Back to Basics

The rainy season continues. It’s incredibly green down here. The Chinese Mountains in front of our house look like heads of broccoli. I’m not sure what the real name of the mountains are, but I call them the Chinese Mountains.

Las montañas de chino, in Spanish.

I think they look like the mountains in old Chinese paintings.

* * * *

Remember the movie, Mr Mom? 1983. Michael Keaton. Terri Garr.

Michael Keaton’s character loses his job and becomes a stay at home dad. After a few months of misadventures, he becomes disillusioned. He gives up taking care of the house. He gains weight, grows a beard, and spends most of his days drinking beer and watching soap operas on TV.

That’s kind of where my lovely supermodel wife and I are at right now.

Okay, it’s not that bad. Lea hasn’t grown a beard, and I haven’t started drinking and watching soap operas, so at least we caught it in time. And now that we’ve been able to identify what’s happening, we can come up with a plan of action to do something about it.

And we haven’t lost our jobs. We’re retired. Lea’s been retired for over an year. My one year anniversary will be here at the end of next month. The issues we face are vastly different than if we were still trying to remain gainfully employed.

We don’t have any debt. We don’t have any institutions we owe money to. We have monthly expenses, and that’s all. It’s pretty damn cool, and I haven’t been free from debt since I was twenty-one.

That was forty years ago. And as weird as this might sound, it’s time to get back to basics.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. The first stop in my military career was Fort Ord, CA for basic training. Fort Ord was located around Monterey Bay. It opened in 1917, and closed in 1994, twenty years after I was there.

If the Federal government has any common sense, they’ll sell the land to developers and make a ton of money.

From what I remember, Fort Ord was a nondescript place, mostly sand and ice plants, scrub oak and poison ivy. And of all those, sand was predominant. I once described Fort Ord as a sand trap on the fourth hole of Life.

I’m pretty sure that description stands the test of time.

I arrived at Fort Ord in July of 1974. I was eighteen years old. The one thing I was sure of after I had been there for a couple of days was that I had made a terrible mistake. After talking to a few of the other guys, I knew I wasn’t the only one who had come to that conclusion.

I still remember some of the guys in my squad. Day. Moreno. Marthaler. Dennison. Mramer. I remember those guys better than I do most of the people I went to nursing school with ten years later. We all joined the Army for a myriad of reasons, but none of us were overly gung ho about it.

Marthaler and I were both from Minnesota. We were bunk mates. He slept on top. Dennison was probably my best friend in boot camp. We talked about a lots of stuff. We had similar interests. It helped the time go by. Day and Moreno were my buds. I helped them survive the obstacle course, and they helped me survive everything else. Day taught me how to play chess. Moreno made me laugh. Mramer and I hated each other. I’m not sure why. We never discussed it. I’m not sure we ever spoke to one another. But I’m pretty sure he hated me, and as a result, I know I hated him.

* * * *

I was assigned to Company A-4-3, fourth platoon, first squad. Our company commander was Captain Heller. He had a painting of a a bunch of marching penguins placed right above the mess hall doors. He thought penguins were the epitome of military attention. We were the Marching Penguins of Fort Ord, and all of the other companies laughed at us.

We hated those fucking penguins.

Our instructor was Drill Sergeant Byrum. DS Byrum was from North Carolina. He was slender and short, maybe a little taller than me. He wore glasses, and had a mustache. He looked like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Despite his meek and mild looks, he wasn’t a man to mess with. He had killed more than one enemy combatant with nothing more than a knife and his hands.

DS Byrum had been a tunnel rat in Nam before becoming a drill sergeant, just like Forrest Gump. He had been wounded several times, and had lost several feet of his small intestine as  can result of one of his wounds. All our training cadre had served at least one tour of duty in Vietnam, and they all had quite a bit to say about it.

The Vietnam War had become very unpopular in the US, and I can’t remember a single guy in my platoon that wanted to go there. I certainly didn’t. The war was a topic of heated discussion whenever we weren’t being run into the ground, learning how to be soldiers.

There were two groups. The guys who thought it was our duty to fight for our country, no matter where that might be, and the war was right. And there were the guys who thought America had no business being in Vietnam, and the war was wrong.

I was one of the latter. So was Dennison.

In addition, whether by accident or design, all of the fuck ups were assigned to the fourth platoon. We all knew we were fuck ups because DS Byrum told us we were. We were the platoon of misfits from Stripes.

Our first meeting with DS Byrum went something like unto this:

It was 4:00 AM on a Monday morning in late July. Everyone in my platoon was asleep in the barracks. And then I heard the sound of an empty metal garbage can being thrown down the middle of the barracks floor, echoing as it bounced off the floor and metal bedframes. And a voice was shouting, “Get. The. Fuck. Up!”

His voice continued as my platoon slowly roused itself and started getting dressed.

“I am Drill Sergeant Byrum, and you will address me as such if you want to live! Do not call me Sergeant! Do not call me Sir! Every rotation of new recruits has a platoon of fuck ups, and gentlemen, you are that platoon! You might be fuck ups now, but ten weeks from now you are going to be the best platoon in this company, or you will die trying! Now, rise and shine! Get. The. Fuck. Up!”

And for the next ten weeks, that’s more or less how every morning started.

* * * *

DS Byrum is memorable to me for at least one particular talent. He couldn’t correctly pronounce anyone’s name. Well, he could say Day’s name correctly, but the rest of us fuck ups got a fucked up name. My last name is Rowen. I became Private Roland.

Basic training serves a series of important military functions, probably. Initial processing. There’s a ton of paperwork that has to be filled out in triplicate, and processed on each new soldier. We were issued a literal ton of military equipment and uniforms that we had to sign for. In triplicate. With each step and each signature, we became a little less civilian, and a bit more military in thought and appearance. That process reached its fruition when we all received our trainee haircut which made all of us look like unto Bryan Baeumler.

That haircut was a rite of passage. Before it, we were still individuals with an unique identify. After it, we were officially soldiers, all equally bald and bereft of identity and individuality, and our real training began.

* * * *

The three most important aspects of boot camp are to brainwash each new recruit to stop thinking like a civilian, to start them thinking the way the Army wants them to think, and to get them into the best physical shape they could be in to die in the service of their country, if necessary.

“Men. There are two ways to do something. The wrong way, and the Army way. You are here to learn to do everything the Army way, and you will learn to do so without question, or your Army career will end somewhere in the next ten weeks. Do. You. Understand. Me!

“Yes, drill sergeant!”

And the first thing you better learn is that sentence. Or you’ll end up doing a whole lots of push ups. Even if you learn that sentence better than anyone ever has, you’ll still end up doing a whole lots of push ups. There might be things drill sergeants enjoy more than making everyone do push ups, but I’m not sure what they could be.

“Give me fifty.” was one of the most popular lines spoken in boot camp. After a couple of weeks or so, doing fifty push ups was nothing. Another favorite line was, “Give me one hundred.” The worst part about this line was it was usually said at 2:00 AM, and it was generally prefaced with a speech.

“Men! I heard some of you have been crying to your girlfriends and to your mamas on the phone. My drill sergeant doesn’t like me because I’m black! He doesn’t like me because I’m Mexican! Men! That’s a bunch of bullshit!  I don’t care if you’re black! I don’t care if you’re brown. Or yellow. Or white. I hate each and every one of you motherfuckers equally! Do. You. Understand. Me? There’s only one color in this Army, and that color is green! Now, get down and give me one hundred!”

Or there was this speech from Drill Sergeant Camacho in the early morning hours, in the pouring rain while the entire company stood outside in our underwear. A couple of guys got into a fight earlier in the day, and DS Camacho didn’t want any of that shit going on on his watch.

“Men! I heard some of you guys think you’re tough. I heard some of you guys think you’re real badasses. I heard some of you guys like to fight. Is that true? Do we have any fighters out there? Because I want you tough guys to know one thing! If any of you fuckers want to fight, you can fight me and I’ll beat the living shit out of you! I’ll kick your fucking ass! Are there any badasses out there now? Are there any tough guys out there that want to fight me?”

“No, drill sergeant.”

“I. Can’t. Hear. You.”

“NO, DRILL SERGEANT!”

“That’s more like it! Now, get down and give me two hundred!”

* * * *

We had a whole lots of drill sergeants. Each platoon had a primary and secondary instructor. We had Byrum and Camacho. There were at least six other instructors who collaborated to make all of our lives as miserable as legally possible, plus a rotation of instructors in training. I can’t remember all of them anymore.

The only one of them I can remember clearly is DS O’Connor. I think he was one of first platoon’s instructors. His father was an American serviceman stationed in the Pacific, and his mother was a Polynesian native. He was half American and half Polynesian. He was…Amnesian.

* * * *

Boot camp is a new miserable experience for everyone that has to endure it. The only free time you have is when you go to bed, and sleep is your only escape mechanism, unless you decide to try to escape from the Army. And there’s always at least one guy who tries to go AWOL in boot camp.

In my unit, it was Calvin. That was his last name. No one has a first name in boot camp. He was most definitely a fuck up, but I don’t think he was in my platoon. I wonder how that happened? In addition to the mangled names DS Byrum gave us, almost everyone had a nickname. And Drill Sergeant Byrum helped me get mine one day when my platoon was in formation.

“Private Roland! I understand you had a meeting with the company commander this morning.”

“Yes, drill sergeant!” Everyone in the company knew about it. I was called to Captain Keller’s office while we were eating breakfast in the mess hall.

“Why did the captain want to see you?”

“I’d rather not say, drill sergeant.”

“Did I ask you if you had an opinion, Private Roland? Get down and give me fifty. Now, tell the rest of the platoon why the captain wanted to see you.” 

“He…he asked me if I wanted to go to West Point, drill sergeant.”

“And what did you tell the captain?”

“I told him I wasn’t interested, drill sergeant.”

“Do you hear that, men? Private Roland turned down an appointment to attend the finest university in the entire world, just so he could stay here with you. Is that correct, Private Roland?”

“Yes, drill sergeant!”

* * * *

Captain Heller was more than a little surprised when I told him I wasn’t interested in going to West Point.

“Take some time, think about it for a day. Talk to your parents. This is a great opportunity, son. You’re not going to get another chance like this again, ever. I can guarantee you that.”

“Yes, sir. You’re right about that, sir. But I don’t need any more time to think about this. I’m not interested.”

“Well, okay. But I think you’re making a big mistake with your life, son. Dismissed.”

* * * *

“That’s the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard, Private! Why would you turn down the opportunity to have a free college education at the best center of higher learning in the entire universe?”

I had at least one good reason for not wanting to go to West Point. I already knew I hated being in the Army, and the sooner I got out of the Army, the happier I was going to be. West Point was a four year commitment, plus another four years of service in the military on top of that.

Eight years in the Army was five more years than my enlistment. At that time in my life, it seemed like unto two eternities. All I wanted to do was serve my three years, and go back to Montana and marry my high school sweetheart.

But that wasn’t anything I wanted to tell Drill Sergeant Byrum, so I told him something I was pretty sure he’d like to hear.

“Permission to speak freely, drill sergeant.”

“By all means, Roland. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say.”

“I didn’t want to end up being a goddamn officer, drill sergeant.”

“Well, Private Roland. The captain told me you were smart, but that is fuckin’ genius! That is the best reason I’ve ever heard!” And he smiled, and laughed. He might have even clapped me on the back.

I think DS Byrum actually liked me for a minute there. And that was a bad thing. The last thing you wanted in boot camp was to be seen as someone your drill sergeant liked, for any reason. And another bad thing was being considered better than everyone else. Before I even knew it was my turn to bat, I already had two strikes. In one fell swoop I had developed something like unto leprosy as far as almost everyone in my platoon was concerned.

They started calling me Captain. It might sound cool, but in boot camp it’s like unto the Kiss of Death. It wasn’t a sign of respect, but rather, contempt.

* * * *

You get to do an endless amount of marching in boot camp. You march everywhere. And while you march, you sing. The Army has a buttload of a shitload of a ton of marching songs. Most of them have something to do with pretty women, getting drunk and killing things. Singing helps you find a rhythm to the mindless task of marching, and it helps you move in unison with the guys around you. Doing everything in unison is not only critical to the smooth functioning of your unit, but the entire Army.

If you can’t learn to march in unison as a platoon, you’ll never be able to march in unison to the Army way of life. And the first thing you have to do in order to be a good soldier is to stop asking questions.

“Private Roland, the Army is not paying you to think. You decided not to go to West Point, remember? The Army is paying you to do whatever I tell you to do! Now, get down and give me fifty!”

If I had one hundred dollars for every time DS Byrum told me that, I probably could’ve retired at the end of basic training. That was easily the hardest part of boot camp for me. Accepting something as the truth from a guy who couldn’t even pronounce my name correctly was tough.

All of the training we received was designed for a dual purpose. To keep us alive if we were ever in a combat situation, and to pass all of the testing we would have to endure in boot camp. It made sense, even back then. All that testing tended to weed out the weakest members of the herd. We were being tested, and all of us had to pass a battery of tests along the way. Weapons training. Shooting range. Hand grenades.

We were trained and drilled. Retrained, and redrilled. Then trained and drilled some more. On the days of our final testing, we were driven to the ranges to test out on weapons. The M-16 rifle. The M-60 machine gun. Hand grenades. Whatever. The Army wanted us rested and relaxed on those days.

The rest of the time it wanted us miserable and exhausted, and probably the most exhausting endeavor of boot camp was bivouac. Think of camping while you’re in the Army, then add automatic weapons and live ammunition. And drill sergeants yelling at you. It was supposed to be the closest thing to actual combat experience training we would receive.

I was paired up with Moreno, we would share a tent for the next week while we were out in the field. I think Moreno chose me because I was smaller than he was, and I didn’t snore.

“You won’t take up a lot of room, and you won’t keep me awake at night, like Day. He snores like a fuckin’ chainsaw.” Moreno said. He was one of the few people that didn’t treat me differently after I chose not to go to the Military Academy. Even Dennison did. I think he was pissed he didn’t get asked if he wanted to go to the Military Academy. “What the fuck do those morons know? How many of them were asked to go to West Point?” 

That was a good question. There were plenty of other guys that were easily as smart as me, like Dennison. He was probably smarter than I was. And yet…

For the first and only time, we didn’t march in close formation, but were spread out in a long column. Drill sergeants ran up and down the line, telling some to spread out, others to hurry up  and close ranks a bit. Moreno and I stayed near the back of the column and talked. Moreno was a funny guy. He joked about almost everything, and that made the long march tolerable.

Bivouac maneuvers started out benignly enough. We marched. That was nothing new, but this march didn’t stop. We marched for four hours straight. For lunch we ate C-rations, then marched for another four or five hours.

At some point in the afternoon, we were ‘attacked,’ and had to dive for cover. Live ammunition was being fired in our general direction, about fifty feet above our heads. The area I ended up in was a few scrub oaks surrounded by a field of poison ivy, so I decided I needed another place to dive for cover.

“Private Roland! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m getting out of this poison ivy, drill sergeant.”

“Private, we are under attack! You need to drop to ground! Now!”

“We are not under attack. I’m not in any danger of being killed. There’s a place without any poison ivy right there! That’s where I’m going.”

“Private Roland! You drop to the ground right where you are, right now, and that’s a goddamn order!”

I’m not sure I have ever hated a man so much as I hated DS Byrum at that moment in time. I dropped to one knee.

“All the way down. To the fuckin’ ground, Private! Now, goddamnit!”

I ended up with the worst case of poison ivy anyone has ever seen, including the bivouac doctor at Sick Call the next morning. He gave me a tiny bottle of calomine lotion, and told me to come back if I needed more. I started every morning standing in line to get more calomine lotion, trying not to scratch any part of my body.

Oddly enough, having to dive into the poison ivy ended up being kind of a blessing. Arguing with DS Byrum wasn’t something new for me, but the fact that he had to give me a direct order made the other guys in my platoon dislike me less. It proved to them I wasn’t an asskissing egghead who probably should have been smart enough to go to West Point.

Plus, I had an ugly ass rash all over my body, and there wasn’t a more miserable looking person on the planet than I looked that week.

It was one of the longest weeks of my life. Ever. Even now it was probably only exceeded in emotional misery by the week my mother-in-law died, and even then, I wasn’t covered by the itchy rash of poison ivy, nor did I have to march ten miles a day.

* * * *

If boot camp is nothing but an endless test, the final exam of boot camp is the Fitness Test. I can’t remember how many different sets of exercises we had to complete beyond several of them, but every skill was measured, timed and graded. Your final score determined whether or not you would be able to leave Fort Ord, boot camp, and continue onward in the Army. The final component of the Fitness Test was the mile run.

You could run as fast as you liked, but the slowest acceptable time was eight minutes.

Some of the guys I was in boot camp with were phenoms at certain skills, and their scores were legendary. Like Mramer. He could run like a sprinter for at least a mile. I wasn’t spectacular at any of the Fitness skills, but I was consistently average. Not great, but good enough to pass.

That pretty much sums up my entire academic career. And my military career, for that matter.

After that, boot camp was essentially over. There was a ceremony. A general gave a speech. I shook DS Byrum’s hand, and thanked him for making my life a living hell.

And for those of you who think I should have jumped at the chance to attend the Military Academy, maybe you’re right. But the judgement I had to endure in boot camp is the same thing I would’ve had to endure if I had decided to go to West Point. The You Don’t Belong Here Judgement.

I would’ve been hated by a better class of people. Instead of being too good to be an enlisted man, I wouldn’t have been good enough to be an officer, but that’s the only difference.

* * * *

As much as I hated boot camp, I’m sure I learned some important lessons there. It is only through facing adversity that one truly grows. I learned discipline. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to focus my diffuse anger. Unfortunately, I learned to focus it at the Army. And I learned something about patience. Those were all good things to know, and they came in handy over the years. But it would take me a very long time to learn all about patience.

Patience is the least of my concerns. Waiting is probably the last thing I need to do. However, just what it is that I’m supposed to do isn’t immediately clear. I have a few ideas that I’ve been mulling over, and Lea has a couple of things she wants to do. Everything will fall into place.

It always has so far.

And it’s not like my whole world has fallen apart. It simply hasn’t fallen together. There’s a big difference between the two.

Maybe I’ll get started by doing some push ups…

The Writer’s Almanac

Before I get into whatever this piece is going to turn into, I’d like to say, Hi, Jane! And just so there’s no confusion, the picture isn’t me. That’s Garrison Keillor. Among his many achievements and accomplishments, Garrison Keillor is a very good writer.

I’ve been enjoying writing lately. It’s a good thing, I suppose. I could certainly do worse things with my time. And if the opening line of this installment leaves you feeling bewildered, welcome to the club. That’s how I usually feel when I start writing.

I sometimes have a very good idea of what I’m going to write about, but more often than not, I don’t. I usually have a topic or theme floating around in my head, and sometimes I have a sentence I like, and want to use it somewhere in my post. That’s about it. It’s like unto taking a sink to an architect’s office and saying, “Design and build a house around this.”

And if you’re wondering, Jane is probably the most ardent reader I have, so I thought I’d acknowledge that.

* * * *

The rainy season has impacted my latest hobby, hitting golf balls. I can’t golf in the rain. But it has given me something else to do. Drain our pool. Our rental house came equipped with an hydropool that we don’t use, so there’s usually no water in it. It’s essentially become a gigantic rain gauge and deathpit for insects. We got about an inch of rain yesterday, but we got an additional four inches this morning.

Rain water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, so I grab my shop vac and suck all the water out of the pool. I do not like mosquitoes. It’s a relatively simple procedure, so I don’t mind doing it. And the pool always looks great when I’m done.

The rainy season has brought forth a whole lots of tiny Mexican tree frogs. They come out at night, and sing in a chorus of peeppeeppeeppeep sounds. It’s kind of soothing, and it’s pretty cool to fall asleep to.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I went shopping today. We found everything we were looking for, except coffee filters. You’d think they’d be in the same aisle as the coffee, but that’s not the case at El Walmart.

Esto es Mexico…

I’m sure that news made a couple of hearts skip a beat, but fear not, and be of good faith. Coffee filters are available down here. I know I’ve bought them somewhere down here, probably not at Walmart, but somewhere. Most, if not all, of the retail stores down here go out of their way to cater to the gringo population. We are here, and we are legion.

This place really is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.

* * * *

A few days ago, one of my virtual friends asked me if I missed the United States, and the simple answer is no. Not at all. There are only two things I really miss. Rosati’s pizza and paved roads. Before my friends get offended, you are not things. 

Yesterday, I was notified by Facebook that I have 650 friends. I might’ve had around 300 friends before I retired, so I’ve been busy expanding my social circle. I accepted a virtual friend request from a gal yesterday, then waited. Within a matter of minutes, I received a message. I almost always get a message after I accept a request from someone.

Thankfully, she didn’t want to send me naked pictures. She wanted to sex chat, I think. I’m guessing about that, mostly because I’ve never been in this swamp before. She asked if I wanted to Skype and we could chat. She said I looked like an interesting guy and she wanted to know more about me.

I sent her link to my blog and told her anything she’d ever need to know about me was in here. I haven’t heard another word from her. I guess I’m not that interesting after all.

I’m not sure why, but I think that’s one of the funniest things, ever. And I should stop accepting friend requests from people I don’t know.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I are going out tonight with some friends. We’re going to Perry’s Pizza. He’s making his chicken fried chicken dinner especially for our group. I’m totally looking forward to that. There will be photos posted on my Facebook page.

I love being retired. I’m not sure how rewarding it is, but it’s most definitely a nice reward for all those years of working my ass off toward this end.

* * * *

One of my real friends and former co-workers has been writing something like unto her memoirs. She’s a nurse, and she’s one of the good ones. On her Facebook page this morning she confessed how difficult this process has been for her.

I knew going into writing this book that healed scars would be opened up again and feelings that I haven’t had in years would resurface. I was prepared for that. I was prepared for raw emotions and ready to share the deepest, darkest parts of my journey…  Or so I thought. 

Ah, Tiffany. I know your pain. I wasn’t planning on writing today until I read her post. I accidently ended up writing some Tales From the Darkside of my life after I started writing my blog. Unlike Tiffany, I wasn’t aware of what that can do to your soul, but I would find out quickly. It’s like unto crossing a swamp. It looks daunting when you get to it, but you tell yourself it won’t be that bad.

Look! There’s a little path here! If I just stay on that, I’ll be fine…

But that path will disappear quickly, and in front of you will be dark, fetid water of an undetermined depth and a shitload of mud and muck. Then you’re faced with a decision. Turn around and try to find a way around the swamp. That’s not going to be easy. It’s a big swamp. Or, you can keep going forward and try to get through the swamp as quickly as possible. You almost always decide to go forward. The mud sucks at your feet and legs as you try to slog your way forward, and the water is full of leeches.

That was the paragraph I had in my mind when I started this post.

Opening up old wounds is mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even physically draining. It hurts like hell. It’s like unto passing a fucking kidney stone, and I know that pain, too. Seeing how none of your old wounds were obtained in a vacuum, it’s not just your wounds that end up being opened.

After you’ve decided to go into that swamp once, you know what it looks like when you’re going to venture into it a second time. I’ve been there intentionally a few times. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost at least one reader of my blog by going there. And there’s nothing funny about that.

She was a real friend of mine, probably my oldest friend.

I like to joke about how no one ever reads my blog, but I’ve probably had a couple of thousand people who have at least visited my site, which isn’t all that bad. I follow a couple of other bloggers who are vastly more successful than I am. They have more visitors to their sites in a day than I get in a month.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous.

But I remind myself that I not doing this as a competition, and those bloggers have been doing this for a long time. Their blogs also have a more specific focus than mine, so their audience is there for a more specific reason.

I originally started writing my blog about my nursing career in Psychiatry, and it has gone off on some pretty weird tangents over time. While I’m sure there were compelling reasons for doing this, though they haven’t always been immediately recognizable to me. It’s one of the hazards of going through most of your life unconscious…

Waking up is hard to do.

I’ve been in the process waking up for about ten years now, and it hasn’t always been pretty. Be that as it may, the life I was living before that was a lots less pretty. I still get flashes of memories that hit me out of nowhere, leaving me wondering where that came from and what am I supposed to do with it now? Sometimes those flashbacks are unsettling and disturbing. Sometimes they’re just annoying. Sometimes they’re really funny, and I laugh out loud. If my life before was an almost endless binge, part of my healing process has involved a fair amount of purging.

And in the process, I’m sure I opened some old wounds that weren’t only mine. Many people have said I simply did what I had to do get all that poison out of my system, You did what you had to do! they said. And I probably said something like unto this at least once, It was never my intention to hurt anyone.

That said, if that’s your defense, you knew someone was going to get hurt in advance.

Life, and its many facets, can be an incredibly beautiful and poignant thing. It can also be very ugly and sordid. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. Life, for lack of a better description at this point in my waking up process, is what it is. It’s a description I’ve never especially liked because it’s so banal.

And yet…

Life, as messy as it can be, still beats the alternative. And before you get the idea I’m a tortured soul in search of peace, that would be wrong. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. I have learned to appreciate all that I’ve been given, and to see the Bigger Picture. I have a more balanced view of my life, and myself.

And I am mostly content.

In the long run, cleansing your soul and ridding yourself off all that unnecessary baggage is ugly and dirty work, but it’s worth it.

Night has fallen, and the frogs are peeping. This seems like a good place to stop. Good night, and sweet dreams to you.

Living in the Virtual World

¡Hola! ¿Que pasa?

Things are pretty chill down here in Mexico. The rainy season is still in progress, though it hasn’t rained for the last three days. My lovely supermodel wife and I are still in love with being retired. We’re still mostly happily adjusting to our new lives and the new culture in which we’re living.

The most significant change we’ve encountered at Casa del Selva has been the hummingbird population. We used to have seventy thousand hummingbirds at our feeders, and we’d have to refill them eight times a day. Lea was worried we’d burn through our pension funds buying sugar.

I wondered if we could claim them as dependents…

It turns out Mexican hummingbirds are migratory, and they go somewhere else to raise their young, probably Texas. I wonder if President Don Jon Un knows about the illegally immigrating Mexican hummingbirds, and how he’s planning on stopping them…

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We’re down to about seven hummingbirds. One feeder will last for eight days or more. Lea is really bummed out. I kind of miss the ravenous horde, too. They were fun to watch, and they kept me on my toes whenever I wandered out on the patio. But I’m sure they’ll be back this fall, and we’ll be happy to see them again.

* * * *

I’ve been working on my golf game by going to the driving range when the weather permits, and playing the occasional round or two. I spent a month working on my drives on the range, and I made a startling discovery the last time I played golf. You only hit a ball off of a tee once per hole.

Some of my drives were so pretty it almost brings a tear to my eye, but the rest of my shots were so abysmal it practically makes me cry to think about it. It took me five strokes to reach the green of the par four first hole. And then I three putted. After that, my composure was pretty much gone, and the next seventeen holes were mostly a nightmare with flashes of brilliance.

The other thing I discovered was I’m not as young as I once was. A shot I could easily make with a five iron ten years ago no longer has the distance it used to. I’ve had to come up with a completely new strategy to play the game I love that doesn’t love me in return.

So this week I’ve been practicing on the range with fairway woods and irons, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to need a whole lots more practice.

My lovely supermodel wife has been coming to the driving range with me this week, and she’s been a voice of encouragement to me. It’s been very sweet, and I appreciate my adorable wife even more because of it.

And then there’s putting. I’d probably be a pretty decent golfer if I didn’t have to putt. I’ve been doing some putting on the practice green. I sank a forty foot putt yesterday, and the best part was Lea saw it. I’m not sure who was happier, me or her.

* * * *

As for the rest of our life, we’re very slowly learning the language of our new country. Our landlord and Spanish teacher is Planet Janet. Back when she worked for a living, Janet taught English as a Second Language and Spanish as Another Language at university in Canadia before she retired in Mexico, so she graciously agreed to teach us when we moved into one of her houses. She charges us $200 pesos for a two hour session, once a week, and donates the money to buy wheelchairs for children whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

It’s a win/win/win situation. Janet gets to do something she loves, teach. We get to do something we need, learn. And we all get to help out someone in need.

And seeing how Janet’s been here for a quarter of a century, she’s been showing us some of the ropes and helping us find our way through some of the tricksier aspects of living in Mexico.

Legal things, like Wills, Advanced Directives, health insurance and residency visas. She has recommendations for doctors, dentists, mechanics and veterinarians. And reviews of the latest awesome restaurant she’s eaten at.

And then there are the unexpected things that happen out of the blue.

We ran out of water last weekend. Our main water supply line sprang a monster leak a couple of weeks ago, so we turned the main off and called Planet Janet and El Don Padrino. We have two huge water reservoirs under our carport, so we had plenty of water to tide us over until the leak could be repaired

Don and Janet sent their plumber, Mani, over the next day to fix the leak, then he called SAMAPA, the local water authority. SAMAPA said they had to send a guy over to turn the water back on–Mani was forbidden to open the valve–and the SAMAPA guy would come over ahorita.

Ahora is the Spanish word for now, but now isn’t a highly regarded reality based concept in most of Mexico. Even the Mexicans think it’s funny that there’s generally no such thing as now, especially when it concerns the government and some of the utility companies.

There’s another Spanish word, ahorita. It can mean really soon, however, in Mexico, ahorita can also mean something a whole lots closer to never than it does to now.

Well, the SAMAPA guy never showed up, and no one told us our water main hadn’t been turned back on. So, two weeks later we ran out of water, at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. I turned the water back on, probably illegally, and that solved the problem.

These kind of things happen, and not just in Mexico. When they happen here, we laugh and shrug and say, This is Mexico/Esto es Mexico, and move on. If you don’t like it, leave.

Mexico is not like the United States. Spanish isn’t the same as English. The language of Mexico is an amalgamation of Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, English and Arabic, as well as some words from the fifty-four indigenous languages of the native people who lived here before the Spaniards arrived and fucked up everything.

If you’re wondering how Arabic got thrown into the mix, the Moors invaded Spain in the year 711, and ruled the country for eight hundred years. Spain invaded Mexico in 1519, or roughly about the time the Spaniards finally kicked the Moors out of power in their own country. It took the Spaniards only two years to topple the Aztec empire and steal as much gold and silver from the Mexicans as they could.

Little Known Fact About the Spanish Language: there are probably four thousand Arabic words or phrases that are now part of the modern Spanish vocabulary.

The language barrier is certainly the tricksiest part of living in Mexico, especially since neither Lea nor I spoke any Spanish before we moved here. After almost nine months we can now say hello, how are you, goodbye and thanks, and a few phrases here and there, but we’re hardly fluent, and mostly lost with someone who speaks no English.

It can be kind of comical sometimes.

* * * *

Like unto practically everyone else on this planet, I probably have a form of addiction to my mobile devices and social media. I have a blog that maybe seven people read, including me. For my last installment I posted a picture of one of my former co-workers, and it was seemingly an huge hit. I had a lots of people reacting to the picture on my Facebook page. They loved it! But I don’t know if any of those people actually read the accompanying article.

Oh, look! A picture of Brea! That’s such a cute picture!! What’s this stuff? Eww! Words!! OMG, there’s, like, a thousand of them! Ick!

I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a Twitter account. Unlike our current President, I’ve never figured Twitter out, and I dislike being limited to the number of words I can use. I doubt anyone has ever read even one of my seven Tweets.

My lovely supermodel wife isn’t as addicted to social media as I am. She views Facebook the same way I view Twitter, and I doubt she knows Instagram is even a thing. Or SnapChamp.

Social media has become almost a necessary evil to me, now that I’m a retired guy living in a foreign country. It’s the most convenient way for me to stay up to date with the lives of my friends and family, and it’s the easiest way for them to keep tabs on me.

Before we retired, Lea and I discussed what we’d like to do after we retired. Travel was one of the things we both agreed on, but now that we’ve traveled to Mexico, I’m not sure how much more traveling we’re actually going to do. We’ll see what the future holds. Be that as it may, whether we embark on a tour of the world or not, thanks to the Interweb and social media, the world now comes to me. And so do all of my virtual friends.

I have far more friends now than I did back when I really had friends, people I knew and hung out with and did stuff with. My virtual friends come from all over the world: Canadia, England, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy. Poland, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Ohio. I doubt I’ll ever meet any of them face to face. But because of them and our virtual friendship, I get to see what their part of the world looks like, and what their lives are like.

By the way, Ohio is evidently a whole lots more interesting than I thought it was.

Back when I was a kid, the only way you could accomplish something like unto this without being a world traveler was with a National Geographic subscription. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.

My virtual friends post a lots of pictures of themselves, so I also get to see a lots of pictures of tattoos. Back when I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were drunken sailors, biker gangs and criminals. Tattoos were the mark of low life scumbags and losers.

Nowadays, almost everyone has at least one tattoo, even my lovely supermodel wife, and she’s probably the most conservative person I know. Tattoos have moved out of the darkened alleyways that only a fool would enter, and have become a legitimate mainstream art form of individual statement, beauty and color. Some of them are really quite stunning.

I don’t have any tattoos. I think tattoos look pretty cool on other people, but I’ve never wanted to get one. I’ll admit I don’t understand what the attraction is. For me, the same thing is true of Disneyland®. I have no idea why anyone would want to go there, unless you really like standing in line for hours.

Having a tattoo isn’t a requirement for me to send a friend request to someone on Facebook. I automatically receive an infinite number of profiles of people that I’ve never met every day with the suggestion from Facebook that I might know some of them. Ironically, Facebook will then ask me if I actually know the person I’m randomly sending a friend request to before I can submit it.

I don’t receive as many friend requests as I submit. If a guy sends me a request, it’s usually because he has a great business proposal and he wants me as an investor. If a woman sends me a request it’s usually one of those Click here to see naked pictures of me things. I have yet to knowingly accept one, but I always wonder, Where the hell were these girls when I was twenty? And the answer is they weren’t even alive.

Some of my newest BFF’s that I’ve never met send me personal messages and ask a few questions about me and my life. This always surprises me because it never occurs to me to do that with any of them. Some of my virtual friends disappear from my profile after they discover how boring I am, or that I don’t want to see any naked pictures of them, or I don’t want to invest in a ground-breaking business opportunity.

Many of my virtual friends live what appear to be interesting lives, and their careers run the gamut. I’m still partial to nurses. I have a lots of virtual friends that are nurses. It’s a brotherhood thing, or more probably a sisterhood thing.

A couple of my virtual friends are witches, one of whom does tarot card readings. Another one of my virtual friends sells cars in the GTA. If you’re not an intrepid, sophisticated virtual world traveler like me who watches Canadian television in Mexico, the GTA is the Greater Toronto Area.

Yet another of my virtual friends is an activist, warning the world about every possible conspiracy ever conceived. I used to have two friends like unto this. I could say I unfriended one of them because she was too crazy, but almost everyone on my FB page admits to some level of insanity. And, I used to be a psych nurse, so craziness in and of itself isn’t something that bothers me much.

It was her unstable anger/rage that I found so unsettling. Her rants/raves hit the airwaves every five minutes, and each was more outrageous than the last. I tried joking with her a couple of times to get her to lighten up a little, but she didn’t appreciate my humor. Clearly, we had unreconcilable differences, and something had to give.

I’ve become virtual friends with a whole lots of motivational speakers/health gurus/life coaches. They post videos of their exercise workouts, recipes for healthy meals and daily motivational quotes and videos. Several of them post live feeds of themselves giving motivational talks to break out of your rut and improve your life.

To be honest, I’m not personally interested in most of that stuff. I don’t exercise. I think my diet is healthy enough for me, and I don’t need to make any significant changes to improve my life. If I did, I’d likely already know what it is that I need to do differently. However, I do listen to them and take their advice into consideration.

Mental and emotional health are things that require a certain amount of intentional maintenance. They are perishable commodities. It takes an effort to keep your goddamn mind right. It’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and end up in the ditch, and before you know it you’re wondering how the hell could this happen to me?!?

So it’s good for me to be reminded of the things I used to preach lest I start backsliding. I’ve worked too hard to get away from that shit to ever want to go back again, even by accident.

* * * *

Before I retired and moved to Mexico, I would occasionally have breakfast with Brian. Brian Leach is the former lead pastor of one of the churches we formerly attended in Surprise. I liked Breakfast with Brian. He’s a pretty smart guy, and he’s the closest thing to a friend/pastor I’ve ever had.

We used to attend a small group/Bible study at Brian’s house. It was Brian who first made me a virtual celebrity by saying something like unto this at one of our group meetings: “I’m not a big fan of social media, but I think everyone should check out Mark Rowen’s Facebook page at least once a day.”

And I didn’t have to pay him to say that.

Just before we departed Arizona, I had one last breakfast with Brian. He spent the last few minutes trying to convince me to do a video blog.

“There’s a kid on YouTube who’s making a six figure income, just by posting videos!”

I replied that the kid was probably smart. And funny.

“Well, you’re smart and funny.”

I replied that the kid probably had a personality. If you’ve never met me in person, once you did, you’d probably wonder if I was ever going to come out of that coma. I don’t have an affect, and my voice lacks inflection. I posted a video on Facebook once. One of my real friends said I sound like Eeyore. Ben Stein sounds like Sam Kinison when compared to me.

I blame my life as a psych nurse for that. When you’ve seen as much strange stuff as I have, it’s hard to be surprised by anything. Also, I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan for fifty years. Therefore, I find it almost impossible to get too excited about anything anymore. If the Vikings ever win the Super Bowl, I might get a tattoo…

My virtual friends who post inspirational videos are excited by what they’re doing. They smile. They have a fire in their eyes, and they clearly have a passion about their messages. If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, most of them don’t have an inspirational message. I’m not sure any of them have even had a point.

In addition, the video blogs I’ve watched are short, or at least, short-ish. My written blogs don’t seem short to me. Even the shortest blog I’ve written has taken me hours to complete. And while I am sometimes spontaneously witty, I’m not a great impromptu speaker. I would probably end up writing a script that I would essentially end up reading, and I’d probably stumble through everything I’d written.

I’m trying to imagine that being entertaining to anyone. I might become the first person YouTube paid to stop posting videos…

It could be argued that if I started making video blogs, I could save myself a ton of time. If I weren’t retired, that argument might carry more weight. But I am retired. If I don’t have anything else, I have plenty of time, and very little of it is scheduled with any recurring activity, except my Spanish lessons.

A real friend of mine occasionally posts The Manitowoc Minute Vlog on his Facebook page. It’s a very funny commentary about life in Wisconsin, which, in retrospect, probably goes without saying. The idea of posting El Minuto Mexicano certainly has its appeal. I could ramble on incomprehensibly in a mixture of Spanglish, Latin and Japanese about life in Mexico.

“Buenas tetas, amigos y amigas! Bienvenidos a mi vlogarito lo que nostrodamos vidas fabulosos en Mexico! Nosotros tiene relocatado de los estados unidos. El gente de Mexico estás las más amable de todos los gente en el universario! Ellos tienen los más paciencia! Ellos dicen, “Poco y poco,” y sonrisa. Beauty, eh. A todo madre, la roma no está hecho en uno dia! Ergo, quid pro quo. Shigata ga ni, es los más awesomosa cosa en el mundo actualmente! No es mentira! Si, es verdad, daddy-o! Entonces, adios y omne datum optimum untiliarmos los hasta luego, y domo arigato por tu atención y de nadamashite.”

Maybe I’ll stick to writing. In English. It’ll greatly decrease the chances of me accidentally starting the next world war…