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


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


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


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."