Saturday, March 29, 2008

Salute the uniform

I heard the punchline many times to the great VIP cartoon on top: "You salute the uniform, not the man."

Uh-huh. If you can see the uniform, that is. I also heard other guys and their practical jokes. As a soldier in Germany in 1967 I might be walking along outside and hear someone say, "Soldier, don't you salute an officer?" I'd turn around in panic only to see one of my buddies and their idea of a joke. The reason I'd get a start is that it actually happened to me, said by an officer.

At my second duty station, which was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I was for two months learning about artillery, we trained during the period mid-February to mid-April. For the first few weeks it was cold and dark in the morning. I got in the habit of going to breakfast by jogging; I'd jog to the mess hall, then jog back to the barracks for early-morning formation. One morning I was doing my jog when I heard a voice say, "Hey, private, don't you salute an officer?"

I looked and standing in the 6:00 a.m. darkness, in a shadow between two buildings cast by a streetlight, I saw a man. I thought it was one of my buddies pulling a gag on me, but I didn't recognize the voice. I walked over to him and he repeated, "Don't you salute an officer?" I got closer, still no recognition. I got about six inches from him, which caused him to back up against the building. I saw his finger pointing at his collar. I got my eyes about three inches away from his fingertip and saw, dimly, a gold bar. A second louie! A brand new second lieutenant, who wanted to make sure that he got his daily ration of salutes!

I accommodated him. Still three inches from his collar I raised my hand in my version of a snappy salute. "Good morning, SIR!" I couldn't see you, SIR!" I shouted into his face. He got a big puff of the scrambled eggs, toast and bacon I'd eaten just a few minutes before. He returned the salute from his very cramped position. "Good morning, soldier. Carry on," he told me. Just like they had taught him in Officers' Candidate School. Sheesh, I thought as I returned to my jog back to the barracks, don't some people have more to do than stand around harassing other people?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The fault of no one

The first sergeant, the one we called Coke Bottles because of his thick glasses, called me into his office.

"I want you to take these duty rosters over to the Sergeant Major," he ordered. He handed me a string tied envelope with a manila file folder inside. I n the file folder were the duty rosters--KP, guard duty, charge of quarters--for the month of December, 1967.

I made the trip across the compound to Battalion HQ. The ground was covered with snow and ice, and I made my way without falling down. God help the man who presented himself to the Sergeant Major in less than starched fatigues and spit-shined boots. Our SM had been in the Army since the early days of World War II. He was the original Old Soldier, rough hewn as a log fence, crusty as year-old bread. His job was to bring fear. He breathed fire from his nostrils. Our Battalion Commander, a Lt. Colonel, was timid around him. So were the junior officers and non-coms.

I gave the Sergeant Major the envelope, and he dismissed me with a wave of his hand. By the time I had worked my way through the frozen parade ground to Charlie Battery Coke Bottles was impatiently motioning me inside his office. "Sergeant Major just called; wants to know where the duty roster is for December 21."

"I don't know, Top. I didn't open the envelope."

"Well, I put it in there, goddammit. The Sergeant Major says it's not there and he didn't lose it, I know it was there when I put it in the file, and that leaves just you as the only other person who touched it." Ever feel that feeling when injustice is visited upon you? When you know you're wrongly accused? I got hot. I tried to control my voice: "I didn't open the envelope or the file and take out your duty roster. I had no reason. I was busy trying to keep from falling down in the snow and messing up my uniform and having Sergeant Major chew my ass!" I stuck my chin out and stared through the thick lenses into his owlish eyes. He looked back at me for a moment and said, "All right. I believe you."

Whew. But it was then I found out the concept of no one, and the fault of no one. Coke Bottles called the Sergeant Major and talked to him for several minutes, then had me type a statement that read "C Battery Duty Roster for week of December 21, 1967 lost due to the fault of no one." That incredible statement cleared me. Coke Bottles signed it and I took it across the compound to Sergeant Major, who said nothing, just grabbed it out of my hand. I turned on my heel and left.

So that excused it! No one did it! The fault of no one! What an incredible concept. If no one was at fault, then how did the duty roster disappear? I knew I hadn't done it; Coke Bottles said he didn't lose it, and Sergeant Major wasn't about to be blamed. You could catch Sergeant Major with a bloody knife standing over a pile of bodies and he wouldn't take the blame. So I guess that "no one" who was at fault in this case was…me. Good lord! It's mind-boggling, really. Like the invisible man I could commit all sorts of infractions because I was no one.

A year later another incident occurred; I drove a truck for the first time out of the motor pool and within a half mile the clutch went out. Once again, it had to be my fault, I was driving, wasn't I? and once again I argued my case. Since the clutch going out wasn't the fault of the previous driver, or the mechanics, or the guys who were supposed to be keeping maintenance on it, to my great relief it was the fault of that invisible no one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Corporal Alien

First night in the barracks. December 2, 1966, Fort Lewis, Washington. We were 60 men, ages 17-26, but most in the 19-20 age group. The majority of us were draftees. We were anticipating the worst, and about to get it.

We had been led into the barracks after a meal in the mess hall. Our escort was a tall, thin corporal with a big and oblong skull, hair cut close to the scalp. When I think back about him I visualize the Alien, from the movie of the same name. Corporal Alien was setting us up for what was to come, meeting our drill sergeant, Sergeant Blackhurst. The corporal gave us a quick lecture on standing by our bunks at attention, and told us when and how to stand at ease. He also laid down the law. "There will be no pornography. No dirty pictures. You got Playboy magazines, you got playing cards show people screwin, you got titty pictures of your girlfriend you give em up. You don't and you get caught with em, you go down. You go down."

He went from man to man. Because he was taller than almost every one of us he had to bend down to meet us eye-to-eye. He had one of the looks I was soon to be familiar with, the fierce scowl. I think those NCOs used to practice that look in a mirror. I never saw one NCO in my basic training unit smile. Every man he looked at he gave the scowl, and threw in a look of contempt for good measure. He continued, "You smokers, ain't no smokin in the barracks. Ain't no smokin outside the barracks. You get ridda them cigarettes cause you can't smoke em anyhow."

He stood in front of Nick. Unlike the other men in the barracks Nick I was familiar with. He sang with a group called the Sinners, which played a local coffee house where I hung out. I used to see him most weekends. Unlike other guys who might've had long hair they cut before getting drafted, Nick had left his shoulder length hair intact. Corporal Alien stood in front of him and gave him a long glare. "You men who smoke pot, you get ridda that pot. You get caught, you go to jail. That goes for anything else you got on your person, speed, LSD…" He let that hang in the air, while Nick stood in front of him without responding. What I found out later was that Nick did have LSD. He dropped acid a couple of times in the next couple of days, and he had dropped it before his encounter with the corporal. Who knows what Nick saw or heard at that moment?

The corporal moved on to another man, who got the glare. He said, "You got prescription drugs, you let us know what drugs you got." I decided to ask a question, the first any one of us had asked. "What about aspirin? I've got some of that." The corporal turned to me and if my voice had been a fart, the smell was assaulting his nose. He stepped in front of me. "First of all, you only talk when I ax you a question. You do that to Sergeant Blackhurst he put you down for 50 pushups. You hear?"


"Yes, corporal, turd!" That was the first time I'd heard that little endearment, but not the last. It was some sort of acronym I vaguely remember as being something like Trainee Under Ridiculous Duress. That's a guess, anyway. I responded immediately, "Yes, corporal!" I think I'd seen someone do that in a movie once and he seemed satisfied. He asked me, "What kind aspirin you got? They prescription?"

"No, corporal. They're just Anacin I bought at a store."

He nodded his head and started to move to the next man, then stopped and turned back to me. "Well, you keep em." Pause. "You gonna need em." As I found out very soon, truer words had never been spoken.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nice non-work if you can get it

My friend Eddie, retired from the Postal Service, has a scheme to make money on his Chicken Fat Blog. In the meantime, I, still not retired, get up each morning and go to work. I'm willing to bet most, if not all of you reading this have a job.

My coworker Harry was talking yesterday about his brother, who is in his fifties, yet has not worked at a job more than two years in his life. He's been a professional student, and he's been married a few times and lived with a few more women, and let them work so he could go to school. What has happened each time, with each relationship, is that the woman catches on that he will never go out and earn a living, so she dumps him. Right now the brother is living with his aged dad, who is dying of prostate cancer. He has assumed the role of caretaker, and as Harry put it, will probably inherit the house and most of his dad's estate. Besides the women who were willing to work to support him, this non-working man's parents have been there for him over the years handing out money.

I was telling my wife about this and then we talked of our friend Jan, who died a year ago, and how for years she supported her husband, who just didn't want to work. He didn't have the excuse of going to school, because he just wouldn't go to work. He worked as a boat mechanic, and had worked for every marine and boat company in town, usually quitting after a couple of months, but in some cases lasting a couple of years. A couple of years ago he turned 62 and applied for early Social Security, but they had a hard time determining his benefit because it had been over three years since he'd had a job. When Jan died an accidental death the school district gave him a year of Jan's pay plus whatever other benefits they give out when someone dies. People who know him say he took the money and bought a motor home, in which he goes camping with his buddies.

You know, when I hear stories like this I resent having to work for a living. I want to know how I could be charming enough, handsome enough, or even ballsy enough, to pull this off…? Since time began guys have been loafing while their spouses did the work. Guys do it at home all the time; even when both partners work one usually sits and watches TV while the other does the housework. Many of us do it and don't think that much about it. Still, we go to work every day or have some way of making a living other than letting our wives support us.

Sounds like a good idea, though. Wish I'd thought of it thirty years ago when I still had time for the misspent life of a wastrel, layabout and kept man.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Who's the leader of the club...?

When did Mickey Mouse, the cartoon character, become "Mickey Mouse," the rinky-dink and petty? If someone now says, "That's real Mickey Mouse," we know they mean it's cheap, no good, jury-rigged. It's pronounced as one word, mickeymouse, not as a name.

Mickey came along in the 1920s and had a slow start as a cartoon character. It wasn't until Disney went with the new technology and combined sound with pictures that Mickey took off. He soon became one of the most recognizable characters in the world. You'd be hard pressed to find someone in this world who wouldn't immediately recognize him, by whatever name he's known in their culture. Mickey was a plucky, smart little guy, and that's the key. He was a little guy; he had to depend on his smarts because he was up against a big world.

By the end of the run of Mickey Mouse shorts from the Disney studios, around 1953 I believe, Mickey had evolved into a sort of suburban guy. I haven't seen any of these shorts in years, but it seemed that bit players in the Mickey cartoons, like Pluto and Goofy, took over. That was after Donald Duck stole his thunder, too. But that was OK; Mickey makes his reappearance quite often, and Mickey's ears are now a corporate logo for the Disney company.

I just can't figure out how mickeymouse came into common usage as a slam. Mickey was an OK little guy. In fact, Mickey Mouse wasn't a bit mickeymouse.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mac won't back down

Mac was a guy I met on the first day we were in the Army. We went through basic training together, were in the same artillery unit in Germany, and we were discharged on the same day.

When I met Mac he was looking glum, sitting in his seat on the train taking us to Fort Lewis, Washington. Mac quickly got into his particulars. He was older than us other guys; we were all 19 and 20, and he was 26, just about to turn 27. He'd gotten a divorce from his wife, and since they had a child he'd had a married father deferment. As soon as he was divorced his ex-wife called the draft board and they scooped him up. It happened to guys all the time.

The first thing I noticed about Mac is that while he was a very handsome man, he was also short. He could not have been taller than 5'2". I found out later Mac had talents, and could fix anything. He'd worked as a mechanic all his life. When we were in Germany his job was as a mechanic for our battery, working on our big guns.

Mac was basically illiterate. He'd dropped out of school, and I'm sure now he had a learning disability, maybe dyslexia. Beyond some very simple things he couldn't read or write. He could never sit down and read a newspaper, for example, but he could read a street sign. When we were in basic training he'd clean my rifle and I'd write his letters home.

Mac was also a loan shark. He had cash; if a guy needed $10 Mac was there with a ten-spot. On payday the guy paid him $15. Mac had no problems at all with that sort of math. Throughout his time in the Army he kept a small notebook with the transactions listed in whatever notations he was able to use. He was always there on payday to get his payback. That sort of thing was illegal under military law, but it went on all the time. Since Mac didn't have a lot of expenses and wasn't a spendthrift, his usurious earnings went home with him after our hitches were up, and he had a bundle.

Mac was small, but tough. He'd gone to tough schools, he'd grown up poor from a bad part of town. One day he had a dispute with a guy in our artillery unit. The man's name was Gross; he was from the group ahead of us and was set to rotate back to the States in January 1968. In German Gross means large, and Gross was large. He was at least 6'2" and solidly muscled. When he had borrowed money from Mac, about $50 as I recall, he had agreed to the terms, but on payday he objected to paying back $75. This was always a time when Mac, in the best tradition of loan sharks everywhere, had to show he meant business. He challenged Gross to a fight for after work behind the barracks. Gross agreed, figuring there would be no fight because no way, no how, could this shorty ever really fight a big guy like Gross. He didn't count on Mac and his tough upbringing. When he was growing up Mac had fought every day of his life. As an adult he'd fought in bars, in alleys, at work.

Mac looked at it this way: a guy does not back down. If he says he's going to fight, then he fights. Mac said, "I don't care if Gross kills me, I won't back down." So what happened was there was no fight because Gross backed down. I guess he didn't want to be guilty of manslaughter and hold up his discharge. He handed Mac the $75 and that was that. For Mac there was no gloating, it was just another day's business.

A few weeks after we were discharged I talked to another of my friends, Ralph, who along with Mac, had been with me the whole two years. Ralph told me that the day Mac got home from the Army he called his ex-wife. She worked at a bar. He picked her up when she got off at 2:00 a.m. and they had sex on the seat of his pick-up truck. As I told Ralph, "She screwed him with the draft board, then he screwed her."

In memory of Mac, here's Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers doing, "Won't Back Down":

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ghosties and ghoulies

I recently posted a story about screwing up an elementary school relationship with a girl I L*O*V*E*D. I snitched her off to the teacher by exposing her plagiarism of an old Little Lulu comic book.

I still have some old Little Lulu comics. Going through some of those few coverless but nostalgic issues reading the funny stories of Lulu's gang made me wonder how we ever survive childhood. Not only are we at the total mercy of our parents, but of our own fears and lack of worldly knowledge. Being 60 isn't that bad if you're able to put life in perspective. Mainly it's all fucked up and there's nothing you can do about it.

In a 1954 issue I found this story featuring my favorite character, Tubby. Tubby was me as a kid. I was the fat kid in the classroom, the one who made the smartass remarks to the teacher, the one who aced the spelling tests but boloed the arithmetic (still can't get long division, thank goodness for calculators), and the one with the wild imagination. My brain was fueled by TV, movies and comics. They made me want to exist in a world that didn't really exist except in my own head.

At night I got delicious thrills lying in bed thinking of all of the things that could suddenly come out of the closet or from under the bed and attack me. There were ghosts and headless horsemen and Godzilla lurking, just waiting to scare the shit out of me. I still have the insomnia I had as a kid, still wake up way too early; in those childhood fantasies of mine I could make out shapes in the pre-dawn darkness. I could see faces in the wood grain on the door, I could see objects floating through the air near my bed. My way of coping with all of this was to throw the covers over my head and shiver until I went back to sleep. If I could sleep at all, that is.

I'm sure my mom and dad just thought it was growing pains. Unlike Tubby in the story I didn't try to convince anyone that these specters and phantasms were real. Or as real as my brain could make them, that is. I knew they were part of that special place in me that made me an odd kid. I'm still odd, but nowadays I don't see things floating through the air.

From ghosties and ghoulies
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord preserve us!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stud in the stockade

Still continuing with my memories of my time in a U.S. Army artillery unit stationed in Germany in 1967-68:

We called him Stud, but that was a natural because his name was Steve Studdart. Steve was in the group just ahead of mine, had arrived in Germany in mid '66, and was supposed to go home in December 1967. He was a real happy guy, a lot of laughs, mostly at his own expense, but as long as he was part of the group, well, so what? Stud was about 5' 3" tall, and almost as wide. He got teased a lot about his huge beer belly.

I was surprised that some guys could be fat considering how they kept us active and fit with PT (physical training) three times a week, and with balanced meals in the mess hall. I never looked so good! Some guys drank a lot, and ate junk food at the PX snack bar. That was Stud. When I would do my duty as charge of quarters every few weeks, I'd be awake in the orderly room overnight and about 2:00 a.m. Stud would come crashing in the barracks, drunk and funny. He'd topple into his bunk but still be up and at formation at 6:00 a.m.

Stud hung out with some German civilians. They partied a lot and they thought he was comical. They had a big blowout for him the night before he was going to go home. At 1:00 a.m. he showed up at the motor pool, a passenger in a young German man's car. My friend Ralph was on guard duty. Stud was drunk, as usual, and told Ralph, "We need some gas. Gimme a couple gallons."

Ralph said, "No way, Stud, beat it before you get caught." No one was supposed to be in the motor pool at the time of the night except for the guards. Stud walked past Ralph and grabbed a gallon can full of gasoline, then walked toward the German's car. Ralph looked around, and as he told me later, "What was I gonna do? Butt stroke him with my rifle?" As a matter of fact, when they found Ralph guilty later of dereliction of duty, confined him to the barracks for a couple of weeks and fined him most of his month's pay, they said exactly that. If a guy is stealing government property you stop him, even if it means a butt stroke to the chin.

Since he couldn't stop him, Ralph was trying to hurry him on his way. But Stud was drunkenly trying to get the gas cap off his friend's car when the sergeant of the guard walked up to see what the commotion was about. He ordered Stud to halt, pulled out his sidearm and while Stud protested that he was flying home to the States in the morning, held him for the MP's to arrest.

This was when, as orderly room clerk, I found out how serious the Army was about protecting property. Stud was trying to steal gasoline which I figure at time cost the Army less than 25¢, but was found guilty by court martial, and sentenced to 60 days in the stockade at Mannheim. They deducted the time he'd already spent in stir waiting for his court martial. Poor Ralph had to testify against Stud at the court martial, and was reminded of his own lousy performance as a guard by Stud's defense lawyer. A couple of Stud's friends testified as character witnesses, but to be honest, Stud was a good guy and a lousy soldier. No one could say he did his job well, or that he followed rules. He ended up in an Army stockade.

Since Stud was supposed to get out the day after he was arrested I wondered how all of it worked. I found out after a month when I got an urgent message from the Red Cross requesting information about Specialist 4th Class Steven Studdart. His parents were expecting him in December and here it was February and where was he? Apparently he hadn't told his family any of this. He hadn't contacted them since sending them a letter in early December saying, "See you in a few days!" Right after I TWX'ed the Red Cross that now Private E-1 Steven Studdart was serving a sentence in the stockade we went to the field. We were on a mountaintop in minus-40 degree temperatures and howling blizzards. In a few days Stud suddenly appeared. For a reason unknown to me he'd been released early, had been sent back to the unit, which meant he had to be escorted to the training area, and then we did the paperwork that accompanied a discharge.

The last time I talked to Stud we were standing behind one of the big guns, freezing, our teeth chattering. I asked him, "Are you glad you're out of jail and going home?" He looked around and then tried to light a cigarette with frozen fingers. "Right now I'd rather be in the stockade."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When the Mess Sergeant messed up

I began my blog, Paranoia Strikes Deep in April, 2006 with this story of a random drug test. Today I took another; my third random drug test since testing by my employer began over 13 years ago. I don't care that I don't take drugs; I'm always suspicious of this sort of official invasion of privacy. Since I don't take illegal drugs, since I don't do my job impaired I resent having this sort of action perpetrated on me. But, in the world today, with the prevalence of illegal drugs, as much as I hate it, I guess I can see why…

I've been talking lately about my time in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany during the years 1967-68. This is the story that got jogged back into memory with the call summoning me to the test. One of our three mess sergeants was Sgt. Willie. Willie was a carefree, imperturbable, aw shucks kind of guy. I never minded having KP when it was Willie's shift, because he kept things low-key, no yelling and screaming at the KP guys.

My first sergeant, Coke Bottles, whose story is told here, hated Sgt. Willie. Coke Bottles was a white man from Arkansas, and Sgt. Willie was a black man from Alabama. One day Willie had to come into our orderly room to bring a requisition and he was staggering. His eyes were unfocused and his speech was slurred. "Mess sergeant!" yelled Coke Bottles. "Are you drunk?"

"Nawsuh," replied Sgt. Willie. He reached down and took a cigarette out of the Winston pack Coke Bottles kept on his desk, lighting it with the Zippo by the pack. He saluted and staggered out. Coke Bottles got on the phone. I heard him saying something about taking Willie to the dispensary, and within minutes the First Sergeant left his office.

He came back an hour or so later, shaking his head. He was talking to the battery commander. "Sir, I took Sgt. Willie to the dispensary and told them to test him for alcohol. They gave him the test and said he wasn't drunk! I can't figure it out!" The irony is that First Sergeant Lloyd was himself an alcoholic, usually downing two or three drinks in the morning to cure his hangover from the night before. Both Coke Bottles and the Captain shook their heads, baffled.

Well, I wasn't baffled. This was 1967, the year of the Summer of Love; the year of hippies, flower power, peace, freedom, and psychedelics. I knew what Sergeant Willie had been doing, and it was smoking weed! Pot! Grass, marijuana! Our leaders were still in a state of innocence at the time. It was just coming into the Army. Germany had all kinds of drugs floating around; it was nothing to go downtown and find marijuana or hashish, even LSD or hard narcotics. They were all over the place. But men like our captain and first sergeant were still clueless.

Willie got away with it that time. So did I. A couple of months later a guy asked if I wanted to smoke a pipe. I was curious. We went into his room and locked the door from the inside. He sparked up the bowl. It was Turkish hash, and it put a buzz on me like I'd never had in my life. I was so disoriented I tried to go out the window because I thought it was the door. I went back to the orderly room and sat at the typewriter, but nothing made any sense to me. I remember Coke Bottles looking at me, puzzled, and then I stood up and said, "I'm feeling really, really sick." I didn't ask for permission, I just left the orderly room, stumbled to my room, laid down and felt the bed start doing 360s, faster and faster until I was hanging on for dear life. I managed to go to sleep, but when I woke up several hours later it was dark and I was still stoned. It lasted until morning, when I went back to work.

When I left the Army in late 1968 drug use was rampant, and the powers that be were catching on, but it would be quite a while before they realized they had a problem on their hands. As a civilian the stories I read about drug use in the armed forces were mostly about Vietnam, as if it didn't exist in the United States or other countries where we had troops stationed. How wrong they were.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Top Sergeant hits bottom

In May, 1967 I found my way through the various repple depos--replacement depots, for you civilians--to Fürth, near Nürnberg, West Germany. I was assigned to a 155mm self-propelled artillery battery, and within a short time took over as a second clerk in the orderly room--main office, also for you civilians--under First Sergeant Douglas Lloyd.

Lloyd had been in the Army for about 24 years, had served in Korea during that conflict. He was an odd-looking man, with a bullet-shaped head, which seemed appropriate. His hair was shaved to the scalp on the sides, which made his ears look prominent. He had a paunch from drinking and large butt from sitting. His most striking feature were his eyes, which looked huge behind his thick, black-rimmed glasses. When I was being looked at during an inspection or when he was just talking to me it felt like an owl was scrutinizing me. We called Sergeant Lloyd Coke Bottles, but never in his presence.

Lloyd was what we called a smoke blower. His temper was for the most part kept in check, but he could suddenly erupt in a volcanic burst of anger that had the tendency to shrivel a man's testicles. First Sergeants were like the hired guns in the Army. A company commander sat in his office and did administrative duties, but a top sergeant was the guy who did all of the yelling and, as was so quaintly put by us G.I.s, , brought down pee on a trooper.

I worked in the orderly room with Lloyd for almost a year and a half. At the time I thought he was the worst boss I'd ever had. I've had several since then, including the current one who seems Coke Bottles' twin in attitude and bellicosity. It's all part of my theory that somewhere, sometime in a prior life I screwed up bad and my karma in this lifetime is to have a series of really rotten bosses.

I digress. One of my duties was mail clerk. In the morning I walked across a parade ground to Battalion HQ to pick up the mail. I dawdled as much as possible in HQ, just so I wouldn't have to come back and deal with Lloyd. Oftentimes I'd get behind on my work. I'd have to come in after the evening meal and finish up, but being in the orderly room doing my work without Sergeant Lloyd was a good thing, even on my own time.

Lloyd was an alcoholic. Part of his morning was, as he put it, "to reconnoiter the area," which meant he went to the NCO club and tossed down a couple. It was hair of the dog. He showed up for work most mornings hung over and took it out on us the rest of the day.

In the summer of 1968 our unit was sent to the 7th Army Training Center, up in the mountains. I was there for 45 days, but Lloyd didn't make it so long. The Officer-NCO club was in one building, and because it was the Army and because officers and NCOs weren't to fraternize, it was separated by a partition in the middle. Sergeant Lloyd was drinking, as usual, and wandered into he officer's section. A major was visiting, and had brought his wife. Lloyd, who thought he was charming while he was drinking, insulted her by asking her to dance, and then got belligerent when she refused. The buzz came quickly to us enlisted men. Coke Bottles had been whisked away, back to the main post. He was disciplined, reduced to Master Sergeant.

A First Sergeant and Master Sergeant were the same pay grade, E-8, but the duties were different, and First Sergeant was actually the ranking NCO. The next time I saw Coke Bottles--a very contrite and humbled man by then--he was wearing Master Sergeant chevrons. It must've been the fastest transfer ever, because within a couple of weeks he was on his way to Vietnam. He even stopped by the orderly room to say goodbye. He acted like we were old buddies, telling me how much he'd enjoyed working with me. I was so astonished I couldn't even reply, just mumbling, "Well, good luck, Sergeant Lloyd," knowing I hoped he'd get his fat ass blown off in Vietnam.

That should have been the end of my association with Coke Bottles, but it wasn't. In 1970, enjoying my life as a civilian, I was re-drafted for two weeks to fill a spot in an Army Reserve unit in California. I spent 14 days sitting on a hillside in a tent, typing, while the howitzers blew up the other side of the valley. I was with three of my buddies from my unit in Germany, so in some ways it was a joyful reunion. We were sitting around one night, having a couple of beers, when one of the sergeants mentioned Sergeant Lloyd. I found out that my old First Shirt was an active duty NCO adviser to this Army Reserve unit. The only reason he wasn't there with us on that mountainside at that time was because he'd just had a hemorrhoid operation! Since we were drinking we shot our mouths off, saying, "If Coke Bottles was here we'd frag him in his tent! He'd be sorry to see us guys from Charlie Battery!" I can't remember much about what was actually said, but that sergeant laughed and said he'd pass along the message.

I have a picture in my mind of Sergeant Lloyd, reporting back for duty after his operation, sitting on a hemorrhoid doughnut in his chair, having that sergeant from the reserve unit tell him, "I met some of your guys from Germany," giving him our names. "They said they wanted to blow your hemorrhoids off with a hand grenade."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So it's hi-hi-me, in the field artillery...

Friday night I went online and googled my old Army artillery unit. To my surprise I came up with a whole page devoted to the unit from the last year I was assigned, 1968. There was a page of photos of members of the battery, and even though they were small pictures I used a magnifying glass and realized I didn't recognize anyone except for one sergeant. The year was printed on the page of photos, 1968. So what gives?

I left the unit on November 10, 1968, so probably sometime after that they took the photos for some sort of yearbook page. At the time I left there was a wave of us, drafted in late '66, who were being discharged. In the months before I left new members of the unit were showing up practically every week, and I didn't get to know them.

We were a 155mm self-propelled howitzer battery, stationed in Nürnberg, Germany. We had six big tank-like vehicles with cannons sticking out of them. When I first got to the unit in May, 1967, the first job they gave me was in the ammo section, which meant that I was expected to lift 98-pound artillery shells. My first day on that job gave me back problems I think I still carry with me today. After a few weeks I was still part of the ammo section, but only worked with them part-time because one of the battery clerks was going home on leave and I volunteered to take his place. I was then, as I am now, a very fast typist.

I stopped typing for an hour a day. We had what was called motor stables. After lunch, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. I went with the ammo section guys to the motor pool. We had a checklist, and we were supposed to go through our 10-ton 1952 Studebaker-built trucks, opening the hoods, checking oil, coolant, etc., then getting under the vehicle, checking for leaks, checking air pressure in the tires. You know the drill. Since he was up most nights drinking, our sergeant used to like to get under one of the trucks and sleep during that hour. The rest of us stood around, bullshitting, or like me, reading the Stars and Stripes newspaper. One day we looked up to see our battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Hale, and his aide walking into the motor pool. We woke our sarge up in enough time for him to get out from under the truck and compose himself.

"Well, Sergeant," said the colonel. "I see you and your men are performing motor stables." He asked for the sergeant's checklist. "Hmmm," said Colonel Hale, "I can't tell which you have already done. Can you show me on the list?" The sergeant, trying to act cool, pointed to a number down the list, which was to check the brakes. "All right," said the colonel. "If you're there, then you've already checked this." Colonel Hale pulled the oil dipstick, which had some black gunk on the very end. We were short a few quarts. Our sergeant wasn't short a few quarts of shit, because he was pooping down both legs.

"Maybe next time you'll be a little more careful about the order in which you do your checklist," said Colonel Hale drily as he handed the list back to Sarge.

It taught me a valuable lesson, always have a contingency plan for such an occasion, like make sure you've got the checklist completed and everything is fine, then you can screw off. We were young and lessons are learned, and that was a good one.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"I'm a ba-a-a-a-ad boy!"

Another sex scandal, another public figure resigns…go figure.

We have so many laws, strictures, and taboos concerning sex that someone, somewhere, is bound to be violating them. I'm still trying to figure out why a guy with everything would put himself in the position to be caught, but I'm sure he'll talk it over with his shrink and find he was addicted to this type of danger and sexual encounter.

He'll write a book that'll be a big seller, go on Oprah, make his public mea culpas, and while he won't ever be elected to public office again, he'll make the circuit, telling his story and someone will hire him as a consultant and he'll be back to his seven figure income in no time. Matter of fact, this scandal might help him. It'll keep his name in the papers for a while, at least.

In the meantime his poor family…magnify how Bill Clinton's family felt when they found out Daddy was getting blowjobs from a girl not much older than his own daughter. That had to feel pretty bad. I can't even imagine what Eliot Spitzer's family must be going through at this moment; the shame and embarrassment must be incredible.

It'd be interesting to see how the Europeans view all of this. They have a much more casual attitude, unlike Americans and their uptight, overly righteous view of sexual behavior. I can't help but think they're amused and once again bemused by America's obsession with matters of sex and public decorum, just like they were with Clinton during Blowgate.

When I was in Nuremberg, Germany, as a young American G.I. during the 1960s, prostitution was legal. For Germans, not for Americans. There were really only two things to do in town for an American G.I., drinking and women, and both of them got a guy in trouble. While I occasionally drank, I avoided the women because they scared me, and because I avoided trouble. I spent most of my time in the barracks, reading or writing.

I wasn't a customer, but I thought it was civilized of the Germans to enclose the prostitutes. The polizei were right around the corner, too, and were there quick if there was trouble. I'm sure they had their problems with streetwalkers just like American cities, but they were making an attempt to contain prostitution. I'm also sure that if German wives found out their husbands were visiting prostitutes they had as much of a problem with it as Eliot Spitzer's wife is having right now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

" started long ago, in the Garden of Eden..."

"It's all the fault of these folks!"

The governor of New York was caught paying call girls. He put himself in the situation to get caught. This is the stuff of dreams for tabloids and trashy TV. Am I really surprised? Rich, powerful men have been consorting with prostitutes since year zero.

I guess being an officer of the court and looking like a hypocritical bastard has brought the total weight of the media down on him. I felt sorry for his wife, who in dutiful fashion, stood next to him while he made his version of a mea culpa. You could see what was going through her head: "You cheating asshole. You have just ruined the lives of yourself, me and our three children." Way to go, Guv!

Personally, I've never known what satisfaction people get out of others' sexual peccadilloes, unless it's the lifestyles of the rich and famous syndrome we have. If it's Joe Schmo from down the street who's caught with a hooker it means a few hours in jail and a fine, and then he goes home to explain it to his wife. No one might ever find out. But if it's somebody famous, or especially if it's someone who takes a public stand against sin or lawbreaking, well then, that makes it a whole 'nother thing, doesn't it.

In one way I see why guys go to prostitutes, although I sure never would. It's right in the lyric of the Tom Waits song, "…get your little something that you don't get at home." Maybe wifey won't do that act, but a gal down the street will do it for $20. On the other hand, prostitutes are in a seamy line of work, and who knows what sorts of things they are carrying on their person, like diseases and such, we don't want to be in contact with. Thanks for the offer, but no thanks.

I always wonder why public officials, religious leaders, even the President of the United States, get themselves in trouble over sex. You'd just think they would be smarter, but when it comes to sex, a lot of guys revert to a very primitive state. The sex comes first, the regrets later.

And Governor Spitzer has plenty of regrets, I'm sure.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sweet Middle-aged James

Watching James Taylor's "One Man Band" as a PBS fundraiser has made me once again appreciate how good this artist is. The first video is Taylor doing "Sweet Baby James" on the BBC in 1970; the second is from his DVD of "One Man Band" from 2007. There might be 37 years between the versions of this song, but it still sounds brand new coming from his mouth. The hair is gone from his head, but his talent is still full, thick and shiny!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A boob looking at boobs

Last Friday I saw Essy, my coworker of many years. I hadn't seen her for a couple of months. Our paths just haven't crossed. Essy was wearing a new spring dress with a low cut front, and was showing some nice cleavage.

This knocked me completely off my pins. In the 28 years I've known Essy, since she was a teen, she has always been a modest dresser. She's always had a sort of casual professional style, even before that was popular. She's cute, but I've never seen her showing so much of herself.

What I did was immediately use my Male Mental Camera. That is, before she saw me coming toward her, I took a mental snapshot of her décolletage and filed it in my brain under "boobs." Later on I downloaded the mental picture file and took a longer look at what I'd seen, long after we'd said our hellos and parted company. The trick was to get that picture, then when talking with Essy, look at her eyes and not her bosom. If during the conversation she were to avert her eyes for even a second I could bounce my eyeballs off her chest and then put them back to eye level before she looked back. It's a great trick we men know. Unfortunately, Essy never looked away, meeting my eyes with a steady gaze for the time we said our obligatory hi-how-are-ya's. I think Essy was hip to the trick. After all, she's known me a long time.

Women do this; they put themselves in a situation where they command attention, but they don't want it. They want to be fashionable, and showing cleavage now is very chic, they just don't want guys drooling all over their chests. I can't blame them for that, but wonder why they might be offended if they caught somebody looking. My personal feeling is women know exactly how they look in the clothes they're wearing, so if they're showing boobies, they want someone to look. Maybe they just don't want me to look. Or maybe they do.

It makes for a tightrope-walking act for us guys! We'd like to be like the guy in the hilarious New Yorker cartoon on top, just go over and check 'em out. That isn't the way it works, though. Not in these days of sexual harassment.

I've written about this before here.

I've been going through the snapshots taken with my Male Mental Camera, going back to last summer, when the skin was showing all over the place. There's a nice chick in a red low-cut top…and hey, that gal over there in blue has quite a set, and she's showing most of 'em. Ooooo, looky here: this one has short-shorts and she's showing some butt cleavage, too! Oh man, I'm in heaven.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The forty-year night

Night Of The Living Dead is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It was released originally in 1968, the very politically charged year.

Duane Jones, as Ben, was the star. He was one of the few African-Americans of the time to star in a movie, even a low budget flick like Night. I read once that director George Romero said Jones wasn't picked because he was black, but because he was the best actor. What made the movie unique for its time is that race wasn't part of the plot, not like the Sidney Poitier-Rod Steiger movie, In The Heat Of The Night, from the previous year. Race may not have been part of the storyline, but it was in the minds of the audience. Some people have said they have heard "Old Man River" interpolated into the soundtrack. George Romero scoffed at that claim.

The audience had to notice the leading man was black. The female lead was white and blonde. When Ben enters the movie the first thing we see is his face filling the screen, startling the girl. He is being pursued and needs safe haven. Folks who might be expecting some romance between the two leads would be disappointed, but the man and woman do form a bond. If fighting off the living dead wouldn't give two people a sense of closeness, nothing would.

For groundbreaking cinema I put Night up there with Psycho. Both movies created a genre of horror film that hadn't been seen before. They were both filmed on low budgets in black and white. Far from looking cheap, it enhanced their creepiness. Despite Night's low budget the story was good, the cinematography was good, and for the most part the acting was good. There were some amateur performances, more like the level of a school play. What was most important was the overall mood and audience identification with the characters and the danger they were in.

Night has some great film noir scenes. This is one from early on in the movie. Ben has just fought off a zombie outside the house. Before he comes back in a creature emerges from the shadows.

Barbara, the female lead played by Judith O'Dea, shrieks with terror. Ben re-enters and fights the creature.

Ben has used the tire iron to dispatch the other zombie, and uses it on this zombie. We don't see the tire iron enter this zombie's head, but we quickly learn what every zombie movie since has taught us: Kill the brain, you kill the zombie.

Ben steps back from the creature and in a pensive moment, the reality of the situation has hit him. In killing the monster which is trying to kill him, he is reduced to its level.

The whole scene goes fast, maybe a minute or more, but is full of great mood and camera angles. Deep shadows envelop the actors. Having the movie on DVD helps by enabling us to slow it down, step through each frame so we can see the editing and the techniques used to give it such a feeling of claustrophobia and suspense.

Unfortunately for the folks who made Night Of The Living Dead, there was a screw-up and they lost the rights to the picture. It became public domain in a very short time, which makes for a lot of modern-day copies taken from soupy-looking prints. A remake was made in 1990, starring Tony Todd as Ben. It gave a new look to the movie, but didn't improve it. I like Tony Todd and thought he did a good job, but Ben to me is Duane Jones.

Night Of The Living Dead, as admitted by George Romero, was inspired by the classic 1954 Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, and the early 1950s EC horror comic books, Tales From The Crypt, The Vault Of Horror, and The Haunt Of Fear. Over the past 40 years, with endless sequels and imitations, Night Of The Living Dead, like the shambling dead that populate it, has taken on a bizarre life of its own.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Disturbia in suburbia

Kicking back by myself on a Saturday night…Sally is pet sitting…the snow is falling. On March 1, yet!

I should've read a book, but instead I watched Disturbia on HBO. I counted at least three movies within this film: Rear Window, Fright Night, and Silence of the Lambs. The target audience for this film, teenagers, wouldn't care. Originality is in short supply in this flick, but originality isn't what teens are looking for.

Shia LeBeouf is a nice-looking young actor who does a convincing job as Kale, a troubled kid who acts out and is put on house arrest. He wears an ankle bracelet, and the film sets up very well the parameters of his enclosed world. As they are setting up the domestic situation, the background activity of television news is reporting that young women are missing.

Sarah Roemer as Ashley is the chick next door who drives him to distraction, but not distracted enough that he doesn't notice David Morse as Mr. Turner, his neighbor on the other side, committing activities that seem suspicious. Personally, if it had been me I'd have been watching Ashley, not Mr. Turner. The guy could have murdered half of the women in town in his house but I wouldn't have noticed. I'd have been too busy ogling Ashley.

There is the element of voyeurism from Rear Window, the boy replacing the James Stewart character. There's the sinister neighbor swiped from Fright Night, with Chris Sarandon as a charming vampire. Finally there's a scene in the basement where Kale goes, a la Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in Silence Of The Lambs.

Is there a limit on serial killer movies and television programs we have to watch? The serial killer is a bogeyman who has been around for several years now. Even Jason, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers are serial killers, although they are supernatural monsters. The genre has been--you'll excuse the expression--done to death. It's time to find some new monsters! About the only serial killer movie/series I've enjoyed in the past few years has been HBO'sEpitafios, the South American series featuring a killer of unusual abilities and skill at outwitting the law. It was still predictable, but the cast was terrific and the setting was novel and exotic.

There were no surprises to Disturbia because there wasn't much motivation. We never found out why Mr. Turner killed, or anything about him except he had really bad haircut and yet had the power of charm over women.

Out of five stars I'd give Disturbia two. It also doesn't survive the short-attention span test. As soon as it was over I forgot it. In order to write this I had to go to to see who was in it and the name of the characters. That's a sure sign there wasn't much about it I thought memorable.


In my last blog I was a little misty about sending my son and his family east to Pennsylvania to live. Now I find out he'll be located where my all-time favorite horror flick, Night Of The Living Dead, was filmed in the late '60s. Really. How cool is that? Very cool.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sister act

Our two granddaughters will soon be moving cross country with their mom and dad.


I feel a pang I haven't ever felt before, but that's normal. Another grandparent was talking with me about it yesterday. She said, "Who'd have thought that you could love someone so much after knowing them so short a time?"

But my wife and I don't stand in the way of other peoples' decisions for their own future, so we support our son in this, even knowing how much we'll miss the whole family.

Here are some recent pictures of our little girls. The older is Isabella--Bella--who just turned three-years-old. The younger is Gabriela--Gabby--who is now 20 months.A long time ago, over a century, if I'm any judge, someone else took pictures of their little girls. The styles and the photographic equipment change over the years but what remains is that in a bygone era, someone loved those little girls as much as we love ours.

God's mysteries: don't ask, don't tell

I heard a little squib of news on National Public Radio the other day. I don't remember the exact figure, but something like 75% of the American public say they are religious or "very" religious. I guess that puts me squarely in the minority--again--but I'd describe myself as being in the 25% that isn't religious. I don't like this sort of label, but for some reason in this country if you're not religious then you must be an atheist or at the least an agnostic, but I go back and forth. Sometimes I think I'm not a believer, sometimes I don't know what I believe, sometimes I go back to the superstitions of my youth, and my indoctrination to the religion into which I was born.

I don't want to knock it; lots of great people are part of that religion, but I also see a lot of religious-sounding people who aren't necessarily religious acting. A lot of religious posing seems like hypocrisy to me.

This week I've been reading Bill Bryson's excellent *A Short History Of Nearly Everything, specifically the part about the creation of the universe. To be honest, some of that I don't believe any more than I believe religious creation stories. I guess it's because scientists seems to keep changing their minds as new things are discovered. That's OK, but it means you shouldn't bet the ranch on something like the Big Bang theory, because next week it could be something else. I'm interested in scientific reasoning based on current understanding of the nature of the materials the universe is comprised of, but there is also a lot of theorizing going on. Many scientists use that word, "theory," but some sound so positive their theory is correct they are really saying to the public "this is the way it is; this is true."

On the religious side you meet people who are intractable. The word "theory" is unknown. The planet Earth was created exactly as it says in the Bible, and don't confuse them with science. Some say the Earth was created in six days just 6000 years ago and all of that other stuff--dinosaur bones, geology dating back billions of years, etc.--is just there to look like the world is older than 6000 years, but it isn't. Uh-huh. Find me a presidential candidate who really believes that. Huckabee? You want a guy with his finger on the nuclear trigger who believes dinosaur bones were planted on earth to look like the planet is really old?

The mysteries of the universe are easily explained if they just stay mysteries. If a person is taught that their God works in mysterious ways, then they don't have to question anything or believe anything someone tells them, do they?

A few years ago I was in a thrift store looking at books. On the other side of the rack two old men were arguing. One said, "I want to know if when we die we find out the answer to some mysteries I wonder about."

"What mysteries?"

"Well, does God have a mother?" (I assume he was speaking of the head of the Godhood, and not Jesus.)

"Those are mysteries we don't know the answers to, and we're not supposed to question them."

"I still want to know."

The two old men got loud about what questions men were to discuss or even wonder about, and then the fellow who was "answering" his friend's question in such a hot manner yelled, "Shut up! Just shut up!"

He suddenly came around the rack, glaring. He looked at me and muttered, "…Wants to know if God has a mother…"

I don't see the problem. If the human mind is made to question, made to seek enlightenment and answers, then why are there mysteries we're not allowed to explore? I think the old boy was being unreasonable, but then that's why he's in the 75% and I'm in the 25%.