Anyway, once I had what could be called a reasonable living situation, I was finally able to save some damn money. I invested in a computer that I put together, putting that in front of a car because my priority was finding a GOOD job.

Once I got online, I could spend my every waking hour job searching.

Searching for employment that matched my knowledge and experience, and writing my own resume, I eventually applied for a job for which I was actually qualified, and on the strength of my resume, my experience, and my interview, they turned around and offered me a better position than the one which I applied for… at a vastly bloated salary.

Seriously, we never discussed salary or compensation during any of the interviews. I met the hiring manager that I would be working for, he had me meet his shift leads and get interviewed by them, and then he had the entire team sit in and interview me as a group. Not once was salary or compensation mentioned. I had to figure that the responsibilities would translate into better pay than cutting foam, but at the very least I’d be doing what I enjoyed again.

When he did call me in to offer me the job (in person), he apologized for only being able to offer me such and such hourly pay… which was, as I remember, about $9 an hour more than what I HAD been making.

I tried very hard not to cheer. “Just stay calm, don’t let them think that their new employee is a nutter before the ink is dry on the paperwork.”

You might think this was the start of good things.

You’d be right.

It was also during that period of time, just after getting that new job but before I moved into a new apartment, that I met Cassie, the wonderful lady that would one day become my wife… and I met her online. Yes, internet, true love romances between people who meet online DO come true!

How did we meet?

Well, I had the new job, and was making a lot of money. But I was still paying tiny rent and living with the guys in their house. So, on top of being able to save up for an apartment and a car… I could afford a gym membership.

I’d been doing pushups and stuff all along and moving huge foam blocks around, but I wanted to get back in proper shape.

My first week of seriously getting back into working out, I overdid it and ripped both of my shoulder muscles out. Couldn’t even lift my arms.

The Doctor gave me these wonderful, yummy drugs that knocked me out for… oh, about 4 days. I’d wake up, go to the bathroom, drink some water, take another pill and go back to sleep for another day.

The last few days while I recovered, I was able to go online and look around, and met Cassie there. Where, amusingly enough, SHE was recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, and was bored and browsing online herself.

Obviously, there was a lot more to it. But that is how we met. We were both wounded and recovering at home, and browsing the internet when we would normally be at work.

Everything turned around, seemingly overnight. It took a few months of savings, but I was so used to living on a shoestring, the money built up quicker than you could imagine after being destitute for so damn long.

I could afford a nice apartment, in a nice neighborhood. I could get a car that was certified used and within a few years of manufacture rather than somethin on it’s very last legs. And I could buy some furniture for my new flat. 

On top of it all, I was involved in an incredible relationship with a stunning, wonderful, brilliant woman that seemed to find me not totally reprehensible.

I was able to go, within a year, from a razor’s edge distance of living homeless on the street, to becoming a productive, responsible member of society.

Well, of imitating one, anyway.

I can’t help but think of how easily it could have gone the other way. 

I could have been let go that Christmas, but I wasn’t. They let someone else go instead.

Without the kindness of the strangers that I befriended at work that invited me to come hang out at their house, finding a place to stay would have been so much harder. It would have happened, sure, but far slower. And barring any other unforeseen problems.

I might not have been nearly so fortunate in finding employment with a manager that felt that he could better use my skills at a more important, and consequently higher paying, position. Yes, I had saved up and was dedicated to a serious job search for positions I was qualified for and that I enjoyed, but without his deciding to put me in a different position, whatever I did would not have paid nearly so well for at least a year. 

And it was only because of that bump in pay that I felt I could afford a gym membership at the time.

If at any point in this incredible chain of coincidence and happenstance anything had happened differently, I never would have had a place to keep a computer without it being stolen, a computer I could use to get online and find a job, a job that paid well enough to get a gym membership, and a gym membership that encouraged my supid butt to injure myself by going overboard on the fitness thing.

All leaving me RIGHT in the right time and place, and with the free time available, to meet Cassie, the most wonderful woman in the entire universe. 

That’s how tenuous, how fragile our entire wonderful “lived happily ever after” life got it’s start. 

It’s funny, looking back on it all. How can you ever pretend to know what life has in store for you? The person I was then could never have imagined being where I am now, with a wonderful wife and amazing son that can happily come up with “the fart song” and sing it for hours.

Sure, there are always ups, there are always downs. Life is a pattern of unpredictable changes. The only thing you CAN predict is that something unexpected will happen. Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad, but change happens.

The best anyone can hope to do is try and plan for and prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and when changes come, ride them out as best you can. Maybe the change will be a gentle wave you can surf with ease, and maybe the change will be the leading edge of the hurricane, leaving you feeling lost and adrift and bound for the bottom when the next wave hits.

All you can do when that happens is paddle your happy ass for shore as hard as you can, do your best to control what you can, and pray. 

I said there was a reason why all this crap, all these beginnings were on my mind today.

This post is dedicated to my sister-in-law Jolene, who lost her job in a layoff yesterday, and to her family, whom we love. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and our worries too. 

I hope you will all spare just a moment today to think of the craziness that is your life, to try and recognize the good as well as the bad, and to spare a thought for all the people that are still struggling like hell to keep their families safe and to make ends meet.

God bless you all, and good luck.

May you all surf the curl and never wipe out.

Storytime – The Artiste

Once upon a time, about the time I was midway through high school, I was fascinated with the subject of magic.

I loved the idea of an entire field of serious study surrounding mystery, suspense, danger, thrills, and wonder.

I know now, of course, that there are many different ‘varieties’ of magic. From the street magician with his portable tricks, to the stage magician with his large set pieces, to the huge spectacles that amaze and delight… or did, before visual wizardry through technology made the majority of folks feel that if something is too good to be true… it’s faked.

I also know, quite well indeed, that while often mistakenly called magic, there is an entire culture that overlaps but is seperate from magic, and that is the world of the escape artist.

I learned much more about magic, later on in life. When I was in the Marines, my best friend developed his own fascination with magic, the magic of the personal, one-on-one street performer, and I spent many an hour with him watching his endless practise with cards.

I had the pleasure, once, of seeing one of his “impromptu” tricks go off flawlessly.

Now, there are no such things as impromptu tricks. Every single one is painstakingly practised until it’s flawless… and until you can perform it and make it seem as though you just pulled it out of your butt. That’s part of the amazement when a face to face performer does one of these things.

In this case, Bob “just happened to have” a deck of cards on him. We were… hmm, where the hell were we? Ah right, we were in Bardufoss, Norway, after taking part in training exercises with the Norwegian 139th Air Wing. God, this was a long time ago, if I got the unit designation wrong, please, don’t kill me.

We had set up an Air Traffic Control section for MACS-5 on top of a mountain, a mountain whose other face was also used as a ski resort, and our base camp was way down below on top of a frozen lake.

It was very heavy winter weather in Bardufoss, very heavy snows, and the road to get to the top of the mountain was more of a single lane goat path. We had some heavily loaded 5 ton trucks that were hauling equipment up and down, and we coordinated the transport with two comm section guys using PRC-77s to make sure nobody started coming down after a truck started heading up. Seriously, single lane, mountain trail, and NO guard or barrier or anything preventing a drop down the mountain, and no room at all for movement if two trucks went nose to nose halfway up.

Sure enough, the comm guys get screwed up, one truck heads down as another heads up, and they meet in the middle beneath that old Georgia pine… umm, I mean on the slick one lane goat trail.

Everything shut down, as Marines headed up and Marines headed down on foot to figure out what to do. Backing down the mountain was the obvious option, a long and nasty drive to back down, inevitably wasting a few hours.

Marines often figure, if you get enough bodies into it, and find a lever big enough and a place to stick it, you can move anything. Maybe we could figure a place to get ’em to pass.

So there we are, a bunch of Jarheads standing halfway up a mountain on a goat trail, heavy deep snow as far as the eye could see, and two trucks nose to nose.

The view up there was beautiful, Norway rocks. Sorry, wanted to throw that in there. I’d love to go back someday… when it’s not the middle of winter.

Anyway, right as we get there, a Lieutenant that had made good time and was first on the scene ordered the driver of the downhill truck to back and scoot towards the mountain as far as he could go, and then ordered the driver of the uphill truck to squish on by.

As I’m standing there watching, the uphill truck moves over slightly next to the other truck, pulls up and onto the pack snow on the side of the road to move over… and flips over and vanishes without a trace, straight down.

It was one hell of a magic trick. *Poof!* One second there was a truck, next second nothing. Not even a puff of snow. Voila!

We ALL rush over, and there at the side of the road, in what seemed to be part of the road itself, in a piled up snowbank, was a 5 ton truck sized hole, going straight down.

It turns out that the snow was SO deep, and blown up on the side of the mountain so well, that what the Lieutenant thought was a snow bank on the side of the goat trail covering more road was really just snow on top of snow, on top of snow, over a sheer drop of more snow.

I stood there, with my buddies Kit Carson and Willie Ames standing there next to me, and we looked down the dark hole in the snow.

Somewhere down there, we were sure, was a truck. Couldn’t prove it by me.

As with any man-made military disaster, we were then treated to the sight of an ever-increasing number of Officers descending on the scene like flies to a corpse.

It seemed nobody could quite believe the reports they were getting from the team on the road, and so more Lieutenants, then a few Captains, then a Major, and it just kept going on.

Pretty soon folks from the Norwegian Air Force started showing up, And then that group grew.

While the Officers congregated, we wee NCOs had our own coffee klatch going, and we got the hoist going off the other truck, and lowered it, with a Marine hanging on, down the hole to see how deep it went, and where the hell our Marine driver went, and provide medical attention if necessary.

Turned out it wasn’t THAT far down, the winch reached far enough at maximum, and the driver was fine. We hauled him up, and everybody began contemplating how, exactly, to drag a heavily laden 5 ton truck back up to the road. I mean goat fuc… I mean, goat trail.

That was a fun hour, I tell ya. You learn a LOT about how “proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance” when you see a Lieutenant make a single snap decision, give an order, watch it get carried out, and then see everybody from the CO on down chew him a new asshole.

I’ll cut this story within a story within a story short short by telling you how we got the truck out; heavy lift helicopter.

Okay, so let’s move on from the case of the vanishing truck, and on to our other, more planned magic act, Bob and his astonishing deck of cards.

We’re at the end of the deployment, we’ve packed up all our stuff, we’re down to seabags and alice packs, and we’re in temporary quarters, real four walls and roof type barracks stuff, because the tents we’d pitched over the lake were all shipped out already.

For a change, we had 30 minutes of dead time while we awaited transport out.

People are bored. Spades games are already popping up, sleeping is going on, etc, and Bob pulls out a deck of cards and starts doing a one hand shuffle, some fanning, limbering up the wrists.

Somebody starts pressuring Bob to do a trick… real twisting of the arm there. Because it was obviously all off the spur of the moment…

He says sure, takes the deck still in his hand, shuffles holy heck out of it, fans it out and asks the guy the infamous line, “Pick a card, any card”. Dude picks a card, Bob tells him not to show it to him, just look at it and tuck it back into the deck.

Then he pulls a rubber band out of his pocket, wraps it a few times around the deck, twists the deck around at the middle so the rubber band tightens up like a spring… and with a sudden, startling motion, SLAMS the card deck underhand towards the ceiling, where it impacts with a crash, shaking the walls and making people yell and jump wondering what the heck happened.

The deck had, of course, spun in midair due to the rubber band, and cards rained down from the sky… we all looked up, and there, stuck to the ceiling, face down, was a card.

Bob says to the Marine, “So, was that your card?”

Needless to say, everybody just looked at the card stuck to the ceiling, looked at Bob, and started saying such ego-deflating things as “Holy shit! How in the hell did you do that? That’s impossible! I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life!”

What an amazing trick to pull off. I knew he spent hours working on each trick, but it was still nothing less than amazing.

So, magic.

I spent a lot of time around magic in the Marines, Bob would take me along to magic shops throughout the Southern California area, sometimes we’d eat at a very cool resteraunt in San Diego that had tableside magicians that would perform tricks for each table while they waited for their food. We went to that one often, it was very cool.

He even made me watch and got me into this old TV series “The Magician”, starring Bill Bixby, that showcased Bill Bixby as a professional magician that ended up having to solve ‘impossible’ murders by exposing the trick the murderer tried to use to get away with it. It was much like a magician version of Columbo.

But my education in the world of magic did not begin with Bob. I had gotten interested in it, as I said, as far back as High School.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to study the history of magic without hearing of, or reading about, Harry Houdini.

I have read many biographies of Harry Houdini, and I’ve read his autobiography, and of course I learned many things, such as his real name as opposed to his stage name, the amazing fact that he had a nearly lifelong close friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, along with an ongoing disagreement concerning life after death and spiritual visitations, and many other awesome things.

But the single most surprising thing I learned was that Harry Houdini wasn’t a magician at all, he was an escape artist.

It was his ability to slip bonds, traps, restraints and containment that brought him his fame, not magic tricks with card and cup and ball.

I won’t go into that any more, since I would hope that if you had any more interest in the subject, you’d go and find some books about Houdini yourself.

I’ll just say that, in High School, reading about Harry Houdini inspired me not to try to learn how to fool people with card tricks, dice and sleight of hand, but instead to slip bonds and restraints.

My father, as I may have mentioned previously, was a police officer, so one of the obvious starting points was learning all the ins and outs of handcuffs.

One of the first things I learned was that the style of Smith and Wesson handcuffs the BRPD used had a pushpin double lock. By pushing in a small pin with the top part of a handcuff key, you could prevent the cuffs from being tightened further, locking them in place… but also making it much harder to unlock them without a key. MUCH harder.

The other thing about the handcuffs, of course, was that the key hole is in the face of the cuff. And if the hole is facing your hand, why, there is plenty of opportunity to get your carefully bent and filed down paper clip into the hole and manipulate it.

If, however, the smartass turns the key hole to face your wrists, and locks the cuff very tight, you REALLY don’t have much chance to get at the keyhole at all, even with a key.

My dad had seen me reading up and practising with the cuffs, so he interfered before I had much chance to practise, and started locking me into the cuffs to “see how good I was at getting out”.

As I was also doing a lot of leatherworking with Tandy tools and dies at the time, the obvious solution was for me to stitch a hidden pocket in the middle of the back of my belt where I tucked an extra handcuff key.

He’d cuff my hands behind my back, and I’d slip the extra handcuff key out of the pocket in the belt and uncuff myself. It’s amazing how I have never had a handcuff on me, not once, in all the long years since High school. Go figure. Who said those skills don’t come in handy?

I made the mistake of being a smug smartass myself by slipping the cuffs off nearly as quick as he put them on, even double-locked… so he turned them around on me so the keyholes were at my wrists. My little concealed key didn’t do squat for me then.

So, figuring out ways to slip cuffs was fun for a while, but the best way to get out of cuffs is to control the way they will be put on or the model used… a fine idea for a stage show, not so realistic if you get cuffed and tossed in the back of a squad car.

I moved on to the next traditional escape artist situation… being all tied up with a heavily knotted, large rough rope, and then getting out of it incredibly fast moments after being out of sight behind a curtain or in a box.

Acquiring a book on rope techniques for escape artists, some rope, and some time, I set out to learn how to make an impressive escape.

Now, one of the first tricks (at least in the book I was using) was to use a tall-backed wooden chair, with narrow slats of wood as supports, with plenty of room for the rope to weave in and out.

When you are tied to such a chair, it looks very impressive, the rope weaving in and out of the chair, many knots and coils and loops clearly restraining the person so there is hardly room for him to breathe, let alone wiggle free.

The key there is that there are many knots. And what is knotted isn’t the rope to the person, but the rope to the chair. The knots look real impressive, but when done right they are designed to act almost as a vest or harness, letting the person be coiled up and restrained and tied in dozens of places, but all of those coils meet at knots that are accessible and cascade down. You undo one key knot and that frees one section, letting you quickly get to the next section. Once free, you retie the knots in the correct order, and it looks as though you vanished, and the ropes fell in place behind you.

A wonderful plan. It sounded very cool. I could totally do that.

One key element I had not taken into account was that most of the tricks required a skilled accomplice to tie you up just right, and of course to assist in the case of any problems.

Problems? What possible problems could there be? I’m INVINCIBLE!

Moving right along…

I practised tying and untying knots for a while, making my rope harness built on the framework of the chair good and solid, slipping it on and slipping it off, and making sure I understand the order of untying and that I can actually reach all the knots once this thing is on.

Then, with nobody home of course, I place my artfully roped up chair in the center of my bedroom, with the door shut, and nobody at home. I might be banging around this first try, and don’t want to alert anybody that something’s up.

After all, this is all a secret. The handcuff thing showed me that, if you reveal your plans before YOU are ready, other people love to get in the middle and screw it all up.

Much better to work in secret, get the trick just NAILED, and then have an amazing escape to perform.

I sit down, get my ankles, legs and waist properly tied in, working my way up the knots until I’m twisting to get the last few tied up all the way back to my wrists.

Woot! I am now all tied up like a freaking mummy to a high backed wooden chair, and it is clearly impossible that anyone could escape from such a fiendish trap.

I calm myself and get ready to do the internal count, pretending that my lovely assistant had JUST slipped the curtain over my closet so that I was concealed from view.

The test was to see how quickly I could untie myself, stand up in a minimum of space (as if I was in that concealed closet) and then tie the harness back up behind me.

How long was it going to take me? What time would I have to work at beating? The longer it takes, the less impressive the whole thing would be.

I run through the steps in my head, and begin the count. I twist and squirm to reach the first knot… and realize that, once I had actually tied the knot, my loops were just slack enough behind my back that it dropped out of reach after I finished. I couldn’t reach the first knot.

Oh, hell no. This is NOT happening. Nope. I will be smashing the chair to splinters before somebody catches me tied to a damn chair in my bedroom. Kiss my white ass.

But really, there has got to be a way to reach that damn knot. This is the real world, this crap doesn’t happen in the real world.

Stretching to reach it succeeded only in tightening the whole damn thing. Surprise! The knots were designed to slide. And slide they did… they got a little tighter. Yay. Smooth move.

Okay, how about gravity. My hands are up here, the knot fell down there. If I rock forward, let the chair fall to where I am on my knees… my face will hit the hardwood floor. Okay, let’s rethink that plan just a bit.

If I fall backwards, I’ll land ON my hands… and the knot will not fall UPWARDS towards my hands anyway.

Hmmm, ropes actually suck pretty bad, don’t they? I never quite realized that heavy rope left such interesting burns on skin, either.

Okay, so. How about if I inhale deeply, putting tension on the ropes, so that they stay put. Then, I carefully undulate my body to make the ropes move gradually up towards my hands. A little squirming, a little twisting, a little scraping against the wall…

No, no that’s not working. The damn chair frame is preventing any actual control of the ropes.

Fine. Screw it. I’ll have to buy my dad a new f’ing chair out of the pittance I make at my after school jobs, because this freaking chair is getting smashed.

JUST like the guys in the movies do it. You make the chair fall over, and the weight of your body smashes the wood all up, relieving the tension on the ropes.

So I lean the chair back on the back legs, and start bouncing to get the legs to break off.

Did I mention that the floor was hardwood? Nice, smooth hardwood?

You know that feeling you get, when you are sitting in the chair at the back of the class, leaning back, and you lean just a little too far and you, the chair, the whole shebang goes ass over teakettle backwards, and you can’t stop it?

Yeah, it’s worse when you’re tied to the chair. With your hands and arms behind the frame.

F’ing chair didn’t break, either, the sturdy piece of shit.

Who the hell makes these things, anyway? Don’t they know the damn things are supposed to break at the slightest sign of stress?

Fine. Now I’m down on the floor, still tied to a chair, a chair which, I might add, is quite intact… and I hear the front door open.

Oh, son of a….

Hmmm. If I remain very, very quiet, maybe they will go away.

I hear my step-moms’ voice call out from the living room downstairs, “John? Are you home?”

Wisely, I remain quiet.


Footsteps coming up the stairs.

I’m not answering, so why, dear lord why, in the name of all that is holy and just in the world, why is she coming to look? There was no answer, if I was here, I would answer, wouldn’t I?

Well… I would, if I didn’t spend all my time listening to Dead Kennedys, The Clash, Rush, Styx, Pink Floyd and Shadowfax on headphones in my room.


Oh, crap.

The sound of footsteps come the rest of the way upstairs, and stop, of course, outside my door.

My closed door.

I am a teenager. My door is closed. Please, dear lord, please assume I am jacking off and do not open that door.

She opened the f’ing door.

And behold! There before her wondering eyes, for her consideration, the following tableau;

Her son, fully dressed (thank god), tied oh-so-tightly to a chair from ankles to neck, cocooned like a mummy in bright, BRIGHT yellow rope, fallen to the floor in the middle of his room. Nobody else present. Front and back doors securely locked.

She looked at me.

I turned my head and looked at her.

Now, my dad was a police officer of many years, so as you might imagine he had, quite literally, seen it all. But my step-mother, god bless her, was not only one of, if not THE first female fire fighter in the state of Florida (I really have to check that statistic someday) but worked at the time as the night shift 911 fire dispatcher.

And in Boca Raton, at that time, she was the ONLY night dispatcher.

You would be surprised at the kind of batshit insane trouble calls she would get from people, that would have absolutely nothing to do with fires.

She was just as jaded as my dad. And of course, they liked to compare notes on what crazy shit was the latest crazy shit in the city, to top each others’ stories.

She opened her mouth to say something, but I’ll never know what it was going to be.

Because I cut her off and said, with quite a bit of dignity I thought, “Please get me loose of these f’ing ropes. And not one word to dad. Not one word.”

You know your mom is a treasure when, 24 years later, you have still never, ever heard a single word, ever, about the day you were found tied to a chair in your bedroom. From anyone.

The moral of the story is… magic is pretty cool, escape artists are very trusting souls, and if somebody ever were to ask me if I was interested in bondage, the answer is GET THE F^(# AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT G#))&MN ROPE!

Laugh at me two times

Storytime! Just a teeny one, though.

I’m at home, it’s the evening, and it is time for a treat.

Our tasty treat of choice? Ice cream. In Cassie’s case, a vanilla float. In mine, a little plain vanilla in a bowl.

Cassie has already scooped her ice cream up out of the family sized gallon tub, and waggles the scooper at me in an inquisitive way.

“Why, certainly, I’d be happy to have some ice cream!”

I take the scooper gently from her hand, snag a bowl from the cupboard, and proceed to dig into the frozen confection.

As I dig into the ice cream distractedly, I continue talking with Cassie about our upcoming raid schedule, and my recent attempts to set a consistent reliable schedule of raids so people can plan on things in advance. We’re also searching for a raid leader within the guild to supplement Cassie, Fal and I.

So I’m chatting, distracted, not paying attention to what my hands are doing, and so allow my superhuman strength free reign.

I dig the scoop into the ice cream, meet resistance, and apply so much force I snap the metal scoop in half, and rip the back of my knuckles open on the metal remains wedged firmly in the ice cream.

Whoops! That got my attention!

So I look at the ice cream tub. Yep, that’s one half of a scoop. Sure ’nuff.

I look at the handle in my hand. Yep, that’s the other half of the scoop. Congratulations Sherlock, you have discovered the murder weapon!

I gaze at the back of my hand. Yep, that there is raw skin and torn flesh, and there will be quite a bit of blood running in just a sec. Best get some cold water to slow the circulation and then get some direct pressure from a soft cloth.

I move to the sink. As I do so, Cassie begins laughing at me.

I broke the scoop. What kind of idiot breaks the scoop? And I hurt myself scooping ice cream into a bowl? Are you kidding me?

So, she’s laughing. It’s not like I’m crying or screaming or whatever people do when they freak out at the idea that their precious skin got mussed. I tore up my knuckles, better treat ’em quick. Whatever.

And it’s not being macho, pain hurts me the same as anyone else, it’s just that what’s done is done, and once it’s over it’s not like yelling and screaming actually does any good… unless you’re slammed with adrenaline and have tons of nervous energy to burn off. I’m just looking at my hand and thinking, “Ah, crap. Not again.”

It was ice cream. I hurt myself getting ice cream? Who in the hell hurts themselves getting ice cream? Oh for the love of…

She’s amused at my idiocy, and then moves on about her business. I wash my hands, rinse off my knuckles, grab a paper towel, wet it, and go downstairs. As the blood begins to seep out, I mop it up. No worries. In my experience, air drying and mopping up the welling blood on a superficial wound like this helps encourage clotting.

So, I go downstairs, load up the game and start playing. As my fingers get too red I mop it up.

Cassie comes downstairs to say something, sees all the blood, and NOW she’s sorry for me.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were actually hurt for a change, you big crybaby.”


So, go to work the next day, no problem. And as luck would have it, there are far more equipment breakdowns than usual, two of my three maintenance team members are off this week, and it’s just me and my one remaining employee to handle everything. I assign him priority one, I take number two, and start cranking with the tools on the linkages of a rotary die swap out.

I have a lot of balls I juggle in the course of a day, and just because I’m fixing stuff on the floor doesn’t mean everybody else takes a break. I gotta keep on top of my contractors, meetings, follow ups on parts orders and status updates for the planning staff.

So I’m hustling back and forth through the plant quite a bit.

As I’m walking through the offices in the afternoon, our HR representative stops me and asks me if I know who is bleeding in the office.

Umm, what?

Yes, she tells me someone is bleeding, there are spatters of blood drying on the formica floor outside my office.

Ahhh, crap.

I lift my right hand, look at it, and sure enough I’m bleeding profusely. I hadn’t noticed it get all ripped open again.

So I look at her and tell her I found the culprit! It was a hard search, but no criminal can get away once bloodhound bear is on the trail!

I thank her kindly for letting me know, I go clean my hand up, get the bleeding stopped, and then grab a gallon of bleach from the shop and start cleaning up the floor.

As I’m cleaning the blood stains with bleach, our HR rep comes up to me and tells me I need to remember to fill out an accident report.

Oh, shit. This is gonna be a good one.

Umm… I tell her I don’t need to fill one out, because this didn’t happen in the plant. It happened at home.

She seems… a little doubtful. Not that she’s saying she thinks I’m a liar, but… “yeah, right”.

“No really, I did this at home” I tell her.

“How did you do that?” she asks.

And of course, I have to tell her the whole story. Yes, I did it by getting ice cream. No, no I didn’t actually bleed IN the ice cream, but thank you for asking.

So, one stupid mistake, and now I’m embarassed twice. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

I got to work this morning, looked at the blog page and figured… hey, why not go for the hat trick?

You all take care, see you later with the winning results! Cassie already read them all and tabulated her opinions, now it’s on me to finish!

Oh, and watch out for those ice cream tubs, those damn things are dangerous!