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.