War & Peas (Reblog)

There are times in one’s life where one has to stop being humorous and take a serious view about certain things…don’t worry, however, this isn’t one of those times. Today I will write about the war. Which war, you ask? The WAR! You know, the war at home. The war most of us have to wage weekly. The war at the supermarket. You know, the STORE WAR! Of course, if you no longer have kids, it’s more like a skirmish. This story took place over 25 years ago when I took my 4 kids to the grocery store.

There’s nothing like the heat of battle to get your blood pumping. I feel it every time I maneuver into the parking lot and search for the ultimate launching point for our assault. You know…a good parking space. Not too close, yet not too far. It needs to be accessible for a hasty retreat if needed. Before exiting the vehicle, I turn to the kids to give them their pre-assault briefing.

“Men…” I begin.

“I’m a girl,” my daughter, the oldest, my second-in-command, aptly pointed out. A stern look usually corrects this kind of insubordination. “Sorry, dad.” I forgive her because she usually is dependable in crucial situations. I look back at the other kids.

“We’re about to enter the brunt of the battle,” I continue. “I expect you all to perform with honor and valor!” I paused for effect, but all I saw was bewildered faces.

“Huh?” my four-year-old asked. As usual, my second-in-command daughter translated.

“He means not to touch anything, not to beg for anything, and not to goof off.” Nods of understanding followed her explanation, except for the one-year-old. He seemed to be more fascinated with something on his finger. His inattentiveness was ignored because he was pretty good at his role of just sitting in the shopping cart and looking cute. His military skills as a decoy were unparallel.

We left the security of the vehicle and began the generally fruitless search for an Urban Assault…um, shopping cart (for you non-military folks) that worked as intended. Settling for one with only one wobbly wheel, a functional seat belt, and only a trace of grime, we assaulted the building.

We were hit immediately by the smell of the battlefield. The moist heavy smell of the produce sector, the deceptively soft billowy aroma of the bakery sector, the cold frigid feeling in the freezer sector, and the putrid smell of raw flesh in the meat sector. Ah, the memories of past battles, both won and lost, wafted through our, well, at least my mind. It was as if I trained my whole life for this moment! But first, we had to traverse the dreaded sale sector. This is where the enemy hits you with their heaviest artillery barrage…you know, stuff for kids.

“Look, Daddy!” my four-year-old says as he starts to succumb to their trickery. “Kool-Aid Bursts! Can we…”

“Don’t give in to their commercial warfare tactics!” I cried, a little panicked.

“Huh?”

“Medic!” I yelled. My kids just looked at me strangely…even the one-year-old tore his eyes from whatever was on that finger of his to look at me strangely. We rolled on as I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones looking at me strangely. Just a bunch of civilians caught in the crossfire, I thought.

Anyway, as in most military operations, there was always something ugly that had to be done. Many men out there know exactly what I’m talking about and no doubt still suffer lingering nightmares over it. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded feminine hygiene product sector, a place usually avoided by most males. Some of us, namely me, think we have a good plan for the extraction of this product without detection. I simply hover about near the aisle until it’s empty, quickly roll through and grab the package, then hide it under the other groceries until the moment of truth…checkout. It’s a dirty business, this war stuff.

Of course, it could go very badly at checkout. If you ever watched the movie, Mr. Mom, you’ll know what I mean. The scene where the cashier did a price check on the feminine product traumatized me. What if that ever happened to me? What would I do? Would I crack under the pressure? Is there even a military training protocol to handle this situation? I don’t know and I never aim to find out.

Something similar did happen to me on that day, however. We hit the checkout lane with a false optimism that we were going to win this battle today! The kids were good, the aisles were free and clear, and we were making incredible time. I was feeling pretty good about our chances of getting away from the battlefield without casualties until I began to load the conveyor belt with our spoils.

The only child in this story not to be mentioned yet was my eight-year-old son. Until now, he was quiet. In hindsight, he had been a little too quiet. I should have observed this earlier, but ended up paying for my lack of attention with his betrayal.

“I thought we didn’t need diapers?” he asked, his little hand reaching for the feminine hygiene product I had just smoothly placed on the conveyor belt as if it were a bag of noodles or something. I grabbed his hand before he could ruin everything. I had mentioned this fact while we rolled through the battlefield, but I didn’t realize it would turn into such a grave tactical error. I panicked and told the truth.

“They aren’t diapers,” I said quietly, very aware of the civilians both in front of and behind us.

“Then what are they?” he asked loudly. Wouldn’t that kid shut up? I could feel all the civilian eyes turning to us. I looked at my one-year-old decoy with pleading eyes. Do your job, I thought, but he just stared at me with a smile, as if he could sense my discomfort.

“Something for Mom,” I informed him, thinking that answer would pacify him.

“What do they do?” he continued. I clenched. I’m pretty sure the checker clicked the PA button by now and the whole store was listening. I imagined my entire life was put on display and it was time to take my measure as a soldier and as a man. This was to be my heroic moment, I thought, if only I could just shut that kid up!

“Um, you can ask Mom when we get home,” I answered tersely. Why should I have all the pressure?

“Why? Don’t you know?” he asked as I swear thousands of spectator civilians gasped. The checker stopped what she was doing and looked visibly nervous. If I didn’t get ahold of the situation, there was a chance it could blow up and create an international incident. As a parent, I always prided myself in knowing most of the answers to most of the questions my kids would ask, something I learned from my dad. Now, how would he answer?

“Um, sure I do,” I answered with a wink. “Let’s just see if your Mom does.” Sighs of relief surrounded me. The checker went back to work with a smile. Disaster avoided, mission accomplished, battle won…at least until I got home.

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Writer for Hire

During one of my poorer periods of my life, I found a couple ways to make some extra money. It’s not something I’m proud of nor have I done it again in years, but when you have hungry kids, you do what you have to. One of the ways was to build picnic tables for people. It’s one of the only woodworking things that can actually make a small profit based on materials and time. The other way I made extra money was a little unethical, at least to me. I used to write papers for people.

Now before I get all kinds of scolding, I will let you know that I knew it was wrong. Unfortunately, when faced with the electric bill or food, you sometimes do what you have to. You find something you can offer with what skills you have and you do it. I found plenty of college students who didn’t want to write their own papers, so I wrote them for a fee. What’s more, is that I guaranteed a “B” or better on every paper I wrote or I would give the money back.

Some of the papers were fun to write. Short fictional stories were my favorite. Some of the other papers weren’t quite as exciting. Papers based on readings were the worst because I had to read some stuff I had absolutely no interest in. Those cost extra.

One time, I actually wrote a Master’s Thesis for an instructor at a college. It was a boring 70 pages long and it was about vocational rehabilitation. After I finished, I needed rehabilitation. It paid well, however, and my kids had lights and food.

Overall, I probably wrote about 50 papers for pay. Every single one produced a “B” or better so I never had to refund any of the money. Once things were financially better, I stopped writing papers for others because of the guilt I felt. A friend tried to convince me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it was the people buying my papers that were wrong. I don’t accept that. It would be like saying the person making the meth is not wrong, it’s the people using it that are wrong…sorry, they’re both wrong.

About a year after I wrote the last paper for pay, I was able to return to school. It was my second quarter at the school when my professor for English 102 asked me to stay after class. He was a good instructor and bore a remarkable likeness to Richard Dreyfus, most notably the character he played on “What About Bob?” I had just submitted my third paper for his class so I figured he wanted to talk to me about that. I knew I had strayed a little from the parameters he set for the paper.

PROF: Mr. Dazeodrew, I wanted to talk to you about this paper.

ME: Yes sir.

PROF: Who wrote it?

ME (a little caught off-guard): Um, what?

PROF: Did you write this paper?

ME: Yes I did.

PROF: Ok, we’re going to prove it.

After this, he had me sit down with a pad of paper and write about a lost little boy who was found after a long search by hundreds of volunteers. I took about fifteen minutes and produced a paper of about a thousand words. He read it and smiled while doing so. Then he put it down and looked at me with that same smile.

PROF: So, how long have you been writing papers for other students?

This man, this professor of English, this Richard Dreyfus lookalike, had figured out by my writing style that I had been writing papers for others. I mentioned that I felt guilty about doing that and chose, for some odd reason, to come clean. I realized that lying to a man that could figure something like this out would be a waste of time.

ME: I only did it for a little while and haven’t done it in a year or so.

PROF: Well, your papers are still circulating.

ME: Really? (I felt a mixture of pride, guilt, and just a bit of anger that I didn’t get paid for the extra use of my papers…but mostly guilt).

PROF: I thought I would never figure this out and then here you are.

ME: What now? (I thought my school days were over).

PROF: Nothing. You said you stopped and I believe you. Besides, you didn’t plagiarize, they did.

ME: But I did it willingly for money. (I just didn’t know when to shut up).

PROF: How many kids do you have?

ME: Four.

PROF: You did it for your family?

ME: Yes.

PROF: Then we’re good.

I ended up with a solid “A” in that class. I’m also fully aware that it could’ve turned out much different. Despite what the Professor said, I knew I was just as guilty as the people who bought my papers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not proud. I did what I thought I had to at the time. Would I do it again? With hindsight, probably not.

When I’m Sixty-Four (Fiction Friday)

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.

The Evergreen State College

I attempted to go to college more than once. The first time I was too young and immature to make sound choices…read “The Gasthaus.” The second time I ran out of money and joined the army. The third time I had to quit to support my family. The fourth time was the charm because the VA supported me while I got my B.A. in Computer Science, Social Science, and Writing. For this, I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Some of you may have heard of Evergreen. A few famous people graduated from the school like Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), Michael Richards (from Seinfeld), and Macklemore (the Rapper) to name just a few. Evergreen is constantly appearing on top lists for Liberal Arts Colleges in our country and seems to be well-respected everywhere…except in Olympia.

In Olympia, a lot of jokes are made about Evergreen, even though a good number of residents have attended the school. It’s said that you can attend Evergreen, make baskets, and graduate. Not entirely true (the graduation part) but they do have a couple Native American classes where you learn to make baskets…it’s part of learning their culture. I have to admit, however, that I saw some real slackers graduate and wondered how they did it. I also met some of the most productive people I know who graduated from Evergreen.

One of the things that makes Evergreen unique is that there are no grades. You cannot have a grade point average and that confuses people, especially prospective employers who are not familiar with Evergreen. Instead of grades, you have evaluations. Each class finishes with a self-evaluation, a class evaluation, and a faculty evaluation. By the time you graduate, your transcript can be well over 20 pages long. Instead of reading that you got an “A” in Discrete Mathematics, you read an entire page of what you did, what you learned, and what you can actually do. I think this is a much better document for a prospective employer to read.

Another thing about Evergreen is its quirkiness. Some of the commonality of some of the younger students is that they wished they had lived through the 60s. They are wannabe hippies that actually try to live the hippy lifestyle…but with electronics. There are more colored hairstyles at that school than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Also, a lot of armpit and leg hair. Like I said, a hippy college.

The ultimate quirkiness is the mascot. Other schools use tough sounding mascots like Trojans, Wolverines, Bears, Lions, etc. Evergreen’s mascot is something most of you have never heard of…the Geoduck (pronounced Gooey-duck). It’s a mollusk…um, Google it.

I, personally, got a lot out of the college. One of the things they are known for is using groups to learn. I know a lot of people don’t like groups because you can end up with stragglers or lazy people in your group. You end up putting in most of the work and everybody gets credit. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care, as long as my work isn’t eroded by their lack of effort. Fortunately, every group I was ever a part of was good, everybody worked.

The other part that makes Evergreen unique is that the classes are clustered. While it’s possible to take an individual class, most are grouped together where you get multiple credits in multiple subjects. It’s kind of cool to see how science, writing, philosophy, psychology, indigenous studies, and communication can all be a part of a single class and how the instructors are able to have them intertwine with each other to make sense.

I’ll tell you right now, however, that Evergreen isn’t for everybody. Some people need the familiar structure of grades and separate classes. I get that. Also, some people can’t handle the sometimes extreme liberalism that exists on campus. If there’s something to protest, there will be a group protesting it. If you’re an ultra-right conservative, Evergreen can be your worst nightmare come to life. If you’re a believer in freedom of speech, Evergreen might just be up your alley. Just remember, however, that there are just as many hard-headed liberals as there are hard-headed conservatives. You’ll have plenty of disagreements…but if they’re in a controlled environment and there’s respect, you’ll be fine. I know my Christian values were sometimes out of place, but I hung on to them and tried to live right rather than just talk about everybody else and how they should live like me. I was respected and had no problems.

Of course, sometimes a conversation with a fellow student in your group went like this:

ME: Ok, so how do we code this using Java?

SLACKER: I have my own cup, thanks.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Well, it’s obvious you don’t need me to help. I’m gonna go, dude.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: I can stick around, but I have to finish weaving this basket. I need it to graduate this Summer or my parents will kill me. Do you mind?

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Grab the end of that reed, will ya?

It could be like that sometimes, but it rarely happened to me. I thrived in that school and never made a basket my entire time. My wife did, however…several, I think.

Send in the Clowns

One of the time-honored gimmicks used by businesses is a mascot, especially mascots geared towards kids. They have spent years of research and a lot of money to figure out the best ways to get kids involved in the consumer business.  Obviously, most kids don’t have a lot of money of their own, so the businesses come up with things the kids want so bad that they drive their parents nuts until they buy it for them.  In the case of a mascot, they had to appeal to kids.  In the Sixties, clowns did the trick.

There were clowns on television, clowns on cereal boxes, clown toys, and a clown at a restaurant chain.  It was the restaurant clown that caught my attention.  This one came with food, a favorite hobby of mine.  All the kids knew when this clown would be at the local restaurant.  When it happened, there were often free burgers or fries involved.  What more could a kid want?

Back in the Sixties, free was still something that meant free.  Today, free usually has a catch.  It might be magazines, or a four-year lease, or even a way for law enforcement to catch you.  They send you a card that says you won something, you show up to collect it, and then you’re in handcuffs.  We just can’t resist the word, “free.”

Anyway, my parents understood that free burgers or fries meant free food for us kids and a savings for them.  It wasn’t too hard to beg for this.  The clown was just a bonus.  He just walked around and handed out coloring books while we ate the free food.  Those were the days.

Clowns are a little different today.  Thanks to a host of horror movies, a serial killer named John Wayne Gacy, and a great loss of innocence in youth, clowns are scary.  My youngest son once told me they just creep him out.  I told him about the free burgers, but that didn’t seem to help.  I’m sure he envisioned poison in the burgers or something like that.

It’s a shame that what amused me as a child simply doesn’t exist today.  We live in such an information-rich and violent society that innocence is often lost before a child enters Kindergarten.  Of course, this isn’t true for everybody, but when an innocent four-year-old girl gets shot while jumping rope in front of her house, this steals the innocence of all the other children who knew her.  When kids are watching a dance on television and the dancers are bumping and grinding, there’s little left for imagination later.  This becomes life for these children and they often will imitate what they see or know.

Clown’s used to be one of the ways we could escape the realities of life and see through a different set of eyes for just a moment.  Red Skelton was an awesome clown that not only amused us but also often taught us how to smile at what life would bring us.  It’s not that bad.  Look at the clown.  It could be worse.

I say we need to get back to the days of free burgers and clowns.  That was just good stuff.

Cabbage Patch Craze

After high school, I went to college. After spending most of my financial aid on alcohol and other substances, I dropped out. Then I worked as both a machinist and forklift driver for a while. Then I took off for Florida for a while, saving my money to eventually go back to college and do it right. The time came and I tried college again. To make ends meet, I shoveled coal at the power plant. I generally avoided spending any money (certainly not on alcohol and those other, ahem, substances) but still managed to run out of it. After working graveyard shift at a convenience store (with the added bonus of bringing home day-old donuts and sandwiches) and sleeping in my brother’s basement, I joined the army.

I had to wait 3 months before leaving for basic training, so I continued to work and sleep in the basement. Like I said, I worked graveyard shift so I would get to sleep at about six in the morning and was woken up several hours later by the same alarm clock every day, my three-year-old niece. She wouldn’t actually shake me or even make a sound, she just stood there staring at me until I woke. Then I would open my eyes to a cute little smile and a day of playing whatever she wanted. I couldn’t help but adore that kid.

This was 1983 and I found out I was leaving for the army the day after Christmas. This was also the year they introduced Cabbage Patch dolls. I found myself determined to get my niece one of those dolls.

Now, those of you who were around back then might remember the frenzy around these dolls. Stores would announce they received a shipment and the mob would respond. I never seemed to get the timing right to become part of the mob, until a couple days before Christmas. A local department store announced they had a shipment of the dolls, but only the first 100 people in line would get one. I was determined to be one of them.

I left work at six in the morning and drove to the store. The line was already long, but I decided to hope and wait in it to get this chance. At nine in the morning, the store door opened and a store employee began the count as she let people in line into the store. I lucked out being number ninety-nine. I followed the crowd and grabbed one of the last dolls before being bumped and having it torn from my arm.

“I SAW IT FIRST!” the woman yelled who had robbed me. Looking into her eyes, I swear I saw the pits of Hell! She ran away and I realized I was totally unprepared for this. I looked around and the dolls were gone. How could that be? We were only allowed a single doll each! I made my way towards the checkout to complain when a box containing a doll was kicked in front of me by somebody. With little hesitation, I grabbed the box, wrapped both arms around it, and got into line to pay for it. All in all, a rough experience, but the look on my niece’s face at Christmas made it worth every brutal second.

Through the years, I’ve seen these fads come and go. Never again have I had to go through the same experience. Fortunately, my kids weren’t into the fad toys so it never came up. I do know, however, that had I been to basic training before the onslaught in the store, that lady would have never torn the doll away from…oh, who am I kidding? There’s no training in the world that could prepare you for that situation. The shock alone of seeing people in that kind of frenzy gives you pause…at least it gives me pause.

There’s nothing scarier than an insane crazed mother getting what she wants for her child, um, except, perhaps, an insane crazed mother with a weapon…yeah, we’ll stay away from that one.

Jimi & 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.

GI Johnny (Fiction Friday)

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.

Foiled Again

One of the places I’ve worked in the past was in a cubicle in a big office. It was a good job with a good boss and plenty of good co-workers. I’m still not sure why I left, but I did eventually. It was also a job with some high-pressure situations so occasionally, we had to let steam off. I’m a natural at blowing steam.

Rubber band fights was something I started (although not original) but I added an element to the battle. Since we were all in our individual cubicles, every now and then you would stand up to stretch and look around. When this happened, you suddenly looked like a Prairie Dog or Meerkat popping out of a hole. Also, when this happened, you became a prime target for rubber bands. It began when three of us were popping our heads up at the same time. I launched the first rubber band and a tradition began. We just had to be sure there weren’t any unsuspecting clients wandering around.

Another stress breaker began one day when I decided I didn’t feel like walking to the coffee pot. I took my desk chair and rolled my way to the breakroom. When I came back, I was suddenly joined by a co-worker and he rolled behind me as we did the circle around the cubicles. Then another co-worker joined and another. Before long, we had about ten of us rolling around in the circle. When we passed my boss’s window, he just looked at us and shook his head. Like I said, he was a good boss and he knew we were just letting off steam. He was good with that because he knew we would still work hard and get everything done.

Another nice thing about my boss was that he would take a two-week vacation every year to go to his timeshare in Mexico. It was nice because it gave me a chance to decorate his office before he came back.

The first time we were a bit unoriginal again but it had to be done. We foiled his office. We foiled everything. We foiled his computer, his keyboard, his mouse, his desk, his chair, and even his coffee cup. He came back and his office was a shiny example of foil paper run amuck. It was great! He shook his head again.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, welcome back.

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

I’m not sure why he always assumed I was behind the prank…I was, but still. I cleaned it up and recycled all the foil paper. It was worth it.

The next year was an original. I bought 50 bags of 100 pack balloons and recruited most of the office to help me. There was no way I could blow up 5000 balloons by myself! Yes, you guessed it, we blew them up and piled them in his office until the balloons were waist deep. He came back and shook his head again.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, welcome back.

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

Popping all those balloons was a heck of a lot more fun than cleaning the foil paper. I had no problem getting help for this chore.

The third-year I did nothing…kind of. He came back and had a rough time all day because he kept looking around, waiting for the prank. It wasn’t until he needed a paperclip that he discovered we had hooked them all together…all thousand of them. A week later, he needed to refill his stapler and discovered we had superglued all the staples together. A week after that, he needed to refill the paper in his printer and discovered clumps of paper were taped together.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, printer problems?

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

ME: Sure.

BOSS: Is there anything else I should be concerned with?

ME: Nope that was…wait, have you been drinking out of that cup?

There’s nothing that builds morale better than a few pranks on the boss. Especially when you have a good boss who knows exactly why you’re doing it. Because of him, that was an extra special place to work.

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.