GI Johnny (Fiction)

The ear-laden stalks of corn beat at me mercilessly as I ran through the row.  I could feel the tassels and insects getting caught in my hair and clothes.  I had no other route.  The cornfield provided my best cover.

I paused momentarily to listen for sounds of pursuit.  I couldn’t hear anything except for the sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds shrillingly proclaiming their territories.  With relief, I cautiously proceeded at a slower pace.

I could feel the hot afternoon sun burning the top of my scalp that my crew cut failed to conceal.  I looked down at the rich and moist soil that lay all around me with an idea in mind.  I scooped a handful and rubbed it into my hair hoping that it would have a soothing effect on my scalding head.  It did and I went on my way.

Earlier that morning, my team and I had been conducting a recon mission in hopes of locating the enemy stronghold.  As anyone that understands the art of war knows, we were not to be seen and especially not to be caught.

We were only twenty minutes into our mission when we were ambushed coming out of the cornfield.  Being the last man in our column, I was able to duck down and avoid detection.  I watched silently as the rest of my team was rounded up and disarmed.

I was going to lay low and follow the captors from a safe distance until I had the chance to free my comrades.  At least, this was my plan until I heard one of the enemies shout and point in my direction!

“Wait!” he yelled.  “There’s one more out there!”

I didn’t hang around to see if his buddies heard him or not.  I ran for my life!  The one good thing about escaping through a cornfield is that your pursuers could hear you, but they couldn’t see you.  With my speed, this was definitely in my advantage.  I quickly outran and outmaneuvered my pursuers until I could no longer hear the breaking cornstalks.

So now I had to figure out what to do.  Thanks to the soil I had rubbed into my scalp, my head felt much clearer and I was ready to think this through.  This was a situation I had rehearsed in my mind and in my dreams a thousand times, but this was different in that it was real.  I knew that if I weren’t careful, I wouldn’t be the hero I had pictured in those dreams.

I finally decided to continue with the recon mission in hopes of locating where my team would be held captive.  I quickly and quietly doubled back through the cornfield, while stopping for numerous sound checks, and located the site of the ambush without mishap.  It was easy to locate the dozen or so footprints in the soft soil that would lead me to my intended destination.

I followed their path for about five minutes through a new cornfield when I spotted two separate sets of tracks veering sharply to the right.  I immediately crouched down and feared the worst.  The enemy may have sent a couple of guys to double back and see if they were being followed.  I looked at the tracks more closely and ruled that guess out.  Both sets were running and took no care to cover their tracks.  Cornstalks were ripped down and trampled, almost as if one set of tracks was pursuing the other set.  I came to the conclusion that this was an escape attempt by one of my buddies.

I followed the escape route for about twenty yards to the location of the recapture.  Another set of prints joined the first two and there were signs of a struggle.  I then followed the three sets of prints as they rejoined the main body.

Suddenly I heard a noise and froze.  With my breath held, I tried to locate the source of the sound.  I heard it again.  It sounded like a voice that wasn’t too far away.  It was followed by a flurry of accompanying voices from the same location.  It definitely wasn’t the sound of pursuit so I assumed I had found my destination.

I cautiously made my way towards the sounds and came upon a drainage ditch.  I looked both ways and then low crawled across to the other side.  With my head slowly lifting over the edge, I caught my first glimpse of where the sounds had come from.  It was the base camp of the enemy, the stronghold we had been sent to recon.

The base camp was located at the edge of a town behind an old farmhouse that looked deserted.  Just off to my right, I could see a cluster of trees that formed a ring around my captured comrades.  Unfortunately, there were also about a dozen guards posted behind most of the trees.  I needed a plan and I needed it quick.

The sun once more began its merciless burning on top of my scalp and I was finding it difficult to think.  With my thought process muddled, I had to get away to a safer location to think this out.  My comrades were depending on me to rescue them so the plan needed to be flawless.

I carefully slid back from my vantage point then froze.  Have you ever had that feeling you were being watched?  I was feeling that feeling now.  I slowly turned my head to the left and saw her.  I couldn’t believe that with the entire enemy around me, she would find me before they could!

I frantically shook my head back and forth and then put my finger to my lips while silently mouthing a “shhh!”  I was hoping that she would understand, but I could see by the dumbfounded look on her face that I was about to be given away.  I also figured that I was in a heck of a lot of trouble.  I bolted forward even as her mouth was opening to yell at me.

“Johnny!” she yelled.  “Johnny!” she again wailed at the top of her voice.  “Johnny!  You come here right now!” 

I didn’t flinch.  I kept running.

“I’m not kidding, Johnny!” she belted.

I had done the only thing I could do!  I was running to free my buddies while the guards stood with their mouths agape at the awful shrieking voice behind me.  I couldn’t have asked for a better distraction.

I was only ten feet from my goal when my comrades began to cheer me on.  This was the heroic moment I had dreamed of my whole life!  My lightning speed and unplanned distraction had caught the guards by surprise and this left me closer to my goal than they were.  As I reached out my hand to free the first of my comrades, I saw the hope that was written all over his face.  Then I watched the hope turn into surprise as I felt my foot snag on something and I began to fall.

“Arrrgh!” I yelled as I hit the ground.  The guards began to jump all over me and I could hear their laughter, as well as my comrades’ laughter, fill the air.  In fact, it almost sounded like my buddies were laughing the hardest.  My most heroic moment quickly turned into my most humiliating moment and I began to look for a rock to crawl under.

“You should have seen your face, Johnny!” one of my soon to be ex-buddy’s pointed out between guffaws.  “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever saw!”

Then they stopped laughing and all began to walk away from me like I had the plague or something.  Heck, I thought, all I did was fall down and ruin the rest of my life.  It was hardly contagious.  Then I noticed they were all looking past me so I turned around to see what they were looking at.  It was her again!  I had quite forgotten about her.

“Just wait till your Dad comes home, Johnny!” my Mom shrieked.  “We’ll just see if you ever run from me again, you naughty boy!”

With my humiliation now totally complete, I slowly walked home to the real enemy stronghold.  I knew that my Dad would torture me with a spanking to teach me a lesson and that I would be held as a prisoner of war for at least a week.  All I could hope for was some protection under the Geneva Convention while imprisoned.

One of these days my heroic moment will come, but until then, I would just have to be content with my dreams.  Besides, real heroes didn’t get spankings.

Advertisements

The Longest Ride

When my kids were very young, we made the long drive to my parents house for Thanksgiving. It was a 5-hour drive on a good day and we made it there in exactly that. We had an awesome dinner and then the weather turned. It was rain in Milwaukee so I packed the four kids into the car and we got off to a good start going home. Then the rain turned to frozen rain and a layer of ice began to pile onto the freeway. We slowed down considerably.

As we drove along at about 30 miles per hour on the building ice, I noticed the car seemed to be getting sluggish. I immediately assumed ice was collecting in the wheel-wells but still felt a little uneasy. When the frozen rain began to turn into snow, I felt better about driving, but the car still felt sluggish. After a while, I was unable to get the car to go over 40 miles per hour even when pushing the gas pedal to the floor. Then it became 35 mph, then 30 mph, and finally 25 mph. Now I was driving on the shoulder with my flashers on and I was pretty stressed out both because of the weather and the car. We had about 30 miles to go until we hit the next sizeable town.

After about an hour and a half, we finally made the 30 miles and I pulled the car into a mechanics shop that was closed for the evening. Across the street from the shop was a motel and I checked us in. For the kids, it was just another adventure.

YOUNGEST: Is this our new home?

2ND YOUNGEST: No, just a motel.

YOUNGEST: Why can’t we live here?

2ND YOUNGEST: Cause Dad would kill us if we all had to share the same room.

YOUNGEST: No he wouldn’t!

ME: Yes, I would.

Anyway, we had a fun night watching movies and eating vending machine snacks.

The next morning, I went over to the mechanic shop and gave them the keys to check out our car. I went back a couple hours later and got the news…catalytic converter was kaput. They would need to keep the car for a couple days until they got the part and installed it.

There was no way I could afford a couple more nights in the motel so I called a friend to come pick us up. While we were waiting (of course it was snowing again) the kids pestered me about the car.

OLDEST: I didn’t think we had a Cadillac.

ME: We don’t.

2ND OLDEST: Did it convert to something else?

ME: Huh?

2ND OLDEST: You said the Cadillac converter was broke.

ME: Oh, it’s called a catalytic converter, not a Cadillac converter.

OLDEST: So our car is a catalytic?

ME: Um, no. It’s a Buick.

2ND OLDEST: Did it convert?

ME: No, it’s always been a Buick.

2ND YOUNGEST: I thought it was a Regal?

ME: It is.

2ND OLDEST: So it did convert! But I thought it was broke?

2ND YOUNGEST: So it didn’t convert right?

YOUNGEST: Can we go swimming?

OLDEST: No, you dummy. The pool has snow all over it!

2ND YOUNGEST: I’m hungry! (I threw a package of vending machine cookies his way).

ME: Eat those.

2ND YOUNGEST: I want a hamburger.

ME: Pretend the cookie parts are the bun and the frosting is the burger.

YOUNGEST: French fries? (I threw a bag of Cheetos his way).

ME: Tada! Cheese fries!

The conversation kept along the same lines until my friend picked us up. There’s nothing better than listening to four kids discuss a broken car. By the time we were finished talking about it, we were all wanting a real hamburger and fries. I never thought the kids would ever tire of junk food, but they did.

Metalhead

When I was given orders to Germany, I was excited. It would be my first trip outside of the United States…other than Canada, but we only went there to fish and get beer, so I didn’t really count that. My parents drove me to St. Louis from Milwaukee and I set off on my adventure from there.

On the airplane, in the seat in front of me, was one of the most annoying people I had ever met. It was obvious he was a fellow soldier, but his demeanor was something else. We hadn’t even taken off and I was annoyed. He had a Walkman and you could actually hear the music being played despite his headphones because he had it so loud. That wasn’t the annoying part…it was when he would try to sing along with the lyrics periodically that it became annoying. He did this for about half the flight and snored for the other half.

When we landed in Frankfurt, I thought I would be rid of him. Of course, that didn’t happen otherwise this would be a very uneventful and short blog post. Instead, after I boarded the bus that would take me and my fellow soldiers to Army Posts to the south, he boarded right after me and sat in the seat in front of me. The bus ride was similar to the flight. Loud music and crappy singing. I hoped to be rid of him soon.

When we reached Nellingen Kaserne, both of us left the bus. We were met at the gate by a young soldier who took us to our barracks. He showed us to our room and I was pleasantly surprised (not) to find out we were going to be roommates. We unpacked our gear and he continued to sing with his Walkman. I couldn’t stand it.

ME: You suck at singing. (No reply because his music was too loud).

ME (again): YOU SUCK AT SINGING! (He took the headphones off).

HIM: What?

ME: I said, you suck at singing.

HIM: I know. If I was any good you’d be listening to me on the Walkman.

Fortunately, his batteries died a few minutes later and he didn’t have replacements handy. We settled in, met some fellow soldiers, and actually became friends after a while. Not only were we stationed at the same post, in the same Battalion, in the same Company, in the same barracks, and in the same room, we were also assigned to the same Engineer Shop. We had little choice but to get to know each other. Once I got to know him, I liked him and he liked me. I gave him his new nickname…Metalhead.

We spent the next two years as best friends. We partied together, worked together, traveled together, and just had good times together. Even when I was promoted to Sergeant and took over the shop as the boss, we remained friends and he became my biggest help when we had to get things done. Of course, it wasn’t always rosy, we had our moments.

One moment came when we had a surprise inspection and he was extremely hungover. He would find a creeper, lay down, and roll it under a vehicle. Then he would wrap his arms around whatever was above him and go to sleep. From the outside, it looked like he was working on something. Since he was one of the best engineers I had, I let it go because when he was alert, good work happened. This time it backfired. The inspector walked right up to him and stood there. I walked over to see if he needed anything and I heard it. Anybody within twenty feet could hear it. Snoring. The inspector let it slide because he thought it was an ingenious way to get some sleep. We got lucky.

Another moment came when our platoon went out for dinner at a nice German restaurant. I ordered the sauerbraten and it was delicious. Metalhead just reached over with a fork and tried to get some of it. What happened next happened purely by instinct. I stabbed his hand with my fork. I mean, I STABBED his hand with my fork. It was deep and it was bloody.

METALHEAD: You stabbed me!

ME: Sorry…

METALHEAD: This hurts! I think I might need stitches!

ME: And some antiseptic. I’ve been using that fork in my mouth…sorry.

METALHEAD: You stabbed me, man!

ME: Yeah, sorry.

Possible moral of this story? Don’t try to take my food. I grew up with brothers and it was brutal at dinnertime sometimes. Also, don’t judge a metalhead book by its metalhead cover.

All About that Bass

Being the youngest son, I was used to a life of hand-me-downs. Before I grew taller than my brothers, I used to get their clothes. I also would get their old used baseball mitts, one left-handed and the other right-handed. I learned to use both. The most anticipated hand-me-downs were electronics. I started with a transistor radio and eventually up to a boombox. It was when my oldest brother decided to get a new stereo system that I finally truly made out.

I wasted little time setting up the system in my room. I couldn’t wait to listen to my favorite bands the way they were intended to be listened to…loud and in stereo. I figured I could crank it because my parents were deaf. For the most part, it was fine, but then my dad came to visit me one evening to tell me to turn it down. Apparently, my bass was turned up a little too far and my parents could feel the music. It took them a week to figure out what the rumbling was.

I turned down the music and toned down the bass some more. My dad put his hand on one of my speakers and after a moment, began to tap his fingers with the drums and the bass. He could still feel the music.

DAD: Who is this?

ME (using my hands to talk): Led Zepplin.

DAD: I like it.

This new-found enjoyment of music for my dad continued for the next few years until I finally grew up and moved out. My dad would come upstairs to see me almost every evening and put his hands on the speakers. He got so good at identifying bands and their styles that he could sometimes guess the band with a song he never felt before. He became an expert in musical style. It was amazing!

That’s how my dad was. Instead of feeling sorry for himself because he couldn’t hear music, he found a different way to enjoy it. Once, he actually stood with his hand on my speaker for the entire album “Dark Side of the Moon.” He really liked Pink Floyd. He also liked Led Zepplin, AC/DC, The Who (Baba O’Reilly was his favorite), Queen (heavy base on some songs), and my occasional forays into R&B, country, classical, and even the Muppets. He specifically asked me to play the Beatles on a few occasions because he wanted to know what all the hype was about in the 60s. My dad really was amazing!

The most amazing thing about my dad’s ability to distinguish sounds that he could only feel was when he used the telephone. Yes, he figured out how to use a telephone before they had teletypes or video phones for the Deaf. He only called from work when he was going to be late so we could tell my mom. This is how it worked.

My dad would go to the rotary wall phone at his job and dial our home number. Then he would hum softly. When we would pick up the phone and hear his humming, we would make a deep “Huh” sound that he could feel on the phone at his end. Then he would verbally tell us what he needed to tell us. My dad was able to speak fairly well and was easy to understand. We would do “Huh” for yes and “Huh Huh” for no. Then we would hang up and tell our mom what he said.

Like I keep saying, my dad was amazing.

Another example of how awesome my dad was is that he could’ve used hearing aids. He had been tested and he had just enough there for a high powered hearing aid to slightly work. He refused because my mom was tested and she was profoundly deaf and no hearing aid would’ve helped her. My dad didn’t want something my mom couldn’t have. In fact, he never even told her that he could wear hearing aids if he wanted. He felt that being deaf could be lonely enough without losing your best friend to the hearing world. He didn’t want my mom to be alone.

I write a lot about my dad. He was the only person I ever looked up to. Everybody else I look eye-to-eye and let them determine how I see them as time goes. My dad’s always been on top because he was such a good man. He was tough when he needed to be, soft if the situation called for it, and always forthright and honest in everything he did.

My dad has always been my inspiration and hero.

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead…

When I was still a younger boy, my best friend and I went camping. This was the early 70s and kids were still allowed to do things by themselves back then, like camping. The difference with this camping trip and others was that it was the dead of winter. My best friend’s parents owned a forested lot near the Kettle Moraine Forest in Southeastern Wisconsin and even though there were some homes nearby, they went camping there often.

We begged to go by ourselves and after my best friend’s dad was convinced we could take care of ourselves, he allowed us to go for a weekend. We were dropped off on a Friday night and set up our campsite. We started a good fire (my best friend called them “Council Fires”) and sat around it to get warm. We also brought his dog who was a German Shepherd and Lab mix and she was plenty at home in the forest.

Our night began well. We planned our snow fort for the next day and then joked around as young boys do. We even sang a song or two together. It was going to be a good weekend, we knew it. Then came the singing from a distance away…

Ding dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead…”

This was followed by the sound of a chainsaw and a woman’s scream.

ME: Um…

FRIEND: Was that…

ME: I think someone’s been murdered.

FRIEND: What do we do?

ME: I don’t know.

We sat around a little while longer by the fire before deciding we better put it out before the murderer saw us. The dog added to our paranoia by staring into the distance while lightly growling and whimpering at times. It was like even she was scared.

We had a fitful night of sleep but managed anyway. The next morning we woke up with the paranoia slightly faded away. We ate breakfast and began our snow fort. We were halfway done when the voice returned…

Ding dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead…”

This time it was followed by chopping sounds like an ax and the woman screamed again.

FRIEND: What do we do?

ME: I don’t know. I wish there was a phone nearby.

FRIEND: We could go to one of the homes and ask to use the phone…

ME: What if we accidentally knock on the killer’s door?

FRIEND: Oh man…

ME: Wait…isn’t there a ranger station down the road?

FRIEND: About five miles away!

We stared at each other before another blood-curdling scream broke our silence. The dog didn’t growl this time…just whimpered. Five minutes later, we were walking down the road.

We made good time and reached the ranger station. We told them our story and it was obvious they didn’t believe a word we said.

RANGER: Who can I call to get you little guys home?

We walked back to the campsite and waited. My best friend’s dad rolled up in his station wagon and was surprised to find we had already broke down the campsite and our bags were packed and ready. We told him our story and he just laughed at us. I guess grown-ups never believe little boys when they tell them something like this.

DAD: I knew you guys would chicken out.

Just then, a neighbor in one of the homes a little way down the road walked up.

NEIGHBOR: Were you guys camping here last night?

DAD: The boys were but then got scared of noises.

NEIGHBOR: I am so sorry! When we didn’t see your car, we assumed they were vagrants.

DAD: Wait…

NEIGHBOR: We tried to scare them away. Sorry, boys.

Even though we felt slightly vindicated, we were disappointed that our weekend was cut short. My best friend’s dad wouldn’t let us stay out another night because he had already made the trip to get us.

For years afterward, whenever we were together or in a group and heard strange noises, we would look at each other, smile, and then begin to sing…

Ding dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead…”

Wrappers can be Deceiving

One of the main jobs I’ve done in my life is to assist fellow veterans with disability claims. When I first started, I lived in a small town in Northern Wisconsin. My job was to assist all the veterans in the county with anything to do with the VA. Since the county had a larger bear population than people, I wasn’t overwhelmed with this job and it was a good place to learn what I was doing. It was also a place with some quirky veterans that lived in the woods. This is the story of one of them. We’ll call him “Tim.”

One of the first veterans I met when I began the job was crazy…literally. It wasn’t a gradual thing for him, it came on all at once while he was in the Marines and for one of the worst reasons ever. He had only been in the military for a couple years at the time and found himself on a lot of duty rosters, most notably night-time guard duty. His Platoon Leader seemed to have it in for him and was the one to assign it to him often. Those of you who have served know that there’s not a lot you can do about situations like these.

He had been pulling a night-time guard duty when he was relieved so he could go eat. Usually, he ate where he was at, but this time he forgot to bring food and decided to go home to eat. When he got there, he heard noise from the upstairs. Deciding his wife was awake, he went up to surprise her. Instead, he was the one surprised. In bed with his wife was his Platoon Leader. All the night-time guard duty suddenly made sense but sense didn’t figure in this equation…voices did. Something went haywire and he suddenly heard voices in his head that told him just what to do.

The Platoon Leader jumped up out of the bed and tried to get away. Tim intercepted him and did exactly what the voices told him to do. They said throw the man out the second-story window. They tussled around before Tim grabbed ahold of the man and flung both of them out the window, twisting and turning so that he landed on top of his Platoon Leader. There was a broken back and soon Tim found himself being chaptered out of the Marines on a medical discharge. He had suddenly become schizophrenic, his wife filed for divorce, and because of his condition, he was prohibited from ever seeing his daughter again.

By the time I met Tim, he had been out of the service for a few years. He had a crazy look in his eyes but retained a pretty good sense of humor. He came in to see me a couple times a week even after we were able to get him 100% service-connected. I didn’t mind and found we talked with each other quite easily. My Assistant couldn’t stand him because she felt he was too pushy. He was, but I tolerated it because of everything he had been through.

One day I decided to take the afternoon off to work on my garden at home a whole two blocks away. He went in to see me, found out I took off, and then drove to my house to see me. I was weeding my garden when he rolled up. I admit I was annoyed because I’ve always believed that work should be at work and home should be at home. All he did was small talk and then ask me if he could pick some of the ripe tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and a couple herbs. Just so he would go, I said take what you want. He did and left.

I was annoyed enough that I shared my annoyance with my Assistant the next morning. Of course, since she didn’t like Tim anyway, we had a regular bash-fest in his name. When he showed up a little later, she gave him an earful about going to my house. He actually took the chewing out with politeness before putting a bag on the counter to give to me. I came out of my office to smooth things over when he pushed the bag towards me. Inside the bag was three jars of salsa he had made from my garden. Then he left. I felt horrible.

This man that we assumed to be a bothersome crazy guy made some of the best salsa I’ve ever had. Both my Assistant and I continued to feel horrible for the next couple weeks because he didn’t visit like he used to. He didn’t have a phone (living in the woods and all) and I didn’t know where he lived. We just waited. Then one day his award letter from the VA arrived showing his backpay was enormous. I figured he would get the same letter and would finally come back to see me. He did a couple days later.

ME: Hey Tim! Did you get your award letter?

TIM: Yeah I did.

ME: Now you can buy yourself a house or something, huh?

TIM: No…

ME: Oh, well, what’re you going to do with all that money?

TIM: I can’t touch it.

ME: What? But it’s your’s!

TIM: I put it all into a trust account for my daughter. She’ll get it when she turns 21 years old.

I was speechless. He had done exactly what he said. To top it off, he did it for a daughter he wasn’t even allowed to see. The trust was irrevocable and he would never get access to that money again. Between the salsa and the backpay, he had shown himself to be a better person than most of the people I know.

He was wrapped in a skin that scared people, put them off, and made them avoid him. It was all a lie. Inside that wrapper was gold. I learned a valuable lesson that I applied to the rest of my life.

Rock around the Clock

One of my favorite things to do when I was younger was to go see bands play. Of course, there were the major bands like Rush, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, etc. I went to a lot of those concerts, but what I’m talking about are the local bands that would play at the festivals and bars. In Milwaukee, there were a lot of those bands and they were all pretty good…even better after a few beers.

I was fortunate that the drinking age back then was still 18 years old. That meant I could go see a lot of those bands.

I must’ve seen the band Snopek a dozen times. That band was led by a musical genius (at least I thought so) named Sigmund Snopek. From what I understand, he’s still very involved in the Milwaukee music scene. Besides their original songs which I liked very much, they usually finished their concert with a rendition of “I am the Walrus.” We all waited so patiently for the lines towards the end where we all bellowed, “Everybody smoke pot, smoke pot, smoke pot.” Of course, most of us already had smoked pot before the concert so it became an anthem for our lives…at least at that moment.

Another band I liked to see and saw on at least a half dozen occasions was The Booze Brothers. They were a take on the Blues Brothers and they were a blast to watch and always drew a sizeable crowd. Of course, “Soul Man,” was the biggest hit in their repertoire, but we all waited patiently before trying to time “Rubber Biscuit!” in our drunken states.

For good old fashioned rock, the band to see was Bad Boy. They definitely fit the mold of the late 70s and early 80s of a good rocking band that got the crowd swaying and stomping and clapping. They were an awesome band that released a single called “Disco” that was definitely not supportive of disco at the time. The problem with getting people to listen to the song was always the same…

ME: Listen to this!

OTHER: It’s called Disco, I don’t like disco.

ME: It’s not disco, it’s a song that rips disco.

OTHER: Then why’s it called Disco?

Anyway, it was a good song whether you liked disco or not.

The final band I’ll bring up is the Violent Femmes. They probably became the biggest band to come out of Milwaukee but I remember when they were still small. They are definitely a band that is hard to define with a label. They’re a little bit rock, a little bit punk, and believe it or not, at times sound a little bit country or folk. All I know is that whatever they do, it works. Their most popular song is probably “Blister in the Sun” which was also the theme song for some television show, but I’m not sure which one. I really don’t watch a lot of tv. Good catchy song, however. I just wonder if people actually listen to lyrics? Hmm.

Now for the funny story…

I ran into one member of one of the bands I just wrote about at a bar once. He was shooting pool and I put my quarters down so I could play the winner. He was pretty good and I ended up playing him. Now, before I get into the rest of the story, there have only been two times in my life where I suddenly played incredible pool. Every angle worked, every bank shot worked, every application of English worked, and nearly every shot worked. On top of this, I’m ambidextrous so to have both left and right handling shots work was rare and phenomenal, at least for me. I had a good night shooting pool.

ME: Wow, I can’t believe that shot went in!

BAND DUDE: Yeah…can’t believe it.

ME: Play again?

BAND DUDE: Yes…

A few minutes later…

ME: Wow! I’ve never run the table before!

BAND DUDE: I bet.

ME: Play again?

BAND DUDE: YES!

A few minutes later…

And a few minutes later…

And a few minutes later…

I didn’t bother asking for an autograph. He was pissed. He was so pissed that he let everyone in the bar know that I was some kind of hustler until someone pointed out that we didn’t play for money. That seemed to really make him mad. I left the bar before he could ruin my good time.

We went to another bar and I tried my hand, um, hands at pool again. I couldn’t sink a shot if my life depended on it. I guess the famous guy met me at the wrong bar.

When I’m Sixty-Four (Fiction from 2001)

I can feel the sweat pour down my body from the mid-day desert heat.  It’s a strange feeling to be sweating so much when the sky is black.  The Iraqi’s had lit the oil wells on fire and we hadn’t seen daylight for at least forty-eight hours.  The bombing could still be heard in the not so far distance as the road from Kuwait was being pummeled, preventing any escape.  The Iraqi soldiers, not much different from us, were certainly praying for life during what could be their last moments.  The smell … the smell of … coffee?  The smell of coffee?  Ah!  Coffee!

I rolled over onto my side as my sleepy mind raced back to the present.  The dream had been my trapping of the past while the smell of coffee was the gateway to freedom.  To open my eyes would be the total submission for participating in another day.  A deep breath brought the coffee back into my system and I gave in without a fight.  I opened my eyes…so far, so good.  My eyes are generally cooperative; it’s my body that puts up a fight.  Modern medicine could only do so much.  The rest was will power.

I really wasn’t in very much of a hurry, so I opted to daydream for a bit.  For some reason, I thought back to my Olympia, Washington days some twenty-five years earlier.  The aroma of the Batdorf and Bronson roasted coffee probably induced this.  There was nothing quite like it and it stood out as one of the finest products ever to come out of Olympia.  Every morning I was graced by the memory of those days.

My thoughts turned to a class I was taking at night at The Evergreen State College back then.  I couldn’t quite remember the name of the class, but in it, I was asked to write a paper about what I thought I would be doing in the future.  It was called a dream paper.  As far as I could recall, I wrote my paper about what I would be doing at age sixty-four.  I had some pretty lofty goals for myself and I had hoped to have them all achieved by that age.

I remember writing that I would be a successful author of fiction novels.  I wasn’t so popular as to have lost my ability to be private, but I did have a loyal following and the bills were paid.  I would have occasional interviews to do and the publisher required me to attend a few book signings at some of the major venues.  Overall, I had become a real writer in the aspect that it was listed as my occupation on my tax forms.  I had even watched a few of my novels become movies.  Of course, they weren’t always true to my intent, some were better, but I was still proud.

My wife and I would be living in a rehabilitated gothic style gingerbread home in the heart of Old Town Key West.   We bought it years ago when a hurricane devastated the Florida Keys, leaving ruin and plenty of good bargains.  Most of our windows were left open year-round and we had a steady population of cats, some ours, and others as boarders whenever it was excessively hot or unbearably, at least for a cat, rainy.  The steady breeze kept the home cool even on the steamiest days.  A writer could write here.

Besides the cats, we never had an end to visitors.  Even though my wife had retired as a therapist, neighbors still sought out advice as often as they could.  At least they thought it was advice.  My wife had a knack for getting these people to answer their own questions.  Sometimes they didn’t like what they told themselves, but they’d get over it.

Our day would begin with coffee and the sharing of a newspaper, the real kind made of paper.  After this, I would go off to write for the morning while my wife would enjoy one of her many hobbies.  We would meet again for a lazy lunch and spend the afternoon together doing woodwork, shopping, kayaking, or just laying around.  At least this would be our goal.  Inevitably, we would have a guest or two or more to entertain instead.  That was fine with us.  We had plenty of time.

Our children and even a grandchild or two would be completely grown and many of our days would be spent with whomever was visiting at the time.  We always had a few spare beds and an honest welcome mat to greet them.  Some of them would complain about the distance they had to travel to visit us, but it never stopped the visits.  The complaining would usually dry up by the first sunset.

We especially cherished the visits by the littlest ones.  There were few things more pleasurable than to walk Duval Street or stroll one of the beaches with our grandchildren at our proud sides or in our arms.  There was little doubt that these were the cutest children present.  The many comments we’d receive were solid proof of this fact.  Life was good and we made sure everybody knew it.

Evening meal was the only serious event in our house where all present in the house was expected to attend and be seated.  We always thanked the Lord for our blessings and ate like we meant it.  Every night was a variety, but Sunday’s dessert was always a different variation of Key Lime Pie.  A good pie was always brought back for an encore performance and sometimes even found its way into one of my novels.

After evening meal, coffee or cocoa would be poured and I would sneak off for an occasional cigar during an evening walk.  I usually reserved this for one special day a week where my writing went exceptionally well.  Cigar or not, however, we seldom missed a sunset on clear nights.  These were the nights the Lord showed us his artwork and after all these years, it still left us awestruck and feeling very small in the universe.

Then as a finish to a perfect day, my wife and I would read until we both would silently feel the time for sleep had come.  Our years together had perfected this shared feeling and we would then fall asleep in each other’s arms, knowing the world had bestowed its best upon us and thankful for it all.

This was what I wrote those many years before and I smiled at how naïve I had been when I wrote it.  I was forty then and I guess I still had illusions that I could get a classic home for cheap.  Imagine me thinking a hurricane would lower prices in the Florida Keys.  The truth was, I had paid a high price for my home.

“Dazeodrew!” my wife called from outside the bedroom.  “The kids will be here soon and if you plan on writing this morning, you’d better get up!”

I reopened my eyes and smelt the coffee again.  This time the smell was intermixed with the fresh smell of the ocean breeze from the ever-open window.  One of our many cats crawled across my chest and seemed to smile at me as if it knew what I was thinking.  I had to agree with the cat.  Life was good, especially here in Key West.

Bad boys, Bad boys…

I spent my first year out of the army working as a mechanic for a landscaping company. It wasn’t a bad job…I just had a bad boss. I should’ve figured something was amiss when every financial issue had to be signed off by someone other than him. He was the supposed boss, but his name was missing from everything. I suspected he was some kind of crook and just after I left, I read about him in the newspaper…he was a crook.

That wasn’t the reason why I quit that job, however, though it would’ve become a reason had I stayed. I quit because the boss endangered one of my sons. I had taken my oldest son to work with me one day and he had the time of his life. He loved anything to do with engines. Just as we were leaving for the day, the boss asked me to take one of the Jeeps home because he thought something wasn’t quite right with it. I had done this with other vehicles before so it wasn’t a big deal, even though he couldn’t really tell me what he thought was wrong. I found that odd, but my son and I jumped into the Jeep and began to drive home. The first stop sign told me what was wrong. There weren’t any brakes. THERE WEREN’T ANY BRAKES!!

I managed to get the Jeep back to the yard and marched into the boss’s office. I held nothing back. He had me take my son for a ride in a vehicle he KNEW didn’t have brakes. He thought it was funny. I thought otherwise. I quit on the spot. It took everything in me not to add an assault to my resignation.

After that experience, I decided to try something completely different. I picked up a job with a military associated organization that sold life insurance. It was a match made in hell but I didn’t realize it at the time. I just knew I needed to work so I could help provide for my family.

The job eventually took me across the country to Washington state and I ended up in a larger office in Tacoma. I was given a mentor and he was larger than life. He was the top producer in the region and I swear he got it by intimidation. He was intimidating. He was a newly retired Command Sergeant Major from the army and still lived and breathed the military. His voice was like Jessie Ventura’s and when he spoke, he boomed. Like I said, I think he intimidated soldiers to buy life insurance. He was a good mentor, however.

I started out well but began to lose heart as the pressure built to sell more. As plenty of people know, you do worse when you’re pressured. I also began to have a problem with believing that what I was doing was right. It came to a head when I went to an appointment with a soldier that my boss had set up. He told me it was a sure sale because he had already prepped the client. That sounded good to me until I got there.

The soldier lived in a rundown apartment with his wife and three kids. He was lower-ranking and you could tell he didn’t make enough money as a soldier to fully support his family. I had no idea how he thought he could afford a life insurance policy. I gave him my spiel and his wife looked very uncomfortable. She even made a comment that they couldn’t afford the policy but he shut her down by saying she would like it fine if he were killed in action. I couldn’t go through with it. I purposely sabotaged my sale and talked him out of it by explaining that the military would pay her and the kids if he were killed in action.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to keep that job, but I left with my soul intact. There are some things you should never compromise on, one of them being honesty. Besides, my boss was just after numbers. I might’ve gotten the sale, but if you know anything about selling life insurance, it’s the residuals that build up and pay you. This poor soldier would’ve had to drop the policy in a month or two and both his family and I would’ve paid for it. I didn’t want any part of hurting his family and I didn’t want to boost my boss’s numbers only to hurt mine.

A couple of weeks later, I was watching COPS on television. They were filming in the Tacoma area so I was interested. The cops in the scene had to serve a warrant in a seedy trailer park when a very large man in a suit came out of the trailer behind them. He was unmistakable. It was my former intimidating mentor. He was just standing there watching the action.

Now whenever I hear that song from COPS, I think of the bad people I had to work with when I almost sold my soul for money. It’s a good reminder that not all people have your interests in mind when they’re trying to line their own pockets.

Years later, I read that the organization separated itself from the life insurance and thus became reputable by doing so. The life insurance company was bought out and they quit targeting military members. Sometimes karma does work.

Jimi and Fozzy

In my second or maybe third year of working at the Boy Scout camp, I was the Nature Director. It was a good job and it sure beat working in the Dining Hall. I loved nature and I loved teaching the kids who came in for nature merit badges. I worked out of the Nature Lodge and it was an old cool little building that hung off the hillside, just across from the Indian Mound and the Flag Grounds. Every morning, we held the raising of the flag and most of the staff and scouts attended.

One of the things I discovered about the Nature Lodge was that it used to be part of the civil service warning system during World War II. Nearby was a civil service tower (radio) about 150 feet high and the lodge had a huge loudspeaker that was used with it. Even though the loudspeaker was probably 40 years old at the time, I figured it would still work. A wire here and a wire there and I soon had it connected to my boombox. I tested it quietly and it still worked.

The next morning, I waited until a good number of people gathered for the raising of the flag. Then I qued the music. What came out of the loudspeaker was a fine rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner performed by none other than Jimi Hendrix. It was magnificent! That is until the Camp Director showed up. So much for a little hippie culture…

I was forbidden to ever do anything like that again. Being young and foolish, I saw this as a challenge. The next morning, I once again waited until most everybody was gathered before queuing my next selection. This time it was a fine rendition of America by Fozzy Bear. Seriously, who could argue with that? I’ll give you one guess.

CAMP DIRECTOR: I told you not to play that!

ME: No, you told me not to play Jimi Hendrix.

CAMP DIRECTOR: No, I told you not to play anything!

ME: No, you distinctly said, “None of that hippie crap.”

CAMP DIRECTOR: I MEANT ANY MUSIC!

Just then a Scoutmaster of one of the troops walked by. He was also an influential committee member of one of the committees for the district.

SCOUTMASTER: Loved it! I loved Jimi from yesterday, but who was this?

ME: Fozzy Bear from the Muppets.

SCOUTMASTER: I loved it! What’ll it be tomorrow?

ME: I’ve been censored.

SCOUTMASTER: By who?

Then his eyes rolled over to the Camp Director, whom nobody seemed to like, and shook his head before walking away.

CAMP DIRECTOR: Maybe you could find something non-offensive to play while we gather?

ME: You found Fozzy Bear offensive?

Anyway, I did find some music that seemed to work for everybody. It was a tape of the Army Marching Band playing patriotic hits. It wasn’t the effect I was going for, but it worked. A year later, the loudspeaker was used to play Reveille, Retreat, and Taps when a bugle player couldn’t be found.