Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“Sooner kill you as look at you”

I wrote this post in 2008. With some changes and editing I am presenting it again.

In these days of contractors like Halliburton running parts of what used to be Army responsibilities, do soldiers even have KP anymore? When I was in training from December 1966 through April 1967 I got more than my share of that duty. KP stood for kitchen police, although no one could tell me why. Military Police were cops, and “policing the area” meant picking up cigarette butts and debris from the ground, but why there were kitchen police was a mystery.

Like most GIs I hated KP. It meant going to work at around 4:00 a.m., and not getting off until as late as 9:00 p.m., depending on how industrious we could be or how fastidious or prickish the cooks were. I saw all kinds. The cooks in our Artillery training unit at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma were some of the worst slave-driving sadists I encountered. We fixed them, though, by sending them Scout.

When I think of Scout I conjure up the image of Devil Anse Hatfield of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud. He and Scout may not have been related by blood, but by attitude and meanness.

I don't remember Scout's real name. We called him Scout because he told us to, and Scout was a man to be reckoned with. He came from Montana. He didn't talk very much, but from what we learned from him he had been on federal probation for several years for moonshining, of all things. When his probation was over the draft board snapped him up. Scout was tall and lean, with a pinched face and perpetual scowl. His eyes were dark and his eyelids heavy, giving him a hooded look. I think of Scout as a survivalist or a militiaman, hiding out in the hills, living off the land. Often in the middle of the night I'd wake up in my bunk to see Scout walking the floor. He was an insomniac, so sometimes other guys paid him to take their fire guard shifts. We had two hour turns where we were up and walking the floor to make sure the place didn't burn down. Some guys just couldn't stay awake and crashed onto a bunk during their guard duties. I did that a couple of times, but Scout never did.

The rumor was that Scout was more than a moonshiner, that he had killed some men in Montana but that the law couldn't prove it. It was probably a legend grown up around his mysterious personage, but to a bunch of 19 and 20-year-old soldiers it seemed real enough. Scout was probably not more than five or six years older than us,  but to us he looked much older. We could see he'd had a hard life. Scout didn't plan on staying in the Army. He told us if they gave him orders for Vietnam he would not go no matter what. Soldiers deployed to Vietnam got an automatic one-week leave to go home. We figured when we got our orders at the end of our training he was planning to go over the hill to Canada or disappear into the wilds of Montana. To that end Scout was saving money. He'd charge people $5.00 or $10.00 to take their fire guard shift,  and he charged between $15 to $25 for a KP shift, depending on whether it was a weekday or on a Sunday. Everybody wanted Sundays off. I paid Scout $25.00 once so I wouldn't have to do Sunday KP because my parents said they were driving to Oklahoma to see me. They canceled out, but I didn't dare tell Scout, so I gave him the $25 and that Sunday I went to a movie.

The sergeants were probably listening to the same scuttlebutt and rumors as us trainees. They might have believed that Scout was a dangerous person. They didn't stop him from taking those KP shifts even though it meant he missed training. He wasn't lazy. He did his work in the mess hall but the cooks didn't treat him like they treated the rest of us. In a place like the Army it pays to cause fear in people.

I never found out what happened to Scout. When the orders were read out at the end of our training his name was called for Vietnam. I looked at him but his face looked like it always did, like he'd as soon kill you as look at you. Whether Scout ended up in Canada as a deserter or somewhere hidden in America I don’t know. If his threat to desert was empty, and if he actually went to Vietnam as a soldier there were probably people who ended up dead. And not all of them would have been the enemy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Past lives and parking spaces

I wrote this post originally in 2011. With minor edits I am presenting it again.

Do you want to know who you were in a past life? This ad from a 1946 magazine supposes you do.

In the 1970s my wife took a night school class in the paranormal. I was dubious about it, but she told me how her teacher explained a technique for finding out what we were in our past lives. We were to sit in the dark in front of a full-length mirror with a lighted candle between us and the mirror, and our past lives would be revealed.

Even though I didn’t believe it would work, I was still a little spooky about it. I never tried it. That's because something else her teacher told her appeared to actually work. At the time we were going into busy downtown Salt Lake City once or twice a week and we usually had trouble finding a parking space. The teacher told Sally that by concentrating on a parking space while traveling into a city you would find one easily. I tried it, and it worked so many times it got me thinking of what happened when I thought “parking space” while driving. Did someone who was already parked receive a sudden strong mental prod to leave the space so I could find it? The mind boggled.

Because that mind trick seemed to be working it made me more reticent about actually seeing a past life in a full-length mirror. There was enough to upset me in my current lifetime that I did not care to see some miserable past life.

The Search For Bridey Murphy, by Morey Bernstein, is about using hypnotic regression on a contemporary American woman. It supposedly revealed a past lifetime in 19th Century Ireland. It was a best seller in the mid-1950s. I found this copy in a thrift store recently, and was initially curious, but after reading the dust jacket flaps and this Wikipedia entry about the book I decided it was just more mumbo-jumbo.

I've read a lot of books in my life that attempted to convince me of something: spirit photography, Bigfoot, astral projection or flying saucers. If I had an open mind when I first read all these claims of the paranormal, Loch Ness monster, giant creatures hiding in the woods, or visitors from space, after awhile I just stopped believing any of it. Truth is in the mind of the truth-seeker. You can create “truth” in your own head, whether it is in fact true to the outside world or not. Some of the books I read were very earnest, and spot-reading Bridey Murphy it appears the author believed what he wrote. But it doesn’t make it true.

Forty years ago I didn’t know what would have happened if I sat in front of the mirror, trying to see a past life. I believe nothing would have happened. I was only reminded because I found the book.

I’m still wondering about the parking space phenomenon. But I need to shake it off. That stuff can make you crazy if you think about it too much.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keri Russell has a beautiful bum


I follow The Americans on FX Network. In the show Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play KGB agents working in Washington D.C. during the Reagan '80s. Russell and Rhys play a couple who were trained in Russia. Their marriage began as a cover. Over time it has evolved into a real marriage with children. Mom and Dad go to work, kids go to school. Mom and Dad also kill people, steal secrets, even have sex with other people in order to achieve their goals as good spies.

Now I read in People magazine that Russell and Rhys are “dating.” Russell has split with her husband and she and Rhys have been spotted on the town as a couple.

These photos I took off my television during the showing of The Americans episode that originally aired April 11, 2014. A sexy scene, although Rhys is moving around fully clothed and Russell’s nude body appears glued in place on the bed. If that’s indeed Russell’s body, and not some CGI magic or a body model wearing a Keri Russell mask, then the two probably enjoyed filming it for reasons of more than professional accomplishment. Perhaps that bulge in Rhys’ pants in the top picture tells us how much it was enjoyed.


The anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing is coming up.

Last year Rolling Stone ran a cover of Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the magazine was immediately criticized for giving a terrorist “rock star treatment.” RS denied it. The article by Janet Reitman doesn’t treat Tsarnaev as a rock star, but looking at the cover photo you can probably guess why people thought what they did.

I, who was willing to give Rolling Stone a pass on the rock star criticism, noticed the similarities to the Dylan cover RS ran three issues later.

Rolling Stone is a serious magazine that features insightful and in-depth articles on a variety of subjects, but it began as a rock magazine. It has followed the cover formula for its entire history, but Tsarnaev carried a backpack with a bomb, not a guitar.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

I’ve just re-read Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H. F. Saint. I read it first in 1987, the year it was published. After my initial reading I had high hopes for the movie version starring Chevy Chase, but was disappointed. The book was not written as a comedy. For movie purposes, it probably worked best as humor.

As written, Saint’s novel would have been hard to film. The story, told in first person by Nick Halloway, is a tale of escape and evasion. And a story of paranoia.

In the novel, Nick, following a beautiful female reporter he’s hot for, is in a building where some secret work is being conducted. There is an industrial accident. After losing consciousness Nick wakes up to find himself lying on what appears to him to be thin air over a huge hole in the ground. A most disconcerting sight. When realization sets in Nick realizes that he, the building and everything in it, has been rendered completely invisible. From that point on Nick, a survivor if ever there was one, decides that whatever it takes he will stay away from the government agents who have quickly taken over the site. The agents have a team feeling their way through their invisible surroundings, wrapping tape around desks and furniture, bringing the building eerily back to life by way of indication. The team is directed by a no nonsense man who, when he finds out there is an invisible man in the area, attempts to talk Nick into accepting his “help.”

Nick wisely gathers up what invisible supplies he can find. Without divulging his identity to the government man, he gets over the fence and back to his Manhattan apartment.

What Saint does in Nick’s narrative is follow in detail each move Nick makes. I won’t try to duplicate or quote Saint. It can start bogging down a reader just going step-by-step through everything the invisible man does. For example, Nick has to figure out how to get food, even how to eat. He notices he can see the food going down his esophagus into his stomach. He needs foods that digest easily, and eventually finds out if he uses a sunlamp while eating the food disappears quickly. Each problem solved adds verisimilitude to the narrative.

Nick gets complacent, but shouldn't. Unknown to him those sinister government agents have been hard at work. They figure out that Nick is the invisible man and they raid his apartment. He barely escapes. The rest of the book details Nick's attempts to stay one step ahead of those agents: where he lives and what he does to survive.

There was one thing I thought was a glaring omission. When cornered by government men I wondered why the pursuers didn't use thermal imaging to “see” Nick’s body heat. That technique was used in another invisible man story, the movie Hollow Man.

My review of Hollow Man is here.

So I did some reading on thermal imaging online. I saw the technology had been in use since the 1970s, but was expensive and because of its secret military applications not widely utilized. By the late 1980s funding was provided so manufacturers could come out with affordable technology to be used in security and fire-fighting, where it has become an invaluable tool. The technology was not commonly used when Saint wrote his book. If he wrote it today he’d undoubtedly have to figure it into the storyline.

Being invisible is a great fantasy. I remember many times in my life wishing I could turn invisible. Then it started happening to me in real life. When a person ages he begins to become invisible to people around him. A store clerk may overlook an older person who steps up to a counter. People may talk about an older person as if he wasn’t right there, able to hear them. So much for the fantasy of being invisible.

As for author H.F.(Harry) Saint, with this book he hit the jackpot. Bidding wars for a first novel are rare, but it happened for this book. He also made a goodly sum for the movie that did the book no justice, but added to his fortunes. Versions of Saint’s career moves after he got money vary, but he is said to have relocated with his family to Europe and retired. And despite the promise shown by the success of this first novel he has not written another book. And who is to say he needs to? Saint kind of vanished to the world of literature, in essence creating his own kind of invisibility.