Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lost Soul


each heartbeat I die a little death
dying further with each passing breath
aching rages surge within
then falling back
from whence begin
the lonely passions
without control
that much too strong
consumed my soul

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Trolls Eat Men


Long, long ago, trolls mostly ate the sheep that strangely stood
together in the fields.  Sometimes, men would run around making noises
and throwing things at the trolls.  When the men came close, the
trolls would eat them too.

One day, Albert, who was considered a very odd sort of troll, posed a
question.  He asked, "I wonder if the men mind being eaten?"

Mostly, this made the other trolls look at him sideways and keep their
distance.  It was crazy to ask what men thought.  How could men think?
 They were just animals in the fields, like the sheep.  Only trolls
could think.

But, Albert was determined to find an answer.  He knew that when a
troll was upset he would begin to breathe faster and more loudly.
Albert decided to create a test.

He would put two men in a room.  Albert would eat one of the men and
see which man seemed upset.  Then, he would record his results.

Time after time, Albert got the same results.  The man who was not
eaten seemed very upset indeed.  The man Albert ate didn't seem upset.
 In fact, he hardly seemed to breathe at all.  The answer was clear,
though not what Albert expected.  Men preferred being eaten to not
being eaten.

Albert explained the results to the king who made a royal decree;
trolls would eat men.  After all, it was what the men preferred.

And that is why, today, trolls only eat men and never eat sheep at all.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Losing Myself in Rota


I arrived in Spain on a military flight flying in to the flight line at Rota.  Rota is a Spanish Naval base funded by the US.  It is a fairly small base, though the facilities are a bit spread out.  The barracks for enlisted personnel are rather close to the main gate.  My first weekend in Rota arrived before I had been fully introduced to the area.

I decided rather early on Saturday morning to go exploring.  I walked out the front gate and headed southeast for the beach I could just barely see.  Once I hit the beach, I started following it out to the west around the point.  I had no agenda, no plans, and I didn't speak a word of Spanish.

At the point, I had to cut through part of the town to get to the rest of the beach.  This was my first experience with the evolutionary version of city planning.  Streets in this part of town sort of sprang up around the buildings that already existed.  Straight lines were unheard of.  You might enter a street going west and come out going northeast and have no idea where you were when you got there.

I walked along the beach for miles.  I don't really remember how far I went before I decided to head back to the base.  It was far enough that walking back the way I had come was very unappealing.  I decided to cut straight back to the gate through town.  Lest this seem like a reasonable decision, keep in mind the following: I had never been in Rota before.  The streets were confusing at best.  I didn't have a map, nor had I seen a map of the area.  Undaunted by these facts, I headed directly through the town.

After half an hour of walking, I began to feel particularly disoriented.  I wasn't sure which way I was going or which way the base was.  This was the first time in my life that I felt truly lost.  Just when I had finally decided to try to confront a local with my lack of Spanish, I came around a bend in the road and saw the front gate.  As has usually been the case, even when I don't know where I am, where I am going, or how to get there, I arrived exactly where I needed to be.

Monday, July 2, 2012

To Sleep or Not to Sleep


My plan when I left for Korea on a month of leave was to stay for two weeks, fly to Japan for a couple days, then spend two more weeks in Korea.  I couldn't stay in Korea for a month without a visa and I've always wanted to see Japan anyway.  Unfortunately, after the first two weeks, it was obvious that my girlfriend who I was visiting didn't plan to be my girlfriend much longer so I flew back to the US early instead.

My cousin Myron lived near Seattle with his wife of two years.  I had been the best man at their wedding the month before boot camp.  My flights were scheduled to go through Seattle already, so I just changed it to leave me there for two weeks, making for a rather extended layover.

I was twenty years old.  Sleep and I had never really been on friendly terms as it was.  During this two week layover, our relationship became even more estranged.  The entire time I was there, I slept for four hours, then stayed awake from thirty six.  It wasn't the healthiest schedule, but my racing mind combined with my youth were more than enough to keep it going.  In all the hours I was awake while my hosts were sleeping, I read and played on BBS's.

If you ever have a chance to visit, Seattle is a remarkable place.  Underground tours, a world class aquarium, the Pacific Science Center and Space Needle built on the site of the 1962 World's Fair, Pike's Place Market, and much more all conspire to form a quirky, engaging city with a remarkable and amusing history.  And if you do manage to get bored, well the Cascade mountains and Puget Sound are ever present sights that draw you into the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  Mount Rainier is an easy day trip from Seattle, as is Victoria Island by ferry.

My cousin also kept ferrets, in addition to his daughter, the most recent addition to the family. All little bundles of joy.

The whole stay was a wonderful interlude before I arrived in Spain, even if it did mean I didn't go to the Olympics in Barcelona, the other alternate plan.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Crashing the Party

Between school and my first assignment in the Navy, I had a month of leave.  It started in San Angelo, Texas, and in a month, I had to report to Rota, Spain.  In the meantime, I went to visit my girlfriend in Korea.

I've always loved languages, so one of the first things I did was learn the Korean alphabet.  It is a fairly simple alphabet with some slight irregularity in where / how the letters are placed in relation to each other.  It isn't enough to learn the alphabet if you want to, say, read the newspaper, as the newspaper uses a core of kanji characters, but for reading signs, etc, it was more than enough.

My girlfriend was a Korean linguist in the Navy, stationed at Pyongtek.  During the day, while she worked, I would wander the streets of Pyongtek, enjoying the culture and exploring.  It was during this time that I feel in love with yaki mandu, a fried dumpling with meat filling.  There was a remarkable woman, who fried them up fresh, filled with octopus, right off the street and they have long been the epitome of what I remember from Korean food.

During the nights, we would often go out to the bars, where my girlfriend drank soju and yogurt, a drink I never learned to stomach.  I was also not fond of the smell of someone the morning after drinking soju as you sweat it from the pores.  The smell of soju is a pervasive part of the Korean experience.  I had noticed a strange odor around town, but I did not identify it until I went into the shop of a woman who did not drink. In the fresh air, free from the scent, I finally realized what it was that I had been smelling all along.

After I had been in Korea for a week, we took a trip to a Korean resort hotel in Kyungju.  We spent several hours on the train while I honed my skills at turning what I heard on the intercom into the names of the stops of the train.  Vendors traveled up and down the isles with carts selling various snack foods, including smoked and dried cuttlefish, another taste I did not manage to acquire in my short time in Korea.

We had reservations for a room on the nicest floor of the hotel.  We had only planned to stay one night, a good thing as the rate for these rooms was $600 per night.  We checked in and went up to our room.  As I read the literature in the room, I realized we were not on the floor we had a reservation for.  Wondering why, I decided we should go up and visit that floor.

As the elevator doors opened, a crowd of armed men confronted us.  I don't know how many there were.  The sight of unholstered automatic pistols pointed in our direction served quite well to focus the attention and we promptly closed the door of the elevator and went back down.

The hotel had several restaurants on the ground floor and we had picked one to go to.  Upon arriving at the restaurant, we found the entire restaurant had been reserved.  It seemed like someone was thwarting every plan we made.  We went to another of the available restaurants.

We were enjoying our stay in a romantic location and I decided to book another night.  Because of the second night, I got the normal rate for the room we were in, which was about half what the room we should have been given was.

The next day, I was reading the local newspaper and learned that the North Korean Prime Minister was staying in our hotel.  That is the closest I've ever been to a diplomat of what can certainly be argued is an enemy nation.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Fondness for Sad Memories

My first school after boot camp was DLI (Defense Language Institute) at the Presidio of Monterey in Monterey, California.  Boot camp was in San Diego.  The two are 7 to 8 hours apart, even longer when you are relegated to Greyhound, but considering I had something like 50-60 hours before I had to report it, that wasn't really a problem.

You are 18 years old.  You've just completed Navy boot camp, two months that were frankly quite boring.  Apparently, most people would take the bus, arrive in Monterey and try to relax for a couple days.  I wasn't most people.  I took the bus another 2-4 hours up to San Mateo to visit my aunt and uncle for a day, then took the bus back down to Monterey and reported in after 10 pm on Sunday night.

The first month at DLI, they try to pretend it is like any other A school out there.  You can't leave the base.  The closest to not wearing your uniform you are allowed is your PT clothes.  After the first month, you might as well be in college except for wearing the uniform to class.

I quickly started exploring Monterey on foot once I could leave the base.  A 10 to 15 minute walk got you to Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, Lover's Leap, or the beach.  You could eat good seafood, watch sea lions fighting to claim prime tourist locations as theirs, or spend hundreds of dollars on nautically themed wool sweaters.  Generally, that is more than enough to keep most newly enlisted students occupied.  It was not enough for my overly energetic feet.  I found myself walking ever further from the mainstream paths, until eventually, I walked all the way to 17 mile drive in the middle of the night, by the coast line.

The walk from Lover's Leap, past Pacific Grove, to Assilomar is not one many people take.  I don't really understand why as you pass some of the most beautiful coast line in the Monterey area.  Rocky beaches and the constant susurration of the surf pair with the loneliness of the road at night to make for a peaceful traipse, if you have the patience and the time.  Also, starting as it does from the aptly named Lover's Leap, the mood quite suited a man who was often depressed about love.

I spent many sad, lonely nights wandering the streets of Monterey, Pink Floyd's The Wall often keeping me company.  And, when it was most appropriate of course, generally in the rain.  I look back on those nights with fondness which is strange in that I wasn't very fond of them at the time.  Many of the seeds of my later depressions found fertile ground in my random hauntings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Running with the Bulls - Part Two


In the early afternoon, they release a second bull at the Arcos de la Frontera Aleluyah de Toros (running of the bulls).  On the day I went, the second bull was not your average hunk of meat providing grist to the entertainment mill.  He had something special on his agenda and damned if he didn't get it.

As usual, the truck pulled up to the end of the run and the handlers began prodding the bull through the crate and banging on the sides and yelling, getting it good and mad.  People lined up behind the truck, in front of where the bull would be released.  To the rear of the bull, people crowded in front of the barricade, four or five bodies deep to watch the bull set off down the road.  Finally, the handlers dropped the wood blocking the bull and the runners took off down the road.

Five seconds later, the bull did someone not a single person there that day expected.  It stopped running, turned around, pawed the ground and charged past the truck straight into the crowd in front of the barricade.  The bull wasn't out of his crate for 60 seconds before he sent the first person to the ambulance.

After having its way with the surprised and terrified crowd, it proceeded to make its leisurely way down to the far end of the run, where once again, it defied all expectations.  Typically, a bull charges madly back and forth until its heart bursts and the matador comes out to finish it off.  This bull was special.  He set up shop in the corner at the far end and rested.  Every couple minutes, he would charge out towards the crowd until he hit someone.  After tossing them into the air, trampling them, or just knocking them ten feet away with a powerful headbutt, the bull would calmly turn around, walk back into the corner and rest.

No less than ten times, I watched this bull charge the crowd, hit someone, and go back.  Not once did he fail to hit anyone.

My friend Jon and I found a tiny bar about 50 feet from the corner where the bull was resting.  It was so small that only one person at a time could fit through the door and the entire crowd inside had to push back to let anyone in.  From just outside this door, Jon and I watched the bull harass the crowd instead of vice versa.

One of the people the bull punished was the kid who had chased the first bull into a cul de sac with Jon and I.  He tossed the kid high into the air, bounced him off his back, kicked him and walked back to the corner.  I guess payback was evil that day.

Finally, the bull charged directly along the wall towards where we were standing.  People poured through the door like water down a funnel.  Once again, there was time for me or Jon to go through the door so I pushed him inside and faced the charging bull.  Earlier that day, I had already seen that agility could beat strength and mass on the waxy, slick cobblestones and I prepared to dodge at the last possible second.

What happened next still leaves me stunned to this very day when I think about it.  Ten times in a row, the bull had charged out, hit someone and gone back.  Not once had he ever charged and stopped.  As I prepared to jump out of the way of over a ton raging bull topped by wicked horns, the bull stopped, less than a second from impact.  He stopped. He snorted.  He turned around and went back to the corner to rest.

I saw that bull send at least five people to the ambulance.  A couple probably went to the hospital afterwards.  I came nearly face to face with natures vengeance on the cruelty of man, and I was spared.  When we left for the day, the bull was still in his corner resting.  In my mind, and in my heart, he is there still, passing judgement on us, and just occasionally, granting pardons.  I'll never forget my first and only running of the bulls, and while it wasn't the big to do at Pamplona, I will always honor the spirit, the toughness, the tenacity, and the courage of that second bull.  If I can live a life half as intelligently as it did, I will live a life worth being proud of.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Running with the Bulls - Part One

My first Easter in Spain, I went to Arcos de la Frontera for the running of the bulls.  This is unlike the event held in Pamplona in some important ways.  Instead of letting loose a stampede of bulls, they release one bull at a time.  A stretch of the main road is blocked off with barricades at both ends and at each side street.  The bull is released at one end of this thoroughfare and before they release it, the handlers get it really riled up.  The angry bull charges down the street after the foolhardy and the brave.

Arcos de la Frontera is a gorgeous town of white buildings in a typical Andalucian style.  Most first floor windows have bars on them and for running of the bulls that means they have men hanging on them as well.  The barricades are generally made of large horizontal beams with occasional man sized gaps for escaping runners to get through.  Behind these barriers, there is usually a mass of people packed solid with blood crazed spectators.

When the first bull was released, I was off to the side but inside the barricades.  I figured, if this bull was giving his life for people's entertainment, the least I could do was give him a chance at mine.  This is not a popular choice with the military, and drunk US military are often casualties at the event, with severe disciplinary repercussions ahead of them for reckless endangerment of government property.

I watched the bull charge off after all the men wanting to challenge their manhood.  I followed along trying to stay close enough to see what was going on.  The bull charged back and forth for a while and eventually he and I ended up in about the same place.

It is said to be good luck for a year if you can touch the bull, and good luck for three years if you touch his blood.  Yes, unfortunately, this is a tale that ends in blood.  I am far from immune to the cruelty of taunting an animal until it makes its heart burst from the running and then spearing it to death.  On the other hand, the bull led a better life than the millions of animals slaughtered in the United States to feed the hungry masses.  We should clean up our own messes before pointing fingers at others.

After a while of staying close to the action, I decided to see if I could give myself some luck.  As I approached the bull and the mostly drunken men who were taunting it, a strange thing happened.  Suddenly, I was face to face with an angry, tired bull turned sideways to the road.  There wasn't another person within five meters of us.  I was standing only two meters in front of the business end of a pair of horns.

I should reiterate that this was Easter weekend.  The weekend before Easter, they hold a procession through the streets with everyone holding candles.  The roads were all cobblestone.  After the procession, the cobblestones are covered in wax.  This is an important detail for the ongoing action.

Standing two meters from 800 kg of angry cattle with only air to protect you can be a defining event.  Handled poorly, it can mean severe injury or worse.  As far as I could tell, most of the men there countered the intensity of the moment with copious amounts of alcohol, and were never that aware of the danger they were in.  I hadn't been drinking that day, and I was crazy enough sober to put myself in harms way.

I stared the bull down for a precious few seconds, and then, decided to act.  I feinted to the left before dodging to the right.  The bull started to follow my initial movement, then tried to reverse with me.  Waxy cobblestones are slick.  This is less of a problem for running shoes than it is for hard hooves.  When the bull tried to reverse direction, it lost traction on the slick, waxy stone and fell over onto its side.  I took the golden opportunity to place my hand firmly on its back and then got away.

I was running with my friend Jon.  Jon and I stayed close to the action while the bull charged this way and that.  Drunk men taunted it ceaselessly, sometimes paying for their disrespect, usually not. After a bit, Jon and I moved off into a cul de sac formed by the barricade at one of the side streets.  We intended to let the action pass us by.  Unfortunately, a drunken teenager chose this exact moment to startle the bull into that cul de sac.  Jon and I sprinted for the gap at the side of the barricade.  It was only large enough for one person to go through at a time.  It was obvious there wasn't time for two of us to get through the barricade and the thronging mass of people behind it, so while Jon hit the gap, I jumped as high as I could and grabbed the top of the barricade.

I must have looked like a pinata to the angry bull.  I cleared his head, just as he initially rammed the barricade.  From there, he proceeded to try to gore me for the next twenty seconds.  I must have made quite the comical sight there, sitting on the head of an angry bull, between its horns, feed uselessly kicking it in the nose as it thrashed its head from side to side, failing only by relative position to gore me.  I like to say that I touched the bull and then he returned the favor.  Finally, either through frustration at my continued existence, boredom at the lack of blood, or from a well placed kick, the bull decided to try his luck with some other brave soul and moved along.

When the bull had run itself out, a matador came along to kill the bull in the usual fashion, with a sword thrust through the heart from above.  My friend Jon was at its side and earned his three years luck.  The end of this bull's life did not do it justice in my eyes.  I was honored to share the street with this noble creature.  I did not return to Arcos de la Frontera in the coming years, but I will never forget this animal.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tango Down?

My last serious deployment in the Navy was as an Arabic linguist in support of the SEAL platoon attached to the Eisenhower battle group.  I did a full 9 month deployment with them, 3 months of workups and 6 months in the Med and Persian Gulf.  Many of my stories are from this period.

One of the reasons a SEAL platoon is assigned to a battle group is for ship interdiction.  This means that the SEALs need to practice ship takedowns a lot.  Unfortunately, letting the SEALs really take over ships without cause is out of the question.  The next best thing was simulating a takedown of smaller Navy ships.

I had the pleasure of being one of the bad guys for a practice takedown.  We flew over to a frigate and I played bad guy while the SEALs fastroped onto the ship and proceeded to take it over.  My senior chief and I were the terrorists.

In the passageways of a military ship, there are regular bulkheads crossing the passageway, with neat ovals cut into them.  These holes have a significant lip.  I saw the SEALs come around a corner to take my senior chief.  I hid behind one of those bulkheads until they were fully engaged, only a few feet away from the action.  Once their attention was off the rest of the passage, I jumped out and yelled, "What do you think you are doing?," to the back of the largest SEAL in the platoon. Needless to say, he was not amused.

They used flex cuffs on me and took me out to the marines who were acting as the rear guard for the secured portion of the ship.  I was wearing a flight suit.  They patted me down, but they didn't do a very good job of it.  You see, a flight suit has a survival pocket on the inside of the right thigh that is the perfect size for a leatherman.  While I was under the supervision of the marines, I pulled out my leatherman and cut off my flex cuffs.  When the SEALs finally came to let me out, I handed them my flexcuffs.  Again, they were not amused.

As much as they hated me for what I did, I like to believe I helped prepare them for the action to come.  While I was deployed with the platoon, they took down 5 oil smugglers out of Iraq.  This was 1994-1995.  You might have heard about it.  It made the news.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Next Flight to Korea

I joined the Navy to be a Cryptologic Technician.  If you have no idea what that means, we are pretty much on the same footing.  I didn't have any idea either.  Between my junior and senior year of high school, all it meant was a cool name, a fun test, and not worrying about college applications.  It also meant that I signed up for 5 years instead of 4 and by graduating from school, I would get a $5000 bonus for that extra year.

I actually signed up to learn Chinese.  When I got to DLI in Monterey, I found out they taught Mandarin and not Cantonese.  In my youthful naivete and ignorance, I didn't want to learn Mandarin, the language of the Chinese government.  I wanted to learn Cantonese, the so called language of the Chinese people.  Believe me when I say that the pretension of such a position does not escape my notice today but back then, I thought I was being idealistic.

They asked what else I would like to learn and started offering choices.  I'd heard that Arabic was the hardest language for English speakers to learn, so in my arrogance, I chose that.  Arabic was a 67 week long course and was followed by 5 months at Goodfellow AFB for C school.  The second course required a Top Secret / Special Compartmented Information security clearance but was essentially what to do with our language skills once we had them.

I spent the next two years learning nothing but Arabic 8-12 hours a day, 5 days a week.  This was the most intensive language training you are ever likely to receive, and I swear, I didn't appreciate the opportunity at all.  I was a terror to my instructors, mostly native Arabic speakers.  I challenged their culture, their foibles, and their values on almost a daily basis.  Three separate instructors threw things at me in the course of class.

The day I graduated from C school, I got my bonus check.  A check for $4,000 isn't something I saw every day.  I converted it to travelers checks and started a month of leave.  My parents and sister had come to see my graduation.  They took me to the airport.  I planned to take military hops to Korea to visit my girlfriend who was a Korean linguist and graduated from school ahead of me.  She was stationed in Pyongtek Korea.  Military hops are space available flights that are dirt cheap (usually less than $100) but have a waiting list and are first come first serve, with some exceptions due to rank and/or status.  Unfortunately, space available and first come first serve turns out to be a bit of a problem with only a month off.

You see, a lot of people want to fly to Korea.  Some, like retired military, don't have anywhere to be and had been waiting for months already.  I didn't have that kind of time and I had brand new play money burning a whole in my pocket.  I did something that very few people ever get to do though many dream of it.

I walked up to the ticket counter and asked for the next flight to Korea.  There was a flight leaving in a few hours but tickets cost $1700.  No problem to me and my recently flush wallet.  I counted out $1700 in travelers checks and I was on my way to an actual, honest to god, world spanning adventure.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Not Afraid?!

My first Christmas in the Navy, I stayed at the school over the Christmas break.  I spent a lot of time in Big Sur over those two weeks.  Big Sur is less than an hour south of Monterey down Highway 1 in California.  This is one of the most spectacular sections of road in all of the United States, with cliffs down to the Pacific ocean to your west and cliffs and hills up into the mountainous forest to your west.  I first heard Enya on that stretch of road and the beauty of her voice juxtaposed over the beauty of the scenery was enough to make me cry.

Big Sur is a magical place.  Deep in the California forests, far from the bustle of city life, it boasts some of the most gorgeous locations in the world.  Over that Christmas break, I explored Pfeiffer State Park and Pardington Cove.

To get to Pfeiffer State Park, you turn west towards the coast and drive down a quiet road with ferns carpeting the ground to either side under the giant trees. Five minutes later, you spill out into a humble parking lot that doesn't even begin to prepare you for the wonder you are about to behold.

From the parking lot, you walk another few minutes up the trail before the majesty of nature reveals its full splendor.  As you step out of the treeline, the beach opens up before you, framed by a swiftly climbing ridge on the south, the crashing pacific on the west and cliffs running up to the north.  Directly before you are two giant monoliths jutting up from the sand at least 30 feet, one barely in the surf on one side and constantly barraged by waves on the other, while the other is too far from the sand to reach without a hairy swim.

I used to climb on those massive boulders, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night.  I once climbed over the top of one and stood on an outcrop of rock five feet above the crashing waves just appreciating the power of the ocean.  Suddenly a huge wave crashed in, sending spray a good ten feet over the top of my head.  I was so overwhelmed that my mind blanked and the next thing I was aware of, I was stepping back onto the sand on the other side with no memory of climbing back over.

Another time, I hiked up the south ridge while my friends went to the beach.  I climbed up at least 100'.  I could see miles of ocean and steep drops to the water.  Somehow, I got it into my head to climb down to the water.  I scampered across sandstone ledges and slopes until finally, I slipped down a smooth 15' slope and realized I couldn't climb back up the featureless stone I had just slipped down.

At the bottom of this one way stone slide was a sheer drop 60' onto jagged rocks and cold surf.  Unable to go back up and unwilling and probably unable to call for help, I surveyed my situation.  There was a small chimney breaking the smooth expanse.  As I slipped into it, I knew there was no way for me to go back.

I climbed down about four feet before the chimney opened up on both sides leaving me a good six feet above a tiny blade of rock, coming up along the face of the cliff.  With barely two inches to land on and a sheer drop to a bloody, cold, lonely death on the rocks below, I continued to work myself lower and lower until my feet, my legs, my waist, and even most of my upper body was below the edge of the stone and the only support I could find.  With at least another four feet to go, no way to climb back up, and quickly tiring, I suddenly realized I was going to die on the rocks below.  I thought about it for a couple minutes as I hung in my final predicament, and what I realized was I didn't care.  I was not afraid of death.  It didn't matter to me.

Having come to this stunning realization at only 18 years of age was quite an eye opener.  I still don't know how I managed it but in my contemplation, I managed to slip down even farther and finally dropped to the ledge below.  The rest of that climb is a blur.  My thoughts had turned inwards and I navigated the rocks around the cliff face until finally I made it back to the beach from the most unlikely direction.  For weeks, even months, I was haunted, not by my near death experience, but by the stark, cold fact that death didn't frighten me.  You aren't supposed to be aware of your own mortality in your teens.  And certainly, if you are, it should hold more fear than it did for me.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Too Good for My Own Good

In boot camp, there are a couple of awards that confer extra rank right away.  The two most significant were the overall top recruit and the academic top recruit.  Academic conferred advancement to E-2 upon graduation.  Overall conferred advancement to E-3.

Now, you have to understand, for me, boot camp was a joke.  Everyone tells stories about how boot camp changes people.  My mother had heard for months and months that I would be different after boot camp.  As far as she could tell, I didn't change at all.

You see, boot camp is primarily about discipline.  It is about learning to accept that someone else has absolute authority over you, accepting that and doing what you are told, when you are told to do it and how you are told to do it.  I knew that before I started.  I knew it and I understood the reasons for it.  They never had to break me.  They never had to change me.  I got in so little trouble, that by the end, I had a hard time keeping up with the fitness of the company.  I just didn't do enough disciplinary pushups to keep up.

I literally coasted through boot camp.  Classes were a breeze.  I'd always learned well, and the subjects were not challenging.  I'd done drill in junior ROTC in high school so marching was easy.  I even sang songs to myself while we marched just to make following cadence more challenging.

When every other recruit in the company except the watches was in bed with forced lights out, I was up late into the night sitting with my commanders joking and telling stories.  They even recommended places I should go when I got to Monterey.

The hardest challenge in boot camp was during service week.  The first day, I was assigned to the mess hall.  It was okay, but required you to work before everyone else got up and after everyone else was gone.  The second day, I was ill and went to the infirmary.  When I came back on the third day, they changed my assignment to the worst job in the mess hall, pots & pans scullery.

Pots & pans scullery is where you clean every pot and pan used to cook food for everyone in boot camp.  It is hot, steamy, and disgustingly greasy.  At the end of the week, I had to replace my shoes because the grease would not come out.  But through all of this, I found the job cathartic.  Spraying down greasy, smelly pots with high power water and all the banging and lifting and moving was wonderful.  At the end of a day, I was tired, but relaxed and happy.

So, considering all of this, it isn't that surprising that my company commanders considered me the top recruit.  What actually happened though, might be a little surprising.  They didn't want to give both awards to the same person.  Because I scored so well academically, I was the top academic recruit.  Instead of giving me the overall award, they gave it to my friend.  And that is how I lost my first stripe in the Navy.

Avoiding Responsibility

While I was in the Navy, I didn't want any responsibility for other people.  It was a constant theme.  In boot camp, they called me in to the office to meet with one of the company commanders and the base minister.  My grandfather had passed away.  Because I was in boot camp, I wouldn't be able to attend the funeral.  They were so impressed by how I took the news that they asked if I wanted to go to officer candidate school.  I declined.

During boot camp, I was a squad leader.  I carefully managed to avoid becoming the recruit commander, even to the point of declining the position when it was offered.  My commander even threatened me that if another had to be chosen, he would force me to take the position.

The rest of my Navy career, I avoided advancement like an illness I was afraid of.  I even didn't take the courses required to advance so I wouldn't have to take the advancement test.

After my first deployment, they offered to send me to a seminar at BYU.  I was really looking forward to it.

A week before I left, one of my chiefs found out that I was ducking advancement.  To qualify to take the next test, you had to have all your correspondence courses done in four days.  He told me that if I didn't qualify for the test, I couldn't go to the seminar.

Because most of my courses contained classified material, I could only do them at the detachment.  I couldn't do them from my barracks.  In four days, I spent nearly 70 hours completing 5 correspondence courses on various subjects, like radio theory, encryption protocols, and geographic and military characteristics of Arab countries in the Mediterranean, gripping stuff.

I qualified to take the test.  And the really funny thing is, because I was at a seminar at BYU, I couldn't take the test that year.  Irony for the win.

Do Strippers Make Better Lovers?

While I was in the Navy, I went to a three month seminar on the Libyan dialect of Arabic at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  BYU is a Mormon college.  I have no idea why the seminar was there.  The instructor was married to a Mormon woman.  I think it was just a location of convenience.

Being in the Navy and going to a seminar meant that I lived in a hotel for three months.  As I was living in a hotel, I used the pool almost every day.  The hotel had a pool and a hot tub.  Most of the time, I had both completely to myself.

One day, I went down to the pool and there were five or six women in the hot tub.  Apparently, one of them had turned 21 and they were having a party.  When I arrived, they thought I was a stripper for the party.  After clearing up the misunderstanding, and narrowly keeping my shorts, I talked to a couple of them for a while.

The next day, I wanted to ask one of them out, but I couldn't remember her name.  All I could remember was where she had said she worked.  I called the store where she worked and described her, eventually getting her on the phone.  She was surprised that I called to ask her out.  She expected me to ask about her friend.

Linda and I went out several times over the next months.  She had two children and an evil ex-boyfriend.  While I was at her house once, he stopped by to throw insults and threats and tried to damage her car.  He was such a wonderful guy.  I'm glad I didn't get to know him.

There is an evil party game you can play with people.  It is a sort of brain teaser.  Take an empty bottle, wine bottle, beer bottle, something with a decent neck.  The bottle needs to be dry.  Place the bottle on its side on a table and place a cigarette in the neck, flush with the top of the bottle.  Now, challenge people to get the cigarette out without touching the bottle.  The most common response is to try to suck it out by sucking really hard.  This can lead to all kinds of interesting innuendo.

One day, in my hotel room, I challenged Linda to this puzzle.  I had some innuendo in mind.  Our flirting grew pretty serious and I offered to give her a massage.  We had been seeing each other for a week or two and had never done more than kiss.  She removed her shirt and lay on the bed and I started massaging her back.  I can give a pretty good massage when I've a mind to and I made sure she enjoyed it.

After a while, with a beautiful woman lying on the bed under me with no shirt or bra, the obvious was expected to happen.  Unfortunately, I realized I had no desire to have sex with her.  During the intimate massage, I had smelled her and pheromones were not in my favor.   Needless to say, the rest of that evening was uncomfortable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oubliette

I went to three high schools, two middle schools, and two elementary schools.  I've lived in three countries.  One of the things my identity does not contain is a sense of place. I was born in Seattle but I haven't lived there since I was one.  In fact, the only place I have lived long enough to count is the midwest of the United States, and I feel as alienated there as an illegal immigrant in Arizona.  The best compliments I've ever received have been foreign nationals telling me they don't believe I'm American.

Certainly, the armpit of America, where I currently reside, has no bonds on my heart.  There is nothing about this pedestrian-unfriendly, humidity-ridden backwater that encourages my continued presence.  It does, however, demonstrate a foible of my character.  Having moved somewhere, having started a new job, I am loath to leave.

Moving to Florida really only had one thing going for it; it wasn't St. Louis.  I'd lived a couple hours away for my last two years of high school and they certainly didn't commend it to my memory.  Although, I did have two good friends here, Herb and John, they were both in the military and weren't really tied to location.  I moved because I had a job offer outside of St. Louis.  And, to be completely honest, that was probably the best choice I've made in years.

To be sure, moving to a place with few prospects and dubious weather simply because you need to leave where you are isn't the smartest choice in the world.  Still, I have a job, and I don't have memories haunting my every breath.  Nothing here reminds me of anyone.

I do wish I could forge some new memories that have nothing to do with a computer screen.  I guess that will be part of stage two.  If stage one was breaking my ties to my past, then stage two is finding someplace to make new ties.

This story doesn't really have a point.  It is more of a literary dead end.

Requiem for a Car

Our paths diverged in the woods and I took the one without you on it.

The last time my ex wife and I had to buy a car, she was upset because I had essentially chosen all of our cars before.  Never mind that I made more practical choices, it wasn't fair.  After weeks of browbeating, I acquiesced.  "You know how broke we are.  Choose whatever you want and we will live with the consequences."  Little did I know, I would be living with them well past the end of our marriage.

You see, given freedom to choose whatever she wanted, instead of choosing a car for herself, she choose a Volkswagen Beetle.  The problem there might not be immediately obvious.  You see, she could only drive an automatic.  She couldn't be bothered to learn to drive a stick, certainly not from me.  She choose a five year old, manual transmission, Volkswagen Beetle.  You see, she cared more about appearances than about practicality or even courtesy.  She didn't care if I liked it.  She cared only that we would own a Beetle.

I'm probably short-changing her, but considering that I had to drive the car for the next 5-7 years, I'm okay with that.  We even got a 49cc scooter out of it, not that she ever rode the scooter.  And to make it worse, the scooter wasn't really powerful enough to carry my large, overweight torso, though I tried for a while.  I stopped when I got tired of frequent stalls anytime we (me and the scooter) went up a short incline.

I drove the beetle faithfully for years.  When we were divorced, I still drove it.  Last year, it cost me over $3,000 to keep it running.  When I chose a job in Florida (I lived in St. Louis, MO), the car was dying if I ever failed to run it for more than 24 hours.  I knew it wasn't long for this world.

I packed the car, drove to Florida, parked the car and left it.  And, there it sat for months.  Finally, just this week, in fact, I donated the car to charity.  It had been sitting in the parking lot for nearly 6 months.  I am no longer insured.  I don't drive at all.

Goodbye, VW Beetle.  We've been through some really bad times, you and I.  I hope your next owner appreciates you way more than I did.

Why, What-for, and Whereto

This site is a series of vignettes from my life combined with poetry that I write when either, I can't think of a story right now or I hurt too much and the pain bleeds out into words.  Someday, I'd like to publish my memoirs.  I love storytelling in general and my life is so full of "truth is stranger than fiction" moments that creating and telling stories from my life is one of my simplest joys.

If you like what you read here, please let me know.  I'm toying with the idea of writing fiction, but so far, I find the idea too intimidating to tackle.  I guess I need to get on doing one thing a day that scares me.

I've written several of the stories here before, sometimes in email, sometimes in some form of chat.  I've told most of these stories countless time in person.  At parties, if I am silent, most of the time it is because I don't want to hijack the conversation more than I don't have anything to say.  My stories might not all be from the sea, but I think they  are salty enough for even the most road weary warrior to find some enjoyment inside.

If you enjoy reading these, please let me know.  I need a little encouragement to keep writing.  Who knows, your kind words could be all that is needed to keep the next Shakespeare going.  Or, they could just fuel my rise into obscurity.  Either way, I will appreciate it immensely.

Biology 101

I was a late starter.  I never kissed a girl or went on a date until my senior year of high school.  Even then, I only went out with two women.  With the first, it ended badly.  The second was with a college ballerina with a black belt in tae kwon do who was home on spring break.  With both, I never did more than kissing, though hindsight suggests I could probably have done more with both.

I was still a virgin when I started with the Navy.  After boot camp, I made my way up to the Presidio of Monterey where the Defense Language Institute would be me home for a year and a half.  For my first month at DLI, I couldn't leave the base and I couldn't wear any civilian clothes.  The closest I was allowed was PT (physical training) clothes when I wasn't on duty.  Basically, this meant sweat pants and a tshirt.

I spent a lot of time hanging out at the barracks.  The first week I was there, I also tried out for the imaginary drill team.  I'd done drill in junior ROTC and enjoyed the physical dexterity and timing it required.  Unfortunately, Monterey didn't really have enough people for a real Navy drill team so that didn't last.  I did, however meet Nancy (name changed to protect the guilty).  She was trying to start the drill team.

Nancy and I hit it off fairly well.  A few days later, I was hanging out with her and 5-6 other people.  We were watching a movie in Nancy's room.  I was sitting against the wall on Nancy's bed and she had backed up against me between my legs.  During the movie, she started rubbing against me.  I was very aroused.  I think I mentioned, I was still a virgin?  Nothing like a virgin 18 year old male to have a hair trigger.  Her rubbing made me cream in my pants.  This embarrassed me to no end, but I was still hot an bothered.

After the movie, everyone left and I stayed.  Nancy and I made out and started some heavy petting.  Eventually, this led me to giving her several orgasms with my fingers.  Her pants were still on, but I have a high awareness of tactile sense.  In high school, I used to solve three dimensional puzzles with my eyes closed just to develop a higher awareness of what I could feel.  I used that well developed sense to explore the female body for the first time.  I was awkward and embarrassed at my early ejaculation so that is as much as we did.  It turned out, she was a little crazy and I broke it off with her shortly after that.  We never did repeat that scene.

A bit later, I got interested in Lisa.  I'd met Lisa in Nancy's room that night.  Lisa and I hung out our first night in the lounge in her barracks.  I don't remember the exact rule, but for some reason, I wasn't allowed to go into her room yet, maybe the restrictions on the first month.  One of the watch standers would periodically come through the various barracks lounges checking on people.  This chance of getting caught made it all the more exciting when I had her shirt up around her shoulders and I was sucking on her nipples or exploring the generous curves of her breasts with my mouth.

Lisa and I were together for a couple years.  She took my virginity.  She also took my innocence, but that is a different story.  Still, it was quite surprising when Nancy came to me several months later and told me she was pregnant with my child.  Yes, I was a virgin when I groped her.  I had, however, had basic biology and sex education, not to mention an extremely well rounded education from constant reading.  Basic biology suggested that if there were no sperm to vagina contact, impregnation was impossible.  It turned out that Nancy tried the "I'm pregnant with your baby" routine on nearly every guy she ever dated.  I'm so glad I was ashamed of coming early that first night, or I might have believed her.

Sleeping on the Floor

My last year of high school, I got tired of sleeping on a bed.  I gave my bed to my sister as it was one of a pair of bunk beds and I began sleeping on the floor.  I had a couple blankets and a pillow.  Around me were books and an old cassette player I'd bought from a friend for $10.

My room was all I had for a haven.  Most of the time, if I wasn't at school, I was in that room, reading and listening to music.  My love of Kitaro started there, as did my love of Depeche Mode.

In fact, I loved Depeche Mode so much that I smuggled the liner notes from the Violator album into boot camp, but that is another story.

I read countless books, mostly science fiction and fantasy.  I read Ender's Game overnight without sleeping, nearly missing school the next day.

I even hid there from my family.

As a child, I had been a Trekie.  I used to watch reruns of the original Star Trek with my parents.  I watched Star Trek the Next Generation as the episodes originally aired.  I had the hots for Tasha Yar, and then, they killed her off.  That was pretty much when I stopped watching.

My family continued to watch Star Trek, every available episode.  I grew apart from the shows and the universe.  This was just one example of my family's obsessions that I did not enjoy, like when they watched Beetlejuice 8 times in a row on one weekend.  It was over a decade before I could appreciate that movie again.

One day, my father took offense that I hid from the family in my room.  I remember being ordered to "watch television with the family."  By then, I never watched television and almost universally disliked everything on it.  Needless to say, watching television with my family did not qualify as family time for me.

Eventually, I joined the Navy and left home.  I slept in beds like normal people, but every once in a while, I would find a reason to sleep on the floor, piles of clothes on the bed, discomfort in a hotel, whatever.

Now, decades later, I am a divorcee.  I live alone in an apartment.  For months after I moved in, I slept on the floor.  Because a house guest was coming, I bought a shikifuton.  This is the top layer of the Japanese sleep system, a simple 4" cotton stuffed pad.  Today, my shikifuton is the closest I come to a bed.  It is heaven compared to sleeping on the carpet, but it has compressed to probably 2".  Once again, I find myself basically sleeping on the floor.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Silent, Lonely Bottles

Messages in a bottle
Dropped one after another
Splashing off the stern.

Silly little messages
Drifting on the tide
Hoping beyond hope
To catch someone's eye.

I litter the sea
With my random bottles of thought
And wait
And wait
And wait
To see if they are received
But, there is no response

And the ocean's crashing silence
Haunts the places I've been
Where I will never be found again

Friday, April 13, 2012

Radiant

Sun shining brightly
Makes me feel all sprightly
As my feet dance lightly
And I move in ways unsightly

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Accepting Hope

Wandering in the night
Twilight come and gone
Hearing soiled music
Listening to the song

The verses leave me tearful
The end just leaves me raw
Facing angry darkness
It grabs me in its jaws

Jerking I escape it
But it leaves a frightful rend
Deep into my psyche
Lasting to the end

Limping as I'm running
Striving to escape
I fear I've gone too far
And carry too much hate

But beacons shine before me
And fill me up with hope
The love and understanding
Of friends who help me cope

And wander towards the lovely lights
That help me through this night.

Grasping beyond Hope

Every day I'm slipping
Further towards despair
And every day I'm gasping
Hot and putrid air
But every day I'm hoping
Someone will be there
Despite my endless moaning
To tell me that they care

Pity

Blackest dark despair
Infesting my life
Wringing rotten words
Not up to the strife
Of festering wounds
And sickness that is rife
With spoiling ugly insects
From a cold and rusted knife

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Am Not a Vampire


While I was a junior in my third high school, most of my classmates were taking the ACT and SAT in preparation for applying to colleges. I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) instead. This was one of many enjoyable tests that I have taken and my scores made me very attractive to the military. The test is scored many ways but my main score, my overall score, was 99. Theoretically, this is as good as you can get on the overall score. The scoring system prevents you from getting 100.

As my classmates began sending out applications and essays, I started meeting with recruiters. Initially, I met with the Army recruiters thinking that I would join the reserves. After an overnight trip to the MEPS station, the only specialty they offered me seemed to involve installing telephone poles during combat. Blame the recruiter for my imperfect memory of the MOS, but I turned them down.

Next, I met with the Navy recruiter. He asked what I was interested in and I recall saying "codes and stuff.” What followed was a classic example of salesmanship. He had already seen my ASVAB score and knew I could probably qualify for almost any field. He suggested, "Cryptologic Technician Interperative.” Cryptologic sounded exciting so I agreed. I needed another round of tests at the MEPS station, so off I went to Montgomery, Alabama.

This time around, I took two tests. The first was a mathematics test to determine if I was qualified to be a Nuclear Technician. I was particularly good at mathematics in school and did quite well on this test. The second was perhaps the most enjoyable test I've taken in my 40 years of life, the DLAB, or Defense Language Aptitude Battery. You see, CTIs were actually linguists and they needed to determine if I was likely to be good at languages. For a brief idea of what this test was like, check out the sample test about halfway down the page at the Navy job description. I scored 125 on the DLAB, well enough to be guaranteed the language of my choosing.

The MEPS recruiter met with me after they had scores for both of my tests. His candid assessment after meeting with me was that while they were required to offer me Nuclear Tech because of my test scores, I seemed like too much fun to be one. He asked what language I was interested in and I said Chinese. I signed a 5-year enlistment contract with a $5,000 bonus (if I completed school) and 1 year of inactive reserves while I was still in high school. While my classmates were scurrying around their senior year worried about what school to apply to or waiting for acceptance letters, I had already decided what I'd be doing out of high school. I was Navy bound.

To be a CTI, you have to get a Top Secret / Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance. This requires an extensive background investigation, generally considered to cost approximately $50,000. This included listing all of my previous addresses for some period of time, an onerous task indeed, as I went to three high schools, two middle schools, and two elementary schools and had lived at 18 different addresses by the time I was 18 years old. This process starts while you are in school and failure to gain the necessary security clearance means you are likely to spend the rest of the time in the Navy scrubbing decks and painting bulkheads.

When I got to DLI (the Defense Language Institute) in Monterey, California, I found out that the only Chinese they taught was Mandarin, understandable, as this was the language of the Chinese government. Unfortunately, my egotistical and stubborn 18-year-old self was only interested in Cantonese so I asked if I could learn something else. They listed a few languages and I had heard Arabic was the hardest so I chose that.

To understand why I chose the hardest language I could, you need to understand a little of my mentality at that age. In my first elementary school, I was in gifted classes. I was a bright student who loved learning and my parents had engaged me outside of school in reading and in mathematical puzzles. As we moved around the country, I started falling between the cracks of various curricula. In addition, my poor social skills stagnated and I found it harder and harder to relate to my peers. By my last two years of high school, I was disenchanted with the educational process. I had stopped seeking academic challenges and started coasting through classes. I got high grades without trying so why bother making an effort to do more?

At DLI, I thought I was faced with a bigger challenge. I thought I had found something to break me out of my rut, which would require effort and work. Choosing the hardest language was an attempt to use my environment against myself and kick me out of my lethargy. It failed miserably. I didn't appreciate the opportunity I had and I coasted through Arabic as much as through high school physics.

Arabic was a long course at DLI. Where some courses were over in as little as 5 months, Arabic was 67 weeks. The whole time I was in school, I'd have to wonder about my background investigation. I could be the best Arabic linguist they'd ever seen, but fail to get my clearance and I'd be seeing a lot of the insides of toilets for 5 years.

As my first Christmas in the Navy rolled around, I hung out at the school standing watches and going to disciplinary inspections. The school was a lonely place as most people take leave and visit family but there were enough of us around to keep me occupied. Most weekdays, we had to muster at 0700 and were free to head to our classes by 0720. Over the holiday, we didn't have musters and only had to show up at the assigned times for watches.

The first day after the break, I went to muster at 0700 as usual. During muster, they informed me that I needed to meet with DIS (Defense Investigative Service - one of two agencies working on my background investigation) at 0645. Yes, they told me nearly a half an hour after my appointment that I had to go meet an investigator. This was not the most confidence inspiring start to my day. With visions of endless painting swimming before my eyes, I hurried down to the DIS offices where the secretary said simply, "oh, you are one of those. Have a seat."

I sat, stewing in my concern for half an hour before the agent called me in to his office. After some brief conversation about my appointment time, the agent asked me, "Can you tell me why the woman who lives across the street from you in Florida thinks you are a vampire?"

....

Let that sink in for a minute. I'm being investigated for a security clearance and someone said I'm a vampire.

....

"Umm, no, I can't. I would like to know why she let me babysit for her if she thought I was a vampire."

"You can't think of any reason this woman would tell our investigators that you are a vampire?"

....

A few instants of furious thinking later, I happen upon a possible explanation. This woman and her family usually went all out for Halloween. I remembered relating a story to them a couple Halloweens before. When my family lived in Maine, I had worked at a haunted house one Halloween. I was usually the guy who jumps out and scares people in the dark maze. One day, I wasn't feeling well so instead, they had me lie in the coffin and sit up periodically to scare people who thought I was a stuffed dummy. I was tired and ill, the coffin was surprisingly comfortable, and I fell asleep. I remembered relating this story of how I was one of the few people who could claim to have slept in a coffin to this woman and her husband and I told the agent how that had come about. From this, I could see a game of telephone resulting in her believing or at least saying that I was a vampire or thought I was.

The agent asked me a few more questions, seemed to accept my answers, and then produced a piece of paper that I was to sign. This paper attested that, "I am not a vampire. I have never been a vampire. I have no intention of becoming a vampire," to which, I was required to affix my signature. To this day, the US government has that signed paper on file. I just have one question, as it doesn't seem to be covered, "what if I change my mind?"

After I signed the most ridiculous document I've ever had to place my John Hancock on, the agent surveyed me critically and then said, "You don't seem to be very bothered by this."

"Are you kidding? Someday, this is going to make a great story."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Books for Provo

This story is from when I was stationed in Rota, Spain but was sent to a three month seminar at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. It covers the two weeks from one week before I left until one week after I arrived in Utah.

As I packed for the trip, obviously, I went to the book store. About a week before I left, I went to the bookstore to get books to take with me. I had no idea what the place I was going to would be like so I thought I would stock up. I found a pile of books and checked out. $200.

The day of my flight, I stopped in to the bookstore to grab something extra. I'm not sure how I did it or how I had room for all the books in my bags but total price, $200.

One day, in the first week of the seminar, the instructor was showing us around the BYU campus and we stopped in to my first ever college book store. I rummaged around, found books, of course, and checked out. $200.

Yep, that is right. In under 2 weeks, I spent $600, just on books. Surprisingly, when I left Provo, there was only one book I hadn't finished.

This was when I first read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and it's sequel, "Lila." Both books are extraordinary. But, whatever you do, don't read them back to back if it is the first time you are reading them. The primary thesis of the first seems to be that quality is indivisible. Along the way, you read a touching and heartbreaking story of a man and his son, but the main treatise is philosophical. By the end, you should be fairly convinced he is right and quality is indivisible. Unfortunately, the first thing he does in Lila is divide quality. With no warning or preparation or even chance to do my own thinking in between, it is a bit like being slapped in the face with a cold fish. Still, "Lila" was nearly as good to read as "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cacophony of Silent Voices

crashing symbols in my head
words that never must be said
touching lives they're unforgiving
never accept the pain we're living
seductive sirens taunting barkers
make our tapestry much darker
silence now the words receding
as my heart sits broken bleeding
take this lull now pay attention
everything you want is mentioned
I can't make out the voice I'm hearing
sick musicians sticks are rearing
I face them now with rising dread
crashing symbols in my head

The Note

You know my muse is not my mistress.
She's a harpy siren true.
All it takes before she'll serve me
is pound of flesh, my heart will do.
As she consumes me she inspires
effluvia of pain her brew
that into me pours endless meaning
destroys me all completely through.
My muse you know is not my mistress.
Killing me is what she'll do.
Don't blame me for this thing I do now.
If she were yours you'd do it too.

Promontory

In shock
Terrified
Yawning chasm
Gaping at my sides
I can't regret I've come here
Nor everything I see
But just one push from you
Would spell the end of me

Dreaming
The vista filling me
More beautiful a sight
I don't think there can be
Than the world spread here round me

Breathing
And aching
Pierced by freezing air
Angels sitting here
Can feel you by my side
And whisper songs
Of nothing

Why

She's a sinner
But she's innocent
Through her eyes
I see the world as its meant
To be seen
A beautiful place
With powerful currents
And bonds tying to place
The people around me in a pattern
That seems so wonderful
And meaningful to me

She is gorgeous
But her beauty inside
Is brighter than thoughts
Than pure lust can abide
Like an angelic halo
Her hearts worn without
And she cares for her friends
Beyond shadow of doubt

She laughs
But its not meant to hurt
No malice nor spite
And she's never curt
With those around her
Too blind to see
Their own shortcomings
Nor does she flee
From showing their faces
In mirrors in front
Of their eyes transparent
To them still she tries
When with despair I cry

She has passion
And it moves me
In ways that surprise
And delight me and
Make me feel alive
As I listen to her singing
And hear the words that I choose
To believe are about me
Though I was not her muse

She is brilliant
But even so she cares
She's a mother
Has a husband
Yet still she is there
In my thoughts inappropriate
And I don't wish her gone
Though I hope and I pray
I never do her wrong

She is everything
That I want her to be
I wouldn't change anything
About how she is
Though God came to me and offered
To do what I asked to improve
Her, I'd stand there agape
That the all knowing maker
Had made a mistake

She is untouchable
But never too far
From my thoughts or my feelings
And I want her there
I'll fight for this bittersweet
End I see there

No Escape

Every word I hear
Makes me long for what I fear
Makes me yearn for heavy sinning
For the end and the beginning

As I flee from all the lyrics
Playing evil jedi mind tricks
Then I see the world around me
And I realize I can't flee

Because they come from all my senses
And in all the crazy tenses
How can everything remind me
Of just how bad I want to be?

Missing You Again

I'm missing you again.
I'm counting the seconds to an unspecified time as I'm missing you.
I'm dreading the minutes and hours and days as I'm missing you.
I'm watching for heartbeats that seem out of place as I'm missing you.
And I'm watching the stutter step tattoos you've played on my mind as I'm missing you.

I'm missing you again.

Drug of Choice

I told myself I wouldn't get up.
I told myself I wouldn't go looking for my dealer of my drug of choice.
Yet here I am, looking.
In the wee hours, I'm weak, oh so very weak.

I told myself I wouldn't go looking for my drug of choice.
But I'm looking, not finding, just looking.
Here I am, looking.
I'm weak, oh so very weak.

No dealer, no drug.
Maybe I can break this addiction.
But here I am looking for my drug of choice.
I'm weak, so weak.

I wasn't looking for my drug of choice
For my dealer, for my drug
I swear I wasn't looking
I'm not so weak.

I wasn't here looking for my drug of choice
Please, God, where is it.
I can't find it.
I need it.

My drug of choice.
My drug of choice.
I was here looking for my drug of choice.
I've lost myself and I don't want to fight it.

Thank you, God, for keeping me from my drug of choice.
For watching out for this sinner with the whiny voice.
I don't deserve your comfort while looking for my drug of choice.
But I found it, in the most unlikely of places.

Why can't I trade you for my drug of choice?
Cause I'm dying and looking and wishing and missing.
But still you are there to fill the void.
For the faithless, for the weakest.

I'm still looking for my drug of choice.
I'm still looking for my drug of choice.
I'm still looking for my drug of choice.
But your voice is still calling.
I bid you good night.

My Exquisite Weakness

In the morning
First thought, first sign of life
Is of you though it should be my wife

In the night
Last thought of the night
Is are you there on the other side

The stories changing
And it continues to evolve
And I fear you'll soon regret my love

I wish affection
Were everything I felt
But I have got to play the hand I'm dealt

Words I can't say
But they will haunt me still
And future choices require acts of will

My perfect weakness
With whom I cannot lie
My one and only whom the world's denied.

Exquisite weakness
What have I done
To deserve a life so long

Without you near me
It has all gone wrong
I wish together was where we belonged

Oh, please ignore me
As I sing this song
I love to love you but I do you wrong

To push and prod you
To make you feel
Exquisite weakness, I wish that I weren't real.

Lines of Friendship

Lines that he crossed, ages ago
Lost them so far that he can't even tow them
Back to a place where friendship still rests
Which we all can agree would be for the best
But the words she's stopped saying
And the things she's stopped doing
Don't mean that the feelings are gone from her mind
But that damn line's so far that they can't tow the line
When the line is all they can afford to find

Tears

the blood pours hot
burning from my eyes
again and again

I've never let you go
though I act as if I have
memories surf so close
to the surface of my mind

the blood pours hot
burning from my eyes
as I'm reminded of you

Hopeless

drowning
lost
love is in the way
of breathing
or hoping
or seeing light of day
with my blindness
inside me
and you can't light my way
and the air that I gasp
smells of decay
for the love that I long for
is not mine to take
and I'm drowning
lost
for my love is in the way
of living
a life
where there isn't any pain
and the edges are slashing
my endurance away
as I'm drowning
lost
love is in the way

Nothing Left

I am as nothing to the wind
mien broken by shame and disgust
as tatters of my dreams waft away
gently mocking with momentary visages of beauty
gone strength, hope and stamina
sand pushed hither and yon
I am patterns of space on canvas of air
I am nothing
I am gone

Suicide's Fear

horns of ugly demons
rear with scaled heads
screams of souls tormented
long after they are dead
at once the darkening lava
burning up your legs
and lungs that gurgle death
of drowning sailors dread
heart picked out by buzzards
liver consumed by asps
fingers rots' erosion
skin all black and red
the smell of puss and gangrene
sickness every scent
face all stung by fire ants
eyes licked out by lions
nerves afire with death

not one of these I'm feared of
as what I'd do in health
when I turn face from god
and end it all myself

Tearing Apart

glistening droplets
fall to the floor
perfect little wavelets
spreading toward the door
hint of oxidation
brightening colored red
so long
so soon
each drop says he'll be dead
but fingers type
on keys not smeared
so one must not be true
I know that there are two of me
I don't know which is you

Perfect Bloody Masks

all my screaming is hidden
haunting inside
where you can't hear my bleeding
or see my eyes cry
so oft is it hidden
there is no where to see
what you're watching
as they dance paroxysms of glee
all my demons rejoicing
for soon I will fall
but nothing will make it
to my face at all

Repast or Respite?

tumbling void of nothingness
followed by the numb
waves of quiet emptiness
leave me deaf and dumb

the scary thing that comes to me
and wracks me to an fro
hast snucketh oft to haunts unknown
or hast it, I don't know

I'm trembling, crying, suffering
fear quivers deep inside
of that which might just be me
pretending just to lie

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Goodbye, Stories in 25 Words or Less

Someone started a thread on the Amazon forums. Can you tell a story in 25 words or less? The theme was goodbye. The following are some of my contributions to this clever writing exercise.

---

Down the trail he trode and trode through snow and drift and mud. Would he return? No one knew. But not without loss of blood.

---

Wing healed, strength regained, she knew it was his time. Yet still a tear she shed while smiling at his climb. Goodbye, eagle. Soar high.

---

Soft snow slowly fills his tracks. The icy air kisses her hot streaming tears. A gust, a final sob, every trace of him is gone.

---

Her lip quivers at the emotions unexpressed. What if he never calls?
Knock, knock.
"I forgot to say goodbye."
He missed work that day.

---

The solemn look. The pomp and circumstance.
The fateful knife plunged in and out, waved to and fro.
"Goodbye sammich," said the boy.

---

Resounding bang. Muscles explode. Like lightning I am off. Goodbye suckers. See you at the finish line.

---

As I end the call, I can hear her crying, alone. The ocean between us cannot sooth the way I feel. I am an ass.

---

As I began to walk, I could not see the yawning gulf of homelessness and fear. Bright, welcoming freedom made me blind.

---

As the final threads parted, my heart leaping into my throat, our eyes connected and I mouthed my final I love you. She survived.

---

Three years he had watched this one but today she watched him back. He could taste his growing excitement. Tonight, we rise again.

---

Turning away, bright eyes glistening, she takes in the sights. Shimmering sunlight burns a morning road across the lake. Her new life beckons.

---

Before, after, since. Who were these people? As the first shovel full of dirt fell, she cried, alone in the crowd. And then, she died.

---

I once met Ned and Fred
Who both would soon be dead.
They drew their knives
To end their lives.
Fell off the roof instead.

---

Evoking his last sigh, the poet sets pen to desk and waits for ink to dry. His work is done. Goodbye.

---

Roaring orange flames blossomed from the tail of the ponderously rising craft. As it faded into the darkness of space, a small boy waved goodbye.

---

As the last crenelations vanished into the rising surf, Henry happily ate his chicken fingers, unassailable fortresses of sand long since forgotten.

---

Twenty five words is a potent format. What would you write? You can see the original thread, along with many other spectacular twenty five word stories here.

The Blind Juggler's Pants

In Rota, Spain, where I was stationed in the Navy, there were a lot of west European girls, young women, whatever, who were basically working their way across europe. They would work someplace for a while until they'd saved enough money to move on to the next place and then they would travel until they ran out of money again and repeat. There were girls from Dublin, from the UK, and from various other places. Many of them worked as bartenders in the bars that catered to the Americans from the military base. Several of these women were street performers in addition to everything else and at one point, I and a friend hung out with several of them.

I had always juggled but I never really progressed beyond three balls. While I was with the women, I taught myself to juggle clubs. I also went out a few times with them. I would juggle while they performed. One night, as we were busking our way through town, I decided to do cartwheels across the street. Being who I am, I split my pants. This was one of those complete air conditioning splits too, a vent from front to back. Because I was young and shameless, I went around the rest of the night with split pants juggling.

Another time, we went to Carnival over in Cadiz across the bay. I wore garb from my SCA days, including a liripipe which was a sort of hood. It turned out that I could pull the hood down over my eyes and just barely see through the hood but it looked like I was completely blind. At one point, we took a table outside a tavern and just to amuse myself, I pulled my hood down to see if I could still see well enough to juggle. I only had the hood down for thirty seconds or maybe a minute but when I pulled the hood back up, there was a huge crowd of people gathered around our table watching me. I must have appeared to be juggling blind. I couldn't see well enough to see them gathering and they thought I couldn't see at all. It was a surreal experience.

On Drinking

I was an unusual child. Obvious biological imperatives were always something I resented. When most children were learning to go to the bathroom or pee themselves, I was learning to hold it. I would go longer and longer without finding a way to relieve myself. As a result of this, between the ages of 8 and 12, I got a lot of kidney infections and bladder infections, often associated with a high fever and a trip to the hospital. Often, at the hospital, they would have to draw blood two or three times because the pain of the needle was so much that I would struggle, breaking the red blood cells. I believe this is where my irrational, or perhaps not so irrational, fear of needles came from. I was 18 before I conquered that fear with a sheer act of will. I still have to watch them stick me to completely control it.

I spent a lot of time in the hospital and I did permanent damage to my body. I remember one of the radiologists telling my mother that I had the bladder of a 65 year old after one of my tests. Eventually, I had surgery to remove one of the causes of my kidney infections. By then, one kidney only functioned at 30% effectiveness. I'll probably never be a kidney donator.

Part of the course of treatment for my problems was drinking, a lot. As I look back on it, that doesn't make sense. The kid is too stupid to go to the bathroom when he needs to. I know. Let's make sure he has to go all the time. Anyway, by the time I was ten, I had to drink a gallon of water a day and generally a 32 oz bottle of some form of cranberry juice. Imagine, 50 lbs and drinking at least 1.25 gallons of liquid a day. I had to drink all the time. If you put a glass in front of me, I had to drink it. No hesitation. No thought. Just drink, glass, drink. As you can imagine, this formed a strong habit towards drinking.

This habit of finishing whatever glass is in front of me posed a challenge as I started to consume alcohol. No one ever taught me about pacing. I just sort of pieced it together. After a few problems with getting quite drunk, I figured I had to do something. First, I tried drinking one and then two glasses of water for every alcoholic drink I consumed. This was moderately successful although I can still be pretty stupid about using the facilities when I need to instead of when it seems convenient. Eventually, I learned to pace myself and when I pay attention to avoid severe effects from alcohol.

Still, if I don't pay attention, say I'm distracted by someone, I don't control myself as well as I should and I might drink four drinks in a row without realizing just how much I've drunk. And sometimes, though not recently, I do just let loose the controls and drink to capacity and damn the effects. This has become more likely in the last couple years but it is still a pretty rare occurance. Generally, attention is more than enough to control my drinking, unless distracted.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Missed Inspection

Another story from Monterey. The missed inspection.

At one point, I was roommates with Hartung. I can't remember his
first name but his last name was Hartung and that is what everyone
called him.

Hartung was a disagreeable fellow. He drank every night and came in
wasted and always woke hung over. Through some strange occurrence, he
often didn't have to get up when everyone else did in the morning.

One morning, when there was an inspection, I had stayed up until
something like 0300 sewing rank insignia on a uniform so I would pass
inspection in the morning. After I passed out in exhaustion, Hartung
came in. He didn't have to go to the inspection and he didn't want to
wake up in the morning so he kindly unset MY alarm clock. As in,
intentionally, physically manipulated my alarm clock so the alarm was
no longer active.

Muster and inspection was at 0720. I woke up at 0730, shot up in bed
and looked out the window as my window overlooked the muster grounds.
There was everyone lined up on the muster grounds being
inspected. I think I put on my uniform and sought out my next in
command after the inspection. I'm not really sure and it doesn't bear
on the story. Obviously, I was in a lot of trouble for missing a
muster and missing an inspection.

Now, we introduce the XO (executive officer). The XO is the second in
command next to the CO (commanding officer). It is the XO's job to be
a real bastard so the CO doesn't have to. The XO is responsible for
maintaining discipline in the command. Our XO in Monterey was known
for being really mean. He would scream at people when they went in
for disciplinary action. I mean, he screamed at everyone. Usually
for a long time. People down the hall could hear him. People in the
next building could hear him. He tore every single swinging dick that
came his way an asshole so big an aircraft carrier could sail though
it.

The next morning, I report to the XO's office for my ass chewing. "So
you missed an inspection. What happened?" "No excuse sir." And
then, the unheard of happened. He assigned me corrective duty and let
me go, without ever, not one single time, raising his voice. Everyone
was stunned. No one could believe it. People stared at me in the
halls. I had done the impossible. I face the XO without any yelling.

I swear, until this day, about an hour ago, it had never once occurred
to me how I escaped the wrath of the XO. In addition to being
hard-asses, XO's are supposed to be prescient. The should know
everything that happens in the command. It occurs to me today, that
he knew Hartung had reset my clock. He was prepared to chew me out
for blaming my problems on someone else. I suppose most people would
have. But I didn't claim a defense. It was my fault I didn't make
it. Hartung interfered with my plans but I could have planned better.
I could have asked someone to check on me or gotten more sleep. I
relied on the unreliable and took responsibility for my fuck up. I
see, now, that I was something rare, in the military and otherwise. I
had character. It is so rare, we barely recognize it, especially in
ourselves. When faced with character, the XO let me go. I already
had what he meant to instill.

My punishment was to stand for inspection twice a day (0800 and 2000)
over a four day weekend. Again, I made it into a game. I found out
just how close I could cut it getting from my girlfriends barracks in
civilian clothes to my uniform to the watch floor. By the time the
weekend was over, I had it down to tens of seconds.

Now, having made the character statement, I also recognize what my
company commander saw in boot camp. When all the leadership in the
company was called into the office and made to do push-ups as they
came in. I did four push-ups when one of the company commanders said,
"now, that is character," and had me stop. I've pondered that
statement for two decades. What did he see? I didn't see it. I
couldn't see the difference.

Now, I know. When I was told to do push-ups, I did them. I didn't
question it. I didn't ask why or whinge or complain. I didn't slouch
or huff. I just did the push-ups. Everyone else, as they came in,
resented the push-ups. They wanted to know why or what they had done.
To me, push-ups were part of why I was in boot camp. To everyone
else, they were a punishment and here they were a punishment
undeserved and thus resented. It has taken me 20 years to understand
that statement by my commander.

The question becomes, do I still have character? Can I display it in
this time of my adversity? I don't know. Can character be lost?
Have I lost it?

Polishing the Brass

I graduated boot camp and went to Defense Language Institute (DLI) at
the Presidio of Monterey in Monterey, California. Usually, "A" school
is the school you enter after boot camp and almost acts as an extended
boot camp. They tend to be very strict with things like inspections and
watches, etc, in order to prepare you for military life.
DLI was not like that. To say it was relaxed may be an
understatement. We wore civilian clothes at night and only wore
uniforms on watches and in class. Most people ate food out in town.
It was a bit like going to a high school with a school uniform.

After approximately 50 weeks of my 67 week course, a new XO (executive
officer) came in and started to change things. He wanted things to be
more like a traditional A school. He instituted weekly uniform and
room inspections and failing an inspection had severe consequences,
things like not being able to leave the base on the weekends and
standing extra watches.

I failed room inspections several weeks in a row. I resented the imposition
of new standards and I always failed for tiny infractions. Finally, I
snapped. I turned the whole thing into a game. I went way overboard.
I mean, I cleaned everything like it was going to be used for an
operating room. This included the light fixture.

We had these bulbous round light fixtures on the ceilings. They had
been there so long that they were mostly painted in place. Initially,
they were brass. They were a uniformly drab color now. Well, I
cracked the thing free of the paint very carefully and set out to
polish it. I got brasso and started putting some serious elbow grease
into it. Unfortunately, this wasn't nearly enough.

Something many people don't know about military bases is because their
people move all the time, they make an effort to accommodate nearly
every hobby under the sun. For me, this is significant because my friends,
Jon and Veda, lived on Fort Ord army base and Fort Ord, as so many
other bases, had a jewelry making shop.

I took the light fixture to the jewelry shop, set it against a
polishing wheel and by god, I had that entire fixture shining as it
may not have ever done. I mean, seriously, it may not have come off the
production line with as much polish as I put on it. The thing fucking
shined. It nearly glowed. It was like the sun shown down in the room
when you turned the lights on.

My next inspection, they took one look at that tiny glowing sun on the
ceiling and passed me on the spot. I never failed another inspection
as long as I was in Monterey.

Drowning


ragged like the rusted edge of an iron knife
corroded by time and tears, drawn hot across my skin
salty sweet the blood wells up from the hole in my heart
I'm drowning, lost, what's happening here

drowning, drowning in you
drowning in myself

I don't want to think, it's not safe to feel
this pain in my life seems almost too real
haunting my sight, all I see is you
what will this torrent cause me to do

Niagra has nothing on my life pouring out
crushing and pounding and crashing me down
sinking beneath the surface, churning and rolling
there is no succumbing when the water holds you down

lost beneath the surface as I drown

drowning, drowning in you
drowning in myself
drowning in myself

Untitled


crashing symbols in my head
words that never must be said
touching lives they're unforgiving
never accept the pain we're living
seductive sirens taunting barkers
make our tapestry much darker
silence now the words receding
as my heart sits broken bleeding
take this lull now pay attention
everything you want is mentioned
I can't make out the voice I'm hearing
sick musicians sticks are rearing
I face them now with rising dread
crashing symbols in my head

Ode to Nothing


There is nothing here, I swear.
There's nothing here to see.
No words or thoughts to show I care.
I'll prove I know just how to be.

Everything that's here around me,
The clouds, the stars, the moon.
Nothing wrong as you can see.
The darkness comes too soon.

I can speak without offense
My thoughts would make you go away
Sometimes I think you're all so dense
You can't understand the things I never say

So why don't you just go to hell
You horrors I can't share.
There's nothing here for you to tell
And no one there to care.

Silence

Echoing nothing
Tiptoes cross our lives
Songs without verses
Or notes to surprise

Nothing finding purchase
Nothing taking hold
And sending us to places
When it sounds too bold

I shout a raucous nothing
Across the great divide
I hope it helps its audience
Survive

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Climbing Life


When I was a boy, I used to climb everything. I loved nothing so much as ascending from the ground as far as I could go. This small collection of stories shows what I mean.

When I was an infant, I learned to climb out of my crib and out of my playpen before I could walk. My parents had to put the playpen on me
 upside down.

When I was two, we lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building in Aviano, Italy. I once locked myself in the bathroom, climbed out the window and hung until my father could pick the lock on the bathroom door.

When I was four, we lived in Washington again. My only memory of one of the places we lived is of the tree outside the apartment where I fell onto the sidewalk.

At the age of six, I had climbed every tree in my neighborhood. I climbed the crab apple in front of our house and ate the crab apples after they had sprayed for insects. This was the first time I had to have my stomach pumped.

I climbed the short tree behind our house with the well-defined Y branch and went to sleep. I woke up when I fell out of the tree. I do not recall if I woke when I hit the ground or while I was falling.

Further away, I climbed the tallest tree in the neighborhood. It was a deciduous tree though I just knew it had leaves, not needles, at the time. I couldn't have weighed much. I was a very small boy. I used to climb this tree until the top half of my body was higher than every branch, every leaf of the tree. My head and shoulders stuck up from the top of the tree, my hands and feet on small green branches bent with my weight, I would sit for hours swaying in the breeze above the world.

When I was seven, we moved. I was in a new neighborhood in a new state with many yet unclimbed trees. With my newly found adventurousness, I began climbing other things.

I climbed the tallest trees I could find. I climbed trees I could not wrap my arms around. I would climb the tree with the highest unobstructed branch and I would hang from that branch and drop to the ground.

I climbed the swings so I could jump from the top. Jumping from things was one of my new joys. I climbed every piece of playground equipment, first to see if I could and then to jump from the top.

As I aged, I never lost the joy of climbing things. When I was a senior in high school, I would climb out my window at night and up onto the top of the house. When I was depressed, I would climb the sycamore in front of our house in the middle of the night to be alone with my tears.

While I was in California, I climbed over the top of monoliths half set in the crashing surf. I climbed out of the third story window of a friend over Christmas vacation so I could climb in the window next door and shut off the alarm they had left behind.

Later, in Texas, the police stopped me when I was climbing up the outside of the barracks to get to the second floor balcony. This was when I learned that being on the outside of buildings is considered trespassing.

In Utah, I started climbing in a climbing gym. I would walk three miles to the climbing gym, spend as many as six hours climbing, and then walk back to the hotel. On the weekends, I would hike up into the foothills of the mountains and scramble straight up the steep hills and crags.

Just a few years ago, they added a new park downtown in St. Louis. City Park was a beautiful place and it had this sculpture built from girders. I climbed to the top of the sculpture several times, a few, just to see if I could jump from it.