A Blast From The Past

It’s funny, the way things work.

A long, long time ago, Matticus the wise and powerful interviewed me as part of his series on getting to know other WoW bloggers better.

I was very flattered, and as long winded as you’ve come to expect, and what it turned into was my first storytime. One of his questions I just ran with and ran my mouth off with, and I had enough fun sharing that story that I decided to continue doing that off and on over the years.

These storytimes are pretty much a fire and forget missile. I send one off, and it’s in the past. I don’t think about them much anymore. I was there when it happened the first time, I was there when I wrote about it as a nostalgic tour, no sense going back to, like, read it, y’know?

All this to explain why I was surprised when Ganluin sent me an email to tell me the link I had on my blog to the interview over at World of Matticus was broken, and to give me the correct link.

My first thought was, “Matt still has that up there? Wow, I guess stuff on the internet really does linger on like the scent of a bad cheese.”

My second thought was, “Crap, I didn’t know anyone ever read those things anymore. That’s ancient history. Maybe I should, like, go back and spell check my shit.”

I fixed the link, but in following the link over to make sure it worked, I took the time to read the interview through.

I’m going to repost the story part down below, just to save it on my own site for posterity. I’m amazed it never occurred to me that I might like a copy of that someday. I’ve always thought of Matticus as living and blogging forever. He is an icon. An immortal, a living legend, the bringer of priestly fire. What if he were to fall? What if he got abducted by rabid wombats tomorrow? Wombats that needed the best healer in creation for a secret wombat mission?

What if, over the course of his quest, Matticus was overcome with mad wombat lust and chose to make his life among them, his new wom-batty people, and never returned?

What would become of his site then? What of my interview?

Anyway.

Reading through the interview, I realized on top of wanting a copy of the story, I had left out some key visuals that would have helped the picture I was painting.

I’m going to kill two Mogu with one swipe here, post the story bit from the interview, and include a few pictures afterwards that ought to make a key bit of the story a lot clearer.

From the interview with Matticus, my first storytime;

Your blog states that you served in the US Marines. You willing to share any good/humorous stories during your time there?

I assume that the statute of limitations still covers… yeah, okay, so those are out. Hold on, let me think. What can I say that wouldn’t incur legal fines or liability?

Right, okay.

I’ll be nice and limit myself to a Marine story, and not include the subcategories of drinking, practical jokes, drinking, crazy physical stunts… oh, wait, that reminds me. Okay, I’ve got one. And I don’t think I can be arrested for anything in it.

So, I’m in the barracks with some friends, in the desert of Twenty-Nine Palms, California. And there are a bunch of us, and we’re bored, and it’s Saturday morning.

One of the guys has a car, which when you’re all PFCs or Lance Corporals, is a BIG thing. So someone suggests we get a shitload of alcohol, bundle some camping crap into the car, and head for Yucca Valley National Monument for some serious drinking and barbequeing, maybe stay over for the night.

Now, at the time I was the ringleader of our little clan, the resident Game Master of our gaming group. (Hell yes, Marines play role playing games. Best groups I’ve ever had in my entire life were with Jarheads. Intelligent men and women, tactically proficient and possessed of wondrous imaginations and low and evil cunning. God, I miss gaming in the service. Oh heck, where the hell was I? Oh, right.)

Right, I was the ringleader. And I usually organized games on the weekend, followed by everyone drinking, listening to Dr. Demento, and then having a steak and lobster tail barbeque in the beer garden outside. Beer garden? Don’t ask.

So I get us all organized, sort out who is going to bring what, then we hit the package store (where you buy your alcohol on base) and off we go out into the High Desert.

And we drive for miles, and miles, and miles. When we finally approach a likely looking campsite near some particularly fine rock formations, we are waaaaay out there.

As the car rolls up to where we’re gonna park, the engine makes some knocking noises… and then with a loud bang! we watch the hood of the car lift up with the force of a massive blow. The car stops. And I mean, right then and there.

So, we look at each other in the back seat, and then we look at the owner of the car. With a deadpan emotionless tone of voice, I say, “Engine threw a rod, Mark.”

He says, equally emotionlessly, “Yep. Looks that way.”

I say, “It’s a hell of a long walk back to the main road, man.”

He says, “Yep.”

I tell him, “Better carry a case with you when you go. And carry a bag. No littering in Yucca.”

He says, “Yep. Damn it.”

So off he went, with a case of wine coolers, to go flag down a ranger. Which he did, eventually.

In the meantime, heck, we had food, alcohol, and lots of free time. This was years before cell phones, so nobody had any way of getting the word out but by walking. Fortunately, it was Saturday, so we had two days to figure out how to get back to base before we’d be missing a movement, namely Monday morning formation. No worries.

Well, at the time I fancied myself a fair free rock climber. I went out fairly often, and enjoyed taking a camera with me to take shots from “How the hell did you get there” angles. I didn’t have any gear with me, but some of the rocks out there were pretty easy grades for a novice. I left the other guys to their drinking, and headed into the rocks.

So I went on in a little valley twixt the steep walls of rock, picked an approach, and started climbing. And the rock out there is nice, there are frequent and easy to reach handholds, indentations, fissures, you name it. I was just climbing to have fun, stretch out a bit. I was wearing jeans, combat boots, and no shirt, because I thought I was quite studdly, and I wanted to get some Sun for a tan.

I am sliding around a steep grade, feet inching sideways on a narrow crack as I work my way over to where I can see the way up is going to be easier. I’m a long way up, but it’s cool. I am pressed flat against the rock, arms spread wide and hands out, kissing the rock good and close, just kinda inching my way sideways.

As I go across this flat steep face, the rock is pretty gritty, and it’s suddenly smooth. It’s like sandstone, with a very fine grade of loose grit on the surface. And I start to slide down.
I force my body closer against the rock, I’m desperate for the rock to love me long time. I mean, I am seriously bear hugging this rock in a way that should require a marriage license and a hotel room.

And as I slowly slide down, I can feel a tugging on my pants as my belt is scraping along the rock. And then, suddenly, hella pain. Somehow, I make myself stop dead, possibly through heretofore unknown psychic powers, I don’t know.

What happened is, the belt buckle post grabbed on the rock, and my belt worked itself free, and the buckle, looped through the belt, came out of the sheath, but was still caught in the belt, all tangled up.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was an amateur real-life leatherworker, and I’d hand-stitched my woven belt? And I’d used a belt-buckle palm dagger (what is known as a push knife) as the buckle with a sewn in sheath? Sorry, that must have slipped my mind.

Yeah, so the belt buckle came undone, grabbed on the rock, twisted on the leather looped through it, and pointed itself up… into my stomach. Braced agasint the rock.

And I was slowly sliding DOWN the rock face.

Yep, paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?

So, let’s recap, shall we? I’m way up a rock face, I’ve got a dagger sticking into my stomach, I’m wearing no shirt, and I’m starting to slide down. And as I slide, the dagger is digging deeper.

Now, I calmly access the situation. I am not panicking, but I am 100% aware that I am the stupidest person on the face of the planet, and I’m about to die, die by being stuck with the dagger I myself spent hours crafting into a belt, and the worst part is I have 6 Fosters Oil Cans at the camp that I’ll never get to drink.

Such are the thoughts of a single Marine. Just so you know.

Obviously, I didn’t die. Sorry to break the suspense, but I thought I should mention that, just in case you were getting worried.

Instead, I kept on hugging the rock face fiercely. I slowed my rate of descent, kind of hoisted myself by the skin of my forearms straight UP and then inched the rest of the way onwards to my destination, since I had traveled a hard way up, and then eased my way back down to the bottom of the gulley.

When my feet touched down on soft desert sand at the foot of the rock, I gently pulled the dagger from my stomach, I unthreaded my belt from my pants, and then I threw the entire damn thing with all of my might as deep into the rocks as I could possibly get it.

I assessed my injuries. I had a nicely bleeding, seeping really, hole in my stomach, and the skin on my inner arms, from my wrists to my elbows, was gone. Sinmply gone. my inner forearms were raw exposed meat from being abraded against the rock to stop my slide.

So.

I walked calmly back to camp, and I’ll be perfectly honest here… I derived a certain sense of satisfaction, knowing that my reputation as a bad ass was going to be ramped up a few notches by walking out of the desert covered in blood. Kind of a consolation prize for being a galactically stupid moron.

I proceeded to borrow a buddies’ shirt to wrap up my arms and stomach, after pouring beer all over my arms to try and wash away sand. I’m intentionally trying not to think about how bad that hurt.
I kicked back, had a steak grilled over an open fire, and drank Fosters for the next 8 hours or so, until Mark came back in a park ranger truck, and we carried our happy butts back out of the desert, and I made my way to the base sick bay.

And as I walked into sick bay on that Saturday night, contemplating how to possibly spin what happened so I wouldn’t look like such an incredible dumbass on the inevitable after action report… some corpsmen rushed a guy past me into sick bay on a gurney. And the guy’s mouth was covered in dried blood.

It looked like the guy took a punch in the mouth, but the corpsmen seemed VERY anxious to work on him, so naturally I asked at the counter what was up with him.

Turns out he’d been drinking with his buddies in the desert (surprise), saw a rattlesnake, and decided to show what a badass he was by biting the head of the snake off.

Except the snake chomped his tongue GOOD. And even though he succeeded in biting the snakes’ head off, the fangs wouldn’t release.

I stopped worrying about the reception my story was going to get. Apparently, on a base full of Marines in the desert on a Saturday night, my story wasn’t even gonna make the top three.

All right, so that is the story.

There was one key thing about that story that bothered me at the time, and when I re-read it, it STILL bothers me.

I know what the hell I was talking about with the knife belt buckle thing, and maybe a few other people who read the blog know what they are, but this falls under the category of exotic or obscure weaponry.

I know from some of the conversations I’ve had with many of you that I am not alone in having spent a large portion of my early years mastering exotic weapons. It’s too late for us.

If you are still in your youth, and you are about to embark on a year-long journey of tomahawk practice, this is a protip for you; not once in my entire life have I ever found it useful to be an expert with a blowgun, throwing knives, shuriken, tonfa, tomahawks or  butterfly knives. Not once… okay, well, yes. Once. The blowgun. I think I even told that story somewhere, the blowgun mouse hunter. Fine, but that was a fluke, and a professional exterminator would have been a better idea anyway, so it shouldn’t count.

The point is, if you are still young and eagerly practicing your throwing knife or blowgun skills for hours on end… that’s cool, and it’s fun for a hobby, but don’t neglect marketable skills.  The market for exotic weapons experts is on the down swing, unless a new season of Top Shot starts up.

Anyway, AGAIN.

In the story, I describe the leather belt I had woven, damn that thing was a piece of work. I spent hours weaving the leather and stitching it so it looked like it was grown that way. The belt buckle part was cute but stupid, and falls under the category of “I collect and play with dangerous things, maybe they’ll rub off and make me more dangerous, hur hur.”

I have not only found pictures of the exact kind of belt buckle push dagger I talked about, but also an example of it both in and out of a belt.

Taken from The Martialist, here are pictures of a belt buckle push dagger and belt almost identical to the one I had used in 1982.

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist1

 

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist2

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist3

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist4

BowenbeltknifefromMartialist5

 

If you look at these pictures from the excellent article at The Martialist, you should immediately see what I tried to describe. There is a steel post that sticks out of the knife body, goes through a hole in the leather belt, and continues to stick out far enough to fit through the tongue of the belt, holding it in place.

This clearly makes a belt buckle push knife one of the stupidest emergency weapons on the planet, since in order to get it into battle, you have to unbuckle your belt.

“Hold on, I’m gonna kick your ass just as soon as I take off my pants!” Impressive battle cry heard nowhere at all ever.

What happened to me was that the metal stud sticking out of the knife caught on the stone, and all of my body weight was on that one point, pulling my belt up towards my stomach as I slid down. The leather stretched around the stud, until I slid off the stud, causing the tongue to slide partly out of the belt, loosening the belt, and giving the knife enough slack to come completely out of the sheath, and then, still caught on that DAMN STEEL POST, twist around and get the knife point up, tangled int he belt which was still looped through and around my waist.

When I wrote it the first time, I knew what happened but I couldn’t think of a good way to describe it. I did my best, but i hope now with the inclusion of these pictures you can see for yourself what a galactically incompetent moron it took to almost get killed by my own pants.

I almost got killed by my own pants!

Still just amazes the hell out of me, and I’m the one that freaking did it!

I’m glad it happened. It’s moments like that, that are well and truly lived. I’ll never forget that moment in my life, everything that led up to it, the whole thing. What I ate that week, what I was doing on base, so much is gone and might as well have never been, but that moment, hell that entire weekend will live in my memory for the rest of my life, and that makes it part of the only life that matters, the part that I can remember and experience again, if only secondhand.

Please, if you take anything away from this story, anything at all, it’s to get your ass out of your house, get out there and do something, anything that is out of the ordinary, because the ordinary fades into nothingness, but the special, the unique, the crazy or weird will remain with you forever.

Provided you live through it, of course.

Storytime – Misty Mountain Hop

I was given the greatest compliment I could have earlier today, as Jon told me he had been reading and enjoying my stories for years. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one, but this storytime bearwall is for you, Jon. Put another way… this is all your fault.

Back when I was a cub even younger than my son is now, I lived with my mother in Miami.

I don’t talk much about those years for various reasons, but I do have one story I thought might be fun to share.

My mother had a lot of family living in South Florida, mostly in and around Miami. The world that I knew was fairly close, geographically.

One relative, my mother’s sister, lived in the distant, far off land of Fort Lauderdale. To my then-young ears, rumor said Fort Lauderdale was where all the hookers, sluts, pimps and white trash hung out, and my aunt chose to live there because that was where she fit in best.  If tyou think that language is bad, you should hear what they actually said.

In later life, of course, I learned that Fort Lauderdale was no better or worse than anywhere else… but those years held other horrors in store. Specifically, the fondue craze, and macrame. Just, macrame. How many flower-pot holders does one house need, anyway?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, if the words “disco”, “fondue” and “macrame” do not send shivers of terror racing up your spine… bless you. Some viruses must not be propagated.

There was at the time only one other relative I knew of that was regularly absent from the South Florida area, and that was my mother’s brother, my Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie was a truck driver by profession, who it was said had once traveled as far north as Orlando, but I scoffed at such tall tales. I knew the map was a lie, told to install false hope in children that there was a possibility of escape from Hurricane Alley.

Ah, my Uncle Charlie. He lived in a rathole apartment, brewed his own beer in a closet, carried a gun in the cab of his truck, always had a full beard and wore a Peterbilt ball cap 24/7… what a great guy. He was who I always wanted to be when I grew up. I’m pretty sure I became a truck driver just because, hell, Uncle Charlie did it.

Anyway, this one hot Miami winter, my mother announced out of the blue that we were going on vacation.

I knew that she wanted to get away from her life for a short time, she’d just had another bad relationship fall apart, and whenever that happened she wanted to get a change of scenery.

Normally, that meant leaving our one room apartment for a week or two to live at the grandparents, next door to the Hialeah Race Track.

In other words, an advance insight into what purgatory would be like.

People talk about zombie apocalypses, but they hold no fear for me. I spent summers living in my grandparents house in Miami.

How to describe what that was like? A place where, during high summer, no windows could be open, no fans were active, breezes were never to be seen, Charlies Angels and the Rockford Files were the highlights of black and white television, and the yard was where you escape to, to see if you can hunt lizards with lego robots. Swift movements were frowned upon, and loud noises forbidden.

I still remember, the highlight of my entire week one time was they had a Texas Instruments calculator in a desk, that was the size of a Bible and had red glowing digits when fired up. I learned how to type 7734 on the calculator, and other words of deep personal meaning. It gave me something to look forward to sharing when I returned to school. That was a banner week, all right.

As you can imagine, when my mother announced we were going on vacation that hot Florida winter, I was… unthrilled. The lizards would be hibernating! What the 7734 would I do for fun?

Mother quickly corrected my mistake. This was no ordinary vacation. Oh, no.

No, this vacation would lead us… out of the state. Across the state line to hillbilly hell. Out of the state, to some strange, far off distant land known as North Carolina.

To my mind, this meant I was going to where the damn Yankees lived. There was a North Carolina, and a South Carolina, and we had had a war of the north against the south called the Civil War, and so North Carolina must be where all the Damn Yankees lived, and South Carolina was where Johnny Reb lived.

Would we be in mortal danger when we crossed those battle lines?

At the time, my mother said no. Now, I know better.

But how could we possibly leave the state? Where would we go? How would we live? I’ve heard of winter UP NORTH, they have, like, snow and shit. I heard tell that it felt like living in your ice-cube tray all the time! And I’ve stuck my head in the freezer section before, everything in there is all hard, cold and has sharp corners. Sounds painful.

My mother shared with me a story of far off distant kin that lived amongst the great smoking mountains, in and among the green and verdant valleys. She painted a picture of a vacation spent in a place where deer run wild, bears eat the unwary, and there is this stuff on the ground, its water, but somehow it’s solid, too, but not like the ice cubes in the fridge, more like this soft powder shit, but not cocaine either.

I grew up in Miami, even at that age it was important to make the distinction.

Like, you can pick the shit up, and flop in it, and it’s cold. But it’s really water! I know, right? I’m calling bullshit on this powdered water on the ground thing. I’ve seen our freezer, that shit is hard as rocks. Cold sharp rocks? Oh yes, sign me up for the cavorting.

 No, she explained to me, it’s like the stuff on the walls of the freezer when it needs to be defrosted.

OOOOHHHHHHHHH. Now I get it.

So the idea is, these far off relatives who I had never, ever heard of before in my life supposedly lived in the mountains of North Carolina, and had a cabin at their tobacco farm we could stay at for a few weeks, up where the Great Smoky Mountains divide the land between the Carolinas and Tennessee.

Now, this excited me. Tennessee? Hee Haw was my FAVORITE SHOW EVER!

Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at alllll.
Gloom, despair and agony on me.

Or my other favorite,

Where oh where are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone.
I searched the world over and thought I’d found true love,
You met another, and PBBBHHHT you was gone.

Hell ma, why didn’t you say so? Let’s get on the road!

Off we went… with our thrift store winter coats packed and ready for a winter adventure.

The drive was going to be fairly long, but I was used to long roads trips of even as much as an entire hour on the road. This would just be a little longer than that, right?

It turns out that driving from Miami to the Great Smoky Mountains takes a tad longer than an hour. Fortunately, I was able to stretch out and sleep for most of it, and read books and comics. We had a big old boat of a car, and this was back in the 1970s, where the rules were vastly different.

There were no child car seats, and nobody used seat belts, let alone seat belts in the back. Where did I sleep? Sometimes I slept stretched out on the back seat, and sometimes I climbed up into the ledge of the window well above the back of the seat and slept up there, like a cat in the Sun. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

The change from sunny Florida to chilly North Carolina mountains was… dramatic. It was already a winter wonderland covered in snow when we arrived, and it was like something from a picture book.

Our relatives turned out to be fairly prosperous tobacco farmers, and their “cabin” a two-story stone and brick structure accompanied by a big curing barn for leaf tobacco tucked up in the high country, crowded by dense hardwoods.

We pulled up and unloaded our scant belongings, and were shown into the “cabin”, which to our poor asses was as luxurious as a freaking mansion. Cabin? How do you call a multi-room structure with separate living and dining areas and kitchen and nice furniture and a wood burning stone fireplace a cabin?

First round of culture shock. Where I grew up, “cabin” was semantically equivalent to “dinky little shack”. The word cabin just seemed too puny and insignificant next to this opulent splendor. Hell, they even had a bookshelf with boxed puzzles for whiling away the long winter days snowed in! Talk about posh!

I felt very much like a fish out of water, thrust into a very unfamiliar world. We were shown around the property and up into the treeline, where we were told about the deer we might see, and I’m not talking your Florida deer which are little more than small dogs with antlers. I’m talking DEER, like the things Marlin Perkins might talk about on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, narrating a scene. “And now, as I enjoy this lovely cup of coffee, Jim will cautiously approach the vicious, brutal man-eating deer to scratch it behind the ears. Let’s watch. OH MY! Well, that will certainly leave a mark. As we leave jim to extricate the antlers from his posterior, may I suggest you protect your children from the mauling of massive marsupials with an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha?”

The folks that showed us around were dressed well in many layers of heavy winter clothing. We, of course, were dressed like idiot Floridians that thought long sleeve Henley shirts were a bit too much. Our relatives, it turned out, were sober, respectable tobacco farmers. They had all their teeth. They did not talk about “Gittin’ Johnny Reb”. They DID talk about the deer hunting that year, and made jokes about how they’d have to take me up on a hunt, get me my first deer and smear deer blood all over me as part of the grand hunting tradition of the Great Smokies.

I wanted to ask if that was anything like the blood I got all over me in my first school knife fight, but saying that kind of thing around strangers was one of the fastest ways to get my mom to beat the shit out of me in public, so I managed to refrain. She was in one of her ‘good moods’, and those were to be cherished and encouraged as much as possible, usually by being invisible.

Still, the talk of killing deer and being covered in blood (which, in my mind, meant my thin clothing would be sopping wet, and damnit I was already cold) left me feeling happy when the “grownups” all headed back into the house to chat and visit with each other and catch up on lost time, and I was left outside to explore.

Not long after they all went inside, a guy came roaring up the narrow dirt path that led to the property. He had this incredible piece of shit for a car, all rust and bondo and patches welded on, cracked windshield, just a piece of shit. He layed down on his brakes, scattering rocks and dirt everywhere, and when he got out he hopped straight up the steps to the house as if he owned the place.

He was a complete stranger, of course, but so was everyone up there, tall and thin with whiskers and overalls. Basically, he looked like a country version of my moms infamous “Fort Lauderdale white trash”.

He came bopping out of the house minutes later, hurried over to his car, and then noticed me standing there, watching.

What follows is a fairly accurate recreation of what happened next.

He looked at me, and yelled, “Hey boy, you want to go for a ride in a race car?”

‘Sure!”

“Well, hop on in boy, let’s get going.”

I ran over and approached the passenger side of the car. I tried to open the door, but there was no handle… just a flat patch of bondo. The guy reached across and opened the door from the inside, and pushed it out. I climbed on inside, and I didn’t have to bother with a door handle, because the door slammed closed as he rocked it from zero to fifty in nothin’ flat, spinning around to head back down the, did I mention before, NARROW single lane dirt trail that led back to the road.

Thus began my misty mountain hop, as we barreled down a single lane dirt road at up to 60 mph, with no hope to survive if someone happened to be coming up that damn road at the same time.

I grabbed ahold of the armrests and the door handle, as he hit the road at full speed, skidded into the turn and got us pointed in the general direction of ‘down’.

“Hey boy, you like racing?”

“Umm, sure?”

What followed then was an absolutely indecipherable running discussion of K cars, Detroit steel, Nascar, stock car racing (all I knew about race cars were the Utah Salt Flats and the rocket cars that went for the world land speed record, a fascination I had at that age. Nascar? WTF was that? If it didn’t have a rocket engine, how could you call it a race car?) and bootlegging in the mountains, and how racing all started from good old boys running moonshine through narrow mountain roads.

All this being said while we are blasting through narrow country roads in the high mountains, weaving in and out and occasionally hitting gravel shoulders on the turns. Gravel shoulders overlooking some truly gorgeous scenery. Just, stunning. In my expectation of sudden, imminent death at the hands of this COMPLETE ASSHOLE, I was gratified that some of my last moments as I lay dying would be of such beautiful snow-covered mountains.

Eventually, we arrived at the very bottom of the mountain valley, and came to a stop next to a trailer home, rust spotted and with cars up on blocks around the acre sized lot that looked to be in better shape than the piece of shit he was driving, and of which he seemed so proud.

He got out of the car, and a couple more good old boys came out of the trailer.

My driver opened the trunk, got out a few glass jugs of what looked like water, and handed them over. The three of them pulled a cork, a no-shit yes I am dead serious cork out of one clear glass jug and drank right from the jug. They passed the jug around while the two trailer guys talked to my driver, and it turned out, holy shit, the race car the guy was talking about was the PIECE OF SHIT HE WAS DRIVING.

I was thirsty, and so when one of them offered me the jug, just a straight “here, want some?” I said sure, I usually hate water, I’m more of a Kool-Aid drinker, but I’m thirsty, screw it.

Did you know that, when distilled properly, moonshine really is perfectly clear and indistinguishable from water? I didn’t. I had no idea.

I think I could be excused for not knowing this information previously, though.

Why? Probably because I WAS SEVEN YOU STUPID REDNECK ASSHOLES.

From there, we climbed back into the car, with an empty clear jug left at the trailer behind us, for the trip up the mountain to take me to the ‘cabin’.

It kinda blurs from that point. I was drunk and didn’t know what drunk was, I knew the maniac driving the car was a crap driver who kept taking it right to the edge, I was out of my mind with fear and expected to die at any moment.

But, and I want to be clear about this, I still had my pride. I was DAMNED if I was going to show this son of a bitch how scared I was by his driving. I may be about to die, absolutely certain of it, but I flat-out refused to show it. Fuck you, drive it off the cliff, I don’t give a shit.

Who said you can’t learn anything of value in public schools? I already knew how to spit in the face of death.

When we finally came roaring up the dirt lane, the cabin was deserted. He told me to get out, and then took off like a bat out of hell.

I wandered around for a while, wondering where everyone went. I was in a daze. I was still drunk, I was still alive and felt kinda cheated by this, since I’d gotten all the worrying and fear out-of-the-way already. After all that, to just be wandering around a snowy barn and stone house seemed… lame.

The barn was open, so I went inside where all the aromatic leafy tobacco was piled up in a massive mound. It smelled pretty good.

Uncle Charlie always chewed Old Red out of a pouch, and that looked fairly easy, so what the heck, right? If my Uncle liked it, must be pretty good stuff. It hadn’t occurred to me until right then to wonder why I never saw any kids chewing tobacco. Everyone I knew smoked like a chimney, so it must be all right.

I got a wad of leaf and stuck it in my mouth and started to chew.

Right then, I heard an engine straining to make it up the drive, and I walked outside the barn, but I was still focusing on chewing this stuff that, wow, you know that stuff is really pretty nasty, and why do I suddenly feel lightheaded and dizzy, good lord everything is buzzing and tingling, okay this is some good shit, I have a lot of juice in my mouth though, gotta move the chew around and swallow some of this OH WHOOPS BAD MOVE….

And this is how I was when my mother got out of the car after spending two hours with my relatives frantically driving all over the mountain trying to find me after I “vanished” with the bootlegging, moonshining occasional farm hand and all around lunatic that had just been fired by my relatives.

Wobbly. Drunk. Buzzed off my mind from chewing tobacco. And sure as hell that there was no way, NO WAY, that I would ever get in a car with a Nascar fan ever, ever again.

Like, ever.

If that’s how a Damn Yankee acts, God save us from the rednecks!

A Little Light Writing Challenge

I was watching a review of a movie recently.

I read and watch reviews, but I have little respect for those that write the ones that are extremely critical of story flaws.

Simply put, when I see someone dissect a story, tear it to shreds and be a snot about it, my first thought is, “If nothing out there measures up to your standards or is worth a shit, then by God write one that is great and show us all how it’s done. If you can’t, then stop tearing apart those that actually try.”

OOOH! Now I remember what I was reading, it was a feminist tearing apart Disney’s Brave as being a horrible piece of shit. That’s what it was, got it.

Please note, I’m not labeling the critic a feminist, it is what she labeled herself. I don’t tend to slap labels on people, myself.

Except asshat, that one I throw around quite freely. Perhaps too freely.

Anyway, the saying goes, “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, criticize.”

Actually, it goes “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach. And those that can’t teach, teach gym class.” But never let the facts prevent you from delivering a good line.

So, I really liked Brave. And I didn’t understand a lot of the reviews I saw about it. Mostly when I heard refrains along the lines of “Tired old princess story I’ve seen a million times before”, and I kept wondering, “When did we see that same movie? Ever? Because I want to see those, too.”

Many reviews about it mentioned “this type of story.” Meaning the princess story.

And I’ve been looking around, and noticing other such terms and labels used in criticism. Talking about types of stories.

“Oh, this was a decent example of the buddy story.”

“Oh, this was a fairly boring version of the classic fish out of water story.”

It’s been making me wonder about writing, and where people are coming from.

This may surprise you, but I tend to be very analytical about some things. I examine beliefs, my own and others, I examine how things work, I try to get at the understanding of the why, in order to better appreciate the how.

I also write a lot. Some of this, which you do not see, is the writing of fiction. Stories. Stuff what I done put on this here hard drive.

When I write, I do not set out to write a certain kind of story. I don’t really even know about that stuff. I don’t chart it all out ahead of time.

I’ve heard before that there are no new stories, everything has been done, and it’s becoming clear to me that a lot of people have spent a lot of time doing the dissection and analysis of the structure of the story.

Perhaps that is what some folks think it takes to write a story, or maybe it’s what critics use to prove something isn’t original, by comparing it to similar things the author might never have even heard of. Who knows. Maybe it’s very helpful to know what everyone thinks are the only types of stories in existence, so you can choose which one you’re doing this time. Again, really? Okay, I’m not that educated, what do I know. I’m winging it every day, what do I really know.

When I write a story, it’s because I get an idea for something that seems cool to me, including a vision of the people or personalities involved. I want to know more about that story, so I write about it. If it turns into one of these tired old devices, then that’s just the way it works out.

Just because that’s how I’ve been doing it, doesn’t mean I can’t try something else.

What if I actually tried to write a story the way critics describe them?

What if I picked a format, and then intentionally tried to write a story like that?

That’s when I thought to myself, “I haven’t seen fresh creative writing from some of my blogging friends in, like, forever. This feels like a joint venture. Writing challenge time!”

So here is the challenge.

You pick a type of story, and then once you have the type picked out, write a short story of that kind. Then critique yourself.

How did writing that way feel? Was having a structure or framework in mind helpful to you in bringing the story to life, or did you feel restricted or hemmed in by self-imposed rules?

I am going to pick the fish out of water type, and if you’d like to do the same, go for it. Or pick any other type of story structure that suits your fancy.

I am going to sit down at some point this weekend, and try to intentionally write a fish out of water style short story.

When I’m done, I’ll post it here along with my own self-critique.

See, the thing is, I think critics are full of shit. I don’t believe that writers sit down and go all coldly analytical about what they’re going to write about, create flowcharts and graphs, count numbers of male characters versus female characters, brown lizard people versus green lizard people, dogs of small size versus dogs of large size, numbers of night time scenes versus daytime, inclusion of types of food or whatever the hell kind of bullshit I read about.

I think writers get a story stuck in their head, and sit down to get it the hell out of there and onto a surface, any surface where they can look at it in peace.

Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe most writers do sit down and graph everything out in advance, try to write something to cater to a particular audience, then go back and flesh it out.

Really, what the hell do I know? I just peck at the keys, and you can tell I’m a Druid by how well I can mangle.

If you’re interested in taking part, just for fun, I think it would be great to see some more of the wonderfully creative, powerful writing that I saw last time we did a challenge. I also think there is a good chance I’ll learn something new from this exercise, about myself and my writing. So, fuck it, it’s worth it for that alone.

As always, if you do write something, please let me know so I can link to it and feature you here.

Good luck!

P.S. Just to be clear, it doesn’t have anything at all to do with World of Warcraft. Whatever inspiration guides you… once you pick a structure, that is.

I’m actually leaning towards doing a storytime. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done up a proper storytime. We’re about due for more personal anecdotes and embarrassment around here.

I Throwdown A Writing Challenge!

Attention, all bloggers and/or writing enthusiasts.

I have a little creative writing challenge for you… purely for fun.

My challenge is simple.

Write a short story. I don’t care how short, or what kind of story, or even what form your story takes. BUT… your story, poem, dirty limerick or whatever you choose to do must incorporate within it in some way the following words;

  1. juicy
  2. slender
  3. vain
  4. shaft
  5. torch
  6. star
  7. hidden

If you accept this challenge, then write whatever you’d like incorporating those words into your tale, but do not publish right away!

No, once it is ready, please hold off on publishing it until next Wednesday, March 21st.

At that time, either publish it as a comment here, or publish it on your own website (if you have one) and leave a link in the comments here as to where we can find it.

I will publish my own on Wednesday as well, and no, it’s not even begun yet. I pulled those words entirely out of my butt, this is all fair and square.

I have a couple reasons why this sounded fun to me.

First, I’m following a lot of bloggers on my blogroll these days and every single one, yes you too Blackbear, just blow me away with the quality and imagination of their writing. I’d love to see if any of them would be willing to give this a try, and give me more of a chance to enjoy their writing.

Second, I repeatedly say that everyone has their own unique writing voice, their own way of crafting their distinctive thoughts into words. I often get people replying that it’s hard to recognise the difference in their own voice or viewpoint to what other people write. I agree that it can be hard to compare your own style with what other people might do… so I think it would be delightful to see all the different ways a common group of words can become something unique to each and every person out there.

What do you think. Sound fun?

Then go for it! Any length, any form, take those words as a seed and create something all your own!

Storytime – The Cat Lover

Love it or hate it, this story is true. If nothing else, I hope you find it momentarily distracts you from whatever blahs you may be enduring today.

There once was a young boy named John whose parents found it necessary to divorce.

John, though he was but seven or eight at the time, had no worries that he might have been the reason mommy and daddy were breaking up, because even then he was wise enough to know that his mommy was batshit crazy. So waste not a tear at the plight of poor, sad John.

John’s father, far from being batshit crazy, seemed to personify the very essence of manliness to the young, impressionable lad.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but for newer readers, John’s father had been a submariner in the US Navy, a police officer all the rest of his life, and an avid ‘manly stuff’ hobbyist and sportsman. Bushy cop mustache, live the stereotype!

Hmm, a batshit crazy psycho who liked to scream and run around chasing people with knives, or an incredibly macho badass? Who do you think the boy would choose, if given the chance?

The courts, as the courts were wont to do, did not ask John which parent he would like to live with, nor did anyone ever ask him if he feared for his life living with one or the other. John was not consulted in any way. This was because he was not an equal member of the family in the eyes of the courts of that time, in that state… in a custody dispute, he was simply the prize.

So of course, they assigned custody of John to his mother.

Yay, me. You may now allow one and only one tear to trickle down your cheek, no larger than what a medium-sized crocodile might shed, if such be your desire.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m living with mom in Miami, near to where she grew up. She went back to live close to her parents and relatives, amidst familiar surroundings with an emotional support network.

Which is ironic, considering how desperately she hated and envied all her relatives, and how bitterly she raged about them when nobody but me was around to hear. But enough about that. Let’s get to the fun.

While my mother and I were settling into life in Miami, my father was busy doing what police officers usually do when they find themselves suddenly single and without kids in the area – get hooked up with cop groupies and run through a string of quickie marriages and even quicker divorces with lots of weird, messy drama.

When my father Tony was about six months into living with wife number two (who was so heavily freckled and with such a wide, flat nose that I mentally dubbed her the “buckshot mallard” the moment I laid eyes on her), he invited my nine year old (or so) butt up to stay at his rental apartment for a weekend to have a great time, get to know each other better, and of course have a chance to meet his blushing new bride.

Mostly to meet the blushing new bride and see how happy he was.

The psychology of these kinds of events are so transparent that even I, at such a supposedly naive age age, knew what was up. I was to see how wonderful my father’s new life and new wife were, and then bring those tales back with me in order to torment my mother.

Relationship judo. Hai-yah! Ah, the games people play.

Surprisingly enough, things didn’t go according to his plan.

He did succeed in two things; he made one hell of an impression on me, and I definitely got to know my dad a lot better.

The weekend was, as are most such summer weekends in south Florida, hot, muggy, buggy, humid and miserable. Note to future vacationing travelers; Southern California, being a desert with water extravagantly pumped into it, actually has the weather Florida only pretends it has. The humidity makes all the difference. If you’re on the coastline, and able to get those offshore breezes, it’s divine. Get further inland, and oh my.

South Florida, in case you missed it, is a swamp. Everglades. Gators. Mosquitos. Lizards. Sword palms and snakes. Spiders larger than your fist.

Actually, it was pretty fun, now that I’m reminiscing and don’t actually live there. Made for a great introduction to a world of excitement, adventure, and antivenom.

For this singular weekend excursion, Tony drove down in his rugged blue Jeep to pick me up and haul my butt back up north to Boca Raton.

He was full of ideas of what we would do while I was there. I believe there was some leatherworking, model rocketry and shooting on the agenda, exciting stuff for a young boy to look forward to. The excitement! The thrills!

Halfway through the drive up, things spun on me a little. The first rush of “I’m finally spending time with my dad!” started to wear off, and the “Who the hell is this old fart” thoughts began to kick in.

“It’s my dad, I’m spending time with my dad, oh boy, oh this is great, dad, woohoo, hey, wait a minute, who the hell is this old guy anyway? I haven’t seen him in two years, I don’t know this guy, this isn’t the dad in my memories at all. Was he always this tan? Did he always have that gold chain, and come off like a smooth-talking used car dealer?”

The changes a few years made to my father in person when compared to the one frozen in my memory were nothing compared to the shock of being introduced to his new home.

Here was my dad, changed and different, but the place he called home was a complete turnup for the books. Just as I had expected him to have remained exactly the same since I’d last seen him, somehow my mental picture was of his still living in our old apartment, with everything exactly the same as it was, including the furniture placement.

Not just no, HELL no. My mother, as part of her batshit craziness, is a functional obsessive/compulsive when it comes to everything being clean, neat, orderly, squared away and perfect in the home. Better Holmes and Gardens might be coming by any minute to ask to take a few pictures, and you need to be prepared, don’t you know.

Additionally, it was part of her cover for visitors. It worked very well, too. Her home was perfect and clean, so she must be perfect and clean. Since most families with kids that I knew were kind of, well, harassed and let things like coasters on tables or toys all over the place slide a bit, she came away from any comparison looking good. Don’t knock it if it works.

My dads new home was, umm, not so nicely kept. Or tidy. Or clean.

Turns out, Tony was a born slob, and his new bride clearly came from the Flower Power side of the sixties. The new apartment was, well, not bad. Physically. What it was, was a living example of two vastly different and conflicting lifestyles recently rammed together into one space. There was no melding, there were demilitarized zones, and there were quarantine areas.

This was the man area, there was the woman circle, scattered throughout the rooms and on every surface, each clearly defined by the lack of someone else’s stuff in the mix, but with a very studied casualness.

It was a total shock to me, being so used to perfect cleanliness and order, to see a house crammed with crap, magazines scattered everywhere, full ashtrays, burn marks on the furniture all over the place where cigarettes had been set down ‘for a minute’ because the ashtrays were out of arms reach and left to smoulder out, plants, potted plants, hanging plants, dangling plants, macrame hangers with plants, some more potted plants, guns, makeup cases, just shit everywhere.

And there were some plants here and there, too.

What was this plant? What was it’s purpose here? These magazines, from whence did they come? My dad reads Shooting Times and Guns and Ammo, where did Cosmopolitan come from, and what alien life form reads it? What the F&@# is a porcelain statue of a little naked boy with chia pet hair doing on the end table amid lighters, loose ammunition and Hoppes #9 gun cleaner? Coffee cups everywhere, dear lord they all have green mold and cigarette butts in them, shit I don’t want to sit down in this place, damnit!

Oh my god, is that the kitchen? Holy shit, what is that, is something growing on the stove? What IS that? Did it move? I think I saw it move! HELP!

Just, damn.

So I’m looking around nervously, Tony tells me to have a seat and get comfortable in the florida room (what would be a three season screened-in porch if Florida had seasons… since all Florida has is the one season, hot, it’s an all-season porch, or the florida room).

Sitting down and feeling comfortable ain’t going hand in hand here… but what the hell, I can always wash my clothes afterwards. So I go on in, wondering if I just made a big mistake for the weekend, and sit down.

My dad comes in a few minutes later and sits down across from me. He’s in talky-talk mode, all fake exuberance about how awesomesauce the weekend will be, us buddy-buddy guys getting to know one another again, how much he missed me, how incredible this will all be. Oh, and Kim the new wife is at work but will be by soon, so let’s talk about how we’re supposed to act when we meet her.

So there we are, we’re both sitting in the Florida room, I’m feeling pretty disoriented and taking it all in spectator style while my dad is talking up our big weekend, and IT happens.

My dad stops talking in mid-sentence, his gaze drawn by movement from the doorway off to my side.

I look over there to see what distracted him, and I can see something alive moving through the dense wilderness of houseplants that choke the entrance to the Florida room. This is inside the house, you understand, moving from the porch to come deeper into the rest of the house, possibly on the way to the kitchen.

What fresh hell is this?

Oh wait, it’s a cat.

Oh cool, my father has a pet cat!

In all the time I knew him, my father had never had a cat, nor did my family ever have any pet except working breed German Shephards. Ever. He was a dog person, a big dog person, and I had never, ever pictured him having a cat. In fact, it would be safe to say that the existence of cats, while possible in theory, were not something that at the age of nine I would have been prepared to swear to in a court of law.

But here was a cat, and a fine, proud specimen of the species it was.

It poked it’s whiskers out of the fronds of the potted plants, and ventured further into the room. It’s stride was confident, moving with an oiled grace that spoke of a long heritage of jungle cats, great hunting beasts that are choosing, right at this particular moment, to refrain from eating you, but will be keeping it’s options open for later, in case he feels peckish.

This magnificent animal glided forward, following the space along the wall between my father and I, and then, just as it reached a point midway between us, it paused, and swung it’s head to meet my fathers stare, as if it felt the weight of my father’s eyes upon it.

My father, frozen as he was in the act of speaking, had remained sitting there, watching the cat. The cat, now paused mid-stride, watched him back.

They passed through this extended moment of motionless silence, as a hush fell over the house. All was still. Silent.

Waiting.

It was a moment straight from an old west gunfight showdown.

Standing cat and sitting man, each sized up the other. I could feel the intensity of their wills as they tried to stare the other down, each daring the other to break first, to move, and in moving, lose the true fight, the ultimate battle of the warrior spirit.

Then, the cat hissed at my dad.

With that sudden movement, the room exploded into a flurry of chaotic action.

Before the sibilant sound had barely registered on my ears, my father’s hand flashed towards the nearest table, and came up with a massive stainless steel revolver, a Ruger Redhawk chambered in .44 magnum.

The moment his hand twitched toward the table, the cat had leapt forward, making a mad dash for the far door to the kitchen.

I recoiled in stunned surprise as my father came up with the pistol in his hand, whirled, and from his seated position opened up with his hand cannon at the fleeing cat, the roars deafening my ears, muzzle flash rocking my eyes, the force of the expanding gases leaving the barrel slapping me in the chest with each devastating shot.

Six concussive bursts slapped me back in my seat, and I clearly saw the hindquarters of the fleeing feline jerk towards the wall with the force of some impact as the explosive shots blasted forth.

As the sound of the last shot rang in my ears, the wisps from the smokeless powder filled the room with their scent, and the afterimages of the muzzle flash danced in my eyes, I stopped looking in the direction of the long-departed cat and turned instead to stare at my father in complete disbelief.

He calmly put the gun back down on the table, muttering under his breath all the while. He seemed lost in his own little world. He then turned back to me, and calmly picked up his conversation from where he’d broken off.

Something from my stunned expression must have gotten through to him that, perhaps, just perhaps, what had happened might need further discussion.

My father then explained to me that there weren’t real bullets in the pistol. Oh no, it was just wax, that’s all. He said that he melted paraffin in a tray about half an inch thick, let it cool and harden, and then pushed his reshaped cartridge casings inset with primers into the wax, resulting in each casing having a half inch wax bullet, ready to be propelled by the force of the primer alone.

In other words, it’s okay that he was shooting at the cat in the house, they were just wax bullets which probably couldn’t kill it anyway.

Wax bullets that of course turned into little molten slugs of hot wax under the force of the expanding gases to get stuck in the fur wherever they hit, and possessed the same mass as they did when solid.

I think something in my expression must have gotten the idea across that I was thinking, “That’s still not fucking right.”

He explained further, as if this all made perfect sense, that the cat was his new wife Kim’s, and the cat hated him. They had a personal vendetta, one against the other, and waged it with a passion amongst the hidden battlegrounds of the home… at least, whenever wife Kim wasn’t around.

This was all related in a conspiratorial way, as though he and the cat were just playing big practical jokes on each other, aren’t we all big kidders and love good practical jokes, but there was real hatred underlying his tone of voice.

If there was a closet full of shoes, the cat would find the most expensive, comfortable pair of my father’s work shoes to pee in. If he bought a $50 roll of cured leather to work on, the cat would jump up on the workbench, get in the leather, unrolling it with his body, and then take a dump in the middle of it.

The list of imaginative attacks made by the cat upon my father was impressive, but I noted that nowhere among them could be found “Made special dad-shooting ammo and kept loaded guns around the house, just on the off chance an opportunity for a snap shot presented itself.”

I know he thought me ungrateful, but after that, the magic of the weekend with my father was somewhat lost on me.

As I said, part of his purpose was accomplished. I walked away from that weekend with a far greater understanding of exactly what kind of man my father was.

Sometimes, when looking back on my childhood, being raised by the batshit crazy one until I was old enough to recognize and resist buying into my father’s attitudes lock, stock and one smoking barrel doesn’t sound so bad after all.

I know it’s a lot to ask, but…

Hello!

I’m taking a moment of your time today to ask if someone out there with the skills and the desire could help me out on a project related to the Converging Forces story I’m writing.

If not, I’ll tackle it myself of course, I’m simply hoping someone that already has skill and practise at this would be able to do it far faster and with less effort. Someone that wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, or some other tired cliché.

What I’d like to do is have the Converging Forces story, as it stands so far, placed into a single combined form that I could post for download, suitable for reading on Kindle or another similar platform.

I’ve had a a few folks mention that they’d love to read it and get up to date, but even with a chapter page, it’s a bit… big. And hard to come back to. A portable version would certainly help.

Obviously, this isn’t a project looking for a finished ‘for sale’ kind of anything. I’ve been focused on speed writing when I’ve been doing the turns, not on anything remotely resembling a final polish. When what I consider the first ‘book’ of the storyline has been reached, that’s when I’ll go back and being, well, fixing the bloody thing so it’s actually readable without a billion jarring spelling and grammar mistakes, and terribly disoriented tense transitions.

I have NOT researched how to do it myself, not have I researched what it takes to format something so it can go on portable devices. Should you not have the time to do it for me, but DO know HOW to do it or where I can find a detailed guide, that would be awesome as well. 

Thank you very much again for your time, and have a great weekend.

Storytime: Early Warning Signs

This storytime is dedicated to my wife, Cassie. If she’d known this story going in, she never would’ve married me.

The great thing is, you think I’m joking.

Warning: I give up. This isn’t a Bearwall, it’s a freaking testament to one bear’s stupidity. But after a while, I just gave up and rolled with it. It’s 5300 words. I’m going to go and drinik a case of Red Dog now, and ponder my utter inability to get to the point.

I’ve written before about the fun of my teen years. If I were to give a name to that era, I could call it the “Overcompensating Age”, for it almost seemed that my father was trying to compress a lifetime of manly training into as short a period as possible.

But that’s not really true. I wasn’t the point; I was the accomplice.

This is the period of my life that brought about such stories as the Gunslingers Tale, The Artiste and the Raccoon Story. Ah, the raccoon story. You know, ife is worth living JUST to have the raccoon story to remember in my old age. I’ll be the hit of the nursing home.

When I say I was merely the accomplice, it’s because the point wasn’t to instill within me any manly skills. The point was for my father to, how best to put this? Ah!

The point was for my father to munchkin his character sheet with survival and combat skills in anticipation of the impending apocalypse.

My father was a police officer for the city of Boca Raton, a former Navy submariner, and an all around macho kind of guy. Yes, he even had the “cop” bushy mustache. Of course.

But this dude was, like, obsessed with developing and mastering new manly skills. Once he had some new thing under his belt, though, he rarely maintained them on a continuing basis. It was always some new shiny beckoning him on. Very much like a teen with three video console systems and a limited budget, now that I think about it. Get a new game, play it through and beat it once, then trade it in for store credit on a new one.

He’d slide into a new ‘manly’ interest about every three months; fishing, reloading, duck hunting or wild boar hunting with a pike, spear fishing, scuba diving, gunsmithing, knife and swordmaking, leatherworking, axe throwing, fabricating pistol silencers, blowguns, handmade crossbows, black powder muzzleloading (making AND shooting), making log cabins from scratch, trapping, just omigod.

He’d get this new interest, he’d blow a ton of money on all the necessary supplies and books and training materials and classes, and then he’d obsess on it for a few months, and then off he’d go onto something else. I have to give him credit, he’d stick with it until he’d mastered whatever it was to some extent, but c’mon, talk about a guy with the staying power of a ferret on a pixie stick.

I thought it was normal at the time. After all, I didn’t know any of this stuff myself, and it all sure sounded cool as hell. I wanted to learn these things myself the second he’d mention his latest obsession, what boy wouldn’t? What, learn how to make your own rockets, add engines, build an electrically fired control panel and then go shoot them off? Then add explosives and stuff to them? And floaty cameras? Sign my butt up!

As far as HOW he went about learning things, I just figured everyone did this intensive cram course craziness when they needed to learn something new. It was just how things got done.

Balance in life is not something I learned at home. 🙂

Even now, my tendency when I have a new interest is to want to work on it to the exclusion of all else until I’ve mastered it. I’ve since learned to temper my enthusiasm a little by setting what I think are reasonable goals in stages, and once I hit a goal I’ll force myself to move on to something else for a while. It’s something that Cassie has noticed on more than one occasion, and she likes to say that when I get some new hair up my butt that I’ve got another obsession. I wish she was joking, but it does irritate her. 

No, that’s not the thing that would have canceled our wedding if she’d known about it in advance. Well, maybe. 🙂

Ah well. I got even with him in the end. I introduced him to computers. A grown man with a problem managing obsessions set on mastering computers… I destroyed his credit rating. That right there is a bottomless well he’ll never fill, but damn has he tried over the years. And I got to play with all the toys he bought! A job well done, thought I.

In the middle of the Overcompensating Age, probably around the time I was fifteen, my dad decided it was time we went on a ‘real’ camping trip.

The summer before, we’d gone canoeing, something which I’d loved. It had involved going to a KOA campground in Florida that provided drop off service. We loaded up some packs, grabbed our canoe, and KOA dropped us off at the head of a river, along with one of my dad’s cop friends from Deerfield Beach. Nice guy, can’t remember his name though.

We spent something like four days canoeing down the river, fishing along the way sometimes, and at night we’d pull off at the side of the river to pitch a tent on the river bank, have a fire and relax.

I am intentionally not mentioning things like mosquitoes or humidity levels. 

We went down that river until we arrived at the KOA campground, where our vehicle was parked. That’s it, trip over, time to drive home.  

I thought, in my misguided way, that this was a camping trip with a value added canoeing on top. With sprinkles. 

Um, no. I was informed that what we did was not actually ‘camping’. He seemed faintly shocked at the very idea!

No, we had not gone ‘camping’. Was I crazy? camping? How could I think that was camping?

This lack of fundamental understanding seemed to weigh on him, for the next Fall he announced it was by God time for me to really learn what ‘camping’ was all about.

He announced this in the Fall, because while I may give him crap about it, he is not a stupid man. During the Fall season in Florida, the mosquitoes mostly land at the airport so they can remove weapons and ammo, refuel and get winterized in preparation for the next season’s campaign of war on our fragile blood vessels. 

Finally, I would learn more about what my father thought of as ‘going camping’!

I had some vague ideas from movies and Scouting handbooks of what camping was… or so I thought.

Maybe a tent is involved? Fires? Marshmallows on pointy wood things? Weenies, perhaps? I’m sure I heard something about roasting weenies. Or was that chestnuts? Wait, what kind of chestnuts? Horse chestnuts? Those things look disgusting!

Will there be singalongs by the fire? Will the a song with the word “Koombaiya” enter into the picture at some point? If it does, will I be expected to know the words to the song? I don’t know the words! Are there words?

Mental images intruded of Hobbits wearing packs hiking across the frozen mountains on the way to the lonely door, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky.

I was pretty sure that, whatever the reality may be, hidden tentacles in murky pools would probably not be involved in real camping. Nor would Balrogs or riddle quests, darnit. I spend all my time studying for the wrong tests!

Dad sat me down and laid it all out. He set me straight.

‘Camping’, I learned, consists of driving a long, long way away so that the comforts of home are unavailable to you. The more remote the destination, the better. This most especially means no bathrooms. Going potty in a flush or chemical toilet automatically invalidates the entire camping experience, relegating it to ‘tourist crap for pansies’.

Apparently, in the proper camping experience, it is important to be as far from civilization as you can get. It is also to be hoped that, along the way, a party member will get mauled by a bear, bitten by a snake of a breed with less than immediately lethal levels of toxicity, or perhaps have a rotten tree fall on you. Mauled, poisoned, crushed, but not killed.

See, this gives the more manly member of the camping trip the opportunity to kill the bear, axe the snake or hoist the tree, thus saving a life, and then result in a desperate fight for survival against all odds as you work to bring the wounded man safely back to the world and easy reach of hospitals. It doesn’t count as true camping unless a Reader’s Digest article about your heroism is a definite possibility when things go horribly wrong.

Me, I consider that, well, crazy as a shithouse rat might be a pretty good way of putting it. Let me be blunt; if you know a guy that might think like this, DO NOT GO INTO THE WOODS WITH THIS MAN! If you do, don’t pull a Blair Witch. For God’s sake, YOU keep the map, compass, and a big f’ing gun on you at all times.

No, do not let him have the compass. Just, no. Not unless you want to wake up one morning with stick figures and moss wrapped with string hanging around your tent. Uh, no. Oh, and I’ve heard witches can be killed with cold iron. I don’t normally carry cold forged iron weapons, but I’m willing to bet if you fill them with hot lead, that might also serve as an efficacious cure. One way or another, I’d be willing to test that hypothesis.  Preferrably with a Barrett M82A1 at 5,200 feet.

To continue, you get a pack that you wear, and everything that you’re going to need on the camping trip must be able to fit in this pack. Hey, protip? Bring extra water containers. And in some of them, carry some actual water.

Then, you must have guns, for there might be bears. I refer you to aforementioned story about potentially saving team from bear.

And there must be small arms, for there WILL be snakes. We’re talking about South Florida, after all. That’s MY rule. Snakes? Shotshells. Or a machete, but why bring a knife to a gunfight? And they’re snakes… I don’t WANT to be on a mano a mano basis with snakes. Mano a reptilio? I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, some of them fuckers can coil themselves and fly through the air. And lizards, too!

Flying snakes. I’ve seen the video, don’t even argue with me about this.

Indonesia, Amazon rainforest, Florida Everglades, I don’t care where the hell they supposedly live, I hear New York’s got alligators in the sewers. Fuck that, where’s my gun? Don’t give a sucker an even break, or a chance to fang you. If you get bit on the butt by a rattlesnake, don’t go crying to ME to suck the venom out. You tell me someone’s got to suck the venom out or you’re gonna die, I’m gonna look you square in the eye and say, “I’m gonna miss you on poker night, man.”

And there must be knives and axes, for we are manly men, and manly men apparently need the comfort that being festooned with edged weapons provides.

And there must be a tent, and a sleeping bag, but no sisy pads or air mattresses. Those are strictly for candy asses. This is starting to sound less like fun, and suspiciously like something designed to, [shudder], “build character”.

I build characters all the time, I got GURPS, D&D, WoW, tell me what kind you want me to build, I’m your guy. You don’t have to con me into a forest, ‘kay?

But most of all, you have to hike your ass out to some remote place to do the camping, so you’re “getting away from it all”, looking for that unspoiled expanse of raw nature.

Hold on, I have to stifle the giggles. This is America, there ain’t a square foot of land that ain’t been crossed by somebody in the last year. You just won’t find some hidden expanse of untouched wilderness out there, hiding the fountain of youth or the secret gold of Blackbeard the Pirate.

That scene, where Clint Eastwood climbed that insane chimney stack while training in The Eiger Sanction?

I bet when he got up there, he found the cans from an empty six pack of beer, a dead campfire, and a used condom. Oh, and somebody will have tagged the side of the chimney stack with spray paint in the shape of a giant wang.

Untouched wilderness? Yeah, right. But we can dream.

That was what camping meant for my father.

Before you even begin to think that bears any relation to reality, let me disabuse you of that notion.

I’ve come to learn in the years since that, when I mention camping to other folks, that definition ain’t the norm.

Cassie is a prime example.

When we started dating, I mentioned to Cassie that I really liked camping, even after having been in the Marines and having some damn SENSE pounded into me. 

She told me that she had gone camping with her family many times when growing up, she’d spent lots of time camping. She kinda liked it.

Then I mentioned tents and wet sleeping bags, and things kinda fell apart.

See, even after years of the Marines, what I was thinking when I said “camping” was hiking up a trail wearing a pack, setting up a tent in the back of beyond, having a fire and listening to the coyote howl out his one lonesome song as the stars rise to illuminate the face of the sky.

What Cassie meant by camping was having the family get into the car, drive up to the campground where the trailer was kept parked year around, and then hang out at the campground for the weekend. With chemical toilets in the campground, but nobody used those because they were icky. You used the nice clean bathroom in your trailer.

Who has the right of it? Which version is more closely accurate?

Well, let me put it this way. Campgrounds are called campgrounds for a reason. 

Now, part of why it’s hard for me to shake my mental image of camping is that I was actually raised in South Florida. If you’ve never really lived there, it’s hard to imagine, but I don’t think of living in a trailer as camping.

In South Florida, for a whole LOT of folks, another word for trailer is your HOUSE. Y’know, that place you live and where you keep all your stuff, at least what you don’t have rusting in the sugar sand and weeds you call a front lawn on cinder blocks, or hide under a tarp in the back.

You don’t go camping in your HOUSE. I mean, it’s your house! You might go camping in a tent behind your house, but you don’t camp in your house! It’s the house!

And anyway, if people didn’t live in trailers in Florida, what would we use for sacrifices to appease the hurricane gods each year? Hey, the Hawaiians can toss people in volcanoes, we didn’t have hot lava to worry about. We had 100 mph winds that can drive a straw through a tree or throw a cow into orbit. We put our dumb shits in trailers for the hurricanes to eat each year, and that cuts down on the severity of the storms each season by approximately 34.7 % annually.

It’s a fact! Check the data, that’s all I’m saying. 

If too many rednecks leave the trailer park, it’s gonna be a BAD year for storms, man.  

So, my dad wanted to go “camping”.

As we lived in South Florida in Boca Raton in the Southeast, in order to get our beer budget butts to an ‘exotic location’, we had to drive across the state to the Northwest. He chose an area near the west side of Ocala National Park as his destination, a nice spot near a lake he “knew about” where we could get the jeep in there, get a tent pitched up near a lake, and have a fire and do some shooting.

Doesn’t that sound idyllic? A nice chance for some father and son bonding.

Right. Dream on.

Thinking that I perhaps needed somebody along for that peer bonding thing, he called up my best geeky friend…. oh wait, no he didn’t. No, I would have enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have had the chance to build any more damn character. I just would have had fun. That was not the objective of this exercise.

I was beginning to learn what camping was really about. PAIN.

No, he called up his buddy on the Sherriff’s department that lived across the street (yes, the one whose house we think we shot), infamously mentioned in The Gunslinger episode, and asked him if his son would like to join us.

His son, the wanna-be jock that thought books were wonderful… they made such a mighty fine, rosy glow when you burned them. Not that I’m saying he was opposed to original thought or learning… opposition would imply he had a thought enter his head in the first place.

Okay, I’m being mean, but he was such a stereotypical jock with poor grades and zero imagination that it’s embarrassing. And it’s not really germane to the story, except to say that he and I weren’t exactly ‘buds’. I thought he was an idiot… I couldn’t understand then, and cannot understand now how anyone can actually be against learning something new. Like, as a philosophy or a way of life.

And he wasn’t the biggest fan of mine, since I actually liked to read science fiction and play role playing games with other guys at school, but I didn’t safely fall into the ‘geek to be bullied’ category since I could kick his ass, shoot better, fish better, and generally laugh at one of his dad’s jokes the first time without having to have it explained to me. In small words. My existence tormented that boys’ soul. “He’s a geek ’cause he reads, and geeks are pencil-necked nerds to pants and stuff in lockers, but he can fish and shoot and wrassle and kick my ass… no, those things can’t go together, brain overheating, must shut down before it explodes… arrggghhh! Too late! [kaboom]”

It’s the pride thing that got to me, too. The whole, “Oh, I’ve never read a book except what they make me read in school.” And being proud of it! Like, an admission of reading a book and liking it is a sign of being a little light in the loafers. A gateway to slapping a rainbow sticker on your bumper. It probably makes you a commie.

Moron.

Hmmm, I’m inspired to write a Katy Perry song spoof, “I read a book and I liked it, the works of Mr Terry Pratchett, I read a book and I liked it, it had Sam and the Night Watch all up in it“.

Sigh. Maybe next week. I promised twww a Converging Forces.

On the first morning of our camping trip, we gathered our gear together, grabbed Doofus the Moron and headed north for a four day weekend. I’m pretty sure. It was definitely longer than one weekend, but I don’t think we took a whole week off in Fall. 

It was chilly, no mosquitoes, and wet. Wettish, anyway. The weather reports were threatening stormy, freezing weather alternating with fog all weekend.

Well, maybe so, maybe no, but when you’re in our tax bracket, if you’ve planned a camping trip for such and such a date, you damn well go on a camping trip. You do NOT cancel your plans because it might, I dunno… blizzard. You never know when you’ll ever be able to afford another trip again. 

And yes, I know it doesn’t blizzard in Florida. I also know snakes generally hibernate come the chilly wet weather of Fall. I don’t care. I go out in the Fall, and I hate cold weather. If I can do it, why can’t the snake?

The drive up was uneventful. Hey, something had to go right!

Once we reached the end of the winding roads and back trails my dad was sure would lead us to this promised land of camping isolation, it was time to park the jeep and get our packs and assorted gear settled.

My first lesson; put all your stuff on BEFORE you actually leave the house. This is the very bare minimum load planning possible. You do not wait until you are actually IN THE WOODS to find out that you weigh 155 pounds, and your proposed PACK with all attached gear weighs 255!

After strapping on our quick draw gunbelts, pistols, knives, hatchets, canteens, rifles, backpack, tent sections, sleeping bags, tarps, rain gear, food bags, coleman lantern, sterno stove, pots, pans, spoons and forks, a steel grating from a charcoal-style grill that rusted out on the bottom, a twisted-iron tripod and percolating-style tin coffee pot, and a shotgun with ammo “in case I see a duck over the lake”, we looked like a bunch of idiots. 

I mean desperadoes. That’s it. Desperadoes.

Noise discipline my ass, we sounded like a herd of elephants wearing a kitchen supply store crashing through the woods as we hit the trail. I guess you can’t expect better out of a Navy submariner, huh? I kid, I kid.

Good thing we weren’t there to hunt, I bet we chased all the Mule Deer clear out of those woods and all the way to Alabama.

We hiked a good long while, following trails that looked a little too well worn to be simple game trails. Eventually, sure enough, we reached a nice cleared area at a slight elevation overlooking a very pretty blue water lake, lightly wooded for cover and with decent runoff. It had been misting all day, but as we got there to the 9obviously well used) campsite, the rain began to really come down.

Priorities quickly became established as my dad directed us in what to do.

“First, take all your stuff off.”

“No, don’t just put it down, get it hung up on a tree and throw a tarp over it.”

“If you have to set it down to get the tarp out, at least don’t set it in the mud! Omigod!”

“Okay, now the gear is up out of the mud, it’s got a tarp on it, and we’ve got our wet weather gear on. Let’s get the tent site cleared of rocks and dig a drainage trench.”

“Where’s the entrenching tool?”

“Oh for… okay, get the packs back down and dig the entrenching tool out!”

“NO, not in the mud!”

“Okay, get the packs back up and let’s get clearing.”

“Okay, we’ve got it cleared, let’s throw a tarp down and start setting the tent up.”

“Where’s the tent?”

“YES, we need the tent now! Get it out of the packs, please.”

“Okay, we need the tent poles too.”

“The tent poles.”

Tent. Poles.”

“Those long pointy things that look like… well, that look like fucking tent poles, what the hell do you THINK tent poles look like?”

“Who the hell was supposed to pack the tent poles!?!?”

“Oh.”

“Okay, now what we’re going to do is set up a field expedient tent. we’re gonna run some of this rope to those four trees, to hold up the top of the tent. First, let’s stake the tent corners down. Okay, now you take this end and tie it to the brass loop in the canvas peak, and once we’ve got four ropes set, we’ll lash ’em to those trees, and they’ll keep the tent up without poles.”

“Okay, so the tent goes up and down like a massive bellows every time the wind blows the trees. Hmm.”

“Maybe we can leave it like “DAD!” okay, okay, just a thought.”

“All right, you two go find some branches, and we’ll carve some tent poles out of wood.”

“Okay, now go back and find something more like a ‘branch’, and less like a ‘tree’.”

“Okay, it’s dark now and it’s really pissing down, so let’s get this tent finished.”

‘Shit, we need a light, let’s get the lantern lit.”

“Boy, that wind sure is something, isn’t it?”

“Funny how cold it gets when it comes straight in off the lake like that.”

“It’s a good thing this style of Coleman lantern can be lit even in a strong wind.”

“Okay, boys we’re going to need to get a shelter up so I can cut this wind down to light the lantern.”

“No, I didn’t bring a flashlight!”

Shut up!”

“Go get a tarp and some more rope, and we’ll make a half-assed shelter so I can light this lamp.”

“NO, not the tarp over the gear! Another tarp!”

“Yes, we have another tarp.”

“Will you get those packs out of the mud!”

“No, I don’t…. what do you mean there isn’t any toilet paper in there? I packed the… oh. Well, crap.”

“LEAVES, I don’t give a shit. Use your hands!”

“You can take a bath in the lake tomorrow, we’re gonna sleep in this damn tent tonight!”

“Okay, we’ve got the lamp on, isn’t that better?”

“Now, let’s get this finished.”

“Screw the branches, we’re gonna lash the tent to the trees. Get those ends of the ropes, and hold them while I get this one thrown over a high branch and tied down.”

“Okay, let’s get these others lashed down.”

“All right, now get your sleeping bags and toss them inside the tent. Leave the rest of this shit out here under the tarp.”

“Where are the sleeping bags?”

“What the hell are they still doing in the mud? OMIGOD! When I said get the gear up the tree under a tarp, I meant the bags too!”

“Okay. Toss some rocks on the loose stuff so it doesn’t blow away. Don’t worry, this rain will let up soon.”

[everybody gets inside the billowing, roaring, wheezing tent, twisting every which way as different trees are moed in different directions violently by the ever increasing force of the storm, climbs into sleeping bags while still fully clothed and mostly soaking wet, and the lantern is turned off]

And that voice comes out of the darkness, cutting across the roaring of the wind and the flapping of abused canvas.

“So… hey, isn’t this great? Nothing beats camping in the woods, does it boys?”

“Get some sleep, we’re going to have a LOT more fun tomorrow!”

After a very long night, I finally did fall asleep. And yes, I’ll admit that it’s impossible for me to quote exactly what was said 25 years ago. But I have spent the last two days thinking about this, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the sequence of events down right. Including what happened next. And I do know how my dad talks, so I’m pretty sure, aside from some rah rah bullshit pep talks, I’ve got it close.

The next morning, I awoke feeling quite rested and refreshed. What a wonderful night’s sleep.

Damn, maybe my old man knew something about this camping thing after all.

I lay in the sleeping bag, all curled up and warm, the only opening being right over my face, where the cold and the wet had condensed and made me know one thing; I wanted to put off getting out of the bag and into the clammy morning air as long as possible. Like, until there was a roaring fire outside, if at all possible.

As I lay there, trying to be quiet so nobody else in the tent would be disturbed and, like, wake up and make me GET up, I heard the flat crack of a rifle echoing from off a ways. 

It kinda sounded like someone fired a rifle, down near the lake. But the way sound travels near water, it could have been fired from the other side of the lake for all I knew.

I poked my head up a little bit, to find the tent empty. Deserted.

No sleeping bags, no dad, no Dufus the Moron, nothing but me in my bag, and my new hiking boots there next to me, and my rifle and gunbelt coiled on top off the wet tarp we used as a ground sheet.

Yes, it was a wet tarp, because it took forever to get the damn tent opened and set up on top of it.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag, feeling warm and comfy, but damp with my thick clothes full of moisture that had been well warmed by my body heat.

My body steamed in the morning chill, and the tent was still. There were no sounds of rain, no blowing of wind.

I threw on my boots without lacing them, grabbed my gunbelt and strapped it down. Then I poked my head out, expecting to see the two of them at a roaring fire, getting some food ready.

Nope. Things were straightened up a fire pit was laid in, sopping wet but laid in, wood seats were set up, the gear was stowed away neater, and a line had been set up between trees with sleeping bags unzipped and spread out to dry in the wind.

I drug my bag out and got it tossed on, but there was still no sign of my dad or Doofus.

Then I hear the very faint sound of voices, down from the water’s edge, and another flat crack of a rifle.

I stroll on down with my rifle in hand, and see the both of them fully dressed, shooting at a tree near the lake.

As I walked up, they both gave me the strangest look I’d ever seen, like I was a mutant, or had grown a third arm or an eye in the middle of my forehead.

They looked at me like I was a freak, or a clown, and I might start doing tricks or frothing at the mouth at any moment.

“What’s up?”

My dad looks at me, and asks me, “Did you hear anything this morning? Anything at all?”

I have to admit I didn’t. I tell him I’m sorry that they cleaned up the camp, but I didn’t hear them get up and move around.

My dad looks at me, and says, “Well, we got up and we made some breakfast. Then we cleaned the camp. Then we got our shit out of the tent, and you still hadn’t moved. Then I chopped some wood, and that didn’t wake you up.”

“So then I was a little pissed, so I had (whatever the hell the kids name was) hold the tent flap and watch you, while I took my shotgun, laid it across the top of the tent, and fired it to get your ass up.”

“You didn’t even twitch.”

‘So, we gave up trying to wake you and came down here an hour ago to do some shooting.”

“By the way, you snore louder than anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. Tonight, you’re sleeping in a shelter-half on the other side of the camp.”

Now, if my wife had had any idea, any idea at all how loud I could snore, and how easily I could slip away into sleep and sleep the sleep of the just in a heartblink, she’d never have come near me with a ten foot pole, let alone marry this chainsaw of a snore.

Ah yes, the joys of camping. True bliss.

Boy, it sure does build character!

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.”

“What?”

“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.

Whatever.

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.

*wookie*

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.